28 October, 2012

My Instagram Weekend: @HanPod

I have always been instarested, but up until recently have only watched from admiring afar as other better equipped individuals uploaded images of leaves, cakes, shoes, people. It all looked so kitsch and nostalgic, while I had to make do with a Blackberry Curve ‘camera’ with no flash and the inspiration of a plank of wood.

Oh Instagram. What’s not to love about a photo that was taken digitally 5 seconds ago, but looks like it has spent 40 years fading on your grandparent’s mantelpiece? An arty way to show off our lives, it’s the perfect partner for creative exhibitionists. Ahem. But come ON. What scenario doesn’t look better in ‘Toaster’, ‘Sierra’ or ‘X Pro’? With Instagram you can take a burger and literally make it look like steak. Your eyes are bluer, the leaves are redder, the cakes are prettier. It’s Insta-grande and it’s making all our lives even better.
So, having recently (finally) acquired the essential key to the Instagram world (I mean an iphone, I haven’t got the door code to their headquarters) I have gone Instagram mad (3 years later than everyone else) and can currently be found creating an HD version of my life in iform pretty much 24/7. It’s my narcissistic and creative fix, all in one.

So today, instead of crossing my T’s, dotting my I’s and putting apostrophes in the wrong places (my bad) I’m going to treat us all to some Instagrammar – all the imagery with none of the wordy nonsense. Lovely.


I love starting the weekend feeling refreshed, so I spent Friday evening turning my bedroom into a haven - the Fairylights are new (£10, Wilkinsons, Christmas range) and the rest has been a work in progress since I moved in 18 months ago (DREAM letters B&M £3, Bedcovers a Christmas gift from my Sister, heart-shaped photo holder £10 Mookau Eccy Road, Cards from Best Friends Saying I am Awesome - priceless!)

I bought and put up my own curtains for the first time ever on Friday night - it was a massive achievement for me and a Right of Passage into adulthood! It took me an hour but was well worth it. So proud! Love the Aubergine colour (Wilkinsons, £40 - bargain!!)
I used ALL these spices in one recipe on Saturday morning...I loved how they looked all lined up - this is the 'Toaster' setting on Instgram which emulates the SPICE!
Another 'first' for me this weekend, I made my first EVER chilli! I am more of a baker of cakes but sometimes I do love to cook proper meals too. My boyfriend and I both needed a high protein meal, so went for this Jamie Oliver 'Good Old Chili con Carne', which uses 5 of the above 6 spices and includes chickpeas. Was absolutely delicious and I served it with these nachos. Full and happy boyfriend, done!

NOM NOM NOM! Saturday Sin.
My third debut of the weekend, I had my re-styled on Saturday - partly because I could afford it for the first time in months and also because I like to change my hair with the seasons (a haircut for me is usually a bi-annual event!) Usually I stick to the same old blonde with sweeping fringe, but fancied  a change so (having nearly decided to go fully RED a la Florence Welch) had some red low lights put in as well as highlights, plus a full fringe for the first time since I was about 8! Nothing too drastic but for me a big step as my hair is so important to me. I really like my natural hair colour so don't want to lose it and I don't have the colouring for anything too drastic. But I love what my hairdresser did, I was so fussy and she got it spot on. Would recommend them - The Hair Rooms, Eccy Rd, £60 for the whole shebang! I feel shiny, new and autumnal, however the fringe takes my morning hair to a whole new level!

Lazy Sundays with Gareth are my favourite thing in the world and we don't often get to just totally chill out just us two, so whenever we can do, we make it extra special with a big yummy brunch! I am a feeder so always make him way too much food, but today's scrambled eggs, bacon and muffins were needed and hit the spot. Especially after the casual 12 HOURS sleep we had with the clocks going back. He needed the food and the sleep as he works a lot of nights so I hope this has set him up for another week. I am such a mother.
This book - How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran - was recommended to me by @Littlesweetpeas and then read the same recommendation in @cosmopolitanUK. Both trusty sources I ordered it as soon as I got paid and it turned up this weekend. I haven't had a chance to read it yet as it turns out but can't wait to get stuck in tonight! Will report back on this one!
Saturday night we went to see Dry The River at Leadmill. I first saw them at BBC Introducing in Manchester a year ago and fell in love. It's been amazing to watch them do so well since and it was even more awesome to see them on 'home' territory at Leadmill. Was the perfect venue for them as it was intimate and charged.  Their encore was something else as they stepped into the crowd to perform acapella stylee. Unbelievable atmosphere and massive thumbs up to Leadmill and the band. We're lucky we get to watch from the DJ Box because of Gareth's job, so our view was priceless!
Dry The River's debut album Shallow Bed is available to buy now and highlights include 'No Rest' and 'New Ceremony'.

This weekend was a really chilled one with Gareth and it felt really special. No running,  no friends, no drinking, no work, just us.  We're both quite busy people so the times we chill out together in our own bubble are always dead special. I get as excited now as I did when we first met, running around making everything just right for him. He deserves it as he works really hard and we both have had cause to celebrate recently. We don't have many photos of the 2 of us but the ones we do have are always meaningful  and seem to remember a special occasion - this is one I took when messing around on Instagram yesterday and I think it will go down as one of my favourites!
I haven't been able to excercise this weekend as I started feeling unwell on Friday (timing much!) so spent the time baking instead. Definitly the fatter option but more fun sometimes, especially on icy weekends like this. I baked Parkin (no image included as it is boring to look at!), Gareth's favourite cheesecake (2nd attempt at it, yet to get it spot on but I WILL make it as good as his Mum does!) and finally these Apple and Oatmeal cookies. They're from @Hbbakery (hummingbird bakery) Cake Days and are easy to make, plus they're really filling and sort of healthy as they have oats and apples in...? Am taking them in tomorrow for the work girls. I think in order to have a good week, it has to start with yourself and if you give a little something to cheer everyone up early on, it can go a long way and see you all right through to Friday on a positive note.

Am really looking forward to all those Instagram'd Pumpkin pictures this week, I am always fascinated by how creative people can be with the squash family! It's @HanPod on Instagram and @HannahRuthPR on Twitter if anyone wants to share their Halloween images. 

My favourite tweets of this week:

"@HannahHindmarsh: Be inspired, take every opportunity"
Sometimes tweets like this appear on your timeline just when you need them to. Hannah writes a great blog too: www.hannahsbow.co.uk

"@HayleyToothill: It's stories like this that make you realise just how lucky we are to live in the UK: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-20000997"
This was a tweet early on in the week, it made me sad but man did I appreciate every single thing last week - from running water to a warm bed. Everything else is a bonus. 
"@CosmopolitanUK: Act like a lady, think like a boss #CosmoQuoteoftheDay"
 I read this in an article of theirs not long ago and it stuck, it can be tough being an emotional girl in a business world and this helped me become stronger.

"@excercise_mad: @StPancras Just about to Choo Choo to Sheffield to see @HannahRuthPR"
 This was a personal highlight as one of my oldest bestest uni mates, Niall, came to visit and it was the first time we'd seen each other in over 6 months (possibly the longest it's ever been!) Love how with your oldest friends you can so easily slip back into it being like old times - never awkward, always great.

"@DavidChild: Is Louis out yet? Or is it just generally accepted? #xfactor"
 I wish I knew!! I love how Twitter shows you thousands of stangers hundreds of miles apart are thinking the same of you. It's comforting isn't it?

"@LeadmillGareth: The crowd at the Leadmill show last night were amazing. Silent in the right parts & then singing along at full volume. Epic"
Biased choice, but sums it up perfectly!

21 October, 2012

Me Time and Feeding the Soul

'Just Living is not Enough', said the Butterfly, 'One must have Sunshine, Freedom and a Little Flower'

Life is a busy place. For there is a lot to be done. And to be thinking about. Really, it never stops.

The ‘busies’ of our lives are likely to include; work (where the average person spends 100,000 hours of their life), exercise, eternal chores, not to mention maintaining relations with family and friends and all that implies. Birthday cards, phone calls, visits, Christmas (which in itself is an intensive timetable that haunts our schedule from around mid-October through to New Year) and – for many a senior relative – the gradual surrendering of ones cheque book, a fee by fee offloading onto less deserving Juniors. And that’s all before we have done any of the things we might actually want to do, away from our responsibilities, like watch X Factor. For 6 hours. Every weekend.

Sometimes the busiest thing about life is just that we can’t easily get off the lifemill and find some peace. There is the constant pressure to just keep going. A pressure from The Fear.

The Fear

I refer of course to the recurring fear that emerges when you have been on a little holiday and have effectively ‘got off’ of life for a week – it’s the same fear that engulfs us on a Sunday, AKA The Dread. For most people, The Dread is definitely irrational - no-one is really scared of anything in particular, it’s a vague kind of fear and that makes it worse because you cannot counteract the terror with a logical reason as to why the said fear isn’t going to materialise. Because frankly we don’t know what the hell we’re scared of every Sunday at 4pm like clockwork.

I’d like to think we the people generally enjoy our life’s work, yet still I’ve had the Sunday Dread nearly every week since I was about 7 ½ , and back then all I had to worry about was remembering my Powerangers pencil case. For this reason I can only conclude that The Dread comes from a far deeper source than us being work-shy, beyond the potent need to stay home for Jeremy Kyle, it also stems from a feeling that we don’t know how on earth we are managing to do life everyday (and some of you are doing it really rather well, pats on backs!) We think we’re fooling everyone and we’re sure to be found out pretty soon. We think (I think) if we stop doing a life for a second (like, even to just pee on the hard-shoulder) we won’t be able to get back in the drivers seat in the successful manner we were cruising along before because we actually have NO IDEA HOW TO BE A PROPER PERSON AND ARE LIKELY TO CRASH. We’d be happier in the passenger seat, looking out the window of a padded white room, saying things like ‘Granny needs a humbug’ over and over again with crazed eyes and a twitch. Yes, that would be lovely.

Luckily, life has so far proved itself to be like riding a bike and we mainly are able to get back in that saddle with ease. In fact, usually by 11am on a Monday we can often be found high as kite (on the life we were so scared of just 17 hours before) yelling ‘I can only bloody still do! Look at me! I’m working! I’m holding down a job and earning a wage and no-one suspects that actually I am just 4 years old wearing my Mum’s lipstick!’

So why then, do I (and probably some of you) still find it so hard to just stop what I’m doing and have a personal recess every once in a while?

Knowing when to STOP

I am undoubtedly a ‘busy’ person, in that my head is SO busy, full of the things I need to be doing. All. The.Time. I'm a list making extraordinaire and the first to admit my OCD characteristics when it comes to routine and making sure I am contributing a healthy amount to all areas of my life (so as not to miss a bit and end up – heaven forbid – flawed). People with busy minds like me are scared to for one second take our eyes of the proverbial ball and miss an appointment, skip the gym, be late for work, leave the dishes for a night or go a few weeks without checking in with everyone we’ve ever known – because as I’ve pointed out, we’re scared that if we do, we might just lose a grip on the reigns of our life altogether.

As result, I find it easy to do things. All day long. It’s the not doing I find tricky (unless I am asleep, and even then I feel like that is forced on me. I don’t like night-times and never have, I deign unto sleep only because I know it will make me a brighter version of myself the following morning. MORNING! YAY!) When I am in total OTT hectic mode, I get so wound up trying to keep on top of everything I ‘need’ to do, I don’t realise that actually the only thing I need to be doing is sitting down watching Dexter eating a plate of Enchiladas.

As I get older (I am now officially in the 3rd tick box in from the left on most forms, wah!) and life gets busier and that abstract time in the future when ‘things calm down a bit’ fails to materialise (it doesn’t exists btw), I find it increasingly important to leave myself the memo to take time out for the here and now. No planning and no activities, just me and my Maltesers. Because what is life without the odd moment of nothing? As scary it is to let go of ‘things’, it’s scarier to be so constant that you never stop to appreciate and enjoy stuff.

Putting you First (it's OKAY sometimes, honest!)

I can usually diagnose myself when I'm getting too chaotic, symptoms include going to bed shattered yet sleeping for all of 3 hours 12 NIGHTS IN A ROW, manically planning minute details like what time to paint my nails and worrying because I have one less carrot than I needed for my soup and just WHEN am I going to buy that extra carrot? Hmmmm?!?


After a recent few weeks of much busy-ness in my head, a new job, knackering weekends, sleepless nights, exertion, worries and excitement, I was in urgent need of a giant dose of down time, a prescription to discontinue for a bit. Like those essential beauty products that just randomly withdraw from retail after 12 years of loyalty to them – yeah, I’d get fed up if I was them too, same shelf different day, So I got myself, my conscience and even my inner crazy lady (she’s usually way more stubborn than that) to sign said prescription for 2 days of undiluted ME TIME and as a result this weekend was all about replenishing my soul. Let’s face it, our souls often come last in our vast list of priorities (which seems unfair as our minds and bodies usually get a damn good seat), but if you’re a fan of Plato you’d know your soul is the best bit, it’s jumping up and down at the back going ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ and we’re fools to ignore it.

Yes I evidently still did ‘stuff’ this weekend, like write this very post (and hopefully later I’ll shower), but in essence I felt no pressure to do ‘things’. I baked and actually ate the goods, instead of instantly giving them away. I watched TV without a sofa-exiting deadline (unheard of). I went to bed without setting an alarm on Friday night AND Saturday night *pauses to accept applause*. Instead of making a list of all I wanted to achieve this weekend, I left myself a blank page and I’ll feel no guilt if by the time the 4pm Sunday Dreads kick in, all I have to show for myself is square eyes and chocolate smeared across my face.

My soul is pretty happy about it. Smug soul alert. I'm not scared that I might not be able to do life again tomorrow, as I am pretty sure I will. I’m reasonably confident I’ll still get up and go to work (hopefully get dressed in between) and do chores and resume routine. I’m even hoping I might do it all that little bit better for having checked out of ‘things’ for a few days. I reckon come Monday morning I’ll be bright eyed and bushy haired and ready to rock myself at her very best.

Here is my ‘me’ weekend in pictures, if you’d like to see how astonishingly fat and lazy my soul is.

01 October, 2012

Who's that Girl? Being the New Girl...Again!

Being New would be easy if I was actually Jess...

Today I was New Girl again, just 12 months after having already done it. Here's my story...
I’ve never not been accepted before. Anywhere. Wherever I have gone, I have always found at least a few allies, I’ve never been on the edge of a group really and I’ve most certainly not felt like a wall-flower (those who really know me will laugh at the idea of me as a wall flower!) I assumed it was just part of who I am to always have some mates and generally be liked by people – I wasn’t so much our schools homecoming queen (if we’d had one), more I’ve not ever really given anyone any reason to actively not accept me, at the very least on a basic level of common courtesy.

All that changed when I went to my most recent job, just one (very long) year ago. I have always had strong gut feelings about places and faces, and I don’t think I’ve ever been that wrong. My gut feeling about this place wasn’t amazing though. Something didn’t fit. The place, the faces – I didn’t see how I would fall into rank there. However my mind told me to go for it, because on paper it wasn’t just an opportunity – for me and who I am, it was the opportunity. A very cool, a very sought after, life-changing chance. And for a risk-taker like me that was too much to say ‘no’ to. So I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life as for the first time ever, I ignored my gut feeling.

So off I went to this new place that didn’t quite feel right, some 50 miles away from home in Leeds and it was as hard as my gut told me it would be. I waited for it to get better. For the faces to greet me with interest, familiarity and maybe even kindness? I waited for the place to feel more like home. And maaaaan did I try. I spent weekends doing wall charts (yeah and I loved it!) to put my stamp on the place, I spent time talking to these people, trying my utmost to fit in. I spent money buying things to brighten up my workspace, I spent Sundays baking treats to open up doors of maybe even the hint of a bond? I spent energy sending emails, having conversations, trying to understand why I wasn’t being included in things or beyond that, at times, borderline persecuted.  I spent hours and hours and hours and days crying to my loved ones that I wasn’t accepted, not personally and not professionally.

Slowly but surely my confidence took a massive nose dive. If it wasn’t for my unbelievably awesome boyfriend, my wise wise Mum and my best friends, I would have been back at rock bottom self-esteem wise. However, I’d been there before and it wasn’t an easy place to come back from, plus I did have these people in my life and so I rose up and out of one out the most challenging experience I have had as a person. Don’t get me wrong I have had shitter times. I’ve been low about men, money, work, mates, family – everything. But is there anything lower than doing everything you can to do things right and yet every minute of every day questioning your own self? Who you are, the things you like, the jokes you make, the life you lead. I am funny. I am fun. I am friendly. I am tough and I am strong. But no-one in this place knew this about me because I wasn’t given the chance. And what I was able to show them, well I might as well have been showing a brick wall.

I will never know why I didn’t gel with these people in a way I have never struggled to before, and I don’t actually regret the experience because it not only lifted my career, it catapulted me massive giant steps upwards in just 12 months. My career and my bank balance will always benefit from the year I just had, but any sense of self-worth I have clung on to is all down to me and my near and dear. What I do know, is that the best thing I ever did was leave. Yes it was hard to admit defeat (I am a fighter if ever there was one) but it was easier to know that actually I wasn’t defeated, I was choosing to take myself out of a world I would never be happy in. The sooner. The better.

Luckily for me, after much soul-searching, a hard decision and just a few job applications, a new dream job came up. It was a promotion and a substantial raise and it was a long-shot. It was the first job I applied for and within 2 weeks I had an interview. Just 12 hours later, the job was mine. Sometimes when things happen too easily it feels like a trick, but sometimes it just means it couldn’t be more right. By the end of that week I’d handed in my notice and had a formal offer. Needless to say, my bosses didn’t seem to care (what, with me being so disposable as a person) and neither did I. I cried actual tears of relief when I told my boyfriend – and no doubt he sighed a massive sigh of relief as he’d witnessed so much utter heartache from me for nearly 12 months.

Needless to say, due to the unexpected social difficulties in my last role I was really very very nervous about being the New Girl again today. My confidence wasn’t what it usually is and it meant everything to me to get it right this time. I worked my ass off to make sure I started this one on not a good note, but a brilliant one. I met my new work team a few weeks ago for dinner and was relieved to find they were all not only friendly and normal, but actually very very on my wavelength. They play netball, they baked cakes, they have girly conversations and they are kind to each other. They care about each other and work as a team. After the year I’d had, this alone was sweet relief and after that first meet I couldn’t wait to get started.

The week leading up to my departure from one place and arrival at another felt surreal, but I did what I could to feel ready. As a girl I think it is so important to feel like you look the part. So I had taken careful note of what the other girls in the office wore and took myself on a big spending spree to buy the right office gear. In my last place you could wear a bikini and be considered smart, so needless to say my work wardrobe needed a re-vamp. I don’t like feeling restricted and I am certainly not one for suits, but I managed to find some outfits that felt smart, but also like me. I am talking coloured chinos, skirts with bows on, lacy tops and polka dot dresses. Nothing ground-breaking, but trying on the clothes the night before the big day I felt a lot more ready for the next chapter of my life. New place, new face. Oh and I got my eyebrows done for good measure! I don’t usually as mine are alright, but I wanted to feel sharp. A good brow always does that for a woman.

Obviously the night before I went to bed really early, after a good old pep talk from my Mum and boyfriend and watching Rylan go mental on X Factor. I thankfully slept really really well, which doesn’t always come easily to me. I am OCD about time and organisation so was up at 6.30 even though I didn’t need to leave the house until at least 8am. I think it is really important not to feel rushed and flustered when you want to make a good impression, so I was up with my alarm, and did everything from hair wash, to moisturise, to nails and of course the donning of the pre-selected outfit. Good thing I wasn’t wearing white I’d have thought it was my wedding day. I chose a black skirt with a bow waist and a burgundy lace blouse – as I felt they were smart but showed a bit of me. Something that was and is so, so important to me this time. I don’t want my own personality to be squashed or silenced. I want to be proud of being the slightly quirky, slightly crazy but also a little bit girl-next-door type that I am. YES I spend my weekends baking, but I also rock a great polka-dot so there!
New Girl Face - this is how I felt this morning!
When I was as ready as I’d ever be, I forced my 3rd cup of tea of the morning (!) and some Special K down me and off I went into the brave new world. Just a short distance from my own house and in the city I live in and love. Already this was bliss! I was soooo early, so I walked around the city centre, breathing in the gorgeous autumn air, trying to mentally prepare myself and tweeting like crazy. Tweeting my followers updates of #hannahsfirstday really calmed my nerves – the response of encouragement and love were actually over-whelming, and it really helped me to realise this was just a job. Not the make-or-break scenario I had built it up to be (perhaps understandably given my last experience).

Finally it was time. As I typed in the door code and walked into my Narnia, I knew I’d always remember this moment. I was greeted by the Chief Executive, but because I am Hannah I didn’t know this was who he was so asked where I could make a brew while I waited for my manager to arrive. Luckily he’s a lovely man it seems and he was happy to direct me to the PG Tips. Or maybe he was just happy I’m a brew-maker! I have always believed that if you have someone nice at the top, that amiability filters down and if the rest of the day was anything to go by I stand by this. I have never been so taken care of. Each member of my team sat with me to talk over their role and how I’d be working with them. People asked me questions and smiled and told me what a lovely place it is to work. The girls in the office chatted about girl stuff and offered me so much support and kindness. I did all the usual first day fandangos and even got a proper lunch-break. The day ended before it had even begun and although I’d not done much actual work, I came away feeling exhausted. Exhausted from all I’d had to take in, but also exhausted from relief. I don’t want to count any chickens (I prefer to just eat them) but if my theory that first instincts ring true prevails, then I am going to be very very happy there.

I got home by 6.20, which is amazing when for the past year I have been lucky to get in before 8, and now I have had time to spend the evening writing. In the morning I will have time for a run before work, something else I have sorely sorely missed. And after work I will be able to meet my boyfriend – not after a nightmare 2.5 hours travelling, a shivering wreck, but at a normal time and we will be able to go home and cook tea and watch TV like normal people who don’t travel to a questionable job in Leeds every day. Honestly? I couldn’t be happier. Come payday, I will be happier still as for the first time in my adult life I will have actual spare money to spend. And not just on bills! I’m not materialistic, but at 26, I am quite frankly buzzing about that.

This blog post has been therapeutic more than anything and maybe a bit self indulgent, but there is a message in here. One, is always go with your gut. Two, if you didn’t go with your gut or just find yourself in the shit anyway, get out. Just get out. If you’re a good person, with great friends, a lovely family and a doting partner, then why the hell should you be made to feel like crap every day? By anyone or any circumstances? You shouldn’t. Never be afraid of what other people may make of  your decisions, or the scrutiny and judgement you may come under. Stick with your heart. If you have the courage to be 100% true to yourself regardless of what others may think or say, then you will be rewarded. I am proof of that.

"When I felt my feet slipping, you came with your Love and kept me steady"
This post is also dedicated to Gareth as a massive thank you for catching my numerous tears – sometimes for nights and nights on end –  cooking me tea when I got in late and starving, getting up at the crack of dawn with me so I could get to work on time, having my pyjamas ready for me to climb into when I couldn’t move another step, putting up with my mood swings as a result of my misery, supporting me financially and emotionally, always answering the call when I needed him, always giving the best advise, absolutely always being there for me and never asking for anything back. If it wasn’t for him I don’t know if I’d have had the courage to leave that place so soon, for fear of judgement and failure, but his faith in me gave me a reason to change my life back to what it should be. I am so excited for this next chapter, and I know no matter what I will have the support of Gareth, my friends, family and indeed Twitter following!

Now it is bed time, before I go back for my second day of being New Girl for the millionth time. Let’s just hope this one sticks.