Wednesday, August 09, 2017
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
The first of August.
The first year of parenthood is almost complete. I can't even fathom how we are here already! I am officially already back at work, although I'm actually using up annual leave before I return in September. So this is my final full month at home with T, and in these next few weeks he will have his Christening, his first birthday and his first taster sessions at nursery.
So many firsts ahead, but there were also plenty to be had in July. We had our first night away without T, who was beautifully behaved for his grandparents and barely noticed our absence. We, of course, spent the majority of our trip talking about him and looking at pictures of him and generally being the stereotypical parents away from their baby for the first night.
This last few weeks have also included our first real experience of a poorly baby. Nothing major, thankfully, but there have been high temperatures, and rashes, and copious amounts of coughing and snottiness. It has been more than a little worrying but he is absolutely back to full fitness now and as he gets over closer to taking his first steps he clambers about the house at increasing speed wreaking havoc at all times.
This weekend also brought another first for that beautiful dog in the picture. After eight weeks of training my lovely Millie passed her Kennel Club Bronze Award on Sunday. The examiner even commented on how exceptional her recall was for a beagle and I practically exploded with pride. She has definitely had her life turned upside down since T has arrived and has taken to it all with her typical good nature and so it was such a lovely moment for the two of us to have achieved something together and to be able to make such a huge fuss of her, putting her centre of attention for a little while.
I don't know how this blog will go in the coming months, I feel like each time I come to these posts it is the first time I have written in weeks, but the fact that I am still here tapping away means that I still plan to keep trying to stick with it in some guise or another.
I'm looking forward to August, even if it holds a few lasts as well as lots of firsts. I think back to this time last year and the waiting, and am so grateful for where we are today. Hoping you all have some lovely summer plans for the month ahead.
Tuesday, July 04, 2017
Saturday, July 01, 2017
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
If arancini is ever on the menu, The Husband will order it, so I had to make Arancini Salsiccia when I saw it in the book. I found myself making saffron risotto at half eight in the morning while T had his breakfast, and then the rest came together in various stages over the day. I served them with some garlic greens, and they were absolutely delicious. The sausagemeat with fennel was a beautiful flavour, and they made a brilliant, filling meal. They initially seemed quite labour intensive from reading the recipe, but each component was relatively simple and they were well worth the effort.
Monday, May 29, 2017
We watched the news, watched the vigils, the days had an undercurrent that had not been there before, but with young children to entertain there was not much time to sit and absorb what was happening. And so it was only on our journey home that I felt myself becoming increasingly reflective, as we drew ever closer to a part of the country that was reeling, the reality seemed to intensify, particularly as we were overtaken by a bomb disposal vehicle, sirens blaring, on the motorway. Arriving to the free local paper on the doormat, filled with news of those that were there, those that helped, those that were injured, rather than the usual, more mundane stories of everyday life. Arrests being made in towns that I know, towns that are very near, fear and shock filling social media feeds. There was no normality to return to.
Manchester is my home city. I was born there, forever grateful to a hospital and the team within it that saved two lives during my mum's pregnancy. I lived there when I was first born, and again as a student, moving into halls just moments away from that very same hospital. I graduated in Manchester, twice, and on the second occasion it was also where The Husband proposed. My love of theatre was cultivated there, some of my closest friendships started in those streets, I have memories, such fond memories, round so many corners. I have worked in both the inner city and its suburbs, and it is the place I probably know my way around most confidently, having walked so many of its roads over so many years. Which makes it all the more gut-wrenching to see those familiar streets of home filled with sirens, with screaming, and then with silence, on the continuous footage that filled the screens on Tuesday. I always find coverage of these atrocities unbearable, it isn't worse this time because it is nearer, but it is somehow all the more vivid when the horrendous events take place on streets where your own memories overlap with the images being shown.
My first concert was in that arena, I have been picked up outside that building after countless gigs, emerging into the night with giddiness, on a wave of excitement, making memories with friends, running to a parent waiting exactly where they said they would be, ready to hear about songs and spectacles, and safely deliver us home. I have rushed with The Husband down those very steps, through that same foyer, to catch the last train home, singing favourite choruses with hoarse voices. That station has punctuated my commute, that cathedral a favourite spot, those shops the place I have wandered on lazy Saturdays, or dashed through in a lunch-hour. It isn't that I didn't ever think it would happen here, I think I always worried that it would, indeed it has before. It's more that now it has, again, I don't know how to reconcile the imagery from this week with that which went before.
I don't usually write about these things, I usually to some degree close my eyes to it until the initial overwhelm has passed, mostly I think because I feel helpless, and to try and not let that turn into panic and fear. But somehow, seeing those streets, my streets, I find that I have words I want to say. I love that city, and the horror of the news was tempered with the sense of civic pride in the place and the people that make it what it is. Seeing the crowds, at vigils, at walks, at services, and then yesterday at the run, a run where my best friend, and her sister and brother-in-law, a family that is practically my own, took part, adds more images, so many life-affirming moments filling those same streets, reclaiming them, turning them back into a place where the best kinds of memories are made.
It can feel crass to focus on positives when there are families who have lost loved ones so senselessly, inappropriately optimistic to talk about not giving in to fear or to division when people have been killed. There is grief and shock, and a sudden, deep rooted unease too. The city may speak of unbreakable spirit but, for some, hearts and homes have been irreparably splintered by what has taken place. In the face of such terror, though, as well as a sense of mass defiance, there was kindness. In the wake of one act of evil, were an immeasurable number of acts borne out of love, out of the best of humanity. It doesn't take away from the significance of what has taken place, or the devastation, yet at the same time it manages to outweigh it.
I cannot claim that I will remain steadfast, I know I will be more fearful when I next visit the city. Tonight we go to watch a comedy gig at a venue in Manchester, although not in the city centre. Tomorrow my husband leaves for work, taking the train, for the first time since our holiday. I am scared. When my friends were running yesterday I tracked their every step on an app, willing them around that course, making sure I knew exactly where they were, cheering them on, yes, but also because watching the little markers move gave a reassurance that I needed.
This is not an isolated incident, and it is not the only place to suffer in this way. The news is filled daily with such atrocities all over the world. It is no worse because it happened here, and I know that it shouldn't be the case that we are more shocked, more outraged, more moved, when the lives lost are closer to home. Undeniably though, seeing a bomb disposal van on a local motorway, seeing the headlines in a local newspaper, seeing the streets of home cordoned off, and patrolled with armed police, brings it to the forefront, makes it seem more real than pictures on a screen. I see my darling boy sleeping, laughing, exploring life with such gusto, such fearlessness, and would do anything to protect him. I hate the idea of him going out into this world, where things like this can happen. Yet I know the idea of him not seeing the world is worse, because then he would never see the incredible sights or meet the amazing people it has to offer.
And that is what I have to remember, the overwhelming wave of good, the endless kindness of strangers, the quiet determination of people who walked into their city the next morning when trains were not running, the chorus of voices that chose to sing together rather than shout at one another. It has always, to me, been an iconic city, with a mood, a culture, an identity all of its own. The response to the events has been incredible, but also, somehow, completely normal for such a special place, and for the special people who call it home. I love Manchester.
Saturday, May 20, 2017
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Friday, May 12, 2017
I consider myself well-informed about nutrition, I usually cook meals from scratch, enjoy a varied diet, and understand how to read food labels. I know that most sauces, cereals, and yoghurts will have added sugar (particularly those labelled low-fat) and so I deliberately buy the least processed versions, or just make my own. I also disgaree with the idea that adding honey, or maple syrup is better than adding sugar and have been disappointed in the past by sugar-free cookbooks (Davina I'm looking at you) where every recipe seems to include a boatload of syrup instead. I even limit how much fruit juice I drink because it provides more sugar, and much less nutritional benefit, than eating the whole fruit.
So what was the problem? I was great at looking for hidden sugars, great at trying to avoid things that had been unexpectedly sweetened. Unfortunately, my issue is when it comes to the not-so-hidden sugars, the things that are quite obviously supposed to have sugar in, the chocolates, cakes, biscuits, sweets, and yes even those syrups and honey. While I would be sure not to be caught out by surreptitious sugar, I didn't have the same reservations for food that I knew was packed full of the stuff, and whether I was baking my own or buying it off the shelves, I couldn't leave it alone.
I've always had a sweet tooth, and food, particularly sweet food has always had an emotional element. Bad day, have a biscuit, good day, have some chocolate, celebration, eat cake, trip out, not a treat without an ice cream. Food has been so ingrained into every aspect of life, for me it is an incredibly social thing, and I tended to experience most events and emotions with a side order of sugar. I have long-joked that I have a pudding-shelf, by which I meant that however full I was, I always had room for dessert. Not only that, but I would very often say, at the end of a meal, that I "needed" something sweet. This has always been fascinating to The Husband, who enjoys chocolate and biscuits too, but with a completely different attitude to me. While he loves eating out, and going for celebratory meals, he eats when he is hungry, he doesn't crave sweetness for its own sake, and though he can chomp through a packet of biscuits while watching a film, he can also leave well alone for weeks at a time.
For me, I've never had the willpower. If I know there is something sweet in the house, I didn't need much excuse to raid the cupboard. Being home on maternity leave had brought it to a head somewhat, a couple of biscuits with each cup of tea (having to eat everything one-handed was an added justification), a few more if he went down for a sleep, a few more if it had been a tough hour. Even though I have been doing more walking than I have in years, often five or six miles a day, as well as regular runs, I knew my snacking was incredibly unhealthy. Additionally, now T was starting to eat meals with us, it was feeling particularly hypocritical to be tucking into to sugar-laden snacks while knowing I wouldn't dream of serving him the foods that I was relying on to get through the day.
My only exceptions were pre-bought savoury foods, such as breads, pizzas or curries, and my cereal, which is low in sugar but not without added sugar. As I said, I try and pick better options of these kind of items anyway, and I knew that for me, this wasn't the problem I was trying to address. After a discussion with The Husband we also agreed to an incentive, of a small amount of money for each day I succeeded. to treat myself with at the end. However The Husband also cleverly suggested that if I were to lapse, he would receive any of my earnings to that point!! I did a chart, resplendent with clip-art, stuck it up in the kitchen, and diligently set about marking off each day.
And do you know what, I did it. And I really didn't struggle. I think once I knew it was off the cards it just flicked a switch, and I could happily open the cupboards that had anything off-limits in without so much as a craving. What I found hardest was when I was poorly and I wanted builders tea with sugar, and mugs of honey and lemon. Otherwise, I went on quite happily. I did find that I became less hungry during the day, running round with T meant that if I couldn't raid the biscuit cupboard I'd quite often just grab toast or oatcakes. I also felt like I ate well, there were still trips out for fish and chips, cheese scones at the garden centre, cooked breakfasts at Ikea with my mum and T, pizza nights, the cookery calendar challenge. I still enjoyed food, and cooking, and even baked a cake for a friend without licking the spoon! I could also enjoy the pleasure of sitting and getting to drink a hot cup of coffee in it's own right rather than just using the drink as a receptacle for biscuit dunking.
The thing that has stuck with me most, is that we had a lot of celebrations during the 60 days. Easter, Mother's Day, our family holiday, a night out with The Husband for dinner and a film, trips out with my parents and countless movie nights at home. None of them felt any less special, or any less enjoyable through lack of sweet treats, and it was so refreshing to realise that having a good time isn't contingent on having a "treat" to eat. Similarly, there were plenty of sleepness nights, rough days, and low moments, and with the exception of missing my cold remedies, it was liberating to find that these moments passed just as quickly without inhaling a handful, or three, of hobnobs (the chocolate variety), I actually felt generally better because I didn't have the sugar induced highs and lows to go along with them.
So it has now been just over a week since I finished the challenge, and what has happened since? I have treated myself to some beautiful new calligraphy equipment, pens, watercolours, ink, and a light box, and also a nutribullet with my earnings! I have also started a new challenge, having enjoyed the sense of achievement and the positive changes it brought. But the big question is about the sugar. Health wise, I didn't notice much difference. I lost weight over the 60 days, which wasn't the reason I did it, but wasn't a surprise when I knew how many snacks I would be cutting out, and it finally took me to my pre-pregnancy weight which felt like a good goal to reach. Interestingly, although I wouldn't have said I noticed any changes during the 60 days, since I've reintroduced sugar, my skin and stomach seem to be flaring up, but only a little. I haven't continued to exclude it entirely, for all I don't think too much sugar is good, I also think that ruling anything out completely (unless for health reasons) is not the route to a happy life. I genuinely feel though, that I have changed my relationship with it. We have a cupboard full of Easter eggs, and I have been able to have a taste, and wrap the rest up and put it back, which is a completely new for me. I have also avoided having anything during the day, unless I've been out for a trip somewhere.
In the last day or so I became aware that I was tempted to reach for the chocolate because I was tired, or the pile of washing up looked daunting, or just because I felt like a pick-me-up. I was able to reign it in though, and when I do have something sweet I feel like I able to savour it in small amounts, even the biscuit served with a coffee in a cafe tastes much sweeter and I enjoy it all the more for that. Do I consider it a success? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Without hesitation. However, I hope that I don't get to the point where I need to. I hope I can continue to eat sweet foods occasionally, like today where I went out and enjoyed a meringue with my Grandad, without suddenly needing to raid the cupboard mindlessly. I wouldn't ever want to live completely without a pudding now and then, I love my food too much to never be able to sample a dessert menu! But I also feel like I have dissociated sugar from being a reward, and an emotional crutch. Food will always be part of celebrations for me, I love cooking, baking and sharing food with those I love, or eating out as part of a special occasion. It will always bring me joy, but now I look forward to making memories that don't all centre around eating, and look forward to knowing I can handle bad days and low moments in a healthier way.
Thank you for reading all of that, if you made it to the end! I'll be back soon to tell you about my next challenge, as I've realised it might be more reader-friendly to do it smaller chunks! Do let me know what your thoughts are, are you the proud owner of a pudding-shelf? Here's to good food, happy celebrations, and a sweet life, with and without added sugar!