How did you spend your free time as a child?

How did you spend your free time as a child?

When people ask me how many times I’ve read the Harry Potter books [for some reason, I get this question a lot], I honestly have no idea, because rather than a number of cycles, they were the soundtrack of my life.

As a kid I spent my free time tidying my room and listening to Jim Dale read the Harry Potter books to me on CD. Sometimes at exciting bits I dumped out drawers just so I could piece their contents back together while I kept listening. At night I would listen until I fell asleep. This method still works when I can’t sleep.

My yellow boom box got me through a childhood’s worth of Harry Potter, and I still recall the sound it made as the CD spun to a stop when its tracks were through. But one day the boom box broke, and listening became a faff. Gone was the simplicity of the CD system, where I had to press only two buttons to get it started. Now I have to weed through my iTunes library, and right now my computer doesn’t even have enough space for all the books. Less stuff doesn’t always mean more simplicity.

A lot of friends fondly recall listening to the audiobooks on road trips, but this was never the case for me, because my whole family had to agree to the pastime, and frankly I don’t blame them for choosing against listening to someone else read them Harry Potter for hours at a time, let alone having to live with me talking about it during all those other hours.

But I found a new method for playing CDs, and a way to enjoy them on the road: by playing them in Monkey’s car! We spun through half of Deathly Hallows on the road there-and-back-again, brushing up on Harry history, and passing the time with a gripping story. Plus, we both like camping, and there’s a lot of it in that book.

your-assignment

So I want to know – what did you do in your childhood downtime? Do you still enjoy it to this day? Please share in the comments!

xandra-signature

#HappyThesisChallenge Check In

#HappyThesisChallenge Check In

The #HappyThesisChallenge is for all of us who need to buckle down and get some work done, in the prettiest way possible.

When I explain this to friends, some get it right away. We’re a particular shade of nerd, those of us who enjoy studyblrs, stationery shopping, and perfecting one’s handwriting.

your-assignment

If this describes you too, take a picture of your workspace and tag is #HappyThesisChallenge. You don’t have to be writing a thesis to participate in the #HappyThesisChallenge. You can be knocking off items on your Passion Planner to do list, scribbling notes from your latest Letters from Jane Austen project, or publishing blog posts. I have done all of the above over at @heroinetraining on Instagram.

xandra-signature

P.S. Things I learned from having no internet at home

Heroine Training on a Train: Things to Do on Long Journeys

Heroine Training on a Train: Things to Do on Long Journeys

When I have to be on a train for a while, I think Hogwarts. This visualization technique is not too difficult on my route from London to Edinburgh, which departs at Kings Cross, complete with Platform 9 3/4 sign around the corner – except these days it’s occupied by a massive queue of tourists wanting to be photographed with it. So much for the Statue of Secrecy.

The reality of the journey, sadly, is less glamorous. Yes, there is a trolly lady [or dude], but they never sell chocolate frogs, or anything that comes with collectible cards with moving portraits for that matter.

Lately I have been blessed with the misfortune of long journeys. It’s worth it, of course, because of what awaits at the other end – usually good adventures with great friends – but boy does it take up a lot of time. So I have to bring my work on the go.

Sometimes it’s not great, with motion sickness and cramped spaces, and noisy neighbors. But sometimes this is for the best: traveling can feel like free time, and anything I get done is a bonus. Or sometimes what a task needs is for me to be forced to sit in one place for several hours with nothing to preoccupy myself with but a wifi-less laptop.

Here’s how I make the most of my time:

  • Take Dramamine or motion sickness medicine. For longer journeys, I’ve caved into what I formerly thought of as a weakness. “It’s called taking advantage of modern medicine”, says Dr Dad.
  • Read for fun. Always a lovely way to pass the time! Get lost in a good book.
  • Catch up on a self-guided course. I’m loving Miracle Worker, Cubicle to 10K, and Elemental Astrology, but I keep creeping farther behind. It’s work that I love to do, so it’s a treat to work on during a journey.
  • Write greeting cards. Writing meaningful notes in birthday cards and letters is something I always mean to do, and always fills me with joy and gratitude, but in practice, it never quite feels like a priority. Devote a bit of travel time to writing out a card or two.
  • Journal. Journeys are a great – and metaphorically appropriate – time for getting in some journalling time. Reflect on where you are and where you want to go. Deep, right?
  • Do just a little bit of work. As a student I made the effort to get out of Oxford for at least part of the weekend. I brought a short article with me for the first few minutes of the ride there. Set yourself a small, achievable amount of work to complete, then feel accomplished and guilt-free during your time off.
  • Listen to podcasts and your favourite playlists. Sometimes I’m too queasy or tired to do anything but listen to the latest episode of RHAP or Taylor Swift on repeat. I play music a lot in the background, so it’s nice to have concentrated time to pay them more attention.
  • Catch up on your favourite TV show. I subscribed to The Carrie Diaries on iTunes to watch on my Oxford to London bus rides. I can’t get much else done on buses!
  • Look out the window. Grace Coddington swears that this is the only way to spend travel time. Sometimes it isn’t possible [hello redeye flights through the dead of night…] but when it is, enjoy the setting of your trip.
  • Play the alphabet game. This one works best in cars – go through the whole alphabet picking out letters from signs (“A in Parking”, “Z in Pizza Hut”). When you spot a word, you claim it, and no one else can take it. Yeah it can get really competitive.

your-assignment

Time to share with the class! What is your favourite way to pass the time on a long journey? Do you prefer to indulge in relaxation or employ on-the-go office hours?

xandra-signature

P.S. Going somewhere? Consult my comprehensive packing guide!

Steal Hermione’s Handwriting: A Lesson in Penmanship

Steal Hermione's Handwriting: A Lesson in Penmanship

A lady’s penmanship is a reflection of her character.

When I’m having a good handwriting day, I feel like a heroine. And guess what? The more often I write, the more those fortunate days seem to pop up.

Good handwriting doesn’t come from no where, and writing letters one loves is no exception to my philosophy that the best things can be borrowed from fiction.

Steal Hermione's Handwriting: A Lesson in Penmanship

Take my H, for example. When I was first introduced to Hermione Granger in the year 2000, I wanted to be just like her. So I practiced my capital H‘s to mirror hers in the American editions.

I use that H to this day, and with every swoosh, am reminded of one of my favourite females in fiction.

Steal Hermione's Handwriting: A Lesson in Penmanship

When I saw Becoming Jane, I picked up another letter, a lowercase d that starts with the loop and swirls upwards. I took my capital A from an envelope addressed to me from one of my best friends.

your-assignment

Owning one’s penmanship is an act of self love. Be proud of every letter you craft, and if you don’t love your current alphabet, pick and choose from your favourite fonts until it is a collection you adore! Whose handwriting do you admire? Have any heroines influenced the way you write?

xandra-signature

P.S. adding crystals and other magic

Why Training Matters

Why Training Matters

While I was writing Becoming My Own Heroine, I realised that the best metaphors for achievement can come from the activities I do for fun, like running and climbing.

I have now run in three 10K races, and despite the extreme humidity and constant hilliness of this weekend’s Georgetown 10K, I felt comparatively awesome afterwards. Why? Because I actually trained.

I know this sounds obvious – the whole practice makes perfect mentality – but I also know how hard it is to actually follow through on this seemingly simple step. In the past, a combination of laziness and an inflated ego have resulted in brutal finishes: eh, I’m capable, I’ll just try really hard on the day. No. That’s how I get injured.

My biggest takeaway from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is that talent can get you far, but what really matters is putting in the hours. This applies to race training, and Dad, my unofficial coach, tells me that it’s not about being able to run a certain distance, but about training your body to get used to running for longer periods of time.

Why Training Matters

Training also helps you figure out those other variables, like what you should eat and drink before, and how important it is to find the restroom when. It’s nice to not have to make these arbitrary decisions on race day if you already know what you need, and have practiced the routine enough that it’s second nature.

Finishing a 10K or a half marathon is an achievement in itself, but the benefits stretch far beyond accomplishing that one goal. When I run well, I prove to myself that I am strong, in body and mind. High on that achievement, I become addicted to the feeling of success that hard work can earn.

John Green says that “What we love about sports is that it’s not like life. There’s no room for ambiguity in sports”. Most of us are uncertain about what our big dream is, let alone how to make it come true. Unlike life’s nuances, running a race is a concrete goal, with a pretty straightforward training plan: practice running, and practice running more. Those of us chasing ambiguous senses of purpose can benefit from the stability of something like sports, and the reminder that creative as we are, we’ve got to practice using our grit.

your-assignmentAll types of training contribute to your overall training to be a heroine. In my book, I explore how training for a side passion can help us grow as individuals too. I’m curious: what are your hobbies, sports, and practices? Let me know in the comments. Not all of us want to be Olympic athletes or professional dancers, but pursuing a passion on the side helps us further our own personal paths.
xandra-signature

P.S. how limitation fosters creativity

Sunday Sampling / Constraints Can Make You More Creative

Sunday Sampling / Constraints Can Make You More Creative

Sunday-Sampling

plus, some micro-pleasures to add to my list:

  • running to fight song
  • hugging puppy
  • when public bathrooms have a hook on the back for your bag and coat
  • actually knowing one of the songs on the pub quiz music round (love in an elevator. aerosmith. yes boston!)
  • stocking up on my favourite pen refills
  • finding an old forgotten list of places monkey and i want to go to
  • when it’s warm enough for ice cream to melt just the right amount without it being a complete catastrophe

your-assignment

Happy Sunday, everyone! What are you thankful for today?

xandra-signature

Everyone Needs Deadlines: How to Get Stuff Done

Everyone Needs Deadlines: How to Get Stuff Done

I’m riding on an accomplishment high. Since starting to use a Passion Planner in March, I have finally completed EVERY task I set for myself in the week!

How to Get Stuff Done:

1. Take the time to plan. It pays off. Estimate how much time each task will take, and round up.

2. Reflect as you go: each day, each week – what are you super proud of, and what could you do better?

3. Choose your focus for the week: if you get only one thing done, what is the most important thing? Repeat this for each day as well.

4. Request the assistance of accountability buddies to help you, especially with those tasks you keep putting off. Siobhan and I, the Edinburgh branch of Miracle Workers, scheduled an ice cream date to celebrate staying on task. I ended up pushing my most challenging, fear-inducing task until that morning, but it got done!

5. Hustle through to the end. Sometimes when it looks like I won’t get enough done, I give up. Not good!

One of my favourite quotes from Walt Disney: “Everyone needs deadlines”. So true!

your-assignment

Set aside some time to plan out your next week. Or better yet, do it now! Then report back with what you want to get done and I’ll hold you accountable :)

xandra-signature

P.S. Throwback to one of my favourite little essays I’ve written about Nature, Wonder, Magic, Travel.

Mini Adventure: London Weekend

Mini Adventure: London Weekend

I can’t believe it, but I hadn’t been to London since September. This weekend, Monkey and I were in town for the wedding of the lady who is now called Sarah Starrs – it was so special to be a part of their Teeny Wedding Chronicles! When the festivities were over, the improvised adventures began.

SUNDAY

12:00 Monkey and I meandered south to London Bridge, stopping in Rabot for a leisurely chocolatey breakfast. They do the raw chocolate for Hotel Chocolat, and their London café is as sweet as their chocolate scones. We sat for a while, reading and sipping hot chocolate.

14:30 After a quick, sunny walk around the Borough Market area, we hopped on the Tube to Leicester Square. As we headed for Foyles, a most fantastic and massive bookstore, we both got a bit hungry, so we veered off towards Seven Dials, where I introduced Monkey to Homeslice, my favourite pizza place in London. It happens to be in Neal’s Yard, which was a lovely memory of where I first met the very Sarah in question!

16:00 All pizza’d up, before we knew it, it was time for Monkey to catch his train home, so to Kings Cross we went, making an obligatory stop at the Harry Potter shop. After I’d given up on my search, I found that they now produce official house coasters, so Gryffindor and Hufflepuff ones were purchased for our bedside tables of course.

17:00 I was tempted to go back to the hotel and crash, but Monkey encouraged me to make the most of my time in London, so I hopped back on the train to get my Foyles fix. Their newer location is beautifully spacious, and much neater than their former maze of a layout (although that was part of its iconic charm, of course!). I hiked up to the top and circled my way down, taking the longest time in the stationery section, and picking up a cute birthday card for no one in particular to add to my stash.

17:30 When in London, I always stop at Muji. In fact, I look forward to London trips to go to Muji. Ditto Paris. I stocked up on my favourite pen refills, realized they now do refills for erasable pens too, and decided to try out their correction tape. Oh Muji. So wonderful.

18:00 Back to Hackney for the night, where I planned out my Monday and watched Made in Chelsea to wind down my whirring mind [and see if any gorgeous London locations popped up. They always do.]

MONDAY

9:00 I had planned on jogging around Victoria Park, but woke up feeling groggy, so I abandoned that plan in favor of hunting for green juice in Shoreditch. My wish was granted at O Food in Spitalfields Market. Sipping my kale [and other green stuff. But I saw ‘kale’ and was like, yeah this is probably the healthy one], I could feel my vision getting sharper. Always the best.

10:00 A quick stop in Inspitalfields, another birthday card to add to the collection [Most of my friends are Tauruses, so my stock is running low!], and then I popped in my earbuds and finally finished listening to the marathon of RHAP episodes that piled up at the end of the season.

11:30 During my Sunday night planning session, I booked a pedicure treatment at The Painted Lady. I’ve only had two pedicures ever, but after all that walking around the city and standing on the Tube, my feet were begging me, so I gave in. Hayley was really lovely, my feet were restored, and I caught up on my British Vogue. Win win win.

13:00 Making my way down Redchurch, which is becoming one of my favourite London streets, I grabbed a yummy lunch at Albion, and got some work done on my computer before relocating to Cream, a new find on New Inn Yard. In between bites of toasted banana bread (YUM) and sips of flat white (my new drink of choice), I drafted this post!

15:00 En route to Old Street Station, I discovered a lovely little shop called Material. I saw their wall of Wallpaper* City Guides and knew I was at home.

16:00 It was a nice day, so I took a stroll around Covent Garden, stopping at the Disney Store just to browse. Oh my Tsumtsums.

16:40 Back to Foyles to do some typing in their café. Sampled the seasonal soda – Rhubarb – handmade in Hackney. Unexpectedly delicious.

19:00 Off to the Phoenix Theatre across the street for Bend it Like Beckham the Musical with Caz! A mini FabulosiTEA reunion, and seeing Jamie Campbell Bower in person! So much fun. We ended the evening in a tapas restaurant, nibbling, giggling, and scheming(yes, season 2 is in the works…shhh…) the night away!

Tips on How to Do London:

  • Plan out your route beforehand, especially if you’re staying in a weird-to-access area like Hackney.
  • London has so many different personalities and neighborhoods. Plan your day around one or two instead of pressuring yourself to hop all around town, navigating Tube stations.
  • If you do plan on navigating Tube stations, get an Oyster card. You don’t have to think about what the best value trip is; the card calculates it for you!

Finally, what do you think of this old school time-stamped Mini Adventures post? It’s been a while since I’ve done one!

xandra-signature

P.S. Simple Fix: Bring a jacket.

Heroines I Met This Week / 007

Heroines I Met This Week / 007
in a book / / Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain is transcendental magic that makes me want to frolic in the woods.
on a blog / / Discovered Hiya Tootsie, which is just plain fun. A Dream-Chasing playlist? Count me in.
in a song / / Early summer means time for Charlene Kaye.

on a podcast / / Oh my gosh guys. Two words: Animation Addicts! You know how I feel about Disney. And how I’m a general geek for animation. Finally found somewhere to fuel my passion.
on netflix / / Pretty Little Liars is BACK. If you’re watching, please let’s talk about the latest episode okay?! Also, how gorgeous is their tea party above? That’s what I’m trying to channel in the Secret Garden, everyone.
on survivor / / just finished watching Exile Island in preparation for Second Chance, which just started filming! Of course I love Cirie, and does anyone else see that pre-merge boot Misty looks like a cross between Amanda Kimmel and Parvati? uhhhh #superfan.
on instagram / / @hellosandwich makes me huuuuungry
in the cinema / / Tomorrowland completely warmed my heart. “Dreamers need to stick together!”
in edinburgh / / Maison de Moggy‘s moved around the corner from me! Kitty time on demand.
your-assignment
Leave a comment to talk Pretty Little Liars please. (Or whatever. But mostly Pretty Little Liars).
xandra-signature