New Year, New Start…Why 1/1/2016 ?

It’s New Years Eve 2015 and I had some thoughts about making some new year resolutions, this is not something I normally would do as I really enjoy New Years Day, I always like a special meal and a few glasses of wine to start day one and the next 365 to come, it’s a leap year. Some people choose to not mark the New Year occasion in any way, others see the new year as an opportunity for self-improvement, the new you, there are even a select group who see the new year as a time to reflect on the past, the future, the changes we want to make in their lives for the better and sustain those changes all year. Depending on what your resolution is, keeping a new year’s resolution can be more difficult than you first think, perhaps that little promise made late new years eve after the overindulgence of Christmas can be far too easily forgotten about when you return to your normal routine of life, whether that be the daily trudge to work, daily cycle of parenthood or even that solitary existence on your own, enjoying your own space and surroundings

Maybe for some, New Year Resolutions are an even bigger issue, a time when you reflect on all areas of your life, you consider how you might have done things differently to have change the course of the previous year, worrying where the year has gone, where the years are going. Most New Year’s resolutions are about health, wealth, relationships, or personal development, in other words, they’re about the kind of things that matter most to us and our existence on this planet.

New Years Day becomes the opportunity to refocus our aspirations, goals into just a single day, the 1st day of the year and we do this by looking at all the negatives in our life, the previous year, which is quite a destructive thought process when you look at New Years resolutions in this context. If you are going to achieve your new years resolution beyond the first week in January a little more planning may be required. Let’s say your resolution is going to be ‘to lose weight’, you are going to eat less and more healthier, do more exercise, that’s sounds like a pretty depressing thought. How about making your resolution, to look sexier, to where sexier clothes, how this will effect your social life, your parenting, your work. Perhaps your resolution is to change job, again how daunting will that sound Monday January 4th at 9am, how about making that New Year Resolution to change the way you look at work change the way you commute, change your eating habits at work for starters.

Whilst writing this blog I have the television on in the background and have just heard the Manchester United manager declare his New Years Resolution: “to be champions next year’, big mistake if he loses the next game. Perhaps his resolution should be a collection of changes to help Manchester United to be champions again. When it comes to the cycle of change it’s important that we understand that change more often than not takes time, energy, effort, and a plenty of patience. At times doubling your effort and energy can give very little reward if any, patience, however allows you to commit to longer term resolutions and not give in after setbacks.

The obvious point is that a New Year’s Resolution requires a full understanding and full investment, it also requires quick rewards to keep you motivated beyond January 2nd. You’re not attempting to change the world, however you are attempting to change norms, habits and addictions in your life, perhaps changing the world may seem the easier option come tomorrow morning.

Something to remember tonight, tomorrow or whenever you make your 2016 New Year Resolutions is that you will never be perfect, that’s one thing I can guarantee, people start out with New Year resolutions with all good intentions they may make a few mistakes, they relapse or even cheat a little and what do they do…they give up, succumb to the fact they can’t do it when there is no reason to, there is the option to continue with your resolution and still achieve those goals.

New Year Resolutions are about breaking habits and you will need new behaviours to fill the space that the habit invaded and this is where many people go wrong, including myself, having gone wrong in the past. These behaviours you indulge in and want to change turn into habits only after long and sustained repeated use, don’t think you can break these habits after a week, a month but set your goal for at least three months. An example is the New Year resolution to join a gym, the fitness industry counts on us giving up, they sell year-long contracts knowing most of us won’t actually sustain for more than a few weeks because we get distracted by other things, overwhelmed, or uninterested. If after three months you realise you are not going to the gym sign back up to your resolution and start again – you have paid for the year.

So, the question is am I going to make any New Year resolutions this year, probably, definitely, am I going to tell you what they are, no. I am however going to try and practice watch I preach, or blog about and consider all the above when trying to achieve my goals in 2016 and if I break those said resolutions I’ll resign up to them the following day for 366 days.

Happy New Year

Forty and still taking #Selfies

It’s my birthday tomorrow and I am forty years old. I could never imagine reaching forty years old, I just thought it was years away and then all of a sudden it just creeps up on you…BANG the big 40 arrives. I’ve have secretly been looking forward to being forty probably for about the past five years, being mature and refined like a good cheese or wine, but actually it feels no different to twenty seven, (unless something dramatic happens overnight).

Whilst I don’t feel any older, what has happened over the years is that my mindset has changed on the way I see my life. I have weeded out those habits, societal norms that were preinstalled into me as a child, special days, birthday, christmas, anniversaries, are just like any other day but different in that I mark them with different music, food, and colour schemes, for the record this years Christmas theme is red and gold.

What is so special about multiples of 10 anyway, 30, 40, 50, 60 years old, I could go on, I don’t understand why we pay such special attention to magic number perhaps it has some magical mathematical properties. I don’t recall my 10th, 20th or 30th birthday in any real detail but for some reason this one is supposed to be a big one – on that note I thought I would think a little deeper about why.

A day shy of forty, I guess I am about half way through my life, gosh that’s a depressing thought, even more depressing my fortieth is more important to me than my birth and my inevitable death. If I only have another forty years to go then perhaps I may only have 25 years in the prime physical and healthy condition that I am in now. Crikey, I sound like I’m having a midlife crisis!

On a more positive note, approaching forty I have a much stronger sense of urgency to remember to appreciate every day, at forty I’m in a much better position professionally now than when I was 20 or 30 and I recognise the rarity of true friendship and the scarcity of true love and empathy. A great leveller to being forty is the thought that in my fortieth year my son will be 18 years old – how cool is that, am I still allowed to say ‘cool’ being forty? I guess that being a young dad has it’s pro’s and con’s as does that of someone who begins fatherhood at the age of forty. In my forties, I’m going to be better dressed than ever before in my life, all my son’s clothes fit me, I have Casual Connoisseur t-shirts, Armani jeans and a Moncler coat – now that is cool.

Certainly, over the last five years I have mellowed when it comes to my intolerance of people, when someone accidentally cuts me up on the motorway instead of hurling abuse and throwing dramatic gestures at them, I’ll await for them to realise their misgivings and acknowledge their apology with a wave, I rarely use my horn these days.

Approaching forty I have started to care more about my social media profile, my Instagram gallery, the content of my blog, my looks and more importantly whether I can still take a good selfie. Whilst we’re on the subject of selfies as a forty year old you are either someone who loves taking them or hates taking them. Selfies, I guess, are the consequence of the fact that everyone has access to a camera, but they are not simply a photograph for you and yours to view. The rise of social media in my life over the last five years have enabled me to connect with all walks of life across the world I guess this is my excuse for posting selfies of everything from the a new pair of converse to the routine #SaturdayNightSelfie’s – why should I not share these events, with people who I have never met, that’s what social media is for, isn’t it? The same cannot be said for bad photos and we’ve all taken one, however, the difference is that we don’t share these, why, because they make us look less perfect, the bottom line is most of us hand pick every single picture that we post on social media sites for different reasons, to boost self esteem, a quick fix ego boost or to simply show the world the perfect parts of our not so perfect life.

While selfies can be viewed in a somewhat negative light, they can also play a very positive role in people’s lives. Selfies help people portray a version of themselves to the world. This is a statement that says “Look at me, this is who I am.” At times, it can be a very powerful statement and inspire people on to great things in their lives, while at other times, it is simply something that helps them get through the day. In real life, people are constantly trying to stand out, whether it is by what they say or the clothes that they wear and the selfie is no different. It is a statement to the world. It allows people to stand out among the masses.

So, this is me, forty and still taking selfies…..the only thing i am missing in my life is a bucket list…that’s next on my #ToDoList. I wonder what I’ll be doing when I reach fifty, will I be a grandfather, will I be alive, will I be writing a blog about being fifty, will I still be tweeting, taking pictures of my dinner. The pets will probably have died, a sad thought but reality, I’ll probably have a new car and the mortgage will be paid off. One thing is for sure, given how quickly the past forty years have gone, I going to make the most of every day, starting tomorrow.

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My Healthy Obsession With Coffee…..

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At the time of writing this blog it’s only a few weeks away from my fortieth birthday and I‘ve decided it’s time to refocus a little. I’ve bounced through the last ten years from whim to fad not really knowing what I want to invest my free time and energy into. Certainly, for the last few years I’ve craved a hobby, one that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, or take me away from my home (my castle), for long periods of time. I want a hobby that incorporates my passion for cooking and desire to explore and experiment with different tastes. I toyed with the idea of making my own wine but couldn’t bear the thought of buying one of those chemical riddled cheap kits, there is the option of making wine with fresh fruit and organic ingredients – maybe for my fiftieth. Then, one early morning as I rummaged through the fridge for the fresh coffee I realised the answer was staring me in the face: I’m going to experiment with coffee, grow it, roast it, grind it and blend it to produce the perfect hit, combining botany, geography, chemistry, physics and engineering to ultimately produce the perfect coffee at the perfect time whether it’s after dinner, for breakfast or even for bed. I remember as a child you wouldn’t get my lips anywhere near a mug of coffee, give me a sweet weak cup of tea any day. As I progressed through my teens I remember subtle changes in my taste from sweet sickly to enjoying more savoury and bitter sensations…my career as a coffee drinker began.

I think at this point it’s worthwhile taking stock of some of the subliminal coffee influences absorbed throughout my rebellious teenage years and early adult years that may have influenced my current passion for coffee. Thinking about TV and music throughout those important growing up years, it doesn’t take long to smell the scent of the coffee influences and caffeine connotations. In The Devil Wears Prada we see Anne Hathaway, Personal Assistant to a wealthy and successful magazine editor spending her whole working day running across New York collecting endless paper cups of Starbucks for the nightmare of a boss, Meryl Streep.  Fifteen years earlier who could forget the infamous Meg Ryan coffee shop scene, which culminates in the now infamous line: “I’ll have what she’s having”. Then we have ‘The Sopranos’ – everyone’s favourite Italian mafia series, when they weren’t shooting each other they were drinking great coffee in a way only the Italians do. Even the music industry didn’t take long to jump on the ever popular coffee band wagon, Nine to Five by Dolly Parton, we can only assume that the ‘cup of ambition’ she is drinking is coffee, can’t we? Back for Good- Take That: “Got your lipstick marks still on your coffee cup,” The song that made millions of teenagers (and not so teenager) girls swoon and boys recoil with envy.

So, back to the present day, how do you turn coffee drinking into a hobby you may ask yourself, the question I also mused over. I guess the starting point is to think about why I love the smell of fresh coffee and how it makes me feel. Firstly, freshly ground coffee tastes and smells so good and can transport you into a world of your own. The range of countless varieties of flavours and countries of origin is exhaustive and the different ways you can experiment to make coffee from a traditional French Press cafetiere, to a modern Nespresso machine, a Chemex to a Turkish Ibrik, or a percolator, however you like yours there is a way to brew it, always involving an adventure and a new flavour or technique.

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Over the last few months I’ve begun to explore the origins of the coffee bean, believe it or not it comes from the fruit of the coffee plant. The plant produces cherry, [or fruit if you want to call it that] and when the cherry ripens, within it is a  green raw coffee bean, this is subsequently roasted and ground. Coffee plants are grown all over the world, in different geographical locations and altitude, this ultimately ensures each pure variety will have different flavours and aromas thus making coffee such a marketable commodity.

Those of you who share my passion for coffee will agree with me that inhaling the aromas, and tasting that first sip of black liquid gold is strangely relaxing, an oxymoron in itself, a caffeine-filled stimulant relaxing??? I drink coffee not for the caffeine hit, although this can be useful at times, but more for the ritual, the experience and the enjoyment, almost like some people drink fine wine or craft beer. I love chilling on the settee with the Sunday papers or grabbing the iPad to carelessly surf the net with a fresh brew.
The question is, how do I turn my passion for drinking coffee into a hobby? Simple, I grow my own coffee plant from seed, nurture the plant in a purpose built botanical building (the conservatory) and then it shall yield enough fruit to fuel my passion for months. I will then hand roast the beans to perfection and hand grind to the consistency of gold dust. Let the research begin………………………………..

My starting point will be to turn my conservatory into a cool, mountainous region mocking the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia such as that the perfect coffee bean is grown in. A coffee plant requires a fairly constant temperature of between 15 and 24 degrees centigrade – no problem I have a thermostat controlled heater in there. One slight problem is that Belper, where I live, is situated at 53.03° North latitude, 1.47° West longitude and 76 meters elevation above the sea level, rather than a slightly higher altitude coffee plants thrive in. My concern is that if I don’t replicate the conditions and rainfall the plants need to thrive in, the crop may be disappointing; however I am not defeated easily!

Let’s just say, hypothetically speaking, I did manage to grow a bumper crop of green coffee beans, enough for at least a 6 cup cafetiere, my next problem would be drying them in order to prepare them for roasting. In order to dry them all that is required is about fourteen days of warm dry sunshine and as little humidity as possible otherwise you run the risk of mould….problem numero deux. Putting that minor problem aside, let’s just assume the seeds have grown in my conservatory which has provided the ideal, harmonic environment for the seedlings to thrive into fruit baring lush coffee plants, (this takes approximately four years in the perfect natural environment), we can now get to the fun part, roasting my own beans, surely this has got to be pit fall free. Roasting the green beans couldn’t be more simple, whilst a proper roasting machine will give optimal results it is possible to achieve success in a normal frying pan.

Finally, yes finally I had a reality check, all this time and effort is more likely to end in disaster than a well-deserved cup of decent coffee, my coffee, so I began to rethink the plan. Perhaps a more realistic plan would be to sample a variety of pure blend beans and blend my own unique coffee. So, with much gusto I went straight onto the internet and sourced a selection of beans from countries with an impeccable reputation for producing a high quality bean. Suddenly, introduced to the wide world of pure origin real coffee, I’ve taken to it like an addict to a line of coke. Now purchased, I am beginning to sample the beans of the world, my morning taste bud travels take me to Columbia, Ecuador, Ethiopia and beyond. Guatemala and Sumatra are saved for weekends and bank holidays.. and don’t even ask about the legendary Kopi Luwak.

So my coffee adventure has began – I bought myself a note book to document the combinations and flavours to ensure when I find the perfect combination I can recreate. I think that every coffee coniseur probably has a coffee ritual like me, mine is a morning one – two before work and one at lunch, the later normally purchased during the working week at a well known coffee house, to take away, if I have the time I’ll fine a chic Cafe and sit in and enjoy whilst scrolling through my Twitter and Instagram feed. Whilst we’re on the subject of well know coffee houses, believe it or not, I’m not a coffee snob when it comes to takeaway coffees.  I think I was a late developer with the whole Starbucksification/Costafication, as I have no preference – I love them both

I probably should write a sequel to this blog, coffee connoisseurs may know their aromas from their arabicas and possibly are able to explain the optimum water to ratio for the perfect espresso but are they overlooking one of the most important factors in a cup of coffee: To add milk or to not add milk – that is the question. (..and if you are adding milk..what kind of milk……..)

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