Thursday, 30 January 2014

List #5: My favourite quotations

So, asking a bibliophile and music obsessive for her favourite quotations is like asking a mother which child she loves the most.  It was almost impossible to narrow it down, but I managed to decide, based purely on the first six lines that sprang to mind.

1. When I first read The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, I spent much of the time madly nodding in recognition.  My copy is filled with pencil marks and underlinings - something I hadn't really done in a novel since I was a teenager - because the book is so full of relatable lines.  My favourite is this, said by his teacher to narrator Charlie:

 “Sometimes people use thought to not participate in life."

2. I didn't totally love the film Liberal Arts, but this quotation, which is not dissimilar to the one above, stuck in my mind:
"I just started to feel like reading about life was taking time away from actually living life, so I'm trying to, like, accept invitations to things, say "hi" to the world a little more... I keep thinking I'd be so much happier in bed with a book, and that makes me feel not super cool. I still read tons. I just feel like I'm more aware of a book's limitations. Does that make sense?"

When I heard this in the film, I felt like shouting "YES!" and doing a fist pump.  Everything about it is just me, completely and utterly.  This one line made up for the film in general being pretty disappointing.

3. The Smashing Pumpkins are pretty much my favourite band of all time, and I couldn't narrow it down to just one line.  So first, we have (from Muzzle, on 1995's Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness album):

"I fear that I am ordinary just like everyone."

It's a ridiculous line, right?  Typical Billy Corgan: overblown and juvenile, the sound of every teenage tantrum ever thrown.  But also... isn't it just totally true?  Don't we all fear, deep down, that we're ordinary and workaday and that there's nothing special about us in the least?  Or maybe that's just me.

4. And secondly, from Siamese Dream track Rocket:

"I miss me, I miss everything I'll never be."

This is a line I love so much that I'm sorta/kinda/maybe planning on getting a tattoo of it. 

5. I couldn't talk about favourite quotations without quoting The Smiths.  From Handsome Devil, it is of course:

"There's more to life than books you know, but not much more."

I have this quotation framed in my front room, and I could not agree with it more.

6. Finally, I'm planning a whole post around this last one.  From Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity:

"What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos... nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?"

I'd love to hear about your favourite quotations, hit me up in the comments below.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A weekend in the North West

This year, we decided that, instead of Christmas presents, we would take a couple of short trips away together.  The Boy chose a few days in the Cotswolds for his trip (you can read about it here), while I made the admittedly strange choice of the North West for mine.  Strange, because my dad has lived in Manchester for the past twenty years, so I visit often.  Stranger, because I also briefly lived in the city in 2001, before coming back to Leicester to finish my degree.  But I've always felt like it's a place I want to spend more time in, and what better city to be a tourist than one you already know your way around?  I'd also found an exhibition at Tate Liverpool that I really wanted to see and when we realised how frequent and fast the trains between the two cities were, my choice of weekend away was cemented.

The broad theme of the weekend was alternative and left wing culture; we spent most of our time in Manchester hanging out in the Northern Quarter, epicentre of the city's indie and alternative scene, while in Liverpool we went off the beaten track to find a great veggie cafe/bar/'creative hub' (Mello Mello on Slater Street - much recommended for tasty food and lots of boardgames to while away a Sunday afternoon).  Meanwhile, we visited the Art Turning Left exhibition at Tate Liverpool, which examines how art has been influenced and shaped by left wing values, and The People's History Museum in Manchester, immersing ourselves in the history of socialist movements and trade unions in the UK.

In the Northern Quarter we discovered craft superstore Fred Aldous; truly, my life was not complete until I found this place.  I could have bought half the store, but limited myself to just a couple of things.  Top of the list to buy from their online shop is this collection of redesigned modernist rock posters by Mike Joyce. 

The Boy also delighted in the discovery of V Revolution, a vegan diner/food shop and punk record store at the end of Oldham Street, where he feasted on fast food.  I couldn't quite stomach a burger-based breakfast, so we also visited Blue Daisy Cafe, which has a wide range of veggie and vegan options, for amazing French toast (me) and fruit (him: I think he was trying to mitigate the burger). 

I enjoyed introducing The Boy to my old haunts in Manchester, like the Night & Day Cafe (a fab place to grab a drink and see both local and national up-and-coming musicians - please sign their petition as they are currently threatened with closure) and the four storey indoor market Afflecks Palace.  As a weirdo hippy indie chick in the 90s, Afflecks was a haven for me; a place to buy knock-off band t-shirts and rainbow tie-dye laces for my Doc Marten boots.  I was heartened to see that it hasn't changed all that much in the past twenty years, and I was much taken with the loos (see below), because I favour juvenile humour.


Thursday, 23 January 2014

List #4: The things that remind me of home

Image via The Questionable

About six months ago, I wrote about the meaning of 'home' and I still find it quite difficult to determine what the term means to me; whether home is the house I own in Leicester, or the house my mum lives in, in West Yorkshire.  When I'm at my house, I talk about "going home," by which I mean driving up the M1 to Bradford.  But home is also emphatically my own house, so the things that remind me of home are a combination of both places...

1. Books - of course! I grew up in a house filled with books and have collected them since childhood. My dream was always to have a room in my house with white, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Lucky me, then, that the Ikea Billy bookcases, when arranged in combination with a couple of CD units, fit perfectly along two walls in my front room. If I ever moved, it would be a condition of the move that the new place would have to have a similar reading space.

2. The sound of rain on a roof.  My mum's house is the best place to listen to the rain; I love to sit in the big armchair, in the bay window with views across the Pennines, and hear the rain falling outside.

3. The smell of woodsmoke from a chimney immediately makes me think of my cosy living room when the log burner is lit.

4. South African stuff.  Be it fabrics, stone carvings, music, books, or just the South African accent, I've never lived in a house that wasn't filled with things (and often people ) from my parents' birthplace. 

5. The smell of Nag Champa incense.  This is one from my late teens, when I used to haunt (and eventually work in) the local hippy shop; you know, the kind that sells clothes with mirrors sewn on, and overpriced rainbow candles.  My style has - thankfully - evolved since then, but I'm still very fond of these Indian incense sticks.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

A guide to understanding the introverted

This cartoon was all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds just before Christmas, but deservedly so.  I would have always described myself as an introvert, but I didn't truly understand what that meant until I read this. 

Although there is a difference between being introverted and being shy, unfortunately I am both.  But whereas I've learnt, to a certain extent, to beat my shyness (and according to others, come across as quite confident), my introversion is not so easily defeated.  There is a Midlake lyric, from Van Occupanther, which sums me up perfectly:

"I'd like to go home / And stay out of sight for a long time"

I've always known that I find socialising hard not just because of the shyness but because I find it exhausting to be around people.  After spending time in public, I've always felt the need to go home and shut the door and be completely alone for hours on end.  I've always replenished my energy by spending time on my own, and am perfectly capable of spending entire weekends in the bliss of solitude.  But I didn't really know why that was until I saw the cartoon, when everything fell into place for me.

It also made me better able to understand one of my brothers, who is much more of an introvert than me.  I am quite good at putting a mask on and fooling people into thinking I am more extroverted than I am, whereas he brooks no such pretence and, during family gatherings, will often withdraw to another room to read or sit quietly.  It's funny that although I have that exact same urge, I found it hard to understand in him until this cartoon spelt it out for me.

I used to worry, before meeting The Boy, how on earth I would cope with a significant other who, presumably, would expect me to actually spend time with them, and maybe even share a house with them.  It is the greatest joy of our relationship that I find spending time with him as restorative as spending time alone; that, in fact, it feels exactly like being by myself.

Reflecting on how being introverted affects me, I have realised that I need to make sure I plan time alone into my weeks.  Before, I would be tempted to say "yes" to any invitation I got and end up feeling exhausted and unwell by the end of a weekend.  Now I know that I need to prioritise time on my own, even if that means I have to decline making plans with friends. 

I sometimes wonder what it must feel like to be more extroverted and whether it would make my life any easier: I suspect not, as I am sure it just comes with different complications.  

Are you an introvert or an extrovert, and would you like to change?

Friday, 17 January 2014

Think you might want to work part-time? Here are 5 things to consider

Print by Stray Squirrels via etsy

Two years ago I was in the midst of a career crisis.  Teaching was taking over my life and I wasn't at all happy about it.  I liked parts of my job, but it felt like all I did was work and then come home so exhausted and stressed, that I had no energy for having fun.  Luckily, this crisis ocurred at the same time as my school needing to make some savings, and we were asked if any of us would consider going part-time.  After some careful thought - and after reading Tom Hodgkinson's brilliant book How To Be Free, which persuasively puts forward the notion that perhaps spending our lives on a work-spend-work treadmill is not conducive to a happy existence - I reduced my hours to nine days a fortnight, and it  has truly changed my life.

Having a day off has made me a better teacher - I'm more patient with my classes, more focused on work during my days at school, more willing to go the extra mile, all because I know I'll be getting some time to myself. Some weeks on my day off I just catch up on sleep and relax; some weeks I go walking or meet up with family; some weeks I get the irritating household jobs - like cleaning, washing, and shopping - done so that I can have a more relaxing weekend; some weeks I get my craft on and sew all day. Regardless of how I spend it, my day off always goes too quickly.  In fact, I've just put in my request to reduce my hours still further next year, going down to four days a week.

Increasingly, I'm hearing about other people in their 20s and 30s who are also making the choice to go part-time.  Often, they're people like me: not taking time out to spend with children, but rather taking the time to spend on themselves.  So, if you are considering reducing your hours and improving your work/life balance, here are a few things to think about:

1. Can you afford to work part-time?
This will no doubt be the first question you ask yourself.  Work out your monthly incomings and outgoings (Jess at Knitting On Trains did a fab post about how to manage your finances this week) and then look at whether you can afford to lose a chunk of that money.  However, bear in mind that a reduction in your hours, while entailing an equivalent reduction in your gross salary, won't mean the same reduction in your net salary (the money you get to take home).  Because your gross salary decreases, the amount of tax, NI, pension and student loan contributions - if you pay them - will also decrease.  This generally means that, although your pay cut may initially look drastic, what actually lands in your bank account isn't reduced by as much as you'd think.  Roughly speaking, I lose £300 gross but just over £100 net.  Frankly, I would happily give up that sum in exchange for the time, energy and pleasure I gain.

2. Can you afford not to?
This is the question you should be asking yourself.  I can't quite express how very precious my time off is to me: certainly more precious than money.  As I said above, having just one day a fortnight has enhanced my life in so many ways, both professionally and personally.  The thought of working five days a week, every week, for years and year until retirement (and when will that be for our generation, anyway?) just does not appeal to me.  As much as money is important - I need to pay my mortgage and bills just like everyone else - realising that there are more important things than slaving to earn a wage has been revelatory for me in terms of quality of life.

3. What are your options?
Do you have to have a day off a week or can you - like me - arrange for one a fortnight?  Some workplaces may give you the option of working longer hours on fewer days; a friend of mine once went down to three days a week but kept an almost-full time wage by working ten hours a day rather than eight.  Find out how flexible your employer is able and willing to be; you might be pleasantly surprised.

4. Are you ready for the opinions of others?
Be prepared for the fact that your colleagues will certainly comment on, and very possibly judge you for, your time off.  Never mind that when you work part time you may have to do your full time job in fewer hours.  Never mind that you're not being paid on your days off.  The people you work with will often assume that part time = slacker.  This is especially true if, like me, you don't have children.  Some people don't understand why I'd need or want time off if I don't have kids to look after at home; apparently prioritising my own health and happiness isn't enough of a justification. 

You can either let this attitude get to you or you can recognise for what it usually is: jealousy.  You're having a lie-in, or enjoying a sunny day in the park, while they slave away in the office.  It's natural for them to feel envious.  As long as you, and your superiors, know that you're pulling your weight, sod what the office gossip has to say.

5. "But what about my career prospects?"
This is a very real concern for lots of people because, rightly or wrongly, working part-time is often viewed as an option for people who don't take their careers seriously.  And ultimately, only you can know the ethos of your workplace and judge how reducing your hours might impact on your prospects of promotion.  Luckily, my school has a long history of people working part-time for all sorts of reasons, so I haven't found myself negatively impacted at all.  However, I'm aware that if and when I move to another school, my choice to work part-time might very well be questioned.  All the more reason to move to the Netherlands then; did you know that, for almost all public sector workers and lots of private sector ones too, a four day week (on a full time wage) is the norm?!  Start packing your bags now...

Thursday, 16 January 2014

List #3: The things I do on a rainy day

 Photo via weheartit
1. Put on some clean pyjamas, make a nest of duvet, pillows and quilts, and refuse to leave my bed.
2. Sit in a comfy chair, with my feet tucked under me and a good book in my lap.
3. Go to my favourite bar, Firebug in Leicester, curl up on a sofa with a pint of cider, and watch the rain fall outside while savouring being dry and warm.
4. Pull on a pair of boots and go walking by the canal.
5. Worry about my hair frizzing (and then sulk when it inevitably does).

Wednesday, 15 January 2014


PUTTING up shelves in the living room.  Not too exciting, you may think, but I love the book rearranging that new shelves occasion.  This was also exciting because the reason for the new shelves was that The Boy has begun to move his stuff in!  Of course, I'm not allowing his books to hang out with mine - they have their separate space in the front room.

READING more of Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce books.  I'm really enjoying these gentle pastiches of Golden Age of Crime detective novels, which make perfect cosy winter reading.

WEARING my awesome new 'FEMINIST' necklace, from Sugar & Vice Designs.  And stripes - lots and lots of stripes.  They're the new polka dots, in that they're taking over my wardrobe.

ENJOYING the very first hint of spring, even in deepest January, with these sunny yellow dwarf daffodils blooming on my kitchen windowsill.

LISTENING to lots and lots of 6 Music on the lovely new retro Bush radio I got for Christmas.  I already had a DAB radio in the kitchen, but it's so nice to have one in our bedroom too.  Lots of lazy weekend mornings listening to Cerys or Huey ahead, methinks.

GOING on an awesome road trip to see my friends' band at Proud Camden, where we were all very taken with the giant glitterball. 

WRITING in another favourite Christmas present, this brilliant Q&A A Day journal.  The idea is that, each day, you are asked a question (ranging from the frivolous, "What song is stuck in your head today," to the serious, "What is your mission in life," or "Why are you lucky").  There is space for five year's worth of answers, and tracking changes across that time will be fascinating.  I hope I can keep up the habit!

EATING so much good vegan food.  I really need to start posting recipes here more regularly!  Our latest invention are kick-ass vegan enchiladas with spiced wild rice: SO yummy.

PLANNING some fun trips this spring.  Manchester & Liverpool in a couple of weeks, followed by Glasgow in April, and hopefully another visit to London soon.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

52 lists

I do love a blogging project, especially one which allows me to indulge in another of my loves: in this case, lists.  There is nothing better than making a nice list.  I have notepads full of them, on topics ranging from books I want to read, to my favourite baby names (yep, even though I don't want children), to holiday destinations I want to visit.  I even have, somewhere in a little pink notebook, a list of every person I've ever kissed (although some of them are by necessity nameless - as in, I've either forgotten it or never knew it - and just say things like, "random indie boy in Pulp t-shirt, Glastonbury 1997").

So, even though I happened across Made in Hunters' 52 Lists challenge two weeks late, I leapt at the chance to take part.  I can't wait to have a new list topic landing in my inbox each week, and my Christmas pressie Bread & Jam notebook is the perfect place to make notes for each week's list. 

Week 1: List your goals for the year

1. Don't worry, be happy.  This was my big goal for 2014, and I'm not doing terribly well so far!  Two weeks of illness have left me too readily focusing on pain, medication and
2. Streamline my email inbox, unsubscribing from the marketing emails that I never read.
3. Speak to my tattoo artist about the two new tattoos I've been planning for years.
4. Write in my new Q&A A Day journal every night before bed.
5. Save up to buy a DSLR or bridge camera and learn how to use it!
6. Take more pictures of myself and The Boy, especially together.  It's sad how few photos we have of our time together.
7. Have a proper sit down to look at my finances: my mortgage, credit cards and savings accounts all need to be working for me, so I can save for some big trips in 2015 (family reunion in Canada AND my cousin's wedding in South Africa).
8. Be better about what I eat.  It's frustrating to come up against dietary restrictions when I come from a very fat-positive background of, "I can eat what the hell I want!"  But I have to be honest with myself: getting my IBS and related conditions under control is so much more important than eating cheeseburgers as a quasi-political statement.
9. Empty the under-stairs cupboard, which is reaching critical levels of fullness.  
10. Read 52 books.  I'd initially wanted to aim for 100, but one a week seems like a more realistic goal.  I managed 70 last year, so I'm hoping to smash this goal!

Week 2: Favourite moments of 2013

1. Watching the fireworks in Nijmegen in the early hours of 1st January 2013.
2. A romantic spring weekend in Paris with The Boy.
3. Being a bridesmaid for my best friend.
4. Getting a promotion at work.
5. Every wonderful airport and railway station reunion while in a long distance relationship... but especially the one when he returned for good.
6. The Christmas Day Harry Potter quiz with my brothers and 6 year-old niece (and especially the moment when Gracie told Richard, who hadn't got a question right all round, to "get it together!").
7. Reading by the log fire while drinking champagne in the Cotswolds with The Boy.

Monday, 6 January 2014

2013: A year in books

When I saw Daire's post about her year in books, I knew I wanted to 'borrow' (steal) the questions.  It's taken me until today to finish, though, because Christmas and New Year have been so hectic.  So, six days late, here is my year in books...

Best Book You Read in 2013. If you need to cheat you can break this down by genre.
This is difficult, but here goes...
Children's/YA - Wonder by RJ Palacio.  Recounting a year in the life of Auggie, a 10 year old boy with a severe facial disfigurement who is starting school for the first time.  I especially liked the fact that chapters were told from the point of view of several characters. 
Genre fiction - the Game of Thrones series.
Literary fictionLongbourn by Jo Baker.  It's Pride & Prejudice, as seen from the perspective of those working below stairs to serve the Bennett family.  I fell in love with the simplicity of the prose and the wonderful characters of Sarah and James.  Baker does a great job of highlighting the enormous social inequalities at work in the 19th century.
Non-fiction - this might be the toughest decision, but I think my absolute favourite was Sara Marcus' book about Riot Grrrl, Girls To The Front.

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t.
Life After Life  by Kate Atkinson, which is not to say I didn't love it - I did - but after a wonderful first half I found the second surprisingly hard going at times.

Most Surprising (In A Good Way) Book of 2013.
Stranded At The Drive-In by Gary Mullholland isn't the type of book I usually read; although I like watching movies just fine, I'm by no means a film buff.  But this collection of short essays about the best teen movies was a great read, providing an incisive look at my favourite genre.

Book You Read in 2013 That You Recommended to People Most.
I raved about Wonder by R.J Palacio here on the blog, I raved about it on Twitter, I raved about it to people I met and to my pupils at school.  Luckily, everyone who read it loved it as much as I did.  I thought it a crying shame that this didn't feature in more newspaper end of year book lists; an indication of the low opinion in which much children's and YA fiction is held, I fear.

Best Series You Discovered in 2013.
Ok, so get ready for me to repeat myself a lot over the remaining questions, because 2013 was the year I discovered the A Song Of Ice & Fire series (better known as Game of Thrones).  Obviously I'd heard of it before, mostly thanks to the TV series, but I wasn't convinced I'd enjoy it.  When the fourth reader I respect recommended it to me, I took up his offer of a lend of the books and boy am I glad I did!  Within two pages of the first novel I was hooked, and a large portion of the past five months has been spent with my head buried in a GoT novel.  I also really enjoyed my recent introduction to the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley, and will definitely be reading more.

Favourite New Author You Discovered in 2013.
John Green.  I've read four of his novels - The Fault In Our Stars, An Abundance Of Katherine's, Paper Towns and Looking For Alaska - and one of his short stories, and although I didn't enjoy them all equally I will definitely continue reading his stuff.

Best Book That Was Out of Your Comfort Zone Or Was A New Genre For You.
Game of Thrones, definitely.  Fantasy novels, especially historical ones, are as far from my normal reading as it's possible to get, yet they are so fantastically written and gripping that I fell in love instantly.

Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book in 2013.
Can I say Game Of Thrones again?!

Book You Read in 2013 That You're Most Likely to Reread Again Next Year.
I loved Adorkable by Sarra Manning so much that I actually read it twice in 2013, and I'm sure I'll read it for a third time this year.

Favourite Cover of A Book You Read in 2013.
Girls To The Front by Sara Marcus is a history of the Riot Grrrl movement, and the cover is an awesome DIY fanzine-style combination of typewritten print with a black & white photograph of Bikini Kill.  Keeping to the red and black theme, I also loved the cover of Jeanette Winterson's novel The Daylight Gate, although I was underwhelmed by the story within.

Most Memorable Character in 2013.
Gosh, so many!  Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark from the Game of Thrones universe, Auggie from Wonder, Sarah and James, the servants from Longbourn... all of them entered my heart as well as my mind.

Most Beautifully Written Book Read in 2013.
Longbourn by Jo Baker is just perfect, with prose so lyrical and gorgeous that I frequently had to pause in my reading in order to savour the beauty of it.

Book That Had the Greatest Impact On You in 2013.
Rather than greatest impact, the book that made me think the most was Reclaiming The F Word, a great look at modern feminism (and, unusually for writing on this topic, it was largely UK-focused too).

Book You Can't Believe You Waited UNTIL 2013 To Finally Read.
Beth Ditto's memoir, Coals To Diamonds.  I really loved it when I finally did get round to buying a copy.

Shortest & Longest Book You Read in 2013.
Shortest - Coals To Diamonds.  Longest - A Feast For Crows (Book 4 of A Song of Ice & Fire).

Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc.) Be careful of spoilers!
Every chapter of every book in the Game Of Thrones series, of course.  It's driving my crazy that The Boy has only watched season 1 and my brother is only on book 2, so there's no-one I can turn to and go WTF?! when something weird or awesome or terrible happens.  Most wanting to do this moment: the Cersei chapter at the end of book four.  Oh my gosh!

Favourite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).
The relationship between parlour maid Sarah and footman James in Longbourn is so beautifully wrought and I believed every moment of their falling in love. 

Favourite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You've Read Previously?
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson, a really moving and fascinating autobiography.  I especially loved her insights into feminism, class politics and the north-south divide.

Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else?
A friend of mine on Facebook recommended The Fault In Our Stars by John Green and I absolutely loved it.

Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?
Non-fiction.  Looking back through my monthly 'Read' posts, a good proportion of my reading last year was non-fiction.  I especially loved Occupy: Scenes From Occupied America, the aforementioned Girls To The Front, Names For The Sea: Strangers In Iceland, and What Matters In Jane Austen.  I also took part in Daire's Non Fic November, which made me think more carefully about the non-fiction I read. 

Best 2013 debut you read?
I think it has to be Jo Baker's Longbourn again.

Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?
Mutton by India Knight was pure entertainment.  Like all her books it was silly and funny and frivolous, but a joy to read.

Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?
The Fault In Our Stars  had me sobbing into my tissues.

Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?
Even though it was made into a blockbusting film this year, I think World War Z by Max Brooks has been somewhat overlooked.  The movie pretty much abandoned the source material, and I'd hate anyone to think that the book is as bad as the film. 

Total number of books read in 2013?
My count isn't exact, because for some reason I didn't post a January Reads, but I think it's about 70.  My aim for 2014 is to read 100+, so I better get to it!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Don't worry, be happy

Image via weheartit

If 2012 was about change, both seeking it and then dealing with it when it happened (or didn't happen), then 2013 was a year of adventures.  Literal adventures - I spent more time on planes and trains last year than I care to count - and metaphorical,  as I embarked on the adventure of falling in love and beginning to build a life with a fantastic person.

When I sat down this year to write an end-of-year/start-of-year/goals & resolutions-type post, it made me take a long hard look at my life.  And when I did that, I realised something awesome: I pretty much have everything I ever wanted.

A beautiful home that, in the not-too-distant-future, I'll get to share with a brilliant dude.

A job that - while demanding and stressful - is never dull.  I work with great kids, I talk about books and writing all day, and I manage to maintain a reasonable work-life balance despite the crazy hours teachers have. 

A good wage that enables me to buy the things I want, go on fun date nights, and travel regularly.

A family that is happy, healthy, and only a couple of hours drive away.

A group of friends, both IRL and online, who I know are there for me no matter what.

A body with which I am more at peace than ever before.

A man whom I love, and am loved by, and who makes every moment spent with him a joy.

And so my goal for 2014 is to realise how fucking lucky I am, and to remember all of the good before I dwell on the small irritants of life.  This goal is important because I suppose the only fly in the ointment of 2013 was being diagnosed with not one, but two long-term medical conditions that, while both manageable, are exacerbated by stress.  I always thought I dealt with stress pretty well, but my body had other ideas.  While my mind stays (relatively) calm, my body betrays me and can make me feel pretty miserable.  I figure that if I can count my blessings and be happy about the good stuff, maybe the bad stuff - my stupid illnesses - will improve and then I really will have everything I could need.

Friday, 3 January 2014

A few days in the Cotswolds

For Christmas this year, The Boy and I decided to treat ourselves to a few days away instead of spending the money on gifts for each other. So, after a Christmas spent apart with our respective families, on Sunday we loaded up the car and set off to that most rock & roll of destinations, the Cotswolds. Yes, the hip young vegan activist academic - who I first fell for when he was living in a former squat-turned-communal living project - had a yen to visit the rolling hills, genteel limestone towns and picture postcard villages of Gloucestershire. Weird or what?!

We stayed at the White Hart Royal Hotel in Moreton-In-Marsh, a fantastic 17th century coaching inn with the most wonderful staff (they even went out of their way to cater specially for the vegan). Our three days were mostly spent sitting by the inglenook fireplace in the cosy bar, reading and chatting. On the rare occassions that the rain abated, we ventured out to wander around Chipping Campden (which is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been), Stow-On-The-Wold, Broadway Tower, and Moreton itself.

It was the perfect way to the end 2013; a few days in the countryside with good food, good champagne (when in the Cotswolds...!), and my absolute favourite person in the world. I think we will make the post-Christmas break an annual traditions.