Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 highlights:

Source: here

This post was originally going to be a final review of my 2013 New Year's resolutions, but I highly doubt that I've really achieved much of anything I set out to this year.  I did, at least, read a few more books than in 2012 and (barely) kept my blog afloat.  However, writing (for anything other than uni), decorating, saving, travelling and that arch enemy of mine, wasting less time, fell to the wayside.  Must do better.  Probably won't.  Oh well!

It's been a funny old year, and - despite what I haven't achieved - I've done some things over these last twelve months that I don't think I ever could have imagined.  It's made me realise (yes, me, an obsessive forward planner) that you can't really look too far into the future with any certainty.  You never know what's going to happen in life, or how you're going to feel when you wake up one seemingly normal day and do something completely different for no definable reason.  And even if that's merely a self indulgent justification for my own laziness - whatever, man.

In any case, I think 2013 has been a good year.  I say that because, like any year, it's had its ups and downs.  I've met some amazing new people, but I've also really missed some of my best friends who live far too far away for my liking.  I've started my Masters (a nice vocational course, this time!) and already had some crazy and rewarding experiences as a result, but this has simultaneously welcomed a great big dollop of good old stress back into my life.  I don't deal very well with stress.  Just ask Craig.

The main thing is that my life is moving forward again.  It kind of felt like things had ground to a halt for a while there, and it was really bumming me out.  Even though I now barely have time to bash out a quick blog post once a week (never mind take a proper day off to go and visit friends, or sleep in) I am much happier.  And, when it comes down to it,  isn't that the whole point?

In 2013 I...
saw some of my favourite bands live,
met and hung out with some lovely fellow bloggers,
visited Paris,
burned my legs (in Paris) for the very first time,
celebrated my blog's first birthday,
actually managed to attend some of the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe,
met one of my lyrical heroes, Scroobius Pip,
ate some delicious cake at Lovecrumbs,
turned 23,
visited Electric Brae,
bought a piano,
endured the longest microwave related saga in the history of mankind,
went back to uni,
started learning shorthand,
carved a pumpkin,
visited Bristol for the first time,
reconnected with some of my oldest friends,
was one of the first to know when two of those amazing people got engaged (exciting!),
drank a lot of caramel lattes,
felt sick a lot,
stopped drinking caramel lattes,
interviewed some extremely admirable people,
bought a real(ly massive) Christmas tree
and celebrated a wonderful four years with Mr Craig.

Not bad, 2013, not bad.

Source: here

Happy New Year, everybody.  As always, thank you for your readership and support.  Here's to 2014 - let's make it a great one!  (But not be too hard on ourselves if it isn't.)

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Inferior Book Group #4:

Mindy Kaling is a very funny lady.  I have loved her for years now, first as the tenacious (and occasionally psychotic) Kelly Kapoor in The Office, and more recently as Mindy 'Lahiri' in her own TV comedy venture, The Mindy Project.  Reading her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), opened my eyes to the fact that, first and foremost, Kaling is an extremely talented comedy writer, not just an actor, and she worked hard to get where she is now.  But it's also a hilariously relatable read.

As Mindy freely admits in her introduction: 'This book will take you two days to read.  Did you even see the cover?  It's mostly pink.  If you're reading this book every night for months, something is not right.'  Sassy, isn't she?  The book is easy to read because it's written as though Mindy Kaling is chatting to you personally.  It's quite a nice feeling, really.  She invites you into her private life, as well as her professional one, introducing you to her friends (famous or not) and shares her own stupid mistakes alongside (mostly) sage advice.  The writing style is informal but intelligent, with just the right amount of self deprecation.  My favourite!

Source: here

The one thing that threw me off about Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is its structure, or lack of it.  While some of the chapters are obviously written for the book, others seem to be short personal essays written out of sequence, possibly before the book was even in production.  I expected more of a straightforward autobiography/memoir style, and found some of the shorter sections to be a little out of place.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Mindy's book.  The real Mindy Kaling is not a Kelly Kapoor, or even a Mindy Lahiri.  I have now learned some of Kaling's most cringeworthy childhood stories and seen embarrassing baby photos to rival my own.  I know about her hardworking, inspiring parents and her penny pinching years in New York before she became successful.  Sure, she has good fashion taste and posts funny put downs on Twitter, but I now have a three dimensional human being to put to those superficial Instagram photos.  This book is by no means a sob story, but it will win you over.  Also, did I mention that Mindy Kaling is a very funny lady?

In January I'll be reading Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman.  On one hand, this is a much more serious read about corruption in journalism.  On the other, it's full of just as much gossip and embarrassment as Mindy's book - hooray!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas 2013!

Merry Christmas, lovely friends!  I'm getting into the festive spirit at home with my family tonight, but I wanted to upload something special for you lot to let you know I'm thinking of you!

Above is a short Christmassy video I made.  A bit of an experiment, really, but I hope it makes you feel festive!

Enjoy tonight and tomorrow, wherever you are and whatever you're doing!

Love, Alex

Friday, 20 December 2013

12 questions of Christmas:

1. When do you usually know and feel that it's finally Christmas time? 
I think it must be when the Christmas tree goes up and the (frantic) shopping starts.  This year I couldn't stop smiling every time I saw our tree after we'd first decorated it - it's so pretty!

2. What do you want for Christmas this year? 
I've asked for a few bits and bobs specifically, but I really like getting surprise presents, so I prefer not knowing.

3. Do you go all out with decorations? 
Not really, to be honest.  I'd like to do more, but this year it's really just been the tree and some tinsel here and there.  I'd really like a wreath for our front door!

4. What are you doing on Christmas Eve? 
I'll eat dinner with my family at home, and then go out for a few drinks with school friends in the pub.

5. What are you doing on Christmas Day? 
 Opening presents in the morning, and then travelling to my Auntie and Uncle's house for Christmas dinner, more presents and fun!

6. It's Christmas time - what are you reading? 
Check out my latest Inferior Book Group post to find out!  End of shameless self promotion.  In all seriousness, though, I don't change my reading habits just because it's December.  That seems strange to me.

7. Favourite movie to watch during the holidays? 
I mentioned this in a similar post last year, so instead of repeating myself I'll tell you all that I recently saw National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation for the first time, and very much enjoyed it!  (I'm also going to see my all time favourite Christmas movie, It's A Wonderful Life, at the cinema tomorrow.  Very exciting!)

8. Favourite Christmas song? 
As I said last year, hearing anything from the Phil Spector Christmas album immediately makes me feel Christmassy.

9. Favourite holiday drink? 
Champagne!  But that's a good drink all year round, let's be honest.

10. How is your Christmas shopping going? 
As of today, I'm very nearly completely finished!  But not quite...

11. What time do you wake up on Christmas morning?
Early!  Too early for my liking, normally...  But, hey, it's Christmas!

12. If you could spend Christmas Day anywhere else, where would you spend it? 
Until I have my own nice, grown up house, I don't think I'll ever want to spend Christmas anywhere but at home.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Christmas cookies:

Aside from painted rocks passed off as paperweights, I've never given a homemade present before.  It's not that I don't want to, it's just that a combination of being unskilled and unorganised means that I've never managed to make anything worth passing on.  If you suffer from the same problem, I've come up with a solution for us non-arty types: Christmas cookies.  As long as you can follow a recipe, you can bake some tasty biscuits and turn them into a heartfelt (and also extremely affordable) Christmas gift.

Source: here

For this experiment, I decided on two different recipes: Peanut Butter Surprise and Ultimate Ginger Cookies.  I might be biased, but both of them taste delicious!  It was a close call, but I think I prefer the ginger ones myself.  The Peanut Butter Surprise cookies are a favourite of YouTuber, Jennifer Ross (or Organized Jen online), and I've been looking for an excuse to try my hand at these for a while now.  I followed her straightforward recipe, which she has adapted from a Martha Stewart one, and helpfully pinned on her Pinterest page.  You can read it here, and you can also see Jen demonstrating the recipe on her YouTube channel here.

Source: here

The Ultimate Ginger Cookies came from a Google search, which isn't always the smartest way to choose a recipe you've never attempted before.  However, I was won over by a five star rating and the rave reviews from others who had already tried the cookies out.  The recipe (written by the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten) comes from the Food Network website, and you can view it here.

Possible pitfalls:
1. As both of these recipes are American, there's quite a lot of calculation involved in getting the quantities of ingredients right, if you are a Brit like me.

2. Some substitutes will be required if baking these cookies in the UK.  For example, I don't think 'creamy peanut butter' exists here, I just bought 'smooth' instead.  Use treacle in place of unsulfured molasses (sounds terrifying, doesn't it?), and plain flour for 'all-purpose' in both recipes.

3. My local Asda stocks bags of mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, required for the Peanut Butter Surprise recipe.  As you can see from my photo, the white chocolate cups burned a little in the oven.  If you want picture perfect cookies, I would recommend just using the milk chocolate ones.

4. In my non-expert opinion, the Ultimate Ginger Cookies don't need quite as much of the ground cloves or any crystallised ginger at all to taste amazing.  Quite a few of the recipe reviewers agreed.

5. The dough for the Peanut Butter cookies might be super sticky, but don't worry, it won't affect how they turn out.

6. I don't know if it's completely necessary for the cookies to be rolled in granulated sugar before baking - there's already a ton of sugar in the dough by the time you get to that stage!

7. Finally, if you'll excuse my poor English here, the Peanut Butter Surprise biscuits are extremely peanut buttery, and the ginger ones very gingery.  Know your demographic when you are giving these cookies, as both peanut butter and ginger flavours have a Marmite 'love it or hate it' effect on most people.

Once you've baked and cooled your cookies, you can simply pop some into a jar, tie some festive ribbon around it and hand it over to your loved one.  I used a plain KORKEN air tight jar from IKEA, which can be decorated as little or as much as you like.

If you'd prefer to give your cookies in bags, there are plenty of festive food bag options.  IKEA have done the perfect cute paper gift bags for the last couple of years.  I still have some left over from last Christmas, but this year's version are called SNÖMYS and are a similar design.

Don't get me wrong, baking a measly handful of cookies was much more of task than I thought, but it was still a satisfying task.  After spending the weekend elbowing my way through hoardes of people to do my Christmas shopping, slaving over a hot oven was actually extremely enjoyable!  You should give it a try.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Instagram #17:

1. I snapped this lovely lantern shadow in Field Restaurant.
2. An especially big haired selfie.
3. The top of Craig's unbelievable 'cooked breakfast' birthday cake!

4. A few treats from the Oliver Bonas Edinburgh Christmas event.
5. Some friends having a 'surreally' awesome time seeing The Reflektors in Glasgow!
6. Frightened Rabbit playing Glasgow - always an extravaganza!

7. An attempt to take my mind off pre-interview nerves...
8. I loved these amazing Christmas lights inside a shopping centre in Bristol.
9. I had a brilliant time at Illusions magic bar (also in Bristol) - check it out if you're ever in the area!

10. Adam Ross (of Randolph's Leap) and Charles Latham performing at a recent Song, by Toad house gig.
11. A mince pie AND a coconut macaroon with coffee at Lovecrumbs.  I couldn't choose just one!  (The macaroon was divine!)
12. Craig hulking our first real Christmas tree home.

13. Our little King Kong monkey, reaching for the top of the Christmas tree.
14. A (not very flattering) photo of my new Christmas tshirt from Primark.  It's tacky, and I love it!

Friday, 6 December 2013

What I'm watching #4:

Source: here
Parks and Recreation is currently my most favourite thing, and I don't just mean my favourite thing on TV.  Although I'd seen a few episodes before, Craig and I recently opted to start watching the show together from the beginning, which was an excellent decision.  Parks and Rec follows the day to day dealings of a small city council parks and recreation department in Indiana, USA.  Doesn't sound very exciting or funny, does it?  Well, it is.  For a start, the show stars Amy Poehler - who is a truly hilarious lady - and a whole host of other amazing comedic actors.  All of the characters are brilliantly written, and although I love every one of them, Ron Swanson has to be my favourite.  Parks and Rec gets better and more silly with every season, so get it watched!

Source: here

I've written about the American Horror Story series before (in my very first 'What I'm watching' post) but because each season has its own story, I thought number three deserved its own mention.  American Horror Story: Coven is quite different to the earlier seasons.  The story follows a small group of witches as they deal with some strange goings on in modern day New Orleans.  We move back and forward in time a lot, as the coven has a rich and spooky history, but this isn't as confusing as it might sound.  

This third series is fairly gory and has some disturbing themes (which you should probably expect from a horror TV show!) but the psychological horror element I've come to expect from the franchise has disappeared.  It might be embarrassing to admit, but I had nightmares after watching seasons one and two of American Horror Story.  Actual wake-up-sweating-because-they-are-so-scary nightmares.  This time around, I'm more concerned with finding out how the mysterious plot is going to unravel, which means I'm no longer absolutely terrified.  It works for me, but hardcore horror fans might be a little disappointed.

Source: here

American political drama House of Cards wouldn't normally be my cup of tea, especially when you compare it to the rest of my usual TV choices.  Still, after one of my uni tutors suggested watching it as an easy way to learn more about the structure of US government, I decided to give House of Cards a shot.  What I've come to realise about myself relatively recently is that I should never limit myself because of genre.  In reality, I pretty much enjoy every film or TV program I watch, as long as it is well made, and House of Cards certainly ticks that box.  It's a Netflix original series, and only one season exists at the moment.  I got sucked into the show, and watched all thirteen hour long episodes much faster than I thought I would!

Kevin Spacey stars as Congressman Frank Underwood, and season one follows his personal campaign to move up in the White House.  We see a lot of the seedier side of politics, and I really enjoyed never quite knowing if any one character involved was a goodie or a baddie.  They all do unspeakable things over the course of the season, but they do some really nice things too.  It's very confusing!

I was intrigued to find out that House of Cards was actually based on a short BBC TV series of the same name, made in 1990.  It might be interesting to watch the original show (which is also available on Netflix) and compare the similarities and differences between UK and US politics.  But, to be honest, my grasp on American politics still isn't too hot.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Inferior Inspiration #10: Christmas decoration edition!

Some early birds have already put up their Christmas trees and decorations, but I am nowhere near that organised.  Our Christmas tree (the question of real or faux has not yet been decided) will hopefully go up this weekend.  I love going through all of the tree decorations I've collected over the last couple of years when it's time to decorate, but there is always room on my tree for one or two more!

1. I think Alfie the monkey from Paperchase would be an adorable addition to any Christmas tree.  Isn't he so pudgy and festive? (£5)

2. I've seen a few baubles for sale in the same style as this Papier Mâché Ball from Oliver Bonas this year.  I love the retro colours and pattern! (£9.50)

3. These cute Felt So Good Spotty Present decorations by John Lewis come in green and red too, but the blue is definitely my favourite. (£4.50)

4. Let's face it, one of the best things about Christmas are the jingle bells.  Asda is selling a Metal Bells decoration that you can hang on your tree and jingle all you want! (£2)

5. Anthropologie has a load of stunning decorations for Christmas 2013, but I find this Darting Hummingbird particularly pretty.  It comes in other colours too, but imagine the beautifully girly Christmas tree you could have with this and other pink decorations! (£4)

Although the tree usually takes pride of place, you can't forget other Christmas decorations for around and outside your home.  I narrowed it down to my three absolute, cannot live without favourites...

1. I recently visited Vinegar Hill for the first time, and although there aren't any Scottish stores, you can still order online.  This Large Standing Handmade Felt Robin caught my eye in the Bristol shop, wouldn't he look cheery perched somewhere in your house for Christmas? (£19.99)

2. A pink flamingo might not be your first thought when it comes to festive decor, but apparently it's not Christmas for Paperchase without one.  He's a cute flamingo, and it would definitely be a conversation starter.  Just imagine him with a little Santa hat on.  Cute! (£12)

3. Okay, okay, I'll admit this isn't a serious suggestion.  But only because I don't have my own garden, or easy access to the roof.  Who doesn't need an Inflatable Santa in a blue VW camper van to decorate outside their home?  Riddle me that. (£100)

Monday, 2 December 2013

Where did all the November go?

I don't usually agree that bloggers should have to explain absences to their readers.  Sometimes life gets in the way, and sometimes we bloggers just need a break and some privacy.  Still, since my reasons for not writing a blog post for nearly three weeks in November are quite interesting and exciting (for me, at least) I thought I'd let you lot in on what I was up to for most of last month.

1. I wrote and recorded a mock weekly podcast for a uni assignment.  If you're curious about what I sound like, or if you just need a good laugh, you can listen to it here.

Source: here

2. Then Craig decided to have a birthday, so we went for a nice dinner at Field on West Nicolson Street, and then threw him a birthday party.  My extremely talented friend, Emily, made an unbelievable cake, fit for a birthday boy and a Breakfast King.

3. I headed along to Oliver Bonas Edinburgh's Christmas event with Lianne and Gillian to have a first look at their new Christmas lines (and, of course, drink some prosecco and eat a mince pie or two!).

4. I got to see one of my newest favourite bands (posing as a different band, obviously) play live at the Glasgow Barrowlands: The Reflektors (AKA Arcade Fire).  It was a surreal and amazing night!

5. The next night, I went back to Glasgow to see my beloved Frightened Rabbit play the O2 Academy.  I stood at the back like an old lady, and complained about my sore back a lot, but they were brilliant, as always.

6. Somewhere in between those two gigs, I stayed up until 2am writing a review of the Reflektors gig, and had it published online.  You can have a look here.

Source: here

7. Whilst researching another uni assignment, I carried out my very first face to face interview (with Daniel from the band Very Well).  It was scary, of course, but also surprisingly enjoyable!

8. In a strange but wonderful series of events, I also got to interview one of my top favourite Edinburgh musicians, Dan Willson from Withered Hand about his upcoming album.  He was so lovely, and gave me loads of information to use!  I turned the interview into a news piece for uni, which you can read here.

Source: here

9. I perfectly demonstrated my ability to turn into a massive stress head when I had two deadlines due for the same day.  Sorry, Craig!

10. Craig, my sister and I took a much needed mini holiday to Bristol to stay with some of the coolest people I know - our oldest childhood friends.  We had a great weekend seeing the sights and relaxing, and our hosts totally spoiled us!

11. I made my first visit to Scottish Parliament since a high school trip, and sat in on an Education and Culture Committee meeting.  I felt like a total fraud being there, but it was actually quite a lively and interesting meeting to sit in on.  I wrote an article about what went on (for uni again!) which you can see here.

Source: here

12. And, finally, I went to an awesome house gig, hosted by  Song, by Toad and played by American singer songwriter, Charles Latham.  House gigs are always a little bizarre, but they are also a lot of fun, and this one was no exception.  And if you haven't heard of Charles before, you should check him out!  He's talented, funny and cynical - my favourite combo.