Organise

Organisation is life.

I like everything to be just-so. For context, I was THAT kid in school. You know, the one who wouldn’t let anyone borrow their stuff. The one who liked the first page of every notebook to be immaculate. The one who would stress out if their pen ran out and they had to switch to a different colour of ink part way through the page of notes. Don’t laugh. Yes, that was actually very stressful for me. I lived in constant fear of my favourite scented gel pens being lost, damaged or never returned.

Today my life is dominated by series of lists and calendar appointments, coupled with a strict household cleaning regime. I like to be prepared. And I truly believe that an organised mind starts with an orderly home. Yup, I guess I’m still a little uptight.

So when it comes to organising for Christmas, I like to be that smug idiot who has finished their Christmas shopping before December has even started. The checklist of gift recipients is conceived in October, with gift ideas developing and evolving over the next couple of weeks. Dutifully, I tick off each gift purchased with a contented click of the screen.

However, there’s still one area of Christmas prep I’ve not quite managed to get my head around…. juggling the multitude of Christmas social events. There’s the work night out, the office Christmas lunch, the kid’s Christmas carol concert, the ‘get together’ with those old school friends (who you now only make the effort to see once a year), the sports team booze-athons, and of course the mince pie and mulled wine soiree at Betty’s over the road. Invariably, these all seem to fall on the same evening… and therein lies the task of organising and prioritising the Christmas social calendar.

As I see it, there are 5 key tactics when it comes scheduling your Christmas fun;

  1. The “double book” – trying to have the best of both worlds by leaving one event early and then arriving late to the next. It means you can accept many more invites, but spend the night clock watching instead of having fun.
  2. The “manners your mother taught you” – you only ever accept the first invitation. It doesn’t matter if the invite to the party of the year has just been sent out, you’ve already accepted the invitation to Betty’s bash, and that decision is final.
  3. The “BFF code” – prioritise events based upon your relationship with the organiser. Friends trump work colleagues, family trumps friends. It saves a multitude of arguments in the long run, though you might miss out on the latest office goss.
  4. The “party starter” – prioritise events based upon the perceived level of fun. The wilder the party, the higher you push it up the list. Guaranteed to manifest in multiple hangovers, but bucketfuls of fun.
  5. If all else fails, and you just can’t take anymore partying, simply fake an illness and don’t leave the house!

I’ve just got to go work out which strategy to use now… Any suggestions?

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Passion

They say that if you are passionate about what you do, then you’ll never work another day in your life.

I’m not sure I can say I’m exactly passionate about working in an engineering office; the middle-aged men sat at row upon row of computer screens, the mild whiff of body odour, and the harsh fluorescent lighting offset by the muffled screech of the worn-out coffee machine in the corner. It’s not always the most glamorous of work places. It’s not always the most glamorous of jobs.

This summer I had a light-bulb moment. I don’t have to be defined by my job. It’s safe to say that the era the 9-5 job for life has long gone. Today, there is the flexibility to have a side business, an original project or a creative outlet which enhances your life in addition to your “day job”. It’s quite normal to hear of an accountant who also distills their own gin, or a management consultant who sells their artwork on Etsy. I became fascinated by people who explore their passions in this way. I wanted in on the action.

I read article upon article about career moves, hobbies and start ups. The person who I felt promoted this ideology of career freedom the most eloquently was Emma Gannon (author-broadcaster-podcast host-etc). It is no over exaggeration to say that her book The Multi-Hyphen Method changed my outlook on life. I couldn’t help but be sucked into her world of side-hustles and freelancing. The concept of choosing your own projects and managing your own time feels both alien and alluring to us office staff. We’re used to working set hours, our days are filled with prescribed tasks and meetings. This routine would have filled my childhood-self with horror.

As a child, if I was asked what I wanted to do when I grew up I would have replied – without hesitation – either an author or an artist (depending very much on my mood that day… and also ’cause i’m not good at big decisions). Unfortunately, at the time, I was told that these were hobbies and not jobs. I got caught up in the traditional concept of what real work looked like and followed a traditional white collar career path.

I’m starting to get my head around what work may look like for many of us in 10 years time. For me, I’m hoping that I might be able to utilise my passions of baking, making and writing as part of my future career composition. I’d love to be able to add a side hustle to my professional repertoire. Step 1… Easydoughsy. Step 2…

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Goals

Life goals, squad goals, insta goals.

That’s a whole lotta goals to contend with!

Portraying our best life to the wider world can be exhausting. It’s keeping up with the Joneses on a monumental scale. If, like me, you enjoy posting pretty pictures from time to time, but you’re not sure that you can aspire to being a perfect version of yourself all the time, then the contented middle-ground is for you!

In the middle ground, we can take comfort in knowing that the most public and flashy goals are often materialistic; precisely staged images of opulent lunches out, perfect walks in the countryside, and carefully curated outfits. We middle-grounders like and appreciate these things from time to time. But we know our limits. Whilst it’s natural to want to feel a sense of pride in our achievements and enjoy sharing them with others, there’s a fine line between celebrating our successes, and simply showing off (at least in our eyes).

Our personal or private goals tend to be the ones which really matter to us. Will I get that promotion at work? – you know, the one which I submitted the application for in secret. That way, if I don’t get it, I won’t have to suffer the shame of telling the rest of my team about my failure. Or, will you manage to get your toddler to sleep through the night for the first time in over 7 months? – saving your sanity… and potentially your relationship. Invariably, it is these basic-but-all-consuming life hurdles which provide us middle-grounders with the most joy.

When we achieve big, it takes us by surprise. We’re unsure how to react and either gloss over the success or over-praise someone or something else for their small part in our triumph. The success seems too good to be true… perhaps if we say it out loud then we’ll discover that it isn’t really as great an accomplishment as we had first thought? For this very reason I tend not to share my most satisfying achievements on public forums. These are the ones that have taken blood, sweat and probably a substantial amount of tears behind the scenes in order to attain. My little self-esteem bubble would struggle to take the hit if I discovered my efforts hadn’t really been worth it after all. Instead, I’ll take silent comfort in knowing that i’m slowly moving forward and doing the things I hope to accomplish. One step at a time.

I didn’t set any personal goals for this year. However, looking back, there have been both highs and lows – as is to be expected. One positive was that I started this blog. Something which I had had been planning to do for over 2 years, but never quite mustered the courage. Here, 5 months in, I’m still sticking with it, trying to put down my thoughts into type each week or so. Whether or not anyone but myself reads it doesn’t bother me too much. I’ll just continue to be me.

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Oat cakes

Traditional Scottish oat cakes are the perfect lunchtime accompaniment. I like mine with cheese, butter and onion chutney, but they are also delicious with soups and stovies.

This recipe takes around 10 mins to prepare and approx 22-24 mins to bake.

Ingredients (makes approx 18 small oat cakes)

  • Pinhead oatmeal (175g)
  • Plain flour (75g)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 1/2 pinch of salt
  • Butter (75g)
  • Cold water (approx 100ml)

Making the mixture

  1. Set the oven to 180degC (fan).
  2. Weigh the oatmeal, flour, baking powder, caster sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl.
  3. Stir to combine.
  4. Melt your butter on the hob.
  5. Add the melted butter to your dry mixture and combine thoroughly.
  6. Splash a little water into the mixture until it is wet enough to hold together.
  7. Roll out the mixture thinly onto a floured work-surface.
  8. Using a cookie cutter, cut into rounds and place on a floured metal baking tray.

Baking

  1. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 180 degrees C
  2. Bake for a further 10-12 minutes at 160 degrees C
  3. Leave to cool on a wire rack before serving.

They’re so quick and easy, you’ll never buy shop bought oat cakes again!

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Carrot Loaf Cake

Carrot cake is the best of all the cakes. (In my opinion, at least!) This loaf cake recipe is quick, easy, and most importantly – tasty!

This recipe takes around 20mins to prepare and 1 hour 15mins to bake.

Ingredients (makes 1 loaf)

  • Vegetable oil (140ml)
  • 2 eggs
  • Light brown sugar (200g)
  • Grated carrots (300g)
  • Raisins (100g)
  • Self raising flour (180g)
  • A pinch of salt
  • ½ tsp of bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp mixed spice

Icing ingredients

  • Cream cheese (180g)
  • Butter (40g)
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • Icing sugar (200g)
  • Zest of one lemon and one orange

Making the mixture

  1. Set the oven to 150degC (fan).
  2. First, line a standard sized loaf tin with grease proof paper and give a quick rub with a drop of oil.
  3. Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Grate the carrots.
  5. Add the oil, brown sugar, carrots and raisins into the mixing bowl and mix to combine.
  6. Sift the self raising flour into the bowl, followed by the salt, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice into the bowl.
  7. Mix thoroughly.
  8. Pour the mixture into the baking tin and place in the oven for approximately 1hr 15 minutes.
  9. Check that a skewer comes out clean and transfer to a wire rack to cool. (Keep it in the tin for the first 10 minutes before turning out onto the rack)

Prepare the icing

  1. Beat the cream cheese and butter together in a bowl using a metal spoon.
  2. Add the vanilla essence and half the grated zests.
  3. Sift the icing sugar and mix until the icing is smooth.
  4. Spread the icing over the cooled cake.
  5. Top with the remaining lemon zest

Make sure you store the cake somewhere cool to prevent the cream cheese icing from running or spoiling.

To be fair, it probably won’t hang around long enough to spoil – everyone will be after a slice!

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Banana Bread

Banana bread is the perfect autumnal recipe for cosy evenings at home!

This recipe takes around 20mins to prepare and 1 hours to bake.

Ingredients (makes 1 loaf)

  • Margarine (100g)
  • Caster sugar (100g)
  • Self raising flour (225g)
  • 1/2tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 to 4 bananas (depends on size!)
  • 2tsp mixed spice

Making the mixture

  1. Set the oven to 150degC (fan).
  2. First, grease a standard sized loaf tin using a slither of margarine.
  3. Measure out the margarine and caster sugar into a large mixing bowl.
  4. Cream the marg and sugar together using the back of a spoon.
  5. Next, sieve the flour into the mixing bowl, followed by the baking powder and a pinch of salt.
  6. Add the eggs and mix thoroughly until completely combined. The mixture will be slightly stiff (don’t worry!)
  7. Place the bananas into a plastic bowl and mash with a fork until mushy.
  8. Beat the mashed banana into the cake batter, allowing plenty of air into the mixture, and ensuring that the banana is evenly distributed throughout.
  9. Add the mixed spice and stir well.
  10. Pour mixture into the tin & bake for approximately 1 hour until well risen and firm to the touch.

Finishing Touches

  1. Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire cooling rack.
  2. Once cooled, cut into slices and serve.

(I recommend a large cup of tea as an accompaniment x x )

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Flu jab

Tuesday was flujab day.

A seemingly insignificant day in most people’s calendars. However, I feel it’s an important one to share.

Last winter saw a huge surge in UK hospital admissions (5,300 by February alone) for flu, and almost 3 times the number of deaths from flu related illness as was recorded the previous year. This was due to a particularly nasty mix of strains of flu breaking out concurrently across the country, coupled with some awful weather. GPs and hospitals were swamped, putting additional strain on the resources of our lovely NHS.

Despite not having any of the medical conditions which increase the risk of developing complications from flu, I can verify (from experience) that having flu is grim. I’m keen to avoid that situation again, if at all possible.

So, therefore, I’m incredibly lucky that my workplace offered free vaccinations to all staff located in Aberdeen this year.

The appointment itself took less than 5 minutes. First, the friendly nurse discussed my overall health to check if there was any reason I shouldn’t receive the vaccine at that time. Next, she ran through some of the most common side-effects. She suggested that to reduce the possibility of developing side-effects I should keep well hydrated and not over exert myself in the gym within the next 24 hours. (She didn’t have to give me that advice twice!) The injection itself was fairly painless, delivered straight into the muscle of the upper arm. To be honest, it was very similar to most other vaccines I’ve had in recent years.

After the vaccine was delivered, I was asked to stay in the waiting area for 10 minutes to check for any adverse or allergic reactions. Once the all clear was granted I was able to skip off back to work. Job done.

Additionally, I learnt at my flu jab appointment, that by vaccinating myself I am helping to reduce the possibility of passing flu on to my colleagues, family and friends – who may be less able to fight a flu virus than I. There are also people who cannot have the flu vaccine for medical reasons, such as allergies. By helping to reduce the spread of flu, these groups will indirectly benefit also. Win, win.

While the flu vaccine cannot cause flu, as there are no live viruses within it, some people report feeling unwell after it. Personally I suffered nothing more than a ‘heavy’ arm from the injection. I believe this is the standard response, so really there’s no excuse not to get it done!

It will take 2-3 weeks now for my body to build up the correct antibodies, and develop immunity to this year’s most prominent flu virus strains. Finger’s crossed for a healthy flu-free winter ahead for all of us!

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/flu-influenza-vaccine/

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