Sunday, 31 October 2010

This Weekend I Have Mostly...

A slow, lathargic weekend at my parents' house has given me some time to catch up with myself. Minutes have passed like hours and I've needed it like that. Somehow I feel more tired now than I have in months, but an afternoon nap - which can only be an essential element of this grey Sunday - might give me the boost I need to keep going until the Christmas break!

I forgot to bring my camera, which is a shame as the colours in the garden are just phenomenal. But sometimes a lack of photo opportunities makes you look harder and closer at the things you see - maybe photographing something for eternity takes away its real beauty somehow.

So this wonderful weekend I have mostly been...

...spending time in the crisp outdoors, scraping up leaves with my Mum. The colours raised my spirits to the sky; it felt almost criminal to remove the display of colours and shapes scattered on the grass!

...baking the week's second batch of Rachel's vegan Christmas cookie recipe. I de-Christmasified them by adding dates for a more bonfire-y theme, and they went down an absolute storm with my family!

...signing up for a half marathon. Entries opened at 9am on Saturday - I was revving up the PC at 8am sharp, all ready to get my place in the York Brass Monkey, which is usually full within half an hour of entries opening. Both me and my Dad got places - let the training commence!

...starting my Christmas knitting projects. I'm on fire this year - this might be my quickest scarf yet!

There will be no soup Sundays today as my dear Mum is cooking a big Sunday roast, complete with Yorkshire puds! I cannot wait! I will return later this week with tales of a trip to London - have a great week!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Stifled by Workshirts

For the most part I know that my blog is a rather joyful place, and this optimism is no lie - most of the time I feel in awe at the world and its wonder; as annoying as it may be for the pessimistic folk in this world, I can't help but feel completely eager to be in every minute I am given.

Of course, this isn't a constant state of being; I'd die from exhaustion, probably, or from overwhelm-ment of the senses. Recently, though I have been constanly exhillerated by the external world - the autumn colours, my new job, my new home - internally I have been feeling rather dull, even pessimistic, and full of self-doubt. On the train last night I was sat by a group of girls, all younger by maybe four years at most, but I felt so old and withered in relation to them. I feel like I am no longer paying heed to myself; I wear my work clothes during the day, and automatically change into the comfiest and least attractive of outfits when I return home - thinking about how I look no longer comes into my life, and it's having negative consequences on my self-image. My hair has been left to grow, my clothes are a reflection of what I do and not who I am, and my body feels shapeless and forgotten. I feel like I have somehow been buried underneath my job, and hindered by tiredness and busyness I am unable to find my way out.

I need to address this.

My plan going forward (please excuse the business jargon, I just really like this phrase!) is to be more mindful. To remember what I enjoy - yoga, running, hot baths, colour, beads, cosy tights - and to make sure that my day pays heed to this. I want to be a reflection of my lifestyle, if that makes sense - I want to wear myself on my sleeve, and be proud to do so.

For the first time in a long long time, I feel frumpy and splodgy. The energetic and proud body that I used to have is so often hidden, I'd forgotten that actually, underneath my hoodie, I have a healthy and pretty wonderful body in which to live. And I'm getting odd yet exciting commuter muscles on my legs from all the stairs/power cycles/platform transfers.

So I feel the need for a re-image; not a new image, but a revisit to the one I have hidden somewhere. A need to acknowledge the calm side of myself, the part of me that exists underneath all the furrour of life. That side of me doesn't require an outfit or a shape or a hairstyle; it lives as a constant yet dynamic force inside everyone, an essence of everything that a person is. But I think that this is expressed outwardly by colour and shape and decoration. By the choices we make from which we know others will judge us. And surely the nature of our view on how others judge us (and how we also come to judge ourselves) is what we normally refer to as self-confidence or self-worth? People spend their lifetimes battling with their outward selves, sometimes constantly, sometimes on-and-off. I'm lucky to be more off than on in this respect, but the battle is a tough one as soon as it hits - a short sharp shock is needed to put it all into place!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

There's No Shame in a Bit of Comfort

Last week I highlighted comfort food as being a thing I love now that I didn't love much before. Well, this is true; my attitude to food is going through a sort of metamorphosis, and while I have always loved eating and cooking, I guess I have never really needed the sort of comfort eating that I am referring to here, and so it's never had a real place in my heart.

There are, of course, two types of comfort eating, and while I have certainly been guilty of the more negative and stigmatized version on a few occasions (this has made an appearance of its own recently, especially in the first week of my new job when I had received a 'congratulations' box of chocolates from a friend...), I refer here only to the way that humans turn to food as they would turn to a warm blanket and a sumptuous novel; a way of cooking and eating that is thoughtful, never thoughtless.

There is something about putting on my Hungry Caterpillar apron, tying back my hair and chopping in a silent kitchen (I rarely listen to music when I cook) that puts every disordered element of my life into place. With a collection of exciting ingredients, my awesome knife collection (thanks Dad!) and a suitable pan, there is a certainty and routine that can't always be found elsewhere in life. Put one cup of rice in a pan with two cups of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then cover and turn the heat low; 18 minutes later you will have a perfect pan of rice. Simple, certain and wonderful.

In the past few weeks I've created a couple of simple meals that have been a comfort and a pleasure from picking out the ingredients to scraping the last grain of rice/splodge of sauce off the plate. They're not rocket science, but I love reading other people's ideas as it feeds my own inspirations, and so, with a hope that someone somewhere might get their own spark of inspiration from my creations, I will be sharing them over the coming weeks - and I want to hear of any similar comfort meals that you have, as I'll be needing the inspiration, I'm sure!

To begin - Spicy Squash and Cashew Nut Risotto

Half a butternut squash, peeled and chopped into small cubes
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Enough risotto rice for everyone
Vegetable stock
Chilli flakes (if I had real chillis I'd have used real ones!)
Cashew nuts
Fresh coriander
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Fry the onion in oil until soft, then add garlic and rice and stir until everything is coated in oil
2. Cover the rice with stock and stir until most of the liquid is absorbed, then add the squash and a ladleful or two of stock, and keep stirring!
3. As the liquid is absorbed, keep adding more until the rice starts to feel tender when you taste it (about 15-20 minites); the suqash should also be soft by now!
4. Heat another pan and add the cashew nuts (no oil is needed, the pan should be dry); toast until they are brown, but be sure to keep an eye on them or they will burn (mine did a bit, oops!)
5. when the rice is soft enough, add the toasted cashews and the coriander to the risotto, stir, season and serve! (with a large glass of chenin blanc, maybe!)

Monday, 25 October 2010

On a Quest For a Pumpkin

I'll be spending Halloween weekend at my parents' house, and so the obvious Soup Sunday choice of pumpkin soup will not be. Pumpkin soup was therefore brought forward by one week, and so, this weekend, the search for our pumpkin ensued!

For weeks I'd been admiring the organic pumpkins in my local wholefoods shop, but when I arrived on Saturday afternoon, the owner (who holds about him an air of irony or something similar) informed me that they had all sold out - typical! I really didn't want to spend a single second of my Sunday in a supermarket, and the obvious solution to this popped into my head as I opened the curtains to glorious sunshine the next morning - we would cycle to a farm shop (yipppeeee!), enjoy the sunshine, enjoy the farm shop, and lug a pumpkin back with us in our (or rather, Daniel's) backpacks!

After phoning ahead to make sure that our 20-mile round trip would not leave us pumpkinless, we set out into the morning with an empty backpack. The weather was superb but it was so so cold; it seems that the climate has skipped autumn and broken head-first into winter!

We arrived tired and chilly after an unfortuante detour to pumpkins! Pumpkins everywhere!! I selected a small one and headed into the shop - I love farm shops!

We were tempted by just about everything - good job we could only face carrying one exciting member of the gourd family back, as I'd have happily taken a collection!

Then, we headed back home with some treats for our lunch - a gourmet sausage roll for the omnivore, and a cheese scone for the veggie :-)

We cooked up the pumpkin with some leftover butternut squash and sweet potato, and spiced it with some cinnamon, cloves, cumin, chilli and ginger. Served with some homemade caraway sultana bread (because I have literally spent the whole weekend cooking and baking) it went down a treat, though we'll be eating pumpkin-based meals for the forseeable future! Still, a pumpkin-based adventure is always a worthwhile one :-)

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Saturday Soreen

Well, it may not have been as dreary as I had secretly wished on Saturday morning, but some agonizing stomach cramps kept me in bed and cancelled my plans, and so Saturday morning involved no culture and plenty of rest, instead. I needed it, I realize now as I sit aching and exhausted and not even nearly rested enough; I needed Saturday morning and the rest of the day, and probably also Sunday, in pyjamas with tea and a book. But I got distracted and ended up spending the afternoon mixing and chopping and whipping and measuring and kneading and playing with my amazing kitchen to my heart's content. I may have burnt everything slightly, and I may have created more calories than two people could consume before things start to turn stale and crumby, but it was a delighful Saturday afternoon, nonetheless.

My family has been one of Soreen's leading customers for as long as I can remember. Every family picnic for 23 years has involved slices of the sticky joy, topped with a wedge of butter (margarine has never crossed the threshold of my parents' house) or cream cheese, leaving us chewing silently for a good 15 minutes, and trying to get our teeth clear of the residue for the rest of the day. I continue to eat Soreen on a regular basis, and have passed on my love for 'the original fruity malt loaf' to Daniel, who in turn has passed it on to his colleagues. After reading this article last week (discovered by Daniel's latest brainwashed colleague, probably on a sugar high from his afternoon Soreen snack), I decided to have a go at making my own, to a smoky but rather wonderful result.

I didn't have enough golden syrup, and no treacle or malt extract at all, so I had to send Daniel out on an expedition for the ingredients. I used dates instead of raisins, and stout instead of ale, but the loaf is rich and fruity and incredibly...malty...without being sticky. The malt extract made me gag when I opened it, as it smells like a brewery, in extracted form, and to add to the pain it was also hellish to weigh. The kitchen was covered in sticky residue, everything stuck to everything else, but the colour of the mixture was a delight to greedy eyes, and the consistency was so un-cake-like but so obviously right.

The finished product was slightly burnt (note that the recipe is for a fan oven!) and not at all like Soreen as I know it, but a tasty result and an extra point towards my culinary experience to boot! Like a rich fruit cake, with hardly any fruit; one of those tastes that you can't quite describe but it's so good that everyone should try it anyway. Served with ice cream and eaten in pyjamas under a blanket, it served a whole slice of comfort into the chilly Saturday evening!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Weekend Wishes

It feels naughty even thinking this, but I am wishing and hoping for some good old dreary weather this weekend!

I want to bake and knit and read for two days solid; snuggle on the couch in my PJs and watch old comedies while eating too much.

I have plans this weekend, however. Exciting plans involving fun and culture and the outdoors, and so I must un-cross my fingers and toes and find some weekend energies!

But who cares?! It's Friday! Which so far has involved an early breakfast with a sleepy man, my Friday morning treat and a delicious sausage sandwich for lunch. These things all involve food - I'll quickly overlook that small detail! And there was the moon as I set off for work. That deserves a post all of its own; so beautiful and magical, there are sometimes real priviledges to leaving the house so early!

Some brief blanks, for Friday!!

1. I am many things right now. I am too hot, I am eating an apple, I am worrying about things that don't warrant a second thought. I am craving stillness and rest, time with Daniel and time with myself. I am in love with life and filled with joy at the people around me - my Mum who phones me to tell me a joke I don't even get, my friend who visits on a whim and provides the best conversations, jam and pages of our shared joy. I am lucky, that's what I am!

2. I wish I was still eating my sausage sandwich. Is that bad?

3. I like evenings at home, hot baths and Horlicks much more than any night out, and it's getting in the way of firendship big time.

4. I can touch my nose with my tongue, and I'm a bit too proud of it!

5. I hope that my trains are on time/not cancelled tonight. That's all I wish for this Friday!

6. I think that life is too short to moan or be unhappy - right now is all that we ever have!

7. I was convinced that I was being unrealistic, and it turns out I wasn't at all!*

Take part with Lauren - have a great weekend!

*A little ambiguous, I know - I'm referring to life, to everything.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Changing Joys

I've noticed that as my life has evolved into what it is now, my take on the little joys in life has also changed. What might once have gone unnoticed has become a secret wonder, while previous pleasures have faded into the background or dissappeared from my life altogether through circumstance or perspective.

There's always time for 'things I love' in life - my friend has compiled a book of simple pleasures for me, which I read with my morning porridge every day - and now is no different!

So here is my List of Things I Love Now That I Didn't Love As Much (If At All) Before.

1. Weekends - easy place to start, but oh my, the weekends are amazing! Two days without a thought for the essay/reading I should be doing; two long days (and three evenings) of stuff, simple stuff, like lying in bed or oiling the bikes or sitting in the garden on a kitchen chair, or hanging the washing outside. Immense pleasure!

2. Comfort Eating - my eating has changed a lot. Meals have become the social landmarks of my day, my outlet for creativity and, in some ways, a task and a burden. Since we are cooking for two we can now create things that I've never bothered with in the past - my baking output has increased dangerously, for example! - and we have a freezer, so anything is possible! I've also found that I'm thinking so much less about what I eat, and more about what I want from a meal - do I want comfort, energy, baked bean goodness, lazy food....? Somehow piling loads of cheese on my pasta is no longer worth thinking about - of course I want cheese, I've been at work all day!

3. People - people can make or break your day, can't they? The bearded man who smiled at me on the train yesterday has no idea how much he lifted my spirits, and the prudish man in the too-big suit on the 6:54 to Leeds makes me cringe every morning with his rudeness.

4. Radio 4 news - I listen intently. And the shipping forecast, and the stockmarkets, and the coastal reports. Radio 4 is full of things I never knew I didn't know!

5. Sitting - I live in a house with a couch for the first time in 3 years, and it is better than I ever knew. Sitting, snuggling, drinking tea. Wrapping up in a blanket and pondering the world, watching films, sneakily eating pasta from a bowl when Daniel is out at badminton. Couches are so useful!

6. Slippers - during our first weekend of living together, Daniel and I went to M&S and bought a pair of snuggly slippers each. I've been a slipper-wearer for my whole life, but for some reason I stopped while at University, and this had to change! I got myself some squishy purple ones with fluffy insides, and there is no way to describe the joy I feel when I slip my feet into them in an evening. It's as if my feet are the plug, the slippers are the socket, and when connected they light up a bright neon sign that reads 'I'm home!!'.

7. Clothes - clothes have taken on a whole new meaning! I have to wear proper work clothes, and I love it! I feel as if I'm playing fancy dress every morning as I pull on my tailored trousers and button up my shirt, but likewise I feel as if I'm becoming myself again in the evenings when I change. It's getting more and more difficult to dress at the weekends; I seem to have forgotten how to wear normal clothes, or at least how to dress as myself, and not as a generic woman in jeans and a hoodie (which is also fine, but not as fun). To remedy this I will be purchasing some woolies at the weekend once I receive my first pay cheque!!

8. Saturday lunch - on Saturday I can have anything I want for lunch. I don't have to plan, I don't have to make it the night before; it can be warm or cold, it can be as complicated or as simple as I wish. Marmite on toast features heavily in my weekends - oh how I miss a Marmitey lunch!

9. My accent - for the first time ever I am less Northern than everybody else around me when I speak. I work in a corner of West Yorkshire where, somehow, everyone speaks with a strong Bradford accent, and my Southernified way of speaking is becoming more of a pleasure every day. Not that I have a problem with the Yorkshire accent, of course, or any other; being generic can be quite fun sometimes, though!

10. Cycling gloves - Daniel bought me some amazing cycling gloves. My hands are ragged and sore but at least they stay warm. Good gloves have taken on a new meaning now I leave the house in the small hours.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Commuting My Way to Sanity

When I went for my interview for my current job, I came out of the building and told my Mum on the phone that the company was amazing, but there was no way I could do that journey every day.

Two hours from door-to-door: two trains, a 40 minute walk at one side and a 20 minute walk at the other. I won't even mention the cost.

When I was offered the job, I was torn. I so wanted a job in publishing and to stay in York (ie. not move to Oxford/Cambridge, as amazing as that opportunity would have been), but I just couldn't see how it would be possible to do 4 hours of commuting every day, as well as 8 hours working, and stay sane.

Two months later, I am managing, and this is how I do it:

After four weeks of working and commuting, no matter how hard the day has been, and no matter how much toil the 5:15am starts are taking, I arrive home filled with absolute joy at the world. The colours along my path home are incredible right now, and my journey happens to coincide with the perfect light setting, displaying the autumn at its most aesthetic.

This sets me off into delerium, enough to push me to change straight into my running gear and head back out again, or to wash up, or to do the laundry. Autumn seems to put me at my optimum level of happiness and usefulness; let's see what winter brings...

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Cosy Weekend

It has been a weekend of bedding down for the cold season. Filled with indulgence and the most special people, wrapping up warm still feeling like a real pleasuse - my winter duffle coat has made its first appearance and I am excited for chunky hats and scarves!

This weekend, we simply enjoyed our new home...

Small treats to add colour and fragrance to rooms which are still bland and impersonal.

Time for too much tea, time for weekend reading.

Indulgence which is both light and rich! Add stout to your next chocolate cake - I insist!

And the best of friends to share our sweet efforts!

This morning was so crisp and fresh, for the first time in weeks a run was too good to miss. The fresh air was a shock to my system, but an afternoon spent baking (and testing) cookies for a neighbourly 'thank you' seemed to cure all ailments.

And, as always, the weekend was rounded off with a warming bowl of soup. Taken from this recipe, and pictured here, tomato and fennel soup is quite a distance from my usual soup experiments, but certainly to be tried again! Hopefully the exuberance of vitamins will keep me alert and cheery for another big week ahead!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Escape to the Mountains, Part 2

So where were we?

In a hut, in the middle of nowhere, with wet boots, wet trousers, wet undies, a long walk ahead and only a stale teacake and a banana for breakfast.

Oh, and it was still raining.

The wind had died down, thank goodness, and the rain had become a continuous misty sheet of water. We set off at 6am and the sky was heavy and obstinate that it would remain that way. Though I had no will to walk anywhere (ever again), some sort of automatic plodding mechanism inside me kept me walking. Up and up and up, slipping and battling against the wet but with no need to think or feel; just plodding and plodding and plodding. My feet were saturated after about 20 minutes, but even that didn't matter. What kept me going was the promise of a warm bed and breakfast only 14 miles away; a B&B with its own brewery, an amazing menu, and a bath and bed with our deposit on it.

We crossed Scarth Gap Pass in a bleary obstinance, focussing on our pub destination with depressing directness. As we made the final descent of our three-day walk, the beautiful Buttermere came to view. Buttermere is one of the tourist hubs in Lakeland, mainly because the scenery is just stunning, even in grey mist. We stopped for a cereal bar and took in the view for the first time in over a day - quite a feat when you're in an area of outstanding natural beauty!

We opted for the road route as we simply couldn't be bothered with the inevitability of flooded mountain paths, and this lead us nicely into the village of Buttermere. We arrived at 9:45am, and headed straight to a local farm cafe for a hot drink. Still closed, we waved the attention of the owner through the window, giving her the thumbs up as she signalled that she'd be open in 10 minutes. The best hot chocolate of my life was consumed shortly afterwards.

After that there is not much to tell of the walk. The winds picked up and we were knocked about a few times, but the rain cleared and the views were incredible. The B&B is located in a relatively un-visited area of the Lakes, which happens also to be my favourite area. The mountains are less grand but the colours are captivating, changing with every passing cloud.

We arrived and were able to get to our room almost immediately. I took an indulgently hot bubble bath (my eco-ways seem to go out of the window as soon as I stay in any hotel or B&B) and I munched on stale bread and an apple before enjoying the free tea and biscuits. The views out of the window were perfect. Bliss.

After a delicious nap on the delicious bed, we headed down to the pub to begin some indulging of my favourite kind. Local beers were sampled (and I found my favourite beer ever so far - Loweswater Gold) and, a little tipsy, we tucked into a huge and proudly prepared meal, with three bowls of veggies between us because "we haven't had any vitamins for days, we need our vitamins", as I hurriedly explained to the waiter. We were too full for pudding, but we had it anyway - nectarine, raspberry and apple crumble with custard, followed by beers which knocked us slightly over the edge and heavily into our bed.

The next morning was dry, thank goodness, and I justified a really very greedy amount of breakfast (me + breakfast buffet = danger zone) with a plan to walk another few miles back to Buttermere, before finishing our trek with a ride over Honister Pass on the wobbly bus of terror - two near death experiences in three days; we were living on the edge!

Needless to say, it was a relief to arrive back in York, car stuffed full of porridge (we found a 5kg bag of oats in the local supermarket!!!) and local jam, chutney and ales. An eventful trip, a harrowing trip, with stories I never intended to be telling. Still, I'm glad I do have them to tell, in more ways than one - I've learned some important lessons about limits and nature and the purpose of waterproof map-holders, that's for sure.

Fill In The Blanks with a Pasta Lunch

1. Blogging is finally back in my life after a short hiatus, and I realize now more than ever how much I love it. I love to write, I love to meet people, and keeping a diary has always been one of the things I've tried again and again without overwhelming success. Blogging covers all three of these things!

2. A current fashion trend I wish I was brave enough to wear is none of them! If I'm honest I know nothing about what's 'in' these days anyway, but I'm not exactly conservative in my fashion choices and never have been. I would like to chop of my hair again, but at the same time I like it longer :-)

3. My greatest accomplishment in life thus far is crossing the finish line at the Keswick Half Marathon. Hands down, every time. And I probably won't stop bringing it up until I've done a marathon/duathlon ;-) I should also mention passing my Master's degree though, since I found that out only yesterday! (The mark won't be decided until the end of the month - boo!)

4. If I could choose between a mountain or a beach vacation I'd choose the mountains every time, despite my current mountain saga (Part 2 will be revealed tonight!). In the mountains I feel absolute freedom. Daniel loves the sea though, and I'm starting to see how wonderous this can also be.

5. A talent I wish I had is singing. I love to sing. Those around me hate it! I almost took singing lessons once but this didn't materialize for one reason or another. Maybe for the best.

6. A talent I do have is "being able to whip up quick tasty meals when we have no food in the house" (Daniel's words, not mine). I can cook, and the more I cook the more I want to cook!

7. This week has gone incredibly quickly; too quickly! I am glad it's the weekend though - I need some sleep!!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Escape to the Mountains, Part 1

In recognition of the hard work I'd been doing over the summer and as a way to mark the end of my MA, Daniel and I took a short break to the Lake District. In our usual style, rather than using this time to rest and let our bodies and minds slowly syncronize, we instead decided to do a 3-day hike over some fells, taking in two mountains on the way. We planned to camp one night, spend the second night in Black Sail Hut (the most remote hostel in the UK - you can't even drive to it!) and then enjoy a night in my favourite pub/B&B for a real treat.

On the morning of the trip, my Dad texted me to warn of severe weather. There wasn't much we could do except pack our full waterproofs and hope for the best, so we loaded up the hire car with camping gear, crossed our fingers and toes, and headed North West to the mountains!

Oh dear, it rained!

We arrived at the campsite and tents appeared to be floating on the turf, so I insisted we check in to the nearby hostel instead. It was old and stale-smelling and impersonal, but we cooked up our noodles and baked beans in the kitchen (why do these things taste so good from a camping stove but horrendous when cooked indoors?!) and retired to our seperate, single-sex dorms for an early night - fingers and toes still tightly crossed.

The next morning the weather was worse. We had to turn back from our planned route and take the road as the path was literally raging with water, and the rain was gushing so quickly into my eyes that I couldn't see. Not long into the walk we were soaked to the bone, and a quick pause in the lashing rain gave us the opportunity to strip naked in a field and change our soggy underwear before we caught a chill. This seemed to calm the weather a little (maybe the weather Gods were put off soaking us through some more in case we were tempted to take our clothes off again), and as we reached the foot of the first mountain - Green Gable - the conditions could only be described as 'ideal mountain weather'!

It was a lovely walk to the top and the views were superb. Really, really beautiful. In all the years I've been coming to this part of the world, I'd never known that it could be so desolate and so eerie. We were in a corner of the Lake District that remains untouched by the common tourist; an area reserved for the fellwalkers prepared to spend nights in a tent on a mountain side. Far from the comfort of B&Bs and Cumberland breakfasts, this area was almost unrecognizable to me, and there was something incredibly magical about it all.

As we climbed higher the winds began to pick up. The sort of winds that whistle as they strike the ground and scream through your ears - a couple of times we were forced to crouch on the ground in shelter. Our euphoria on reaching the peak of Green Gable was short-lived, probably blustered away by the gales (70mph, according to my Dad); we had a hurried picnic (out of necessity rather than pleasure, for we were both drained to the core by this point, but a pack of Mini Cheddars has never been so precious, in light of what was around the corner) and made our way down Windy Gap towards Great Gable.

I suppose it was really very naive of me to think that Windy Gap had been named that way out of folly. The winds knocked both of us off our feet (no exaggeration), and even to me - someone who will try the least sensible of things just to avoid the 'should have done' clause - there was no possibility of getting up Great Gable and down again in safety. We made the decision to head down to the hostel, which was supported only minutes later by the fastest change in weather I have ever encountered. Suddenly we were enveloped in clouds, and visibility was reduced to about 5 metres in front of us: I started to seriously panic!

To cut a very long, very exhausting and very very nerve-wracking story short, we descended the mountain, me in tears, down a path which had become a muddy stream from the weather. We slipped, we got lost, we were soaked through and miserable, and the whole saga lasted much much longer than I could have ever feared.

When we finally arrived at the bottom of the mountain, we had to cross a stream. By no means would this be a problem on a sunny day, but after days of rain, a stream in a valley surrounded by mountains quite quickly becomes a raging river. Oh, it was horrendous! We selected a less-raging section of water to cross; Daniel climbed in first and I grabbed onto his hand, wading in not long afterwards myself. It was so cold; I felt a chill travel up my legs, through my stomach and into my whole body (the way you feel when going over a hump bridge in a car), and the pressure of water up to my waist was threatening to carry me with it. Of course, we made it safely across the water, and when my feet were firmly on the riverbank I started to shake all over, both from the cold and from utter relief.

The walk to the hostel was not far from here, but every step felt like a mile. Blue skies made an ironic appearance as we came over the top of the final hill to the beautiful sight of the hut that was to provide the one thing I needed at the time - shelter.

My Dad's map, soggy and torn...

We didn't have a dry piece of clothing between us. We had no real food to eat but flapjack and cous cous, and how we were going to get out of the valley the next morning was a question we just didn't like to ask at that point (the only way out was up - not only was the thought of 'up' unbearable, but so was walking, anywhere, ever again). But there was a roof, there was a drying rack, there was Scrabble and the amazing company of a Canadian couple and the hostel worker, and there was instant hot chocolate. Never before have my needs been so basic, but never before have I been quite so convinced that I was going to die only a few hours before.

We retired to bed that night damp, hungry, exhausted, and too aware of how dangerous the most beautiful of landscapes can be in the wrong conditions. My fingers and toes were still tightly crossed for better weather - the next morning we would be crossing a mountain pass, and I was in no mood for more challenges, thank you.

That's all for now! Tune in at a later date for Part 2!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Finding a Balance

Now Wonky Cottage (as we’ve fondly named our new home) is connected to the rest of the world, I can finally begin writing about the many things that have happened over the past four weeks. Beginning with a harrowing trip to the Lake District, where I was able to answer some questions I’ve been pondering for some time, and followed by a hectic but wonderful house move, my launch into the world of work, and a difficult period of adjustment (which is still on-going) in which I have suffered the difficult combination of exhaustion and awe within this new world where I suddenly find myself; there are certainly many tales to tell!

Since I still haven’t taken any photos of our house (until this week things were still waiting to be unpacked) and since the holiday snaps are yet to be sorted, I will work backwards with my updating, starting with an account of the shock I am still faced with every day at being a working woman.

Over the past few weeks I’ve learned one of those important life lessons that would have been so precious were it learned a few years earlier. I suppose that the beauty of these lessons (and with that the beauty of existence itself) is that we have no idea, ever, of what life really is like until we have perspective – perspective that can only come with experience beyond our current status. I now know why people appeared so condescending in the past when remarking upon my status as a student. Condescending, patronizing, all-knowing - but for good reason; it was so easy being a student! Had I known this only a few months before, maybe I wouldn’t have worried about getting to the bank before 3pm so I could meet a friend for coffee afterwards. I wouldn’t have been so harsh on myself if I only managed three running sessions in a week, or if I’d been too tired to go out for drinks a third night in a row. Life has suddenly split in two: time which is my own, and time which isn’t. I have a precious hour in the early morning (I have to get up at 5:30 for a 2-hour commute) in which I listen to the dawn news on Radio 4 and enjoy a decadent bowl of porridge (this seems to get bigger every day, and I am getting through honey at an alarming rate), and another precious two hours in the evening, when I sit with Daniel and enjoy a carefully prepared meal (we are using cooking and eating as our main points of contact) before relaxing with a hot tea and some music until bedtime.

Written down like this, life seems very depressing, but it isn’t at all. Life is full and there is so much energy fuelling my days that I’m a little overwhelmed by the possibilities that lie ahead. I learned very early into this new lifestyle that life is not just about the evenings and the free time – every minute of the day is our own, and every minute offers possibilities, so long as we are willing to take them. Through this attitude I am slowly finding some sort of balance, as if career and commute and morning and evening are all there for my pleasure; my time, to use as I please.

These days there is no options of meeting friends for coffee in the daytime, and I have to actually take time off work (and use my precious few days paid holiday) for mundane tasks like a trip to the bank. I have little energy to run more than once a week, and going out on a week night feels like way too much effort when the early start looms ahead. But my student days are over now; a sad but inevitable change, and one which is accompanied by many other joys which were unknown to me as a student. I’m still desperately trying to push life to its outer edges and fit as much into my time as possible, but I see now how my parents manage this, and why they make the compromises they make so that life is as full and as enjoyable as it can be. I’m on a whole new learning curve, and I’m pretty sure that once I’ve learned how to get the balance right I’ll know it straight away!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Checking In With Some Blanks

I'm optimistic that I'll be back blogging regularly as of next week. I can't wait to write properly again!

For now, some Blanks from Lauren at The Little Things We Do - Happy Friday!

1. The first thing I do on a morning to start my day is unload the previous night's washing up and drink a large glass of water.

2. Today I wish I was a bit less exhausted - it'd be lovely to spend the evening tucked up by the fireside in a cosy pub, but my 5:30am start will mean I'm done by 9pm I reckon!

3. If I had an extra £100 in my bank account today I'd probably feel better about paying the rent next week (boring answer, but honest!)...ok, ok, I'd treat myself to a newspaper and a hot chocolate on the way home, too!

4. Tomorrow I'm hoping to go cycling - rain please stop!!

5. Two things that don't go together are bikes and skirts - I tried this on Wednesday with a signifcant compromise to my dignity!

6. Something I can never pass up at the grocery store is gourds galore!! Oh, autumn! I have a mini collection, which looks so pretty that I'm reluctant to cook them!

7. The last time I tried something new was last Saturday when I tried out Fentiman's Orange Jigger for the first time - delicious!!

Friday, 1 October 2010


It's October, I can't believe it.

I decided to do a quick update; I want to let you know that, though I'm being very quiet right now, I am reading your blogs and I am missing regular posting! I get such limited time online that I have no time to comment, but that doesn't mean I'm not here!

We're getting a phone line today, which should mean an internet connection in no more than 10 days...fingers crossed!

I don't recognise my current life from the life I was living three weeks ago. University seems like a distant dream; time itself seems like a distant dream. I feel as if I'm rushing between one work-related task to another: tired, groggy, constantly hungry. I literally cannot catch my breath, and it's tough.

Inspired by Rachel's latest post, I am setting myself some intentions for this month. The past few months have been so intense, so work or study-related, and now I need some down time.

In October I aspire to:

- Be a bit more selfish: I want to reserve the weekends completely for myself, for recuperation and regeneration

- Get my pulse racing. I need to run! I need to feel fresh air in my lungs! I can feel muscle withering away beneath my skin; my body doesn't look so great but it feels much worse - how do people cope without regular exercise?!

- Spend a long relaxing weekend with my Mum.

- Turn household chores into less of a chore; spend less time bothering about things which don't need bothering about.

- Wrap up, feel cosy, pamper myself as a matter of habit and not force.

- Make plans; plans for seeing friends, plans for celebration, plans for the coming months. Commit myself to having some fun!