How To Do Everything And Be Happy

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Phoenix FM ‘Happy Club’: Dealing With Christmas / Stress List Day

If you’d prefer to ‘listen‘ to this post (rather than read it), scroll down to the bottom and click the big play button in the centre of the video box, or click here if you’re reading this in an email

johnny

Yes folks, it’s that time of year again; it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

For some that means mince pies and merriment, for others it’s mayhem and madness, but regardless of how you feel about the festive season one thing cannot be denied. It can be a tad stressful.

In addition to our usual busy lives, for one month, maybe more, most of us have to contend with (at least some) of the following:

  • Christmas preparation (presents, cards, etc. etc)
  • Other deadlines (“this must be finished before xmas”, “…before the end of year” etc)
  • Yet more deadlines / restrictions! (last posting day, office close down, system change-freeze, ‘Sunday’ service)
  • Adverse weather!
  • Rubbish driving conditions!! (more traffic, less daylight, adverse weather)
  • Extra social events (office party, clubs, kid’s panto)
  • Hang overs!
  • Colds and flu

Is it any wonder that some of us wish that Christmas only came around every other year, or every four years, or maybe once a century.

A few years back I came up with a solution to all this nonsense. Behold STRESS LIST DAY

Step 1: Make a List

Make a list of all the stuff that stressing you now

  • Not a general list; this is not an ‘Ugh List’
  • Only stuff that absolutely has to be sorted
  • Only stuff that keeps popping into your mind

There’s some very interesting research that shows that if you keep thinking about something other than the thing you’re supposed to be thinking about right now, you’re pretty much hard-wired to feel unhappy.

Here’s my stress list..

  • Christmas!
    • Cards
    • Presents
      • Niece
      • Parents
      • Brother in law
    • What does my sister want me to take on Christmas Day?
  • Clients
    • Client 1
    • Client 2
    • Client 3
  • Next book(s)
    • finish edits
    • agree cover
    • audio?
    • launch in January!

Step 2: Prioritise

Re-sort your list with the following in mind

  • Importance (how much trouble would I be in if this didn’t happen?)
  • Deadline dates (last posting date, event date, last working day)

 Step 3: Schedule Stress List Day

Take your diary and schedule 4 to 5 Stress List days / mornings / evenings (or however many days you think you’ll need) between now and a week or so before Christmas.

  • Better too many than not enough
  • Make the time! Cancel other things if you have to!

Just knowing you’ve set aside time to sort these things should make you feel better

Step 4: Work The List

On Stress List Day, work your list in order. You probably won’t feel much better after the first stress list day, but by the end of the second, and the third, when you’ve started to make a dent in that list, your overall stress levels should start to fall.

If it works for you schedule next years Stress List days now, a little earlier than this years.

By the way, books make GREAT Christmas Presents! Why not order a signed copy of How To Do Everything And Be Happy – only £6.00 (plus postage)

Listen to me discussing the Stress List on ‘Happy Club’ (Phoenix FM)

Last week I met up with the delightful Michelle Ward of Phoenix98 FM to discuss the Stress List and other happiness concepts. To listen to the show click the big play button in the image below – or if you’re reading this in an email, click here)

If you have a question for next month’s show feel free to drop me a line, post a comment below, tweet either myself or Michelle, or send me a message on facebook.

The theme for January will be ‘New Year – New You!


Michelle’s live on Phoenix FM every weekday from 10am.


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Four Fab Songs – What Are Yours?

music that makes you happy - share your fave songs

A while back I made a list of all the little things that make me happy. List making was one of the items on that list.

I’m not the only one for whom list making has this peculiar effect. Almost a year ago now, reader Annie asked her facebook friends (of which I am one) to make a list of four songs along these lines:

1. a song that makes you happy
2. a song that gets you on the dance floor
3. a song that makes you cry (when no one’s watching)
4. a song that reminds you of being 18

It turned out to be quite a popular game, such that I thought it was high time we repeated the exercise!

Don’t spend hours and hours giving it too much thought (unless you really want to of course – hello Karen Harris), just dive in and pick the first four songs that meet the criteria.

If you think of more songs later – come back and have another go!

Jot your answers in the comments below, or on facebook where some people have already posted some great tunes!

Feel free to share the image your own facebook timeline if you’d like your friends to join in. Tweet at me if you prefer.  Pin the image on pinterest. Instagram. Whatever you like. It’s all good.


This Wednesday I re-join the delightful Michelle Ward of Phoenix98 FM to discuss ‘happiness’, and to answer your happiness related questions. Last month’s questions covered weight loss, hypothyroid syndrome, and what to do if you feel you have to choose between your own happiness or someone else’s. To listen to the show click the big play button in the image below (or if you’re reading this in an email, click here)

If you have a question for this month’s show feel free to drop me a line, post a comment below, tweet either myself or Michelle, or send me a message on facebook. We’ll get through as many as we’re able.


Michelle’s live on Phoenix FM every weekday from 10am.

To listen to other radio interviews (and audio content) about How To Eat Loads And Stay Slim click here

How To Eat Loads And Stay Slim is available, now, in three formats. Find out more at howtoeatloadsandstayslim.com


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Doing absolutely nothing

So last Sunday was a Boxing Day.

As per the Boxing Day Rules it had been booked out in my diary for some time, and also as per the rules I had no plans whatsoever. So what did I do with my day of unscheduled free-form fun?

Absolutely nothing.

There was a little facebook activity, a half hearted attempt at sorting through the edits for my novel, but other than that I pretty much spent the day sleeping, or sitting in front of the TV. And blimey-o’riley did it feel good.

I’d spent much of the previous day travelling back from Devon in horrendous bank-holiday traffic, and when I eventually made it home home, Essex was in the midst of a freak monsoon. Seriously. We had two inches of rainwater in thirty minutes, and it didn’t stop raining for another thirteen hours.

Whether any of this was responsible for the way I felt on Sunday morning I’m not really sure. All I knew is that once I’d dragged myself out of bed I didn’t really want to do anything more taxing than make a cup of tea, and sit in front of the tube. And as per the Boxing Day Rules that’s absolutely fine.

I pass this on because I had a ‘happy talkie’ session the other week with a reader who was beating herself up for not having enough items on her ‘potential-Boxing Day‘ list. She’d somehow got it into her head that although Boxing Day isn’t planned, it’s still a day when LOTS happens (hence why it requires a list). But that’s not the case at all.

Boxing Day is a day for you. It’s a day to recharge. Be in the moment. Do whatever you fancy. The list is there simply to safe guard you against boredom, or in case you’re not feeling particularly inspired, but it’s by no means essential. If all you want to do on Boxing Day is chillax – as my niece would say – then that’s fine too.

Which reminds me very much of this daft song from Bruno Mars, which you can view by clicking the big play button below (or by clicking here if you’re reading this in an email)

And if you enjoyed that you might find this version (by Megan Nicole) equally entertaining. I particularly like the way she ‘cleans up’ some of the lyrics whilst her Mum’s sitting in the background reading a self-help book.

Feel free to share your Boxing Day experiences, questions, or observations in the comments box below, or over on the facebook page.


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Brain Farts (& the return of Bob)

brainfartLast week – ish – I introduced you to Bob and his wish list which was, I don’t think he’ll mind me telling you, made up of quite a lot of stuff you wouldn’t ‘wish’ on your worst enemy.

Actually that’s not quite true. You probably would wish quite a lot of this stuff on your worst enemy. In fact viewed in this context, Bob’s list makes a lot more sense. I can see my enemy’s now, miserably cleaning their cookers, painting their wardrobes, and spending long hours on the phone to various banking institutions, all whilst I sit in the sun…

Anyway. After giving Bob the benefit of my advice I received the following chirpy response:

Not long after I’d sent you the email I was reading your book again and got to the page about Wish List items leading to Happiness and thought – oh my that’s it.  Lots of things on that list aren’t wish list stuff at all.  But I’d already sent the email.  I think what I presented to you isn’t my Wish List, its my list of Brain Farts.  Another book calls them pop-corn thoughts because they POP into your head.  I prefer Brain Farts.  I am a master list writer and I write all these brain farts down.  This leads to a big list that I don’t know what to do with.  Which is what I sent to you.  Its actioning the items on those lists that’s a problem.  I think what would make me happier (I’m not unhappy) is to become someone that can get those nagging jobs just done to make more space for Live Life Now Lists and Wish List stuff.

Ah Bob. I feel your pain. I’ve been there. Making endless lists of chores which if I can just get some of them completed, will free up so much time, and relieve me of all those niggles I feel through out the day.

So let me spare you some torment and make life considerably easier for you. It ain’t ever gonna happen. You’re never, ever, going to clear your brain fart list. Ever.

Have you ever noticed how it doesn’t matter how big that suitcase is, when it comes to holiday packing it’s never quite big enough?  Or how your wife manages to fill her handbag with all kinds of rubbish regardless of whether it’s the size of a small purse or large enough to comfortably hold a small child and a three volume novel. So it is with brain farts, and chores, and all those annoying things that seem to stand between you and a smile. They fill up whatever space you allow them to have. And therein is your solution. Take back control and give those farts no space whatsoever!

Now I’m not saying ignore them. That won’t work for you. Not unless you’re one of those people who are blessed with the amazing ability to live life totally in the moment, never worrying about what might happen next week, or tomorrow, or in the next five minutes, and instantly forgetting anything that happened longer than a moment ago. But chances are if you were one of those people you wouldn’t be reading this now. No – you need a way to manage those brain farts. I accept that.

Here then, is what I do.

1. When I get a brain fart I text/email myself, or write it on a scrap of paper. Anything, just to capture it and get it out of my head.

2. I have a text file on my computer desktop. You could use a pad or something equally low tech, but you need a dumping ground. As a new brain farts arrives (or you come across the ones you captured at stage one) transfer them here.

3. Once a month review this document, and group the farts together into subject matter – WRITING, FUN, NOW LIST, CHORES, FINANCES, BUSINESS TASKS, COMMITMENTS.. things like that.

4. Transfer all these items to a master to-do list, and then review it – deciding which THREE of all the brain farts under that section (including the ones from previous months) should get your attention, which can be dumped, and which should just stay in pending. Picking just three farts focuses me on what’s actually important. Often I check to see how the three things I’ve chosen relate to my Goals.

5. Having decided which three items (they’re not farts any more) I’m going to work on I then decide what the next action is for each of them (do I need to call someone? Do some research? Read a book? Buy a widget? Talk to my assistant?) and when I’m going to do that (take a look at the Advanced Diary Tips at the end of the book for more on that).

And that’s it. It’s actually a lot less onerous than it might seem, and in doing this I  prevent brain farts from taking over my life. True my oven could still do with a clean. True my wardrobe could also do with a lick of paint. True, at some point I still need to call the bank and have my sanity gradually erased by someone who has no intention of actually helping me, but… not today. Today I’m busy being happy.


Hot news! Today ‘How To Do Everything And Be Happy’ is available, in paperback, from selected US bookstores and from US cover with drop shadowamazon.COM – hurrah! 

To mark this auspicious occasion, my US publishers (Harper 360) have decided to give the US-printed paperback a brand new, all-yellow cover.

Of course the inside of the book remains exactly the same – this isn’t a new edition – so there’s no need to rush out and buy a new copy of the book if you already have one. Although I would certainly understand if that were the case. And can one ever have too many copies? Plus – one imagines – there might be those amongst you who might see a market for importing the US branded copy of the book, and selling it here in the UK as a collectors edition. I’m just saying.


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Taming The Beast

lists

I’ve been having a very interesting email exchange with a reader (let’s call him ‘Bob’) about the lists mentioned in the book, and what should or shouldn’t go on them.  Here’s an extract from Bob’s opening email…

I’ve been re-reading the Wish List bit of the book and wonder whether things like ‘get boiler serviced’ are just plain old To-do lists stuff whereas having a baby is definitely Wish List stuff.  Have I got that right?  Here’s my wish list:

1.      We’re (me and Mrs) going to have a baby
2.      I’ve transferred my pension
3.      Make some money by selling our “holiday” photos
4.      Work out details of student loan
5.      Make an excel “balance sheet” and update it monthly
6.      Develop the habit of regular exercise (6 x 30 mins per week)
7.      Book – never eat alone by Keith ferrazzi
8.      Organize a new tenancy agreement
9.      The paint chip on car has been repaired free of charge
10.     Work out an annual bills saving schedule to make sure we have enough funds
11.     Get the cahoot account closed down
12.     Get the NS&I account closed down
13.     Setup an ISA for £5,000 emergency fund
14.     Get Halifax account closed down
15.     Thought = pay-off student loan or mortgage????
16.     Can we get the telephone (and television) cheaper
17.     Can we get electricity and gas cheaper
18.     Organize myself for tennis team
19.     Get the water pipe noise gone
20.     Get the boiler serviced
21.     Get the toilet repaired
22.     The doors + handles have been replaced
23.     The oven has been cleaned and is almost as good as new
24.     The road outside the house has been fixed by the council
25.     The wardrobe is painted
26.     The shelves are painted
27.     The TV cabinet is painted
28.     The gutters have been cleaned out
29.     The hole through to the bathroom has been filled
30.     The tiles, grout and sealant have the mouldy stuff removed
31.     We’ve purchased a new vacuum cleaner
32.     The mortar around the outside of the house is better (no window drafts)
33.     The damp in the kitchen is a thing of the past
34.     The front-door has been painted
35.     The doors in the bathroom have been painted
36.     We’ve fitted a shelf in the bathroom cupboard
37.     plant the seed of selling the flat
38.     The car has been thoroughly cleaned
39.     The under the stairs cupboard is more user friendly
40.     I would like metal things for my shirts
41.     We want a lamp for the lounge
42.     Cancel my subscription to men’s health magazine
43.     Cancel my subscription to wired magazine
44.     Work out how to get page counts from the printer
45.     Buy new brush heads
46.     Change address for pension
47.     Ask pension people if can have contribution back
48.     Go climbing
49.     Enter lots and lots of competitions
50.     The gambling to pay off the mortgage idea
51.     Clay pigeon shooting
52.     Water heater idea
53.     Glasses
54.     Shirts
55.     Cooking
56.     Clothes
57.     Look into getting a credit card (enjoy the benefits)
58.     Club card (enjoy the benefits)
59.     Nectar card (enjoy the benefits)
60.     Tidy wardrobe shelf
61.     Wardrobe boxes
62.     Tidy under spare bed
63.     Box to keep watches in
64.     Watch collection?….
65.     My own collection of portraits (self portraits) in a book or website
66.     Have my own website

That’s an impressive list of 66 assorted items. And Bob’s right, there are quite a few items on here that seem a tad dull and more like day-to-day to-do list items.

Let’s back up for a moment and consider what should and shouldn’t make your wish list. You’ll remember from the book that your wish-list is is basically a list of items that pop into your head when faced with the question ‘what do you want’. But I can see a number of items on Bob’s list that don’t appear to be an answer to that question. Numbers 16 and 17 for instance. They seem to be answers to a slightly different question (‘how do we reduce our outgoings?’). Number 49 is quite interesting too. Does Bob like doing lots and lots of competitions? Is that what he really wants to do?

But a wish list is more than ‘things that you want’ – if you look on page 130 of the book (the final part of the section entitled ‘Making a Wish List’) you’ll notice that items on your wish list should also be there because getting that thing would make you HAPPY!

I’m wondering just how happy Bob would be if his printer could give him page counts.

Finally, remember the idea of a wish list is to feed into your Goals. You take the top three wishes, turn them into goals, then put away the wish list until a goal slot becomes available. With this in mind, he might never get to learn about page counts.

Now I don’t mean to tease Bob, because I don’t know, maybe page counts really is a big deal for him! I have another reader for whom learning to touch type is one of her three GOALS. One of the three things she wants more than anything else in the world. She’d honestly be that happy if she could type really really fast.

What I think’s happened here is that Bob’s jumped a stage and started to do some of the GOAL related work – that of identifying the Next Action – here on his wish list. For instance, he seems to have a lot of items that are related to reducing outgoings, or increasing income. With this in mind, what I would expect to see an item on his wish list like this:

‘to be able to pay all the bills, every month, and still have enough for fun’

Then, if this item gets chosen as one of his three Goals, it might be reworded as follows…

‘Me & the Mrs manage our money effectively (pay all the bills each month) and have plenty left over for fun. December 31st 2013.’

Having written the goal he might start brainstorming ways to achieve that, at which point you’ll come up with ideas that are currently items 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 42, 43, 46, 47, 49, 50, 58, and 59 of his wish list. (Incidentally, I wouldn’t recommend 57. Having worked for credit card companies for many years I can tell you now, credit cards are evil, and no way to manage your money. Get a debit card. Enjoy those benefits.)

Likewise, he might have an item on your wish list along the lines of…

‘we live in a nice home that works!’

..and when he’s re-written it as a goal, all those house-repair jobs that are currently on his wish list (but shouldn’t be) will miraculously become possible next actions to achieving his goal.

Anyway, here’s hoping this helps Bob, and you too if you’re still struggling with your wish lists or goals. I’d really like to know your thoughts. You can post them in the comments below.

(PS. Bob gave me permission to reproduce part of our email exchange. You can email me without fear of being made into a blog post)

(PPS. That said, I am a busy bloke – free one-to-one coaching isn’t something I can necessarily offer to everyone)


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Advanced Boxing Day – Extra Tips!

Why not post this image on facebook or twitter when you have your next Boxing Day?So, you recently had a Boxing Day. You obeyed all the rules, took all the advice – and yet somehow it still didn’t rock your world. Maybe it was a little dull.

That can happen.

It’s happened to me.

In fact the more Boxing Days I’ve had, the more it’s happened. And when I came to analyse it (because sadly that’s the sort of thing I do) I came to the conclusion that Boxing Day might need some tweaking.

Here are a couple of new ideas that I’ve been experimenting with since the first edition of this book, and are really working for me.

Avoid hedonistic habituation

Once you’ve had a few Boxing Days it becomes surprisingly difficult to keep your Boxing Days totally spontaneous. I got into a bad habit of always having a bottle of champagne, and always making a truck load of flapjacks. Not only was this a tad expensive, but after a while Boxing Day started to lose its magical powers.

What I hadn’t realised at the time was that I was experiencing something that scientists refer to as ‘Hedonistic Habituation’. Regardless of how pleasurable an activity is, much of it’s pleasure is actually derived from its ‘newness’. So whilst I thought I was relying on activities that had worked on previous Boxing Days, I had, in fact, got myself into a boozy, flapjacky rut.

This seems so obvious now. Though it’s also a little annoying. It means that even when I eventually emulate get to my hero Julio Casi Amoreo, my days spent sitting around the pool of my villa in southern Italy, admiring my scantily clad ‘friends’, will get progressively less and less pleasurable the more familiar it becomes.

Fortunately there’s an antidote:

Do Something New

To avoid Hedonistic Habituation, when your Boxing Day arrives try to do at least one ‘new thing’, and if possible, make that the first thing you do.

Now come on.

Don’t be like that.

I know how hard that sounds and I realise I’ve made Boxing Day a whole lot more difficult. Not only have you got to pre-book Boxing Day, arrange for baby sitters and the like, tell friends and family that you’re doing something else, and avoid the temptation to plan something for the day, but when the day actually arrives you’ve somehow got to conjure a new activity out of thin air? Just what kind of self-help book is this!? But bear with me for a moment, because I have two simple techniques that will enable you to do just that.

Tweak previous activities

An astonishingly simple way of coming up with new Boxing Day activities is to think back to past Boxing Days and things you did that were a real hit, and tweak them!

Take me for example. Last Boxing Day, rather than reach for a kilo of oats and a tin of Golden Syrup, I decided to make Chocolate Brownies. Have I ever made Chocolate Brownies before? No. Were they any good? Mmmm… not really. Did I enjoy myself. Absolutely.

So, if you’ve got into the habit of going to the gym on your Boxing Days, try a different exercise class, or a different gym. If you find you always go fishing, try a different lake or river. If you find yourself painting watercolours, experiment with charcoal sticks or oil pastels. If you usually end up on the sofa watching rom-coms, download a rom-com to your e-reader. Or go to the cinema. Or watch an action movie instead. You get the general idea.

The interesting thing is that most activities only require the smallest bit of tweaking in order to activate that part of your brain that gets enjoyment out of ‘the new’. And once it’s activated it’s amazing how little effort the rest of the day needs to be a success.

Let me know how you get on.

Potential Boxing Day Activities List

A second way to ensure that you can always think of something new is to keep a ‘Potential Boxing Day Activities’ List.

You’ve probably realised that I’m a bit of a list maniac. ‘Lists’ are my solution to everything. And when it comes to potential Boxing Day activities it really works. Where and how you keep your list is entirely up to you but personally I like to keep a ‘notepad’ document on my computer’s desktop so that I can open the list, add to it, save it, and close it again, all within a few seconds. You might be able to keep a list on your phone. Or in the back of your filofax. Or in a small notepad in your handbag. But whatever you do it’s important that the list is usually close to hand so that when inspiration strikes you can add to the list right away.

Remember too that to be true Boxing Day potentials, all the activities on the list must be things that require no pre-planning. The only time you’re going to consult this list is either when you add to it, or when you bound out of bed on Boxing Day morning.

I can’t claim 100% credit for the Potential Boxing Day list. Within days of me mulling the concept over in my mind, reader Emma posted a comment on this blog suggesting much the same thing.

On her list of Potential Boxing Day ideas were the following:

  • Get the tattoo I’ve been wanting for a while
  • Visit the zoo/cinema/theatre
  • Get a massage/manicure
  • Go shopping at Manchester/Newcastle or anywhere within a 3 hour radius
  • Go walking/gym/swimming
  • Bake something
  • Horse riding

Emma says that having the list there meant that she actually got excited about the idea of Boxing Day – which can only be a good thing.

Timing

Like good comedy the success of your Boxing Day might rely heavily upon timing.

Though I don’t make it a hard and fast rule I have been known to move Boxing Day to avoid bad weather, or times when I’m particularly tired. And whilst you’d think that a Boxing Day might be a good way to lift your spirits if you’re feeling a bit low, personally I’ve found the complete opposite is true.

Boxing Day seems to have the ability to make good days even better – but also bad days significantly worse.

You’ll probably already know if there are certain times of the month when a Boxing Day might be doomed to failure. I suspect it’s a very personal thing, but I have readers who avoid the following times of the month:

  • “The end of the month – I get paid at the start!”
  • “My menstrual cycle, There’s nothing worse than feeling yuk on a Boxing Day”
  • “A week or so after a full moon – when the moon is waning.”

Cut yourself some slack!

Though it pains me to admit it, despite all the rules, tips and advice I’ve given you, I can’t guarantee that Boxing Day will work each and every time. Occasionally, as I said a little earlier, you’re bound to have a duff one. It took me a long time to accept this fact but I’ve learnt that when this happens it’s best just to shrug, and move on. For when it comes to creating happiness whilst Boxing Days are great, they’re not the whole answer. Well, of course they’re not! Otherwise it would be a very short book, and a very small blog…. 

Thoughts?

If you have any tips for ensuring your Boxing Day is a success feel free to post them in the comments below, on twitter, or on the facebook page.


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What makes us happy? It’s the simple things!

take a smileAccording to an article in the Daily Mailfinding a £10 note in an old pair of jeans came top in a study of 3,000 people and the things that make them happy. Other items in the top thirty included getting into bed with freshly washed sheets, hearing a baby laugh, and finding a bargain. Which prompted me to wonder what would be on my list. And you know me – I can’t resist an opportunity for list making.

Here then, straight off the top of my head and in no particular order, is a my list of happy-triggers – and sure enough they’re more ‘simple‘ than I would have thought.

  • chocolate
  • Great food
  • Sunny days
  • CJ behaving like a kitten
  • Growing my own food
  • Good movies
  • Good wine
  • The sound of the sea
  • Reading to someone
  • Being read to
  • Good, easy going, pub nights out with pals
  • Taking photos
  • Flap jacks
  • The Kids (my niece & nephew)
  • Early summer mornings
  • The Theatre
  • Great music
  • Audio books
  • Writing something I suspect might be pretty good  – and then finding out it is!
  • Baths
  • Being surrounded by trees
  • Animals
  • Expresso coffee
  • Italy
  • Teaching
  • Close friends
  • Creative people
  • Being warm
  • Getting loads done
  • Spices
  • A really amazing night’s sleep
  • Coming home
  • Making Lists
Would love to read your lists. Feel free to share them with the world using the comments box below.