Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Houmous...Hummus? A Pulse-Related Love Story

From my first encounter with houmous (or hummus, however you choose to spell it), I quite liked it. It wasn't a full-on passionate love affair, like my love for yogurt or cereal or broccoli or cumin, but more a pleasant friendship: conventional, functional. The same way friendship sometimes flails with bad time management or cracks under the pressure of envy, so my relationship with houmous would occasionally wobble and falter, and at one point, after a slight tummy bug, we temporarily parted ways for some time.

More than anything else, the hurdle getting in the way of my houmous consumption was a digestion problem inherited from my father before me; my tummy struggles with any sort of fat - dairy, vegetable, nut, and even olive - and so, due to its generous quantity of oil I would be left bloated and belching for hours to come (even low fat houmous has this effect, and that's not nearly as tasty, either): not pretty.

Then I got a blender for Christmas, and my life changed. I experimented with varying quantities of chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon and oil until I found what has become one of my favourite lunchtime treats - a nutty, chunky houmous that doesn't leave me bent double!

So I started to experiment with some of my other favourite beans. Until today, nothing was quite so great that it waranted sharing with the world, but now I have it: the perfect butterbean paté! What's more, it's even easier than homemade houmous - it doesn't need a blender, only a fork!

For one tasty lunchtime:

1 small can butterbeans, drained
Half a carrot, peeled
4 radishes
2 tsp tomato purée
Fresh coriander
Salt and pepper

1. Heat the butterbeans through* and then mash them up with a fork
2. Grate the carrot and radishes and add to the beans
3. Add tomato purée, coriander and salt and pepper to taste and mix well

Simple! And great in a pitta! I didn't take a photo, but it looks pretty, too!

*This isn't 100% necessary, but warm beans are easier to mash, and the heat will bring out the flavour of the coriander!

Monday, 28 June 2010

One Weekend in Summertime

Summer made a grand appearance this weekend.

Foods in the most vibrant of colours, making meals look too good to eat! Aesthetic food always seems to taste better - visual pleasures to prime the tastebuds.

Days lasting long into the night; sitting out and sipping crisp chenin blanc, getting to know people better as the sun fades into night time.

Legs, feet, toes, knees - enjoying some forgotten sunlight! Showing off odd tanlines and silly tattoos, crispy damaged toes treated to a rare pedicure to celebrate their re-appearance.

Where did these beauties come from?! Roses everywhere, making a sudden and welcome appearance, majestically dressing roadsides, parkways, urban gardens with their delicate vibrance.

Not my favourite season, but beautiful and fleeting all the same. Its brevity makes it all the more enjoyable - my fair skin simmers quietly in the heat, but taking in the colours, tastes and smells of summer helps me ignore this and avoid hiding away in the shade during the long daylight hours. If summer continues to be so vibrant, fresh and alive, may it last until September!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Sunday Morning Breakfast

Sunday morning hasn't unfolded so perfectly in a long time.

Waking up not too early, not too late. Sun streaming through the curtains: another perfect summer morning. Opening the front door to let the morning rush into my flat - I need to be out in this fresh warmth - an early morning run was the perfect way to bathe in the morning's beauty. Every runner I pass wishes me good morning; everyone is calm, content, looking forward to the hours of slow Sunday sunshine that lie ahead.

Fresh, full of energy and pleasantly aching with hunger I sit down to the first summer breakfast of the year: nutty muesli with natural yogurt, sweet juicy pear and perfectly ripe banana. Homemade apricot scones, toasted, with local marmalade or blossom honey. A large mug of tea. Eating slowly, turning breakfast into a sensory experience. Engulfing myself in a new novel, reading each word patiently, re-reading the most exquisite passages; 'A hand takes up the pen, a hand he has kissed, a hand he has known intimately'.

Stopping for these moments, stopping to taste, feel, smell, rather than passing off hurried indulgences as real pleasure: this is what Sunday morning should always be. Unplanned time that I can pass through comfortably and contentedly, wrapping myself up in the safety of the present moment. Too often even these slow Sundays mornings are ridgidly planned out, leaving no space to breathe out, stretch and contemplate the sweet perfection of a fresh blush pear.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Time Flies Like an Arrow

Friday! Again!?

My blogging is becoming very sporadic, which is annoying me greatly; I miss writing, but most of all I miss having things to write about! I'm pretty sure no one wants to read about my data collecting, and I certainly don't want to write about it! Endless data collection teamed with some intense searching for my dream career (and in some cases, applying for my dream career!) leaves me with little time to write anything at all, but I have good intentions to write more often over the coming weeks. The days are blurring into one in a rather demoralising fashion - I have nothing to show for days or weeks spent sitting and working, and I know that writing more often will add some useful chapter markers between relevant points in time.

I did my usual Friday 10km run this morning, which has left me unusually drained; I feel like a puppet, and some naughty child is tugging downwards on my strings. My head aches and my legs are stiff and sore - physical cries for a long hot bath and an early night, perhaps.

Some more Friday blanks, on one of my favourite topics: FOOD!!

1. If I could choose my last meal it would be a slap-up Indian feast! Poppadums with chutney to start, then bhajis, samosas and pakora, followed by a hot vegetable curry (aloo chole, most likely!) with peshwari naan AND pilaf rice. Then I'd have sticky toffee pudding with custard. Ooooh!

2. My favorite person to share a meal with is Daniel; we both love the same foods, and the conversations during mealtimes generally focus on the food we're eating. He's also the only person I know who eats more than me, so we regularly pig out a little too much and don't let anything go to waste!

3. The best meal I've ever had was after the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge two weeks ago! We were so tired so were planning to get a takeaway pizza, but after putting my body through so much I didn't want to stuff it with rubbish. Instead, we made a quick baked bean chilli (like a chilli sin carne with baked beans instead of kidnet beans- so sweet and rich!) with jacket potatoes, and I could feel my body singing in gratitude with every mouthful .

4. The one food that makes me feel instantly better when I'm having a bad day is cereal! I eat so much cereal, it's my ultimate anytime-anymood-food. I currently have nine varieties of cereal in my kitchen!

5. My absolute specialty in the kitchen is vegetarian food - I can cook up a mean veggie spag bol or chilli sin carne, as well as tasty veggie burgers and nut roast. However, the thing I think I do better than anyone else is rice! I LOVE rice when I cook it, and I always make too much becuase it's just too good to eat sensible quantities!

6. The city that has the best food is possibly York as there are some amazing little backstreet restaurants, and my favorite restaurant there is The Blue Bicycle - an old brothel which serves the most incredible food in the quirkiest of settings. However, my favorite places to eat are country pubs serving great pub dinners and amazing puddings!

7. My favorite healthy snack is natural yogurt. With lots of fruit. And cereal, of course!

8. In my opinion the nationality which has the best food is India. Nothing beats a spicy curry with pilau rice. I'm also really into Mexican food. Mmm I love spicy food!

9. If I could learn to cook anything in the world (and be really good at it!) I'd choose bread. I'm pretty good at cooking in general, but I think baking bread is a real art-form. I often make my own, but it's obviously never bakery standard! And I'm such a bread snob so it'd save me lots of money, too!

10. The most outrageous dessert I've ever had was after the Dales Way. My Mum cooked us a big Sunday roast as we hadn't had a decent meal over the five days we'd been walking. She also bought an amazing sticky toffee pudding, which is my ultimate favourite dessert! I basically ate 4 portions-worth, with custard and toffee sauce. Along with the main meal, I probably consumed the previous 5 days' worth of calories in one meal, and it was amazing!

Thanks Lauren!

And it's almost the weekend! All that remains is one more dream-career application and a report on my data.

Daniel's sister is visiting for the weekend, which will make a nice change. I'm looking forward to curry and pilau rice (hurrah!), curling up with a good book, good wine, an exciting football match and a weekend free of sitting here at my desk with overwhelming spreadsheets of work to analyse.

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

A Weekend In Pictures

This weekend probably hasn't been quite what I was looking for. It all started with a (terrible?) game of football, which moved onto a pub venue, which moved onto a club, which moved onto another club (I haven't been clubbing in over 6 months, then made up for it all on the night I needed my bed the most...). However, lunatic dancing with friends both old and new, long chats and reminiscing, laughing, catching the eye of someone you thought was gone for good, stumbling and enjoying a spontaneity which doesn't come about often: these things made the subsequent throbbing haze more than worth it, and damped down my growing fears of departure from the world I've known since I was 18.

Saturday morning hurt. But what better reason to sit alone sipping tea (from a teapot!) and reading poetry. I haven't opened my Sylvia Plath Collection for too long, yet I knew exactly where to turn to fall right back in love with her, and that I did. This literary induction into the day whet my appetite for more, and we spent a fine few hours noseying through piles of fusty books in our favourite second-hand bookshops. We added to our growing Virginia Woolf collection, then discussed our future bookshop plans over tea, sandwiches, ginger beer and plum cake. My sandwich was goat's cheese, fig and maple syrup, which was very cheesy and not very figgy, but can there ever be too much goat's cheese? That evening we curled up with a bottle of wine and 'Julie and Julia', which was close to perfect (I didn't think Meryl Streep could get any better, and then she did), inspiring me to cook and cook, to love food and cooking and not worry about much else at all.

This morning Daniel and I took a new step in our relationship: we went running together. It turns out that my boyfriend is a good runner (better than me? We'll see on August 1st!); I was on full-speed the whole time just to keep up (a new personal trainer!), but then again, he is over a foot taller than me. The rest of the day has passed in a Sunday-ish style - laundry, studying by the lake, cooking slow food with amazing results (watch this space!) and yoga; I reckon I'm just about ready for another week, and it should be an exciting one, too!

No-Soup Sunday: Brown Rice Risotto

I get the impression that every family has their 'token' foods: reliable meals and ingredients which regularly appear on the dinner table. This was most apparent when I started university; everyone cooked differently - different meals, different styles, different constants on their daily dinner plates. I lived in a very sociable accommodation block, with big kitchens where we would regularly enjoy cooking big meals together. Through these communal cooking sprees I became familiar with the unfamiliar: tried lots of Mexican-style food such as chilli and fajitas (which I had never tried before!), developed an intense love for noodles (which we never ever ever ate at home) and even braved some homemade soup (until very recently I didn't like soup much at all!!) and sweet potato. Similarly, I introduced people to my speciality homemade veggie burgers, offered wild ideas involving fish, and unveiled the wonders of cous cous to my new friends. The levels of cooking ability differed vastly, but the majority were learning for the first time in their first stint away from home, and through this I discovered the horror that is boil-in-the-bag rice, kindly provided in the going-away packages of many a concerned mother.

Rice was our family 'staple'; we kept a huge sack of basmati in the utility room (the kind designed for Indian restaurants), and this would play an integral role in a good majority of our meals. Brown rice was eaten almost as regularly as basmati, and occasionally we were treated to wild rices of varying colours and cooking times. When it comes to rice, I have all the patience in the world - boil-in-the-bag convenience is not an option; no wait is too long for perfect fluffy rice, and I often eat a rice-based dish three or four times in a week - I can't get enough! One rice dish that I have never really mastered is the risotto - we never ate it at home, incidentally, and I've never developed a great liking for general risotto meals (though the first meal I cooked for Daniel was Nigella's cheese and leek risotto, which went down a treat!).

A few weeks ago I cooked an adaptation of Sophie Dahl's brown rice risotto terrine (I added chickpeas, left out the mushrooms and didn't bother to make it into a terrine), which was tasty enough, but took forever to cook and ended up being a bit mushy and...not brown rice-y. So, as it is a little too warm for soup, this Sunday I lovingly tended to a new, improved version of my original, which was perfect! Fresh and light for summer, with a lovely nutty taste from the rice-chickpea-cumin combination - I could have eaten double the amount!

Chickpea Brown Rice Risotto, for one

75g brown basmati rice, washed
1 pint vegetable stock
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small tin chickpeas
1 carrot, grated
1/3 courgette (zuccini!), grated
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
pinch chilli flakes
1/2 tsp wholegrain mustard
small bunch fresh coriander

1. Fry onion and garlic until soft, then add the rice and bay leaf and stir. Add enough stock to cover the rice, bring to the boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes (check that the pan isn't boiling dry - if it is, add more stock!)
2. After about 20 minutes most of the stock should be absorbed; add the chickpeas, cumin, chilli, mustard and enough stock to cover everthing, season and simmer gently for about 20 minutes (or until rice is tender but not soggy!).
3. When rice is just about done, add the carrot and courgette and a little more stock. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes, or until rice is perfect!
4. Stir in coriander and serve!

Friday, 18 June 2010

Finally Friday

The past five days have been tough, in a good way. I'm exhausted after long days, late nights, early mornings. Days walking from unknown place to unknown place wearing a too-heavy backpack and heels. Almost every meal has been 'on-the-go', with only 2 'proper' sit-down meals in five days. Needless to say, it's time to pamper myself a bit; to reward my brain and my body for allowing me to get through the past five days without packing up and going to sleep (all I have to show for it is a swollen right tonsil, and this appears to be on the mend...). When it comes to pushing myself really hard for a long period of time, more often than not I fail. I'm not one of those people who can work relentlessly, fuelled up with coffee and energy drinks. It doesn't take long for my body to shout STOP in a language I recognize a little too well: swollen spotty tonsils, mouth ulcers galore, and that feeling of being physically dragged down by an invisible backpack. Small reminders of a nasty case of glandular fever when I was 17; and true to the typical symptoms of this illness, I haven't been right since. However, one brilliant thing being ill taught me was how to listen to my body, and how to look after it.

This is what I plan to do this weekend! Inspired by Kaileen Elise's Creative Weekend To-Do List, I'm going to allow myself a little 'agenda-less' freedom to stop and listen to myself; to sit, read, eat, bake, watch films and drink wine. I want to take lots of photos, laugh with friends, relax with Daniel, have a long slow breakfast involving poetry and my teapot, and enjoy the sunshine in a pretty dress.

My weekend begins with some blanks! Back to school we go!

1. The best thing about being in school was/is being surrounded by your best friends, gossiping and laughing and falling in love. I didn't realize it then, but it was also great being able to study so many different subjects, and learning so much every day - it's so different when you choose one subject to take on to university.

2. The worst thing about being in school was/is bullies, and peer pressure. But it's an important life lesson I guess!

3. My favorite subject in school was/is English until I dropped it at A level. Then my favourite was music or French literature .

4. One subject I wish I could have mastered/would like to master is biology, or maths. I did maths for a year at A level and by the end of the course I loved it. I found it so hard though, it's the only subject I've ever failed! It took a lot of hard work to get the grade I wanted (an A! :-D) .

5. I could never get tired of studying English literature. Which is silly as I didn't carry on with it past GCSE. But I love it and I don't see why I ever have to stop learning more, so long as I keep reading! .

6. The most memorable teacher I had was Mrs Riddle, my French teacher. Somehow she managed to make GCSE French exciting and fun, and she made amazing cakes, too. She also made me some penis earrings for my last birthday, but that's another story!.

7. If I could choose between going to school for the rest of my life or working for the rest of my life, I'd choose school, which, if we count university as a form of school, may be the way I'm going ;-). Then again, if my dream job comes along, that'd be a pretty cool way to spend the rest of my days.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Playing Academic

It has been an incredibly busy week!

Yesterday I made my first conference appearance, presenting a paper entitled Variation and Similarity in the Phonological Development of French Dizygotic Twins at the Fifth LangUE Conference at the University of Essex.

I applied for this with little hope of being accepted, and when I opened the email informing me of my success, my words were far from child-friendly. I've performed many a time in public, but always within my comfort zone as a musician. Never before have I been a linguist, an academic or a researcher in the public eye, and as the date drew nearer I became more aware of a hidden fear of public speaking.

Anyway, it's fair to say I worked incredibly hard in order to give myself the best chance of success. In my eyes, success would come if I delivered the talk professionally and answered questions sensibly without making any unproven sweeping claims or insulting anybody. And so, happily, the talk was indeed a success. Questions were asked about my research, and suggestions for possible sub-research were helpfully raised. Only one member of the audience, who also happened to be my inquisitive boyfriend, asked a question I couldn't answer, which rather than being awkward, has left me pondering ever since about the effects of nursery school on pre-verbal infants.

It was incredibly fun to play at being an academic for a couple of days. To wander amongst fellow linguists, discussing our projects, contending the grammaticality of future-perfect adjectival phrases, and to sit in talks wishing I'd thought of that first, or bubbling with annoyance at old-fashioned Chomskyan explanations for phenomena which refuse to be explained.

I've found the thing that I do; something I've been meandering around in search of for years. I don't know how long I'll get to keep doing it for, but at least for now, it's my thing, and I love it.

That brings me back here, back to the drawing board. I have an (almost) blank canvas in front of me, upon which I will draw the biggest project I've ever undertaken. It starts now, and I'm bursting with excitement, intruige and interest for the subject that will become my daily companion, biggest passion and worst enemy over the next 4 months. In brief, I'm looking at words, and lots of them. Words which become longer words and better words, and eventually language. Thousands of first words from different babies must be analysed and turned into graphs and calculated and pondered, and maybe I'll have all the answers; maybe Chomsky will be jealous when I smash his Universal Grammar with a teaspoon.

Or maybe not.

But it's exciting!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge

Well...it seems that I have an addiction, or I'm going through an early-life crisis, or something.

For some reason I had an urgent need to tackle the biggest challenge on my doorstep: the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge. 25 miles and 1,600m in under 12 hours. I didn't think for a second that it would be any less than difficult; agonizing, even. Yet I was already awake when my alarm went off at 4:20am on Saturday morning, unable to sleep for the blood rushing excitedly through my body and the nerves of uncertainty for what I was about to put myself through.

It was already light outside as we headed north west to the summit of the first peak; I felt as if we were racing the day, dissappointed to have wasted precious daylight hours to sleep (I wanted to set off at midnight; my Dad later confessed that we should have done). When we arrived at the summit of Pen-y-Ghent the carpark was already filling up, and we set off in quite a hoard of walkers. Everything felt very surreal; I was very aware that I would be walking for the next 12 hours, but I couldn't absorb the scale of it all, and so I didn't try to. I realised during the Keswick Half Marathon that the miles aren't there for counting, only for enjoying or enduring, and that was the attitude I carried on with me on Saturday.

6:47am: Checking in at the Pen-y-Ghent café

The first of three: Pen-y-Ghent

For some reason I had presumed that the blisters I suffered on the Dales Way would never return; as if the feet develop an immunity to such things. In short, I was very wrong. All three of us were hobbling along after only the first (and smallest!) of the three peaks, and all there was to do was march on.

The Ribblehead Viaduct (famous from the Harry Potter films), towards Whernside - the highest point in Yorkshire

A rest and some fuel on top of Yorkshire

Towards the third and best peak: Ingleborough

Smiles, but there's a long way left to go!

Back in the carpark with clean socks and a lemonade :-)

Appropriate celebration pint!

I know why I'm addicted; completing this caused me to feel something I've only felt twice before, a feeling which can't be matched in any other way. A sense of joy, relief, pride, satisfaction and excitement, paired with exhaustion and intense pain. I had to miss work yesterday as I couldn't walk. I had sunburn on my face and hands, windburned lips, backpack sores on my shoulders, blistered feet, a missing toenail and a twisted knee, as well as post-excitement blues and intense hunger/nausea pangs. It's all part of it, it's the adventuring equivalent of a bad hangover, and it needs comforting and feeding in just the same way.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Yoga, and 'Self'

I realized recently that my life has become incredibly outward-looking; I've stopped making time for myself to breathe and be quiet and mindful, either because I'm lacking the creativity and inspiration needed to look for a way to do this, or because I'm scared of moving away from my current routine and comfort zone. After a contemplative walk home yesterday I realized it's the latter reason, and that this fear of discomfort is a new and threatening addition to my existence, so I did one of those things that you always have good intentions to do but never get round to for every poor reason in the book: I attended a local yoga class.

I've been practising yoga on-and-off since I was 18, and it's remained my own personal indulgence in being 'present', being still, being completely at one with myself. I have had a daily morning yoga routine for a long time, which disappeared and reappeared as my living situation changed around; since I first discovered yoga I've enjoyed it mostly on my own at home, occasionally taking part in classes at university or local gyms, but only once have I attended a regular class for an extended period of time.

This was while I was living in France when I was 20, an experience which shifted my 'self' completely from one place to another. I was living alone for the first time, in a different country, with a whole new lifestyle and the priviledge of being able to temporarily choose completely how I lived my life. All my previous priorities and routines remained in England; here I could build from scratch my day-to-day, and by doing so I learned a lot about my priorities, my interests and my 'self' in the abstract.

I was living in a tiny community with practically no public transport (the local bus ran twice daily to the nearest city - a 2 hour drive away); there was no cinema, no park, no university or even a college...but there was a regular yoga class; I jumped at the chance to take part. I climbed the three flights of stairs on that first Monday night with a real sense of adventure; I could have been on the Inca steps, those Mairie steps were just as exciting! The other attendees approached me with interest; I was known as l'Anglaise, the exciting young foreigner, speaking with un accent charmant (that was actually written about me in the local paper - my arrival was big news!). Every week I practised yoga with these people, revelling in my individuality, my solitude and my sense of seperation from everyone around me as well as the life I had left behind.

The thing that really enabled me to abstract myself away from everything in an incredibly existentialist sort of way was the language. French became my day-to-day tongue - almost everything I said, heard and wrote was in French, and after a few weeks I thought and even dreamt in French. I was aware even then that this allowed me a certain amount of freedom from myself; it was just enough to create a gap big enough for me to test out who I was, and I indulged in this completely. This was most apparent during the yoga classes. I was the youngest in the group by quite a way, seperating me even further from my surroundings. The middle-aged ladies used to smile at me politely and wish me bonsoir, while the older folk had more of an interest in what I was doing here and where I was from. Then there was Pierre, a curly-haired, sparkly-eyed man who I usually placed my mat next to, often flirted with, and once fell asleep next to during a particularly soothing session (all completely innocent, I assure you!).

Looking back, this was my 'wild year', the year of liberation. Not because of any real hedonism (though Germany in the second half of my year abroad taught me the joys of alcohol, the shame of the drunken stupour and the effects of drinking on an empty stomach), but all because of the wild abandonment I felt as I departed from my habits, routines and needs of UK life. This all started with the yoga class, with the urge to do something for myself; to let go, indulge (yoga in France is expensive!), and to revel in this new self confidence that I had discovered.

So it seemed a natural choice to make back here in York, when I was looking for something to pull me away from my routines. The odd thing was that I felt quite apprehensive as the class approached - I wasn't able to just let go and be in the class as I had done in France; I was the bumbling new kid, avoiding the eyes of everyone else, clumsily dropping all of my belongings and setting up my mat in an inappropriately loud manner. Without the mask of another language, I find that I approach such new situations too carefully - I've lost the reckless manner that I had in France. I've started caring about being judged, about standing out, about doing things 'wrong'. Odd, that. And something I must conquer if I am to retain the essence of wild purpose that I held on to for such a long time after returning from my time abroad.

I am approaching a time when I will, once again, be the new kid on the block. I'm grateful for this little reminder that it's not always an easy role to take on, and that when approached as a whole person in the abstract rather than simply part of the surroundings, it feels so much more exciting and much easier. I need to practise existentialism in my life a little more often, and yoga seems to be a great way to go about that.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Weekend Recap

It was a lovely slow weekend, with indecisive weather making things much more interesting!

One minute the soggy world kept us cooped up indoors

and the next we were heading out in short shorts and t-shirts to locate a sunny pub garden: it was HOT! (or, maybe 24C, which is too hot for my fair skin!)

On Friday evening we visited a favourite pub, where old men gather around the bar and play dominoes in the corner. We drank, chatted and laughed the evening away, until the bartender politely tidied around us as he prepared the pub for closing.

Despite not drinking much, I awoke on Saturday with the now unfamiliar pounding cider hangover. Urgh. Luckily, I was well looked-after...

Eggy crumpets and beans - yummm!

We hid away from the rain with newspapers and tea, until the sun returned in all it's glory. Sometimes the best walks have no destination - we explored the city's backstreets, finding secret gardens, traditional pubs and craft fairs, hidden away from the tourist's swollen wallet!

The evening meal was eaten al fresco, in quite a surreal setting! We sat on a bench crafted by a heroin addict on floor of mud and rubble, with a christmas tree stopping to our right; Kafka himself couldn't have invented anything more surreal. We then lazed in front of Up In The Air, munching greedily on a pack of cookies. Perfect.

Me and Daniel are both keen on folk music, and in fact we first met at a folk session in a local pub! This weekend was York's Folk Festival, and we were intending to attend on Saturday for some Morris dancing, folk songs and a pints and poetry session. Sadly, I was in no state to attend after Friday's over-indulgence, but we did stop over for an hour on Sunday. I love the atmosphere at these places; such a mix of people, colours, styles, tastes. Music sung out from all corners of the pub, from airy flute arias to plodding tuba ostinatos. Accordian melodies danced in counterpoint with cheery fiddles, and gorgeous ulian pipes sang so subtly along to a bodhran beat. I'm still disappointed to have missed out on a sunny day spent there, but we left with more intent to carry on our folking than ever.

Friday, 4 June 2010

In Need of a Weekend!

It's been one of those days.

I choked on a fly while out running, and almost threw up from coughing.

Then I almost sprained my ankle. (though not quite)

Then I was desperate for the loo and had to run at full pelt with full bladder. (seriously uncomfortable)

Then I dropped half of my post-run banana.

Then I blended post-run power shake all over myself and my kitchen.

Then I had a computer nightmare. (boring, you don't need the details)

I could definitely do with a weekend sometime soon - and hooray, it's FRIIIDAY!

Here are some blanks - thanks Lauren!

1. My dream vacation would be a trekking holiday in Nepal. There is talk of doing the Annapurna Circuit, which would be amazing! I was over the moon when I found out that me and Daniel share the same dream travel destination!

2. The best trip I've ever taken was my trip across Canada. It's the only overseas family holiday we've ever had, but it was worth the wait! I went when I was 18, and we spent 3 weeks travelling from my auntie's in Toronto to my counsin's in Vancouver. We did white water rafting, kayaking, trekking, and stayed in amazing huts and shacks. I swam in the Pacific, visited a nudist beach, ate cheesecake every day and got my first and only suntan!

3. The most important items to take on a road trip are baby wipes, books and lots of cereal bars!

4. The next trip I'm looking forward to is my visit home in July! I've no idea what my next holiday will be - hopefully a big one, maybe Nepal, or New Zealand!

5. If I had to pick one CD to listen to for a long road trip it would be a mix CD! But if that's cheating then...something we can all sing along to, like Green Day or The Smiths .

6. The biggest disaster I've ever encountered while traveling was when the train broke down on the way from Pula to Zagreb in Croatia. It added 6 hours to an already long journey. Plus it was above 30C and we had no water. I've never been so miserable in my life!

7. My favorite traveling memory is finishing the Dales Way! After five days and 89 miles of walking, I was so ready for a hot bath and a good meal. we were both so elated and relieved and absolutely exhausted!!!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Summer Nights

It would be fair to say that today got off to a bad start: I woke up with a nauseating headache (I suspect I may have started getting migraines - gulp) and the general mood of the day didn't improve much from there.

Then, at 5:30 I reluctantly pulled on my short shorts and pinned back my hair - I'd intended to go for an early morning run, but was in no state to do so when 6am arrived - and I jogged out into the evening sun. It was hot, surprisingly so after the recent weather, and I was certainly feeling a little too dehydrated. But the city was alive with people enjoying the sunshine! Whifs of barbequed meat met me as I ran, teamed with the sweet scent of the colourful gardens I was passing by. Couples lolled on the grass, a girl lay by the river with a book and a bottle of cider, groups of shirtless teenagers sipped cans of Pepsi on the bridge. It felt like the whole world was there, and we were all sharing the simple joy of a summer evening. Everywhere I looked people were running, walking, cycling; a criss-cross of activity, hap-hazard and confusing to the eye.

I returned home sweaty and revived, gulping back glass after glass of water - my poor old body was suffering, pleading for some nourishment! And nourishment I was happy to give it - in the form of some of my favourite things: brown spaghetti, feta cheese and stir-fried broccolli; a plate full of summery goodness! Animal Collective blasted out of my stereo, and me and my wooden spoon had our own little disco as we cooked.

I'd planned to spend the evening with Ms Woolf. If only I had a garden! Well, I do! The whole city is my garden! I packed my book and a rug, and cycled towards the river, where I found a perfect spot to sit, read and watch the world pass by. Families were packing up home for bedtime, excitable children speeding past on their stabilizers. Lean runners swept breathlessly past, while ladies on their evening walk hobbled past in twos, shaking down their teatime calories in jogging bottoms and funny plastic shoes.

I feel as if I've recaptured some of life's magic that only yesterday I felt I'd lost. The secret is to go out and find it; it won't come and find me in my stuffy flat, that's for sure. Now I look forward to a satisfying sleep, peaceful in the knowledge that things are often much more simple than they might seem.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Then and Now

Lately I have been experiencing an unsual quantity of self-doubt. Normally I am happy to roll with being myself without thinking about it all too much, but lately I've been aware of my current positions in life; as a friend, girlfriend, daughter and sister, as a postgraduate, as a twenty-something who should be revelling in being young and free and beautiful. I feel frustrated by myself, by my space, by my body, by the way I spend my free time.

For the first time, I find myself sizing myself up against someone else - an unhealthy habit that I've managed to avoid for the past 22 years. The most frustrating thing about that someone else is that it is myself; I look back to me one year ago, and I see someone excited by the present, enthusiastic about the future. A girl interested in the world around her, with time to read slowly and ponder the words, enjoying Philip Larkin with breakfast, Plato before bed. Waking to a morning yoga routine, falling asleep late after spending long summer evenings with friends.

On Sunday evening, during a lovely self-indulgent chat which prompted this post, a friend asked me to show her my favourite photo of myself. I chose a photo which was taken on the veranda of a bar in York looking over the river, as I sipped a very expensive glass of Pimm's before my Summer Ball: officially my last night as an undergraduate in York. To me, the photo reflects the simple joy of that time; a degree behind me, a degree ahead of me. Days filled with everything I love, surrounded by amazing friends and a man I had just fallen in love with. I'd moved into my own flat and was relishing the sense of 'self' and independance that I was finding there.

I've been reflecting on these feelings for a little while, thinking more about the girl in this photo in relation to the girl sitting at this table. The fact will always remain that those days are gone - they were always going to be that amazing, and they were always going to be short-lived. But here I'm on the brink of living out some real dreams, things I have to work for, search for and earn. It's less glamourous, less fun and, for now at least, less exciting. And that's ok; I'm happy with my lot, probably even happier than I was back then. But the circle that I've come round through doubting myself has left me with a sense of urgency for the little joys that were some commonplace when I didn't have blank space waiting for my 20,000 words. I need to start thinking more frivolously again, reading more slowly and more often, taking time to cook and taste food, indulging in real conversation with the people I want to know more about. Living slowly and peacefully and with gratitude for the small things that my world has in such abundance.