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.

The alone time project – getting started


For the past four years, I’ve spent barely any time on my own.

For the most part, that’s by choice. I don’t crave time by myself, and I don’t find myself getting sick of being around people. Lately though I have felt like I need to learn to be alone again.

Since I moved in to a shared house with my boyfriend and a couple of uni friends back in 2013, I’ve always had people to spend time with. I could walk from my room to a friend’s room in ten seconds. If one friend wasn’t around, the other probably was. I had my boyfriend to spend time with, I had a large group of friends living three tube stops away and a big, loud sociable office to spend all day in.

I really liked all of this. I liked the feeling of being surrounded by people I loved being with and as time went on, I got used to never really being alone. I don’t live in that house anymore, and I have changed jobs, but mostly my situation is the same. I still live with my boyfriend, work in an office full of people I like and have friends near me or available pretty much constantly.

I equate having lots of people around me to being happy. It’s certainly given me a lot of happiness over the years, but the older I get the more I feel I need to touch base with my own company more. The most amount of cumulative time I’m in my own company is probably while traveling to work, which isn’t a particularly long journey, and I think that needs to change.

I don’t want to start spending hours shutting myself out of socialising and forcing myself into being alone when I don’t want to, but I want to make the effort to spend a bit of me time with just me.

So to get started…

I’m going to start to try and do something alone each weekend, even if it’s just popping into town for an hour to browse shops, or sitting in a café to read and do work. I can’t change what makes me happy and I don’t have any desire to do so, but I would like to get back to enjoying time with moi. 

I’d like to build up to doing some solo travel, so I hope I can stick to trying every week. We’ll see. If anyone has particularly good solo activities tell me about them! 

I had a really terrible day and I’m glad it happened

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Last week I had a succession of really bad days. They just kept on coming and even though it was only six days, it felt like months. I was feeling angry for my mum who’s recovering from a big operation and was stuck in a house without heat or a shower thanks to our boiler breaking and the insurance failing to sort it out. I had a headache from feeling stressed, I was living out of hotel rooms due to the boiler fiasco, I was trying to deal with house and mortgage stuff and I also had pain in every joint of my body from sleeping in uncomfortable beds and carrying heavy bags around. Woe. Is. Me.

The really bad day was the Friday. I hadn’t been able to wash my hair in three days so I was strolling round London looking like a greasy, sad alien and feeling VERY sorry for myself. I also dropped some chickpea stew on my brand new jumper, stubbed my toe on a desk and woke up with loads of spots. It was really, really glamourous and I am as shocked as you are that I’m now not an international super model.

I don’t like being in a bad mood, not that anyone does, but I just hate that feeling of being stuck in a grumpy rut when all you’re good for is being alone and going to bed. On this day though, after a really bad week, I revelled in this bad mood. I actually started to enjoy how many things were going wrong, stacking up more and more reasons to feel snappy and annoyed and not talk to people and buy really expensive coffee because I deserved it.

By the time I went to bed that night, having made no progress on all the things that had gone wrong that week (in a hotel, because still no boiler four days on), I had reached such depths of feeling unspeakably hard done by, that I thought I might never feel happy again. The next day though, with freshly washed hair and less lunch on my clothes, I started feeling more human and a billion times more refreshed and with that came an overwhelming sense of relief that the bad mood was over, but actually I needed that day.

I really needed to feel sorry for myself. I really needed to spend a day feeling exactly as I felt and not trying to hide stress and anger. I needed to be moody. I needed to be alone. I needed to not apologise for feeling like crap.

There seems to be a movement among millennials (particularly the social media savvy) to really push positivity, to own opportunities and seize productivity and make good stuff happen, but it can’t be like that all the time. No one feels that way all the time.

Bad days aren’t anything to shout about usually, but sometimes just accepting them and owning the mood is all you can do. Coming round from a crap day and awful mood makes you realise all over again that actually, things aren’t so bad and it could be much worse.

Recipe: Lasagne sheet tortillas and hot sauce dip

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The fact that this actually worked and tasted really good amazed me. My mum originally saw the idea for this on @theslimmingwoman’s Instagram and since I was off work on Monday and she had me as a kitchen aid, we gave it a go. Essentially, I guess making tortillas using wholemeal pasta is healthier than eating the shop-bought kind as you bake them and don’t slather them in vegetable oil- plus you can flavour them however you want! The flavour is the reason I like this idea so much and they turned out better than I could ever have imagined and had the perfect amount of crunch.

To make…

We boiled the lasagne sheets for about a minute and a half, so they were still quite hard, but starting to soften enough that you could tear them, rather than snap them. Then we cut them into triangles with scissors, and laid them on a baking tray sprayed with Fry-Light. Once they were all laid out, we sprayed them again, giving them a light covering and then dusted them with Nandos Peri-Peri salt, which you don’t need much of as it’s so strongly flavoured. You could also try garlic powder or paprika.

We baked them for about 8 minutes (our oven is fan-assisted so things tend to cook quickly) but they could probably go for 9 or 10 if needed. Once they were out I ground a bit of black pepper on for a touch more heat. To dip them in, I mixed cottage cheese with hot sauce and whipped it up into a chunky sauce consistency. We made these to go with chilli con carne and it was absolutely delicious. Once you start eating you’ll forget they’re made of pasta.

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The ‘January started quite badly’ note to self 

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The January blues have been running high so far in my world. I tried really hard to be all gushy and optimistic for the new year but instead life just got in the way. I’ve been walking around scowling with the temperament of Argus Filch and a grey cloud above my head for the past week.

I’ve been seeing all these positive posts on social media about owning the year and being successful and making all these grand plans and I’ve just been sat in the corner, drinking tea and death-staring my phone screen. I reached the point of “you dare try and tell me to cheer up man who clearly wants to speak to me” while fighting life and limb to squeeze on a train during the glorious strikes this week.

I am ready to get over myself though. I’ve had good reason to feel as grey as the sky has been this week, but as my boyfriend keeps telling me, being glum won’t help matters. To try and shake off the negativity and feel better about the start of 2017, I want to do things.

I don’t mean just get out or make plans, I mean have stuff to fill up practically all of my time so I have less hours to spend stressed and less nights filled with teeth grinding and dreams about becoming an unsuccessful farmer in France (no idea). I would be a bloody terrible farmer.

And these are the things I will do (I say will because then I feel more inclined to do them rather than go back to the tea, death-staring and Filch vibes from under my duvet)

1) Up-cycle a piece of furniture

I dragged Dan into a charity shop near my house last weekend that has been there for years and I’ve always ignored, and we found loads of really rather nice furniture. Some of it was a bit too pastel coloured and time machine looking, but there were a few little bits like lamp tables, little shelving units and small cabinets that could be stripped and painted and made to look brand new. I don’t even want to do this because it’s cheap, I want to do it because it’s a project and I’ve always loved the idea of up-cycling, I just fear I am inept at DIY. We will find out.

2) Give blood again

3) Make a new financial planning spreadsheet

My life is a thrill a minute. I stopped using my old one when we finished saving but it turns out I really like living my financial life through the medium of Microsoft Excel. I spend far less on seemingly nothing when it’s all there in black and white.

4) Run 5k (nearly) every Sunday again

I stopped this over Christmas partly through laziness, being put off by the cold and dark and also because I had an injury to my shoulder which put me out of action. Now though, apart from the odd snow flurry, I have very few excuses. Running is as good a stress-buster as I’ve ever found, so I need to get back to it pronto.

5) Get another five books ticked off my Goodreads challenge

If you read, or you want to read more, I cannot recommend Goodreads enough. It’s making me read every single day and instead of mindlessly scrolling on my phone on the train or in the evenings, I’m reading instead.

6) Make appointments for all my niggling health problems

As someone who suffers with bad health and chronic illness, you’d think I’d be on top of this sort of thing, but I’m quite the opposite, and that needs to change.

Keeping busy is a good antidote to feeling like the world against is you, so if I don’t do these things, I only have myself to blame when I morph into Filch.

 

5 times the internet has been good lately #9

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I haven’t done this in a while because I’ve been busy stressing over mortgages and then Christmas happened and now it’s nearly mid-January. Time really does scare me. I’ve been doing loads of reading since Christmas, but it’s mostly been on my kindle as I got a Goodreads account and am determined on hitting my ‘read 40 books’ target for 2017, which is probably a bit of a push, but we have to aim high don’t we?

Anyway, other reading including blogs I love and articles that I’ve seen on Twitter and loved are below, should you find yourself with some spare time and somewhere comfy to lay (or a packed train carriage with your phoned wedged in someone’s spine #London).

A recipe for happiness – Sophie Cliff

I read this just this morning and it was the last pose I needed to complete this. It’s as good as ever from Sophie. I love her blog and everything she’s written in this post.

When it comes to motherhood, career and, well, life, I’m a late bloomer – The Pool

I absolutely loved this. It’s a short read (my favourite thing about The Pool is the fact they give you an estimated read time on articles!) and makes me feel much calmer about the life targets I try and impose on myself. It’s a nice little reminder that there is no ‘good time’ for life’s big milestones, you just have to let them happen.

8 things every girl did when she went shopping in the 00s – Cosmopolitan

This is a little lighthearted nostalgia which I thought I was mostly over reading, but clearly am not. It mentions meeting at a designated bank and Bay Trading, so you really should have a little look. I laughed.

My predictions for blogging in 2017 – Hannah Gale

I really like reading stuff like this, as I work in social/digital media I often go looking for predictions on how the landscape of these things will change and I’m invested in blogging now, so really am intrigued. Plus, let’s be honest, Hannah’s probably right about all of it.

A look back at 2016 travels – Suitcase and Sandals

I like being nosy in regards to where people travel to and this little round-up on Hannah’s blog made me remember to get back into researching another trip to Scotland and also made me want to be on a beach quite badly.