Monday, 30 May 2016

May in Review

May has actually been a really positive month! Cutting down on the exercise and social activities plus Sunday night sleeping tablets has lead to me feeling a lot less tired...I've even managed some days without naps! Unheard of before this month. We've had some sun and loads of great things have happened: I went on holiday to see my friends in London and then onto Stockholm to stay with a friend there (more on that another time), had a fab day of spa treatments on Friday and even treated myself to a total indulgence in the form of a bottle of Byredo perfume, a brand I fell in love with in Stockholm. The only downside is I got a bit behind on blogging, but I'm hopefully back on track now!

Books Read in May
Geek Girl: Head Over Heels - Holly Smale
If I Was Your Girl - Meredith Russo
Anna and the French Kiss - Stephanie Perkins (reread)
Lola and the Boy Next Door - Stephanie Perkins (reread)
Isla and the Happily Ever After - Stephanie Perkins (reread)
The Square Root of Summer - Harriet Reuter Hapgood

Favourite Book of May
I cheated a bit in May and reread some of my favourite books, Stephanie Perkins' series. I reread them fairly regularly because they just make me so happy! So I actually only read 3 'new' books this month. My favourite was definitely the 5th Geek Girl, which was also my favourite Geek Girl book to date. Having said that, I also really really enjoyed The Square Root of Summer which was a different kind of contemporary novel. 


Books Acquired in May

The Square Root of Summer - Harriet Reuter Hapgood
Not If I See You First - Eric Lindstrom
Mystery & Mayhem - Various
Under Rose Tainted Skies - Louise Gornall

I bought The Square Root of Summer and Not If I See You First in BOGOHP in Waterstones - I hadn't heard anything about the second book but it sounds really good! My friend Jim gifted me the Mystery & Mayhem anthology which I'm looking forward to reading, and my lovely ex-colleague Nina gifted me a proof of a book she's doing the PR for: Under Rose Tainted Skies, which has had fantastic reviews so far. 


Films Seen at the Cinema in May
Captain America: Civil War
X-Men: Apocalypse 

We obviously had to go and see Captain America again! I enjoyed X-Men but it was definitely the worst of the three and I had a lot of issues with it, but Quicksilver was excellent as always and there were some fun lines/moments. Bit disappointed in my cinema going in May; we missed some good films. Hopefully will go and see a few more in June!


Catch Up On This Month's Blog Posts

I blogged about my 30 Before 30 list and shared the third of my Etsy Addiction posts. Ahead of my own holiday, I posted some tips for holidaying with a chronic illness and a guide to current TV. Finally, I shared the second of my Rediscovering Manchester posts.  


June brings some of my London friends coming to stay with me which will be lots of fun! I'm also really looking forward to this Waterstones Deansgate event with loads of cool YA authors. We have some family friends coming to visit one weekend and we're going to see an adaptation of The Night Watch which I'm really looking forward to. June brings the official release date of This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, which I am currently reading. as well as the release of You Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina Lacour which I've read and is an amazing book; I can't wait to have a finished copy!

Friday, 27 May 2016

Rediscovering Manchester #2 - The Royal Exchange (The Studio) // The Botanist

Despite living in Manchester most of my life, I've never felt particularly bonded with it. I prefer the other two cities I've lived in, Liverpool and London, and I've never felt like a true Mancunian; despite being very proud of being Northern.

But I'm back here now, and here I'm staying for at least the foreseeable future. So I decided I would give Manchester a chance; I would visit places, revisit places, wander around, try and get a feel for the city I've called home for over 20 years. And because I never do anything without an ulterior motive, I figured this would also make an excellent blog post series. You can read the first instalment here

I've been to the Royal Exchange before of course, but I've never seen anything on its smaller stage: The Studio. When I saw they were showing an adaptation of Nothing by Janne Teller, a Danish Existentialist novel I love, it was a winwin situation.

The Studio is a much smaller stage than the main one, though still in the round. The seats are unreserved which made me feel inordinately nervous. The Studio is accessed through a cute 'waiting room' with some old theatre-style seats and some quirky displays. To my dismay, people did NOT queue up nicely, but piled through the door to the theatre as soon as it opened. The seats are free-standing, and on 3 levels. The first level has seats with short short legs, and seems undesirable for those with long legs, and the back row seats are tall, like stools. The middle row is just right (Goldilocks style) and we managed to bag seats here. The seats are staggered enough that you should be able to see over the head of the person in front of you, unless they are very tall and you are very short.

The Studio seems to put on more experimental theatre, similar to that shown at The Young Vic and Nothing fitted perfectly with this style. The cast were all young (the book features teenage characters) and were all brilliant. It was carefully and cleverly adapted and I felt it worked well in the more basic space.

After the play we headed to The Botanist for some food and cocktails. I've had this on my list of places to go since I moved back, and it being a 2 minute walk from the theatre made this the perfect opportunity to finally visit. We were seated immediately and pleasingly given a table for 4 with only 2 of us, and it's always nice to have the extra space when there's the availability. The Botanist is a chain, with venues mostly in the North of England (Ha, London!). The first thing that struck me about The Botanist was how beautiful it is, how quirkily it's been decorated, and the sheer attention to detail (and commitment to the theme). It had a definite garden/shed/conservatory feel (depending on which part you were in) and a gorgeous chandelier. I'm a sucker for decent decor, so I was sold on The Botanist from the off.

The main reason I wanted to visit The Botanist was their cocktail list. I'm a huge fan of botanicals in cocktails, and The Botanist has an extensive and varied list that really excited me. After much umming and ahhing, I went for the Blackberry Fizz (Blackberry purée, rosemary, Bombay Dry Gin, Hayman’s Sloe Gin, apple juice, lemon juice, sugar, topped with soda) and my friend for The Botanist (Ketel One vodka, Bacardi Carta Blanca rum, elderflower liqueur, red amaranth, mint, jasmine syrup, lime juice, topped with lemonade) which admittedly was nicer. I liked mine, it was fruity and sweet and slightly herby, but I would have liked more rosemary taste. I liked that there was a good mix of ingredients in the cocktails, some places put 3 things together and call it a cocktail, and that these ingredients worked so cohesively together but that you could also taste all individual elements.

I was in a nibbling mood (I usually am) so I ordered 2 starters (scotch egg with piccalilli, and salt and pepper onion petals with soured cream dip) and a side of chips. The food was beautifully presented and really delicious, extremely well seasoned. The portions were really generous, especially of the chips. Our service was impeccable: fast and friendly in a really genuine way. There was live music which was super lovely for a chilled out Sunday afternoon meal. 

There's loads more cocktails I want to try, and food I want to sample, and I absolutely love the venue and the atmosphere so I will most definitely be a regular at The Botanist. I think it's likely to be my go-to place to take people, and as I'm visiting Newcastle later in the year I'm hoping to visit the branch there too. 

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A Spoonie's Guide to Current Television

If you've read a couple of my previous posts, you'll probably have picked up on the fact that I watch a lot of TV, mostly because I'm often too tired to do much else. There's some super amazing shows on right now and TV is just getting better and better. I'm recovering from a fantastic holiday, which is requiring a LOT of sofa/TV time. So here's a guide to my fave shows on the box at the moment. 

This started airing last year but we caught up in time for the final few episodes. It's about a woman who shows up in a bag in Time Square, covered in tattoos--one of which is the name of an FBI agent--and with no memory. Turns out her tattoos are clues to crimes. Ooooh. My mum thinks it is "too fighty and too shooty" and while I concede that she has a point, I'm rather enjoying the mystery of the whole thing. Though I'm not sure I'll ever forgive them for [redacted]'s death.

I am a Scandal convert as of the end of last year, when my mum and I marathoned all 4 seasons (she very kindly rewatched it with me.) It's classic Shonda Rhimes: full of drama and twists and fast-paced word-perfect monologues. We're so tantalisingly close to the end of the 5th season right now.

We're about halfway through this now on Alibi in the UK, after we started taping it on a whim. It is EXCELLENT. Possibly even my favourite thing on TV right now. It's about a group of new recruits going through the FBI Academy, with a flashforward to 9 months in the future where there's been a terrorist attack in New York and one of the recruits has been accused of committing it. The show flips between the 2 times as Alex, the accused recruit, is on the run and trying to prove her innocence and find out which of her fellow recruits actually carried out the plot. There's an excellently diverse cast and you will suspect EVERYONE at one point.

Game of Thrones
Who isn't currently watching Game of Thrones?

Oh my GOD this is so much fun. It's from the maker of Veronica Mars and I can totally tell. Liv Moore (it took me until episode 4 to get that one...) was a medical resident with a perfect life and a perfect fiancé who persuaded her to go to an out-of-character party which resulted in her being turned into a zombie. Yes, a zombie. She now works for the coroner's office and solves crimes. With quipping. It's less horror, more humour. There's 2 seasons on Netflix. You're welcome. 

I missed this first season around; but thankfully it's all on OnDemand. Sean Bean plays an FBI agent with a gift for undercover work, thankfully retaining that iconic Northern accent. Also features Mac from Veronica Mars/Heather from Grey's Anatomy which makes me happy. There's an excellent OOOOOOH moment at the end of the first episode.

Chicago Med
While it's no Grey's Anatomy, Chicago Med is an interesting hospital drama set mainly in the Emergency Department. It's not quite struck the balance of personal lives of the staff vs patient cases that Grey's had down, but it's perfectly watchable and like Quantico has a really great diverse cast.

This is a follow-on from a film with Bradley Cooper which I haven't seen, but you don't really need to. A deadbeat guy gets his hands on a drug that allows him to use his full brain potential. Cue genius. He ends up consulting with the FBI in exchange for the drug. It doesn't take itself too seriously, which is good because it's sometimes a liiiiiitle out there. Bonus cameos from Bradley Cooper. 

Peaky Blinders
Season 3 started not that long ago, but I hadn't even started watching season 2, for my sins. I have since rectified and we're half way through. God, I've missed my fix of Cillian Murphy. Season 2 also features Tom Hardy which is very excellent. Such a quality show, but well violent if you're funny about that sort of thing.

Legends of Tomorrow
This is so much fun: an Arrow/The Flash spin-off featuring side characters from both series off on a time-traveling adventure to stop a truly evil villain. It leans towards daft, with rather a lot of overacting (Wentworth Miller, I'm looking at you and I'm loving it) but it's loads of fun and I LOVE all the different time period episodes, especially the ones in the past.

Bonus rec: The Catch
So this literally starts this week so obvs I haven't watched it yet, but it's a new Shonda Rhimes show and that woman has never set a foot wrong. I've loved Grey's, (okay, maybe Private Practice was a slight misstep), Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, so I'm thrilled we've got another of her shows, about a PI, specialising in fraud, who is then the victim of a fraud...committed BY HER OWN FIANCE. I know, right? I'm so excited. 

What are you currently enjoying on TV? Any recs for me?

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Tips For Chronically Holidaying

I'm going on holiday on Friday, first to London to catch up with everyone there, and then flying to Stockholm to visit a friend who's moved out there so I felt a post on holidaying when chronically ill was timely.

I used to work in PR, which means trips come with itineraries. I'm also a high-achieving stresshead, which means the itineraries are very ambitious. Because I want to do and see EVERYTHING OTHERWISE WHAT IS THE POINT OF GOING AWAY?! So it's been difficult for me to accept my limitations when it comes to trips and if it's difficult for you too I hope these tips help.  

on my first chronic holiday in Athens

Tips For Chronically Holidaying 

Go Away With Supportive People
My boyfriend is incredibly supportive and also very laid back, so when I say "I need a little sit down" for the 11th time since we walked into this museum, we have a little sit down. If we need to revise the itinerary because I had a bad night he's the one going "it's fine, we can do that tomorrow" while I stress that I've ruined the whole holiday. You definitely want to go away with someone who isn't going to push you further than you're able, will maybe carry your suitcase up stairs/put it in the luggage compartments for you and who understands if you need a few lie-ins!

Make an A List and a B List
Make a list of the things you HAVE to do/see. Then make a list of things you'd LIKE to do/see but can live with yourself if you miss, and try (geography allowing) to put some of both in each day. Then if you do need to take something out, it doesn't have to be something you're super excited about. 

Pace Yourself and Take Breaks 
Yes you might be able to do the Louvre, a stroll around the Jardin des Tuileries, L'Orangerie, the Musee D'Orsay, the essential macaron run to Ladurée, dinner, drinks, AND have a night-time walk around Paris on the first day, but that does not mean you should because on the second day you will do nothing. Because you killed yourself the day before. And you probably won't be able to do much on the third day either. Be realistic about what you can achieve, don't push yourself and take regular breaks. Sit down and have a proper lunch; mid afternoon cake; cups of tea in museum cafes. You're on holiday, after all. Definitely also apply this to your holiday prep: write a list & spread your tasks out over the week before you go! 

Stay With Someone
Visiting friends in other places is lovely because not only do you get to see someone you may not have seen in a while, the trip will be much less stressful! No accommodation to arrange, no worries about navigating your way around and hopefully a built-in tour guide who knows all the best restaurants and shops. Perfect for spoonies. I am about to visit a friend of mine in Stockholm and I'm super excited about it and have also been less stressed about this trip than usual because of this. 

Time To Recover
I always use an extra annual leave day as a recovery day, if there won't be a weekend between when I get back and when I go back to work post-holiday. You could view this as a waste of good holiday days, but I'm self-aware enough to know I won't follow the tips above as much as I should, and I'll need a recovery day before I go back to work. And if that's not an annual leave day it'll end up being a sick day. And that doesn't seem fair on my employer. 

Bonus tip:

It's Okay to Go and Lie on the Beach
I'm a city break person, but beach holidays are perfect for a proper break. What could be more relaxing than a week in the sun (or shade) reading, drinking mojitos and having the odd dip in the sea? Don't feel bad about your holiday being a rejuvenation session somewhere warm rather than a jam-packed cultural experience; it's  a totally well-earned luxury. 

Now lets see how well I follow my own advice. 

Do you have any tips for holidaying with a chronic illness, or in general? 

Friday, 6 May 2016

My Etsy Addiction #3

As established in my first My Etsy Addiction post, I am an Etsy Addict. Not necessarily just buying, but also browsing, favouriting, planning future gifts. 

I decided to take advantage of this addiction for blogging purposes, and create a regular series of posts showcasing some of my favourite Etsy finds. This is part the third. Please be aware, some of the items I feature will be from shops based outside of the UK, so the shipping costs can be extensive and there can also be customs charges involved. All photos featured are from the Etsy listings.

This adorable little desk tidy from PygmyCloud

This unique coal ring (actual coal) from FeatherOak

This summery greetings card from JessicaHogarth

This stylishly handmade mini bookshelf from ObiFurniture

This Studio Ghibli in-joke-on-a-brooch from FableAndBlack

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

30 BEFORE 30

Last week's blog post was a bit of a downer, so I wanted to focus on something a bit more positive. I've never been a huge fan of bucket lists, I think they can often get filled with totally unattainable things and end up instead being a depressing list of failure, or they're just filled with cliches. But when I heard about 30 Before 30, 30 things to accomplish before the age of 30, it felt a little different. Like, it could be more about the type of person I want to BE by 30, the kinds of things I want to achieve or do, rather than a bucket list of out-there once-in-a-life-time things. I wanted to make a list because while I'm trying not to think too much about my immediate future, about whether I'll ever get back to where I was health-wise, work full-time again etc, it's nice to think a bit more abstractly about the future. 

My 30 Before 30 list is mostly frivolous and materialistic, because I am frivolous and materialistic, but there's some more serious life-things I'd like to accomplish, too.

Like number 2 on my list: Moving in with my boyfriend. We'll have been together 10 years this year, but circumstances thus far have meant we've spent most of that time in different parts of the country to each other, but we are finally back in the same city and very close to being able to move into our own place (as soon as I'm well enough, really).

And number 3: Have [redacted] amount in my savings. I'm big on saving, I've been saving my whole life (I don't know what FOR exactly, but my parents instilled the need for a savings account in me so a savings account I have) and there's a figure I'd like to hit before I hit 30.

And just as important, number 11: Staying debt-free. At the moment I just have the rest of my MacBook to pay off, which was a big  investment purchase at the end of January, but after that (aside from student loans) I'll be debt-free and would like to stay that way.


And there's the previously mentioned frivolous and materialistic elements, my favourite ones. There are *quite a few* of these, and they include things like:

Number 14: Buy a piece of original art. I love art, but most of the pieces on my walls are prints and the own original piece I own and treasure was a gift. So on my list is to buy myself a piece of original art at some point.

In at 17 I have: Own an expensive piece of furniture. Most of my furniture is/has been hand-me-downs or Ikea's finest. I'd love to own something beautiful and expensive, either bespoke or handmade by a little artisan company, or a gorgeous antique. 

And of course, number 7: Buy a designer bag. I have a lovely Kate Spade purse but all of my bags cost less than its RRP. I would love to be able to treat myself to a beautiful designer bag at some point!


Then there's the experiences, the things I'd love to do at some point, so why not before I turn 30?

Like number 4 on my list: Travel to 15 new places (outside the UK). I've recently discovered a love of visiting new countries and places, and I'd like to amp this up and go away more often. I'll do a post at some point in the future about the places on my travel wishlist.

At number 6 I have: Try 50 varieties of gin. I love gin, I love how a different mix of botanicals or a different distillation method can really alter the flavour. So I'd love to try 50 different gins before I hit the big 30. 

And there's number 27: Have a spa weekend. The height of opulence. I have a day of spa treatments booked in at the end of this month but I'd love to have a whole weekend somewhere glorious. 


Then there's the skills, the things I'd love to be able to do:

Such as number 1: Be able to speak fluent French. I love French, I regret not doing it past year 9 and I would love to be able to speak it properly.

And number 29, Be able to cook 10 dishes from memory. Right now I can cook like, 3 proper meals without needing a recipe (more if you count fajitas and quesadillas, though I'm not sure I do in this context as I've never used a recipe) and I would love to have a repertoire that's a bit more substantial.

In a similar vein, number 22: Be able to cook a roast dinner by myself. I've never even attempted this as my mum makes excellent roast dinners, but it is a valuable skill I feel I should possess by 30. 


And I have the enrichment activities, the things that will help me be the kind of person I want to be by 30.

Such as number 6: Grow my own herbs. I've tried to do this before and it went *poorly* but I think this was partly down to them being in a too-hot space, me not being home enough to water them and my general incompetence. I'd like to be the sort of person who has a successful herb growing situation going by 30. 

In at 15: Swim a mile. I love swimming and at the moment I can swim a kilometre. I'd love to push myself and be able to swim a mile by the time I hit 30. 

And finally and most importantly, number 4: Be able to touch my toes. Due to having tight back muscles and hamstrings, a thing my body's done to compensate for my lax joints, I've never been able to touch my toes. I want to be able to do this by 30. Not only can I finally stop feeling humiliated that I can't do it, it will show how much improvement I've made in my journey to strengthen my body and help minimise my pain. 

What is/would be on your 30 Before 30 list?

Sunday, 1 May 2016

April in Review

I had a good week at the beginning of April, then the rest of it was abysmal. It did have one of my most anticipated films of the year and my most anticipated book of the year right in the last week, which helped cheer things up a bit.

Books Read in April
Radio Silence - Alice Oseman
The Raven King - Maggie Stiefvater 
The Bane Chronicles - Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson 

Favourite Book of April: The Raven King

It feels a bit unfair to have read Radio Silence in the same month as TRK, which was always going to be my favourite of the month. Radio Silence is exceptional; an authentic portrait of fandom, friendship, sexuality and the weight of expectation. I totally recommend it. But TRK was everything I needed it to be; a perfect end to my favourite YA series. I am disappointed with the quantity of books in April, but certainly not with the quality!


Books Acquired in April

The Raven King - Maggie Stiefvater
Passenger - Alexandra Bracken
The Unexpected Everything - Morgan Matson
If I Was Your Girl - Meredith Russo
Geek Girl: Head Over Heels - Holly Smale
Desolation - Derek Landy

Thanks to my pal Jim for the bottom 4 of this pile (it took a lot to convince him not to bring me any more books) and to my lovely old work pal Lauren for Passenger! Super excited to read all of these.


Films Seen at the Cinema in April
Eddie the Eagle
The Huntsman: Winter's War
Eye in the Sky 
Captain America: Civil War

A solid month for films, actually. I really enjoyed Eddie the Eagle despite not having high expectations; it was totally predictable but super enjoyable with the best kind of feel-good ending. Winter's War is hardly the best film ever made but it was easy to watch and played for laughs, with some beautiful dresses. Eye in the Sky was tense and rather hard to watch but brilliantly acted and bittersweet seeing Alan Rickman in his last cinematic appearance. We went to a midnight showing of Civil War, which I'd looked forward to all month and was then almost too tired to go to. I really enjoyed it; I don't think it is the best film in the MCU as I've seen said, I had problems with it being too convoluted, but I did really enjoy it. 


Catch Up On This Month's Blog Posts:

As I said, it's been a hard month this month. I talked about that in my most recent blog post, Suffering a Setback. I shared my Love Letter to Technology and the second of my Etsy Addiction posts. I've been preoccupied with pain this month and I wrote a defence of prescription painkillers and about the difficulty in finding a balance. I also shared the first of my Rediscovering Manchester posts.


I have so many great things happening in May that I'm really looking forward to, it'll be a busy month but hopefully also a great one. I'm looking forward to the release of the latest X-Men film, and I can't wait to pick up a copy of The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood.