Friday, 8 December 2017

Frugal Friday...

I was reminded by Sue over at Our New Life in the Country of the number of folk busily counting up sealed pot savings at this time of year. I assume the tradition of this happening in December originates from people using the money to spend on Christmas? That seems logical I suppose, although that's not where ours goes, but I can see for many folk the money they amass in their sealed pot might well pay for Christmas presents or some of the other additional expenditure that gets accrued at this time of year.

Some folk have a "literal" sealed pot - a jar or tin with a slot cut in the lid and the top all sealed up to avoid the temptation to dip in. We prefer to use our family of Pigs for our "coin" savings - one for my £2 coins, 1 for random change, and another for "roadkill" - the money we find discarded in the streets as we go about our business. Oh, and the sheep - he eats 5p's, obviously. Our "Sealed pot" though is in fact a virtual pot - and it's where we sweep the odd pounds and pennies from our bank accounts away to, along with cashback earned on things bought jointly, and interest earned on any of the bank accounts too. not much physical counting involved in that come 1st December, obviously, but no paying bags of cash into the bank required, either. Each time we log into our accounts through the year we simply round down the current accounts to the nearest £5 and then transfer the relevant amount to the VSP account. It means that our accounts stay at nice round figures (which pleases my slight OCD tendancies) and also builds to a nice little sum of "extra" money which can fund - or at least part fund - something exciting.

Although we don't use the money for specific Christmas related things - I've always stuck to 1st December as the start of the new "VSP Year" - I started saving this way after seeing a challenge on the MoneySavingExpert forums some years ago - that was the date they used, so I did the same, and I've just kept on that way ever since.  Both last year and this, the money saved has gone towards helping to pay for our Christmas trip to the Hebrides - this year it will be covering car hire costs, food and any general spending money, and as it totalled a satisfying £475, it will easily cover those costs! It's a great way of funding extra fun and all from money that would otherwise just get frittered, or eventually swept over to our long term savings accounts.

Our savings Pigs (And sheep!) all get counted up in the Spring - as those have always been used for our main holiday, and that has traditionally always been somewhere between Easter & June, so this worked out to be a good time to do the count. Like Sue & her Lovely Hubby we also refuse to relinquish 10% of our hard-earned to the manufacturers of a machine that will count it for us - instead we sit ourselves down and count the lot between us, then MrEH takes it painstakingly 5 bags at a time to pay it into the Building Society and it gets transferred across to the holiday savings account from there.

The other way we still save which was also something we started when we were working to pay off the mortgage is the "money we didn't know we had" - this is made up from savings made when utility bills or similar are haggled down, and the little bit extra from my salary that doesn't have a job elsewhere. Initially that was the money that we would periodically transfer across to pay off against the mortgage, now it again tends to fund the "extras" that we can justify - we're revisiting the island of Lundy with a group of pals next year - not cheap but a fantastic thing to do - and this account will be paying for that. It means that we can say "Yes please" to fun stuff without feeling guilt about raiding our longer term savings.  If someone was paying off debt money saved this way could be paid off a credit card balance, or set aside to pay a loan down early perhaps, it can be a great way of charting savings made on household bills too!


Saturday, 2 December 2017

This Girl Can...

I posted previously about the "year to change a life" thing - and it was writing that post which prompted me to realise that a lot of the changes I've been making and feeling the effects of were about changes in mindset, as much as anything else. It's so easy to make excuses as to why you "can't" do things - and one excuse can readily lead to another. "I can't run because my knees are bad"  > "I can't exercise because I can't run" > "I can't get fitter because I can't exercise". When you start to take a long hard look at yourself, and challenge those thought patterns though, suddenly things start to get achievable.

I've referred here before to people saying things like "Oh you're really lucky!" when what they actually mean is "Oh you've worked really hard to make that happen" - and I guess that sort of links in to the excuses thing - it's a lot easier to assume that things have just fallen into someone's lap, than to think how they might have achieved things, as that leads to the realisation that perhaps YOU could make things happen, too, and a lot of people simply aren't comfortable to challenge themselves like that. I confess that it certainly made me feel a bit uncomfortable!

My "Big Thing" as I think I mentioned before, was running. I realised early on that it would be a great and above all cheap and easy way of getting some exercise, but first I needed to get to the point where I could try it. Walking a lot was the first step, and by the spring I felt I was ready to step things up - on grass first (see "knees" above) to make it lower impact. I made a start by using the same Couch to 5 K programme that a friend recommended - I knew she'd had great results with it. Week 1 starts with interspersing 1 minute of running with 90 seconds of walking, repeated. Sounds easy, hmm? To my humiliation I discovered I couldn't do it - just that 60 seconds was too much, and when I could achieve it, it left me literally gasping for air. I repeated the week still to no avail - if anything it was worse, and yes, I admit it, I gave up - an excuse offered itself "we're going on holiday, it won't be practical to try to do that while we're away" and that was that for a while. For some reason though, it bugged me - I still can't work out what it was that made it get lodged in my head - and I wasn't happy that it had beaten me, so a few months later I decided to have a second attempt. I'd been keeping up regular exercise - lots of walking plus circuit training stuff and similar - so I knew I should stand a better chance at it. If anything, it was worse - I simply couldn't manage it, and had NO idea why. Everyone said "Keep at it, it will get easier!" which made absolute sense - but in my case that just didn't seem to be the case, culminating in a week in October when I struggled to run for 60 seconds even on the treadmill...

Of course that week was the one before I ended up in hospital, suddenly everything became rather obvious! Severe anaemia means that your muscles - including the heart - simply aren't getting the oxygen they need to function, which explains why I was suffering with my legs feeling absolutely exhausted, struggling for breath and generally feeling unable to do the things that I felt I ought to be able to!  When I mentioned at the hospital that I'd been going to the gym and running, there was universal astonishment - apparently I simply shouldn't have been able to do any of those things, and it's only the higher level of fitness I'd reached in spite of everything that saved me from doing myself some serious damage. *Gulp*.

So, fast forward a few weeks and suddenly I've realised - I don't WANT to make excuses any more. I started back on C25K the week after I left hospital, starting on week 2 as I felt confident that I could do week 1 - I've now on week 4 which includes 5 minutes of running at a time, and I'm coping well. I may well get to the point that I have to repeat a day here and there, but that's fine. Setbacks now (Like the final run of week 3 being REALLY tough because I'd tried exercising 3 days on the trot without a rest day!) aren't phasing me. Above all I'm enjoying it - enjoying that feeling of challenging myself, and discovering that my body can do things I didn't think it could. I'm getting a buzz from being able to run that little bit further, or finishing a stretch of running to find that actually, I'm barely even out of breath. I can run - who knew?! Someone said to me last week "It's amazing how fast you can train your body to run" and they're absolutely right!

(Thanks to Jenni at Snippets of a Life for introducing me to that quote!)

If I can do this, then without question, anyone can. I'm starting to think of new challenges too - first it's to finish the C25K programme, and I want to do our local parkrun, and to do some running in the Hebrides too. For me the key was to stop thinking of the things I couldn't do and work with what I could. Running too high impact to start with? So walk. Walking too far hurts? Mix in some static bike work. When I started with the fitness stuff I couldn't even do a single full press-up - my arms just weren't strong enough, so I started with "box press-ups"on hands and knees and worked up from there. This week in the gym I did 30 seconds of full press-ups. It's taken me nearly a year to get to that point though - and giving up would have been by far the easier option.

Go on - challenge yourself - I dare you. If "This Girl Can..." then so can you!


Wednesday, 29 November 2017

"Date night" doesn't have to be a thing...!

Once you were married, or settled down with your chosen significant other, dating used to be one of the things that a large number of people said "phew - thank goodness I'm out of that loop" about. But in the last few years "Date Nights" have become a "thing" for a lot of people, it seems. Well I say "a lot of people" but actually I suspect that should read "A lot of people with a heavy reliance on social media" -  as that seems to be where it's originated. Now, if it just stopped as people taking the view that it's something they choose to do, that would be fine, but like so many hashtag-worthy subjects, a lot of people seem to see the fact that they do "Date Nights" as a route to feel smug, or worse, to outright try to shame others who're choosing to travel a different path.

As she so often does, Kendra makes a great case for the opposition on her Lazy Genius Collective Blog - alarmingly there are those out there trying to suggest that if you're not regularly "doing date night" it probably means that your marriage is in trouble. Seriously? Now last time I looked, there were all sorts of signs that a relationship might be in trouble, but failing to pop out for a mid-week pizza and beer isn't generally recognised as one of them. If you aren't spending time together at all then clearly that might suggest that something is a wee bit amiss, and perhaps it's time to think about focusing back on one another, but for the majority of us non date-nighters that's not the case. It's not that we're not spending time with that most-important-person-in-the-world-to-us - it's that we're not feeling the need to label that time publicly to others.

I was curious about the "Hashtag datenight" phenomenon so I googled it - astonishingly there is a company out there who, for £40 a month, will send you a ready made date in the post every month - thus removing even the need to sit down together and discuss what you might want to do. There was also a pretty universally panned film dating from 2010, but once you get past those, the majority of what you'll find is Social Media related. Instagram leads the way unsurprisingly with a mix of selfies, "meaningful" quotes and food pics, mostly with other "aspirational" hashtags attached all designed to show the world - or at least a couple of hundred followers - how "perfect" that person's life is. An occasional post clearly made with a good dollop of irony thrown in stands out a mile - and are almost exclusively British (no surprise there!). It's when you stray onto Urban Dictionary definitions that things get REALLY interesting though - and indeed "Date night is the negotiated exchange of a night out for the lady resulting in an*l sex for the man" nearly made me spit my tea out - I'll certainly always view that hashtag rather differently in the future! The OED clarifies that it's mainly intended for couples with children - and I definitely see more logic in this - when you reach the point that far more planning is needed to get a night out with "just the two of you". The majority of those instagram posts don't appear to relate to this model - but I wonder whether this is as simple as again, people not feeling the need to apply a label to it, plus feeling the importance of actually focusing more on and enjoying the time with each other and no other demands than telling their "friends list" what a fantastic time they're having...? 

It's pretty rare for MrEH and I to go out on a weeknight. There are several reasons why it tends not to suit us, but the most notable of those is that by the time we've both finished work and got home, it's usually after 7, and neither of us want to be out late on a night when the alarm is going to go off shortly after 6am the following morning to summon us for another day of daily grind. To be honest, much as we might enjoy going out, generally speaking, what we enjoy more on a weeknight is a chat about our day while curled up on the sofa, and a bit of time to be just "us" after a hectic day. All of the above though doesn't mean we don't spend time together - we always have right since we were first together, and perhaps that's part of it. We have ALWAYS made time to spend time together because we WANT to be with the other, we just take for granted that this is part of our lives together - it doesn't need drawing attention to, and I suspect an awful lot of others treat things in exactly the same way. We just do stuff, rather than advertising to the world that we're doing it and labelling it as something extraordinary. If you're doing the same, then really, I promise you, there is NOTHING wrong with that!


Saturday, 11 November 2017


The Royal Air force social media accounts are currently focusing heavily on Remembrance Sunday as you might expect - asking "who are you remembering" - from families thinking of loved ones serving, to friends remembering those who fell alongside them, there's been a great wide range of examples given and hopefully it will encourage children who perhaps feel that as their parents and grand parents are too young too have fought in either world war it's not relevant to them, to think again.  For me, I take it as a time to think of family members who served in those hopefully never to be repeated conflicts, and to think of and give thanks for friends serving currently and the sacrifices their families make. Currently I have one friend over in the USA where he's already been for several months - he'll be home briefly for Christmas and then away again. Another who has spent a lot of time away from his family in the past year or so (including the three months running up to his own wedding!) and another living away from his Mrs & kids all week and travelling home every weekend - it is incredibly hard on the families, and all so often that gets forgotten. Generally speaking the partners are just so stoic about it too - no weeping and wailing, no making their other half feel guilty, they just get on and mark off the days until their loved one gets home again.

In the town I live in there has been a small exhibition travelling around the area focused on telling us about 5 men from the town who lost their lives in WW1. I caught up with it in the shopping centre on Tuesday, and also had a brief chat with one of the gents from the British Legion who was manning the stand and engaging with people about the exhibition. I was genuinely shocked when he said that they had contacted all the local schools to suggest taking the exhibition in and giving a talk about it to the pupils, and had absolutely NO response. What better way for children to get a real feeling for the history around the two world wars than to hear the stories of those who went to fight from the town they're living in, and in some cases paid the ultimate price? I'm honestly perplexed as to why there was no interest in this - are children not being taught about these events? Or are the opinions of those that would have it that the wearing of the poppy in some way glorifies was beginning to hold more sway?

Whether or not you buy a poppy this year, or attend a service, please take a few moments to remember those who went, and never returned, and those who are still going...

“When you go Home, tell them of us and say,
 For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today”

John Maxwell Edmunds


Friday, 10 November 2017

Frugal Friday...

Ahh you see, this series hasn't entirely died a death!

Off the back of my last post, it occurred to me that there was also material for a FF post in there. We're all encouraged to exercise, and to eat healthily, but in itself it can be a challenge to keep the costs down on those - and oddly enough you rarely seem to see anything beyond "oh just do free stuff!" suggesting how people might do that! In between clothes for being active in, actually finding activities themselves that don't break the bank, and getting our ideal "5 a day of different coloured fruit and veg" it is easy for costs to spiral, and not everyone has the ability to allow that to happen. In a world where it's cheaper to buy a packet of Crispy pancakes than it is to buy a Mango, and a months Gym membership can cost more than a medium level Sky TV package, what are the best ways to being able to keep fit and eat well, on a budget?

Firstly - exercise. I was already doing masses of walking of course, and that requires relatively little in the way of specialist equipment. Good footwear - solid boots or shoes but not massively heavy ones - and a decent breathable waterproof jacket are the only essential bits. Charity shops are always worth a look for jackets as people go on a "health kick" then get bored, so their expensive waterproof ends up being sold for a fraction of it's regular price. For footwear the big stores like Sports Direct or Go Outdoors are a good starting point as they have a superb range at all price levels. If money is tight then start off trying things on at the lowest price point and see what feels comfortable. A good tip for improving the comfort of walking boots is to try wearing two pairs of socks with them - a thin cotton inner pair with a more chunky sock over the top - this can help to reduce blisters for some people. (Do remember if you plan to do this to try them on with both pairs though or they will be too tight!) A boot with a replaceable insole is a great idea as often the insoles fail before the boot does so being able to replace those separately can work well. ALWAYS wear walking footwear for short periods of time to start with while you get used to it and it moulds to the shape of your foot. If money is less of an issue a specialist pair of walking trousers can prove more comfortable than walking in jeans or leggings. Another "free to do" activity is running, of course, but again you will need at least some basic items of kit to avoid discomfort or injury. A decent pair of trainers (or if running off-road, supportive, well fitting trail shoes) is vital - but again there are ways to keep the costs down on this. I find that a trip to the Outlet Village is my best bet when I need trainers - there are outlet stores there for two of the big sportswear brands and my current pair (adorned with a "swish" logo and in a rather fetching shade of purple) are specifically designed for running and cost me the grand sum of £22. If you plan to run in them, then when trying on make sure you bounce about a bit at least, and ideally get in a few steps of running to see how they feel. A specialist running shop if you have one locally might be worth a look as non mainstream branded running shoes aren't as expensive as you might think - and if you're planning to do a lot of running then the advantage of having shoes properly fitted might outweigh a bit of extra cost anyway. Another essential for those of us of a female persuasion is a good sports bra - otherwise the discomfort, particularly for the better endowed, will rapidly put you off. Again these are available at all sorts of price-points - from basic crop-top style "supports" designed for wearing over a regular bra for a fiver from Primarni, through to £40+ examples from specialist suppliers. A good compromise here is to look for something reduced in clearance as you can often then pick up a top of the range one for a fraction of the usual price. My £40 RRP Freya one cost me £23 from Brastop, and the good thing there is that it's a brand I knew so I was confident that my usual size would fit. Larger ladies in particular, look for nice wide straps and a substantial wide back with multi-hooks (mine's got 4 and can ONLY be put on by doing it up at the front and turning it round - I'm 13 again every time!) as this will help with comfort. When trying on for fit some vigorous bouncing is definitely the way forwards... ;-). You could perfectly well run in ordinary leggings if that's what you have, but both Matalan and Tesco have a great range of specific running/gym leggings in a variety of styles and lengths - I've got a couple of the Matalan 3/4 length ones (£9 each I believe) and a full length pair of winter ones with a beautifully soft fleece lining - think those were £12. Look out for a fit that won't slide down when you're running, don't fret too much about leg length as they can always be folded over, and a key pocket is helpful. (Failing that find either a fleece or light jacket with zipped pockets, or a lanyard you can clip your key onto, as nobody needs to be running along panicking about losing that!)

Personally, I've always found the gym both enjoyable (yes, honestly!) and really helpful in terms of giving me a measure of how I'm doing as far as fitness goes - but it can be an expensive venture with monthly memberships costing a fortune in some cases. I searched about a bit for budget gyms near home but didn't find anything much in a practical location (knowing I'd mostly be going straight after work, I needed something with parking which rules out most of the within-budget options) at a price I could afford. I then shifted my focus to closer to work and found a small Community Sports Centre within a local college, offering reduced price memberships and also "Pay as you Train" access to the gym for not only local residents but also those working locally. I pay £7 per visit, which as I generally make it there once a week, but not always, works out better than a monthly membership fee for me. I'm not tied in to any sort of contract, and there was no joining fee - literally I just walk in (15 minute walk from the office which acts as a decent warm-up!) when I want to, and pay my £7. The downside of this sort of place is no classes, no PT's and limited opening hours (5pm - 10pm) but as I will always be using it within those times, and have no interest in classes anyway, this isn't an issue for me. It's got all the machines I want both on the cardio and strength training side, and being a community centre it's not full of Body Builder types, OR entirely walled in mirrors which I find incredibly offputting!

In terms of food, if you're happy to not be eating exotic stuff at every meal, happily the often heard "it's more expensive to eat healthily than badly" tale is a total fallacy. All the major supermarkets and the discounters now have a range of low priced fruit and veg which changes on either a weekly or fortnightly basis. At the time of writing Aldi can offer you packs of sprouts, leeks and pears at no more than 69p each, while a visit to ThaT supermarkeT would net you Citrus fruit for 79p, and a whole host of vegetable options from carrots to courgettes at 60p or less per pack. When we switch our meal planning to work from what veg options are the best value that week, and use those as a starting point, it's possible to eat very healthily indeed on a tight budget. In additional most of the supermarkets now offer a range of "wonky veg" - not so easy on the eye but just as full of taste - for a discount price in a bid to try to tackle some of the issues around food waste. Carbs aren't left out either - wholewheat couscous is the same price as white, wholewheat pasta is generally sold at the same as white (although often only in 500g bags) and my favourite brown basmati rice is available from Home Bargains at a budget-friendly 99p a kilo, or at least it was last time I ventured in for some! I'll be the first to admit that getting a full 5 a day isn't always easy - I tend to have bananas for breakfast for part of the week, and generally have an apple and some citrus fruit of some sort after my lunch - yes, you'll notice that we veer towards the lower priced fruit options - we prefer not to eat berries etc that can be grown in the UK out of season for the most part, but I do occasionally buy Blueberries or grapes in the winter months for some variation. Generally though that is when they're on special offer. Remember a glass of fruit juice can count as one of your five a day (and that is regardless of whether it is from concentrate or the other sort) and beans and pulses also work - AND have the advantage of being cheap as chips (in fact CHEAPER than chips!) as well as being great sources of iron and protein. Tinned pulses are best picked up from the "ethnic foods" aisles in the major supermarkets or the dedicated shops that many of us are now lucky to have nearby, and dried are always cheapest from the dedicated shops and can be bought in larger quantity. (Those shops are also a fantastic place to pick up all manner of herbs and spices at a great price, too!). If nothing else with your food shopping and meal planning try to remember that the suggestion that "you pay for convenience" is usually true, plus when you cook from scratch you have the control over what you put in, and that's got to be better for you, right?


Thursday, 2 November 2017

One Year to Change a life?

**I started putting this post together several weeks ago - and have just returned to it at a point where I could realistically change the title to "One year to SAVE a life" - read on... (And apologies - this has turned into a bit of a novel!)**

Sometimes something happens along that you wish you'd thought to blog about as a sort of "progress report" thing, but then you realise that actually, you've slipped into the whole thing with the sort of mix of conscious/unconscious thought that would have made that impossible, as at the start, you weren't aware of quite how big what you were getting into was...

Regular readers will be aware of my aversion to New Year's Resolutions but how, at the start of 2017, I set myself a list of goals - things I'd like to achieve in the course of this year. It was all quite casual - for example I said I wanted to reach an average of at least 5,000 steps a day rather than the usual "I'll get my 10,000 steps in every day!" that I knew would foster failure. Eating better - not "I'll get my five-a-day EVERY day" - as sometimes that's just not practical. More improvements to the flat - new doors and window, and the kitchen of course (and yes I know I've not actually got round to blogging pics of that there, but I will do, I promise!). To keep using "free money" to pay down the balance on the 0% credit card. Others were in relation to friendships, and to being better organised. What I realised a few months in was that all the goals I'd set were in one way or another pointing towards making my life better, and happier, for the longer term, and also that these weren't short term goals - nearly everything on that list was something that was going to require working through over a period of time. Almost without realising it, I'd set myself up with a plan that, if I could follow through with it, would indeed change my life for the better in a year to change a life - can that be done? Good question!

The biggest challenge for me has been the changes I've made with a view to improving my physical health.  This stemmed from worsening Arthritis which, just under a year ago, threatened to rob me of my mobility. I woke up one morning in severe pain to the extent that walking at all was agony and even getting up from a sitting position was causing me problems. I was terrified - and I knew without question that I was going to do whatever it took to try to fight back. The first thing for that was to improve my fitness - not easy when even walking is excruciating - but walking was exactly where I started. I forced myself to get out for a walk every lunchtime - just a mile or a bit over. By the time the New Year and those challenges had kicked in I was making that 5k target pretty much daily, and felt ready to step it up, and in fact since then I've hit the recommended 10,000 a day more often than not. I now walk whenever I can - before work if I only have a spare 5 minutes I'll just walk a slightly longer route to the office, and after work, while waiting for MrEH to get back to the car, I'll throw in a walk then too. I also started looking more closely at what I was eating - partly to start incorporating foodstuffs that were proven to help with the Arthritis, and partly because I knew full well I was tending to eat too much, by means of over-large portions, snacking when I was bored, or just too much of the sorts of foods that should really be more of a treat (yes cheese, I mean you). I started keeping a food diary via an app - and that in turn told me if I was eating more calories than I ought to be, or not. I knew I didn't want to "go on a diet" - because diets are temporary, and this needs to be permanent, but equally I knew that I needed to re-educate myself on what a portion of this, or that, ought to look and feel like, and the app proved a great way of doing this. The other problem with diets is that they tend to leave you feeling hungry, and I'm not great at being hungry - so I started investigating foods that would fill me up better without being "stodgy". A natter with a really good pal just before Christmas made us realise that we had similar goals and we got a group of friends together for motivation and inspiration - having to account to several others on this stuff definitely makes you focus a bit more!

Oddly, the one thing that never really featured in my consciousness was losing weight - yes, I know that seems daft when two of the goals were eating less and moving more - but there you go - so when I first started noticing that my clothes were getting looser - to the extent of really not fitting, I was actually a bit surprised. I've no firm idea of what my start weight was, although I could hazard a decent enough guess, but I was a largish size 16. The aim though was very definitely fitness rather than weightloss - and I can't help but think that made the whole thing feel more attainable.

So I walked, then started throwing in some more intense exercise when I felt ready for it - MrEH has proved a great (if demanding!) personal trainer. Going back to the gym was incredibly hard - just getting the nerve to walk in the door in the first place - but I did it. I was struggling though - I'll freely admit - I felt like I should be getting fitter - I was losing weight and toning up, but my breathing wasn't improving and I was really finding running difficult. Three times I started the Couch25k programme, and three times I gave up after repeating week one several times and just not being able to get to the point where I could complete even that without a problem. Frustrating just doesn't begin to cover it - and I had no idea why. MrEH kept assuring me that yes, I was definitely getting fitter - but not feeling the results made it incredibly tough to continue... Just over two weeks ago I got my answer on this when all of a sudden the breathlessness got a LOT worse. I started having problems just with regular walking about, and over the course of just three days this got steadily more and more problematic. Then I started feeling generally very unwell, and getting heart palpitations which were truly alarming... I felt bad enough that in the absence of being able to get a GP appointment, and no walk-in centre in town these days, MrEH took me to A&E where a blood test was done and I was sent home...briefly, before being called urgently to go back as the blood test had shown a rather alarming result - and as the Dr who called me said "You're going to need a blood transfusion". Who? Me? No - that sort of thing happens to other people, not me, surely... Well apparently not - Haemoglobin levels in women should be 110 - 145 and anything below 70 is considered as "dangerously low" - mine was sitting at 45. With a Ferritin level at 3 (should be at least 12) the diagnosis of severe anaemia was a pretty easy one to reach I suspect! In the end I spent several days in hospital and had a total of FIVE transfusions (thanks to the O+ blood donors out there!)  - the first three didn't even get me out of the dangerously low level, which goes to show how bad things had got. The first truly sobering thing was being told that had MrEH not made me go to hospital that first afternoon, I wouldn't have woken up the following morning. (That is very definitely another thing that happens to other people, surely?) The second was realising that had I not taken the steps I had to improve my fitness, I'd have been incredibly lucky not to have ended up with significant damage to my heart - the very first thing they did when I was admitted was hook me up to a ECG which thankfully proved that everything was in order. All in all I was - as a nurse friend of mine pointed out in stern tones - "one very lucky lady". On the plus side, the beauty of the transfusions is that it sort of does a "hard reset" back to where you should be without having to go through any of the nuisance stuff like "recuperating" - by the time I had the second bag of blood on board I felt back to what my "normal" had been for rather a long while...once I'd had all five I was so bursting with energy that I was annoying even myself! I'm on iron tablets for the foreseeable future - no surprise there - and regular blood tests (ugh!) but have also now had a diagnosis and started treatment for the root cause of the problem, which hopefully will sort things out.

So a post that started out focusing on whether you can change your life in just a year - by tackling things that are impacting on your physical and mental health - has turned into a rather more serious message. If something isn't quite adding up in your personal health, don't assume that the fault lies with something you're doing, or not doing. Join symptoms together too - in my case a "join the dots" approach resulted in a fairly obvious conclusion that I could have drawn much earlier - but the various symptoms came on at different times and on the face of it didn't seem to be linked in the slightest. If in doubt go and see your GP - and if you don't get an answer, go back and back until you do.

As for whether you can change your life in a year - yes, I'd say so. The exercise thing hasn't been easy - not in the least - it took a long while for me to be able to do much at all without my knees demanding to know what precisely I thought I was doing to them, and even now I have "ouchy" moments. Some of the stuff around friendships has been tough - albeit ironically being ill and in hospital helped to make things clearer on that one - you certainly find out who your real friends are in that situation! Some people have been gently "sidelined" - the acquaintance option on FB has been utilised and others have just been stepped aside from. I've made a conscious decision to step away from back-biting and sh*t-stirring - that's negativity I just don't need.  On the whole, I'm so much fitter and healthier both mentally AND physically than I was this time last year - and that was the change I was looking to make. Exercise and smaller portions are habits now, and habits I want to keep to, and I've even been brave enough to purchase a set of bathroom scales!  On my other goals, the household stuff - the kitchen was a truly traumatic process but has turned out stunningly. The new doors and windows are making SUCH a huge difference - and there are more to come imminently. I'm on target to pay down the amount I was aiming for this year on the 0% card without touching the money that was set aside to pay for those items. My long lens upgrade was done - without using any form of credit. We went back to Cornwall, and we're planning some more trips for the next little while as well including a return to beautiful Lundy next year.

All in all life is good - and very, VERY definitely not to be taken for granted...


Thursday, 25 May 2017

Accidental food wins...

Coping without a kitchen has been...well. "interesting" is one word. I can think of a few more too, and I've probably used most of them over the past few weeks! The first couple of weeks passed relatively uneventfully on the food front - I'd batch cooked ahead of time we we had some nice easy "bung it in and heat it up" type meals standing by in the freezer...but then we hit a few snags (right now you don't want to ask, trust me!) and things dragged on a bit...and then the carefully prepped and stashed meals ran out...

As you know by now, we're really not people who in any way, shape or form, appreciate a "ready meal" of the supermarket type. Indeed, I spent a LONG time in one supermarket (name begins with T....) studying all the "ping" meals available. High salt levels come as standard, it seems. It's incredibly difficult to get a tasty sounding ready meal at a sensible price without extraordinarily high levels of something, be it salt, fat or sugars. In fact it's still quite difficult even if you start to look at the "premium" ones, which came as a bit of a surprise. Takeaways are great but again the possibilities for healthier stuff there are relatively limited and anyway I don't want to be eating takeaway several times a week as standard. So thinking laterally was needed. We have a camping stove - so that enabled stir fries...but only having one ring meant needing to look at the "straight to wok" type noodles. The Ambient ones in the sort of squishy block didn't feel terribly appetising to be honest, so instead we tried the "fresh" egg noodles which are frequently sold alongside the stir fry ingredients. At £1 a pack they're obviously quite a lot pricier than the dried ones we've always eaten, but I have to confess we found them REALLY tasty, so yes, that is something we will take forwards happily enough for continuing to eat. Salads obviously have been easy to throw together as they can be prepared in the limited space we had available. The bags of prepped veggies (much as it pains me to buy them!) have been useful as you can steam them in the microwave - and an incredibly handy "microwave grill plate" bought for us by my parents a few years back but rarely used until now has proved to be excellent at cooking things which wouldn't normally seem ideal for microwave cooking.

One dish we'll definitely be taking forwards for the future evolved due to me wanting to come up with something that took almost no space to prep, and required no actual cooking at all. All that is required for this dish in terms of equipment is a chopping board and sharp knife, a bowl big enough to hold all the ingredients mixed together, and a fork for combining it all. (so minimal washing-up as well - also a consideration when washing up is being done in a bowl in the bath...!). For my Jewelled CousCous Salad you'll need the following: Sufficient dry couscous to serve two people; a pack of prepared pomegranate seeds; a bunch of parsley, cashew nuts, fresh tomatoes - the juicier and riper the better; a can of chick peas.  Make the couscous (I use wholewheat as I find it has more flavour) up as normal - you can add a knob or two of butter if you like, or indeed a squeeze of lemon juice. Salt & pepper to taste. Once you've poured the boiling water over shove a plate on top of the bowl and leave it to steam & absorb, while you chop the parsley, cut up the tomatoes, and open and drain the chick peas. Fluff the couscous with the fork and then fold in each of the other ingredients in turn - you want to get everything well distributed through, and make sure that any juice with the pomegranate seeds gets in there as well. Finally serve into bowls and top off with a handful of lightly crushed cashew nuts each. Seriously tasty and SO pretty to look at as well!

I reckon that it would be even tastier with lightly toasted cashews, but even with them straight from the pack like this they still add a lovely crunch and almost creamy flavour. The pomegranate seeds give glorious little bursts of sweetness,and then there's the juicy tomato and the nutty chickpeas - somehow it all just works brilliantly together! This recipe is definitely a keeper for me - it's always great to have nice simple meals that can be thrown together fast and create the minimum of clearing up, after all!