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!

 

Knitted Unicorn
Uncategorized

Motherhood Achievement Alert or Tales of Knitting a Unicorn!

So I’ve done it – I’ve reached the pinnacle of my motherhood career – I have achieved the ultimate, I can do no better  – and my daughter is only 7!  Where do I go from here ?Because on holiday, I …knitted…a …unicorn!!!

On the extraordinary journey that has been motherhood I have so far failed on all counts even from the point of conception, which was more challenging than it needed to be. Pregnancy was complicated.. birth too! Breastfeeding I eventually managed, but not without some struggles along the way, and mainly because I couldn’t be bothered sterilising things. Sleep scheduling – a total washout!  My baby hasn’t slept in 7 years! Didn’t even get past the starting gates. Weaning…or Annabel Karmel Hell as I like to call it – not possible when you have given birth to a koala who insists on being strapped to your chest, and  anyway, do babies really need a bayleaf and a peppercorn in the bechamel sauce for their fish pie! Give me strength!

Passing her into the hands of others for a substantial part of her day was the best thing I ever did! Nursery was also a nightmare in the beginning, screaming child left daily, but in the end she thrived, as she has done at school.  I, on the other hand, have struggled to keep on top of life – the things that you have to remember, the school uniform labelling, the days that they have sausage and mash on the menu and a packed lunch is required!  I haven’t kept up with her reading, and I haven’t felt like I’m really in control.

I’ve done better at birthday parties, but have learned the hard way to keep it simple and delegate where you can, but from her first birthday I decided I had to create a cakey masterpiece to mark the occasion, and I went 3D from the start!  Not being a baker, it was all about the icing, so we’ve had a duck, three little pigs (including house of straw) and a 3D Rapunzel including icing hair.  Frozen was an inevitable theme and then my favourites, The Singing Mermaid and Miss Moon, all featuring  icing figures resembling Bet Lynch after her most recent break up! But they prompted the odd ooh and aaah!

Fancy dress costumes have also been on my hit list of ‘things I must do as a mother’! I was determined not to resort to Tesco’s for nativities, and have created a donkey, a star and a camel from scratch, all to much stress, late nights and usually functional issues. But I’ve tried! The camel drove me to buy a sewing machine which I was then too panicked to work out how to thread, but a year later I did manage to thread it go create a cow girl waist coat for her very last nativity! That may not see the light of day for a while!

The irony of all this is that people think I can actually do this stuff!  They think I am a talented baker and seamstress, when the reality is I am a pretender – I have a go and and pray! My cakes are inedible for a start, and my costumes will only stand one wear before they disintegrate! Not that I didn’t do needlework at school – I did, like every other schoolgirl of the 70s, forced to master a pedal powered Singer, while the boys did more interesting things like woodwork! But it served me well when I wanted to shorten my school skirt, or create the ra-ra that my mother refused to buy me!

But knitting has long been on my horizon as something I wanted to re-acquaint myself with – I used to love knitting as a kid, and by all accounts it’s quite trendy to knit these days!  Yes, even youngsters do it! Plus  you can watch the telly at the same time! Last year I took some knitting needles on holiday and managed a teddy bear jumper for one of Ella’s pool mates! It was unskilled and very rough around the edges but it clothed a bear. I was pleased with my efforts.

This year, having grabbed a knitting magazine from Tesco’s on my final pre-holiday shop, I decided the time was right – I needed to create something proper and actually follow a knitting pattern….deciper those unguessable letters and work out how to cast on, knit back and front and all that jazz – I like a plan after all!  Thanks to YouTube I did it! And despite not having the appropriate equipment, ie. DP needles, which to the uninitiated I should point out are ‘double point’ knitting needles – ooh get me – I managed it!  A little resourcefulness on the part of the children saw them presenting me with 4 satay sticks and a pencil sharpener, and home made DP needles were born!

Of course, Ella was delighted with her mummy’s talents, which has always been the point, no matter how rough the results, but knitting really is very easy after all.  And best of all, she decided that she wanted her new best friend on holiday, Gracie, to receive the fruits of her mummy’s labours, which can only make me very proud. It also meant I had to knit Gracie’s little brother a fish pretty darned quick, but once you’ve got the unicorn basics, a fish is simple stuff!

 

Uncategorized

CAKE – A BITE SIZE THEORY

So as the nation stands poised in anticipation of yet another Bake Off Final this week, I can’t help but wonder how this has happened.  As a builder, a graphic designer and a Nancy hold our undivided attention I again ask myself how cake has become such a prominent part of our lives..how it has transcended so many dietary and nutritional taboos to become hip, cool and socially acceptable.  And I’m pretty sure it’s not just Mary Berry’s skinny jeans and bomber jackets!

As the mother of a nearly 5 year old, cake in so many ways represents every single dietary contradiction in the book.  And yet as a mother, you find cake becoming a very important part of your life.  Any mum in today’s society will tell you of the constant dilemmas you face on a daily basis in deciding what to let your little one consume.  Peer and social pressure to only to feed your children ‘the good stuff’ and that means no salt, no sugar and only reasonable amounts of fat, means you have to be vigilant, read the labels and try to become knowledgable about what is in particular products…because if you don’t, you can be sure some well meaning other mother is going to put you right!  As an amalgamation of at least 2 of those forbidden substances, it always seems strange to me that the blind eye is cast when the flour, eggs and butter cream comes out at the weekly coffee dates, and that a large part of the charitable sector is funded purely by feeding cakes and biscuits to children.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think it’s great.  It’s all about balance, family values and fun and I think that cake and baking represent all of those things. It just fascinates me to see so many contradictions!

Perhaps it is because I have never been a cakey or a bakey person and yet, like the rest of the nation, am gripped by the weekly goings on in the tent.  It is the highlight of my televisual week and I can’t wait to see what delights are produced.   As a working woman cake seldom if ever graced my life.  Now that is not because I lived a healthy and wholesome existence.  It is purely because my diet consisted of skipping breakfast, a Sainsbury’s sarnie for lunch and cheese and toast and a bottle of Sav Blanc for tea.  I neither craved nor desired cake.  But from the moment those hormones start racing around your body in anticipation of motherhood, all of that changes.  Your life is crazy busy with little time to eat, and playdates and coffee mornings become the new reality.  Lovely as that sounds, for about the first 5 years these are extremely stressful.  Chasing small children around cafes and other people’s houses on a damage limitation operation does not make for a relaxing experience.  And the only thing that seems to reduce that stress at times is a big mouthful of something chocolatey and butter creamy.  Unfortunately what inevitably happens in these situations is that that pile of chocolate and butter cream usually also ends up in small child, making for more stress, chaos and tantrums!  So wouldn’t it be better to avoid the combination of the two in the first place I often wonder.

Personally, coming from German extraction, where Kaffee und Kuchen is still enjoyed as a deliciously guilt free daily experience, the combination of a nice doughy base, with plums, apples or cherries, topped in a nutty streusel is my idea of heaven.  And surely a little more healthy too.  As a child that really was my only experience of cake bar the Sunday swiss roll accompanying The Antiques Roadshow.  My mother was never a baker, and nor am I.  Despite the yearly attempt to produce a suitable 3-D construction to grace my daughter’s birthday party table, the supporting cake is often bordering on inedible, as the aforementioned mother has often pointed out to me.  Cannon balls was the word she once used to describe my home made hot crossed buns.

So caking and baking is something that has definitely come to me through motherhood.  During those long and sometimes tedious pre-school years, the foolish and the brave inevitably often find themselves embarking on various baking projects with their small person.  I think Ella was only about 2 the first time I decided in desperation to give it a go.  Anyone who does this will know that the amount of time spent on the baking is directly proportional to the amount of time you will spend clearing up the mess.  I think by my calculations, the clearing up takes at least 4 times as long as the actual baking itself, and that includes sweeping up the ocean of sprinkles on the kitchen floor.   The sound of sprinkles hitting the deck still evokes in me the same feeling as when somebody runs their fingers down a blackboard – it is like breaking glass.  Slightly sinister and patience eroding!   But delighted faces licking pink icing off their little fingers is all worthwhile, and since my baking efforts are pretty much all inedible, we then don’t face the dilemma of having to eat the fruits of our labour in any case.

So as I plan birthday cake number 5, hoping to be inspired by television’s new ‘cocaine’ this week, I will be doing so with a smile. That smile will represent the knowledge that every other mother of a child of similar age will be going through the same process at some point in the year.  Because we all feel that we must produce some sort of birthday creation to delight and surprise.  And let’s face it even those of us that are rubbish bakers can’t deny the array of products in the supermarkets these days offering us absolutely  no excuses at all not to give it a go!  It’s easy.  It’s child’s play and it still puzzles the hell out of me!