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

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Awesome 2012: Saying YES!

It turns out that 2012 so far really is an awesome year. It hasn't come for free, that's for sure, but actually things seem to be going my way right now, and I couldn't be happier.

I have three really awesome things to share. But I'll start with the most joyous thing - the thing that has taken the least amount of tears and wakeful nights...

In some circumstances, a simple word such as 'yes' can be life-changing. As it was for me, last Sunday in York. I was whisked away for a night in a boutique hotel, and after a few drinks in the sunny garden of a favourite pub, we went for a stroll on the city walls in the late afternoon sunshine. I turned away for a minute, and when I turned back I was presented with a life-changing decision and a beautiful diamond ring. I said yes, both to the new life and to the diamond, and it couldn't have felt more natural or more perfect.We didn't stop grinning or giggling for the next 24 hours, and planned our lives over wine and amazing food at my favourite restaurant.

I can't even describe the joy that is present all around me at the moment. I feel as if I've transcended to a new level of myself, like I know more now than I did previously. Friends and family are getting in touch from all corners of the earth, and being able to share this delight and love with them has been the best thing I have known. Everyone and everything is coming together, and our relationship is growing taller and more robust around it all. For me, this engagement isn't about two people. The two people were always all about each other, and real commitment does not need diamonds or gold. For me, this is about the community that we exist in together; a community that we share, and which shares us, and that we can grow together in as a couple.

And I am loving planning an amazing party for everyone that I love!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Running for Distance

This morning I ran 17 miles, or 17.28, to be exact. This is the furthest distance I've covered yet, following a 16-mile run that I did on a leisurely day off just before Christmas, but somehow it didn't seem that much - the miles melted behind me, and for the most part I was strong and glad to be just where I was.

There's something about distance that really excites me. Passing through new places, getting further and further away from home - it's addictive in the best sort of way. It's also, I have found, the best way to get to know a place, and the best way to develop a decent sense of direction. Cycling was always the way that I would find distance in the past, but now that I am becoming a stronger (or more crazed!) runner, I actually find it more satisfying to get there on foot; exhausting, but satisfying.

I chose my route on Friday evening, following the canal tow-path for 7 miles and then heading off through farmland, and back home skirting the foot of Ilkley Moor. On shorter runs I often just head out wherever I feel, but seeing the route on a map beforehand sets it in stone, and I follow the map in my head for the entire run (or, on fell runs, take the map and a compass with me!!). I set out this morning with an energy drink, an energy bar and my phone, heading off to seek the distance that I so greatly need right now.

I have so much racing around my mind at the moment it's untrue. I am filled from tip to toe with excited butterflies, and getting on top of that feeling is proving impossible. I lay awake until late, and then woke up way before sunrise, blood cells fluttering and thoughts racing until I could do nothing but run away from them. So I ran: I set off at a slothish pace, not wanting to get ahead of myself and be tired out by mile 10, and plodded along the tow-path without a thought for anything but my breathing and the dog dirt scattered over the path that I diligently avoid at all costs.

As I've already described, the miles just melted away. I followed my internal map, running gently and patiently, enjoying the various wildfowl by the canal and the views across the valley. Leaving the tow-path I knew that I was in for some killer hills, and sure enough my legs did kill, but still - gently, step by step, the hills came and went and at the top of each I was treated to long bright views across the countryside. It was breezy (some of the winds were stronger than me, but most were fine), but the sun was out, and the first real warmth of spring spread over my face and arms. I stopped at 10 miles to eat half of my energy bar - taking a short stop is something I always indulge in on long training runs; even when running I think a slow, leisurely pace is more the point of the exercise - for me, at least! By this point I was really enjoying myself - I didn't know for sure where I was or whether I was even going in the right direction, but seeing the road pass underneath my feet, turning corners, climbing hills: it was the distance of it all that made me feel so elated. Leaving the comfort of the tow-path and heading out into the unknown meant undiscovered roads and unseen views - the adventure was literally underfoot.

It took me a good while to realise that all of the worries, anticipations and daydreams that had been overwhelming my thoughts for the past few days had not entered my head once. I was literally thinking of nothing; just taking in the scenery and the way my body was responding to the pace, the sunlight, the hills, and everything else. This is what distance gives me; a serenity that can only come through space and solitude. A sort of meditation that links my thoughts to the purest actions of my body, and allows both my mind and my body to function independently of each other, and independently of me.

I love running half marathon races. I love the atmosphere and the build-up, the training and the pressure that I put on myself to do well. I love the feeling of success afterwards, which I never get when I run alone, no matter how far or how fast I go. But thirteen miles doesn't always cut it anymore. It doesn't make me ache, it doesn't remove me from myself into a strange, removed delirium, and it doesn't give me time to appreciate the simplest physical matter of putting one foot in front of the other and getting somewhere by doing so. There was a time when 6 miles did this to me, and then 9, and then 13. Now, having conquered 17 miles and looking forward to more next week, I wonder how far I can actually go, given time, patience, and green monster recovery smoothies!

Green monster with spinach, banana, pear and milk - surprisingly tasty!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Where I've Been Lately

February and March so far have been tough. Tough in that excruciating but necessary way that comes with making things happen and bringing dreams to life. There have been moments of despair; whole days of despair in fact. Things have gone wrong, and then gone wrong again, and again, and then again! But finally, I can sit here with my camomile tea and oil burner simmering on the counter, and I can say quite genuinely that I am relaxed for the first time in weeks. Things are moving forward in leaps and bounds, and I can't wait to share news and plans more publicly!

I've been working to some big deadlines, sitting on my stool at the counter writing frantically into my Sunday afternoons. I've checked and re-checked, read things over until it doesn't make sense anymore, stared at a computer screen until my eyes have dried up. For this reason in particular, blogging hasn't appealed to me lately. Deadlines have past and now I await my fate. But even then, inspired by folk who live their dreams despite it all, I have decided to grasp my fate for myself, at the expense of a lot of things.

I've been spending more time in the kitchen over the past couple of weeks, creating exciting and healthy meals and snacks for a lifestyle that has become dependant on thorough nourishment and sleep. Super-duper flapjacks, awesome pasta dinners, loads and loads of lentils (maybe a few too many - I'm on a break from lentils this week!); food is becoming an absolute joy all over again, and I must post about some of my discoveries soon!

I've been sleeping badly. Very badly. My body is stiff and sore, and lying down for hours at a time isn't working for me at the moment. There is nothing I need more than some solid sleeping.

I've been running more than I've ever been running before. I'm seriously enjoying some tough HIT-stylee speed training, and boundaries are being smashed all over the place. The hard work is paying off, with another PB under my belt at the wonderful Haweswater Half Marathon on Sunday. The miles flew past and I was surprised to find myself at mile 12; in a way I wasn't ready for mile 12 yet, and could have kept going for a while. Instead, I plugged my energy and got past that finish line in record (but not quite goal) time!

I've learned a lot over the past few weeks. I realize now that sometimes things aren't in your hands, and sometimes it's just tough. But also that it is possible to get where you want to be, you just have to be prepared to compromise. "The struggle that is not joyous is the wrong struggle" - Germaine Greer.