My 5-day simple pre-Christmas Detox

What is it about the magic of Christmas that makes you excited? The fairy lights? The chance to spend some quality time with your nearest and dearest? Or perhaps the turkey with all the trimmings, Christmas pud, chocolates, and the never-ending finger buffet?

It doesn’t matter what it is, most foods makes me feel uncomfortable (unless its cheese because, lets be honest, there’s no such thing as too much cheese). And whilst its inevitable that I’ll put a couple of pounds on over Christmas, its the bloating that I hate. And its not just over Christmas itself, I primarily feel bloated in the lead up to it.

My weakness is bread and all manner of bread-related food. I could eat a whole loaf in a day if I let myself. But unfortunately, whilst I have learnt to eat bread in moderation (I have two slices of toast each morning), it still makes my feel bloated, even the wholewheat seeded variety.

Having a calm tummy makes my day so much better and I’ve learnt over the years a few tips and tricks to enable me to have an enjoyable festive season. Please note that this is in no way a diet, I’ve just learnt to be in tune with my body and its needs. I’m lactose intolerant and have to substitute some foods – my post about it covers some of that – so I have quite an awareness of food generally.

I’ve discovered that just 5 days are enough to help me feel better, and the changes to my everyday life are tiny. No green juices or gym memberships here!

  1. Drinking lemon with hot water each evening. Lemons contain calcium, potassium and vitamin C and helps both digestion and your colon.
  2. Walking more. Taking the steps instead of the escalator at the train station.
  3. Reducing my bread intake. Not all carbohydrates, just bread.
  4. Eating more vegetables. I already eat plenty of red peppers, mushrooms, potatoes, garlic, squash and leaves, but I feel much better for adding a few stems of broccoli here and there – it goes a long way. Bananas and ginger specifically help to reduce bloating. Try spiralizing vegetables to get them into your diet – courgetti with your spaghetti!
  5. Getting more sleep. Everybody needs more rest but so many people over look it. Take time to look after yourself.

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    These are some of my favourite fruits and vegetables

These are simple steps for me, and don’t involve drastic changes to my life or habits. I try to live by them but ordinary life does get in the way sometimes. A positive outlook and an awareness of what you are doing – eating, sleeping, moving, etc, – all helps. So far, on the 4th day of December, I am feeling quite well and have no bloating issues yet.

Finding motivation within

Staying motivated to achieve a particular goal can be hard; whether its to lose some weight, get fit, eat well, read more, make time for others, the list goes on.

We put so much pressure on ourselves these days. Our working hours are longer then ever, we face difficult commutes and to top it all off we still have to do the more mundane tasks like bathing, washing, getting the kids to bed and finding time to eat. Its a wonder many of us can find the time to fit in any hobbies during the weekdays. I’m sure we all feel that we could do with an extra hour or two in the day sometimes.

I don’t think it helps when we switch on to social media and see idealised lives and images. Sure the quotes and captions are designed to be inspirational, but when I’m stuck in a rut I struggle to see a way out and being confronted with motivational images and captions makes me sink even further; comparing myself to those who clearly have far more time on their hands to work for their beach body.

I go through many phases in the course of the year, each and every year. I, like many others, feel the need to eat well and healthier at the beginning of the New Year, and to try and become fitter. A general push towards wellness and having a healthy balanced lifestyle. Usually, though I’m motivated following the Christmas splurge, January is actually a hard month for me because its my birthday and one of the busiest months of the year at work. Then its February and I hate that month – rainy and miserable – I really don’t want to have to trek to the gym!

But despite struggling to fit it in and having to traipse up town in the rain, I am always pleased when I fit a work out in or make a healthy choice (as opposed to a Greg’s sausage roll!)motivation quote1

I was very happy earlier this year in July when I achieved my weight-loss goal just in time for my holiday. I’d been trying to lead a healthy lifestyle since the previous August, but really stepped it up a gear in January. Unfortunately, once we returned from holiday I lost all my motivation to work out, though I did continue to try to eat healthily to maintain my weight. By September I’d cancelled my membership altogether.

And thats the point when I realised where motivation came from. It comes from within. Not from buying the latest gadget to help you achieve your goal, or from being jealous of those who are achieving their goals and trying to emanate them. Its finding something you love so you can stick with it.

Then, it dawned on me that whilst I have always wanted to be active in some way, running was just no longer comfortable for me (I have ligament problems) and that instead of doing it half-arsed I should find something else. Something that still allows me to feel like my muscles are moving, but without putting so much strain on my body.

This month, I started taking yoga and Pilates classes, one of each a week. And I have never been so excited to go to class before! Pilates satisfies my desire to try and be toned and to build up core strength using only my own body weight, and yoga helps me stretch and to improve my (apparently non-existent) flexibility. I feel the stretch and pull after each class and even in a short couple of weeks I’m noticing improvements. I can safely say, I am enjoying myself keeping active in a way that is sustainable.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about motivation, why it ebbs and flows and why some people barely seem to suffer at all. Yes, you need a positive attitude and a support network would be ideal, but I believe it comes down to this:

  1. To look forward to reaching your goal but being content with the journey it takes to get there. It may be a long road, but the journey is just as important as the destination.
  2. Little and often. You don’t have to completely change your life in order to achieve something. You just need to make one little change, and try and practice that everyday. Don’t feel bad if you eat a pizza after promising yourself it will be another salad for dinner. Accept it, and move on. The whole day is not lost just because of one decision. Get back up and start again!
  3. You might feel uncomfortable now, but being happy in your skin knowing you are doing what you can do, at your own pace, should bring you some peace and comfort.

motivation quote2We’re heading in to the Christmas season now and its going to be so tempting to indulge in chocolate and all manner of sweet and savoury goodies, but a little bit of awareness goes a long way. I’ve decided not to deny myself any treats, but to not overeat either. I’ve found over the last few months that the key to maintaining my weight whilst not working out is to enjoy the naughtiness but know that I don’t need to eat a whole tin of Celebrations to feel enjoyment.

Lets say positive to avoid the age-old January detox next year!motivation

 

An Introverted Perspective

For much of my young life I was quiet; hearing all but saying very little. I wasn’t loud or boisterous and hated being the centre of attention. Instead, I was softly-spoken, and would prefer to take myself off to a quiet corner to read.

Whether academically or socially, I struggled in large groups. I was a bit of a sponge and could soak up what everyone else was contributing, but felt uneasy giving my two penny’s worth.

When I left school for college I really came out of my shell. I wasn’t much louder but I began to be able to express my opinion. In part, and certainly with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that this had a lot to do with becoming acquainted with a much larger group of friends than I had been used to at school. Becoming ‘myself’ outside of college really helped my education; I had undervalued how much my own opinion could shape my learning and help me to understand and improve.

I’ve been working full-time for a number of years now and I’ve felt myself change. I’ve progressed and attained more than I could have imagined since I left school, but in some ways I’ve also regressed. It was only when I first started this blog that I realised how limited my vocabulary had become as result of my legal training. And I lamented that loss. I had excelled in English at school, both in literature and language, and was ashamed at how narrow my vocabulary had become in only a few short years.

I started this blog for a couple of reasons. Firstly, to have a forum in which to air my thoughts so that they are not all jumbled up in my head. Though, in truth, I am still struggling to commit to ‘paper’ what it is that I really want to say. I’m hoping that with each post I will be able to express myself further. And that leads me to my second reason; to improve on my writing skills and explore the wonderful world that is the English language.

A by-product of this blog has been a rediscovery of my love of reading. I’d lost so many years to just reading legal textbooks that in the limited down time I had I needed something light to occupy myself with, and beginning a long, complex story with heightened emotions felt draining at that time. With each novel I complete I not only feel my mind expanding, but I feel happier for it.

I will always have a love of the English language and I hope that this blog will help me to build on my communication skills.

Now that my opinion is out it is hard to reign it back in sometimes and I’m learning a whole new skill now: tact! But I guess I wouldn’t be a good litigator without a bit of a bite!

Book club: Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

If you’ve never read a ghost story, or have been extremely sceptical about this genre then this is the novel for you. Its not a bump-in-the-night, jump-out-of-your-skin kind of ghost story, but rather a chill that slowly creeps over your skin with every page turn. A blend of Nordic folklore with hints of Greek mythology, Dark Matter is a powerful spine-tingling thriller that put me on the edge of my seat.

The plot

Set in the late 30’s, working-class Jack jumps at the chance of escaping a pre-war Britain and can’t believe his luck when he is invited to participate in an Arctic research expedition as a wireless operator. The ill-fated group set out for Gruhuken, a fictitious snow-bound island in the vicinity of Svalbard, Norway with a team of huskys, crates of equipment and hope.

Despite the disguised warnings and with the beginnings of trepidation in the air, the group start to realise that all is not as it seems in the Arctic. Daylight becomes a thing of the past and the endless nights starts to increase the groups’ uneasiness. Jack sees a figure by the hut, but quickly dismisses it until he is out taking readings later one afternoon. I felt the skin on the back of my neck prick when I realised that Jack suspects he is not alone; a scraping, a dragging echoing around the Arctic waste. A wet head rises from the water. Intent. Dread. Jack makes a break for it back to the hut. Did he actually see it? Is it real or a trick of the light, or, worse, a trick of his mind?

Before long, Jack is alone as the other characters leave for the mainland. Staying in a routine Jack tries to keep the horrors of his mind at bay. But it nags at him. The isolation of the bleak Arctic stillness permeating every pore. A thud. Is the bear pole moving? The creeping dread. And again the figure, malevolence radiating out from it. Ghosts can’t open doors, can they?

As Jack’s paranoia climbs to new heights, he realises the figure is in the room with him. Stumbling around he tries to get outside, to get away from it. He forgets his boots and before long realises his fate: he will die in the Arctic wilderness. Whether from the figure or the extreme conditions, Jack will not last long…

Jack

Jack is not a particularly likeable character. Paver’s style of writing in the first half of the book made me feel as though I was running through the story, from the meeting in London to arriving at Gruhuken the short sentences did not help to build up Jack’s personality. If anything, it emphasised his bitterness and short temperament, despite other characters commenting on his visibly calm facade at times.

But whilst I did not feel that Jack himself was endearing, his declining mental state was excellently portrayed by Paver. The worry and anxiety in the face of being alone on Gruhuken for the rest of the winter, Jack tries to keep in a routine but seemingly cannot hide his fear from those he communicates with. His fall into dispair, without being able to recognise it himself, and his hopelessness is resounding. His downward spiral stalled only by his new-found love of Isaak, one of the huskys whom he previously despised, really helped the reader understand the true sense of Jack’s loneliness and his need for some sort of interaction.

Gruhuken

Paver created Gruhuken from her memories of travelling around Spitsbergen and, I must say, that does give me some relief! Knowing that the figure dwells in a fictional place does help me to sleep at night to say the least.

Paver is brilliant at setting the scene; her description of the lessening daylight, the stillness and never-ending wastelands of the Arctic archipelago are so life like I felt as though I was suffering through the same ordeal myself. The words Paver uses really installed a wariness in me; his cabin little bigger than a coffin, all helping to create an intense atmosphere.

Like adverts and films, most novels have an abundance of dialogue. You notice if one ad is silent and moody. Dark Matter is no different. The novel is written in a journalistic style with the reader only having access to Jack’s thoughts; the plot centred around his observations and anxieties with little conversation helping to aid the story along. Its not a style I usually enjoy, but the descriptions and depictions of the Arctic wilderness and one man’s impending sense of doom make this book un-put-downable.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And if you have any recommendations of other ghost stories I could try, do let me know!

Cosy country walks and baked goods: it must be Autumn

The crisp clear mornings, the crunch of leaves underfoot and the coolness in the air – it must be bobble hat and mittens time again!

Autumn is truly my favourite time of year. I think spring and summer walks are really over-rated. I don’t want to trek for miles getting all hot and bothered when I could be kicking back with an iced lolly. For me, autumn and winter are much better times of year to be outside hiking and appreciating the countryside. I absolutely love seeing the change of seasons, and none is more magical then the beginning of autumn. Look at all the lovely gold, orange and copper tones:IMG_2775

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We are lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the country. These photos were taken at Badbury Woods on the Oxfordshire border where you can enjoy many walks through the woods and across the fields.

The nights are drawing in quite quickly now. Its twilight by 4pm and dark by 5pm. I must admit – I love the early nights. I don’t feel guilty coming home, getting into my pjs and having a hot cup of tea in front of the telly. Soon, we will have a log burner and I can’t wait!

When we came in today I felt a bit of baking was needed. Now the house smells of doughy sweetness and Earl Grey; perfect, right?IMG_2787

Biscuit time

To make my super simple basic biscuit you’ll only need the following:

500g flour

150g caster sugar

250g butter

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp milk

To make biscuit-y goodness:

  1. Mix together the flour, butter and sugar. Using your fingers, rub it together until it forms a consistency similar to breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the vanilla extract and milk and mix some more.
  3. Lightly flour a surface and roll on the mixture to about 5mm thickness.
  4. Cut out your shapes and place on a non-stick baking tray.
  5. Bake for between 12-15 minutes at 180 degrees. I prefer to turn it to up 200g for the last couple of minutes as I prefer them slightly more golden, but its up to you.

Enjoy with a brew! A perfect quick treat.

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Deep-fill steak and mushroom pie

I’ve only made a few pies in my time, despite my overwhelming love of pie, and those have always been made using the go-to cheater’s guide to pastry: Jus’ roll. But this time, I thought I’d have a go myself.

I was aiming for puff pastry but I’m quite heavy handed so it turned into some form of shortcrust pastry. Either way, it was damned delicious and I’m never buying pre-fab pastry again.IMG_2739

To make my deep-fill pie, you will need:

225g plain flour

1/4 teaspoon of salt

250g salted butter (you could use unsalted, but why would you?)

150ml of cold water

Diced beef

Mushrooms, sliced

Beef stock

Making the pastry

  1. Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl then put in the fridge for a few minutes.
  2. Cut the butter into cubes, then add to the flour and mix until coated.
  3. Pour over the water slowly and mix together. It should form a rough dough. Place on a surface and form into a sausage shape, without kneading it. Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Once chilled, lightly flour a surface and roll out the dough into a rectangle shape. You are now going to make a square out of a rectangle; fold one-third of the pastry into the middle, then last third into the middle. Press down at the edges.
  5. Now roll out again, and fold, twice more. Place in the fridge for an hour.

The filling

  1. Whilst the pastry is in the fridge, brown the beef on a high heat.
  2. Add the mushrooms, finely sliced, and stir.
  3. Finally, add some beef stock and remove from the heat.

Pie time!

  1. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll out to fit your pie dish.
  2. Line your pie dish, leaving enough pastry for the lid.
  3. Add your filing. As I left my beef quite dry and made up some quick, thick gravy using granules and poured a little on top. If you have a wet mix, don’t do add any more gravy/water.
  4. Finish your pie by folding the pastry over at the edges and seal with some milk.
  5. Bake for approx. 30 minutes at 180-200 degrees.

Enjoy!!IMG_2741

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Book club: The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

Set in Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, The Tea Planter’s Wife is an intriguing story of a young newlywed woman who leaves the comforts of her home in England to live with her new husband, the owner of a tea plantation.

Jefferies paints a charming picture of Ceylon; a revitalising mix of humidity and exotic wildlife, whilst capturing the political tumult facing the Tamils and the colonials at that time. The story is set in the 1920’s and 1930’s at the beginning of political strife and revolution; the novel depicts the rising anger with the British as well as the hopelessness they felt due to the reliance they had on their income and their reluctance to place their job in jeopardy.

The main character, Gwen, is quite a simple character, unquestioning of her surroundings for the most part and overly trusting of  her husband – whom she barely knows at the start of the novel. The relationship between husband and wife, never mind men and women as whole, was significantly different back then. Women were the homemakers, not permitted to meddle in their husband’s business affairs, so the reader has quite an insight into the somewhat mundane life of the ‘wife’.

Soon Gwen is thinking about providing her husband, Lawrence, with children as she is expected to do. To her delight she is soon pregnant with twins and that is when the plot of this novel really starts to take shape. Gwen gives birth to two children, but one is white-skinned and one is dark-skinned. The remainder of the novel emotionally depicts Gwen’s maternal struggle with giving one child away, the secret she keeps from her husband for over 7 years and the coming together of husband and wife as equals in the wake of a new world following the crash of ’29.

The other two main characters, Lawrence and his sister Verity, are quite opposing in nature. Lawrence is calm, a business man but with deep familial ties to Ceylon and cares for Gwen deeply, in his own way. He is all-observing, tall and strong-willed but his personality never really shines through. He is aloof and could be developed more as a character and particularly his work on the plantation and his care of the workers.

Verity is a complex character and having finished the novel I still don’t feel that I entirely understand her composition; selfish and sly, argumentative and vengeful, her reasons for acting the way she does are never fully explored and she is a constant source of mystery – and frustration!

My heroine of the story by far is Gwen’s servant and nanny. A native to Ceylon, she has worked for the family for decades and helps to settle Gwen in to life in the country. She has a life of servitude, but I found myself hoping that she would somehow escape those confines and speak out about all that she had witnessed over the years, even though I knew in reality no person would have put their job at risk in such a way. Whilst her knowledge of what had gone before Gwen (no spoilers – sorry!) would undoubtedly have changed the course of the story, she is nonetheless an endearing character and a constant throughout the book.

However, the novel is not without its flaws. There are a couple of unfinished endings and questionable events, especially in the final chapters. It seemed a little as though Jefferies was trying to wrap the book up as soon as possible after the main plot had concluded, but it didn’t quite all add up. In particular, Gwen dwells about Savi, a male character, throughout the novel and the reader is lead to believe he is a charming yet unsavoury character. But then, as if by magic, she just starts talking to him again after all those years. It seems a little unbelievable at times.

However, the style of this book is excellent and there is a sufficient amount of both substance and depth to each of the characters to bring them to life. I found myself becoming tearful at one point (I read on the train during my commute each day and had to hurriedly wipe away a stray tear!) and if a novel can make me, un-emotional and cold-hearted, shed a tear, then it must be worth a read.

At its heart, The Tea Planter’s Wife is a love story, both romantic and platonic but interwoven with themes of racism and colonialism.

The author

Jefferies was born in Malaysia and lived there until she was 9 years old before moving to England. She only began writing in her 60’s and travelled to Sri Lanka to help give some realism to her book. The places Jefferies refers to are a mix of real-life places and fictional ones, based on a several locations amalgamated together.

I sincerely hope you enjoy this novel as much as I did – let me know your thoughts should you decide to read it!

 

 

Its all gone Pete Tong

I haven’t posted for a while because we’ve been going through a rather difficult time with our house purchase. It sounds silly doesn’t it – getting anxious about buying a house – though apparently its one of the most stressful transactions of your life.

We’ve been relatively calm if not downright excited about our house purchase and everything was going swimmingly well until 3 weeks ago.

Now, let me be clear – we aren’t jumping up and down because the sellers aren’t leaving their curtain poles or because we are missing a FENSA certificate for the windows (which we actually are missing as it turns out). No, we have had a shed-load of anxiety because one week before we were due to exchange contracts we found out that there are new regulations coming into force which stipulate where septic tanks can drain.

Its not a nice topic is it, septic tanks. But once you get over the lavatorial element of it, they are quite remarkable systems and the ‘science’ behind it is interesting.

The problem

Anyway, from 2020 any septic tanks that drain into a ditch or watercourse (which is defined within the regulations) are prohibited. So if you have a septic tank which does this, it needs to be replaced by 31st December 2019 or you face a massive fine by the Environment Agency – tens of thousands of pounds depending on the severity of the pollution.

Options

To be compliant with the regulations (known as the general binding rules) you can do the following:

  1. Install a small sewage treatment plant; or
  2. Re-route the pipework so that the tank drains into a drainage field (this option is likely to include a replacement/upgrade of your existing tank too)

You may need planning permission and building regulations consent, so check with the local authority and the Environment Agency if necessary.

The cost of the work is, quite frankly, as long as a piece of string. It could be £5,000 it could be £25,000. It all depends on the system you opt for, the land in question and any other issues unique to your property (such as distance from another dwelling or main road, which can be factors).

Unfortunately, if you are buying a house with a septic tank you are unlikely to know whether or not it is compliant with the general binding rules until about half way through the conveyancing process unless the sellers are already aware of the rules. We only have a very basic plan because the house we want to buy is so old, so we had to carry out a number of enquiries before we could establish that the septic tank was not compliant. For other properties it may be more obvious.

A drainage field is compliant (above); a pipe to a ditch/stream isn’t

Helpful links

If you think you may be caught by the new general binding rules, have a look through the government website here:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/general-binding-rules-small-sewage-discharge-to-a-surface-water#enforcement-and-sanctions

I’ll update you all with how this plays out, but I can’t right now due to the sensitive nature of the issue and the ongoing conveyancing work.

Wish us luck!

Catching 40 winks

Sleep is literally one of the most important things in my life. Not because I obviously need it to function, but because there’s nothing quite like lying around, snuggled in a blanket all warm and fuzzy. I’ve found the best sleep comes after I’ve fallen asleep on the sofa in the evening (probably shortly after putting on a Netflix film) and then making my way up to bed in a drowsy one eye half-open state and collapsing on my bed. It only works, of course, if I’ve already de-make-uped and taken my lenses out otherwise I have an awful tantrum having to wake up again to do that!

I’m not as bad as the rest of my family though – my brother once fell asleep waiting for an elevator and we nearly left him behind!

I’ve always been a very light sleeper – I can wake up just from moving my arm, never minding turning over completely. But I’ve generally always found sleep easy. I could sleep most places; the car, the train, in public, it doesn’t bother me.

I love an early night, staying up til the wee hours just doesn’t interest me. I like to get into my pjs pretty much as soon as I get in from work, have some dinner, a cup of tea or three and then have an hour of down-time watching the telly. Whilst I’m sure I could go to bed at 8pm, the ‘adult’ in me insists on having some sort of evening so I usually head upstairs around 9pm unless there is an interesting post-watershed program I’m dying to watch.

On average, I reckon I fall asleep, properly fall asleep, one hour after I’ve gotten into bed. Say 10.30pm for argument’s sake.

I’m up at 6am for work, though lately I have been stretching this out until 6.30am, and then have a mad panic because I simply must leave the house by 7am or I’ll miss my train.

As that’s 7 ½ hours of sleep roughly, I didn’t think I was doing too badly. Many people want 8 or even 9 hours of sleep, but I imagine only a few are lucky enough to get that, especially during the working week.

The last 6 months for me have been quite bad. This weekend was the first weekend I’ve slept properly since April, and I certainly felt it. Back in April, I noticed that I was struggling to get to sleep and was waking up all hours of the night. I’d pop to the loo at 1am, feeling shattered but convinced my alarm was about to go off. I put it down to stress, though I couldn’t figure out what. I don’t get stressed that easily; I’m a lawyer and have a very stressful job per se, but I’ve learnt to compartmentalise my life which works well for me as otherwise I’d be worrying all the time. So if it wasn’t stress as such, was I worrying about something subconsciously? Well, if I am, 6 months on and I’ve let to figure out what it was.

By the summer I was waking every morning without fail at 5am. A whole hour before my alarm, but wide awake nonetheless. That’s the worst kind of rest – the lying there because you think you should and dreading the noise of your alarm kind of rest. I thought maybe I was getting too much sleep and waking up early as a result, but when I tried to get up I realised I was still shattered.

I tried reading in the evening before bed and had some herbal tea. It certainly helped, but as Sam is not a reader he tends to poke me or watch youtube videos in bed which distract me somewhat.

I’ve tried eating dinner earlier in the evening, and not eating as much; having fewer lamps on; drinking calming teas; having a lavender bath; having some peace and quiet; changing my pillows; sleeping the other end of the mattress; cuddling my stuffed bunny (don’t judge). Nothing really worked for more than one night.

Its quite unnerving in a way, feeling your body going through a change you can’t explain. I suddenly realised just how much I can’t function without sleep, or having poor quality sleep. My headaches have increased from a few a week to pretty much everyday. I’m tired by 10am. I’ve taken more paracetamol in the last few months than I have in years.

Sam doesn’t think that this is normal. My headaches are a concern to him, but what with my lack of sleep and inability to drink more than tea during the day (and certainly not enough to fulfil my 2 litre daily quota), I’m sure the headaches are explainable.

Last weekend I slept for 9 hours straight one night, and nearly 10 hours the next. Uninterrupted. I didn’t wake once despite desperately needing the loo. I thought I’d turned a corner and my body had automatically corrected itself, but Sunday night and I was waking once again throughout the night.

Do I have insomnia? Probably not. But surviving on 5 hours sleep a night can be tough and I’m sure its going to start impacting on my work unless I can get it under control.

I’m desperate for ideas on how to get better quality sleep, and more of it. So if any of you have any tips, please share them! If its a phase, that’s fine. But if I’m in it for the long haul, I may have to stock pile some Nytol.insomnia

Learning to make healthy choices, for life

Ask anyone if they have a problem with food, and the honest answer will probably be ‘yes’. Whether its to lose weight or tone up, to meet society’s expectations or just to get a decent Instagram photo, countless numbers of people will have issues with food.

My issue isn’t environmental. It found me.

I’m lactose intolerant, and whilst this may seem pretty run of the mill nowadays given loads of people have some kind of GI, FODMAP, celiac problem, let me tell you it was not easy growing up with it. Being lactose intolerant was just not a ‘thing’ in the 90’s.

I started to become sick at the age of 3 from something as mundane as a bowl of cornflakes. For the following 7 years I would vomit approximately 3 times each evening, 4-5 evenings a week or more. That means I’ve been physically ill more times that many people will be in the course of their whole life times. The doctors thought my mother had munchausen by proxy syndrome because they couldn’t find anything wrong with me and that my mother was on some kind of attention-seeking trip. Just before my 10th birthday and very much a last ditch attempt, my mother took me to a see a private consultant miles away from our home. I can vaguely remember his kind face, crinkling with a smile as soon as he saw me. Before I had even sat down he told my mother that I was lactose intolerant and, sure enough, he was proved right. The doctor was Indian and I’m quite olive-skinned for an English person (more so when I was younger than now); nearly half the Indian population have some form of lactose intolerance and the doctor had recognised the sallowness in my skin.

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My modified carbonara. Find a way to work around your hangups to enjoy the food you love

It was remarkable and the diagnosis literally changed my life. Of course, now I don’t remember much of what my diet was pre-age 10, but I do know it included the usual milk on cereal, milk in tea, etc.

My mother and I were fascinated that a food could do this to me.

If I have a milk product, my body starts to shut down; within 20 minutes I will become very heady, soon after I will start to sweat and then the tummy ache kicks in. Its not like being sick from a hang over or  a tummy bug – then you are only sick from your stomach. With my intolerance I am sick from my small intestine which can be excruciating – everything basically has to go back the way it came from, re-enter my stomach and pick up stomach acids before coming out. Once the tummy aches start its hard to say how long it’ll be before I’m physically sick, each time is different, but I will know in myself whether it will be a short process or if I’m in it for the long haul. The tummy aches cause all the energy in my limbs to be sapped and to be ‘re-directed’ to my digestive system. I’ve lost count of the number of times I don’t have the energy to get out of bed, or have been slumped on the bathroom floor pressing my forehead against the cold tiles. The amount of times I’ve cried for a towel, some water and for my hair to be tied back.

My mother and I started looking into other food groups and were surprised that the power of food can have on our bodies. This was still back in the 90’s and our general understanding of food and how to stay healthy has vastly improved since then, but its always something I find myself coming back to. I watch every episode of the BBC Superfoods series with Kate Quilton and anything else that investigates the pros and cons of eating a particular food. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a health freak, but at the back of my mind there is always this subconscious nagging to eat well and to eat healthily.

Earlier in the year when I first started blogging I wrote about how I was having a bit of a health and fitness overhaul, the primary objective being to lose some weight.

I’d noticed in August 2016 that I was getting rather tubby and felt increasingly uncomfortable in my clothes. I’d put on so much weight that my work wear was straining on me and that made me lack confidence.

I joined the gym in September and just started doing some basic work outs (I used to really be into fitness so I have some idea of what to do). I admit I wasn’t 100% committed, partly because, with hindsight, I was doing the same thing, day in, day out.

I would rush from the office to the gym, do 20 minutes on the cross-trainer, 10 minutes on the bike and then use some really easy assisted weights to improve muscle tone on my legs. Occasionally I’d use the rower.

Than about November time I got Instagram and came across a fitness fanatic called Kayla Itsines who advocates a wellness lifestyle, but from the comfort of your own room. I don’t particularly like paying for someone to tell me how to exercise and what to eat so I’ve never downloaded her program, but there was enough information and videos on her Instagram feed for me to take away a few pointers. The concept of exercising without having a gym membership or running (though I am partial to the odd run) was intriguing. Although, as I understand it, Itsines builds up the intensity of her programs, it starts by telling you to do a round of exercises that involve no equipment and could be done from your living room.

I carried on with my gym membership, but decided to build in some ‘floor work’ to my routine. I felt so self-conscious using the mats at the side of my gym, in full view of everyone, that I started using the area where they hold classes. I quickly realised there are a lot of people like me who feel uncomfortable struggling to do a sit up in front of everyone else! I started doing a mini-round of basic exercises: 10 squats, 25 sit-ups, 25 Russian twists, 10 leg lifts, 40 cycle sit-ups (I don’t know what they’re called!) and some stretches.

The sit-ups were the killer. For as long as I can remember I’ve never been able to do a sit-up without feeling faint or sick. But I persevered and after two weeks I could do 10 sit-ups without feeling like I was going to black out and that was a real achievement for me. I would still do my time on the cross-trainer and some assisted leg weight lifts, but otherwise I focused on my abs.

Our office Christmas party was in December and I remember being able to buy a size 10 skirt because my waist had gotten smaller. I was so chuffed, even though I had not lost  much weight from anywhere else. But it gave me the boost I needed to see me through Christmas and into the New Year if nothing else. From January through to June I was desperate to get back to how I’d been at university. I didn’t set myself any unrealistic goals, just a target weight that I knew was achievable whilst still allowing me to have the occasional treat. I bought a couple of new figure-hugging dresses ready for our holiday in June and I was over the moon that not only could I fit into them, but I actually looked good. I was proud to be me and, for once, wanted to show off my figure rather than hide away in jeans and baggy jumpers.

I must confess that I haven’t been to the gym much since we came back from holiday in July, and I stopped going altogether in August. I realised that it wasn’t the fitness that I was enjoying (though being half-way toned was quite pleasing!), but rather what I was fuelling my body with. I LOVE food and I could never restrict myself from eating carbs, or having no sugar or doing some weird paleo-diet. I’m a firm believer of everything in moderation.

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Food should be an enjoyable social occasion, not something to begrudge

I’ve always enjoyed cooking and I’m not afraid to throw a few odd ingredients into a meal to make up for an ingredient I’m lacking, but I think I became stuck in a rut. Do you buy the same items in your food shop every week? I was. Do you cook the same meals most weeks? I was. I was watching cooking programmes and thinking ‘that’s great, I’ll do that’, but would then never get round to it. And after over-analysing my food habits I’ve come to the conclusion that its all to do with vegetables.

I’m extremely partial to some mushrooms, garlic, chilli, red peppers (not any other colour), green beans, a cabbage and leek mix, a few potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, tomatoes etc. It sounds a fair amount, but when I look around the supermarket shelves I realise just how many different types of fruits and vegetables are out there that I don’t even consider. So, I still buy the same vegetables, but now I mix it up a little bit each week – substitute some potatoes for a butternut squash. Simple changes, but ones that excite me to come into the kitchen at the weekend to make something slightly different. I put whatever meat, fish or carbs I want with it, but planning a meal around a particular vegetable really makes it the centrepiece, rather than the add-on because I feel obliged to eat my 5 a-day!

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PYO blackberries were a hit at the end of the summer

So since August I’ve focused on what I’m putting in to my body and I’m hoping to maintain the weight I lost for our holiday. I’ve put on a couple of pounds since July, but as I’ve been under the weather and I was away for a week with an extremely bad diet during that time, I think that’s understandable.

My parents are both vegetarian so although they allowed me to eat meat, I didn’t eat very much of it and even now I probably only have meat once or twice a week, and sometimes not at all. Its just not a big part of my life.

I’m also not a pudding person. Sweet treats just don’t grab me as much as the smell of a pie baking! My distaste for puds is mostly down to my intolerance as it can be very hard finding a sweet after-dinner treat that doesn’t involve some form of milk, cream, custard or the like. After years of not being able to have it, I honestly don’t really miss it.

I feel that I have reached a place of contentment in my life, with my food choices and with my body.

I hope to continue like this for many years to come. The satisfaction of eating right far outweighs the few minutes of eating too much cake! I’m not disillusioned – I know that life has its ups and downs and that my weight will fluctuate from over indulging some months, but I do believe that awareness is key. After all, how can you keep something in check if you don’t recognise when its going wrong? I’m excited to buy vegetables and that is something to be proud of in my book. For now, I just want to focus on making my body as healthy as it can reasonably be, without denying it anything. A balance: enabling your body to let you live life to its fullest.

We move house in a few short weeks and I’m going to start growing my own vegetables. I sincerely hope this will keep me on track but as I’m not a budding gardener it might be a bit trial and error for a while!

10 in 10

As I’m new to blogging I thought I’d share a little bit about me so you can all get to know me a bit better. I have a spare 10 minutes and thought I’d share 10 (interesting?) things you probably don’t already know:

  1. I’m a solicitor, for my sins. Its unlikely that I’ll ever write about my life as a lawyer or law generally as its bad enough doing it for a career never mind writing about it in my spare time.
  2. I can eat a whole loaf of bread in a day. I actually did this several times at university. I love bread, especially thick cut-it-yourself slices, and I’d rather cut my left arm off than be without a toaster.
  3. I can’t touch my toes. I’m 5’10” and no amount of flexibility as a youngster could get my fingers anywhere close to my toes.
  4. I have a 3 foot stuffed rabbit. I really want a dog, but what with Sam and I working really long hours, it just wouldn’t be fair on the fluffy. One day. For now, I cuddle a stuffed rabbit.
  5. I have a 3-year cycle with my hair. I’m in love with LOB haircuts (that’s a ‘long bob’ for those not in the know), but literally none of my family and friends think that the cut suits me. I first cut my hair off at 18, and pretty much every 3 years since then. My hair is currently the longest its been since I was 18 – its down to my waist – and I’ve been pinning a lot of LOB haircuts on Pinterest lately. I’ve already decided that if I cut my hair off again I will donate my hair to a cancer charity. Apparently 4 inches are lost in the knotting process, so the longer the hair the better.
  6. I’ve always wanted to run the Virgin London Marathon. I’ve watched it every year since I was 8 and always vowed that I’d run it with my dad one day. I’ve entered the ballot a couple of times, most recently this year (I’m still waiting to hear if I’ve been successful)
  7. I’m lactose intolerant.
  8. I hate technology. I’d quite happily throw my smart ‘phone in the canal. The chap who invented e-mail is on my metaphorical hit-list.
  9. I’d rather sit at home with a cup of tea, in my pjs, with a blanket, reading a good book than be out clubbing.
  10. Sam is the best thing to ever happen to me. I mean, I know I’m meant to say that because he’s my husband and all that, but he literally is the best person in the whole world. I’d be a very sad, angry person without him. He lights up my world in a way nobody else can. I love him with all my heart.

Tragus piercing : all you need to know

Ever since I was 13 years old I wanted my tragus pierced. I must have seen it on someone else and thought it was pretty cool. And before you say it, no, I wasn’t particularly ‘alternative’ or trying to rebel, I just thought it was nice.

But at 13 my mum was having none of it. She said ‘when you’re in college’. Well, a few years later when I was in college it was ‘you’re about to study law at university’, then when I finished university and law school it was ‘you’ll be having interviews for training contracts and jobs, you don’t want them to notice it do you?’

So it wasn’t until last year, at the age of 27, that I decided to get my tragus pierced once and for all. I was no longer studying and had held down a job as a solicitor for a couple of years by that point, so I figured – what is there to lose? I debated about whether or not to tell my mum about my intention to get the piercing, but decided to in the end. I did it in a very off-hand, its a run-of-the-mill-thing kind of way. She didn’t say much, thankfully, though I knew she disapproved.

So on 30th September 2016 (I remember the date because I’ve been thinking about the after-care process ever since!) I trotted off to a local recommended piercer and had it done.IMG_1834

The piercing

I laid down on a bed and the piercer clamped my tragus with a metal tool, pulling it forward so it was 90 degrees to my head. Then she used some kind of needle to create the piercing, pushing from front to back, whilst threading the stud through at the same time. She then screwed the ball on the front and it was all done. Super quick – about 15 minutes in total.

Did it hurt? Well, yes. But it was very quick and sharp, causing me to flinch. It didn’t throb or ache much afterwards but, as you’d expect, there was a bit of blood. Only a few drops though.

I was told that it could take up to a year for the piercing to heal so I bought some cleaning oil to help the recovery process. Apparently a large majority of infections in a tragus piercing happen in the first couple of months, and they can look like this:Infected-Tragus-Piercing-Signs-Bump-Risks-How-to-Treat-Tragus-Piercing-Infection

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Ew! & I’ve left the really graphic ones out so as not to put you off your snacks!

I was very regimented and stuck to cleaning my ear twice a day with the oil. I put a t-shirt over my pillow and turned it around each day before replacing the shirt every third day (as I was told to do). At the beginning of November I thought ‘pah, this is easy. No infection what so ever! Bet its even healed, I could probably replace the jewellery now’.

The infection

It was a typical case of speaking too soon. Not long after that my ear started to develop a swollen red mark around the front of the hole. Just as I thought it was going down, it would appear at the back – but never on both sides (I have no idea why). Sometimes the jewellery would have a crust on it, which initially sounds gross but then we realised that it was where I was washing my hair and not rinsing in my ears enough and a residue was building up. You need to turn the pressure of the shower head down and then let the water drip in your ear for about 30 seconds or so, then ‘tip’ it out by turning your head the other way. I think if you had short hair and didn’t use as much shampoo you probably wouldn’t have to worry about this.IMG_8542 (2)

I carried on with the oil, but after a few weeks realised it wasn’t having any effect. I knew that most people used a saline solution but it had seemed a bit of a faff to make every day. By mid-November I realised that I needed to do something and salting my ear seemed to be the cheapest way to do it.

A saline solution is just salt and water, but you can’t use table salt as that salt can sometimes be treated before its sold, so you’re best off with regular sea salt. I ground about 1 ½ teaspoons of salt into a tumbler and added hot water. After leaving it for a few minutes to cool down, I then dabbed some folded paper towels into it and held it on the piercing. You are meant to do this for about 10 minutes but aside from being the slowest 10 minutes of your life, you will also find your arm hurts an awful lot!

I salted my ear for the following 2 months and it really did help. The red swelling subsided in fits and bursts, though always appeared again after a couple of days if I stopped salting. For Christmas Sam had bought me a hoop and a diamante ball-stud, so I decided that I would switch the jewellery just before my birthday in January. It had been 3 months by then and I was anxious to see how well the piercing was healing. We couldn’t get the original ball-stud out at first because it had been screwed tight by the piercer, so we bought some latex gloves (which give you a lot more grip) and Sam managed to unwind the ball-stud. We replaced it with a diamante stud.IMG_8421

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Its now been just over 1 year since the piercing. Most of the summer my ear was fine and not red but it has started to have a slight red swelling on it again the last few days. I don’t think it helped that I knocked it really badly a couple of weeks ago, causing it to bleed. But otherwise it has gotten better, albeit it is a slow process.

Thinking about it?

Although I’ve had a bit of trouble with my tragus piercing, which seems to be ongoing, I would definitely recommend getting it done if you are thinking about it. The chances of you have such a bad reaction as the people in the horror stories above is pretty slim – unless either you have not gone to a recommended piercer, or your post-piercing cleaning routine is bad. Its normal to have some aching or swelling given you have just made a hole in your skin, but it shouldn’t be hurting a lot for a long period of time.

I love my tragus jewellery, especially my diamante stud. I feel a bit different, but in a girly way, not a tomboy-grunge kind of way like I should be hanging out in the back streets. I had my left ear pierced which is the opposite side to where I part my hair so I can easily hide it if needed, plus it is not so obvious that way. My mum doesn’t like it much, she says that its not as noticeable as I think it is, but thats fine. I had my ear pierced because I wanted it done, not for other people to see and like it. Just for me.

Recommended cleaning routine

You should follow whatever cleaning routine your piercer recommends to you, especially in the first few weeks after having the piercing done. After that, the fail-safe fall back is the saline solution:

  1. Grind 1 ½ teaspoons of sea salt into hot water. Stir it so that the granules melt.
  2. Leave it for a few minutes to cool, then fold up some paper towels.
  3. Dip the paper towel into the solution and apply to the piercing with the jewellery in(!)

Do not rub. Do not scratch. Just let the solution soak into the piercing. Every couple of minutes dip fresh paper towels into the water and re-apply.

Do not wear earphones or headphones for at least 3 if not 6 months so as not to irritate it.

Different types of jewellery

There are various different types of jewellery you can buy for your tragus, from hoops to ball-studs. Unlike a traditional lobe piercing, the ball-studs screw on at the front, rather than the back because that would just be awkward otherwise!

I hope you’ve found this useful. Before I had my piercing I looked up everything from the process to possible infections and found that the internet can be a very misleading place! A lot of websites may have well have just said that my ear was going to fall off and that the piercing wasn’t worth it. It was hard to find an honest non-horror-story review.

Some lovely famous faces with tragus piercings: