Winter wanderings

Winter WanderingsWinter is a strange season as it bridges the gap between the year’s polar opposites. While spring, summer and autumn all have a unique flavour that is usually predictable from beginning to end, winter embraces many emotions and characters. It is the only season where the mood and mindset change dramatically in the middle. At the beginning, the warmth, hope and joy of Christmas are all-consuming and they wrap up the year, offering time to reflect on the highs and lows of the past 12 months. But the season’s end welcomes in a New Year which, although cold and often marked by post-Christmas blues, is also ripe with possibility. For me, January often ends up as a strange month without any discernable purpose, so if you’re like me, here are some ways to stay in the moment through the whole of this coming winter.

  • Food & Drink: Toffee nut latte with chocolate hazelnut loaf
  • Bake: Snickerdoodles & Pflaumenkuchen
  • Places to visit: Germany
  • Play in the snow (if we get any!)
  • Do some Christmas crafts – most of mine involve Cinnamon sticks!
  • Watch lots of movies: The Holiday, Miracle on 34th Street, Muppet’s Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Love Actually
  • Experience a Christmas market – Köln Weihnachtsmarkt is just perfect
  • Buy a calendar for the New Year
  • Start on some New Year goals – make plans for the year, book tickets to shows and search out new restaurants
  • Go to a museum – it’s low season in January so much quieter and you can take your time
  • Go to coffee shops and watch the world go by
  • Have a long hot bath with candles and a good book
  • Prepare for spring – get ahead of the game with a pre-spring clearout
  • Make the most of the slower pace of life by sipping wine (or, my preference, G&T) late into the night with friends, dreaming about what the year ahead might bring

Winter may be the odd season out, but it can still bring joy if you live it in the moment!

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Autumn jaunts

IMGP0491bMy favourite season of all is fast approaching. For me, Autumn (September to November) is the perfect temperature, the perfect speed of life and the anniversary of me meeting my hubby. For me, Autumn is synonymous with joy. If you’ve lived life in the moment in spring and summer, here are a few ways to make sure the delight of this new season doesn’t pass you by.

  • Food & Drink: Pumpkin spiced lattes & Butternut squash… everything!
  • Bake: Chocolate torte with autumn leaves
  • Places to visit: New England
  • Walks, walks, walks
  • Splash in puddles (who says this has to be confined to spring?)
  • Wake up early and go for a sunrise walk
  • Drink Baileys hot chocolate while watching November 5th fireworks
  • Make S’mores
  • Gather acorns and pine cones ready for Christmas decorations
  • Take a photo surrounded by Autumn leaves – or throw them in the air!

Probably because a school calendar is hardwired in my brain, Autumn for me is still a time for new beginnings, a hopeful fresh start as the temperature too becomes fresher. We’ll see if any new challenges or opportunities arise for this favoured season.

On wheat-free, low-calorie, cheap eating

It’s hardly surprising, as a self-confessed chocoholic, that I had very little awareness of what foods were good and bad for me growing up. Of course I knew the basics: meat and two veg, lots of fruit and vegetables and not much sugar right? But somehow the details of carbohydrates/proteins/calories/poly-unsaturated things all passed me by. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you for the life of me what was high in calories and what was basically ‘free’ from calories. Except maybe water, I knew water didn’t have calories.

I also assumed that carbohydrates meant your basic staples: potatoes, bread, pasta, rice. I had no idea it extended beyond that.

Now I’m almost 6’2″ and fairly slim so losing weight isn’t high on my agenda, but taking care of myself is. Feeling healthy, alert and like I’m treating my body well, impacts my mood and general outlook, so recently I’ve been finding out a little more about food. Being wheat-free has also meant that I’ve become far more aware of what is in what I eat as I have to check ingredients all the time to make sure they haven’t somehow snuck wheat in (you’d be amazed, it’s in so much)!

Those of you who are already wheat-free will know that with this particular diet, similarly to many other intolerances, often comes a high price tag. But I’m starting to find ways to eat healthy, wheat-free, low-calorie foods for a reasonable cost so I thought I’d make a note of them in case, as is likely, I forget these little tips I’m learning.

Breakfast

Simple: fruit, yoghurt, occasionally granola if made with pure oats and natural honey

Lunch

Here’s the fun one. I’ve only recently discovered that sandwiches are unnecessary calories, which isn’t so bad because gluten-free bread is not anything worth shouting about. Get rid of the bread but don’t get rid of the delicious and the filling. There’s no point in being hungry because if you’re anything like me, you’ll just keep snacking on whatever is close at hand.

Here’s my plan: Salads, but not your traditional lettuce, cucumber and tomato (although sometimes they’re fine too). I’m more interested in quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, feta cheese, pomegranate seeds, sundried tomatoes, roasted courgette and pepper, sweetcorn, dried apricot and beetroot. You can pick and choose whichever of those you like the most and add in extras or change the basics but it’s healthy, it’s low calories, it’s wheat-free and it’s pretty cheap when you spread it out over a week of lunches. It’s also easy to get variety in there. I’m easily bored.

Dinner

The two biggest things I have learned about keeping dinner healthy and cheap are:

  1. Lots of vegetables (seriously, lots)
  2. Fish

I’m certainly not a vegetarian but most of the time I can give or take meat so we only have it once or twice a week and intersperse it with veg meals and fish (the cheaper fish types, rather than salmon or seabass despite our esteemed Prime Minister mistakenly believing the latter to be a modern staple of the society he governs). I also only have pasta about once a week, if at all. I’ve become more of a rice and potatoes girl.

Lots of vegetables is crucial as they tick all boxes: they’re cheap, most of them are low in calories, they’re healthy, they’re filling and they’re naturally wheat-free! I have felt so much better since I switched to eating so much veg.

Overall

There are some principles that apply across the board:

  • Reasonable portion size – you always feel rubbish when you overeat anyway.
  • Figure out how to tell the difference between hungry and thirsty – not as easy as you’d think.
  • Don’t eat when you’re bored because you’re not really enjoying it anyway – I’m a sucker for eating a ridiculous amount of chocolate when I’m bored even if I’m not hungry.
  • Don’t take the fun and yum out of food – I definitely haven’t cut out my chocolate, desserts and snacks. I eat little and often but I’m simply more aware of what it is that I’m snacking on, what actually fills me up and asking myself whether I really want what I’m eating. You don’t need to cut out on the fun stuff to eat healthily and cheaply.

So what have I learned?

  • Vegetables fill you up and tick all important boxes.
  • Eating fish at least once a week and meat a little less often really does make you feel better and saves the pennies.
  • Lunch doesn’t have to be a monotonous calorific sandwich, nor the incredibly boring daily recurrence of soup. It can be fun and filling without being expensive. It’s all about the pulses and the variety.

So. It turns out ‘meat and two veg’ and ‘lots of fruit and vegetables’ weren’t so far off the mark after all.

Soaking up summer

summerThe air is changing again, this time to a hopefully warmer climate with long days of sunshine and seemingly endless hours to relax and soak up some much needed Vitamin D. Just like spring, there are ways to enjoy this season (which I consider as June to August) that are unique to the characteristics it brings on its breeze, so even if you’re not off on a summer holiday, here are some ways you can make the most of this summer.

  • Food & Drink: Pimms, cider, salads and BBQs of course!
  • Bake: Grasshopper pie for Wimbledon or an avocado chocolate cake
  • Places to visit: Colorado
  • Go for a long walk at dusk
  • Make Sprite floats… or Coca-Cola floats if you prefer
  • Go on a road trip in the sunshine
  • Pick fruit! Blackberries, raspberries, strawberries…
  • Find a waterfall and watch the sunlight make a rainbow
  • Watch a movie outdoors (local venues often have a temporary outdoor theatre in the summer – worth watching out for!)
  • Paint in the park
  • Have an evening picnic in the park after dinner, just for drinks and dessert
  • Sat outside at a pub with friends in the evening with a cold drink
  • Make ice cream and smoothies
  • Eat breakfast outside – only in the summer months are those early hours warm enough for this. Make the most of it!
  • Go punting (my favourite is to go from the Cherwell Boathouse in Oxford)
  • Listen to the dawn chorus. It’s light and warm when the birds start their singing and it’s quite something to hear them!

Spring things

I adore the seasons, all of them, even if my favourite is Autumn. I love that just as one season is coming to an end, I’m perfectly ready for the new one to arrive. The change is good for me; I am refreshed by the shift in the air, the temperature, the mood and all that they represent.

I always try to make the most of what makes each season unique, so as spring approaches (and to me, spring is March-May), here are a few ways to make sure spring and all that it brings, is enjoyed in the moment.

springthings

  • Food & Drink: Elderflower cordial on a picnic
  • Bake: Mini-egg cupcakes & creme egg brownies
  • Places to visit: Northern Ireland, New York and Paris
  • Decorate the house with tulips and daffodils
  • Go to see some lambs
  • Visit a garden centre and plant something new in a windowsill box
  • Take a photo under a cherry blossom tree
  • Empty your handbag and restock only with what you need, not what you’ve accumulated!
  • Do a spring clear-out (if not a spring clean!)
  • Put on some wellies and splash in puddles

Recapture the weekend

Recapture the weekend

When I was little, weekends were reserved for fun things – for playdates, for games, for reading and for anything that spontaneously inspired me in the moment. Those two days seemed like endless relaxation and when school beckoned on Monday morning, the grumbling was at least partnered with somewhat renewed energy.

Some people thrive on hectic lives and sometimes, I do too. But if you’re anything like me, weekends now mean laundry, grocery shopping, chores and, if I’m done by the evening, I might treat myself to a movie and a G&T before falling into bed, more exhausted than on any given weekday. It got to the point where my weekends weren’t refreshing and enjoyable, but simply an excuse to catch up on everything that I hadn’t done during the week. As a confident introvert, I have to manage carefully the balance between time with friends and time for myself and recapturing the weekend has proven so important for that. Inspired by the Wonderful Weekend Book, I started to figure out how to claw back my weekends and here are my top 5 tips for how you can do the same.

Rolling laundry

Smaller laundry loads during the week not only serve to lessen the load (quite literally!) at the weekend, but they’re also kinder to the drum of your washing machine. If you can keep the laundry going during the week, come Saturday, that time can be spent doing something far more interesting.

Friday night shopping

Some supermarkets are surprisingly quiet on a Friday night. Workers have come home and collapsed after a long week and this tedious chore is postponed to fill up precious weekend time. If you are able to pop to the store after work on a Friday, you can pick up some great deals, shop in a calmer environment with fewer stressed and hurried people and free up the weekend to indulge in the treats you buy!

A weekend list

It’s ok to be productive at the weekend. I actually find I enjoy the weekend more if I’ve spent Saturday morning ticking a couple of things off a list. The key is not to go overboard on the number of items on your list; even if they’re all intended to be enjoyable, a leisurely weekend of fun can quickly descend into a mad rush to complete all of the items on your list, entirely defeating the point.

A weekend list consists of two things: tiny little errands that don’t have to be done but would be useful if they ended up being done, plus one or two fun activities. Even if the one thing on your list is ‘watch a movie in bed in pyjamas’, it can help to give the weekend some focus.

Sunday night activity

Sunday night blues effect even the best of us. Especially after a wonderful and relaxing weekend, the thought of the alarm going off before 7am is enough to send anyone crawling under the duvet to hide. Having some kind of Sunday night activity to look forward to can sustain the joy of the weekend and also help to give momentum for the coming week. Whether it’s going out for a drink, staying in and watching Sherlock or having a long hot bath with your favourite book, a Sunday night activity is a must to round off a perfect weekend.

Mix it up

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” If we get what we want all of the time, we never appreciate the good when we have it. Throw the rulebook out of the window and intersperse your enviously and indulgently relaxing weekends with an occasional weekend of crazy activity. When you’ve had a few weekends to recharge your batteries and store up some energy, it can feel so good to spend some of that energy going on a road trip with friends or ticking a wild goal off your bucket list, not taking a second to pause before coming back to land on a Sunday night.

The Sunday night activity is still a must though!