Posts Tagged ‘2013’

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what it feels like for a quitter.

May 14, 2013

2013 seems to be a year of me leaving things behind in search of establishing my independence, and although this can be called “quitting”, I guess that quitting isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve left one job for another, which has turned out to be at times a disorienting move, but ultimately one that has improved my sanity and quality of life, as well as my prospects for moving up the career ladder (I desperately need to get into a managerial position and gain experience of leading a team). My new job isn’t perfect, and it is a slight departure from what I thought it would entail, but at the end of the day, I am happy for now and I hope that it will be a stepping stone to greater things.

One of the loves of my life, Starbucks, has been another thing I’ve drastically cut down on. As money became tighter during the first few months (note to self and anyone reading: always budget for food!), Starbucks was something I didn’t really need and so I didn’t spend on it. Occasionally I will still have one, but work provides free instant coffee so that is sufficient to wake me up once I get into the office; Starbucks is much more of a social thing nowadays. Also, they do wonderful specialty coffees (read: sweet, sticky treats of drinks) and I still adore a white chocolate mocha or a strawberries and cream frappuccino; but it’s not great for the waistline! Especially when I now live full-time with a fabulous chef who always makes seconds.

And nor is quitting smoking. I started off the year well enough, but soon I started to make exceptions; one in my break during Italian class; one when I was feeling stressed at lunchtime; one nearly every lunchtime… Although going up to 4 cigarettes a week is hardly anything to write home about when I was smoking 8 a day only 6 or so months ago, it represented a breakdown in my willpower. So after a discussion with Toby where he found out about my secret smoking and was shocked, I ended up handing over my cigarettes and lighter to him because I knew that this was a way to completely stop myself from cheating. And it’s worked – I’ve gone nearly 4 weeks without a single cigarette.

Quitting smoking isn’t too difficult in terms of the practical sense; don’t bring your cigarettes with you, and you don’t smoke. Don’t bring your lighter with you, and you can’t smoke even if you buy cigarettes. But it’s the mental games that you play with yourself – on one of the rare warm, summery days, having a cigarette is so carefree and relaxing. It is de-stressing, and it is a way of killing time. Watching other people smoking makes me feel envious of the moment they are enjoying. I gave up smoking – surely one every now and then can’t hurt? (That’s the kind of thinking that leads to making exceptions for yourself, and that’s how I started back on them a couple of months ago.) Why should I have to sacrifice everything?

Everyone has vices – this is true. Do I honestly, truly think that I have smoked my last cigarette? I doubt it. I enjoyed smoking so much,  and I think about smoking quite often because I am still conscious, after this amount of time, that I am depriving myself. But when Toby found out that I had been smoking in secret, he was really upset because he hadn’t known about it (I was ashamed to say anything, and I also felt – quite defiantly – that I didn’t have to report to him. Even though it may have helped, in this case) and he wanted to help me help myself to give up. So I gave him my smoking paraphernalia and that has been the practical part solved. Even now, I often feel tempted to give up on giving up – denial is exhausting, rebellion is satisfying and makes me feel free. But I also know that it’s an illusion – smoking ties down my money and my health (even though you can’t feel it short-term). Toby said to me that he wants to help me give up to support our future together, and to help us ensure that we can grow old together.

Thinking about these words, and about the fact that he was disappointed that I was creeping down the slippery smoky slope, give me the inspiration to try as hard as I can to remain smoke-free. I want my partner to be proud of me, I want us to live long lives together as much as is possible, and more than anything I want to demonstrate that I can triumph over temptation and maintain my willpower. I found out that not long after I quit smoking, Mike also did – now, if he can quit smoking, I guess anyone can! He had a throat infection over the winter (and various chest and lung problems in the run-up to that), and this finally spurred him to quit smoking because he couldn’t smoke during his infection, and once he stopped he thought he might as well stay stopped.

The life of a quitter is hard. The argument in my head that I have already deprived myself of plenty (see above) and why should I enforce this suffering on myself – everyone has vices and their own personal addictions, and I don’t get any reward or gold star for behaving so abstemiously – is a strong one. I had a dream last night that I was in Italy – glamour central! – and I had met up with some man who was supposed to be my father (although he didn’t resemble my actual dad in any way) and his new girlfriend. Everyone around me was smoking, and I was so tempted to have a cigarette, but what convinced me to resist was that even in my dream, I knew that Toby would be upset with me. If I feel a little bit like I am being controlled, I can tolerate it only because I know that Toby is trying to help me and ultimately liberate me, and I’ve given him permission to do that. So I don’t know if I will make it as a non-smoker all the way to the end of my days, but I hope that by taking each day at a time, I could maybe do it? The life of a quitter is uncertain. But it’s also hopeful.

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the importance of being artistic.

February 10, 2013

Something I didn’t list in my aims for 2013, but that has become a focus for me early on in the year, is to reintroduce art back into my life. This stems initially from a throwaway comment Toby’s father made, asking me what hobbies I had. Generally, I don’t talk about my musical pursuits or my blogging with my family, because I would find it embarrassing to explain exactly what I do, or even worse, give examples of them to people who feel they have the right to judge and criticise you simply because they are related to you (which is not the same as having a close connection with someone. Some relatives we also enjoy a feeling of closeness and confidence with – for me, my mum, dad and grandmother; otherwise I tend to feel that my partner and my friends constitute the bulk of my “family”. If that makes sense.). It’s a similar thing about maintaining a boundary between your professional and personal life when you’re getting to know colleagues. Some colleagues may become friends, but I tend to be very careful and cautious about how much I let people know about me.

So through no fault of his own, Toby’s father has been shielded from the majority of my hobbies and personal pursuits, and is not aware of what I do outside of cleaning and maintaining the house. I dropped the word “blogging” with no further elaboration, and swiftly moved on to focus on my Italian classes. Unlike me, Toby is admirably open about his creative skills: he’s actually created a new blog dedicated to his knitting and culinary creations, which you should all check out. And so, in kind, I have decided to reactivate my drawing skills. I used to love Art at school, but I wanted to study languages and so I had to make the choice not to continue with Art after Year 9. I also was fairly decent at it, but after so long I wasn’t confident that I would be able to draw or sketch anything. I had made a few attempts during the less interesting lectures of my postgrad, but nothing more serious than preliminary tattoo designs (and we all know those turned out well enough anyway!). So after Toby gave me a pristine sketchbook he had never used, I decided to jump-start the year by buying a nice set of sketching pencils, one of those lovely tablet rubbers, and get drawing. My first attempt (sketching a white rose I found online) turned out like this:

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It would appear that I still know how to draw! Since then I’ve done a couple of other things which I am really pleased with, and perhaps I’ll share some of them on here in time.

For my leaving present from Southbank, my colleagues bought my a Kindle, which was extremely touching. I am already a huge fan of it, because I do most of my reading when I’m on the tube or the bus, and my bag is now both less heavy and more roomy. I’ve also enjoyed browsing the online books in both the Amazon Kindle store and on Project Gutenberg. I’ve now read The Life of Pi (which I think is still available for a bargainous 20p), The Turn of the Screw and am currently starting Wuthering Heights. It’s wonderful that books published 100+ years ago are free to download, and I am taking the opportunity to enrich myself with classics I otherwise probably wouldn’t bother to read. Hannah sent me a great link to Stylist’s page on the best free books, which is a wonderful list to help get started on the Kindle (especially if you don’t want to spend too much money on brand new books at first).

Finally, another way I am seeking to enrich my life is through perhaps Toby and I attending some evening lectures. Over the past couple of years, we’ve been to the occasional talk, but as we are getting older, we haven’t got the energy to be out drinking every night (actually, I’m not certain we ever did!) but neither do we want to spend all of our evenings in. So in order to enrich ourselves, we could either do some exercise (I don’t know how successful that would be), or visit some exhibits, attend some lectures and listen to some interesting people. I have found a London Lecture List and already I’ve got some ideas for things that might be interesting. There’s also the second Vogue Festival in April, and I am certain that this year I’ll budget for it in advance and try to attend 🙂 If I indeed make it, I’m sure that I’ll cover the event on HOMME FATAL. It seems silly to stick to the TED app (which is an amazing resource) when we’re living in London and could go and see inspiring speakers in the flesh. This whole post is about jump-starting the year and seeking out new sources of inspiration in order to enrich and culture myself.

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antidote.

January 7, 2013

Today, I realised that my intention for 2013 is to get the poison out of my life. I know that the word “detox” normally conjures up ideas of colonics, crazy crash diets and unlikely health fads, but the real meaning of the word “detox” is to detoxify. I think the start of the year heralds many positive changes for my life, and it’s time to make those positive changes to serve as an antidote to the things that have been undermining my happiness, sometimes sneakily and sometimes less so.

I have so far been cigarette-free for nearly a week. I know it’s early days, but this is a good sign that I’ll be able to maintain this in the long term. Toby and I have been considering healthy eating alternatives, and today he made us both a lunchbox filled with couscous, sliced peppers, carrots and cucumber, and some hummus. It was healthy and filling – not particularly inspiring, but nevertheless it made a nice change from my usual lunch and it did keep me fuller for longer! So after a few weeks of getting used to a more varied lunch through the week incorporating more vegetables (I am also embracing Greek yoghurt as a snack), I’m going to attempt to reintroduce sit-ups and press-ups back into my life. I knew that quitting smoking would work best cold turkey for me; other things, like introducing healthier food and exercise, are going to be a more gradual change that I will be fairly loose with in an attempt to make these changes something I can ultimately incorporate into my life without resenting.

In two weeks’ time, I will start a new job at a university in central London! I am so thrilled to have got this new position, which is similar in nature to my current one but in an HE environment, which to me is a real step up and will open up more career opportunities. It also allows me to escape the toxic and insane atmosphere and games in my current workplace. To me, this is a perfect example of getting some of the poison out of my life – dealing with resentment, uncertainty and unnecessary stress every day in the workplace has a detrimental effect after a while, and I don’t need to be treated that way. So I’ve chosen to move on to somewhere that will hopefully respect me a lot more. Toby is also excited because I will rant less about work at the end of most days!

Following up from my blog lamenting the prospect of Christmas spent with my family, it was actually more comically awful than I could ever have anticipated – although my homosexuality and my relationship with Toby had nothing to do with the drama. My parents had a massive row which made me feel like it was 20 years ago screaming at them to leave each other alone and solve their problems; my mother subsequently broke her wrist; my cousin, uncle and aunt revealed a casual homophobia that I found bizarre. And due to the stellar weather (*sarcasm*), the transport getting to and from Bristol was fucked up both times. In summary, even though I had pretty much made up my mind before even going home, this winter’s experience has confirmed that next Christmas will be my first London Christmas, creating my own traditions and carving out my independence. I will still see my family for a weekend around that time, and I will see Toby’s family for a weekend around that time too – but I need at least one Christmas where I am nobody’s child and instead am free to be my own person. I am already looking forward to it.

I feel like even if a couple of the changes I am setting out here have fallen by the wayside by the end of the year, that 2013 signifies a new start, a new day and a refined (if not “new”) me. Along with this, I’ve already started writing lyrics for a new album that will reflect maturity, independence, hope, strength and importantly, vibrancy. By removing all of the poison from my day-to-day existence (physically, mentally and emotionally), I hopefully will have more freedom and energy to enjoy life and really make the most of it.

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enter: 2013

January 2, 2013

I have found that writing a list at the start of each year has been a fairly successful way of realising at least some of my ambitions, as well as being able to look back at the previous year and seeing how far I have come. Since I started this blog back in 2009, each year has resulted in a lot of changes and accomplishments, which makes me incredibly happy!  So before I look at what I hope to have in store for 2013, I want to review my goals for 2012 and see how I did.

1. Learn to cook a new dish every month.

Tick… well, I got just over halfway before finally getting bored of this. I am just not one for cooking, and I really did not enjoy it. But after nine months’ worth of trying to make new dishes, I have learned some useful things and when I find myself in the situation of having to cook a meal, I can usually concoct something from whatever ingredients are in stock without resorting to a ready meal or pulling my hair out. So I think that that is progress!

2. Cut down on takeaways – to once a fortnight.

More or less! I think some weeks we do better than others, but we definitely have less takeaways than we used to. Hopefully we will renew our strictness with this rule over the coming year.

3. Move in with Toby.

Tick! This was one of the big achievements this year – we now are living together in our beautiful flat in Chiswick, and we are very happy.

4. Pay off my student overdraft.

Nope. Last time my car ate my money, this time the new flat and two wonderful holidays (to Paris and Prague) did it instead. But hopefully 2013 will be the year! Especially as I am being charged for using this overdraft now – so I’m fairly confident I will defeat it.

5. Learn Italian

Tick! In a couple of weeks, I will be starting my third term of learning Italian at the Italian Cultural Institute on Belgrave Square. My teacher Giuseppe is fantastic, and I really enjoy it.

6. Learn to sew

Tick! I think I learned this skill fairly early on into the year, and it’s been useful throughout. Now, I can repair holes and tears in tops, underwear, socks and trousers, and keep my wardrobe going a bit longer.

7. Finish my new album

Tick! Well, I finished 2526 – I had hoped it would be longer and wider in scope, but in the end the concept of the album dictated that I had to finish it in October. But nevertheless I am proud of it and I feel that the mood and quality of the songs represent another step forward for me musically.

8. Go completely digital with my music and film collections, and only keep physical copies of what I really love

Nope, not yet. I’ve managed to get all of my DVDs from Bristol to London, and the next thing is to get my CDs up here. I already sold a lot of the ones that I knew I didn’t want, but it’ll be easier to work out what I want to keep and sell once I have everything here in my flat, and can just put a pile aside for MusicMagpie or Cex or whatever. My iPod finally died in November after 4 years of faithful service, and though in previous years I would have had to run to the Apple store to buy a new one, this time I’m surviving with the (tiny) music library on my iPhone. Which I feel represents patience, maturity and restraint! As well as a concentration on what’s really important, and where my money needs to go. Eventually I’d really like another iPod but I can’t see myself getting one for another few months yet. So I feel that this aim is on hold for now – I’ll hopefully achieve it gradually, but in the meantime I prefer the tangibility of music and film purchases in any case. I am still learning to step into the future, I suppose!

5 / 5.5 out of 8 is perfectly reasonable, I think! And now, my list of goals and resolutions for 2013:

1. Quit smoking.

Toby’s never known me as a non-smoker, and I think it’s about time he did. It’s going to be difficult, and I don’t want cigarettes to have complete power over me to the point where I’m as much a slave to them having given up as I am being a smoker. I’ve already cut down quite a bit so now I just have to take the final leap. Going back to work will be difficult because I need the breaks and I will feel silly just walking around Notting Hill doing nothing, but I’ll work something out. I do enjoy a cigarette, and so perhaps every now and then I may have a cigarette socially – who knows. I’m trying to be loose about it at the moment, so that I don’t feel overly pressurised and that there isn’t a wagon to jump on / fall off of. But generally, this is the year I stop, and I know that I have the willpower (read: stubbornness) to do so. To muffle any temptation, I need to think of: the money I’m saving, my teeth not turning yellow, my blood pressure and life expectancy being improved, not smelling of cigarettes, and (most importantly) being healthy for Toby and showing that I value our love, life and longevity.

2. Pay off my student overdraft.

Third time lucky!

3 & 4. Get fit and toned, and write and record over half of my new album.

I was watching Skyfall with the delicious Daniel Craig, and I decided that I want his body. Except without quite so much effort, and my face shouldn’t be as aged as his. But he’s pretty amazing, physically. At the same time, I also decided that my new music has to be made with heart and soul, and in this way it will show my evolution. Hence my new life motto for this year is “Body and Soul” – I will look after my body and keep fit and hopefully lose some weight and tone up, and I will make music that is vibrant and true.

5. To sing live at least once, in front of an audience.

Because I haven’t done it in a long time, and I miss it!

6. Write a novel.

I already wrote a chapter of a novel a few months ago, but it trailed off and I haven’t done anything with it since. I have been inspired by Toby’s brother, who actually wrote a novel and got it published on Amazon and everything. I used to love creative writing ever since I was little, and so it’s a natural progression in a way for me to write a book. Watch this space…

7. Learn to moonwalk.

I love dancing, and I was watching the documentary for Michael Jackson’s Bad album and it suddenly occurred to me that learning to moonwalk would be something really fun. The only setback to this plan is that the floors throughout our flat are carpeted. But I wanted a goal that was quite light-hearted and fun, amidst all of the seriousness!

8. Pass Italian exam in the summer.

At the Italian Cultural Institute, at the end of each term you can take an exam to get a qualification demonstrating your proficiency in the language. By the end of this academic year (i.e. in July), I will have finished the upper intermediate class if all goes to plan – and so I think it would be good to have a recognised qualification stating my ability in the Italian language. So this is something that I want to achieve too. At the same time, I am hoping that I will continue reading literature in both Spanish and Italian to maintain my fluency in both of those languages (if I have to sacrifice one of my languages, I guess it would be French.)

9. Teach Toby how to play chess.

We have a nice wooden chess set on our coffee table, and I can’t believe that Toby is so intelligent and yet does not know how to play chess. So I will teach him – it’s an important life skill and keeps the brain active and from being rotted by episodes of 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory.

10. Start saving up a deposit for a house.

I know, we only just moved into the Chiswick flat! Toby and I really like this area of London, and so it’s gonna be a long time before we can actually afford something here. But why not start now? This is something that will happen once I have finished paying off my overdraft (see number 2) but I hope that by the end of the year, I will have put some new money in my festering ISA that can be ultimately used for the deposit on a lovely flat or house.

Wish me luck, and good luck with your resolutions and goals for the year ahead!

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Cooking in 2012 – July: Brazilian pork and rice.

July 28, 2012

I must confess that I nearly gave up on my cooking project this month. As July ticked by, I thought “oh, I really can’t be bothered to do this cooking thing anymore. I genuinely hate it, I can’t think of what to cook, so why put myself through it for another 6 months?” Even typing that sentence, the words resonate with me to the extent that I will probably have the same inner monologue for the remaining 5 months.  Luckily, I am fairly stubborn so I’ll probably make it through the rest of the year just to avoid the guilt of not fulfilling a goal I set for myself. Plus it does make me feel more self-sufficient and provider-y. Nevertheless… roll on 2013!

Anyway, the conundrum of what to make this month was finally solved last week when I was in Peterborough with Toby’s parents, who had the Times weekend edition. One of the supplements had a couple of interesting articles – one was about a diet (I don’t believe in diets unless they are sensible enough that they could become a lasting fixture of everyday life – in which case, they probably don’t count as a “diet”. But I digress.) that claimed to boost one’s energy at the same time as helping to shed the pounds. The other was about Brazilian food being “the food of the summer”. There were 6 recipes (plus a couple of cocktails) that all seemed to be pretty appetising – I ended up taking the whole supplement back to London with me, and this weekend I finally decided to bite the bullet for July’s meal and make some marinaded BBQ pork and rice.  Or, as the Times called them, “Brazilian fried biro biro rice” and “Pork tenderloin on a churrasco”. I presume that a “churrasco” is a barbecue; I’ve not the foggiest what “biro biro” refers to (perhaps the crispy shallots?). But anyways, here are the recipes:

I did a few things differently – we altered the measurements, nearly halving everything because I was only cooking for Toby and myself. I didn’t use parsley because I’m not a big fan; I didn’t make the crispy shallots because it sounded like too much effort and I was using the rice as a side rather than a main in its own right; instead of pork tenderloin, I used pork medallions, which meant that I didn’t have to butterfly them (conveniently enough, as I don’t know what that involves). I used white wine vinegar instead of red wine vinegar, and paprika instead of dried red pepper flakes. We didn’t have a barbecue available, so we fried the pork medallions on a gas hob instead.

I suppose it is proof of my slow but acknowledgeable growth in cooking that I was able to take a fair amount of both recipes in my stride. Things that I didn’t know and have now learned include:

  • Pork is cooked when the meat is the same colour all the way through. You don’t want any pink in the meat; unlike a steak, ‘rare pork’ isn’t a thing.
  • The reason why one is supposed to wash rice before cooking it is apparently it makes it less starchy, and thus clings together in the pan a bit less.
  • Washing spring onions is quite an involved job, because mud and earth can hide quite deep down in the stalks.  If, like me, you are impatient, wash the onions quite roughly and thoroughly, and then if there is still residual mud, just cut the damn stalks off too. You’re still left with plenty of decent onion.
  • When frying, the definition of “enough oil” is so that the bottom of the pan is coated in oil.

In the picture above, the last tiny bit of the recipe has been missed off by my camera, so it basically says: melt some parmesan on top of the marinaded pork just as it’s finishing cooking. Then, when you serve it, spritz some lime on it – the lime actually adds a really summery feel to the whole dish. Here is the rice and pork as it was cooking, followed by the finished product:

I was quite pleased with the exotic, yet rough-and-ready aspect of the dish. I also liked that the burnished taste of the marinaded pork added something to the rice as we ate. It was pretty yummy!  I guess that I admit that I am getting better at cooking, and in that sense I am fulfilling the goal of this whole project. My confidence is growing in the kitchen – although Toby still offers me help, support and a sense of urgency as and when required! Next month is Jack and Katie’s engagement party, and we are expected to “bring a plate” (sadly, this means bringing a plate which has food on it for guests to share – I found it odd that one might randomly bring a plate to a party, until Toby explained the concept to me.  I have only hitherto been familiar with bringing a bottle. Perhaps this says more about the kinds of parties I have previously frequented!) – so if I’m smart, I will help out during the preparation of this dish and that will be August done. Let’s see what happens!