Living a simple life: F is for Friendship

F is for… Friendship

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot! 

I had two choice for F: food, fandom or friendship. Truth is, the three are fairly tightly connected. However: today we are talking about friendship.

I am drafting this from a train, where I sit with my other half, P and my friend R. We are heading to Glasgow to see another friend (K), and go and watch Caro Emerald in concert. This came about because K moved to Glasgow a while back, and we wanted to visit.

As things fell out, K moved away from Glasgow before the time for the concert came about. By that point, however, we were committed.

So it became an adventure. Travelling to Glasgow is not quick — the train journey is five and a half hours, and that from Northampton, where we spent the night with my friend R.

It reminds me of the time I did an exchange with a university in the USA. I had a group of friends I had made from an online forum, and I criss-crossed the states in that six month period, couch-surfing from one place to another. It was a mad adventure, where I went from LA — rubbing shoulders with teenagers with perfectly sculpted hair and tanned skin who claimed to be professional skateboarders — to a tumbledown house deep in the Bible belt where we threw lightbulbs into a bonfire of junk. America is a strange and varied place.

Internet meme plus MLP. How could I resist.

I can be a solitary creature, and yet other people and my relationships with them have shaped my life far more drastically than any decision of my own.

Meeting P, for example. A chance meeting at best, when he happened to be in the same room as another of my friends and took my screen name from him. We talked, we became friends and then fell in love. Faced with the problems of a long-distance relationship, we got married — a whirlwind event, that we agreed to do before we had lived together. In fact, we had barely spent any real time together. Anybody would warn against such a choice; to tangle your life up with someone that you barely knew.

Yet that decision ended up being the best I have ever made.

I like to read Vonnegut books; it’s one of my guilty pleasures to re-read them. In Cat’s Cradle he talked of finding your ‘karass’, your cosmically significant group of people.

If you find your life tangled up with somebody else’s life for no very logical reasons that person may be a member of your karass. — Bokonon aka Kurt Vonnegut.

I am an atheist, but this speaks to me. It is less about cosmic significance, perhaps, than finding the people that make you feel comfortable, at home, safe to be yourself — and thus safe to be able to do the things that only you can do.

We constantly perform. At work I am one person, with some other friends, arms-length friends, I am another. But with the people who are my karass I can be exactly as goofy, forgetful, distractible, obsessed and silly as I like — and I can also be as passionate, as earnest, as determined as I feel.

Squad goals: living in a temple on a beach playing music.

What is this entry? It is a rambling, disjointed post. It hasn’t got across how important my friendships are, my relationships are. It hasn’t really explained how, when I am with them, I feel whole, put-together in some indefinable way.

As I get older, my friendships become more important. They also get harder. My friends have jobs that suck up their time and energy, some have children, everyone has responsibilities. Mortgages or student loans to repay. I cannot imagine being able to up-sticks and travel the USA couch-surfing for months on end now. Yet somehow the five hour train journey to Glasgow means more than that whole adventure, because it is harder — and more precious as a result.

Living a simple life: E is for Exercise

E is for… Exercise

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot! 

As a kid, I hated PE. I was the daydreamer in the corner, constantly buried in a book. By the time I was in secondary school, I used to truant from PE to play Dungeons & Dragons.

As a small kid, of course, I used to play – running around participating in some made-up game with rules that made sense back then but wouldn’t now.

These days, exercise is something I do more for my mental health than my physical health (although it is fun to feel yourself getting stronger).

In both periods of depression, it was yoga that got me moving, and that then provided a stepping stone to more energetic form of exercise. That more energetic form of exercise helped boost me – a tiny bit each time – giving me enough energy to start thinking again and then to start living again.

The exercise I enjoy includes:

  • This came up when I searched for ‘yoga drawing’ and I have no idea what it has to do with yoga. But I LOVE IT.

    Yoga. The base of my routine, and something I try and do every day, if only for five minutes. I will write more about this later (spoiler alert: probably for the letter Y).

  • Bodyweight/dumbbell strength-training. I am not a strong person, I tend towards being skinny which is great from a weight point-of-view but makes it hard to build muscle. Still, I am trying to regularly do push-ups, squats, dumbbell rows and the like. It’s hard. My body aches right now from the workout I did yesterday.
  • Pilates. A recent addition, I started doing pilates after work with a colleague. My core strength is pretty terrible.
  • Running. I am not a runner, but I started to use Zombie Run and for a while I enjoyed it. Then my shins started to ache, I realised my shoes were very old and I quit. I keep meaning to buy new shoes, but… see my previous entry about not buying anything in April.
  • Dance workouts aka Zumba and similar. I do these to YouTube videos, and they usually make me happy.
  • Walking. I have a fitbit. I enjoy long hikes in the outside world. My walking buddy and I are training for a ‘someday’ dream of walking to Machu Pichu.

The thing with exercise is I rarely want to do it, but I am always glad to have done it. Pushing through my ‘lazy’ barrier each time is hard… but I am getting better at it. These days I am managing to exercise in the morning, which is a fairly major shift. I have never been a morning person.

They say that exercise is a ‘keystone habit’ – a habit that supports other good habits. When I exercise, I feel inspired to eat more healthily, I feel more energetic, I feel better able to tackle other challenges. I am far, far less likely to spend the day vegging out in front of the TV.

Living a simple life: D is for Dressing

D is for Dressing

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot!

When I first planned out what I was going to write for each letter, D was originally for depression. I don’t really want to define myself by depression though. I’m moving forward into a calmer, happier future – not hanging on to the past.

Then I was going to write about dogs. I really love dogs. Dogs are AWESOME. Sadly, I have never had a dog. My partner has, and I get to play with an office dog three times a week. But, dogs have not been a significant part of my life thus far — though I hope they will be in the future.

So now I am going to talk about ‘dressing‘ or ‘dresses’ or ‘clothes’ (but clothes doesn’t start with a D).

My friend wrote a post about some of the perils of trying to dress yourself, which is interesting and relevant and says many things I agree with.

I have a lot of anxiety around clothes, as perhaps do many people. As a kid, I wore only second-hand clothes – cast-offs from other children a bit older than me. As such, I never really had a style, nor did I develop one.

When I got to university, I went clothes shopping with a student loan burning a hole in my back pocket. I bought my first ever ‘outfit’. I do not remember what it was. I did not really understand clothes, myself, or style.

It didn’t help that I viewed myself as, well, unattractive. Not in a particularly self-hating way, but I had bad acne and couldn’t really see any way that a particular style of dressing would make me NOT have bad acne.
So I wore baggy jumpers, jeans, walking boots. I opted for practical over pretty. That became my ‘style’, by default really.

But… every now and then I bought something. A short plaid skirt. A purple waistcoat. A tight, chinese-style dress. Clothes I bought and then… just never wore.

But I gradually realised that… I actually liked clothes.

I have a Pinterest board entirely filled with clothes.

There is clearly a style that I like. Unfortunately for me, it’s also clearly an expensive style. I like intricate patterns, colours (especially purple), high quality materials, iridescence. I have a thing about texture — I really kind of hate polyester. I like silk, satin, velvet, breezy cotton.

In short, I am secretly a clothes snob.

What does this have to do with living a simple life?

I guess it’s about paying attention to the details. I tend to just throw on whatever clothes I have. I usually take the easy option of jeans, t-shirt, jumper. But with a bit of thought, a bit of time (and maybe a bit of money) I could start dressing in a more meaningful way.

 

Living a simple life: C is for Consumer

C is for consumer (and credit cards)

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot!

Alright! We are three letters into the alphabet already, the sun is shining (it was when I drafted this post anyway), I have an enormous pot of pea soup simmering on the stove behind me… so what better time to talk about CONSUMPTION.

I have credit card debt. It’s not something I like. I have this whole plan to pay it off by the end of July. As such, I’m setting myself another April challenge (alongside blogging everyday). Namely a NO SPEND challenge.

Yes, I am buying groceries. But no take-away, no new books, no clothes, no random stuff for the house, no flowers, no over-priced cups of coffee. It means I need to plan more, think more, and oh… pay attention.

We live in a culture saturated with stuff. I do actually enjoy spending money – I love travel, I love eating out, I love new experiences. But, for April, I am going to focus on what’s free.

The #instagram life – in pursuit of perfection

I have a bit of an obsession with self-improvement, and with self-perfecting type books. I don’t watch a lot of TV, and I have an ad-blocker on my browser, so I don’t see many adverts. But I do go on instagram, I do look at the carefully curated perfect vignette, I do read ‘lifestyle’ blogs. Yeah, I am subscribed to Goop – and only partly ironically. I look at tours on Apartment Therapy. I crave the stylish, simple, super-expensive and self-described ‘minimalist’ chic.

I bought a magazine about simple living the other day, to read in a coffee shop. It was stuffed with adverts. Adverts for cute, eco-friendly, fair-trade stuff that was probably woven out of toxin-free hemp.

I want the vitamix blender, the white linens, the single vase of flowers.

I want the goddamn bullet-journal.

I want to be a different person. You know. The person who has it sorted. The person who is effortless, light, breezy and flowing. The person who only bought one thing, but that one thing was perfect.

I have yet to buy a perfect thing. I try for an organised, clean, #nofilter life, but the truth is, my whites keep going grey after I wash them a couple of times, I spilled marmalade on my floor the other day, and I killed the potted herbs I bought within about a week of buying them.

That went a bit off-piste. However, the core holds. A month without consuming extra in an effort to seek perfection that doesn’t exist. A month of enjoying what I already have. And, hopefully, a chunk of change to apply to the credit card debt.

Living a simple life: B is for Breathing

B is for… Breathing

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot!

Yesterday I posted about why I am rebooting my blog, and focusing on living a simple/happier life.

One of the ways I clawed my way out of the dark hole that is depression was with a mix of gentle yoga and meditation.

With the meditation, I started with guided meditations. With the yoga, I started with youtube videos – specifically the restful/relaxing/stretching/sleeping ones.

In both cases, there were a lot of times when they asked me to stop and focus on my breathing. To take longer, deeper breaths. To breathe into my belly.

Here’s the kicker: it worked. However agitated, miserable, angry, anxious and exhausted I felt — and trust me, I got pretty miserable — whenever I took the time to breath slowly and focus on my breath I got a tiny little mood boost. At the start that maybe only took me from ‘deeply miserable and angry’ to ‘sad and irritated’ but it was still a boost.

Breathing is a reminder that you are alive. It’s also, to me, a reminder that everything changes. Nothing is static. Even when you try and hold yourself completely still, your lungs and heart and thus your body is in motion.

A few breathing techniques

On a very basic level, slow your breathing down.

Lying on the floor feels nice. Try placing a hand on your belly and feel it rise and fall with your inhale and exhale.

Try inhaling through your nostrils for 3 seconds (count slowly), hold your breath for 2 seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds.

Alternatively, try some yoga breathing exercises, there’s a great set of Pranayama videos to watch at Yoga with Adriene.

Relax.

Breathe.

You got this.

Living a simple life: A is for Attention

A is for Attention

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot! 

I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog, and about my life in general. Last year was a difficult one for me: I almost certainly slipped into depression, although I did not get formally diagnosed. Still, I spent a lot of time staring at the wall with my thoughts circling the drain.

Thankfully, a mix of counselling, exercise, self-reflection, omega-3 supplements, yoga and meditation has pulled me out of it.

So what is this about, and what does it have to do with the A-Z challenge?

When I first started this blog, I did so with an A-Z challenge. The posts were short and perhaps perfunctionary, and I didn’t gain any long-term readers from it (I don’t have any long-term readers!)

I’ve been blogging in one form or another for over fifteen years. But in recent years I’ve moved away from creating, writing, exploring, and toward consuming. I lost the art of long-form journal writing in favour of short Facebook updates. Facebook updates that were, at best, a highly edited, extremely bland version of me that was both Safe for Work and Safe for Extended Family.

XKCD: Fuck. That. Shit.

So – I want a reboot. Blogging is important to me. Owning my own platform, however few readers, however little attention it gets, is important to me. I’m not going to pigeon-hole myself into a particular blogging niche. This isn’t about brand, or selling myself, or monetising. It’s not about readers (though anyone who does read this, hello, good to see you around!)

A is for… Attention

Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are. –Jose Ortega y Gasset

Look: I’m easily distracted. It’s modern life. I carry a tiny-but-powerful computer around with me in my pocket. It gives me instant access to most of human knowledge, a bewildering kaleidoscope of opinions, an endless array of cute gifs, and it’s so easy to use.

So when I emerged from my depression, I found myself blinking at the endless amount of time I had wasted — apparently trying to read the entire internet.

There’s a South Park episode about weed. Somewhere during that episode, Randy says: “pot makes you feel fine with being bored, and it’s when you’re bored that you should be learning some new skill or discovering some new science or being creative. If you smoke pot you may grow up to find out that you aren’t good at anything.

I’ve never much liked weed. But I do like my smartphone, and I use it a lot. I use it multiple times a day. It’s like a tic, during any moment of quiet, any pause, any brief lull in the rhythm of the day – out comes the phone.

Endless gratification. I can post a picture to instagram and tag it with a hashtag and almost immediately get a couple of likes.

Endless entertainment. I can open a dozen websites that feed me news, opinion, how-to articles. I can graze wide and far on information, none of which I’ll retain (and much of which isn’t relevant).

Meanwhile, the seconds of my life tick away.

Calvin & Hobbes: Never not relevant

So this post is my declaration of a reboot. I am going to use this A-Z challenge to force myself to blog daily. To help me explore and figure out what’s important to me. To help me balance my consumption of content with the more creatively satisfying creation of content.

I am going to use this A-Z challenge to remind myself to pay attention.

X is for… eXcuses

I’m slightly disappointed I didn’t manage the last four posts of the A-Z Challenge in time. The only thing worse would be to not complete the challenge at all. So here are three of my last four posts (happily condensed into one post for ease). I’m missing W – but look for it turning up tomorrow. (I’ll give you a hint, it will be some lovely wallpapers for your computer).

X is for Excuses

Success
Original image by swissmiss.

It only seems right that a late and limping almost-final entry into the Challenge should be about excuses. And I’ll be honest; I have a lot. My second novel is still not finished. I haven’t done a pull-up for almost four months. My low-sugar challenge went off the rails spectacularly (who knew it would be so hard to quit the demon sweetener?) I missed a project deadline at work — actually it went flying by at the speed of light about four weeks ago!

For all of these things I have reasons. Excuses. I moved house twice in the last five months. My commute now takes anywhere from an hour to two hours. Other projects got dumped on me. I just want to relax for one night and I’ll get back on it tomorrow.

Difficult. The problem is, of course, I want to finish that novel (and a third, and a fourth). I want to be fit, and able to crank out twenty pull-ups with ease. I want my job to go well, and my career to be a success. I want to enjoy health and a long life.

There are lots of productivity tips out there, and I’ve applied some of them already. Productivity isn’t the issue. I strongly believe working hours are too long across most of the world. With unemployment so high and wages so unequal? There is no reason two people could not do the job that one person does now; and both would get better quality of life.

Exhaustion, stress, depression. These have become almost default positions for so many people.

But these are the parameters we work with. Changing the way the world works is out of my control, for the most part. So what can I do?

I think a little bit of forgiveness to ourselves is allowed. A celebration of what we do get done, rather than reflecting on what we don’t. One project at work fell by the wayside — because I got pulled off onto another, highly critical and more important project. I worked (and am working) my ass off on that project!

I haven’t finished my second novel, but I’m halfway through the second draft and I keep on keeping on. Progress is made, and I know now that I will keep plugging away, at weekends and on holidays and eventually at least a handful of these stories will get written down and released to the world.

I can’t do a pull-up yet, but my fitness is light years away from where it was two years ago. It’s a part of my life now, and even though I’m not as fit as I want to be, it’s still nice to feel so much stronger than I used to be. The other day I even managed a feat of strength after someone else had failed — something that would never have happened before. (I used to be the weediest person you can imagine, with arms like tiny soggy spaghetti strands).

Excuses? Is often another word for reason.

If I’m making progress, I’m doing okay. It might be inching and slow, it might be blazing fast (it won’t last!) but as long as I keep heading towards the things that I want, it’s fine.

Every journey is made up of thousands of steps; but also rest-stops, conversations, detours, meeting strangers, getting pissed off, being attacked by a horde of orcs, having your brain taken over by the Borg — okay, you get my point.

Life would be boring if we just walked in a straight line to our destination without pause.

Y is for… yesterday and yankee.

Me and my other half
Me and my other half

Yesterday was a Saturday, and one of the first I have spent at home and relaxing. It was nice, and here’s why:

My partner is American. Of the four+ years we’ve been married, we’ve been apart for probably half of that time. Even when he finally moved back to the UK, we had some housing issues that stopped us from living together. We have not had what you might call a straightforward courtship and marriage.

It doesn’t matter, however, because all the chaos and craziness has just gelled us together stronger and harder than ever before. Yesterday we hung out, we watched a movie, we snuggled and every second of it was precious. 🙂

Z is for… endings (and new beginnings)

Book shelves filled with books
Original image by brewbooks

So much for the A-Z Challenge. I hope you enjoyed this rather frantic ride. I’ve decided to do another challenge (one that doesn’t involve blogging quite so often). If you are also looking for a blog challenge, here’s one you might want to try:

May Blogging Challenge

However, I am thinking of doing something a little more rounded and ticking off another life goal – namely, to read the Telegraph’s ‘100 novels everyone should read‘ list, and writing a review for each one.

Right this minute, however, I’m off to do some writing.

Have a great day xxx

V is for… Vikings

The letter VThis post is part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

Did you see the movie Thor?

I did, completely by accident. I am a bit of a comic book fan, but never really liked the Spider Man movies and as a result got put off the Marvel Movie franchise. But I was around a friends house one day and he suggested we watch it and I was like “Meh, whatevs.”

Two hours later I was a committed fangirl to the nth degree (I have a bit of a problem with getting OHMYGOD-OBSESSED with certain things).

Anyway, I adored Thor, bought it for myself and quickly dived into the rest of the Marvel movies (loved them all, but Thor and The Avengers are definitely the best.)

The whole experience spring-boarded me into a light flirtation with Vikings in general. The mythology is more interesting than most (alright, I admit it, I find 90% of mythology absolutely tedious; including judeo-Christian) and a short while later I had my own rune kit. (Did I mention the bit where I have a problem with getting obsessed?)

I have this rather unlikely fantasy of putting together a signature steampunk-viking outfit, but to make it work I am first trying to get my strength and fitness levels up. The reason I’m responding to those valkyrie images is, of course, because of the strength on display.

T is for… travel

The letter TThis post is part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

Travelling is a great thing to do, and I encourage everybody young-and-old, rich-and-poor, to travel as much as they can.

Luckily, travel is one of those things that you can do in many different ways.

  • You can hike or cycle your way across continents, wild camping or staying in cheap B&Bs.
  • You can buy or rent a caravan and do long road-trips for the cost of your camp site.
  • You can choose to avoid tourist traps and instead seek out local treasures.
  • You can go on cruises, stopping in at various places for a quick experience of a new culture.
  • You can volunteer for organisations such as Raleigh International.
  • You can find a job  in another country (camp sites, nanny positions and bar work are often all good for temporary visas)
  • You can become a caretaker for houses when the owners are away on holiday.
  • You can become a digital nomad.
  • You can practise travel hacking to get cheap flights.
  • You can go on organised tours and safaris.
  • You can rent an apartment or villa in another country.
  • You can stay in a luxury hotel.

Statue in the city of York, EnglandIf I’m going far away, staying for a long time is the easiest way to make up for the cost of the plane ticket. When in University I took advantage of our student exchange program to spend six months in Ohio – one of the best experiences of my life.

Once you have a job (with limited holiday time) travel becomes a huge luxury. Seeking out jobs that give sabbaticals is good (my current one gives a sabbatical every five years) or you can ask for unpaid leave. Sadly, many people are not in a position to do this. It irritates me that, whilst on the one hand we have two and a half million unemployed people, on the other hand we have people working incredibly long hours with very few breaks. It seems obvious to me that a solution is to provide more flexible/shorter working hours… and hire more people!

Oh well.

How do you manage to travel — even with other commitments? And what are the best places you’ve visited?

My travelling plans

Towards the end of 2013 I’ll be starting the process of emigrating to the United States (my partner is a US Citizen).

Before then I am hoping to visit Holland for one final european trip.

Once firmly established in the states I’ll be visiting lots of different people (I hope!) and also taking some time to explore Canada. My grandparents lived in Canada for about four years, and my Uncle was born there so I have a (slightly tenuous) connection with the country. We’ll also be spending some time in the Bahamas as my partner’s parents have a time-share that we are allowed to use occasionally. That should probably keep my happy for 2014 at least 😉

I have held a long burning ambition to visit Japan since I was around 15 years old. I even started learning Japanese at one point, and had about a dozen Japanese pen-friends. This is one of my ‘bucket-list’ goals, but when I do go… I want to go properly. Spend a good month there at least, and visit many places.

R is for… Recipes

The letter RThis post is part of the A-Z Challenge blogging challenge.

I love cooking! I would do far more of it if I didn’t have… you know, a full-time job and a business and a novel to write. I’ve already shared one of my own recipes for Jumbalya. Today, however, I am going to highlight a few recipes that have been posted by other participants in the A-Z Challenge.

A is for … Applesauce Ice-cream (holy crap that sounds amazing!). Every single A-Z Post on this blog is about ice-cream. That alone deserves an ovation, frankly.

B is for … Brussel sprouts with balsamic glaze. Yup, our often misunderstood little green sprouty vegetables of awesome complete with a delectable sounding glaze. This recipe looks like an easy way to spice up a veggie side!

C is for … cauliflowers and cherries. Not in the same recipe, sadly, but here are two ingredients jazzed up by this talented food blogger 🙂

D is for … dill. Specifically carrot, dill and white bean salad. Not an A-Z blogger, but one of my favourite recipe blogs. I had to share.

E is for … eggplant rollatini. Okay, so I’m not advocating an extreme raw food diet. But replacing a few of our meals with high-raw versions is a great way to get more veggies/fruits in and feel more awesome. This recipe is an tasty way to start.

F is for … fennel. I first discovered fennel when it turned up in a veg box. Since then, I’ve discovered this vegetable also makes a rather lovely tea. If you’ve yet to discover the delights of fennel, this post will help you out.

G is for … goat-cheese baked potato. I’m always looking for healthy fast dinner options. This looks like one of those.

H is for … hummus! I adore hummus, and luckily it’s one of the few things my other half also loves. I like falafel in pitta bread with hummus. Yum. This blog has a great recipe for a basic, tasty hummus.

I is for … indian cuisine. If you’ve never tried it, you probably should. This A-Z blogger introduces some basics and shares a recipe for butter chicken.

J is for … Jalapeno! (Damn straight it is!). Spicy looking Cornbread Crusted Chicken with Jalapeno Popper Sauce recipe over on this A-Z blog!

K is for … kiwi fruit and kale. In short, we should all eat more kale.

L is for … Lemons. Yes, one of the best ingredients, it acts a bit like salt in savoury dishes (boosting flavour). Anyway, 9 ways to use a lemon here, great for when you’ve got half of one left over.

M is for … macaroni & cheese. I basically live on pasta. Mac & cheese is one of my favourite ways to make it.

N is for … Naughty & Nice. A rather lovely looking cappuccino coffee cake recipe from friend and co-blogger Louise!

O is for … olive oil. This post talks a bit about olive oil and why it’s awesome, and then sends you on to a recipe for homemade pizza dough. Anything that involves pizza should be shared.

P is for … peppermint ice-cream! More ice-cream recipes, but I had to highlight this one. I love peppermint and this ice-cream sounds refreshing and cooling.

Q is for … Quince paste! Yes, an oddity you may never have heard of, but which sounds delicious.

Yikes! That’s a lot of cooking I suddenly feel like doing. How about you – do you have a favourite recipe you would like to share in the comments?