2016

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2016.

It’s been a funny old year. Politics and dying celebrities aside, I’d mark it down as ‘pretty good’ personally.

2016 has seen me learn new things, try new hobbies and reignite old interests. And I’ve kept some up, too, even when I wasn’t sure there was a lot of point. It’s seen me give lectures at universities, and overcome impostor syndrome.

I’ve made new friendships, cemented existing ones, and attempted to work out priorities. Mostly, if I’m honest, that’s involved nights in on the sofa, rather than nights out on the town. Some of the most enjoyable days this year have been spent exploring new places with old friends, and old places with new ones.

I’ve travelled – mostly for work, but also for pleasure. I spent most of this year on the road, and rapidly came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the right fit for me. I’ve learnt that I need routine, and to feel stretched. I found a new job which has given me chances for both, and where I feel considerably more at home. I’ve holidayed abroad twice, to Malta and to Germany, and felt particularly lucky that one of my trips was visiting two of my oldest friends. I’ve spectacularly failed to edit the photos or write up posts about either. At some point I’ll get round to writing up my “interesting doorways of Malta” post.

Speaking of which, there’s been quite a few half-written or mentally drafted blog posts this year. I’ve never been great at blogging regularly, particularly when life is busy. Maybe that should be my resolution for next year. But if you’ve dipped in, or popped by to say hello, then thanks. And a happy new year to you.

In Loving Memory

imageOne of the advantages of walking, as opposed to hopping on the bus, is how much more I notice. Rather than pull my book or phone out, I have an audiobook or the radio in my ears and taking my time means little things catch my eye.

Over the last year I’ve passed this bench several times a week on my way to work, but I only noticed it recently. There’s a lot of benches dotted around the city, so it’s not until I stop to tie my shoelace on one of them that I read the inscription. Now every time I go past I wonder a little about who Ms Warne was. Her bench is outside of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, so I assume there’s a link there. But fearless and independent? What a wonderful way to be remembered – there’s so many things I want to know because of her simple epitaph.

Did she have adventures? Did she stay at home and push for things she believed in? Was she actually a bit of a nightmare – one of those people we hate to work with but are also in awe of? And would she have held court and entertained us with her stories if she’d joined me and my friends for brunch? I suspect so.

 

Art On Sundays

image Back at the beginning of May I made a bit of a pledge to myself. Do more with my weekends. Get out. See things. Go places. Be brave, and go alone if there’s no-one to go with. Be brave, and go alone even if there is someone to go with.

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Why? Well, if I’m completely honest, I’ve found myself struggling with motivation recently. My day job involves talking to lots of people, and I am an introvert. It’s inevitable that a quiet weekend of pottering about the house, going to the gym, and cooking myself something lovely is how I’ve ended up switching off.

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I’ve also realised that there’s a difference (for me at least) between switching off and relaxing. Switching off is distancing myself from work. Relaxing is re-energising by doing things I really enjoy. If I’ve got a week, that happens organically but if I’ve got two days? Not so much. I’ve mentioned before about how I struggle to relax, and after various conversations with friends I’ve realised that to relax on a weekend, I need to do stuff.

imageAnd so, back to my May pledge. I’d got myself into a bit of a rut. I was over tired from work, and verging on bored. I’d hygge-d my way through winter, but now it was well and truly summer and I was beginning to resent my own lack of productivity. When it’s 23C outside and you can hear children playing in the park over the road, it’s no longer comforting to spend the weekend lying on the sofa watching box sets. Instead it feels lazy.

imageI made plans. I put something in my diary for every weekend – preferably something I could do on my own, but also things I could combine with my usual Sunday afternoon catch ups with friends if I felt like it.

imageAnd it felt good. It worked. On Tuesdays (the worst day of the working week for me, usually my longest shift), I’d start to look forward to my activity rather than looking forward to my own space. I took part in a sketching class hosted by one of my favourite museums with a well known local artist. I spent a weekend learning the basics of ceramics and working with clay, and discovered that using a wheel is much harder than it looks on TV. I visited a local arts festival (although admittedly spent longer sampling the local beers with a friend than browsing the exhibits) and discovered a new gallery round the corner from my house.

imageIt’s been good. It’s reminded me of when I lived in London. I used to take great pleasure in visiting the V&A, stopping half way round to read my book in the cafe with a pot of tea and a meringue the size of my head. I’d head home feeling like I’d achieved something with my day off. The downside of living in a beautiful vibrant city is that it’s easy to become complacent. The museums, the galleries and the festivals will always be there. It’s been lovely to take advantage of it – and now that I’ve forced it to become a habit, I know it’s one I’ll keep.
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Five Things I’ve Realised By Going Vegetarian

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About a year ago, after many more years of deliberating and cutting down, I decided to go veggie. Except I didn’t. My attempts at changing my eating patterns came just before I went on a ten day cooking holiday to Italy, so that put a dampener on things, and then I was a bit worried about telling friends and being that awkward dinner guest, so I ended up being a veggie who ate meat when other people cooked for her. Oh, and the occasional bit of fish because fish don’t have feelings and because I was doing some research into Vitamin D for work, and became convinced I was deficient.

I properly became a veggie after a week at home over Christmas, which included a day when I managed to eat five different types of pie in one twenty four hour period. Yes, five. Yorkshire is amazing. But, like most people who indulge in things which they don’t normally eat, I felt incredibly unwell and decided It Was Time.

Now, I’m not going to bang on about why I made my choice (see my first point below) – but I have been pondering diet, health and food, particularly as it’s National Vegetarian Week. And so, I present Five Things I’ve Realised By Going Vegetarian.

Nobody Really Cares

It used to be that being a vegetarian was a sign of fussiness, a political statement or an attempt to be interesting – luckily things have moved on since my mum’s 1980s foray into the world of lentils and about 20% of my age bracket are now veggie. I’ve read a couple of articles written by vegetarians who are apparently interrogated about their food choices but I’m happy to say that either my friends have better manners, or they’re just not bothered. Vegan seems to be the new thing. As always, I’m behind the times.

Eating Out Is Boring Now

So boring. It’s pretty much macaroni cheese, mushroom risotto, or a sodding veggie burger. Occasionally a beetroot and goat’s cheese tart. I quite frequently look at the Instagram food pictures of friends in London, Leicester and Manchester with envy. Despite Edinburgh apparently being the vegan capital of the UK (I’m raising my cynical eyebrow) options are usually pretty dull unless you go to one of the vegetarian only restaurants in town.

No, I Don’t Miss Bacon

I’ll admit that I’ve not been asked whether I miss bacon (I’ve never been a massive fan) but it does seem to be trotted out as a standard quip whenever giving up meat is mentioned. The thing I do miss? Oddly, it’s sweets. I have a weakness for chewy sweets, most of which are made with pork gelatine which does sneak its way in to a lot of things. Low fat yoghurts were a particular surprise. For a lot of veggies this isn’t a big deal, but it’s pork in particular which I’m keen to avoid, so thank goodness for M&S and their green eared Percy Pigs.

I’ve Become Obsessed With Protein

When I was a student I’d be chatting to my mum about cooking and she’d frequently ask me about my protein levels. I never really understood what her obsession was… and now that is me. I find myself frequently bemused by vegetarian recipes which have no protein in them, irritated by people who tell me that I’ll be deficient in all sorts of nutrients if I don’t eat meat, and I have recently discovered the joys of almond butter. I don’t know who I am anymore.

Life Becomes An Ethical Minefield

I am one of life’s over thinkers, and therefore this probably won’t surprise anyone, but the more I contemplate the ethics of vegetarianism the more I worry that I’m going to become that woman who only eats bananas. I can see how people become vegan and why buying leather shoes could be hypocritical – but then I also don’t like the idea of oil-based plastics and I’d rather have one high quality pair that will last me two years. Choosing makeup brands which don’t do animal testing is straightforward, so I’ll stick with that. Ultimately I think it’s about picking your battles and my one woman crusade against mushroom risotto is currently absorbing most of my energy.

Who Are You? What Do You Do?

CramondA couple of weeks ago I met a friend for coffee and a catch up. After a while, we got to talking about meeting new people (she’d been to a wedding as a +1 the day before) and how, when you’re an adult, the first things people ask when they are introduced to you are “how do you know the host?” and “where do you work?” When we were teenagers it was about the music we listened to, at university it was the course we studied. Both were vague indicators of personality or taste. Our jobs? Not so much.

Most of my friends fall into two categories. Those who knew what they wanted to be when they were starting their careers and are now doing it (the doctor, the primary school teacher, the musician). The rest of us have fallen into our jobs with varying degrees of satisfaction. I suspect, if we are really honest, a lot of us just don’t know what we want to be when we grow up. Some folk are ok with that, some are not.

For the friend I met for coffee, talking about her job is a source of frustration. It’s what she does – but it’s not who she is, and while she is unhappy at work, she’s enjoying so many other ways of spending her time. She volunteers. She runs. She’s doing an evening class. But those things rarely come up in conversation.

It led me to thinking about how I’d answer “how do you spend your spare time?” if I was asked that, instead of about work. I swim. I read. I cook. I lift weights. I go to art galleries and museums. I practice my photography. Except, as I realised while talking to my friend, I’ve not been so good at doing those things lately. When I’m busy with work and tired at the weekends I find myself putting hobbies on a back burner. I end up putting off who I “am” in favour of what I “do” to pay the bills.

With that in mind, I dragged myself to Cramond with my camera on Sunday and went for a walk along the beach. The light was awful with clouds rolling in over the Forth, it started to snow, and the wind was howling. I only took one, maybe two decent pictures, but it was so nice to be out in the fresh air, reminding myself of how I enjoy spending my spare time and forcing myself to switch off and relax.

Small Kindnesses

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I arrived at my bus stop on Thursday just after a man had a heart attack. A couple of people were with him – one on the phone to an emergency operator, one putting a jumper under his head. I stayed, holding back a little and not wanting to get in the way, but acutely aware that I have had first aid training and would know what to do if it was needed.

While we waited for the ambulance, so many people stopped to ask if they could help in some way. Some blocked the pavement so that he had privacy from stopping buses and passers by, some offered water or medicines, and a man who identified himself as a doctor stopped his car when he saw the commotion and ran over to us, kneeling down just as the ambulance arrived.

I have thought of the man and the situation a couple of times over the last few days. While it’s a horrible thing to witness, the thing that’s stuck with me was how kind people were. It’s easy to forget, when unpleasantness sells papers, that the little things do make a difference.

It made me think about the other incidents of kindness which made me smile this week.

There was the colleague who left a Tunnocks tea cake on my desk after a difficult meeting… The lady in the gym who gave me a thumbs up after watching me finish a set of deadlifts… The friend who remembered a passing conversation… The chap in the car park who guided me out after a 4×4 blocked my view…

Small things in small circumstances – but they still made my day.

What little things have made your week?

Relax

imageI had a little revelation over the Christmas holidays. An epiphany of sorts.

I don’t know how to relax.

I spent the first half of my fortnight holiday driving around the north of England catching up with friends and family, enjoying good food, seeing the sights and generally getting in to the festive swing. The second week? I did next to nothing.

The weather was gloomy (can anyone remember the last time we had a glorious sunny wintery day?), I was full of cold, and I had a lot of telly to catch up on. So that’s pretty much all I did.

And yet… I felt guilty. Like I should have been painting my hallway, or stripping and varnishing the floorboards, or sorting through the store cupboard of doom. Like watching box sets and flicking through magazines was a waste of my time off work.

As part of my epiphany I realised that the only time I really feel relaxed is when I’m on holiday abroad – where it’s legitimate to do nothing but lie on a beach and read, to potter around museums or to people watch with a glass of wine because heat makes it easy to relax and go slowly.

2016 is going to be a busy year for me. The pace of my job is picking up and I’ll be travelling more. A lot of my weekends will be spent away visiting friends and family, and I have quite a few DIY challenges to tackle in my flat. But I also want, in light of my festive revelation, to make sure that I am relaxed and refreshed enough to enjoy what I have planned, and to feel productive rather than stressed.

And so, I need some advice.

Do you get The Guilts if you have a lazy day? How do you switch off, recharge and relax?