Saturday, 27 December 2014

iPad Blogging Frustrations

I use my iPad almost exclusively, rarely bothering with a "proper" computer. There are very few things that the iPad cannot handle, but I am having problems using it for blogging. Writing posts directly into the browser is close to impossible - Blogger could not be set up worse for an iPad, and this applies whether I use Safari and Chrome. For quite some time I have used the BlogPress iOS app. It usually works pretty well though formatting can be a bit clunky, but recently it has started refusing to load photos. I downloaded another free blogging app, Posts, to test out, but Google gave me dire warnings about giving it my Google details and frightened me off. I tried Google's Blogger app a while ago and it was useless, but decided to give it another go. It is better than it was and works up to a point. It allows me to upload pictures (yay!) but doesn't allow any adjustment of picture size or placement and has no way to include links (boo!). There has to be something better out there. 

101 Things in 1001 Days: The List

1.  Do a 30x30 Challenge (30 minutes of physical activity for 30 days)
2.  Complete a 30 Day Yoga Challenge
3.  Try hot yoga
4.  Take a body combat class
5.  Buy a bike
6.  Climb a mountain
7.  Exercise 100 times in a year
8.  Average 7000 steps a day for a month
9.  Do Spark People sleep challenge
10. Get to a healthy BMI

11. Bake 10 different healthy snacks
12. Keep a food diary for a month
13. Make a gingerbread house
14. Go vegan for a month
15. Cook a different breakfast everyday for a week
16. Go berry picking and make jam
17. Cook 5 meals from 5 different countries
18. Make a pie on Pi day
19. Go to a sushi bar
20. Eat at 10 new restaurants
21. Eat at Fredericks for our silver wedding in 2017

22. Read books set in 10 different countries
23. Complete 50 book reading challenge
24. Read 10 books about science or scientists
25. Listen to 10 history books on Audible
26. Read 5 Booker Prize winning books
27. Read a book in a day
28. Spend an afternoon at the park reading
29. Do a 48 hour reading challenge
30. Read a book in French 

Music / Film / Theatre
31. Go to an outdoor concert
32. Go to a Prom concert
33. Go to the National Brass Band finals
34. Attend a folk festival
35. Go to 10 events at The Stables
36. Listen to music by 20 singers or bands I’ve never heard of
37. Listen to works by 20 unfamiliar composers
38. Spend a rainy day watching movies in PJs
39. Watch a film beginning with each letter of the alphabet
40. Watch 3 films in French
41. See three RSC plays
42. See a play at the Globe

43. Learn to play high Bb on the trombone
44. Play trombone in an orchestra
45. Scan at least 200 old photos
46. Take photos of the same place every month for a year
47. Write 15 blog posts a month for at least 6 months
48. Complete knitted square blankets 
49. Crochet a blanket

50. Visit Austria
51. Visit Prague (Czech Republic)
52. Take DD2 to Italy for a weekend
53. Visit Edinburgh
54. Visit Lincoln Cathedral 
55. Ride on the London Eye
56. Visit Stonehenge
57. Visit Buckingham Palace
58. Visit Liverpool
59. Visit three castles I have never been to before
60. Go to 10 different museums
61. Go ice skating
62. Walk the Ridgeway (or other long distance path)

House and Home
63. Do a 40 trash bag challenge
64. 52 Weeks to an organised home challenge
65. Clear out the garage 
66. Redecorate the bathroom
67. Redecorate DD3's room
68. Redecorate the dining room

Personal Development
69. Learn conversational Italian 
70. Write an iOS app
71. Take a free online class
72. Learn 50 new things by clicking the random articles button on Wikipedia
73. Work on family history in greater detail (3 generations)
74. Make a list of the 100 best experiences of my life
75. Decide on five life goals for retirement / semi-retirement
76. Keep a “My Day in Six Words” journal for 6 months
77. Make a list of 101 quotes that inspire me
78. Photograph 101 things that make me happy
79. Keep a gratitude journal for at least three months
80. Go on a silent retreat
81. Meditate daily for 30 days
82. Go a week without complaining about anything 
83. Answer the "50 Questions That Will Free Your Mind" 
84. Spend a week with no computer or TV
85. Go a month without buying anything that isn't a necessity

86. Find a hat I don't look silly in
87. Dye my hair a new colour
88. Get a manicure
89. Get an Apple Watch
90. Stay up all night and watch the sunrise
91. Spend a whole day in bed
92. Do the Race for Life
93. Donate blood
94. Sign up to be an organ donor
95. Send flowers anonymously to a friend in need
96. Save 100 two pound coins
97. Build a snowman
98. Host a board games night
99. Compliment someone everyday for 10 days straight
100. Achieve 3 goals in a week
101. Achieve 7 goals in a month

101 Things in 1001 Days

Back in 2010 I found the Day Zero Project ( - I am using a Blogger app to write this post which I have now discovered does not have any way to add hyperlinks. How very helpful of it!) and started a 101 Things in 1001 Days list. As is my usual way I started enthusiastically and then forgot about it, but recently stumbled across it again and thought I would have another try. Looking back at my original list over four years I managed to check off a third of the items; this time round I will be extremely impressed with myself if I manage half. 

Why am I doing this? Mostly because I like lists! Having a checklist gives me a point of reference for ways to spend my time. I don't have a great deal of "spare" time, but what I do have tends to get frittered puttering around on the internet (or just plain aimless puttering). Having a list of ideas will, I hope, help me to spend that time more productively and make my leisure time more satisfying. Thinking of ideas for 101 things to put on the list gave me an opportunity to consider what I would like to do more of - reading, live concerts and theatre, decluttering, developing existing hobbies, and so on. Then there are fitness and food goals which should give me ways to keep exercise and healthy eating interesting and varied, places I would like to go (some of this is blithe optimism and unlikely to be possible), what I have termed "personal development" which is mostly things to think about or ways of focusing on what is good in my life, and some items which are just plain fun stuff. It isn't a heavy list. It is not intended to be about major long term goals or big ambitions (though I don't think I have any of those!), and I have intentionally not included anything to do with work, faith or family. 

A number of the items on the list are "challenges within a challenge" - yoga challenge, sleep challenge, trash bag challenge, listen to 20 composers, read 10 science books, that sort of thing. To keep tabs on the list in general and the individual items within it I am using an organising app called Trello which looks as though it will work very nicely. I'll report back once I get properly underway. Nominally I am starting on 1st January 2015 because I like neat dates, but in practice I am starting now. You may place bets on how long I will keep this up - three months, six months, a year, one month, a week, never get off the ground at all? 

I am putting the list into a separate post as this one is already getting rather long. 

Friday, 26 December 2014


This year has been a very leisurely Christmas, partly because I had a cold which threatened to turn into a chest infection and had a few days of trying to do as little as possible in the run up to December 25th. Also whereas I usually try to take time off work between Christmas and New Year, this year office logistics meant I was at home from the end of last week, but will be working next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning. I think I like this way round rather better as it made getting ready for Christmas so much less rushed. 

It has been a quiet family Christmas, which everyone seemed to enjoy. Each year we seem to find that unintentional gift themes emerge - this year there were various sets of headphones, mugs and dressing gowns. Also the small daughter acquired both a chemistry set and a microscope, so today she and I had a science afternoon. Managing to link the microscope up to the computer and burning iron filings and a magnesium strip were highlights. 

I hope Christmas has been good for you too! 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Time-Lapse Blogging

Oops! I blinked and missed four months. Yes, life is busy. No, life is not so busy that I could not make time to write here reasonably regularly. Somehow I never seem to make it part of my routine. At the times of the year when I have more time - school holidays, mainly - I write. The rest of the time not so much, or not at all. I'm sure it is a matter of habit, and if I could only get into the habit it would stick. I like blogging. I do better with keeping an online diary than I do trying to keep a personal one. Having an audience, even a small one, motivates me to write more and better than I would if I was just writing for myself. So, next year, more blogging!

What has been going on in the last four months? The usual routine of work and school for various family members. Senior daughter changed jobs for three months then went back to her previous employer in a different role, which a month in she seems happy with. Middle daughter changed schools for Sixth Form and has gone to a grammar school in a nearby town. (Cultural note: in the UK grammar schools are selective entry state schools. Admission at age 11 is by examination, at age 16 for Sixth Form it requires certain grades in the GCSE examinations taken by all 16 year olds here. The grammar school system used to be universal, but since the 1960s/70s it only survives in a few areas, of which our adjacent county is one.) After a slightly wobbly beginning middle daughter has settled in and is enjoying the school and the more challenging environment, despite having to leave home an hour earlier in the morning to catch the bus. She is also working a part time job as a waitress in a local cafe, which together with a heavy studying load keeps her very busy.

Small daughter has been looking around local middle schools as she is due to move school next year. (Another cultural note: Our area has a three tier school system in which children change schools at ages 9 and 13. I think there may only be one or two other places in the country which operate this system.) We have a realistic choice of two schools - there are others but not in walking distance. She has decided she prefers a school which was very oversubscribed last year, but liked the other almost as much so will not be too disappointed if she doesn't get her first choice. The interesting thing about looking round was that the was like a moth to a flame with the science labs. At both schools she spent a long time engrossed in the various science activities they had laid on, at the second school to the point where she decided it wasn't worth bothering to look at the parts of the school we hadn't yet reached, she would rather just stay put with the science until they chucked her out! A chemistry set - which she describes as "science heaven in a box" - is now top of her Christmas list.

Small daughter has also taken up a contact karate and kickboxing and hopes to get her first belt in the new year. As she is an extremely petite 8 year old (more 6 year old sized and very lightweight) it isn't exactly an obvious hobby to pick, but she was very determined she wanted to do it and seems to be very much enjoying it.

For me life goes on much as normal. Working hard during the week, but under less pressure as we have some new staff members which has made things less stressful. Still playing lots of trombone. Generally feeling less stressed than I had over the previous year for various reasons, most of which have now more or less resolved themselves. We went on a last-minute short break to Kent at half term, just two nights in a chain motel near Canterbury but we enjoyed exploring the area and it helped to recharge our batteries. If this app will cooperate I will put some pictures into a follow up post.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Currently: End of August

Copied from Caroline at Mrs M's Meanderings

A Clash of Kings by George R R Martin. I read Game of Thrones while on holiday and have now moved on to the second book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I watched the first TV series on DVD after reading comments about the way it reflects 15th century medieval English politics (it isn't difficult to work out that Stark / Lannister was inspired by York / Lancaster). I prefer the books to the TV - the violence is less graphic and I like the way each chapter focuses on one individual character.

I am not listening to much music at the moment, but am enjoying Ed Sheeran on Spotify.

Great British Bake Off - this has been the week of the Great Bake Off Ice Cream Scandal. Really, how can a cookery show manage to create such a national controversy? Smallest daughter is also hooked and has watched each episode of the current series at least three times each on BBC iPlayer! Also watching the new series of Who Do You Think You Are? which has been the best I have seen for a while.

Not very exciting, but Boots Sun, Swim & Gym 3-in-one body wash and shampoo. It actually does a decent job on my hair and saves carrying multiple bottles in my gym bag for when I swim.

Exercise (I added this category)
I have started doing MAX Workouts by Shin Ohtake, which are essentially high intensity interval training alternating between cardio and weights. My preference is for short, intense bursts of exercise, so anything I can do in 30 minutes a day has to be good. The aim is to do weights three times a week, high intensity cardio twice, light exercise once and have one rest day. I kept up with it for the first week, but have slipped this weekend. Intend to get back into it next week though. I am trying to get into the habit of going to the gym on the way home from work.

Creativity (another addition of mine)
Autumn and winter are my knitting seasons - somehow I rarely feel like knitting in the summer. I have just started a pair of gloves for my 8 year old at her request. She only has mittens and wanted proper gloves with fingers. Nothing very exciting, just plain navy blue ones to go with her new school coat.

Frequently worn items
Skinny jeans. I don't wear jeans so much when the weather is warmer, but this last week or so has felt more like autumn than summer and my jeans are back in regular use. I usually wear them with an oversized shirt and t-shirt or with a long sweater. For work I sometimes wear a black pair with a tunic top or short dress.

Healthy home-made chocolate granola made from this recipe. I had it for breakfast this morning with almond milk and a sliced banana.

Black coffee. Sometimes I drink my coffee white and sometimes black, but it seems to go in phases. I have just moved back into a black phase.

Things that break and wear out. Currently one toilet flush is broken and only works thanks to a temporary fix with archive tape (I was using string but it kept breaking), and the lawnmower is on its last legs.

A new iPad Air. I sold some books through Amazon - mostly academic history books that realistically I am never likely to use again - and the money for the books plus what I could get for my old iPad 3 gave me nearly enough for the new iPad. As my iPad gets heavy use (I treat it as a laptop replacement) I thought it made sense to replace it with a new one before it started to wear out and get less reliable.

New staff starting at work. We have been running short staffed all summer and having extra bodies will be a relief, even though it will take a while for them to get up to speed.

A new sports bag. The one I have is old, tatty, and too small.

Random Thought
Why do piles of clutter seem to grow even though I don't remember adding to them?

Monday, 25 August 2014


I love my iPad and with the help of a bluetooth keyboard use it as an almost complete laptop substitute. 99% of the time I use a handful of the same apps, but occasionally I find a new one which joins my fairly small list of favourite must-have apps. Last week I went hunting for a menu planning app and discovered Paprika. I have been playing with it for a few days and so far I love it.

The app has four functions, which make up the main menu: recipes, browsing, shopping list, and calendar. Everything interlinks. You can browse the internet for a recipe (it has direct links to a lot of sites, including a number of UK specific places such as BBC Food and Waitrose), copy the recipe into Paprika in a couple of "clicks" and add categories. You can also add recipes manually. Recipes can be browsed by category or searched by ingredient. They can then be added to the calendar to build up a meal plan. A single touch will either bring the recipe details up in the calendar or add the ingredients to your shopping list. You can view the ingredients first to delete any you already have so that the list only has the items you actually need to buy. Within the calendar you can move and copy recipes between days and add notes for those meals which don't need a recipe.

There is one other feature which is giving me a disproportionate amount of pleasure - multiple timers! Not only does the app give you a timer facility on the recipe screen, it allows you to set several timers simultaneously. If you need to cook chicken for twenty minutes and pasta for ten and simmer something else for five, and they are all on slightly different schedules, you can set three separate times - you can also label them chicken / pasta / sauce or whatever to avoid confusion over which timer has finished.

The app cost me £2.99, though I had to pay twice for iPad and iPhone versions. Worth doing as it syncs automatically between the two and means that menu plans and shopping lists are readily available on whichever I happen to be using. I realise this reads like an advertisement, but I am hugely impressed. I have played around with various ways of storing recipes and menu planning in the past but none have quite worked for me - Evernote probably came closest. I think this is going to be The One.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Sleep ... How To Get Enough?

I haven't been sleeping enough. I keep seeing articles on the internet which talk about the importance of sleep for a healthy lifestyle and have slightly guiltily ignored them. However, getting the chance to catch up on sleep while we were away made me realise just how much consistently sleeping too little had affected me. I was tired and dragging, and my brain was in a perpetual fog. I assumed it was just overload, but no, I'm pretty sure now it was lack of sleep.

I have only myself to blame. I am no longer in the perpetually tired, nights interrupted by small children stage, where too little sleep is all but inevitable. These days the lack of sleep is because I simply don't go to sleep early enough, given that my alarm is usually set for 6.30. I am not too bad at going to bed - being married to an early bird helps there - but the temptation to take advantage of some quiet, uninterrupted time to stay awake reading or playing on the iPad is too great and often I don't settle down to go to sleep until midnight or later. And I have to admit it. Six to six and a half hours sleep is just not enough. I don't tend to catch up at weekends either as the small daughter typically wakes me up sometime between 6.30 and 8 (usually earlier rather than later!).

So, what to do? The consensus seems to be that most adults need 7 to 8 hours sleep a night. I can't see 8 being realistic for me - being asleep by 10.30 would seem like Not Enough Evening, plus my 16 year old is usually in bed by 11 but not 10.30, and as the shower is in the ensuite bathroom to our bedroom and bedtime is often her needy time (is this a typical teenage thing?), going to sleep before 11 is not likely to happen on a regular basis. I have decided to aim to settle down for sleep at 11, but with an absolute deadline of 11.30. I suspect it would be better if I stopped using the iPad at 10.30, but can't quite screw myself up to that.

One small tip I read somewhere last week which I have tried for the last couple of nights is not to look at the clock when I wake during the night. The clock / alarm / speaker-dock I have next to the bed has a facility to turn the display off, so I have been using this. It works! For example, I suspect - but didn't check, so couldn't be sure - that I woke sometime between 6 and 6.30 this morning. Usually I would go through the thought process of suspecting I would not get back to sleep, often followed by deciding it wasn't worth trying. This morning I dismissed any thoughts about the time, went back to sleep, and ended up sleeping until 9 (small person woke up but stayed in bed late. Joy!). Some nights I wake and end up clock watching, so I intend to keep going with this and see if it does make a difference longer term.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Great War

The project I have been working on to blog the First World War day by day as events happened one hundred years ago went live on the 4th of August, the centenary of the declaration of war between England and Germany. I am working ahead so have 1914 pretty much finished and will start on 1915 next month. If you want to follow along you can find my Home Front blog here and my colleague's Front Line diary here.

It is a long term project. The aim behind it is partly to provide an educational resource for local schools, partly to highlight the collections we have that relate to the First World War and partly to make their contents more accessible. It is also a project that matters a great deal to me on a personal level. The Great War has pulled on my heart strings since I watched the BBC's adaptation of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth as a teenager. My parents were teenagers themselves during the Second World War and it largely passed them by, whereas my grandfather fought and was gassed in the Great War. He survived, but I believe his health never fully recovered. And even without that personal connection seeing (and later reading about) the war from the perspective of Vera Brittain, an articulate young woman bereft of her beloved brother, her fiancée and their close friends, meant that I could never again see or hear about the carnage of the trenches without some understanding of just what was suffered and lost on the battlefields of France and elsewhere.

The First World War was not only a conflict on an unprecedented scale, it was the first to leave behind so many first person accounts and records that keep alive so many of the voices that were silenced. Blogging about the War is a chance to let some of those voices speak again. The young men whose names survive in long lists on village war memorials, cut down, many of them, before they even reached their prime - many just teenagers; the women and girls who served as nurses, or knitted socks and scarfs for unknown soldiers, or worked in munitions factories, and stayed home waiting for news of brothers and lovers, husbands and sons; the courageous men who fought through their fear; the youngsters who saw their army training as a kind of jolly Boy Scout camp before reality hit, often fatally, those who had the courage to refuse to fight (the Quakers have begun a project to put diaries of conscientious objectors online). So many voices. I hope I can manage to do even a small amount of justice to them. The dead, those young men butchered on an industrial scale in the cause of patriotism and duty, should not be forgotten. Many, many projects are underway across the country to make sure that they are not. I am proud to be part of one of them.

Monday, 18 August 2014


I am trying again with photos. These are from our first port of call, Lisbon in Portugal.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Summer Holiday

Two years ago we went on our first ever cruise to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. We loved it but expected it to be a one off. This year things came together in a way that meant we were able to go again - same ship (P and O's Azura), different itinerary (Western Mediterranean) and with just four of us instead of five (senior daughter had already been away twice under her own steam now she has her own income). Before our first cruise I wasn't sure it was for me, but the combination of rest, relaxation and entertainment geared to different tastes and ages with the chance to visit different ports worked incredibly well for our family. We enjoyed it just as much second time around. For various reasons this has been a tough year and I have come home feeling as though I am getting my equilibrium back. Hopefully my re-found mojo will survive hurtling back into reality.

I tried to include pictures in this post but they were crashing on the iPad and the computer wouldn't let me upload them. Frustrating! I am wondering whether there was some sort of issue with photostream.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Mother-Daughter Days

This summer is going past ridiculously fast. Small daughter finished school a week and a half ago. I was only able to take a couple of days off work in July (I truly hate having to work through the summer!) so I used them to take the two younger girls out for mother-daughter days. Two trips to London, both very different.

The first one was with my almost 16 year old. She wanted to start with a visit to Camden Market.

We decided on the train down that we would try to fit in a last minute theatre trip so we then headed for Leicester Square where there is a ticket office which sells on-the-day theatre seats, mostly quite well discounted. We tried for Wicked but there were only restricted view seats, so we ended up with tickets for Jersey Boys. Then we went to Foyles bookshop for coffee.

Next we puttered around Covent Garden and watched street theatre.

We tested out Zizzis - a chain of Italian restaurants - and ate chocolate pizza. It just had to be tried. It was good. Very good.

And then we went to the theatre where we enjoyed the show once I got over vertigo. Cheap seats meant high-up-in-the-gods seats, and I do not like heights! Once the show started and I had something to focus my eyes on it got a lot better.

For her mother-daughter day out the little person wanted to go to London Zoo. It was hot! One of the hottest days of the year I think. Fortunately the zoo has plenty of shade. We saw lots of animals, including her favourite - otters.

She practiced stalking like a tiger.

I found this statue of Winnie-the-Bear and the Canadian soldier who bought him over to England as his battalion mascot in 1914. He was left in London Zoo to be looked after, then given to the Zoo after the War. He was visited by A.A.Milne, and his name was passed on to a certain other Bear of Very Little Brain.

On the way home I paid homage to a certain Mr Holmes (in his Benedict Cumberbatch incarnation!).

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Annoying Blogging Failure!

Not, for once, because I haven't been blogging as much as I want to (though that is also true). This is a technical annoyance. I posted a "Super Salad Saturday" post a couple of weeks ago, with a salad recipe and the (optimistic) idea that I would try to post a salad post every Saturday for a while. Last Sunday (almost Saturday!) I posted another - but somehow managed to overwrite the original post, which is just plain annoying as the replacement now has no context! I am not sure I will have the time or energy to recreate the original, but if I don't its absence will irritate me.

I blog on my iPad - in fact, I do almost everything on my iPad, rarely bothering with a "real" computer - and use an app called BlogPress. I find it usually works very well. There are slight limitations in formatting but it does the simple text and pictures blog entries quickly and easily. I find I need to save regularly as it has been known to blip out and lose what I have done, though this seems better recently so maybe they have ironed out a bug. You can save drafts locally or online so they can be edited or finished off elsewhere. One glitch is that it is easier than I realised to overwrite a post that has already been posted on the blog. Oops!

The other thing that makes blogging on the iPad a decent option is having a keyboard. I bought a second Apple keyboard so that I could use it with the iPad; it also makes a handy spare for the iMac. Being able to type at keyboard speed rather than touchscreen speed makes a huge difference and comes pretty close to turning the iPad into a small laptop.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Super Salad Saturday - Easy Mackerel Salad

Posted on a Sunday, but what is a day here or there!

This is super quick and super healthy with a mix of green leafy salad and oily fish. The only ingredients (for one portion) are:

Two handfuls of lettuce or leafy salad greens (any type you like)
Two handfuls of baby spinach
Teaspoon each of olive oil and lemon juice
Tin of mackerel fillets in spicy tomato sauce

Put the lettuce and spinach into a bowl. Mix the olive oil and lemon juice and drizzle over the top of the leaves. Open the can of mackerel. Tip on top of leaves.

Done! Five minutes maximum and with practice could be done in two!
The dressing stops the leaves being too dry and the lemon gives a little kick. The mackerel in spicy tomato sauce gives loads of flavour. The fish is packed with protein and healthy fat and spinach is a superfood! Add some nice wholemeal or seeded bread on the side and the mix of complex carbs and protein in the fish will keep energy levels up for hours.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Abject Failure and July Goals

My June goals list met with almost complete failure. The only thing I managed was exercise - not quite four times a week, but close. Nothing else got done. In my defence it was a busy month, both during the week and at weekends, and during the times when I could have tackled items from the list all I wanted to do was slump and recharge my batteries.

So ... my July goals are just a repeat of my June goals. Surely I can do better this month!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Busy, Busy

Last week was crazy busy for various reasons, so I didn't manage to post anything here. It began with smallest daughter's First Communion and included three evenings in a row when I got home from work and had to go straight out again. Work is constantly busy - I love what I do, but we are very understaffed and it is pretty full on with no prospect of it getting easier in the short term. On the positive side I am working on a project to blog the local experience of the First World War, posting daily entries exactly one hundred years after the events they describe. I am working ahead so that I will have a few months done before it goes live in August. I have been interested in the Great War since I watched the BBC's adaptation of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth as a teenager, so I'm thoroughly enjoying the chance to dig deeper.

I was going to write more, but got kind of distracted by a bottle of Rekorderlig peach and apricot cider. The cider was very nice but has left me feeling too sleepy to have any coherent thoughts!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

What I Ate Wednesday

I discovered What I Ate Wednesday at Peas and Crayons just too late for last Wednesday but was all enthused so photographed my food on Thursday. The idea is to record everything you eat on one day a week - it can be any day you like - then post the results and link to Peas and Crayons on Wednesday.

Last Thursday was slightly untypical in that I bought lunch (I usually pack a lunch to take to work). The numbers in brackets are fruit and veg portions. I aim for nine or ten portions a day. Other than that I try to eat a varied, balanced and healthy diet with a reasonable amount of protein because I am trying to exercise more and persuade some flabby bits to turn into muscle.

Breakfast came in two parts. Before I left home I had a raspberry and banana smoothie made with coconut milk, a banana and frozen raspberries (2). I can't remember whether or not I added a scoop of unflavoured protein powder or skipped it out as this was only half of breakfast.

The second part should have been a bacon roll from the canteen at work, which I buy once a week instead of my usual breakfast, usually on Thursday. It turned out to be a sausage roll - I picked it up from the wrong tray but didn't notice until I got back to my desk and went to add mustard, by which time it was too late to change it. I have nothing against sausage in a roll, it just wasn't bacon!

I had to walk into town at lunchtime so bought a meal deal from Boots. This gives a main (sandwich or salad), a drink and a snack for a fixed price which often works out as quite a saving over the prices of the individual items. I got a salmon and prawn sushi rice salad...

... With a green smoothie (2) and a packet of vegetable crisps (1?). I also ate some cherry tomatoes (1) I had taken to work with me.

Mid afternoon snack was a Nakd apple pie bar. I love Nakd bars; they taste good and also contain an entire portion of fruit (1). Cocoa and orange flavour is my favourite. A healthy chocolate hit!

Dinner was a couple of salmon fishcakes from Waitrose, a corn on the cob and green beans (2).

Dessert was fresh pineapple (10).

And two squares of Tesco 72% dark chocolate.

I finished off the day with a chocolate flavoured protein shake made with coconut milk after going to the gym (I often go late, getting there about 8.30 to 9pm). Total fruit and veg count ten portions if I count the vegetable crisps - they may have as much fat and salt as potato crisps, but that doesn't stop them being vegetables. In the interests of honesty I also ate one marshmallow, just because it was there, and half a fish finger and a few grapes left by my daughter.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Purple Hair

I confess I am vain enough to want to cover the grey sprinkled through my hair - I may be old enough to be my small daughter's grandmother, but I'd rather not look like it. I don't like paying out the cost of having my hair dyed at a salon so I do it myself at home. I also don't like committing to a particular colour or running the risk of getting stuck with a colour I hate for too long, so I use a semi-permanent dye which is supposed to last for six weeks. In practice this gives a lot of scope for experimenting with different colours and I am now in a position to offer a piece of hair colouring advice.

Do not choose hair dye because you like the flavour.

More specifically, avoid "blackcurrant" unless you have thought it through and actually want purple hair. You would think I could work this out before putting the stuff on, but somehow I still succumbed to the fruitiness without properly considering the outcome. After all, it didn't look too purple on the packet. And "plum" and "dark cherrry" came out ok. On the other hand I should have learned from "dark chocolate" (oh, I love dark chocolate!), which was extremely dark and not very chocolate.

From now on, I am looking at the colour on the box and not the name! The purple is on its way out as I type and "chocolate truffle" is doing its stuff. Not that I have anything against chocolate truffles, but I put them out of my mind while choosing. Unfortunately I just noticed a large blob of dye which had landed on my wrist and washed it off too late. It now looks as though I have a large and slightly oddly coloured bruise. Maybe I have found a better use for "blackcurrant". Stage makeup?

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Shameless Shoe Shopping

I have been shoe shopping! In two weeks I bought five pairs. This isn't as bad as it sounds - I hope! - as they were mostly shoes I needed and the whole lot cost me under £50. I have never thought of myself as being a "shoe person" but over the last year or two I have been getting more experimental. I blame the friend who talked me into a pair of pink stilettos! Also these days I need both work and casual shoes - add in sandals for summer, boots for winter, and the occasional dressy pair, and it starts to look like a shoe collection.

Pair Number 1: The most boring. Brown boots for autumn / winter. I am short of casual boots to wear with jeans ("short" actually meaning I had none). These were £8 in the New Look online sale. I ordered a couple of different pairs to try and these were the nicest so I sent the other pair back.

Pair Number 2: Chunky black sandals with block heels and a double buckle. Primark £16. I bought these while shopping with eldest daughter. When I pulled them off the shelf she pulled a face and said "too young" (thanks, daughter!), but after I tried them on they got teenage approval. They are comfy, though a little heavy, and practical for work.

Pair Number 3: Flat black sandals. Primark £8. Can wear these for pretty much anything.

Pair Number 4: Casual / dressy flat sandals. Also Primark £8. I love these. They are comfy, summery and go with lots of different things. I noticed that when I went back to Primark a week later they had sold out. Three pairs of sandals might seem excessive in one go, but all I had were old flip flops and a pair of navy platform wedges which are just about wearable for work but not the most practical of shoes.

Pair Number 5: The wild card. Crazy blue heels. £8 in the New Look online sale. I bought them to go with the maxi dress in the bottom (blurry) photo. Thanks to the slight platform they are considerably more comfortable than they look. I don't think I would have ordered them normally but they were so cheap it would have almost seemed rude not to try them. I later spotted them in a New Look store still at the original price! And yes, that does make me feel smug.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Mostly Healthy Chocolate Milkshake

I am a breakfast person but I have at least one daughter who isn't (and I suspect her small sister may be going the same way). I have solved the problem of getting something down her in the morning and giving her energy to start the day with the Mostly Healthy Chocolate Milkshake.

* One scoop of good quality vanilla ice cream - I use Waitrose own brand Cornish ice cream. Anything where the majority of the ingredients are recognisable as food will do!
* Semi-skimmed milk - I use about 300ml
* 4 teaspoons of Nesquik hot chocolate powder. I compared the ingredients and this is identical to their chocolate milkshake powder, but inexplicably cheaper. It has added iron and B vitamins so I use it in preference to ordinary drinking chocolate.
* One 25g scoop of unflavoured whey protein powder

Whizz with hand blender.

The sugar in the Nesquik and ice cream is the only real downside to this, plus a bit of saturated fat in the ice cream - not a problem for a slim teenager. On the plus side it has calcium, iron, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin D, carbohydrate, packs a hefty protein punch, and tastes good. If I was making it for myself I would replace the ice cream with a banana to cut down on the fat and sugar, to add to my fruit and veg count, and to give some fibre.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Five Rules for Healthy Eating

... or How I Lost Weight Without Actually Trying 

In autumn 2011 I resolved that I was going to eat more healthily (and exercise more, but that is another story). As a 50 year old mother of a five year old I realised that if I wanted to be fit and active when she is in her teens I needed to take some responsibility for looking after my health. I had read The Forever Young Diet and Lifestyle by James and Joan O'Keeffe while on holiday - I think I picked it up as a free or very cheap eBook - and the eating rules it recommended seemed sensible and manageable. The main changes I made were:

1. Eat more fruit and vegetables - initially I aimed for 7 portions a day, now I aim for 10.

2. Eat wholegrains rather than white bread, pasta, rice or potatoes - wholegrain bread, brown or wild rice, wholemeal pasta and so on.

3. Include protein with every meal (including breakfast).

3. Drink well - stick to water, tea or coffee (unsweetened). No fizzy or sweetened drinks.

5. Cut down on junk - highly processed and sugary foods.

Most of the time I did pretty well with this, I think because it was not too prescriptive. By eating more good food I found I was less tempted by the junk, but if I really wanted something I ate it anyway. Most days I ate a couple of squares of dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more) and drank a small glass of red wine daily - still do! - so I never felt deprived of treats. Much to my surprise I found that within four months I had gone down a clothes size, six months later I was two sizes smaller, and over the following year I dropped a third size. From wearing a UK size 16/18 I now wear size 10/12, which still astonishes me, all the more so because I have not counted calories or followed any other weight loss plan. Over time my tastes have changed, and now I get as much pleasure out of a good salad as I would out of a pizza. Eating well has become an ingrained habit that I cannot imagine changing. 

Is it really this easy? Well, yes ... and no! Once eating according to these rules becomes a habit it is simple. The hard part is making the changes that allow it to become a habit. Initially it takes thought to work out how to fit in all those extra fruits and veggies into your day; to make sure that enjoyable healthy snacks are always to hand so there is less temptation to grab a biscuit or a doughnut; to find breakfasts that fit into the morning routine and keep you going until lunchtime; to work out how to throw together a quick healthy packed lunch to take to work; to stick to the wholegrains when other family members refuse to be weaned off white bread and pasta. I think it helped that I love food, pretty much any food, so was able to find plenty of healthy stuff that I enjoy. I suspect it would be harder for a picky eater. I also don't have any food sensitivities, so never needed to restrict any particular food groups.

Writing this I realise I could sum up the changes I made to my diet in one overarching rule - eat less bad stuff, replace it with good stuff. This means being aware of what is good - good fats, good carbs, low GI foods that will leave you fuller longer, and so on. Once that awareness becomes second nature it becomes much easier to make good food choices. I am now so enthused about this subject I could go on, ond on, and on ... 

Monday, 2 June 2014

June Goals

I like to think I can use this blog as a tool to keep myself accountable, although I suspect that may be wishful thinking. Caroline at Mrs M's Meanderings has posted a list of her goals for June which has inspired me to do the same in the hope of giving myself a bit of focus. So, this month I aim to:

1. Exercise at least four times a week, with at least two trips to the gym.

2. Get rid of at least ten bags of clutter. Even ten small bags would be good. We are drowning in stuff.

3. Deep clean the shower.

4. Try two new recipes for healthy snacks.

5. Fix the broken garden gate

It isn't much, but if I can manage all five I will be delighted!
Location:June Goals

Sunday, 1 June 2014

The Pieces of Me: An Introduction

So who am I, and what are the building blocks that make up my life? I am in my early fifties, and lucky enough to be feeling fitter and healthier than I did ten years ago. I am happily married and have been for over twenty years. We have three daughters. The eldest is 19, finished school last year, opted not to go to university and is working full time as a marketing assistant. Our middle daughter is 15 and in the middle of GCSEs. If all goes to plan she will be changing schools in September to take the International Baccalaureate instead of A levels. Our youngest will be 8 next week. She is physically petite, but in her head she is BIG! She is highly verbal and has a will of steel, yet can also be very shy and timid. She entertains and exasperates us in equal measure, and is utterly adored by her big sisters (and vice versa).

We live on the edge of Bedfordshire, within easy reach of London and easier reach of the new "city" (though officially a town) of Milton Keynes. After our littlest started school I trained as an archivist and, rather unexpectedly, have found myself working full time. I love my job, although it hasn't been easy recently due to the effect of funding cuts. I have a doctorate in medieval history and love that I am able to do something which allows me to use some of the skills I gained through that. It has also given me the opportunity to extend my historical knowledge into unexpected areas. At the moment I am spending a lot of time working on the First World War as we have a big centenary project under way.

I love music and play an odd mix of instruments, more by accident than design. At various times I play trombone in a brass band, flute in a concert band, and violin in an amateur symphony orchestra, though not all at once - too many instruments, too little time! Currently I am playing trombone and flute. Playing is both a sanity saver when I am stressed and also a lot of fun. I love to listen to a wide variety of music, ranging from rock to classical, though I'm not keen on opera and don't really "get" jazz.

Soon after I turned fifty I got serious about eating more healthily. As an older mother I wanted to stay fit and active for my youngest daughter and realised that wasn't going to happen by default. I made various changes in my diet - nothing radical, mainly a lot more fruit and vegetables, switching to wholegrains, and cutting down on junk - and was surprised to find that weight dropped off without any effort on my part. Over a couple of years I lost 30 lbs and went down three dress sizes. I'm far from skinny, with a BMI still slightly over 25, but I think I am a healthy weight. I have exercised sporadically, but decided at the beginning of this year it was time to get serious about that too. For the last few months I have been going to the gym pretty regularly, doing some yoga, and mix it up with exercising at home when I can't fit in a trip to the gym. I'm not totally there yet, but I am feeling fitter and stronger and determined to make it as much a routine part of my lifestyle as is my improved diet.

What else? I love to knit, especially socks. I have always been a reader, but these days find it too easy to be sucked into puttering around the internet and hard to focus on books when I get home from work tired. Mostly I binge-read when I am on holiday. I am a Mass-attending and trying-to-be-faithful Catholic, having converted in my twenties, but often fail miserably at living that out in practice. I feel that everything can be improved with a dash of humour, I talk too much, I love to spend time with friends, and I cannot imagine a life without wine and chocolate.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Moving House

Not in the literal, bricks and mortar sense, but I am moving in to a new home on the internet. For several years I "lived" at another blogging space, but over the last couple of years I have posted less and less. Much has changed in my life since I first set up my original blog. I have moved from full time motherhood to full time work; my children have grown and are at very different stages; my interests have changed and developed. After drifting for a long time, reluctant to let go of a space I had loved, it suddenly feels time to move on. My hope is that a new start in a new blogging home will inspire me to write and find my voice again.

I have called this new blog Crazy Paving. The title jumped into my mind and when I looked for a definition I found this - "a form of paving, as for a path, made of slabs of stone of irregular shape fitted together". It seems a good fit for a life that is a haphazard mix of rather random elements, oddly matched and constantly changing in the patterns they make with each other. Life is busy and often chaotic and I may not be able to post as often as I would like, but I intend to try to write regularly. As my old blog was written under a pseudonym, mainly to protect my family's privacy, I am not going to link to it from here. I hope that old friends will find their way here and will continue to read; I also hope it will be a place in which I will meet new friends - if you are new here please don't be shy, I would love you to introduce yourself in the comments.