Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas One and All!

Merry Christmas, wonderful blog friends!

Wishing you all a warm, peaceful and very happy Christmas!

Here's to a happy and healthy 2012 - I'm sure there will be plenty of adventures ahead :-)


Friday, 23 December 2011

Reverb, 2011: Part 5.

Check out the first four Reverb 2011 posts here!

1. Where did you spend your time?
I spent a lot of time on a train in 2011. The train remain one of my favourite ways to travel, and even though it was too much too often, too expensive and too early or too much after a long day, there was something wonderfully soothing about being on a train. I often took along a book, and have read a number of amazing books thanks to the amount of train travelling I was doing (another thing that puts me off cars - you have to just drive). But my favourite thing was to sit and be. Every morning I would take up my regular seat in the front carriage on the 6:25 from York to Leeds, sitting in the first compartment with the disabled loo and the fold-down seats, and would sit and reflect for the 25 minutes until we got to Leeds. Sometimes there would be a full moon or a sunrise to enjoy, other times the countryside would be particularly beautiful. Occasionally I would be tempted by my book and forget the world completely. But there, on that morning train, I had the one real period of space for myself in the day, and it was wonderful, no matter how cold, tired or fed up I was.

2. What were your favourite songs?
I am not in touch with the current charts, to say the least, so my favourite songs tend to arise from periods of intented listening to old or new albums. Songs specifically would be too hard to pin-point, but there have been some wonderful musical moments this year. The Mountain Goats in the fantastic Brudenell Social Club, finally discovering Meursault, a new Fleet Foxes album, an old Midlake album. Music has not been as high up in my awareness as I would have liked this year, but  have continued to discover and re-discover, and that's always my musical priority,

3. Who did you miss?
I missed my good friends, who feel so spread our and so far away no matter where I am. How I wish we could all be in one place at once!

4. When did you take the easy way?
I took the easier option a bit more often later on in the year than I have done in ages. I let myself stop to sit and sip tea more often, and put on my pyjamas rather than my running shoes without getting hung-up about it. In all, though, I don't really take any easy options - does anyone? The effort put into even the smallest things brings the bigger reward, so from making my own pastry to running up the hardest side of the moor, I'm always eager to work a bit harder to get the satisfying mouthful or sunrise view that comes after it!

5. Where did you eat?
We've had some amazing food this year, both through home-cooking experiments and through trying out restaurants. There have been some amazing curries since our move closer to Bradford, (and more to come in 2012, for which I am already excited!), we had some wonderful local grub in Northumbria, including a meal that we walked 12 miles and risked hungry drunkenness for, and then there were the numerous meals in my favourite York restaurant, which we had occasion to visit a handful of times. Food has been excellent in 2011, and long may it continue!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Reverb, 2011: Part 4

16. What did you accomplish?

I completed five half marathons, a handful of shorter races and two cycling sportives. I pushed myself harder and found that I was capable of more and more. I also graduated with my Master's degree; a day which, to my surprise, left me feeling wonderfully accomplished and so capable of anything. It's a feeling which I am trying to recapture in my career - that would really be an accomplishment.

17. When were you the most grateful?

When I got stuck on a bike ride on my own, and my Dad sent his colleague in a truck to collect me. I was freezing and exhausted and I didn't want to cycle anymore after getting completely lost and dropping my bike down some concrete stairs (ouch!!). I waited in the nearest train station, miserable and shivering, and then I saw the blue vision that was my Dad's company truck. The concern that my Dad showed towards me as a 23-year old reminded me that I'm very lucky indeed; not everyone has someone to catch them when they fall.

18. Who touched your heart?

There has been so much kindness in the most unexpected places this year, but the time that really springs to mind is when I left my old job. I was given two bags of amazing gifts, which was lovely, but it was people's genuine kindess and friendship that really opened my eyes to how wonderful people really are.

19. Where did you visit?

The Lake District, several times.
Most of the North Yorkshire countryside, including Whitby, Scarborough, Bylands Abbey and Pickering.
Northumbria for a wonderful holiday
London for a meeting
Watford for a wedding
Birmingham for a conference
York for Christmas shopping

20. When did you cry?

When I looked at some friends' wedding photos on Tuesday. When I said goodbye to my Uncle. When my Mum cried in the garden. When I got a migraine. After I watched Never Let Me Go. During The English Patient. When I found out I didn't get the job. And many other times!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Reverb, 2011: Part 3

You can find Part 1 and Part 2 here and here!

11. Who surprised you?

I surprised myself, many times!

12. What did you learn?

I learned how to really ride a bike. I learned how to make my own naan breads and how to poach an egg. I learned how to do my job, and then how to do my job well. I learned about winds and how they happen, which is fascinating.

13. When did you feel the most relaxed?

There was one really amazing time at the beginning of summer when we were blessed with what felt like loads of bank hoildays, all squashed together in a row. Not long after that we went on holiday to Northumbria. This whole time I just felt so happy, and so glad to just be, without needing anything else. We spent time reading in the garden, we wandered around York, we saw friends and went for leisurely bike rides. That was a wonderful time, and culminated in a moment which changed me for the better forever - this wouldn't have happened had I been any less than completely at ease with the world, as I was then.

14. Where did you leave a mark?

I couldn't say for sure, but I hope that I've left a positive mark on many people this year. I hope (I think) I've made an impression in my job, and made changes for the better in that respect. I also hope that I've somehow been able to help ease the sadness amongst my family, with my words or anything else.

15. What movies did you see?

So many! Too many to even remember! Some of the highlights:

The English Patient
Never Let Me Go
The King's Speech
Blue Valentine
Run, Fat Boy, Run

And many, many more.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Reverb, 2011: Part 2

See the first part of my Reverb 2011 reflections here!

6. Who was important to you?

People took on a new meaning in 2011, and I'd say that this was the most important thing to have happened this year. Daniel was my rock throughout, and without him I'm not sure if I'd be sitting here writing this now. My family became more than just the people given to me by the power of biology this year - we each went through the same thing in very different ways, and more than ever they are now people independent of me and anything I might know. Rather than causing us to drift into individuality, I feel the need to celebrate the people that I am lucky enough to call family. A mother's love often feels like a secret reserved for her own children, but the love and kindness she has shown to others over the past few years, and especially this year, has overwhelmed me, and made me so proud. My often very silent Dad and brother have spoken words so completely from the heart that I struggled to know how to do them justice, and again, their love and way of pulling together has surprised me and opened up my eyes to the people I am blessed to call family. And then there's my close friends. I feel that my friendships are becoming narrower over time, and though this is distressing and sad in many ways, in other ways it allows me to build upon and cherish the friendships that remain strong over time and distance. This Christmas I'm really trying to show those friends who really make friendship what it is how much they mean to me - even this takes time and effort, and really shows me how important time and effort is when it comes to those I love.

7. What do you hope to remember?
In pictures:

My MA Graduation

Valentine's wine tasting

A sunny April bank holiday

The view from the kitchen in York

March mountain air

Creating our own little garden

Keswick Half Marathon
Cycling the prettiest roads in Yorkshire

Cycling 100 Miles

My first fell run
Northumbrian beaches

Hanging thousands of feet above the Lake District
Making Christmas pudding

Birthdays with friends
November skies

 8. Where did you spend money?

I saved money, rather than spent it in 2011. But good money went to moving house, to cooking up some awesome recipes, to filling my world with amazing novels and films.

9. When were you most scared?

Since March 19th I have been constantly terrified - that we won't heal, and that we will heal, both at once.

10. What questions did you ask?

Why? Many, many times.
Will I ever get where I want to be?
How great can I be, compared to how great I'm being right now? How can I fulfill my potential?
How many ways can you cook turnip?
Do I really need this?
Will it ever stop raining?
Where does the wind come from?*
What shall I read next?

*If you don't know, then I suggest you find out - I watched an incredible documentary on the wind and the science behind it!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Homemade Christmas Granola

I love to make granola, and every year I make a huge batch with my favourite festive ingredients and spices for Christmassy breakfasts, snacks and cheeky suppers. While most people are preparing to loosen off their belts and undo their jeans buttons over the next few weeks, I'm preparing myself for a January half marathon, and with that comes good food with all the right nutrients, and plenty of it! I see this as no reason to avoid all of the festive indulgences, but I am trying to take care and control with my Christmas eating - this granola is one good place to start!

Normally I bake my granola in the oven, but more often than not I end up burning most of it! It also takes a while, and lots of care to get it right, and let's not even talk about the cleaning up that's needed once I've finished! This granola is made on the hob, and though it needs constant attention, it can be started and finished within 45 minutes - not bad for a whole season's worth of breakfast!

On-the-Hob Christmas Granola

5 cups oats (I used 4 cups jumbo, 1 cup rolled)
1 cup oatbran
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup flaked almonds (or nut of choice)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup sultanas
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 large tbsp black treacle
4 tbsp honey
3 tbsp oil (I use groundnut)

1. On a very low heat, stir together the treacle, honey and oil with the vanilla until combined.
2. Add all other ingredients except the cranberries and sultanas and coat evenly - this might take some stirring!
3. Transfer all the granola to a large bowl. Then, bit by bit, heat small batches on a medium-high heat until toasted - this takes about 7-10 minutes per batch.
4. Once the whole mixture is cooked, put it all back in the pan and add the dried fruit. Warm through on a low heat for a couple of minutes.
5. Pack up in jars as Christmas gifts, or serve it with yogurt, milk or anything else!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Reverb, 2011: Part 1

Daniel and I sat together over an amazing Friday night curry at the beginning of this weekend, and in light of our plans to have a full-on Christmassy weekend, we started talking about the year that is, finally, coming to a close.

It's been a tough one, and I'm struggling to consider 2011 as a whole, as a single section of my life. It seems as if it's gone on forever, and whereas I could make a long list of amazing 2010 moments, 2011 has, for the most part, been a long and tired struggle. I've found myself lamenting the year on numerous occasions, as if somehow the very fact that it's 2011 gives reason to all of the difficult things that have happened. Finally, though, the year seems to be giving in to some positives, and I'd be a fool to let myself see 2011 as one long string of sadnesses and frustrations.

Last year, Kaileen Elise put together Reverb10, a fantastic series of thoughtful posts to reflect upon the year. Though I followed the series and wrote some posts of my own, I found it difficult to post every day, and didn't end up getting as involved as I would have liked. This year, Reverb11 has taken on more of a DIY feel, and Kaileen has posted a set of prompts to inspire themes for reflecting on 2011. I feel a real need to think back on 2011 and write about it, a need to work out what exactly happened and think through some of the things that I had hoped would happen, and some of the things that I never knew would happen. I need to do this for myself, but here on this blog feels like a more appropriate place to do it then any hand-written or private medium, as here I think aloud, and so I think more coherently. I hope you'll get involved too, in your own way; maybe the questions that Kaileen Elise has written will help you reflect on 2011, too?

1. Where did 2011 begin?

2011 began in our bedroom in York. I was ill and had gone to bed early, but I got up just before the end of 2010 to watch the fireworks from our bedroom window. The year started with reluctance, just Daniel and me together, not in a celebratory mood on any level. Still, I was ok with that - I was glad to be in his company alone, as so many New Years have been spent surrounded by so many people that I didn't really know, and there's nothing more lonely than that, is there?

2. Who did you meet?

I met some new colleagues when I started my new job in March, and enjoy the wonderful privilege of knowing that some of these colleagues have become very good friends. I've 'met' new people through blogging, and have enjoyed reading their thoughts in their blogs and receiving their comments on my posts. I've also met new people in my yoga class and in my running club - people who will probably never become friends, but with whom I share something quite intrinsic.

3. What books did you read?

So many! Some favourites:

Running in the Family - Michael Ondaatje
The Waves - Virginia Woolf
Starter For Ten - David Nicholls
July's People - Nadine Gordimer
On Beauty - Zadie Smith
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami

4. When did you struggle?

The whole year has seemed to be a struggle!

I struggled to roll out of bed at 5:15 every morning without fail until September. I struggled to keep my head when the trains ran late or when they just didn't work. I struggled to keep faith in myself when I kept being rejected for jobs, and when I was unemployed (though very briefly) despite all of my efforts. I struggled, and failed, to not cry when I was told I was unsuccessful in an interview I thought I was bound to vanquish. I struggled with grief, with waves which bounded and pulled away without warning, and which got stronger with time, not weaker. I struggled to see my family clustered together in sadness as I tried to put our feelings into words, and I struggled to keep the tears inside my head as everyone around me wept to those words. I struggled to be the partner that I always want to be for Daniel, and I struggled alongside him as he battled his own struggles. I struggled up those hills on my bike, and one instance, by the side of the road to Whitby, I struggled not to be sick and not to cry, and to get on my bike and push forth through what really did feel like complete hell. I struggled to walk after cycling 100 miles, and I struggled to stay awake long enough to enjoy a good meal and a pint afterwards.

5. What did you discover?

I discovered what I always knew, one morning in April when I realised where I want to go and that I'll do anything to get there. I also discovered fell running, and I uncovered parts of yoga and parts of my faith that have always been there but have needed some exploring. 2011 has mainly been a year of uncovering, rather than discovering.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Where I Am

I am cosy in my living room, sipping tea as hail smashes down onto the velux window. A spiced stew and jacket potatoes are cooking up in the kitchen. For the first time in a while, I'm feeling pretty calm.

There are still awesome organic veg discoveries happening on a regular basis (marrow turned out quite nicely, moss kale was a winner and I am joyously awaiting some organic parsnips in my stew), and life is ticking over with the pleasures of winter to drive it along. We've discovered an amazing recipe for Madiera cake (thanks Nigella!), I've found a new favourite film in The English Patient (oh how I wept!), and my running is getting better and more enjoyable by the day (I totalled over 27 miles last week!).

Despite all this, the build up to Christmas isn't really happening. I'm surrounded by crafting residue and bits of paper litter the carpet, but I just don't feel it yet. The Christmas tree is scheduled to be assembled at the weekend, and I am planning on making mince pies and simmering up some wassail; there is snow on the tops surrounding the village and the local Christmas festivities are in full swing - hopefully my first mince pie will bring the festive feeling along soon enough.

But, in reality, I can think of one thing and one thing only. I have a new obsession, and it's taking all of my creative energies, a lot of my time and most of my more pleasant social graces right now. I haven't had such a one-track mind for quite a while, so please, do bear with me. From where I'm standing right now, I'm thinking that this electric state will last until about March (the only clue I can give right now - I'm being careful about what I say for a variety of reasons, though), and then, for better or for worse, life will hopefully start to take a more definite shape again.

Until then, well, let's see about a mince pie or two!