Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A year of running and discovery

This year is now finally at a close so far as my 'racing' goes.
I use the term 'racing' in a loose sense as, although I am strictly in a 'race', I am only really running for and against myself, therefore, whether it should be called a 'race' for me or a 'challenge' is probably another question.

It's December and, having started in February, I've run at least one, if not, sometimes two races each month, clocking up somewhere around 130 miles in races and much more if you include the training that has gone alongside.

One of the ghastly early races in April 2014

The icing on the cake came this weekend when I made a rash decision around three months ago to run my first half marathon (that's 13.1 miles to those of you with better things to do with your lives than follow the aches and pains of runners!).

It was a bit hasty, I think I'd just done a sub 30 in a park run, was feeling rather high on the endorphins that followed and noted that December was 'race-less' so I needed something to fit into this month.

Milton Keynes Winter half seemed to fit into the criteria I needed: flat (ish!), not expensive and local and on a day that I was able to do.

I had a training plan, then life took over. The nights got dark, my job turned nearly full time, we had some family stuff going on that needed some tlc and some wine and the training plan got kyboshed.

The day arrived upon me without really having run more than 8 miles ever. Was this foolhardy - well, to the seasoned runner, yes, probably, but I figured I had nothing to lose. No one was watching me that I knew; I wasn't running with anyone that I needed to keep pace with; if I needed to walk any of it, who would care other than me?

I'd love, at this point, to tell you it was easy...but my nose would be cracking my computer screen right now. It was nothing short of bloody hard! Probably one of the most demanding things mentally that I have ever undertaken.

I arrived at 9.30 only to queue in the freezing cold for the best part of 20 minutes for the loo. Was I that desperate? Well, I was certainly more desperate to use the loo than I would be to squat halfway around with my arse exposed to the elements...I presumed that as there were at least a 1/4 of the runners behind me in the queue, the organisers would have the common sense not to start if the queue was still snaking round the park, so there was no choice but to wait.

It was freezing - did I say that? We had to avoid the ice on more than one occasion - so there was the dilemma of standing shivering waiting to get going, then that hideous few minutes where your body temperature still hasn't reached sufficient high levels to reduce the running shakes.
The course itself was probably the only saving grace. It was slightly undulating, but primarily flat and ran all around areas of Milton Keynes that you never see from the roads. We ran along the union canal for many miles, into outlying villages with beautiful tudor homes, past fields of cows and then through housing estates. There was time to think and dream.

My pace was very steady, far steadier than I'd run a 10K, but I thought this was a tactic I would need for survival. I got to 10miles without too much trauma, but then suddenly my mind seemed to turn a corner for the worse. I noticed a blister on my heel and then spent half a mile fighting the urge to stop and take off my shoe. My head was telling me this was a death sentence, my heart said I could fix it if i took off the shoe and fixed my sock. Luckily I have learned that my head does in fact, rule my heart, even though my teenage self may not have realised that!

Then I felt aches...everywhere, my thighs, my pelvis, my ribcage...The last 3.1 miles may well have been the whole 13.1 all over again. It used every ounce of my mental strength not to give up.

But! I didn't and now I am proud to say I have achieved half of my goal but it's not just the physical that I'm proud of, I proved my ability to physically challenge myself on the top of Scarfell this Easter, but the whole challenge of keeping going. I have kept going, from January, I have kept running when I've wanted to stay in bed or go home. I have kept going with blisters and when I've wanted to cry and give up.

I've run in rain;

In hideous heat,

In foreign countries,

In a tutu;
With my youngest in our tutus at a race for life in June

Through mud and cow pats.

I've gone from this:

To this:

I'm no faster than I was in January really, but I don't care. I have lost weight and yes, I'm very happy about that, but whilst we can change our outward appearance, I have found an inner me that was lurking below the surface. It's a me that can say what I want (I'd say pretty tactfully except my kids will tell you that I must make an exception when I'm in the car - running does nothing to hone road rage!), what I like and what I am able to do and I like that person. She's okay to spend 2.5 hours of solitude with on a Sunday morning with only her thoughts and a few of the negative conscience for company. So I'm going to stick with her and with it, it has been good for me, not only for my health, but also for my brain and my character and...well, I like that.

I'll see you at the Brighton Half in February!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

I love today!
It is 'deck the halls' day today, or rather, deck the scaffolding in our case!

I love to make it a bit of an occasion when we put the tree up and decorate it. We get in some gluhwein and some spiced apple for the kids, put on a bit of Buble and out come the decks. It's all so very jolly and little House on the Prairie...........screeeech! Hold on, rewind a bit, let's just back up:

So, it IS a day when we get the gluhwein heating on the stove and the spiced apple simmering in the pan, the tree is placed and the decoration boxes brought down, Buble is on the CD player warbling out those Christmas tunes; but that is where my family will tell you that it then turns into a very military operation 'hup two three four, keep it up, two three four!'

I am a touch anal when it comes to my tree. We normally have two, a real one in the sitting room and an artificial one in the music room/snug, only this year we've decided to just have one because of the outdoor chaos. We have a colour scheme for each tree and things need to be balanced and organised.
I have a box of purple, pink, silver and white for the real tree alongside several very sentimental ornaments that have come from places we've been. These don't fit the colour scheme, but are important for memories and sentimental reasons. This tree has WHITE lights.

Then there is the box for the artificial tree, these are more tartan, red and natural ornaments from straw and wicker etc. The lights on this tree are WHITE!

OH and finally there is the box of decs that the kids have made over the years and the things that I just can't quite chuck away, but there's no way they'll ever bedeck my Nordman again!

The children and Mr Beehive hound me every year to do coloured lights, but I just. can't. do. it.

Mr Beehive and the kids get the run of the exterior!!! 

It's a little bit like National Lampoon and I'm Audrey; "I hope nobody drives past the house and sees me standing here with all these bleeding coloured lights" but hey ho, they love it, I can sacrifice a little bit of taste for a few short weeks right ;-)

At least I can close the curtains and admire my indoor tree with a cup of gluhwein in hand!

Monday, December 01, 2014

Advent Traditions

December 1st...finally! I can put away my 'bah humbug, it's too early slippers in November' and gently ease myself into the season of goodwill and cheer.

We have for many years, in fact, since LMB was two, had a beautiful birthday ring*. It is made from alder wood and we put beeswax candles in.

There is something earthy and grounding about the smell each year when I take it out for another child's birthday and, believe me, even at nearly 15, the eldest still wants the birthday ring out.

I have hankered after an advent spiral for many years and this year I gave in to my desires. We only have four candles as we intend to light one on each of the four Sundays before Christmas and we also have a small, fillable advent calendar.

Again, a tradition we have followed since they were small has been the filling of a re-usable advent calendar. We are actually on our second as our first one was eaten by mice one year in between Christmasses. When the children were young, it was easy to find little things to put inside for each day, now they're older, it's a little harder and I'm loathed to fill it all with sweet things. This year I've gone for tokens for things like a trip to the movies at some point in the year, a movie and takeaway night of their choice, an afternoon doing something they choose. I've also put in a little wooden ornament, something I do each year and then this year each child has a 'personal' gift. For Master Beehive the elder, I've got him some fingerless gloves. He really suffers with his knuckles and hands being covered in nasty eczema and sores, hopefully this way he can wear these, still write at school or do the things he needs to do, but equally give his hands some protection. Master Beehive the younger is a stickler for hoarding, so he has a lovely little wooden box made out of some tree wood from a local cemetery and the youngest rug rat has some bath bombs with essential oils to curb her desire to pinch all my lovely bath things!!

*Although I was very drawn towards Waldorf and Montessori when the children were younger (and still am as much as I can be as my children are growing), the main reason I bought it was watching toddler attempts to blow out candles 20, 30 times and the sequential spit and nasal contents that used to decorate the cake; it became somewhat a matter of necessity and hygeine ;-)   )

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Slowing it down

Phew, life is running at full speed and quite frankly I need to slow things down. It's nearing the end of 2014 and full pelt is the way I'm rolling right now.

I am still in that early transitional turmoil of trying to be everything I was, and some, and then hold down a full time (bar a couple of hours) role outside the home, and maintain our house and homestead.

I seem to spend much of my life rushing and I'm ashamed to say, nagging (although I prefer the word 'cajoling!) kids to get up or do homework or practice one of their instruments. Food gets little thought put into it unless it's the weekend and, although we're not eating crap (yet!), we do seem to eat a lot of soup and pasta these days because it's fast and easy.

Coordinating my own hectic schedule adds fuel to the already ridiculously full agendas of three growing teens and pre-teens, not to mention Mr Beehive's calendar...


This Sunday we caught up with an old school friend of mine. I use the word 'old' lightly because neither of us, I'm sure, would like to categorise ourselves as old, however, 24 years without seeing each other, probably puts us in some kind of antique memorabilia in a museum!

A rather scary picture from 1986 or 87...

It was just the antidote I needed.

A full on smack in the face that life is just going TOO fast and I need to seriously choose and purge things that I don't need in our lives.

We had a fantastic few (dreadfully short) hours to catch up with the last 24 years from our final days in the sixth form through our marriages, babies, trips and years spent overseas and then back to one of our mutual passions, homesteading and becoming self sufficient.

It made me realise that life really is as short as they say and things that we think need to be done probably aren't the things that necessarily make us happy.

My friend made me appreciate the importance of saying 'no' once in a while too for the well-being of our families. I've said 'yes' one too many times this year and this is probably how I've ended up with a little more than I can chew.

I want to appreciate the moment rather than running onto the next all the time even if that just means taking more time to eat as a family, lighting a candle at the meal table, reading a bedtime story to a girl who is in double figures now, taking a few more pictures and I'm going to sign up for Heather's Hibernation seminar

this Winter just to ensure that each day I take some time out of the frenzy to find my calm, reflect and re-balance.

I want to keep my eyes well and truly open for the next 24 years and during this time, my friend and I will see each other far more!

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Winter is a' comin' in

Warranting us to begin to start thinking about getting things prepared. Living in the 21st century, life is a doddle. We get cold, we turn on the heating; We get hungry, we go to the store. It's not like we need to prepare for winter in the same way we used to many years ago, but there is something soulfully delightful about preparing for the longer evenings and nights, making sure the pantry and freezer are full with food and that food is to be comforting, starchy pies and warming stews, knowing that all the flowers and plants, even some of the animals are hunkering down preparing to sleep until the spring.

I have always fancied myself as a bit of a bear. In fact, for those of you who have been reading this blog for a longtime will know, I often used to call myself a mama bear. I would feel somewhat of a prannock using that term these days, but my sentiments are there and...well, allow me to hibernate and just come out in the spring, summer and autumn, I'm sure I'd thrive!

My 'hibernation' this year is starting with my needing to purge. I don't spring clean, I'd like to not clean at all, but heck...

The children are growing up so fast.
The outside build is getting ready for the roof trusses this week.
My career has evolved over the years

All these things are meaning that we're needing less of the toys; we can start thinking about moving stuff over to the studio over the garage, I don't need some of the items I used to need for work, clothes are continually being grown out of (at a rate of knots!).

We have decided to do away with our Wii, at least for a while. It sits there and barely gets played. The children have all decided (much to my reluctance - I'm not really very tech-savvy and my fear of technology tends to manifest itself in a dislike, which, for my teens is probably not a great thing and I try hard to understand 2014 through their eyes rather than mine in 1987) that they have outgrown the Wii and want a Playstation instead. We have seen that there is more development with the latter and more games they can get, thus we have decided that sometime next year we will replace the Wii as a family. In the meantime the Wii is going, freeing up a lot of storage space. I also feel a large sense of release, temporarily, even though it rarely got played.

The bees are still out and about, although less frequently at the moment. We have been studying our manual trying to decide what we need to do for them over the winter. Primarily, not a lot I think. It doesn't matter where you look, books, internet or fellow beekeepers, they will all say different things. Some tell you to keep the hives warm by stuffing in some kind of insulation, whilst others say that insulation creates moisture and others tell you that bees don't die of cold they die of wet. Some say feed fondant, others say don't feed! Agghh, it's a minefield of information. I think much of our first winter will be trial and error and a lot of dependency on Mother Nature being kind to us all.

We're also thinking about spring and sorting out around the garden. This is a mess! ha ha ha!
It's a bizarre little area that doesn't make a whole heap of sense. The shed is a 'summer shed' style and is massive. Too big really. It has an overhanging roof that I perpetually bump my head on whilst wearing my bee suit (the bees being behind me in this picture). The roof is growing a lot of moss and starting to fail and one of the windows is also failing. It has been built with a decked area to one side of it which is a death trap when it rains because it becomes very slippery. It also takes up a good 10 x 5 metres of garden.

A project for after hibernation perhaps!

Monday, November 03, 2014

From Farm to Fork

My freezer once more over floweth over with porcine delights!

I have been over to Somerset today to pick up our butchered half pig that has become something of an annual ritual with our good pals. We buy a whole pig, organic Gloucestershire Old Spot, and it's reared, free range on a farm, then 9 months later we return to pick up our cuts. Whilst this is an expense up front, we have found that, long term, this is a good saving. It also means the kids know exactly where our food has come from (as do we, of course). We know where our eggs come from, our honey, our cider, much of our veg, our lamb (I'll get there in a moment) and our pork. It hasn't been sitting on the shelf for weeks and the cuts are the ones that we'll eat, so nothing is lost.

There is always the question about the value/footprint of travelling to Somerset to pick up our pig each year (around 180 miles round trip), but if you've never eaten a breed of pig such as GOS or Oxfordshire Sandy and Black you'll not appreciate that it's worth the trek. I think if I counterbalanced it with trips I might make more frequently to pick up a good joint from the Supermarket or our local farm shop, it could balance out over the course of the year. Then there is also the distance from farm to abattoir to butcher, literally across the road in our case, against the long distances that supermarket meat may have to travel to do the same journey from farm to plate. I think I can rest relatively easy that, at the very least, it breaks even!!

Our lamb is just about as local as we can possibly get it. It comes from our plumber!! Yes, that's right, our plumber moonlights as a farmer, or, perhaps he moonlights as a plumber as I feel that being a farmer is probably a fairly full time job. He breeds lambs and each New Year we take a whole lamb off his hands. Again, beautiful meat and this time within a radius of around 5-6 miles!

We're not huge meat eaters. I know, with half a pig and a lamb in the freezer that probably sounds an oxymoron, but our weekly menu probably includes at least three days of meatless/vegetarian foods. We do, however, love a roast on a Sunday,

Thus most of our meat is in the form of various joints we can roast. We also enjoy sausages and I can specify their filling and whether or not they're to contain gluten and last year I made my own smoked bacon. Although it came with steep learning curves, primarily that of cutting it before freezing it, the lardons that I ended up with made the most beautiful pasta dishes and quiches. I won't be making bacon this year, but that's purely because most of our house is in chaos at the moment with the build and I have no where to spread out or store things, not to mention where my highly adaptable brining container, aka my cool box, has gone!

Obviously a trip to Somerset isn't complete without lunch with the bestie and then a small wander around Glastonbury to nourish the inner hippy (ok, the outer one too!) before heading home.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Rounding off half term

We've had a glorious weekend, blessed with good weather and blue skies, up in Derbyshire on the outskirts of the Peak District National park.

Packing up the car early on Friday we headed up to Winster to stay in a little cottage and get in a couple of good walks as well as a fireworks evening at Chatsworth House.

I have to say that I'm not very familiar with the Peak District being more of a Lake District gal myself, however we were thoroughly enjoyed walking two routes, the first around Linacre reservoire and Old Brampton and the second up above Chatsworth.

It was great for the children, nothing massively challenging bar some very boggy bits and an over enthusiastic child who decided to have a mud bath, but a good long walk that totalled 10 miles by the end, broken up with a fantastic pub lunch in Baslow and collecting pine cones for our bug hotel!

Unfortunately it didn't all go according to plan as the Little Misses condition means that she can be fine one minute and then wiped the next and, with all the fantastic walking she did through the day, she wasn't feeling 100% on the evening, so she and I missed the display. Still, we enjoyed catching up with Strictly in front of the log burner later on.

Fresh air, good food and reconnecting with nature and each other - nothing better in my opinion.