The Best of Borders of Sleep

Borders of Sleep Artwork is by Robyn Trainer

Since the beginning of March this year I have been podcasting my short stories/fables/fairytales as “Stories from the Borders of Sleep“. It has been pretty exciting to see the listnership grow as we (that’s me and my producer, Tim, and Illustrator, Robyn)  have started to put new episodes out on a fortnightly basis.

There are a variety of stories to be found on the Borders of sleep, from autobiographical sketches to fantasy and reworked fables and fairytales. There is a loose underlying theme of dreaming and the blurring between real and imagined or dreamed realities in all the stories.

Looking at the stats, it appears that our listnership has recently been doubling every week. This morning we just crossed the 3000 downloads threshold. We have plans for the future …

The next step is to move from fortnightly to weekly podcasts. This will be a great challenge to creatively sustain. In the future, I would also like to look at showcasing the work of other authors whose work would compliment the “Borders of Sleep” style. I’m also hoping to look at other ways of publishing the stories.

In the meantime, here are the top three all-time favourite stories (by number of downloads) so far:

The Prince and the Bird – this was the first episode ever but it remains one of my personal favourites. In a dreamlike garden that is an external mirror to a prince’s internal world, an unexpected shadow is discovered.

Tree and Stream – easily one of the very shortest episodes but also the most popular by far; a resting traveller eavesdrops on a conversation between two different types of water.

One Stormy Night – also very popular, although it is the longest episode so far, this story spans a couple of generations and switches between the waking and sleeping worlds as a father and son share a similar mystical experience at key moments in their life.

If you enjoy these stories, please subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or using the feed and please feel free to feed-back by commenting on the website at www.bordersofsleep.com

Thank you for reading (and listening)!

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Creative Entrepreneur of the Month: Robyn Trainer of Floral Footsteps

Confucius say, “Make a living from what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life” and although this sounds lovely and has become something of a mantra for our times, anyone who has succeeded in making a living from something they love will be able to tell you there is a lot of hard work involved.

One of the effects of the instability of our economic system seems to have been to loosen the concept of career and employment as many people seek to meet their circumstances creatively, develop alternative streams of income, and question why they do what they do and how much it matters anyway. There is a new breed of creative entrepreneurs who have stopped waiting for someone to employ them and given themselves a job instead. They have said, “The future is so uncertain I might as well take things into my own hands and do something I love instead of waiting for the next round of redundancies.”

These are really exciting times and, once a month, over the next year, I will be profiling some of the creative entrepreneurs who have inspired me and continue to offer the companionable reassurance that we are not alone on the hard road to doing what we love for a living.

I have had the pleasure of working with Robyn Trainer of Floral Footsteps (she provides the artwork for Stories from the Borders of Sleep) and being part of her journey over the last year. She kindly agreed to be my first interviewee for the Creative Entrepreneur of the Month series.

Robyn is a mathematics graduate from Durham who got in the habit of sidestepping the geek label by telling people that she wanted to be a florist one day. She is married to Phil and exercised by a mischievous but adorable spaniel called Samuel. In April 2011, Robyn left her full time job at the Ethical Superstore to give herself fully to her floristry, illustration and photography business, Floral Footsteps. To fully understand how these three strands link together into her unique brand, you really need to see examples of her work and style as displayed on the Floral Footsteps Website.

Robyn says that the combination of three creative practices bounce off one another and although she has a distinctive style that is somehow recognizable in all her work she gets special satisfaction out of creating exactly what a customer wants.

“My work is entirely personal in that each order I create, either a floral arrangement or a bespoke illustration, is unique and designed according to the individual.”

Of course, there is a fourth strand to Robyn’s work, the all-essential business side of things. As anyone who has watched “Dragon’s Den” will know, being outstandingly creative and having business acumen is a very rare combination. Robyn certainly has both, and I dare say the maths comes in handy here, too.

I asked Robyn to give us an insight into her business and offer some thoughts and advice on creative entrepreneurship.

What are you working on at the moment? What’s on the “to do list” this week?

There are plenty of things going on! I’m hoping that my brand new website will be launched either today or tomorrow, which is rather exciting. Samuel the Spaniel (my naughty/adventurous dog) has his very own blog, which started this week. I’m working on a “Celebrations!” Greetings Cards range and a Christmas card range and I’ve wedding flowers to do next week, amongst other things!

So you are thinking about Christmas already! And you have involved the dog in the enterprise!

Samuel the Spaniel is too inspiring to not involve him in the business, and yes, sadly I’m thinking about Christmas already. Where I used to work, Christmas tunes began playing in the beginning of July… I’m not kidding!

How does a typical day look for you as a self-employed person? Do you have any routines you depend on?

I think the only routine I have is: start early, finish late! As I haven’t been trading for long, my work really varies, from building websites, through planning financial forecasts, to actually doing the work of illustrating, designing, working with flowers and meeting with clients. In a year’s time, I’m sure my answer will be different, but for now, each day is very varied.

How many hours a week would you say you are working at the moment?

Probably about 40 – 45?

Do you ever wish for a steady office job?

Not at the moment. Having had one of those, it’s great for stability and regular income, but I found myself longing to do something else. That longing has gone now because I’m actually doing it.

Do you think that you’ll need to have another strand of income while the business grows or is it a case of succeed or bust?

I initially thought that I would, but decided to do the summer season full time. I’m really glad I made this decision. I am considering taking on another strand of income in the autumn, but I’m seeing how that goes. Setting up business is quite hard; it does take quite a lot of investment to begin with.

What made you decide to start Floral Footsteps? Was it a slow burning idea or did you have a moment of epiphany?

I studied Maths at University, but always said “I’m going to become a Florist”. When I finished University, I thought I should really study it and become qualified, to see if I like it and want to take it further. I loved it, and was asked to do a friend’s wedding at the end of the year, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. So from there, working as a florist became something I definitely wanted to do. With regards to the other strands, illustration and photography – these are things I’ve always done and have slowly improved over the years, so it seemed natural to me to incorporate them into a business as a florist. So I’d say it was a slow burning idea.

How did friends and family respond to your decision to go for it?

My parents have been very supportive, but not without their “warnings” about “financial safety”. My husband has been really encouraging along every step of the way and helps me in making some of the bigger decisions and logistics (although he keeps well clear of any actual floristry or illustration! the wiring scares him…) and my friends have been wonderfully supportive by finding ways to involve me, and being my advertisers, giving me cause to start Floral Footsteps officially.

Some people would say you are crazy to try a venture like this in today’s economic climate. What would you say to them?

I’d say that I think one of the main ways in which we can improve our economy is through local business, by supporting one another in their employment. Yes, it is a difficult time to start a business, but I do believe that working with local trades instead of outsourcing to larger companies is the way forward.

So would you say that Floral Footsteps has a socially conscious edge to it?

Yes I would. I’m keen to work more closely with local growers of flowers, foliage and herbs (although that’s not easy in the North East!) and to recycle, reuse and reduce my waste as a business. I’m also keen to support other businesses that are local and eco-friendly in what I do and what stock I buy. I was shocked when I did my floristry course that some florists throw away leftover cellophane, ribbon and non-compostable rubbish with organic waste (loads of it!) in the same bin bag and put it out for collection. Some don’t recycle or compost anything! It’s madness!

How important is blogging to your business?

Very important for me personally, and I think for those closest to me, and for those just dipping their toe in. It provides a pretty unique insight into the person behind the business, as well as the business itself. It also shows you are interested in more than just “making money”…

I guess in these days of social media, people are not so comfortable dealing with “faceless corporations”; they want to know the people they are dealing with and what the story is.

I agree. It’s funny how just communicating over a computer can change the way we feel about someone and give a sense of ownership in what they’re up to and your relationship with them (however virtual or real that may be!)

What is your most important source of referrals?

I think most referrals come from word of mouth. From people telling one another about Floral Footsteps and what I do, and passing on that information. If someone chooses to contact me, I will reply as soon as I can to find out how I can help and be of service

Are there any websites that have been useful to you in your work either for networking or information, or support or anything else?

Well, I keep an eye on lots of different blogs and websites to see what others are up to and support them. I have a profile on lots of different networking platforms and websites including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Blogger, Pinterest, Google+ and more to build up an online profile and I also have a shop on Etsy, which I link people to. In terms of specific websites, there are a few wedding blogs which are good to read to check out trends, and twitter is always fantastic for keeping up with the latest news in your business sector.

What are your thoughts about using online markets, like Etsy, versus setting up your own website?

Hmm I’m not sure yet. I have my own website and I have a shop on Etsy, but have chosen to sell goods through Etsy because of the community already established there. It’s easier for people to find you through Etsy than it is through a standalone website.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to strike out as a creative entrepreneur?

I think they need to assess 1) Is there a need for your business? I.e. – is there a market for it? Will people buy your service or product? And try to think objectively. Will your business make money or is it better as a hobby? 2) Is now the right time for you to financially go for a creative business? It takes time to earn money in setting up a business and the business takes investment, do you need to wait a while until you can afford to set up? 3) Ask your family and friends for advice and support. They know you best. Ask them to be truthful and guiding, as I can say this has been one of the most influential things for me.

Three quite hard things, but you have to ask yourself the difficult questions!

So now another hard question for you: What was the lowest point in the last few months?

Oh, that is a hard question! So often my lowest points are to do with my own confidence, rather than specific events. If I lose confidence in my ability to run a business or in my work, I can fall quite low. It’s then that the support of others really lifts me – in having people who I am accountable to with the business.

On a happier note: Can you put your finger on your favourite project or your highest moment so far?

There have been lots of great moments! Every time I make a bridal bouquet I get a little quiver of excitement and say to myself, “this is actually a bouquet for the bride!” (Yep, geek!) When you see your completed work being appreciated by others, that’s a fantastic moment. I can’t name one in particular really, as each event feels very different! Perhaps handing in my resignation at my old job was a highlight…

Could you describe to me where you hope to be in a year’s time?

In a year’s time, I hope to have full weeks of hands-on floral designs, illustrations and more, keeping busy with clients, fulfilling regular and special orders. Perhaps I’ll be in a slightly more comfortable workspace, too!

That sounds achievable.

I hope so!

And so do I. To find out more about Robyn’s work, check out her website: http://www.floralfootsteps.com or her Etsy shop at: http://www.etsy.com/shop/FloralFootsteps
I am sure she would be happy to answer any more questions. All images in this post are the property of Robyn Trainer.

Mingling Business and Personal Stuff in Social Media

The question is, “to what extent should I keep my personal and business life separate when using twitter, facebook, and other social media?

The answer is, “It’s up to you.” There are no rules and everyone works out their personal approach to this one, which is one of the beauties of the “Wild West” that is Social Media.

One of the great strengths that social media have brought to business networking is an amplification of the importance of the personal touch and, in my humble opinion, this should be kept in mind. It is one of the strengths of the scene, so the ideal is to exploit that rather than crowbar the old ways of doing things into this rapidly-growing new field.

It is probably going to be simplest to outline some of the decisions I have made and why.

My Personal Brand

There is a rising sector of employment that I and many of my friends are engaged in. What are we selling? Ourselves. We are marketing our unique sets of skills but also our quirkiness and personal attributes that all go together to make a personal brand.

It may sound like an awful sell-out, to reduce myself to a product, but I don’t see it this way, it is more of a natural consequence of doing what you love and what is essentially “you” for a living. Isn’t this what we all long for?

I carry on a number of activities under the broad umbrella of freelance writing and editing, although a more accurate description would probably be “freelance creating” as lately my work has included forays into performance and consulting and I have not ruled out bringing more photography into it.

I don’t take on any old project that will pay, I work on stuff that accords with my principles and values, exploits my strengths and helps me grow as a person. I’m working for myself – in every sense of the word.

Also, very importantly, at this stage almost all (100%) of my work comes from people with whom I have a personal relationship of some sort, or who I have at least met face-to-face. For anyone starting out, the strength of existing networks of relationships cannot be overlooked. This is why I keep “trading” under my own name. I don’t mind potential “customers” knowing that I am a Christian or a Vegan, for instance, and in my experience this is helpful as it helps people to identify the kind of niche that I work in and heads off the requests to write copy for leather handbag sales or to produce erotica, while still opening the way for a diversity of potential projects.

The places where I am “me” are on this blog (which is a shop window where people can sample my work and where I can advocate for the stuff I am passionate about) and on twitter.

LinkedIn and ReferralKey finds a middle ground for me as it is specifically aimed at business networking, so I tend to keep my personal jibber jabber away from them.

Pros (for using yourself as the main brand)

  • Potential customers are encouraged to form a relationship with a person who has a face rather than a machine providing a service.
  • I can openly bring everything that I am to my work.

Cons

  • My tweet stream contains a certain amount of “noise” that is not of interest to clients, as I chat to people or post links that are personally interesting.
  • Some people may be put off by my stance on certain issues.

Other brands

However, under the umbrella of Seymour Jacklin, there are a couple of distinctive brands that I am developing. The first of these has it’s own twitter account and identity. It is called “Mindspective” and is the compartment where I am specifically emphasising my healthcare experience and special interest in mental health. This is primarily an information based project where I am doing writing in a specialised niche. I am less interested in hooking people on to me as a person, here, and it is more about providing something that stands alone, people are attracted by the niche rather than by my skills or personality. Very few of my everyday friends know about Mindspective.

At some point in the future, I my develop Mindspective to involve other contributors or I may sell the site on, so it makes sense to keep it separate from my personal brand.

The second brand is “Stories from the Borders of Sleep.” However, this is a much more personal project, and I use my “me” channels on social media.

I would say that the choice you make over whether to form another social media stream around a specific product will depend on the answers to the following questions:

  1. Will I employ other people in the future?
  2. Will this be set up as a charity, business or NGO in it’s own right at some point in the future?
  3. Am I thinking of selling this on to someone else one day?

General comments

I follow a number of streams on Twitter that are organisations or companies. It is mildly annoying when these are used, by whoever is managing the account, to say “hi” to their friends or carry on protracted correspondence in 141 character bites. I am generally following them because I want news and information.

I know one or two people who simultaneously broadcast exactly the same tweets both on their personal and business accounts and this feels a bit spammy (ahem). I do tend to re-tweet Mindspective from my personal account but never post identical tweets from both. I would say, “don’t do this.”

Many people use different forms of Social Media to do different jobs and keep a sense of separation. For instance, Flickr, is about photography – it overlaps with other stuff I do but it is its own thing. I don’t use MSN, Google Buzz, or any other chat streams for business purposes but I do do business on Skype, LinkedIn, Qype and Referral Key. This enables me to preserve a few corners where it is just about me and my mates chatting on.

It is important to be aware of what you do post and that “Google” forgets nothing. It is worth “googling” your self to see how you look to the online world and think if that needs to be managed or tweaked in any way that it is within your power to influence. Luckily the idiot stuff I posted on forums as a student 10 years ago is now so far down the page ranks as to be negligible.

Having abandoned facebook a few year ago, the only thing that would possibly drive me back there is the potential to use it purely for business.

It can be a nuisance (especially with twitter) having to log in and out of different accounts depending on whether you are in business or personal mode. I make things simpler by using different browsers: Firefox for personal, Chrome for business – it works really well.

In this day and age, quirks, personality, authenticity are the currency of new media, so keep them in there if appropriate.

Well, there’s just a few thoughts from the top of my head, hope it helps …

More Entertaining Spam Humour

wall of spam
Image by chotda via Flickr

I do read my spam on this blog – it’s good for a laugh!

bet365 says:

how are you I was fortunate to come cross your Topics in google your Topics is marvelous I obtain much in your website really thanks very much btw the theme of you site is really wonderful where can find it

Thank you, Bet … “Topics” as a proper noun, you must be referring to the chocolate bars? They are marvelous aren’t they? By the way I do offer a copy editing service that might be of use to you to tighten up your grammar a bit in future comments.

Silk Floral says:

Hi, I can’t understand how to add your internet site in my rss reader. Can you Help me, please 🙂

Just click on the huge orange button that says “RSS” – that should do it.

Argument Online says:

Whose Transfer,police smile immediately last step increase after picture energy entirely egg site report chief lack rest strength metal sequence put search concept head investigate servant newspaper cause winter name power limit later victim otherwise agent fill impossible not feel long separate common interested series emphasis although statement brief maybe long aim first foundation employer water small sure plate car extra surface consequence tea leadership agree vote sport male declare theatre now treaty primary run work criterion incident morning pupil rapidly address sense visitor alone base force other brain state aware version problem production

Wow, Argument, maybe you could use my copy editing services, too. Or are you trying to start an argument online? Well … what shall we tackle first, the  “Tea Leadership” or the “Version Problem Production”? I’m sure I have plenty to say on both topics.

Car Cover says:

Interesting posting, thanks. Could you explain the second paragraph in exceptional detail please?

No.

Jocuri writes:

I was wondering if you ever considered changing the layout of your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two images. Maybe you could space it out better?

I’m always glad to hear suggestion for how I can improve the blog, so thanks for commenting, Jocuri. However, Google tells me that this comment has been posted verbatim to 894,000 other blogs! You must be on a mission to save the world from bad layouts.

Diario says:

Thanks for this video…I have been brain storming for something just like this and thanks to you I have what I was looking for and not all those spam looking links that make you want to click them just to see what they lead too…my pet peave.

The irony! Please forgive me for removing all those “spam looking links that make you want to click them just to see what they lead” from your comment before publishing it. I assumed you would approve.

Samsung Soul says:

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Saying thanks will not just be enough to express my gratitude to you for for concurring and staying privy of my updates, that’s very encouraging for me, Samsung. Could I perhaps use this as a testimonial in my resume?

Resident Evil breaks silence to say:

I don’t usually reply to posts but I will in this case. WoW

I want to call your bluff, here, Resident Evil: according to Google you have replied to 167,000 posts with these words. That’s more commenting than I have ever done in my life!

Google maps says:

You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.

Rats! I’m obviously not being controversial enough.

My Five Most Popular Blog Posts of 2010

I have been writing this blog for nine months now, since it was born on the 5th May 2010. An average of 1000 visitors have passed through and hopefully found something worth reading. Reviewing the most popular posts of the last year has given me a few surprises. Here are the top five in order of popularity:

1. Man The Gatherer: The Foraging Instinct.

Inspired by a raspberry picking trip with members of The Durham Fruit Group, I reflected on the anthropological aspect of wild food sorties, the superiority of fresh wild picked raspberries, and even managed to leverage in some comments about why we should all adopt a peaceful plant based diet. This article got “stumbled” by a couple of people which may account for its astronomical viewing stats.

2. Who Is Edward Monkton?

This was intended as a fairly flippant post but it turns out I was not the only person who was curious about the identity of Edward Monkton, the naively drawn proponent of off-the-wall folk wisdom who haunts our greetings cards. This is my most googled post and includes my own attempt at a bit of Monktonography.

3. Foraging Friday: Saffron Milk Caps

This post must have been published just as a lot of people were getting curious about these garishly coloured edible mushrooms. It is the most popular of my Foraging Friday series which will be continuing just as soon as spring starts to put out new growth and make foraging worthwhile again.

4. Milk Monday: Twelve Talking Points

Part of a long running series on all things “Dairy” that has been fueled massively by the terrible threat of the US style zero-grazing cow factory proposed for Nocton in Lincolnshire. Milk Mondays have been about asking if we really want to consume milk and, if we do, then what are the ethics of our consumption habits. I wanted to give consumers some idea of what goes on behind the supermarket shelves. The series grew with a significant helping hand from the folk at the Not In My Cuppa campaign. This post offers a few points for discussion on the dairy industry in Britain.

5. Jazz and Light: Two Things I love

Another fairly rapidly scribbled post that did unexpectedly well. I muse on two of my passions: Jazz and Photography. I love them not just for the aesthetic of the end product but for the path, process, spirituality and philosopythat underpin them. More on both these topics, I hope in 2011.

Many thanks to the people who have read, commented and retweeted in the last year. Happy New Year and all the best to you in 2011.

Unblocking With Mind Maps

FreeMind 0.9.0 RC4 - Mind Map with User Icons
Image via Wikipedia

With a good plan, an article or blog post practically writes itself.

There has been a deathly hush on this blog for a few weeks now, broken only by the tumbleweed of the odd visitor bowling through. Since making a decision, for a season, to concentrate on a couple of fiction writing projects I seem to have lost the ability to churn out blogs and articles that require a bit more research and a different sort of attention. It has brought home to me the broad difference between essentially factual and fictional writing.

When writing from the imagination, in spite of having a vague idea where things need to go or end up, the author experiences many surprises and cannot predict the outcome. Like remembered dreams, plots and characters continually bewilder me because I know that they arise from my own mind but I am as surprised to see them as anyone. Getting used to this kind of writing has its own kind of thrill but I have fallen down when I have expected to be able to take the same approach to non-fiction. It is a very different discipline – of course, silly me, anyone could have told me that.

A simple tool is unlocking things for me again.

I have not posted on this blog for a long time because of the overwhelming amount of things whirling around in my brain and my utter inability to get a handle on it and work it into any shape.

Enter: Mind Mapping

Around New Year I always give some thought to identifying priorities and threads to follow in the coming year. Sometimes I work through a list of questions I ask myself at such times. This year I opened up a nifty piece of Mind Mapping software called “Freemind” (it’s free); and started storming ideas and organising them into nodes and branches. Wow! In ten minutes I had 2011 mapped out on a single page. Since I had the application open, I started to get down a few ideas for articles I have been meaning to write. Suddenly, everything seems manageable again. With a good plan, an article writes itself painlessly … sweet!

I always hated doing “spider diagrams” at school because they were something that we were supposed to do and I was against that in principle (the “supposed to” bit, I mean). Subsequently, attending training days and work related meetings where some appointed “scribe” would have to put our pointless ideas on a flip chart in spidergram form has done nothing to improve my taste for them.

Mind Mapping, invented by Tony Buzan, is so much more than a spider diagram, however. In its truest form it uses as much colour and visual signage as possible. It hangs on simple keywords and it adds the possibility of multiple branching or hierarchies that enable the representation of vast amounts of conceptual and material information for any purpose. As a system it is intended to imitate neural pathways in a way that is supposed to be really intuitive for the brain.

Where it has saved me today is by helping me to get unblocked. Paralysed by information and ideas? Unable to settle into any one of the hundred things calling for your creative attention? Pull up a page and sketch out a plan, make a mind map, and get something on paper. It feels great.

50 Happinesses

‘Self-portrait at an early age’.
Rembrandt (Self Portrait at an Early Age)

Inspired by Barb Lane at THIS | LIMINALITY who in turn was provoked by Julia Cameron‘s Daily Pages in “The Right to Write” I have tried this little exercise to think of 50 things that make me happy. It shouldn’t be a surprise that they are all very simple things that generally cost nothing, and this itself is food for thought. I found the exercise got harder after about 20 items. Doing 50 means you really have to dig a bit deeper – but I recommend it as an excellent way of cultivating an awareness of the simple pleasures. I think it would be quite easy now to do another 50 as I am more aware. Give it a go.

Here are mine:

  1. My dog’s ears, nose and paws
  2. Second Hand Bookstores
  3. Being on the deck of a ship
  4. Wild swimming
  5. Lentil dahl
  6. Espresso
  7. The dog greeting me on my return home
  8. Clear frosty mornings
  9. Getting “retweeted”
  10. Discovering a new favourite author
  11. Looking at Rembrandt’s paintings in situ
  12. Baking bread
  13. Mown grass
  14. Corduroy
  15. Laughing hard
  16. Baths with bubbles
  17. My spouse sleeping peacefully
  18. Loading a fresh roll of film
  19. Forgotten items in jacket pockets
  20. A cup of coffee that someone else has made for me
  21. Autumn
  22. Ragtime
  23. Familiar Hymns
  24. The smell of wood-smoke
  25. Bach
  26. Rainbows
  27. A pint of Guinness
  28. The static at the beginning of a record
  29. Receiving an handwritten letter
  30. Small medieval churches
  31. Bumblebees
  32. Writing in the dead of night
  33. Walled gardens
  34. Lombardy poplars
  35. When underdogs win
  36. Backgammon and wine
  37. Finishing something
  38. Treehouses
  39. Taking off and landing in a plane
  40. Aftrnoon naps
  41. Flat on back, lights out, head between the speakers
  42. A sauna and cold plunge
  43. Live music
  44. Soap
  45. Aubergines
  46. Pillow talk
  47. Sandalwood
  48. Art Deco buildings and objects
  49. New notebooks
  50. Crabs and lobsters (not on my plate, though)

Sweet!Makes me happy just to think on them.

What would be your 50 happinesses?