It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

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So now Halloween, Bonfire Night and Remembrance Sunday are over, thoughts in the UK start to be casted towards Christmas: A season where we all get a bit busier preparing for the biggest day on the calendar and excitement levels start to build.

It maybe only mid November but the war for the best Christmas TV advert has already begun with John Lewis and Sainsbury’s leading the way.

The City most local to me has had it’s Christmas Lights switch on and Christmas events are starting to appear in my diary. Christmas is officially in full swing in my world. I love the fact that it isn’t just one day and that the build up to the day can be so exciting. I know Christmas for some is a challenging time but I am a full on lover of Christmas.

The most important thing about Christmas to me is holding on to the meaning of the season and celebrating the birth of Jesus and all that the event meant for the world. Whilst keeping that at the forefront of my mind, I also enjoy other activities the season brings.

I love how Christmas is a good way of getting people together and to socialise. I feel friends and family tend to make more of an effort around the Christmas period to see each other and spend time with each other. The time spent together is normally spent eating, drinking and laughing together. I love the mood that Christmas puts people in. I really notice people going out of their way to be nicer to each other.

The other thing I like is being generous to others at Christmas. I feel that the season brings the generosity out of many of us. I enjoy thinking of and buying gifts for people. I am currently deliberating over the best gifts to get my wife and I love trying to come up with the best presents I can for her. Also this year I am doing a sponsored run to raise money for a family whose story really touched my heart. I am so looking forward to passing on the money that I raise and I really hope that it gives them some joy and hope at Christmas.

Spreading Christmas joy is so much fun. There is nothing like putting a smile on the faces on others and it is a lovely feeling to know you have helped make someone’s Christmas a bit extra special.

I hope you are all looking forward to Christmas and getting carried away in the right ways.

The food is the star

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Following on from my last blog about my weekend away in London with my wife, I wanted to share another experience and thought I had over the weekend. Before we get in to that though, in case you missed it, below is a link to the last blog about our first night in London:

https://adamsibley.wordpress.com/2015/03/23/my-future-is-unlimited/

Last year my wife and I spent two weeks road tripping across the east coast of America. On this trip we stopped at two of our favourite fast food places, those being Chipotle and Five Guys. Sadly both these chains have not made it to the south west of England yet where we live, but they do have stores in London. So on the Saturday in amongst seeing the sights we made sure we stopped off at Chipotle for Lunch and Five Guys for dinner.

Keep it simple

One thing I love about these places is how the food is the star. Instead of your food coming in an overly branded wrapper and being called a ridiculous name, there is something nice in these stores about the simplicity of your food being wrapped up in tin foil and in the case of Five Guys being given to you in a plain brown paper bag.

I also love how in both these places there is no over complicated menu with lots of predefined choices. Chipotle, for those have never been specialize in burritos and tacos, you choose what you want and then exactly what you want in it and I must say their burritos are so satisfying and so filling. In Chipotle you definitely get your money’s worth and a burrito that will keep you going until dinner.

Quality

Five Guys is a slightly unhealthier choice than Chipotle but it is so nice to be able to go and get a hamburger where you get two quality patties of beef and at no extra cost be able to choose exactly what you want in it. Not only are their burgers awesome, their fries in my opinion are some of the best around and it is good to know that the Five Guys stores always try and source their potatoes from a local farm.

I think the simplicity of the design and colour schemes of both, Chipotle and Five Guys are brilliant too. I wish all places to eat focused more on the food than the branding but until we become an audience that chooses where we eat based on quality of food and taste, over branding, it will never happen. When I look at places to eat I think the simpler and less branded it looks, the bigger the chance that the owner just concentrates on the food. I know this isn’t always the case but I think it can be true in many cases.

Authenticity

Whilst in America last year my wife and I ate at a handful of independently run restaurants and many of those had the same philosophy of the food being the star as well. I am a fan of milkshakes (yes I am a big kid) and remember stopping off in Pennsylvania for a shake at this independent place and the shake came in a white polystyrene like cup but boy did it taste amazing. It was refreshing to see as we waited for our order that evening, that the place had big queues, a community vibe and lots of locals who used it.

I love the novelty and attraction of plain wrapping at food places in this overly marketed world, it takes me back to my younger days and makes the food feel more home made, I just hope one day that it isn’t a novelty to see places doing this.

Why are we all suckers for labels and branding?

I was watching a TV show with my wife the other day, which got me thinking. On the show, the two presenters would go to the kitchen of a family and change all their food and groceries for a week, to encourage them to eat well for less. This would mean getting rid of a lot of branded goods and replacing them with cheaper and healthier alternatives. All the items they replaced, they gave to the family covered in white labels, so the family had no idea what brand they were eating. Then at the end of the week the presenters came back to see what the family liked and didn’t like, to see if they could save them money on their weekly shop and get them eating healthier.

Below is a link to details about the programme in question:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0520lz9

Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out that home brands and non branded products are cheaper than the heavily branded and marketed products, but what shocked me, was home much healthier some of the home brands and non branded products were. For a fraction of the price, many items were at least as healthier or in a lot of cases healthier.

Power

The power of brands, marketing and advertising means that no matter how much information, reporting and science there is out there about products, that sadly the brands will always be purchased in high volumes. In a world, which I think is information hungry, and with more information out there than ever before you wouldn’t think that brands would have the same power, but yet they still seem to have it. Even when we know that the reason we are attracted to brands is because of their packaging and marketing, we still choose to switch off the logical part of our brain and buy the brand.

As a world we need to be looking at the back of packets & boxes and not the front! One of the reasons why companies spend so much on advertising and branding is so that you don’t look at the back first! If supermarkets displayed items on their shelves back to front I am sure our buying habits would change a lot. As the important information is on the back, I think it is a case of out of sight, out of mind for many of us, which is not the best philosophy to have, when so much of our health is dictated by what we eat.

Branding is everywhere

I think we need to not buy in to the packaging and exterior of something and if we did this across all areas of our lives, I think we would be better off. Branding is everywhere now, from companies to individuals. It’s not just big companies and celebrities that market themselves now, it’s your local business and your regular day folk like you and I that are doing it too.

We need to be a world that looks deeper at a persons or organisations quality and not just what people are saying about them. Don’t be fooled in to believing what other people want you to believe. Take the time to search for the truth and not opinions. Find out what matters to you and make sure you are getting what you want or need from the people and companies around you.

Selling happens everyday

Everyday someone is selling something to you. You might not know it’s happening, you might not be buying anything but someone will be trying to influence the way you think about something. Some people are trying to consciously change your thoughts and opinions, whilst others are doing it to you without even knowing that they are. Lets try to be aware of it and let’s try to make sure we make the best decisions that we can, in all aspects of our lives.

The goal of businesses is to make as much money as possible, the goal of people who brand themselves is to get good jobs, good contacts and good money. Your goal should be to make the best decisions you can, based on the best information and experience you can find.

Home Brewing

Over the last couple of months I have ventured in to the world of Home Brewing. After visiting friends in Baton Rouge and seeing them excel at it I caught the bug for it. Over the last year I have been reading up on it and getting advice about the art of making the perfect brew. Then a few months ago I went and brought my first set of equipment and got to work on making my first batch.

The process took a bit longer than it should have, but last night I finally got to taste the produce of my hard work. I went in with low expectations but was pleasantly surprised by how drinkable it was and felt proud of my first attempt.

I think you get a great satisfaction and sense of achievement when you make something yourself. Adding skills to your belt is also so rewarding. By doing something different you have a new conversation topic around friends, you can make new friends through it and be encouraged to take on more challenges. I had a few trepidations when I started Home Brewing but I am so glad I pushed through.

I don’t like getting drunk but I do enjoy drinking the odd glass of quality alcohol. I think in the 21st century thanks to the aid of cooking programmes on TV and the internet we are, on the whole taking more care and being more creative with the meals we eat, so I think we should also take that approach in to what we drink.

By Home Brewing I know exactly what is going in to my drink, I can experiment with flavours not available in my local shops and can brew the beer, ale or lager to my taste. Home Brewing is also a good long term investment as after you have laid out your start up costs the ingredients to make a huge batch are quite cheap. You would be hard pressed to find a pub, bar or grocery store that sells it for cheaper than you can make it.

The message I have learnt from this is: when something seems hard or complicated don’t be put off, give it a go. You will learn more by doing something and failing than you will by just reading about something.