Creativity – Changing stuff, being happier, repeating.

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Last week I went on a really good date night. It was good because it was a Thursday and that means it was nearly Friday and there’s never anything bad about that. It was also good because it involved an evening spent in the company of Caitlin Moran – funny Times columnist and author of books which I immensely enjoy.

It was a fairly low key event in The Troxy where she was interviewed by a fellow Times columnist and they talked about all sorts and it was funny and relatable and at times very touching. There was a game of ‘shag, marry, avoid’ involving Trump, talk of masturbating, talk of smelling of soup and talk of being scared of men. I saw Caitlin talk about life and writing at an almost identical event a few years ago and I took away from that exactly what I did from this one – I should stop doing stuff creatively that I don’t like that much and do whatever I want, even if that’s not much at all.

What this did was reinforce a feeling I’ve had for some time now. I haven’t been using my blog or social media in the same way as I have done over the last few years lately because this feeling that it wasn’t really what I wanted to write or do or put my name on kept resurfacing. I’ve been busier than ever before the past five months and this all consuming time has left me unable to blog much, but I also just haven’t wanted to. Massive cba vibes all round, which is not really what you’re meant to admit to people but it’s true. I haven’t wanted to blog, or tweet much or interact online because I started feeling increasingly like I hate everything I’m doing. Instead I’ve been enjoying my job more, getting out more in my spare time and trying to relax and lay off grinding my teeth.

I think when I started out blogging and trying to learn more about online platforms it was for a specific goal. I was looking to change jobs and do something more focused and when I achieved that, for a while it spurred me on to do more. Then after that time, I found myself doing the same as everyone else in what is a very over-saturated market. This feeling has lingered. My time has been limited. My energy has lessened. My motivation for this thing I used to love has frittered away.

I knew all of these feelings existed but I just sort of kept covering them up. I was putting concealer on my creative crisis. Like, hello massive life zit making me feel quite awful, let me just dab you with some nice nude cover-up until you look and feel even worse and people point and stare.

It took that evening of listening to one of my favourite inspirational women who openly tweets about the importance of weeing after you get laid in the battle against cystitis and writes columns about politics and women’s rights at the same time, to truly realise I was fully over my need to blend in and tick boxes. Caitlin Moran talks a lot about having a platform and using it to be honest and open and to reach people in a way you’re comfortable with. That’s why I came to this part of the Internet. That why I started giving WordPress some of my hard earned dollar, but it’s not the same anymore.

I don’t want to write about stuff I see tweeted onto my timeline everyday because I don’t feel I have anything new to offer. People are already doing a mighty fine job in that corner of the market and I don’t feel like it’s my cup of tea anymore. That doesn’t mean I won’t still read it, because I will, I love reading about other people’s lives. I just don’t want to do stuff just to do stuff. I don’t want to have this schedule of box ticking. I don’t want to do what people expect. I want to do stuff that I like, even if only two people read it and one of them is having IT issues and they’re stuck on my website involuntarily.

That is fine. I am happy with that. Sometimes I force my dog to sit on my lap when I feel down and she always comes round to it eventually. If you are stuck on this website I hope you’re easing into it. If not, apologies. Ask Siri to help you.

I know what I want to do with my spare time now. I have this almost fully formed idea in my head of what to burn creative energy on and what my hobbies will be over the next year.

It does involve doing stuff on here and it does involve trying to knit again even though I heard my mum and nan snickering secretly at my first effort (low point). I will essentially do what I want. I will enjoy it. It will be great (probably). Now I am going to lay down because I ate a lot of Thai food then ran for a train and it’s painful.

Adoration for the most average weekends

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I adored the weekend just gone (please come back) yet I did absolutely nothing special during it. I didn’t go out out, I didn’t do anything to my hair or put on much make up, I didn’t celebrate anything, go shopping, drink wine or try anything new apart from putting cheesy nachos inside a fajita which was a dream come true.

Happiness at the weekend can still be dancing until 4am, trying to phone the ‘Night Tsar’ on a help phone at Bank tube station and getting in round after round of Cafe Patron. All of that is still fun, I still like doing it and I get genuinely excited about the prospect of going out somewhere which requires me to think about my choice of shoe and sharpen my eyeliner, but there’s a whole new contented feeling in town come 5pm on a Friday.

These days, weekend satisfaction and all round happy feelings include:

-Cleaning things with bleach that smell like citrus fruits and then commenting on how fresh everything is for the rest of the day.

-Homeware shopping online until I realise I don’t need any of it, saving a few links and then repeating the next day.

-Walking. Walking anywhere with water, trees, ideally swans and maybe a nice photogenic bridge.

-Not sleeping in. The me of five years ago wants to slap the me of right now hard around the face and throw a glass of water over me, but it’s true. Being dressed, functioning and coherent outside of the house by 9am makes me feel like I’m coasting through life as opposed to the desperately treading water and shaking my head feeling I have most of the time.

-Drinking enough wine to feel warm and fall asleep easily and doing it because FRIDAY, but not so much that I wake up and need to stick my head out of a window at 7am and do the ‘phone, keys, bank cards, ID’ bag check that follows a heavy evening. (I haven’t actually had to do this in so long and I sort of miss it but also NO).

-Being able to get in on a Saturday afternoon and stay in where there will be no wind, no rain, no chance of being failed by public transplant, no queues, no general public and no need to have clean hair.

I know the ‘being a granny’ in your 20s thing is hardly groundbreaking but being a bit boring and predictable has never felt better. I also think that after a long time and very up and down 12 months, I’ve finally embraced a better mindset and a rosier outlook, which makes lovely weekend all the more lovely.

February reads: Four brilliant books


I started this year really well in the reading department after signing up for a Goodreads account, but it’s fallen to the wayside a bit over the past couple of weeks. In an attempt to kickstart things again and boost my total reads for 2017 so far, I downloaded a couple of books this weekend and put about 58 in my amazon basket (and about 58 pairs of shoes in my ASOS basket to match). I intended to read loads on Sunday but life (including a balance of work and sticky toffee pudding) scuppered that plan.

The stuff I have actually gotten around to reading (shoutout to Thameslink for all the delays recently giving me time to read on freezing platforms) has been really bloody good. The best are listed below and I’d highly recommend them all.

Hold Back the Stars – Katie Khan 

This is Katie’s first novel, and I ordered it after following her on Twitter for a long time. She heads up digital at Paramount and after always enjoying her work and personal life tweets I felt like I needed to read this. Also the cover is gorgeous and will do your bookshelf a pretty little favour when you’re done.

Behind Closed Doors – B A Paris

This is brilliant. A proper page-turner and if you love Girl on the Train and Gone Girl style books this is a must. I gave it to my mum to read for her holiday last week and ended up reading the start again afterwards and it’s just as good second time around. It’s essentially about a glamorous, happy marriage that is actually far from. Just the right amount of grit.

The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon

Yeah I know, so late to the party there are people asleep on the stairs and the wine ran out three hours ago. I had been meaning to read this for so long and when I found it on my boyfriends kindle I finally did it – in just under two days. If you haven’t gotten round to this, seriously do. It’s pretty short, very sharp and really interesting. I’ve never read something like this and found it so clever and inspiring and actually pretty moving.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

I mentioned this in the pub at work on a Friday and a couple of people whipped round to chime in on how bloody good it is. It took me a while to twig exactly what this was about but that, in my opinion, makes the book. The way the story of Rosemary and Fern is told is like thinking back to childhood with your own sibling, but then you learn it really isn’t like that. I absolutely loved this, probably one of the best books I’ve read in years.

Quick and easy crumpet french toast

 

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I’ve been looking up pancake recipes this week because the best day of the year fast approaches, and every so often a french toast recipe crops up and I have the biggest craving (to both eat it and book flights to New York). French toast is one my favourite indulgent brunches but I haven’t made it in a couple of years because I feel like it’s loads of effort.

It’s not loads of effort, I am just loads of lazy.

I had crumpets in the cupboard and a slightly hungover sister, boyfriend and brother in-law to feed, and since I didn’t think they’d want plain crumpets and we had bugger all else in the cupboards, french crumpets happened.

I once saw an amazing looking chocolate and cinnamon french crumpet recipe but it was very complicated and frankly I can’t be arsed with complicated on a Saturday morning. This is quick, easy and tasty so it gets full marks for lazy weekend eating.

You Need: crumpets, milk, 2 eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter to fry with and something sweet to drizzle on top.

Directions: Crack 2 eggs into a bowl and add in about 4 tablespoons of milk, some cinnamon and nutmeg and whisk together until you get a runny, sticky mixture. I put a tiny bit of dessicated coconut in too, but obviously it’s not necessary.

Dump your crumpets in for a little soak (about one minute on each side) and heat the pan with some butter. Fry them all together if you have a big enough pan, so you can actually eat them at the same time rather than awkwardly queue. I chucked frozen berries into the pan while they browned and let them go mushy to use as topping.

Once they’re browned, drizzle them with honey or maple syrup, chuck on your toppings and et voila, you’re done.

5 little coping mechanisms for when life gets you down

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I was supposed to spend the weekend just gone catching up on various stuff, blogging included, after a stressful couple of months but it didn’t happen. Since I’ve been blogging less, I’ve used social media less and I’ve gotten used to being detached from my phone and the internet more and I think that change will stay. It’s no lie that social detoxes do wonders for the mind and for anxiety. I’ve been ill the past week with some sort of virus and cough and stayed inside for 48 hours, so rather than stare at screen all weekend, we drove down to Worthing to visit Dan’s dad and had a lovely, fresh and airy little break. (Thanks @Dannyboyjnr for the photo skills displayed above).

We’ve managed to get on top of  most of our issues including living situation, home buying, car owning and storage issues in the past ten days, but it hasn’t been the prettiest start to the year. I definitely think adult life should come with harsher warnings, or even just a good sit down in a pub for half hour where someone tells you that things will get shit, then probably worse, then be really hard before they get better. Insert mum, dad, Hermione Granger, a wise cat – whoever you like.

These are the things that have got me through this irritating little patch of life and I can confirm they have all eased my woes for at least fifteen minutes, but some for much longer.

1) Walking

You cannot beat literally walking your worries away. The further into my twenties I get, the more I seem to want to go for walks. Obviously countryside and sprawling views of natural beauty would always be preferred, but even walking round the block or a longer way home from the station will do it. We blew away the cobwebs on the Sussex Downs on Saturday then spent Sunday morning strolling around Arundel and I feel a million times better for it.

2) Paying closer attention to sleep

I’m quite bad for letting myself get overly tired then having a casual 12 hour sleep marathon to try and fix it, but it doesn’t work for me. Being extra strict on bedtimes and setting alarms even on weekends (I mean, nothing before 8:45/9 because I’m not an alien) stops me from over-sleeping, which just makes me feel gross and lethargic and is all a bit sad.

3) A ‘three things to accomplish’ list for every working day

I’ve actually found work a relaxing escape from dealing with daunting admin and life decisions lately (no YOU need to sort your life out) and I saw someone on Twitter going on about hand-writing three things you want to achieve every day when you first sit down at work. I did every day I worked last week and a couple the week before and it’s quite nice, if not just because ticking something off a list is satisfying as hell.

4) Separation from the news

I can’t ever be that far from current events partly because I work in a press environment and partly because I just don’t like it, but a little bit of down time is good for the soul. The news is freaking mental 99% of the time at the moment, and when I’m not pulling ‘WHAT THE F’ faces I’m feeling sad about the state of the world, so time away from Twitter and news sites has been cathartic.

5) Eat better, feel better

Yeah, yeah, yeah I know, LAME. But as someone who doesn’t really have a bad diet anyway, I really notice the difference in how I feel physically when stress eating kicks in. Roaming the kitchen looking for anything carb-laden and chocolate covered has been a 2017 hobby of mine. I need to stop though, and I have mostly (apart from this weekend because cake and red wine and life) and when I eat well, I do feel a billion times better for it. Now I just need to dose up on willpower and I’ll be dandy.

One trip back to university, several realisations

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The past few weeks haven’t been what I would call a great time. They’ve been long, stressful, sleep deprived, frustrating and largely disappointing and I’ve needed reminding almost constantly that the glass should always be half full. I haven’t had the time or spare energy to maintain any hobbies, including this blog and my beloved running/exercise regime has been non-existent. Gloomy Lauren is gloomy.

However, I am refusing to let stress and all the non-joy that comes with big adult decisions and processes ruin any more of this year. You will be a good year 2017. You bloody will. (I guess I’ll have to also work on not watching the news 24/7 to make myself believe it’ll be a good year).

With all the stuff we’ve had going on, the trip I took back to uni with Dan about a week ago hasn’t really come back to the front of my mind until now. We were asked by an old tutor of ours who we’re still in contact with if we would come back and take part in an audit of the department we studied under for our journalism degrees, which we happily agreed to. We both had, and I think I speak for most of my good university friends from my course here, a really good higher education experience. We loved our course, had sociable tutors and lecturers, a great balance of practical work and theory and brilliant people to learn with. Obviously this was all helped along massively by VK Pineapple, cocktails from saucepans, mass sleepovers and many Thursday nights spent watching indie bands and dancing til 2am. It was better than I had ever imagined uni would be when I was younger and getting stressed about filling in UCAS forms online and being put on hold by student finance for all of eternity.

Going back last week meant walking through the town we spent so much time aimlessly wandering, past the pubs we spent more money than we had in and then all the way through the campus. It was weird. More than weird actually, and the nostalgia level was through the roof. Peering into the canteen we used to buy coffee from and passing the courtyards we sat in and rooms we learnt in felt like a trip to someone else’s life. Like something that happened to someone you know really well from hearing stories over and over again- it just didn’t feel like that person was me. I guess that happens over time and especially when so much has changed. As part of the audit we were asked about our jobs, how life is panning out, what we took away from the course and carried with us into post-uni life and about how ready we felt to take on the real world after graduation.

What it really gave me, apart from a glass of good red wine and chance to go back to my old pub haunt and feel outraged that it’s now gastro and fancy, was a chance to remember I’ve done okay. The start of 2017 has felt so frustratingly lame compared to what we had imagined, that I started to feel like nothing in my life was what I wanted which is a slippery slope to start falling down. This little trip down memory lane helped me realise that I am a functioning adult with a good job and I no longer drink from saucepans (sadly) because I’ve built a life and a career and for the most part, things have gone smoothly. I just need patience and deep breaths and a sunnier outlook on the rest of this year and I think everything will be fine. Thanks KU for the degree and the friends and the great cheese baguettes and for still letting me know that life is good all these years later.

QBic London – East London cool in a cube


A couple of weeks ago we took a Monday off work after a grotesquely stressful week and stayed in QBic London on a Sunday night. 
I’d read rave reviews of the Amsterdam branch and since that wasn’t quite a viable option, we hopped on the tube to the other side of town and checked in here, just by Aldgate East station. I was expecting bright and colourful and bold from what I’d seen online and the reality didn’t disappoint. If you need cheering up and a think a cheerful room, gigantic squishy bed and rain shower might fix things, head here. 



Keeping on East London message, everything is cool. The reception, the lifts, the bar, the retro games and even the water glasses. The rooms are built in cubes, all slotted together with lots of eco nods such as the showers, the toiletries, swapping your room cleaning service for a drink at the bar and the way the hotel was made- economically and environmentally friendly. 

The rooms aren’t huge but that’s all part of the cube idea, everything fits nicely from the quirky furniture to the light controls and bedside storage.

If I go to a hotel, I want the bed to be stupidly big. I want a delicious breakfast menu. I want a massive shower and good TV and good places to eat close by and with Brick Lane a stones throw away this place ticks all those boxes with a good price to boot. 

Spending a Sunday night drinking wine, playing Battleships, sinking into pillows and a duvet and consuming Brick Lane burgers is a good way to do life. 

The best thing about this hotel was the zero fuss. Everything was easy and the staff were brilliant. I’ll definitely be making a beeline to stay at QBic when I go to Amsterdam later this year. 

Living with less and wanting less

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For the past year I’ve been living with access to only half of my belongings. For the past couple of months it’s been less than half. Half my clothes, accessories, books, beauty products, shoes, photos and appliances are all in boxes, split across two houses.

When we first left our flat just over a year ago I kept looking for stuff that had been put away. I kept deciding I needed something and hunting through drawers for it, to then realise it was fifty miles away stuffed in a cardboard box.

For a while I found this extremely irritating. For a while I was annoyed probably once a day that so much of my stuff was in storage. I thought that this would carry on and imagined how amazing it would be when the time came to get it all back, but now the time draws very near, I’ve forgotten what most of it is.

Now, I’m actively shoving things into storage. A couple of months ago I put even more of my modest collection of belongings into suitcases and boxes and deposited them into the loft. I now have actual real space in my wardrobe. I can move the clothes along the rail. Jumpers don’t go mysteriously missing between two other jumpers for months on end. I have one bag of toiletries and make up. I have one drawer of pyjamas and gym wear. I have one (very small) drawer with general stuff in- you know like chargers, random stationary, a watermelon camera case and a Harry Potter colouring book. I haven’t lived with this little stuff in a very long time and I really like it this way.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very excited to have several rooms of space. I’m excited to know where things are. I’m excited to be able to display things. I’m excited to be reunited with my blender. I miss the really nice candle I had next to my bed that smelt like berries. I’d like some of my photo frames back because the photos in them make me feel better on really crap days. But I have no urge to see most of that stuff again. I have very little urge to have drawers full of things I rarely touch or think about or that I can never find the energy to sort through while I choke on the dust they’ve collected.

I used to take comfort in buying things. I still do, but it’s so much less to do with having a lot to show for myself and simply buying because I’m in a shop and something catches my eye. Now I think about pretty much everything I buy. I’m not going around writing essays on my need for material possessions and I haven’t become boring and minimalist, I just don’t just pick up and chuck in a basket in a shop and then pay mindlessly. I actually think about where it will live and when I’ll use it and if I’ll still like it in a month. I save money for expensive things I really, really like rather than splurging constantly on stuff that just fills an impulsive need. I still have lists of purchases I’d love to make, but it’s stuff I have thought about and know that I’ll appreciate.

It’s got to be good to realise to some degree that one person doesn’t need 800 candles.

Quick, easy, healthy – Spiced chickpea & spinach stew

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I never made a conscious decision to eat less meat and I don’t class myself as a vegetarian at all, but slowly over the past few years my diet has become 90% veggie. When I first moved out from home as a working adult and got into cooking, I started making more vegetarian dishes because they were cheaper, often quicker and I didn’t like cooking with meat. I hate chopping it and dealing with it raw, and actually I didn’t miss it when I ate it less.

As if anyone else needs to rave about chickpeas or talk about how good they are a veggie meal staple, but I’m gonna do it anyway. I LOVE THEM. I love chickpea curry more than any other curry these days and I make it frequently- but perhaps too frequently. I decided to try something different with them and take a break from the chickpea and lentil dhal I was having a relationship with (a very committed, happy relationship) and this was born.

I tried to base this on a recipe I found online but then couldn’t find it again to copy when I was in the kitchen, so I just chucked in whatever I fancied and it tasted heavenly.

Ingredients:

1 onion chopped

400g canned chickpeas (drained and washed)

400g chopped tomatoes

25ml water

One big handful of raisons

1 tsp of cayenne pepper (or two if you like things really spicy)

1 tsp of cumin

1 tsp coriander ground

A shake of basil

Two big handfuls of fresh spinach

Some grated beetroot (I put about 50g in because it’s an easy healthy extra, but you could use more or none)

1 roasted and chopped tomato

Method:

Roast a tomato for about ten minutes on a low heat in the oven.Brown the onion for a few minutes with a splash of oil, then mix in the cumin, coriander and cayenne. I also add a pinch of salt but you don’t have to. Mix this up for 30 seconds, then add in your chopped tomatoes and water and chuck in some basil. Chop your roasted tomato up small and chuck it in (I think roasted tomatoes make everything taste better) and let everything simmer for about 4 minutes.

Then chuck in the raison, spinach and beetroot and leave to cook for another 10 minutes on a low heat. It should thicken slightly, but should keep a liquidy bast. I served mine with toasted pitta bread but this would go with rice too.

I doubled all of these ingredients and got 5 portions out of it- it’s perfect for batch cooking for your lunch. ENJOY.

 

 

Books and Netflix shows you should get involved with

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At the start of January I signed up for a Goodreads account, in the hope it would push me to read more and so far it’s working. I’m on my fifth book of 2017 already, and I’ve read some seriously good ones so far.

I’ve been spending much more time with a book (or the Kindle app) in hand, which has meant less Netflix viewing, but still enough to recommend some good stuff available on the UK version. If you’re spending time indoors with your duvet and Netflix or if you’re looking for new reading material, I give all of the below many shiny stars.

READ The Vinyl Detective by Andrew Cartmel

I read this because my boyfriend had downloaded it to Kindle and I liked the cover. That was it. No other reasons, but I’m so glad I did. I enjoyed this book from cover to cover. It’s a properly good novel with some mystery, likeable characters, a few laughs and a lot of is set on the streets of London which I love. It’s about a guy who tracks down rare records for people, and gets hired by a secretive Japanese man which leads to a wild goose chase all over the country and eventually to the US. The next book is out in May and I will 100% pre-order it.

WATCH Hunt for the Wilderpeople

It’s worth getting a Netflix account solely to watch this film. It’s an indie New Zealand flick and I laughed myself stupid watching at the cinema last year. It’s heartwarming, hilarious, brilliantly acted and extremely feel good. One of the funniest thing I’ve watched at the cinema ever.

READ Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

This book gets rave reviews all over the place and for good reason. The story follows a group of people who are brought together during a disaster and delves into what their lives were like before and how they change drastically after.

WATCH Curious and Unusual Deaths

Another documentary recommendation to add to my many (find more here) but this is something a bit different. It’s really weird. When I saw the title I immediately thought yes, this is me all over (not that I’m really into death just FYI, I just find this stuff interesting), but it’s very odd. Odd in a way that after one episode- only 20 minutes, you’ll feel like you have to watch more. From the cheesy narration to the comical/disturbing re-enactments, take it with a pinch of salt.

READ The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

I didn’t think I would last through this when I first started. I found it hard to get into but after about 25 pages I got there. It’s far from my usual type of novel but it’s written to perfection and you feel like you’re being made more intelligent as you read. It’s set in Russia under Stalin rule, and is definitely one for any history lovers or those who like the arts and a good gritty life story. It’s also quite sad and shocking to think life was really like this for people.