Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Morning Routine Daydreams

I've mentioned more than once my love for routine. But this is not just a love for routine; actually it is an obsession with and a fascination for the habitual quirks and commonplace actions that everyone implements somehow into their day. I would challenge anyone who said they lived completely without any sort of routine or ritual in their lives; routine sets pillars around this unruly and unpredictable chaos that is life, and even the most relaxed, disorganized or frivolous of folk must need some sort of line to follow through the days. Surely.

As far as routine goes, though, I am in the highest category of routinedness; I love the comfort of curling up into my predictable day, I love to know what is coming, and I love to know that the very best bits will come tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that. I don't have a cup of tea when I sit down at my desk every morning because I have to - I have it because I enjoy it, and thus am provided with that little bit of pleasure every weekday morning at 8:10am. As reliable as that.

During my walks along the canal back home from work this week I've been contemplating my ideal morning routine; how would my day begin, and what would be my priority for those quiet couple of hours in the early morning?

My day would start early - not as early as it does right now, but early enough to enjoy the still, quiet world before it is disturbed by noisy, colourful life. I'd wake at 6am, grab my running shorts and enjoy a steady jog by the river, not pushing or rushing but allowing myself to wake up steadily with my heart rate. When I get home I'd put on the kettle and head upstairs to have a quick shower, then, when clean and wrapped in a towel dressing gown, I'd sip a mug of hot lemon while making porridge and listening to the morning news. I'd sit together at the table with Daniel, planning the day ahead and discussing the evening to come, while eating porridge with banana, or maybe fruit salad with Greek yogurt. Then, after dressing and collecting together my things for the day, I'd head off to work, satisfied that the day had already been enjoyable and worthwhile.

I wonder when I'll be able to create some version of this in real life. In reality, my morning is as good as I'll get it right now, and in  many ways I enjoy the sleepy quietness that 5:15 brings. I like the way I echo around the house, which still feels soft and bleary from the night, and in some way is still existing in the night time as Daniel continues sleeping upstairs. I love leaving the house in the mist, smelling the new day before anyone else, before it has been filled with fumes and noise. I always say good morning to the newspaper delivery lady, who for a long while was only a voice in the darkness when we greeted each other in the snowy winter mornings last year. Now there are a handful of early-risers to greet every day; the man who sprints past me every morning, the mustachioed old man on a bike, the neighbour who is always chatting at the doorstep, the lady who runs with her beautiful Labrador. I'll miss the unlikely pleasures and the other early morning folk once I am relieved of this long, arduous commute, but the comfort of this routine is what enables me to go on enjoying my mornings each day, even when it's despicably early, when I'm too tired to brush my teeth without holding onto the sink, or when I'm just not ready for the day yet.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

A Little Father's Day Note

My Dad gave me...

...a love for the outdoors, challenge and adventure

...a love for food and experimenting with cooking

...stumpy legs and crooked knees

...unacceptable levels of stubborn

...a need to act on every whim that comes my way bad temper

And he continues to give me support, honest advice and inspiration in everything I do.

I feel especially lucky on this Father's Day in particular, and especially proud. Sometimes it's too hard trying to communicate these complex thoughts to one's parents, though. Sometimes a silly card and a bar of Toblerone just has to do.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Methods in Mindfulness

I've been trying really hard to get the balance right, and I think that, slowly, I might be getting a little less wobbly and a little more sure-footed.

I'm the sort of person who likes to live by guidelines, routines and plans. Every Sunday evening Daniel and I sit together eating soup and plan the week ahead, from what we will eat to when we will go out cycling. Our individual lifestyles are currenly balancing so critically against one another, and any shift in the delicate structure that we've built up could cause chaos (and has on a few occasions). So instead we choose to live by the book, which suits me perfectly, however unexciting it may seem.

But now the days are longer and I've managed to negotiate my working hours to suit me a bit better, we've found that from waking in the morning to falling exhausted into bed at night, it's possible to really live every minute. The washing still needs doing and packed lunches still need preparing, but alongside our sound day-to-day structure there are wonderful periods of stillness, within which we have begun to thrive over the past weeks. Simple choices, an effort to be more mindful, a decision to move slightly out of the boundaries of our comfort zones have brought a harmony which allow spontenaity to entwine around our routine.

- Fresh evening walks by the river

- Slow cups of tea and contemplation

- Amazing healthy teas packed with protein and greenery

- Long evening runs through the countryside

- Listening to favourite albums quietly on the sofa

I have loosened many of my self-imposed restrictions to find that balance and mindfulness take care of any lack of control I may have had. Sometimes I falter, of course, but what is balance if not a continuous string of tiny stumblings which together hold us safely upright?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Sunday Dinner: Grapefruit and Chick Pea Salad

Since we're doing so much training at the moment, we have a little rule when it comes to eating at the weekend. On Saturdays, after the training ride, we eat whatever we fancy and in whatever quantity we need to satisfy, while on Sunday we try and bear in mind the word 'nourish', since recuperation is just as important to the training as the actual bike ride.

While mooching in the supermarket this Sunday, as I so love to do, I couldn't help be drawn in by the citrus fruits section. Something inside me was hankering after some juicy citrus, and I just couldn't leave without picking up a fresh pink grapefruit, which is one of my favourite treats in the world.

I got home and fancied a salad for lunch, and as I love the idea of fruits in salad (check out some of my experiments here) I decided to have a go at a grapefruit salad. I was delighted with the result; it brought some real sunshine into a very rainy Sunday in June, and was ready to eat in under 10 minutes!

Serves 2

1 pink grapefruit, peeled
1 tin chickpeas, drained
A handful of fresh mint
Mixed lettuce leaves
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil (extra virgin if possible!)
Sea salt flakes

Remove the grapefruit flesh from the skin and scatter over the lettuce with chickpeas and mint. Drizzle the salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and season! Done!

When I announced that I had to post about the lunch I was eating, Daniel said I should do a post about his lunch too. Marmite on toast with baked beans and cheese - if you don't fancy salad, this is always a winner!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Moments, X.

The past few weekends have been so busy, so full-on. I feel as if I've rushed through them from one high to another, without much time to sit and enjoy the surrounding moment. I've been happy to get back to a slower pace this weekend, and long may it continue (ha!).

A surprise bunch of flowers on a Friday evening, and a plate of delicious vegan spaghetti,
Waking up to find my five-day migraine had dissappeared, early-morning sunshine and an exciting day ahead,
Rousing a deer as we sped through the countryside, passing fields of peas and green barley,
Picnicking on a rickety bench at Bylands Abbey, munching peanut butter sandwiches in the sunshine,
Hot tomato soup after the hardest bike ride, thanking our bodies for all the hard work,
Buttoning up my favourite dress ready for a delicious meal; feeling quite glamorous in make-up and high shoes,
Sticky toffee pudding and ice cream; savouring every delicious drop of toffee sauce,
Waking up to Sunday morning sunshine, breakfasting in the garden with fresh bread and clover honey,
Caught in a rainstorm in my sandals - wet toes and that delicious smell of summer rain,
Hiding from the rain in my apron, baking batches of biscuits for the week ahead,
Struggling through my first yoga session in too long; setting good intentions for the next few weeks

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

My Day on the Fells

The plan was to go out on our bikes every Saturday until our race on the 14th August. The plan was to forget running, to leave it as a useful way of cross training and nothing more.

But then a colleague mentioned to me that he was 'training for the Wharfedale off-road half marathon in two weeks', and my ears pricked up. I did a bit of Google-ing, and it wasn't long before I'd made a deal with my Dad that I'd do it if he did (for those who don't know my Dad, this was basically signing myself up there and then).

I didn't hear from him for a week. Then, the following Tuesday (four days before the race), my Mum casually mentioned during a long phone chat that 'Dad said you're doing a race on Saturday...?'. Great, thanks Dad!

So, 6am on Saturday morning I found myself gobbling my breakfast as if it were to last me three weeks. I was nervous and my tummy was gurgly and aching; I had no idea what to expect, and I was quite sure that I was an almost insulting level of under-prepared. But I was also excited, and ready for anything - I'd promised myself to approach it as an adventure, and that walking, eating chocolate or even dropping out at any point during the race was very much allowed!

The route was almost all off road, covering part of the Dales Way and looping back round the Wharfedale valley. I knew there would be a nasty ascent over a couple of miles in the first half, but after that it was pretty much all flat or even downhill. I was excited to run through the wilds, and curious to see how fell running would differ from bog-standard running; could it really be that much more difficult?

We arrived at the starting venue, which was a rugby club nestled in the Wharfedale valley. Straight away I felt as if it were different from a normal race; the runners looked different - more rugged, and, dare I say it, even fitter then usual! I felt rather chubby and out of place, and I couldn't really concentrate on getting ready, warming up or anything else; I was too in awe of what I was about to try and do.

The race started before I'd really had any time to prepare myself mentally. I was just running, very steadily, as streams of others ran past me. Usually I find my place at the starting point and run comfortably alongside those around me, but this time I was sure everyone would speed off ahead and I'd be left on my own! Luckily, we turned left and off the road, which created a long back-log of runners. Here I was able to find my place, warm myself up a bit more, and prepare, finally, for thirteen miles of something I had never even attempted (Daniel had suggested I started with a 10k...sometimes his ideas seem so sensible!).

As soon as we hit the track it got really tough. We were going up and up and up, and the path was so rocky underfoot that you couldn't just run - you had to watch out for every step, and there was lots of jumping and leaping involved. Not even a mile in and I was exhausted, but I kept on running as others around me started to walk up the hill. Once the track opened out it was easier to pick up a steady pace (with intermittent stiles to slow the whole process down!), and the landscape opened up along with it, with views so stunning I had to laugh out loud. The wind was strong and a fine mist was blowing around me, and I kept thinking to myself wow.

Courtesy of David S Brett Photography
We had checkpoints to reach every few miles, and I was surprised at how soon the first one appeared. We had a card which had to be checked through a little machine, logging times and making sure we were getting along safely. There were only 400 runners doing the race, and it was not far into the race that we all dispersed, meaning that a lot of the time I was running completely alone. Quite an experience.

Mastiles Lane, the dreaded two-mile ascent of almost 1,500 feet, began after the first check point. Once again I kept on running, keeping my eyes to the ground as I do when cycling up impossible hills. I reached what I thought was the top and breathed a sigh of relief and victory at having conquered the whole thing without having to walk, and then I saw another long ascent ahead. I could lie and say I ran it all, but I won't - even walking up there was tough!!

From the top of Mastiles Lane it was sheer bliss. I ran, jumped and lolloped through the fells, jumping over streams, plodding muddily through marshes and generally enjoying the scenery, the smells and the whole experience. I couldn't believe it when I got to the second check point and saw that I'd already done 8 miles (there were no mile markers along the way), it had flown past!

Another remarkable feat of wonder was that it was so much easier on my joints. Usually I get to mile 10 and I start to hurt everywhere, but this time I was fine the whole way through - even my hips didn't give me any grief. I got to mile thirteen and I could have carried on for another while - I was dissappointed to be heading to the finish point, where I'd have to get back to reality, roads and humans! Still, finishing was an amazing feeling, and I was greeted by my Dad and three of my work colleagues who had also taken part. I'd been running for 2 hours and 48 minutes - the longest run I've ever done (and the furthest, as it was actually 13.5 miles!).

I was also starving, which is unusual as I normally don't want to eat much after a race. I had a flapjack and drank half a litre of orange juice (!), and then we headed to a nearby pub for chips and tomato soup. By this point I was so tired and weather-worn that I couldn't stand to be outside, so we hid away in the corner of the pub and discussed the day in the most vivid detail.

Chips and Taxidermy
 Also unsual was that I didn't have the blues the following day - normally I get incredibly grumpy on the day after a race and can never find a way to entertain myself, but I've been on a high ever since. I can't wait to get out there again, and again, and again. In fact, I'm planning to join a fell running club and allow myself to become addicted. Watch this space!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A New Hobby!

Just when I thought my running season was over for one year, I found myself frantically studying maps of the Yorkshire Dales on Friday evening.

My first attempt at fell running: a thirteen mile circuit of Wharfedale. It was muddy and crazy and so incredibly hard.

And I'm pretty sure I'm addicted!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Embracing June

I can't believe we're already half way through 2011. I don't even want to consider how fast the past six months have flown, so I won't.

After an incredibly busy and exciting 2010, my intention for 2011 was clear: to settle, take time to stop, and be kind to myself.

So far, this year has been a really hard one. I saw the year in from my sickbed with the worst illness I've had in years, and weeks after returning to work I felt slow, frumpy and unfamiliar with myself. There has been a lot of sadness and uncertainty in the air, and whistle-stop visits to be with my family have taken up many weekends. I finished my job without another role to go to after a handful of unsuccessful interviews, and I had five very scary days of joblessness before I was returned to the working world (I appreciate that five days is a blessed nothingness of unemployment, but it was very scary at the time). In March we lost someone too wonderful for words, and though grief is supposed to get easier, I can say with certainty that the past two months have only gotten more and more difficult.

But I can't possibly leave it at that; sitting here and moaning about my difficult six months is not what I want to do. As difficult and challenging as this year has been, I can't say that I'm not better off, stronger and happier for all the things I've had to face.

Somewhere along the line I've started embracing my health more than I ever have before, packing my body with great foods, treating it to a good scrub and a massage and maybe even a pedicure every once in a while. I feel stronger, fitter and more energetic than I ever have, and I'm becoming more and more at ease with myself physically. This has come from a continuing effort to be kinder to myself; to rest when I'm tired, to stretch when I've been sitting all day, to eat when I'm hungry and stop when I'm not. Clothes that didn't fit me in January are fitting comfortably in June, and the tiny jeans that accompanied me through my skinny phase remain untouched in the drawer.

On an evening I now find myself looking forward to going to work the next day, despite the long commute. Bad luck and frustration has ended up providing me with a job that I absolutely love, that means something to me, and that brings me right up to and slightly beyond my optimum stress level before I batter it down with my skills. I am thankful every day that I didn't get any of the jobs that turned me down.

I'm not stronger for losing someone close to me too soon, but these things bring people together, shifting circles and families in ways which we never knew we might work. My 'home' family has been extended to include a few more wonderful faces, who we laugh with more often than we cry with, who we bake for and call in on whenever it takes our fancy, who know and feel exactly what we know and feel. This sadness also prompted Daniel and I to take on the challenge of a 100-mile bike race in August, when we will be raising money for a charity close to all our hearts.

So now the summer lies ahead of us and its promising to be an exciting one. Rather than leaving these difficult bits behind me, I want to carry on holding them close over the coming months, when no doubt more stumbles will occur. I feel more awake and more ready for the world then ever, and with warmer days forecast ahead (and, please, a bit less wind!), strawberries turning red in our garden and a holiday waiting at the end of June, summer is already bursting at its seams before me!