Humanity. To be, humane.

Growing up, I was always quite a sensitive person. Worrying about people’s feelings and keen to ensure that those who were different or vulnerable were given equal treatment and included in activities. My social awareness was very limited at the time, given my age.

But I can distinctly recall that my feelings and thoughts at that time were not of an anti-bullying nature, but a wider sense of wondering why people were being singled out or referred to in a particular way simply because of a particular ‘trait’ (I use this term because the word ‘different’ may get cumbersome and repetitive). I was lucky to go through school without bullying being an issue; the popular kids mixed with the geeks who mixed with the sporty ones. We were an exemplary year group. But kids are not without their faults and many would throw around terms without really thinking about what the word/phrase truly meant and without meaning to be malicious or hurtful in any way. And often the name-calling wasn’t about someone else on the playground, it was a way of referring to other people in society; celebrities, the neighbour, etc. Phrases that I’m sure if I named them many of today’s youngsters would not know what I’m talking about as they probably use different terminology now.

Fast forward 15 or so years and my early to mid twenties were very different. I became quite judgemental – not about the vulnerable but about everyone else. I was still in the process of becoming socially aware and hadn’t quite worked out that people are shaped by their early life and experiences but that environmental factors also play a huge part. I was unduly angry by people who did not want, nor try, to better themselves but thought they were entitled to something automatically. I went through a period of several years wondering how some people had managed to mess up their lives so catastrophically – without having the information to hand to entitle me to even make that judgement about someone else.

The biggest factor in my way of thinking was my emotional detachment. I can’t pinpoint when this happened exactly, but I believe it was in the early years of university. As part of my training, I was exposed to a number of harrowing situations; domestic violence, extreme violence, death, non-accidental injuries to children. Pictures of this kind became ‘normal’. I had to be able to block out my own feelings in order to be able to act and advise objectively.

So I emotionally blocked out everything – to the point where I would see someone at face value only rather than putting myself in their shoes. An elderly person. A young person. The vulnerable. The homeless. To me, there was a reason and thus a cure for everything. You just had to find it.

I’m pleased to say that I have grown up a lot since then, though I think it is less about maturity and more about becoming aware of the world around you and having to actively try to imagine myself in someone else’s place emotionally, rather than it coming so easy like when I was younger.

The last 6 months have been a turning point for me. Whilst I no longer do care work, it has taken a long time for me to switch on my feelings – and it was only then that I realised I had turned them off in the first place. The little things in life have helped me to see that.

In sharp focus at the moment is the treatment of the homeless as a wider social issue. I work in a city which has the most funding developmentally outside of London. I love working here, it is a wonderful city, but it also has one of the worst homelessness problems I have ever witnessed. I see the same three people on my 4-minute walk between the train station and the office. Day in, day out, sun, rain and snow. Being moved on by the police from a doorway and having to roll up their bedding. Being on a street corner but told they ‘can’t’ be there. And that’s when I started to analyse my own behaviour (and of course, that of everyone else).home1

Because we walk by, don’t we? The vast majority do anyway. Pretend he/she isn’t there – not that they don’t exist as a person, but that they are not homeless as we are lead to believe. Keep your head down – if we don’t make eye contact then we won’t feel as bad. Can you hear them ask for some pennies, or a hot drink? Walk on by like you didn’t. Yet, the homeless always thank us anyway, even though we have done nothing to deserve it.

I always think as I’m walking along, ‘oh, maybe I could buy him a hot drink’, or if I was already holding food or drink I would give it to them. But I haven’t. I haven’t even gone out of my way to drop more than a few pennies into a hat.

Why? Homelessness is not an infection. It is a social disease, but not contagious. Are the few pennies/pounds in my pocket going to make me more happy than if I donated them to someone else? Someone who is probably in dire need of them.

I am deeply ashamed.

And in the same vein I am saddened for all those who, like me, can’t see what is in front of them.

I do not know what the long-term answer is. The cure. I don’t even know if there is one. I know that these issues are both due to individual circumstances but also part of a wider political and social issue. I am not educated in these matters. But maybe I don’t need to be. Maybe, what’s important is doing ‘my bit’. Stopping to gift what I can from my purse, offering a drink. Heck – buying a drink in anticipation that I will see that same chap I usually see further down the road.

I would like to think I am a kind person in all areas of my life, but maybe its time for more than that. Kindness is an act, a gesture. Being humane is way of thinking.

Definition: having or showing compassion or benevolence.

Its time for that. Realisation is but the first step.

And its not just the homeless. I need to extend this way of thinking to all areas of my life. Little acts of kindness that can help us go a long way.

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On the move to pastures new

I am so happy! We have just bought a house!

We returned from holiday a few weeks ago having found a buyer for our house. And, to be honest, I did feel under a bit of pressure to find somewhere suitable to buy quite quickly, simply because I don’t like messing people around. I don’t know why – our buyers haven’t given us a time frame or conditions – but I supposed I felt like I didn’t want to feel like I was keeping them hanging on.

Anyway, we decided to view as many properties as we could that took our fancy, though they were mostly ones we had already discounted from the look of the pictures, the work involved, or simply had a weird floor plan.

The first house we viewed looked lovely from the outside but there were no inside pictures. Why, I asked? Well, the agent said, a clearing company has only just removed everything from the old lady’s house. But we were assured it was a ‘lovely house’ and ‘totally, worth viewing’. I’m not going to say much about that house, save that THERE WAS A TREE GROWING INSIDE. An ACTUAL tree (well vine, there were grapes). It came through a hole in the wall and covered the entire, large (and tall), conservatory. Branches as thick as my thigh with grapes hanging down. I had thought initially that perhaps the tree had grown in recent months due to the lady’s lack of mobility, but then quickly realised that that growth was not from a few months but was twenty years’ worth.

Nope.

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I found this little gem in Tesco’s earlier in the week. Its a quirky light bulb glass (straw gives it away I guess!), but I’m going to put fairy lights in it

Then we viewed a house way outside of our ideal ‘circle’ (which is actually more of a rectangle). It was in a village which I thought would be twee but just, wasn’t. The following weekend we viewed 4 houses in one day. A second which was also outside of our circle/rectangle area, but which had huge outbuildings, albeit it needed a tonne of work. That was followed by a lovely detached thatch, but it had a weird layout and the garden was literally 90 degrees; there was a kids’ blue slide on the lawn and honest to God the poor thing must have slid down it and straight into the dining room it was that steep.

Then we viewed what would later become our home.

A house that I had thought was out of our reach and had simply wanted to view it for comparison purposes. It was 10 times better than the pictures and I pretty much loved it instantly. Beautiful large kitchen, log burner and mantle, exposed beams, wooden staircase and and tall ceilings and windows. Me and Sam are taller than average, but didn’t have to duck anywhere. It felt like a home. A home for us, for our future children. To have cosy winters around the fireplace, walks in the countryside (I may have to invest in more wellies), and to be able to just be us. But it didn’t have a garage for Sam which was top of the (his) list. Nowhere for the mini or the lathe!

Then, afterwards, we viewed the last house. It was a large 5-bed new build with a garage. It ticked all of the boxes on paper, but that was pretty much where it stopped. Neither of us really knew what to say as we were walking around with the agent. We muttered a lot about the ‘amount of space’, the proximity to town but neither of us were feeling it. You just know, don’t you, when your other half is thinking the exact same thing as you.

We couldn’t really get the country house out of our heads. No, it didn’t have as much outside space for Sam and yes, the third room was smaller than we had hoped for, but it was a home. A home. That’s when I realised the others were just houses, not homes. I could picture us living as a family in the cutest house in the area. The following day we drove out there and explored the country lanes some more – first gear around some of the bends! – and fell in love with the place even more. No corner shop. One bus a day, or thereabouts. But it does have an amazing pub, bakery, cute little village hall and more walks than you can shake a stick at. Sam said ‘I don’t even care about the garage!’ and that’s when we knew could well be living there soon!

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Anyway, we’ve agreed a price and now our sellers just need to find a home themselves. Fingers crossed we’ll be in by Christmas and can have the fire going and fairy lights strung over the mantle piece!!

I was sat in the car this week and thought, what do I want from this house? Is it a wish list? What could I do without?  And I just kept coming back to a feeling. A knowing feeling, but one I couldn’t really describe.

I am not someone who makes decisions with their heart. I’m very much ruled by my head and often it can be months if not years before I evaluate a past decision.

But, this time was different. I still had to think about certain things, such as getting a future child to nursery/school and making my commute.

This house has everything. A safe, beautiful place in the country where children can be children and I can bake bread to my hearts delight whilst sipping my usual Earl Grey.

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From my amazing little teapot!

My body: coming to terms

A few weeks ago I posted about a calorie-tracking app that I was testing and my struggles with weight-loss generally.

Last year I put on a few pounds in the lead up to my wedding, and then more than half a stone after the wedding. It wasn’t until late August when were having a weekend break in Paris did I feel truly uncomfortable and decided to do something about it.

I joined a gym. Standard, I know. But I’ve always been ‘in’ to exercise – cardio mostly. But exercise doesn’t help you lose weight. It makes you feel better about yourself initially because you are doing the right thing for your body. But then after a few weeks you get quite despondent because you aren’t seeing results, or the results aren’t as quick as you would like. And then you slip up, eating junk food you’ve been desperately trying to avoid and before you know it your diet is over and its not even been a month. Your gym membership feels like a burden – a monthly cost you can’t afford and time out of your day when you’d rather be at home. You know the drill. The circle. The ups and downs. Call it what you want but most people, no matter where there are on their weight loss / healthy lifestyle journey will have been there.

You need to address your diet. And that is the biggest change you can make, I think. If you are very overweight and have had a truly bad diet then its going to feel like you have to traverse a mountain. For others who are looking to shift a few pounds or a few stone, its possible, but you may not know what is wrong with your diet in the first place. Too much food, obviously, but what changes do you make? And where do you begin? Do you reduce your carbs, increase your protein intake, cut out alcohol/sweets/takeaways?

I started using a calorie tracking app because even though I’m fairly savvy and know roughly how many calories are in many foods, I think there are a lot of hidden calories in things you don’t really think about: cooking oil, ketchup etc. And my first discovery? 1,600 calories (my daily number of calories to lose a pound a week apparently) is LOW.

1,600 calories looks like this.

This is a typical ‘good’ day for me:

Breakfast: wholegrain toast with butter and a cup of tea [total calories 204]

Snack 1: banana [103 calories] and a KitKat [106 calories]

Lunch: Slim Fast shake [203 calories]

Snack 2: pear [103 calories] sometimes I have a nectarine instead and these are slightly lower in calories

Dinner: Spaghetti Bolognaise [spaghetti [249], quorn mince [150], chopped tomatoes [47], mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes and courgette [101], grated cheese [82]. Total calories 630

Evening snack: chocolate biscuit x3 [240]

TOTAL FOR DAY: 1,589

As you can see, I am having at least two pieces of fruit and vegetables with my evening meal. Yes, I have had a chocolate bar in the morning but I get up very early and have a long commute so 10am is middle of the day for me! Plus KitKats are the lowest calorie chocolate I can find.

Many will say a Slim Fast shake for lunch I shall neither healthy nor sustainable, but I find it help she me monitor my calories to keep them low during the day.  I am very much an evening eater so if I didn’t restrict my calories at lunch time I’d be gaining rather than losing weight.

Having recorded my calories every single day for 60 days, I realised that seeing it all written down really encouraged me to eat better. But just half a biscuit or one more piece of fruit on top, and I’d be over my total for the day. Its hard especially when you see how little you are eating but how many calories are in those items!

I haven’t made a huge overhaul to my diet as I eat fairly healthily anyway. My downfall is portion size and snacking. Swapping unhealthy items for fruit has been hard because I never used to like fruit, and even now there are very few fruits I will eat. But I’m getting there and, more importantly, I’m enjoying it.

Reducing my portion sizes has been the biggest lesson. Pasta or rice the size of my fist on a plate rather than taking up most of the plate :/ I still look down and think “the plate is half empty”  but after a few days and weeks your stomach muscle starts to shrink so you don’t feel as hungry and get full up on less.

This makes me sound like I’m starving myself – I’m not, I just had huge plates of food before.I come from a family where finishing everything on your plate is encouraged and piled high. Not stop when you’re full up.  I now try to only put on the plate what I want to eat and I think is a reasonable amount to eat and that takes time to learn. You really have to listen to your body.

So, after trying my damned hardest and some 9 months after I first decided to make some changes, I reached my ‘goal weight’. I did have some problems with my scales (they kept saying a different number every time) so I can’t be sure exactly how much I’ve lost, but I think it is about a stone. I’m pretty pleased because I’ve lost it in a sustainable way even though its taken far longer than most other people.

Here are the things I’ve learnt along the way:

  1. Look at your portion sizes. Your stomach is supposedly the size of a grapefruit. Imagine it stretching with too much food!
  2. Carbs are good in moderation. Everything is good in moderation but carbs are not evil. Eating pasta or rice will not make you put weight on unless you are eating to excess.
  3. Introducing fruit and more vegetables is not hard; add an extra vegetable to your evening meal and swap a snack for fruit during the day.
  4. There are a lot of calories in meat! Having meatballs instead of quorn mince adds an extra 400 calories to your spaghetti meal! Plus there is more fat. I’m at an advantage in that my parents are vegetarian and I’ve grown up familiar with meat alternatives, but I would definitely recommend making a swap once a week.
  5. Exercise helps maintain your weight, but does not help you lose it. You have to change your diet too.
  6. MOVE MORE. Take the stairs, not the lift. I’ve started taking the stairs at the train station instead of the escalator (about 2 floors’ worth) and I feel much better in myself.
  7. There will be foods you love but which you realise are not good for you. Bread does not agree with me. Just making a simple change from white to whole grain has been astronomical. I don’t feel bloated, lethargic or uncomfortable. Listen to your body – you don’t have to cut it out just find an alternative.

This is old news, I know that. But it’s not a fad diet, just simple obvious decisions to lead a more healthy lifestyle. Find something that motivates you; an outfit, an old picture, anything. Don’t be negative if you take your time to get there like I did, enjoy the journey and think about what you’ve learned. Try to make those little changes last a lifestyle and maybe you’ll never need to crash diet again.

Ive only lost a stone and could do with losing more, but I’m happy where I am at the moment. I’m now turning my attention to the outside of my body and to firming it up. I’ve been doing a basic routine of sit ups, crunches, leg lifts, russian twists etc at the gym plus my usual short run, and my tummy has become much flatter as a result. I’m going to try and improve my legs now and get some tone. Wish me luck! I have no idea what I’m doing and only bought kettle bells the other day, but its the trying that counts.

And whilst doing that, focusing on eating right; not clean, but healthy nutritious food with the odd naughty treat!

Everyone is in the same boat; just because they don’t talk about their body hang ups doesn’t mean they don’t have them. Stay positive!