Month: October 2015

You move, you change

Blue and white vase

A while ago I wrote this post on blogging and oversharing. I was motivated and on a mission, and I decided it was time to up my game from mediocre blogger to hopefully-quite-a-good blogger. I announced with as much grandeur and excitement as I could muster that I would do this by posting more and sharing more and generally being… more.

And then I went kinda quiet.

The thing is, the problem with blogging about your life is that sometimes things happen that you just can’t talk about. It means you have no choice but to leave your blog and, instead, live your life until you have something to share.

And now, share I will.

Ever since R and I moved to London last year, we’ve been talking about where we’ll go next. Not because we don’t love London, but because it was never meant to be a long-term thing – more of a summer fling that carried on until we met someone else.

Last month R got himself a fancy new job. Calling it a “dream job” suggests he gets to spend all day in his pyjamas writing food reviews from his house (now that would be a dream job) but it’s certainly up there on the list of things he realistically wants to do that our relevant to his skills and experience. Crikey – I think I preferred calling it a dream job.

Anyway, said dream job is in Oxford which means after just one exciting year in the big city, we’re moving back to the place I grew up and the place where we met. It was always on the cards and I jumped at the chance to move out of our postage-stamp-sized flat and into a house with a spare room and a garden. Londoners, can you even imagine such a place?!

This has been on down low for a while, and I have been only slightly very stressed as we work out where we will live and how my work will fit in and blah blah blah. Now that it’s sorted, blog posts will mainly be about leaving London – and packing in as much as I can before we do – and moving to the countryside.

Sorry for the silence, let the good times commence!

How Caitlin Moran changed me with ‘How To Be A Woman’

How to be a woman

It’s not often I throw a book review your way, mainly because I’m the slowest reader on the planet but also because I’m not very good at articulating why I like something. (That said, I have got the art of articulating why I don’t like something down to perfection.)

Today I finished reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman, and I feel compelled to shout from the rooftops: READ IT! WOMEN AND MEN EVERYWHERE, READ IT!

If you don’t know who Caitlin Moran is, where have you been? The journalist and comedian first jumped on to my radar a few years ago when every intelligent and wonderful woman in my life was oozing, “Oh I just loooove Caitlin Moran,” so I thought I should probably check her out. If only so I could confidently articulate my dislike of her, should that have been the case.

Well, turns out, I just loooove Caitlin Moran too. And I know I’m a bit behind the times when it comes to making this declaration – and in reading How To Be a Woman – but at least I got there in the end.

There are a couple of things I’m in the process of writing blog posts about where I now feel there’s no point. Instead of my long witterings, my posts will now just read: See “How To Be a Woman” chapter 14. Nothing else. There is nothing else. She has said it all.

I should say that if you don’t really care about Caitlin, her first period, her bastard of an ex-boyfriend or her hilariously disasterous wedding, then probably don’t read her book. But, regardless of your Caitlin feelings, I would really really like everyone to read the following chapters, then come round for tea and cake so that we can talk about it.

  • Chapter 12: Why You Should Have Children. (Caitlin! Why so prescriptive?! I thought we were all about every woman being who she wants to be, not who she should be!)
  • Chapter 13: Why You Shouldn’t Have Children. (Aah! *Relief* I see what you’ve done here, and I like it!)
  • Chapter 15: Abortion. (Wow. I was not expecting this.)

What I loved most about these three chapters is that they made me question myself and my views. Whilst I don’t agree with everything she says I like someone who can remind me that, at the ripe old age of 31, my views are not set in stone and are subject to change. After reading the incredibly graphic description of her first labour (seriously, this is not for the faint-hearted… or the pregnant), as well as the thoughts of a woman who might not want children and the very real experience (and also graphic) of someone enduring abortion, I was left speechless. It took me a while to understand and articulate why these chapters are so important, and I think that quite simply it’s this:

People do not talk about these things. Or rather, they talk about them with a blasé “so when are you going to have kids?”, as if the question, “do you want children?” is not even worth considering. People do not articulate the raw, honest truth behind the things they do and the decisions they make. And they don’t have to – crikey, not everyone wants to broadcast their every thought and move to the entire world à la the blogging community – but these major life decisions are things that cause so much pain for so many women, and the judgement and responsibility that goes with them can sometimes feel too much to bear. There was a time when we didn’t talk about women in the workplace, equal pay and sexism – it just wasn’t the done thing. Nowadays these conversations are not only had between friends at the dinner table, they’re talked about at international conferences all over the word. So whilst I’m not asking you as an individual to start sharing your views all over the world, because I know that some things are just personal, wouldn’t it be good if we could just start the conversation, removing the fear of judgement and shame.

How to spend 48 hours in Paris

Eiffel Tower, Paris

This time last week I was on my way home from three days in Paris, and I’m pretty sure it was the best weekend of my entire life. No exaggeration, it was all kinds of amazing. I had decided that, after last year’s stress and anxiety leading up to my 30th birthday celebrations, this year I wouldn’t do anything to acknowledge the aging process. R asked if he could plan a surprise instead and I happily agreed. The next thing you know – we’re in Paris!

Paris metro

If you have three days in Paris and you’re less physical than you might like, use those metros like your life depends on it. Mine does, and they were just brilliant. Metro stations seem to be much closer together in Paris than in London, and once you’re underground the platform is more often than not directly in front of you. It is not a three mile walk from the bottom of the escalator to the platform, as our very own TFL would have you experience from time to time.

Paris business district

This was the view when we got off the metro at Esplanade de La Defense by our hotel. Although R was panicking that he had picked a hotel in the business district that would be made up of grumpy old men in suits, I loved the contrast to the older buildings in central Paris where we spent our days. Plus, being slightly further away from the centre (20 mins on the metro) meant we could afford a nicer hotel room and enjoy breakfast in bed. Pretty sure breakfast in bed is the mark of a good birthday. We stayed at the Sofitel hotel and their pastry basket was heavenly.

Breakfast in bed with pastry basket and pot of tea

From the outside of the hotel you could see across the city to the Arc de Triomphe and I was so excited by this view every morning that I basically bounced into Paris. No need for metro or painkillers here, adrenaline and excitement had me dancing in the streets. (Seriously. That happened.)

The view of Paris from La Defence

Now we all love Paris in the spring time, but – just as Ella says – I also love Paris in the fall. The sun shone brightly, the air was crisp, and though I had moments where I needed my gloves, hat and scarf to keep warm, I also had moments where an ice cream cone was completely appropriate – and delicious.

Eating an ice cream in Paris, mustard yellow Zara coat

Our first day in Paris was mainly made up of eating. Shock horror. We wandered around some of the lesser-known streets and for some lesser-known reason ate Mexican food for dinner. When in Paris: FAJITA. Apparently.

Saturday was dedicated to full on tourist behaviour and did not disappoint. We revisited some of our previous favourite spots and had cheese, cured meat, fresh bread and red wine all day. Now *that’s* how it should be in Paris.

Sacré-Cœur

The Sacré-Cœur remains one of my favourite buildings in the world and it couldn’t have been a more glorious day to enjoy it. Those in pain should get the funicular to the top of the hill – it’s included in your normal travel pass and you only have to sweat with hundreds of other tourists for two minutes whilst you’re all squeezed in to the cable car. The walk back down is somewhat easier and we had a quick wander around the Moulin Rouge before getting back on the metro and going to Concorde before experiencing one of the best things ever: Angelina.

Chocolate eclair at Angelinas

Look at this beast! Angelina was recommended as a delicious tea room that I was bound to love. We wandered up the beautiful Parisian streets and arrived at a very grand tea room with one very long queue. Now I don’t queue for anything. Anything. Except, it appears, tea and cake.

We queued for what felt like forever but was in actual fact about fifteen minutes. We were seated upstairs overlooking the busy tea room below and given a menu that, quite honestly, made me squeal with joy. I could have happily spent all day in that tea room and never left, just working my way through cake after cake. In fact – I’m kind of gutted that I didn’t.

Paris Angelina chocolate cake

If my pictures aren’t enough and you fancy drooling some more, check out their Instagram feed.

When we eventually dragged ourselves away from Angelina, we walked through the gardens to The Louvre – my favourite part of Paris. And I when I say “walked”, I mean “slowly plodded, full of cake”. Oh, and pranced about taking photos.

mustard yellow coat white pixie crop mustard yellow coat blonde pixie crop black beanieWe tried to balance and the camera and take a photo of the two of us. After two attempts – which gave us these photos – we gave up and carried on with our walk.

 IMG_9754 (2) IMG_9756 (2)

And then we arrived at The Louvre – the glorious Louvre! I have no words, just pictures. It’s so busy and bursting with tourists and selfie-sticks, yet I find it totally relaxing and calm. I mean, it’s THE LOUVRE!

The LouvreThe Louvre, mustard yellow coat, white pixie crop

From The Louvre we wandered the streets to Notre Dame and promptly plonked ourselves down at a cafe around the corner from Shakespeare and Company. That cafe served good but cheap house red wine and free popcorn with every glass and it had free wifi and heaters outside. It was the dream. We sat there for hours, resting and recuperating, before going out for dinner and more drinks and crashing in a king size bed that had been made in a way only hotel staff can achieve.

Shakespeare and Company

Sunday was a relaxing day of more gardens, bread, cheese, meat and wine before catching the Eurostar home. It was a weekend full of absolute delights and deliciousness. I wouldn’t change a thing and I can’t quite believe R planned every moment without revealing a single thing. From now on, he’s planning everything.

cheese and meat

How migraine makes me mad at myself

Naked statue in Luxembourg gardens

I promised myself that I would no longer use stock images on my blog (other than in Monday Joy posts as that’s the point of Monday Joy) so from now on you’re going to get a load of random photos at the top of my blog posts. I mean, where possible they will be relevant and not at all random but today you have a statue of a naked man that I took in Luxembourg Gardens in Paris because, well, why not?

Today I planned on sharing my photos and thoughts on Paris, but instead I’m going to write about being mad at myself. It’s been a while since I’ve done a fibro-related posts, and I guess that’s because I’ve been doing pretty well lately so writing about pain hasn’t been as natural – or necessary. For the most part of the last month, I have been busy fairly busy at work and home and my body – although sore on occasion – has largely behaved itself.

But then I realised, that’s not quite true. Whilst my back, neck and legs have been generally okay, my migraines have been off the chart. I’ve been restricted to lying in a dark room on multiple occasions, I’ve vomited on station platforms more times than I care to think about, and I’ve been popping pills like an addict. And, amid all of this, I have one overriding emotion: anger. Anger at myself.

My migraines are always triggered by something – normally stress, but often a dramatic change in heat, or light, or lack of rest and lack of food. I’ve been a migraine sufferer since I was 12 years old and in the last twenty years I’ve come to know my triggers pretty well. So well, in fact, that I can now predict when a migraine will occur and can manage it accordingly. I can make changes to my surroundings and my activities to make sure migraines don’t happen or to get rid of them as they start. Often one or two slip through the net but in general, I know what to do. Why then, have I had so many recently? Because I’m a moron.

I’m absolutely furious at myself because I am stressed and I’m not dealing with that stress very well. Yesterday, instead of going to a therapy session after work to help me cope with said stress, I went out drinking with friends and endured yet another migraine. And when I felt it coming on, did I leave the pub? No I did not, I stayed until I was one of the final three heading home as the pub closed. I cried on my way home, I got into bed feeling like an axe embedded in my skull, and I tried desperately not to vomit on my duvet. That situation was completely avoidable, and yet I didn’t avoid it.

Then I tried to work out why. And I think I know the answer – which only makes me even more mad at myself.

I think I’m sick of being sick. I tried to think of the last day when I didn’t feel unwell in some shape or form, and I couldn’t. I watched a woman get on the train yesterday who just oozed health; she was wearing running gear, she had perfectly radiant skin and she was holding a bottle of water as she hopped on the train all smiley and healthy and happy. Ugh. I looked at her and thought, “I wonder what it must be like to feel healthy.” I have no idea. Literally none. I am constantly battling pain, pretending I’m fine, ignoring an ache, and quite frankly I don’t want to give in to being an ill person all of the time. I want to be a healthy person that goes to the pub after work. And so I do. But, as it happens, work is difficult enough in itself so my weekday evenings are precious as hell. And guess how many free evenings I had this week? Zero. None. Zip. Nada. And as a result, I got more ill and now I am mad at myself.

What an idiot.

Monday joy

I took today off work for no other reason than to tidy my flat. You know when it needs a proper deep clean and you don’t have the time, because you’re too busy swanning off to Amsterdam or Paris?! I jest, but seriously – my flat looked like a bomb had exploded whilst I’d been away, but then I remembered that I left it that way.

So after a day of autumn cleaning and our last takeaway of the binge-season, I am now ready for healthy eating and tidy living. Today’s Monday Joy is food themed – because what better way to enjoy the cold nights than with hot food?

Image via The Wanderlust Kitchen

Image via The Wanderlust Kitchen

Image via Blogging Over Thyme

Image via Blogging Over Thyme

Image via Green Kitchen Storie

Image via Green Kitchen Stories

Image via Donna Hay

Image via Donna Hay

Image via Maya Kitchenette

Image via Maya Kitchenette

And what could be more joyous than food? Nada.

Why I love ageing

Me, my sister and our two friends on my birthday. Can you guess which one's me?!

Me, my sister and our two friends on my birthday. Can you guess which one’s me?!

Tomorrow is my birthday. If you know me in real life (as opposed to internet life) then you will already know that I am insanely excited about it. I start counting down to my birthday from June – my work colleagues can vouch for that – and as autumn approaches I start to get seriously giddy about the big day. My excitement has not changed since I was a little kid, and my poor boyfriend has to cope with months of me hopping about from one foot to another and bursting out with, “Guess what’s happening in 46 days!” Poor thing.

Last year I turned 30 and whilst friends around me started panicking about old age and unfinished plans, I was too excited about having a ‘big birthday’ to care about what it meant to be 30.

I still don’t really care about age. I didn’t love my younger years, I didn’t really know where I belonged and when I look back on my teenage years and my twenties, I am mainly left with a feeling of stress. Don’t get me wrong, there were some incredibly awesome life highlights in there, but I would never choose to go back. With every year that I get older, things get better.

So tonight, on my birthday eve, we’re going out for pizza and beers (tradition) and I get to start buzzing with excitement at the plans for the next few days. Because, for the first time ever (that I can remember) I do not have a clue how I will be celebrating this year. R has decided to take control – a bold move since I start twitching when I’m not in control – and has planned something for the weekend. Eeep!

Not only is this the first year that I haven’t been involved in the planning; it’s also the first year I’ve given some serious thought to my age. I wonder if the two are interlinked and my planning is to detract from my age….? (Let’s not look into that idea too deeply.) There is something about turning 31 that feels… old. It feels adult and grown up. I feel ready to slow down a bit and start thinking about, I dunno… grown up stuff.

But let’s save all that ‘stuff’ until after the celebrations. For now I’m just going to eat pizza and wait to find out how I’m spending the weekend. And, in the mean time, I will be spending my actual birthday at work with a diary full of meetings. Sigh. But don’t worry, I will make sure I find time for cake.

Mindfulness: September

Etsy: Karen Davis

Etsy: Karen Davis

How did September pass by so quickly? How is it October already? Not that I’m complaining, for October is my favourite month, but that’s not the point. It’s been a speedy September.

It’s time for my monthly mindfulness tip thanks to Yvette Jane’s little pocket book, 365 days of mindfulness. Last month I wrote about learning to say no, and the month before was about being present in daily life. You can visit the full list of mindfulness tips here.

September’s tips were all good but, as always, some spoke to me more than others. One suggested listening to my body, the headaches and the stiff pains, and responding accordingly, whilst others suggested finding solitude in a concrete jungle and repeating the mantra: “slow down”. All very good, but I think the most relevant this month is, quite simply,

LISTEN MORE AND TALK LESS. 

I’m a talker. I know, I know, it’s not exactly a secret. I assume that most bloggers (though not all) are talkers, and that’s probably a big part of why we blog. We can’t keep our mouths shut and we need an outlet for our busy busy minds.

I’m a lot quieter than I used to be. In 2008 I did a sponsored silence for charity; I was absolutely silent from Monday at 09:00 until Friday at 17:00. All day and all night I didn’t say a word. I worked in an office at the time and my boss agreed that for one week I could communicate by email and postpone all face-to-face meetings. It was the most incredible experience and it was the first time in twenty-four years that I enjoyed being on my own. The beginning of the week was disconcerting and uncomfortable, but as the week went on I grew to love the silence and my time alone. In fact, although I had a lot to say in the pub on that wonderful Friday at 17:01, the world suddenly felt very noisy.

Erika Works

Erika Works

I still enjoy time on my own in a way I never did before that week, and I now get frustrated when I’m surrounded by a lot of noise. I think a lot more about what I say… but unfortunately, I think after I’ve said it.

I use conversation as part of my decision making process, and I haven’t really reached a conclusion on anything unless I’ve discussed it with my girl friends and talked out my thoughts. Plus, R is more of a thinking than I am so sometimes I just want to chat. But, I now wonder if I’m developing a bad habit. Life changes on a daily basis and sometimes I tell people such details of my life that things have dramatically changed a week later, and by the time I get them up to speed I fear I sound like a nutter. Sometimes I think it would be better if I just shut up. Another of September’s mindfulness tips was,

FOR DECISION MAKING, YOU NEED TO DROP BELOW THE LEVEL OF NOISE AND CHATTER IN YOUR MIND TO THE QUIET, STILL SPACE OF YOUR HEART WHERE YOU WILL HEAR YOUR TRUE VOICE. 

There’s a lot going on at the moment, in both work and play – and I will inevitably share all the highs and lows in this space over the next few weeks – but perhaps it’s better to stop talking and start thinking until decisions are made.

A weekend in Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Don’t you hate those bloggers who make big over the top statements about how they’re going to blog all the time and over share (in a good way) and get their blog on like never before, only to find they go completely silent? Yeah, sorry about that. I got all excited and had a plan, but then I went to Amsterdam and took the chilled out Dutch approach to life a bit too far.

Anyway, I’m back to normal and highly strung and everything is right with the world, so here is my write-up of a long weekend away.

I’d never been to Amsterdam before but it’s been on my list of top five cities to visit for as long as I can remember, mainly because I love canals and bridges and wonderful architecture and it ticked all three boxes. I was also intrigued to see how a city functions with more bikes than cars and a reputation for its legal, obvious, indulgent approach to sex and drugs.

The question is, did it live up to expectation?

The answer is, I think so.

Amsterdam

We spent four days in the city and we behaved like absolute tourists (and idiots) the entire time. We stayed at the popular Flying Pig Downtown Hostel on the edge of the red light district in a shared dormitory to keep the costs down. The hostel was fantastic and gave us everything we needed – including ear plugs in case we wanted an early night. We didn’t, but I liked that the option was there.

I should  say at this point that a large part of the reason we went to Amsterdam was for me to see how cannabis for medicinal purposes impacted my chronic pain. I’m aware of a number of American studies that show the sativa strand helps people cope with their pain, but my small tests in the past have always resulted in not a lot. I will be writing a separate cannabis-themed blog post soon and I am also reviewing the experience for an article on New Life Outlook, so I won’t take you on a drug-fueled walk down a foggy memory lane just yet.

We arrived in the afternoon and spent our first few hours in coffee shops and exploring the red light district. See? Tourists. I discovered the BEST hot chocolate I’ve ever had (no photos, no time) and we made a plan for our three days in the Dam. The plan consisted of: Van Gogh, Anne Frank, boats and bikes, and we executed our plan with precision!

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The Van Gogh museum was wonderful, and we struck lucky as there was an Edvard Munch exhibition on at the same time. Two artists I really like, but the Munch exhibition was particularly good. After the museum we walked the 200m to the Rijksmuseum where the famous ‘I Amsterdam’ 3D letters are based. I love nothing more than prancing about in front of a tourist landmark – and no, I’m not being sarcastic. Unfortunately, other people got in my way – who would have thought other people would flock here and pose for photos as well?

Rijksmuseum I Amsterdam

Still, that didn’t stop the posing – even though the guy on top of the S clearly thinks we’re idiots.

Rijksmuseum I Amsterdam

Rijksmuseum I Amsterdam

After prancing about and get annoyed looks from other tourists who wanted their snap by the S and T, we went back to the city centre to sit in more cafes and do some more wandering. Oh, and to sit in a giant clog. Because why would you not?

Giant clog, Amsterdam

The buildings in Amsterdam are as grand and as beautiful as I had hoped, and wandering around the city was an absolute pleasure. You know, when you’re not dodging a thousand bikes and fearing for your life.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

I particularly like this photo. I caught a shot of this woman just after she got up from tying her shoelace, but as she did so she stumbled and tried to balance herself. Personally, I think like she’s reaching for a pigeon for her dinner.

Amsterdam

It was a wonderful day and as I sit here now putting this blog post together, I realise how much walking I did – and survived. I did eat one and a half too many space cakes which meant Friday evening took a turn for the worse but hey, we live and learn.

Saturday morning kicked off with pancakes – Dutch style – with bacon and syrup before we jollied off to a less jolly location: Anne Frank’s house. Unfortunately the queue was monumental and we hadn’t booked online (yes yes, even though many people advised me to) and so we observed it from the outside before setting off to another cafe and the first of many many card games.

Pancakes with bacon and syrup in Amsterdam

And then, this happened. And it was flippin’ incredible!

Tandem Amsterdam

Tandem, Amsterdam

Tandem, Amsterdam

We cycled around the city, played cards on the grass, and stopped at a windmill for beer and cheese and sausage. Seriously people, what is not to love about this?

Windmill, Amsterdam

Windmill, Amsterdam

After what should have been a pretty exhausting day, I will still going strong-ish but welcomed the evening of plan of a tour of Amsterdam by boat…with pizza. Yes folks, wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, I will find time for pizza.

Amsterdam by night

Amsterdam by night

As the sun set on our weekend in Amsterdam, I found myself unsure how to describe my thoughts on the city. I’m just not sure. I think I loved it, but perhaps we spent too much time being tourists to really understand what it’s like to live in Amsterdam. Maybe I need to go back and explore it a bit more, because I came away feeling like I didn’t really know the city. But maybe that’s all there is to know…

Either way, looking through my photos from the trip, I find myself in fits of giggles remembering our fun times on tandems and pizza boats and in cafes and museums. Regardless of the city, the weekend was brilliant and exactly what I needed.

So, where next? *Searches cheap flights*