Tag Archives: time

A Fresh Start

I love the feeling of a new year. It always feels like you’re starting again somehow, like the world is ripe with possibilities, and that you’re able to reinvent yourself, or write yourself, in some new kind of way.

I’ve mostly managed to avoid the usual excesses of the festive season this year. Sure, there was the obligatory overeating on Christmas Day, and the few days after that involved far too much trifle, and a rather large amount of Pimms, but I think I did pretty well in not completely falling off the bandwagon of the healthy lifestyle I’ve tried to build for myself. This is quite a big achievement, as I was always victim of the snowball effect of eating at Christmas, where I’d eat too much at one meal, and so there was no point trying to be healthy the rest of the day, as it was already too far gone, but then that would linger on into the next day, until you’ve suddenly had a month of overeating and no exercise and you have to start all over again.

But this year has thankfully been different, which gives me hope for my New Year’s resolutions, one of which is to maintain my healthy lifestyle. Another one, which is totally stolen from a friend (thanks, Kim!) is the mantra ‘Just do it’. (Yeah, I think she may have stolen it from somewhere too.) I can’t speak too much as to what it means for her, but in my life, the way I’ve been trying to use it is to stop myself procrastinating.

I always knew I was a good procrastinator when it came to doing uni work. If nothing else, I certainly mastered the art of procrastination while attempting to finish my MA. But it wasn’t until this year that it actually dawned on me how procrastination seems to permeate so many facets of my life, from putting off writing blog posts, (sorry, faithful readers – all three of you) to the stack of bank statements dating back to June that I still hadn’t gotten around to filing, to even taking my vitamins in the morning. Everything for me is something I’m going to get onto soon, rather than now.

I was working over New Year’s, so didn’t go away, but it meant I had a few days off afterwards with few distractions, and I used that time to try to get onto stuff that I had been meaning to do for months, or sometimes years. I filed those bank statements, I got that coat dry-cleaned, I got the tips replaced on my high heels, I backed-up my computer, I went through my iTunes library and deleted the music I didn’t like. I cannot begin to tell you how great all this made me feel. I was accomplishing stuff. I was ticking it off. My whole world felt lighter. I was less burdened by crap that I didn’t even realise was weighing me down.

It’s something that I totally need to work at. I still catch myself thinking, ‘Oh, I should take my vitamins,’ or ‘I must pay my phone bill,’ without any real intention of getting on to it right then. But more and more I think, ‘Just do it’. And unless I’m in the middle of something really important, I do it. It’s done. I forget about it. I’m also trying to keep a diary, as part of this new-and-improved me. I still often forget to look at it until the day is almost over, but I hope that I can use it to make me more efficient at utilising my time.

The results of all this, I’m just starting to see. I finally finished a book that I’ve been reading since July. I’ve started another book, The Book Thief, which I bought probably a year and a half ago. I’ve been meaning to read it, but I just wasn’t in the reading zone in 2009. I felt like I didn’t have the attention span. I suddenly feel like I’ve got it back and that I can enjoy reading again, and that feels like such a gift.  I’ve not only cleared space on my desk, I’ve cleared space in my mind and in my life.

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A Gourmet dessert

I was recently invited to a family get-together, the first barbecue of the summer for me. I had to take a dessert, but was running short of time, since I only found out the day before and was out that evening and then working the next day.

I really love dessert. I’m such a sweet tooth, and while I admit that I don’t often make a huge amount of effort with my savoury cooking, I do love to try different desserts and spend a lot of time and effort on them.

Probably my all-time favourite desserts are tiramisu and baked cheesecake, but they are also the ones I tend to find most disappointing, as I have such high expectations when I have them when I go out for dinner. When travelling through Italy with a friend for a week, I constantly ordered tiramisu for dessert, but I would always end up dissatisfied. Maybe it was that I was going to the wrong places, but they all just lacked something for me.

Anyway, for this barbecue I knew I wouldn’t have the time to whip up something that was in any way time consuming, so after some wonderful suggestions on the Vogue forum, I decided to just do a Kiwi classic, pavlova.

I found a fabulous recipe from Gourmet magazine. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to make the pav from scratch, so I had to settle for a bought one. But I think it was the best pavlova I’ve ever had! Although maybe it’s just because I haven’t had one since last Christmas.

It felt fitting to use a recipe from Gourmet, after just listening to an interview with the editor, Ruth Reichl, former food critic for The New York Times, discussing what she planned to do with her life after she had received the news Gourmet was to stop publication in November.

It’s not a magazine that I ever bought, but I still feel a sadness at its passing, not just because it’s a magazine of great history, but also because its closing is a sign of the times for magazine publishing. Incredibly, the circulation for Gourmet was actually at its highest levels when it was shut down, but it was the lack of advertising that killed it. It’s a luxury magazine, and the luxury advertisers like Porsche and Rolex have pulled back their advertising considerably since the recession.

Reichl lamented the fact that American food writing is now being dominated by the likes of Rachel Ray – what Reichl calls ‘stupid food’. While this is no doubt an elitist view, it does point to a wider problem, I think, of how we’re constantly being told we don’t have time to cook. We’re saturated with quick and easy options, but yet there seems to be more cooking on television than ever before. It appears that we’re spending our time watching cooking on television rather than spending time actually cooking.

Obviously there is a need for quick options – I wanted one myself for the barbecue. I may not have the abundance of time or the money needed to completely live the Gourmet lifestyle, but like with the pavlova, I can take some inspiration from it and focus on the joy that creating something delicious, decadent and beautiful for yourself and others can bring.

My Gourmet-inspired pavlova:

pavlova (either made from scratch or bought)

pouring cream, whipped with a little icing sugar added

Wild Appetite Tipsy Lemon Curd (this is lemon curd with the dutch liquor advocaat added to it)

macerated berries (I used strawberries) – cut hulled strawberries in half and soak in the juice of one or two lemons or limes and 2 tbsps of caster sugar. You can also add a liquor such as limoncello if desired.

Combine the whipped cream and lemon curd, arrange strawberries on top and serve pavlova with extra strawberries. Yum!

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For life is time, and time is all there is.

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I’ve finally finished a book. I bought James Woods’s How Fiction Works when I was in New York in July/August, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only just finished it now. In fact, I’m even more embarrassed to admit that I haven’t finished anything else since that time. I’ve got about six books that I’ve started and not finished on my bookshelf, and thinking about it, the only thing that I have apparently managed to finish this year is the Twilight Series, and that only took me a week to read the four books.

I do love reading. I love the feeling of getting swept away into another world, the feeling when you have a great book on the go and it almost feels like a secret that you have and you take any spare moment to read so that you can escape to that other life.

But it appears that reading is something I’m not very good at any more.

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I’m not a fast reader, which I find a hindrance. I feel like if I could just read faster, then somehow I would read more. But looking at my pathetic efforts at reading this year, I don’t know if that would really make much difference. I mean, I’m a slow reader, but I don’t think I’m so slow that it should take me a few months to read a book that’s only just over 200 pages! I’m not so slow that I should have only read five books this year, four of them being aimed at teenagers.

What I’ve come to realize is that reading is something that does take a certain amount of dedication, for me at least, and it’s something I’m dreadfully out of practice at. I feel like my attention span has possibly gotten shorter as well. Sometimes I start reading and I can feel my attention drift off to thinking about something else. My eyes are still reading the words, but my brain isn’t taking any of it in, and I realize I’ve read a page of words, but that’s all they are – words. I haven’t learnt or retained anything.

But my problem with making time for reading is part of a wider sense of time wasting or running out. I just sometimes feel that living gets in the way of my life. Obviously I have been filling my time with something for the past year, if not reading, but it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly where your time goes.

There are 168 hours in a week, and I work full time, so 40 hours a week are gone there, and I sleep maybe eight hours a night, so that’s 56 hours gone. So that’s 72 hours left. If I whip 22 of those hours off for some boring things like, I don’t know, showering or eating breakfast, that still leaves me with 50 hours of something resembling leisure time. Even if it’s only 40 hours, I still feel like that’s a lot of time to get something achieved, but apparently my achievements don’t involve finishing books, or sometimes even magazines – I bought the November edition of MindFood magazine last month and still haven’t managed to read it all, because apparently I haven’t had time.

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I have all these ideas of things that I want to do – read more books, write more, learn Spanish, I’ve got the third season of Arrested Development to watch that I borrowed off a friend months ago (sorry, Steph!). So if I’m not doing all of these things, what exactly am I doing?

I know one of the big time suckers is the internet. I have to admit I waste a lot of time there, but I wouldn’t have thought it would be in the vicinity of 40 hours. Surely not! Especially considering I’m on a computer all day at my work. 80 hours of computer time a week sounds a little scary. Internet time wouldn’t worry me too much if it were being used productively, like reading the New York Times or Salon or something that’s helping me learn. Instead, chances are I’m reading gossip posts on Oh No They Didn’t. I actually have that website open right now, although, thankfully, the New York Times as well.

I always wished I could be one of those people that just didn’t need much sleep. That if I only needed five hours a night to function, then I would suddenly be that much more productive, because I would have an extra three hours in the day, but I think I’m starting to realize it would actually probably just give me more time to waste at this stage, and I would just end up looking like crap from lack of sleep to boot. I haven managed to convert myself into a morning person. I now enjoy getting up early in the morning, but I’m not necessarily more productive with that time. I just spend a bit more time lingering over my morning coffee, reading the paper and still manage to be running late for work.

I recently read a letter written into Cary Tennis’ Since You Asked advice column on Salon.com that was asking how to get into a routine. In the reply, Tennis explained that in order to get a better idea of where his time was going, for a few days he wrote down he was doing at 15-minute intervals to try and see what patterns were emerging and where his time went.

I am thinking of trying this, but I’m also concerned that I will manage to skew the results. Chances are I’m not going to waste an hour on ONTD when I have to write down what I’m doing every 15 minutes, but I guess it could be worth a shot. And hey, at least I might be more productive for those two days. In fact, maybe that’s the way to increased productivity – keeping very close tabs on myself.

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It would also be interesting to see a time map of those incredibly productive people, say, someone like Michelle Obama, who managed to have a husband and raise children and work and still find time to work on those gloriously toned arms and looked good. I bet she even found time to read a book or two, although probably not Twilight.

I actually remember thinking that surely one of the only benefits of being imprisoned would be that you had all that time to read. I could catch up on all the books that I never got around to reading. But I think by noticing how much time I manage to waste already, I don’t imagine I would be that much more efficient. I’d probably be gossiping with other inmates and complaining how I still hadn’t managed to finish Crime and Punishment.

Oh, and when I said at the top of this post that I had finally finished How Fiction Works, I have to confess that I haven’t actually finished it – but I almost have, I swear! I will post my thoughts on it sometime soon, and I’m hoping to make a book review a bi-monthly occurrence on my blog as a way to encourage me to actually finish books. I had initially thought weekly, but let’s not go crazy here.

PS: The title for this post is a quote from a commencement address by Gloria Steinem in 1987 at Tufts University – ‘This is the last period of time that will seem lengthy to you at only three or four years. From now on, time will pass without artificial academic measure. It will go by like the wind. Whatever you want to do, do it now. For life is time, and time is all there is.’

I really love this quote, as it really captures, for me, how the nature of time has changed completely after leaving university. Now that it is completely unbounded by that ‘artificial academic measure’ it is at once seemingly endless and also so much more fleeting than it ever was.

 

 

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