Taking a ‘Me’ Day

Taking a ‘Me’ Day

I could regard today as a complete write off. I have been thinking a lot about productivity recently – what can be regarded as ‘good’ productivity, how to be the most productive, what stops me being productive. I think I have started over thinking about productivity so much that I have probably stopped being productive. However, what I have realised in all this introspection is that, to be productive, you have to embrace the days when you just can’t be productive. Unproductivity is actually the catalyst for productivity. You need those days when you just think ‘screw it’ and take a day just to look after yourself. 48638fa38193e40be64e290cfd90d0688a122abd

I have had such a day today, and it has been lovely. I feel completely rejuvenated and ready to have an action plan to seize everything now. But if I hadn’t taken today off, I know that I would still be stuck in a slump, struggling and battling against myself.

Like I say, today has been amazing. And I don’t feel guilty at all. I know I have work to do, I know I have an essay to write and books to mark, but I also know that, had I tried today, absolutely nothing would have been achieved other than me throwing myself into a well of stress and anxiety.

Sometimes, you need to hit pause on the world, pause on reality, and just be. And I think you will be surprised how productive you will be in your unproductivity.

Today, I have tidied my house, my room, my head space. I took a midday bath (which is my favourite thing to do ever). I have watched YouTube videos, I have read through Twitter, I have queued blog posts to read tonight and, in the mean time, I have recharged my batteries and written myself a plan for how to be productive. I love a to do list and always find that they are the perfect kick up the bum, the call to arms, the rally to the fight.

I know, now that a quarter of the year is behind us, the next couple of months are so unbelievably busy for the majority of us. Revision, Exams, Deadlines, Reviews. The next couple of months are so intense that sometimes it feel as though the world is on fast forward around us. So, don’t feel guilty about having to slip away. Don’t feel guilty about having to be unproductive. It isn’t admitting defeat. It is recognising that today you aren’t going to be your best self unless you just focus on yourself. Don’t feel guilty. You are entitled to everything you feel and everything you do.

Tomorrow will be better, Today can be good. Take the time to have a ‘me’ day, to look after yourself. It is the best recipe to be productive, I promise.

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Review: The House of Hopes and Dreams by Trisha Ashley.

Review: The House of Hopes and Dreams by Trisha Ashley.

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I have a complicated relationship with romance books. I both love them and hate them, and sometimes love to hate them (and hate to love them). I do love the optimism, the positivity, and the guaranteed happy ending of the romance genre, but I often find that the sole focus on love grates on me at times. I hate that the typically female heroine needs to find love to feel fulfilled, or the guy so often seeks a relationship because his usual non-committal love life has made him an older, lonelier version of himself. In both cases, the romance seems a rewarding conclusion simply because all other conclusions are out of reach. As a result, although I do love the romance genre, I find books of its kind are the ones I put down more than others.

 

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The House of Hope and Dreams by Trisha Ashley

So, when I picked up Ashley’s book in my local shop, I was somewhat dubious. She wasn’t an author that I hadn’t heard of before, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but something about the book intrigued me. I knew I needed to pick it up, even if there was a chance I might be disappointed.

Oh boy, did I love this book. It reminded me of everything I love about this genre, and I devoured it in a couple of days.

Because this book made me squeal so much, I don’t want to risk spoiling anything of the plot. So, I’ve pulled this synopsis from the glorious internet for you to enjoy before I start ranting and raving about this book.

When Carey Revell unexpectedly becomes the heir to Mossby, his family’s ancestral home, it’s rather a mixed blessing. The house is large but rundown and comes with a pair of resentful relatives who can’t be asked to leave.
Still, newly dumped by his girlfriend and also from his job as a TV interior designer, Carey needs somewhere to lick his wounds. And Mossby would be perfect for a renovation show. He already knows someone who could restore the stained glass windows in the older part of the house…Angel Arrowsmith has spent the last ten years happily working and living with her artist mentor and partner. But suddenly bereaved, she finds herself heartbroken, without a home or a livelihood. Life will never be the same again – until old friend Carey Revell comes to the rescue.

They move in to Mossby with high hopes. But the house has a secret at its heart: an old legend concerning one of the famous windows. Will all their dreams for happiness be shattered? Or can Carey and Angel find a way to make this house a home?

What this synopsis leaves out, or perhaps only hints at, is the underlying plot that you get to discover while you watch Carey and Angel try to tackle the mess of a mansion they are trying to restore. After each chapter, we read words from Jessie Kaye, Carey’s ancestor, as she documents how she moves to Mossby, her life with her husband, the aloof Ralph Revell, and tries to uncover the mysteries around the supposedly haunted Lady Anne’s window. Jessie is a wonderful character and she brings a lovely balance to the other two protagonists. Her snippets make the book share characteristics with historical fiction which I also adore.

Jessie is also Angel’s hero, a keen maker of stain glass. While Carey is busy restoring the mansion to its former glory, the book keeps Angel within its view, and we follow her as she is unbelievably strong, overcoming the loss of her partner and the painful business his son makes of inheritance, and incredibly determined as she uncovers the secrets within glass to a mystery seemed unsolvable. I think she has truly become one of my favourite female characters of all time and definitely a role model.

One thing I would say annoyed me a little with this book is how black and white the ‘evil’ characters are. Obviously, evil is a huge hyperbole but honestly that’s how they come across. I won’t go into too much detail as I do think they are characters you need to discover yourself, but they can be separated into two categories: incredibly greedy, or incredibly self-absorbed. Although they are all nasty for a purpose, I did find it difficult to relate to the characters at all. I couldn’t imagine a world where they could genuinely believe they were right. Maybe it is because I am naive, or because the other characters were so genuinely lovely, but I think it is the only niggle I have about the book.

So, if you’re looking for your next read, I definitely recommend this one. It isn’t just a love story, but a life story with love built-in, and I think that’s what I liked so much about it. I loved the determination of the characters, the history and mysteries surrounding the Revells and the famous Mossby, and most of all I love how little of the plot I could predict. It genuinely kept me on my toes and hungry for each word on every page.

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The BEST Brownies Recipe (I might be biased)

The BEST Brownies Recipe (I might be biased)

I have to say, when it comes to baking sweet treats and I know I need to impress, I will always go for my brownies because I know they are fantastic. They are light. They are gooey. They are full of flavour. And they are always a crowd pleaser.

With so much chocolate in the house after Easter, I have reached that stage when I am 30121111_10157610583132293_194329472_npast snacking and moving towards hulk-raging every time I see a chocolate egg. I just want it out of the house! Either that or I will eat all of it. So, when I reach this stage, I pull out the old brownie recipe and make some delicious treats. Now, you don’t have to use your Easter chocolate to make these brownies, but I opted to simply so I don’t eat all.of.the.chocolate. It’s a nice way to share it around and I like to think it makes the brownies a little more guilt free (even though they really shouldn’t be with everything else that is in them!) Not that you should feel guilty eating anything – by the way – it’s just the way I like to the Easter eat-a-thon I always find myself on.

Ingredients:

  • 185g butter
  • 250g – 300g chocolate (based on how chocolately you want them)
  • 85g self raising flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 100g white chocolate
  • 4 eggs
  • 275g sugar

Method:

  1. Melt the butter and the chocolate together in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Keep on a low heat so not to burn the chocolate. When everything has melted, leave on the side to cool.
  2. Heat the oven to 160C/GM4 with a tray in the middle.
  3. Tip the flour and the cocoa powder in a bowl. Separate the egg yolks from the whites by placing the yolks with the flour and the whites in a separate bowl.
  4. Add the sugar to the whites and whisk together until the mixture is pale and doubled in size. Fold in the chocolate concoction so not to knock the air out. Then fold in the flour, cocoa powder, and yolks until all combined.
  5. Transfer the mixture into a baking tray which you have lined with baking paper.
  6. Put your white chocolate into a sandwich bag and smash with a rolling pin until it is in little shards. Then, sprinkle the chocolate on top of mixture and bake for 30 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool and then serve.

 

And there you have it! A really simple recipe to make some really delicious brownies. Make sure you give this recipe a go and let me know how you get on.

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My Wellbeing Wish list

My Wellbeing Wish list

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One thing I’m starting to realise that is being continually pushed to the side in my working life is my wellbeing. It’s something that is continually brought up in training – Are you looking after you wellbeing? Have you considered your wellbeing? What are you doing to look after your wellbeing? – but it’s also something that I don’t tend to view as a priority. In a world of deadlines and exam timetables and unnecessary meetings, making sure I take time out to look after myself just isn’t my first call. As a result, my ‘wellbeing’ has been reduced to falling asleep at 8 o’clock in front of the television, and that’s not beneficial to anyone.

For the next two weeks I, like so many bleary eyed teachers at this point, am enjoying the paradise that is the Easter break. Two weeks, student-free, and more importantly, teacher-free. Now, don’t get me wrong – my teacher friends are the way I make it through each day, but for two weeks, I’m looking forward to thinking about school as little as possible. Because, trust me, when two teachers get together, it’s impossible to talk about anything other than school.

I thought I would take this time to ‘plan’ my wellbeing wish list, not just for the break, but a plan to carry me through next term as well. It’s time I made my wellbeing a priority, rather than an optional module.

I hope there are somethings here that you might enjoy, or think about doing, as – not to sound too irritating – wellbeing is the most important thing. (Even the word wellbeing feels made up now I’ve mentioned it so much). I thought I would share with you what I have planned for the net two weeks as well as some known cures I always depend on when I feel a bit icky (can’t you just tell I’m a fantastic English teacher!)

1.Blogging.

Here it is. Do you like how I’ve seamlessly worked in my apologies for a whopping three-month absence? Did anyone even notice? No, probably not, but to be brutally honest, neither did I. I have been so wrapped up in my career bubble that I forgot that there was even a world out there. I forgot how much I love writing blog posts, and reading blog posts, and reading comments on blog posts, and researching for blog posts and… well, you get the picture. It seems ridiculous that taking about an hour out of my week to write a rambling blog post or take some cute pictures for a less wordy (and potentially less boring) blog post seems like a mammoth task, but it has. Well, (hopefully) not any more. I am going to (hoping to) write a blog post a week, but at minimum of four blog posts a month (even if that means cramming four into one week). I don’t want my little corner of the internet to fade because, knowing it’s out there really does give me peace of mind.

2. Cooking and Baking.

I truly am a baking addict. I love it. I’ve always said that being the granddaughter of a chef meant that I never had an excuse to not like baking and cooking, but I don’t think that will ever justify quite how obsessed I am with it. More than that, baking is my coping mechanism. I am sure I’ve told this story before, but whenever I need to put this into perspective for someone, I always tell the story of when, during exam season at uni, my housemate came down in the morning to find every surface in our kitchen covered in cupcakes and me standing in the middle, bleary eyed and slightly covered in self-raising flour. I love cooking and baking, I think more than I like eating the stuff. I think more than anything, I like making things for other people. And, you know what? People love eating homemade stuff, so really there’s no excuse as to why I don’t do it more often. And therefore, I guess I will just have to… do it more, I mean, not come up with an excuse.

3. Scrapbooking.

To be fair, this is one little ritual that I haven’t abandoned. I love taking photographs and collecting pointless things that I can bestow with great significance. What can I say – I’m just a hopeless nostalgic. I love collecting little reminders of as many events in my life as I can with the belief that, some day I will be able to look back on my treasure trove and live out as many moments of my life as I can. I know what you’re thinking – that just sounds like another obsession – but, hey, I say nostalgic, you say hoarder – potato, patahto.

So, no. This isn’t something I want to pick up, but is something I’m suggesting you do. Whether you stick your memories into a book or collect them into a box, sometimes it’s nice to be able to flick through and remember all the moments and people that make you happy. It may be gushy but, trust me, it works.

4. Days out.

I have to say, I do have a penchant for exploring places. I love discovering new places that I can fall in love with, and I love returning to places that I have already started an avid love affair with. Since starting a ‘proper grown up job’, the most I have explored is discovering that my local Tescos has an upstairs Costa, and while this was exciting at the time, I think this was just testament to how sad my life has become. Well, no more. I want to actively go out and try to explore new places, even if it is just an hour’s stroll through the countryside. I have got some nice places that I am visiting coming up – including a trip to Amsterdam! – so it is just a case of being a little harsher with myself and pulling myself off my sofa.

5. Reading.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I finished a book. I’ve started several, yes, but actually finishing them …. that seems so far in the past I can’t remember it. It’s ironic, really, considering that one of the main focuses in my classroom is to embed a love for reading, but there you go. So, not only do I want to start reading more, but I want to actually start finishing books! Even if that means not picking up a new book until I’ve finished the first. I am thinking of signing up to Good Reads again to set myself a challenge, and because I do love a deadline (see why I turned into a teacher once I had finished being a student?) I know a couple of my friends are completing GoodReads challenges as well so it would be a good opportunity to have some friendly rivalry too.

 

It might seem like a small list but completing all of this does seem like quite a huge task in my too-busy life at the moment. Regardless, I know that I need to tackle this head on before I burn myself out and become a weepy mess at my desk.

What are your wellbeing essentials?

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One of Us is Lying

One of Us is Lying

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Another day, another book review.

This is a book that has been on my TBR for quite some time. I remember seeing it advertised on Instagram before it came out and being instantly hooked. Whilst in the midst of Christmas present shopping, I found it in the back of my local bookshop on the reduced shelf and just knew I had to buy it. And read it. And loved it. All of which I did.
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Featuring the much-loved 80s teen stereotypes borrowed from Breakfast Club, this debut novel features just the right balance between teen angst and murder. That classic combination.

Five students enter detention: A Jock, A Geek, A Princess, A Criminal … and the boy who exposes the secrets of the students around him, for the horror and the entertainment of others. It all seems very normal … that is until only four students leave detention alive. Suddenly suspected of murder, Bronwyn, Addy, Cooper, and Nate struggle with the exposure of their secrets, the invasion of the press into their lives, and one deep, dark thought: one of us is lying … one of us is a murderer.

Pheww, this book is such a rollercoaster. Even when I thought I had the briefest of ideas of what this book was about, it still had me gripped and fascinated. I devoured this book in under two days and was left reeling once I had finished. The plot is so well thought out and so full of hidden secrets that you are left adamant that it was none of the suspects and wondering if it was all of them.

I think I have well and truly fallen in love with this book. The writing style is intimate and engaging. The characters are so well thought out and developed that you genuinely feel as though you could be going to school with them. I am not normally a fan of books that are written from multiple perspectives but the short and snappy narration of this story was refreshing and full of suspense and continually left you asking questions.

So, why should you read this book?

Put quite simply, it is a work of art. It was like nothing I have read before and truly was transformative. I am completely wonderstruck that this is a debut novel because it is written with such sophistication and elegance that you would almost expect it to be true. Karen M. McManus is definitely a writer to keep on your radar and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

 

What about you? What were your thoughts?

The Dressmaker of Dachau

The Dressmaker of Dachau

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There’s nothing quite like starting a new year with a fantastic read and, for that reason, for my first post of the year it seemed appropriate to review this wonderful book.
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This little beauty has been sat on my bookshelves for quite some time and, when I came home for the holidays, I found myself drawn to it. And, my, wasn’t it worth it! I absolutely devoured this book in one sitting and I am still stuck thinking about it. I have always been a historical fiction fanatic but there is something about this novel that makes it stick out from the others that I have read. I am not sure if it is the intriguing plot or the likeable lead character or the addictive writing style but I felt as though I was sucked into the story as I read and turned the pages of this little book.

London, Spring 1939. Ada Vaughan is a beautiful and ambitious dressmaker, yearning for greater things and a better life. Whilst her parents mutter about war, Ada loses herself in her jobs and her day dreams. Whisked away by a romantic foreign gentleman, Ada finds herself in the middle of Paris as war strikes and running for her life. As the war wages on, Ada is captured by the Nazis and kept as a prisoner of war in terrible conditions. the only way she can survive is to impress her capturers, and the only way she knows how to do that is that be the very thing she felt she was born to be: a dressmaker. But such a decision isn’t to be taken lightly, and may very well cost her her life.

This is absolutely wonderful story about betrayal and heartbreak and trauma and survival and, quite frankly, it is a marvel to read. Ada is magnificent and problematic and a true survivor and, although a fictional tale, she is definitely a hero that inspires. I can truly say that this is a story that had me gripped on every page and I did not see the ending coming and it left me a complete and utter mess.

So, if you are stuck in a slump or are looking for your next historical read, I cannot recommend this book enough. This is definitely a writer that I am going to be on the look out for in the future and I think this may have become my favourite WW2 read.

 

What about you?

 

Trying to avoid New Year Clichés

Trying to avoid New Year Clichés

2017 is over. It went out with the usual bang, signalled by fireworks and excessive 14e94ecf524cef76fec5a407482bfc2e613540635.jpgdrinking, and from its ashes a new year is born. However, something else emerges from the ashes and it comes with such strength it seems unavoidable: New Year clichés. We all know them. This post itself is one of them. They are all around and you cannot escape them, no matter how hard you try to. In the next, we must all bow down to the new year clichés.

I may not be the most consistent blogger, but I always make a point of writing my new year blog post. It feels rude almost not to. And in those posts, I have fulfilled so many of the clichés I could make the ‘new years cliché check list’: New year’s resolutions? Check. Review of the last year? Check. Condemned the word resolutions, choosing a ‘better’, cheesier word like ‘challenges’ in the idle hope that they might be easier to keep that way? Check. Vowed to blog more regularly and then disappeared for three months straight after? Check.

I used to look at the new year with a mixture of excitement, anxiety, and anticipation. For 48736406d87690256dd4abd57b4f0e36686299122.jpga large part, it is still something I look forward to, but I  now more concerned about just getting the year started. Yes, of course I’ve set myself a list of goals and challenges that I want to achieve this year, but I won’t bore you with those. They are more than likely to be similar to everyone else’s and I’ll undoubtedly phrase it less eloquently than others too.

Instead, I thought I might share with you what I want to prioritize this year in the hopes that you might prioritize them too. Over the last few months, as my stressed and responsibilities have grown, I have found that my well-being has severally suffered, often being forgotten and replaced with things I viewed more important. As a result, I have not only my mental health has been affected but also my physical health. So this year, I’m taking a stand. I am ordering myself to put my well-being first before I burn myself out.

To do this, I’m setting myself a few rules ( I know, rules seem the opposite of good for well-being) and activities to make sure I am putting my well-being first. I want to make sure I leave my house more, more than just the usual walk to work or supermarket to do the weekly food shop. I want to read more. I want to talk to my friends more. I want to go out and explore new places more.

I know, I know. It sounds more like a wish list than an action plan, but that’s because I haven’t come up with a plan yet. I’ve just got an idea, a good idea, and I’m bloody well going to try my best to work on it.

How about you ?