A New Chapter

I am Halina, I am 30 years old, I am a mother of one, and for the entire life of my 3 1/2 year old boy I have been a working mother. But! In *checks watch* just two short days the latter half of that sentence will be re-written.

In two short days, the summary of the main points of my identity will read: I am Halina, I am 30 years old, and I am a stay-at-home mother of one.

Why? The decision shocked me, in all honesty. I have worked all of my life. Since turning 16 I have worked pretty much constantly (bar a couple of years at uni), and thought that I would do so until retirement. When I had my son, I only briefly considered giving up work, and then rejected that idea when it became apparent that 1) I couldn’t afford to 2) I would probably have gone absolutely insane had I done. I’ve written before about the joys of being a working mother, I’ve held all the opinions about the benefits of being a working mother for your children. I never thought that a day would come when I would look around me and think: “Yeah…it’s time to give this up”.

And yet, that day has come. It’s been coming for a while. In a way, it makes me desperately angry that I have had to choose, but the myth of “having it all” has been spoken about far more eloquently than I ever could, and that’s not what this is about. This is about this boy and our home.

 

Tom

 

When I am at home, and with him, I feel like Myself in a way that has been decreasing with alarming speed at work. When I spend time with him, hold his hand, race him to the swings, bribe him to help me tidy up – whatever we do, I feel like Me. Even when he infuriates me beyond belief, I see parts of Me looking out at me through the stubbornness and cheek.

At home with him, there are no complicated bitchy adult politics. There are no demanding clients, no difficult lazy employees. No feelings of constantly having to do things like refuse to serve the lunch or tidy up the boardroom after meetings for fear of opening myself up to insidious gender discrimination. And if I’m poorly, it sucks, and it’s hard, but he understands, and I’m not constantly checking my emails with one paranoid eye whilst trying to persuade myself to sleep.

Yes, at home with him there is a sometimes-demanding, sometimes-difficult, sometimes-lazy (when it comes to tidying) child, but he is a child who thinks the world of me unconditionally and vice versa. There’s no pretence and no politics and no stress.

 

Mummy & Tom

 

I’m looking forward to this new chapter with an intensity that I can barely put into words. I’m aching for it. For mornings of walking him the (literal) 200m to school, then either going for a run or having a lazy breakfast or doing some blogging or crochet, followed by picking him up, lunch, and then afternoon fun. I’m prepared to have days where all I want is some alone time. I’m prepared to have days where all I want is for him to be in childcare. I’m prepared to have days where I probably long to return to work. But, and this is the main thrust behind this decision, all of those will be cancelled out by the sheer fact that I will be sharing this time with him. I’m not going to be missing his earliest years any more. I’m not going to be too tired and stressed to enjoy his company. Instead, I’m going to be soaking it up.

I can’t wait. Here’s to a new chapter!

9 Reasons Why Crazy Ex Girlfriend Should Be Your New Favourite TV Show

On July 29th I was browsing Netflix and became fixated on a pink balloon. It looked happy. And the title of the show affixed to that pink balloon just SPOKE to me, y’know? After a few weeks of feeling like I was increasingly losing touch with reality, Crazy Ex Girlfriend sounded like something I could really vibe with. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what it was about (other  than what the title suggests). I had no reason to believe that, on August 9th, just over one week later, I would have finished the entire run of 18 hour-long episodes. Or that I would be foaming at the mouth with HOW BLOODY BRILLIANT THIS SHOW IS.

Crazy Ex Girlfriend is a masterpiece and I will not rest until each and every one of you is as huge a fan as I am. Gather round, young and old (well, maybe not young, it’s not exactly smut-free), and lemme tell you why Crazy Ex Girlfriend should be your new favourite TV show…

Crazy Ex Girlfriend

It’s written FOR women.

Note the title: it’s specifically, categorically NOT MY Crazy Ex Girlfriend, something which the creator Rachel Bloom has been outspoken about. It’s a show for all the women who have ever felt as if their control over their mental state has been eroded by romantic emotions and situations. It’s a show for all the women who have ever been labelled as “crazy” for having those emotions. It’s a show for all the women who have ever felt miserable because somebody didn’t share their emotions. And come on, that’s all of us. And yet it’s funny enough and open enough to not exclude men. Because why would anyone want to do THAT?

 

It’s about a woman who is YOU.

Caring? Intelligent? Idealistically romantic at times? Insecure? Somewhat needy? Prone to nostalgia? Hilariously self-deprecating? Occasionally selfish to the point of self-harm? If you recognise those traits as your own, then you will KNOW Rebecca Bunch. Rebecca Bunch is the sum total of all the parts of us that we consider to be the best, added to the parts that keep us awake at night stuck in an endless flashback to that time in 2003 when we did THAT THING with THAT PERSON. She makes all the same mistakes as us: that CRINGE love letter we wrote in our Letters Are Totally The Way To Go! phase; that boy we dropped for that other boy because the first was being a littttttle too normal; that text that went to the wrong person. Rebecca Bunch is all of us. Rebecca Bunch IS us.

 

It has THE BEST SONGS.

For some people this might be an instant turn-off. But I would urge you, URGE YOU to stick with it. If you’ve ever watched and loved Flight Of The Conchords, or ever thought the stereotypical Britnet/Katy/Rihanna/Taylor genre songs were becoming a teeny bit laughable, then you need this show. Each song is a perfectly pitched tongue-in-cheek pop at “oh yeah THAT one!” whilst at the same time being so relevant to the plot that it’s hard to imagine the story without. There are far too many good ones to list here, but at the bottom of the post I’ve added a selection of the best and I will PROBABLY DEFINITELY write something else exclusively dedicated to the songs themselves at some point.

 

It has supporting characters you recognise from life. 

Actual life. Because, whilst it would be brilliant to live in some TV shows, with their steely-strong-but-heart-of-gold female characters and fatally-flawed-but-desperately-in-love males, Crazy Ex Girlfriend holds the actual reality. There’s the guy who’s been with his girlfriend forever but he won’t really commit because he doesn’t REALLY like her but he can’t be arsed to go down that route because oh god so much effort. There’s the bloke who gets dead into you but the second you admit the same he bolts because he’s terrified but also too emotionally-stunted to put that into words. There’s that slightly unhinged middle-aged woman who is bored stiff with her stagnant life and so lives through yours. And then there’s your mother. Yes, YOUR mother (or mine, anyway).

 

It’s cheesy, but not hammy.

Now as we all know, life is nothing without a croque monsieur every now and then, but not when it comes to TV shows. Look, any TV show that contains songs can’t NOT be cheesy. This I fully admit. But Crazy Ex Girlfriend is almost the Stilton of musical TV shows – super cheesy with a bitter edge. It’s so clear throughout that Rebecca’s Disneyfied version of romance is a result of childhood events and popular culture, and thanks to this the show never tips into schmaltz. And whilst many shows are original, they also get boring because they’re hammyCrazy Ex Girlfriend is brilliantly, dazzlingly original, and NEVER takes itself too seriously.

 

The heartthrob is Filipino.

Yes, it would be bloody fantastic if every TV show was intersectionally diverse. Crazy Ex Girlfriend isn’t quite there, BUT it takes a step rarely ever seen by a western comedy – it casts a Filipino American actor as its lead male character. In a culture where Matt Fucking Damon is cast in the role of saving ancient fucking CHINA, it’s amazing to see an Asian actor in such prominence.

 

It handles mental health far more refreshingly than any other show.

Becky Bunch is quite clearly a person in need of a good load of therapy. Other characters display symptoms of mental illness. Themes of anxiety and depression run throughout, their weight handled with the lightest of touches that never ignores but instead highlights just how badly society views and treats mental illnesses. On more than one occasion (and not just in the title song), Becky makes the point that words like “crazy” do more harm than good…and yet at the same time the show sets out to reclaim those labels, using them to break down exactly why they have been applied to women for so long.

 

It features a literal Disney Princess.

To really hammer home the truth that all of this Prince-and-Princess one-true-love pink-and-sparkles bullshit is really, REALLY bad for women, there is an actual Disney Princess as a supporting character. As well as a Disney villain. You can work out for yourselves who they are.

 

IT MAKES YOU FORGET ABOUT THE MEN!

Yes, the entire point of the plot is that Rebecca moves to West Covina because of Josh (not a spoiler – literally happens in the first 10 minutes). Yes, the show follows her many, many machinations to get close to Josh, as well as all of her other male encounters. But (and this is the real heart and genius of the show), you just don’t care. Instead, you watch Rebecca grow, become slightly self-aware, accept her wrong-doings, bloom a slight happiness in her life. When she makes mistakes you groan in disappointment. And when the finale rolls around, you get angry, SO BLOODY ANGRY that she’s gone so far backwards. The show isn’t about Male A or Male B and ZOMG WHO WILL BECKY CHOOSE?! It’s about Becky. Rebecca Bunch. Beautiful, brilliant, balls-out bananas Becky Bunch, and her life, her mind, her mistakes, her decisions, her.

 

If this has made up your mind that YES I MUST WATCH THIS! then amazing! You can find every single episode on Netflix. Still not convinced? Have a look at some of the best songs (under the cut):

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On (Not) Eating

This past week has introduced me to a genuinely new sensation: being unable to eat. Not because of illness or any physical ailment, or even because of some OMG Lose Weight!! reason that I’ve enforced, but just…not being able to eat. Gaining food, placing it in my mouth, chewing, swallowing. The process of consuming. It has been impossible.

Throughout my life, in times of sadness I have always turned to food. Food is my BFF. Carbs, especially. Also, wine. When I was 17 and began to suffer from SAD I went through a bottle of wine a night in order to try to numb the empty gnawing in my head. When I was 21 and suffered through a depression that saw me unable to leave my tiny university room for days on end, I still managed to leave to shuffle to a shop, grab bags of sweets and crisps, and then return to my room to work my way through them. When I was 25 and had my heart shattered into a few thousand tiny pieces I ate my way through the contents of my flat and the corner shop, including getting through a loaf of white bread per day. And just last year (although it feels like far, far longer ago than that) I medicated with chocolate and mince pies and wine as 2015 began.

Long story short: food has forever been my emotional crutch.

Apart from…right now. It started on Monday morning. I packed up my breakfast and lunch as usual, I took it into work as usual, I stored it in the fridge as usual, and then…nothing. I sat at my desk and thought about the food. Every time I thought about eating the food I felt panic begin to brew. And so I didn’t think about it any more. I got home and had a G&T. I thought that I should eat some dinner. And then I didn’t.

And that pattern…well, it just kind of continued. Each day. I began to feel light-headed. My hands began to shake. But every single time that I thought about food, I had to fight down an overwhelming torrent of sheer terror.

On Thursday night, I all but force-fed myself salad and cheesy chips. Some of your favourite foods, I thought. Fucking EAT them. You NEED to eat.

On Friday, I walked into a shop and bought myself the ingredients for one of my favourite meals. And then I got home, looked at them, and ate a few crackers instead.

That night, I drank a bottle of Prosecco. Let me tell you, after 5 days of consuming practically nothing, that is NOT a good idea. Obviously it resulted in my feeling absolutely horrendous all day on Saturday, and so after trying and failing to eat a delicious burger I forced myself to perform my usual Hangover Ritual: order Domino’s.

It came. I ate three slices of pizza. I ate some chicken. And then I stopped, because I couldn’t physically do it. My hands were conspiring against me. My stomach was threatening to empty itself.

Today is Sunday, and after two cups of coffee and many deep breaths I set about making myself one of my favourite breakfasts: scrambled eggs with slow-cooked tomatoes and chorizo, on a slice of wholemeal toast.

I made it.

I looked at it.

I made myself start eating it.

I had to stop.

 

What is the point of this post? It’s because I’m scared. I’m terrified of myself and this week. I have NEVER had a healthy relationship with food – instead, I have a dependent, obsessive relationship with the satiety and sugar-highs from food. That has been the case all of my life, and now that I am in a position where I find myself completely unable to find ANY enjoyment in food to the point where I can’t even put the stuff in my mouth…it is scary.

I’m trying to trick my body into being excited. I’ve planned out the next week’s meals, made my shopping list, decided what I’ll eat when. This is usually one of my favourite activities in the week (yeah alright), but right now I’m gazing at the list and feeling…nothing. Apart from rising terror.

I think this situation has come about due to the lack of control over huge swathes of my life at the moment. We are trying to sell our house, something that I have zero control over. I am leaving my job (to be explained in a future post), and have therefore lost all control in the future direction of that company and also my own earnings. I have other health-type things going on that I have little control over. There are so many Unknowns in my head. And I really can’t carry on obsessing over them and listening to Beyoncé on repeat.

So, A Plan.

 

  1. I will stick to this meal plan. I will make these meals. I will try to eat as much of them as I can.
  2. I will buy some meal-replacement shakes so that if I really and truly cannot bring myself to eat, I can try to trick myself that I’m just having a drink instead. And still get some form of nutrition.
  3. I will get some more exercise. Soon, I will have large periods of free time, and I will use them well. No need to start off by promising to spend every day in the gym – I’m just going to promise myself that I will walk 5km per day (obviously that’s not in any way linked to the Pokemon eggs I need to hatch…)
  4. I will give myself time to do things I enjoy. I will take my son to the cinema. I will sit for an evening and do nothing but crochet and watch The Good Wife. I will spend time with my favourite people. I will apply some face masks and foot creams and spend a couple of hours reading beauty blogs.
  5. I will let myself use bloody social media. This week I went on a deleting apps kick, and then promptly hated myself every time I used my phone browser to stalk Twitter. So, screw it. Reinstall the apps. Scroll. It’s fine.

 

And, I shall remember: This Too Shall Pass.

The Three Eye Products That Saved My Sanity…Kind Of

For the last year I have dedicated an inordinate amount of time to stressing, worrying, and moaning about my eyes. Specifically, the skin underneath my eyes. There’s no getting away from it: I am 30 years old now, and gradually but surely there are fine lines appearing on my face. And nowhere as noticeable and gutting as under my eyes.

When I first started noticing the lines, I frantically tried out all the different eye creams that I could, hoping that one of them would be the miracle cure that would tighten, brighten, firm, smoothe, bla bla bla insert marketing adjectives to infinity. As the months passed and the wrinkles did not, I started changing the way I slept – forcing myself to fall asleep on my back (which I HATE), waking myself up in the night to move if I’d rolled onto my front (which I LOVE). I cranked up the water intake. I ate more vegetables. I started wearing my glasses more to prevent squinting. I did so, so many things that are really, really good for you in general with the sole entire aim of improving the appearance of my under-eyes…and they did squat.

The issue, you see, is not just a couple of lines. That, I could cope with. Nope, my under-eyes make me glare at everyone else the same age as me, because they don’t seem to have this problem. The skin beneath their eyes is not a saggy, flabby, dry mess of thousands of tiny lines. The skin beneath their eyes doesn’t hold on for dear life to any makeup put ANYWHERE near it, with the result that the lines are chock-fulla product and look about two zillion times more apparent.

It sounds so flippant, that products could have appeared that saved my sanity. But, they kind of almost did. Here is a list of the various things I tried in order to minimise the appearance of those lines, to tighten the skin, to MOISTURISE it out of the Sahara deathzone it seemed to be stuck in:

 

  • Clinique’s All About Eyes – perfectly pleasant, did nothing
  • Una Brennan Superfacialist’s Neroli Firming Illuminate Eye Cream – fine, did nothing
  • La Roche-Posay’s Hydraphase Intense Eyes – alright, quite hydrating, did nothing
  • Benefit’s It’s Potent! Eye Cream – stung like a mother, did nothing
  • Benefit’s Puff Off Eye Gel – felt nice, did nothing
  • Clarins’ Eye Contour Balm – expensive, did nothing
  • Eucerin Aquaporin Active Moisturising Eye Cream – felt nice, did nothing
  • The Body Shop’s Nutriganics Smoothing Eye Cream  – ok, did a little, not enough
  • The Body Shop’s Elderflower Unperfumed Eye Gel – total placebo, did nothing
  • Nuxe’s Reve de Miel – this is an extreme lip balm. LIP BALM. I was desperate. It did nothing.
  • Haemorrhoid cream – I’m not kidding. I went there. IT. DID. NOTHING.

 

The shocking thing is that these are only the things I can remember. I used each one until it ran out, so it’s not like I didn’t give anything a decent shot. I began to be almost accepting of the fact that for the rest of my life I would hate my eyes, and idly wondered if Botox is acceptable in the under-eye area.

But THEN! Then, I stumbled across three products within the space of about two weeks, and together they quite literally Changed My LIFE. Since I began using them, I’ve only had perhaps one day where I’ve stressed about my eyes, and that was a day when I’d had barely any sleep and was starting to get hayfever symptoms, so even that doesn’t really count.

 

Eye products

 

The Body Shop’s Vitamin E Eye Cream

I fully admit that I used to poo-poo The Body Shop’s eye creams, thinking that as they are so cheap relative to bigger brands there was no way they could measure up. The Elderflower Gel thing didn’t get rid of that presumption. However, THIS stuff! It’s almost more of a mousse than a cream – such a light, airy texture that melts into the skin around the eyes and, I’m not kidding, has an instant effect. I’m talking, look in the mirror in the morning and sigh, apply eye cream and BEAM. It feels fresh and beautiful, and it makes my eyes look smooth and radiant and happy. I tend to use it in the mornings, and it hydrates well into the late afternoon. I will never stop using this stuff.

£12.00 at The Body Shop here

 

Eucerin’s Anti-Age Volume Filler Eye Cream

There’s no getting away from the main downside of this stuff: it stings like a BITCH if you get it actually in your eye. You will cry, and that will wipe away all of the stuff that you actually managed to apply, BUT if you’re not a total clumsy klutz with sausage fingers like me, you’ll be fine. And you should try it anyway, because this cream is genius. I don’t know how it does it, but it actually Does What It Says On The Tin. Volume is injected. Skin is firmer. Skin is quenched. I apply at night, so that there is little to ruin the work that this stuff does, and even though yes, I wake up thinking “maaaan I look rough”, I don’t wake up thinking “WHY AM I EIGHTTYYYYY” any more. Which is excellent.

£22.00 at Boots here

 

Urban Decay’s Naked Skin Concealer

Helping this area of your face look good isn’t solely down to whatever lotions and potions you use. If you’re applying a super thick, super chalky-finish concealer to ageing eyes, you’re going to be emphasising those wrinkles no matter what. Over the last year or so I have had to gradually swap out a huge number of concealers that I used to love – Maybelline’s Eraser Concealer (holy cow this is HORRENDOUS for wrinkles), Maybelline’s Fit Me Concealer (a good Nars dupe but far too heavy and chalky these days), Benefit’s anything (all of them are awful for fine lines), etc etc. I stumbled across this Urban Decay offering as a suggestion on a forum after Googling “best concealer for under-eye wrinkles” and I am SO GLAD that I did. This product, my friends, is my new God. It. Is. BEAUTIFUL. Applied lightly under the eyes, blended in with a slightly damp beauty blender, worshipped for all time. It doesn’t catch on the lines. It doesn’t highlight the wrinkles. It isn’t drying. It doesn’t look fake. It is the exact opposite of these things – natural, light, radiant, gentle, naked. It’s glorious. I’m never going back.

£17.50 at House Of Fraser here

 

Eye products

 

Of course, something else could turn up eventually that is even better than those three, but for now (with my current budget anyway) I’m highly doubting it.
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A Fiona Apple Song For Every Occasion

Fiona Apple is my inner-emo-girl damn-why-do-feelings-exist spirit animal. She’s been around for donkey’s years, writing and recording incredible songs that are one minute all SCREW YOU sassy, and the next spelling out feelings that you never even knew you had so eloquently that it’s like you looked in a mirror and your brain and heart popped out and started playing a game of Truth. Almost best of all, she doesn’t wail away in the kind of pitch that could clean your champagne flutes or constantly bellow at volumes that could function as the air-raid signal in the next war (love you, Adele, but chill k?).  Fee (we’re THAT close, ok) doesn’t have the greatest voice in the world but it seriously doesn’t matter because that just means it’s easier to sing along to all the TRUTH.

I’ve had the loose aim for a while now to write this kind of post, if only to flail to an unconvinced mass (read: small clump of a few people I know) about just how freakin’ awesome this woman is. And so here we go. A Fiona Apple song for every occasion. Well, not every occasion. But, y’know.

Sidenote: I didn’t actually mean for this to almost be structured as the story to what would be THE WORST RELATIONSHIP ON EARTH EVER, it just seemed to fall that way. Also, yeah sure, I’d be lying if I said I’ve never experienced some of these situations myself, but not ALL so let’s hold off on labelling me a bunny-boiler k.

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A Slimming Cooked Breakfast?

This post has been languishing in my Drafts for literally two years. Two. Years. And I’ve no real idea why. So, because I plan to “treat” myself to one of these breakfasts this weekend to make up for three weeks of shitty illness, I’m dragging it into the light.

Since Slimming World is all about lean meats, fruits and vegetables, low fat and low sugar – a plan which doesn’t quite lend itself to a greasy fry-up – it tends to get trumpeted around a lot that YOU CAN EAT A FRY-UP OMG. The Extra Easy plan even means that one can eat FRIED POTATOES and BACON on the same plate.

Hands up, I do love a good cooked English breakfast. Who doesn’t? Bacon. Eggs. Sausages. Hash browns. Beans. Toast. Sauces. What’s not to love? The Americans even managed to improve on this with the addition of maple syrup and pancakes. Seriously, you have not tasted delicious, delicious coronary heart disease until you’ve eaten a massive plate of sausages, eggs, bacon, and pancakes, all smothered in maple syrup.

It does therefore come as a slightly strange notion that this famous diet-plan champions a big cooked breakfast. Encourages it, even. A huge breakfast, containing protein, fibre, and vegetables, means that you’re less likely to eat again until lunchtime. And that huge breakfast can be tweaked to be pretty low-fat. And still delicious. Actually, it probably tastes one hell of a lot better than some cooked breakfasts I’ve been served in the past. As someone who worked at a Little Chef as a teenager, I Know What I Am Talking About.

 

Slimming World Cooked Breakfast

BACON

Obviously use smoked bacon. I don’t understand you people who use plain. I mean…what does it taste of? Nothing, that’s right. So, smoked bacon, and the fat should be cut off. I find this easiest to do with scissors, rather than a knife. And yes, I know, the crispy rind is often the best bit, but crispy fat-less bacon is still bacon.

 

SAUSAGES

Possibly my favourite part of a cooked breakfast. There are very few sausages that are considered “free” in Slimming World standards. Instead, there are several low-fat versions that I have discovered are actually incredibly tasty. I’m not kidding. Weight Watchers sausages can be found in most supermarkets, and whilst they can be a tiny bit dry if overcooked, are lovely. Sainsbury’s Be Good To Yourself Cumberland sausages are also pretty good. And then of course there are Quorn sausages, which are delicious. Of course, not everyone likes the idea of Quorn, but I promise if you give it a go you won’t be disappointed. And in this most recent edit, I’m adding in the Heck chicken sausages, and also Slimming World’s own brand frozen sausages – both of which are also pretty tasty.

Grill the sausages. I guess you could fry them in FryLight, but that doesn’t make much sense…

 

POTATOES

Hash browns are possibly one of my favourite foods. Hash browns and sausages in a bread roll. Hash browns and tomatoes in a bread roll. HASH BROWNS IN MY MOUTH. But, they are intrinsically fatty, generally oily, and no good for the purpose of a slimming breakfast. You could make your own, but with the faffing of grating potatoes and onions and grappling with the extra moisture and binding them together…just do saute potatoes already.

For sautes, I slice potatoes thinly, then microwave the slices for about 5 minutes, or until they are tender. Then they get fried in plenty of FryLight, salt and pepper until crispy on both sides, before the frying pan being covered by a lid for 5-10 minutes. This ensures the armadillo-esque crispy on the outside, smooth on the inside.

 

EGGS

I’m not a fan of fried eggs. Rubbery white… *shudder* My favourite eggs are poached, but for some reason I seem to have totally lost the ability to poach an egg. These days, the main way I eat eggs is scrambled.

Of course, scrambled eggs require milk and butter, right? Wrong. They are just as delicious, perhaps even more so, made with fat free Greek yogurt, or fat free fromage frais. Lots of freshly-ground black pepper, a good sprinkling of salt, and fluffy light eggs are yours.

 

BREAD

On Slimming World’s Extra Easy plan, you get to choose one fibre-rich food from a list each day. This list includes things like nuts, cooked/dried fruits, and breads. It’s a pretty decent way of limiting bread intake, because bread, my friends, is sweet tasty evil. I guarantee that if you often get uncomfortably bloated, cutting out bread will likely get rid of that. Bloody bread. Why must it taste so good?

Anyway. Wholemeal bread is the order of the day. I measure mine out, toast it, and have it with my cooked breakfast, because obviously.

 

VEGETABLES

Really, the only traditional way to get some vegetables into a cooked breakfast is by way of tomatoes, which aren’t even vegetables. However, Slimming World calls for 1/3 of your plate to be fruits or vegetables. Tricky.

I get around this by grilling a pepper. Grilled peppers are sweet and lovely, and go far better with a cooked breakfast than you would think. As well as these and the tomatoes, I shove a load of fresh spinach onto the plate, which again works better than you’d think. Not only does your brain feel all GO ME thanks to the intake of Something Green, but it’s also a lovely cool foil to the other big flavours on the plate. Plus, iron.

 

BEANS

A well-cooked tin of baked beans is my absolute breakfast go-to. What do I mean by well-cooked? Well, I don’t mean zapped for 1 minute in the microwave, to start. For me, beans have to be cooked until they’re sticky and gloopy, until almost all of that fake tomatoey sauce that they stick in there has evaporated. First, I drain off the majority of said liquid. Then, the beans get stuck in a pan on a low heat along with salt, pepper, 1 tbsp tomato puree, some chilli powder, and 1 tsp Worcester sauce. They’re the first things I start cooking when making a breakfast, and this means that by the time everything else is ready they are gloriously thick and rich. And a MUST on any breakfast plate.

 

And, well, that is that. That is how to have a delicious cooked breakfast that is completely saintly and yet sets you up for one hell of a day. I’m SO looking forward to this weekend now…
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On Friendships

 

My son has three Best Friends. I know this because he tells me about them often, unprompted. He tells me who his best friends are, and why, and that he loves them. Which is beyond adorable, and which makes me so happy I could burst. It also, however, makes my heart catch a little. It makes me anxious. And this is entirely because of my own life of friendships, my own fears and worries and doubts generated from those.

 

Best Friends

 

I am lucky enough to have some wonderful friends in my life. There’s the one who I have very little in common with but with whom I have spent 15 years sharing great food, great wine, a lot of laughter, many travelling memories, and even some men. There are the two boys (men, really, but they’ll always be boys to me) who remain my two favourite males ever outside of my immediate family. There is the woman who is almost my twin, who I met through the magic of Twitter, with whom I can share anything and everything. Then there is the woman who now lives in Australia and who I barely ever speak to, but who will always be my Best Friend. And finally, there is the woman I met at my current work who greets me each morning with “Hi smeg head” (and who I reply to with “Morning bell end”, it’s that kind of friendship) and who is one of the only people I appear as The Cheerful One alongside.

There is barely anyone I met before the age of 16.

As a child, my parents moved around. A lot. I went to four different primary schools and three different secondary schools. These were all good schools, great schools, don’t get me wrong, but the sense of upheaval and the colossal change experienced with each move was disorientating and stifling in a way that I can’t let myself remember too well these days. If I do, the feelings of loneliness and anxiety become suffocating. Each new move was a struggle through treacle to adjust, to settle, and to somehow make friends. As I (and the other children/teenagers I was thrust amongst) got older, that treacle only became thicker and deeper. The friends that I did make at each school would keep in touch at first after the next inevitable move, but as time went on would all eventually fade away. They would all still have the people who had stayed in their daily spheres, and eventually new people. They had no need for the girl who had gone somewhere else, and I honestly don’t blame them for that.

By the time the final school change rolled around, I couldn’t bring myself to see the point of trying to make any friends. Permanence didn’t exist. Other People were things that never stayed around. Groups were already established, intimidating cliques were unwilling to take on new members. My disinterest in boys and makeup and sports and popularity didn’t exactly endear me to the majority of people anyway. My viewpoint became very much: What was the point in trying to form connections with people I had nothing in common with when they never lasted?

This is my main regret in life. On a weekly basis, people on Facebook talk about how lucky they are to have such besties that they’ve known since they were little. The few people I still have a loose social media connection with from schooldays post photos of themselves and the others I remember. They still see each other all the time. They still love each other. It’s lovely, and I’m so happy for them. I’m just also so disappointed for me.

I can’t sit here and say that I’m NEVER going to put my son in a position where he will have to enter a new school and make new friends because who knows, maybe we’ll end up moving somewhere awesome one day. But what I AM going to say is that I will never put him through the constant upheaval and pressure that I had to work my way through, blind. I want him to be an adult surrounded by the connections he has made throughout his life, having never lost the will to MAKE them. I want him to never, ever lose the will to make friends, to maintain those friendships, to return to them over and over again. I want him to get to 30 and not still struggle to summon the energy to get close to people. In short, I want him to have the life that so many other people have been lucky enough to have. I want to give him security and permanence, without monotony or entitlement.

Best Friends

 

That is likely an idealised romantic notion – after all, Philip Larkin hit the nail on the head – but it’s one I’m going to strive towards with all of my might. When I was pregnant I wrote a letter to my unborn son, affectionately termed “Fing” in the absence of an actual name. One of the things I wrote in that letter was that Other People are the most important thing in the world. This is something that I still believe and still want Fing, now no longer “Fing” but very much a little boy, to also believe. To put into practice. To live. To enjoy. To love.

Other people. Connections. Friends.

 
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7 Things That Are Better Than Pancakes

I bloody love Pancake Day. For me, it’s one of the highlights of the year. Because…how could it not be? PANCAKE. DAY. The day of pancakes. Drizzled liberally in lemon juice, scattered with sugar. Or lazily smeared with maple syrup and served with a dollop of thick yogurt. Or folded over with warm, sticky cherries in the middle. Or with ice cream. Or Nutella. Or whippy cream. OR ANYTHING OK, I JUST LOVE PANCAKES. That episode of Sabrina The Teenage Witch where she gets addicted to pancakes and there’s that amazing song that goes “That’s riiiiiiiiight, the answer to the riddle is cakes on the griddle!!”? That’s me.

 

Mmm pancakes.

Pancakes

 

But pancakes cannot and should not be the Be All And End All (as much as I’d like them to), and so here is a list of seven things better than pancakes…y’know, just to help us all remember that sometimes, things CAN only get better.

 

1. Spring Weather

From where I’m sat, it appears this has arrived RIGHT NOW. Blue skies, bright sunshine, a comfortable warmth, perhaps a slight breeze scented with blossom or flowers or some such crap. It’s the weather that you’ve been waiting for, wishing for, longing for all through the dull grey rainy rubbish of the melded November/December/January/February/March cycle. And then that first proper Spring day pops its head up and life is glorious. There is a tipping point though, and that tipping point is men who whip their t-shirts off at the first sight of sun. Stop it. Please.

 

2. The Perfect Bank Holiday Weekend

Of course, this does have to be coupled with the previous for it to work, but still. These rarities are better than pancakes, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. There’s the finishing work on the Friday, with that feeling of OOH anticipation. There are normally drinks. There is always great food. There are also great friends, and probably BBQs in the park, and pub gardens, and maybe even a beach trip. There’s playing outside with the kids, and possibly some sort of local fair. Bank Holidays, man.

 

3. A Little Train

No, not like Thomas The Tank. I mean like the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, or the Markeaton Park Railway, or the Volks Railway, or this one that I’m salivating over seeing later this year. I really have a massive thing against actual trains, you know, the type run by private companies that cause the British to go all embarrassed and resentful in places like France and Germany. But a little train? Give me a little train and I’ll be as happy as the proverbial pig in poo. God I love a little train.

 

4. Your Song On The Radio

Clarification: I’m not talking about Elton John. I’m talking about when you’re driving somewhere, and you’re in a good mood anyway, and then out of nowhere one of the 9 radio stations you have programmed into your car and constantly flick between (or is that just me?) starts playing your absolute favourite song. The one that isn’t even necessarily a recent track, and in fact may well be from some distant teenage year (ye Gods). But for some reason it feels great, so up goes the volume and (if you’re feeling extra smug that day), down come the windows. That feeling is definitely better than pancakes.

 

5. Finishing The Latest Crochet Project

Perhaps slightly too specific for the majority of people? Ignore “crochet” if you need to. The happiness and buzz I get from that moment when I sew in the last hanging end and sigh with contentment as I look at the most recent thing I’ve made with just my hands and a little hook…it’s amazing. SUCH accomplishment. Such pride. Such swelling of the head.

 

6. Compliments That Hold Weight

Of course, “you look nice today” and “great work” etc are always brilliant to hear, but the ones that are better than pancakes are the ones that really resonate. Obviously what resonates for me won’t fit everyone else, but surely everyone has those particular things that absolutely make their day, week, month, etc when heard. Hearing that someone I’ve greatly struggled with on a professional level now hugely respects me was one of those. Almost vice-versa, hearing that a person I think the world of thinks that I’m great was another. People are so LOVELY to each other sometimes, aren’t they?

 

7. Sleepy Baby Cuddles

My baby isn’t really a baby anymore. He’s 3 now, and is all long legs and cheekiness and irrepressible energy all bundled up into a proper little boy. I can barely remember what it was like to cuddle an actual baby baby, and those that I do get to hold these days feel almost like empty shells, because they’re not my baby. But those moments when my baby bursts through my bedroom door at god knows what time in the morning and hauls himself into my bed and bundles himself into my arms…those moments are golden. And we lay there cuddling for a few minutes in total peace and quiet, just me and him. Of course, then he’s off and away to smack his dad round the face and yell “WANT TO GO DOWNSTAIIIIIIRRRRS”, but that’s just part of the fun. The rest of the cuddles throughout the day are similarly wonderful, but those are the really special ones. Those are the “I’ll always be your baby, mummy” ones. Definitely better than pancakes.
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On Medication

Be prepared: I am going to talk about antidepressant medication in this post. Does it seem silly that I’m warning you? It is silly. It is also “silly” that I took antidepressants for almost two years and yet was too afraid to admit it to anyone, until very recently. It’s even needing a huge deep breath and a cross-the-fingers-for-courage to press “Publish” on this post. Why the hell is that? Let’s go.

Despite the fact that the stigma of mental health issues has significantly lessened in the past few years (and not just in my own particular corner of the internet), the stigma of admitting that you take medication to control your mood somehow remains. My own experience focuses solely on your garden-variety antidepressant drugs (sertraline, citalopram, fluxoetine, etc).  And for myself and those who I have seen gradually, timidly admit to taking similar, it’s almost like holding up your hands, bowing your head, and saying: “I’m weak, I’m sorry”. “I’m sorry I can’t regulate my moods correctly”. “I’m sorry that some days I honestly do not have the energy to even get out of bed”. “I’m sorry that occasionally even the tiniest thing will set me off on a huge anxiety attack and then I can’t leave my house for days”. “I’m sorry for being a failure”.

Rock at sea

Because that is how it feels, isn’t it? It feels like SUCH an epic failure at being a human being to admit that you can’t not feel this huge, blank, sucking way. To admit that you can’t just BE HAPPY.

So here is my own experience of that “failure”. I actually began writing it all down back in November, and then someone else a lot more popular than me pipped me to the confessional post and so I tucked it all away, fearing being branded a bandwagoner. But screw that, now.

My own personal “failure” appeared one year later than the event that in all probability caused it: childbirth. Somehow I managed to claw myself through the first days, then weeks, then months, and then eventually the first year of having a baby. I say “somehow” because if you’d seen me in the first couple of months after the birth you would’ve frogmarched me to the nearest doctor and demanded I get treatment for postnatal depression. I didn’t, and I should have, but at the time I had convinced myself it was “just baby blues”. No, the “failure” didn’t come until I was back at work full time, and suddenly I realised that crying throughout every journey to and from work wasn’t right. That crying in the loos at work for no real reason wasn’t right. That refusing to leave the house in case I got sick wasn’t right. I’ve written about this all before on a guest post for Emma at Raising Bears (without admitting about the antidepressants, natch) so there isn’t really any more detail necessary to this than: I eventually let myself be prescribed, and begin taking, antidepressants.

And everything was better. I am not kidding you, the months after I began taking citalopram were some of the happiest, most satisfied, WARMEST months of my life. I’m not putting it all down to the medication, which only ever treats the symptoms and not the source, but thanks to their effect I was addressing that source – eating well, exercising regularly, enjoying the fruits of these labours, and doing things for myself and others. Without the medication I highly doubt I would have found the motivation and the positivity to begin doing all of those. The citalopram was a wonderful means to a beautiful end, and things were rosy.

But I was so scared to admit it to anyone. On the outside, especially in my new job, I was a capable, competent, confident mum. Revealing you are taking medication to maintain that level, happy mood can’t do anything BUT detract from that image, surely? I felt the failure of it all looming over me – the second the facade was stripped away, everyone would know. They’d know I couldn’t cope. They’d know I was weak.

And eventually I let things slide. The positive behaviours disappeared into a fug of constant doubts about being a failure. I have spent the last year yo-yoing wildly between trying to come off the medication and piling myself back on when the inevitable mental downward-turn began, because I wasn’t doing it properly. I wanted the happiness back, and some days I would think that would only happen without the medication and the sense of failure that came with it…yet a couple of days later I’d begin panicking that the happiness never would return without it and that I’d be a failure of a normal human forever anyway.

Last year was a fairly dark time, but in the last few months I began to turn against the concept of failure surrounding the medication, and have now managed to both come off citalopram and feel happy in myself. What was the biggest help? There were few things:

 

  1. Taking charge of a decent withdrawal. The doctors suggested strategies but I tailored my own from listening to my own body. From 1 tablet a day, to 1 every other day, to 1/2 every day, to 1/2 every other day, to 1/2 every 3-4 days, to 1/2 once a week, and then none. If I ever felt hideous side-effects I would test how long they lasted and then slightly adjust the dosage from there. I did this over a period of 3 months. I’ve been medication-free now for 6 weeks and have had no side-effects, and no mental downward-turns thanks to managing this so tightly.
  2. Realising that NOBODY is “A Normal Human”. I could almost kick myself sometimes. What exactly is “normal” and why would anybody want to be it? Average and nondescript? Basic? The growing in-joke with a close friend of “basic” things helped hugely here. Would I rather have not gone through these things and not have learned about them? Or would I rather have beasted through them and come out knowing that I and the entire rest of the population of the world are not “Normal”?
  3. Gaining the knowledge that there are far, far more people out there than you would think who “fail”. Whose brain goes wrong, either from a situational response or for no bloody reason whatsoever. People who you would never expect. People who struggle just like me to admit that they are on or that they might need medication because of the “failure” aspect.
  4. Understanding, finally, that I could help people rather than add to the “failure” problem. A cloud of judgment was removed from my head and I realised that rather than cling to my “with it” front, I’d be doing people one hell of a lot more service by letting them know that you CAN be successful and yet sometimes have to rely on medication to be level, let alone happy. Understanding that precisely because I do not appear to be a failure to most people is the most powerful tool in helping myself and others realise that taking antidepressants is not a failure.

 

Field Meeting Grass

Obviously there were a few lifestyle things in the mix here as well – I finally began regular exercise and enjoying good nutrition again. I found an amazing hobby/interest/brain-relaxer this year in crochet and I now have the 10,000 blankets/hats/scarves to prove it. But those four points above, those were The Big Ones. Those are the ones that I wish I could shove in front of everyone, not even just the people who do at some point in their lives have to take antidepressant medicines, but everyone. Because how amazing would it be if people just Got It?

From now on, I’m going to be one hell of a lot more relaxed and open about this topic. I’m not saying I’m going to announce in meetings “FYI guys, I’ve been on antidepressants for the last year” or recruit people to my team with “Work for me, I totally get it if you have bad mental health because I was on antidepressants for two years” – no. Obviously not. But it’s not a big secret any more. It doesn’t diminish from who I am now, what I do now, what I have achieved. In fact, it probably helped with a lot of that. Thanks, medicine. You’re pretty awesome, aren’t you.

 
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Current Favourite Products

It feels like years since I last wrote a products post, so here goes: my current favourites. These are the products that over the last few weeks I either haven’t been able to stop using, or have loved SO MUCH that I’d quite like to shout about it from the rooftops. Some of them are re-introductions to me, some of them are completely new. Some I’ve been using for quite a while now, but when you get a good thing you shouldn’t let it go, right?

 

Current Favourites

Bath & Body Works Fresh Sparkling Snow Hand Wash

This was actually a Secret Santa gift from work, alongside the hand sanitizer from the same range. I’m not going to lie and I don’t care if it’s Basic, I LOVE Bath & Body Works stuff. The Sparkling Snow range is a delicious pear and melony scent that never fails to lift my spirits! Even better is that TD sees this soap as some kind of special treat, so getting him to wash his hands is never an issue. Beautiful stuff. Unfortunately the gifter has relatives in the U.S which is how I’ve come to be an owner…it’s going to be hard to get your hands on it via any other method, however I have managed to find an eBay listing:

£9.88 via eBay here

Indeed Labs Hydraluron Moisture Jelly

I’m fairly sure I’ve waxed lyrical about this stuff before. It’s a miraculously moisturising thick, clear jelly that is dispensed through a magical pump system. Plump and smooth skin is literally minutes away when using this. I ran out back in March but didn’t ever re-purchase as I thought I could find something cheaper that did just as good a job…WRONG. Now that I’ve finally got it back, I’m never going to be that stupid again. My skin went haywire over the last couple of weeks, looking horrendously dry and dull, but thankfully Hydraluron came along and woo! I look like I’ve had some sleep!

£16.66 (hurry!) at Boots here

Hylamide Booster Low-Molecular HA Serum

Second in the return of my skin from Crone to Actual Only 30 Year Old Woman is this beautiful serum. London Beauty Queen wrote a fantastic blog post about the science behind this stuff here – in a nutshell, the low molecular weight of the hyaluronic acid in this serum means it can penetrate deeply into the skin and actually have a very decent effect. And it does. BELIEVE ME. After only two days of using this coupled with the Hydraluron, I felt all plumptious and bee-yoo-tiful again.

£18.00 at Boots here

 

Current Favourites

 

NUXE Reve De Miel Lip Balm

Oh HUBBA HUBBA. I resisted buying this stuff for SO. LONG. because I thought it just had to be some kind of blogger fad. I have zero idea why this stupid idea got lodged in my head. Perhaps the price tag put me off – it’s a lot for a lip balm. But it is worth it. OH it is so worth it. I am a serial lip biter and even though some products can repair the damage caused by this if I apply them constantly throughout the day, this pot of wonder can fix all of that in just one overnight application. And not only that, but I have also used it on dry patches on my face, the wrinkles forming under my eyes (woe), and even spots to provide some much-needed nourishment, and it is FANTASTIC on all of these. I will never, EVER be without a pot of this now. BALM OF DREAMS.

£9.50 at Feel Unique here

NARS Sheer Glow Foundation

It took me a long while and countless reads of countless glowing reviews on countless blogs before I managed to pluck up the courage to take the deep breath and plunge into purchasing this. I’ve been happily foundation-free for such a long time, but when I do apply foundation at the moment I hate all of the ones I own. So I am SO GLAD that this has lived up to the hype. The smallest amount is required, and despite being called Sheer Glow it is actually a fairly medium coverage, and not ridiculously glowy. I’ve come to the conclusion that is called Sheer Glow because it doesn’t LOOK like foundation, despite giving a good coverage, and intensifies the healthy appearance of your own skin. See? Sheer. Glow. It’s good.

£31 at Space.NK here

Charlotte Tilbury Air Brush Flawless Finish Powder

I lusted after this for so long last year. It featured on all of my wishlists. But a girl cannot catch a break, and nobody bought me the beauty. Instead, I used a John Lewis voucher I was gifted for my birthday to purchase it, after doing a happy dance that FINALLY Charlotte Tilbury products weren’t just available via Selfridges (extortionate postage costs). And it is just as good as I had dreamed. I’ve already hit pan, which is hideous because soon I’ll have to pay that eye-watering amount again, but I can’t possibly return to anything else after this. Mattifying, smoothing, natural-looking. It’s just beautiful.

£33 at John Lewis here

Batiste Stylist Texturizing Spray

Batiste totally lured me back into the fold when they released this affordable and effective range of styling sprays. I also adore the XXL Volume Spray, however this particular product is my absolute FAVOURITE. Just a few quick sprays adds volume and texture to both roots and ends, and the best bit? It never actually FEELS like there’s anything in your hair! I constantly have at least two cans of this, one upstairs and one downstairs, so that I never miss an opportunity to use it. Plus it smells divine – it’s actually lodged itself into my memory as one of the Smells Of 2015 (yes I’m weird and have massive Smell Nostalgia).

£4.49 at Boots here

 

And that’s it for the moment – just some awesome products for you. Now, if I could only find a perfect concealer and a perfect eye cream my life would be complete…
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