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Review of 2016

I’m a little late with my review of the year this year, mostly because I was away from home over the festive period but also because I wanted to write up some really considered ‘resolutions’ for 2017.

I was pretty busy in 2016, although almost the entire first half of the year had a definite rowing focus.

– I went on rowing training camp to Gent, Belgium again, and was deemed ‘most improved’ at the end of it
– I was happy to be chosen to compete for my rowing club at the Henley Women’s Regatta and we made it through the time trials and two competitive rounds before going out in the semi-finals to the eventual winners
– I was asked to do the decorations for the rowing club annual dinner and managed to do some pretty nifty things on a very low budget
– My efforts earned me the Lady Rower of the Year trophy at my rowing club – all the blood, sweat, tears, DOMS, blisters, fatigue, hunger and doubts were worth it in the end!
– I volunteered at the Oxford Half Marathon for the third year, this time handing out medals at the finish, and also assisting with the local schools’ event
– I got my first ever work promotion
– I met my boyfriend!
– I went on a romantic vacance to Paris with said boyfriend – we visited the Louvre, Pompidou centre, Eiffel Tower, Champs-Élysées, Montmartre and Versailles amongst other places
– I became a volunteer writer for the International Paralympic Committee
– I was a social media volunteer at the IPC Swimming European Open Championships in Funchal, Madeira
– I joined a Biobank and found out some interesting facts and stats about my body! (Thankfully all good ones)
– I finally managed to visit the Thermae Bath Spa – lovely on a cold, slightly snowy winter’s night
– I did another Creative Sprint in October 2016, and even got one of my creations featured on Instagram!
– Way back in January 2016 I won the Charity Award at my work’s New Year party for my efforts organising cake sales for fundraising
– I moved house (again)

So, to my ‘resolutions’ – though they’re not set in stone. After the continuing success of my resolution a few years ago to ‘be more positive’, these days I am all about making long-term, lasting lifestyle adjustments.

I’ll continue to improve the eco-friendliness of my life – I’m already seeing good results from this, it’s making me use my imagination more, be healthier, and be more mindful of how I go about doing things.

I was guilty last year of buying lots of things via mail order, mostly because, what with all that rowing, I very rarely had the time or energy to go to the shops. The trouble was I spent a lot of time and money sending things back, and the packaging that items are sent out in is often both copious and non-recyclable. Plus I was missing out on trying things on and experimenting. Last year my standout purchase was an amazingly flattering pair of dungarees (of all things) which I would never have bought via the website, but thought ‘why not’ in the shop! This is part of a ‘try new things’ kick which I have been on for a couple of years. The only time I am planning to make an exception to my mail order rule is when either the brand does not have a physical shop or offline stockists, or if I am able to support an independent Etsy seller by buying something from them.

I’m still working on finding some happy mediums with all of the things I do. I can be very much an all or nothing kind of person and I need to learn to exist in the middle ground a bit more.

What with all the being eco-friendly and kicking my mail-order habit, I’m hoping to be able to save some money this year. My stepdad pointed out the other day (if evidence of the above all-or-nothingness was needed) that I like to have Big Experiences. So instead of, for example, just going to the Winter Wonderland event in Hyde Park in London, I readily sold many of my worldly belongings to be able to afford to go to Norway to see real snow, real alpine forests, real Northern Lights. Similarly, he said, I don’t want to go to a mere zoo, I want to go to New Zealand to save an endangered parrot! All these wonderful experiences cost money so I’m going to make it my mission to save up enough to do another one soon.

Becky

2015 – Year in Review

Here it is, my now-traditional review of the year as it comes to an end. As usual, when I began to write this post, I didn’t think I’d done anything of note, but it turns out that I was as busy as ever!

– I volunteered as part of the Ceremonies Team at the inaugural British Rowing Indoor Championships, and even made it into one of the promotional videos!
– I also volunteered as a course marshal at another local half marathon
– I won another two rowing finals as part of a women’s 8+
– I graduated at the Barbican in London
– I finally watched the Thames Barrier being tested!
– I went on my third rowing training camp
– I did another screen-printing workshop and made some rowing-inspired prints
– Along with my friend Sarah, I did another 30 Days of Creativity
– I rediscovered books, and reading, in a non-study context. I had missed reading for the joy of it!
– I had my custom jewellery featured in a gift guide
– And my standard range found its first real life stockist
– I was a social media journalist for the Women’s Sport Network at Henley Women’s Regatta

I wonder what 2016 has in store for me?

Becky

2014 – Year in Review

Well. Where do I even start? It’s been an….interesting year, full of highs and lows and everything inbetween. This year, I:

– Finally finished my degree with the Open University, gaining a 2:1 Bachelor of Science (Hons) after seven years of study
– Ticked off a lot of ‘firsts’, including travelling on a ferry, a tram and the Eurotunnel
– Attended not one but two rowing training camps and lived to tell the tale
– Went on a whistle-stop tour of Belgium
– Volunteered at the London stage of this year’s Tour de France as a Tourmaker
– Volunteered at a local half marathon as a Racemaker
– Had my volunteer interview for the Rugby World Cup 2015… watch this space!
– Ate Party Rings biscuits for the first time in about twenty years after they made them vegetarian
– Rowed in WEHORR (Women’s Eights Head of the River Race) on the Thames, for the first time
– Had one of my necklaces featured in a magazine for the first time

I’ve spectacularly failed to do any of my 2014 New Year’s Resolutions but I’ll discuss them anyway!

1) Enjoy the moment
This one started well, but I it’s going to take me a little longer than expected to train my brain not to worry about the consequences of my actions so much. There were glimpses of success at various points this year but ‘enjoying the moment’ needs to become something I don’t consciously think about.

2) Eat well and add to my cooking repertoire
The stress and sheer boredom of writing essays propelled me towards my kitchen oftener than it should have, with ‘just making a snack’ (invariably something unhealthy) offering good opportunities for procrastination! However, I did make a point of going through all of my recipe books (more procrastination) and mark the recipes that I would actually use. So I guess the plan for 2015 is to work my way through some of them and see what new dishes I can add to my diet. I also need to find some new ideas for lunches to take to work because I’ve got stuck in a routine with it. Any suggestions?

3) Write more blog posts
I think it’s quite obvious that this one didn’t go as planned! It’s been a pretty quiet year for doing anything in my spare time other than study. My final course was in Design and was at third-year university level, the combination of which meant that not only was it quite difficult, I had to come up with design ideas for every essay, and my final project. All that thinking takes up a lot of time you know! Also, I spent so much time looking at a screen and trying to extricate thoughts from my head into coherent essays that, to be honest, my laptop and I needed to spend a little time apart…

4) Have more fun!
Fun was occasionally had this year, in between work and training and study and worrying about the future! Everything took over my life more than I expected and didn’t leave much room for anything else. Looking forward to next year, there should be lots more opportunities to cut loose a bit – if I am only brave enough to take the leap.

I’d like to apologise for the blog silence this year. I’m definitely looking to get back into making stuff next year: edible, stitched, laser cut, who knows. We’ll see where life takes me 🙂

Becky

2013 – Year in Review

It’s that time of year again, to mull over what has happened in the last 365 days and look forward to what might occur in the next 365. In 2013, amongst other things, I:

– Somehow gained a Distinction in my latest (now discontinued) OU course: T211 Design and Designing
– Started supplying rowing-themed button badges to Rock the Boat
– Made an unexpected wedding cake for my friend’s wedding
– Celebrated my one year rowing anniversary
– Watched Luisa Omielan’s comedy show What Would Beyoncé Do?
– Had a ‘Health MOT’ and passed with flying colours
– Started a challenging and interesting new job
– Watched The Leisure Society live (again!)
– Won my first race final at a rowing regatta
– Had a Hawaiian-themed joint birthday party for my 30th
– Watched my friend’s long awaited, much anticipated and
very funny debut film ‘Dead Cat’
– Moved house
– Did a screenprinting workshop at Print Club London

As usual, at the start of the year, I decided on my New Year’s Resolutions. This year’s were intended to be more about ‘doing’ and less about ‘thinking’, though I could not have foreseen that a combination of rowing and studying would take over my life for nine or ten months of this year, leaving me little time for anything else (including writing blog posts)!

1) Make marshmallows, macarons and madeleines.
I managed to make marshmallows (and very tasty they were too), and some madeleines for my friend Madeleine’s birthday (though I didn’t get to try them). I’ve not quite got around to making macarons, though having not ever actually tried one I might find that I don’t like them after all! I was tempted by the make-your-own-macarons kits that I spotted in Sainsbury’s the other week, but alas the raspberry ones contain cochineal (off-limits to vegetarians) and the chocolate ones are out too because I don’t like chocolate. So this might be a longer term project. Perhaps I’ll take a class in how to make macarons, because by all accounts they can be tricky little so-and-sos!

2) Make fewer excuses.
This was the obligatory ‘floaty’ resolution but one I’ve been meaning to do for a number of years. I’ve had a tendency to blame stuff on things that are outside my control or that I could change if I really wanted to. Working on making less excuses (both spoken and in my head) has actually resulted in a lot of inner peace this year. I’ve learnt to change things and to just get on with life without coming up with feeble reasons not to do things. Hurrah!

3) Work on becoming very healthy and fit.
This was all to do with rowing, which I think I was a bit cagey about at the start of the year when I wrote about this resolution. Suffice it to say, a year’s worth of rowing training has done wonders for my fitness and figure; I actually have definition in my bicep, calf, stomach and thigh muscles for the first time in my life. The being healthy bit is going to need some work into next year though, as I rely far too much on carbs and dairy products to keep me going, and need to try to get more protein and good stuff into my diet.

4) Make my own clothes (or modify more).
I still have a pile of ‘to do’ projects in my craft room but didn’t really have any time to do them. This year, instead of making and modifying, I made a point of seeking out small boutique shops (such as my current favourite, Aspire Style), clothing brands that I know work with my figure, and investing in higher quality items that are properly tailored and will last a long time. My shape changed so much from all the exercise that I had to donate two thirds of my wardrobe to the local Oxfam charity shop (resulting in an amazing Tag Your Bag total) so really I have had to start again from scratch. I also bought my first pair of skinny jeans this year, a lovely high-waisted stretchy version that actually fits! Only a decade after everyone else started wearing them…

5) Do a photography project.
This went right out the window when the aforementioned epic rowing-and-study combo kicked in. I managed a few weeks (six, to be precise) but I think that I may have fallen out of love with my camera. Perhaps one of my 2014 NYRs should be to save up for a new one?

Did you make any resolutions for 2013, and if so how did they go?

Becky

2012 – A Year To Remember

Wow, it doesn’t seem like it’s been five minutes since I was last doing a review-of-the-year post, but so much has happened since then! It’s been a pretty memorable year for a lot of people I think, with the Queen’s Jubilee, and then the amazing London 2012 Olympic Games, which had everyone glued to their TV screens.

I’ve had a memorable year too. This year, I:

– Was a Games Maker at London 2012
– Saw the Olympic Torch Relay as it passed through my hometown
– Flew a plane (well, a light aircraft)
– Watched a rugby match at Twickenham
– Completed another Open University course, in English Grammar
– Visited Westonbirt Arboretum to see the beautiful autumn colours with my friend Sarah
– Participated in three craft swaps on Craftster
Learnt to knit
– Made a very successful Millionaire’s Shortbread
– And an epic five-layered pink cake
– Won a mouse
– Managed to do 30 Days of Creativity for the second year running
– Had a stall at my first Handmade Maker’s Market
– Gave a well-received talk about making button jewellery at a local cancer support group (I’ve already been rebooked for next year!)
– Ate at Wagamama for the first time!

I had not one but five New Year’s Resolutions for 2012 – though they were less like resolutions and more like mission statements:

1) Learn to knit and make at least one tiny bobble hat for innocent’s Big Knit campaign – After a bit of a slow start, and almost leaving it too late (again) I made five little bobble hats in the end. I do like a nice, straightforward, achievable New Year’s Resolution!

2) Get organised where it matters – I had some success with this (though the last-minute bobble hats mentioned above might beg to differ). Mostly it came down to writing essays for my OU course with a plan and plenty of time to spare, which made the whole experience a lot less stressful. I also started to set more reminders, start things before I needed to, and organise my spare time more efficiently. This will come in handy for 2013 as things are going to get very busy and I need to squeeze more ‘stuff’ into the same amount of time!

3) Try to avoid spoilers, whether this be to do with people, places, plans or presents – Again, some success with this. For the most part, I have tried very hard not to spoil things for myself by over-researching them, and I’ve been able to avoid too many spoilers from other people – though there were a lot of GamesMaker-related things that I just stumbled across by accident on Twitter! Generally though, I’ve enjoyed the surprise of finding things out for the first time when I’m supposed to, and not because I’ve looked them up on the internet. Also, having to relax about plans etc has made me a much more chilled out person, which is nice.

On the other hand, having gone for a spoiler-free birthday and not given anyone any hints as to what I’d like, present-wise, I didn’t get anything I had on my secret wish list, so the wish list returned for Christmas!

4) Become more cultured – I had all sorts of big plans for this one, but sadly lack of time and funds meant that I didn’t see a ballet, opera or classical concert. I did, however, read a lot of classic books this year (thank you, charity shops with cheap books, and libraries with free ones). I’ll elaborate on this once I can find the list of books that I read this year (based on this one). I should probably watch more classic films too.

5) Be more positive! – this was interesting. Initially I struggled with the difference (not always obvious) between negativity and honesty. Sometimes I can be very bluntly honest, and sound negative, but don’t mean it that way! After working this out, I worked on putting a positive spin on things. The effect it had on other people was intriguing. British people (broadly speaking) like to complain and moan about things, so when someone did just that, I would try and turn whatever they were complaining about around, so that they could see the positive side. Surprisingly, most people agreed with the positive side, but seemed bemused that they ‘hadn’t thought of it that way before’. They might have just been being polite, but I like to think I’ve spread a little positivity around this year, as well as encouraging myself to be more positive.

Pretty successful this year, methinks. Now, what new New Year’s Resolutions shall I make?

Becky

Another year over….and a new one just begun

So said John Lennon, way back in 1971.

I’m one of those people who likes to reflect on the year that’s just finished and look forward to all the things I’m going to achieve in the next year. We used to be one of those families who did a naff Christmas newsletter to send round to long lost friends and relatives, which was always a good way of remembering what I’d done over the year. This year I’m going a bit modern and doing the equivalent online instead!

In no particular order, here are the highlights of my year. I:

– Made my first ever lemon meringue pie, from scratch, and it was a good one (though I have to work on my meringue-making skills a bit)
– Caught up with old friends in London and did some sightseeing too
– which included visiting Buckingham Palace and seeing *that* wedding dress
– Started and completed my latest OU course (U101 Design Thinking: Creativity for the 21st Century) with pretty good grades
– and created a board game based around the daily life of chickens as part of the course
– Made pumpkin pie for the first time which was a roaring success with those brave enough to try it
– Was a volunteer supporter at Oxfam’s Trailwalker for the second year running, but did three shifts this year instead of one and also got to hand medals out to finishers
– Went to an Etsy meetup in Brighton with my friend Dearest Jackdaw, and decided I need to find or create an Etsy group closer to home
– Memorised pi to fifty decimal places as part of my 2011 New Year’s resolutions (more of which later)
– Got through to the interview stage to be a London 2012 GamesMaker (still waiting to hear back about it at the moment)
– Completed the @createstuff 30 Days of Creativity in June
– Celebrated Towel Day
– Completed a nine week fitness programme in the summer, burning 12,000 calories and completing over 50 hours of exercise overall
– Attended my best-friend-from-secondary-school’s wedding, for which I made button bracelet favours
– Co-created, contributed to and performed in that epic work-based presentation that I keep going on about 😉
– Saw the wonderful Leisure Society perform with the Heritage Orchestra at the Barbican
– Visited Norway and saw the Aurora Borealis (more on this later).

I also like to review the success of the year’s New Year’s resolutions at the end of the year. I had four official ones in 2011:

a) Do yoga at least five days out of seven – this happened until the summer, when I began the aforementioned nine week fitness programme, followed by a gentler three week programme. The idea of doing yoga for five days out of seven morphed into doing any form of exercise for those five days. I started going swimming once a week and coupled that with four days of the fitness programme per week. I was doing really well until the final assessment for my OU course loomed, which took priority over everything else. Since then I’ve been a little lax but hey, it was the end of the year and everyone’s entitled to a bit of time off aren’t they?! I’ve restarted the regime with a little cardio session yesterday and will aim to start doing some yoga again too.

b) Get comfortable with people invading my personal space – This is a strange one. I’ve definitely got better, but a lot of people around me are still wary of invading my personal space! This one needs perhaps a bit more work to deal with the don’t-touch-me vibes I’m apparently still giving out…

c) Memorise pi to at least 50 places – I only got round to this towards the end of the year but it was always going to be a fairly easy one because I’m a numbers geek. I’ve got it printed out and stuck on the wall of my room at work and people love to test my ability to recite it from memory.

d) Join in with activities that I might otherwise regret not participating in – This was the biggie, and means I’m not allowed to wuss out of things. It’s definitely made me do more things than I might otherwise have done, and I can’t think of anything that I didn’t join in with over the last year.

These NYRs (apart from the memorising pi one) have now become three new guidelines for how I want to be, so they’re more like mission statements now than statements of intent. So I’ve got room for some new NYRs!

What have you been up to this year?

Becky

The Leisure Society at the Barbican – An Amateur’s Review

Let me start this little gig review by saying that I am not very musical. I don’t know all the technical terms or understand the different ways of arranging songs. I managed to pass my grade 2 clarinet when I was 12 but that was more from luck than judgement. I won’t be able to go into deep-and-meaningful, intricate detail but I would like to offer up my opinion, for what it’s worth! I’m going to link to the songs I mention on Spotify if you’d like to listen to the album versions.

I like listening to music, especially songs with a bit of depth to them, clever and/or interesting lyrics, little quirky bits that you somehow don’t notice until you’ve listened to the song a few times, and a good string section. Demanding, much?

Thankfully The Leisure Society fulfil all of those criteria. I first heard about them a couple of years ago when my dad and I caught the last part of an interview with them on Dermot O’Leary’s show on Radio 2. They did an amazing cover of Cars by Gary Numan which instantly prompted my dad to buy the album. Fast forward a couple of years and they released a second album which prompted me to nick the first album off my dad and discover what I’d been missing!

I’d known about the special “The Leisure Society meet the Heritage Orchestra” Barbican gig for a while but only decided to go a couple of days beforehand, in an attempt to be a bit more spontaneous. I’m very glad I did decide to go, because as you’ll see, I found it rather enjoyable.

I think that a good audience helps to make a gig great, and the warm up act ‘Loney, Dear’ definitely got the Barbican audience on their side – they got us singing and laughing along with them and joining in with a couple of the songs. The singer somehow managed to control all kinds of intricate loops and pedals and fancy gizmos whilst singing (and wearing a pair of distractingly yellow socks). I think I spent more time looking at his feet than anything else!

On to the main act, and after a little lull in proceedings whilst all the equipment was set up on stage, The Heritage Orchestra and The Leisure Society made their way onto the stage to enthusiastic applause, launching straight into A Fighting Chance, one of my favourite songs (EDIT: Someone’s uploaded a video of the Barbican performance of this song to YouTube, so you can get an idea of how awesome it was). The addition of the orchestra to the usual line-up made it sound somehow like the Leisure Society, but more, if that makes sense. For someone who loves the sound of string instruments it was brilliant, and I sang along, imagining bits of my brain lighting up, MRI-style, as my aural receptors sent musical impulses flashing along the wires.

They followed it straight away with The Hungry Years (which sounded even better than usual with the orchestra providing backup), a couple of slower songs and some banter between the two frontmen that had the audience chuckling. Save It For Someone Who Cares ticked along nicely for the whole song, accentuated by those gorgeous strings again, but just when it seemed like the song was over, the ending turned into something else entirely – a punchy, swirling, energetic outro that the band, orchestra and audience all really seemed to enjoy (check out a video of the Barbican performance here to see what I’m talking about). 

The Last of the Melting Snow‘s sad-yet-somehow-hopeful lament to a lost relationship sounded even more emotional with the extra depth of so many more instruments, and the already-pretty-orchestral Into The Murky Water turned into a stomper of a tune with all kinds of banging and crashing, flurries of notes and flashing lights.

Lead singer Nick Hemming got a collective ‘awww’ from the audience for his introduction to the first ever live performance of If God Did Give Me A Choice, which he said that he wrote when in the depths of despair at getting anywhere in the music business. By the end of the song, all the band members and every musician in the orchestra were singing the chorus with gusto, and I suspect a good few members of the audience were too.

Finishing off with This Phantom Life (check out the slightly surreal video here) led to much applause, whistles and cheers until the band were ‘persuaded’ to return for an encore, which they did minus the orchestra. To be honest, I was so overwhelmed by it all at this point that I can’t quite remember the order of the songs but I know they did another one of my favourites, Dust on the Dancefloor (video here) which, even without the orchestra, was a fast-paced, rousing number. There was also a Leisure Society-ed version of A Little Respect by Erasure which was surprising but very good, and I know for certain that the last song of the night was A Matter of Time, the ‘outro’ to which I already loved (a slow-build combination of lovely soaring strings and a repeated refrain). Imagine my delight when the orchestra rejoined the band on stage to help make said outro a spectacular end to what was, for me at least, a mind-blowing concert! The resulting standing ovation was well deserved (in my opinion) and, from the sound of the cheering and clapping, the rest of the audience thought so too.

The whole event was very much worth going to, though I’m not sure my ears have recovered yet! The sheer volume of all those musicians made the concert an immersive sort of experience, and audience and band and orchestra alike all seemed to enjoy themselves very much – the best type of gig, in my opinion.

What unusual concerts have you been to?

Becky