Archive for the ‘health and well-being’ Category

This year, my birthday coincided nicely with a prize that Chris won at work. A prize that was worth a lot of money. Money I would never chose to spend on what it was, but I was very happy to experience it… a night at the Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

We arrived shortly after 3pm, it was a rather grey day and the light was fading fast as we were the other side of December 21st. The days were at their shortest. The dark sky was still full of rain, although it wasn’t falling, which was a relief.

As we parked we were met with by a very attentive concierge, who whisked our bright overnight bags away whilst we were then led on a short tour of the main house, the dining areas, the champagne lounge. Warm, cosy, expensive. Then onto our room “Sandalwood”. An African theme, a big plush bed, a tray with sherry and glasses, champagne on ice. Classical music playing. And a birthday card from Raymond!

I found a small box of sugared almonds. I devoured them. They were divine.

Off to explore the gardens. So beautiful, even in the fading light.
Amazing sculptures. Beautiful lines of kale in rows. The tranquil pond.

After dusk back to enjoy the warm, cosy room. The champagne on ice. The deep hot bath full of bubbles. The soft pillows and fat white duvet. Extra heavenly in contrast to our mid-renovation house at the moment. Glossy magazines filled with even glossier fashion and far-flung exotic destinations.

At 8.30 we headed to the champagne lounge for pre-dinner drinks. The wine menu was a little extravagant. Cheapest bottle £129. We opted for £17 cocktails. A tray of small but delicious appetizers appeared in front of us.


Then we were led to the dining room for our 7 course menu.

SOUPE DE POTIRON, NOIX DE SAINT-JACQUES (Roasted pumpkin soup, scallop)


CONFIT DE SAUMON, CONCOMBRE AIGRE-DOUX, CRESSON AND POMME DE TERRE (Confit of oak smoked salmon Loch Duart salmon, pickled cucumber, watercress and potato)


OEUF DE POULE, CHAMPIGNONS SAUVAGES, TRUFFE D’AUTOMNE (Free-range hens egg, wild mushroom tea, autumn truffle)

FILET DE BARBUE, HUITRE, CONCOMBRE, WASABI (Braised fillet of Cornish brill, oyster, cucumber, wasabi)


CHEVREUIL ROTI, CELERI-RAVE ET TRUFFE (Roasted loin of venison, celeriac and truffle)


‘TROU NORMAND’ (Compressed apple facon tatin, Granny Smith sorbet and calvados)


‘FRAICHEUR CAFÉ ET CHOCOLAT’ (Coffee panna cotta scented with orange. Macae chocolate ganache)

Each course amazing, delicious, different, new flavours, new textures, strong, powerful, beautiful. The anticipation of the next dish, the presentation stunning. Looking around at our fellow guests, trying to guess who they were, what they did. How they can afford a night here.


After our full seven courses our stomachs were full with what we imagined were over 100 ingredients. Time to head back to dive into those crisp white sheets and get a start on digesting all that amazing food!

Breakfast the next morning was an incredible breakfast buffet with all the usual suspects, but these were Raymond Blanc usual suspects. Including an out-of-this-world Raymond granola bar (I had 3!!). I also ordered Eggs Benedict and a pot of Roibos tea. We had our final blasts in the hot shower, re-packed our overnight bags and then time for one final stroll around the herb garden before heading for home.



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I’ve just returned from a weekend in the Woods with 200 shiny people who were all buzzing at the edges with energy and ideas around escaping the Corporate world and embarking on what is known (in those circles) as a “21st Century Career”. But more on that later…

At the festival two things happened (well, again, much much more, but relevant to this post); 1. I turned my phone off for the weekend, and 2. I encountered an amazing group called the Rebel Book Club, with wonderfully book-obssessed people, who meet monthly to read and discuss a world-changing book. I have plans to join.

So today, back at my desk, fully hardwired back into interweb-networks, I found myself scanning their Twitter feed and a post to this article:

How Making Time for Books Made Me Feel Less Busy (Havard Business Review)

And I spend my very short lunch hour (not an hour) at my desk, reading the article and drinking my soup. Not really getting away from my glowing screen.

I immediately wanted to jump on Facebook to announce to my world (my Facebook world) that I was leaving Facebook for a month and heading to the mountains of digital detox-dom. But then I realised we have a New Year’s Resolution Club meeting next week and I need to be on Facebook to promote and so forth. Not that easy.

So instead, I have decided to follow Hugh McGuire’s excellent 3 step approach to becomming less busy through reading more books:

1. I get home from work, I put away my laptop (and Phone).

2. After dinner during the week, I don’t watch Netflix or TV, or mess around on the Internet. 

3. No glowing screens in the bedroom (Kindle is OK, though).

You’ll need to read How making time for books made me less busy for the positively bouncey benefits, and I am completely sold. This kills two birds with one stone – how to feed and nuture my bookworm, whilst taking baby steps towards a full on digital detox (which I’m not sure is entirely possible given that I work, but a partial, out of office hours detox could be the way forward).

I’ve been trying to get TV out of my life for ages, this may help. Netflix went last week, replaced with NowTV (so much better). So that will be a tough cookie.

My phone and ipad have been taking up residence on the bedside table (on top of the Kindle). I will now banish them to another room.

We have the builders coming in in less than two weeks and right now there are a million other things we should be doing rather than messing around on the internet. So I’m hoping this will really make a difference. Let’s give it a whirl for a month and see what happens!!

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It’s been my first week of attempting to get up early. In order to make this work, I know I need it to be a gradual process. Building a habit takes time (allegedly 21 days), and the last 7 days have been a challenge.

I decided to take it easy, not bursting straight into my ideal 6am, or “the” ideal 5am (shock, horror), and to just get up when the alarm goes off at 7am. You’d think it would be simple, but no, this was really hard.

I did OK for most of the week, it started slipping to 7.15 by the end. This is years and years of habit that I’m trying to unlearn.

Then came the weekend. I didn’t even think about the weekend. Saturday mornings, my most favourite time of the week. Lazily lying in bed with my husband, not feeling the need to do anything. It’s utter bliss. But no, in order to form a habit you need utter consistency, otherwise it’s almost impossible to trick your body/mind. This is where the link in the chain broke (apparently a new habit is a chain, and as soon as you break it, it’s like a broken link in the chain and you need to start again) – I got up both days at 8.30. And that was hard enough.

Still, once I was up it was easy. I come downstairs to my front room, probably the nicest room in our house (we’re renovating, look here for the blog on that!). The sunshine (when out) floods into this room in the early morning, which helps. Then I have my new morning ritual of 1. Making a cup of tea 2. Writing a page in my journal 3. Doing a ten minute meditation from the HeadSpace app. Well, number 3 didn’t happen during the week as usually after the tea and journal I’d hear the call from upstairs that the bathroom was free and to hurry up otherwise the bath would go cold (we only have a bath right now and only enough hot water for one go at it!). And so would follow the mad bath – clothes – breakfast dash before running out of the door for the bus. But this weekend has allowed me time to do point 3 and I feel amazing! It energized me, grounded me, and set me up for the day – and really shake off that morning-wakeup-lethargy spell that I’m always under in the morning.

So this is encouraging. I know that persevering with this is important. Perhaps the challenge this week has been that I’ve not woken early enough to do anything that I can receive instant reward from. I probably need at least 45 minutes on top of my normal wake up hours (and at least some time before other life forms start moving around the house) to reap the benefits.

So, despite the broken link, I am going to continue this week and attempt the 6.30 get up.

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I’ve got lots of plans for 2015, and due to a slightly obsessive planning streak I’ve undoubtedly been spending a disproportionate amount of time thinking about goals. I have three major ones for this year; the house (“Number 26”, which is such a big goal, I’ve decided to chronicle my adventure on it over here), nurturing my creative side by dancing more, learning to play my uke, and generally playing when I can, and running and evolving and running the New Year’s Resolution Club for 2015. But despite my big goals for the year, there is one elusive goal that has fluttered into my sights on more than one occasion and for some reason has always escaped me. The early rise.

I am most definitely not a morning person. But I would love to be one more than anything in the world. I’ve tried in the past to rise early but the call of the warm duvet suddenly turns up the dial on gravity and I am physically unable to swing my legs out of bed. It’s just never stuck. I am, instead, a night owl. Often staying up late into the night reading on my Kindle with my little light in the darkness, him on the pillow next to me groaning and rolling away “turn OFF that light”, as I retreat under the covers to keep reading…

I’ve planned all the things I’ll do in the morning. Time to meditate, time to stretch, time to dance or hoop, time to write, time to cook or prepare a breakfast (even just a boiled egg), time to enjoy getting ready in the morning, pack my bags, time to walk or cycle to work (rather than running to the bus). Time to get all those self-nurturing things done before I start my day. I do love the mornings when I am up, the serenity of it all. That beautiful stillness before the world properly wakes. And the sunrise.

So today I took a day off work, to get some of those things done that I don’t have time in the mornings to do, and I took one of my favourite strolls across the park to our local library. Here I piled books high into my arms before heading back to light the fire and settle down for a cosy afternoon. One of the books was Life Lessons from the Monk Who Sold his Ferrari, as as I was flicking through the lessons, the book fell open at this page…

Page on Early Rising

I’m taking it as a message. I can do this. I am going to beat the “Battle of the Bed” by putting my “Mind over Mattress” and, according to the “monk”, it will:

  • Reduce my stress levels
  • Give me more “me time” – doing the things I love (maybe NOT playing the uke or tap dancing!)
  • Allow me to use my mind when it’s at it’s best (apparently!)

So the advice is to be patient – it doesn’t happen quickly – I need to give myself time, so I’m going to try this in February and see how it works out. It’s a new habit I need to allow to settle in. And it will be difficult and perhaps a little stressful, so I’m ready for that. I also have to be careful to not go to bed late, not read in bed, not eat after 8pm and not watch TV an hour before bed.

Phew. OK, here we go, the night owl is about to try and catch the worm….

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Day of the deadToday I received an email through my work account, entitled “sad news”. That doesn’t happen very often, my heart started dropped as I scrolled the page. A colleague of mine, a wonderful, energetic, passionate young man with a fabulous zest for life and a young family, has died. No detail, of course, in the email, except that his family are asking for privacy as they mourn, and how we can send our condolences, and who we can contact if we need some support. It pushed the bottom out of my morning. The shock kicked in, the tears came, the head searching the heart for memories of our brief time together. I met him a couple times, those memories bright and full of joy in my mind. He was on the other side of the world living his very different life. He was a colleague, not really a friend, but in tragic times like this the wrapper of “colleague” falls quickly to the ground and I mourn him as a friend who I didn’t ever (or will ever) get a chance to really know.

Coincidentally today is also the day of my grandma’s funeral, back in the UK (I’m in the US on business at the moment). My grandma was an amazing wonder woman, living a full and fabulous life surrounded by family and joy, bringing all the fabulous things grandparents should into a grandchild’s life, right to the end, living to the ripe old age of 94 and exiting very peacefully just a couple weeks ago.

One of the inevitable things that comes with being longer on the planet is that death will start to dance around your feet more. People you hear of die, then people you know die, sometimes at a distance, but sometimes very close by. Over the last 4 years I’ve had a real education in death. From the extremely close and extremely tragic to the more distance and fleetingly sad, and pretty much everything in between. Death shakes you to the core, reminds you of your own short time on the planet, of the fragility of human life. It consumes you and plunges you underwater into a thick and intense place of emotions. But I also believe that it can teach us the greatest lessons about life, it’s cruelness, it’s beauty, it’s part of our condition, and the most important thing is to not fight it, but let it pull you down, be there, experience it, and when you are ready you will start the swim to the surface and take a deep breath of fresh air and it will taste different. Each death you encounter will change you, it should but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Celebrate the life that was there before, look for the lesson, if only that you are still on the planet, that you need to spend more time with the people you love, appreciate those in your world and take time to smell the roses.

Dia de los Muertos happens each year on 1st November, it feels to me like mine came a little early this year. A chance to celebrate those who have come and gone. I won’t forget those I’ve lost, whether close or far, but I also will celebrate the life that still continues. The world keeps spinning, it is a beautiful place.

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I’m not going to keep writing every day now that the 21DSD is over but today did seem significant to the process. The first day of the rest of my life. It was odd, knowing that we could go back to eating anything, but difficult to know what we wanted to eat. I’ve formed new habits, so moving away from them now feels strange to me.

I had left over apple muffins for breakfast, Chris went for Alpen, but I didn’t want to break so early. Lunch was a barbecue at a friends. Gins were being clinked and fresh bread rolls enveloping the sausages. I had lemon water and sausage without the bun. Not wanting to stray from my new path. But crisps were out. I tentatively nibbled, awaiting the great carb crash that would inevitably follow. I had a few cold potatoes with my salad…

Immediately after lunch I suddenly felt really tired, was it the immediate effect of poisoning my system with carbs? Unlikely, psychology testing me.

We drove to Reading for the afternoon, and this is where we broke it properly. I was tempted to buy a bar of chocolate but resisted. Then we both caught each other’s eye on passing a groovy looking creperie. That’s where we did it. I had a Nutella waffle and he had a Belgian chocolate crepe. Both smothered and covered and drowning in shiny brown goo. We gobbled them up, sweet delicious sauce running down our chins, greedily licking our lips, eyes rolling back in our heads. Oh yes. There it is. Swigging foamy latte to wash it all down. We strode out of the cafe, heads held high, big smiles on our faces, tummies happy and the sweet trail of sugar still on our tongues. Yum, yum, yum. That felt good. That felt naughty but that felt good. It’s OK to do naughty things with your husband, your partner in crime.

We talked about it afterwards. I went into Topshop and managed to get into a “petite” dress, size 6. Holy crap, I’m skinnier! It felt good. I like what the detox did for my body and my mind and my emotions. But I am going to have a cheat day every now and then because I like having the will power to make that choice and enjoy life and its naughty moments.

I don’t feel guilty, I thought I would. I came home and cooked up a monster batch of my fav Thai Nut Mix, ready to take away with me this week. I baked some banana muffins, my own recipe, using eggs and coconut flour and bananas and butter, but I added a dash of honey this time. Just a dash. They came out beautifully, the sponge moist (which is a challenge with coconut flour). And I made an elaborate version of one of my favourite 21DSD dinners- salmon with capers and olives, I added leeks, garlic cheese mushrooms and a salad. Big, satisfying, healthy, tasty Sunday dinner. All good.



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And so…. WE MADE IT!!!! 21 days without sugar, without pasta, without bread, without alcohol, without potatoes, without fruit squash, without cake, biscuits, chocolate, without processed food. Wow.

The funny thing is, when in have spoken to people about it, and tell them I’m on “day 11”, “day 16”, “day 20”, they are amazed that I’ve kept it up, saying they could never last that long, that they just don’t have the will power. Exactly what I thought before I started. The blog post I wrote before I started said that I was only 60% sure I’d complete it. And here I am, 100%.

It has been challenging, and the last three weeks have been intense with cooking and shopping and planning, but it was all very possible. Even the days away from home were navigated with a bit of planning and some imagination and strong resolve. Throughout the process there were little tests, temptations, wobbly moments, but we got through them. And now I feel anything is possible.

I’ve learnt to cook. I know more about nutrition. I have better routine. I sleep all through the night. Admittedly I’m looking forward to having a few more options, especially when it comes to drink. But I’m changed now. Things will be different.

The last breakfast; bacon, spinach, tomatoes and some spices
The last lunch; tuna Niçoise salad
The last supper; Asian meatballs and tricolour salad
The snacks; apple muffins and a banana

I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the past three weeks and this is a process I would like to repeat again at some point in the future. But for now I am just happy with the main thing I discovered on this journey. My will power.




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