Do you prioritise your priorities?

Do you Prioritise your Priorities?

I know already I’ve blogged about to-do lists and getting stuff done fairly recently. But a couple of weeks ago it dawned on me that the days and weeks are zooming by, the year doesn’t feel at all ‘new’ any more, yet I didn’t seem to be making much progress on anything that I really wanted to. The sense of dissatisfaction and annoyance that resulted at the end of most days prompted me to find a solution.

Writing

One of my priorities this year is to write more. Both continuing to write blog posts once a week, as well as working on a lifestyle book. I’d been just about keeping up with the blog posts, but had barely spent any time on the book despite having planned out all the chapters.

Part of the challenge is that I don’t have any childcare for my fifteen-month-old baby, but it was time to stop using that as an excuse and work around it. Thankfully, she has been sleeping much better recently and has set nap times. I have now allocated morning nap time to write every day. Perhaps it’s not the best way to do it, but I aim to write 500 words daily. That may sound paltry to full-time writers, but if I manage it consistently from Monday to Friday it equates to 2,500 words a week or 10,000 words a month. Well on the way to completing a whole book within the space of a few months. From acorns great oak trees really do grow!

Exercise

Although I’m not completely sedentary, I hoped to increase my exercise levels a little this year. On weekdays I always achieve 16k steps minimum just from doing the school and nursery runs as well as generally running around after my toddler. I decided to make the journeys a little more effective by sometimes adding a little sprint (with the pushchair) from our house to almost the end of our road. To ensure I don’t get lazy and opt out of the sprint I often deliberately leave the house a couple of minutes later than it would take to walk it. Sometimes I add an additional short sprint a couple of minutes after the first one, creating my own interval training in a way.

Reading about Jennifer L Scott’s rebounding at home post recently ADD LINK instantly appealed. Like me, Jennifer has three young children and she admitted that finding time for regular exercise can be tricky. She explained how she had recently bought a rebounder (or mini trampoline designed for exercising) and found it was perfect for fitting in short bursts of exercise into her day.

I was instantly convinced after reading her post and ordered a rebounder. Often I simply jump for a couple of minutes, but have found numerous rebounding workouts on YouTube which are good to follow sometimes, too.

Sometimes I jump whilst watching a film or TV in the evenings to make it more of a productive use of my time.

Getting  everything else done…

Before I stared planning for my priorities, I tended to do house-related chores such as hang out loads of washing and put dry washing away as soon as I noticed it needed doing, ditto for making phone calls and sending emails. But now, these chores simply have to fit in around sacred writing time. Who cares if there’s a pile of dry laundry to be put away? It can wait. I won’t feel any worse for leaving it a couple of hours as it can be fitted in at any point during the day while my kids are awake, but the same can’t be said for my writing which is why I have to carve specific time out for that.

How about you? Are you managing to find time for the things you decided were important on the first of January? If not, perhaps it’s time to take stock and revisit your priorities so that you can be sure you really do priorities them.

celebrate Valentines day

Valentine’s Day

Do you celebrate Valentine’s day with your loved one?

Perhaps this post should come with a warning that it definitely won’t be all gushing about how wonderful the fourteenth of February is. That way, you have the choice to skip reading it!

I’m in two minds about it, really. On the one hand, I dislike how hugely commercial it has become- even our local florist shop replaced their Christmas window display with a Valentine’s display in the first week of January. Although, to be fair, flowers and plants as gifts don’t bother me, unlike the piles of tacky soft toys and plastic tat that grace the pound shops and supermarkets at this time of year. Contemplating the environmental impact that many of these quickly discarded, mass-produced items will have is a concern in itself. It goes without saying that prices of flowers and restaurants are inflated sky-high around this date, too.

My other issue with it is the ‘enforced romance’ aspect. Should people really need a specified day to prompt them to treat their loved one? Do they buy gifts and make an effort because they feel they should, because society dictates so? It seems far preferable to me that partners choose to surprise each other with little gifts on random days because they spontaneously feel like it, perhaps they spot something that reminds them of their loved one.

The reason why I’ve never been a fan of being presented with a dozen red roses is precisely because they are a cliched symbol of love. Zero imagination or thought need go into them, especially on Valentine’s day as identical bouquets of them are available everywhere to pick up mindlessly. My dear husband knows very well by now that I prefer to be given almost any other type of flowers than red roses- I happen to love yellow or pink roses, though. He is fortunately very thoughtful when choosing flowers for me and always selects ones that he thinks I will particularly appreciate.

However, I admit that I do enjoy marking special days and events, including Valentine’s day. I just prefer to do so in a low-key way. I tend to have fresh flowers in the house most of the time anyway, selected by myself, so my husband usually gives me a card and a small box of my favourite type of chocolates (which is invariably well received).

I give my husband a card, too and in recent years I have made him heart shaped chocolates in a silicone mould. Our two eldest children love helping to make them. Usually we melt large bars of milk and white chocolate then gently swirl the two colours together a little in a bowl, before pouring into the mould. This results in a pretty marbled effect in each chocolate.

Some years we put our our indoor decorative tree and decorate it with hearts and other Valentine’s themed items. We re-use the same ones each year and never replace them with new ones.

We have always made more of a fuss about each other’s birthdays as they seem more personal, special days.

How about you? What’s your take on Valentine’s Day? I appreciate lots of people love it and it certainly adds a little fun to what can otherwise be a cold and dismal month.

 

Reasons to embrace the arts

Reasons Why You Should Embrace the Arts

The older I’ve become, the more I’ve grown to appreciate the value of the arts and realise the significant effects they have on me.

Annual trip to the Ballet

For the last fifteen years, the Russian State ballet of Siberia has included our town in its extensive tour every February. The first year that I noticed an advert for it, I mentioned it to my sister suggesting it as a possible birthday present for our mother. She agreed so we booked tickets, not really sure what to expect as we had never attended a ballet before and we weren’t sure if we would really enjoy it.

We were pleasantly surprised. By chance, our tickets were down in the stalls close to the front, where the large orchestra is positioned. Sitting so close to the orchestra and their moving Tchaichovsky instrumentals, while we watched the incredibly graceful, expressive ballet dancers acting out their story on stage was mesmerising. Since then, my mother and I haven’t missed one and they all have a similar impact on us.

Other shows on offer locally…

The same local theatre offers a good range of visiting performers and we have been fortunate to have enjoyed shows ranging from the west end Cats show, Irish Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, The Sound of Music, as well as Abba and Queen tribute bands. Varied, but all thoroughly enjoyable in their own way.

The benefits of attending live theatre

Somehow, opening the mind to different types of performances has a mind-broadening effect and gives a sense of fulfilment. Sure, that’s just my subjective opinion, but interestingly Science Daily reported a few years ago that attending live theatre increased tolerance and empathy as found in a group of students who took part in the research. Tolerance and empathy are attributes that seem to be in increasingly short supply these days, so perhaps all schools should aim to take students to watch plays or ballets from a young age.

The benefits of listening to classical music

Certain types of music move me in a similar way. All through my childhood and adolescence, I grew up in a home hearing classical music several times a week as both my parents were fans. To be honest, I didn’t much care for it at the time, finding it dull and overly formal compared to my preferred pop and rock music.

Yet now, I can’t deny that it somehow has a profound effect on me. I don’t listen to it all the time, but if in need of a little inspiration then classical music helps me find it. I find it awe-inspiring that some of the complex pieces were composed hundreds of years ago. I also find it has a calming effect on me and it seems I am not alone in feeling this way. The Readers Digest published an article featuring 10 Wondrous things that happen to your body when you listen to classical music. Amongst those were feeling more relaxed and productive. More than enough reasons to persuade anyone to give it a try. For a complete beginner’s introduction, I recommend either tuning in to a classical radio station such as Classic FM, or search YouTube for ‘best classical music mix’ or similar.

A classical Italian experience

Some years ago, my husband and I toured Italy one summer, visiting several of the major cities. While we were staying in Rome, we were taking a stroll after dinner one evening and soon after tossing the obligatory coin into the beautiful Trevi fountains, happened to stumble across a large piazza where a classical music concert was about to be performed. Chairs had been set up in rows, many of them already taken but there were still some free seats, and after a friendly lady explained that it was a free performance for the public, we sat down. It’s difficult to fully describe the atmosphere as we sat there in the moonlit, balmy July evening, with the loud, passionate sounds of of Vivaldi and Verdi echoing all around us in that historic piazza. A romantic, special evening to remember for ever.

Foreign Language Films

World cinema is another way of broadening my mind. Through my local library (as well as a small independent cinema that shows many foreign films) I have been able to access many foreign films in different languages. The ones in French and Italian have the additional bonus of helping me brush up my language skills but I have enjoyed subtitled films and series in many different languages. It’s surprising just how many countries have thriving film industries, even if they are relatively small-scale. Watching them, even if they are fictional, gives a fascinating glimpse into life in different countries.

Do you spend much time seeking out the arts in your life? I would be interested to hear which ones appeal to you the most.

How to enjoy life's simple pleasures

Savouring the simple pleasures of life

Although we all enjoy celebrating and anticipating the big events in life, such as birthdays, Christmas, holidays away from home etc, it’s important to be present in the moment and enjoy the simple luxuries that we can partake in the everyday, too; the petits plaisirs as the French would call them.

In one of my favourite films, the French movie Amelie, I love the way that each character is introduced by listing three simple pleasures that they appreciate in life. It’s prompted to make me compile a list of my own simple pleasures. Here they are, in no particular order:

Hot showers with a lovely scented shower gel. A perfect way to start the day and help wake me up up properly. My current favourite is Black Orchid scent by Palmolive- all the better that it’s a bargain! (See post on my favourite bargain beauty buys here).

Slipping into clean bed linen– all the better if it’s been air dried outside.

Listening to the sound of the rain drumming onto our Velux windows in the bedroom while I’m tucked up in my warm bed. The rhythmic sound often sends me to sleep.

The huge old oak tree at the bottom of our garden- at a guess, it’s 200 years old. I love watching it change through the seasons, the different coloured leaves, watching different birds rest on the branches and make nests within it. Every time I look at the  many branches and the thick, sturdy trunk it awes me to think that something so great can grow from a tiny acorn and like to think of this metaphor being applied to other things in life.

Flowers– I adore all types of fresh flowers as detailed here and try to have fresh flowers in the house as much as possible, as per my post here. It lifts my spirits to see flowers growing in gardens or the wild. At the moment we have cyclamen and pansies in our garden and in a few weeks there will be crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils signalling the start of spring on its way.

Reading– I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I can remember. Everything about books is wonderful to me- from the feel of the crisp pages inside a book, roaming through libraries and bookshops containing shelves upon shelves of new books to get my hands on and get lost within. At any given time I have a stack of books waiting to be devoured, kept in a flat wicker basket in my living room. Novels and non-fiction books about social history from WW1 onwards fascinate me in particular and pondering the lives of others who lived in the past gives me a sense of renewed appreciation for everyday conveniences such as our indoor bathroom, washing machine etc which I can otherwise take for granted.

Fluffy winter house socks- for some reason, I’ve never been a fan of wearing slippers. Fluffy winter socks are another matter entirely. Sliding them onto my feet on a chilly winter day, the super soft fibres warming and insulating my skin, feels like sheer bliss.

As I’ve said before, winter happens to be my least favourite season, despite the fact that winters in my part of the U.K. are pretty mild really. So it’s all the more important that I regularly remind myself of the simple pleasures to be grateful for.

What are you little luxuries that you enjoy on a regular basis? I would love to hear them as they may even remind me of some I’ve forgotten or introduce me to new ones.

How to spend less on your food or grocery shopping

How to Spend less on your Food or Grocery Shopping

Just a few years ago, our grocery bill used to be below the average spend for a family of our size. Gradually though, our grocery spends have crept up frighteningly fast.

Ok, some of the increase can be attributed to to the increase in the number of people we have in our household and the corresponding spends on nappies, fruit, snacks etc. But if I’m honest, we have become a bit lazy and allowed convenience foods to sneak into the trolley far more than they ever used to and those convenience foods obviously cost more. We don’t buy a ridiculous number of takeaways, but even these have been happening more frequently than they used to.

There’s no excuse for this really, other than perhaps for a few months when our youngest was a newborn and I was recovering from surgery. Bad habits snuck in and products that we bought as a one-off due to a promotional price became regular purchases at the standard price.

Anyway, it’s time to rectify the situation. Here are the steps I intend to follow:

Carry out a stock take 

Our freezer is pretty full right now. I need to grab a pen and paper and jot down everything contained within the drawers of it. There is quite a bit of meat and fish I suspect, plus some Quorn (a meat substitute that is vegetarian but we like despite being omnivores ourselves).

Our cupboards also contain a fair amount of canned vegetables, beans, packets of couscous and rice.

Meal plan

I need to sit down and plan which meals can be put together from the freezer and cupboard ingredients. To be honest, I suspect there are quite a few! Hopefully this will have a positive effect on our grocery bill for the next month as we eat out of the freezer and cupboards so buy less new stuff.

Although I usually meal plan a whole week, the dinners for different days often get switched around depending on what we feel like eating or if unexpected events crop up.

Use the slow cooker (AKA crockpots)

I have been a fan of slow cookers ever since buying our first one in 2004, the year that I first moved in with my now-husband. They are wonderful for several reasons.

Firstly, you can bung in all your ingredients first thing in the morning, or even the night before if you like (just refrigerate the ceramic pot overnight to keep chilled if you do so). Switch it on before you leave the house, then return from work at the end of the day to the scent of a delicious, cooked meal ready to tuck into. What could be better?

Secondly, slow cookers are economical because they use a similar amount of energy to a light bulb. They can be used to cook cheaper cuts of meat which, due to the lengthy cooking time, turn from tough to tender and meat literally falls off the bone.

Lastly, the nature of one-pot cooking means less clearing up to do after dinner. That can only be a good thing in my book!

Try out new recipes 

I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks. Yet we seem to eat the same meals over and over again. So, I intend to flick through some of the books and mark the most appealing recipes to try. There are lots I still intend to try in my newest purchase, 5 Ingredients by Jamie Oliver. It makes sense that if I use fewer ingredients in a recipe (as long as they aren’t ridiculously expensive ones, such as caviar and saffron ;)) the cost will hopefully be brought down, too.

Let’s hope that following these steps results in us saving money, eating more healthily and enjoying our food more.

How about you? Do you have any tips to share on reducing your grocery bill? I would love to hear them.

How to enjoy winter

How to Enjoy Winter Living

Do you enjoy the winter season? I have to admit that it doesn’t come naturally to me.

The promise of Christmas and the bright lights, decorations and general festivities throughout November and December ride me on a high to the end of the year, but once New Year celebrations are over my mood can easily plummet once the anticlimax sets in. Not to mention that most people are broke so have little money to go out and spend to cheer themselves up, plus everyone seems to be on a diet.

All of this, combined with frosty temperatures and drizzly days here in the UK, don’t exactly make a recipe for joyful living in January and February.

Enough of all that negativity, though! Yes, it may be more difficult to stay upbeat and enjoy the coldest part of the year, but it just takes a little more effort to do so.

Hygge

I’m an afficionado of the Scandinavian concept of ‘hygge’, having been an long-time watcher of Scandi noir TV shows and films (obviously the scenes of hygge are interspersed with solving crimes but there are still plenty of them!). I’ve read a fair few books on the subject, too. I love ‘The Art of Hygge’ by Johnny Jackson and Elias Larsen and ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ by Meik Wiking amongst others. There are too many facets to the hygge concept to detail in this post, so I’ll just mention a couple.

Atmosphere

Create a cosy atmosphere at home. This begins with lighting: the Danes like to create soft pockets of lighting in corners of rooms with lamps rather than switching on ceiling lights that illuminate a room too dazzlingly.

Scandi homes tend to utilise a lot of natural materials such as wood, leather and wool in their decor and these natural textures look good together. Soft throws and blankets are used to stay warm and cosy. All of this helps to create an appealing home that you’ll enjoy spending time in and coming home to.

I feel far more content at home if my surroundings are organised and neat as well as being clutter free, as I’ve written about before.

Personally, having fresh flowers around is an unbeatable way to bring a little life and cheer into the home. They needn’t be expensive and recently I have been splitting one bunch of flowers in half then arranging into two separate vases to enjoy seeing them in two different rooms.

Presence and Togetherness

Hygge requires that when people come together to spend time with each other, they are fully present in the experience. This means switching off phones and putting them out of sight. Many of us spend far too long on our phones these days, it’s almost habitual to keep checking for messages or Facebook updates but it does little to enhance our connection with real people in the present moment. Take the chance to play card or board games with friends and family, or pull out a guitar or other instrument and have a good old sing song. These traditional activities have a magical way of creating a strong sense of well-being and form memories.

Other than hygge, there are a few other strategies to make the most of winter living.

Plan things to look forward to

Plan a few get-togethers with friends at your home; they cost very little if you plan the types of activities mentioned in the paragraph above and are something to look forward to in the short dark days.

Plan further ahead, too. If you haven’t already booked a summer holiday, this could be the perfect opportunity. Researching where to go and thinking ahead to the summer will lift your spirits no end. I’ve said before that for me, part of the pleasure of holidays etc in in the anticipation leading up to it. Plus, the earlier you book, the longer you have to save up for it as well as enjoy that sense of anticipation. Believe it or not, I actually booked our August 2018 holiday back in November 2016 (out of necessity due to high demand). I’ve certainly eked out the anticipation period for that one!

Enjoy hearty, seasonal foods

Eating seasonally makes sense in many ways: it is cheaper, tastier and reduces food miles. There are a lot of winter vegetables that are filling and full of flavour and can be cooked in many different dishes, such as soups, stews and casseroles. Using different herbs and spices to season them with changes the taste.

I am a huge fan of the slow cooker which can be used to simmer away all day cooking tasty, hearty winter stews and other dishes. What could be better to return home to at the end of the day that the delicious aroma of it all ready to tuck into?

Here is a post about eating healthily in cold weather, too.

I hope this post has given you a few ideas or at least reminders of the enjoyable aspects of winter. Please do add your own in the comments section, I’m always keen to gain more tips 🙂

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Why you need a 'done' list more than a 'to-do' list

Why you need a ‘done’ list more than a to-do list

Isn’t life busy for everyone these days?

Less physical work, but a higher mental load

In addition to working a paid job or staying at home to care for children, there are myriad small tasks to be carried out. Phone calls to make, online accounts to log into and take some form of action on. Emails to send and reply to, both to companies and acquaintances.

Although modern life is less tiring in terms of physical tasks (I for one remain eternally grateful to the inventors of washing machines and dishwashers), the time and energy saved on the manual tasks of old seems to have been replaced by a significant number of smaller tasks which may not require physical effort but still take up headspace when they accumulate.

The problem with to-do lists

By nature, I am (or at least strive to be) an organised person. I’ve long been a user of to-do lists. As a carefree student, to-do lists were a mere couple of items hastily scribbled on the back of my hand each morning. Gradually though, things have changed and my to-do lists seem never ending. At any one time I have as a minimum an A5 paper sheet listing jobs to be completed for the day plus others that might be accomplished at a push (though I invariably kid myself on that front), plus an A4 sheet of jobs that I would like to tackle at some point (ideally as soon as possible, though often months and months pass and the same jobs get carried over to the next list :/ )

It sounds like a first world problem (and I appreciate that it is, in the grand scheme of things) but I too often end a day feeling overwhelmed and with a sense of dissatisfaction that I didn’t complete half of the tasks that I intended to. That’s not to say that I didn’t achieve anything- it’s just that keeping three kids amused and alive and the basics of keeping the house tidy end up taking most of my time.

Also significant is that other, unplanned tasks spring up unexpectedly each day, many of which require swift action.

Introducing the ‘done’ list

It was a few years ago that I suddenly came up with the idea of a ‘done’ list. Basically, this involves retrospectively jotting down tasks that you complete, either soon after completing them or at the end of the day when you review your to-do list. Any and all tasks can be added; from hanging out a load of washing, to making a phone call that was made a necessary course of action from a letter received in the post that day, to preparing dinner. As soon as I started practicing this, it made a noticeable improvement to how I felt about my accomplishments on a given day as it was easy to see in black and white the long list of (albeit small) things I had got done.

What Went Right Today?

On a similar theme, a friend introduced me to the concept of reviewing ‘what went right today’ (WWRT) just under a year ago. She wrote a great article about it here. WWRT involves taking time at the end of the day to list the positives that came out of it. Naturally, some days there will be more than others. The friend who suggested the WWRT idea is a fellow member of a Facebook group for mums of babies who were due in the same month. Most days, we all check in and focus on the positives, even if there are only slim pickings such as having kept the kids alive that day. Yes, a dry sense of humour if often required, or at least it was in the newborn months. Of course, other days WWRT is a chance to celebrate good news or major achievements, such as receiving a job offer.

Do you have any tips to share about how you organise your to-do lists? I’m always on the lookout for ideas on how to manage mine more effectively.

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