motherhood, Running

Running Like a Child and Weeing Down Hill – Discovering My Love of the Trails!

Like many women of a certain age with responsibilities at home, running has become an essential part of my life – some much needed ‘me time’ and fresh air coupled with a sense of accomplishment, as well as a way to connect with others doing the same, having a laugh and generally keeping sane!

And that is really what I had been doing for the last three years reconnecting with the me that ran the London Marathon for a dare in 2005 and found that contrary to her previous belief that she had literally no sporting ability….yes she could! Not to any notable standard of course but to cross a line that she never thought she’d cross and find that running was something that she really loved, well that was the best thing she’d ever done. One foot in front of the other, as far as your mind and your body would go, breathing, thinking, dancing in the streets – true freedom!

Fast forward 10 years – London’s golden pavements have been replaced with the pot-holed roads of West Sussex, but the feeling’s still the same! Freedom, joy and sometimes just sheer elation to feel the rhythm of the road beneath my feet. But after three years of running 5ks, 10ks and even half marathons, becoming slightly obsessed with pace, times and other things that weren’t even possible to track when I had first started running, I was looking for something new. Apart from anything else, I wanted the confidence to explore the stunning countryside I had grown up in. Still feeling like a towny, I just hadn’t quite got the guts to break off down a footpath or bridleway and see where the mood took me.

And then I was lucky enough to stumble across Rachel – the local running superwoman who literally inspires awe in most of the Sunday plodders in these here parts. She told me about the Club KARIBU runs – guided trail runs in West Sussex, easy to access and all inclusive, and invited me to come along!

Needless to say I was terrified. Trail running is for super athletes – geared up to the hilt – not mere mortals like me! But I thought what the hell, she who dares probably falls on her bum, but I signed up anyway! Nonetheless it was with a great deal of trepidation that I turned up at a spot somewhere near East Dean in the same pair of shorts I’d been wearing for 13 years in a pair of comparatively low tech road shoes, to a car park full of confident, rugged, geared up, fit looking people! I had that moment of thinking, what the hell am I doing here! How wrong I was.

Firstly, the moment everyone shot off up a frighteningly steep hill, it was apparent that everyone was chatting and friendly – it was also apparent that it was perfectly acceptable to walk up the hill if you couldn’t manage it, and encourage others along the way.

There were frequent stops for the slower runners to catch up with the quicker ones – no pressure to push yourself, but a sense that everyone was part of the same challenge and group. 6k later and I had had the time of my life! I’m not saying parts of it didn’t hurt – it did, and I got to push myself, otherwise what would be the point! But the countryside we covered was amazing – like nowhere I’d ever run before! Through forests and fields and on terrain I would never have considered running on my own.

Before I knew it I had signed up to one of the KARIBU Trail Running Workshops. And that was the icing on the cake. An amazing day of being taught how to run like a child again – with freedom, and confidence and no fear at all, because that is what trail running is all about!

And who doesn’t love a good whoop through the trees – I just can’t help myself, nor can I get enough of ‘weeing’ down a hill without fear of falling flat on my face. Of course, it is entirely possible that I will do just that, but thanks to Sam’s amazing tips on technique, it is far less likely to happen, and a truly magical feeling!

Is it harder than road running? Yes, in a way it is. The terrain can be tougher, muddier and uneven – tree roots are not your friend. But the rewards are so worth it – and most importantly it really is do-able. For every grinding up hill, there’s an amazing view, a truly adrenalin pumping downhill, a feeling of being away from civilisation and amongst the fields and forests. That is a feeling money can’t buy and I want to keep it forever.

Now I try and run at least once a week with KARIBU – it means that I can see new parts of this amazing county and neighbouring counties, feel encouraged, feel like I am achieving, without worrying about times, and without worrying about anything but enjoying the moment.

They say people are either road runners or trail runners, but I can honestly say that I am bi – I still love the road, but I find I am a much stronger road runner now as a result of my trail running, and the trails give me something else. I can’t recommend hitting the trails or KARIBU highly enough!

Club KARIBU offers guided trail runs and other benefits across Sussex and Surrey.

motherhood

How to Fake Heinz Tomato Soup and Other Things I Never Thought I’d Have To Do!

About a year ago I returned to life as a full time mum for reasons which are largely irrelevant to the point of this story, but which involved a health crisis in the family. At the time I was completely consumed with the situation at hand, and I didn’t miss my ‘part time job’ one bit! Of course, my ‘part time job’ had become ‘full time on part time hours and pay’ and unmanageable with the Shangri La of the ‘best of the both worlds’ rapidly descending into a living nightmare.

In my mind, most things happen for a reason, which is slightly unfortunate for my mother who ended up having a truly horrific experience and an extended stay in hospital following a routine operation. But, on the plus side, she ended up in a lovely little apartment in Central Chichester, and I ended up being able to walk away from a job that was no longer working for me, with my head held high, knowing that I had done my best, and now had other priorities!

I was so behind with life in general at the point where things started to return to ‘normality’, that I feel like I’ve spent the last 8 or 9 months doing ‘nothing’ – just keeping on top of laundry, doing jobs that have long needed doing – and that doesn’t include the filing which is still sitting there staring at me, lopsided and about to topple!

Okay, so I will confess that this period of doing ‘ nothing’ has also included organising a school jumble sale, summer festival and bonfire event – not single handedly but nonetheless, and managing a garden re-landscape which is still on-going! Just making coffee for the workers takes out a chunk of your time. Oh and looking after two dogs, one very elderly and recently departed, 7 chickens, two guinea pigs, a husband and an eight year old…not necessarily in that order!

But for me, quite a lot of the time that feels like ‘nothing’, mainly because it all feels very mundane, and at times goes completely unnoticed.  My ‘me time’ tends to consist of running and writing, both of which give me massive mental and physical boosts, but ultimately I feel guilty about doing either of them because they feel self indulgent!  And even though I now have more time than ever to do all the things I’ve never had time to do, I still like I’m failing at everything..not doing anything properly!

With that in mind, I decided I needed to up my game in the kitchen…at least until I’ve decided what to do with the rest of my life! I decided that I needed to at least feel like I’d achieved the ultimate ‘perfect mother dream’ of providing nutritious meals for my family!   I have NEVER been a fan of ready meals – not for any moral or philosophical reasons – I just don’t like them. And even through my less encumbered years, the most I would succumb to was a jar of ‘Chicken Tonight’ jalfrezi sauce for a dinner party, living on toast, Marmite and Sauvignon Blanc the rest of the time – but never a microwave meal!

I blame my mother for this of course! Despite being a full time working single mother, she always delivered a home cooked hot meal for us in the evenings – or at least until I got so fussy I lived on chicken noodle packet soup and Bird’s Whisk and Serve custard! In my most formative years, we always had roast on Sunday, cold meat and chips on a Monday, and a combination of spag bol, home made soup, and other family favourites the rest of the week! I dare say there were probably more chips on the menu than might be politically acceptable these days, but at least they were home made, real potato and cooked in a deep fat fryer! In fact I learned to cut chips before I could ride a bike!

So for me menu planning has become a regular part of my weekend activity – always in consultation with the end consumers of course, and around their busy play and work schedules.  I even re-signed up to the veg box subscription malarky to push myself to use new ingredients – having failed on three previous occasions to make it work, I have this week cooked with fennel and venison and I’m about to knock up a spicy red pepper and lentil soup! So already, I feel like progress is being made! Masterchef here I come – or even a modicum of self satisfaction is good enough for me!

Or not…because blow me, if I haven’t spent this week on two of the most ridiculous culinary missions of my parenting journey! On Saturday I found myself trying to persuade my daughter that my home-made spaghetti carbonara is better than the Marks and Spencer’s microwave version which she absolutely loves!  I suggested a blind taste challenge to prove my point, and set to work creating identical looking carbonaras without so much as a stray dot of oregano out of place!  But un-fooled she was, immediately identifying the imposter and refusing to eat it! Happily, my husband preferred mine, but that felt like a hollow victory!

And last night we came home from gymnastics, and I had that sinking feeling that I really didn’t have anything in! The loss of the dog has sent me off kilter a bit this week, and my menu planning has gone to pot! But she was keen on some Heinz Tomato soup with bread rolls and vegetables, which all sounded very do-able/acceptable!  Until I got home to check the tinned soup stash – no Heinz Tomato!!!! Ultimate parenting fail!

All was not lost, however, as I did have a punnet of cherry tomatoes and a good deal of determination to create a healthy replica of Britain’s best loved branded tomato soup! And it honestly didn’t take me more than 10 minutes to do it! It would have taken longer to open the tin!  I did go through the extra process of ‘passing’ the soup through a sieve to eliminate the risk of a stray tomato seed betraying me, and I even did something which I loathe, adding a bit of flour to the soup to thicken it up – but ultimately all it had it in was good and fresh!

And it did indeed go down well! She knew it wasn’t Heinz but she ate it, and so did the equally fussy Heinz Tomato loving husband who actually didn’t believe it wasn’t the real thing!  Yes, that does deserve a mini air punch! Although he does suspect me of some sort of subterfuge.

So that’s ‘one all’ to Ella and I on my mission to provide more wholesome grub to my daughter! Although I duly recognise that the greatest challenge of all is to even get close to re-creating the ‘school child’ Ambrosia which appears to be school macaroni cheese! What they put in it I don’t know, but it’s the crack cocaine of school meals! I have yet to meet a parent who has found a reasonable alternative for their child, despite many many attempts and methods, including ‘just add water’ packets, frozen, microwavable, take away portions from the pub, even Pot Noodle’s own attempt, you name it – I fear it is impossible!

But above all it seems ironic to me that things have come to this – faking tinned soup! What a way to get your fulfilment in life…apart from folding pants, and unloading the dishwasher of course, all of which just fill me with joy! Never mind, I hear there’s an aubergine on the way in my veg box this week, and I’m not afraid to use it!

 

motherhood

The Miracle of Person Making

It suddenly hit me this evening, as I watched my beautiful daughter meander her way into the bathroom and make a massive deal out of cleaning her teeth, that I had made a person..a whole living, breathing person.  One capable of so much, and of occupying so much of my life, that I can barely imagine life before she existed.

Of course traditionally people believe that person making just takes two people – a boy and a girl, and a bit of biological luck. Although in my case it wasn’t quite as simple as that – it took a whole lot of medical science, some amazing doctors and medical staff, and a few pharmaceutical items to boot! I’ve always been immensely grateful to those people for her very existence of course.

Today my person finished Key Stay 2 at school and it occurred to me as I reflected at how quickly she had gone through the first three years of her school life, that it takes quite a few more people along the way to make a person! Between Reception and Year 2 our children change almost beyond belief. From babies to proper functioning and almost independent people in the blink of an eye! From barely walking and talking, to chit chatting, cartwheeling forces of nature, who make us laugh every single day.

Ella’s teacher left today. He’s been at the school for 6 years, and it was a sad occasion. He is officially ‘the funniest teacher in the world!’ She’s very lucky with her school, and she’s been incredibly lucky with her teachers, all of whom have been very different, but all of whom have undoubtedly left their mark on the little person they have been charged with helping to make. Because that is actually what teachers do. They spend so much time with our children, that they are as important in many ways as we as parents are, and I can see the mark that each one has left on Ella on her journey so far. I never expected any child of mine to be demanding to practise fractions on the way to school for a start. Sometimes I wonder if there’s been some mistake!

So as school closes for summer, I just want to say that I am total awe of teachers and always will be. How you handle that many children, particularly small ones and actually teach them anything is beyond me. And most of you do it for every other reason than the fact that it is a ‘job’!

So thank you to Mrs T, Miss H and Mr L for the last three years, for helping my little person to grow and flourish, and to all the other staff, especially our lovely head teacher, and other teachers,  who work so hard to make sure she becomes the best she can be! Person making is anything but easy, is a team job, and we all need all the help we can get!

Happy holidays everyone!

motherhood

Today…

Today I smiled as Ella did her pony tail for the fourteenth time to get it ‘just right’ when she should have been cleaning her teeth. Today we walked to school extra slowly not caring if we were late. Today I missed her every second she was at school. Today I let her have an extra 10 minutes in the playground, took her to an extra Sainsbury’s to find a Lego sticker book, and let her have an extra biscuit with her tea. Today I looked extra hard at that beautiful face that I adore. Today I watched her swinging with utter joy , abandon and innocence on her swing in the evening sunshine when she should have been in bed and I could truly think of no more beautiful sight. Today I realised that today is what is important. Because who knows what tomorrow brings. Sending love to Manchester. x

motherhood

PLEASE LOOK AFTER THIS BEAR..

Today was a very exciting day – a half term trip to London with Daddy.  A simple concept but whilst I expected the almost 5 year old to be wide eyed with wonderment for much of the day, I hadn’t expected to be quite so enchanted with the place myself. After all, having left sleepy Sussex at the tender age of 18 to head for ‘The Big Smoke’ spotted handkerchief metaphorically over my shoulder, the world at my feet, it took me more than 20 years to return to my roots, and I thought I knew the place pretty well.

But today I saw it from a different point of view, a 4 year old’s point of view.  And whilst it is a scary and a dirty place for the most part, on second glance it is also filled with magic and excitement.  And thanks to my little girl, that little blank canvas, today I was reminded of what drew me to the place all those years ago. Like Ella I headed to London as a very little girl, with my mum and my sister, to visit our beloved Uncle George. Now Uncle George wasn’t a real Uncle of course, and Uncle George was funny and lovely and lucky enough to have a nice little flat in Knightsbridge. My very first memories of London were an open top bus ride to see the sights, Bedknobs and Broomsticks at the pictures and my first ever creme caramel in a little bistro in Beauchamp Place.  I remember thinking it was exciting and enticing and strangely comforting. And for the rest of my childhood, I knew that that was where I had to go.

Now, having spent the best part of my adult life in the London, I can honestly say that I would have seen it and done it all. I’ve lived through the highs and the lows, the headlines and the complexities of trying to build a social life, a career, an identity.  It ain’t easy. It can be tough, it can be lonely, it can be scary, but my goodness it can be wonderful too.  And today reminded me of that.  So many things to see all the time, it’s like being in the movies. And it’s got to be said London is looking pretty swish these days – clean and bright – some would say downright dapper. And who couldn’t sit and watch the goings on at the front entrance of the Dorchester forever and a day, and my goodness wasn’t Selfridge’s looking its Christmassy best.

So it was with trepidation that I took my precious little bundle into the jungle knowing that there was a fair chance that she would be bewitched by the place just like her mother. Suddenly all of the headlines run through my head..Clapham Junction, the IRA years, the elation of winning the Olympic bid – I genuinely cried tears of joy that day, so proud of my city – and then the devastation and the terror a few hours later of 7/7.  Crazy crazy stuff.  Just stuff that went on around me as I carried on with my life. As Londoners we lived through it every day – as country folk it seems unthinkable that we did. As Londoners you are just that – one nation, one race – you are all Londoners no matter where you came from, and you are proud of your city, loving it and hating it in equal measure a times.  That is what makes it so special.

So as I see my little girl holding her Daddy’s hand as she climbs with great excitement on to a big red bus, proudly waving her first Travelcard aloft oblivious to the disinterest of rasta driver, and as I see her take it all in her stride, her little eyes glistening with excitement, I see it all again.  The sparkling jewel that any magpie would want to possess…the magnet that drew me and held me there for so long, and I’m excited, excited for her..terrified for her, and thinking how apt it is that the Christmas film this year is Paddington – another childhood favourite. Already every store window is bedecked in furry bears in duffle coats anticipating the forthcoming craze for what undoubtedly will be a British classic. And I think to myself that one day I am going to have to send my little bear off in her duffle coat, with her marmalade sandwiches packed in her bag, my heart breaking without a doubt.  And I say to that city with all of my heart, when that day comes, please, please, please look after this very very special bear..just like you looked after me.

motherhood

TUNA PASTA

We all have dilemmas in life, often daily, some bigger than others.  What shall I wear…jumper and leggings, or jumper and jeans..shall I marry him…should I resign from work….do I really have to vote Lib Dem?  But I experienced a momentary dilemma yesterday that left me amused by its uniquness…something that can only be experienced by the mother of a 4 year old and the owner of a springer spaniel.

It had been at trying day.  Day 3 of a hot and puking child had seen her diagnosed with scarlet fever.  The day had been spent battling with the mule-like stubborness of my daughter, intent on taking no medication of whatever flavour at any cost, despite threats of hospital, withdrawal of ‘Ella telly’, bribes of various items of confectionary and its surreptitious inclusion in a variety of liquid temptations. So by the time I got her to the bedtime stage of proceedings, my body and soul ached with weariness.

As we rounded the business of end of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, my thoughts turned to my stomach, the fact that it was empty and  rumbling and that I was starving.  As Ella drifted off to sleep in quick smart time given her state of fevered delerium, my mind perused the contents of my larder and I realised that carbohydrate mixed with one of the 57 tins of tuna therein were what I craved. Tuna pasta!  My absolute favourite.

Despite my exhaustion, I decided it was worth investing the time and effort into boiling up a few of the pasta twirls in my extensive pasta collection, and mixing up that exquisite combination of tuna, pasta, mayonnaise and sweetcorn.  Relieved to find that the vital egg based component was still present and safelyish consumable in my fridge, I proceeded to combine aforementioned ingredients to create a warm, soggy, starchy bowl of comfort.  Pleased with my efforts, I cracked open one of Gordon’s finest ready mixed, and headed for my sofa.

Two mouthfuls in, I heard an agonised cry.  Without a moment’s hesitation I leapt from my sofa and headed up to Ella, who had had a bit of a sweaty nightmare and was craving mummy’s presence to get her back to sleep.  As I sat there stroking her face, and hushing her back to slumberland, I heard a sound.  It was unmistakable.   It was the chink chink of a spaniel’s collar.  A collar that had been snoring contentedly on my bed for the past hour or so, but now felt the urge to move..move toward the stairs, the living room, my dinner!  My heart leapt with alarm at the image of the unattended bowl sitting on the sofa, and my mind focussed on the unenviable decision I had to make in that split second moment.  If I didn’t act fast, that pasta was gone…gone down the throat of a greedy spaniel faster than you can say Jack Robinson, and all my efforts would be wasted.  But if I were to move right now, that crucial moment where child drifts peacefully off to sleep would be lost, and I might be up there battling with her for another hour at least.

I have no recollection of the actual decision being made, but I do remember flying with lightening speed towards the stairs, with a sinking feeling in my stomach that I had acted too late.  Leaping with Ninja like agility towards the lounge I focussed on two big brown and contented spaniel ears buried in the coveted bowl of pasta.  I screamed like a banshee, a cry often heard in this house….Duncan….piss offfff, which to be fair he duly did, licking his lips!  I managed to salvage about a  third of the portion, and that third of a portion was undoubtedly well licked to boot.  But having got Ella off to sleep, and having retrieved it from the shelf above spaniel height where I had more sensiblly left it a few minutes earlier, I tucked into my pasta delight with renewed gratitude and gusto!  And as for Duncan.  Well as per, he sat at my feet waiting for me to finish, and then licked the plate greedily as if he hadn’t been fed for a fortnight.

Butter Wouldn't Melt!
Butter Wouldn’t Melt!
motherhood

HIGH HEELS AND NERVES OF STEEL!

Six years ago, I had a crazy busy job and a crazy busy life which included dashing back and forth to clinics in my seemingly impossible quest to become a mum – an abstract concept as it turns out, one that you simply cannot describe until it happens to you.  Finally, after endless disappointments, I had what many women take totally for granted – a totally normal 12 week scan, and from that moment on…life will never be the same again!  With enormous angst and trepidation in my heart, I set about finding the balance of carrying on with life as normal just in case, just in case…the fear of disappointment never leaving me, and taking care of myself for the remainder of my pregnancy.

In the midst of all of this, a bundle of chaos and catastrophe also enters our lives in the form of Duncan, the Springer Spaniel, and my fear that he would be sure to savage my new born baby as soon as she enters the world, only adds to the pressure.  But 7 months later, a bundle of pure perfection arrives in my life…hairy and screaming and not without a little bit of drama, but unbelievably, miraculously perfect nonetheless and of absolutely no interest to Duncan since she isn’t round and doesn’t bounce.  From that moment on, my life became a different sort of crazy. Every second of every day devoted to that little person who I had no idea would rely on me for absolutely and literally everything.  I’m sure it didn’t say that on the tin!

A conspiracy of silence exists for sure. We’ve all seen a gazillion photos of exhausted mum, small Churchill lookalike wrapped in hospital blanket, and proud dad, but I for one had no idea what was going to happen from that point on.  I remember driving home with Ella in her car seat thinking, what now…what actually happens now?  How do I spend my days? What do I do with her? Where will I put her – in a box perhaps? Over time that stuff all works itself out.  You get into a routine, you work your way through the phases…each one different, each one not in the slightest bit easier despite the reassurances and promises, until you realise you’ve been at this lark for nearly 5 years and that that bundle is about to start school.  So now what?

The constant internal and external debates and discussions about the merits and stresses of being a full time mum versus a working mum reach a whole new level, especially when had in tandem with ‘the great school debate’.  But the fact is  I’m going to have six hours a day to myself that I haven’t had for 5 years.  For me, it is a no brainer.  I simply have to find something to do that doesn’t involve the V word –  voluntary – doesn’t involve any form of baking and doesn’t bear any resemblance to anything ‘mummsy’.  Chutney making was merely another thing I needed to know how to do, but I shan’t be doing it again – been there, done that!  I have to remind myself who I was – my pre-baby self I mean.  Not all of it obviously, because I’m sure I’ve learned a million valuable lessons since then, but I was a strong and independent career woman and I want to show her a bit of that so that she can become a strong independent woman herself.

And thanks to my sister, I find myself a nice little gig – an admin job with potential.   More than I could ever have dreamed of.  And with butterflies in my tummy, and a fair deal of self doubt in my heart, I squeeze into my office skirt of yesteryear which amazingly and thanks to my life of chasing around a 4 year old with barely a moment to feed myself, still fits perfectly. And a pair of M&S high heels that Ella has set her heart on and been clomping around in since I brought them home the night before.  For the first time in a very long time I feel good…very good.  I almost feel like I have woken up from a dream.

Ella can see I look different, and she stands on her tippy toes to give me a big hug and say, have a good day mummy…like she knows.  And for 6 hours I immerse myself in learning systems and procedures, and where the coffee machine is, and barely give my beautiful girl a second thought.  And when I do see her, when I pick  her up from nursery, I have never seen anything more beautiful.  I can’t think of anything or anyone I would rather see, and I think she is looking at me as if to say, don’t worry about me mummy, I’m a big girl now and as long as you keep loving and hugging and showing me the way, I’ll be alright if you go and do something else, something apart from being my mummy.  Because you will always be my mummy.

Being Ella’s mummy is the greatest privilege on earth, and I don’t regret one single minute of my time with her over the last 4 1/2 years, although I probably wish I had yelled at her a little less.  But I am looking forward to getting back to a ‘real’ world, to a world where mention is seldom made of potty training, baby led weaning or even breastfeeding.  A world that I could not have envisaged returning to in anything other than a pair of high heels!

 

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