Friday, 24 July 2015

Diet and exercise catch-up

“Calories schmalories” said the cake to the birthday girl. Definitely my favourite birthday card phrase from yesterday. I joined Weight Watchers last week and the best birthday present I received was the one pound of podge I managed to lose in my first weigh-in yesterday. Not bad considering my weakness for crusty bread and an ice cold beer on a warm day (not that there’s been too many of those recently). If you follow me on Instagram I’ve been posting a It’s probably a little late to be shifting the pounds seeing as our wedding is in 6 weeks, but I’m trying to make this a lifestyle change and not a wedding day change, and I’ve made my peace with that.

I managed to eat my way through 64 points yesterday (my daily allowance is 26). I held it together through lunch (apart from the birthday cake of course), but bubbles with dinner seemed like a necessity and then the Chinese restaurant happened. I don’t feel bad though. I savoured every bite of my prawn gyoza and fillet beef with ginger and spring onion and will just have to suck it up (and suck it in) for next week’s weigh-in.

My little work gang have started a lunch club where we take it in turns to cook a meal for everyone. I kicked off with a summer ratatouille and then we moved on to Mexican rice burritos and chicken ramen noodle salad. I wasn’t sure how it would pan out but it’s turned out to be a really exciting part of the day. Seeing your team mate arrive at work, staggering under the weight of tupperware boxes crammed with yummy treats and fresh salad is enough to get your mouth watering. It also means I don’t have to make my lunch every day, and I get to save money and try lots of new recipes. Yay!

I was a very lucky lady and got a Fitbit Charge HR for my birthday. It’s astonishing to see how many (and sometimes how few) steps I do each day. Most mornings I walk the dog at 6.30am, so a good chunk of my steps are finished before I get to work. I’ve set up some targets but haven’t managed a fully green day yet. It even connects to my Weight Watchers app so I can see how many activity points I manage to earn in a week (not many it seems to far…). I wanted to spend a week setting my baseline so I can see where I need to make more effort. It may not be an exact science but it’s been interesting to see roughly how far I’m walking each day (and how bad my sleep quality tends to be). I’m signed up to a weekend warrior challenge this weekend, and I’m hoping our little trip to the Welsh countryside will earn me some serious steps. We’re staying in a traditional gypsy caravan which has a hot tub and no wifi, so I’m looking forward to stepping away from my phone and the usual social media and bingo traps that usually keep me busy all weekend.

I always used to feel like I should have exercise goals, like running a 10k or completing a triathlon. Recently though I’ve come to realise that I simply need to focus on finding a routine in which I exercise regularly. Maybe three times a week. On Wednesday this week I woke up at 6am and instead of reaching for my grubby old dog walking jeans, I plumped for my running tights and went for a little jog with Stanley. As I huffed and puffed along beside the river (with him bounding ahead), it felt good to be getting my heartrate up and clocking a little more mileage (when I say mileage I mean, like 1 mile…). When I reached the end and stopped to get my breath back, Stanley just stopped and stared at me as if to say ‘and…?’ It may not be much but it would be nice to make this a regular occurrence in my weekly routine.

I'm looking forward to my weekend in the Welsh countryside, and hope that a good night's sleep under the stars will leave me feeling refreshed and ready to take on next week with a bang! Have a lovely weekend!


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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Birthday reflections and making 32 count

My birthday lunged at me from nowhere this year. Truthfully I’ve been (begrudgingly) too buried in wedding veils and place settings to really notice. In two days I turn 32 and life is, well, fine. I have a good job, a wonderful man, great friends, a comfortable house. But somewhere along the way over the past couple of years life started feeling a little bland. And as I face another birthday, another year older, another year closer to middle age, I’ve noticed a sense of panic starting to bubble away in my mind, while a short, sharp question forms in my brain, making me feel shrivelled and old.

Is this it?

There are adventures in my future that I don’t yet feel I need or want - the kind that come in small, screaming, pooping packages that change your lives forever. A fellow blogger, Rosie, recently wrote about the internal conflict of growing older and I found myself nodding vociferously throughout. The constant hum and haw between what I feel I should be doing and what I want to be doing is constantly buzzing around in the back of my brain. I’ve always been the kind of person who wanted to have adventures. When I say that I don’t necessarily mean living out of a backpack in outer Mongolia (I’m far too attached to my creature comforts for that), but to feel like I’m living a big life. A meaningful life. An exciting life that extends beyond my white picket fence and sensible shoes.

Since I moved to Manchester I’ve noticed myself becoming less and less goal-oriented. A few years ago I was constantly trying to better myself, with lists of goals and adventures that I’d dutifully tick off one by one. They don’t have to be big or ground shaking adventures. Just little things that add a bit of seasoning to life. I envisaged my first summer in Manchester quite differently to how it turned out: balmy evenings in the garden throwing king prawn skewers on the barbecue. Hazy dog walks along the river listening to the hiss of insects in the undergrowth. Sipping Pimms and eating strawberries while watching cricket on the local village green. Al fresco Sunday brunch with friends. Very little of this has happened. In fact the past two years have involved hibernating in our teeny flat because we were so poor and London so expensive, or else hibernating in our house because we’ve been frantically stressing and saving for our wedding.

I don’t know what the next year or two years will bring. What I do know is that we’ve kept our purse strings and our horizons so tight over the past few years that the prospect of a child fills me with dread rather than

I want adventure and excitement. I want to learn new skills. I want to get the simple things right. I want to get my house in order. I want to find balance. I want to travel.

O to sail to sea in a ship!
To leave this steady unendurable land,
To leave the tiresome sameness of the streets, the sidewalks and the houses,
To leave you O you solid motionless land, and entering a ship,
To sail and sail and sail!

O to have life henceforth a poem of new joys!
To dance, clap hands, exult, shout, skip, leap, roll on, float on!
To be a sailor of the world bound for all ports,
A ship itself, (see indeed these sails I spread to the sun and air,)
A swift and swelling ship full of rich words, full of joys.
Walt Whitman

So this year I’m going back to my annual birthday list: 32 things I'd like to do before I turn 33. It includes simple, necessary goals and big, exciting adventures. And the biggest birthday gift I can offer myself is to make 32 the year I lead a big and fulfilling life.

1. Crochet a blanket
2. Learn how to cook tofu
3. Get married
4. Try a capsule wardrobe for 3 months
5. Find the perfect pencil skirt
6. Grow courgettes
7. Finish decorating the lounge
8. Lose 10lb
9. Go to a regular yoga class
10. Visit the dentist
11. Get regular massages (1 a month)
12. Buy lamps for the house >
13. Join a book group
14. See a chiropodist
15. Book three weekends away
16. Try spiralising vegetables
17. Take piano lessons
18. Go on a pottery course
19. Learn mindfulness
20. Freelance on a new project
21. Go hiking in the peak district
22. Have my hair Yuko straightened
23. Pay off my credit card balance
24. Plan my novel and write the first chapter
25. Have a minimum 2-week holiday
26. Visit South America
27. Get a new tattoo
28. Save £1,000
29. Go camping
30. Pass my driving test
31. Buy a new camera
32. Buy a car


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Wednesday, 15 July 2015

On being 'successful'

Over the past few days there’s been a lot of whooping outside my office window. A big plus of working at a University is that I get to rattle around a beautiful old building. In the summer we fling open the sash windows that stand 20 feet high across three sides of our room. The continual task of swatting flies is a small price to pay for the warm, fuzzy feeling you get listening to the chorus of cheering and chatter from the graduates in the quad below. Your mind drifts back to the moment you too mimicked every 90s American high school movie and tossed your mortar board in the air.

For me, that was 11 years ago. Wow. So much has happened since then. My hair is a lot longer, my waistline wider. I’ve said goodbye to old friends and made some great new ones. I’ve lived in three counties, experienced death and heartbreak. I’ve started and stopped smoking, been married and divorced and accepted that that’s ok. I’ve taken risks in my career, been frustrated and brave and learnt a hundred new things.

With each new day I’m learning and growing, but as I do my flaws become more and more exposed. Silly mistakes and missed opportunities are part of the fabric of life for me. Motivation and self-control rise and fall in great waves in my life, but much of the time I feel adrift in a little boat with a hole in the bottom.

When it comes to flaws, self-awareness is a start, but not an excuse. If there’s one thing I’m good at – like really, really good – it’s berating myself for forgetting another birthday, putting on another pound, going overdrawn again, missing a deadline.

A case in point, I know I’m bad with money. I use it as a crutch when I’m sad. I’m good at recognising this, and can spend half a day concocting extensive plans and processes to get myself back on track. I create beautiful colour-coded budget spreadsheets, pop a few bits on eBay and search out a casino bonus as seen on tv. Maybe I’ll win a few pounds. Sooner or later though I drift back to old ways. It’s a trait that permeates every corner of my life. From exercise and diet to tidiness and wedding plans, a burst of enthusiasm is always followed by procrastination, gluttony, chaos, lethargy. Firing on all four cylinders all of the time is not something I feel capable of. Yet.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be ‘successful’. Let’s face it, success is usually measured by the number of zeros on your pay slip. If that’s true I’m not successful. And if I were, I’d probably not be happy. If success is measured by intellect or beauty or the number of Twitter followers I have, I’m not successful. Success feels like it should be something that goes against the grain of things. Recently I read an article on how a team of students beat a casino. The idea that someone could have the intellect, the initiative, the sheer audacity to pull off a stunt like that made me feel like a ‘solid B candidate’ (a phrase that was used about me in a job interview).

But if I were to redefine success in the way it’s supposed to mean, ie ‘the accomplishment of an aim or purpose’, then that feels like something I could aspire to. I might even dare to call myself a successful person. If I look back on the moment I walked onto the stage in my cap and gown to collect my own University degree, it could go something like this:

I wanted to have a job I love. I love my job. I am successful.
I wanted to be financially independent. I have enough money to pay my bills and have fun. I am successful.
I wanted to fall in love with someone kind, supportive and funny. I’m marrying Frank. I am successful.
I wanted to write. I’ve built this little blog from scratch. I am successful.
I wanted friends who make me laugh and make me feel loved. I have amazing friends who make me happy. I am successful.

(I recommend you do this too.)

I want to love the person I lock eyes with in the mirror each morning. I want to be my own cheer leader and add a few more successes to my list. I want to get better. But not in a feeling useless kind of way. It’s ok if I put on a pound this week rather than losing it. It’s ok if my spare room is a bit untidy this week. It’s ok if I miss the odd deadline. I’m already successful in lots of areas of my life. I know my strengths, I know my flaws and I want to do better. That feels like success to me.


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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Blue Inc sale picks

As I slowly begin to take stock of my clothes and delve into the world of capsule wardrobes, it's astonished me just how much I've been clinging onto that either doesn't fit, looks a bit shabby or else I no longer like. Although the purpose of a capsule wardrobe is ideally to save money in the long term, a little splurge is in order to get my ducks in a row and I've been hunting down some staples that will serve me well. While I will probably buy one or two more expensive items (sadly after the wedding), I'm also looking for a few bargains in the process, and the Blue Inc sale has always been a go-to site for me when I'm looking to get some bang for my buck.

Reigning in my love of patterns and bright colours, I'm trying to opt for more versatile pieces, as well as thinking more in outfits. I seem to have a breton stripe top permanently stashed in my wardrobe - they're so versatile, and I'm loving the peep toe cut-out ankle boots that I've been seeing around lately. Yes, I know, a coat surely can't belong in a summer wishlist, but given how miserable the weather has been oop north lately, and the fact that this beaut has wool in and is only £20, it surely deserved a spot in the rankings. I can imagine swapping out all these items to create a whole new outfit. Who knows, maybe I'm starting to get this capsule wardrobe idea sussed...

Clockwise from top left: breton striped top - £5 | mottled skinny jeans - £14.99 | grey double breasted coat - £20 | black PU handbag - £12.99 | black peep toe ankle boots - £10.

While I'm sharing, my latest Blue Inc sale purchase was this orange waffle boxy top that I wear with everything. And pssst, it's down to £3 in the sale right now. Bargain!


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Wednesday, 8 July 2015

A venture into the capsule wardrobe – part 1

Last Thursday I got back from holiday. After a swift cup of tea I hauled my suitcase into the middle of the room, flipped open the lid and threw my clothes into the washing machine. For the previous 10 days while in Tuscany and France I’d mixed and matched a small number of few pieces in order to remain under the 15kg weight allowance. I thought this would be fairly impossible given that Frank and I shared a suitcase, but I surprised myself by mixing and matching new outfits every day, feeling happy with how I looked and spending barely any time getting ready.

At home I spend endless frustrated minutes tugging things out of my bulging wardrobe and whinging that I have ‘nothing to wear’. The truth is I’m a bad shopper. I swoop into shops or online and buy things because it’s a ‘great deal’ or because I love the pattern or colour. Inevitably I end up accumulating piles of cheap clothes that don’t fit quite right, often in bold patterns that don’t go with anything else I have. While my wardrobe is bulging, the pool of clothes I actually wear is minimal. I knew it was time for another wardrobe detox.

Last year I did something similar, and it surprised me how less cluttered my mind felt when my physical environment was more ordered and minimalist. That said, I’m aware of my bad habits, and I want to stop clothes creeping back until I end up back where I started.

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a capsule wardrobe. The premise that I have a set number of versatile pieces that I can mix and match to my heart’s content over a season appeals to me, if anything to avoid the negative feelings I associate with shopping, dressing and body image. That said, I always felt that a capsule wardrobe would be too limiting, because I wouldn’t have the chance to make impulse purchases and wear those pretty patterns I love.

Through blogging I’ve had the opportunity to meet the lovely Sarah (if you don’t yet follow her on Instagram, you really should). When I met her she was just starting into the world of wardrobe styling, and I’ve come to really appreciate her sense of style and her attitude towards fashion. While I’d be grabbing armfuls of bold patterned clothes off the rails in Primark thinking ‘that’ll do’, Sarah was saving her pennies for a classic pair of navy silk culottes from Whistles that she wears all the time and look ah-mazing. I can see a change in perspective is sorely needed in my little personal style world.

In a bid to get organised and try to learn about the benefits of a capsule wardrobe, I did a little bit of research and stumbled across this blog. Caroline keeps a wardrobe of just 37 pieces for each season, which she mixes and matches and spices up with accessories. After three months she changes things up, discarding worn items, rotating in new pieces from storage and buying a couple of new bits when needed. This way when she opens her wardrobe she’s faced with 37 quality items that fit well and complement each other. The stress of dressing vanishes, she has more time to spend with friends instead of shopping and her bank account says a big, fat, thank you. I have to say, I like it, and I want to see if it works for me.

So I decided to get organised. First off, I hopped onto the Post Office website to pick up some post-it notes and marker pens (because every good plan needs good stationery, right?). I knew that simply buying what I thought would be a ‘capsule wardrobe’ without proper planning would be a minor disaster, so I decided to take a long, hard look at my needs and lifestyle before taking the plunge.
First, I jotted down what my typical week looks like to get an idea for the kinds of items I’ll need:

Typical weekday
6am – wake up and walk/run with the dog
7am – get ready for work
8-4pm – work
4.30pm – arrive home, housework and gardening
6pm – make dinner
7pm – chill, blog, wedding prep
10pm - bed

Typical weekend activities
  • Dog walking
  • Gardening
  • Meeting up with friends
  • Exploring Manchester
  • Date night with Frank

I then divided up the proportion of my time spent in various styles of ‘outfit’:

33% – sleepwear
30% – smart(ish)work clothes
29% – casual daywear
5% – dog walking/exercise clothes
3% – date wear

Before defining exactly what I want from my capsule, I also flung open the doors of my wardrobe and turfed out everything (yep, everything) inside. Anything that didn’t fit properly, had holes or marks, or simply hasn’t been worn in 6 months or longer was tossed into bags (speedily so I didn’t have time to change my mind!) and taken to the charity shop. Anything I might want to wear another season was packed away in the loft. I was left with about 10% of my wardrobe. No wonder I felt I had nothing to wear.

I’m now in the process of refining what I want from my capsule wardrobe, and how these items will mix and match. I’m excited to see how this works out for me, and whether I manage to purge my inner feeling of chaos in the process. I’ll keep you posted!


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