Friday, 30 December 2016

2016... the good bits!

You know a year has been particularly bad when people start using it as an adjective... 'Oh it was terrible, so 2016!' 2016 has given itself a bit of a reputation for being a lousy year, mostly because of game-changing political events and the seemingly endless stream of celebrity deaths.

Sadly,  aside from all this, 2016 has also been a bit of a personal disaster for me. It started with my grandmother passing away in February, then the whole summer and autumn disappeared in a thundering wave of horrible emotions caused by lots of tests, nail-biting delays and my resulting cancer diagnosis and surgery. When you combine these personal issues with the wider political calamities of 2016, it's hard to look at the year in any kind of positive light. In fact, I'm pretty sure I cried more in 2016 than in all my other adult years put together!

However, before I gladly condemn this year to the rubbish heap at midnight on New Year's Eve, I wanted to find a way to remind myself that 2016 hasn't been ALL bad. That's why I decided to blog about all the good times I've had this year - there have been plenty of them which means the year hasn't been a total write-off. I want to keep all those good times at the forefront of my mind rather than looking back in complete doom and gloom.

Without further ado, here are the greatest hits of 2016!



Fake Christmas

The annual much-anticipated 'Fake Christmas' event took place in January with my university friends. The year had already got off to a bad start by this point as I'd just found out that my grandmother was very ill, so this was a nice distraction with some of my favourite people.




Liz's hen weekend 

I had the opportunity to meet up with my university friends again in February for Liz's hen weekend. We spent the day in London with an underground challenge and afternoon tea, then had a sleepover in the evening with lots of crisps, wine, reminiscing and Cards Against Humanity!





Homes for Wales rally 

This was one work achievement I absolutely had to include in the best bits of 2016. Months of hard work preceded this huge event in March to raise awareness of the housing crisis ahead of the Welsh elections. It all paid off and this was one of my proudest days of the year!





Toronto

We spent a week in Toronto in March and had an amazing time full of sightseeing, spectacular views, Canadian culture and (of course) eating. I would definitely recommend Toronto if you're currently planning your next holiday!





Liz's wedding

I was very honoured when Liz asked me to be her bridesmaid for her and Pete's wedding in March. It was a lovely day (in spite of the torrential rain) and it was yet another chance to catch up with my university friends! Three times in three months... we really were spoilt this year.





Visits from friends

Nicola, Sarah, Liz and Fee all came to stay at various points throughout the year... I love having a spare room with a proper bed! These visits all consisted of lots of laughing, talking about old times, shopping, eating and drinking, and never failed to cheer me up whatever else was going on.





My 30th birthday 

I celebrated my 30th birthday in June and it seemed to go on for about a month. I was lucky enough to have lots of celebrations with different people and I received a huge amount of lovely gifts.





A visit to my nephews 

We visited my sister, brother-in-law and my two nephews in Southampton in July for my youngest nephew's second birthday. It was an unexpectedly sunny day and we had a lot of fun!





Second wedding anniversary

Although our second wedding anniversary was overshadowed by the news of my diagnosis a few days before (and my MRI scan on the day itself!), we still made sure we went out for a nice meal near Penarth Pier to celebrate.





Florida 

We went away to Walt Disney World in September, in between my diagnosis and my operation. In spite of the circumstances, we had an amazing time and were able to spend some quality time together in our favourite place.





Theatre trip to London


Three weeks after my operation, we went to London for a theatre coach trip which include a night away and tickets to see Aladdin on stage. We'd booked it months before everything happened but decided to go ahead anyway as there wouldn't be too much walking for me to do. It was so nice to be out and about again after being confined to the house for so long!





Harry Potter Studio Tour

I visited the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford with my university friends in November. It was even better than I'd ever imagined and I definitely want to repeat the experience!





Celtic Manor 

We went to the Celtic Manor for a night away, dinner and breakfast at the beginning of December because we thought we deserved a treat, quite frankly. It was a nice mini break and the Christmas decorations at the hotel were beautiful!





Christmas

I couldn't blog about my highlights of the year without including my favourite time of year... Christmas! We spent lots of time with family and friends, as well as relaxing with each other, and it was nice to finish 2016 on a high. 





So there you have it... obviously 2016 wasn't all bad. However, I'll still be glad to see the back of it and am desperately hoping for a calmer and happier year next year!

What were your best bits of 2016?

Saturday, 24 December 2016

My favourite kind of tag... Christmas tag!

I saw this Christmas tag post on Dee's blog a few weeks ago and thought I'd schedule my own ready for Christmas Eve. I'm pretty excited right now... IT'S NEARLY CHRISTMAS DAY!




I haven't written many Christmassy blog posts this year (where did December disappear to?!) so this post also gave me the opportunity to share some of my favourite festive photos from the last month or so. Enjoy!



What is your favourite Christmas film?

My all-time favourite Christmas film has to be Santa Claus the Movie. It might be ancient and old fashioned but it's the film I watched with my family on Christmas Eve for about 20 years so it brings back lovely memories. However, both Home Alone films, Miracle on 34th Street and Arthur Christmas are also very high up on that list!


Is your Christmas tree real or fake?

It's fake - I've never had a real Christmas tree. We bought a beautiful artificial Christmas tree last year and I'm still in love with it a year on.





What refreshments did you leave out for Santa when he visited you on Christmas Eve all those years ago?

Good question... it's been a while! We left a glass of milk and a mince pie if I remember rightly, along with a carrot for the reindeer. We also used to write a little card, and 'Santa' (my dad) would always leave a note for us to thank us for the card and the refreshments. Funnily enough, we never noticed that the handwriting was suspiciously similar to my dad's!


What tops your Christmas tree?

A silver sparkly star. I've been on a hunt for a nicer tree topper (preferably a Disney one) for a while but all the ones I've found so far have been too heavy for our tree.





Favourite Christmas memory?

Waking up early on Christmas Day when me, my sister and my brother still lived at home. We'd open our stockings together then run downstairs to take a look at what Santa had left under the tree (without opening anything), then we'd run back upstairs to make sure our parents got out of bed immediately to get the rest of the festivities underway!


Was there a present that you asked for but Santa never brought?

I did go through a phase of asking Santa for a magic kit for Christmas. That's one thing I never received! I have no idea why on earth I wanted a magic kit or what a magic kit would even consist of...





What makes Christmas special to you?

Spending time with family and friends, having time off work, cosy nights in with hot chocolate and marshmallows (or mulled wine), buying gifts for my favourite people, enjoying the Christmas decorations, watching Christmas films, and the food. Definitely the food.


What is your favourite Christmas song?

Again, it's difficult to choose just one but 'I wish it could be Christmas every day' always pops into my head whenever I get asked this question.





Without meaning to sound ungrateful, what was your worst Christmas present ever?

I refuse to answer this question. I think it's so ungrateful when people declare that they didn't like a particular present, directly or indirectly. Imagine how hurt the person who gave it to you would be if they heard?! I always put loads of thought into the presents I buy for people, and I assume others do the same, so I definitely hope my gifts never feature as the answer to one of these questions.


Please feel free to post your own Christmas tag if you want to, although I've left this really late so it'll need to be a post-Christmas tag from everyone else! A very merry Christmas to all my readers :)



Monday, 19 December 2016

My Pandora charms... an update

I received my first Pandora bracelet for my 29th birthday. 18 months on, the obsession has well and truly taken hold and I've got three bracelets and a growing collection of charms.

I thought I'd write a blog post about the charms I've collected so far as they all have their own little story, and I've included links where possible so you can feel free to copy my purchases/presents. I've also bought a few rings, pairs of earrings and necklaces from Pandora over the last 18 months but I'll save those for another post!




So, starting with the bracelet on the left, going from left to right...

Dazzling Daisies clip charm: I don't like having too many charms on each bracelet and I also have to make sure the charms I do have don't slide all over the place, so my clips are essential!

Sparkling lucky clover pendant charm: This was a present for my 30th birthday from Edwina. 

Club Charm 2016: I bought this charm with money I received for my 30th birthday from my parents - it has a tiny '2016' on it! 

Darling daisies spacer charm: One of the first charms I ever bought. I love the way it spaces out the bigger charms on this particular bracelet and fits in with the overall theme. 

Springtime charm: I love the shape and design of this pretty charm, as well as the little splash of baby pink!

Symbol of aspiration pendant charm: Neil bought this charm for me as a belated gift for my 29th birthday, a few days after I received my first bracelet.

Darling daisy meadow clip: The perfect clip to finish off this spring-inspired bracelet!


And now for the second bracelet with the beautiful heart clasp...

Firework clip: I wanted smaller and matching clips for this bracelet so these firework clips were ideal. 

Pink butterfly charm: Nicola bought this one for me for my 30th birthday. 

Heart of freedom charm: I bought this for myself after my recent ordeal!

Suitcase charm: My parents-in-law bought this charm for me last Christmas. 

Signature heart birthstone charm: Liz gave me this charm in March as a thank you for being her bridesmaid. 

Letter B pendant charm: This was the first charm I ever bought, using the money I had for my 29th birthday. 

Best friend butterfly pendant charm: I bought the other half of this charm for Nicola last Christmas which meant I got to keep one half for myself!



To add to my growing collection, I've now got enough Disney charms to warrant them needing their own bracelet. When I was in Florida earlier this year, Walt Disney World's Pandora stores were running a great promotion where you could buy a bracelet, two clips and a charm with a very significant saving. I couldn't say no...




I haven't provided links for these charms as a lot of the Disney charms are limited edition which means they're no longer available. They're also not sold in the UK! Here's the story behind them...

Braided clips: These were part of the aforementioned offer and they remind me of Rapunzel's hair!

Minnie Mouse charm: Again, this was part of this year's Disney offer and an essential addition to every Disney fan's bracelet. 

Belle charm: This charm is really beautiful and features Belle's signature as well as the pretty rose.

Minnie ears headband: This was a present from my in-laws which cheered me up after my operation!

Mickey swirl charm: Again, a present from my in-laws. 

Mickey Mouse charm: This was the first Disney charm I ever bought, back in September last year. 

Walt Disney World charm: I also bought this charm last year... the perfect souvenir for any Disney fan!



Have you written any blog posts about your Pandora collection? Send me your links if so! 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

My dream hotel... Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa!

It's no secret that I love going to Walt Disney World. So far, I've been fortunate enough to stay in four beautiful resorts - Coronado Springs, Old Key West, Port Orleans French Quarter and Saratoga Springs. However, there is one gem in Walt Disney World where I'd love to stay more than any other... *drum roll, please*... Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.




The Grand Floridian opened in 1988 and is classed as one of Walt Disney World's 'deluxe' resorts. The resort was inspired by the beach resorts built along Florida's east coast during the Victorian era, and its different guest areas (Sugarloaf Key, Conch Key etc) are all named after islands in the Florida Keys. 






The Grand Floridian is in a perfect location, on the shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon and just a few minutes away from the Magic Kingdom by monorail or by boat. Imagine waking up every morning and hopping on a short ride to the most magical place on earth... sounds pretty amazing to me! 








I could wander around the Grand Floridian all day with its beautiful buildings, majestic turrets, immaculate white walls, comforting gables and relaxing surroundings. Everything about this resort is comforting yet luxurious and I always love our visits there. It's always pretty busy and I do feel a tiny bit jealous when I see people walking back to their beautiful rooms inside this dream hotel... who wouldn't?! 








The Grand Floridian is home to some spectacular restaurants. So far we've been to the Grand Floridian Cafe for breakfast and to Narcoossee's for dinner, and we've booked Citricos for our next stay in April/May next year. The prestigious Victoria and Albert's restaurant is the ultimate dream, but that one might not happen any time soon due to its hefty price tag! The Grand Floridian also hosts 1900 Park Fare and the Grand View Tea Room, along with a few counter service offerings. So much choice! 




Narcoossee's is possibly my favourite restaurant in the whole of Walt Disney World. It's really beautiful, both inside and out, and you can watch the Magic Kingdom's night show fireworks from the restaurant's balcony. The night show's music is also streamed into the restaurant which makes for a pretty unique dining atmosphere. The service is always outstanding at this restaurant and the food, as well as the wide array of cocktails, is exquisite. It's not cheap, but it's well worth the money (or two Disney Dining Plan table service tokens) for this special experience.








It's highly unlikely that I'll ever be fortunate enough to stay at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, but I can dream! In the meantime, I'll continue to find as many reasons as possible to visit this beautiful location whenever we travel to Walt Disney World.




Have you ever stayed at or visited the Grand Floridian? What did you think? 


Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa - a review

We stayed in Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa for the first time in September. We really really loved it... so much so that we're staying there again next April/May for our 2017 Disney holiday!




Saratoga Springs is located in the Disney Springs resort area and is in a great central location. Launched in 2004, it's a relatively new resort compared to the others we've stayed in. The resort is inspired by New York's Saratoga Springs and has five distinct areas - The Springs, The Paddock, The Carousel, the Grandstand and Congress Park. Saratoga Springs is classed as a 'deluxe' Disney resort which means it has certain perks, such as a balcony and more amenities for your room. 






We stayed in the Congress Park area which was only five minutes' walk away from The Carriage House (the lobby and main concourse). This proved to be very useful for our refillable mug top-ups! However, for me, the huge plus of staying at Congress Park was the convenient walkway to Disney Springs. We always spend a lot of time in this bustling area of Walt Disney World and being able to walk there in ten minutes saved us so much time and effort in terms of waiting for transport. It meant we could pop over to Disney Springs whenever we had a couple of hours to spare, and it also provided us with lots of lovely views as we walked! 









We stayed in a 'studio' at Saratoga Springs which is suitable for up to four people. We were situated on the first floor (or second floor in American terms) and were really pleased with the size and quality of our room. It contained a queen-sized bed, a double sofa bed, the aforementioned balcony with a little table and two chairs, and a kitchenette area with a sink, fridge, toaster, microwave and coffee machine. There was plenty of storage room for our suitcases, clothes and shopping and it continued to feel spacious for the whole length of our stay! Our room was cleaned every day and we were very impressed (as always) with the attentive and friendly nature of all employees at the resort.

We wandered around the other resort areas a few times during our stay - this really is a huge resort. There are five bus stops scattered throughout Saratoga Springs for your free park transportation, one for each area, so it's worth considering this when you decide where you'd prefer to stay. The Grandstand is the first area where the buses pick up and drop off, and the Springs is the final area. You can also catch the boat or the bus to Disney Springs if you'd prefer not to walk, which might be useful if you're staying a little further from the walkway. All five areas are full of pretty buildings and situated in beautiful surroundings with various views, fountains and backdrops so you can't really go wrong with your choice! 








On the food front, Saratoga Springs offers a table service option and a counter service option - The Turf Club Bar and Grill and The Artist's Palette, respectively. Although we didn't eat at the Turf Club during our stay, we made good use of the Artist's Palette for breakfast and lunch on a couple of days and had some lovely quick meals there. You can also buy lots of snacks at the adjoining gift shop if you need to use up your Disney Dining Plan tokens on your last day! 




Saratoga Springs offers a main pool and numerous quiet pools around the resort. The main pool boasts the On The Rocks pool bar for all your drinks and snacks so you could happily spend a good portion of your day there, and it's also within throwing distance of the main building. The quiet pools in the Paddock and Grandstand areas also have their own pool bars which is very convenient for guests staying in those areas, and a few of the quiet pools are open for 24 hours.




I can't comment on the spa or the golfing facilities as we didn't use these during our stay, but it's always good to know that those options are there if they're important to you and what you want out of your holiday. 

I really can't wait to go back to Saratoga Springs next April. Like every other Disney resort we've ever stayed in, the customer service is second to none and you're made to feel welcome from the second you arrive until you leave on the Magical Express. 

Have you ever stayed at Saratoga Springs? As I'm sure you can tell by now, I'd highly recommend it! 




Monday, 14 November 2016

Ten reasons to be happy

As more time passes since my diagnosis and my operation, I feel as if I should be improving a little bit every day - physically and emotionally. However, I'm definitely learning that this journey isn't that simple. Sometimes, I feel sad. Other times, I feel angry. Sometimes, it's too hard to be positive and I get fed up of pretending. And, most days, I'm EXHAUSTED.

Although I'm very good at putting pressure on myself and berating myself for not getting better quickly enough, I'm trying to remind myself that this ordeal has been a pretty big deal and there are no set timescales to follow in terms of my recovery. Easier said than done, believe me, but a lot of people have told me I need to be kind to myself and I think they're right.

In order to help me through my recovery and to try to counteract the negative emotions when they crowd me, I'm trying to focus on the little (and big) things that make me happy. I thought I'd share some of those things with you...




1. My family and friends

I blogged about the support of my family and friends last week, and these amazing people in my life are still continuing to support me every day. My support network is definitely something to be positive about! 






2. Christmas is coming

I've always been a huge fan of all things Christmas, and this year I'm even more excited than usual about the festive period. After such a horrible few months, it'll be really nice to end 2016 on a high with my favourite time of year. 






3. Florida 2017

We've booked to go back to Walt Disney World next April and I couldn't be more excited. A huge incentive to keep positive and keep improving! 






4. Hot chocolate

I've drunk a ridiculous amount of hot chocolate during the last few weeks, even by my hot-chocolate-addict standards. I'm steadily trying all the different festive drinks, one by one.






5. My car

I'm now allowed to drive again after having an enforced six weeks off after my operation. I have a new-found appreciation for my car and how much I rely on it! At the moment, I'm mostly using it to satisfy my craving for hot chocolate...






6. Cosy nights in

Our cosy nights in are currently even more welcome than usual as I'm so tired all the time. I'm spending a lot of time in my pyjamas, slippers and dressing gown in the company of our latest Yankee candle! 






7. Books

I'm making the most of my free time and reading book after book after book! Reading always makes me happy and is by far my favourite form of escapism. 






8. Food

Well this is an obvious one (for me)... sometimes, when I'm having a really bad day, the thought of having a nice evening meal or eating out in one of my favourite places makes me feel happier even it's only for a few minutes! 






9. Autumn walks

The weather has been lovely for the most part during my recovery so I've been for lots of autumnal walks. Definitely the prettiest season!






10. My iTunes

On those days when I'm busy blogging or don't feel like watching TV, I love listening to my iTunes on shuffle in the background. Who couldn't be cheered up by the likes of McFly, S Club 7 and B*Witched?



What makes you happy during difficult times? Let me know!