Thursday, 9 April 2020

22 little things that are bringing me joy right now

I've seen a lot of people sharing on Twitter the little things that are getting them through at the moment, and it's been a nice ray of sunshine in amongst the gloom.

So none of my usual preamble - here are the things that are bringing me joy at the moment:
  • Growing things

For Christmas my friend Riven got me two planters - sunflowers and dinosaur kale - and we decided a few weeks ago to get them started. Nothing happened for a few days, then poof! Shoots! I'm now obsessed with checking on them and watering them and seeing how they are doing.

  • Scrabble Go
I downloaded Scrabble Go originally so my Mum and I could play, but now I'm playing with loads of my friends, and even Phil has joined in (just because he wanted to beat my Mum!). 

  • Cross-stitching

My sister-in-law Suzie bought me a cross-stitch kit for my Birthday last year but I only started it a few weeks ago because I was too intimidated to get started! The kit she got me has absolutely brilliant clear instructions (one I'd made a few initial mistakes!) and I was getting really into it at the start of the year. I picked it back up again this week and I've absolutely loved cross-stitching with a podcast on in the background. I've already ordered myself another bookmark from the same seller, and also this pattern which I can't wait to put in our hall.

  • Finally watching The Americans
I've mentioned this before but we are terrible at watching TV. It takes us months to get through a series. We started The Americans when we came back from Canada in September and we'd only just finished season 2 a few weeks ago. So now we're not quite so busy, we've started to get really back into it and we're getting through loads more episodes now - which is great because usually we've forgotten what's happened we leave so long between episodes. We're about to finish season 3 and I'm excited to maybe actually finish a TV series?!

  • The Vicar of Dibley on Netflix
I was obsessed with the Vicar of Dibley as a child - my parents and I still quote it all the time (along with Father Ted, Phoenix Nights and dinnerladies - which is now also on Netflix!). I was so so thrilled to find out it had been added this week and we've already started it from the beginning. It's still so brilliant, so funny, so chock-full of 90s cultural references, and it's bringing me the childhood nostalgia I desperately need right now!

  • The anticipation of the new Roasting Tin book
Guyssssss the new Roasting Tin book comes out in THREE WEEKS! I am so so so so excited! I think The Roasting Tin Around The World could maybe be my absolute favourite - I promise you'll be first to know when I find out!

  • Post
Is the highlight of anyone else's day when the post arrives? Today was a good day - a book and a card! It's our wedding anniversary on Monday and I've got a few books arriving soon, so it's about to get pretty wild between 10am and 2pm in the Cantillon household.

  • New episodes of The High Low
I was super super super late to The High Low, only discovering it towards the end of last year and subsequently bingeing it by listening to almost every single episode on my commute to work and back for 2 months and then being devastated when I'd caught up. It's the most perfect mix of pop culture with brilliant discussion, book recommendations, smart opinions and just general chitchat. I genuinely feel like Dolly and Pandora are my friends and I'd missed them so much, so I'm so glad they're back recording (even though socially distanced, of course).

  • Short stories
As I wrote in my blog post on Monday, I'm still obsessed with short stories. I've just read Chris Power's Mothers and started Tom Hanks' Uncommon Type, and I've got The Bloody Chamber and Come Let Us Sing Anyway lined up next.

  • Our garden

I know. We are so so so so lucky to have a garden right now. It's not big, it's not tidy, but being able to sit outside and read in the early evening is an absolute joy right now.

  • Start Simple

The latest recipe book to grace my ever-bulging shelves arrived this week, Lukas Volger's Start Simple. I am so so so excited to cook from this. The book is entirely vegetarian and the premise is 11 key ingredients (for example, butternut squash, mushrooms, beans, tortillas etc.) that you can build multiple meals from. I've tried a couple of things so far and so many recipes are perfect for lock down cooking. Keep your eye out for a review on here soon.

So cosy, but don't feel sloppy? I got a grey one and a yellow one last year, then by pure coincidence, Phil's grandma got me a forest green one for Christmas. They're great.

You know I love my girl Adriene and it's so great to see other people embracing her right now. I've done a couple of afternoon yoga sessions when I've felt restless but already had my morning run, and it's been so helpful. She is the star of YouTube.

  • Live streamed BMF sessions
Our Military Fitness instructor has been live streaming sessions so we've been doing our usual Wednesday night session in the kitchen! Doing it on the same night we do normally has really helped us to feel a sense of normalcy and routine.

  • Daily run or walk
I am so so so grateful for the opportunity to have my daily run or walk right now. I'm sticking to running on the same days I would do normally, again, to foster that sense of routine and walking on the days I'm not running. The weather is so beautiful and it's so nice to be outside when I can be.

  • Meal planning
Meal planning is kind of my jam anyway, but I've really been embracing not going food shopping and trying to cook from what I already have and making little tweaks along the way. I'm currently planned out all the way to the weekend after next, and it makes me feel better knowing I won't need to food shop (which has been completely freaking me out, but that's another matter).

  • Early dinners
I've been starting to make dinner around 5pm every night which means we're usually sitting down for dinner by 6pm. I'm not even usually home from work by then, so it's making the evenings feel longer which I really like.

  • DIY standing desk

Like most runners who also work a desk job, I've had issued with my knees for quite a few years and I noticed with being at home all day I was sitting down more than usual. So I tried propping my laptop up on a bookcase on top of some books, which was great but I couldn't type, so Phil fashioned a piece of wood into an extra bit of desk and voila, standing desk. It's not perfect - I can't type and write in a notebook at the same time - but it does the job!

  • "parkrun"
Again with sticking to routine, every Saturday morning at 9am we go do our "parkrun" at a local park. We've been tweaking the route and having conversations about the reality of actually turning it into a parkrun (!) and now I think we've finally got it right. We've both been wearing parkrun tshirts when we go and comparing our times to the previous week so it actually feels like parkrun.

  • Blogging
I'm back, have you noticed? I'm embracing blogging for the sake of blogging, not over thinking it, not expecting every post to be 4000+ words, but just... writing. It's nice. I have loads of ideas for other posts so watch this space!

  • "Fancy Friday"

An idea from my friend, Eve, last week we did "Fancy Friday" where we actually got dressed up and I did my hair and makeup and we had a bottle of wine and watched a film. Getting properly dressed and doing your hair and makeup was such a nice novelty when you're not doing it every day!

  • Routine
I know, no surprise - I've mentioned it about 20 times in this post already, but routine is hugely important to me in making me feel normal. I'm running and doing workouts on the same days as normal, getting up and going to bed at the same times as normal, even eating the same breakfasts and lunches as normal (got to alleviate that decision fatigue!). We've been doing BMF on the same nights, doing Bongo's Bingo on a Saturday and speaking to our friends on Facetime on the same nights. It stops it from feeling like one endless stretch of nothing!

Let me know on Twitter if this has been helpful for giving you ideas for how to find joy in this time - or let me know anything you're doing that's helping you!

Charlotte x

Monday, 6 April 2020

How short stories are helping me read in a crisis

Like a lot of people, when lockdown started, one of my early thoughts was "well, at least I'll finally get around to reading loads of those books I've been meaning to read!"

So I picked up The Cider House Rules, a 700+ page beast I've had on my shelf since I was 15.

And on day one I read a few pages.

Then day two, a few more.

On day three I really buckled down and read... maybe 30 pages.

It was hard, it was overwhelming, I couldn't focus.

And it turns out I'm not alone. So many people on my Twitter feed - and not just my book-obsessed friends - have lamented their struggle for concentration over the last few weeks, and especially lacking the concentration to sit down and read. And they're frustrated by this wide open opportunity to read which it feels like they're wasting.

And I felt exactly the same. There was no way I was going to have the concentration to read this 700 page American epic.

But I could maybe manage 15 pages, maybe 20. 

So I picked up a short story off my shelf. And flicked to the contents page. One story. I can manage that.

So I read one. Then checked how long the next one was. Okay, I can manage that. How long is the next one? Maybe one more.

And then suddenly I could read again. In short bursts. One story at a time. 

And soon I'd read one collection. Then another. Then a third. Then I began to raid my shelf for other collections I'd amassed.

And if you're thinking "oh well short stories aren't for me/I never read short stories/", well, I used to be just like you.

Three years ago? Not interested. Didn't get them. Might read the odd one by accident.

And it wasn't that I didn't like them, I just didn't think they were for me.

In fact, it was only when I started listening to my favourite podcast, What Page Are You On? that I started to dip my toe into short stories. Alice in particular is so passionate about short stories - and I was so passionate about reading everything she recommended - that I found myself reading more and more.

And over the last two or three years I've read 17 short story collections. And 4 in the last 5 days.

Short stories are perfect for times like this when your brain feels both fried and bored, exhausted and buzzing, melancholic and frantic. You can pick up a short story instead of checking the news yet again. You could finish one in a couple of minutes.

You don't have to remember characters or plot, or even worlds. Because as soon as it's finished there will be another. Don't like a story? That's okay, you might like the next one. Most collections are 200 pages. Some are less than a hundred. You could read that in a day, or a couple of days. You can give yourself the buzz of satisfaction from completing a whole book in a matter of hours.

And for me in particularly, another reason I love short story collections is because I've read so few! There's a whole world of short stories out there waiting for me to discover. I found a tweet today that Alice posted at the end of 2019 asking people on Twitter to recommend their favourite short story collections of the decade. I wrote a list of 67 I hadn't read!

I've managed to get my to-read list down to around 30, with a couple of their way and some waiting for payday (slight side note - even though I predominantly buy books on Kindle (when I'm not reading library books which make up a good 50% of what I read. CAN'T WAIT FOR YOU TO REOPEN AGAIN LIBRARIES!) I always ALWAYS get physical copies of short stories. I like the idea of flicking back through and looking over them, and as I said above, I like to be able to see how long each one is, which isn't as easy on kindle. Anyway, just a little quirk of my reading there!).

I know I'll go back to novels soon, but I'm enjoying being excited about short stories right now and looking forward to all the stories I will read over the next few weeks.

My favourite collections (SO FAR!):

Looking to get started with short stories? As I said above I am IN NO WAY an expert as I've literally been reading short stories for like, 3 years, but these are some of my faves (btw, I like feminist horror which is a big theme here):

The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich
Things we lost in the fire by Mariana Enriquez
Exercises in Control by Annabel Banks
The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell
Salt Slow by Julia Armfield
Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan

Next on my to-read list

Here's a taste of some of the collections on my to-read list:

Mothers by Chris Power
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Growing Things and Other Stories by Paul Tremblay
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
Furnace by Livia Llewellyn
Where Furnances Burn by Joel Lane
This Paradise by Ruby Cowling
Come Let Us Sing Anyway by Leone Ross
Jesus' Son by Denis Johnsonb
Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein
Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins
How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
Pulse Points by Jennifer Downs
Reasons and Advantages of Breathing by Linda Peelle
This way to Departures by Linda Mannheim
Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Madame Zero by Sarah Hall
The Beautiful Indifference by Sarah Hall
Rental Heart by Kirsty Logan
Speak Gigantular by Irenosen Okojie
Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan

Got a favourite short story collection not on my list? Drop me a tweet!

Charlotte x

Friday, 3 April 2020

March Life Lately

Gonna be completely honest, this is nothing like the March Life Lately post I thought I'd be writing.

In this post I thought I'd be telling you all about my Birthday night out at Power Ballads with my closest friends and the Veggie Sausage Naan at Dishoom I'd had for brunch the next day. I thought I'd be telling you about the Birthday party I had with my family, my parents' house filled with balloons and the walls covered in embarrassing pictures of me as a toddler. I thought I'd be telling you about the day itself - the brunch place we'd been to, the National Trust walk I'd gone on with Phil wearing the brand new skirt I bought for the occasion, (which sits in my wardrobe with the tags still on). I thought I'd tell you about finally, FINALLY going to that vegetarian restaurant with the amazing reviews I'd somehow never been to, and how my Mum stage-whispered to them that it was my Birthday, as she does every year, and how they brought me a chocolate brownie with a candle on top and everyone sang.

I thought I'd be telling you how excited I was for my trip to Barcelona next month. The 30th Birthday present from my parents I've known about since August seeing as I was driving Phil insane mithering him about booking the trip ourselves. I thought I'd be telling you the eye-watering amount we'd paid for our Barcelona vs. Atletico Madrid tickets and how excited I was to see Messi in the flesh. 

And I thought I'd be telling you how excited I was about going to see Hamilton again, a Christmas present from Phil, along with the tour of the British Library I've been desperate to do. How we were going the weekend after our wedding anniversary and calling it our first anniversary trip.

And I know these things, in the grand scheme of things, are trivial. I've gained so much perspective over the last few weeks. None of these things really matter. Sure, I'll never turn 30 again, but I'll reschedule my party, my night out, the breakfast naan. We'll get to go to Barcelona and we'll get to see Hamilton again. I'll see my friends and family again, not just on juddering video chat with out-of-sync lips and out-of-body laughs. I'll get to do parkrun again, instead of running 3 and a half laps around the nearby park. We'll get to go for dinner again, to the shops, to get my nails done, to the office again. When it's all over, we keep saying. Whenever that is.

There's a lot more I want to say about this, and to be honest, I've got a lot of time, so I'm sure I'll come back and write more about this strange time that we live in, even though we're all writing slightly different versions of the same words as we struggle to wrap our heads around the new reality.

March has been a period of transition. It feels a long, long time ago that Phil and I went away to the Yorkshire Dales in the final weekend of February. You can see it in my One Second Every Day of the month, the movement from nights out and cafe lunches to takeaways and TV.

But for all it's strangeness, there has been a lot to love, a lot to appreciate and a lot to enjoy over the month. And I'm really, really trying to stay positive and grateful!

Let's look back on March...

Where I went

Well this section is going to be pretty redundant going forward isn't it?

It feels a million years ago we could go away for the weekend and our biggest worry be whether the parkrun we wanted to do would be on! I wrote in my February post about going away to the Yorkshire Dales for Phil's birthday, but I intentionally missed out what we did on the last day, as that was 1st March - Phil's Birthday. I'm glad I did that now so at least there is some sunshine to look back on this month!

So we woke up on 1st March to our last day in the Dales and in our beautiful lodge Airbnb. I did presents for Phil (a book about Jaws, a Jaws board game (he really, really likes Jaws), a hoodie and a BluRay) and we wondered how to spend the day. Because we were spending the trip walking (and as I mentioned in my last post, the weather was quite changeable!) we made decisions a bit more on the fly than usual (yes, thanks for asking, this did stress me out).

We decided to start heading in the direction of home, but that we would stop off in Harrogate and have brunch in Betty's. We've been a few times before but it was as lovely as always. We had brunch and shared a Fat Rascal, and I mentioned to the waiter that it was Phil's Birthday, and a few minutes later he came out with a French Fancy on a plate with a candle while the piano played Happy Birthday!

Our family friends don't live far from Harrogate, so we dropped them a text to see if they were in and fancied some visitors. They are puppy walkers for the Guide Dogs and they'd just got a new pup they were looking after who we were desperate to meet, so lucky Phil got Birthday puppy cuddles!

We headed back and finished the day with a lovely Thai meal with both sets of parents. It was such a lovely day!

It feels a long time ago we could actually go out, but in March we also went to see Phil's brother Andy in a local play, and had a night on the town to celebrate one of my best friends' Birthdays. We started in Font Bar where we spent many, many nights of our teenage years, and partied like it was 2010 with our £2 too-sweet cocktails and insanely good fries, then headed to Popworld for some cheesy tunes. Also there was a photobooth that takes contactless and I have learned that they are my weakness so we spent about 15 minutes in there. There is a reason I am not sharing the evidence here.

What I did

One of Phil's Birthday presents, as mentioned above, was the Jaws board game and we've been having so much fun playing it! Of course we played it completely wrong at least the first two times, and now we've finally figured it out we probably need to switch roles (I just want to be the shark all the time). I would definitely recommend it in these times where you probably need a new board game!

Like everyone else, we've been finding this time of social distancing quite hard, and always been looking for ways to reconnect with our friends and family. We've done lots of Facetime, Zoom, HouseParty (is it dodgy? Not sure. We've deleted it just in case). Our Military Fitness instructor has been doing live classes on Zoom. I'm playing a LOT of Scrabble Go. But one of our favourite things has been weekly streamed Bongo's Bingo. I've actually never been to Bongo's Bingo (we were meant to be going this month funnily enough!) but I've wanted to go for a while, so the last couple of Saturday nights we've joined the live stream. We've had a group chat going with anyone else we know who is playing, had a drink and some snacks, and it's felt the closest to "going out" that we've had for ages! I've started to really look forward to Saturday nights so we can play.

The night before I turned 30 I had to complete one more milestone - the last entry in my 5 year journal. I got this journal for my 25th Birthday and I've kept it going for 5 whole years and not a day missed! It's seen new jobs, new homes, new friends, an engagement and a marriage. I've just started my next one and I can't wait to see where it will take me over the next 5 years.

And finally, my 30th Birthday! So, as I said in the intro, not quite what I had planned, but I actually had such a lovely day! 

We got up early (okay, I woke up early and woke Phil up) and danced to Birthday by Anne-Marie (our official Birthday song), then I got up and got dressed and ready before we Facetimed my parents. When I came down Phil had decorated the living room with Birthday banners and the room was full of presents!

I opened my presents on video with my parents - Phil got me jewellery and a Dyson Supersonic hairdyer (!), I got jewellery from my parents (unfortunately they'd also got our trip to Barcelona which was meant to be this month, sob), a lovely bag from Phil's parents, new pans from my Nan and lots of other lovely things (another favourite being a from my Maid of Honour which had the tag "I've been sitting on this for nearly a year" which turned out to be her bouquet from our wedding, pressed and framed - I nearly cried!). 

And then I got to open my cake!

The one thing I asked for for my Birthday was a cake. I've never had a cake "of me" and I've always loved them when other people had them. This one was so perfect - the dress is an exact replica of one I have (more on this later), and I'm holding a cup of tea. There are recipe books and books and a phone with a podcast on and a Liverpool shirt and I'm stroking a dog - it was so so perfect!

The plan had been to get brunch delivered, but the place we wanted to order from ended up not being open, so we braved Sainsburys for sourdough and avocados (yes I'm basic) and made brunch at home. We spent the rest of the day on the phone and on Facetime, watching the Champion's League semi final (my pick) and Rocketman (my second pick) and going on a walk.

We ordered a takeaway for dinner, got dressed up and opened a bottle of champagne (I wore the dress from my cake!). Right before it was meant to arrive, our takeaway got cancelled and we had to order another, but we were a few glasses of champagne deep by then and I honestly didn't care. We got my parents on Facetime again as I blew out the candles and cut the cake, and we had the most delicious Indian food (when it eventually arrived!).

No, not quite the 30th Birthday I had planned, but I couldn't have asked for anything more. It was the best day it could possibly have been.

(Also shout out to one of my best friends, Riven, who was gutted she wasn't going to be able to see me to give me my Birthday presents. Who video chatted me on Wednesday and then suddenly had to duck out for a phone call. And then I heard Phil talking to someone. And before I knew what was happening, presents had arrived. In an Uber. She sent my presents over in an Uber. And then she got to see my live reaction on video chat. How bloody lovely is that?!).

What I read

Reading has been a strange one this month. I'd already had a really heavy reading month before all this happened, and then I went through, and think I'm still in, a bit of a slump which has made it hard to concentrate (book Twitter reassures me this isn't just me). So the end of the month contains a lot of single-sitting horror stories and non-fiction, which seemed to be the only thing my brain could handle. I tried to use this time to read 700+ pages of The Cider House Rules, a book I've had for over 15 years, but my brain is struggling with the size and magnitude of the undertaking, how each half an hour reading burst only chips away at 5%. So perhaps April will be the month of short stories, of essays, of novellas. We'll see.

Here's what I read in March:

The Most Fun We Ever Had
Braised Pork
The Body Politic
My Dark Vanessa
Dear Edward
You Let me In
How to Build a Healthy Brain
High Lonesome Sound
I'm Thinking of Ending Things
You Should Have Left

It's been a really good month in terms of the quality of my reading. I was so worried I would be oh-so-slightly let down by My Dark Vanessa after all the hype it's received, but not at all. I absolutely loved it. The Most Fun we Ever Had was my perfect kind of family epic - I think about it all the time and I'm desperate to find more books like it. I also loved short story collection Multitudes and tiny horror I'm Thinking of Ending Things, whose shock twist made me want to read the whole thing again, and went from a 3.5* "I didn't really get it" to a 5* when I finally figured it all out.

How to Build a Healthy Brain was also a really helpful non-fiction if you want some practical advice on helping with your mental health. It's so incredibly science-based that I often found it overwhelming, but I also found it so much more useful than books that simply tell you to "practice mindfulness" or "do some yoga". This book goes way beyond that by explaining the structures of the brain and how they work, and why it will help to do these things. A really interesting read.

What I listened to

Big listening month in March, with lots of podcasts and audio books!

In the middle of Feb I started training for my next half marathon (which was meant to be in May and is now in September), which meant I needed some really gripping, engaging podcast serieses to get me through my hours of running every week. My first listen was The Missing Crytoqueen from the BBC which I absolutely loved, and I've just finished Uncovered: Escaping Nxivm, which was right up my street because I love anything about cults.

I've also recently discovered Strong Songs which was recommended on the Chat 10 Looks 3 podcast. It looks at famous songs and what makes them so great by completely dissecting them. Phil and I have been enjoying listening to that together.

I also saw everyone on Twitter talking about "that episode" of Reply All which I really enjoyed, so I've been going through the back catalog of that while I've been working from home.

Audiobook wise, I finally finished Catch and Kill. While I like non-fiction as audio, I actually wish I'd read this as a book. I could not stand Ronan Farrow doing impressions of people's voices! It drove me so crazy that I would be cringing waiting for it to happen, and it really distracted from what a brilliant, fascinating and horrific story this is. It took me months to finish just because I couldn't get past it. It is a brilliant book though but I really wouldn't recommend the audiobook.

Finally I listened to The Confidence Kit. I quite enjoyed it and it was very short, but compared to How to Build a Healthy Brain I didn't find it anywhere near as scientific. However it did have some good practical advice.

What I watched

Doesn't it feel absolutely ages ago we could go to the cinema? We were lucky enough to catch The Invisible Man before the cinemas closed, which was brill because we loved it (I think it's available on some streaming services - I definitely recommend it).

Obviously we've watched a LOT more films than usual this month. Here's what we watched in March:

Almost Famous
The Big Sick
Next Goal Wins
A Simple Favour

We've also been doing some rewatching, which I never normally do. I think I've mentioned before that we only watch maybe one film a week, so I always want it to be something I've not seen before so I don't "waste" the watch, but now we're watching a few films a week, I'm really enjoying the comfort of an old friend. This month we rewatched some of my favourites - The Nice Guys, Rocketman, Spy, and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation.

I've brought a pile of DVDs down for us to watch over the next few weeks of social distancing and I've tried to pick anything that feels comforting or films I really love. I'm looking forward to reacquainting myself with them.

Oh also we've started Tiger King because I felt left out on Twitter. W. T F.

What I read online

Some of these links will be horribly out of date now, but I still wanted to include them because I read them and enjoyed them in March.

Bon Appetit - How to make my lunch every day without losing my sanity

Yes and Yes - Three things I tell every coaching client

I love this brilliant post from Rosie - What makes a good life?  This is in a similar vein to my post on Lessons I've learned at 30

Stylist - 10 years of Stylist - what the last 10 years has taught our cover stars (worth it for Nigella confessing she didn't know how to poach an egg)

I finally made "The Stew" - which I would highly recommend, as with the exception of the kale, everything else involved I had in my storecupboard. I loved this post on How a recipe like The Stew goes viral on Instagram, and this article on additions and changes to adapt The Stew.

A few posts about our current times which I really loved - Grieving our lives as they once were and These are not conditions in which to thrive. And I also loved Michelle's post What my self-care routine looks like now.

Like everyone else, I'll be spending April doing more food experiments (I've baked bread, attempted to make crumpets and of course I have a sourdough starter going), reading short story collections, running our "pretend parkrun" route in the local park, taking advantage of my daily walk or run, trying not to buy too much stuff online, trying to make "Fancy Fridays" a thing where I actually put on makeup, playing board games, watching films and playing a lot of virtual Scrabble!

Take care, be safe.

Charlotte x

Sunday, 29 March 2020

50(ish) Lessons I've learned at 30

I used to be pretty freaked out about turning 30.

(edit: If you are about to turn 30 I cannot recommend Dolly Alderton's essay about turning 30 which is in the paperback copy of Everything I Know About Love. Unfortunately, it's not in the hardback which I have, so I read it three times in Waterstones before my friend Kay bought the book and dutifully photographed and sent me every page of the essay. I've since reread it three more times)

30 felt like I should have my shit together. That I'd be a "grow up". That I'd know what I was doing. That I'd be a "responsible adult".

And I just didn't feel that way.

Arbritary ages have a way of making us reflect, making us think about alll those "shoulds." What I "should" have done. Where I "should" be in life. What I thought I was going to be. And I think 30 is a big one for that.

I don't remember ever imagining being 20. There didn't seem to be any kind of clock ticking on starting my third decade. No expectations, no rules. I was in my second year of uni when I turned 20. Doing the same things as everyone else I knew. About to go on a year abroad. Working just hard enough to get by with my studies on top of five hours of dance classes a week, a blog, a part time job and writing for the student newspaper.

I didn't think I knew what I was doing then, and I didn't expect to.

So I was surprised to find, when I was going through my blog looking for content for my 10 years of blogging post a few months ago, a post of "lessons I'd learned at 20." (It's very sweet. You can read it here.) 

Who knew I was so wise at 20 to be dispelling advice? And audacious enough to think anyone would listen to a 20 year old?

But some of the lessons are good, and most of them are lessons I definitely did not learn at 20.

But many are ones I have learned now I'm turning 30.

I'm turning 30 in the middle of a global pandemic, which has a way of making you look at things differently. The night out with friends was cancelled. The Birthday Party with my family I'd had planned for months (which was meant to be today), cancelled. Even the National Trust trip I'd so looked forward to is no longer possible.

So now it's come to it, I'm not freaking out about turning 30. Because are a whole load of other things to be freaking out about!

But the reality is, I made my peace with it a few weeks ago. I was away in the Yorkshire Dales for my husband's birthday, a trip I'd bought him for Christmas, about to do a parkrun at a National Trust park, the whole purpose of the trip.

And I said, you know, I think I'm ready to turn 30 because I know, deep down, I am 30.

And I don't just mean that literally. Of course, I literally am 30 years old. I've been alive for 30 years. But I'm also, and this is a huge generalisation, very "30."

I no longer want to go on the nights out of my twenties, or waste the energy on relationships and friendships that were more work than fun. I no longer want to feel unsettled and out of control and untethered like I did in my twenties. I no longer feel like I don't know what I'm doing with my life or my relationships or my career. I don't want the drama of my twenties.

I'm ready for my thirties. I'm settled in my career and married to the man of my dreams and I just want to go visit National Trust sights and make us dinner and fall asleep at 9.30pm every night. I just want to play board games with my friends and have them over for dinner parties.

(And just to point out, I know these are very "stereotypical thirties" things and I am very aware of that. And just because this is what my thirties look like it doesn't mean this is right for anyone else!)

Most importantly, I know who I am now. I know what I like. I know myself so much better than I did my twenties. I'm no longer peer-pressured or cajoled into things I don't want to do. I'm settled and happy with who I am.

And I've learned a lot. Oh god have I learned a lot. And I have so so so much more to learn. And I'm learning every day. 

But I want to share what I have learned along the way. And hey, just because I've learned these things doesn't mean I follow them. Not at all. But like I said, I'm always learning. And we'll see what I learn by 40.

(edit: This is a really long one. You might want to settle down with a brew. Also it's 50(ish) because one time I counted I had 51, then I had 49, and anyway it's a lot).

  • Everyone has their own timelines. Someone will get promoted to your position who is 5 years younger than you. Someone else will get married and buy a house years before you've even thought about it. We're all on our own path. As my Dad always says "Life is a marathon, not a sprint." Wherever you're at is exactly where you are meant to be (cliche, but true).
  • Nobody knows what they’re doing. Seriously. Even your parents. Go on, ask them. We're all winging it. Isn't that hugely reassuring?
  • People don’t care about you as much as you think. No seriously. You know how much you think about every single stupid thing you do? Every little embarrassing thing you've done or said? And how everyone else is thinking about that stupid thing you did? No, you're wrong. They're busy thinking about whatever stupid thing they said or did. I promise.
  • Being outside is the best. Something weird happened when I hit about 28 and all I want to do now is go on long walks in pretty places. 99% of the time, going outside for a walk or a run or a cycle or a rollerskate or whatever will make you feel better.
  • Being productive all the time isn’t always helpful. Guys we all know this one and it's hard and it's a millennial mentality that we can't shake but seriously please just give yourself a break every now and again. Your hobby does not have to be a side hustle, seriously! Once it's a side-hustle, it's work and once it's work, it's not fun. Find a non-productive, or at least less-productive hobby you enjoy. I recommend cross-stitch, playing the piano badly, board games, codeword puzzles and online Scrabble.
  • You are capable of more than you think. Did 10-years-ago-me think I'd run a marathon? Erm did she hell. She'd tried Couch to 5K three times and couldn't run more than 5 minutes. You've undoubtedly heard this story a million times, but I never thought I'd run a marathon. Was the training the hardest thing I've ever done in my life? Yes. Do I want to do another one? Not for a really, really, really long time. But I'm still so proud of the work I put in and what I achieved, because 10 years ago I would never in a million years thought that was possible.
  • You probably have too many clothes. Yeah I know. Add this to my list of "lessons I know but am yet to learn."
  • Nobody will notice if you wear the same outfit to two weddings. Absolutely mind blowing info here from Lauren Bravo and her book How to Break Up with Fast Fashion. People don't notice what you wear. Seriously. And if they do, they don't care. Save yourself some money when you next go to a wedding.
  • Being able to cook is a joy. Before I got obsessed with recipe books and cooking, I lived on frozen fish in sauce, mashed potato and frozen veg in my first year of uni. Now cooking is one of the biggest joys in my life. And I'm so grateful for that.
  • It can be hard to be true to yourself. As mentioned in the intro, I know myself really well. This doesn't mean I always like myself, and it definitely doesn't mean I don't feel pressure all the GD time to not be myself. It's hard to say no to things you know aren't for you, or putting yourself out there for things you know feel right. It's essential to be true to yourself, but it doesn't means it's easy.
  • Not everyone has to be your best friend. This kind of links to the above. You might not always fit in. In workplaces, in family settings, in social situations. But not everyone has to be your best friend. You can get on with people without being omg best friends. Which leads to...
  • Best friends are hard to find. I used to get so caught up in the number of friends I had, and even last year when I had my hen do I felt insecure at time for "only" having 7 friends on my weekend away. But actually, I am so so so lucky to have the quality of friendships I have the women in my life who are my absolute world. 
  • All relationships take work, including friendships. Even when you have loooooong left the schoolyard, friendships can still have their challenges, and they need the same amount of commitment and attention and sometimes biting your tongue, as any relationship does.
  • Decision fatigue is real. I am obsessed with decision fatigue. It's why I run the same run routes, workout on the same days of the week, plan my meals ahead, eat the same breakfast most days and have leftovers for lunch, and, recently, starting planning my outfits too. Decision making is exhausting, so I try to do as little of it as possible, or as much as possible in one go!
  • Knowing when to keep going and when to give up is a huge challenge and hard skill to learn. This is one I am always learning. We gave up on our first house and it was 100% the right decision. I've stepped away from jobs, from friendships, from hobbies, from relationships. Sometimes letting go is the right answer, even when it feels like giving up.
  • Eat the elephant one bite at a time. Got an enormous mountain to move? One step at a time, baby! All those little steps add up, you just have to take that first one.
  • Try to find three things every day to be grateful for. I use an app called HappyFeed to log 3 happy things a day. Some days I have dozens, sometimes it's literally, dinner was nice, watched TV, read my book.
  • Instagram probably doesn’t make you feel good. I consciously started to limit my Instagram use about 12 months ago and now I don't go on at all. I post very rarely, maybe once every 2-3 months and I never scroll through. For me, it didn't make me feel good. I didn't like what I was putting out there. I found the need to document everything exhausting. I didn't like how it made me feel seeing how other people presented themselves out there. It's personal choice and yes I do get the odd bit of FOMO, but honestly, I don't miss it and I really recommend it. 
  • Comfort is usually the best outfit. Goddddd I am so 30 but the one thing I have learned over the last few years is I basically want to be comfy all the time and I'm fine with it. If you buy something and you know it's pinching a bit under the arm or a bit too loose in the legs or a bit too tight, you won't wear it, I assure you. Send it back.
  • You will figure out your style and be okay with it. I love floral dresses okay? I love florals and I love colour and I wear turtleneck jumpers on Tuesdays cause that's when I have my hair up (see: decision fatigue). I've tried all kinds of trends and styles and in the end, I know what I like. And it's probably a floral dress.
  • Buy a lot of phone chargers. I just got a fancy-schmancy iPhone 11 which has a battery life of like, 2 days, but I stil have a charger in the bedroom, in the kitchen, in the living room, at work and in the car. You can't be too careful, people!
  • Always bring a book. I literally never go anywhere without a book. Even to the supermarket or to someone's house. Just, always have a book with you.
  • Time enjoyed isn’t time wasted. God this is such a good quote and it's so true but it's so hard (again, millennial mindset). One I'm still working on.
  • It’s hard to know when you need to recharge your batteries and when you need to push yourself. Yep, add to "still working on."
  • Self improvement often won’t make you any friends. Oooh this one is hard and also hard to not make me sound like a horrible person, but telling people you get up at 5.30am to go for a run every day is not going to make you super popular. I tell you this from experience. My method is just to not tell people because I don't want to come across as a dick, and also cause it's personal to me and private (another reason I stopped using Instagram) and I don't want to make other people feel bad if they don't do this thing I do! 
  • Not wearing makeup is a huge joy, as are days at home in comfy pants. Twenty-year-old-me wouldn't have been seen dead without makeup (which is laughable when I look back on HOW BAD my makeup was at 20). Thirty-year-old-me cares a lot less (edit: I thank running for this a lot! How many makeup-free, post-race, medal photos of me exist? A lot. And what do I notice when I see them? How bloody happy I look! So I'm like, if people have seen my makeup-free face in race photos they probably won't be too surprised to see it in real life. Saying that, if I am makeup-free and need to go to the shops, I will put running clothes on and pretend I've just been for a run. Again, work in progress.)
  • Good relationships should feel easy and make you feel better. I say this from such a place of priviledge I know, but seriously if any relationship you are in feels like work all the time, it maybe isn't the right one.
  • Time with friends is invaluable. My two best friends and I have a three-weekly recurring calendar invite set up and we always do something together every three weeks, and my other best friend and I have a date once a month. Get that in your diary and don't skip it!
  • Make an agenda! I used to get so upset when I'd get home from hanging out with friends and be like, oh I forgot to mention X or nobody asked me about Y. The solution? AN AGENDA. Both those meet ups mentioned above have agendas. We meet up, we get a piece of paper, we write down everything we want to discuss. Everyone gets their say, nobody feels left out, nothing gets unsaid. Genius.
  • No one path or tool or hobby is right for everyone. I love running. I love parkrun. I love reading. I love cooking. Just because I like doing them doesn't mean they're right for anyone else.
  • Everyone is doing the best they can. I can be really judgey. I know this about myself. It's not my favourite personality trait by a long shot, but I'm aware I can be like that. So this is one for me to remember!
  • Relaxation is good, but "active leisure" is best. There's a quote about this in one of my favourite books, The Happiness Advantage, about how we will always choose the path of least resistance, and how this often means we feel like we waste our free time. On a Sunday, Phil and I quite often stay at home once we've been for a run or to our military fitness class, and even though we know we need a break and a relax, we usually end up feeling worse. In The Happiness Advantage, Sean Achor explains the difference between "passive leisure" - watching TV, scrolling through social media, and "active leisure" - going to a museum, playing sport, engaging in a game or a hobby, and how much more pleasure we get from active leisure and actually doing things. This is a hard one to learn, and as Phil has pointed out, can feel like it's supporting the "productivity at all costs" school of millennial thought, but I don't think this is true. I think it's about enjoying hobbies or activities, like going to visit friends or family, or engaging with a hobby, rather than just siting around "relaxing". Again, another one that is hard to remember! (I have to keep rereading the chapter over and over to remind myself!)
  • Document your holiday (even privately). When Phil and I went to Canada, we took hundreds and hundreds of photos. What we ate, what we did. I wrote a list in my phone of every single thing we did every single day to remind us when we got back. We posted a handful of photos on social media, but the rest of them were for us. I love looking back over the note or the shared photo album we have, or discussing what we did each day of our Honeymoon, and reliving it makes it feel real again!
  • Read The Happiness Advantage. (Or at least listen to the TED talk). I promise you, it's not The Secret, but it is about how we think "oh when I achieve this I'll be happy", but actually the happier you are, the more good things happen to you, and the more you notice happy things are you. I have it both on audio where I first read it, and a paperback copy I refer to all the time. I love it.
  • Sometimes you just have to listen. You know how in Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus (I know! Throwback!) they talk about how sometimes women want to moan and don't want a solution? Yeah sometimes we all just need to listen and say "that sucks."
  • You’ll never feel ready. For that job, for that lifestyle change, for that training course, for that next step in your personal life. If you're waiting to be ready, you'll be waiting a long time.
  • Being nice is okay! There's been so much written about people, women especially, being "too nice", and I'm hear to say it's bull. The first thing I learned about Phil when my cousin was setting us up was "he's the nicest guy in the world." And you know what, he is, and it's great and he's lovely and I really don't get why people don't want to be with really nice lovely people? I always say when I die (I know, morbid) I would rather people say "oh she was so nice", than "oh she was so successful" or whatever. Nice is nice.
  • Moan and leave, don’t moan and stay. Wise words from my beloved Grandad, and the words I like to think of as his legacy. It can apply to loads of things but for me, it's always been what's made me leave a job that no longer made me happy. Moan and leave, don't moan and stay.
  • Most things can be improved by a little bit every day - there's no quick fix! Yeah I know if I do my glute-strengthening exercises every day I won't get knee pain when I'm running but can't it be magically fixed? Still working on this one guys.
  • It’s okay to change your mind. We have a running joke in our house - Charlotte has to come to her own conclusions. I can be super stubborn about wanting to do something, or not doing something and you can tell me I'm wrong til you're blue in the face. But I have to come to the conclusion that I was wrong. And it's okay to be wrong. And it's okay to change your mind.
  • Not everyone is as lucky as you. Check your priviledge. Always working on this one.
  • Don’t be too proud to admit that sometimes you need to hide your phone to be able to concentrate! I regularly have to put my phone in the other room to be able to read for an hour, or work or concentrate on a film. I read recently in Kimberly Wilson's brilliant How to Build a Healthy Brain that even being in the same room as their phone was enough of a distraction for participants to do less well on a test. So if you're as easily distracted as me, move it away!
  • If you find something fun or interesting it doesn’t matter if someone else thinks it’s boring. I think parkrun is the single greatest thing of all time and I could write a book about it. I have strong feelings about running training plans. I could talk all day about books or cooking or National Trust. And other people might think my interests are boring AND THAT'S OKAY. Never stop being passionate about what you love.
  • Just do the thing you keep procrasting over. Urgh I know, easier said than done. But the other day I reordered my sock drawer which I've been meaning to do for like, 6 months. It took me 10 minutes.
  • Everyone changes, you included, and that’s okay. I think we allow ourselves to look back on our former selves with a lot more forgiveness than we do other people. I'm in no way the person I was 5 years ago, and neither is anyone else I know. People change, we grow apart, we come back together. That's life.
  • Be with someone whose values match yours. Compatiability is wide ranging and changeable. Some peoople say opposites attract, others believe you should find someone whose personality matches yours. But I think the most important thing is shared values. How you feel about money, your family, your jobs, your lives. That's what's more important than whether you have the same favourite film or grew up in the same town.
  • You can still make new friends as an adult! Yes, it's much more hard and scary than as a kid when you just share your Barbie with them, or your Mums happen to be friends, but I've made loads of friends as an adult by asking someone, hey, do you fancy getting a coffee some time?
  • Try not to isolate one part of your personality or your body or yourself that you don’t like, remember you are all of your parts, good and bad. This is excellent advice from my friend, Sarah. Of course we all have times when we really, really don't like one part of ourselves. But if you like yourself as a whole, which most of us do, you need to focus on yourself as a whole person, not just the bits you do or don't like. This is a really hard one but so useful if you can get it right.
  • Don't multitask. You won't enjoy any of the things you're doing. In the words of Ron Swanson, "Don't half ass two things. Whole ass one thing." And in the words of Charlotte Cantillon "don't be scrolling through Twitter while you're trying to watch a film. You will not remember the film."
  • Sometimes done is better than perfect. I always say this is my life motto. Sure if you're doing brain surgery or flying a plane, perfect is probably ideal. But if you're as much of an overthinker as me (who claims to not be a perfectionist but then read The Confidence Kit and found out she probably is?!), this is often a helpful lifeline.
And that's 50, I think. 50?! I definitely planned to have 30 but hey, who knew I was so wise eh?

Tomorrow is my 30th Birthday, so I'll see you on the flip side!

Charlotte x