Saturday, 11 November 2017

Remembrance...

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
1916


Robyn

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?

Robyn

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...one 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...

Robyn

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!

Robyn.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The great big dirty food fight...

Food fads - they've been about forever, but with the advent of social media they've never been more visible. And the more high profile the fads get, the more heated the opposition to each one becomes. It's starting to feel as though the latter part of this decade is going to be the time when food turned nasty...

For years there has been "opposition" and snobbery inside the question of food, and eating. From Weightwatchers -v- Slimming World - right through to the current "Clean eating - good, or evil?" debate, people love to disagree, and with food being a subject close to many of our hearts, it's not surprising that it can provoke strong feelings. Equally there have and will always be people who are keen to promote an extreme for whatever reason - Cabbage Soup Diet to Atkins - if you particularly want to eat in a particular way, you can probably find a "diet" that will suit your requirements - whether it's good for you is another question!

One thing that the current clean eating trend has in common with nearly every other diet out there is that it persuades us to see foods as either "Good" or "Bad" - but is it healthy to teach people to demonise foods like this? I like a pomegranate seed as much as the next girl, and I'm even partial to a bit of kale here and there, but equally I also thoroughly enjoy the occasional bacon sandwich on packet white, Gooey bacon, brie and Cranberry ciabbata, or packet of good old Walker's Ready Salted. Are any of those things going to kill me? No, if they're eaten occasionally, rather than on a daily basis, probably not. Do they make me happy? Yes - damn right they do, and that in itself means that eating them occasionally has one great big fat (sorry!) benefit right there. Sure, I have food "principles" - I'll only buy free range eggs for example - and would rather go without than eat battery ones, and I've not eaten McDonalds food since news of their political leanings in the 1980's became public knowledge, but generally speaking, I'm not going to be storming around telling you that your choice of breakfast, lunch or dinner is in some way inherently evil, and neither should anyone else be doing so.

A quick google on the question of Clean Eating turns up a lot of different, and much conflicting, information - and yet some of it is pure common sense and may well provide a key to why so many people have sworn that they've successfully lost weight on one of these plans. Learn about proper portion sizes - well, yes! I'd be the first to acknowledge that I'm not always the best with that, but it is logical to only eat the right amount of whatever you put on your plate. Read Labels, says another one - educating yourself about what is in the foods that you're buying can never be a bad thing, surely, but how many of us really question the stuff that finds its way into what we eat? Some of it is a bit less practical "Eat 5 - 6 small meals every day" - well, yes, great in principle, but for the majority of us with 9 - 5 jobs, that's not really all that user-friendly, is it! Then there's the confusing; "Drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water each day" - well that's brilliant, but what measurement are we using for the body weight?! "Avoid all calorie dense foods containing no nutritional value" - not actually that easy to find a food with no nutritional value at all, calorie dense or otherwise... My personal favourite "avoid chemically charged foods" - well that puts the Kibosh on the 2 - 3 litres of H2O they say you should drink a day, huh?  Interestingly nearly everything I found on a quick image search for "principles of clean eating" on google seemed to originate from the US - and I'm always inclined to be suspicious of a nation that is too busy to say the "ed" on the end of mash when they talk about potatoes.

How about we all jump off the "fad" bandwagon and ditch the "diets" and start actually thinking about what we choose to put in our mouths with a bit more logic? Make the bulk of your food across a week healthy - and eat it in sensible quantities. Eat slowly, actually taste your food, and stop eating when you start to feel full. Think about the amount you put in against the amount of energy you've expended in the day - a busy day where you've done some exercise will need more calories replaced than one in which the limit of your exertion is reaching for the remote control. Listen to what your body tells you - do you know we're actually born without a taste for particularly sweet things - the desire to "eat sweet" is gained as we grow up, probably because mostly we're taught to regard sweets as a treat - not a criticism at all, that's just the way things are. Interestingly I've found that the less sweet stuff I eat, the less I want. Of course I have the odd slice of cake or bit of chocolate, but generally speaking I very rarely crave those things. Since I've been thinking more about the refined sugars I eat, there is no question that I have wanted sweet stuff less even than I did before, and that certainly does suggest that those sorts of cravings can be "cured" at least in part. If you're thinking about a particular diet or eating plan that tells you to cut a particular foodstuff out completely, ask yourself whether that is sustainable in the long term, and if not, whether in fact you'd do better to follow a different path. Thinking about changing to a way of eating which we can take forwards as a lifestyle choice, not just plan to follow as a "diet" might actually enable us to break the yo-yo dieting  habit for good - after all, if the food we're putting on our plates looks appetising and makes us look forward to eating it, it stops feeling like a hardship, doesn't it! Given a choice between feeling deprived, and feeling fulfilled, I know which I'd choose!

Robyn

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Making changes...

It's to be hoped that by the time you read this, I will have no kitchen. Yes, I realise that sounds slightly odd, but finally, at LONG FECKING LAST, 13 years of planning to get our kitchen refurbed has become an actual event - so understandably we're quite excited! Rather as with the bathroom, we've decided not to take a "papering over the cracks" approach, but instead to literally rip it out and start again - so Dave-The-Builder is currently engaged in removing appliances, stripping out existing units, removing plumbing and stripping the walls and floor back to bare concrete.

                                    


This feels like a far bigger job than the bathroom did - we actually surprised ourselves with that, while there was unquestionably a lot of upheaval while it was done, the actual process of deciding what we wanted, and getting that "want" transferred across into a design and then reality was relatively straightforward - the kitchen feels as though it's been anything but, however. I think part of the issue around this is that with the bathroom, we knew from the start that the layout couldn't change - so our only real challenges were how to make that prescribed layout work for us better - so things like the recessed shelving in the wall behind the bath so that shampoo bottles and shower gel no longer had to sit out on the edge, finding a vanity unit that would fit in a very restricted space yet still give us the look and increased storage we wanted, and coming up with a solution to provide some heating in what had, until that point, always been an unpleasantly cold room in the winter months. Even now, very nearly a year on, I still walk into that room and say "oooh!" and we still joke about having someone else's bathroom - it's just gorgeous, and worth every penny of what it cost us.

                                    

We spent what felt like weeks with the kitchen tying ourselves in knots trying to work out how we could change the layout, how we could make it all fit better, and finally, at the point at which we were tearing our hair out, we realised - the layout we had already pretty much works for us - there are small things we'd change, but ultimately we like the cooker sitting in the middle of the run of worktop, we like being able to stand at the sink and look straight out of the window, and we like the fact that the fridge sits behind the main bit of worktop we use for preparation, so getting things from it is as simple as turning round and grabbing them. The main downside to the room has always been too little worktop space - and a great big wasted space across in front of the window and in the back corner of the unit next to the sink, so that was the stuff we wanted to target. Overall layout though? Yeah. mostly pretty much fine. One we realised this our focus turned to finding a way of fitting in a corner unit that would give us access to the wasted space, and working out how the brick wall in front of the window could be "thinned down" - increasing both worktop & cupboard space AND floor area - something which can make a real difference in a small kitchen. The only real layout change was to move the washing machine to the opposite end of the room - it will now sit next to the door which is actually more practical - and this change is what has enabled our rather snazzy new "vario pull out" corner unit to be practical.
                           

As with the bathroom, we've adopted an approach of finding best prices for things, and going with a budget option where it doesn't matter, but equally being happy to spend a bit more to get the finish we want, or to add little extras that will improve the way the room works for us and our own quality of life within it. The units are mid-range - but are also the nicest we saw, with a good quality finish. We could have spent more, but to be honest we didn't feel we'd gain from doing so. The floor tiles will be the same as the ones we used in the bathroom - and are coming in at under £100 for the whole floor. Similarly the wall tiles - we knew what we wanted, and when we found something that fitted the brief perfectly for 39p a tile, that was another decision made. We are using the tiles as a splashback including filling the space under the cooker-hood, which has saved us buying a separate expensive one - as our new cooker will have it's own glass lid over the hob which lifts to provide a splashback in any case, installing another one just felt like a waste to be honest. The interior of the larder is also being re-tiled - it's not on display and doesn't get seen by anyone other than us - so the most basic of square white glossy tiles will do the job perfectly. Total bill for all the tiles - wall, larder and floor? £188.00. Bargain. On the other hand we're spending a bit more on the cooker to get the one we want - although sticking within our restricted 550mm width, it gives more interior space on the oven than many of the 600mm wide options available. and also gives us two ovens as well as three different burner sizes on the hob. We could have got something that "would have done" for £100 less - but we use the cooker pretty much 7 days a week, so it's worth paying a bit more. Similarly we've gone with a "prestige brand" for our dishwasher. Electrical works will take up a good 5th of our budget - but at the same time they will also to an extent "future proof" us. Little extras like USB points in sockets, and a relocation  of the consumer unit add an amount to the cost but will also improve the look and ease of use of the place substantially. Lighting proved to be a real quandary until I asked a lovely friend for some input - he's a bit of  whizz with fitting kitchens having redone not only his own, but quite a lot of others, and he suggested using lighting above and below the units to give a gentle light throughout the whole room, and reducing the need for a top light - something which really appealed to us. We're also repeating the idea of using glass shelves with LED strips behind to project light into the room as this worked so well in the bathroom.

We're expecting a fair bit of chaos and disruption for the next few weeks, but we've planned easy to prepare meals for a few nights, and will probably take the approach of eating out or getting a takeaway on occasion when the mess all gets a bit much. We've factored in an increase in our food budget for the next few weeks as part of the cost anyway, as we always knew trying to prepare meals with the very restricted facilities we'll have was going to be a challenge, particularly as neither of us are a particular fan of processed ready meals. Anyway - watch this space - I promise to post an "after" for you as well - just try and stop me!

Robyn


Friday, 31 March 2017

Blue skies & Red Jets!

So FINALLY last Friday I got a day up at Scampton garnished with blue skies and sunshine. I'd been up a few times previously this winter hoping to photograph some flying, but on the first occasion the weather didn't clear for the whole day - we spent all day sitting in the photo section office drinking tea and gossiping. Second time round wasn't much better either - a single sortie got flown, but mostly up above the clouds. More tea, more gossiping.  The third attempt was a little better but still not those glorious blue skies that look so wonderful in pics. This trip was FAR better - the forecast had looked good all week, so it was just a case of crossing fingers that it didn't change - and for once the Met Office didn't let us down!

For a change the wind was in the right direction for the jets to be using the runway nearest to us - always nice to see them taxi out...



First up we had the Synchro pair practising their "Heart" - first time they'd done it this year, and I think you'll agree it's already looking good...

                    

Then "Enid" section took to the sky for some lovely looping passes and rolls - always nice to watch, and photograph!


For the third and subsequent slots we relocated to one of our favourite spots - lovely and quiet and peaceful, well until this happens...



We had the Heart overhead again - later with Synchro being joined by Red 8 who will be "spearing" the heart this year. Masses of close passes overhead - some of which were too close even for the short end of my 100-400mm lens. The best bit though? The slightly elevated position we had chosen giving us fabulous views of the jets running in over the Lincolnshire countryside...



Always a pleasure to watch! Work-ups are going well - in the course of the last few days the team have flown their first "9-Ship" practises of the year and it's all now starting to come together. A few more weeks of getting it all together here before they head to Greece for "Exercise Springhawk" which should hopefully culminate in them being awarded the coveted "PDA" - Public Display Authority which allows them to go from performing "practises" (as they currently are) to "Displays" in front of the public in the UK and elsewhere. They then return to the UK in time for their first public displays at Torbay Airshow down in Devon at the beginning of June. Can't wait!

Robyn