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Tuesday, 21 March 2017

USA Road Trip: Part 1

On 24 February the husband and I along with two friends boarded a flight to Gatwick; it marked the beginning of our 10 day whistle stop tour of the west coast of the US.

Our itinerary was jam packed, our suitcases not so much (I'd need space to bring back all that shopping I was going to do, right?) and my excitement levels were simmering away on the verge of spilling over.

Whilst I've been on holidays before and I've been to the US before, I've never had a "touring" holiday, the sort that you have to live out of a suitcase on because you're never in one place long enough to justify unpacking. And to be honest, not only have those sort of holidays never appealed to me, the thought of those sort of holidays made me turn my face up in what was arguably a really ugly way!

Because when I go on holiday I want a relaxing time, I want to do nothing, I want to sit and read and chill and I want the most demanding decision I have to make to be what to wear to dinner that night. So whilst I was excited about this trip I was also a teeny bit reserved about how I would feel about the nomadic experience.

So the plan for our trip:

24 - 26 February: San Francisco
26 - 27 February: Napa Valley
27 - 28 February: - Lake Tahoe
28 February - 3 March: - Las Vegas
3 - 4 March: Escalante

That's 888 miles according to Google Maps if you go direct from one to the other. We didn't do the route direct and we had (planned) de-tours in between and annoyingly not one of us thought to check the mileage in the hire car at the beginning and the end of the trip, but we definitely did more than 1,000 miles over the course of the holiday!

So without further ado, here's my run-down of the first few days of our holiday

24 - 26 February 2017: San Francisco

Where we stayed - Stanford Court

Whilst the hotel's location was great and not too far from the touristy things we wanted to do, the biggest pain in the backside was the fact it was situated at the top of a hill! Which meant at the end of the day when we were tired and aching from being on our feet all day, we had a ruddy steep hill to hike up before we could collapse in a heap and give our feet some much needed respite.

As we were only going to be in San Fran for a couple of days were didn't spend that much time in the hotel aside from sleeping and eating breakfast so I can't tell you much about the facilities it had to offer, but the bed was comfy and I don't remember having any issues with the shower. The hotel certainly fulfilled our needs and I don't think it was overly priced either.

**Top Tip** If you're booking a hotel check their cancellation policy. We were able to cancel up to 24 hours in advance without having to pay anything, and this allowed us to search for the same room at a cheaper price a few days before we were due to arrive. This paid off as we found the same room on a different website for. We booked with that website and cancelled the original booking without incurring any lost deposits etc...

OK enough of the boring stuff already. You guys want to know what we got up to right?

Day 1: This was a nothing day as we arrived at the hotel at 10pm and we did nothing more than find our toothbrushes and wash kits before falling into bed.

Day two: We were booked on the official Alcatraz Tour and after having breaking at the hotel we wandered down to the pier at a leisurely pace, making our way through China Town and tackling some of the mighty hills that San Fran is so well known for.

I'm going to shut up now and let my pictures do the talking......  (warning...there are a LOT of pictures, so you might want to grab a cuppa before scrolling any further)

What's really annoying is that the camera doesn't capture the gradient of the hills and they actually don't even look that steep! But they were!!! We were told by a local resident that this was the steepest hill in the city. Yup, I marched up that hill like it was nothing.......I may have needed a gallon of water at the top though ;-)

Those pastel colours are just too cute!! 
Not sure I'm loving the shower room set up!
  And I definitely would not be happy about the loo situation either!!
I'm pretty sure I heard the husband asking an Alcatraz official if there was room for me here on a permanent basis.... ;-) 

We took the audio tour of Alcatraz and would highly recommend it. Without it you're not going to have a clue what you're looking at or the history behind it. I don't think it cost any extra, but be sure to check whether it's included in the type of ticket you're buying. 

After we escaped from Alcatraz we strolled along the harbour towards Pier 39, we saw the Sea Lions that languish in the sun there, we ate lunch at a great place called Baudins (home made tomato soup poured into a sour-dough bread roll.....it was soooo good!) and we rode the tram from the harbour the whole length of the line to Union Square.... 
Just hanging out, lovin' life, as you do....

Day 3: Something we all agreed we wanted to do while in San Fran was to hire bikes, and we lucked out as our hotel had bikes that guests could use free of charge!! (More shopping dollars for me - Woo hoo!!!)

We cycled from our hotel through the streets of San Fran and in true tourist style we followed all signs to the Golden Gate Bridge. We were so lucky with the weather; whilst it wasn't boiling hot, the sun was out and the sky was blue.

After a million stops for photo opportunities, and a few breathers after being challenged by those infamous hills, we made it to the bridge. It was gorgeous. Whilst it would have been nice to see the bridge immersed in the low lying cloud that is a common sight if the Google Image search results are anything to go by, I was more than happy to forgo the cloud in favour of the sun and warmer temperatures!

Cycling across the bridge was an amazing experience and it wasn't until I was half way across it and looking out at a huge expanse of water that I really appreciated how wide the bay is and how huge the place is!  
Not sure why but I love these two pictures of me :-)

As this was our final day in San Fran before making our way to Napa Valley, and in a bid to save time, we decided to take the ferry back to our side of the bay. It was a welcome relief for our legs to be ferried back.

Once back on familiar turf we headed towards our hotel and took advantage of the flat streets while they lasted and cycled as far as we could. It wasn't long before we were faced with the the prospect of those dreaded hills and so we de-saddled and huffed and puffed our way back to our hotel, pushing our bikes alongside us.   

We lunched in one of the hip neighbourhoods and I felt well at home......NOT!! I was about as far out of my comfort zone as it's possible for someone to be! This place looked nothing from the outside but the huge queue of people waiting to be served was a sure sign that this place was a gem. So we took our place in the queue and waited. And waited. It was a very informal set up inside with people encouraged to share tables with strangers. It was either that or you didn't get a seat! That's not quite how I'm used to having my lunch but when in Rome and all that.

On our way out of San Fran we navigated the Windy Road which, as the name suggests is a road that is really windy. It's difficult to get pictures of it in "real time" because the hedges and the angle of the camera mean you can't actually see any of the windy-ness. But here's a picture I found online that shows you exactly what I'm trying (so badly!) to explain!
Image via

 Then it really was time to leave San Fran behind....

I don't for a second think that we covered everything that San Francisco had to offer in the two days we were there (actually it was more like a day and a half) but we had a blast and we didn't feel cheated out of anything. But it was time to get our skates on....Napa Valley was calling us and I couldn't wait to get there!

Part 2 is coming soon. I've got a cracker of a castle to show you :-)

Have you visited San Francisco? What would you recommend that I didn't see? Let me know in the comments below; as always I'd love to hear from you. 

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Sunday, 19 March 2017

Book Review & Summary

The House of New Beginnings, by Lucy Diamond

image via 

I love reading. But being someone who finds it hard to make a decision, the thought of having to choose my next book daunts me. How can I possibly be expected to pick one book, out of the thousands that the book shop has on sale, to devote my reading time to? What if I don't like it - then it'll have been a waste of time and money. What if I don't understand it - then it'll have been a waste of time and money. What if it's boring? What if takes me out of my comfort zone and I don't enjoy it? What if it forces me to read about things I'd rather remain blissfully unaware of? What if I don't like the characters? What if, what if, what if?

The great thing about Lucy Diamond though is that I don't even need to read what the book is about because I know from experience I'll love it (read one of my other reviews here). So can you imagine my joy when I saw her shiny new novel, The House of New Beginnings, in WH Smith at Heathrow, just as I was about to board an 11 hour flight to San Francisco?

That little baby went straight into my basket (well there were no baskets and I actually had to balance the book on top of the three ton of chocolate, sweets and biscuits I was buying - don't judge, 11 hours is a long time!)

Before we had even taken off I was nose in book, meeting the characters who would be my imaginary friends for the next 11 hours or so.

I didn't manage to read the whole book in one sitting as my need for sleep always wins, even if the other option is to read!

So, The House of New Beginnings - what's it all about then?

Based in Brighton, the story is about three women - Rosa, Georgie and Charlotte - who all live in flats in the same converted Victorian house. Each woman is going through a tough time, although Georgie has it slightly easier than the other two if you ask me; Rosa is coming to terms with the breakdown of her relationship with Max (and I'm not just talking your regular break-up; this one is a break-up with a twist), Charlotte is grieving the loss of her baby girl the year before, and Georgie has followed long-term pratt, sorry I mean boyfriend Simon down to Brighton from the Yorkshire Dales for his work.

In typical chick-lit style the three girls forge the sort of friendship that you sometimes think only exists within the pages of a book. They confide in one another, they help each other out, they come to rely on each other.

Each girl went to Brighton with hopes of starting again, of starting afresh; Rosa and Charlotte in particular. We journey with the girls as, independently and with help of each other, they begin to enjoy life, they find their place in the world and day-by-day they learn to not only accept their respective pasts but also learn to live with the past without letting it affect their present and their futures.

It wouldn't be a chick-lit without at least one love interest, and Diamond doesn't disappoint. We are treated to three new relationships and one friendship (aside from the friendship the girls forge), one of which was totally obvious, one of which you totally knew would happen but which took aaaaaages to actually happen, and the third one which completely took me by surprise, but in a rrrrrreally nice way - the sort of way that makes you smile all goofily at the book because you're so happy for the couple.

It wouldn’t be a chick-lit without some sort of upset happening and rather surprisingly for a chick-lit these three girls have a death to deal with. It's a poignant death and written well and the book wouldn't be half as good without it.

I tend to turn to chick-lits as an escape from some of the more intense books I read, for a bit of light relief because I know that, generally speaking the plot goes something like this:

Girl meets boy
They get together
They have a row
By the end of the book they've made up and everything is fine

It’s a template that works well for this sort of genre but I can’t handle too many of these books one after the other as I’d go a bit stir-crazy with the predictable nature of the books and I’d likely find myself raising my eyebrows more than once and probably end up getting a bit annoyed with how everything always seems to work out “just-so”.

But having said that, I loved this book and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants something easy-going which will leave you with a stupid smile on your face because in the end, everything's OK.

If you’re after something that will challenge you and your imagination, something that will give you a sense of suspense and anticipation then I’d avoid this book for sure.

Have you read this book, or any other of Diamond's books? What did you think? Let me know in the comment section; I'd love to hear from you.


Thursday, 16 March 2017

Film Review: Hidden Figures

With only three screenings remaining at my local cinema of this film, the husband and I headed out to see Hidden Figures last week. It's a film both of us wanted to watch and I'm so glad we got the chance to before it had run its course...And rather aptly, we saw it on International Women's Day.

Set in Virginia in the early 1960's the film centres around three friends who also happen to be colleagues. But more importantly these women were geniuses. They worked in even what today may still be considered by some to be a male-dominated environment; NASA. But to add to their already monumental struggle to get the recognition they deserve for the outstanding work they were doing, the women in question were black.

The Americans were in a two-horse race with the Russians to be the first country to put a man into space and as you my know, the Americans lost. Work at NASA started in earnest to go beyond what the Russians had managed to accomplish - to orbit the Earth ten times compared to the Russians' three - and that's when Katherine Goble - one of the three geniuses I mentioned earlier - got her break. She was tasked with assisting in the take-off and landing trajectory calculations of the US's first space mission, involving the Friendship 7 piloted by John Glenn.

Needless to say her appointment on a team of about 30 white men and one white woman was met with raised eyebrows and some resistance. But there was no denying Katherine's genius mind and she soon came to earn the respect of her male counterparts when she successfully solved a problem that had the rest of the team stumped.

All seemed to be going well for Katherine but the arrival of the IBM super computer happened, and as that could churn out calculations quicker than even Katherine's brain would allow her to, her days in the team were numbered and she was sent back wo work on basic assignments.

Luckily for Katherine the IBM wasn't all it was cracked up to be and it produced inconsistent readings for the all-important point of re-entry for the Friendship 7 mere moments before he was about to board. Having been impressed by Katherine's brilliant mind during preliminary meetings while she was still on the team and her ability to think on her feet and to not be intimated in a room full of people (more specifically a room full of white men) Glenn specifically asks that Katherine is the one to confirm the co-ordinates.

Movie-goers (well those who didn't know how the real-life version of events panned out back in 1962; I.e. me!) were left in suspense for a few minutes when it seemed the heat shield was failing and there was the threat of Glenn burning up when he re-entered the Earth's atmosphere. But all was fine in the end and he landed on Katherine's exact co-ordinates without a glitch (in the film he did, I'm not sure how accurate a representation it was of the real thing)

In the meantime Katherine's two best friends, Mary and Dorothy were busy making waves of their own.

Mary had designs on becoming a NASA engineer, except every time she thought met the engineer programme entry requirements her dreams were crushed because the goal posts kept being moved. Despite the fact she had a Batchelor's Degree in mathematics and physical science it turns out she also needed a qualification from the local college.....which was a college for white people only.

Mary did not let that stop her. She was a woman who was as fearless as she was intelligent and she wasn't about to let the colour of her skin stop her from realising her dream. Having applied to the court and having given the judge "what-for" in one of the most persuasive speeches I've heard in a long time, Mary was granted leave to attend the college. She graduated and went on to become NASA's first black female engineer.

Dorothy was a woman who could read computer programmes like she was reading the newspaper.

The arrival of the IBM brought with it a threat to her job and the jobs of her fellow black co-workers. Dorothy wasn't going to take that lying-down and instead made it her business to understand how the beast (in Dorothy's own words) worked. After all it would need to be programmed/the readings and calculations understood and translated to those not in "the know"; and she wanted in.

Her hard work and dedication paid off; it was clear that she was the only one capable of taming the beast. She was eventually prompted to Supervisor (a fight she had been battling for some time without any success) and in a turnaround it was the white women who were taking instructions and directions from a black woman.

I could rave about this film until the (Jersey) cows come home. I absolutely loved it. And I've not even mentioned Kevin Costner yet; he played a cracker of a part. He had the foresight to not let something like skin-colour affect how someone was treated and showed Katherine due respect right from the start.

Honestly this film blew me away. It's the sort of feel-good film you want to shout "hell yeah" at, when the credits roll. It's one of my favourite films and I'm hoping I'll have a DVD shaped gift among my birthday presents this year....

If you get the chance to watch this film then please do. I hope you love it as much as I did!


Friday, 14 October 2016

The Secrets of Happiness - Book Review

If you're looking for a pick-me-up, feel-good, classic chic-lit book then Secrets of Happiness by Lucy Diamond is an absolute must-read.

I picked it up at Gatwick in readiness for my trip to the US last month with the intention of it seeing me though the 10 days I was spending there. Alas! 6 hours into my 8 hour 40 minute flight it was with sadness-because-I'd-finished-it that I read the final paragraph.

This book follows the lives of estranged step-sisters Becca and Rachel. Despite having a cold-hearted attitude towards her younger step-sibling, Rachel is forced to accept help from Becca when she ends up in a hospital miles from home and with absolutely no way of getting in touch with her two young children.

The Secrets of Happiness explores an array of subjects from a parent re-marrying after the death of the other parent, to divorce, the relationship between mothers and their teenage daughters, and a whole myriad of other topics that we find ourselves facing on a day-to-day basis.

Unlike some chic-lit books I've read Secrets of Happiness does not come across as far fetched at all and actually has you believing that you reading about the lives of real people. Don't get me wrong, there are some "poetic licence" moments but there were two that I can think of: one when the sun chose "that moment" to come out from behind the clouds, and the other when a particular something (I won't say what that something is in case in case anyone reads the book) conveniently becomes available so that everything falls nicely into place.

In terms of the characters: Rachel is the one I initially thought I'd identify more with, but as I learned more about her I wasn't quite as keen on her as I thought I would be.

Becca is such a sweetheart, taking knock-back after knock-back from her older sister without really batting an eyelid. Part of me wanted Becca to tell Rachel where to go but part of me wanted her to hang around in case they had a happy ending.

I devoured this book in one sitting, barely stopping to check the 747's progress across the Atlantic.

Was I disappointed when I finished the book? Yes
Would I read it again? Most definitely
Would I recommend it? Yes!

If anyone is in need of a feel good book then you should buy this; you'll love it.

And I loved it so much that I downloaded two more of Lucy Diamond's books to read while I was on holiday.....reviews on those will follow shortly :-)

Love, Kelly x

Monday, 27 June 2016

5 Ways to a Better Day

How is it that some days you wake up and you just know it's going to be one of those days? Well last Monday was one of those days. I knew that the Monday Morning Blues would hit me hard again but I also knew that before I even opened my office door I'd be able to hear my desk groaning under the weight of all the work that was waiting to greet me.

So I already wasn't looking forward to the day ahead.

Then I got to work and things got a tad worse. There was no milk in the fridge for my morning cup of tea! Oh dear. This really is a bad day...

Then to make matters even worse I'd completely forgotten I had to have a head shot done for our internal intranet. Do you think I'd made any extra effort with my outfit, hair or make up? Like hell I had! Great. Just great.

Anyways, I'm here today to impart some of the secrets that can turn a sh*tty day into a bit less of a sh*tty day.

So here are a few things that are (almost) guaranteed to make that happen:
(Warning: to be read totally tongue-in-cheek but with some serious undertones and connotations)

1. Wear high heels

No matter how much you may want to slump and slouch around the office in a mood, your high heels simply won't let you. Those bad boys aren't made for slumping or slouching. They'll make you stand up straight. They'll make you hold your head high. They'll make you clench you're butt cheeks when you walk. They'll make you feel like you own the place and with any luck you'll be concentrating so much on not falling off your heels that you'll forget all about the crap day you were having!

But seriously, high heels can completely alter my mood. With the change in posture that wearing heels requires comes a can-do attitude. Maybe that's just me though. #dontthinkimweird!

2. Lingerie

Wear some "special" underwear, not just your usual run-of-the-mill, comfy Bridget Jones's.

No one apart from you will know what's going on underneath your clothes but knowing you're wearing a flattering (and matching!) lingerie set will give you reason to smile every now and then. And smiling is much better than scowling or frowning, right?

3. Clothes

Put on a nice dress or outfit that accentuates your most flattering feature/s. Coupled with the high heels and underwear you'll soon forget all about how terrible day the day started out!

4. Make up

Come on girls, just because you're in a sh*tty mood it doesn't mean you have to look it as well :-)

Make an extra effort and you'll be rewarded every time you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror :-) If you look good, you feel good right?

5. Accessories

To really put the icing on the cake bust out some jewellery you usually save for a "special occasion" or a handbag that you only use for "best".

Every day should be a special occasion. After all, who said tomorrow is guaranteed?

Employing any one of these five things, or a combination of a few, usually makes me feel better and tons more confident but if I do them all then I feel like a million dollars. And isn't that what is important at the end of the day; how we feel?

Whilst there are many more (arguably more satisfying) things in life that can cheer me up way more than these things can - a cuddle, or a conversation with someone I know will make me laugh and pull me out of my slump - realistically I can't have either of those things when I'm sitting at my desk. At least these things, as material and shallow as they may seem, will see me through the whole day until I get home and can fall into the arms of someone I love or pick up the phone to someone I know will make me laugh.

Have you got any easy-to-employ tips for making a bad day a bit more bearable?