Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Stars

It was cold and clear as we walked back to our cars. I hugged the the others, and sat shivering while I waited for the windows to clear. I indicated, turned the car around, and waved goodbye as I turned onto the main road. 

The roads were quiet- it was a Sunday night, though quite early- and I sang along to the radio, loudly and happily, as I made my way out of the city. The news warned of ice further up the country but the Devon roads seemed safe. I indicated off the dual carriageway and took the moorland road- this had been my favourite route, when I had made this journey on a daily basis for work. 

I slipped past the last few houses and street lamps, and out towards the open countryside. The road was empty and silent. I drove faster than I should have perhaps, and as I wound towards home, I looked up through the windscreen. The sky was clear, and the moon illuminated the road in front of me. Even the animals who normally roamed these roads were inside, safe and warm. 

As I reached the highest point on my drive, I pulled into a lay-by. I switched off the headlamps and turned off the engine, sighing as the car shuddered into silence. I hadn't seen another car in a good twenty minutes, and I pulled the keys from the ignition, wound my scarf around my neck, and opened the door. 

The cold hit me hard. The temperature gauge has never worked on my car, and I hadn't been prepared for it. But I left my coat on the seat, locked the door, and stepped towards the edge of the hill. 

I closed my eyes, spread my arms wide, tipped my head back, and breathed deeply. The air was crisp and tickled my nose, but felt cleaner than any air I had breathed in weeks. Opening my eyes, I looked up at the sky.

As a child, whenever I couldn't sleep I would go to my bedroom window. I would look out at the sleeping street,  and up at the sky, at the millions and millions of stars, and think about how small I was. Even now, I do the same. In London, it doesn't have quite the same feeling- the street lamps make the entire sky press down heavily and glow orange, and the foxes scream, bringing me rapidly back down to earth. But in Devon, the sky is huge, spanning above me with more stars than I could ever begin to count. 

I take great comfort in the stars. As I stood on that hilltop, alone and silent, I gazed upwards and thought of the fact that those stars were shining on everyone I have ever loved. Whether they know I love them, knew I loved them, or will never know how much I love them- those same stars shine on every single one of them, silently watching, knowing more about their lives than I ever will. I often wonder, as I look up, whether any of these people are looking up too- and if they are, if they ever think of me while they do. Whether they ever think of me at all, actually. I wonder what they're doing, and if they're happy. I hope they are. 

The air was still and silent. My hands felt cold. I thought of you, whispered words that you are of course too far away to hear, and pulled my scarf a little closer.

Unlocking the car, I slipped back into my seat and rested my head against the steering wheel.

I put the car back into gear, turned back onto the road, and headed for home.  

Monday, 29 December 2014

Happiness Is... (vol.92)

Well, Christmas is over for another year.

The presents have been opened, the family have mostly departed, Mama is back at work and I'm left alone at home. It's incredibly peaceful- our little close is a quiet place at the best of times, but the thick frost this morning has completely muffled any sound, and I kind of feel like the only person in the world. It's a lovely feeling.

The car is completely rutted with ice, so currently I couldn't go anywhere even if I wanted to. And the only place I do want to go is for a run- but Sensible Alice has made an appearance and mandated that that isn't allowed until the temperature climbs above 0C (which should hopefully happen somewhere around lunchtime). It will also involve starting by running up a very big hill and I'm a little bit scared of that, so wish me luck.

So I'm planning to spend today reading, exercising, and piano playing. I feel a little like I should be making more of my time off, but being forced to take a really long stretch of time to do nothing is actually really nice. It is Christmas, after all.

Anyway. This week, happiness is...

... family time. Obviously. We always spend Christmas with Mama's side of the family, so Christmas day involved eleven adults, a cat, and a dog. I haven't laughed as much in forever, and it was so lovely to catch up with my cousin and his girlfriend- who I hadn't actually seen for two years, despite the fact that we all said it felt as though we'd seen each other the previous week. I also spent Boxing Day and 27th with Papatron, my stepmother, and Little L, so plenty of family time for me!

... Christmas leftovers. Come on, it can't just be me who loves the post-Christmas meals made up of all the leftover festive meats, salads, and cheese?! They're amazing, and I won't let anyone tell me otherwise.

... ice skating. Little L is currently having ice skating lessons, and got her very own skates for Christmas- so of course we had to try them out on 27th. I whizzed around the rink for an hour and a half, and impressed Papatron with my skating abilities- considering I'm incredibly clumsy on solid ground, I apparently am "surprisingly graceful" on ice (or so an ex boyfriend once told me). I managed not to fall over, and so I'm classing that as my very own Christmas miracle.

... my new Le Creuset. And all of my Christmas gifts, actually- I was thoroughly, thoroughly spoiled. But the Le Creuset is the one gift I can barely stop looking at- it's blue and beautiful and I am excited to have it forever.

... peaceful thoughts. As I mentioned yesterday, my brain was in overdrive when I first came home. It has now completely calmed, and while I'm sure it will ramp back up as I zoom towards my return to London, for the time being I'm appreciating the peace and quiet.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Time Out

When I got home on Saturday 20th December, I was a mess. 

I knew exactly why I was a mess, and I couldn't do anything about it. And on top of that, I had a cold- and I never get ill. As a result, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat, I couldn't think, and I spent days acting like a zombie. I curled up on the sofa, drinking endless cups of tea, and dreaming about the things I wanted to say. I almost completely shut down. 

But it's improving. My big brother arrived home a couple of days after I did and made me feel instantly better. I slept in a bed that doesn't squeak, and in a room that gets properly dark at night. I played the piano for hours upon hours, pouring myself into it. And then on Christmas Eve, the extended family arrived and I was thrown into Christmas chaos, with no time to think about anything but the celebrations at hand. I laughed with my brothers, drank champagne with my cousin's girlfriend, sat on the kitchen floor snuggling with the dog (who sadly isn't mine at all), and a smile spent a lot of time on my face. 

It would seem, therefore, that sleep, family, and tea have come together to pull me back together. 

I adore living in London, but it is HARD. I have a tendency to over-do it, and it leaves my work colleagues, family, and housemates worried about me. I push and push and do and do until the circles under my eyes take on a kind of permanence and I spend meetings ducking my head and trying not to yawn. G looks at me worriedly when I tell him that I'm away again at the weekend. E looks baffled when I explain that I spent my "quiet evening" baking enough cakes to feed a small army. D tells me I have to slow down and look after myself. And I'm not very good at listening to any of them. 

The week I have already had at home has done me the world of good- and the second week I am about to spend here will surely do the same. I feel rested and calm, my thoughts are ordered and sensible, and while obviously my demons are still there, they're a little quieter this week than they have been for a while. I am exceptionally lucky that I have got these two weeks off work- my work is actually closed now until 5th January, so I couldn't work even if I wanted to. It's blissful. 

I'm inevitably going to spend the next week busily building myself back up to return to the Big Smoke, but that's okay. I need a bit of busy to counter the calm, and vice versa. 

But I'm feeling much more like myself again, and for that I am incredibly grateful. 

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Just Because It's Christmas...

... and at Christmas you tell the truth. 

This is my life lately:

Reading. Only eye make up. A lot of tea. A little bit of chocolate- but not a whole lot of other food. Moisturiser to calm my rosacea. Notes of texts sent last Friday. And my antidepressants. 

My life has been turned upside down multiple times this year. And this is how I'm currently dealing with it. I'm hoping that having my family around me this Christmas will give me my sparkle back, and I've already decided that 2015 is going to be my year. 

But I mostly just wanted to say that if you're having a bit of a tough time this Christmas, you really aren't the only one. People being super cheerful and jolly can often only serve to make you realise that you don't feel cheerful and jolly. Just remember that it's okay to feel how you feel and be who you are. 

Happy Christmas everyone, and huge love to you all. 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Happiness Is... (Vol. 91)

I'm writing this at gone 1am on Monday. This is not like me- I'm normally fast asleep by 11:30pm, so the fact that I'm still awake has really thrown me. Maybe it's the absolute deafening silence, or the actual pitch blackness- Devon is very different to London- or maybe it's this pesky cold that has been threatening to strike for about a week and seems to have chosen now to leave me sneezing and spluttering when I should be sleeping.

I'm back in Devon now and I couldn't have needed to be here more. I'm actually a little sad I'm not working today- I'll miss a lot of the pre-Christmas, post-Christmas party gossip- but I'm sure I'll be filled in soon. And it's Christmas week!! I'm still here hopelessly hoping for a sprinkle of snow, but mostly I'm just looking forward to some family time and some time where I don't have to think about anything very seriously.

This week, therefore, happiness is...

... Long train journeys. I had a four hour train journey home on Saturday afternoon, and I used probably 90% of that time to just sit and think. I worked through a lot of stuff in my head on that journey, and I'm happy I got the chance to do that. I'm also happy that my journey was completely stress free- the last two years, the train lines to Devon have been completely screwed at this time of year, so I'm incredibly happy that Mother Nature played nice for me. 

... The amazing shower at mama's house. The shower in my London flat is reasonable, but not great. The one here, however, is incredible- powerful, steaming hot, and absolutely great for singing in. Don't judge me, it was a Christmas carols only affair!

... Being back at the piano. Seriously, I sat for two hours straight at the piano teaching myself a new Chopin prélude on Sunday. I didn't get hugely far through it, but focusing on that was exactly what I needed- mostly because it stopped me from thinking about anything else.

... Excellent book recommendations. My friend J recommended The Secret History the other day, and I am SO glad he did. Hands down, best book I've read all year, and I'm only halfway through. I would HIGHLY recommend it. 

... Receiving Christmas cards. I came home to a huge bundle of Christmas cards, and had received a whole load in London too. I'm so happy that people I know still send them- who doesn't love a bit of festive post?! 

What's making you happy this week?

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Wants and Needs

We all do silly things sometimes. It's part of life, really. We make mistakes, we apologise, we move on. 

But what about when one of those things doesn't happen? When someone doesn't apologise, or you don't want to move on?

On Friday night, I was involved in something which had the potential to be a big problem for someone else, and I do hope that won't actually happen. I was selfish and silly, and I knew better. On Saturday, apologies were said, Christmas wishes exchanged, and I think things might be normal by the new year.  

But what if I don't want the old normal? What if, knowing what I now know, and thinking all the thoughts which have been swirling around my head, what if I want to change direction, and take this somewhere else?

But what if that isn't my choice?

It's the problem with other people really. You don't get a say in so many things which affect you. But I don't think I can do what I want to do in this situation. What I want to do is not the sensible thing, and between you and me, I can't really cope with complicated right now. And I don't want to make things difficult for myself.

What do you do when what you want and what you need are two very different things? You can tell yourself that you need the thing you want, but that doesn't mean it's true. 

I was selfish and now I am trying to be the opposite. And it's hurting in a way that surprises me. 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Feeling Festive

The circles under my eyes are getting darker, post-work naps are becoming essential, and almost every evening is filled with some Christmassy do or other. 

But it's okay, because on Saturday I'll be heading back to Devon for two weeks of open fires, kitty cuddles, mulled wine, carols, and family time. I cannot wait. 

I love Christmas. I love all the festivities, and the food, and the music, and the drinks, and the food. (Yes, I'm aware I said food twice. But it really is my favourite bit. Mince pie, anyone?)

I wrote a little guest post for Charlotte all about my Christmas traditions- and you can find it over on her blog! Just writing it gave me the warm-and-squishies, and made me even more excited for the next couple of weeks. I'm a real traditionalist at heart, and love the familiarity of my family Christmas. I love that it runs more-or-less the same way every year, and I love having all of my family around.

If you want to know more about my family Christmas (and see a brilliant picture of us all wearing ridiculous Christmas hats), then you should definitely pop on over!

Do you have any festive traditions?

Monday, 8 December 2014

Happiness Is... (vol. 90)

Just three more weeks (and a handful of days) are left of 2014. Every now and then, I go "where the hell did this year go?!" and then I kind of remind myself of most of the things I wrote in this post and go "Oh. That's where it went". 

I'm writing this after an afternoon spent entirely in the living room, watching films and trashy TV, writing Christmas cards and browsing for Christmas party dresses online (help me. I can't do clothes shopping at the moment, I don't like myself enough). I feel antsy and lazy and guilty- I'm not good at relaxing, I always feel like I should be doing- which at least is partially responsible for the enormous dark circles under my eyes.

I've spent the last few days being looked after by Mama CupandSaucer. She came to stay, wrapped me up in love, treated me to theatre trips and cups of tea, groceries and a listening ear. It was so lovely to have her here, and I feel slightly bereft now she's gone. But it's less than a fortnight until I'm home for Christmas (and I'm getting daily updates from Mama telling me how many "sleeps" are left), so I'm sure I'll make it, even if I feel like The Little Engine That Could at the moment.

Anyway. I'll stop whinging soon, I promise. I know I'm a bore at the moment, so we'll get back to regularly scheduled programming now. This week, happiness is...

... writing Christmas cards. Firstly, this makes me feel like such an adult- I mean, I know we all wrote the whole class Christmas cards in primary school (didn't we?), but writing proper Christmas cards with notes such as "Hope to see you in 2014!" feels terribly grown up. And secondly, making references to the awesome things my friends are doing feels so exciting. I got to address three cards to "Dr..." and I made references to weddings. Add that to all the cards that are going to homes that my friends actually own, and I'm left feeling like I could burst with pride. I have some superstars for friends.

... doing good deeds. Last weekend, I went to play with Charlotte, and she told Jenny and I all about the coat she desperately wanted for Christmas, but that had sold out online. When out with Mama CupandSaucer on Saturday, I popped into Petit Bateau and found the coat. So I picked it up for her, and I'm popping it in the post today. It's the least I could do for such a gorgeous human, and I hope it makes her very happy on Christmas morning.

... the return of my knitted Christmas tree. Yes, Mama CupandSaucer squashed Noel the Christmas Tree into her suitcase and brought him up to London for me. He's now going to adorn my desk at work for the next two weeks, and I couldn't be happier about it. We've also put up the Christmas tree in my flat, and it has chocolate decorations on it. I haven't had one of those since I was six.

... finally sorting my eyebrows out. Oh my god. I can't even remember the last time I plucked my eyebrows. Finally got around to it last night, and I must admit, I do feel better for it. 

... winning the best offspring/ sibling award. Apologies siblings, I get the prize this week. I trekked out to Toys R Us on a Saturday morning in December, just to pick up the one toy Little L wanted for Christmas this year. It's hideous, and I'm sure she'll be bored with it by February, but for now, I WIN.

What's making you happy this week?

Friday, 5 December 2014

Christmas Biscuits

I'm not really a biscuit baker. A cake maker, yes. But biscuits? Not so much.

I've never been able to find or create the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I make excellent shortbread, but will only make it if I have access to Guernsey butter- it's so much more delicious that way. Viennese whirls are a firm favourite- but, admittedly, a little faffy. Oat and raisin cookies are a bit too healthy for a bake, as far as I'm concerned. Which kind of leaves me in the situation where I don't want to make biscuits, because I can't work out what I want to put in them. 

I think it's because I'm a perfectionist. Cakes I can do. I can make them pretty, uniform, artfully messy, covered in chocolate... They're my comfort zone. And while I'm not exactly uncomfortable making biscuits... I just don't. 

However. I now work in an enormous open plan office, and making biscuits is suddenly a much better idea. You can make an enormous batch of biscuits so much more easily than making a huge batch of cupcakes. They're far more portable. And even those on perpetual diets will often nibble on a biscuit. 

So on Sunday afternoon, after I got back from visiting Charlotte and Jenny, I are myself to making some Christmas biscuits to take to work. Seriously- a monkey could make these. Or a small child, so if you have one (or a monkey) if suggest making these this weekend. And if you aren't a fan of spiced biscuits? Leave them out. Add lemon zest. Or almond extract. Or anything, really. You could sandwich these with Nutella or jam and buttercream. Or you can do as I did and turn them into a festive feast (or cut them into animal shapes/ letters/ hearts/ flowers/ boats/ cars, and make them appropriate for any occasion).

They're also super popular- I've been asked to make them again so many times, and been told they're a sign I'll be a great wife. Not sure what baking has to do with being a great materfamilias but hey ho. I'll take it is a compliment. 

Christmas Biscuits
Makes enough to feed my office. Which means "a lot". 

175g butter
200g caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp mixed spice 
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Splash vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of a clementine (or tangerine/ satsuma/ orange)
275g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder 

Icing sugar
Red fondant/ smarties/ m&ms/ skittles

Festive shaped cookie cutters- I used stars, trees, and a gingerbread man 
A piping bag

Beat together the butter and sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Stir in the remaining ingredients.  

Place your bowl into the fridge until your dough is firm and stiff enough to roll out. If it isn't cold and firm, the shapes will spread in the oven and be a huge disappointment. Be patient. And preheat the oven to 170C

When your dough has firmed up, lightly flour a work surface. Grab a handful of your dough, and roll it out thinly. Cut out shapes and bake on a lightly oiled baking sheet for 10 minutes or until golden. You'll need to batch bake, so get a little assembly line going here- while one batch cools, get another in the oven and roll out a third. Leave any unbaked dough in the fridge for as long as possible. 

When your biscuits are baked and cooled, decorate using white icing. Mix icing sugar with a small amount of water until a VERY thick paste forms. Spoon into a disposable piping bag, snip the tiniest hole in the end, and let your imagination run wild! Star biscuits make pretty snowflakes, gingerbread men are a classic, and trees can be done by zigzagging the bag down the length of the tree and plonking a star shaped sprinkle at the top. 

To make a rudolf though... Turn your gingerbread man upside down. Pipe antlers on the "legs" turn the "arms" into ears, and dot eyes and a big red nose on to the head. Et voila! Reindeer, without a reindeer cutter. Genius. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

Happiness Is... (Vol. 89)

I'm on complete Christmas countdown now. I am completely and utterly exhausted, and I am so unbelievably exciting to head back to Devon for TWO WHOLE WEEKS in just nineteen days time. I have the deepest love of Devon- though I don't currently want to live there. It's hard- I constantly feel the pull of Home, with the rolling hills, thick mist, star filled nights, and deep peaceful silence; but I know it really isn't the right place for me right now. I don't have PEOPLE there, and the people who are there are not my type of people. It's hard. 

I don't know exactly where I do want to end up, but I know I want to be close to the people I love. Currently, these people are scattered across the whole of The South, so I know I won't be going north anytime soon. I don't want to settle down yet though, so I have some time to think more carefully about where I want to be, who I want to be near, and what is really important to me. 

It's funny though, that the thing pulling me through these next few weeks is the idea of leaving the place I currently am. Maybe it's itchy feet? Maybe it's just a general feeling of "unsettled"? Who knows. All I know is that I am so hoping that I WANT to come back after two weeks at home. I'm scared about how I might feel at that point.

Anyway. This week, happiness is...

... Feeling festive. I had such a festive weekend, and it's left me feeling so excited for Christmas! I'm all about the Christmas songs, mince pies, panettone, and Christmas cards. It's lovely. Christmas biscuits help too- recipe will follow at some point...

... Short weeks. I'm only in work Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday this week. I'm delirious about it. I'm utterly exhausted and utterly in need of a cuddle from Mama. I'm fully prepared for her to tell me I look exhausted and unwell, so I'm hoping the extra time will restore me a little. 

... Jenny and Charlotte. Oh, these girls are my absolute soul sisters. A lovely Christmassy weekend with them, full of girly giggles, Christmas songs, and cups of tea was so good for me this weekend. I wish they lived closer and we could play more often!

... Exciting porridge toppings. Mr TTDER (aka Sebastian) made the four of us delicious caramelised banana porridge on Sunday morning. It was INCREDIBLE- properly indulgent, absolutely perfect for a Sunday morning. Thank you S!!!

... My enormous cashmere jumper. I may or may not have kept an XL Uniqlo cashmere jumper a boy gave me about six years ago. It's dark grey and incredibly soft, and I wear it at every opportunity. 

What's making you happy this week?