Sunday, 23 December 2012

It's nearly H-Hour and I'm frazzled

A mere handful of hours away from the commencement of my operation, operation debug, found me head in hands slumped against a wall and soaked in tears.  I had hit a low point literally and emotionally.  I was painfully aware of the fact that I was only hours away from my own D-Day operation and the stress of the final preparations was almost too much to handle.  But it wasn't the stress that finally broke me.  So what was it that brought me to tears?  And what was this operation?

Two weeks ago on D-8 day (not long before Christmas) our sources informed us of a major problem.  Our defenses had been breached and the enemy had infiltrated our house.  The second story bedroom belonging to my housemate had bedbugs.  The week before we had been alerted to the potential threat of infiltration.  We investigated with caution and could not confirm or deny the breach.  That is when we brought in the expert.  The pesticide man arrived and with a few questions he set about looking into our problem.  Within a matter of minutes we had proof that our security had indeed been breached in a most serious manner.  The enemy had made great inroads deep into our territory and had established itself quietly while we were busy fighting other battles.  By the time we realized that we had a problem the enemy had already established a large enough presence to show itself boldly.

What to do next?  Since the bedbugs had surprise on their side we hardly knew what hit us and the initial days after the assault found us reeling in shock.  In order to minimize casualties my roommate pulled out of the area in order to regroup for the attack.  We knew we had to act fast to repel the invaders and regain our territory.  An emergency war council was called.  We needed to hit hard in order to win.  This was one operation that could not be done in half measures.  The list of preparations seemed endless but we set the D-Day operation for Thursday.  Every room needed to be cleaned from top to bottom.  The items all needed to be removed from drawers and shelves and sealed in plastic bags.  This way contamination was sealed in and when objects were cleaned and placed in fresh plastic bags contamination was sealed out.

Armed with garbage bags (or bin liners as they call them in this soggy land) and cleaning supplies I tackled room after room.  I began in the spare room and threw the odd left-over pillows into bags.  While I had lost my first housemate's help on the first day when she abandoned her room, leaving that front empty, I lost the help of the second housemate to a business trip.  To be fair to business, laziness and a native selfish air would have prevented him from being much help even in the event that he had stayed.  So, it was me and my army of trash bags that lept into the fray.  

In preparation for our D-Day operations I spent less time at the museum and more time in my house cleaning and prepping.  D-7 day passed with cleaning, then D-6 day did the same.  One by one the days flew faster and faster with the mountain of chores seeming to grow rather than dwindle.  I was a hurricane of preparation.  I packed things into bags, made sure pointy edges didn't tear through, tied everything securely and moved onto other items.  I labelled and taped and moved things everywhere.  I scrubbed the floors and the shelves and the drawers.  I emptied and cleaned everything.  I shredded countless old useless bank statements and took loads of rubbish out to the street, including bags of things other people had been too lazy to remove themselves.

So, the night before our D-Day operation was to be launched I was a swirling dervish of mad cleaning activity.  I was running low on supplies, energy and patience.  The enormous roles of trash bags had dwindled to a shockingly small amount left.  I was pushing around some furniture to get at the really hard to clean bits of floor in the narrow part of my room when I ran out of paper towels.  I realized I needed more towels to finish off my corner and that I was running low on time.  I lept to my feet and stood up hard underneath the low hanging eve in that section of my room.  The low slanted ceiling raced downwards to meet my head as I raced up to meet it with astonishing force.

The impact left me stunned and speechless for a few interminable moments, half crouched, half standing under the ceiling at the back of my room.  Then as the pain started to set in I put my hands gingerly to my head and literally sank down the wall.  The pain.  The stress.  The tiredness.  They were all overwhelming and I suddenly found myself in tears and unable to stop crying.  (And I'd already packed the tissues somewhere I couldn't find them.  Great!)  A few moments later I realized that there was nothing I could do but carry on.  Nobody could or would help me and it all needed to be done.  So I picked myself up and carried on.

Over by the paper towels I found a lint roller.  I picked it up to put it away and found that it had no cover and was too sticky to just pack away as is.  Absentmindedly I rolled it back and forth on the edge of the dresser top thinking what to do with it.  It stuck to the dresser and picked up a bit of dust.  Suddenly I had an idea, a wonderful, terrible idea.  I decided to use the lint roller to pick up the dust and dirt in my room.  It wouldn't just push the dust around and leave it in the air.  Everything would stick onto the lint roller and go directly into the bin.  No mess, no fuss, no problem.  At my lowest point I had stumbled onto a bit of an epiphany.

Slowly, with bin liners, cleaning supplies and lint rollers in hand I eliminated all the dust and dirt and bagged all of my possessions.  Clothes, offices supplies and Christmas gifts alike all went into bags.  At six in the morning I was nearly done.  I took a quick nap and then got up to take the last of the trash out and do the final touches.  H-hour was scheduled for 9am.  Just after 9am the pesticide man arrived.  I called a taxi and left him to begin the barrage on the bugs.  It was H-hour and the time for the reckoning.  I left my house feeling a bit like the Grinch who stole Christmas.  I had bagged up everything and was ready to ruin their Christmas as they had tried to ruin mine.

I was ready to be done with the whole thing.  At least I learned the power of a lint roller in cleaning shelves and other dusty surfaces, but nonetheless... Bah-humbug and good riddance!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

On a scale of 1 to 10 I'm an Um...

True insanity cannot be measured.  On the light side of things a one is mild insanity.  Then there is intense insanity.  And then there is, well, me, at whatever strange alternate level of insanity it is that I seem to exist in.  I am more of the "Um... okaaaay" type of insanity and I've had another one of those days.

You know how some days you are just too tired to care?  You stayed up late you woke up early?  Your reaction to sunshine and the alarm was not the typical sleepy groan but more of the melodramatic face-plant into the pillow?  Do you know what I'm talking about?  Well, I had one of those days today.  I was not tired enough to be grumpy, just tired enough to make absolutely no sense.

"I'm not done with yesterday yet" cat face-planting into bed
Photo Source: Pinterest

At work I was meant to be updating my client's social media profiles.  I barely know how to update my own.  What makes you think I'm qualified to update a financial client's profiles?  I had to research how to effectively use hashtags on twitter for businesses.  Yes, I do actually have a twitter account but I'm not really sure what to do with it.  I certainly don't know how it's used for business.  And Delicious.  What is the point of that site?  Is it really a directory of links or is it really like twitter?  Do people actually look at your Delicious account or is it more meant as a list for you?  Why is it called Delicious?  There is nothing tasty about it.  I just don't understand. I know nothing about technology and social media.  I really am the world's worst online marketing employee. 

A day of staring at the screen trying to decide if articles were interesting enough to catch attention, but not so interesting as to offend my financial client, sent me further into my strange mood.  Suddenly I was staring at the weirdest abbreviations and I couldn't keep my mind from wandering.  I muttered "SM?" to my computer.  My colleague looked up with a cocked eyebrow and asked "did you say S&M?"  Social media does not abbreviate well it would seem.  We were both tired and this was much funnier than it should have been.  We decided that after a day of work I would clearly be an expert in S&M and loans for my finance client.

Not long after lunch our big boss arrived with two teenage girls and starting filming the boot of his car in the parking lot below.  Well, at least that was what we heard.  There was apparently too much fast driving and some sort of flipping involved as well.  We came up with kidnapping theories and somewhere along the line nearly invented an office rumour that he had two families and was trying to keep them from knowing about each other and this somehow involved a blackmail video filmed from the office of a car boot.  We are still working on it.  We may or may not send round an email on Monday asking the burning question of what on earth they were actually doing.

As the day progressed work got more boring. When you start to read the phrase "pitch craft ideas to x person" as witch craft, and you giggle to yourself, you know you are reaching that stage of tired where everything is funny.  Next writing emails that proposed an article about loans, I asked the blogger if they would be interested in it and even this caused me to giggle inanely to myself.  Interested.  Loans.  Interest.  Hehehe.  Clearly I had not slept enough, I had been at work too long and I had really, truly, gone over the edge.  I was past the point of no return.  Returns... hahahaha.

I'm bored.  Are we done yet?  Photo Source: Flickr by Holster

We decided to count the seconds, not minutes until we were done with work.  This led to the realization that seconds seem so much shorter than minutes and even a great number of them somehow feels short.  But we went further, by the time we arrived in town on the bus at about 6pm there were roughly 2,009,000 seconds left until Christmas. 

We stopped in at Primark, a work friend and I, and found the clothes to be quite exotic.  We found zebra stripes in one row.  And then rounded a corner to find the rest of the zoo.  Every variety of great cat imaginable was there as well as owls, ducks, and dragonflies.  Dragonflies are there to support the ecosystem not necessarily as an attraction, but anyhooo.  We had fun trying on and making fun of everything we could get our hands on.  It's more fun this way.

Eventually we left for food at McDonald's and met some very interesting and slightly overly friendly guys.  They wanted to know how old we thought they were.  It became a big game.  They tried to guess our age and my friend tried to convince them she was 29 with two children.  They didn't believe her and were triumphant when she revealed that she is only 24.  Though they had a hard time believing that I was 26.  They also didn't believe that we worked at a marketing company.  True it has a funny name, but they suggested that we looked like we worked at Nando's instead.  I'm not sure that wasn't an insult.  Ah well.  It was funny to mess with them.

Eeyore in the snow
Eeyore wonders why and how it always snows only on him. Photo Source: Flickr by Nikoretro

On our way out and to the train station we started to see snow flakes.  Really large ones, all of a sudden and not in a flurry, just randomly.  It was suspicious.  Turns out it was only snowing on one street of the whole town.  I'm guessing it was a snow making machine and possible marketing ploy?  I don't know but it was odd and we weren't the only two who noticed.  Needless to say it was a strange day.  It was almost surreally funny and strange.  I mean, who has ever heard of it only snowing on one street?  Yeah, I'm going to have to investigate this tomorrow.

For now I'm going to sit indoors all snuggly with some hot chocolate and attempt to return to a state of semi normalcy, you know, mild insanity, and maybe even warm, cozy sleepiness. 

Friday, 16 November 2012

Serves Four? Think again.

Food in the UK is different.  They use less preservatives which is probably better for you but also means the food spoils faster.  They also sell foods we would almost never see in the US.

Bacon, Leek & Mushroom Quiche

Sometimes food here perplexes me.  What, for instance, is a chicken teddy?

Chicken Teddies

After reading the label I was assured that they were actually made of chicken, and were presumably breaded chicken nuggets.

They were just shaped like teddy bears.  Now, I understand the need to eat animal shaped foods.  Animal crackers, teddy grahams, and fish crackers are all staple snack foods from my childhood.  I've just never heard of teddy chickens.

Teddy bear shaped chicken nuggets

Don't worry I ate them in the proper order.

Teddy bear shaped chicken nugget with an ear bitten off

Then there is dessert.  There is really nothing confusing about that, except, just maybe, how much of it you should eat.  A lot.  The answer is always a lot.

A glance at the packaging suggested the pie served four.  Huh.  Four.

I pre heated the oven carefully to gas mark 6.  Yes, I am so international, I can now pretend I understand British cooking measurements and appliances.  It's only taken me two years.

I put the pie in for the correct amount of time.  I used my phone as a timer.  Since I've discovered that my magic phone can do this less things have been burnt by my inattention.  I do love my phone.

The lovely golden delicious smelling pie came out of the oven on time and waited on the counter impatiently for me to eat it.

Ultimate Bramley Apple & Cinnamon Pecan Crumble Pie: Serves Four

Serves four.  I cut the cinnamon apple pecan pie into six even slices, mostly because I like the way six slices looks better than four.

Then I unceremoniously put two in my bowl with a large portion of extra thick cream.  Mmm.  I'm not sharing.

Ultimate Bramley Apple & Cinnamon Pecan Crumble Pie for one

Yep, more like serves one at a slightly slower rate than four. Only slightly mind.

I'm also pretty sure I know what I'm having for breakfast.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

If you give a moose a muffin Madder Hatter style

I was sitting in my room calmly doing productive things such as checking emails when I decided I wanted a dessert.  I remembered that I had a lemon cheesecake cup waiting for me, but I had no spoon.

Spoon on a plate

I went downstairs to the kitchen to get a spoon and I saw the kettle.  That reminded me that I was cold in my room and should heat some water for a hot water bottle.

While the water was heating I remembered that I should transfer tomorrow's lunch into containers that could be microwaved.

When I opened the refrigerator I realized that I wanted something salty first.  So I ate some bread and hummus.

Eating the bread reminded me that I had accidentally bought two loaves of bread and I needed to freeze one.

Putting the bread in the freezer reminded me that I was cold and I needed the hot water bottle, but it was upstairs.

Going upstairs I found my hot water bottle next to the piles of laundry and remembered I needed to put in a load of clothes.

Thinking about clothes reminded me that I needed to pick out something to wear for work tomorrow.  Which made me think about how cold it was going to be.

Thinking about the cold reminded me that I wanted my hot water bottle.

Going back down to the kitchen with the hot water bottle I thought I should be rewarded for being productive with something sweet.

Then I remembered that all I'd really wanted was a spoon.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

In black and white

Black and white: archer on a pint glass of Strongbow Cider
Archer on a pint glass of Strongbow Cider

Black and White: view from Leeds attic window
The view from my attic window

Black and White: outside stairs 
 The stairs outside my workplace

Black and White: Tower of Old Suitcases
Old suitcases in a tower

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Witness my Sophistication

I travel to amazing places of culture, mystery and history.

Tower of old suitcases
That is, I venture into second-hand and vintage clothing shops.

I drink from stemware glasses.

Milk in a wine glass
 Full of milk, obviously.

I eat scones while contemplating invitations to cultural events I'm too busy to attend.
Scones and an invitation to a museum exhibition

Invitation to a museum gallery opening

They were slathered in butter and it was my entire dinner washed down with some chocolate.  And I am only too busy because I work a terrible evening shift. 

I throw various articles on the floor and my maid....

Wait a minute.  I don't have a maid.  That is probably why I need to do some cleaning this weekend. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Rabbit Food and Ruffage

I came home this evening at a quarter past ten in the evening and in sheer desperation I ate two tomatoes.  Yes, two.  I picked up first one baby tomato and then another and chewed them up whole, unceremoniously and completely unmasked by other foods, flavours or tastes.  What has happened to me?
Red cherry tomatoes
Photo Source: flickr by Swaminathan
Perhaps I should explain that I have always hated vegetables.  And just like everything else in my life it was not a casual dislike and reluctance.  I don't do things by half measures.  I have always hated vegetables with a passion that stemmed deep from my five year old soul.  I declared them rabbit food and refused to eat them.  I am not a rabbit so why should I eat rabbit food? Do people eat dog food or cat food I ask you?  NO.  Nobody would reasonably expect me to eat a dinner comprised of bird food.  I didn't see why the delicacies of rabbits should ever be placed upon my plate.  I wasn't an ambassador to the rabbit population of my town, or any other town for that matter.  I didn't need to improve human rabbit relations by symbolically accepting them and their culture by dining on their foods.  No, I didn't eat rabbit food.  I waged war on it.
Cat guarding rabbit food, or salad, in the fridge
Smart cat knows if he waits by the rabbit food the rabbits will come to him.  Cool as a cucumber he waits.  I bet you can't get him to eat rabbit food.      Photo Source: Flickr by Psyberartist
It was ruffage.  Or more properly spelled, roughage, and roughage is defined as "the coarse indigestible constituents of food".  Indigestible!  And you want me to eat it why?  Ick.  No thank you.  Now people will tell you that tomatoes are good for you.  That tomatoes are a fruit.  But they also come from the night shade family and are therefore a nightshade food. Nightshade foods produce these things called alkaloids that can affect the nervous system and digestive system.  You see alkaloids can inhibit this enzyme, cholintesterase, which is found in nerve cells.  If it is very strongly inhibited it can disrupt the nerve-muscle system and cause trembling, twitching, paralyzed breathing or convulsions.  Great, right?  They say that these certain nightshade foods do not block the enzyme to a great enough degree to cause any trouble.  Yet, there is no definitive research on the subject.  Some researchers recommend cutting it out of the diets of those people with arthritis and other joint problems.  And there are many individuals who swear that nightshade foods do cause them joint pain.  

Do you know what foods are nightshade foods?  It may surprise you to find that the list includes:
Sweet and hot peppers (bell peppers, and cayenne etc.)
Ground cherries (not real cherries, whatever a ground cherry is...)
*And a few others. This is not an exhaustive list of nightshade foods.

Some researchers claim that the level of alkaloids in nightshade foods are too small to have any real effect.  Yet the alkaloids do exist in these foods and can be shown to inhibit cholintesterase at least to a small degree and cooking only reduces the alkaloids by 40-50%.  So, you can make up your own mind.  Don't believe me, check out more reputable sources and ask your doctor.  But I will argue that these nightshade foods are poison.  So, these "oh so healthy for you" tomatoes could in fact be poisoning my body and ruining my joints.  Why should I trust your health advice after you advocate poison and indigestible foods.  No, thank you, I'll pass. Or at least that is what I used to say to myself.
Colourful peppers and tomatoes
Look at all those colorful poisons!         Photo Source: flickr by moon angel

Yet desperate times called for desperate measures and there I was standing in my kitchen munching down tomatoes.  What on earth was happening?  I was starving and it was the only food in my house that could be eaten post haste without any cooking, preparation or waiting-time involved. There was no extended longing for that moment of sweet delight when your food is done and you nibble on the first mouthful.  No, immediate gratification was what I needed in order to satisfy the monster growing restless and growling from deep within.  But it did not end there.  The monster demanded a further sacrifice.  It demanded I give up my cause.  It demanded I eat... a salad.  Yes, a salad.  complete with leafy green lettuce and carrots, a rabbit couldn't have been happier.  I, the Madder Hatter, the crusader against people eating indigestible rabbit food, succumbed and ate not only two tomatoes but also an entire salad.

I can almost hear myself, that logical side I try so hard to suppress, saying desperate times luv, in a Yorkshire accent of course.  But this does not excuse my behavior.  It is a mere platitude.  Who I am?  What have I become?  There is no going back from what I have done.  What will happen next?  I may be lead inexorably downward.  Next I could be eating dog food, or bird food.  Why stop there?  I could move on to worm food and just eat dirt.  But there is something else about it that is bothering me deep down.  It is the slippery slope to all things bad.

Not only do I feel like I have abandoned my morals (see my struggle with technology) I feel I have also lost my identity.  I am no longer a rampant ruffage destroying, rabbit food protesting rapscallion.  I'm becoming something else. Dare I suggest it, an adult?  Gasp, the reality of such a concept is too horrible to even contemplate for one instant.  The unadulterated boredom of responsible adult life swept over me for the milisecond I even considered considering that thought. Cringe. No, no, that can't be it.  I'm still five.  I must be turning into a rabbit.  You are what you eat, right? I'm sprouting whiskers and a little bob tail, aren't I?  That is the only logical explanation.  I'd better do some research on rabbits next.
Glaring cat guarding rabbit food, or salad, in the fridge
Smart cat guards the rabbit food knowing I must come for it.  He is waiting.  He sees through me.  There is no escape.       Photo Source: flickr by Psyberartist

Monday, 17 September 2012

Calm me down...

Things I hate

Do you ever have days where you simply get tired of being told what to do?  Where a part of you simply snaps?  Where you feel like enduring this treatment for even one more second will cause your blood to literally boil your heart to pound out of your chest and your teeth to grind each other into dust because you've been clenching them that hard? 

Have you ever felt that way?  Have you ever had to pretend you didn't want to leap from your chair and shove your notebook down someones throat screaming with rage and instead put on a smile? 

Today I had to sit through a meeting pretending I wasn't angry while I was first told all the things I could and couldn't do and then personally attacked for having a different personality and a different way of working.  Never mind that my way works for me and my work gets done and my executives and clients are happy with it.  My way doesn't align with the almighty freaking procedure by which everyone must live and die.

I had to clench my teeth not to say anything upsetting.  Oh, so you think I'll learn to like this thing antithetical to my personality and that I'll magically start thinking the way you do and that your precious organizational system will make sense to me?  Don't touch my systems.  Don't tell me how I must work.  You don't think I've tried overcoming some of my personality quirks?  I'm twenty five and I know what I can and cannot cope with to be productive.  If I wanted to spend my day doing the things you are proposing I would have signed up for a different job.  I was hired to be creative, to think differently and to come up with ideas and content they couldn't imagine.  Don't sit there and tell me what I'm capable of or what I will like.  You have no idea who I am.  When my work starts having problems then you can talk to me.  Until then go fix things that are actually broken and leave me and my working system alone.

Things I love

So now to combat all those negative thoughts I need to think of reasons to be thankful.  Number one, family.  I have an incredible family.  They love me and support me and are there for me always.
2.  I have amazing friends.  Granted they are spread all around the world, but nonetheless.  Come to think of it I am very blessed to have people I love that also love me.
Pub quiz with friends
My friends do silly things like take pub quizzes and bet on how few we can get right.
3.  Food.  I can afford it and I am not starving.  I got some amazing donuts and milk reduced at M&S tonight.
Banoffee Pie
Another great M&S reduced food.  Mmm!
4.  For that matter I should be thankful that my shift allows me to snap up all the reduced foods.  It is cheaper to shop at night this way.
5.  I am thankful that I have a job that pays my bills and therefore I am not homeless.
6.  I'm not homeless.  It's much too cold in this climate to be homeless.
7.  I'm alive.  And I can appreciate the joy and pain of life and all it's beauties.
8.  The world is actually full of beauty.
9.  The world is full of purple.
Purple hat
10.  I live in a city, that although I wouldn't call it historic, is really historic.
Architectural detail on a doorway in Leeds
Random doorway in Leeds
11.  My city actually has some pretty views along the canal
Leeds Canal View: Reflection
Leeds Canal
Leeds Canal View
Leeds Canal
12.  I have good health
13.  The world is full of music.
14.    I can sing any time I want.
15.  I have the chance to do a bit of traveling here and there.  Including to London to visit some of my amazing friends.
Portobello Road sign
Portobello Road view
And yes, I sang the Portobello Road song from Bedknobs and Broomsticks while I walked along this street.
Street painter at the Notting Hill festival in London
Street painter at Notting Hill festival in London

16.  I have time to paint and draw and read for fun
17.  Books.  I am utterly thankful for books.
18.  I am thankful for my kindergarten teachers who valiantly struggled with a stubborn five year old who was convinced she'd never learn how to read and somehow not only taught her how to read but also helped her find a joy in it.  (Though a joy of reading must mostly come from my father, an absolutely voracious reader.)
19.  I am thankful for rainy days reading under snuggly covers.
20.  I am thankful for the written word in general as it allows us to communicate beautiful sentiments, talk to family and friends, express our deepest emotions, and do so with an eloquence denied other forms of communication.
21.  I am thankful for my brain, even if it causes me a few sleepless nights here and there.
22.  I am thankful for flowers and green things generally
23.  I am thankful for umbrellas that keep me dry on my way to work and back
24.  I am thankful for rainboots that allow me to jump in puddles and stay dry.
25.  I am thankful for chocolate.

Really there are a lot of things to be thankful for.  I just need to think about those things and not get all annoyed by trivial things at work.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Who knew Hummus was so hilarious and historical?

Who knew that hummus formed a complete protein when eaten with bread?  Well, certainly not me.  Then again I just found this bit of information on the internet.  Maybe I shouldn't believe the internet.  Afterall, I get paid to write things that go on the internet and we all know I'm mad.  Don't believe me? Well, I just got stuck in a jacket because I somehow managed to zip it up horribly wrong.  I had to wriggle out of it like it was an overly snug sweater.  So maybe I shouldn't be trusted.  And maybe the internet should be trusted even less.

Then again, if hummus and bread are a complete protein that could explain why I've been craving it.  I do not always have the most healthy diet in the world and my body could very well be demanding I feed it proteins, nice healthy complete ones.  Maybe I just need fiber.  Maybe I'm just hungry.  Who knows?

Believe me when I say that I will not be worried about all those crazy words like mono-unsaturates and poly-unsaturates.  And all the other "nutritional" things they throw at you.  I'm not really eating it because I think it's healthy.  And besides that I'll be content with the fact that hummus is high in iron and vitamin C, for that ever troublesome case of land-based scurvy.  (See my earlier opinions on scurvy and broccoli here).

But really, I'm just going to enjoy my hummus with the knowledge that it is a food that the infamous Saladin himself may have eaten.  The ingredients have been consumed in many variations for many years from India all the way to Spain.  Though maybe I shouldn't go into it's history because apparently that's not a safe topic either.  Don't believe me?  Check out the war over hummus.  In reality, hummus is an ancient dish whose history is a bit cloudy.  The earliest recipe for a food similar to hummus appears in a 13th c. cookbook from Cairo.  But it was probably eaten in similar forms for hundreds of years before that.

Hummus is really just the Arabic word for chickpea, which is also known as garbanzo in Spanish.  This one small bean of many aliases was introduced to Western Europe by at least the time of the Romans.  It is believed that the Phoenicians were responsible for this introduction though there is also debate over this fact.  Maybe I like chickpeas (and hummus) because I am secretly a Phoenician.  My reasons for entertaining this fantasy belong in another post.  Maybe I like chickpeas because they have been causing culinary chaos since the thirteenth century and now are the cause of political struggles.  I may have a thing for rebellious foods.  Or maybe I just like them because I like the way they taste.

The reason why I like hummus will probably always remain a mystery, but now you and I know a few more random facts about hummus and it's history.  Unless you are a genius or food enthusiast and already knew all these things; it's possible.  Either way, go enjoy hummus for all it's glorious history and hilarious upheaval. 

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Plant Man Cometh

Once upon a time there was a weary worker who trudged upstairs to her workplace to begin the long evening shift.  It was a gloomy day and the world was only going to get worse with the worst client ever assigned to her that shift.  But suddenly a ray of mirth filled the work place from greying keyboards to the molding vaulted ceiling.  An older and wiser colleague had mentioned the existence of the plant man.  "The plant man" she asked with raised eyebrows and a hint of a laugh in her smile?  But the colleague though smiling was not laughing, he was serious.  The plant man was real he assured her and all those who perked up their ears to listen.  You see everyone knows that a good office must have plants in it for atmosphere.  Not everyone understands what sort of commitment this requires.  It is not a duty to be assumed lightly or by the faint hearted.  So our office rents the plants.  Yes, rents the plants.  And to ensure the safety of our plants' well-being there is a plant man.  He comes every so often to dust the plants.  Everyone laughed and went about their work.  But secretly they doubted.  Could there really be such a thing as the plant  man.  Rented plants? The plant man?  It all seemed too silly to be real.  They all went home laughing but doubting.

Plant and planters in Poway, CA
Potted plants in Poway - Maybe they need a plant man to care for them
Well, I am here to tell you that the weary worker was me.  I was once a doubter of the plant man's existence.  I doubted until one day as I came into work I saw a large duffel bag filled with cleaning supplies on our briefing table.  I looked at it suspiciously noting the various cleaning implements until a rustle of the plants behind me caused me to turn.  Sure enough it belonged to the plant man.  The plant man was a rather short unobtrusive man.  He was quiet, and had a calm to his presence, and he was clad in green.  I cannot say whether this was for camouflaging purposes or simply to be in harmony with his beloved charges.   However, I can tell you that he dusted and then gently spritzed every leaf of every plant in the building before packing up his cleaning supplies into his duffel and exiting quietly.   

He was real.  The plant man was real.  Our office really did rent the plants and the services of the plant man.  Who would have thought?  Before I worked at this job I didn't even know you could rent plants.  But now I know that plant rental is not only a thing, you can also hire the services of your very own plant man. 
Maybe I should hire the services of a plant man.  I never really thought about whether or not I should rent or own my plants.  Maybe I haven't been making sound gardening decisions.  Maybe I should become a devoted plant man.  Maybe that should be my career.  It certainly wouldn't be stressful dusting leaves for a living.  Now that I know that renting plants is a thing I may need to rethink my life. 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

For the Broken Ones

There are some times when words just fail.  When words are stripped away and you are left with nothing.  Nothing but raw emotion.  There are times and situations when raw emotion is the only thing you can offer and even that is not enough.  It is not enough to comfort, it is not enough to deal, it is simply not enough.

Sunset over Leeds rooftops
Sunset over Leeds rooftops
Sometimes the world strikes you such a blow that you reel backwards in shock.  And the world suddenly goes in slow motion.  Time seems to have no relevance.  It's hard to describe unless you have been there and felt it.  Perhaps the best illustration is the way that stubbing your toe really hard can make you breathless, speechless, and literally stuck out of time for a few seconds with pain.  Only it's a poor analogy because instead of physical pain, it is raw emotion that is so intense that it almost consumes you, so intense that it actually physically hurts as well.  Milliseconds can seem like hours.  Time passes but it means nothing to you because you are so utterly consumed by the emotions that are tearing you up inside.  How could any mundane routine possibly matter after what has just happened?

Leeds streets at night with a lamplight glow
Lamplight on a street in Leeds
Unless you've been in that place it may seem weird to you to think of drowning in emotions.  But you really can.  Anyone who has dealt with grief, abandonment, or any sort of real loss could tell you.  It really is like its own form of drowning.  Your eyes fill up with water and cloud your view of anything happening in the world around you.  You choke on tears and emotions.  It is actually difficult to breathe with the weight of the swirling emotions around you.  If breathing is difficult, carrying on with mundane tasks is nearly impossible.  Walking seems harder, slower.  Your legs, all of you, feel as though they are made of lead, and you cannot swim or slosh through the thick mud.  You feel smaller and colder and more alone.  Everything seems pointless.

Sometimes you just want to scream and make everyone stop what they're doing, and sometimes you just need a quiet corner to cry in unwatched.  How does the world carry on like nothing has changed when your whole world has shattered?  The world should stop with you, to witness this shattering.  Everybody and everything should just pause for a moment the way you need to pause and learn how to breathe again.  How can they not?  Why don't they care?  How can they not see the world the way you do with all these new priorities and heightened sensibilities?  What does it matter if the shirts are ironed, or dance class starts at precisely eight?  How can they think of such trivial things when the world is shattering?  It doesn't seem right that everything should be different but nobody else even seems to notice. 

You are angry, and heartbroken, overwhelmed and confused, hurt and lost, and sad.  So sad it hurts.  You feel empty, and sad, and scared by turn and then sometimes, inexplicably, you feel nothing.  And you don't know how to cope with it and there are no words to deal with it, but part of you desperately wants someone to come along with words that make everything make sense and feel better.  I know.  I've been there.  And I wish I could offer you the words that you long for, the words that make everything make sense and bring you peace, but I can't.  I can tell you that it gets better.  Slowly, it gets better.  Very slowly my faith saved me from drowning once.  That isn't to say that I wasn't mad at God.  I was.  I was angry for a long time.  But he was patient and slowly restored bits of me with small but important realizations of beauty.

Rainy night time street in Leeds
Rainy night-time street in Leeds
I learned perhaps the most important lesson of my life when I learned the beauty of life.  I learned to appreciate how precious it is.  How short, how sweet, how precious it is.  I learned how important it is to cherish people you love and truly appreciate every moment you have with them.  You must live as though each moment may be your last for you never know what the future holds.  It was the most painful lesson I've ever learned and also the most beautiful.

I began to appreciate the people in my life more.  I listened better, was more patient.  I was there for them and they were there for me.  And slowly I began to see beauty other places too.  I saw it in sunsets, and rain-drops that clung like jewels onto tiny tree branches.  I began to appreciate little moments and see little things that other people rushed passed.  And slowly, oh so slowly, I was restored.  I no longer felt like I was drowning.

Sunset over Leeds
Sunset over Leeds
The anger and the pain slowly faded.  The pain never really goes away.  It just subsides into a dull ache that is finally small enough to live with.  Some stories, movies or situations can bring back twinges of pain again.  Sometimes it is a song or a phrase that takes you back.  There is always a little bit of it with you.  But I've learned to accept that too.  Because we are all broken in our own ways.  And if the pain truly went away we wouldn't have the same compassion for one another.  It is what makes us real and human.  It is what gives us empathy and understanding and makes us better people. 

I can't make sense of it all for you, or take away the pain.  But I can promise you that it gets better with time.  So hold on, dear broken one.  Search for the little things that you can appreciate now, a kind word, a warm hug.  And slowly, you will start to see the beauty around you until you are restored.  Just hold on. 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Is hope cruel?

I recently had a discussion with a very dear friend of mine about hope.  This friend maintained that hope is cruel because it just builds up expectations to let you down.  I disagree.  Expectations can be disappointing and cruel.  Failures and defeats can be cruel.  Reality can be cruel.  But hope, hope is not cruel.

Sunset glows off the paving stones in Leeds after a rain
Leeds after a rain

Hope is what makes the human spirit indomitable.  A total lack of hope, hopelessness is what causes us to think that hope is cruel.  We look back on brighter times and blame hope for our current despair.  But the reason we are at the bottom of the world is because we don't have any hope left.  Life, cruel reality, has taken our hope away, and with it, our dreams, happiness and sometimes our desire to carry on.  Hope, however small, is what gives us the will to live even in truly dark places and times.  Hope is what inspires us to stand up and try again after yet another defeat.  It is what gives us our drive and ambition to do great things.  Hope is what gives you the courage to lift your chin up and carry on.

Clouds over London
Clouds over London outskirts

You see, hope is beautiful. Hope is the sharp intake of breath when you watch the impossible things you've wished for start happening. Hope is the light that makes the darkness bearable. Hope is the thing that makes your triumphs sweeter. Hope is the simplest, truest, most beautiful thing in the world.

Sunset over Leeds town centre
Sunset over Leeds town centre

So, chin up, lovely reader, whoever you are.  We all have troubles and trials.  Believe in a brighter tomorrow.  Live in beauty.  Live with hope.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Oh, so it's reduced, is it?

So, I'm still working on fashion.  It still makes me want to scream.  The only thing that gets me through my late shift is the food.  You see, Marks and Spencer's is a five minute walk from my work place.  So I can run in at 7:40pm during my break and grab all the super discounted stuff before it closes for the day.

Cartoon Police officer on sandwich packaging
How can you not love this little guy on your sandwich packaging?

They start reducing things that have reached their sell by date and need to go.  So on some nights you can find little cups of delicious trifle for only 10p.  Or a loaf of walnut bread for only 10p.  Or a nice sandwich, that is normally more than I want to pay for it, that is suddenly super cheap.  Or an entire cheesecake for only 50p.  Let's just say I live for dessert.  I grab the cookies, donuts, trifles and chocolate that goes on sale, as well as some of the amazing bread.  Then I sit at work soothing myself with junk food while I carry on with my loathsome tasks.

Cartoon butler on sandwich packaging
Why yes, I would like a tiny butler to serve me my pre-packaged sandwich.  Thanks.

So, last night I found milk chocolate Belgian mousse and donuts reduced just for me.  I also found some cream for 10p, some pineapple for 10p, some reduced bread and an interesting flavour of yogurt for only 10p.  This yogurt claimed to be luxury yogurt.  It was Gooseberry and Elderflower Luxury Yogurt.  It was actually pretty good though I don't think it was quite the "essence of warm summer days".  It had little bits in it, and even though I normally hate texture in my yogurt I still liked this.  It was very good, maybe even luxurious.

Gooseberry & Elderflower Luxury Yogurt
Luxury yogurt is indeed luxurious.

My dinner after shift was a red onion and Gruyere focaccia bread that was really good, and you guessed it, only 10p.  Then I finished dinner with some donuts.  Maybe I can't hate my job too much. 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Fashion and the Beast

This month at work I am working on a fashion client, which means that so far every day this month I have been coming home angry and frustrated with the world.  So, it is time for me to write a serious post (serious because I've eaten enough chocolate to stop being insanely angry).  I work on a lot of different clients but not even dealing with medical negligence and brain injuries makes me this depressed.  Why am I so upset by working on fashion? 

It is because people who work with and write about fashion often bring a lot of societies deepest darkest issues with them to the topic and air these issues on their blogs and in their articles.  They talk about or simply, parade their views on issues involving beauty, health, weight loss and all the things tied up in the extremely delicate matter of body image.  Then they stomp all over these delicate issues with their stiletto heels.  And may I say I have never gotten so angry so fast as when I read these blogs and articles?  It is not because I don't have a sense of style.  I have my own particular sense of style, and although it does not always match current trends it does suit me.

Lipstick and jewellery

What makes me angry is that so many of these fashion bloggers are fifteen year old girls who care for nothing but fashion and beauty.  You see pictures of them in beautiful historic cities with culture and life to absorb and enjoy, but these girls only talk about the sunglasses or shoes they were wearing that day.  Clothes are important, yes.  Wearing shoes that you think are cute and comfortable to walk in is also important.  Nobody wants to feel out of place or frumpy while they travel through amazing and beautiful cities.  But there is more to the place than simply what outfit you selected that day.

Select the outfit and then stop worrying about it, go enjoy the culture of the place.  I'm not saying you have to spend all of your time in museums, though I personally think you should do at least some of them.  I am saying that you should enjoy the sites, the food, and the people in a place rather than worrying about having your perfectly posed picture taken in front of every place that could possibly highlight your trendy sunglasses and shiny bracelets. 

Seeing thousands of photos of you posing for a camera rather than enjoying the amazing place you have the great fortune to be visiting is enough to annoy me on the best of days.  But these fashion bloggers do not stop there.  They continue to try my patience with negative messages about body image.  Entire blogs are entitled skinny something or other, and go on about how you can eat less, exercise more and become super skinny.  Recently though the trend is becoming more subtle and even scarier than simply glorifying thinness.

There have been too many people crying out for positive body image and healthy ideas about beauty and bodies.  So now the trend is to talk about getting fit.  The scary thing about this is that it cloaks these negative messages in a language of fitness that is hard to argue with.  Should we strive to be fit?  Yes.  Being healthy, eating good foods, and exercising are good things.  Yet, the images and slogans that go with this trend of fitspiration are hardly promoting healthy attitudes.  Just because the image has a person wearing a sports bra does not mean that the slogan "You are entirely up to you, make your body, make you life, make yourself" or "don't eat anything today that you'll regret tomorrow" isn't a horrible message.  Messages that do more harm than good.  You can check out an amazing article about it at Beauty Redefined.

The problem is there is always an element of truth to these slogans.  Yes, you should be strong and fit so that you can get out and do the things you love.  If you want to climb mountains, or go for a jog to feel the fresh air on your face and the grass beneath your feet, you should be able to do that without falling apart.  A little bit of fitness is good for everyone.  It keeps you healthy longer and will help you lead a better life without health issues down the road.  However, messages telling you that you can and should control your body to make it look a certain way do not contribute to health they rather promote unhealthy ideas about body images that lead to a host of eating disorders and self acceptance issues.  Every woman I have ever met, and even some men, have issues with accepting themselves.  This latest trend of fitspiration makes it worse.  Because now, not only do you need to be thin, you also need to have a six-pack and the legs of a marathon runner to be good enough.

I say we have it all backwards.  We should exercise to make sure we are healthy enough to do the things we love.  Exercise itself should not be the goal.  If you spend your entire life in a gym trying to reach some unattainable ideal then you are not living.  You should be able to eat a cookie without feeling guilty.  Hell, eat five cookies and enjoy your life.  Think about how lucky you are that you have the ability to buy food, including chocolate, and enjoy it.  Wear clothes and things that you like.  Not things that twenty other fashion bloggers posted yesterday and claim are beautiful.  Do you like it?  Then wear it.

And remember that clothes are made to go on you, because you are beautiful and the right clothes only serve to show others how gorgeous you are just the way you are.  You are not a hanger for the clothes.  Do not go about thinking that you need to get thinner or more fit to wear a certain thing.  The clothes are meant to be made for you, rather than you forcing yourself to change for the clothes.  That is madness.  Remember that everyone struggles to find clothes that fit sometimes.  We are all completely unique individuals and the stores that you walk into will not always have things that fit you right.  My best friend and I have always had trouble buying jeans (you can check out her amazing post on this subject at It Is All My Doing).  This doesn't mean that we are the problem.  It means that they are simply not prepared to handle the beauty of our unique curves.  And the same goes for you.  You are allowed to pursue fitness in a healthy way and eat cookies at the same time.  But don't forget that your beauty is not determined by a number on a scale, or the perfect six-pack, or the designer clothes you wear. 

So, if you haven't eaten some chocolate today then join me in eating a cookie.  Or two.  Or three.  Let your hair down and please stop worrying about your make-up for a minute.  And enjoy your life.