Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail (for me anyway!)

I'm sure that most of you have heard the above saying somewhere or another, possibly in the workplace or from a well-meaning university lecturer many moons ago...

Here's the rub: For me, this saying is completely fitting.  And not just in my working or
academic life either. I've mentioned before that I'm not a natural caterer or party host. Bitter experience has taught me that if I want my social gatherings to be a success, it pays to treat them a little like a work project, i.e with lots of advance planning.

And so I find myself worn out but happy just after 11pm on the 23rd of December, having thrown together my 'easy' pear and vodka trifle, parboiled and frozen my tats and blanched my carrots and parsnips in preparation for Christmas day.  This evening I have also fired off a number of emails to work clients, just to ensure that they have everything they expect from me prior to the holidays - as well as some ideas to help us all get off to a great start in January.

Parboiled tats ready for the freezer
I promise you now that this is not some sort of smug "aren't I so organised" boast.  It's taken me almost 40 years to be honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses.  Leaving things until the very last minute falls into the latter category and many social events or work projects that should have been enjoyable have ended up being terribly stressful instead.

So, because I know that my dear Mum is arriving for Christmas tomorrow afternoon and because I want to enjoy our afternoon and evening together with the children, I've tried my utmost to get ahead of the game today.  (Check out this link for ideas if you'd like to do the same.) There are still things left on my to do list - of course there are.  But with the main chores out of the way, I can look forward to the day ahead tomorrow instead of lying in bed tonight with what I believe is known as 'helicopter head'.

Now, if that isn't worth raising a glass to, what is? As we say in this part of the world, slainte!

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Thursday, 19 December 2013

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Have you ever told your child that it's wrong to copy? Yup, me too.  There's no denying that you should never pinch someone else's ideas and claim that they are your own.  It is, however, perfectly acceptable to benefit from others who have greater experience and skills and who are willing to share them (thank goodness for the internet and all those talented folk who contribute to the mass of information on it).

If your cooking and crafting skills are average (like mine), there really is no need to try to do everything yourself from scratch.  Shortcuts are perfectly acceptable.

With Christmas looming ever closer on the calendar, the number of things on the 'to do' list tend to increase one hundred fold.  However chilled out you are, few of us can escape the pressure of being seen to do it all.

Like most average women out there, I want my family to have a fabulous festive season.  I would like to hope that my children will grow up with fond memories of the holidays and of Christmas day itself.  It would be wonderful to think that I could help to create traditions that my children will continue with their own children.

But - and it's a huge but - creating the perfect Christmas does not come naturally to me.  So what is an average but keen girl to do? Answer: Cut corners and copy. Oh, and recognise your limitations. I can usually tell from a quick glance at a new recipe or craft idea whether it will result in stress or success. I've become an expert at weeding out the 'easy but effective' projects.

During the last few days, I can give you two recent examples of being a copycat, taking a few shortcuts, but still feeling great about the end results.

Example 1 is the festive wreath that currently adorns our door.  For the first time, I "made it myself", however the design wasn't entirely my own idea... Having ordered a fresh wreath from our wonderful local green grocer last year, I took a snap of how it looked at the time, kept the non-perishable parts in a box all year and recreated it myself this week with some laurel and holly that, fortunately, grow on our doorstep.

My first DIY holly wreath - sort of.

So did I cheat? Will, yes a little.  But I still feel better than if I'd bought a completely new fresh or artificial replacement.  Next year, I might even embellish my imitation design a little more.  I also feel that using my existing resources was less wasteful and kinder to the environment. Dare I say it, the whole process of tackling it at the kitchen table even made me feel a little more festive.

Example number two comes via a recipe for a twist on mincemeat pies sourced from the wonderful Mortage Free in Three blog.  Although my pies didn't quite look the part of those featured in the recipe, I'm determined to try them again soon as they really tasted rather good.  When my little lad, who loves his Christmas pies, asked "Did you make them all yourself?", I nodded proudly that I had. 

Cue his next question: "But did you make the mincemeat yourself?" Well no, I had to admit.

Not so few Christmases ago, this type of comment would have tipped me over the edge into a bad mood and a swamp of feelings of inadequacy.   This time, however, I was quite happy to "fess up".  Mums, I explained, need to have time to work and play too. They can't always do every little thing themselves. This was accepted by my little lad very easily.

And the moral of the story is? Sometimes, just sometimes, the main person to blame for piling on the pre-Christmas pressure is yourself...

Have a wonderfully average festive season.

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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

I'm not the type of person who normally...

One of the things I've been trying really hard to do recently is to be a little more open minded and a little less quick to say "no" to things without first giving them a try.

I'll be upfront right now and confess that, as Mrs Average, I haven't done anything that others might consider earth shattering or extreme (no Ironman challenges for me quite yet!). Instead, I've been trying to do little things that might be outwith my comfort zone like running a longer distance than usual (I completed my first 10K earlier this year); drive myself and the kids on city routes that I normally avoid (I'm a bit of a coward with unfamiliar journeys) and say "yes" to work projects that scare me a little. Even getting started on this blog was something that I had to push myself to do...

More humdrum examples over the past seven days include making my own bread, with our "new" bread maker (currently on loan from my in-laws who no longer use it - I'm normally a gadget phobic) and buying a sassy above-the-knee red dress for my Christmas parties rather than plumping for the more predictable, safe option. 

The great thing about this new brave me is that the more I take these small leaps of faith, the easier it becomes to take the next, even bigger steps.  This 'can do' mind set has left me feeling really positive about the new year ahead and all the things I hope to achieve. Remember, though,  if you're teetering on the brink of trying something new, don't feel you have to wait for the next calendar year - just jump right in and try it! 

And if you find yourself thinking "but I'm not the type of person who normally...", stop right there and turn that attitude on its head! You won't regret it.

A 'can do' mind set is all you need to get started

Monday, 2 December 2013

Dealing with the dull dark days of winter

Looking at the title of this post, it's hardly very appealing is it? Yet, I feel it's something that I must write about because so many of us - particularly 'round our way' - are affected by the shorter, darker, colder days of winter to a greater or lesser extent.

Those who suffer badly from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) come to dread the changing of the clocks and the reduction of daylight as the year draws to a close.  Unsurprisingly, it's a hot topic on many blogs and forums because it is so commonplace.

I'm not as unlucky as some who find the condition debilitating, however I have to confess that I often struggle on those challenging days when it never really seems to get light, it's bitter outside and the carefree days of summer feel as though they may never return.  Thankfully, there are lots of great tips for coping with our seasonal changes out there in cyberspace.  I can't take credit for coming up with these but I can share with you the little changes that, for me, can make a big difference. None of these involve expensive outlays just, perhaps, a small change in everyday habits and your mind set.

Get outside
Sounds obvious doesn't it? It's not that easy, though, when the weather is distinctly unappealing and you are already feeling the cold indoors, let alone outside.  If you can, grit your teeth, gird your loins, grab your coat/boots/scarf/gloves and go for it! I don't think I've ever felt worse after a walk, even though I've sometimes felt pretty grim prior to venturing out.  If possible, it's even better to go during the middle part of the day when you can maximise your exposure to any sunlight that might just be biding its time behind the grey clouds. Why not make the most of that lunch hour?

Let the outside in
No, I'm not suggesting that you throw your windows and patio doors open (I do live in the north-east of Scotland after all). What I do recommend, though, is that you pull back any blinds during daylight hours to let as much light in as possible. As a homeworker, I've tried doing this in my little office space and I really think it helps (particularly if you don't have the time or motivation to follow recommendation number one above).

Make arrangements
For me, there are usually a few ghastly days each winter when I really just want to hibernate.  This is when advance arrangements come in useful.  If you know that you'll be letting someone else down, whether it is a work meeting, or a quick cuppa with a friend, then you'll be more likely to galvanise yourself into action.  Even promising to take the kids to the library will get you out of your own four walls and into a different environment with some fresh - and hopefully friendly - faces.

Remind yourself it's not for ever
"This too will pass."  It's easy to say but sometimes not quite as easy to believe.  When you're finding it difficult to believe that Spring will return one day, find some practical ways to convince yourself.  Dig out the photo album from your last summer holiday or slather yourself in some sun cream or cocoa butter to bring back the memories of warmer, fun filled days.

Ditch the guilt
Don't be too hard on yourself if you fail to cram in quite as much activity as you do during other times of year.  Congratulate yourself on getting through the tough days and acknowledge that it's normal to have times when you really just want to curl up with a good book, a warm throw and a hot chocolate (even though there are a million other seemingly more productive things that you should be doing).  After all, tomorrow's a new - and hopefully brighter - day...

A walk in the middle of the day can work wonders

Related posts: Beating the January blues

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