Tuesday, 17 June 2014

10 things I learned from doing my Break Up Bucket List

Excerpt from the article I wrote for Tue Night:

In late 2012, I had a milestone birthday and my long-term relationship of nine years ended. I had met my ex within weeks of moving to London from New York and so most, if not all, of my life in London had revolved around my relationship. I loved my life and partner tremendously and was hit hard by the break up. Knowing I could easily spend years in bed wallowing over my loss, I realized that I needed to keep myself busy. Looking back on my own role in the failure of the relationship, I discovered that I had completely lost sight of who I was — separate from being in a couple — and vowed never to do that again.

I decided that I wanted to live the next stage of my life differently, so I made a list of things that I’d been meaning to do over the past few years but never quite found the time. Some were things that I’d never done, others were things that I hadn’t done in years and some were things I liked doing, period. 

After my brainstorm session, I had literally hundreds of possible things to choose from. I knew I couldn’t spend each day checking off a new item (I did have a job after all), but I decided to challenge myself to do 100 things over the next 12 months. This was my 2013 New Year’s resolution. People started asking me about my progress and what I had done so far, so I started tweeting @BreakupList and set up a blog, The Break Up List, where I wrote about what items I’d completed thus far.

A year and a half on, I feel like a completely different person. I no longer need My Break Up Bucket List to help me survive my break up, but I continue on with it because it helps me remember who I am, pushes me to try new things and enjoy life to the fullest.

Here are 10 important things I learned from doing My Break Up Bucket List: ...

Read rest of article at Tue Night

Saturday, 24 May 2014

#249: Not date for 3 months

In the immediate aftermath of my break up I was a wreck. I knew I shouldn't get involved with anyone and I tried really hard to not end up in a rebound relationship. Despite my best intentions, however, I did get involved with someone...and ended up hurting a lovely, caring person in the process.

I regret that deeply and sincerely. I wish I had been stronger and had held my boundaries more firm, but I was a shattered shell of a person at the time. In the face of being actively pursued, I wasn't strong enough to stand up for the space and time that, in retrospect, I needed to properly heal. I have to live with myself and the fact that I hurt someone that I care about but realised too late was not going to work out romantically long-term.

One of the lessons I've learned through this process is that if you want to go speed dating (item #20 on my list), or dating in general, do yourself and others a favour and wait until you have your shit sorted out before getting serious. You're only kidding yourself and setting up yourself and, more importantly, some innocent person for further heartbreak.

In my defence, I thought I would never meet anyone and when I did, didn't think it would get serious. But it did. I'm not proud of myself but everything I did I honestly did with the best of intentions...I just happened to be completely and utterly naive about how I would feel as my wounded heart healed.

It's been 3 months since I ended things with ex #2 and I'm making progress towards an even longer goal every day that passes.

The last 3 months have been a revelation. Without focusing on dating or meeting someone to date, I've freed my time to focus on making new friendships, having fun and building up a life for myself outside of being in a couple. Sure it's lonely sometimes, but I've come to remember how much I actually like my own company. I'm finding that I'm having to force myself out of the house to be social, rather than the other way around. That said it is taking a significant amount of willpower at times because there are some lovely people out there, but I know it's for the best. And since it's on The List, it's something I have to stick to.

I feel like I'm in a really good place now. A place where I know what I want and don't want, and I'm not going to get involved with someone unless it really feels right. It may take many months or many years, and possibly never, but I'm ok with just me if that's what it comes to. I've realised I'm not so bad to be around after all...

Photo: Bacho / Shutterstock

Saturday, 17 May 2014

#246: Help a friend

A new friend of mine was recently selected to stand for local council by one of the big 5 political parties. The race in question was not really suppose to be very competitive as it has always been won by one party, but nonetheless my friend was taking a stand for her beliefs and doing her part to participate in the democratic process. 

She needed help getting the word out about her candidacy and what she stood for.

She asked for my and other friends' help. In addition to providing some social media and marketing advice, I also hit the streets going door-to-door leafletting. While my friend didn't win, her results were the second best in London for her party, which was significantly above expectations. While this was purely down to her, it was great to be able to lend my friend a hand when needed. 
Photos: Docstop media, BasPhoto / Shutterstock.com

Saturday, 10 May 2014

#245: Watch a debate in Parliament / House of Commons

My parents being in town meant that it was a perfect opportunity to tick this one off the List. I've been to the Parliament and the House of Commons before and, given my parents are political junkies back home, thought they'd like to see how things are done on this side of the pond. Besides, Americans love all that old building and tradition stuff...so my parents were both interested and impressed.

We went to the Vistor's Gallery, which is a balcony overlooking the main chamber, and heard a debate on whether private landlords should be required to have fire detectors or not. It wasn't necessarily a riveting, edge-of-your-seat debate, but it did give my parents (and me) a glimpse into the nuances and reality of actual governance.

Another one I'm glad was on the list because I don't think I would have done this otherwise.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

#244: Take my parents to Paris

I continue to try to make good on resolution 168: See my parents more, and being on gardening leave I invited my mom and dad for a visit. For 10 days. In my small place.

*record scratch*

As soon as the invite was accepted I realised I really needed to make this list item happen or else we were all going to get on each other's nerves by the end of their trip. I'm so glad I did because I can honestly say I've never had such an enjoyable time with my parents.

It was a fun, and funny, trip. Americans in Paris=Many cringeworthy Griswold moments, like this:
But it was a trip that none of us will ever forget. I'm so glad and lucky to have been able to do this with my parents.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

#242: Give someone my phone number when/if asked

Ok, I should clarify this by saying I'm not out there just handing my number out to anyone that will take it, like a street 'chugger' handing out fundraising flyers. I'm talking about the 'being out at a party/bar/restaurant and talking to someone who seems normal' kind of number sharing.

Don't get me wrong, I don't get asked for my details often but on the odd occasion when I do, I revert back to adolescent behaviour. My first response is to panic and think of a way out of giving my details...because the person in question obviously has a screw loose to even consider wanting to speak to me again! It's my own take on that famous Groucho Marx saying, "I don't want to belong to a club that will accept me as a member." I realise however that not wanting to date or be friends with someone that's interested in me will doom me to being alone forever so I've vowed to try to fight this inclination.

The awkward surprise stage follows shortly behind the panic stage, where I bumble and mumble something all the while trying to bide precious seconds to think about whether I really want to see this person again. My default is generally 'no freaking way' and then go grade-school on the poor soul by giving them numbers but messing up one or two digits.
Times have changed since I was last dating/meeting new people, however, and I've learned that Facebook and cell phones/text make this 'trick' obsolete. Which is a good thing because I should really act like the grown woman I am and not the 16 year old I sometimes feel like.

Appreciation stage follows, as I realise I should be incredibly grateful that someone had both the interest and courage to ask.

In the instance in question, my gut response was to not give out my details, but I knew that was no way to meet new friends and interesting people so knowing this was on the list I shared my actual number. I'm only looking for friendship at the moment and that was cool with them so we have agreed to meet up with that in mind.

With this one down, the next step is for me to ask for someone's number.

I'm not holding my breath... that one could take a while.

Photos: Shutterstock/cartoonresource, BWFalsome

Monday, 28 April 2014

#239: Go to a fancy dress party

Otherwise known as a costume party, fancy dress parties are much more common in the UK than in the US, at least amongst my circle of friends. Over here, people are known to have fancy dress boxes and even whole sections of a wardrobe dedicated to various fun fancy dress outfits, wigs, glasses, hats, etc worn over the years. And unlike Americans, the English don't take themselves too seriously when doing it either. Americans tend to like to look smart and/or sexy. The British don't care about how they look, they just want a good costume and to make sure they aren't the only one dressing up.

I went as a 60's Hippy in this costume: (Note: This is not me)
 Photo credit: Top: Shutterstock

Sunday, 27 April 2014

#238: Play 'I never'

In keeping with the current 'college theme' I seem to have going on at the moment, 'I never...' (also known as "Never have I ever") was a staple of my college drinking days. It's a drinking game where people sit in a circle and one person goes first by making a TRUE statement that begins with "I never...." For example, "I've never been to Disneyland." Then, if any other player has done what the person said, they simply stand up (so it's easy to tell who's done it) and drink.

Games like this are great ice breakers and help people get to know each other (assuming people are being honest). As with Truth or Dare, the game has a tendency to be based on relationships and sex.

Being older now, I have to say I enjoyed playing this much more than I did at University because my friends and I have lived more, both good and bad, and so there's more inappropriate and outlandish possibilities/behaviour to choose from.

I haven't laughed this much in a while.

Photo: Shutterstock

Thursday, 24 April 2014

#237: Spontaneous road trip to an out of town party

Do you remember when you were young and just did things because they sounded like fun? Before adult life and responsibilities took hold and you found yourself with weekend plans scheduled weeks, if not months, in advance?

When I was younger, I didn't bat an eyelid about driving 3 hours to a friends house for a spur of the moment party. Somehow as I've gotten older I've lost a bit of spontaneity as if I couldn't possibly do something unless it was thought out and well planned weeks in advance.

But I'm not going to meet people and expand my horizons if I say no and hide away at home. So when a new friend invited me and another friend to Brighton for her birthday party I knew this was on my list and immediately said yes. It's amazing what can be sorted out last minute. We found a place to stay and got to enjoy a brilliant party. Best of all I got to meet new people that someday I also hope to call my friends. It reminded me of the first days of University, lots of fun and excitement, new and old friends mixing together just enjoying a fun day out.

Sometimes you just need to say yes, take your chances and see what life has in store...

Sunday, 20 April 2014

#236: Have a sleep over

When was the last time you had a sleepover? I'm not talking about the romantic variety. I'm talking about a group of single-sex friends (without partners) that stay at your place and wake up in the morning laughing about the night before. It's something that you do as kids but then as you get older and grow up it's something that you grow out of. Partly out of necessity and practicalities because we prefer our significant others and partly because sleeping on the floor in a sleep bag or sharing a bed with a friend loses it's appeal after a certain age. But the fun of having friends around in the evening and in the morning can bring out the child in everyone. I highly recommend!

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

#235: See an old friend I haven't seen in a while

I'm terrible about keeping in touch with people. Moving to England has only made the situation worse because it's harder for me to pop in or be in the neighborhood. Facebook is great for keeping in touch with key moments but nothing beats seeing someone face to face. So I was thrilled when my old college roommate (and main partner in crime in New York) came to London recently.

Almost 10 years had passed since we spent any real time together and it was great to just pick up where we left off. Good friendships are like that and I'm glad that this one, that is so important to me, had been able to withstand the distance that sometimes happens in life.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

#234: Have a golf lesson

I've long recognised that I need professional help.

I also need a golf lesson if my game is ever going to improve to a point that's not embarrassing. ;-)

So off I went in hopes of straightening myself out. Sadly there's only so much a poor guy can do in an hour, given what he has to work with. But it was good to get some pointers so that if I ever make it to a driving range I have a better idea of what I should and shouldn't be doing.

Photo: Shutterstock

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

#233: Spend a day gardening

Before and after

I am currently on gardening leave while I work out my notice period for my old job, before I start my new job. I love to potter in the garden, and living in London I'm lucky enough to have a patio, but it's a far cry from the kind of real garden I grew up with in the country.

My friend is a professional gardener who has a fantastic gardening business in London, Hedgehoggs, so it was a real treat to be able to join her gardening in a proper garden for a day. The fact that it was Nigel Slater's garden made it even more special! Being ankle deep in compost and hedge clippings and having sore muscles the next day was well worth it when you can see what a difference a hard day's graft makes. Made me appreciate how easy my desk job is and realise THAT (gardening) is a real job.

If you live in or near London and need any sort of gardening or maintenance work done, give Hedgehoggs a call!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

#232: Take a cooking class

While I'm comfortable around a BBQ, I'm not very confident in the kitchen, particularly with fish. I like fish but I have my staples of easy bake and pan fry recipes that I go back to time and again because I don't know anything different. For years I've wanted to know more about how to cut and cook fish and so I finally booked myself on a cooking class to tackle this list item.
 And I'm so glad I did! I signed up for a cooking class at L'atelier des Chefs and I have to say it was one of the best things I could have done. In addition to learning 3 great fish recipes in a hands-on cooking class, I also learned some practical knife skills like how to fillet Dover Sole and Sea Bream and how to clean a Squid.
The end result was Grilled Calamari with Thai dipping sauce, steamed baked Sea Bream and Sole Goujons. Fantastic! (If I do say so myself)

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

#231: Lose 45 lbs

I had gained a lot of weight over last 10 years and before my break up I made up my mind that I didn't want to be 40 years old and fat, so went about trying to lose weight. I set little milestones along the way, lose 10lbs, 15lbs, etc, ultimately reaching a big target: to weigh less than I did 10 years before. I didn't think it was likely that I would sustain that weight, and I thought even less likely that I could lose another 5lbs. My weight fluctuated a lot over the last year,, but I'm happy to say that I've dropped more weight, bringing my total weight loss to 45lb (3 stone) from my heaviest. I can now see my crows feet, which my former plumpness hid, but I feel fantastic. Now the hard work continues of keeping it off.

Photo: Shutterstock

Sunday, 30 March 2014

#230: Handle unexpected run-in with Ex with dignity

I was at a film festival with some mutual friends and, much to my surprise, when I showed up to meet them my Ex was sitting at the table. After a quick stop at the bar, I made myself comfortable around the table and had idle chit chat until my movie started. Admittedly it wasn't a completely comfortable experience, but it was bound to happen at some point and I'm happy to report that it was handled like mature adults on both sides.

Photo: Shutterstock / Paul Vasarhelyi

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

#228: Let go/move on

I've been spending a lot of time reflecting on my journey since I started blogging a year ago. It's been a time of heartache and adjustment, but it's also been a time of excitement, fun and learning about myself. The fact is I'm a different person than I was a year ago. I've regained my sense of self and am capable of facing the world on my own now. I've found my inner strength again and am able to stand up for myself and for what I realise is right for me, regardless of what others think, in a way I wasn't prepared, aware or able to do until recently.

I won't divulge exactly what I wrote in my message in a bottle, but I did say goodbye to the past and was happy to watch it float away, feeling excited about the life I have ahead of me. I was therefore unprepared for the emotion that hit me a little later on my return journey.

I passed some monks on my hike back up the mountain and they nodded at me, almost knowingly. (I also passed some chickens on my journey, but they just ate fallen mango.) I felt a sudden tightness in my chest as I climbed the steepest incline and, being out of shape, I vowed I'd start exercising more.
I realised though this was not a physical pain but an emotional one. I then got pretty angry -- at myself and the world. "For fuck's sake," I screamed, "I've just thrown my message into the ocean! I'm over this! I'm tired of feeling this way! Will you just let me be?! Can I just let this go?! I want to stop feeling like this!" I was so tired of being struck by such emotion out of nowhere. I just wanted it to stop happening so that I could move on with my life.

Now, I am not a religious person at all, but for some reason I looked up to the sky and at that moment asked God to help me let it go. I had forgiven my Ex but then and there I was still holding onto something. I didn't want to anymore. I started to cry and it started to rain almost at the same time. I stood on top of the mountain by myself crying as rain came down until I couldn't tell what was rain and what were tears. I turned and looked over my shoulder, with a soaking face, only to see a rainbow emerging.
It was such a stunning and calming sight that I stopped crying and appreciated the view, immediately feeling like my prayer had been answered -- snap -- just like that. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life and if I was at all religiously inclined I would have thought that it was some sort of divine intervention. It certainly felt spiritual.

Now, I'm not naive enough to think that I will never again get upset about the loss of my former life, but at that moment I let go of whatever it was I was holding onto that morning. And the thought crossed my mind that I would never again hold on to that pain in the same way again. Whatever had just happened, I had indeed crossed some sort of invisible line in my recovery. And just when I realised that, the rainbow disappeared.

Any unexpected emotions that come, I now acknowledge and then put back in my memory of that mountain, secure in the knowledge that I can choose to wallow, but if I don't want to, I can leave the emotion back on top of the mountain in Thailand.

Monday, 24 March 2014

#227: Send a message in a bottle

My message in a bottle

I've read a number of articles/research that suggests writing a letter to your (former) loved one and burning it or tearing it up and throwing it away. Basically the idea is to get any residual things you may like to say to your Ex down on paper and then literally let it go. Having forgiven my Ex, I found that I really don't have too much bottled up anymore so I thought a different twist to the 'professional advice' would be to send a message in a bottle as a figurative 'letting go' ceremony, if you will. So I thought of what I wanted to say, tossed the bottle as far as possible into the retreating current and watched silently as the tide carried it and my message out to sea. While it seems like a really cheesy thing to do, now that I'm writing this down, I have to admit there was something cathartic about it and I did feel like a weight was lifted after having done it.

Some local thai fisherman probably picked the bottle/message up and put it in his trash, but I like to think that the bottle is still bobbing around the Indian ocean on its own quiet journey.

Note: while the environmentalist in me recognised that this was in fact chucking garbage into the ocean, I felt this was extenuating circumstance -- and for the record spent some extra time cleaning up other litter on the beach in recompense. 

Friday, 21 March 2014

#226: Go for a long walk on the beach / up a mountain

I find oceans really peaceful and long, solitary walks on the beach usually seem to clear my head, improve my mood and give me clarity when I'm emotionally stuck. On this holiday, the beach is a 3km walk down (and back up) a mountain. It's given me a lot of time to think and reflect on my journey this last year.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

#225: Sunbathe topless

Ha! As if! Well hell must have frozen over and come to Thailand because I found myself at the pool with the other girls on the retreat with my baps out. They were all going topless everyday, walking around without a care in the world. It took me a  few days (and a lot of encouragement from the girls), but knowing this was on the list and thinking when the hell else would I do this, I eventually threw caution -- and my bikini top! -- to the wind. No more white bits for me!

I’m not normally one for public nudity, and frankly have always been rather insecure about my body and looks. I only bought a bikini for the first time about 10 years ago. (Well past my prime bikini years even then!) So there was something quite freeing about going dénudé.

The plus side is that I don't have any tan lines. The downside is that no one but me will be seeing my new tan-line free torso. But, like wearing nice underwear that no one sees, I'll know and feel better for it. But let's just say my neighbours back home don’t have anything to worry about. I’m not planning on making a habit of it. Camden has enough local eccentrics as it is. There's no need for topless sunbathing in the rain after all. :-)

Photo: Victor Torres / Shutterstock

Sunday, 16 March 2014

#223: Article about my Break Up List in Huffington Post

Ok, I’m cheating a little with this one. I never actually had this on my List exactly. But when I was asked for an interview, I thought why not. This also covers off indirectly a few other items on the list like, Be more spontanteous and When the head says don’t, do it anyway.

I was apprehensive about someone doing a story about me and my List, primarily because it’s something that is so personal and, while this is obviously a public blog, it is also something I’m not sure I’m comfortable talking about publicly. It’s a lot easier to do my list and write about it when I think no one is paying attention. Allison, the author of the article, assured me that she’d do my story justice and that as a divorce mediator she thought that my story could help other people going through a split.

It was under that premise that I agree to be interviewed and the resulting story was the lead story of the Huffington Post’s (US version) Divorce section. So I think it deserves to go on the List.

Friday, 14 March 2014

#222: Do an herbal steam

An herbal steam room is much like a normal steam room except that an assortment of aromatic herbs are placed in the steam ducts to infuse the watery air. There are many benefits of an herbal steam from removing toxins, promoting weight loss, reliving respiratory ailments, relieving muscle tension and stress and improving blood circulation. It is a refreshing change from a traditional steam and feels both medicinal and relaxing.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

#221: Take a yoga stretching class

I’m trying to find an exercise that I both like, relaxes me and doesn’t soak up every single last ounce of energy I have. I know everyone says that running or going to the gym releases endorphins, but I don’t feel like that after a workout. I just feel drained and exhausted. There is no ‘high’. If exercise is suppose to release endorphins, mine have gone AWOL and are on the lam living under an assumed name. I don’t have enough energy to go find them. So I do what I do best after a work out and take a nap instead. Even if I’m at work. My body will just shut down regardless of where I am. This generally rules out morning and afternoon weekday work outs…or work outs in general.

I know I need to exercise more but dosing off at my desk is probably not the way to make a good first impression when I start my new job so I need to find something that is both good for me and leaves me with something left in the tank. So I decided to try a different type of yoga, one that specifically focuses on stretching. I have to say it worked for me. It’s a good combination of meditative and just active enough to give my body a workout. I'll definitely try again.

Monday, 10 March 2014

#220: Have a Thai message

Unlike traditional messages that use oils on bare skin, Thai message is more about pressing, stretching and manipulating your muscles, and is usually done fully clothed on a mat on the floor. Influenced by Indian Aryurvedic, Chinese traditional medicine and yoga, deep static and rhythmic pressures form the core of the massage. It is not necessarily relaxing and at times can be incredibly painful. But after your body has been beaten and stretched to its limits you feel increased movement and agility. It also releases toxins in your muscles. It may hurt during the message but a day later and my muscles are much more relaxed.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

#219: Go on a detox holiday

I kicked started my weight loss program in mid-2012 by doing a 5-day juice detox program and I got a lot out of it. It certainly helped change my eating habits and got me on the path to losing a significant amount of weight since then. However, it didn’t compare to the experiences some friends have had when they went away (by themselves) on a detox holiday. I knew at some point I wanted to try that as it would push me on a few fronts: travelling alone to a foreign country, improving my health, losing weight and ultimately cleaning up my mind, body and spirit.

I’ve realised recently that despite how it may look on the outside, I still have some healing to do on the inside, both literally and figuratively speaking. These types of programs are both physically and mentally draining. Last year I couldn’t have handled putting myself through the strain of a comprehensive detox program when I was so emotionally raw. But I’m now ready for it…or so I thought!

On recommendation of a friend, I’ve gone to Thailand for my ‘retreat’. It’s thorough and it’s tough. There’s a regular schedule everyday and with all the running up and down mountains, water drinking, supplements, shakes and flushes, I’m kept very busy.

I hope to leave here refreshed and carrying less weight, emotionally and physically. It’s not an easy or necessarily relaxing holiday, but I know I’m going to feel so much better at the end of it…and that is what it’s all about.

Photo: Pixelbliss/Shutterstock

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

#215: Resign from job / Change jobs

While one of the big items on my list was to change jobs (meaning employer), it hasn't been something that I've been actively pursuing. On the contrary, after my break up my first priority was in fact to make sure that I kept my job and didn't get fired! Having been through three restructures in the last 16 months, the fact that my role changed last year and I was promoted (#127) was enough to satisfy any potential career restlessness I might have harboured. 

It's funny how life works out, however, because just as I was getting back into the swing of things at work (see item #200: Re-engage at work), I was contacted by a recruiter about an exciting new opportunity at a competitor. To make a long story short, I was presented with an offer I just couldn't refuse and so after much deliberation I resigned from my current job last week. After working at the company for 5 years, the idea of a new challenge as well as getting a fresh start on a new life was too appealing a prospect to pass up. 

Quitting my job is something that I could not have done a few months ago, let alone a year ago when I started my list. To uproot my life, habits and work friends for the unknown was not something that I was strong enough to handle. Today, however, I feel different. I feel excited about the change and new possibilities in a way that I haven't for a long time. Starting something new is now exciting, not daunting. 
Grabbing the bull by the horns
I feel incredibly empowered, bold even. I am both scared and sad to leave, but in my heart I know it's the right thing for me to do. The last few years I haven't felt in control of many key aspects of my life: the break up was not my doing and the restructures at work were out of my control as well. Taking active charge of what it is that I need and want is something I too frequently haven't done...and I don't know why. Perhaps it was just laziness, or perhaps it was just middle-aged acquiesce. Regardless, it feels good to grab the bull by the horns again, even if I'm also slightly terrified I've made a terrible mistake. 

I'm nervous about what's to come but also incredibly excited. As an added bonus, I'm going to be spending the next 3 months on what the British call 'gardening leave'. This means that I will be serving out my 3 month notice period 'working' from home (in my garden, hence the term gardening leave)! With everything I've been through I feel incredibly lucky. I hope to use the time to cross off more items on the List and to reflect about what it is I'm looking for as I head into this next new phase of life. 
It is a luxury I've never dreamed of. I almost don't know what I'm going to do with myself. But I know how it's going to start: checking off more things on my List on a long-planned 10-day holiday in Thailand that starts tomorrow 

And so does the rest of my life... 

Photos: alexskopjeScott Maxwell / LuMaxArtPhotoSGH : Shutterstock

Saturday, 1 March 2014

#214: Go to a Farmers Market

When I lived in New York, I looked forward to farmer's market days at the World Trade Center, which was across the street from where I worked at the time. (and, yes, I was there that day.) I could grab fresh fruit and veg, along with an Amish Pie -- Point of clarification: these were pie baked by the Pennsylvania Amish who would then sell them in NYC. They were not pies of Amish people! I also loved the (non-alcoholic) Apple Cider and apple cider donuts, and when I was in hard school at NYU I spent many Saturday mornings at the Union Square Farmers Market before and after class.
My normal grocery shop just isn't the same. It's not quite an event like going to a Farmer's Market. I've long been meaning to seek out a local market, but again, haven't really gotten around to it until now. I can attest that it was well worth it, even if all I bought was homemade soup. I'll definitely be back.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

#211: Walk Hampstead Heath

Situated in North London, Hampstead Heath is a massive 790 acre area of parkland. Rolling hills, streams and swimming ponds make the Heath a destination for nature lovers, runners and dog owners. From vast open greenland to willowy forest, Kenwood House Manor on the top of the hill to Parliament Hill Fields tennis courts, the Heath is an oasis in the middle of bustling London.
It's nearly on my doorstep and yet I have never spent an afternoon properly walking throughout the Heath. This is something that could make me lose my North London residency and is shameful. But because it's close by, I've always taken it for granted; it's something for me to do another day.

 Well, today was finally that day!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

#210: Drink 2 litres of water a day for a month

A few years ago, my New Year's resolution was to drink more water because I found I was going days, weeks even, without drinking any water. Last Autumn when I started cutting back on my caffeine and coffee intake, I tried to replace my coffee with plain water. It didn't make much of a difference however and no matter how well intentioned I was, I found that I still wasn't drinking water.

With the onset of cold weather and my coffee banishment in high gear, I turned to hot water with lemon, and this seems to have worked. I'm seemingly drinking my own body weight in water now, going to the loo more and going through lemons/lemon juice like a bar tender at a lemonade festival.

My co-workers admittedly initially raised an eye when they saw me pouring lemon juice into my water first thing in the morning, as more than one thought that I was spiking my water with wine and getting a literal jump on the day. After a few embarrassed explanations, however, I've now settled into a new morning, and daily, routine. A routine that ensures I'm more hydrated and healthy.

This is one change that I plan to try to continue into February and beyond for as long as possible.

Photo credit: Sea Wave/Shutterstock

Thursday, 6 February 2014

#209: Have a Dry January

I did it! I've successfully made it through January without a drop of alcohol. I'm not saying it's been a fun month, but it certainly has been a healthy and productive one for me and I feel better for it. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that by merely abstaining for a month that somehow my body will have miraculously recovered from the damage it sustains the other 11+ months of the year.  I just wanted to give myself, and my body a break and see what it'd be like.

I've therefore had a very limited social life in January because I didn't trust myself not to cave in and just have one drink when out with friends. In a way, that has made everything (not drinking, eating healthy, no caffeine, focus on work, etc) much easier as I've completely removed myself from places and environments where I would be most tempted to relapse and it's enabled me to do all my 'health kicks' at once.
Last year, I attempted a dry Jan but only made it to the 3rd week. I regretted not following through all the way but there was no way I was going to make it through speed dating, and dating in general, without a drink. And if I hadn't gone speed dating, I would have missed out on something very special that made my 2013 so great.

But this year I was determined to go the full month. I've felt better than I have in a long time and will try to limit my intake in the future. That said, I've got plans for tonight, when I'll be celebrating the arrival of February with a single martini from the Dukes followed by a steak and chips dinner.

After all anything worth doing is worth doing well.

Photo credit: ronstik, Pikoso.kz /shutterstock

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

#208: No red meat for 30 days

As you can tell, I've been on a health kick this January. Like many things, when I'm in, I'm in. And so in addition to my Dry January, No Caffeine, trying to eat healthy but not diet, I've also gone for the no red meat for a month. I'm a serious carnivore so going a whole month without has taken some getting used to, but in for a penny in for a pound. I've been enjoying my cod, salmon, seabass and soups and I feel lighter and healthier.

That said, I have a reservation on 1 Feb at a great steak place. I've been looking forward to it all month!

 Photo credit: Julija Sapic / Shutterstock

Monday, 3 February 2014

#207: 60 days no caffeine

In the deepest darkest time of the year, why would I do this to myself? This is something I've been asking myself almost every morning as I wake up and get going. But the fact of the matter is that I'm finding it much easier to wake up in the morning and also feeling much better throughout the day. I am not having the high to low energy swings I usually experience and I'm much calmer and less stressed. Though it feels like my brain has slowed down a bit, my mind feels different, clearer and more naturally alert.

 I do miss the social aspects of having coffee: My morning coffee ritual at work; grabbing a cup of coffee with a colleague instead of a more formal meeting in the office; having a diet coke, or Jack Daniels/Rum and Diet coke.

I've had some important meetings recently and I have been very tempted to have a small cup of coffee to give me just the right jolt/pick me up...but I've refrained and somehow made it through without.

I have to say I do like how I feel now and doing some research on caffeine, and coffee in particular, I'm going to try to continue as long as I can, and only have caffeine once in a while. It is a drug after all and I've realised that I'm better off without having so much of it.

Photo Credit: Sergey_Bogomyako / Shutterstock

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

#206: Go to the Gym

Today I surprised myself. I went to the gym. and exercised. No really, I did. This wasn't one of my "go to the gym, then sit in the steam room' jobs. I'm saying workout gear and running was involved. Me. In a gym.

While I used to be quite sporty when I was in my teens, as I've gotten older I've realised that while I enjoy sports, I need to be distracted when I'm participating in them...preferably with a ball (or puck or other high speed object). I've found that running for running's sake bores me to tears; I don't have the attention span to push through the pain by concentrating on whatever cheesy music I have on my iPhone. Come to think of it, previous gym excursions were ruined precisely by me having to make a playlist to exercise to...so the playlist got made, but my attention span waned and I never did the work out.
So imagine my surprise that I actually went to a gym and not only got on a treadmill but also did some weightlifts/arm work. I'm admittedly out of shape, but considering how little formal exercise I get (I walk around town quite a lot but I dont count that.) I was able to keep going for longer than I thought I would be.

That said, my goals of running 5k and 10k seem like a long way off at this point.

Photo credit: Khakimullin Aleksandr, Zai Aragon / shutterstock

Sunday, 26 January 2014

#205: Babysit my God Child

One of the things I miss most about my old life is my Ex's family. They were, and are, lovely people. While I/we made the choice not to have children, we were not short of children in our lives. I was 'Aunty Ali' to many of my Ex's family and friends' children and we spent many weekends around families and children. While not having kids was the right decision for me/us, now that we've split, I really do miss having children in my life like I used to.

While I'm no longer a part of the immediate family, since our split my Ex's sister and husband have reassured me that they continue to want me in their kids' lives. And for that, I'm incredibly grateful. It so easily could have ended up differently (and still may...you never know). No longer being with my Ex though means that I have to negotiate a small minefield to ensure I'm not intruding, overstepping my bounds or inadvertently causing problems.  At age 2 and 6 years old, the kids are now old enough for me to visit and look after confidently on my own. So I plucked up the courage to offer to babysit by myself for the first time, to let their mom and dad go out for dinner while I looked after the kids and put them to bed.

I loved every minute of it, even the 50 mins the two year old spent screaming bloody murder refusing to go to sleep. No matter what I did she would not go down. Rocking and singing, check. Dancing, check. Diaper check, check. Blanky, check. Reading another story, check. Even the go-to, stand-by failed: Peppa Pig failed to soothe. At one point the 6 year old suggested I just give her Calpol. I thought about it, but decided that drugging the baby was probably not going to result in a repeat visit, except to have child services arrest me. The 6 year old may have been talking a lot of sense about wanting his sister to quiet down, but I suspect he just wanted me more focused on our Army/War game.

 I'm happy to say that by the time their parents came home, the baby was asleep and the 6 year old was in bed. I'm hoping I can do it again sometime soon.

 Photo credit: Tang Yan Song / Shutterstock

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

#204: Get fresh flowers from Columbia Road Flower Market

January can be a bit depressing: the short days, the grey skies, the cold and rain. For me, a good cure for the winter bahs is to head over to Columbia Road Flower market where I can banish the blues by getting cheap (by London standards) fresh-cut flowers in almost any colour of the rainbow.

The atmosphere is fun as well. Listening to Jazz musicians playing while some sort of German apres ski food is being cooked? It's times like this that really test my dieting (and no coffee) will power.

I may have left the market hungry, but I also left with some lovely flowers that brightened my kitchen for more than a week.