Friday, 31 December 2010

2010: A Year Packed With Challenge

Thinking back on 2010, it's hard to think of something that I didn't do. I don't think it would be arrogant of me to say that I achieved a lot this year, accomplishing many personal, physical and academic challenges. I'm sorry that 2010 is drawing to a close as the year has taken a very natural course; I haven't really searched for anything this year. I didn't make any plans or any sort of 2010 to-do list, I'm not even sure I had a resolution; everything was taken in my stride, and somehow I'm at the other end of the most challenging, exciting and life-changing 365 days without having planned to be here!

The most obvious developments over the past 12 months have been in my personal life. I'm climbing what appears to be the right career ladder for me, sharing my life with someone awesome and living in the home I always dreamed of. But the smaller steps to getting here have been the biggest lessons and challenges; passing my MA and loving every minute of getting there, presenting my research at a conference, getting my work published (eeek! More on that soon!) - realizing that I am capable of doing anything I put my mind to. Climbing mountains, running races, cycling miles - challenges that neither me nor anyone who knows me would have thought I'd be taking on only a few years ago!

Of course it's easy to see the amazing sparkly bits of a year, but 2010 has certainly had its downs and it would be unfair of me not to acknowledge these. There has been some self-doubt, some exhausted tears, a knee injury, a couple of arguments, long periods without any money and two bouts of freezing weather. I'll never forget the Big Freezes of 2010, I'm sure, but this will always be the year that I did awesome stuff, tired myself out and enjoyed the aftermath of doing so!

Snapshots of 2010

Cycling along Connemara's costal paradise

Irish mountain adventures in the sun

Being overwhelmed by ideas

My Dad's face as I crossed the finish line

Lemonade after completing the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge

Local Lakeland Ale after surviving a harrowing trek!

The most remote hot chocolate of my life, and my longest period without a shower!

Blown over by gales, before it got serious

Sitting by the sea with Daniel after my first ever 50-mile cycling trip

Racing around York with Daniel and my Dad

And 2011? I'm hoping to settle next year - to secure my currently insecure job, to find balance and prioritize my time with a little more care. Apart from that, I'm ready to jump in head-on, a little apprehensive about the half marathon that is quickly approaching in January, but determined not to let it put a black mark on the start of the year!

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Boxing Day Adventures

It has become a family tradition to head out early on Boxing Day morning for a nail-biting adveture in the countryside. Previous years have seen us walking through fields knee-deep in snow, hanging off Goredale Scar by our fingertips and trying to convince my Dad that we're too tired to add 7 miles to the walk just to see a steam train. It's a day dreaded by my Mum, abhorred by my brother and usually directed by me; a job which gives me a little too much power for my liking.

This year we all slept way past the dawn light, and so the adventure was postponed to 27th December to allow for optimum daylight and energy. We were planning to do a 7 mile walk in Nidderdale, which would have taken in a few quaint villages, a pub stop and plenty of time to enjoy a chilly picnic, but when my Dad mentioned climbing Mount Skiddaw, I (rather sefishly) did all I could to push this idea - Skiddaw had been my 'Challenge for 2009', which I failed to fulfill, and so I was determined to take the opportunity to get up there in 2010, instead!

My Mum opted out for the first time since this tradition began, and my brother simply did not turn up to take part, but Daniel, my Dad and I set off early for what was a very unexpected adventure. I should have known when we had to jump-start the car in the driveway that it would be a day of challenges, but even so; what is a challenge if not another opportunity to grow?

We arrived in Keswick to a layer of snow and heavy skies. Luckily Dad had packed up the car with waterproofs and thermals, and so I pulled on my bodyweight in walking gear and we head off, upwards!

Skiddaw was heavily immersed in cloud. This is an important mountain for me: it has been the backdrop to all of our family holidays, and it was the first mountain that I learned to identify in the Lake District. It's not particularly high (just short of 1,000m) and there is no scrambling involved in the climb, but still I've left it far too long before climbing it, for whatever reason; it was so good to finally get my feet on that slope!

I only need one word to describe the whole thing: tough. For the first hour of climbing I had no idea how I'd ever get to the top. I was dragging a lot of extra body weight up that mountain (both in snow-gear and Christmas pudding!) and the snow was thigh-high in places. After only a short climb we were in the clouds and couldn't see the path ahead or the views behind; I had no idea how far we had to go, but even so it was too far!

After about two hours of trudging at a steep slant, we came accross another group of walkers, and one man called out "Two more minutes and you're there!". Apart from being overjoyed, I was amazed: we were actually going to make it! The slope gradually petered out to a large flat expanse, and after some blind wandering around on the mountain top we came to a cairn. The wind! The rain! The cold! I noticed for the first time that each of us was covered in ice, as the driving rain had frozen, turning us into ice-beings; every move we made was accompanied by a crunching sound as the ice on our clothes broke away!

Heading back was simply agony. The wind and ice was blasting into our faces, we could hardly see a few metres ahead, and the wind had blown over our footprints making it difficult to navigate the path back down. The snow was so deep that I was almost falling down the mountain, caught by the snow with every step. After a while this got easier, and with more confidence I was gliding down the mountainside - it became incredibly fun, and much easier on the knees than most descents!

Eventually we arrived underneath the cloud, to a view more stunning than any I have seen. The world was in sepia, and it was hard to believe that it wasn't simply a painting in front of us.

I arrived back to the car aching like crazy and absolutely chilled to the bone. It was so cold that none of us had eaten the whole time, so I swallowed a few flapjacks almost whole, suddenly amazed at how hungry I was. We stopped off at a pub to warm by the fire, admiring the wonderful decorations in Keswick for the first time.

We arrived back home late, to the traditional Boxing Day supper of broccoli and stilton soup with jacket potatoes. Another amazing adventure, and another challenge squeezed into the end of 2010 - a year which has been filled with some of the biggest challenges of my life!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Our Christmas Weekend


I am sitting alone at home, in my dressing gown, wishing that I had taken more photos, that time had passed more slowly, that I had drank a little more wine and eaten a bit less Christmas pudding. The lack of noise and excitement around me is deafening; being back here feels too normal - it can't be over yet, can it?

What this tells me, though, is that it was wonderful. Every single second. It was very different this year, and somehow I managed to pack everything in and more, maybe just by shifting my traditions a little.

Our Christmas began on Christmas Eve.

A lazy afternoon, watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the original - how amazing is Gene Wilder?!) and eating our year's worth of sweets. Bliss!

Followed by my special spiced winter squash stew, which is becoming a certain tradition of mine.

We then hit the tree for some unwrapping, helped along with sherry and mince pies. I seriously think that Christmas is much better as an adult; sherry might be my favourite drink ever!

We headed to bed pretty early, as we had to be up and full of beans the next morning for a 40 mile cycle in minus temperatures - our no-car commitment really was pushed to the limits!!

We headed back to my parents' house in high spirits; we felt a bit crazy, but what better for Christmas Day than to spend time doing what you love with the people you love? It was tough, and very very cold, but arriving at home to a hot shower, piles of presents and my Mum's amazing Christmas dinner was all the more wonderful for the efforts we made to get there! Christmas Day was spent laughing, eating and sipping champagne. Unlike previous Christmases, the day came to a natural close when no one could keep their eyes open, and I fell into the most satisfied Christmas slumber imaginable, despite the huge cheese-and-biscuit supper that usually leaves me awake for hours!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Christmas at Wonky Cottage

On Friday, before Daniel headed South for too many days and nights, we decked the halls of our new home, bringing Wonky Cottage into the festive season with aplomb!

Fuelled with pies, braized red cabbage and roasted root veg (a meal we had been looking forward to for weeks), we unpacked our ornaments, untangled the fairy lights, and set to turning our living room into a cosy grotto.

The feasting has begun, and scents of cinnamon and star anise are seeping through the house. Mince pies pile high on plates around us, batches ready to be handed over to family and friends in the coming days.

A wonderful time of the year, indeed!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

On A Bad Day

As if by magic, the lost pleasures of solid habit reappear on bad days: a reminder that even the lowest moods are only temporary.

The radio speaks louder; singing Christmas carols, telling stories, recounting lives.

Visiting parents' smiles are the smiles of both friends and family, warming through a cold mood.

Twinkling lights on the tree serve as a reminder of year-round love, joy and peace; the decking of our cosy halls being only one of many shared moments throughout the year.

Soup, in its simplicity, comforting the soul, nourishing maladies and bringing tastebuds back to life.

Swallowing up both chapters of my book and cups of tea, getting lost in worlds far from this one.

We do some things every day, every week, or even every year, without realizing how symbolic they can be. All it takes is a cold, lonely day in December when I struggle to get out of bed to understand more about the choices I make and don't make, and how important these can be when we need them.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Gebrannte Mandeln

Sometimes a little inspiration can be the best gift at Christmas, especially when it's from a friend who shares your love for the kitchen and for homemade treats!

I have spent my afternoon filling the house with caramel aromas, turning sugar and nuts into the most simple of homemade treats, but utterly wonderful. Every sneaky bite took me back to the magic of Christmas in Germany.

A perfect gift to send the in-laws, great for nibbles at tomorrow's party, and ideal for a Putting-Up-the-Christmas-Tree treat.

Vielen Dank, Annika!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Six Things

I've been reading inspiring posts prompted by Reverb10 here, here and now also here since the beginning of this month, and these posts have really made me think about what I would write, were I also taking part.

One of the prompts asked the writer to outline 11 things to eliminate from life in 2011, which got me thinking about what my 11 would be. It's hard, thinking of 11 things to change; one minute I can't think of anything, the next I have hundreds of things to improve upon, but I've started to mentally whittle it down to my real priorities. I could only think of six really achievable goals for 2011, but that's ok, I'm happy with six goals - this remains in line with number 1, too!

6 Priorities for 2011

1. Prioritize - Since starting work I've realized that time is precious; really really precious. If I had all the time in the world, I'd bake, chat, contact friends, do the ironing, do yoga four times a week and run five times a week, paint my toenails and shave my legs and everything else that I really would love to do. But that's not life, when you're working or commuting for 12 hours of every day. Life is a tricky balancing act - a balance of health, happiness, career, housework and relationships. Every day I want priorities; simple, achievable priorities to distract from the overwhelming 'to-do' list in my head.

2. Quench my thirst - I don't drink enough; I want to drink more. The upside is that I no longer drink tea or coffee during the day, the downside is that I don't drink much else, either. I used to drink pints and pints of plain water every day, and I want to take some steps back to that point. I'd be surprised if I didn't feel better for it.

3. Get out more - one evening a week, get out there and enjoy living in a city, regardless of the inevitable tiredness to follow the next day.

4. Walk - I spend a lot of time cycling, running and sitting. When I do walk - a few miles every day, I should add - I'm hurrying along, anxious to be at my desk for 8:30am. I see walking as a leisurely activity, that takes time and involves getting lost in thought and wonder at the world. I used to walk most days, and without it I feel like time is rushing past, slipping through my fingers like sand. As the days get longer I hope to hop off the train early, and to walk at the weekends - in the city, in the countryside, around the houses - everywhere.

5. Romance - I am incredibly lucky. But relationships take work, and now that Daniel and I see eachother every morning and every evening, I can see how my regard for doing more 'togethery' things is waning. I don't only want to be the recipient of romance and surprise, I want to create romance and surprise myself, too. A little more thought, a little more skillful planning, a little more seizing of opportunities.

6. Screen time - I spend all day staring at a screen. I am eating my lunch and updating my blog right this moment. One easy way to bring more space into my life would be to take some space to eat my lunch, away from my work-base. I'm too aware that this routine of eating and browsing the internet is a faliure in some way. I don't read and eat, I don't watch TV and eat - eating deserves attention and acknowledgement in its own right!

Priorities, not goals. No losing ten pounds, quitting smoking or doing thirty miles a week on an exercise bike: I want to make small changes, not big shifts!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Talk About Frustration

Today it all got a bit too much.

I headed out in full lycra, ready for a good nine-mile slog in my running shoes.

I skidded my way down to the riverside: the path was an ice rink.

I skidded my way back again and onto the main street: the path was a bumpy mess of slush, grit and thick, hard ice.

I went home.

For days there has been an energy raging around my veins, begging me to run or cycle. It's leaving me preoccupied and jittery, feeling almost like there is something wrong with me, almost like I'm addicted.

So today, I did the unthinkable; something that I swore I would never do: I went to the gym.

I got on the treadmill and started up. Only three minutes in and all I could think was "this is unbearable!"; there was no fresh air cooling my veins, the TV ahead of me was playing the most awful Saturday TV, and the music was pumping out so loud I couldn't even hear myself breathe. What's more, a little screen on the machine was telling me how many calories I was burning - almost insulting, I switched that off right away!

When I finished my 5.5 miles of running nowhere really quite fast, I felt nothing. No surge of joy, no aches in my muscles, no odd nausea, no will to carry on for a couple more miles.

I run to run away and come back again, I run to pause from life. I run in silence, to the pace of my breathing and my heart-rate, not to the beat of a drum. I want to ache when I get back, I want to feel slightly broken in the most wonderful way; so I can take care of my body and build myself up again. I don't run to burn calories or to spend energy. I don't run to improve my physique or to lose weight. I don't run because I should exercise for 30 minutes, 5 times a week.

Never have I loved running so much as I do now; I am more aware than ever of what I love about it. It's never a chore. When I go out for a run, I (usually) love every single step I take: it's not an enemy or even a challenge.

I will continue to wait impatiently for the snow to melt. That is all.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Never Have I Needed a Friday Quite as Much!

I have been quiet here, and I'm hoping this might change. Optimism: always my way of doing things.

I have been quiet because of the ice. Because it takes me much longer than it should to hobble home on a slippery sheet, holding a bike and hoping desperately for a day above freezing.

The time and the effort leave me tired, unable to write or think, so my blogging exploits are lagging.

It's a good job I love my job, that's all I know.

1. I wish that the ice would melt. I wish I didn't dread going outside these days, I wish I could run. Oh man I wish I could run, anywhere, right now.

2. Yesterday I started writing my Christmas cards. I wrote one, then made a hot chocolate and went to bed. Such is my Christmas spirit right now - where is it? I can't find my Christmas spirit!

3. Today I will write my Christmas cards! Yes! I will write them while snuggled together with Daniel, drinking sherry and eating our special Christmas chocolates from a posh chocolate box!

4. Tomorrow I will make mince pies, and mull some wine. And, if the weather is fine I plan to run and run and run, and get this urge out of my system!

5. Maybe I will talk about this weather in 50 years, and tell my Grandchildren about my 3 hour journeys through snow, wind and ice to work. To work with books! Oh books, remember those?!

6. Someday things will change. But they will change slowly and we won't notice, until we think back and remember how much better it all was then. We own the moment, and the someday that may or may not arrive someday, and so it is important to take action now, while holding on tight to the things we want to keep. (Or else, someday I would like to live in the countryside and have lots of babies)

7. I love way too many things, sometimes it gets a bit overwhelming

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Advent Teabag Thoughts - Santa's Secret

Santa's Secret Fruit Tea for Monday 6th December (I know it's Tuesday now, nevermind).

I suppose everyone must remember that moment when they realized that Santa Claus didn't exist. I do, all too vividly; I was probably surprisingly old to still be writing to Santa Claus, but still it hurt to the core to read those words in Smash Hits magazine.

It still hurts now, to be honest. It feels criminal to type those three words, and so I won't type them again. Because the way I felt then when I saw such a thing written in glossy print is absolutely no different to how I feel when I see it now. I still believe in Father Christmas, and I am twenty three years old. Even when I was eight or nine, I knew inside that Santa couldn't exist, but still I went on believing. When I saw it published in black and white I wasn't surprised, I was simply disappointed and hurt - hurt that anyone would bother questioning such a wonderful and magical idea.

Father Christmas isn't about children getting presents, after all. He's about the Christmas spirit, the joy of innocence and magic in everyone which should be so vibrant at Christmas time. The belief that we need to be good all year, whatever being good means to each of us, if we are to allow ourselves the indulgence of the festive season. As a non-religious Christmas-lover, this is for me a season for joy and festivity, for indulging and laughing, for feeling warmth and magic all around as the fairy lights twinkle and the mulled wine flows.

And Santa Claus has to be a part of that magic; the letting-go and frivolity of spirit as well as body.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

A Sunday in Photos

A slow, late breakfast with Daniel, catching up from the silent 5am
breakfasts of the week behind us.

A long morning run in the snow, getting wet and muddy and loving every bit.

Crafting our Christmas cards with tea and biscuits.

An afternoon viewing of Airplane, snuggled on the couch with knitting.

Squash and coconut soup, with homemade chilli croutons.

A lousy Saturday was followed by the most perfect Sunday. I'm sad that the day is drawing to a close, as the temperament I've had all day today doesn't cross my mood very often. A slow, minute-by-minute day, stress-free and not overwhelmed by the prospect of the very busy week I have ahead. These lovely days spent at home with Daniel remind me just how much I miss him during the week.

I'll be back with more Teabag Thoughts tomorrow!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Advent Teabag Thoughts - Fruit Delight

Fruit Delight Tea for Friday - Hurrah!

If you were a fruit, what would you be?

I'd be a mango. Tough on the outside, often seen in shades of green, at my sweetest in summer and my worst in winter.

I love fruit. I've had a fruit revival in my life as my hips have started to expand, and the variety in colour and taste is just wonderful - is there any more sensual food than fruit? Fruit is such a physical foodstuff. It needs washing or peeling, pulling apart, crunching. Every texture is different - the pear, the kiwi, the mango, the passionfruit, the banana. The colours are just endless, from brown to blue to yellow, and the tastes so varied, from citric to sweet to...blleaurgh what is that?! And the smells - clementines at Christmas, bananas before a run, peaches in the French supermarkets, melons in summer; all linked so strongly to seasons and memories and habits.

My thoughts on fruit are more profound than I initially imagined!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Advent Teabag Thoughts - All the Best

My tea for today, December 2nd, is All the Best Tea.

At first I struggled to think of anything at all that I could write about 'All the Best', but then it struck me, quite clearly.

I am sending 'All the Best' to you good people out there, you who read this blog silently, you who leave comments that I so love to read, and especially to the bloggers whose blogs I read almost every day, without fail. Every day I read a whole selection of blogs which make me smile, make me wonder, make me think about things in a new way, and whereas I used to regularly leave comments on other blogs, I now do so only on rare occasions. I have half an hour for lunch every day, and in this time I read my favourite blogs. I have so many favourite blogs that I usually have no time to comment, though I mean to every day. So here's a big hello and an all the best to everyone in Blogland who may happen accross this blog, to those who read this blog regularly and to those whose blogs I read regularly - HELLO! I'M HERE! I WISH YOU ALL WELL!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Advent Teabag Thoughts - Thank you

Advent - the time for waiting and preparing. This is one of those seasons built for religion that can be appreciated and recognized by the religious and non-religious alike; for this reason I enjoy Advent for all the right reasons, as oppose to Easter, which I enjoy only for the 4-day holiday and annual easter egg hunt!

Waiting is something that I do a lot of these days, with regard to public transport, at least. However, when it comes to waiting as a matter of reflection and patience, rather than a matter of circumstance, I think many people are lacking in the ability to sit quietly and do nothing. We needn't wait for much at all these days; instant information at the touch of a button, instant meals with the bleep of the microwave, instant coffee, 'instant' weightloss, super-speed broadband and downloadable music - we have everything at our fingertips!

One thing I am good at is sitting quietly and doing nothing, though I probably don't do enough of it. I went to a Quaker school, and used to love the silent periods of reflection that we were granted each day. Now I sit quietly on the train - no music and usually no book - and reflect, waiting patiently for the journey to end, in no hurry to reach my destination. I feel quite hypocritical that this is the only time I take for reflection these days - it's not exactly my number one thing to be doing before 7am!

So, onto the matter at hand - Advent! This year I have a wonderful calendar made up of different teabags; a German delight brought back for me from a tea-devoted friend (I also got a crocheted tea cosy, to fit with the theme). Many of the teas are named along the theme of Christmas or goodwill, and so I thought it'd be fun to share my teas, and my associated thoughts, as we enjoy the waiting and preparing. Preparing I will certainly be doing plenty of, but waiting and thinking probably less so, especially at this busy time of year. A daily cup of tea and some quiet reflection may be just the thing!

Thank you tea: An appropriate tea for today! Today I am thankful that I don't have to choose between heating and eating, that I am working for a company who allow me to be at home when the snow is knee-deep, that I live with a man who will trudge out to buy bread and leave me cosy in my pyjamas. And that I have a friend who will crochet a tea cosy for me!