Italy Bound; A Day in Pisa, San Gimignano & Siena

One of the great things about Florence was that it was so well connected to other parts of Italy. So, when we were approached by a tour salesman offering a day trip to Pisa, we readily agreed. The tour was to include a morning trip to Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa to see the leaning bell tower, Duomo and the Baptistery. Then we would be taken to the medieval town of San Gimignano to explore the wonderful views, have lunch and wine tasting in a local vineyard and finish with a tour of Siena.

 

Pisa

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“You can’t go all the way to Florence and not see the leaning tower of Pisa” is what my younger brother told me, and I have to agree. This famous symbol of Italy is a must-see if you visit this side of the world, only 1 hour 30 mins away from Florence by car.

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Aside from the iconic leaning tower shot that everyone will be getting (I include you, no matter how strong willed you are, you won’t be able to resist), you can actually go to the top of the bell tower for great views over Pisa. I warn you now, walking up will feel wonky!

After you have got your shots and climbed wonkily to the top, make sure you visit the Duomo next door and the baptistery. I didn’t feel like I needed more than a morning in Pisa to see the Piazza dei Miracoli (square of miracles) but there is more to Pisa than the tower if you do want to spend the day!

 

San Gimignano

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A magical town, built upon a hill, enclosed in medieval walls; this beautiful location happened to also be the place that my colleague and friend got engaged, in fact the friends whose wedding I attended the day before my very first solo adventure (read about it here… it was emosh).

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It’s easy to see why it is a popular romantic spot for many couples from all over the world when you approach the castle-like walls and wander through the inclining and declining walkways defined by the towering medieval stone shops and houses.

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Between buildings you may find winding alleys that lead you to magical views, history-infused sculptures, medieval buildings or local Italian restaurants, gelaterias and cafes.
Take your time and explore, you will certainly find something you love here.

 

Wine Tasting

We were taken to a local family vineyard, the vineyard of Famiglia Mazzarrini, for a tour of the winery, a taste of the Tuscan Italian wines and a delicious pasta for lunch. We enjoyed a selection of refreshing and rich red and white wines, as well as a sparkling, and this was a chance to really get to know others on our tour who were sat with us.

In addition to the wines, we were given a platter of meats and cheeses with breads to try a drop of the most expensive and potent truffle oil I’ve ever tried (probably the only truffle oil I’ve tried).

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Afterwards, we were also educated on real olive oil/balsamic vinegar; extra extra virgin olive oil comes with extra bullshit and if you buy balsamic vinegar that contains sugar or colourant then throw it in the bin. Consider yourself now also educated.

A few glasses later this was us…

Shout out to spinach boy and to the girl who got wasted on the wine tasting, fell asleep on the bus and then wandered off so we couldn’t find her. What a lad.

 

Siena

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So the final part of the excursion was a guided walking tour of Siena, by which time my feet were so sore it felt like I was wearing down the heel bone. But, I hobbled through the tour paying particular note to the bi-annual 90 second Palio horse race that takes place around the Piazza del Campo. They transform their main square into an arena by adding sand to the outer square whilst people gather in the centre by the thousands, or if they are lucky (rich) they can nab a balcony above one of the many shops and restaurants surrounding the square.

I also learned that there’s an equally weird reason for the weird breastfeeding wolf symbol of Siena and that’s all thanks to a legend of two brothers, Senius and Aschius, who were suposedly raised by wolves.
A final point worth noting is the Cathedral in the centre was built by the same architect who built the leaning tower of Pisa as well as Florence’s esteemed Duomo.

Thus ends my Italian mini adventure.

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12 Months of Simple Living: End of Year Thoughts

It’s been a year of this transformation journey and as January 2018 arrived, I thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect on each month and what impact, if any, it has had on the way I live my life now.

1. | January – Vegetarian |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Vegetarian Recipes

If there was ever going to be a controversial challenge it was this one. With opinions and beliefs splitting people world wide on the subject, it was always going to be harder for a previously strict carnivore to “try out” being Vegetarian for a month and then blog about the short lived and not hugely successful experience. But this journey is my own and now I can see this short lived month really did have an effect on my view, and now my lifestyle choices. However insignificant they might seem, they are still small steps toward a healthier life and a better world.

Since January, I’ve found myself increasingly choosing the vegetarian options whether it is in my work canteen, at home or out to eat with friends. I put this down to a change in my attitude towards meat as a result of understanding the vast amounts of waste, the damage to the environment and the inhumane treatment of animals all for the sake of corporate greed.

From a health point of view, I am so much more aware of the fats and greasiness of meat and how much heavier it sits in my stomach, I do tend to feel a little odd when I eat some types of meat now. It does make me wonder what sort of diseases we are potentially exposed to by eating meat.  That’s not to say I don’t crave the odd steak now and then but I am so much more aware of  trying to choose organic, free range, grass fed meat.

Having said that, I do want to aim to be even more veggie and I have concluded that being a full time vegetarian would be the ideal lifestyle choice and probably is how we were once meant to be. Not that any of my life choices are ideal- we’ll see!

Note: Spiralizers interest me now more than ever before!

 

2. | February – Forgiving |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three
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This one has to be the hardest of all as it’s a continuous battle and a continuous cycle. Choosing to let people off the hook when they have wronged you seems unnatural to our human instincts and makes us feel like a doormat sometimes. But this doesn’t have to be so. I am continually reminding myself that forgiveness does not mean reconciliation; if you are continually wronged, don’t let them wrong you again. But love them and show them kindness anyway.

I can definitely see improvements with the way I handle disagreements, knowing that just because we have differences of opinion doesn’t make us bad people, just unique individuals who handle things in different ways. I try to respect another’s perspective even if I disagree.

I still struggle with letting things go quickly, but I can usually get over it after taking a breather. And with my long term grievances, it will always be a battle to maintain forgiveness but I will keep trying.

 

3. | March – Positivity & Thankfulness |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
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This challenge is one that went beyond my natural disposition. I’ve grown up in an environment of complaining, from my family to the culture of the UK, so trying not to was a real difficulty. Being thankful for everything, including the bad times, just opens your eyes to how blessed you really are. Blessed you have arms and legs, and eyes and ears, blessed you are able to use them, blessed you have food, shelter and a job. There’s actually a lot to be thankful for!

I really struggle, still, to see the glass half full rather than half empty but I am working on it. A good way to start thinking a bit more positively is by writing a diary of your week noting, at various points of the day, how you felt – happy, sad, angry – and to what degree out of 100% you felt those emotions. When you look back, you will likely realise you have a much happier life than you initially thought. This is because our minds get conditioned just to remember the negative and not the positive.

Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

 

4. | April – Stick at It |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three
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This challenge  actually made me realise that my problem wasn’t so much giving up on things, as feeling like giving up every time something gets tough. Also it was about believing in my ability to achieve what I set out to do.

Through going travelling, something I needed to do for myself but was afraid to, it helped me build confidence in myself. I’m trying to maintain this confidence now that I am back; it’s actually the mundane things in life that knock the confidence out of you.

I have found myself being a little braver and taking those risks even if I might fail, but there’s still work to be done!

 

5. | May – Exercise |

Navigate: Part One| Part Two | Part Three

This one’s gone out the window! Seriously, I don’t like doing any of it – classes annoy me, I don’t even know where to start in the gym, I HATE running, going for walks in the cold British weather is not up there on my fun list… so what can I do?!

I know I have to exercise, I know it’s very important for mental and physical health, but I just need to find something I actually enjoy doing.

I am working on it!!! The only classes I do quite enjoy are yoga classes, so I will try to keep those up at least. Any suggestions? Let me know!

 

6. | June – Meditation |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two

A very interesting challenge, in that, I thought this would be the easiest, but it turned out to be much harder than I thought.

I enjoyed it when I did it, but I found that I had to make time for it, rather than try to fit it in my day.

I haven’t kept it up on a daily basis but have naturally found myself meditating on life, faith and positive thoughts when on my own and spending time enjoying the beauty of Nature.

“Beauty is the purest feeling of the soul. Beauty arises when soul is satisfied.”
― Amit Ray

 

7. | July – Water |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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A challenge that you either understood completely or didn’t get at all. Fellow water haters, I confess, I was doing so well and then I reverted… But I have a plan to get me back on track!

Drinking water has always been at the bottom of my to do list, and something happened when I realised, in my sugar free month, that (some) wines only had naturally occurring sugars; I started drinking more wine… And more… Not like an alcoholic, but just like with my dinner and in replacement for water…

Okay jokes aside (sort of), I just struggle in this already damp and wet, cold English weather to feel thirsty. I feel somehow I’m absorbing so much water just through breathing damp air. And even when thirsty, I’m so cold I opt for a dehydrating cup of tea (that’s right, tea is a diuretic so you ultimately lose more water than you take in).

But the plan? I bought this from Kikki.K and I intend to use it.
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New Year, new pee… I mean me.

8. | August – Say Yes |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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This challenge was certainly the most adventurous and the most rewarding, delivering me to exciting new places, giving me more out of life and connecting me with the best people the world has to offer!

It’s an attitude that takes courage and takes self-belief. You need to be a risk taker, taking chances when there may be disappointment. Worst, you need to be prepared to be disappointed.

I have definitely carried on with this type of attitude, but I have to remind myself. I am naturally cautious and if left to my instincts, I would let opportunities pass me by. I struggle with disappointment and so when I am let down it hurts, a lot! But life is not going to get more interesting, fun or exciting if you don’t take risks.

I hope 2018 will be a year that I don’t hold myself back with my own self-doubt, but a year which I open my eyes to opportunities and take them with both hands!

 

9. | September – Slow Down |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two

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Image Credit: ryangoggin.com

This one is harder to keep up when life just gives you busy schedules week on week. Certainly, my technology diet assisted with this and I naturally slowed down in most aspects of my life.

I have since had to remind myself to enjoy beautiful moments, the first full moon of 2018 for example, and a stunning sunrise the following morning.

Slowing down ties in with meditation, with reducing social media and other time fillers and many other parts of my yearly challenges.

I hope to carry on a slightly slower, more purposeful pace into 2018.

 

10. | October – Sugar Free |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner | Dessert
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This is the challenge I am most proud of. It was complex and required a lot of effort; cooking, reading ALL labels, turning down tasty office junk food etc. But I smashed it!

I honestly saw the health benefits (especially when I returned to sugar), I realised the effect that sugar had on my asthma!

Sadly, the return to sugar has been a full submersion due to the time of year, but I would like that to change in the new year and I’d like to greatly reduce my intake. If not for my overall health, for my asthma (which has suffered greatly due to the return to sugar and all the other factors that trigger it).

I will proudly say though, that I have not returned to putting sugar in my tea!

 

11. | November – Technology Diet |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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Being cut off from the world of social media came with mixed feelings… It was strangely freeing but at the same time isolating.

Yes, I missed out on social events, life updates from all my 900+ facebook “friends” (ha! I have more than you! JK) and ultra-hilarious memes, BUT I gained an independence, learned a new language (slash carried on learning Spanish from all my years of dabbling) and met people in more organic ways.

Being back on social media, I actually am not as bothered anymore… It’s sort of an effort to post so I’m doing it less. And I’m only really scrolling through facebook for the “12 times you failed at life” style posts, because … they make me giggle.

So, although I won’t keep off social media, I think I have struck a balance along the way.

 

12. | December – Volunteer |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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What a feel-good way to end the year; by volunteering! I honestly got such a sense of achievement by helping these charities in the skills that I had to offer. I really cannot urge you enough, if you have any spare time, to give some of it to a charity of your choice. You will form new friendships, new connections and it can even help you gain more skills.

One thing that is overlooked when people are looking for jobs but lack the experience, is volunteering. The way I gained my administrative experience was by volunteering for the Lifetrain Trust. So if this is where you find yourself, just go for it – if not to help, then to look better on your CV. But you will feel good when you see the contribution you have made to these charities.

Charities do amazing work, and I will be more than happy to give more of my time to volunteer during 2018!

 

So that’s it, my end of year update! Let me know how you have found my challenges and if you have a resolution for 2018!

Thanks for reading!

Ciao!

X


12 Steps to Simple Living

This month, in spending time in reflection, being self-aware and harnessing positive thoughts, I’ve realised that it is important to define the things that matter most to you. And in doing that we need to be intentional about taking steps to respond to those things.

We like to complicate life and stray away from the simplicity of day to day “in the moment” living by creating barriers and being defined by other people.

But this year of monthly challenges is all about being more of “me” as I define it and less of “me” as current society decides it should be.

For that reason, here are the 12 steps that are important to me in my ‘Simple Living’ challenge.

12 Steps to Simple Living

Kite Flying at Devil's Dyke

1.       Do not isolate yourself. It’s a big world out there but it gets smaller as you branch out more. Never be afraid to ask others for help, say “yes” to more invites, call that old friend up out of the blue! You will be surprised where this takes you.

2.       Shh… listen, don’t speak – take time to listen, think carefully and work out what your mean before you speak. You cannot take words back once they are said, so guard your tongue. Show empathy and be compassionate.

3.       Don’t let fear make your decisions. How many times have thoughts of what might go wrong got in the way of you pursuing the things you want to do? Fear is the number 1 dream-killer. Don’t let what might happen get in the way of what could happen.

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4.       Own your happiness –  take responsibility of your feelings and emotions. Happiness is something you create within yourself and no person or circumstance should have the ability to take it away from you. Do what it takes to make you happier, you only have one life!

5.       Change – you know you’ve been wrong, you know you make mistakes. Change! Always aim to be the best version of you and don’t make the same mistakes twice!

6.       Be kind & understanding. You don’t know what someone has gone through to get where they are today, so assume the best in people. Give them a chance! So often we judge others from afar but when we get to know them, we wonder why we didn’t meet them sooner.

7.       Have role models. It is good to have someone we look up to, but be careful not to put them on a pedestal or compare yourself to them. You are your own unique you and role models should be there to encourage us to be the best versions of ourselves.

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8.       Surround yourself with your goals. If you want to be a dancer, hang out with dancers, similarly, if you want to be more patient then spend time with patient people. You become like those you surround yourself with so choose carefully where you invest that time.

9.       Release emotions creatively and healthily. There are many creative ways of expressing emotion. Things like painting, dancing, writing, singing and even cooking or baking. All of these are gifts to enable us to express ourselves and give an outlet for emotion. Too often we fold into ourselves or lash out when we are experiencing negative emotions, but next time try directing those emotions into something creative as a way of healthily expressing your feelings.

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Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/ErenaBordonSanchez/

10.   Be spiritual. See the world as more than just a physical place. Don’t stop seeking more. Whether it be more enlightenment, more love, more peace or more faith. Expand your knowledge, deepen your understanding, grow in wisdom.

11.   Be healthy.  Your body is a precious temple, look after it. It is our only “earth suit” and it isn’t easy to repair when it’s broken. So take very good care of it and invest in it. Choose to eat more veg and less meat, drink more water and less alcohol, exercise to keep everything mobile and strong, don’t take sleep for granted, make sure you give your body enough time too regenerate each night and keep up the personal hygiene (if not for your sake then for everyone else). It will be worth the investment in the long run!

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12.   Know who you are! – Finally, always remember, you are good enough, you are capable, you are strong; you will achieve your goals. Don’t ever let anyone else define your worth, know your value and don’t settle for being treated less than what you are. You are beautiful!

The monthly challenges I have set myself are all part of this journey. The hope is that by the end of this year, life will be more purposeful and intentional as I rid myself of complications and just simply be me.

~X

March Month 3: Positivity & Thankfulness (Part Three)


Challenge: Be Positive, Be Thankful
Charity: Operation Restoration
Total £ accrued: £7
Positive Thought:  “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.” – Louis L’Amour


The Third Challenge: Being Positive & Thankful Continued…

Decree Absolute

I didn’t think I would be writing another post until the end of this month, but this came through the post today and I knew it was time to share this part of my life with you.

Those who know me will probably know what I have had to go through this year (beginning nearly exactly 1 year ago); having had my marriage break down. It is hard to find the words to describe everything I’ve gone through in the last year, except to say how blessed I have been, despite my world crumbling, despite being afraid and despite feeling so lost.

Divorce is a word people don’t like to throw around because of its stigma, but here I am, I’m 25 and divorced. But it could be so much worse!

I have had some pretty amazing friends around me, who being caught in the most awkward situation, have done their best to be there for both of us. It’s awkward when you split and you hate one another, but what is even more awkward is when you split but you still want to remain friends. I couldn’t be more thankful for how my friends and family have done their best to deal with it. Even though they are also grieving the loss of the relationship, and we will grieve. We have to; we all went into this expecting it to be forever.

But life is so strange and sometimes you wake up and you ask yourself, “How on earth did I end up here?”

On those days, I have been lucky enough to be able to smile and say to myself “but I am glad I made it here”.

It is not an easy thing to go through, but pain can be used for growth or for destruction:- make sure it’s always the first.

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This flimsy piece of paper marks the end of an old chapter of my life, one which I do not regret but which needed to come to an end. For the sake of both of us. And now this month as spring begins to bring buds to bloom & rain to sun, I am reminded of new beginnings, a new start, a new door opening, a new chapter. And I know in this next year I will find myself asking that same question again, “How on earth did I end up here?”.

Thank you life, thank you earth, thank you God.

 

I’m thankful.

Sunsets & Cobwebs, Brockham
I went for an early evening stroll down the beautiful Brockham lane, to post my final application for the decree absolute. And as I was walking back, I knew that I could be so down about my life being such a mess, having failed, having let everyone down. I knew I could let the guilt weigh on my shoulders (and I do get this from time to time, the guilt of all the people who invested into the marriage emotionally, financially & spiritually). But as I looked at the sky- trees silhouetted against it, giant fireballs lightyears away which we call stars & a huge planet shining half it’s face on us – I could feel nothing but gratitude. And so in my heart I silently listed the things I was thankful for.

Brockham Church

I’m thankful that I have somewhere to live. And somewhere so beautiful.
I’m thankful for my job.
I’m thankful for my car.
I’m thankful that I have people who love me.
I’m thankful for the amazing relationships I have and have had.
I’m thankful for the opportunities that I have, that even some close to me may never have. The opportunity to travel, have amazing experiences, to succeed in one of the richest countries in the world.

I’m so thankful to God for the beauty in the world around me, that we all can enjoy, both rich and poor. The stars in the sky, the moon, the sun on your face, the breeze, flowers, trees and so much more. Such a vast earth and full of secret riches, hidden before our very eyes.

What a beautiful world. Thank you all for being part of mine.

 

In the spirit of thankfulness…

Operation Restoration, Bolivia

Please take a moment to think of those less fortunate than you, Operation Restoration have been doing incredible work to transform the lives of street children in Bolivia. The couple who founded this amazing charity in Bolivia are Roger & Isha Hulford. Roger is the twin brother of David who I mentioned in my February blog post on Forgiveness for his amazing heart of forgiveness towards the person who killed his daughter, my close friend, in that car accident.
This family never cease to amaze me.

Donate or Sponsor a Child.

Part Four

March Month 3: Positivity & Thankfulness (Part Two)


Challenge: Be Positive, Be Thankful
Charity: Operation Restoration
Total £ accrued: £4
Positive Thought: “Sometimes in the waves of change we find our true direction.” – Unknown


The Third Challenge: Being Positive & Thankful Continued…

“If you had £86,400 in your account and someone stole £10 from you, would you be upset and throw all of the £86,390 away in hopes of getting back at the person that took your £10? or move on and live? You would move on and live!
We have been given 86,400 seconds in each day. Don’t let a negative 10 seconds ruin the rest of the 86,390! Life is bigger than that.”

The grand canyon, Arizona

That was a quote that was given to me one morning by Ryan, I’m not sure who originally said it but what a powerful concept; it shook the very core of me. Because not long before it, I was doing exactly that- allowing a negative moment ruin my entire day!

I started the month with high expectations, feeling that I would be prepared to transform every negative moment into a positive one. After all, every cloud has a silver lining right?
I don’t know what it is about life, but it has a way of humbling you when you confidently say “I’ve got this one”, and this month has been no different. Life will never meet you with the expected, and even when it does, you still won’t be prepared for it.
Hint: Tiredness is NOT your friend when you are trying to be positive, and to those who can relate; watch out for hormones – they’re a bitch.

Positivitity & Thankfulness is not a short term fix, a solution to a problem or a formula for success. It is a way of life. To live this way you have to change your mindset and that takes time.

Having said that, here is my 3 step formula to success (the small print: this probably won’t work, I will not take responsibility for any negativity experienced as a result of following my 3 step formula to success, if it does work, I will take full credit)!

The sun shines even in the coldest places.

1. Identify the source of negativity in your life.

Is it driving? Is it work? Is it your relationships? 
Then, for me, it was a matter of asking myself “What can I do about it?”. Because to be positive, I believe we need to surround ourselves with positive energy. I chose to listen to music at work to help deal with any day-to-day pressures. I also listen to music in the car  which I find I can’t help but sing along to – even in traffic.
I also chose to post something positive and inspiring each day on social media (which you can follow using the buttons at the bottom of the page).

“How to stop time: kiss.
How to travel in time: read.
How to escape time: music.
How to feel time: write.
How to release time: breathe.”
― Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

2. Train yourself to react differently.

This one is harder; it’s about unlearning negativity. It’s about understanding that positivity is a choice that you can make. I have this strange thing where if something goes badly enough, I just don’t react to it. It’s just way beyond my control and there is a strange peace in that. Imagine if I could just scale it down to the smaller things and hone in on that ability to let go of things that are beyond my control, how much more zen would I be?!

One thing that I have come to realise though, is that being positive does not mean never feeling negative; but instead choosing to believe in and expect the most optimistic outcome. In negative situations, choose to see the bigger picture. Who knows, your messy life could end up being a work of art worth 2.54mil.

“Bless your challenges and they will turn into gifts.” – Diana Cooper

3. Always find a reason to smile.

I had a pretty shit day the other day where I did literally let that 10 seconds of somebody’s negativity ruin my entire day. I was feeling so low, and so fragile (and majorly emosh – like crying and everything). But there was one moment when I was driving home and it was raining like crazy and then the rain sort of mixed with hail and it was drumming on my car. And there was this break in the clouds where it was, for a moment, really flipping bright and sunny at the same time. And there was a rainbow, and the end of the rainbow was on my car! I was so happy, literally in that moment, so happy – I had never seen the end of a rainbow before! I mean, if you’ve seen my car, you will realise it is no pot of gold, but that was my reason to smile and be thankful for beautiful mother nature.

“When it rains, look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for stars.” – Unknown

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To finish things  off, here is a motivational video that really inspired me.

Thanks for reading, don’t forget to check social media for your  daily dose of positivity. If you are enjoying my posts, then please subscribe below.

Part Three