Monday, 10 April 2017

Vacation Anticipation

The smile that says a trip is imminent...

I. Love. Travelling.

No surprises there - who doesn't, eh? A boost of vitamin sea is usually just what the doctor ordered; a reminder of the rich tapestry of Mother Nature's creative artwork that lies beyond the short-sighted humdrum of the nine-to-five. Travelling the world is one of the most enlightening and enriching lessons you can give yourself, more educational than any geography lecture or history class; providing a better understanding and appreciation for Planet Earth than any nature documentary. But if there's one thing I love even more than stepping off a Boeing 747, savouring the moment my freshly-manicured trotters touch foreign tarmac, squinting in the sunlight before flipping down my shades to protect against a blazing sun that always seems that much brighter than back home - it's the build-up to a trip. The vacation anticipation.

Don't get me wrong, I love a last-minute bargain; snapping up a deal and heading off within days on an unplanned jolly is always a bonus - but you can't beat the shivers of excitement that arise from carefully plotting a long-anticipated adventure. If I'm going to fork out the lion's share of my salary on a trip then I want all the feels. I've paid through the nose for that excitement, so give it to me by the bucketload. I want to revel in glorious sun-drenched daydreams as I ride the 07.56 commuter train to Bromley surrounded by grey-faced grumbling gargoyles. I want to let my mind wander, conjuring up images of crystal-clear seascapes and swanky city-breaks as a glorious diversion from reading about the latest horrors in the newspapers.

Some people haphazardly pack their suitcase in a few minutes, slinging it all in willy-nilly an hour before they're due to leave for the airport. Not me. I'll have my case out of the loft and splayed open in the spare room at least a week before I fly. As a sunworshipper (with the telltale wrinkles and sunspots to prove it) my wardrobe consists of mostly summer garb. Oh I'm a fair-weather friend alright. Stick my face under a UV lamp and it'll show more pigmentation patches than a Dalmatian, but boy do I have some nice summer dresses - and what's a few freckles between friends, eh?

As I prepare for my next trip, I'll lovingly take them out of the wardrobe, where they've no doubt been lurking in the darkness feeling neglected and unloved since my last trip due to our miserable British climate. I hold up the brightly-coloured wisps of skimpy fabric to my body as I turn this way and that in front of the mirror, allowing memories of tipsy moonlit walks on the beach and frenetic dancing at sunrise to come flooding back. If you look carefully you can see a scuff on my favourite sandals from scaling that cliff face in Thailand...or the catch in that top from getting caught on a branch in the Costa Rican rainforest. I won't part with them, despite their imperfections, as my beloved memories are woven tightly into the fabric.

Those clothes make me happy; to me they symbolise freedom, fun, and adventures past and future. Away from the monotony of the daily grind, we're free to indulge all our senses: tasting new foods; inhaling the aroma of exotic spices; experiencing unusual wildlife, cultures and architecture for the first time. Everything seems so fresh, it's like being reborn; brain buzzing with electrical impulses as  neurons are fired up to process all this new information.

It's when I'm travelling that I truly feel most alive, so anything that prolongs a trip is fine by me - be it planning, blogging or photography. Having forked out thousands on a six-month round-the-world trip in 2008, it was that sense of wanting to capture the memories that inspired me to start blogging in the first place. If ever something jogs my memory about a particular country, I can go to my blog and every detail is right there; I relive the moments in my head all over again.

As well as the wistful romanticising, I also love the practical pre-holiday prep: buying the travel guide from Amazon; plotting my route around a country. Routine trips to Superdrug suddenly become exciting when I'm in the market for mini travel toiletries. I know they're not economical, but they're just so goddamn cute! I add my next destination to my weather app so that I can flip between it's blue skies and London's bland ones on chilly grey days and remind myself why I go to work at all. I've even downloaded a countdown app so I can happily tick off the days from booking until trip time, excitement building as triple digits quickly become single ones and it's time to check in online.

As each final item goes into the suitcase so does another sprinkle of fairy dust, until it's time to zip up my luggage and head off on another memory-filled voyage into the unknown...

Next stop? Cuba, baby!

Not long now! Counting down the minutes...
My trusty Lonely Planet guide

No doubt I'll be Havana good time here in my next post ๐Ÿ˜›

Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:

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Thursday, 6 April 2017

Make Time For Tea - in association with TeaTourist

Back at the beginning of March, I wrote this post entitled You're Ovary Acting in aid of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and pledged to hold my own event to raise funds and awareness for gynae cancer charity, The Eve AppealHaving set the date for my Make Time For Tea charity fundraiser, I figured I'd best tackle two of my all-time personal pet hates: coffee and cooking.

I know most humans are drawn to coffee like cats to catnip, but for me it's a major turn-off: the aroma, the bitter taste, the tar-like appearance. Similarly, the very notion of trying to conjure up a Jamie Oliver creation in 30 short minutes is completely alien to me - I mean why would you even put yourself under that kind of undue pressure? Just thinking about pans bubbling over and utensils clattering is enough to bring me out in hives. The thing with cooking is that there's just so much effort involved. You do the maths: take a gazillion ingredients, add several different cooking durations and temperature requirements, sprinkle in a few distractions such as Facebook and the telly, then subtract the luxury of enough time...equals so many opportunities for things to go pear-shaped. Far too much admin, if you ask me.

Even the eggs were laughing at my cooking efforts

Fortunately, my distaste for all things coffee and culinary is countered by a love of tea and eating, so with a little determination I was able to overcome my lazy-girl issues and get cracking with the preparations. Well, it's all for charidee, mate, after all. As my partner Andy imports coffee for a living, he supplied the good stuff (I'll take his word for it), then I rolled up my sleeves and got my bake on...

Getting my bake on (that's not really a big splodge of cake mix on my chin - honest ๐Ÿ˜‹)

Now I doubt Mary Berry will be fearing for her job anytime soon, but I have to say my lemon drizzle cakes (yes, plural!) came out remarkably well - so much so that a couple of friendly neighbourhood mice (or perhaps it was my parents), scurried in and nibbled one of them and I had to bake another. Weirdly, I didn't mind at all - having overcome my concerns about the edibility of anything I could create in the kitchen, got past the faff of having to buy all the various cake-making components and worked out how to grate lemon zest without reducing my acrylic-nailed fingertips to bloody stumps, I actually began to relax and enjoy the bake. There may have been a flour cloud above my head and sticky lemon juice on every available surface, but licking the bowl was heavenly and the finished result made up for all the mess.

My lemon driz is the biz ๐Ÿ˜›

Whilst I cooked up a storm in the kitchen, my family rallied round to help get my house tea party-ready: mum loaning me the best family china; dad repainting my battered garden furniture that has definitely seen better days. My sister took one sceptical look at my child-unfriendly house full of angular units and breakables and began carrying out a full risk assessment...quickly concluding that a trip to her place to collect enough primary-coloured bits of plastic to open our own branch of Toys R Us was required. (Later, when I clocked her easing grubby little mitts off my travel memorabilia and back towards the toys I was extremely grateful for her contribution).

Zipping round the supermarket for some prefessionally-baked back-ups, I was aware of the judgemental glances of other shoppers; eyes sliding away as I clocked them peering at the cake mountain in my trolley: lemon meringue pie, swirly strawberry cheesecake, scones, red velvet cake, Taste The Difference carrot, morello cherry bake (that one was delicious, by the way) - you name it, I bought it. I looked like some crazed sugar junkie on a bender. I slung in a few bottles of prosecco for good measure and I was good to go.

On the morning of my event I awoke early to prepare the treat-filled feast for my guests. Having performed yet another last-minute supermarket sweep, the spread was looking even more bountiful: baked goods balanced on every surface. Sprinkling heart confetti on the table and adding flowers, I stepped back to admire my handiwork...

I'm not sure there's enough...?

My sister, mum and cousins were my first guests to arrive. A special mention must go to my cuzzy Lucy Blake, a cake-baking whizz, whose impressive cupcakes complete with Eve Appeal logos and edible glitter drew gasps of delight from my guests.

Move over Delia! My cousin Lucy's handiwork...

Hungry ladies began arriving in their droves and we finally allowed my little nephew Hayden to get stuck into the cake table - something he'd been slyly attempting for the last hour, his mum and I swatting him away until the other guests arrived.

All my nail-biting fears of no-shows, mumbled apologies and texts of regret dissipated as the doorbell chimed; the tea was poured, the cafetiรจre plunged and cakes gratefully eaten. Neighbours popped in, friends dutifully appeared; there were even a few surprise appearances and tears.

cousins and cakes
Blondes have more...cake?
a few of my oldest pals

A timely collaboration with those lovely folk at TeaTourist meant that as well as my trusty PG Tips, I also had an abundance of interesting herbal tea blends to offer my guests. Available as a one-off purchase, a thoughtful gift or a monthly subscription, the company selects an array of carefully-crafted artisan teas from various respected suppliers and then delivers them to your door in a slimline box that fits easily through the letterbox, so no hanging around for deliveries. The complementary taster box I received included some intriguing flavours such as Chocolate Orange and the cinnamon-tinged Mulled Apple Brandy - although my favourite of them all is Rose and Strawberry. Each taster sachet has enough for four cups and includes information about the tea as well as the company who produce it, along with a discount code if you'd like to repurchase directly. Seeing as there's a subscription box for just about everything these days, it makes sense to have one for tea too. (Use code FIRST10 for 10% off your first box).

Teatourist taster box
Hmm, which shall I try next...?

By mid-afternoon the first sitting of tea-guzzlers had thinned out, so there was just time for a quick washing-up session and a replenish of cakes before round two. By this point I was buzzing: partly due to the sugar rush from all the cake-sampling, but even more so upon seeing my strategically-placed collection boxes overflowing with crisp banknotes. Way to go, ladies!

To add to the warm fuzzy feeling that gave me inside, Mother Nature provided a warm fuzzy feeling on the outside: Thursday 30th March turned out to be the hottest March day for five years, enabling us to spend the entire afternoon in the garden eating yet more cake and quaffing prosecco. High five, Sister!

The final guests left at 6pm, so I kicked off my shoes, had a cup of Wilderness Honeybush from my TeaTourist box and totted up the funds raised. The cash on the day totalled £265, with another £298 via my Just Giving account, giving a grand total of £563! Add to that the 25% gift aid and the total raised climbed to £703.75! How cool is that?! A pretty productive day, if I do say so myself...

So on behalf of The Eve Appeal and myself I'd like to say a huge and heartfelt "Thank you!" to everyone who donated to my campaign - either in person or online. Your generous contributions will enable this fabulous charity to continue their great work: protecting women's health by helping prevent gynae cancers.

The word I'd use to sum up the day? Much like the cakes themselves actually:

"Sweet!" ๐Ÿ˜‰

Hayden and Amelia enjoy a cupcake

Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:

Follow me:

Twitter: @SamanthaWalsh76
Instagram: wanderingblonde76