December Reflections: Softness

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When I lived at the flat I loved coming home from work and snuggling up on the sofa under Colin's super-huge, super-soft blanket. It didn't matter whether I was cold, ill or simply just tired; that blanket would be of comfort to me and I know it was its softness was the magic ingredient.

When I moved back home one of the things I really missed was the blanket and not because it was Colin's. I missed surrounding myself in its softness like a cocoon allowing me to rest and rejuvinate in comfort. Mum noticed that I was really fidgety, particularly in the evenings, and I mentioned that I missed 'my' blanket. 

Not long afterwards we had a day out shopping. We were preparing to have a complete overhaul at home and decorate most of the rooms so we were on the hunt for ideas. We found ourselves in Primark (as you do) and I honed in on the Home department. I saw a massive pile of throws and knew before even feeling them that they were just what I was looking for. 
Mum said she would treat me to one so I picked out this soft grey as I had it in my head that my room would be pink and grey when the time came to decorate it. Mum also decided that she would indulge and choose a lovely plum colour.

As a rule my blanket lives on my bed, folded over the end during the warm weather and completely covering it during the winter months. I love to snuggle down under my duvet and pull the top of the blanket over the top so that I can stroke it as I fall asleep. It also makes it down the the living room quite regularly. In fact it's wrapped around me as I type this. I have no doubt that I look like E.T. right now. (Yes, it's even over my head!)
I think it's so important that everyone has a set of tools that they can use when they need a pick me up or a moment of comfort. My blanket is most definitely in mine and probably the one I use the most. 

December Reflections: Biggest Change in 2017

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I've been sitting for days trying to decide what to write for this prompt and nothing was coming to me. 

Last year there were so many changes in my life, many of which were not welcomed, that I struggled to keep up. At times everything seemed so overwhelming, but I had (and still have) an amazing support network around me that I found my way through and felt that I was going into 2017 stronger than ever.

On the contrary this year I feel as if everything come to a halt like I'm sitting in a traffic jam. Part of me has been becoming increasingly frustrated that I'm not reaching my desired destination, while the other part is enjoying the rest that comes with falling into a new routine. 2017, it seems, is a year of contradictions.

I am loving being back at home and enjoy spending much of my free time with mum. I no longer feel that I have lost my independence by moving back into my childhood home and I have accepted that it is highly unlikely that I will be able to afford my own home. Yet I am still plagued with thoughts of my dream home and how I would decorate and furnish it. To placate this feeling I have been working on making my own space as 'me' as possible. 

Work is still a pleasant distraction for me. I enjoy the variety that my role provides. I can hardly believe I've been there over two years and being part of a small team again reminds me of how I felt when I first started at Tropical ten years ago. I feel at home and the team are my work family. I still have much to learn and the thought of a new challenge keeps me enthusiastic on the days when pouring over spreadsheets numbs my soul.

The other aspect of my life that has always been a constant is my guiding. That is probably the biggest change of the year when I think about it. For the first time since becoming a volunteer, I am not attached to a unit. It is both liberating and saddening at the same time. I feel guilty for saying this, but I don't miss it. I do yoga on Mondays and in the New Year I'll be at running club on Tuesdays and choir on Wednesdays. Saying no to being with a unit has meant that I can say yes to giving myself an evening to rest once a week. I am currently feeling very conflicted about whether I am giving enough of myself to Girlguiding at the moment and it's new territory for me. It's something I know I need to explore further and discuss with fellow volunteers. 

Overall I guess you could say that the biggest change for me this year is my new-found acceptance of the turn I have taken on life's path. I am sure my counselling sessions have had a lot to do with this. Now it is the change for 2018 that I am excited for and as I feel increasingly more in control of the things that are to come, I can continue to accept what has already happened. No one knows what the future hold and for the most part our destiny is ours to shape. That is where the fun lies and I looking forward to moulding a future that may not be what I originally planned, but is certainly one that I want and love.

December Reflections: Green

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Back in May I went on a weekend retreat and totally forgot to write about it at the time. With day eight's theme for December Reflections, being 'Green', I thought now would be the perfect time to tell you all about the wonder that is Green Farm Fitness.

I first found out about Green Farm Fitness while reading Psychologies. Not long after I was out for breakfast with my friends and we happened to start talking about retreats and what we had planned for the following year. I can't remember who mentioned Green Farm first, but it turned out Claire had been before and loved it. She was planning to go again so she said she'd dend me the details so that I could join her. I didn't need to be asked twice!

What seemed like many months later we arrived at Green Farm one lovely Friday afternoon and Claire introduced me to Maryann and Kathryn who would be looking after us for the weekend. We were shown to our room at the very top of the house where we relaxed while waiting for everyone else to arrive before.
Dinner was amazing (every meal was home cooked and freshly prepared) and it was lovely to be able to chat to and get to know everyone that first evening. We all had a right laugh and went to bed (way past my bedtime) in good spirits ready for an energetic weekend.
Saturday morning we were all up bright and early for breakfast and then into the forest for cardio and strength circuits. It started off well and despite my level of fitness I was quite impressed with how well I was keeping up. But then came the step ups on, what I now attectionally call, the log of doom. I was just getting into a rhythm when I stepped up, slipped on the log, felt my ankle twist and fell on my arse.

Kathryn made me stick it up in the air few a few minutes so I just lied down on the ground feeling mightily embarrassed that I'd fallen not far from the first hurdle. I took it easy on the rest of the circuits and was happy when I noticed that it had started to feel better.

Once our circuits were complete we had free time so Claire and I went on a mission to find somewhere that sold magnesium sulphate for a nasty insect bite that I got on holiday. Nowhere seemed to have it so I ended up settling for antihistamines and hoping they would do the trick. When we got back I was under orders by Kathryn to keep 'log foot' elevated and for good measure I decided to do the same with 'bite foot' as well.
I was famished by the time we sat down for lunch and the soup and freshly baked bread that we had was exactly what the doctor ordered. After lunch we were all due to go for a walk in the woods, but while we were eating my ankle really began to throb. The adrenaline that has been pumping through my body during the morning session was wearing off and it was becoming obvious that my ankle was not OK as I first thought.

The walk through the woods was the part of the weekend that I had been looking forward to the most so I stupidly decided to ignore the increasing pain and go for the walk. Bad idea! We'd barely been out for five minutes and I was at the back of the group when normally I'd be holding my own pretty well. It hurt so much that I was fighting back tears and I was so annoyed because I thought I'd ruined my chance of doing anything else for the rest of the weekend. Looking back I'm still glad I went though as I got to feed the lambies!
Once we got back we had a short break before our core, yoga and pilates session. I really wanted to do it, but by now my ankle was throbbing so much that I felt physically sick. I took some painkillers and went up to bed so that I could stick it up on a few pillows. I tried to keep it elevated as long as possible, but the pain was so bad that I went on to plan B and decided to sleep through it. Needless to say I missed the afternoon session.

Claire woke me up when she got back, for which I was very grateful as I had booked a massage and there was no way I was missing that. Never had one before and now I have, I don't know why I didn't before. It was amazing and just what I needed to help relax.

Walking was a serious issue now and I tried to stay off it as much as possible, but the sessions for the day were now over and I just had to hope that a good night's sleep would sort it out.

The next day was much the same minus the woodland walk and the massage. After breakfast we ventured back into the forest for circuits where I point blank refused to do step ups on the logs. Nope! No way! Not doing it! I was glad that I was feeling up to doing the yoga session though. Love a bit of yoga, I do. Kathryn was absolutely amazing advising would I should and shouldn't do and giving me suggestions of alternatives. This woman knows her stuff!

As well as the circuits, core sessions, walk and spa treatments that were available, we also had the opportunity to book a review session with Kathryn to look at our fitness and nutrition once the weekend was over. The weekend really was tailored to suit everyone's level and goals.

Despite my mishap, my weekend at Green Farm Farm was absolutely amazing and I would love to go again next year. And even if I don't get back to a fitness retreat as soon as I would like, I'll definitely be heading back to the spa for a massage!

December Reflections: Favourite Photo of 2017

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When I was looking back through my photos from this year (which didn't take long - sadly I don't take as many photos as I used to), there was a recurring theme as I picked out my short list of favourites. They all contained my little pickles, Benjamin and Scarlett. 

I have been very lucky to have spent more time with them this year than I have in previous years and have enjoyed babysitting them when my brother and sister-in-law have been off shooting weddings or Mayor's dinners (they're photographers, not Bonnie and Clyde, by the way). 

I love driving down to Bexhill after work on a Friday evening, giving the little rascals a big squish before they go off to bed, and then spending the evening with my big bro and his lovely missus. We usually just have dinner and watch a film, but as I didn't get to grow up with either of my brothers, any time I get to spend with them now is cherished greatly. Plus by brother has amazing taste in films!

Once the adults are out at work (I still can't quite grasp the idea that I, myself, am an adult), our day of fun begins! This year we've had lots of fun this year celebrating Chinese New Year, going out for pizza, snuggling up in the cinema to see Despicable Me 3 and getting Alexa to fart (sad, but true!) and then I got to spend a week with them in August too.

The photo I have chosen though is not from one of my babysitting escapades or even from our summer holiday in Spain. It is from a day out at Blackberry Farm in Sussex. Gigi and Grandad (aka Caroline and Dad) had been looking after the kids for the weekend and we all decided we wanted to get out of the house as it was a beautiful spring day.

When my brother found out we were taking them to the farm, he made us swear that we would cover them in antibac gel so that they wouldn't pick up any bugs. When we arrived at our destination, I couldn't resist setting up a photo to send to Simon and Abi so show that we had taken their request seriously. It didn't come out quite as well as I'd hoped, but we got a few laughs out of it and it's a reminder of a wonderful day spent in the sunshine having fun.

December Reflections: I Was Challenged By...

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18 months ago my mum and I joined Slimming World. I had been unhappy with my weight for a while and I decided that enough was enough and it was time to do something about it. We went along to our first meeting at the end of June last year, sat through the talk, picked up our books and left ready to commit to our new, healthy lifestyle.

One week later I stepped on the scales to discover that I had lost 5lbs. I was thrilled and it spurred me on for the next week where I lost another 3lb and was awarded Slimmer of the Week. At the end of our first month I was awarded Slimmer of the Month and I was well on the way to losing a stone.

The feeling was absolutely amazing and I felt confident that it would not be long before I reached my target weight and fit back into my favourite dresses.

However it wasn't long before I plauteaued and began to alternate between losses and gains each week. Then Christmas arrived with its advent calendars, mince pies, tins of biscuits and chocolates, roast dinners and alcohol consumption at any time of the day. There was no way I would be counting syns during my favourite time of year. I was going to enjoy all aspects of the festive season. I would renew my efforts in the New Year.

My plateau continued into 2017 with the additional inconvenience of the Christmas weight gain. Up and down each week and then up, up, up...

Then in July I went to see a documentary called Embrace and it changed my perspective on everything with regards to the way I viewed my body. It made me realise that I didn't miss the way my old body looked; I missed what my body was once able to do.

If I'm being honest I've never been totally happy with my body even when it looked amazing (even if I do say so myself). When I look at photos of me at my slimmest, I am also reminded that they were often the times when I was at my unhappiest. Weight loss caused by heartbreak, stress, depression and anxiety made me look great, but inside I was feeling crap. 

I was also a very fussy eater when I was younger. Over the past few years, I have actually started to enjoy eating things I would never have dreamt of even trying in the past. This has been great in the sense that I now eat a much more varied and therefore healthier diet. It also means that I began to put on weight as my body was finally receiving the nourishment I'd never allowed it to have. Combining this with the fact I still love my pizza and have quite a sweet tooth and you can see how I ended up the heaviest I've ever been.

Watching Embrace helped me to understand that I should be grateful for everything that my body allows me to do and to treat it accordingly. This doesn't mean starving it of the things that I enjoy, but to help it to grow in strength. Exercise is what I was missing.

I never thought of myself as particularly active when I was younger, but looking back I walked everywhere because I couldn't drive, I'd dive right into a gym session and I loved my nights out dancing. 

I started to think about back at my recent peaks of activity. In 2015 I spent nearly every day during the summer walking the three miles into work each day. I didn't seem to lose any weight, but when I went back to Rainbows after the break, I noticed that I was finding it easier to join in with the girls.

Then I thought about last summer when I challenged myself to walk at least 10,000 steps a day for a month. I felt fricking awesome and I think it was that feeling that actually made me feel like I could accomplish my goal at Slimming World. I was still walk fairly regularly when I started. Were my achievements in those first few weeks actually down to my fitness regime as opposed to the food optimisation that I spent ages planning each day of each week?

Last month I went to my last Slimming World meeting. Rather ironically my last weigh in revealed that I was back at the same weight that I had been at my first meeting all those months ago. In the end it had been a waste of time and money.

And I think that right there is one of my main issues with programmes like Slimming World and Weight Watchers. You have to pay week after week to stand on the scales and be told what you weigh. It gets shared with the group and if you haven't had the best week, that can make you feel like absolute shit, like a failure. If you aren't able to go one week, then the next time you have to pay not only for that week, but also the week(s) you have missed.

I went to a Prosecco and Positivity evening that my friend held a few weeks back and she explained that everyone has their own set point when it comes to weight. This is why when we diet, we may lose in the first few weeks, but it will nearly always go back on. And this is how companies like Slimming World make their money as many of their customers end up in a continuous cycle of losing, maintaining and then gaining weight. 

Don't get me wrong, I realise that programmes like this do work for some people and that is amazing, but I need a new approach and that has to start with me embracing the body I have, loving it and thanking it for what it can do and then encouraging it to acheive even more.

In 2017 I was challenged by my desire to lose weight and my reason behind that desire. In 2018 I will challenge myself to embrace every part of me. I am who I am and I don't want to go back to being the fussy eater who wouldn't touch a single vegetable on her plate. I want to continue trying new foods and not have to worry about what that might do to the number on the scales. Instead I will work on my fitness and making it a daily part of my life so that I can make my body stronger and more capable.

December Reflections: Best Book of 2017

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I'm going to come straight out and say it. I can't pick just one 'best' book from 2017. It's impossible. There have been so many that I have enjoyed reading. I nearly ended up picking three, but as I wrote about the princess saves herself in this one back in January, I decided I'd keep it to just two books, one fiction and one non-fiction. But that's great, right? You're getting two for the price of one. Bargain!

I'd had the book Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley for quite a while, but hadn't got around to reading in. In the end I actually downloaded the audio version using one of my Audible credits so that I could listen to it on my daily commute and I'm so glad I did. I think it can be so powerful to hear an author tell the story that they have written, especially when that story is real and not fiction.

Listening to Alexandra tell the story of how she became a runner made me realise that I could actually do it myself despite the fact I've believed since primary school that I'm 'not a runner'. I've always associated running with coming last in every single race I've ever been in, whether it was the egg and spoon race at Sports Day or the 800m in PE at secondary school.  

As an adult I now see it as an opportunity. While I am not yet a runner, I love nothing more than sticking my earphones in, blasting some music, an audio book or podcast and setting off on a long walk. When I'm walking I forget about all my worries and, despite the ache in my legs, it stands me in good stead for the rest of the day. I can only imagine that running gives you a similar, maybe even more intense, feeling. When you are on your own and it is no longer a race; exercise can be a tool to improve your mentality instead of destroy your confidence.

Alexandra's story goes through all of her ups and downs in her journey to become a fully-fledged runner. Her initial belief that she would never be able to do, her growing confidence, self-doubt in the middle of a marathon, injury and even things you wouldn't initially think of like the trauma of shopping for trainers.

Whether you are a runner or not, I think everyone can gain something from Alexandra's enthusiasm and  determination and I would recommend picking up a copy or even downloading the audio like I did. 

Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm a fan of Giovanna Fletcher (I've now met her five times in case you're keeping count) and I have to say I think this is my favourite of her novels so far. 

Some Kind of Wonderful tells the story of Lizzy who embarks on a mission to find herself after her boyfriend of ten years ditches her in the very same moment that he proposes to her. Harsh, right? It's a thought-provoking tale about how much of ourselves we sacrifice in our relationships (not just the romantic ones) and how the people that come into our lives change us.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried buckets for the first few chapters as it brought back memories that I had intended to keep well and truly buried, but as the story moved on I found myself cheering Lizzy on and realised that I have been on a similar journey myself the past two years. 

Without giving too much away, I love the way that Giovanna brings characters from her other novels in so seamlessly. You know those moments when you find out that you and someone you've just met have a mutual friend and you realise that the phrase 'It's a small world' is actually very accurate at times. It feels very much like that.

Having said what I have about characters from her other novels, this story is a stand alone one and can be read without have read any of her other ones. I hope Giovanna decides to continue Lizzy's story in the future, but regardless of who the characters are in her next story, I can't wait!

December Reflections: Circles

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Inspired by my December Reflections photo on Instagram for day 4, I have decided to write about my love for card games today. 

"What do card games have to do with circles?!" I hear you ask.

Not a lot, I'll admit. The best I could come up with is that you tend to sit in a circle if you are playing a game with more than one person than yourself, but I'm going to run with it and see where it takes us because, quite frankly, I can't think of anything else to write about.

I've had a love of card games from an early age. I'm sure it started with Snap and memory games, but I remember my nan and grandad teaching me some of their favourites too. Nan was a fan of Patience, both normal and the clock version. I used to loved playing it and it kept me amused while she was getting on with housework. Then Grandad taught me how to play Go Fish together and sometimes Nan would join us for a game too. 

Grandad was also one for card tricks and taught me how to do one once. I can't remember it anymore, but I loved the fact that I was able to do even one piece of 'magic'.

As time went on I played card games less and less, especially when I got a computer and realised I could play all my favourites and more on there. Over time I discovered new card games that would take the place of those played with traditional playing cards. 

Around the time I got into Harry Potter, I discovered Top Trumps, mainly because they released Harry Potter editions with every film that came out. I became quite competitive at this and loved the fact that the categories in each set were the same so you could play a really long game with several packs at the same time.

In fact I've got a feeling that writing this post is going to begin a whole new addiction for me because, while looking for pictures of Harry Potter Top Trump sets, I've discovered that you now make your very own Personalised Top Trumps game. How long has this been a thing? Why did no one tell me about it?! What games can I create? Oh, this could keep me entertained for a while...

Then there's perhaps my favourite card game of all. UNO! We started playing this at uni and I only realised maybe last year that we have never played it the correct way. Apparently you score points for playing certain cards and then the first person to get rid of all their cards gets 500 points. We never played it that way. We just kept playing until everyone got rid of their cards. First person was first place, last person was last place. 

Then there were extra rules that some of us would start adding like jumping in if you have the exact same card that is on top of the discard pile. I think another was passing your cards to another player if a certain card came up. Man, that was infuriating if you only had one left and you ended up with a whole stack to get rid of again!

I think it was probably these extra 'rules' that caused our games to get a little scary at times. I can remember one trip to Centre Parcs where we were all playing around the dining room table. It was the least civilised game of anything that I have ever been involved in. During one particularly competitive round one of us, naming no names (Rebecca!), laid down a bunch of Draw Two and Wild Draw Four cards (I'm sure you can't put those all down at the same same and this was another one of our 'rules') and declared loudly, "EAT SHIT!" to poor Will who had been very close to winning. I honestly don't know how we're all still friends.

Card games seem to be making a come back now, or maybe they never really went away. Whether you like them or not, games like Cards Against Humanity are becoming increasingly popular and it's not hard to see why. Even some of our favourite board games are now available in card form (Monopoly Deal, anyone?) so that you can whip them out at a moment's notice and play virtually anywhere. They are convenient and fun and allow you all to sit in a group together facing each other and conversing while you play.

In a time when we spend the majority of the time glued to a screen, I think it's wonderful that card games are still going strong and I really believe that they are great for bringing people together. With Christmas fast approaching, I'm hoping I can convince my family to play a few classics (maybe not Uno and definitely not Cards Against Humanity) and also discover some new ones that we can enjoy.

I'd love to know what cards game you love, whether it's with a normal set of playing cards or specialist cards like Uno or Monopoly Deal.
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