January 2015

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In the last week London has turned Arctic; and I’ve been frantically unearthing all my thermals (last worn in the ANDES!) and every piece of faux fur I own. Because I haven’t had a proper UK winter in 2 years, I am still enjoying the novelty of proper British weather; that sleety frozen rain that fills every crevice with cold and soggyness, or the air so frosty that on my walk into work – the section of scarf I have nearest my mouth has actual ice crystals on it by the time I take it off. I’ve mainly been using the cold front as an opportunity to wear my ridiculous jumper collection, and tuck up under the duvet reading about mountain disasters… because no matter how chilly it is here, I know I’m never going to be as cold as alpine mountaineers stuck up Everest at -27 degrees getting frost bitten faces.

 

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Last weekend we had my future in-laws staying for the weekend; so rather than wallowing about reading, I was forced out of my duvet cocoon and into full on hostess mode. Luckily Sue and Nigel are the easiest, cheeriest guests around and they had a very clear itinerary of what they would like to see in London. I do love having guests to London, because otherwise I stick to the same local treasures and favourite well-worn spots. I rarely make the most of the galleries, exhibitions and museums right on the door step. Our first stop on the tour was the Imperial War Museum. Nick & I visited the museum in Manchester last year and it was an incredible experience; so we had high hopes for the London version which had recently re-opened with a whole WW1 gallery. I suppose when deciding what museum in London to potter around for a few hours, the topic of war might not be high on everyones list and places such as the Natural History or Science museum might feel more tempting. To be honest, had I been left to my own devices, I might have been lured towards a nicer offering; so I’m really grateful that the Horton’s infectious enthusiasm rubbed off on me, as it is by far the best museum exhibit I have ever been to.

 

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Just one tip about the Imperial War Museum; you will never get through it all in one day! We took nearly three hours just to see the first floor. Part of this was because we went on the busiest day of the week, but part of it was the density and detail that there is to immerse yourself in. I did learn about the Great War at school, but in terms of my knowledge of world history, my brain is far more filled with facts about WW2 and the Nazis (talking of which… if you didn’t see The Eichmann Show on the BBC this week you absolutely MUST catch it on iPlayer. It is one of the most moving pieces of television I have ever seen; ever.) The Great War is also the entirely new gallery, so that was where we decided to spend our afternoon. I don’t exactly know what I expected, but the gallery was curated to perfection. There is a total mix of visuals, design, haunting quotes, video, audio and artefacts. The gallery takes you from pre-war and the tension build up, right through the war, and onto the build up on WW2. The refreshing element to the experience is that it isn’t just focussed on soldiers or the British. The gallery really brings to life how war affected everyone from children, to women, to men (both in and out of the army) and to people in pretty much every corner of the world.

Unbelievably, given the subject matter, there are some real moments of light relief or curious ingenuity – such as a video depicting how the soldiers in the Somme came up with the idea to build fake “bombed out” trees that they turned into look out points. Despite being entirely man made, to a German soldier looking over the battlefield, they never once realised they were in fact being spied on by the enemy from this innocuous part of the “natural” landscape. Another aspect that tickled me, was how very British the approach to war was; in that when soldiers were battling for their lives in the trenches – a priority was still to keep hold of their special army edition shaving kit and ensure that they were clean shaven and immaculately turned out where possible.

 

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Obviously, an awful lot of the gallery is devastating to take in. We all agreed afterwards, as silly as it sounds, that we felt like we had just lived through the war ourselves. The optimism and patriotism when war broke out is palpable; with men desperate to go to fight and represent their country. As the war goes on, and on, and on… the loss of lives reaches epic proportions and modern warfare catches everyone off guard with the introduction of gas, tanks and modern weaponry. The gallery was peppered with quotes from senior army officials at how “barbaric” the fighting was and how “un-gentlemanly and un-chivalrous” the war was turning out to be. It was quite a surreal experience to spend hours learning about every detail of the war, and dealing with all the harrowing emotions that came from being placed right in the centre of it… all whilst still being surrounded by hundreds of people taking the same journey. It’s such an important journey to take though, so I thoroughly recommend it to anyone in or visiting London.

 

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& Now for something completely different! An event that really cheered up the gloomy grey days this week was a very generous delivery from Apple Yard Flowers. One of my new years resolutions, that I didn’t list in my epic round up here , is to take more care of my little flat. The flat is pretty dinky, so never really gets messy as we wouldn’t physically be able to move, but I have got a little lazy at putting up art on the walls and generally making it feel as us and sanctuary-like as possible. Part of my resolution was to invest in decent fresh flowers for the flat every couple of weeks; as they make such a difference to our front room AND my mood! So my discovery of Apple Yard couldn’t have come at a better time. Full disclosure >> they invited me to select a bouquet from their Valentines Flowers range to receive for free (yipee) in exchange for an honest review of their flower delivery service.

 

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It was tough to choose from the Valentines selection, but in the end it was the Mimi Eden Roses that stole my heart. On delivery day, I was really impressed that the flowers arrived in a huge box (about half the size of me!) where the blooms were well wrapped up between giant bubble wrap and with the base in a special portable tub of water to keep them fresh. It reassured me of something that has previously made me apprehensive of delivery flowers; that the would just be heaped in a pile in the back of a van getting all wilted and bashed about! The bouquet itself was a generous bunch of at least 25 pink & white rose buds, in various states of unfurling. These were propped up in a bed of Buplerum and Hard Ruscus, creating a really stunning look. It’s amazing how many skills you accidentally learn when entering the wild world of wedding planning and suddenly finding yourself creating bouquet “looks” on pinterest. I know loads about foliage and green and what goes with what these days! Prior to this, I think I honestly would have thought buplerum was some sort of cocktail.

 

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I really can’t fault the flowers or the service. They arrived in beautiful condition and bought a real twinkle to my front room for over a week. I can’t tell you how much my mood lifted every time my eyes tracked from the drizzly dull view back to my beautiful bright flowers. It’s definitely reinforced in my head that it’s worth spending a little more on flowers that last, rather than shove a bunch in my trolley on a Morrisons dash and then be surprised when they are manky and mouldy after a few days! My only baby bug bear was that I should have picked something that didn’t need quite such love and care as roses. With roses you really need to chop a decent wedge off the stems and remove the lower leaves when they arrive (which I did… prickly business) but they then really do need the process repeating a few days in. Unfortunately work and winter whisked in and I never did get time, which meant the roses started to brown and fade at the edges. I think they could have lasted a little longer if I had paid them a little more Valentines care and attention, so if you are after something a little lower maintenance then I’d opt for a different bouquet.

 

Apple Yard have very kindly offered me a discount code to share with you all; which entitles you to 40% off all of their beautiful bouquets. The discount code is BLOG40, so please do treat yourself (you totally deserve it) or someone who deserves a special delivery. I am absolutely in LOVE with this “Nutmeg” bouquet (how sweet are the little daisies?!) so perhaps I need to drop some poorly disguised hints for Nick to use my blog discount code for a surprise Valentines present… Ha! Can you see this being the start of an addiction? I’m officially a flowerzilla.

 

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I’ve already done a bit of a look back at 2014 aka the biggest year of my life but every year (2013 here, 2014 here) I write some resolutions which I inevitably don’t stick to but really help me look back over my year and structure a bit of a misty mulled brain review of what I’ve been up to. This time last year I hadn’t updated this blog since September as I had been busily seeing the world and tapping away on Twentysomething Burnouts but as we holed up in a hotel in Panama City and recovered from our most traumatic travel moment I snuck down to the “business office” and did a sole post from Latin America. I’m in a different (way comfier) place this year as I sit writing this in my PJs, with a giant mug of tea, a fiance curled up next to me and in my own little treehouse flat; full and content from a week of port, fondue, friends, family and wintry walks.

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2014 Resolution Recap

01. Read 52 books I think a hefty combination of events has conspired to make this the year that I will read the most books in my ENTIRE life! This year I didn’t just read a book a week as I aimed, I read 74 books in total! Crikey. You can see the full list here – thanks GoodReads for the lovely layout! Travelling for the first 3 months of the year spiked the number I could rattle through, with long journeys and endless need for distraction whilst waiting around sketchy bus stations and without pesky things like full-time work getting in the way. Then when pesky full-time work did come along… It was in publishing! Which means that not only do I now read for fun, but I read for work, and luckily most of the time I enjoy both kinds. There have been some incredible releases this year, plus I have discovered new authors and books that have been floating around for years but only surfaced into my brain this year and this led to some classic Bee-book behaviour where I then buy or download every single thing by that person and devour it as if they might vanish from my life again. Here are some of my 5*/top reads.

Dublin Murder Squad Series – Tana French
Somehow Tana French had passed me by; despite the fact that the first book in this Dublin Murder Squad series (Into The Woods) came out embarrassingly in 2007. Since then, there have been five books in the series and each one is told from the perspective of a different detective from within the Murder Squad, working on a different case. After reading Into The Woods at the start of November and really enjoying it, within moments of finishing the last paragraph I downloaded the rest to my kindle and Tana French was basically the ONLY thing I read in November! I am actually so happy that I read the books in this binging-fashion however because the same characters crop up and there are lots of bold, then more subtle, links between each novel and knowing my inability to retain tiny details; these would have been absolutely lost on me if I’d read the books as and when they were released.

It’s hard to choose, but I think I most enjoyed The Likeness where Detective Cassie Maddox is contacted after the body of a woman is found murdered and whose identity is none other than… Lexie Madison, a former alias that Cassie herself created when she was working as an undercover agent. In a slightly paranormal twist; the body also looks identical to Cassie. Attempting to discover more about this mystery unknown and now dead twin; Cassie goes undercover again and lives with Lexie’s university housemates to try to discover what on earth happened and who killed her (but not her). There was just a hint of Secret History about the dynamic between the students and their outsider cliquey life. All the other books are told via male narrators, and despite the characters all being layered and different, they can slide into slightly blokey territory. With The Likeness I enjoyed the female slant and perspective; Cassie’s behaviour and responses felt the most authentic to me of all the Detectives. That said, I really warmed to Detective Frank Mackey in Faithful Place, and my favourite storyline by far was Broken Harbour.

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How To Be Both – Ali Smith 
I strongly believe that the less you know about this book in advance, the better, so no spoilers here… or much information at all. I’ve been a lifelong Ali Smith fan and feel that her writing has grown up with me, and been such a comfort at various points in my life. With that in mind I was frothing at the mouth with excitement at a new release, and wasn’t at all disappointed. The book is printed in two entirely different ways; so that the reader will be met with the story Eyes first, followed by Camera OR Camera followed by Eyes. One story is slightly harder to get into but more rewarding. One is contemporary, one set in the past. That said, there are so many themes that thread between them, that at no point does it feel like two individual books. There are really only two things to say -1. Read it! and 2. No one describes falling in love better than Ali. “Cause all I could think of all that week was flowers for breath and flowers for eyes and mouths full of flowers, armpits of them, the back of knees, laps, groins overflowing with flowers and all I could draw was leaves and flowers, the whorls of roses, the foliage dark.”

The Lazarus Prophecy – F G Cottam
F G Cottam features in every reading round-up I’ve ever done. He’s one of my must-read authors. Previously I would have said must-read “horror/spooky” authors but with his latest release (and recent branching out into Young Adult/Super-Natural) I think it’s clear he is so much more than that. The Lazarus Prophecy is an ambitious new take on the Jack The Ripper mystery; set between a Victorian and contemporary London. The book opens with London left in the wake of a string of murders of women in the space of a few weeks. The killer seems to be targeting high profile victims who exist in the public eye and leaving behind clues in long dead languages. DCI Jane Sullivan leads the investigation supported by an ensemble cast of experts spanning religion, history and crime… but it quickly becomes unclear who can she really trust as she faces a race against time to avoid becoming a victim herself. This is by far my favourite Cottam novel and so ambitious, yet executed with precision and intricacies that make re-reading (and re-reading again) as enjoyable as the first time. I sound like a broken record (see Tana French above) but it was so refreshing to read a strong female lead; especially as the story revolves around horrific violence and violation of women. The strength and intelligence of the majority of women featured really offset that becoming an uncomfortable read; which I feel it might have if the protagonist was male. Cottam really captures the enchantment of old and new London and how they sit side by side; something that as a London dweller I am in awe of on a daily basis. I learnt some really fascinating London facts about places like Bedlam as an aside to it being a great read! I say this was an ambitious project because not only is a thrilling page-turner, it touches on some very relevant current issues such as religion, race, the vulnerability of the UK and the state of confusion around politics and beliefs. I am now extra keen to ensure that this year I take a trip to the Royal London Hospital Museum to see the famous “From Hell” letter in person.

I also really enjoyed Hawthorn & Child, The Rental Heart and The Broken (reviews here) and The Goldfinch, Hangover Square, The Shock of The Fall, Burial Rights, The Gospel of Loki, Disgrace and Apple Tree Yard.

My biggest WTF was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Clearly I am the only person in the world to feel this way, given its rave reviews, but I just couldn’t abide it. I actually resented the time of my life spent reading it, and wish I could claim it back!

Finally, and I know it’s not a book, but like 99% of the world this year I got massively into SERIAL. I can’t remember the last time I felt the infectious addiction around the next instalment for anything; not TV, film or books. I love This American Life, but Serial really tapped into that event feeling of a shared experience and I found myself seeking out fellow listeners wherever I could (including once on the tube!) and picking over the facts and story over and over and never getting bored. It really served as a gateway into re-kindling my love for audio and listening; that seems to have been buried for a few years. I REALLY should have re-kindled the audiobook love before I did a ton of 20/30 hour coach journeys, rather than after, hey? Now I am armed with an Audible subscription and the Librivox app; ready to keep me company on my long walks to work.

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02. Re-learn to drive. FAIL! To re-cap on this, I passed my test first time when I was 17, then enjoyed a few years of driving around Yorkshire like a maniac, often dinking the car then attempting to blame my dad (sorry dad). I adored driving but then I moved to London and now I have been here nearly 9 years and not driven once. I had grand plans that 2014 would be my year to re-learn but then Nick went and popped the question, and money that might have been spent on something boring like a car is now being squirrelled away for way more fun things like Wedding! Party! Honeymoon! I think this is more likely to be a 2016 resolution, when I actually live somewhere that doesn’t have an amazing public transport system (and doesn’t have eye watering parking space costs)

03. Stay in touch with travel buddies: Could do better. We met some amazing friends from all over the world during our trip to Latin America, and due to the intensity and other-worldyness of the experiences you go through together; the bonds you make feel unlike anything else. When I was travelling, I felt like my barriers and boundaries were at an all-time low. There is no small talk because everyone you meet is already a kindred spirit in the fact that they happen to be in say… Ecuador at the exact same moment as you. Rather than than talking about careers or small talk, it felt like conversations with travel pals were always much deeper and honest because a) they have no preconceptions of “old me” from my “old life” and b) there was that sense that you may never see the person again so could risk a lot more soul searching. As with so many big thoughts and plots and plans I had whilst travelling; they had to be modified once I was back in the daily grind and day to day living that didn’t just involve hammocks and bug-spotting. Whilst we have stayed closely in touch with the people we made the deepest connections with such as Jordan and Skyler in Galapagos, Beau in Bolivia and Ike in Big Corn – it will be a special year when we see any of these people again face to face to reminisce about the days on the road! We did have one great twist of fate though; Tom the micro brewer from Minnesota that we met in Guatemala popped up over Christmas. My eldest sibling Meg went to Minnesota to visit friends this year so I encouraged them to pop into Tom’s brewery bar and say hey. Unfortunately he was off travelling again (jealous) but Meg did pick me up an amazing Indeed Brewery tee that was presented to me on Christmas Day.

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04. Move to BrightonObviously this didn’t happen, and I think I am on a much better path because of it. Although now “live by the seaside” remains on my bucket list for the foreseeable future.

05. Eat more veggies: Yes and yes; and the purchase of a spirazlier and the discovery of courgetti has meant that I am no longer permanently on the brink of scurvy.

06. Finish knitting my scarf: This is a running blog joke. This will never, ever actually happen.

07. Start a project with Meg: This didn’t happen, but there are plans afoot…

08. See more of my friends and family: Yeah! It has helped being back in the same country as them and not just relying on pixelated Skype calls. The Christmas period was special for catching up with heaps of family, then New Years Eve I hosted a party with some of my absolute dearest friends for whom the stars had aligned to make them all be in London on this one night. We drank prosecco and danced to 90s music, and it was the best start to a year I have ever had.

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09. Get Outdoorsy: Off to a good start with trips to Exmoor and Sweden hiking about the place; we are currently trying to pick somewhere to sneak off to in February for more outdoorsing as we both got new adventure gear over Christmas that we want to put to the test.

09. Apply all the lessons I have learnt travelling to my life back home: I could write a million things here, but for the sake of being short and sweet I wouldn’t say I have managed this, at all. But that isn’t to say I wont.

10. Keep trying new things and pushing myself: Definitely, it’s been a crazy waltzer year with a ton of adapting and being flexible and taking on new challenges. I am certainly barely ever in my comfort zone.

11. Get back in music: Oh so much. This year has been soundtracked by Future Islands, Haim, Boy, Dry The River, Jenny Lewis, Half Moon Run, War On Drugs and I even went to THREE whole gigs – a 300% improvement on 2013.

12. STOP saying “Oh my God”: I think I finally did it. My chat is now peppered with a lot more crikeys and blimeys.

13. Daily Records: This year I turned 30 and I documented it on Instagram with a photo a day, and my own cheesy hashtag #beeing30. Check out the serious side eye this giant tortoise is giving me!

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2015 Resolutions

01. Deal with my anxiety. I might write a longer blog about this at some point (if that sounds interesting?) but… Worry wart, highly strung, nervous disposition. Call it what you will, I am constantly battling to reign my anxiety in, and it’s exhausting. When I quit my job and travelled to some of the worlds most remote and dangerous countries, you would think I’d have been at my PEAK anxiety right? Wrong! It was such a joy to have day after day after day of clear headed cool as a cucumber living. I think it was almost a flooding effect, where there was so much to potentially worry about (and trust me I did before we left – what if the coach crashes? what if I get bitten by a poisonous spider? what if our tiny plane crashes? what if we get kidnapped? etc etc etc) that I actually just shut down that side of my brain and didn’t worry about any of it. I think most people would be surprised to hear I’m anxious, because I put on quite a good efficient front and in a warped kind of way I think I only am so efficient because I worry and angst and get things fixed. I definitely go through phases of being better than others; but the standard pattern is that I am a) either worrying about something legit such as friend/family problems, work issues or big life stuff or in the absence of these I b) worry about things like yknow, my illness, death, why the hell we are stuck on this planet in the middle of space… It’s ridiculous! I have conversations in my head I know I’ll never dare translate to real life, I get paranoid, I lay awake churning over the same things again and again. So! It’s definitely time to take control and do the things I know alleviate my worrying. Sadly, heading to Latin America again isn’t on the cards so it’s more mindfullness focussed; such as doing meditation at least twice a week (head space app ilu) sticking to regular pilates and basically being kind and admitting that some days I just need to not do everything, perfectly, right now. If any other fellow anxious-types reading this have any hints or tips that work for them please hit me with it!

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02. Sort out my organisational approach I initially wrote “be organised” here, but I am ridiculously organised so that’s not the right way to phrase it. My problem is that I am organised in different ways and places for different areas of my life. For example I use my phone calender and notes sections for some things, paper diaries for others, Evernote for work and I have a nifty anti-bride planner for wedding stuff. But! A colleague at work recently introduced me to ToDoist which I think is finally the solution. I have spent the Christmas break transferring all of my life lists and chores onto it (hello Monica from Friends style fun); with colour coding, different folders and tags for work/home stuff and it’s already making me feel so zen. Planning a wedding (especially a pretty budget DIY one where we are stubbornly doing most of it ourselves) has the potential to become stressful and I really don’t want anything about my wedding to feel stressful; so I think delegation (haha, thanks already to people like Craig aka our Creative Director and Cindy our shout-at-people-and-get-them-to-move-around-er) and organisation is key to stop is becoming a last minute panic. Every day my shiny new To Doist delivers me a synced to-do list on my laptop, Outlook, iPad and phone and I work my way through them. Sometime I put things like take a bath and drink tea just to make sure I tick a decent amount off.

03. Get married. Just a little one. Sometimes I just feel like everything starts and ends with Nick, I’m so in awe of him every single day. I cannot wait to legally stick myself to him forEVERRRR (and of course throw a massive party and wear a nice frock)

04. Read 52 books. I think it might be optimistic to attempt one a week now that I am busier and not on the road; but I’ll give it a try and may just chuck in a few thinner books here and there, as I tend to go for total whoppers.

05. Keep blogging! It’s hard being a greedy guts with two different blogs. I’d like to think most people follow both, but when I’m active on Twentysomething Burnouts I am aware that this blog suffers with periods of radio silence. I actually (shhhh) enjoy writing here as it’s more personal and cathartic, so for the sake of getting ~feelings~ off my chest I need to make sure I still touch in here regularly.

06. Get back into the blogging community. I still read my favourite blogs regularly, but as I am mostly reading them on my phone when sat about somewhere I am dreadful at commenting and sharing the love. I need to set aside a bit more time to do this!

07. Get in shape! What a cliche. Don’t worry, I’m not talking fad diets or anything that involves me buying a ton of January shred type books… but I have eaten so much over Christmas that I didn’t fit into the PJ bottoms that I wore at the start of the holidays! I can’t even look at another crisp, peanut or chocolate. I also have a gym subscription and didn’t enter the gym ONCE in December; oh no actually I went in once to use the vending machine and then left, which says it ALL. I know I’m happier when I’m exercising regularly and when my clothes aren’t on the tighter side, plus I want to feel my most confident on my wedding day (I know, I know) so I’ll be trying to eat more spinach, less cake for 2015. That said, as if I’d EVER give up cheeseburgers, so it won’t all be rabbit food.

08. Drink more water. Why do I hate water? I need to sort this out! I have a pint of the stuff evil eye-ing me right now and I a just thinking WHY ARE YOU NOT AS FUN AS DRINKING A BELLINI.

09. Keep up daily records. I am doing my photo a day thing on Instagram, this year under the even cheesier tag #beeinghorton as it’s the year I become Mrs Horton (how weird is that!) because I enjoyed it so much last year. I also have my Q&A book which I fill out every night, and now that it’s in its 3rd year it’s so interesting to read my answers from previous years and how much my perspectives alter and shift.

10. Go snorkelling again! This was something I never expected to fall in love with but absolutely did. The most peaceful I’ve ever felt in my life was swimming under water with a giant sea turtle brushing against my belly and a giant ray circling over the top of me. I think I might have been a mermaid in a former life (which explains why I am never happier than when I am in the bath. Today I propped the iPad up against the taps and watched 2 hours of The Good Wife whilst my skin went prune-y) Hopefully we will decide on a honeymoon destination that has snorkelling as a potential activity, alongside a lot of chilling out.

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11. Visit my friend in Berlin. My oldest school friend Sarah lives in Berlin and has for 4 years or something ridiculous. Every year I say I’ll visit, every year I fail, and it’s crummy behaviour. So this spring I will put my money where my mouth is and actually make it over there and learn all about what has made the city capture her from me for so long.

12. Send more snail mail. Some of my best friends are scattered all over the world now; and I love nothing more than sending out care packages of british bits and tidbits of news, but am so bad at getting organised enough to do it. Maybe I need a new To Do-ist folder…

13. Climb a mountain. I’m about to join a mountaineering club which is very exciting and feels like something out of Victorian times, attending socials and heading off on some expeditions. I have some great walking boots now and I quite fancy making Snowdon actually happen this summer. Any excuse to eat Kendal Mint Cake!

14. Be kind. To myself and everyone else. Sometimes it’s easy to forget this, even though I try my best. I need to remember to smile at people when I buy my coffee, and when I get into a meeting at work, and remember things people tell me and check in at important times etc.

15. GET A PET! Ok this is more likely to be 2016 but I wanted to make 15 resolutions for 2015 and you never know… it might sneak in as a Christmas present to myself or Nick. Preferably the feline kind.

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As was the case last year, I think what I am most excited about is that I have NO idea what my life will look like this time next year. I’ll be married! ME! Who is this grown up person? We’ll be trying to make a home somewhere for the forever after, build a menagerie of animals and hopefully use our honeymoon(s!!) to see more of the world.

& That’s it. Have you got a resolution? Have you seen any other good bloggers list theirs? I’ve seen a few but I’d love to see more. Roll on 2015, I have a really good feeling about you being sparkly and shiny and super.

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