Entry 9 | Thirsty Meeples

Board Game Cafe Thirsty Meeples Oxford Oxfordshire Food Games Card Cake Cards Fun Learning Happiness Entry 9 Double Date

If there was ever a representation of my inner geek heaven I think Thirsty Meeples could be it. They’ve got wall to wall shelving stuffed with board and card games and, if that wasn’t enough, an extensive menu to sustain you throughout your quests. It’s definitely one of my “Happy Places”.

Thirsty Meeples is a recent discovery (and addiction) of mine but I learned of its existence entirely by accident! I was despairing aloud at the lack of board game choices in shops when a kind stranger overheard and told me all about this fantastic place in Oxford where you can hire a table and choose from thousands of games. I’ve been hooked ever since!

If you decide to visit you can book a table in advance (and you need to because it’s hugely popular) and grab some friends for hours of gaming fun. Recently I went there on a double date with my partner, my old school friend and her fiancée. We’d booked our table for 6 hours and we would have happily stayed longer!

We’ve got similar tastes in games and we ended up playing Whitechapel which is all about Jack the Ripper. One of you plays Jack and the rest are detectives working together to hunt him down and stop him from killing. It was pretty intense! I successfully survived as Jack but my hands were shaking with nerves all the way through. I’m very competitive.

If the trip to Oxford is a bit far or you don’t want the expense too often this activity could easily be reproduced at home. All you need are some good friends, board games and (vast quantities of) food. You will quickly realise that I think food is the most important part of any worthwhile venture! Sadly I was unable to snap many pictures of the awesome food we had because I was too busy scoffing! Next time, perhaps!

Are you a board game fan? Are there any games you would recommend for our next trip? Please let me know.

Board Game Cafe Thirsty Meeples Oxford Oxfordshire Food Games Card Cake Cards Fun Learning Happiness Entry 9 Double Date

Entry 8 | 7 Days of Happiness

Entry 8 Eight 7 Seven Days of Happiness Week Happy Learning Warwick Castle Challenge Trebuchet German Vitamin D Try Something New Sweet Treat Charity Charitable Adventure

I’ve been trying out different ways to consciously introduce more happiness into my life for a while now. It’s been a lot of fun but pretty sporadic and unstructured which is good, because happiness itself is a little erratic and does as it pleases.

However, to kick things up a notch, I decided to take the ideas from my first 7 blog posts and consolidate them into one intensive week of hard-core happiness. 7 ideas, 7 days, any order I liked but I had to fit them around my day-to-day life and make sure nothing was missed out! I’m going to set myself this challenge after every 7 posts so if you want to follow along at home, this is Week One:

Entry One | Do Something Charitable
Entry Two | Practice Learning a Language
Entry Three | Get Some Vitamin D
Entry Four | Try Something New
Entry Five | Be Childish
Entry Six | Give Someone an Adventure
Entry Seven | Give Someone a Sweet Treat

The night before I started I planned out which activity would fit into which day. It was already a busy week so it was important to be prepared!

Entry 8 Eight 7 Seven Days of Happiness Week Happy Learning Warwick Castle Challenge Trebuchet German Vitamin D Try Something New Sweet Treat Charity Charitable Adventure

Wednesday | Get Some Vitamin D

I concluded it doesn’t matter when you start as long as you can plan 7 consecutive days of happy tasks. I began on a Wednesday.

Getting Vitamin D was the hardest task to plan into the week as it is entirely weather dependent but I was lucky today. The sun was shining and I work just down the road from a park so I spent 50 minutes of bliss, tucked up on a wall with “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend” by Katarina Bivald. I managed to do this for several lunchtimes this week but as we reach autumn it’ll be harder to get good sunlight so Vitamin D supplements are a must to keep me healthy!

Thursday | Practice Learning a Language

I’ve been learning German with Duolingo and you only have to practice for a few minutes each day to keep the cogs whirring! Thursdays are often a busy day for me so I chose this task and managed to practice for ten minutes as I was getting ready for bed.

Friday | Be Childish

When I was in school I’d spend all my time in the art room so the recent trend for adult colouring books ticks a lot of my boxes. After we’d been out for the evening my boyfriend and I sat down for a couple of minutes at the end of the day and relaxed with our colouring books and a film. I am much better at staying within the lines than I used to be.

Entry 8 Eight 7 Seven Days of Happiness Week Happy Learning Warwick Castle Challenge Trebuchet German Vitamin D Try Something New Sweet Treat Charity Charitable Adventure

Saturday | Give Someone a Sweet Treat

Saturday was a very busy day, packed with happy activities! I had plans to see a friend in the evening and we are both big fans of superheroes, Harry Potter, Disney and junk food so I made us some teeny fairy cakes and decorated them. I have affectionately named them “messy little nerd cakes”. Fortunately she was able to identify the symbols without too much embarrassment on my part! If anyone has any icing tips, I’m all ears!

Entry 8 Eight 7 Seven Days of Happiness Week Happy Learning Warwick Castle Challenge Trebuchet German Vitamin D Try Something New Sweet Treat Charity Charitable Adventure

Sunday | Give Someone an Adventure

My partner and I already had plans to visit Warwick Castle on Sunday as we’d bought a combo-ticket for that and the aquarium several weeks ago. When we arrived I also bought us tickets to see the Castle Dungeons as part of our adventuring. We left, happy but horrified, after a gruesome journey into the dark history of the castle. I want to go back towards Christmas and see how they decorate for the festivities!

Monday | Try Something New

I play hockey fairly regularly and also visit the gym and swim but I decided to join my Mum at her Pilates class and try it out for the first time. I had no idea what to expect and it turned out to be a gruelling hour of arm exercises that would leave me incapable of reaching high shelves for days! I definitely felt the burn and enjoyed it, despite struggling through! I have since discovered that the instructor assumed I was 6 years younger than I am (presumably because my mum looks too young to have a 23-year-old 😉 ) and was taking it easy on me! Yikes!

Tuesday | Be Charitable

Tuesday. Last day! It’s been a lot of fun. I couldn’t manage anything quite as drastic as in my original blog post as I’m still waiting for my hair to grow back but there are plenty of other ways to make a difference. In the last couple of weeks I have had a sort out and given loads of my books, clothes and DVDs to the British Heart Foundation to sell. Some of my stuff wasn’t suitable for selling but would be useful to a local homelessness centre so I popped onto their website today and checked out the section that says what they need and took that list with me to the supermarket. It cost very little to get loads of the items they needed and add them to the pile I was donating.

7 Days of Happiness | Week One

This intensive week of happiness is over but I’ll keep using the ideas from it wherever I can. If you’re interested in giving it a go then just follow the list I’ve made and plan it around your weekly schedule. The best thing about this is that it’s designed to make you happy so if you’re not feeling like doing something or can’t make it fit into just seven days then there’s no pressure and no guilt. It’s all about doing the things that work for you. Let me know if you try it out!

Entry 8 Eight 7 Seven Days of Happiness Week Happy Learning Warwick Castle Challenge Trebuchet German Vitamin D Try Something New Sweet Treat Charity Charitable Adventure

Entry 7 | Sweet Treats

Sweet Treats Smarties Anti Gravity Anti-Gravity Cake Chocolate Buttercream Birthday Mum Create Bake Off Entry Seven 7 Learning Happiness

This activity combines some of the world’s best things; chocolate, creativity, messiness and taste-testing! One of my favourite people (hi, Mum!) had a birthday recently and she’s usually the cake-baker of the family so I thought she should take a break and have someone else make the effort for a change. Even better, I was able to keep my plans a secret by cooking in my partner’s kitchen so it was a total surprise for her!

I’m a big advocate of healthy eating as a way to improve your happiness and mental well-being but I also like a good dose of junk food now and again (and again and again). For my mum’s birthday I decided to treat her to something truly indulgent – an anti-gravity chocolate cake! This recipe can be found on the BBC Good Food website and is extremely easy to make though somewhat time-consuming. I didn’t even use a mixer, just a balloon whisk and some elbow-grease.

Check it out!

And the final result…

Sweet Treats Smarties Anti Gravity Anti-Gravity Cake Chocolate Buttercream Birthday Mum Create Bake Off Entry Seven 7 Learning Happiness
I’m very proud of this creation and my Mum loved it!

Pure, unadulterated, chocolatey bliss! If you’ve got a birthday coming up or know someone who deserves a treat, consider spending a little time creating something indulgent and delicious just for them. It will make you feel good to be putting your time into treating someone else and you can eat the scraps as you go along! Win-win as far as I’m concerned.

Please feel free to share your baking successes (or failures!) in the comments below and let me know what kind of food helps bring you happiness!

Entry 6 | Give An Adventure

Learning Happiness Give An Adventure Wistow Maze Maize Family Fun Day Out Surprise

Everyone knows the old saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Now, I’m a big fan of both but I certainly think that a great deal of personal happiness can be found in making someone else happy.

A week ago I saw an advert in a magazine for a fairly local activity and it struck me that my parents and boyfriend would probably enjoy it as much as I would. I asked them all to check their diaries and make sure they were free this weekend for a spot of adventuring and they each confirmed that they were. However, the precise nature of the adventure was kept a complete secret. I simply advised them to choose footwear suitable for walking and to prepare for all weather-eventualities; we live in England so it could easily have been a disaster.

I kept my secret all week and it was still a mystery to my three passengers when we began our journey. I elected to be designated driver, feeling it may be safest that way, and I had organised a bag of supplies for each person so that sustenance and aid were available during our travels. The contents included two lollipops, a breakfast bar, and a couple of tubes of bubbles (a cryptic note explained that they were for use as flares if anyone got lost).

It was very exciting to keep a secret but a little nerve-wracking too – what if people didn’t like the idea as much as I’d hoped? Fortunately, as we drew close and the destination was finally sign-posted, my passengers caught on and were delighted. I drove into the car park of Wistow Maze and we all piled out into the sunshine.

Learning Happiness Give An Adventure Wistow Maze Maize Family Fun Day Out Surprise
My commemorative postcard from the trip!

Wistow Maze is a maize field, cut through with around 3 miles of winding paths and dead ends. Every year is a different configuration but this year, in honour of Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, it’s been drawn as the BFG! The maps they give you at the beginning show the aerial view of the giant and Sophie but it’s impossible to identify the shape once you’re in there; it’s just sunflowers and corn as far as the eye can see.

We split into two teams to complete the challenge (they have themed questions on boards hidden throughout the maze) and separated at the first fork. Then it was a fun two hours of getting thoroughly lost. We bumped into each other a few times and tried to sneak a peek at one another’s answers but to no avail. All in all, the surprise was a success, the sunshine held out and my team completed the quiz fastest and we are therefore supreme winners!

Planning a special day out made me feel really satisfied and I know that my family and partner loved the surprise and the extra little treats I mixed into it. Afterwards, we wandered around the rural centre and then I took them on a trip to the cinema to see, you guessed it, The BFG!

If you want to add a little happiness to your weekend and know someone who deserves a treat, see if you can plan a surprise for them. It doesn’t have to be a grand adventure, it could be as simple as breakfast in bed or an unexpected gift. And if you can’t decide whether or not they do deserve a treat, take them to a maze – if they’re annoying you part way round, pinch their map and leg it!

I hope everyone has had a happy Saturday!

Entry 5 | Be Childish Sometimes

Aquarium Penguin Pokemon Be Childish Sometimes Learning Happiness

The word “childish” has appeared on my newsfeed a lot in the past few days. With Pokémon Go all the rage right now many players are being accused of reverting back to childhood and neglecting their adult responsibilities. I think that’s nonsense! Childishness is not an inherently bad thing and there are plenty of positives to be gained from keeping a little spark of your childhood alive in you. Pokémon itself was invented by combining a man’s childhood fascination with insect collection and his teenage obsession with arcade games; he grew up to be one of the most respected video game designers of all time!

I somehow missed out on the Pokémon craze as a child but that’s okay because I have a mental treasure trove of other “childish” activities to revisit. When I left primary school in 2004 I wanted to be an explorer in the Amazon, discovering new animals every day and writing about all of my adventures. So last Sunday, while many of my peers were out playing Pokémon, I decided to indulge my own inner child with a trip to the aquarium!

We went to a Sealife Centre aquarium which was excellent for a number of reasons. For one thing, it has penguins and I am a sucker for a cute penguin. For another, the focus of the company is on conservation, breeding and education; a lot of the money they make goes towards rescuing marine wildlife and one of the talks we caught was about encouraging responsible fish consumption by avoiding brands that are unsustainable. So as well as being kept entertained for hours it made me happy to know that my entry fee was going towards such a good cause.

My boyfriend and I may well have been the only adults there without child-supervision and we were just as keen as any of the kids to explore the different underwater tunnels and child-sized peep holes. There were some scary moments in which we struggled to get back out of the passageways into which we foolishly squeezed. But you have to make the most of the experience, no matter how big you are!

Being childish doesn’t mean neglecting your responsibilities, it’s about continuing to appreciate things with the same awed wonderment you had when you were young. Being an adult doesn’t mean being dull, for me it means driving safely using diesel I paid for with a license I earned to a big building full of fish and staring at them all morning… and then going for a burger!

What do you do to keep the spark of childhood alive inside you?

Entry 4 | Festival Spirit

Barn on the Farm Festival Spirit Learning Happiness

Before the summer of 2016 I had never been to a festival. I was convinced that I’d enjoy the experience but something about the mud, the rain, and the overwhelming crowds of people was not quite enough to persuade me to make the effort in previous years. I have since decided that attitude was absurd! I like camping, love music, and can’t get enough of the kind of food you can buy from vans! Besides, I have turquoise wellingtons that match my turquoise coat and this accidental coordination makes me smile with childish glee. Where better than a festival to flaunt such a colourful combination?

I chose to let go of my concerns, embrace the festival spirit (more on their delicious cocktails shortly) and get down and dirty in the great British mud. My boyfriend invited me to join him in a glorious weekend at Barn on the Farm, an award-winning festival over in Gloucester, with a musically-inclined friend and his girlfriend, neither of whom I had met before. We met up on the Friday night and went to a local EP launch for the very talented Woolford Scott to get to know each other better and to listen to some excellent tunes. Then in the morning we started up two cars (the gentlemen were bringing a guitar and we couldn’t fit all our gear in one) and had a sat-nav competition to see which route there was quickest. Our car lost when we had to detour to purchase toothbrushes.

The two fellows in our group had been to this festival twice previously and greeted several of the volunteers they’d met before. My new partner in crime, the only other lady in this foursome, had been to other festivals in her time (though not this one). I was the solitary newbie.

It can feel intimidating doing something new when everyone around you is comfortable and familiar with the situation. But not this time. People were kind and welcoming and there were ostriches to watch and remarkable haggis and sweet chilli pizzas to scoff (don’t question it; you need this in your life). I was made to feel at ease straight away. There’s an instant friendliness about a group like this that is so rarely encountered in day-to-day life. Strangers actually talk to one another, share common interests and collaborate to make the most of the event. Anyone who struggled when putting up their tent found helping hands by their side immediately. The tent next to ours had a big Pride flag over the door and the inhabitants were loud and cheerful and warm. Wherever you looked there were people making new connections and sharing new experiences.

On the Saturday evening we joined a group of off-duty volunteers in the campsite and my musical boyfriend and his musical friend entertained us with clever harmonies. The guitar was passed around and everyone participated with enthusiasm; my particular favourite was a song which included the lines “My ovaries are exploding” and “Eat the whole damn fridge”. Even a member of the security team came over with a flashlight to brighten up the night and not, as we’d feared, to shut down the music.

Speaking of music, they have quite a lot of that at festivals! I have been to very few live performances and they stun me every time. Even though I didn’t know many of the songs the Barn on the Farm artists played the atmosphere was so exciting it didn’t matter. Besides, I can jump up and down to anything. I didn’t get a chance to see everyone but the stand-outs among those I did see were Mahalia, Hudson Taylor and Farm Band! There was so much joyful energy from the artists and their crowds that you couldn’t help but be sucked into it!

The festival had three stages and each was completely unique; one bordered by straw bales, one in the top half of a barn, one totally open to the elements right opposite a field of ostriches and surrounded by food stands! And oh, the food! I adored the food! Because Barn on the Farm is quite a small, independent festival you might think they’d be limited in terms of the food on offer. Nothing could be further from the truth! Honestly, I’d have gone there just to eat. With stone-baked pizzas, gourmet burgers, vegan and vegetarian curries, enormous full English breakfasts, authentic Greek food and unbelievable ice creams (served out of the back half of a vintage-VW-beetle-turned-freezer) no one went hungry. The Two Birds on the Farm cocktail which was served in the main bar was another favourite of mine and it packed the most delicious fruit punch!

To anyone who is hovering on the edge of a new experience but is put off by fears of it not being as good as the hype, I say go for it! It will almost certainly rain, get muddy, be too cold and too hot and push you out of your comfort zone. But if you get past all that (and enjoy a clichéd metaphor) then the sun will come out, the atmosphere will entrance you and people may even surprise you. And as long as there’s good food, you can’t really go wrong!

Barn on the Farm Festival Spirit Learning Happiness

Entry 3 | What I have learned about Vitamin D

What I have learned about Vitamin D

The first and perhaps most crucial thing I have learned is that it is called Vitamin D for a reason. Do not naively abbreviate it to both initials and expect to get away with it; if you tell people you are going outside to soak up some VD they will look at you with a mixture of disgust and alarm. This is an easy way to lose friends.

The second thing I have learned is that I wildly underestimated how much of an impact it can have on my health and happiness. The suggestion that fresh air and sunshine could improve my mood and increase my energy levels seemed improbable, and I was doubly dubious about taking this advice from a woman who claimed throughout my childhood that the ice-cream truck only played music when it had run out of ice-cream (thanks, Mum!). This all seemed too much like a clever ploy to get me out of the house for a few hours to be taken seriously.

As an adult (or someone resembling such) I have discovered that my scepticism was unfounded and, thanks to a quick search on Google, I now know much more about how it helps keep the body healthy and strong. For someone with pale skin like mine it is especially easy to get Vitamin D from sunlight; around 15 minutes in the sun is all I need on a daily basis. People with darker skin need more time in the sun to produce the same amount of Vitamin D and they are therefore at a greater risk of a deficiency. If you are deficient it will make it harder for your body to absorb calcium which could result in weak bones and teeth.

An estimated 40-75% of people may be deficient in Vitamin D and yet it takes so little time to get it into your body. If you have to stand outside checking emails on your phone for 20 minutes then do it! You’re getting your own work done and you’re still letting the sun do its job!

In the past I would spend whole days inside and the sun would rise and set, entirely unnoticed, on the wrong side of my window. (It’s worth knowing that, though you can burn through a window, you can’t actually benefit from the Vitamin D producing UVB rays, which can’t pass through glass.) Now I make an effort to spend time outside and it’s definitely improving my days and making a difference to my happiness. On my lunch break I used to move from the office to the canteen and back again but now I take my food out and walk for five minutes up the road to the park. I sit on a wall with a sandwich and a good book (or, more often, my phone) and watch the world and its dog-walkers go by.

Of course, we aren’t all lucky enough to work near a park but a few minutes in the middle of the day to soak up the best of the sun’s rays is all it takes. This can be done anywhere, even if that means a couple of laps around the staff car park. It may not be scenic but if it helps keep you healthy it’s got to be worth it! Even on an overcast day in the park I can still benefit from the sun’s almighty vitamin powers and I get a break and some fresh air so that I’m more lively and productive in the afternoons. Everybody wins!