30 January, 2013

Shake it! How do you Spice up Your Life?

They say variety is the spice of life, and 'they' are wise.

Whilst I am an adventurous one, I am also a creature of routine. I like to do things in a certain way, at a certain time, wearing my lucky socks. Call me OCD, but come on, who doesn't have their obsessive habits...? It's humanity's way of staying afloat, of finding some control in a life that who are we kidding? We have no control over. We can barely predict what footwear we'll need later that same day. Ultimately,
 nothing stays the same, every single living body on this earth is unique and just when you think you're getting into the swing of things, something comes along and changes your whole life. For a long time I feared those changes and fought against things if they weren't in my 'plan' or felt difficult at the time. However, having watched my life progress over the past few years, its panning out pretty good as a result of those very things I didn't think should have been happening or didn't enjoy at the time. Difficult times became incredible, hateful experiences taught me where to find love and some of the most challenging events of my life laid the foundations for building up what and who I am today - so am I so thankful for all of it, as I'm pretty alright with Me right now.

This confidence that things pan out as they're supposed to, when you're working hard to be the best person you can be, has taught me to go with the flow a little more. I will always be ambitious and determined, but with maturity I have learnt that actually I'm going to be my version of okay anyway, so I don't need to strive too fiercely and what time I have tea tonight probably won't effect my future too drastically either. While I'm getting better at taking things as they come and remaining fundamentally happy throughout whatever challenges come my way, what I want to get better at is shaking things up a little, a little more often. I want to challenge my inner Monica. I don't refer to shaking up the the 'big things' (jobs, relationships, money) because I am experienced enough to know that when the big things are working we should damn well keep them there, because some things in our life need to be the solid ingredients. I do however refer to those little spices and fine tunings, things we can change daily to keep the recipe fresh and happy. It's a challenge for me, for someone who clings to routine, but it's a challenge I set myself a while back and I'm having some fun experimenting with colours and flavours a little more (no, this is not my baking blog).

So far, 2013 has for me been variety, giving myself more of a break and having more old-fashioned, belly-laughing FUN. I have loads coming up over the next month and I will be blogging about some of the things I have done and am doing of late, but for now here's an account of my recent 'different' weekend and week so far.  Sorry I didn't blog at the time, I was too busy gawping at nipple tassels.

Shaking IT!

This weekend I had one of my oldest bestest friends to stay, and we have really nailed our routine of; chat, food, chat, wine, chat, vodka, chat, dance floor, slur words, pizza, slur more words, bed and a hungover goodbye the next day. However I put my 'new things;' rule to the test and challenged us both to do things differently this time around, as we both needed it. Hard when its so easy to reach for the wine and let the talking do the rest, but we both wanted to do something different and it was like a mini-holiday. What's amazing is, we did it for less than £30 each. It really helped me get outside my own head and it was undiluted fun from start to finish.Needless to say, woman gonna be shakin' up her routine a wee bit more!

Manicures and massages -£15 pp for both treatments, at Body Zone Sheffield

I''ve resolved to get a massage a month this year, because I do a lot of excercise that hurts, I work bloody hard, I no longer spend 90% of my salary on wine, I get tense in my back and I just want to okay! As a treat, I hunted out the best deal in town for me and my friend to get a back, neck and shoulder massage on Saturday and we found an amazing deal - 30 minute massage each, followed by a complimentary nail treatment each. for £15. EACH. Amazing. It was so good to spend 2 hours getting pampered, I'm no WAG but when you work hard, every now and then you just need to treat your body. Spice #1 - winner!

If you know Sheffield, you know that Fancie do the best cakes in the village, but their recently opened restaurant on Eccleshall Road is something else. Massive portions, wholesome food, incredible value and a gorgeous quirky atmosphere - Fancie have excelled themselves. I have wanted to go for a few weeks so took lindsey here for a 'bite' (or 50) after our treatments and we sat in the window for hours setting the world to rights. Going somewhere new for food may sound far too obvious, but it really does add some new spice to ones life. Literally, probably.

Burlesque night - free entry on guestlisy or £13.50 general admission, at Leadmill hosted by Secrets of the Budoir Burleqsue
By chance I found out about the Burlesque night that was coming to Leadmill on Saturday night a few days beforehand, when I was searching for something new to do that was fun and didn't centre around getting hammered. I wasn't sure at first as I have never been to a Burlesque night and what if I needed to WEAR a CORSET?! But a few contacts tapped up later, a text to Lindsey confirming her interest and we were on the guest list and ready to see some booty. As it happens, we went in normal clothes and left the nipple tassles to the girls on stage, who were so funny, talented and entertaining. It was classy, it was fun, it was flirty and it was just what me and my gal needed to kick start our night. We even stayed for a boogy in the club night after as we were so fired up. (I don't have a photo of the semi-naked girls, sorry!)
2,000 Calorie Bootcamp - Eccy Road Bootcamp, £10/£12/£14 pp, 2.5 hours of pure workout!

Again, I saw this by chance on Facebook when Eccy Road Bootcamp advertised it on their page. It looked intense but I was up for it and Lindsey is one of my most hardcore fitness fanatic friends so knew she'd be on for the challenge too, she's training for Tough Mudder so no excuses! First thing Sunday we may have regretted it after a slightly late night, but we were both up and ready. The bootcamp was 2.5 hours of solid exercise, including a warm-up and cool-down. It's £12 per person or £20 for 2 people. We paid a tenner each and out of that we got a warm-up, 1 hour of circuits, a kettle bells session, an intense bootcamp session, some lower impact 'games' and finishing off with an intense half hour of Body Attack (my favourite bit, you get to dance about like crazy to songs like Superman!) followed by a warm down. I loved every second apart from the kettle bells which I wasn't so great at. They are roughly once a month and I will be going again for sure. Trying new stuff is all good, but challenging yourself is even better! 2.5 hours is the longest I have ever worked out for including any Half-Marathons I have done, so I was buzzing for the rest of the day after that.

Sharing platter, good conversation and wine - priceless, anywhere!

This isn't a rare thing for me to do (at all), but last night I did it with someone new and on a SCHOOL NIGHT. Hayley and I have become acquainted through common interests such as work, blogging, baking...and wine as it turns out. We met up last night for a 'mate date' and it was so good to chat to someone new. Not only because she herself is so inspiring, but speaking to people you wouldn't normally or don't have to (ie aren't put with) can be so refreshing. A bit like when you randomly have an awesome conversation with someone on a train. Talking more to different people can really open your mind - sometimes the best advise I have had, including about huge life decisions, has been from people who barely know me. Hayley writes a gorgeous cooking blog and bakes a great cookie! @HayleyToothill

Body Attack - in most up to date gym fitness timetables

My exercise 'routine' usually includes running in the mornings a few times a week but - as much as I love running - at 6am in icy conditions, doing it too often that way can make my favourite thing a chore. So, in the theme of shaking things up and letting go of routine, I've recently been experimenting with different classes at the gym. Body Attack was my favourite section of 2,000 calorie bootcamp on Sunday, so I found an early morning class at my gym and gave it a go this morning. As suspected, an incredible start to the day - the class is okay for most fitness levels as you can work as hard as you want., but i'd recommend building up some stamina first. Body Attack combines core training, strength training, choreography and is basically an intense athletic workout using simple interval training technique. It works well for me as there is a lot of bouncing around to motivating music, including a sideways fist pump that feels like you're flying and/or superwoman! Definitely a good alternative to running, so whole I'll still be pounding the pavements, I now have a really fun and less dangerous alternative.

24 January, 2013

What Makes your Day? (Dangerously Geeky Confessions Inside)

They say it takes three positive thoughts to cancel out a negative one, so it makes sense to me that by focusing on the little things that make us smile, we can for the most part be in control of our day-to-day happiness. As I've matured (and come out the other side of some humdingers) I've learnt that even when the big things in our lives are in some way falling short of what we feel we need to be 'happy' or if we're going through a tough time, we can still promote happiness within ourselves by acknowledging the small, everyday things that we can control, to maintain a happier state of mind. It's definitely a concept that takes some solid work at times, but I've found the happier I am the easier it is to do, the happier I am the easier it is to do...and so the cycle continues.

The 'Little Things' can be anything from what you do, wear, say, hear or eat to where you go and the people you meet. They tend to look mundane from the outside and usually they're free - look out for them because they probably make your day.

I have often been accused of being a morning person and getting far too excited about small things (shocker!) and both are true for the same reason. I don't like going to bed because night-time daunts me, but also I just really really really love the feeling I get in a morning knowing there is a whole day ahead of all those little things that make me happy. From my first cup of tea of the day to padding about in my cosy slippers at night - there is usually some joy to be found somewhere and those are the things that can form the foundations of our day-to-day mood. They don't get so much of a look in when I'm in bad mood, granted, but I am trying to learn to remain focused on them even at times when things feel too hard.

Today was the first day of this week that I've had a bit more time to go at my own pace and take a step back to enjoy the Little Things, instead of rushing through them.I haven't done anything particularly 'exciting' or even that active (it was my day off from exercise)  but being able to take that time to just enjoy living is so therapeutic and I will definitely be going to bed (noooo!) with a smile on my face tonight.

What are your 'Little Things' that make you smile throughout the day? Let me know - we might all be missing some gems. Here is what made me smile today (there are some dangerously geeky confessions inside) - it might make me sound crazy, but you lot already knew that about me.


MY MORNING TEA- a common one I'm sure, but I really am a tea-lover and on the days I'm not running before work, I love getting straight out of bed and rolling down to the kettle, it's so oddly satisfying, especially after a good sleep! I have a really geeky ritual of having a cuppa from my best mug every morning- without fail. My big Pink TInkerbell has come with me everywhere and through everything since 1st year of uni,  so I feel a special attachment to it and drinking tea from it it calms me down. (The photo frame behind it also makes me smile, as it was a  gift from Urban Outfitters for no occasion other than someone felt like treating me back for something I'd done for them- this doesn't happen often enough in life, so this ones a real treat!)

MY FAVOURITE CLOTHING: I wore my favourite top and berry coloured jeans combo which got me off to a good start -I never feel more like me than when I am wearing my polka dot peplum from DP, the polka dots and shape compliment my personality and the flare gives me more of a hip too so it's flattering which gives me confidence. It sounds SO geeky (can't believe I am sharing this) but I often wait until the end of the week to wear this when all the important work stuff is mainly over, as a self-congratulatory treat. I wore it today and I didn't want to take it off, not even for my onesie!

MY WALK TO WORK: I feel so so lucky that I can walk to work at the moment (for the first time in my career) and because I appreciate it so much I can't wait to do the 50 minute scamper into town everyday. I love getting in early before everyone else, just as the city is waking up. This morning it looked like this and I wanted the moment to last all day - Sheffield is a beautiful city.

TIDY DESK,TIDY MIND: I get such a buzz from a tidy, personalised environment at home and at work, and I am starting to feel at home at my 'new' desk. I randomly gave it a clear up this morning, and I buzzed off it for the rest of the day. 

BREAKFAST...is my happiest meal of the day, because I love the options and I know that even after it has gone, there is still MORE food to come that day. I bought these M&S Honey Porridge sachets in case of breakfast emergencies and just to add a bit of variety - I was early in today so had this at my desk and it just made me happy. I recommend this product for anyone who struggles to squeeze in breakfast at home or wants a change - low calories, easy, nutritious and YUM with some dried fruit on top.
A TEXT TO MY BEST: When I've got a bit more time in a work day to breeeeeathe, I use my lunch-break to catch up on any correspondence - usually with my best girls! Today I sent a little text to my longest standing friend from school to make sure she knew I was thinking of her and to just remind myself I have some really good & lovely friends...200 miles away! Smiles all round.

MY LAZY DINNER: The Tea the night before January payday is always questionable. Tonight I jazzed mine up by poaching the eggs in a silicone cupcake mould, just for kicks and I won't lie, the cool pattern it made gave me thrills. This 'council tea' is so unlike what I would usually eat - WHERE IS THE VEG! But some days you just need to have something bad for you, and tonight my weird little tea for one made me smile.

CLEANING: After a full-on day at work, I got straight home, put Last Fm on and cleaned the bathroom to Who Let the Dogs Out (it was the radio I had no choice) and my spirit was sparkling by the end of it. I should admit this isn't our bathroom, I just wish it was. Cleaning is so therapeutic when you get into it, to the point it was one of the little things that has made me happy today. I'm a few words away from going straight into my newly cleaned bath and finishing my day with a blissful soak. All this happiness, and I haven't spent a penny...

Fittingly, I am also going to buzz off going to bed super early and reading a book with this bookmark. Rock and Roll...

22 January, 2013

Pamper or Scamper - Beauty Time for a Girl on the Go!

'Beauty is in feeling good about yourself and putting a pretty dress on, that's when you tend to sparkle'

Hands up if you're good at looking after your body in terms of food and exercise but not so good at remembering to treat it kindly some times? Yeah, me either. In this world, girls are put under so much pressure to look fit and healthy, that it doesn't leave much time for everything else we are supposed to do too. It can be a hard act to juggle and with perfectly manicured hands we are so likely to drop the ball. Or in my case the baking batter, right into our hair. Eurgh.

Ultimately I lean towards being the 'run, shower,quick lippy and fly-out-door' sort of girl. I do love to feel sparkly clean and can often be found under running water, but after a quick moisturise that's where it ends, as I am usually more focused on getting out into the world and living. Apart from the Sunday manicure and occasional fake-tanning sessions that come before a big night out, I find the beauty is in feeling good about yourself and putting a pretty dress on - that's when you tend to sparkle.

My Mum brought us up to be confident from the inside, so there wasn't a huge focus on ritualistic beauty regimes growing up, it was more about health and hygiene, and I am grateful to that as I think I have the balance pretty well made. That said, I think regular 'grooming' is essential too as it can actually help relax the mind, the physical aspects of a good old pamper are quite often for me just the by-product of what has ultimately been a quite indulgent, meditative session of 'me time'.

Over the years I have succumbed to some basic beauty habits that I had previously thought I could afford to opt out of or just couldn't afford to maintain. Many of these habits have caught up with me, mainly because my best friend is a successful beautician & make-up artist and she's been known to stare at me aghast when I come out with things like 'oh I never condition my hair'. That was Summer 2006 , she gave me what for, my hair has never had a dry day since. While we're confessing, I only started using a facial moisturiser on a regular basis 3 weeks ago (sorry Abbi...) and I do feel fresher for doing it.

As part of my new year's strive to be easier on myself, I have promised myself a massage a month, more rest and more pampering injected into my daily routine - not to look better, but to feel more taken care of. There isn't time for everything, and sometimes it's a choice 'exercise or have nice hair today?! hmmm', but we make the time for the things we need to and I have found that in doing what I am in the mood for and following my body's orders, I tend to get the balance okay.

How do you balance the need for both beauty and exercise? Let me know your tips!

Here's what I got up to last night:
No pamper is complete without a face mask....

Top beauty tip: Soap & Glory's bi-annual deal at Boots - for 1 day only you can buy £75 worth of their products for £28, including these 2 giant tubs of Sugar Crush Body Scrub and Righteous Body Butter, which are my favourite from the set. The deal is advertised on MSE and the next one will be due int he Summer, but the set I just bought should be lasting me the whole year as the tubs are massive! The packaging is gorgeous to boot.

I bought these Dead Sea Bath Salts for my boyfriend who has been  doing a lot of physical training lately, as they are supposed to ease muscle pain. My Mum has used them a lot to ease the symptoms of her ME and she finds they can help - my legs were aching from my first long run in a few weeks so I gave them a shot last night. You have to soak for at least 20 minutes and they are quite pricey at £7.59 for the box (about 4 baths worth of salts) so it is worth soaking for the minimum time if you do invest. I can't say I noticed anything but I probably wasn't patient enough as Miranda was on...

I bought this colour (Rimmel, Lasting Finish, Pearl Drop 202 - available at Boots) last summer and have a belt, bag and jumper that match so I wear it a lot to tie my outfits together . I love the Rimmel Lasting Finish nail polish range as they're affordable at less than £3 a bottle and they do a gorgeous selection of colours. If I have nothing planned on a Friday night, I buy one of these and treat myself to a new manicure. Variety really is the spice of life and something as small as this can make me smile!
I took a while choosing the perfect moisturiser as I don't have the best skin  and have to be careful, but a friend recommended this No.7  Essential Moisture Day Cream to me as a close second to Clinique's range. I got this with a £5 off voucher from Boots for just £4 (standard price £9 a tub). The pot is a decent size and you only need a tiny amount so it should last at least 6 months. The £5 of No.7 vouchers are valid at Boots until Sunday 278th Jan and they do a night-time version of this plus ranges for Dry/Oily skin.

I am also currently looking for somewhere for my friend and I to go this Saturday for a massage when  she comes to visit, so far the winning option seems to be Beauty Zone on Eccleshall Road as they offer a Back, Neck & Shoulder massage for £18, an extra free manicure each when you bring a friend AND 50% off your first treatment.

20 January, 2013

Weekly Running Song: My iPod and I

Eye of the Tiger on repeat there dear.
Going for a run is much like being in a film. Kinda...

I don't just refer to the fact that occasionally I might imagine I am in a Hollywood blockbuster with my very own soundtrack blasting out for all the far corners of Sheffield to hear. As well as that (ahem) I do actually find that each run is a bit like a story. There's a beginning, a middle, an end, changing scenery, a stream of consciousness and a whole host of emotions in between. While the plot and set is different each time, for many running always has the same ending - a damn good one. Frustrations are vented, bouncing off a hill somewhere into a valley never to be seen again, any sadness is lifted and our happiness is still out there cartwheeling across the pennines, long after we've taken our trainers off.

What really makes a run though, is the music. The playlist. The songs you select to compliment your workout. Music does a lot for a lot of people -  it makes the world go round for heaven's sake, it's safe to say humanity owes it a great deal - but as well as encouraging the earth to spin on it's axis, music helps me run better. Not always faster or stronger, just better, with a clearer mind. In the same way that you choose your excercise according to how you feel, you have to also choose your playlist to suit your mood and make sure it is spot on.

At some point on every run I have a 'song moment'. The Song Moment is when a certain track starts playing on my ipod and it just fits. I scream (on the inside) 'Yes! This!', my energy rockets and my mind feels clear. In life, you just need one person to understand you in order to be okay - for me when I am running, it just takes one song to set me free. Often when it happens, I wonder why everyone doesn't listen to this very song every day?!?! All day?!?! It is amazing!!! And sometimes I share the song on Twitter, or I just come home and 'sing' it in the shower. It can be anything from dance, to trance, to acoustic to plain old pop. There is a song for every run and come on...who hasn't loved stamping along to Gaga?

I regularly request new running music inspiration from my Twitter followers, because it is so important to keep the music as fresh as the route, and I am often sent loads of really great suggestions. In return, from now on I am going to post a weekly song, for my like-minded running friends or to inspire anyone maybe looking for a change of playlist.

To kick things off, this week is a happy track.  After such a beautiful snowy weekend, it's probably not suprising that this tune is what catapulted me into euphoria 47 minutes and 19 seconds into my run this afternoon, just as I was rounding the corner to run up to my front door. Camera fade out...

Happy Sunday.


Hall & Oates - 'You Make my Dreams Come True'


 (Probably most likely last heard on the 500 Summer Days of Summer soundtrack, from the morning after Tom has just got Summer into bed for the first time - what a scene!)

18 January, 2013

Never Look Down on Anybody Unless you are Helping them Up x

If the snow hasn't already swept your way, the chances are it's going to fly in any minute now for a long weekend, perhaps asking to be put up in the honeymoon suite and demanding a full tour of the all the best local attractions. Don't you just hate it when SNOW ruins your plans? 

As I got home from the gym last night, my hands bluer than a Smurf's tears, I  felt blessed to be arriving home to my haven. My bath-tub, the central-heating system, my onesie (still a novelty) and my beautiful, fairy-lit BED. Before the luxury of all that had even had a chance to register, a second gut-wrenching, tear-inducing, guilt-ridden thought caught up with it - the same thought I have had for much of my life - 'what about the people who don't have this?'

While the exact figure as to how many people are currently living rough in the UK isn't clear, it is thought to be over 50,000 and in the last 3 years it has risen by 25%. Those sleeping rough are subject to snow, ball-breaking cold temperatures and damp conditions 24/7 - and with absolutely no relief. No hot bath to warm their bones. No radiators. No fire to warm their hands. Not even a flicker of hope to warm their hearts and guide them through until morning. Honestly? I wouldn't survive one night.

Whatever their circumstances, however they got there, why they haven't had help - it doesn't really matter. What matters is that there are real, actual, human people out there every night, right on our doorsteps, freezing. Right through to their souls. I have never been homeless, because I have been so, so, so blessed in my life, but that doesn't stop me from feeling their pain and beyond that realising that as much as I might think I sympathise,I actually can't even begin to imagine the hardship sleeping rough must bare. 

I have always been deeply disturbed by the concept of homelessness, often crying in public when I am caught unawares, but I've never done anything - I have gone on with my life and shut it out. That is until recently when someone said to me 'there is no point in being upset about something, unless you are going to do something about it' and in a heartbeat totally changed my previously useless attitude towards homelessness.

This year, when I found myself teary on Christmas Day about the people not only without family but without even a bed that night, instead of just drying my tears and forgetting in the next breath, I donated to Shelter there and then, at 7pm Christmas Day on my iphone while we sat around watching Call the Midwife. It was easy and you can do the same here. I instantly felt better for donating - probably more for me than for them but at least I'd made a difference. Since then I have signed up to volunteer at SYHA and am awaiting an interview before I can get started. I don't know why it has taken me so long to act on this but I am really glad I have.

While we are all entitled to complain about the inconvenience the bad weather may bring us, it is always worth bearing in mind that there are people so much worse off, and while it is inconvenient to get snow in your hair and ice on your hands, that is all it is. Inconvenient.

I want to finish by sharing this song that we used to sing in assembly at primary school - it is the song that left a painful feeling in 8 year old Hannah's heart that never really went away.

Bless all those sleeping rough tonight.


17 January, 2013

Mate Dates and Just Being Silly

When it's the middle of the week, you are already shattered and your head feels sandwiched between two very heavily burdened bookends of work, chores, work, chores, work, chores....is it any wonder they call it Hump Day? I think that's why they invented Mate Dates. Mate Dates are what they say on the tin - those dates you have with your mate - and they are massively under-done. Every time I have a mid-week mate-date I finish it off with 'we must do this more! at least every fortnight!' and then end up giving them their Christmas present in March.

The value of seeing a friend mid-week though is, as they say, priceless. Friends carry a whole different value to the others who surround us Monday-Sunday. It it is the prerogative of some other areas of our lives to sometimes cause us stress and put pressure on us, but friends do not. Friends ease that stress and help you cope with that pressure and they make you laugh while they're doing it. Or if they don't do those things, you may want to filter out some of yours...

I have rarely come away from a good old catch up with a friend not feeling refreshed, revived and in some way just lighter (and not just from the wine). The perspective one can gain from just a few hours with your phone off, a sharing platter and nothing but each others news and views is unmatched. It is easy to forget the value of Mate Dates and more importantly how refreshing they are and it is even easier to believe you don't have the time week upon week. But when the world (okay, your town) is pretty much your oyster every lunchtime, evening and weekend - there is really no excuse for not putting a regular Mate Date right up there on your list(s).

As part of my 2013 challenge to focus less on my body and more on my mind, in amongst knitting and meditating and all the other 'switch-off' activities I am trying, I have also resolved to also just have more fun. Be more silly more often. Not the organised fun  I create at weekends, but just proper belly-laughing, I-don't-care-if-this-pizza-is-10,000-calories, silly fun.And that calls on the resources of Mate Dates.

Last night I had a date with my long-standing GBF with whom I have a completely unique friendship. We don't spend loads of time together and aren't even always 'close', but we both know when the shit hits the fan, we'll be there. My family have also sort of adopted him - they seem to be protective of him and care about him, so in many ways he is like an often absent brother who is a whole foot taller than me and fancies the same celebrities. Most importantly our mate dates are always such good quality and they never fail to cheer me up. I didn't need cheering up last night as it happens so it was even better.

We always go somewhere different and last night we both had our first Yo Sushi! experience - for those who haven't been before Yo Sushi! is unlike other restaurants in that you sit at a conveyor belt of food, take what you want and pay at the end! The plates are colour-coded by price so you know how much you're spending as you go along. To say it was my first time I feel we did well, consuming a grand total of 9 plates between us. Yo Sushi! have a 40% off food deal on at the moment until 25th January and you can find your nearest here.

More than the food though, the conversation was as always just the inspiration injection I needed to catapult me through to Friday no worries. We hung around long after the food was gone and found various things to giggle about. I felt really happy coming home and not just because of my productive working day - my Mate Date had given me an alcohol-free buzz and we've already planned the next one.

If you do one thing different next week? Go somewhere new with a good friend - it doesn't have to be expensive, but it will be ace.

Marcus ate...California Roll with avocado, crabstick &mayonnaise (99kcals) (amongst other things)
I ate...Salmon, tuna, tamago, avocado, cucumber and masago  rolls topped with sliced salmon, tuna and prawn (265 kcal) (amongst other things...)

We didn't eat this, but for some reason it made us laugh and I am going back to buy it on payday - it will remind me to always be silly.

16 January, 2013

Writing like I Eat

This year I am changing my blogging style. BIG NEWS. As much as I love spending 6 hours writing a really heart-felt, indulgent, philosophical article about life events or just silly musings, there are many draw-backs to trying to maintain a blog in this way. Firstly, effusive articles aren't really what blogs are for - while I maintain there is no 'should' in 'blog', it is important to keep content that looks outward rather than inward. Longer articles can be therapeutic,  but they can become self-involved. So while my writing inspiration will always come from my own little life so as to paint a bigger picture, I have resolved to try and look outwards for inspiration more frequently.

As well as this, it is near-on impossible to write-up long blog posts every week - let alone every few days - between work, family, friends, exercise, baking, FUN...and all the other things I hold dear. My solution until now has been to just not blog at all until I can find a day to dedicate to it, but 3 years since my debut post and that 'day' comes but once a month (if I'm lucky) and so until I tire or retire I need to find a different way of living out my writing dream.

Instead of giving up my blog all together, I am succumbing to social blogging norms (reluctantly) and have decided to try and write shorter posts (with the odd meaty piece in between, because everyone loves a good nosy into ones heart). So this year I will blog in the same way in which I eat - little and often. I vow to blog;
  • with more variety
  • with less emotion (please realise this is like asking The Hulk to walk in a less muscly way)
  • ultimately just more
What I don't want to do is lose the quality of writing. It is easy to forget to write creatively and beautifully when you're bashing out a pre-tea update just to fulfill a quota, but I write to write and for no other reason, so to lose that creative element would for me negate the whole purpose.

Wish me luck!


13 January, 2013

Spreading a Little Old-School Sparkle

When I was 4 years old and my Mum was sad, I made her a card every day to show her I was here for her, and somewhere in my 4 year old heart I knew that making Mummy a card was more to her than just receiving a piece of paper with the same questionable flower drawing on it day after day. I knew that what the card represented and what it did for her was so much more.

That same concept has stuck with me throughout my life as a little girl, a teenager and an adult. For all the changes I have been through as a person, I have never stopped making and giving cards to the people I care about. When my friends are going through a tough time, I send them a card full of kind words, compliments and support - whatever might make them feel better or just give them an uplifting surprise. Cards are ever-lasting,  solid, sentimental, meaningful and they have played a significant part in how I support the people I care about.

On the flip-side, recieving cards and letters has also been a blessing at times. When I look back on my best cards, they have always been the ones that I didn't know were coming, no special date or occasion, just someone, somewhere thinking of me and wanting to add to my life. When I went through my first really heart-breaking break-up during university and was facing exams at the same time, one of my bestest friends sent me a parcel of random, fun, lovely things to cheer me up, with a letter inside that meant so much and got me through my week of exams. I have never forgotten that and I have always tried to do the same for others.

What's a shame is, not many people do send old-fashioned style cards and letters anymore. In this newfangled digital age, it is easier to tweet someone happy birthday, to Facebook them a cheer-up message or to send them an e-card with absolutely nothing personal in it whatsoever. Or just to be so busy you don't do anything at all. As much of a social media princess as I might be, I am a very traditional girl at heart and I feel strongly that where some things are concerned, digital communication just cannot replace the meaning and value of old-school traditions. Where kindles may start to replace books (wah!) and Wii Fit may be chosen over a good old run round the park, I stand firm that nothing can replace that feeling of receiving hand-written post through the letter box. No number of little red notifications on your Blackberry can begin to touch on that buzz you get when you run downstairs and in amongst your bank statements and spam mail is a hand-written envelope with who knows what kind of excitement inside. That knowledge that someone has taken the time and thought to write to you is irreplaceable. And that 50p (extortionate!) stamp so many use as an excuse? Most of us would spend that on anything else in a heartbeat.

The content of the thought is important too. I have never understood the notion of spending £3 on a card for someone and then writing 3 words inside that are effectively meaningless.If you are going to give someone a card, then tell them what you are really thinking, what you wish for them, how you see them or how much you appreciate them - writing something unique rather than expected makes the card priceless. Card-giving costs next to nothing but your time, it goes such a long way and it is a form of communication in which you can be really creative. For a friend's recent birthday I wrote 20 things I had loved about her aged 26 - memories, private jokes and compliments. Another friend who had just bought a house received a card from me with a drawing of how I saw her filling her house with her personality - things I admired about her. Sometimes I stick photographs in/on a card of me and the recipient or something else sentimental. The possibilities are endless and sometimes an unprompted thank you or word of appreciation, can really go a long way to making someone feel happy and loved, and doing that for others makes me feel brilliant too.

I want more people to go back to basics and give more cards randomly, when least expected, just because you have thought of someone. I don't just mean Happy Birthdays, Thank-yous and Congratulations - I mean really meaningful cards that you don't HAVE to send. I'm not suggesting we should all throw our blackberries in the nearest puddle and bring back the quill, but we are so lucky that while we can have the snazzy digitalised versions of everything, we can also have the old-fashioned traditions too. We can do BOTH and I wish more people did.

I am currently writing my Christmas Thank-you cards (a little late) which doesn't exactly count as unprompted, but in mid-January when everyone is poor and ill and it hasn't even snowed yet, I hope a little brown envelope on a few doormats is going to spread a little cheer to my near and dear.

My favourite and recent han-made cards - enjoy x

My boyfriend get loads of cards, probably one for every day we've been together poor chap! I think it's important to write old fashioned style notes to show someone what they really mean to you.

My most recent card-making extravaganza was of course Christmas - these were really easy to put together (using Wilko's finest!) but I tried to design each one to fit the personality of the recipient.

This was a postcard I sent my little sister - we don't speak as much since she moved out of my Mum's house and I miss her little sistereqsue presence. This drawing reminds me of her as the little girl here looks like she did when we were younger (she even took her toy elephant everywhere with her when we were little so it's uncanny!) so I sent it to her last year to let her know I miss her.
It was my housemates birthdays a  few months ago and she is a really fun girly girl! She deserved to be spoilt after a rocky time so I made her this (it took me 3 hours!) along with a cake that matched. It could be my all time favourite.
I made a batch of cards spontaneously last summer, when a few of my close family and friends were all having a rough time or had supported me in some way and I wanted to cheer them up/show my thanks. These were a bit scrappy-stylee but that kinda sums me up so they are some of my favourites.
Sometimes I treat myself to shop bought packs of cards when I am sending a lot at one time, when I do I always pay out for pretty ones. I wrote these on a train to Leeds during what was a horrible time for me and it made me feel better doing it.

In 2011 I made the same style of birthday card for each of my friends, with balloons, cakes and then a little figure meant to resemble them on the front. This is my big sister - from when she had red hair! It's not the best card ever but it means a lot.

04 January, 2013

Knit one, pearl one...Learning to Knit with Cath Kidston

I have written previously about my struggles with stress and relaxation (ie, I can do one but not the other) and as I've said, for me the new year is going to see me rise to the challenge of stress management, teach myself how to 'lig in dissaray' for a few hours a week (sorry, a Hear'say lyric which has been going around in my head since the concept of this post and I felt it had earned a mention - I can only apologise) - in other, more sociable words, I am going to chill out with my bad self.

Almost in agreement with my resolution, New Year's Day threw tonsilitus and a spasmatic back at me as if to test my sincerity. Was I flustered? Yes. Hugely. This is me we're talking about. Especially as i'd already been ill all Christmas and barely done so much as lift a pringle, which for me is really, really difficult to bare. I love pringles. However, 'pon scampering back from the doctors with antibiotics in one hand and mournfully waving a sick note in the other, I succumbed to my lazy fate and as always turned this nasty situation on it's contaminated head.

So I can't get back to work as I had so wanted, or go running, or do most of the energetic things I had planned - (oh shit, there I go again!) - but so what? Now I had the perfect opportunity to kick start my New Year's resolution to plan less, stress less and chill more. Moreover, now I could delve into my brand new, beautiful, colourful, polka-dot lined, floral-covered Cath Kidston learn to knit kit - bought for me this Christmas.

I spent 3 hours yesterday afternoon with this beaut of a treat and it seems like a lovely little starting point for knitters-to-be. It involves 6 bundles of yarn (oh yeah, getting down with that knitting lingo), 2 pretty pink needles and 2 sets of instructions - 1 teaching the basics of knitting, 1 a pattern for knitting a scarf with the resources provided. The instructions are clear and concise, are aimed at amateurs and best of all they are presented in vintage stlye pamphlets like something right outta that there WW1 - of course! Oh Cath K, you are so on the money!

That said, it took me nearly the entire 3 hours to learn to tie a slipknot (who wishes they'd been a girl scout now, huh?) and the remainder of it establishing how to hold the needles properly. It is hard, I have stupid small chubby hands! I am not one to shy away from a challenge though and having given this wee kit a test-drive I now can't wait to get my head (and my stupid small chubby hands) around knitting and give out scarves instead of jam jars next Christmas.

03 January, 2013

New Year Confessions of an Over-Planner

The arrival of a New Year is traditionally a time for making plans and for turning over a new leaf only to find that same leaf has plans of it's own, but if I have learnt one thing from 2012 it is that plans don’t always happen in the way we want them to. Sometimes we can over-plan in order to achieve our perfect vision of the perfect life we want to lead, and we fail to just enjoy what’s right in front of us and the wonderful life we are already living.

I have always said if you have a roof over your head, some money in your pocket and a few good people around you, then you really do have it pretty good and everything else is just detail - I reckon that applies to most people reading this right now. However, knowing that and making the leap to actually feeling that, every day, are two very different things.

As much as I am constantly aware of how lucky I am, I also have a tendency to over-plan in a bid for everything to be 'perfect', I stress about small things and then feel like I have in some way failed when those plans didn't pan out 'perfectly'. I once (very recently) cried ALOT because the smoke alarm went off in my kitchen just as I served up the Satuday Night chilli I had so lovingly made my boyfriend. ‘You don’t understand!’ I wailed as my dreams of a perfect meal were SHATTERED (I am willing to admit there may have been some hormones involved in this particular scenario, but you get the gist). Despite my most startling demeanour, he just said to me ‘I am trying to understand (whilst looking totally perplexed) but really just being with you is enough. Everything else is a bonus. Like the chili...’

In hindsight, this was a hilarious (okay, ridiculous) episode and a definite ‘first world problems’ anecdote on my part (oops!), but what led to my howling in that moment was a mountain of other stresses and strains leading up to it, I was clinging to the chili for dear life to avoid what was actually upsetting me and really the smoke alarm was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Those stresses and strains though were also all just minor aspects of my otherwise fantastically fortunate life, and none of it really mattered.

Something I took away from that little sketch was Gareth’s total ability to see everything beyond his basic needs as a blessing – nothing can ruin his time with me because I am enough. No little imperfections and frustrations can make him miserable of a day because it's not important. I learnt a lot that day and I continue to learn the same lesson as I am blessed to be with surrounded by people who are a such positive inspiration. You cannot plan everything to within an inch of it's life because you'll miss your life and it won’t happen that way, and when it doesn’t you’ll be a bit gutted.

'You learn to build you roads on today, because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for your plans'

Our fear of the future is, I think, what cause us to lay down plans, like guarantees that things will always stay the same, that we won’t suddenly fall into a pit of despair and become one of those miserable people no-one wants to be. But you know what? Plans left unlived and promises broken are far more difficult to bear than the unknown. The unknown should be a thing of excitement and of hope, not of fear. If we fight too hard to make specific things happen, we might find ourselves missing out on the things that are supposed to happen or just the things that are right in front of us, already happening.

I say this somewhat hypocritically, as someone who arrived back to my home post-Christmas and instantly (I am talking within 10 minutes of being in the house) cleared out her wardrobe to make way for new dresses I have planned to buy for upcoming occasions, who threw away old belongings to make space for the new lovely gifts I plan to use this year (namely my Cath Kidston learn to knit kit) and who had already, before New Year's Eve had even dawned, booked and paid for a couple of things that will hopefully see me achieve the things I want - no, need - to by the end of 2013.

All that planning though- that was The Big Things. That was me jumping straight into a New Year, filofax first. I think you need to plan the milestones of your life, as otherwise there is a big chance it will pass you by and that milestone won’t have happened - whether it be joining the gym or opening a savings account, you need to act now. It's the small-time planning I am guilty of over-doing and need to take a giant step back from. I love list-making and am proud of being organised, but I am not a fan of my meticulous mapping out of the entire 48 hours of every weekend, the constant thinking ahead to what comes next even in my happiest moments, the manic need to know with utter certainty what I am doing every day from Monday to Sunday lest I drop the ball and lose control of my life, and ultimately lose everything I have built up. Yeah, I know right, obsessive.

I want to wake up on a Saturday morning (without an alarm) and wonder what am I going to today? Without having written it all down in chronological order the night before. Yeah, that's a Friday night list-making session, awful isn't it? I want to do achieve chilldom! In the same way I run to be fit instead of envying toned celebrities whilst munching on a burger, in the same way I work hard in my professional life to end up where I want to be, in the same way I persevere with writing with the hope someday someone will publish me – in the same way as all that, I need to stop wishing I didn't put myself under so much pressure and start actually not doing it. Hard as it may be to begin with.

I used to be a lot better able to go with the flow than I am nowadays and I think several factors brought me here, not least my chosen career and constant need to be plugged into social media, emails, smartphones, instagram - it's the perils of being a professional multimedia whore. Plus a few other experiences have had me go into productivity overdrive like you wouldn't believe. Ironically, in a bid to build and finely tune all other areas of my life in recent years - my career, my relationships, my home, my body - I forgot the one area in which I really do need some serious self-improvement - my mind and switching it the hell off. In 2012 I started playing netball again (tick), I pretty much stopped drinking (half-tick), I changed jobs and I worked hard at filtering out the crap in my personal life (massive ticks), but I didn't leave any room for just being and as a result despite being very happy, I often find myself stressed and run-down. Learning to find peace of mind is what 2013 is about for me.

So while the rest of the world plans to exercise more, eat less, drink less, be more organised and open their post, I vow to almost do the opposite. Lucky me, you might say? Not really, switching off is equally as tough an endeavour for me as anything you might find hard, and it really does have sometimes worrying side-effects. For starters, letting go in your mind is a lot harder than taking yourself out for a run. It will be a gradual, subconscious process and the second I stop to think about it the second I am letting myself down. God knows it is a long way to there from here, but I am up for the challenge!

Learning R&R in 2013

I have some ideas which I think will help me and might help you too if you have a similar inability to just sit DOWN. I am going to learn about mindfulness, as recommended to me by my boss and courtesy of a book my Dad lent me. I am going to force myself to switch off my emails in the evenings. I have joined the gym so that I can subsidise my more intense exercise with relaxing sports like swimming. I am going to sit on my fidgety little hands when I try to make a list on a Friday night. I am not very good at watching TV by myself as I get bored, but I am going to have a few hours every week where I do something that doesn't involve putting my energy out into the world, but absorbing it. I am by nature a ball of energy, but I need to stop always giving that energy away and save some of it for me, as no-one else will. I will probably still be busy a lot of the time and I don't intend that to change - I still want to do all the things I do and more, because that's who I am and without my energy I wouldn't be me anymore. It's the in between time I am talking about and basically trying not to put so much pressure on myself, because in doing that, I actually hold myself back.

Other than the big things I want to have nailed by this time next year (which I will reveal when they have happened, hopefully by next Christmas!), I don’t have any plans for 2013 because it is a blank canvas and I have all the strength of character and resources I need to paint it happily and in my own perfect way without planning every step. I have no idea what 2013 will be bring day by day, but I do know that because of everything I have already built up – not least my top-notch support network – it is going to be a fantastic year because I have the mental power to allow it to be that way regardless of how the details pan out.

Wish me luck.

(This said, I will continue to write things in my new Filofax a lot because it is ace.)

Good Luck in 2013 - Make your World Happy x

As we enter another year, it is safe to say there has been a collective sigh.  Of relief, nostalgia, hope or of just sweet reflection on another one done. So much happens in a year – hell so much happens in just a day that 365 of them all puzzled together can only lead to huge change, massive highs, sadly some lows and the ever-reinforced realisation that nothing is as you envisioned it would be.

2012 has been a mega year for many, as we reel from another mass shooting in America and the aftermath of the Jimmy Saville scandal, another term begun for America’s first Black president and the Queen's Jubilee, the most memorable summer of sport experienced for many in their lifetime (via a vis, the Olympics baby!), the deaths of yet more legends and heroes , not to mention the chilling yet incredible skydive from space. Our world is inSANE! I could go on, but instead a massive congratulations is in order to the whole world, including you, for avoiding that ever looming apocalypse. 

Closer to home my entire world has seen an overhaul. I started the year seriously unhappy at my job, in substantial debt, bearing several real personal struggles and with every belief that it was a long way from there to anywhere happier.  I ended the year having turned all the negatives in my life on their head - those that are within my control at least. Beyond myself, my loved ones have all experienced massive change as they venture into territory previously unknown to them (but ultimately, hopefully, positive) – from big break ups and engagements (so many engagements!), to wonderful arrivals of new little babies and sorrowful goodbyes as others pass over, to new houses and cities and countries – I have never seen so much dramatic change in one year amongst so many of my near and dear.

When they prophesised the end of the world in 2012, perhaps what they saw wasn’t the end of the world, but the end of a world, a way of living that wasn’t quite working anymore for some or getting the collective human race anywhere very quickly. Sometimes, bigger things have to intervene and miserable an experience as it may be for inidivudals, powers beyond our control sometimes come along to get us as a collective back on track, even if it initially feels very, very hard

I hope all my loved ones who had such difficult, life-changing times in 2012 find what they need  in 2013 and begin to reap the rewards of the challenges they faced last year. I strongly believe that you attract what is in your heart, so provided you take positive steps every day, every action you take directly seeking the right things that are ultiumately right for you - whilst being the best person you can be inside and out - then you will get what you need.

'Just when the Caterpillar Thought the World was Over, it Became a Butterfly' - proverb

I saw so many negative updates on New Years Day about the start of a new year, which was a shame. A new year is a whole blank canvas of anything you want it to be - how exciting is that? Imagine you are faced with a white wall and a shed-load of coloured paints and someone said 'Go!' would you draw a little black sad face and say 'I miss Christmas'? Hell no! You would paint away to your hearts content. If you don't want to go back to your everyday life, use that feeling as a sign that something needs to change - make it a positive. Don't book a holiday to cover up January blues, look at those January blues and ask yourself what it would take for every single one of your days to be happy and work, work, work towards that.

If you feel you are already trying but something still isn't working then make changes, big ones if need be. We can always do things differently, sometimes we just don't want to let go of the things we think we'll miss but are ultimately holding us back. Do the things that you find the hardest but that you know will benefit you long-term. Don't just have a dry January - have a dry year, avoid self-destruction and use that hangover-free time to better your life. Don't just join the gym to burn off Christmas calories, make it your new lifestyle, forever. Stop all contact with anyone who brings you any negativity - life is so busy, save your time for those who have and are a positive influence on you. Make a list of steps you want to take this year, hide it away and come 2014 look at what you have achieved.

Good Luck everyone - I hope to see lots of happy status' in 2014 :)