#ProjectHappyJanuary: Week 2

So we’re now on week two of a new year, and thus on the second week of this here blog’s new initiative, #ProjectHappyJanuary. If you missed it last week, this is our one man/blogger mission to make the first month of a new year suitably awesome.

Last week was all about bringing a bit of joy to loved ones, and this week is all about bringing joy to ourselves. It can be incredibly easy, with the days still short and dark and cold, to sit in darkened rooms and let the four walls get to us. So this is my little guide to embracing a lighter, more joyful lifestyle.

When the Christmas decorations are down and packed away, first thing I tend to do is break out the candles. Oh yes. Usually I’ll have been plentifully supplied with a batch of fresh scented tealights – although these don’t have to be scented, standard ones work just as well. 

Home value stores like Wilkinson or B&M Home Bargains often stock packs of 100 regular tealights for as little as £2, and placed in some inexpensive holders will add some friendly, warm light to your immediate surroundings. 

It’s also a prime excuse to invest in a quirky light fitting. My most recent one, pictured above, is this carnival style lamp I got from Not on the High Street – again, inexpensive but looks great and makes for a real talking point.

When the TV schedules and radio airwaves are cluttered with repeats or the same playlists of music, it’s always key to have some feel good stuff to wind down with or listen to on the go. These are just my personal choices, but hopefully they’ll give you a bit of inspiration.

FILMS

  • Amelie (2001) 

This French language film has English subtitles, but ups the heartwarming factor to 10, as Audrey Tautou stars in this charming story about a simple Parisian girl practicing random acts of kindness.

  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2003)

One of the proper laugh out loud, romantic comedies of recent years, Nia Vardalos and John Corbett star in this tale of weddings, interfering families and ten bridesmaids in turquoise meringues for dresses.

  • Friends with Benefits (2011)

Sharp, sexy and very funny, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis put in great turns here as two friends that try to eschew the unrealistic stereotypes of romance with a no strings attached approach.

MUSIC

  • Stevie Wonder – “The Definitive Collection”

There is something about Stevie – and Motown music generally – that I find so passionate and uplifting. Songs of his like “Sir Duke”, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” and “Signed Sealed Delivered” are real good mood boosters for me because of their soul and energy.

  • Girls Aloud – “Ten”

OK, I do realise I’m cheating here slightly having two greatest hits albums on my list of feel good music, but the mighty Aloud never fail to get me going, especially on early mornings where my energy might be at its lowest possible berth. “Biology” and “Love Machine” in particular, with their hotch potch structure and bonkers production, are as infectious as anything.

  • Jack Johnson – “In Between Dreams”

I always refer to this as my “January album”, for no other reason than the fact that unseasonable music is one of the best mood boosters possible. And by that I mean listening to music that reminds you of better times. I can count on my hands the number of winters since I got this album in 2006 where I’ve listened to Jack strumming his ukulele, singing about banana pancakes and trains breaking down and imagining I’m on a hot sunny island instead of snowy rush hour traffic.

Don’t forget to Tweet me and let me know what your uplifting music and films are, or how you’ve made your living space a bit brighter – use the hashtag #ProjectHappyJanuary when you do!

The next #ProjectHappyJanuary will be up at the same time next Monday.

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#ProjectHappyJanuary: Week 1

I have a very strong feeling it may have been Bridget Jones, the comic creation of Helen Fielding who once said January was awful, just by virtue of the fact everyone is expected to snap back into a normal harsh existence like lean greyhounds after a season of warmth and merriment. Not to mention the overridden cliches of debt, despair and gloominess that accompany it.

I pondered this more so over a cup of tea this morning whilst packing away my Christmas decorations for another year (read: until mid-November). We begin a new year at a time of year when none of us feel inclined to. The days are still short, the weather very much still chilly and unforgiving. 

And we are almost forced by society at large into making outlandish resolutions at a time of year when our true willpower and desire to sustain these is on a par with a cat stuck in a room full of salmon and prawns. In other words, it’s just not going to happen. Obviously this isn’t the case for our friends south of the Equator, who ring in the New Year in searing heat and sunshine – maybe it is?

But at this time of year, when lighter days and brighter times are still so far away, we need to be gentler on ourselves, and keep that same warmth and joviality going even with the festive season behind us. Which is why, all throughout January, I intend to bring you, dear readers, some weekly inspiration to make the start of the year a truly happier one. I’m calling it #ProjectHappyJanuary.

One of the central themes at the heart of keeping this New Year goodwill to hand is that of gratitude and giving thanks. One of the most overlooked customs in recent memory, for me, is the art of the thank you note. Perhaps this is a marker of my upbringing, but no Christmas or birthday has ever passed without me sending out thank you cards or notes to friends and relatives for presents I recieved.

High street craft shops like The Works do inexpensive but tasteful batches of ‘Thank You’ cards or just blank, open ended cards in a pack of 10 for £1 (pictured above) – just writing these and sending these out to loved ones will let them know their thoughtful gift was appreciated.
On a similar snail mail note, invest in some good writing paper or a pack of quirky postcards, and send an informal line to a distant friend or loved one. Christmas and birthdays – along with the odd wedding, engagement or other life event – tend to be the only time of year we ever reach out to distant family or friends, which I have to say I’ve been fairly guilty of in recent years. A nice, friendly letter in the post could make all the difference to that friend who may be dreading coming in from a long day to a mat full of bills and junk.

This is what I’ll be doing this week for #ProjectHappyJanuary – hope that you’ll join me in doing so too. Don’t forget to Tweet me your efforts using the hashtag if you do take part!

The next challenge for #ProjectHappyJanuary will be up next Monday and every Monday throughout January.

😄 😄 😄 😄

Dear Cat & Fi: The One with all the Soup

Dear Cat & Fi,

Hellllooo thar! Firstly my apologies. This is the first and long overdue ‘Dear Cat & Fi’ of 2016, which we are now a whole month and a bit into. Scary how fast the year has gone already that we are now approaching spring (although looking outside right now as I write this with the gale force winds, you probably wouldn’t know any different). I can only say that #reallife put paid to me writing a new entry to you both, but tonight seemed like a good time to so, better late than never etc.

So as I write this, I am listening – perhaps somewhat unseasonably some may argue – to the album which I have often cited as my ‘happy and alone on an island’ album. The album in question being ‘In Between Dreams’ by Jack Johnson, my copy of which, I was working out yesterday, I have now owned for 10 years. 2006 is now 10 YEARS AGO. Where the hell did that go?

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It’s made me feel somewhat reflective of the 10 years that has passed, and how much has happened to us all in that time. Thankfully, the only pictures in existence of me from that time is minimal – probably best for everyone’s sake. I’m truly one of those people that still talks about 2006 like it was yesterday, but perhaps this is one of the signs of my ever advancing years. I mean I’m three years off turning 30 for God’s sake!

So where was I? Oh yes, Jack Johnson. I find myself listening to his album at this time of year more than any other. We’re not quite near spring yet, and summer is still so far away that you find yourself wanting a lilting hit of laid back sunshine. And one listen to songs like ‘Better Together’, ‘Breakdown’, and – yes, there really is a song on there called this – ‘Banana Pancakes’ suddenly gives you a warming sense of comfort that the world is a better place.

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Elsewhere, I am living up to Mum’s new nickname for me of the ‘Soup Dragon’ – only less scaly and cute – and have become addicted to soups whilst the cold weather rages on. My particular new favourite is the above ‘Chicken Broth’ from Scottish based Baxters. Especially as I’m on a health kick at the moment, it’s difficult to find good soups that keep me going through to dinner time, but this actually tastes and reminds me of Mumma Mac’s now famous kitchen sink soups she used to rustle up on snow days when we were kids.

I think it was Nigella Lawson who once said that any form of chicken soup was like Jewish penicillin, but this is like restorative heaven in a bowl, just enough chicken and stock, but plenty of vegetables and risotto rice. Utterly yummers and naturally low in the naughty stuff.

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So what else have I been up to? Well, I had a mini Herts Uni reunion last weekend when my best girl Amy Warner was in town. We went for lunch together at Hungry Horse along with her sister Jennie and her fella Graham – or Rossy as he’s more commonly referred to – and had many laughs and a good catch up. They are in fact moving slightly near your neck of the woods to Maidenhead in April, Cat, so I may even kill two birds with one stone to see you both next time.

I also a few weeks ago, as you may have seen, posted a new poem on here. It’s my intention now this new year is under way to showcase more of my writing on here this year, which means lots more poems, and also other stuff I’ve been working on, so all feedback and comments are welcome etc. I will in fact be showcasing a project that’s been three years in development in the next couple of blogs so that’s rather exciting.

Anyway, hope you are both well and keeping safe and warm in this horrible weather. Speak to you both next week, for now, in the words of the late Sir Terry Wogan (RIP) at the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest, ‘Who knows what hellish future lies ahead? Actually, I do. I’ve seen the rehearsals.’

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Luv-oo, Alex

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