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.

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.

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.

Fika- A Scandinavian lifestyle concept for a 24 hour lifestyle 

 

So you know how throughout the last couple of winters people have been getting all giddy about Hygge and then a load of books came out telling us how to do it? As nice as that is and as much I am 100% down for a cosy life, I found another Scandi lifestyle concept I’m more interested in while researching Finland the other day in bed- for holiday purposes obviously.

It’s a very simple one, and I think we do it to an extent already, some more than others for sure, but I for one would love to do it more- Fika.

Fika is a Swedish and Finnish concept which essentially means to ‘take a  break’ with colleagues, friends, family- whoever you can round-up, and most commonly involves having a hot drink and focussing on each other rather than work, technology or daily stresses. So yeah, it might literally mean, having a hot drink and a little rest, which I and I’m sure most others need little encouragement to do, but the concept is a little bit lovelier than that.

In Sweden and Finland, people usually take two ‘Fikas’ in a day, morning and afternoon, to chat to the people they are with, drink something warm, have a break from work and regroup a little. The world of al-desko lunches and working while you scoop salad into your mouth with a phone wedged between your shoulder and face is the working life that we’re increasingly used to. I like being busy. I like busy days that go fast and having enough stuff to get through to keep my mind occupied for a full days work, but I also spend every waking spare second staring at a phone, on a train, deleting things from said phone etc etc. I’m hardly alone in that kind of lifestyle and if anything it’s getting worse.

We know we should rest our eyes from screens, get up and walk about a bit, step foot outside for a walk and give our brains a break from thinking and buzzing and scrolling, but how good is anyone at that these days? I stare at my phone all the time. I stare at a screen all day at work,  I use my phone while I commute, I use it basically organise my whole life, which is great in many ways but bad in many others. There are messages, emails, social media, 24 hour news cycles, buzzing, bleeping, ringing and then the inability to fall asleep at night because by the time you close you’re eyes there’s just a white light behind them and the urge to check just one more thing.

I don’t think practising ‘Fika’ is going to solve the fact that humans getting more and more addicted technology and our eyes feel weird if we aren’t gaping at a white light with news or WhatsApp beaming out at us, but it’s good to try.

We shouldn’t really even need a name and a concept to follow to take a break and enjoy some proper, human interaction, but I find it easier to adopt an idea like this.

 

Simple, little and achievable aims for 2017


I don’t like making resolutions because I never stick to them. I also can’t face going on Facebook on New Year’s Day to see all the ‘new year new me!’ or ‘leaving all the fake friends behind this year’ style status updates. Thanks for that update hun, but no thanks.

Last year my main goals consisted of telling myself I will get more than two haircuts, to focus on my health more and cut down on drinking coffee. All of which I have achieved (I got three haircuts, high five) although the coffee drinking slowly started to increase as December neared.

I actually think goals help most people to achieve more and I do like ticking things off a list, so I am making one. Health is continuing to be my number one goal. Ehlers Danlos syndrome makes life hard at the best of times, and the bad times seem to get worse the older I get, despite being more infrequent, so I want to be as healthy as possible to combat the symptoms. Aside from making more progress on being well and getting stronger, these are my little aims for 2017:

Learn to knit – Yes, I say this every year, but this time I mean it. I WANT TO KNIT.

Master at least 10 new vegetarian recipes – I’m not a big meat eater at all, so I eat mainly veggie dishes already, but it’s getting repetitive. I would say I had lentil and chickpea curry at least 10 times in December, so I need new food in my life.

Join a club/team/activity of some kind – When I move, I want to find something local to do so I a) meet people in the area and b) spend more time learning new things and being sociable.

Start making packed lunches at least three times a week – I’ve gotten so bad at making healthy lunches at the tail end of 2016 and have started spending more money than I care to think about on Pret soups and salads. I also tend to add more unhealthy snacks by strolling through Tesco and deciding I definitely need a Milky Bar AND crisps AND chocolate raisins AND biscuits to dunk in tea during the 3pm lull. 

Get into gardening – I’m not sure how well I’ll cope with a reasonably big garden because I have zero gardening experience and no idea how to help plants thrive or whatever happens out there so I should probably buy a book or something.

Do life admin when it needs doing, not when a paperwork avalanche happens – I should learn to file.

This is me going pretty easy on me for next year, so here’s hoping I finally buy some knitting needles and learn to do more things with lentils. The excitement never ends. Happy NY!

All the blogging feels and stats from 2016

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Blogging in 2016

The end of this year has come around ridiculously fast. A year that I thought would drag in anticipation of moving and living back at home has flown by. It doesn’t feel possible that January is only a couple of days away.

This has been a weird blog year, particularly towards the end, where I’ve found myself with virtually no time to update, write, plan or do any kind of admin. I’ve also felt out of inspiration and a bit like the extra work isn’t worth it. I did toy with the idea of slowly shutting down and doing something new with the website next year, though I have no ideas for that either. I think this feeling will pass, as it has done by before, and I know this blog will still exist this time next year despite my bad blog mood, I just need some rejuvenation, which I’m hoping 2017 will provide.

Another reason I know I won’t actually pull the plug is because of how much blogging has evolved. It’s gone from strength to strength and while there will always be people who don’t understand the concept of blogging, or put it down as being pointless, flighty lifestyle content, it isn’t. It’s hard work, a lot of work, involves a lot of skill and is a fantastic community, recognised by brands and big companies and it makes a lot of people happy, which counts for more than just something.

Blogging stats in 2016

I didn’t have any goals or major aspirations for my blog this year, which is perhaps where I fell down in the past few months. I’m going to hopefully set some sort of benchmark in 2017, and give myself something to aim for.

It wasn’t a bad year though, far from it.

I reached 471 email subscribers. I got a record number of hits in one month- 12,401 in September. I started averaging at least 200 page views a day from August, which for a little blog like this feels like a solid and steady number.

Aside from numbers, I celebrated two years of blogging and I got a feel for what works best in my writing style, which until earlier this year was still a bit of a mystery to me. I also got to go along to a couple of events, and received invites to several I couldn’t go to, which is a nice feeling even when you can’t attend.

Blogging going forwards

My first aim of 2017 will be to kick this blogging slump aside and sit down and have a proper think about what I want to do next. I want to get on top of planning, stop being such a bad scheduler, start writing more frequently and do more stuff that suits me. I also want to meet more bloggers that I love in real life, go to more events, read more posts and reestablish the feeling of being connected to a community, be it just on Twitter or in real life – hopefully both!

Time to go out and buy another new notebook obviously.

 

 

 

Friends and feelings and stuff 


There are few things in life I find as comforting as good friends. I love the feeling of sitting down with a group of people who I can be completely at ease with, talk to about anything and feel at home around, no matter where we are. It’s perhaps rarer than I probably think to have this luxury and I’m often reminded how lucky I am to have people in my life who make me feel comfortable. 

I don’t want to be made to feel important or special or better than anyone else. I’ll take comfortable all day long.

When I was a teenager I thought that popularity and having a massive circle of people around you would equate to happiness. It didn’t matter how much I really liked them, I just saw safety in numbers. I thought the best way to feel on top of life was to be liked, be in demand and be the envy of others from time to time. All of those thoughts of course were wrong and I’ve long since been put right by life. There’s so much more that matters when it comes to friends than quantity and friends matter for so many reasons. 

I don’t see my best friends all the time, and it doesn’t matter because they accept life for what it is- hectic. That’s been one of the biggest lessons life has thrown at me- it always gets in the way. It’s when it gets in the way with the worst kind of things, the big things, the things that shape us and upset us and change us, that having those people who bring comfort and happiness no matter how many weeks or months it’s been that become so important. 

I’m very happy with my understated, happy and unfussed group of friends. I’m happy with good people, feeling accepted and being supported. I no longer need social media displays of ‘look how great my friends are and how many I have’ and I don’t need reassurance and shows of allegiance. I just need to know that those people who rock up to our meetings in noisy bars, cosy pubs, weird restaurants and living rooms will stay in my life and keep that comfortable, warm feeling of friendship going for many years to come. I think Christmas has made me a bit emotional or something, but here’s to the best of friends and good human beings.

Falling in the depressing black hole of the social media scroll

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I would really love someone to stand over me and snatch my phone out of my hands when I’ve had enough of the internet. This person or creature would need to be able to pick up on my sudden change of mood and be able to remove my phone or chuck my laptop out of the nearest window before I sink too far into the ‘why isn’t that my life?’ depression. If you fancy the job please submit your CV, I make a really good cup of tea.

It’s been written about to death, but the levels to which the internet affects happiness and perspective on young people right now is obviously still high. I see stuff about it every day. I am one of those people, despite how much I try to disregard the filtered view of others I get from scrolling social media and reading blogs, who still feel like they’re missing the mark.

When you’re scrolling through posts there’s always someone out there having a better day than you, having a nicer weekend than you, eating better food than you, forever buying new clothes, forever travelling to beautiful places and in the end, you just want to be someone who isn’t you. I don’t feel like this very often, but I know I spend way more time than is healthy glued to my phone and on social media. The other day I was sprawled on my bed in the evening feeling frustrated and angry at my body for making me unable to exercise due to a flare up of EDS and it took three things to turn my mood from annoyed to fully vile.

I saw a photo of someone on my Instagram feed in gym clothes looking pretty perfectly toned and posting about training for winter runs, I then got an advert targeted at me on Facebook for homeware I could never afford after snappily swapping apps. Then to finish me off I went into my emails and saw I had been invited to yet another PR event that I wouldn’t be able attend because it’s in the day and I have a job.

These three things, separately, don’t really mean anything. This person looking good on Instagram would not get a second thought from me 99.9% of the time. The most likely outcome usually would be me looking for where they got their leggings because they’re always so nice. On that evening though, it just amplified my ‘I can’t exercise and I’ve been comfort eating crap all day so I’m just going to get fatter and fatter’ mood even more. I just felt worse about myself and angrier at my health for looking at one photo.

The advert for homeware appeared because of the stuff I’ve been looking at for Christmas presents. Cookies and data collecting and all that stuff the internet does to advertise things to you came together to make me feel worse about money and worse about not being able to buy things for myself- this shouldn’t matter. I’m not a materialistic person. I don’t go shopping much. I don’t have online baskets full of stuff waiting for payday. I just suddenly felt inadequate and left out and behind from an advert telling me I need a marble crockery set.

The event thing is perhaps the most stupid. This happens fairly often to me and I usually just politely decline and don’t dwell. I have a job that I like and I’m happy in. I can’t go out in the middle of the day to meet PRs and have tea with people. I know that, yet that evening I was suddenly of the opinion that it was unfair, stupid and I shouldn’t have to pick between the two. Hello first world problems brat, how are you?

I don’t like the version of myself I feel when I overdose on the internet. Social media isn’t the place to be when you’re feeling down- not for me anyway. Sometimes it can lift me up- a lot of the time I consume it thankfully and I contribute. I post and tweet and will carry on doing so- I tried the whole digital detox thing and I hated it. When I’m feeling bad about myself, most of the time a jaunt on social media ends in a downward spiral of asking why I don’t look better, why my house doesn’t look as good as those I see splashed on online, why I don’t have more money and why I can’t afford six holidays a year.

It’s not pretty to fall down the black hole of the scroll and I really hope that as time goes on, young people get better at separating reality and filtered lives. I don’t know how that can happen but it’s definitely what I want for when I have children who despite my best efforts will most likely be scrolling themselves before I know it.

8 alternative reasons to love Christmas

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Yes, Christmas is great, no disputing it over here. I love the present wrapping and the festive films and all the good cheer and wooden huts selling mulled wine, but there’s plenty of other reasons to fawn over the winter/festive period that don’t involve glitter and coffee cups with jumpers on. For example:

1) News stories about really awful winter wonderland experiences. Two hour queues to park, muddy fields, drunk santa, no santa at all, angry parents and brown fake snow. This is my personal favourite and you can guarantee a whole flurry (see what I did there) of them every year.

2) Men in full suits and Christmas jumpers on the tube. Christmas jumper day (this year it’s December 16th, get ready people) is my favourite commute of the year. I love nothing more than seeing men in sharp suits with a casual reindeer chilling under their blazer.

3) Photos of really awful Christmas baking. Gingerbread houses with more problems than vogue, sad looking mince pies and attempts at making snowmen that look like melty piles of shampoo with eyes. I’ve already seen about three round ups like this in the news and it’s only December 7th.

4) Any story of any person who isn’t you doing something awful and highly regrettable at their office party. It’s such a cliche but also fully hilarious to watch your friends die inside while they tell you the horrors of their night out and why they can probably never go back to work.

5) The word eggnog.

6) Photos of cats stuck in Christmas trees. Another classic.

7) Horrific office Christmas decorations. The bald Christmas tree celebrating it’s 20th Christmas. The broken baubles and really sad looking streamers. Quite frankly, the worse the better.

8) People crammed on public transport standing silently in their work suits holding massive boxes with ‘Adventure Farm including 15 different animals’ or ‘Sleepy baby complete with two sets of pyjamas’ emblazoned across them.