The last few weeks I’ve been in a bit of an Instagram melt down. Spending frantic weekends and evenings scattering petals across notebooks and letting cups of tea go cold as I strive to create images that will break the engagement deadlock that seems to have developed between us and the algorithm.
Every café lunch or walk along a river became a potentially ‘grammable situation as I found various contortions in order to get #handsinframe or the angle where the light hit just so. It is worth noting that although I was taking photos all over the place, 99% of them never reached my grid, never even reached the editing stage. I was so fearful that I would miss a golden opportunity that I was taking all the pewter opportunities as well, and consequently living only in squares and through my iPhone screen.
I was reaching peak Instagram-bore, and something had to give.
Remember those little personality quizzes that would do the rounds via email or MySpace back in the early 2000s? There would be ‘do you prefer dogs or cats?’ (dogs, of course), ‘what’s your favourite musical instrument?’ (better say guitar to look cool), and ‘are you an introvert or an extravert?’ This one was a little different. I always put extravert, because introvert meant loners and shy people, which wasn’t what I wanted to be. But I knew I wasn’t really an extravert either.
Any mention of ‘self care’ gets a bit of an eye roll from me, to be honest. Aside from the odd bubble bath it’s never something I’ve gone in for, using stress and Lucozade to get me sleeplessly through deadlines, exams and web builds. While I understand its importance for the chronically ill, the ‘hashtagification of self care’, as I’ve seen it referred to, makes me avoid it like the plague. To me it feels like something for teenage girls with the time to bankrupt themselves in Lush, who have yet to feel the impossible weight of deadlines.
Each month I pick one easy thing we can do to simplify our homes, diets and lives. This month, it’s planning for the life you want.
This month’s Monthly Simplify was something I decided quite last minute, but it makes perfect sense with where I am in my life and what I’m working on this month. Most of you will have seen on Instagram or on here that I had a pretty dark March – I was experiencing a lot of stress and negativity at work, my mind was so chaotic and I felt completely out of control.
You may not know but in my day job I’m a Marketing Manager for a global children’s brand. I work on content, branding, social, web, but a lot of my time is taken up with project management. What I’ve struggled with recently is how out of sync with my own consumer habits and beliefs my job is. I’m all about shopping small, supporting local makers and using our powers as consumers to fund a varied and wholesome marketplace. Filling the coffers of corporations doesn’t sit well with me morally, nor does it light my motivational fires.
So I feel March was my time to experience and process all that angst, but from April I really deal with it. I don’t have to put up with a life I don’t like, and I’m starting to plan for the alternative future. In my Hello to Spring post, I spoke about new starts, although I later realised that it sounded a lot like a pregnancy announcement was imminent! To clarify, I’m not having a baby. Not a human baby, at least.
But I am growing an idea inside me. Through Simple & Season I’ve quietly taken on a little consultancy work with start ups and creative businesses, and that has given me back a little of my raison d’etre. This month I’m working on my business plan with a view to launching full services and courses soon (note that I’m not putting a date on it..😬). You will see a little of this trickle through to the blog with newsletters (to help me out with this skip to the end of the post) and some more creative marketing content.
The reason I’m writing this longer-than-expected post is because I don’t think I was alone in my March blues. From those I’ve spoken to I feel there was a lot of dissatisfaction and chaos around, so I thought I’d pull together some of the things I’m doing to get back on track in the hope that you can too…
Do a personality test
I am a huge advocate of the 16 Personalities Myers-Briggs test, and always re-take it when I’m going through a period of flux. Myers-Briggs personality types tell you what drives you, how you work, how you interact with the world and generally why you are the way that you are. This Being Boss podcast explains it much better than me.
16 Personalities is great because the post-test insights are so spot on and useful that when you’re reading you just think ‘even I couldn’t have written a better description of myself’. This process, for me at least, is invaluable for confirming that your gut instinct about your life is correct, or confirming that you’re already on the right track, or even opening up something that you’d never considered about your life. It’s a great point at which to start your change and quieten the noise.
Plus, there’s something satisfyingly reminiscent of teen magazines about doing a personality test, right?
I’ve never been really into podcasts as I’m much more of a reader than a listener. However a few things coincided (Sara Tasker launching Hashtag Authentic and me starting to listen to podcasts to get through the working day) that has opened them up to me. I am far from a font of all knowledge on this, but I started listening to Jen Carrington’s Make It Happen for the stories of inspirational ladies who have done what I want to do, then Jen got me on to Being Boss, which is not only super inspiring but full of really great advice for creative entrepeneurs.
Get your sh*t together
Part of my bad March was just being completely chaotic and disorganised. Blog deadlines were whizzing by me, emails were going unanswered and I had no idea where I was. I don’t think I opened my paper planner for the whole month (because it’s just so far away from the sofa).
I downloaded Asana to organise my blog tasks after we trialled it at work and I felt the weight lift off my shoulders and a let out the most almighty sigh of relief. I separated all my projects, and created boards for all the things I had to do in each project. Seeing it laid out like that helped me to process and prioritise it, and now I have my daily tasks to focus on it stops me freaking out about everything else. I love lists SO MUCH, and Asana is all about the lists (and ticking stuff off).
Use your network
As I mentioned earlier, hearing that other people were having similar feelings to me in my Instagram circle was really reassuring to me. There’s a reason I used the word ‘network’ here and not ‘friends’. I love my friends dearly, but, and this might just be a me thing, I don’t feel I can talk to them about this stuff yet. They are too close to me, they’ve lived through all my phases, they know my history. I feel like we couldn’t have an objective conversation about it.
My network of Instagram friends, on other hand, don’t know the historic me. They know the me I’m trying to be, and they aren’t bogged down with who was at 17, or even last year. The conversation is more neutral, more practical, not so emotive. These conversations help things feel real and do-able, not just something I’m shooting the breeze about.
Plus, your network of people you idly chat to on social media are all like minded people in similar situations. They may know someone at a magazine you want to write for, or be going to a cool craft workshop, or may have some tips about getting paid. People love to share knowledge and to give a helping hand, so give them the opportunity!
Thank you for sticking with me on this – writing it has been cathartic, and I hope it helps you to think about the life you want if you too had a black March.
As mentioned above, I’d love your help to form an email newsletter. What sort of thing would you find useful and/or enjoyable to receive from me? Would you like a monthly challenge, how to’s, resources, or something completely different..?! I’d really appreciate your feedback in making it the best it can be.
If you’d like to hire me for creative marketing consultancy and coaching, email me for pre-launch rates 😉
I’m feeling the love right now, I hope you are too x
With the worldwide domination of ‘hygge’, and the increasing prevalence of its little sister ‘fika’, untranslatable words, particularly from Scandinavia, are rather in vogue. On our little island we are quick to borrow traditions, cuisines and language from other cultures – hence why we haul in our German Christmas trees, enjoy a curry and speak a hybrid latinate-Francophone-Germanic language. It is, in my opinion, what makes us interesting (not to get all Brexit on the subject, of course..).
But our quickness to borrow tends to make things all about us – how we can use and adapt it, how it relates to our culture and lives. What I love about some of these untranslatable words is how much they are a part of the place from whence they came. Like the word ‘Hanyauku’, from a Namibian language, which is the feeling of walking on tip toes across hot sand. That’s never a word we would come up with in the British Isles. Similarly, Japan, whose capital Tokyo has more Michelin-star restaurants that Paris and New York combined, has ‘Kuidaore’ – to eat yourself into bankruptcy.
Of course there are many words that have meanings so universal that it is quite a wonder that we haven’t adopted them already. There are romantic, soulful words, like ‘Mamihlapinatapai’ from Tierra del Fuego, which means ‘the wordless look between two people who both desire something, yet are equally reluctant to initiate’. The word itself may be a bit of a mouthful, but perhaps it speaks to our British emotional backwardness that this sentiment that we all know so well, has no English name. Similarly, Germany has ‘Fernweh’ – a homesickness and longing for a place you’ve never been.
Not all these universal words have such sophistication, of course. In Georgian, the word ‘Shemomedjamo‘ means ‘to continue eating past the point of being full because the food tastes so good’ – I experience this on an almost daily basis, WHY is there no English word for this?! Others include the Filipino word ‘Gigil’ (the overwhelming urge to squeeze or pinch something very cute) and Sweden’s ‘Tidsotimist’ (a person who is always late because they think they have more time than they have). One of my favourites following a recent trip to the hairdressers is the Japanese word ‘Age-otori’ – to look worse after a haircut.
Dotted through this post are pictures with other words that I’ve taken a particular liking to – here’s a list of them altogether:
(German) – the feeling of being alone in the woods
I think we all have our own version of this feeling – and what’s so lovely about it is that it will have a slightly different meaning for every different person.
(Japanese) – sunlight filtering through trees
Of course there needs to be a word for this.
(Swedish) – the glimmering, roadlike reflection the moon creates on water
This is the word that inspired this post. It was so romantic, so evocative, so in tune with nature and the earth – I just loved it.
(Spanish) – the time after lunch or dinner spent talking to the people you shared the meal with
How wonderfully Spanish to have a word for this part of communal eating and socialising – it is also one of my favourite parts of a meal (because when the food’s there I do have a habit of silently ploughing through it ignoring my companions. Sorry).
(Japanese) – the act of buying a book and leaving it unread, often piled together with other unread books
This is basically the definition of me – this house is brimming with unread books, so I can totally relate. Seriously, this one made even my long suffering boyfriend snort with irony.
(Greek) – to do something with soul creativity and love; when you leave a piece of yourself in your work
This really speaks for itself – it encapsulates everything I love about the maker community and independent, local producers. Well done Greece.
– the bittersweetness of a brief and fading moment of transcendent beauty
Quite a deep one to end on, but I liked how linked it is to the English meaning of ‘aware’ – showing how we are all perhaps not so dissimilar.
Have you picked up any favourite untranslatable words? Or if English isn’t your first language, I’d love to know if you have any favourite English words 🙂
The last month and a half have seen me be in not such a good head space – stressed, chaotic, anxious about everything. I was hoping that that the change of season would bring about a change in my chaos, but the fact I’m writing this today, and not on the first day in spring, really rather shows that it didn’t.
I feel different today though. I weekend of sunshine and the clocks changing feels more momentous than the rainy first day of spring was. I have a lot of life changing planning and decision making coming up this season, the results of which you’ll see here in the not so distant future – I’m a little scared to say it out loud just yet, but I will do soon.
So in the spirit of change, of ridding emotional baggage like old skin, of blossom and babies, this seasons theme is ‘New’. Definitely not an original Spring theme, but it feels more than apt for my life right now.
We’ll be trying new things (including an interesting bonus instalment of The Tea Journey), eating fresh produce and introducing some new themes to Simple & Season.
Each month I pick one easy thing we can do to simplify our homes, diets and lives. This month, it’s looking out for signs of spring.
March is a funny month, with one foot in winter and the other in spring. It starts with chilly winds and heavy rains and ends with daffodils and the possibility of going out without a coat. It’s a month where a lot changes in the blink of an eye, and before you know it it’s Easter. My mum always told me to appreciate the blossom when it’s here, as it isn’t around for long. So this month I intend to.
For this month’s simplify, we’re going to mindfully appreciate this changing of the guard, to watch as winter hands the baton over to spring. We’re going to make more of an effort to step outside in these lighter evenings, to feel how the weather changes, to look out for the blossom, to count the daffodils and spot the first baby lamb.
For our ancestors, I imagine this month was always a sigh of relief. I can see them smiling as each evening grew lighter, as they used one less log on the fire and saw the world coming back to life. It was a month to signal that they’d survived another winter, that good times were to come, and they could begin to start afresh. Let’s do that too.
Here are some ideas of ways to appreciate the first signs of spring:
Seek out spring flowers in parks or your local National Trust property – watch how snowdrops and crocuses give way to daffodils and bluebells
Find a blossoming tree near home or work and every time you walk past make a point of standing under it few a few moments. Smile at the dainty blossoms, breathe in the aroma and note how it changes every day
Feel the way the wind blows on your face, and how that changes through the month
Look out for nest building birds – encourage them into your garden with a box or a pile of bread to build up their strength
Smell the garlic – if you’re wandering somewhere damp and shady keep your nose open for the wild garlic that will come out this month (and forage some for a yummy pesto!)
Do you have any rituals moving into spring? What signs of spring do you like to look out for?
When it comes to Valentine’s Day, I’m somewhere in the middle of the ‘love it’ and ‘hate it’ camps. I find the present-giving a bit arbitrary and weird, but I do think a celebration of love is, well, lovely. Love has inspired many of our greatest works of art and literature, and, whether you choose to believe it or not, it dominates the way our worlds turn as much as the gravity and the moon.
I am fascinated by love’s intangible power, but I’m not into the soppiness and giant teddy bear kind of love. Ours is quiet, built on comfort, trust, in-jokes and hours spent in silence. No matter what kind of love you have, here are 6 of my favourite un-soppy quotes about it – more peppery than sugar-sweet.
For accidental love…
“They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald (from ‘This Side of Paradise’)
This one is my favourite. As soon as I saw it I thought it perfectly encapsulates mine and Dan’s own love-falling. I find all the ‘I just knew‘ conversations about love a little dangerous – they raise expectations impossibly high and they degrade a love that falls anything short. We never had violins and angels singing, we never locked eyes across a crowded room, we never ‘just knew’. But without even realising we fell down the hole of love, and have built our home there.
For longing love…
“Somewhere on the other side of this wide night and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.”
– Carol Ann Duffy (from ‘Words, Wide Night’)
“For I am in love with you, and this is what it is like, or what it is like in words.”
– Carol Ann Duffy (from ‘Words, Wide Night’)
Words, Wide Night is definitely up there as one of my all time favourite poems. You should finish this post, then go and read it immediately. It perfectly captures the mind-boggling longing that comes with long distance love, of feeling so connected but so distanced from someone. The last line, “For I am in love with you, and this is what it is like, or what it is like in words” feels like the most romantic sentence in the world – the wordlessness of love encapsulated.
For impatient love…
“My very soul demands you.”
– Charlotte Bronte (from ‘Jane Eyre’)
I read Jane Eyre for A-Level and it’s one of those narratives that has seemed to wind its way into my very being. I remember it better than any story I’ve ever read, and more often than normal find myself comparing situations to scenes from the book. This quote spoken, of course, by Rochester, quietly and politely belies burning lust and passion. But more than being a Victorian Fifty Shades, it speaks of souls rather than flesh, impatiently demanding life long partnership and love.
For everyday love…
“Had we but world enough, and time…”
– Andrew Marvell (from ‘To His Coy Mistress’)
There’s something about the rhythm of this line that I just love. The full poem talks about taking time over love, of how many tens of thousands of years he would take to adore each tiny part of her body, but how there is only a finite amount of time. I think we all have dreams and daydreams that we imagine our lives will be like. Whether it’s travelling the world, eloping, escaping to a cabin in the woods together. This quote leaves room for our dreams, but reminds us to make the most of everyday love.
For uncomplicated love…
“i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)”
– e.e. cummings (from ‘[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]’
This is about as soppy as it gets here. I’ve always liked the simplicity of this line, the balanced phrasing, the simple words. As complicated as we like to make it, love is really a very simple thing. You both exchange you hearts, giving a piece of yourself away and looking after someone else’s.
“Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life…who knows you by heart”
– Derek Walcott (from ‘Love After Love’)
Whether you’re single or not, there are not enough love quotes about the importance of loving yourself. This poem is a beautifully wistful, yet positive, look at life after a break up. I love these lines because we can sometimes be a stranger to ourselves, then surprise ourselves with how much we know. We talk often of giving hearts away, but never of giving to ourselves, to the person we are or want to be. We are always there for ourselves, and know ourselves best.
It’s been a cold old week, one of those periods where you feel like you never really get warm – January is really starting to bite. We’ve been coming in from dog walks comparing cold hands and digging the big scarfs out from the bottom of the wardrobe. At times like this, your mind turns to comfort food.
While eating a corned beef sandwich (see below), my mind turned to wondering what makes comfort food, well, comforting? Because there isn’t a one size fits all. Some love a hearty stew, while others, me included, would be happy to never eat a stew again in their life. Why are everyone’s comfort foods so drastically different?
I think at this point I should specify my definition of comfort food. To me, it’s something you long for, that you dream about, that you reach for when you’re poorly or down in the dumps. There are, however, two types of comfort foods: foods that make you feel gross afterwards, and ones that don’t.
The first type, for me at least, is home to pizza, fish and chips and all those fast food sins. Yes, you crave them, but afterwards you feel bloated and a little ashamed. Here I’m looking at type two comfort foods, the ones you make at home and may even have some level of nutritional value.
We know we crave type one comfort foods because of the saturated fats and sodium, but what about the type twos? What addictive properties can they possibly have?
I’ve think that we’re addicted to the memories they hold. Most commonly our comfort foods are linked to our childhoods, and the nostalgia we feel when we taste or smell them. Even just preparing the food can bring back those memories – I can’t make a marmite sandwich without thinking about being in my auntie’s kitchen, where she’d make sandwiches with more butter than marmite, then dashing back out into the sun dappled garden to play. (Which reminds me, why, in our childhood memories, is it always summer or Christmas?).
This works backwards too, of course. Dan will eat anything but spaghetti bolognaise following his childhood food traumas with the stuff, while my aversion to stew comes from my memories of chewy, gristly meat in a watery gravy. The way we eat as children informs our appetites more than we know, and sets the blueprint for what will comfort us as adults.
It needn’t just be memories from childhood that inform our comfort food choices though. Milestones in our life, traumatic or notable events, and trying something new can all imprint on our brains, and our taste buds.
When we seek comfort, we seek the familiar. With comfort foods we are looking for things that are tried and tested, that we know make us feel good. They trigger memories of familiarity, of family and love, of a time we were comforted before. I don’t know about you, but I think food’s power to do all that is quite amazing – especially as most comfort food is humble, homely fare. Well done food.
Here are my favourite comfort foods, and the memories they hold…
Corned Beef Sandwiches
Where it all began, both in terms of this post and my life of comfort food. When I was very young my Nanny Vera (Dad’s mum) would look after me, I think after nursery. I was so young that I can’t remember exactly when it was or for how long; its one of those memories that feels very sporadic but I’m sure it must have been a fairly regular arrangement.
Anyway, I would always have corned beef sandwiches with orange squash and lemonade at her house. This is where my soft spot for corned beef came from. Even the smell of the stuff has me walking into her kitchen – I can remember where everything was and how the light would slant in through the net curtains onto the wall. I remember sitting on her pouffy red velvet sofas, the smell of the wax crayons she kept in a biscuit tin and the way she used to call 7 Up ‘Zup’. Every time I eat a corned beef sandwich I’m five years old again, and I remember my grandmother – a slightly odd tribute, but one filled with love.
Specifically, this has to be my mum’s cottage pie where the mash is dry and slightly caught on top so it’s lovely and crispy. It’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think ‘comfort food’. I had a hard time during my first two years of university, as a lot of people do but never quite admit to. I would come home as often as I could. When I did, my mum would have made cottage pie, and I remember eating it and feeling the weight lift off my shoulders. I think I associate that recipe now with the feeling of safety, of being protected and loved and secure, which is probably why it’s my ultimate comfort food.
I’ve always liked roast potatoes, but their comfort food status was cemented in the period I first met Dan. Working together in a pub, after Sunday service we would all eat the leftover roasts that hadn’t been sold. I’d never had potatoes so perfect – rock solid on the outside, fluffy on the inside and SO flavoursome. I would eat them by the bucket load (literally, he would save me a plastic tub of them).
They are comforting in themselves, but they also remind me of those heady days of falling in love. They remind of the afternoons where we’d finally get to sit and eat together, where we could cast off our work responsibilities and spend the summer evenings together. Even now, roast potatoes form part of our DNA as a couple in our in-jokes and knowing language. I associate this food with the man I love, and what is more comforting than that?
What are your comfort foods, and what memories do they conjure?
When you’re working towards something, and particularly at New Year, you become like a sponge for tips and soundbites. The cynics among us may think that we seek out inspirational podcasts and articles to avoid actually doing something scary towards our goal, however I do think they’re useful for getting us going, giving us an extra drive as well as a comfort blanket to hold onto.
Here are 4 of my favourite quotes about goals which I remind myself of on an almost hourly basis…
“A dream without a plan is just a wish.” – Susie Wolff
I don’t know whether Susie Wolff came up with this herself, or whether it is written down elsewhere, but here I’m attributing it to her because she’s such an awesome lady. She is so inspiring for going further than any woman has in such a male-oriented world, whilst maintaining her grace, her felinity, and her personality. I heard her talk at an event once, and this tidbit of a quote stayed with me – it’s good to dream, but in order to achieve you have to be organised, and have a plan.
“How much of human life is lost in waiting.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I love this one for reminding you to make your own way in life. Too often I, at least, of guilty of living in the future, thinking in terms of ‘when’ something will happen rather than making it happen. If you are not proactively working for your goal, you are just waiting. And all that time will be lost.
“Act as if your goal is totally reasonable, and it will work out.” – Tara Swiger
This one isn’t verbatim, it’s taken from this Tara Swiger podcast, but it’s more about the sentiment than the beauty of the words. This one means a lot to me as it told me, in simple, matter of fact terms, to take myself seriously. If you don’t believe in your goal, if you don’t think it’s reasonable, it’ll always be a pipe dream that you’ll never bother working on. Act like it’s totally reasonable and you’ll make it happen.
“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius
What inspirational quote list is complete without Confucius, right? This one has so many layers. It says ‘never give up’ in pragmatic terms, it makes failure seem like a re-routing exercise rather than a total disaster. It reflects the fact that our plans are living things, ever changing and evolving, but always within our power to reshape. Crucially, it proves that nothing is finite. You can start on your goal now, and can always adjust the steps later. Just start, and don’t compromise on what you want.