Tuesday, 31 January 2017

January Life Lately

January has been quiet, and I think that's what I've needed after a busy few months. We've spent every weekend at home, had few plans during the week, and as I talked about in this post, this was partially intentional and partially through lethargy. I'm bad at relaxing, but I've forced myself to do less this month and I think it's helped. It's been nice to think "what should I do now?" rather than constantly feeling like I'm working through an endless to-do list.

But then looking at this list of everything I've done this month has made me realise I actually have done quite a lot this month. Sure I haven't been on any big exciting trips or some anything significant or dramatic, but I've still managed to do quite a lot!

We move out of our flat in less than two weeks, so January has been a month of packing boxes and taking down photos and trying to make the most of our time in the city. I'm devastated, but I'm starting to focus on the bigger picture. The next chapter of our lives is coming and I'm excited to have our own house with more than four rooms which we can really make "ours". Things are progressing slowly with the purchase of our new house, which hasn't helped with the overwhelming feeling of gloom throughout January, but progressing they are, so hopefully soon we'll be feeling more secure about our fuure.

So here's what I've been doing in January...

What I've been doing...
I kind of hate going out, ever, and I especially hate New Year's Eve, but with it being our last New Year in town (and realistically, we are never going to pay for taxis back from Manchester when we move!) we decided we had to go out.
A group of us went to Pop Bubble Rock and I had the best time dancing to the songs I used to scream along to when I was 16.
As I mentioned in this post on dinner parties, we successfully held a great dinner party at the start of the month, and I was really proud of the spread I put on. I even made my own pitta!
I've been really working on my morning and evening routines this month, while simulateneously trying not to put too much pressure on myself if I don't quite manage it every day. I'm trying to get up earlier, do my workout on workout days, fill in my gratitude journal and start my day more calmly. I've not quite gotten there yet and quite often end up making myself late and stressed, but it's a work in progress. I've also been trying to meditate with Headspace but I'm not really sure if it's working for me, so I might try an alternative app for guided meditation. I'm also trying to put my phone in the other room after 9pm, making myself a sleepytime tea and preparing for bed with my journal and a book. Like I said I'm not fully there yet, but I'm trying to instill some new habits to improve my mental health.

I mentioned last month that my fitness routine had been a bit all over the place, so I've managed to get myself a new routine this month which I love. I still run at the weekends (parkrun on Saturday, long-ish run on Sundays) and one day in the week, and then I've been doing Kayla Itsines' BBG (Bikini Body Guide, bleurgh!) two days a week. I resisted this for ages because I hate the cult-like nature of this programme, and the awful shame-inducing name, but I needed to get some more strength training into my life and it fits well with my routine. I do legs and cardio on Tuesdays and arms and abs on Thursdays. I don't know if I'll carry on with this when I start half marathon training again but for now I really like it (although it's bloody hard work!). I like that I can do it easily, like on Sunday when I managed 2 minutes of my run before realising it was too icy, and came home and did a full body circuit. I love that it only takes 30 minutes and you really feel it!

Where I've been
A few weeks ago we went out for our annual Crowley family new year drink, which was lovely, and afterwards Phil and I had an impromtu date night! We hadn't eaten and I was musing over what I could make, when we decided just to go to Home. Home is one of my favourite, favourite places in Manchester, and I'll miss living round the corner so much, so it was so lovely just to go out for dinner on a whim (see! I am being more spontaneous!).

As I said in the intro, everything has been quite quiet this month, but I have been to my friend Riven's for dinner, and we also had our last hurrah at Ultimate Power last week. 

What I've been loving
Did you know that Tuesday was National Compliment Day? I celebrated by texting all my friends a real, honest compliment about how much I loved and appreciated them, and it was so lovely to tell everyone how much I truly loved them! 

What I've been eating
When I went to Wahaca last month I signed up for their January promo - a free plate of tacos when you buy any other dish. Erm, okay! So at the start of January Phil and I went into town to claim our tacos, and then Phil's Mum ended up joining us! It was lovely - I really, really love Wahaca and I'm so glad we have one in Manchester now!
I've already gone on enough about the Greek feast I made, but I didn't mention Phil's magnificient Custard Cream cheesecake! I've never known him to make dessert before so I was really, really impressed and it was delicious! (Although neither of us could look at a custard cream for a few weeks after!).
I've made a few things I've really enjoyed lately - slutty brownies for a colleague's birthday, homemade pizza (including homemade sauce), pea falafels and pitta, apple crumble, Mexican lasange. I also had my first ever IKEA hotdog this month - I had no idea they did vegetarian ones! I can't remember the last time I'd had a hotdog!
I also finally made it to This and That cafe last weekend, where I've wanted to go for years. You wouldn't stumble over it if you weren't looked for it, but it's a tiny, caferia-like curry shop in the Northern Quarter, famous for its rice-and-three curries for £4. I had the three veggie curries of the day, Phil had two meat and one veg, and with a garlic naan, onion bhaji and two cans it was £12! They have different curries on the menu every day and I can't wait to go back!

What I've been watching
As I mentioned in my post on my Cineworld Unlimited Card, we have been going to the cinema a LOT lately! 
We've been 7 times this month, with four of those being Unlimited Screenings, and we've seen Silence (bit too long, didn't not enjoy it, but not sure I'd recommend it), La La Land (which we both LOVED), Manchester by the Sea (which I really enjoyed but this post in The Pool completely sums up my feelings on recommending it), Lion (which was okay, but we didn't really get all the hype around it), Hacksaw Ridge (which I really didn't expect to love, but I thought was incredible and I cried 4 times), Split (good, but I lost interest in the last 20 minutes) and Moonlight (which was beautiful).

We also finally watched Deadpool, which was as good as I was expecting!

We've got back into the US Office so we're currently finishing that off, and we're still on my second watch of Parks and Rec. I'm desperate to start a new drama as nothing has quite filled the Game of Thrones-shaped gap in my life but Phil isn't sure. We watched the first episode of the OA this weekend I quite fancy sticking with it, but Phil thinks it's too weird!

Oh and Gilmore Girls whenever Phil is out, which is rare, so I'm only about 6 episodes into the first series.

Things I've bought
I've actually treated myself to a few things this month, which is weird, but nice!
I reluctantly bought new trainers after Phil pointed out I'd worn through my beloved turquoise pair, which isn't surprising after a marathon, a half marathon and over 800 miles in them. So I caved and got myself the exact same pair in another colour! I actually got these for £42 after Amazon did a £10 discount code a few weeks ago!
I've been investing in a lot of classics lately, which I think says a lot about where I'm at with my style at the moment. I just don't care as much as I used to, and I'm just not excited about getting dressed in the morning. And that's okay! I've said it before but I am not a fashion blogger anymore and I'm 100% okay with that. Right now I am all about being easy and comfortable, so I've bought myself a lovely little black skater dress for work, two striped tops from Uniqlo, a stripey sweatshirt from Primark (I have the grey version and it's the softest, comfiest thing I own and only £5 so I couldn't resist) and some new jeans, also from Primark, which I'm most excited about. My Topshop Joni jeans are worn out after only a year, and I went to buy some new ones a few weeks ago before having a complete existentialist crisis in the queue when I realised I really didn't want to spend £45 on a pair of jeans that would last me a year. When I asked for recommendations on Twitter, my friend Laura recommended Primark's super skinny high waisted jeans, so I tried them on this weekend (in a size down, on her recommendation) and they're fab for only £8. Even if I only get 6 months out of them they'll still be a saving!

What I've been reading
I've read some great books this month! I absolutely adored The Easter Parade, by Richard Yates. I loved Revolutionary Road so I knew I'd love this. Heartbreaking, real and beautifully written, it ticked all the boxes I need to love a book. Similarly, My Name is Lucy Barton ticked all those boxes too and I read it in a day. I just couldn't put it down - I only wish it had been longer!

I also really enjoyed The Group by Mary McCarthy which has been on my to-read list for years. It's amazing how a book set in the 1930s can still feel so relevant,

What I'm excited for
I'm obviously mostly excited for our house, even though it still feel like we're not quite there yet. I can't wait to actually have moved in, even though that probably won't be for a few months while we get some work done on it (we're moving in with my parents in the interim). I can't wait for it to finally be ours to decorate!

BUT on Monday WE GOT HAMILTON TICKETS!!!!!! We were both poised at our computers at 12pm, logged in, multiple browsers open, strategy defined. I started to get through the process when Phil text me and said "I'm through" then "I'm paying", and then a few minutes later he sent me the order confirmation! Okay so it's not til next March, but it's the day before my Birthday, which also happens to be Easter weekend next  year, so we're going to make a real weekend of it in London. I'm so excited I was shaking! I didn't think we'd have a chance so I still can't quite believe it!

What I've written
After a prolific December, I got into a bit of a slump with blogging in the middle of the month but I feel like I'm clawing it back at the moment and have a handful of blog posts I'm working on, so hopefully I'm over that now! I think I get overwhelmed which I have big blog post ideas, especially posts that are "tips" or "advice" because I'm scared to get it wrong, and these are often the biggest, most involved pieces to write, so they can take quite a few hours to get finished and I think this can paralyse me at times! Nevertheless, I have managed to write five blog posts this month:
2017 goals
Making a home
January Lethargy
How to host a vegetarian dinner party (even if your guests eat meat)
Is having a Cineworld Unlimited card worth it?
For the love of mornings

What other people have written
Even though I feel like I've struggled to write this month, I've been really inspired by a lot of the great content I've read this month! The theme here definitely seems to be on mental health, happiness and giving ourselves a bit of a break, which have definitely been things I've been trying to work on this month!
(Also, I read The Pool every day, so yes there are a lot of posts from there!)

Why single-tasking can make everything better
I relate to this so much, and I often use the Pomodoro technique when I'm at work, and also when I'm doing my coursework, and I find it really helps me to focus. I'm also trying to put my phone away when I'm watching TV or watching a film. It's hard, but I'm trying.

Rediscovering the lost art of having a hobby
As much as I'm trying not to give myself a million new things to do, I love this post on having a hobby.

How to figure out what makes you happy
Loads of self-care stuff on the internet is about "doing what makes you happy", and I've been a bit embarrassed to admit that honestly? I don't really know what makes me happy. And this has made me feel like a bit of a weirdo. How can you not know what makes you happy?! So I was completely relieved to find this post from Yes and Yes on how to find what really makes you happy! I especially love the bit on reminding yourself "this makes me happy". I absolutely loathe painting my nails, but I love having painted nails, so I have to remind myself of this. Ditto I love spending time with my friends, but sometimes feel overwhelmed committing to making plans (more on this in a later link), and this really spoke to me. I've started to keep a list of the things that make me happy and I'm going to try to do those things more.

On Setting Goals
I can often (always) overwhelm myself with my endless need to set goals, but if you're not a goal-setting mess like me, you will love this post from Michelle on how she sets goals. There are free goal-setting printables too!

Baths and other simple ways to feel better immediately
The Pool have done a great series throughout January on "small changes, big difference", and while I hate baths I really love this post of tips on how to feel instantly better.

Confessions of a diary grump
You know when you have one of those "God I thought it was just me?" moments and you suddenly no longer feel alone in the world? This. post. As I mentioned above, I love spending time with my friends and scheduling in time to see them, but then as soon as the date looms I feel overwhelmed, even though I know I'll have a great time and I'll feel amazing after! This post completely gets it, and I'm not alone! 

The One Goals I gave up on in 2016
Sometimes I think Michelle and I are the exact same person. I could have written this. So one of Michelle's goals for 2016 was to use her free time more productively (me too!), but then she decided to give up on this goal and embrace not being productive all the time. Whoosh! This hit me like a ton of bricks! I constantly feel guilty if I'm not using my free time to do something productive, and I beat myself up if I feel like I'm "wasting time." I'm so glad Michelle wrote this, as I'm learning to embrace "me-time" a little bit more and trying not to feel guilty about it. Also on this theme, this post from Random Cath on productivity.

How to spend money on yourself and your happiness
Although I mentioned earlier than I bought myself a few things this month, I am incredible tight with money, and even when I'm doing okay, I feel guilty all the time when I spend money, especially if I'm not already accounted for it in my month's budget. I mentioned our spontaneous date night earlier - I agonised on whether we should do that or just save the money, and I'm a bit obsessed with not spending money unnecessarily, even when it can result in great memories like that night. So this post really hit home for me and I think coupled with that great unexpected date night, will hopefully help me to learn to be a bit more flexible with my spending, when I can afford to be.

Going out for dinner on my own keeps me sane
I always say I hate being alone, but that's actually not true. I'm alone as I write this, and I actually really enjoy having my own space. However I often feel guilty if I don't spend time with Phil, and in our small flat it's hard to get some space. I'm excited to have more rooms in our house so we can spend time apart without feeling like it's compromising our relationship (I'm really silly about stuff like that). Anyway, I loved this post from The Pool about having dinner alone. I love spending my lunch hour by myself, at the library or going or a coffee or at the shops, and it makes me want to embrace alone time a bit more.

I'm scared and sad to be moving out of our flat this month, but I'm hopefully that February brings good news and progress with our house, and I know we'll be well-looked-after by my parents! Let's see what February brings!

Charlotte x

Monday, 30 January 2017

For the love of mornings

Mornings are my time.
The quiet space when nobody else is awake.
I tiptoe out of the bedroom, turning off the lamp.

I love mornings.
I love the quiet, I love that in the busyness of daily life I can claw some time back for myself.

Mornings used to solely be for workouts.
The screeching alarm, panic setting in, knowing I have to get out of bed right now to be back in time to get ready for work.
But now I give myself more time.
An earlier alarm, a little less sleeep, but a cup of tea after a cold run or a warm workout, and a little bit of time to myself before rushing into the day.

While the treat on my rest days used to be that I got to sleep in, now my gift is time. I get up as usual, and quietly awaken the kettle.
The first cup of tea of the day.
The quiet and the tea, and my journal.
Sometimes a book.
Sometimes a blog post.
Sometimes... nothing. Nothing but the quiet.

I don't always get it right.
Some mornings I chase my tail because I took my mornings a little too gently.
Some mornings I sleeep through my alarm, or spend too long mindlessly scrolling through my phone.
Some mornings I plan to do yoga or meditate, but doing a bit of nothing can sometimes be more appealing.

I see my mornings as free time to myself to do whatever I like.
I don't have to do anything, or I have plenty of time to do the things I never get time to do.
My mornings are quiet and relaxed - the exact opposite of my days and weeks.
I try not to have a plan. I try not to have pages to read or meditation practice to commit to or a blog post to write.
On workout or running days I still give myself some time, 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there, to prepare for the day.

Having this time is much better than sleeping.
It's time that is mine to take. Time that is free for whatever I please. Time for me.

I've never been good at late nights, but mornings are mine.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Is having a Cineworld Unlimited card worth it?

When I met Phil, I wasn't really a big film watcher.
I don't like watching films on my own, and my family aren't big film watchers, so while I enjoyed films, they definitely weren't a big part of my life.
Now, after living with Phil for two years (who loves films so much he has his own film blog), I watch a lot more films than I used to (in fact, Phil talked about that in the post he wrote for this blog). And I've been the proud owner of a Cineworld Unlimited card for over two years now.
Going to the cinema is part of the usual dating trajectonomy, and we did it even more back when Orange Wednesdays was still around and Phil could effectively take me for free on Wednesdays, but when that ended, it started to get quite expensive for me to keep up with Phil's voracious cinema-going appetite.
Not being a big film-watcher, I wasn't sure about getting an Unlimited card. £18 a month isn't too bad until you realise that's £216 a year. Was I really going to go the cinema enough times to make that worth it?

Thankfully, Phil convinced me (after a few sulks from me when he went to an Unlimited screening of a film I wanted to see!) to get my card in November 2014 and I haven't looked back since!

Thinking of taking the plunge? Here's what you need to know...

1. You only have to go twice a month for it to be worth it
At my local cinema, it's about £10 these days for a standard ticket, so at £17.90 a month you only have to go twice a month before it's more than paid for itself. 
However, some months you will naturally see more films than others! In January/February when the Oscars are looming you can easily find yourself wanting to seee 5 or 6 films in a month (we've seen 5 already this month and have two more we plan to see this week - 7 films in one month is a record for me!), but you might find you slow down in April/May time and over the summer.
You need to see 21 films per year to make your card worth it. I actually just missed this by one film last year (due to seeing films at other cinemas when the times weren't right at Cineworld), but two per month is pretty do-able if you like to go to the cinema. 

2. It has to be convenient for you to go to the cinema
We are lucky enough to live within a 20 minute drive of two Cineworld cinemas, and only a 30 minute drive away from a third, but we had to adjust our schedule when Phil changed jobs last year. Phil used to work just around the corner from one of our local cinemas, so it was easy to me to get the train and for us to go after work. Now he works in the city centre, we've had to create a new routine, and now we come home, have dinner and aim for a 7.30-8pm showing if we are going midweek. But convenience is key to going a lot, especially midweek, as we rarely go at the weekends because we usually have so much else on!

3. Duh, but you have to like going to the cinema
I know this seems daft, but it's worth mentioning - you have to like going to the cinema, and you have to like the kinds of films that play at your average Cineworld. If you're not a big cinema-goer now, a Unlimited card probably won't make you Mark Kermode.

4. You don't have to be "really into films"
I, admittedly, am not "really into films." I like films a lot, and I know my tracking shots and what makes a great film and I know good acting, but I'm not an expert, and I'm more likely to go see a blockbuster than an arthouse film. I love to see great films, and love to watch a film that might be a little more hard work than your average slapstick comedy, but I'm definitely not well-watched enough to be a film snob. But even if you're not going to enjoy something like Silence , there's still plenty of options, and enough variety on at Cineword to suit most tastes.

5. You have to be prepared to make time to go to the cinema
In an average, non-pre-Oscars month, we do try to make time to go twice a month, and we try to have a regular cinema night. It's when we get out of schedule with this that I find myself not going for 6 weeks at a time! So you need to be prepared to work around going to the cinema often.

6. It definitely helps if you have a friend or partner who also has a card
I think this is one of the biggest factors in getting a card. Phil and I both having cards means we always have someone to go to the cinema with and it's just a big part of our lives, so we always schedule time for it. Of course, you can go on your own, but it's definitly nice to have someone to go with!

7. The Unlimited Screenings alone are worth it
This month has been exceptional, and I really don't think Cineworld shout about their preview screenings enough! This month alone we've see La La Land 5 days ahead of its release, Manchester by the Sea 4 days ahead of its release and Hacksaw Ridge 5 days ahead of its release, and we have Moonlight, Hidden Figures and The Founder all as early screenings before the films are released nationwide!
Admittedly, in the two years I've had my card they've never been this good, but I'm hoping the trend continues, as it's great to see a film ahead of everyone else!

8. You will see a lot of rubbish...
I've never walked out of the cinema, but I've been close during Black Sea, The Secret Life of Pets and Riot Club, but been grateful that at least I didn't pay to see them!

9. But you'll also see a lot of unexpectedly great things
The Drop was an unexpected treat, Hell or High Water was brilliant and something we might have missed, and neither of us expected to enjoy The Shallows as much as we did.

10. You will still miss films
One thing I do hate about Cineworld is as soon as big film comes out (think, The Force Awakens), they have 10 screenings of it at the detriment of everything else, which means if you don't catch a film quickly you can easily miss it. Cineworld, annoyingly, drop early evenings shows first, but if you work shifts you might be lucky to catch a film before it closes during the day!

11. You get discounts off food and drink in the cinema, as well as at local restaurants, and they get better after your first year
Another thing they don't hype as much as they should is all the discounts you get with your card! These include discounts at Nandos, Chiquitos and Frankie and Benny's to name a few (and whose local Cineworld doesn't have a Nandos next door?!). You also get 10% off food and drink at the cinema, which increases to 25% off after your first year.

12. You get a month off if a friend refers you, and so does your friend
Finally, they have a really great referral scheme, so if you recommend a friend you both get a free month. So if you fancy giving it a try, use my code RAF-65QS-90NK-16DS-55MP to get your 13th month free! Here's where you can redeem it.

I love my Unlimited card, especially at this time of the year where there are literally dozens of films I want to see. I admit, it can take work sometimes to make it to the cinema, and you do watch the occasional terrible film (although we actually chose to see Suicide Squad just so we could join in the conversation!), but I love the Unlimited screenings because it feels like an exclusive club, and I love that it makes me go to see films I wouldn't normally see.

We're already planning our route for when we move house to ensure we never miss a film!

Charlotte x

Monday, 23 January 2017

How to host a vegetarian dinner party (even if your guests eat meat)

I love to cook.
This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who reads this blog.
I also love to have people over for dinner. 
But I also find it quite stressful.

I've talked before about how Phil and I live together as a veggie and a meat-eater and how we manage it just fine, but as soon as I have guests over I panic!

I worry about not serving meat, I worry that my guests expect meat and I worry they'll disappointed when meat isn't on the menu.
And I feel that I have to prove that vegetarian food is delicious.

I spend a lot of time thinking of what would be "suitable" for guests.

(A meal being "something I'd serve to guests" is pretty much the highest honour I can bestow upon a dish).

I fear the gap on the plate where meat "should" go. 

The reality is, I worry way more about this than my guests do, I know I'm a good cook and I'm going to do my best to make something delicious and flavoursome and enjoyable, but I still worry about people thinking, "oh God, dinner at Charlotte and Phil's tonight. Vegetarian food is so bland." (I don't really think any of my guests have ever thought this...)

So here are my tips for hosting a dinner party where (hopefully!) nobody misses the meat...

1. Don't try to replicate meat
We don't eat a lot of meat substitutes at home anyway, but I especially don't like the idea of giving meat eaters "fake meat." I might think Quorn tastes exactly like chicken, or that my seitan loaf is exactly like meat, but I haven't eaten meat for 15 years, so what do I know? I feel like having guests over is about trying to "prove" that veggie food is delicious, and trying to replicate meat feels like a one-way ticket to "would have been nice with actual meat."

2. Consider one-pot dishes with side dishes
I'm a big fan of a casserole. Maybe it's the idea that I could totally see Nigella dishing out a big steaming casserole with a gorgeous green salad on the side, or maybe it's that I just like the idea of everyone helping themselves, but I love that a casserole also means you can bang it in the oven and socialise without worrying about standing over the stove all evening! It also removes my fear of the "meat gap". My favourite is Anna Jones' Tomato and Coconut Cassoulet with a salad or roasted broccoli.

3. Make meals that don't normally contain meat
Mac and cheese is one of my go-to dinner party dishes because it's naturally meat-free. I hate the idea of feeling like there's something "missing". I almost never eat pasta (nothing against pasta - it's just not my favourite) but pasta or risotto are easy dishes for dinner parties that most people love, regardless of whether they contain meat. I swear Anna Jones isn't sponsoring me here, but I love her one-pot spaghetti, and Nigella's sweet potato mac and cheese is my favourite of every mac and cheese I've tried.

4. Tapas-style dishes 
Another style of cooking I love, although it is labour-intensive, is doing lots of little dishes for sharing, which again removes the "missing meat" feeling, but also means you could make a meat dish if you wanted to.
We had guests over a few weeks ago and I made a few dishes from The Greek Vegetarian - we had giant beans with tomato, dill and honey, whipped feta with garlic and mint, pilaf with bulghar wheat and chickpeas, a big Greek salad and homemade pitta. Everything was so delicious (even if I do say so myself! I was really proud!) and there was such a selection that everyone was happy.

5. Serve everything family style
I very rarely "serve" meals when I have guests over because I like to let people help themselves. Everyone has different preferences on how and how much they like to eat, and this way nobody goes hungry, feels overfaced or feels awkward asking for seconds!

6. Choose a theme
Most of the time I like to have a theme to my dinner parties - Mexican, Indian, Greek etc. I like some homogeneity between courses and having a theme is a good way to make sure everything flows. It also makes it easier for me to come up with a menu plan!

7. Ask about allergies but not dislikes
I have a habit of getting myself a bit wound up and asking my guests absolutely everything they like and dislike, which means I get very stressed out trying to find a recipe that is both meat-free and doesn't contain mushrooms/courgettes/aubergine/whatever it is my guests don't like! Other times I've completely made a rod for my own back by suggesting ideas to my guests and asking for feedback. Don't do it! It makes you feel like a restaurant, and totally takes the fun out of it! Check about allergies and intolerances, but cook what you want to cook, ensuring there's enough variety if there's a chance your guests might be more selective.

8. Make ahead what you can
For our last dinner party, Phil and I spent the night before preparing and it was definitely a good idea on the night. Phil made a cheesecake the night before, and I made my homemade pitta and giant beans, which both took over an hour and a half. I'd so not rather leave my guests waiting and be stressed on the night! Most veggie casseroles can be made ahead and refrigerated at the point before they need to go in the oven.

9. Ideally, make something you've made before
Admittedly, my giant Greek feast was all new-to-me recipes, but generally, I try to make something I know well (see, mac and cheese) just to alleviate the stress and help me to feel more confident! As I said before, I have a list of recipes I've made that I've deemed "guest-worthy" so it's easy to look through that for inspiration.

10. Don't raise your standards too high
I stress out so much about cooking for people, but for the most part, your guests are probably pretty happy that they're getting a free meal, so don't worry if it doesn't all go perfectly. If you're unsure, play it safe with something simple. Going complex only works if you know it's not going to go wrong! 

11. Don't apologise!
I feel like I apologise too much for there not being any meat, but I know I'm a pretty good cook and I will have made a lot of effort to make a great meal for my guests, with or without meat. I'm one of those extra-apologetic people who can't take a compliment ("oh this is really nice" "oh yeah well I forgot the peppers and then I burned the onions and then...") so this one is hard for me, but like above, most people are pretty happy to have a free, homecooked meal and good company, so don't apologise for your hard work!

Here are some of my favourite recipes for having guests over (note: some of these are from recipe books so I can't republish them but I've tried to give links where I can!):

Mint and pea risottto from Keep it Vegan
Tomato and coconut cassoulet
Sweet potato mac and cheese
Tex Mex risotto from Vegan Bowls
Tabbouleh with houmous and halloumi
Moroccan stew from Keep it Vegan
Lemon and Kale Spaghetti
Giant beans, whipped feta, chickpea pilaf and Greek salad from The Greek Vegetarian
Mushroom walnut pate from Veganomicon
Chilli paneer from The Very Hungry Baker
Dal with sweet potatoes
Spicy aubergine and courgette from Vegan Bowls
Tamarind lentils, spinach and tomatoes and Indian tofu from Veganomicon
Breakfast burritos from Minimalist Baker's Everyday Cooking

Having guests over for dinner is one of my favourite things - I love to put work into something that I know will be worth the effort, and I love a quiet night in with drinks and food and a board game or two! I just need to remember to take my own advice and stress a little bit less!

Charlotte x

Thursday, 19 January 2017

January lethargy

I haven't blogged in over 2 weeks.

I know, not an overwhelming amount of time. But a few weeks ago I was practically bursting with ideas that I couldn't write down fast enough.

It's not for lack of wanting. Or maybe it is. 

I just feel incredibly uninspired at the moment.

Everything feels like work. Going with friends. Shopping. Commuting. Having free time. I feel either bored and restless or overwhelmed and craving time alone.

I don't have the energy to do anything.

I'm simultaneously bored but also have a to-do list as long as my arm. I want to have plans and do things until the point when I have to actually do them, and then I just don't want to. 

I feel guilty about all the things I should be doing.

And it's not feeling down. I know all about that with my anxiety and low mood. I know when I feel sad or down or lonely. This just feel like a lot of blah. A lot of nothing. It doesn't feel like anything.

And I know I'm not alone. As soon as I tweeted about it this morning I had one of my best friends text me to say she felt the exact same way, and I've noticed a few bloggers I follow have been quiet lately. Which is reassuring, at least.

I know it's a phase. I know it will pass. But right now I just feel like I'm going through the motions with everything.

I've been meditating every day, moving my phone into another rooms in the evening, making a sleepy time tea, fostering better morning and evening routines, filling in a gratitude journal twice a day.

And I feel so ungrateful when I answer "what do you feel grateful for?" with "tea" and "sleep". Because I know I have hundreds, thousands of things to be grateful for beyond "tea" and "sleep" and then I feel guilty for feeling like this. 

I know this will pass. I know it's normal. And I know I'm okay. I just don't feel myself. I don't feel excited or ambitious or inspired or productive.

January is hard for everyone, I know it's not just me. And I know we're in a state of uncertainty with our house, soon to be moving out of our flat, and there's part of my brain reoccupied at all times with mortgages and solicitors and fees and wallpaper ideas and flooring decisions. I know that's weighing on my mind more than I think. 

I'm sad because I want to blog. I love few things more than that excited, can't-type-fast enough idea that I'm so excited to get down. And I have a notebook full of ideas that I don't know how to execute.

I know this soon will pass. I know it's just a phase and I know I'll get through it. And I know I'm not alone.

But right now it just feel like guilt and boredom and lethargy and worst of all, nothing.

Charlotte x

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Making a home

I remember the blank walls. The mismatched art to give the semblance of life.
The bare shelves. Empty cupboards.
All white and blank and bare and unlived in.

I look around now at the dinosaur on the shelf, the DVDs fighting for space in the bookcase, the candles and the photographs and the memories. 

What can you know about us from looking around our living room?

The Liverpool shirt on the wall, the boxsets piled up on the window ledge, the medals hung on each curtain hook, the biscuit cushions, the Rubix cube tissue box. The James Bond prints in the kitchen that have become some commonplace that I don't even notice them.

The time the whole place came to life when we put photos up, that suddenly it felt ours. It felt like home.

I've never moved house before. Not really. Only from student flat to student house to student flat. Nowhere that I knew I was going to live in for more than a few months without those huge, stretching university breaks at home in between.

Today we have a viewing of our flat. 

Soon this will be someone else's home. Their photos on the wall. Their candles, their prints, their spare bedding that they hate because their nice bedding is in the wash. Their toothpaste smears, their cluttered bedside tables, their DVDs and books in the shelves.

They'll laugh at the way the neighbours always seem to stare straight through into our living room. They'll complain about the cold and take months to learn how the storage heaters work. They'll battle with the broken drawer in the living room. They'll be woken up by the whistling boiler at 2am.

I know I should be ready, but I'm not. I know I should be excited for our house - our actual house, with a garden and more than 4 rooms and a study and a dining room - and I am, but this has felt more like home than anywhere except my family home, and I'm just not quite ready to let go. This was our first home. The first place our tastes were forced to collide, the place where my nail polishes sit next to Phil's PS4. Where our DVDs have merged to the point that we don't know which belong to who. Where it didn't matter because everything became "ours."

And soon this will be someone else's home. Their memories. Their lives. Their tastes.

And I'm not quite ready to let go.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

2017 goals

Happy New Year! Wow I can't believe it's 2017. I'm sure I say this every year but 2016 seemed to fly by!

I'm not one for resolutions at all, but I am obviously one for goals. However as I've mentioned in my last few posts, I want to take things a little more easy in 2017, so I've focused more on intangible goals than actual solid challenges this year.

But first, let's look at last year's goals and how I got one with those...

2016 goals I achieved
  • Be more brave in the kitchen
The first of my pretty intangible goals for 2016. I don't really know how I planned to measure this one, but I do think I've got a little bit more off-piste lately. I definitely follow recipes 90% of the time, but I've become much more comfortable with swapping and changing out ingredients and playing things by ear a bit more. I think I've also been more confident to try more complicated recipes and I'm excited to do this even more in 2017.
  • Run my first marathon
So this one was a bit of a cheat as I knew I had my first marathon coming up in April when I wrote my 2016 goals. You don't need me to tell you more about running my first marathon! It was probably the greatest achievement of my life so far and totally worth all the of blood, sweat and tears. I cannot wait to run another!
  • 10K and half marathon personal bests
I'm so proud of achieving two amazing personal bests in 2016. In May I ran my first sub-55 minute 10K, and in October I worked tremendously hard to achieve my first sub-2 hour half marathon - something I really wasn't sure if I was going to achieve! I'm really proud of my running in 2016 and hope to keep developing and pushing myself in 2017.
  • Start looking into buying a house
Phil and I started viewing houses in August, and after a few ups and downs we had an offer accepted in October on our dream house! There's a lot more to sort out and we're still not out of the woods yet officially, but hopefully we'll have more (hopefully good!) news in the coming weeks!

2016 goals I didn't achieve

  • Worry less
Yeah, no. My anxiety has been all over the place in 2016 and I really haven't been able to get a handle on it. But in fairness, this was a bit of a daft goal anyway and something I was never really going to achieve when I suffer from medically-diagnosed anxiety, but in 2017 I plan to find a way to control my anxiety better (see more below).
  • Read 40 books
I decided in March to read all the Game of Thrones books, and due to them all being absolute beasts I cut this goal down to 30 books. And also read It which was even longer. I have mixed feelings on reading goals as I sometimes find it makes me rush through books just to be able to mark them as "read" which totally takes away from the point of reading, but I do like to keep a loose goal for reading which keeps me focused.
  • Learn a new skill
Unless you count that I've listened to the Hamilton soundtrack every day for 3 weeks and I can rap along pretty well now, this is not something I achieved. And that's okay. Because I do a lot already and I can do everything. See this post.
  • Spend more time doing what I love and treat myself more
I don't honestly feel like I achieved these goal, even though I did do a lot of things I enjoyed in 2016, so I've rolled these over into 2017's goals. 

  • Spread more positivity
I admit I didn't really focus on this enough in 2016, but lately I have been trying to complain less. I think it's a British thing to complain just to make conversation, but I've really been trying to moan less, so I plan to try to keep this up this year!

(More reflections on 2016 in this post - 10 things in 2016)

2017 goals

  • Run two half marathons
With moving house and doing my course, I know a 2017 marathon is not going to be realistic, but I need to have goals for running otherwise I lose my focus. I love the half marathon distance because I'm not a fast runner so I don't enjoy 5Ks or 10Ks so much, and I like the commitment and training required for longer distances, but I don't always have the time to commit to a marathon. So I'm planning to do two half marathons in 2017. I've already signed up for the Great Manchester Run half marathon in May, and I'm planning to do to the Manchester Half Marathon I did last year again in October.
  • Get a half marathon PB
Or ideally, two! But I know the more you run a distance the less likely you are to get a new personal best (you should see how infrequently I get a PB at parkrun!), so it would be great to get at least one half marathon PB in 2017, although I know how hard-fought that 1:59 was in my last race!
  • Get my 100 parkruns tshirt
I got my 50 parkruns tshirt in 2016, and I'm currently on 77. I go to every parkrun I can, but because of a lot of weekends away in 2016 I only made it to 30. I hope to hit my 100th run this year.
  • Make our house a home
The house we're buying needs some work. We originally dismissed it because we wanted something we could move straight into, but instead we've got a much bigger and nicer house than I think we had originally expected for our money, but it needs a bit of love! It's going to be a long slog, but it's going to be really nice to get a chance to really make it our own, rather than just moving into a house filled with someone else's tastes. I know I'm going to find the process really hard work but I hope it will be worth it!
  • Read more (and keep myself in reading material)
When we're away in Spain each year, I never go anywhere without a book. I read while I dry my hair, read brushing my teeth, read anytime I get a second. My phone spends the trip on aeroplane mode or turned off in a drawer. And every time I come back from Spain I vow to keep this up when I get home. And I never do. I get home and find myself mindlessly scrolling through Instagram and Twitter all.the.time. But reading makes me feel good. It relaxes me. It doesn't make my eyes strain on the bus to work. So why don't I do it more? I blame not buying enough good books that excite me. Before I go on holiday I treat myself to 7 or 8 books that I'm really excited about, and then if I don't like one I can move on, but when I'm home I often force myself to read things I don't enjoy, which means I often don't read at all. I've started giving myself a book-buying budget every few months to ensure I'm never short of reading material, and I plan to keep this up to encourage me to read more in 2017. I'm sure I'll end up setting a Goodreads reading goal for the year, but I'm going to focus more on reading more, reading things I enjoy, trying new books and importantly, putting books down if I'm not enjoying them.
  • Sort out my blog layout
Eventually.
  • Say "no" more
I do a lot of things that don't make me happy because I hate to say no and let people down. But it's at the detriment to my own happiness a lot of the time. So I'm going to say no more if it means being true to myself.

  • Pass my marketing diploma

By this time next year I should just have finished my diploma. I hope all the hard work will be worth it!
  • Be more spontaneous
I plan a lot. I plan because it keeps me in control and helps manage my anxiety. But I do want to be more spontaneous. I suppose this goes against "say no more", but I want to let go a little bit more this year and be more free.
  • Stop being so hard on myself
I think this is the biggest goal for me and the hardest. I am constantly, constantly, constantly putting pressure on myself to be better and to do more. The way I treat myself and put pressure on myself can be awful, and I would never judge or berate a friend the way I do myself. I never, ever feel what I'm doing is enough. So this year I want to be kinder to myself. Stop trying to be perfect, stop trying to be better, cut myself some slack. Give myself a break if I don't want to go for a run, or if I take a shortcut making dinner, or if I want to have a lazy night. I want to take a step back whenever I'm horrible to myself and think, "would I speak to someone I love like this?".
  • Find ways to manage my anxiety
As I've mentioned before, my anxiety hasn't been good this year and I'm very aware that I'm not finding ways to control it. I had a few CBT sessions on the NHS but I didn't find them very useful, so I want to explore new options this year, whether that's yoga, meditation, puzzles, reading, or something completely different. I know there's no quick fix, but I want to at least feel like I'm doing something to improve it.
  • Take more time to relax
I'm a very restless person. I can't sit still, can't cope without having something to do, and I find it impossible to relax because I feel like I'm "wasting time." I can be a nightmare to live with because I'm always asking "what are we doing next?" and I never know what I can do to calm down my constant nervous energy. So one of my goals for this year is to find what relaxes me and do more of that. It sounds silly but when I read about self care and doing what you enjoy, I kind of draw a blank when it comes to thinking of what I like to do. So I plan to really try to figure out ways to relax and really make an effort to treat myself right this year and develop an arsenal of self-care techniques. Lately I've really been enjoying codeword puzzles as they keep my mind focused and relax me and still feel like a good use of my time. I'd also like to start journalling more just to clear my mind.
  • Set the intention for my day
My mornings usually end up a bit manic and I find myself rushing out of the door, which I know just isn't a good start to the day. So I want to start getting up a little bit earlier every day, not just the days I have a run or a workout planned, just to get a cup of tea or write a blog post or read some of my book or do a puzzle, just so I don't end up going into the day already exhausted and flustered! On the other side of this I want to make sure I go to bed earlier to ensure I get enough sleep, and try to end my day with some reading and writing, not always on my phone.

So those are my goals for 2017! There definitely seems a lot there which is a bit overwhelming, but fingers crossed I can achieve them!

I wish you all the best for 2017!

Charlotte x