Monday, 31 December 2012

Awesome 2012

Just yesterday I was flicking through my 2012 diary, looking back over the year. The retrospective view of some of these entries is so incredible it can warp whole moments; how life was and how it then comes to be, subtly reflected in the quick scrawls of appointments and deadlines in a slim pocket Moleskine.

Saturday 28th January, 10:30am - mortgage appointment became the possibility of returning to York
Saturday 4th February 12:00 - Butcher Terrace, 13:15 H Street brought us here, sitting on our sofa in this wonderful corner of the city we call home
Sunday 11th March - PECO @ Otley Chevin was the race I never attended. Daniel proposed to me that afternoon

And so it goes. The diary shows the admin, the arrangements and appointments (both attended and otherwise) that brought us on that fantastic journey that was 2012. I decided this time last year that 2012 would be the Year of Awesome. Somehow, whether it was divine assistance, coincidence or sheer determination, it totally was awesome.

My 2012 began on a mountainside, drinking champagne while we watched the Lakeland skies light up with celebration. There were a few bleak weeks of crying into my breakfast cereals, writing frantically without any real hope of success. I submitted a paper to a journal, sent desperate emails to academics all over the country and the world, and wrote my cause in as many different ways as I could muster. I got signed off sick from doing a job that I hated, but I carried on turning up every day regardless, taking long walks in my lunch breaks to obsessively plan my way out. I ran away from it with serious training, getting up at 5am to do frosty 11-milers or hill sprints before work. We visited York in the snow and fell in love with the perfect house on the perfect street, waiting outside for the estate agent in the freezing cold, planning a future that felt within our grasp after months of dreaming. I was checking my emails illicitly and obsessively, waiting for the news that I needed while remaining cheerfully pessimistic about the fact that it wasn't going to happen. I had Plans B, C, D and E at the ready, but secretly my world depended on Plan A. On 9th March at 14:40 I unexpectedly received that email. I opened it flippantly, without hope or even urgency, to find that I'd succeeded, PhD funding was mine. Two days later, Daniel proposed to me on York city walls while two teenagers looked on eating a tube of Pringles. The daffodils were out, the skies were blue, we were slightly drunk and the world was my own to enjoy. I laughed and laughed and laughed before finally saying yes - and I would have always said yes - because the joy was just too big to fit into one moment.

The weeks that followed now look like a dream. We completed buying our house and left work early to collect the keys, taking the 2-hour journey to York. Opening the door with our own set of keys was one of the most special moments of my life; the house was cold and smelt of fennel, and we walked around every empty room excitedly planning what would go where, and what colour each should be. Wrapped in our coats, we sat on the carpet in the empty living room and ate a Marks and Spencers picnic, before deciding to take the long journey back to our flat in Saltaire. I handed in my notice at work, packed up my life for the twelfth time in seven years, and prepared to start again completely from scratch. I set about starting my own small business of teaching and editing, which is still going today, got a part time job in a running shop, and treated myself to a long bike ride through the Yorkshire Wolds every Monday morning. In May I ran my third Keswick half marathon with Daniel (his first half marathon), then two weeks later I completed my first marathon; I can still remember the crunch of my knee as I ran down a curb in Ambleside, and the soft rope matting underfoot as I completed the last 10 metres of the run, before collapsing in the grass just short of the finish line. My 25th birthday started with champagne at St Pancras and finished with pizza on the Champs Elysees, followed a couple of weeks later by a weekend in Keswick with my family, where I ran knee-deep through marshes and climbed 4 mountains in the sunshine. Then, October 7th came and I was a student again, and it was scary to find how much I'd changed during my few years in the workplace. I was nervous, unsure of myself, had no idea where to start. The first 5 weeks were strange and difficult, like swimming haphazardly through a sea of sleeping sharks. I ran my first ever sub-2 hours half marathon, do-si-doed at the wedding of a brilliant friend, and worked like mad to justify to myself what I was doing. Then I went to Stockholm, where I found something of myself, or maybe where I shone light on a part of myself that had always been. Somewhere in the white corridors of Stockholm University I discovered what it was that I was doing, and now I'm doing it, and it feels like my own thing, at last.


So there we have it, 2012. Some of the most exciting things that will ever happen took place this year, and I know that it will be a hard one to beat. But I needed it, having almost given up on things after a hard year in 2011. I realise now that we become more of ourselves in those times when we are weakest; it's a matter of survival, it has to be. 2012 had some dark days, that's for sure, and it has remained challenging throughout, but the challenge has, for the most part, been the essence of the awesomeness that was.

What for 2013, then? More challenge, that's for sure, starting Wednesday when I brave my work for the first time in over a week. It's sure to be a busy year, with too many travel plans, assignments and papers and a conference for which I am co-chairing the committee. Then, of course, there's my wedding, and the millions of things that seem to demand attention in order to pull it off. We'll see. With all this in mind, I'm being careful not to resolve too passionately to better myself this year - too much unnecessary pressure for such a busy time. Instead, I'm intending to work hard and be kinder to myself and to others: two intentions which I hope will complement each other nicely.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Our Christmas, 2012

A quiet end to a busy and fulfilling year. Just the time I needed to pull back from myself and the whirlwind that my life appears to have become. Much-needed, evident from the amount of sleeping I have been doing.

I originally planned to take only a couple of days away from my work, with intentions of writing like a madwoman for days on end, of course. But as it happens I've read one paper in a little over a week, and it's been a joyfully guilt-free retreat from my to-do list. Finally I feel impatient to get back to it; Christmas has rejuvenated my enthusiasm and my energy.

Christmas this year was right out of a carol. Peaceful, quiet, light-hearted, surrounded by those who I care about the most. We danced and sung ourselves silly on Christmas Eve; Daniel and I duetted The Smiths and Nirvana, and he impressed us all with a voice I never knew he had (I'm now trying to convince him to join a choir!). I even said no to that final glass of wine, making it the first year in a long time that Christmas Day didn't begin with a hangover.

We had porridge and fresh figs with honey for Christmas Day breakfast, and then my Dad and I went out for a hilly road run. We chatted as we went, running pretty fast as we were keen to get back to our presents, talking all the while about our running year - each of us having completed our first marathon, while he raised over £3,000 running 86 miles for charity. We returned to that familiar Christmas dinner smell infusing itself through the garden, and drank prosecco while opening gifts. I seem to get more and more every year; alongside the usual undies and smellies, I got the complete set of Wainwright's Lakeland walking books and new bedding and cushion covers handmade by my mum - I must have been good this year!

The rest of the day passed in a haze of food and drink. Champagne was consumed in frivolous quantities, the sprouts were perfect, and the Christmas pudding that we provided for the feast was declared 'best ever' by my Dad (the harshest pudding critic in town). The day was washed down with the Christmas special of Call The Midwife (I had never seen this before (nor have I ever watched Downton Abbey) (we don't have TV at home) but I cried through the second half like a Christmas wreck) and chunks of cheese with apple and oatcakes. And a slice of cake.

So it was a good one, for a good year. It felt quiet, and it passed by without anyone realising where it was going. We sat and chatted and I knitted and read contentedly. We walked and I got in some good running (a windy 15-miler on Friday just about finished me off). We feasted and drank in abundance, stayed up late and padded around in pyjamas all day. It was Christmas like I wanted it. And now we're home, the year is almost over, and I am preparing myself as best I can for 12 months of busyness ahead.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Stopping to Smell the Cinnamon

Christmas has arrived and my heart is full of sparkle and Christmas spice. There is so much to celebrate, so much to be thankful for, such an exciting and magical 12 months to reflect upon this Christmas. I thought I'd be impatient to dance it away with a good few toasts to the year behind us, but actually it has come as a welcome pause for stillness, and a chance to catch my breath before 2013 takes hold.

Setting up Christmas in our first home has been an absolute delight. When I saw the lights on our tree twinkling for the first time I felt really, truly at home with myself and in the world. Every moment has been cherished, not so much in photos or blog posts (not at all) or anything concrete, but I have taken the time to stop and smell the cinnamon every step of the way, and that in itself has been a real Christmas treat. Over the last few weekends I've baked stollen and mince pies from scratch, stayed up late to put together our own Christmas cards, and knitted gifts for hampers of Christmas love and thanks for my family-to-be. Every part of it counts this year more than most; this is our first Christmas as us, here where we have planted our roots, and I want to grasp every fleeting joy that dances over my chest. The past few months have been busier and more exciting than I could have imagined, and now is the time to bring it all home with a bang.

Now I'm back at my parents house, and it is Christmas as I have always known it. Daniel is here to spend this extra-special Christmas with my family, and I can't wait to drink champagne with him on Tuesday and toast to the journey we've been on since this time last year. For now I'm taking time out; long blustering walks in the muddy country around here, afternoon naps in front of the fire, and plenty of sitting and reflecting. I'm hoping to take some time over the next week to put down in writing some of the massive things that are charging through me at the moment: mainly a sense of awesome gratitude and an ever-growing awareness of the fragile here-and-now. Whereas last year my mind was raging with the things I wanted to do and the goals I had for myself, this year I'll mainly be spending Christmas in the present moment, holding onto it as tightly as I'm able before the year ahead takes hold. Things couldn't be more different, and I couldn't be more in the mood for a few days of rest, food, laughter, and celebration.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Midweek Recipe - Superwoman Edition: Leek and Squash Pearl Barley Risotto

I know how Superwoman must feel. Tired, and in need of a cuppa, that's how. On Tuesday night, in no particular order, I hoovered, did laundry, made Daniel's lunches for the rest of the week, made my lunches for the rest of the week, prepared veggies for Thursday's tea and cooked an amazing pearl barley risotto*.

Tuesday nights are my get things done nights, as of last week. There is no time for laundry or hoovering on any other day, thanks to the fact that we're doing fun stuff, so Tuesday it is. The upside of not doing fun stuff on a Tuesday is that we get to cook and eat proper food; I have a lot to thank the freezer for, but there comes a time when I just don't want to eat leftovers, and that time was yesterday night. I also love to chop stuff, at least once in the week. Chopping gives me time to put things in order, to create angles, shapes and colour combinations that sooth my mind and leave the frustrations of the day where I found them. And then there's the stirring and the delightful smells, and then there's the eating.

So this recipe is a healthy, fun option for an evening that demands some stove therapy. It's not quick, but it doesn't need as much attention as normal risotto, so you can prepare tomorrow's lunches, do the hoovering and sort the laundry between stirring and seasoning. Of course, normal risotto is all well and good, but this is a more filling and much more virtuous version, and I love the bouncy texture of pearl barley!

Leek and Squash Pearl Barley Risotto
Serves 2

2 leeks, chopped
2 cups squash, cubed (I used harlequin, but a sweeter squash such as onion or butternut would be lovely)
3 cloves garlic
120g pearl barley, rinsed
Vegetable stock
1 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp dried sage
100g feta cheese
A good glug of oil
Salt and pepper

1. In a saucepan, heat the oil on a low heat and fry the leeks with a pinch of salt and the garlic until soft. Add the squash and stir for another few minutes, stir in chilli and sage, then add the pearl barley and coat in the oil.
2. Add stock to the pan until it just covers all of the vegetables and pearl barley grains. Stir and leave until it starts simmering, then stir some more.
3. Add more stock as the water is absorbed. This is a much slower process than with arborio rice, and the pan can be left for a while between stirs, so long as the heat is low.
4. After about 45 minutes the grains should be a spongy texture and soft to chew. Allow the remaining water to be absorbed and then stir in the crumbled feta cheese. Season with pepper and serve!

*I realise that my parents used to do such things every night of the week, but I'm still getting used to real life.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

That Thursday Sort of Sunday

Today has been the Sunday that I always dream of on Thursdays. Lazy, slow, but thoroughly there.

Getting up at 10:30am isn't usually my idea of a good time. What a waste. But today I knew that I just needed it; the sort of day when you wake up after over 10 hours' sleep and feel as if your head has met a barrel at full force. That sort of tiredness can justify that sort of lie in. And I love padding around in my dressing gown - sort of lazily, sort of usefully - tidying a few things here and there, carrying a half-full (it's always half-full) mug of tea around and stopping to gaze out of the window at the neighbours busying about on their Sundays.

Sunday breakfast is becoming more and more of an institution here in our house. There is always multiple courses: fresh orange juice, lots of milky tea, warm bread, and plenty of my Mum's homemade jam. Crumbs cover the table, the new dishwasher is full by noon, but it is delicious and the company is always so good.

Full from a little too much bread (is a whole loaf between too a little too much?) we pulled on boots, wrapped ourselves in scarves and head out for an autumnal walk by the river. The air is so fresh today, the sun warm but the shade pleasantly chilly, and the colours are simply fabulous. The mist was heavy, even after midday, and winter was very much in the air. It was so fun to walk arm-in-arm with Daniel, chatting about plans for the future, ideas for the wedding, thoughts on papers that I just must read in the coming week.

The fields around us are still waterlogged from the recent floods, turned into ings and ponds where local wildlife has taken up residence. The mist hanging over the watery landscape was wonderful; white seagulls appeared stark against the grey, all flying in circular formation.

We visited one of our favourite local ruins, struggling with the gate, admiring faded gravestones and forgotten woodlands, and a man with a Guy Fawkes beard on a Sunday stroll. Then we bought coffee and hot chocolate (and a bacon sandwich for him) from a lady listening to Bon Iver in a silver camper van by the river. Red-headed children hula hooped in the mud nearby, and dogs of all shapes and sizes ran around in a frenzy. We sat and admired the boats and the dogs as we drank our frothy drinks, and the grey skies turned a lovely wintery blue above us.

Something warm has been kindling in my stomach all day long. Something wholesome and satisfied. It's easy to think wistfully upon times that were so good but now only belong in memory. It's easy to spend Sundays wishing that tomorrow wouldn't be a Monday. But on Thursdays the prospect of a Sunday is such a far-off dream, and that place where the dream comes true in the right now is something really quite awesome.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Five Things I'm Loving These Days

1. Being a student again
My own routine, lots of reading, lots of debating, new people, any excuse to introduce myself, discounts, no council tax, no dress code, extra-curricular activities, conferences, volunteering, cycling to campus.

Ohh it's awesome!

2. My new lunchbox
It has compartments for snacks and a big space at the bottom for salads or a bagel. And a little pot for salad dressing! I'm enjoying putting together exciting (and not so) meal and snack combinations for my days on campus.

3. Layering
Vest season has arrived, but so too has the opportunity to mix and match colours and patterns. I bought some gorgeous stripey summery tops right at the end of the season, but they work well underneath other things. And scarves, lots of scarves!

 4. Looser Clothes!
The skirt in the photo above didn't fit me not so long ago. And my old student jeans - hidden away in my wardrobe since I left uni and couldn't even get them past my knees - are now back in circulation. It's silly, but it's a good feeling. I haven't been dieting and I certainly hadn't made any effort to get back into these clothes but being on my feet a lot while working in a shop seems to be the latest 'drop a size in 6 months' fad. The novelty is good, but then so are my newest pair of trousers which are now a little on the baggy side...argh!

5. Body Pump
Not at all related to number 4 above, but I've started attending Body Pump classes at my local gym, and am loving it! For those who don't know what this latest fad is, it involves bar weights and lots of all-over muscle burn. I am the Queen of the Squats, and can happily go for ages to the tune of Summer of '69 on a Friday evening, but when it comes to biceps and triceps I'm the class dunce: hopefully I'll see some improvements soon enough!


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Midweek Recipe: Lemon Linguine with Courgette and Capers

This recipe was invented in our kitchen only a few weeks ago. Since then we've had it three times, and each time I've resolved to share it on my blog because it's just that good. It's super quick, and seriously tasty, and is a great way to jazz up a few courgettes using simple kitchen staples*.

You can adapt the recipe to suit whatever's in your fridge. Parmesan would be nice on top of the linguine, or toasted walnuts, and a dollop of pesto would work a treat.I used fresh broad beans in the photo below to add to the summer veggies theme!

You could use tagliatelle, too!

Lemon Linguine with Courgette and Capers
Serves 2

200g linguine
2 courgettes, cut into ribbons using a carrot peeler
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp capers
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil to serve

1. Cook the linguine according to the packet instructions. While it cooks, fry the onion and garlic with a pinch of salt in some regular oil.
2. A couple of minutes before the pasta is ready, add the courgettes to the onion and garlic and cook.
3. Drain the pasta and stir in to the vegetables. Add capers, lemon juice and oil and knit it all together.
4. Season and stir in the fresh basil and serve.

*Capers may not be a staple for everyone, but once you buy a jar they can be hard to use up - another great thing about this recipe!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Blue Skied

There is something precious about perfect blue-skied days that scares me. No matter how careful I am to hold on to the day, embracing the colours of the leaves and the fresh smell of the air, it never seems quite enough. In some ways I prefer grey drizzle, which I can enjoy liberally in boots and a cagoule, or wildly on a long rainy run, or quietly from the comfort of my living room.

These blue skies caught me unawares; I was anticipating a quiet and restful weekend at home after an exhausting first week back at university. I can't help but worry that this will be it; no more blue skies or fresh chilly breezes until March. But I am well-rested and ready for another exciting week. And we have walnut bread. And if the drizzle comes tomorrow morning I will run in it gleefully and enjoy the weather for whatever it might be.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Five Things I'm Loving These Days

1. My new study
We spent a couple of tiring and frustrating weekends painting, lugging furniture, spending too much money and scouring the internet for colour matches, but getting down to some work in my newly-decorated study is an absolute pleasure. I chose 'Moss Blanket' for the colour: a beautiful mossy-green which I think promotes thought perfectly. Then there's our bookshelves, which I hated until now, packed to the brim with books and folders full of journal articles. A comfy couch with new cushions for indulging in some couch-based reading, and a shelf solely dedicated to our extensive dictionary collection. Oh, and the theme for the room is owls, appropriately! I was delighted to find owl bookends in the Laura Ashley sale recently, which match the gorgeous owl tea light holder that Daniel got me as a birthday present!

Daniel made me a blackboard for brainstorming

 2. Laundry Weather
The perfect autumn weather sets a great backdrop for the whites on our washing line. The sky is blazing blue and the trees from the street behind ours are bursting with colour. I sort of want to climb mountains, and a sort of want to sit inside in my PJs. I choose the former today!
(Nb. It is Sunday as I write this!)

3. The Prospect of a Dishwasher
We've been on and on and on about it for aaages. We found a good deal, and we went for it. We are approaching the modern era, finally!

The current situation
4. My Electric Toothbrush!
More modern living here (gosh, this blog post is just a line of domestic bore! Is this what I've become?!), as I bought an electric toothbrush - again, an investment that I've been intending on for a while. I truly believe that I sleep better when my teeth are shiny and clean, and this is contributing to the whole effect. Fresh mouth: fresh mind!

5. Manuka Honey Hand Cream

I've been suffering pretty badly from eczema over the past few months and I was really at a loss with what to do about it. A friend suggested trying some manuka honey cream, and in my desperation I spent £10 on a small bottle. It was totally worth it! My skin is still dry, but it's starting to look more human again, and I'm much less paranoid about my hands when I'm with other people (bleeding fingers is never a good look). I'll definitely buy this one again, and would recommend it to anyone with similar skin problems. A day of using this relieved my skin more effectively than a week of horrid hydrocortisone.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Midweek Recipe: Easy Banana Energy Bars

The day after I rescued the squishy orange from the dustbin I had a banana incident. I arrived back from a shopping trip, laden with folders, box files and a new electric toothbrush, to find a banana-y mush all over my new shopping bag. Tragedy! But within 25 minutes I had a warm, banana-y treat to push me through the last hours of catch-up reading, and it turned out not to be much of a tragedy after all.

These bars rely mainly on fruit for their sweetness, and the bananas give them a lovely moist texture that makes them cakey as well as wholesome. The beauty of them is how totally virtuous they are, while also providing enough substance for an afternoon pick-me-up, a breakfast on the go, or a pre-run fuel-up snack!

Easy Banana Energy Bars

Makes 9

2 squishy bananas
1 wrinkly apple (or use good apples if you don't have a wrinkly one spare!)
1 cup muesli (I like a mixed fruit and nut muesli, but any should do!)
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 tbsp oil
1 heaped tbsp honey
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
pinch of salt

1. Mash the bananas in a bowl, add the peeled, chopped apple and mix well.
2. Add the muesli and oats, then the spices and the salt and combine.
3. Add the oil and mix well, then drizzle in the honey and mix some more. If the texture is too stiff, add a little more oil until it becomes like a flapjack mix.
4. Pour into a greased baking tray and bake at 180C for 20-25 minutes.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Ready to Launch

Today is the last day before it all changes. It feels like Christmas Eve; I almost don't want today to even happen. Almost.

I've spent the past 7 months waiting for right now, unsure as to whether it would be the right thing, putting all of myself into it just in case it's exactly the right thing. The new paint on my study walls has dried, the shelves are stacked with books that I intended to already have read (not quite), my first meeting is set for tomorrow at 11am and I'm pretty much ready to go. My brain even feels like it might cope with what I'm about to do. All I know is that the 100% of myself that existed so naturally three years ago has to be rediscovered. A substantial fraction dissolved in the long hours of my last job, possibly left somewhere on a train during a busy commute, or dropped by the roadside on my walk to the station in the pre-6 o'clock part of a wintery Thursday.

I'm grateful for the last two years; the experiences I've had and the people I've met made it possible to really know where I want to be. There's nothing like being surrounded by passion and enthusiasm to make you realize that don't have any of it for yourself. Now I feel ever-so-slightly left behind, maybe in the good way that comes with the gift of hindsight and the grateful acknowledgement of how difficult this really is, but I'm doing it anyway.

I want the next three years to be tough; I want to feel as if I don't quite get it for at least 25% of the time. I want to sit and read and re-read, scribble ideas on my blackboard and keep in my mind the battle that was required to get here. Eventually, I want to understand it all. But that's going to take some serious lack of understanding to start with. I want to stand up and face the scariest of situations, the coldest of audiences, acknowledging it for what it is and charging right on anyway. I want to stand up for myself, and for my own ideas. They are forming there, already, and I'm excited to have found them at this stage.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Cinnamon and Orange Spelt Biscuits

I hate to waste food, and some of my favourite bakes have come as a result of that. There is always something that can be done with a soggy banana, a wrinkly apple, or, in today's case, a bruised orange.The orange in question had been sitting on our kitchen counter for over a week, by the fruitbowl but not in  the fruit bowl lest it get mouldy and ruin everything else in there. Time was running short - the squishy skin was getting squishier, and soon it would just have to go.

I was working very hard, of course, and my brain was totally switched on to the subject at hand - namely optimality theory (my PhD has begun!). But this orange was playing on my mind. Half an hour later and I had the most autumnal of biscuits, and Daniel's face was a picture of delight when he came home to the smell of cinnamon and orange! They are vegan, contain only good fats, and could also be free of refined sugar if you so wished. And they are ready for the oven in the time it takes to boil the kettle. Earl Grey anyone?

Cinnamon and Orange Spelt Biscuits
Adapted from a Dove Farm recipe

Makes 12ish biscuits, depending on size

200g spelt flour
100g honey
100g oil (I use olive oil for a richer taste - it does work in these)
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
Juice of half a large orange
Flesh of the other half an orange, in small pieces

Orange rind and sugar to decorate

1. Combine honey and oil in a bowl, then add flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir well: the mixture should be quite thick and difficult to stir.
2. Add the orange juice to loosen off the batter, then stir in the orange pieces.
3. Blob small spoonfulls of the mixture onto a greased baking sheet - the mixture is hard to shape but you don't need a lot for each biscuit. Sprinkle on the orange rind and sugar, if using.
4. Bake at 190C for 10 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown. Leave to cool before serving as they will harden and become more biscuity - better for dunking in a cup of Earl Grey!

Sunday, 30 September 2012


Daniel calls it nesting: these wonderfully slow Sundays that fill the house with flour dust and the smell of warm bread. I have a loaf baking in the oven and a pastry case chilling in the fridge, and no real inclination to step outside.

The turning of the leaves - which I can see happening day-by-day on the ancient tree behind our house - turns me into somewhat of a homebody, and I could quite happily spend an entire weekend experimenting with new recipes, admiring my home from the comfort of the sofa or the study chair, and listening to Gardener's Question Time on Radio 4. Something about being at home on a weekend is endlessly appealing to me, and as exciting as some of my friends' adventures are - weekends in Wales, days at the seaside, autumnal picnics - there is nothing I look forward to more than just being here, with him.

Somehow it's Sunday evening already and I'm looking forward to a bubble bath, lentil soup and a slice of homemade treacle tart. I love these darkening evenings, with shards of rain on the windowpanes and trees in a constant flurry of wind. Tomorrow I'll get out there into the elements and take in what the world has to offer me, but today I'm wholeheartedly here.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A Wee While

Almost six months since I last posted here at Jumbleberry Orchard. Part of me wanted a break, part of me just let a break happen. I had things to write about and I've missed the writing, but I filled the gap with personal projects that would have otherwise been left unfinished. Or more unfinished than they are now, anyway.

So where have I been?

I've been working. Hard. Juggling five jobs, and loving it (most of the time). I've been teaching, which comes so much more naturally than I expected, and I'm watching in wonder as my tutees develop their skills and knowledge from my own skills and knowledge. Wondrous. I've been working freelance, which is still romantic and torturous six months in. Having just completed a job and sent it back to a client I feel the buds of my own name starting to unfold - could I really be growing a little business of my own from my upstairs study? I've been working face-on with customers in a busy running shop; laughing and advising to my heart's content all day long. I will miss this freedom, the luxury of bobbing along with a few things in hand, newness and change every day of the week.

I've been to Paris with Daniel. We drank champagne while waiting for the train at St Pancras on the morning of my 25th birthday - chaotic bliss. Paris was hot, and we soaked up the city under a film suncream and the shade of sunhats. We indulged in the museums - no rushing, no worrying - and spent luxury hours together with amazing food and wine. I saw paintings by Rembrandt, a personal favourite, and left a note for de Beauvoir and Sartre on their headstone.

I've done some running, a little too much and then not much at all. I got a PB in the York 10k, smashing my previous time by 8 minutes. Then I took two weeks off and didn't miss it one bit. We spent some time in the Lake District with my parents where I got muddy in a fell race, climbed a few mountains and played crazy golf. It's always fun to go away with my Mum and Dad, and to catch up with them as people for a change. This weekend left me feeling fresh and rosy, and excited for more of the same in the coming year.

I've been planning a wedding, which will take place on 21st September next year. I've tried on the most beautiful dresses and felt, for a brief moment, the way Kate Middleton looked last year. Amazing. I'm enjoying playing with the detail, thinking about flowers and favours and all the tiniest parts of the day. The biggest part is ready to go: I can't wait to walk down the aisle and tell Daniel what he means to me in front of everyone I care about. Thinking of that moment makes my heart pop.

I've been decorating, and getting ready for autumn in our lovely home. We spent two weekends preparing my study for some serious thinking. It is dark green and plush, stacked to the ceiling with books. Daniel has crafted a blackboard for me to use for brainstorming. We put the radio on and painted into Friday and Saturday night.

On Friday things as I know them end, ready for the next chapter. I'm taking a week off from lessons and other work, and getting down to some study, oiling up my brain for what is to come. I can't wait. The last six months have been an unusual luxury, but I'm ready for the next phase to begin now.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

What Could Be Better?

What could be better than this sunny weather? It is supposed to cool and grey towards the weekend, but I am keeping my fingers and toes crossed for more and more and more of this!

With a little helping hand from the sunshine, life is pretty much as good as it gets right now. Sweaty early morning runs to start the day, setting off just after 6 with goosebumps, returning just after 7 with a dripping brow. I can enjoy slow breakfasts with the radio on, then saunter off to work without having to worry about trains or much else at all. Evening bike rides or drinks in the garden, drawn-out evening meals eaten a little too late in the day, and finally the ability to just be, with or without a book or a pen.

It has been years since I have felt this relaxed, if indeed I have ever felt this relaxed in the past - I'm not so sure I have. It's a simple and obvious reminder of how life is here to enjoy; I have spent the last two years bound by routine and self-discipline, and it is wonderous to feel set free again.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Awesome 2012: I just ran a marathon!

Yesterday I ran my first marathon!

As I expected, it was the toughest thing I've ever done. But it was awesome. An epic race report can be found here!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Keswick Half Marathon 2012

This year I shared the wonder of Keswick Half Marathon with Daniel and my younger brother (as well as my Dad), both of whom were running their first ever half marathon. An awesome race, a wonderful route in both its familiarity and its persistent surprise inclines, and a fantastic atmosphere throughout.

We ran together, enduring long hills and enjoying sweeping landscapes as we went. People cheered us on and I retained a smile throughout, and the last few miles were glorious in their challenge, the road smirking underfoot as the hills kept coming!

We reached Keswick for the final mile and I powered on ahead, finding some leftover energy to use up before the inevitable crash that I love and loathe in equal measure. Daniel followed on not far behind, and as I approached the finish line I heard his name called out in celebration over the tannoy. Crossing the line never gets old: this time a little faster, in a little less agony, with the knowledge accumulated over three years of distance running.

We hit our favourite veggie café for a sweet tea and some chilli before the long drive home. Then, that evening we celebrated with a drink (I've been sober for over a month - wine has never tasted so sweet!), homemade pizzas and a pub quiz - well earned pleasures that come best after fresh air and spent energy.

Another adventure shared with Daniel, and another fantastic day in my running shoes. Today I'm mourning the passing of one of my favourite events, and tomorrow I'll get back to training for the next!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Out with the Old, In with the New

Whew. Do you remember those dreams and agonies that I wrote about a while back? turns out that dreams come true (I always knew they had to, if they were dreamt hard enough).

I had an epiphany one morning last year. The May sunlight was reaching through trees, past buildings. It was lighting me up in a way that I didn't recognise; in a really beautiful way. And then it hit me: everything I was looking for was tied up in one idea, one possibility. That day, I began pursuing the idea, to make real what it was I had been dreaming about unknowingly. It started as a tiny butterfly egg, and then became a larvae. Little by little the dream grew and grew, became more and more real, until the very possibility (and the intrinsic likelihood) of it not happening physically hurt.

Last month the butterfly appeared from nowhere. I wasn't expecting it, which is always the way with these things, but as is also the way, I needed it more than ever. I hadn't slept properly for weeks, I was headachey and sickly all the time, feeling down and despairing about everything. Nothing I did changed anything, and the spiral was making me dizzy, pleading with me to just give up.

An email appeared in my inbox one Friday afternoon (incidentally, the Friday before we got engaged), and I knew that was it: my fate was sealed, and I had to go forth and accept it. The words 'I am pleased to let you know that...' didn't read straight in my head. I read again and again before realising what it all meant. Dreams do come true, I have the proof.

So now life is completely different. Because in a few months I'll be going back to university, not to sit in lectures and complete hours of exercises, but to sit at my own desk, pursue my own line of research, and teach my own(ish) classes. I'll get to write, to think, to read and to discuss. To keep learning, keep exploring the cave that is my brain, to see what else it can understand, and what else completely fails it. I hope, with every cell in my body, to pursue a life of thinking and writing. To open my mind and in turn prompt others to open theirs. To argue and be rejected, to face criticisms and find like-minded folk to thrive with. I'm heading out to get a PhD, to become a doctor in my own right, and to enjoy the ancient world of academia that, despite its current issues and problems, seems to be on my side.

As a result of this, I found the strength to quit the job that was bringing me down. To leave the headaches and the nausea behind for someone else more tolerant than me, and to start enjoying the things that I can offer to others. I'm working freelance for a little while, tutoring, editing, officing with my Mum. And then I get to step back into the only world where I've ever felt right, and that's awesome.

Since I have more time to write, I've also decided to start up a new blog on running and nutrition - Running, Naturally. Head on over there to find a recipe for these delicious muesli and banana flapjacks. They don't even contain butter!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

My Ring (and why I didn't need one).

On Saturday I finally collected my engagement ring from the jewellers. It's funny how I suddenly feel much more engaged (if there is a spectrum of being engaged, that is), and how I'm no longer slightly awkward when people look at my finger in expectation when they find out I'm getting married.

Equally, I feel quite conscious of the fact that there is a diamond on my finger, and that how somehow it isn't really 'me'; the beautiful glass owl pendant that Daniel bought me as an engagement gift is much more to my taste - I'm more beads than diamonds, that's for sure!

The ring and the finger it sits on is such a solid symbol, and when it comes to these marriage symbols - many of which are rather expensive and often quite derogatory on the woman's part - I am conscious that the whole matter of a wedding might need some serious consideration, in order for us to do it right, and with sincerity.

But, I am wearing a ring on the fourth finger of my left hand, and I am incredibly proud to be doing so. Not only because of what it means to Daniel and me, but also what it means to carry around on my person a tiny, sparkling reminder of so many amazing things, some which I witnessed, and some which I didn't.

When Daniel decided he was going to propose, he had to bear the terror that is asking my Dad. You see, when my Gran died she left her engagement ring to me, and I had been determined ever since that, if I were ever to wear a diamond, this would be the one I would wear - somehow Daniel had to retrieve this, and the story of how he did it is wonderful and sweet and makes me love him and my Dad and everyone else all the more.

So, when he asked me on that beautiful sunny day on York city walls, he presented me (fully standing, I might add - he's too tall to consider trying to get smoothly down onto one knee when also jittering with nerves) with a ring that I had already seen so many times throughout my childhood. On my Gran's finger as we baked scones in her kitchen, as she cooked me meals and brought me croissants and cereal in bed on the amazing weekends that we spent at her house. When she taught me to play cards and read me stories, when we danced in her kitchen and played tennis in her garden. The ring was there the whole time. The back of the shank of the ring was worn down from sitting between her other rings for so many years; a reminder of the hours of work her hands put in to bringing up her own children, and then caring so wonderfully for her Grandchildren when we were ill, in need of a home for the weekend, or just in search of fun and good company.

Looking at the ring now, I imagine my Grandad, just returned home from Egypt after the war (and still, I realise now, so incredibly young), presenting it to my Gran. It marks the promise of many secure and peaceful years together after six years of war. It represents the start of my family as I know it,and of a love that grew into the comfortable marriage that I loved to nestle in amongst as a child: my Grandad sitting in the garden watching the birds, my Gran bringing out his tea on a tray so he could stay outside at every opportunity. Their unquestioning routines and devotion to one another that I know now was the perfect mix of love, life experience and friendship. I'm planning for nothing more than this combination in my own life with Daniel, and I'm hoping that this ring will be around for many more stories and lifetime wear and tear to come.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

This Weekend I am Loving...

...running in the rain with my husband-to-be. So delightfully fun to be soaking wet and covered in mud with the man of your dreams. To splash in puddles and be carefree about speed, distance and everything else. To arrive home dripping wet and ready for a hot shower, followed by soup and buttery toast. After a poorly week where I didn't go running once, this was the best way to jump in with a literal 'splash' and remember that energy is a gift to be taken seriously! fever! I finally got my engagement ring (more on that to follow, I think), and we have found the perfect venue that knows about vegetarian weddings, vegan weddings, coeliac weddings and the best seasonal local produce. Plus oak beams, an open fire and local ale on tap - my heart is set!

...this pizza. Oh my! I have never cooked with gruyere myself, nor have I ever been experimental enough to move from the traditional tomato sauce base, but this was one of those meals during which the conversation rarely moved from how delicious the meal was. Homemade pizza and a fresh salad with homemade dressing - perfect end to a perfect day.

...sitting until drink-up time in our pub, the pub that I pined for constantly during our brief hiatus from York. The first real and not-ill weekend demanded a visit, and we warmed by the open fire and drank our drinks slowly (I am pretty much alcohol-free these days and can't take much!). It is nice to see how things change, but equally nice to feel at home in its familiarity.

...slow riverside walks. I am practising walking slowly, arm-in-arm with Daniel, and taking in the whole world as I go. The river is the perfect place to find space and peace, as well as being a prime spot for people watching and whiling away an hour. I have missed these walks and I didn't even realise until I got them back again.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Back Home

Thank you for all the lovely well wishes following the two recent counts of exciting news! Life is really outdoing itself at the moment, and I actually have so much news that it would explode my computer screen to type it all out, so I am saving individual snippets for appropriate posts at later dates.

But yes, we are home again. Home in a slightly skewed, boxed up and stressful sense, but home it really is. I mentioned in my list of new year's resolutions that I hoped to buy a house this year, and, just like that, we did!

Of course, I didn't just wake up on January 1st and decide that I might buy a house in the next 12 months; we'd been exploring the idea for a while, and had even gone to a town that we thought we might like in order to scope out a few potential homes. It didn't turn out to be the location of our dreams, so we put it on hold for a while.

Then, on 27th December last year, Daniel came to visit me at my parents' over Christmas. We went out for a walk through local fields; everything was grey - the sky, the weather, our moods. We admitted to each other that moving away from York hadn't worked out; we were both so homesick and missing friends and the community that we had so loved in our old little house. So we decided to do it. We checked on the web, found a couple of houses, and arranged some viewings.

We fell in love with the second house that we saw. It was ramshackle, small and just as quirky as I had imagined my home would always be. We went home to have a think, and arranged another viewing plus a comaparitive viewing of a second house for the next weekend.

The following weekend, the first weekend in February, it was bitterly cold. We stood outside the comparison house waiting for the estate agent to arrive, chilled to the bone and rather gloomy. He arrived and let us in, and I knew pretty much right away that this was it - the first house that we loved paled in comparison. Now, two months later, I am sitting in my pyjamas on my couch in the living room that I viewed on that freezing and uncomfortable day. Only three months after we admitted our discomfort and frustration, we became homeowners of a house that matches my dreams exactly. There is something to be learned from that.

I'll never forget rushing to a restaurant in the snow to meet my parents for lunch, the urgency to get there and make that phone call. York was freezing cold and beautiful, and the snow fell faster to match the excitement and pace of the afternoon. By the time our lunch arrived we had made an offer, and we sat awkwardly - I couldn't taste my food - waiting for a confirmation. I have become accustomed to things going wrong and not working out, and I was so sure that this would be the same. 

But here we are. Our furniture is quasi-arranged, our lives are starting to unfold again after a few days of boxed-up living. The radio is out and I have cooked a couple of decent meals in the new kitchen (despite having no working fridge (thank goodness for the cold spell!) and no functional oven). We have a sheet covering the bedroom window as a curtain, and we have to hurdle over a stack of boxes every time we leave the front door. But I get the beautiful riverside walks every day, the long city runs through bustling crowds, the people watching, the sounds and smells of the place that really is my home. We are bridging the life we left behind here with a new life of optimism and stability; I am excited to revisit selected aspects of the past, and build new bits of life to bolster it for the future.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Moving Again

We're moving again. To my twelfth home in six years.

I'm hoping this time to stop still. To paint walls and grow courgettes. To create memories as echoes within four walls, maybe to have babies or at least think about having them. A house that I hope to leave on my wedding day ready for the best party of my life, and that I hope to return to a while later with a husband (who I may carry over the threshold if he won't carry me).

I have plans for parties and celebrations. For meals I want to share with friends and days I want to spend in my yard with a book or a trowel. Maybe now things are really about to begin.

Monday, 26 March 2012

What To Do With Frozen Cranberries?!

In a wave of optimistic crafting plans before Christmas I bought a box of frozen cranberries, with a view to making some cranberry and clementine marmalade for my Christmas hampers. Needless to say, this was one 'make' too far, and the cranberries remained in the freezer over Christmas and beyond into spring.

In a recent audit of the freezer I came across the cranberries again, and started to research what I could possibly do with such a large box of the tart fruit, which I had no desire to eat with yogurt or in smoothies, as the packaging suggested. A recipe for cranberry walnut loaf had me intrigued (perfect for pre- and post-run snacking, as well as for a midweek lunchbox treat), and in my usual style I chopped around the original recipe a bit to make it a bit healthier and a bit more substantial. The results were, to my surprise, a resounding success!!

Wholesome Cranberry Walnut Loaf

1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup sugar (I was going to replace this with honey, but I'm glad I didn't!*)
3/4 tsp salt
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 cup frozen cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 egg
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3/4 cup orange juice
Extra cranberries to decorate

Simply mix the dry ingredients then add the wet, stirring as little as you can bear. Turn into a loaf tin, dot the top with a few extra cranberries, and bake at 175C for 50 mins.

Perfectly delicious, and healthy too!

Awful photo, yummy cake!

But I still had half a box of half-frozen cranberries!

So I made a simple white loaf, and threw them in during the first kneading stage. The whole kitchen was covered in pink juice and flour, and the dough was a sticky wet wreck, but with Daniel on hand to add extra flour as I worked the dough, I finally got a perfect consistency. And, despite my pessimism it worked - perfect white bread with tangy cranberry morsels!

Frozen cranberries are back on the shopping list!

*Though next time I might give it a go, and sprinkle sugar on the top