Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The frozen south

Hello, people! I am blogging from the frosty Midlands, where I'm staying with J's family.

I came out of the other end of Assignment Time and was instantly plunged into finishing up my Christmas shopping, and then socialising with my friends and relations. So I haven't had a lot of time to blog. But I had a lovely Christmas in Edinburgh with J, my parents, siblings and cousins, and then came down to Worcester to spend New Year with the in-laws. It's very chilly, but we've been out for walks and around the town, and seen some friends and their children.

I got lots of lovely books for Christmas:

Diplomatic Immunity (Lois McMaster Bujold)
The Ghost Brigades (John Scalzi)
Beauty and Spindle's End (Robin McKinley)

I've read the first two already, and reviews may be forthcoming shortly on the other blog. Meanwhile I am rereading Bellwether by Connie Willis, as I need a break between all these new stories.

I am being summoned to have a cup of tea - a major part of activities when staying with my in-laws. I'll be back home on the 5th.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Busy busy busy

I have two assignments to hand in on Saturday, so have not had a lot of time to blog. Or a lot of time to do things that are blogworthy. Or to do any Christmas shopping.

There's always time to cuddle the guinea pigs.

On the other hand, I got an early Christmas present yesterday when my Bookbloggers' Christmas Swap parcel arrived from Mariel of Troubles Melt Like Lemon Drops. Thank you very much, Mariel!

(You may contend that I am not a bookblogger. However, if you look to your right, there's a link to something called Bibliomane, and I do sometimes blog about books there. I'm hoping to have more time and brain to write proper reviews when I'm finished with all this studying.)

As you can see, my parcel contained a copy of The Gift by Alison Croggon - an Australian writer and poet I haven't heard of before, but the book sounds like my sort of thing.

It also contained these fabulous digital socks.

I have something of a sock addiction which goes beyond a desire to have warm feet. In the winter I particularly like knee socks, which these are (moreover, they're knee socks which stay up). So I'm very pleased with these indeed. They are also so very loud and cheery that I smile every time I look down.

My last day of work is tomorrow, but from then until the weekend, I will be determinedly writing essays about Scottish Local Government. I'll see you on the other side. I can do it, with the help of my new socks -

- and my lovely assistant.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Took a week off

I didn't mean to. I think the first week in December must be relatively unblogged, since so many people are recovering from NaBloPoMo.

I don't have any terrific excuses, other than being up to my ears in work (but then I always am).

My parents-in-law came to stay for the weekend. It was good to see them, and also good that J could show them, in person, that he's making progress. It's been very difficult for them over the past months, being at a distance.

J is still plugging away at his therapy, and does seem to be getting somewhat better at leaving the house with less checking. It's still there, but it's not taking him so long and he's managed to stop some checks altogether.

I have nothing profound to say. Here, have a video of a talented mouse.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wet pigs

I've just finished clearing up after the daunting task of giving the guinea pigs a bath. They do not consider this a fun way of spending a Sunday evening. In fact, they usually protest loudly and either cower pitifully in the bath and shudder (Cupcake), try to run away up the sloping end of the bath, giving the illusion of running on a treadmill (Pumpkin) or demonstrate just how high a pig can jump when desperate (Brownie).
But on this occasion they were very good and I'm only lightly scratched. We have to shampoo them periodically to ward off fungal skin infections, which Cupcake and Pumpkin had earlier this year. Otherwise I wouldn't bother - we never washed our previous guinea pigs and they kept themselves perfectly clean, cat-fashion.

They do look nice and fluffy once they've been towelled off and blowdried (on a VERY gentle setting, with the dryer held at a distance!) And Cupcake always looks beautifully white when she's dry, like a washing-powder advert.

I think they've forgiven us. Maybe.

This is my last entry for NaBloPoMo. I did it! I posted every day for 30 days. It may all have been piffle, but it's nice to know I can do it.

I'm going to have some time off work this week - will we see if I can keep this posting up? I suspect I won't, but I think I've proved I do have time to post more often than I did before this month.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Frosty day

It is really cold tonight. I've just been out in the garden (to empty our collected vegetable peelings into the composter) and the grass was crunchy and the birdbath was frozen over. It's supposed to be -4°C according to the weather forecast.

We went into town to meet our friend S this morning as planned, which involved getting up rather earlier than we normally would on a Saturday. But it was worth it. The morning was crisp and sunny (though not warm) and we had a very nice breakfast in the Southern Cross café in Cockburn Street. I'm pretty sure this particular café was chosen because it was the first one we encountered on the way from the station, and I do not function very well before I've had my breakfast.

I don't normally have croissants or hot chocolate for breakfast - which is perhaps just as well - but it's nice as an occasional treat!

S is a serious globetrotter, at least compared to us. He had been in Germany and France the previous two weekends, and has also recently been to China (in fact, I've never been able to mention anywhere he hasn't been). We aren't nearly so good at booking holidays. When we mentioned this, he said "Why, what's so difficult about it?" and we didn't have a very good answer.

One reason is that J gets stressed by the prospect of leaving home (and his piggies) but that isn't the whole reason. I like travelling, but I'm not confident about organising it myself, especially if someone else is going to have to put up with my decisions (what if I choose terrible accommodation? what if the place I decide to go is really boring?)

Also, I've not had a lot of time off from the degree in the last two years. Maybe once it's over, we will organise more trips.

We stayed up town for a while and bought J some new swimming shorts. He claims to have had his old ones since he was either eleven or thirteen (he can't remember) and years of chlorine has faded them from navy blue to a sort of greyish purple. Late November isn't the best time to buy swimming shorts, but in the end we did manage to track some down. Unfortunately, we didn't actually have time to go swimming after all that. Still, now we have the kit, there's no excuse not to go!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Unbounded domesticity

I've spent the last couple of hours making two banana loaf cakes and an apple pie, with J's help. ("It's the opposite of making meals," he said. "You're in charge and I'm the sous-chef.") All this is in aid of our parents; mine are coming to Sunday lunch (with my sister and Granny) and his are coming for the weekend. Not this coming one, but the next one. The freezer is a great invention.

The banana cake is the recipe from good old How To Be A Domestic Goddess. I hated the title when it first came out - I don't feel I was born to domestic goddesshood, or even priestesshood - but I've made more stuff from it than any other cookbook we own. I find the recipes easy to follow and not nearly as prescriptive as some; there's a certain willingness to accept that you might not have the exact ingredients to hand, or that you might want to experiment. In any case, the banana cake seems to be foolproof. We've made it many times with and without sultanas, and with slightly more or less banana than the recipe suggests, and we've always ended up with a tasty cake.

I've started to think about Christmas - December isn't far away now. Advent is one of my favourite times of year, and we've already got our Advent calendar ready. And as you can see, I've churned out a couple more little woollen heart ornaments in odd moments. I like having a finished object after less than an hour's knitting!

Tomorrow we are going to meet a friend for brunch (his term; I don't really move in brunching circles) and maybe go swimming. I haven't been swimming for ages. This may depend on whether I can find my swimsuit.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Nothingy kind of day

Today was blissfully free from incidents, but it hasn't left me a lot to write about. J is still cheerful. I went to work, and nothing much happened there either. I knitted a small Christmas tree ornament (that's what I'm using it for, anyway) in my lunch hour.

On the way back from work, I got very very wet. And cold. This is the first day I've got caught in seriously wintry weather. Fortunately for me, I had changed (I don't always on the way home) and had my hi-vis waterproof jacket on, so the wetness restricted itself to my trousers, which I then changed when I got in.

I'm not feeling under the weather any more. See, I have a superior immune system. Or I'm just lucky. Or my body knows I'm too busy to be ill. Or something.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The lurgy of Damocles?

Unfortunately, I am still feeling a bit tired and headachy - well, achy in general, in fact. Perhaps I am incubating the bug everyone else seems to have. If so, it's somewhat irritating, since it seems only a couple of weeks since I recovered from the last time I was ill (actually, it was mid-October). My ears seem a little blocked up and my head feels a bit... heavy... although I don't have any cold-type symptoms.

The head wasn't helped a great deal by the office being extremely hot today. Apparently, it was freezing in there yesterday, and they got someone to come and turn all the radiators up. Well, it worked - possibly too well. It's an old building and the room has several cold spots, all of which seem to affect my colleagues and not me, so I don't feel I can ask them to open a window and freeze for my sake.

Anyway, when I came home, J made the tea and I sat on the sofa and knitted (I've got half my scarf done now) and then watched Heroes, which was very exciting, of course.

The TV switched itself off several times during what was evidently a silent montage of various of the characters watching the eclipse (a Meaningful Moment) which perhaps wasn't terribly helpful of it. We're quite used to this quirk it has, and we've got cable, so if we route the sound through J's hi-fi setup the sound doesn't vanish when the picture does. University Challenge works OK as radio, but Heroes definitely suffers a bit. Perhaps we need to bite the bullet and find a new TV.

Right now, however, I'm going to bed. Night night.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sunny day

It was a beautiful day today, with bright blue skies and golden light. It was pretty chilly, though, and there was still frost in the shade at lunchtime. I went out to buy some groceries, came back into the house and thought "Good, it's lovely and warm in here." Then I noticed that the thermometer in the living room was showing 14° C. The guinea pigs were all piled into their little wooden house in a big furry lump.

Whether the cold had anything to do with it or not, I've been a bit headachy all evening. I used to get them all the time, but it's been a while. It's a bit better now, but nevertheless I am going to have a relaxing bath and go to bed. With a hot water bottle. I think the pigs have the right idea.

Monday, November 24, 2008

In which I develop professionally

I went to a one-day training seminar today (on Financial Records). It was a lot more fun than it sounds. My previous job was in the archives of a bank, and when I started, I was prepared for it to be very boring. So I was amused when the archivist leading the seminar also admitted that when he started his job, he thought exactly the same thing.

The practical session, in which we got to look at some real account books and ledgers, was particularly satisfying. My current job is interesting and challenging, but it's almost entirely hands-off, and I do miss working directly with records.

It was also good to meet up with several former colleagues and catch up. One of my current colleagues was also there, and she asked if I was going to claim back a day of leave, since I don't usually work on Mondays. J asked me the same. Perhaps I missed a trick there - it never occurred to me.

I'm not very good at using up all my leave anyway. When you're only at work three days a week, it never seems like a good idea to take a Friday off without a special reason, because that will make the working week so short that it'll be stressful to fit everything in. And I'm never quite sure I won't want the leave at a later point. It's the same rationale which leads to keeping things (bath gel, craft materials) rather than using them up, because they are too good to waste.

It's a silly thing to do, though, because craft materials are doing no good in a drawer, and bath gel will go off eventually (I know, because I've managed to keep it long enough that it did). And if I don't use my leave, I lose it - I can only carry over five days, and I don't get paid any extra for not using it.

I'm not sure I'm going to be able to fit in the extra leave days before January, but maybe I should make a New Year's resolution to make use of what I've got, while the opportunity is there.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Light on the horizon?

J has been a lot better all this week, and has been to work for the whole week and been generally cheerful.

What's more, as we were making our way into town yesterday, he said to me that he now believes he can get better. It may seem like a small thing, but for so long he has been completely without hope. It's understandable that he would become discouraged after such a long period of depression, and so many attempts to treat it. But it made it very hard for him to motivate himself for the hard work of getting better.

He's not cured yet (if you can talk in terms of a cure for depression). He may have achieved a lot this week, but it's been at the cost of a lot of OCD checking. However, he's not been completely derailed by the checking, and he has managed to go into work even if he knew he'd be a bit late. In the past, he's tended to see lateness as a complete disaster, and just as bad as not arriving at all. That's not helpful.

But still! He's been to work every day, cycling nine miles each way; he's managed to come to a decision and buy a digital camera, some new jeans and warm gloves; he's caulked some crevices in the guinea pigs' run; he's kept filling in his CBT tables; and he's not been thrown into gloom by our TV being on the blink and the video recorder not working. I think this may be more than I've achieved this week.

I have, however, now made it through all but a week of NaBloPoMo. Again, I've got some way to go, but I can see the end in sight!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

We have a working camera

And we like it a lot. We've just spent the past hour taking pictures of our little housemates.

Whether they are overjoyed to be co-opted as photographic models is a bit uncertain, but we're quite pleased with the results, given that we haven't yet memorised all of the manual, and were taking these photos after dark, in rather dim conditions.

We're particularly impressed with the macro setting, which is excellent for showing the details of fur and whiskers.
Guinea pigs are somewhat ludicrous animals. It's hard to imagine how they could have evolved, given that their main purpose seems to be to squeak loudly and bumble around. But we love our three very much.
We spent most of the daylight hours today in town, buying clothes - cords for me, jeans for both of us and - finally! - new tracksuit trousers to replace my aged and ragged ones. It took a while to find any which were warm, decent and black, but BhS finally provided some for only £12, which seems pretty cheap.

I'm not so thrilled about the jeans, since they serve to prove that irritating quotation about it being difficult to have both a finely honed mind and a finely honed body. Postgraduate study is bad for both one's physical fitness and the fit of one's jeans. (These ones are the same size as my old ones according to the label, but in a more forgiving cut.)

I've always found buying jeans frustrating, but it's even more annoying when I know that if I'd kept up my maintenance efforts successfully, I wouldn't need to be doing this. But there's no point in dwelling on it. I don't have much time at the moment, and weight loss is not top priority, and there's no way it can be. When I finish this degree, I will get back to it. In the meantime, well, I need to wear something.

The piggies don't worry about their weight. If you're a guinea pig, you're supposed to be rounded.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Nearly the weekend

Had a somewhat more restful day today, as I was attending a conference at work. Which required mostly sitting still, taking notes, and waiting for opportunities to ask questions relating to data protection issues. It didn't involve any phone calls, answering difficult questions, or thinking about databases. See? Restful.

I did get a surprise at the first coffee break, when I heard a voice greeting me, and turned around to find Rory of Speedysnail standing there.

In the early days of my blogreading, I was semi-convinced I would encounter other bloggers just in the course of events. Edinburgh is the sort of place where you bump in to people, and for a while I would look around (subtly) every time I heard an Australian accent on the bus, in case it was Shauna. And so on. But I never did meet anyone, although I worked in the same complex of buildings as Rory for a while, so it wouldn't have been very surprising if we had encountered each other.

Eventually I did meet up with a few people, by appointment. Rosemary Grace and Shauna and I got together a while back, YP and I had a drink after she had run a marathon, and Isabelle* and I met up with Loth for coffee. And, of course, Anna just a few weeks back. But I never did meet anyone just by chance. After a while I started thinking that while it's a small world, it's not THAT small**.

Now it's happened - sort of - twice in a few weeks. It doesn't make much of a story, but I spotted Ysolda at the Neil Gaiman reading last month. I'm pretty sure she doesn't read my blog, so I was too shy to say hello, which I've been regretting since.

Anyway, if you're reading this, Rory, it was very nice to meet you!

*I encounter Isabelle all the time, but then she is my mother.
**Except where Rosemary Grace is concerned.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Skin of teeth

OK, this is going to be very brief because (as Mum noted in her comment to my last entry) I had another very busy day. When I came home I was exhausted, and after tea decided to have an early bath. I didn't switch the computer on, got into bed, and completely forgot about blogging until 11.50.

So there we go. The big news of the day is that our digital camera arrived today, but we haven't tested it out yet (see above).

I imagine that once we do, you will see some pictures of guinea pigs.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hitting pause

Had a slightly frantic day at work today, not helped by a fire alarm in the middle of the morning. Just a drill, and we weren't standing outside for all that long, but somehow it threw me off. I was rather late home.

However, my dear husband had made the tea, and then did the washing up while I watched Heroes. I don't watch a lot of TV, but I've been addicted to Heroes since the beginning. It seems to provide just the right balance between mindless entertainment, humour, and the mental challenge of following the highly convoluted plot.

J does not watch Heroes, but puts up nobly with my breathless updates on this week's happenings: "Sylar learned to copy people's powers without killing them, and Elle forgave him after she shot him with a lot of lightning bolts, and Tracy seems to be going to betray Nathan to Arthur, and Flint turns out to be Claire's uncle, but he doesn't know that yet and chased her down a sewer..." Do you get this level of drama on Coronation Street? I don't think so.

My favourite character is Hiro, partly because he's almost always cheerful, and partly because he has a very cool superpower: he can stop time. (This is conveyed in an endearingly lo-fi way, by getting everyone on the set except Hiro to stand very still.)

Wouldn't we all like to stop time, sometimes? I would have had a much less hectic day if I could have hit the "pause" button for everyone except me, allowing me to catch up in peace without needing to stay late. You could tidy up on a Saturday morning and still have the day to do things in. You wouldn't ever be late for anything again.

On the whole, I look forward to the future, so I wouldn't want to hold time permanently in the same place. I'd want to know what would happen next. But when I'm busy, it would be wonderful.

For those who were wondering how I cycle to work "one way" - I perhaps didn't express this very well. I cycle along the path in the morning, then home by road if it's dark. There may be more traffic, but it's better lit (and by home-time I should have woken up enough to cope with it).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bike path

I'm lucky enough to have a bike path* that runs almost from my house to my workplace. I don't mind cycling on the road, but it's more restful not to have to deal with the traffic at 8.30 in the morning, and the journey is definitely quicker if you don't have to wait at traffic lights.

It's almost a year since I started this job, and while I didn't tumble to the advantages of the bike path straight away, I've now cycled on it in every season. And I do appreciate it.

The lack of traffic (apart from a few other bikes, and occasionally someone walking a dog) gives me a quiet space to think. I may be pistoning along, but I don't have to worry about shooting under the wheels of a lorry. Often I've set out feeling stressed (either about J or about work, especially at the end of the day) and when I reach the other end, I've calmed down a lot.

By now, I have used the path in every season, and watched the trees bud in spring, and the verges burgeon over the edges of the path. I've seen ragwort and rosebay willowherb blooming (and pondered about why so many wild flowers seem to be yellow or purple). I've zigzagged to avoid running over snails on rainy summer days. More recently I've seen students gathering brambles and watched the trees change colour and the leaves drop.

I've also seen animals: mostly the usual birds you might see in your garden, but also pheasants, a wren, ducks, herons, and what may have been an owl (it was a summer evening, and SOMETHING biggish and tawny flew over the wall). There's a loch not far away. I've also seen a dormouse, not sleeping but running across the path early in the morning.

It gets dark about half past four here at the moment, so I'll only be using the path in the mornings for the next while. I'm still glad to have the chance to escape the traffic, even if it's only one way.

* I used to refer to this as a cycle path, but after more than one occasion when the person I was talking to has misheard it as "psychopath", I've stopped. I definitely do not use a psychopath to get to work in the morning.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Of course it is the camera, not the SD card, which is a Fuji Finepix S5800. Oops. This is the inevitable result of dashing off entries in ten minutes or so. Still, better to have posted with mistakes than never to have posted at all, or words to that effect. Thank you all for not posting comments saying we should have got a Nikon or a Pentax or something.

Today has been a day... not terribly packed with incident. It rained. J went off to work. I did some work and played with the pigs and later made a cake. Then J came home and we had tea and watched QI. (By the way, I got a message a few days ago saying that Stephen Fry is following my Twitter updates. I wonder if he does his own Twitter-maintaining, or if he has an underling who automatically adds everyone who's following him?)

I am reassured to hear from yesterday's comments that deliberating over electronics purchases (or maybe any purchases) is general male behaviour, and not particularly obsessive. Maybe I've been thrown off the scent because my dad, while he likes to investigate what's out there, never needs very much persuasion to get a new camera. Or laptop. Or whatever. Perhaps he's atypical.

I thought we were going to have a bit of an episode of obsessiveness when J came home from work today. His bike wasn't changing gear properly. Like me, J uses his bike as his main means of transport, so it had to be fixed. J dislikes fiddling with mechanical devices, and always fears he'll make the problem worse instead of better. On past occasions we have spent several long greasy sessions during which he makes tiny adjustments first one way and then the other and then declares that nothing is making it any better, and goes into a decline.

However, on this occasion, he overcame this tendency, made a decision as to what to do, did it, and then had a shower and felt a lot better. He's still plugging away at the tables for his CBT, too. I am not going to overstate things, but I've been impressed by his dedication, especially since he still has plenty of periods when he doesn't think it has a chance of working.

If you really believe in the future and in your abilities, success is still not guaranteed, it's true. But keeping on trying when you can't make that leap of faith is truly impressive.

This has been a very random post indeed. Sorry about that. I will try to come up with something a little less stream-of-consciousness for tomorrow!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The approaching hoofbeats of a deadline

This will have to be my quickest post ever, as it's 20 minutes to midnight (again). I haven't been able to get on the computer because...

J and I have just ordered our new digital camera!

This may not be the news of the century, but we have been saying we must get a new one for months. My old one, much loved, stopped working ages ago. However, we're not at all good at making our minds up, and J's obsessive tendencies mean that he needs to be sure he's buying exactly the right camera and getting exactly the right deal. So he needs to look at every model on the market, decide the time isn't right, look again, get stressed out by the necessity of making a decision, put it off, and look again before he finally buys anything.

I, on the other hand, have an approach which goes more like: "Oh, that one looks nice. It seems like the best one? OK, let's get it, I'm sure it'll be fine." I am not very good at distinguishing between two (or seven) cameras with near-identical features, and tend to assume everything will be all right whatever we decide.

I was never much good at film photography because I couldn't bear to waste expensive, limited film on experimental shots. So digital photography has been much better for me, and I very much enjoyed my old camera. I've been slightly frustrated over the past months that my blogging (etc) has been largely image-free.

Fortunately for marital harmony, we made a decision fairly early this evening. Which left only decisions about batteries and flash memory. I think we spent longer choosing the SD card than the camera. It's a Fuji Finepix S5800. If you know anything bad about them, don't tell us.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Do you ever feel as though you are waiting to start your real life? Waiting for a particular thing to happen, or to get finished with something you're doing, or for circumstances to change so that possibilities will open up?

I feel like that quite a lot at the moment. Partly because I'm studying - I genuinely will have more free time once I finish. There are several activities which I haven't done at all in the past two years, some of which I thought were parts of my life I would never want to give up.

Singing is one. I don't have a fabulous voice, but I've sung in choirs since I was seven, and I do miss it.

The other main thing is that I don't get anything like as much exercise as I want to, and certainly not in a systematic enough way. I think I've proved to myself now that in order to be motivated to exercise three times a week in all weathers, I need to pay upfront for a gym membership, pack my gym bag and go afte work. I've tried buying weights to exercise at home, and going running at home, and the trouble is that because I could do it any time, I end up not doing it often enough.

I'm not knocking the cycling - I'm sure it's responsible for a fair amount of damage limitation. But it's not enough.

There are other things that J and I would like to do which we haven't because he hasn't been well enough. And I do feel that I'm so busy at the moment, I don't give him enough support in his efforts to get well. So I suppose the plan is: finish degree, get J better, then start on Real Life. I do believe we'll get there. Sometimes it feels like it's a long time coming, though.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Day off

Well, what world-shakingly exciting things did I do on my day off?

None. I stayed in and did some work, spent a bit of time on Ravelry* (mostly discussing the colour of Miles Vorkosigan's socks**, thus achieving two kinds of geekdom at once) and played with the guinea pigs. Oh, and did some laundry.

When J came back from work, we went round to have a look at a house which a local community group is trying to buy to turn into an activity centre. They put an article in the local free paper a few months ago, asking for people to write in with ideas about what the building could be used for. J wrote in and suggested a community radio station. There are three such stations already in Edinburgh.

Last week he got a call out of the blue asking him to come round to the community group and talk about the possibility of setting one up. So he did. He used to be involved with local radio as a presenter when he was a teenager, and did student radio when we were at university, though he doesn't have direct experience of setting up a station.

Today there was an open day at the building, and people could vote on ideas. There are quite a few rooms, and if the group manage to buy the house, several ideas may be chosen, including a computer room, which J would also be well placed to help with. I think it'll be great if the project gets off the ground; the house is yet to be valued, though, so everything probably depends on that.

J is quite enthusiastic about the possibility of the radio station becoming reality. Being realistic, he can't be in sole charge of the project because his health isn't good enough, but other people are interested too. We'll just have to see what happens.

* Online community for knitters.
** Protagonist of a series of SF novels.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

For Science!

When I was a child, if an adult asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I would always say "A scientist". I don't really know where I got this idea from except that from an early age, I was very interested in the natural world. When I was five or six I had a large book called Our World, which explained all about plate tectonics and volcanoes and the water cycle and how rocks turn into sand, and I read it again and again until it almost fell to bits.

Later I had other science books, some of which were Christmas presents from my uncle, who had been a research scientist for a while. And I enjoyed Chemistry and Physics at school, though not Biology, since I was much too squeamish even to watch videos of dissections (it having been declared unhygienic for the younger classes to do real dissections. Which was just as well for me).

I did well in Chemistry in particular, and was on the school's science quiz team, and up until I was fourteen or fifteen I still thought I might maybe do Chemistry at university. Unfortunately, the ability to remember a lot of vaguely science-related facts, and to take pleasure in doing classroom experiments, don't actually make one suited to do proper science. By the stage that Chemistry became all about doing calculations and working out formulae, I realised that I didn't have either the mathematical aptitude or the dedication to do the duller bits.

I'm still interested, though. Throughout my years studying English and French literature at university, I continued to read popular science and science-based magazines, and a few years ago my parents got me a subscription to the New Scientist. I still read it every week. My friends and family have probably learned to dread my saying "Yes, I saw something about that in New Scientist recently..." on diverse occasions. It arrives on Thursdays, hence this post.

Maybe I've spent many hours reading New Scientist that could more profitably have been spent reading the Journal of the Society of Archivists. Or Tolstoy. Or learning Japanese. I don't really have any conviction that the things I learn will have much practical application in my life; my knowledge will never get beyond "interested layperson", and it's not an interest I can really trot out to any but my nearest and dearest, who, as I've said, are used to me banging on about genetically modified food and new kinds of laptop batteries. Some of the articles I have to read twice before I can work out what's going on, let alone understand them. (These are usually the ones on maths or quantum physics. I was never under the illusion that I'd make a physicist.)

But on the other hand, I do feel that it has given me an intellectual toolbox which sometimes comes in useful. I'm not a scientist, but I can work towards some understanding of what science is supposed to be about, and what it's for (and it isn't generally what we read about in headlines). I can read an article about climate change and know what the background is. I can read an exercise programme on a website and decide whether it's worth trying on the basis of what I already know.

I feel, too, that it makes me a more complete person. I won't make any world-shattering discoveries, but I've found out a lot of interesting stuff. And I have a shot at answering some of the science-type questions on University Challenge. Though not the ones involving much physics or maths.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Taking time out

No, not from NaBloPoMo.

I've been at work today, and spent nearly the whole time in meetings, talking to people. I now sound a little husky. Sometimes I feel as though I'm leading a double life: half of the week I spend in jeans and T-shirts and silence, the other half in work clothes in a busy office.

I have annual leave to use up, and when I saw that I had no meetings at all this Friday, I made a sudden decision that if it was OK with my workmates, I would take the day off. It will help me catch up with my university work (which is still behind from when I was ill) and will just make things less pressured. Luckily there was no reason why not.

The trick now will be avoiding what I normally do with unexpected time off: I make detailed and elaborate plans for everything I will achieve during that day. And inevitably I never get even half of it done. So here is the plan for Friday: work. Go for a walk in daylight. Work. That's all.

Of course, now I am making elaborate mental lists of all the things I need to achieve tomorrow in order to leave on time with a clear conscience. Perhaps I am a slow learner.

(By the way, kind commenters, I do respond to you, underneath your comments on that post. Is this cumbersome? Should I be responding in the next day's post?)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance day

I didn't go to church on Remembrance Sunday, so I'm doing my remembering today.

None of my relations were killed in WWII, but my grandfather was in the Royal Engineers. He was the first bomb disposal officer outside the UK, in Egypt, at the age of 20. The army sent him everything they had on German bombs and told him to get on with it, and he did. He won the George Medal. Later he (as he put it) "liberated Belgium" and built bridges over rivers from Normandy to Berlin. Then he came home and resumed his university education and got on with his life. He died last year, and the war had clearly been a hugely significant part of his life - he told us many stories about it. This is one:

When he was called to an unexploded bomb, he used to tie the end of a length of string to the fuse, retreat to the end of the string (which was quite long) and pull out the fuse, causing the bomb to explode. The string would break, and he'd coil it up ready for reuse. But of course the string got shorter every time, so it was vital to get a new bit every so often...

My great-grandfather Campbell died when I was two. He had been at Gallipoli and had one finger permanently bent down into the palm of his hand - it had set that way after being broken. My mother remembers thinking that maybe all grandfathers had a finger like that. He was a newspaper compositor, but he learned to do it again with nine fingers. He didn't have much hair, and he always put the blame on the tin hats they wore.

His brother-in-law, my great-great-uncle Alec, was gassed and was never well again after the war. He died in 1921. I've seen photographs, but don't know much about him, except that he was close to my great-grandmother and gave her two tall blue vases for a wedding present. My mother still has one of them (the other was broken years ago).

Great-Grandpa Campbell's best friend Buddy was killed in France, after a very long journey to join up. My mother has told his story here, better than I could.

It's been a peaceful day here. But not everywhere.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Various little annoyances, but also cake

Today was the sort of day when things do not go right, but not in any grand and world-shaking way that you could be justified in moaning about. The house was cold in the morning. I have a hole coming in my favourite jeans. A blue bowl that I like has a crack in it. The trellis attached to the fence blew down in the wind, possibly taking my clematis with it (I haven't dared look to see how much damage it's done).

See? Nothing very major. But I was a bit fed up so I took myself out for a little windy walk and then made some baby bundt cakes. Sometimes you just need to do something different.

The bundt cakes were based on a recipe in How to be a Domestic Goddess, but I didn't have various ingredients, so here is my somewhat improvised version. You need a mixing bowl, something to melt butter in, a wooden spoon and some sort of muffin tin.

150g plain flour
About 25g caster sugar and 100g brown sugar
Half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
75g butter (or alternative), melted and cooled off a bit
Individual pot of plain skimmed-milk yoghurt (about 125ml)
2 eggs
Double handful of sultanas, soaked briefly in hot water
Lemon juice (instant squeezy)

Sift the flour, sugar and bicarb together in mixing bowl.

Combine eggs and yoghurt with butter and give them a mix. Make a well in the flour; pour and mix them in. Add the sultanas and a good squeeze of lemon juice (maybe a tablespoonful) and give it another mix. Divide it between the spaces in the tin and bake at 170 degrees (fan oven).

I have ring-shaped cake tins, and I find I get twelve cakes from the mixture and they take about fifteen to twenty minutes. It might be a bit longer or shorter if you're using full-size or mini muffin tins - fifteen minutes isn't very long to hang around, and they won't come to any harm if you take a peek at them.

Nigella ices hers; I didn't on this occasion. While I am not claiming these are health food, they aren't big or stodgy. If you make 12, they've got about 10g of sugar and 6g of fat each. And clearly a cake with a hole in the middle has fewer calories than one without a hole...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Not much going on today

I've spent most of the day sitting at the computer, working, except for a few hours when we went over to my parents' for a meal. My brother has come home for the weekend - it was lovely to see him again (he's a junior doctor in a hospital in another town and I haven't seen him much since August).

J has been busy doing laundry, going to the supermarket, and generally tidying up. He is a star. I know that I don't talk about him much on here except when he's having a crisis, but he is. He's about the sweetest, funniest person I know, and when he's well he is incredibly organised and efficient.

He is also very gentle and completely adores animals. He has an affinity for cats which causes them to appear for a stroking session whenever we go for a walk. Although it was my idea to get guinea pigs, J loves them and does most of the work of looking after them. It's sweet to see him with them, although it's also mildly hilarious, as he's very tall and thin and the physical contrast is quite amusing.

He's my snuggle and I love him very much. I really, really hope he starts to see an improvement in his health soon. Enough of an improvement that even he can start to believe in it.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Things I've never done

For a long time, I haven't tried anything new in the realms of physical activity. In fact, lately it's been cycling and nothing but. I'm not always so unadventurous; when I was little I didn't think anything of trying new sports. In the summer holidays, we used to take short courses at the local college for games teachers. I remember modern dance, trampolining and canoeing. Somehow those were always more fun than the actual games lessons at school.

I also took ski-ing lessons on the dry ski slope in Edinburgh each summer from age 13to 15. Unfortunately, I failed Parallel 1 the year I was 15, and that was it for me and ski-ing. It's more fun being an absolute beginner in some ways: if you're bad at it, well, you're only starting and you have the potential to be much better!

When I started university, I decided to join the women's football team. And I had a lot of fun, even though I wasn't very good. Later on, I took up running and weightlifting and found I liked them, though I wasn't expecting to enjoy either.

However, there are still quite a few activities I'd like to try which I haven't:

Fencing. I have fancied this one since I was at school, but the fencing club clashed with Highland Dancing, to which I was already committed since my best friend did it. I have failed to take it up since out of a conviction that I will be awful at it, since I'm not at all coordinated, but I'm beginning to think this is a silly reason not to do it.

Squash. I don't know if I would prefer it to badminton or tennis, but I'd like to try it. I used to play tennis quite a lot in summer, and I still play badminton when I get a chance. I'm a lot better at badminton. The first time J ever picked up a tennis racket, he beat me (although he had a sore arm later).

Climbing. I don't really have a desire to do this in the great outdoors, on a natural rock face. But I would like to have a go on the shiny new climbing wall at my old gym. Actually, I did once go on a climbing wall before, when I was ten and in Guides, but I found it very hard to get higher than a couple of metres, because the hand- and foot-holds were spaced for adults and were too far apart. This must have been before my growth spurt. I suspect that I might have to work on my upper body strength before this is much of a goer, though.

I hear a lot of people talking about how much they love kickboxing and martial arts, and in some ways they sound fun, but I have a feeling that I'm too much of a wuss!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Grown up?

A little while ago, I was talking to my mother and the subject of early computer games came up. (I don't remember why.) I said something about not being able to remember the earliest computer games, and she said neither did she, since she was too old for such things when they were first developed.

I am the same age now as my mother was when I was born. When the earliest computer games were available, she was younger than I am now. I still enjoy playing computer games; although I don't spend very much time doing so at the moment, because I'm too busy, I don't envisage that I'll ever go off the idea altogether. (Here's one I particularly like. It took me ages to work out what you have to do, though.)

Yet the concept that adults don't play computer games doesn't seem particularly alien. And it does seem to me that people of our generation are much less "grown up" than our parents' generation at the same age. Most of my friends don't have kids; only a few are married or settled down in a particular location, and not all of them have fixed on a career yet. We read fantasy and watch Doctor Who and play World of Warcraft (well, I don't, but I know people who do) and it probably all looks rather childish from the point of view of Real Grown-ups.

Maybe I'm biased because a lot of the people I know are academics or postgraduate students; I can certainly think of exceptions to what I've just said. But it does seem to me that there has been a slant towards not letting go of your youth, or even childhood. When my mother got her first teaching job, she cut her hair so as to look grownup and responsible. I used to think I would cut mine (it's long) when I was 30, but now... that's not as far-off as I'd expect.

I suppose that in many ways the eternal-youth thing is superficial. We might look scruffy and read books about dragons and listen to new music, but we still have grownup responsibilities. I mean, there are good reasons why J and I don't have children yet, even though we might like to, and not all of those are under our control.

Whither our generation, though? Will we still be wearing T-shirts with obscure slogans and playing computer games when we're in our fifties? Or will things take another turn? I would hesitate to make any predictions.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Enterprises that require new clothes

Nobody starts cycling because of the glamorous outfits you get to wear, but my winter cycling attire possibly hits a new low as far as stylishness is concerned. It's probably best described as Roadmender Chic. Big fleece, woolly hat, tatty and possibly muddy or oily black tracksuit bottoms, and the ever-so-flattering high-visibility waistcoat. J's dad works for a company that makes workwear, so we are well-provided with fluorescent outer garments.

My summer cycling gear is not so bad, and benefits slightly from having been acquired only a year or so ago. But I really need to get some new tracksuit bottoms. I've had the current ones since my last year at college, which would be 2001.

I'd aquired them to replace some which had been part of my school gym kit, purchased sometime in the early 90s. They were marginally more presentable because they didn't have gathered ankles and weren't too short for me. I wasn't at my most sporty in those days, but even I needed something in which to play badminton on holiday.

The black trackies got their first wearing when I hastily pulled them on over my pyjama bottoms to go and sit with J in the hospital when he got meningitis, early in the autumn term of 2001. (If I'd known I'd be there for more than 24 hours, and that J would be OK, I would have got properly dressed.) Over the next few years, they served me well in whatever exercise I did and even did duty for pulling pints if my other black trousers were in the wash.

I didn't buy any new exercise gear when I started exercising methodically in early 2006, apart from new trainers. Part of me felt that it was best not to invest much money in attractive workout gear until I could see that this was going somewhere. Once it started to go somewhere, I had realised that there is little point buying attractive clothes just to sweat on them.

Eventually the faithful black trackies started to look a little careworn. The fabric wasn't as fluffy as it had once been, and repeated washes had made them start to creep up my ankles somewhat. I tried twice to replace them but could never find anything quite as good. My requirements aren't stringent, but still hard to meet: fabric of a certain thickness, drawstring, not clingy on the thighs. I did buy some grey ones but the fabric has the annoying quality of being sweaty when it's hot and not insulating enough when it's cold. Also, light grey is not as flattering a colour as black. I don't aim to be particularly attractive when I'm exercising, but you might as well not be discouraged before you start.

Still. It is now time to replace the black trackies. You know they've outlived their usefulness when you find yourself rationalising that they're still decent because you'll be wearing black tights under them.
After my moaning yesterday, I got six comments! Thank you, people. Scoliyogi has deduced that I am doing NaBloPoMo. Indeed I am, but I was going to wait until I had a whole week of posts before I put the badge up.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Nearly forgot to post tonight

And it would have been a pity to deprive you, dear reader, of my scintillating posts, wouldn't it?

I have a suspicion that the last post might have been boring, since only one person has commented. Or perhaps people are busy midweek. Or perhaps they're not used to this plethora of updates from two-posts-a-month K.

Anyway. Loth commented, for which I am grateful. She is impressed that I can knit. (She is an impressive person herself).

I am quite impressed that I can knit, frankly, since I only learned to do it a year ago and have not had a lot of time to hone my skills since. My total output amounts to a pair of fingerless gloves, two woolly headbands, three-quarters of a sock and one-third of a scarf. And I'm stuck on the sock.

Still, I find repetitive pastimes very soothing, and knitting is marginally more useful than cross-stitch, and definitely a lot more useful than hours of Tetris. And knitting is easy to pick up for a few minute and put down again, so it's my craft of the moment.

I still don't feel like a REAL knitter, though, compared to other bloggers I know who knit - I wouldn't be up to making this, for example, or these. Or not just yet. But in the meantime, I'm enjoying the beginner stage. Maybe one mythical day when I know what I'm doing, I will no longer think it's magic when the string turns - against all likelihood - into a scarf.

Knitting doesn't always have to be useful, either. I definitely do not have enough spare time to do this sort of thing. But it makes me happy that somebody does. I particularly like the lamppost.

It is wet and misty in Edinburgh. Very traditional for Bonfire Night. I got rather wet cycling home.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Things look a bit brighter

J seems better today. I can hear him downstairs, singing along to the radio. Singing's a good sign.

I managed to get out of the house for a while in the morning and go in to town on the bike. I went to the library, had a cup of coffee at a café, and bought some squishy pale green wool to knit myself a hat. Which was all quite therapeutic, and certainly beats dashing around in my lunch hour, which is when I usually do such things.

I am also feeling a bit more organised as regards my academic work. I'm a terrible procrastinator, and have previously managed to keep myself up to the mark during the modules from the courses because they are split into lots of little deadlines, and everyone is doing the work at the same time. However, since the university gave me a big extension while I was ill, I'm out of step with everyone and it just feels a bit weird and disjointed. But I've written myself a revised study plan and I WILL get this done by early December. I will. I want my life back. And I'm not letting myself start making the hat until then.

In the meantime, my brother-in-law is visiting soon. Which will be nice. I have, as yet, no genius-level ideas about how we're going to entertain him. If you're reading this, B-i-L, think about what you might like to do!

Monday, November 03, 2008

50 minutes to midnight

It's been an up-and-down kind of day. J went to work, without too much OCD checking, but was very tired and down when he came home, and later in the evening had a slight strop over doing his homework for his new therapist. He's only seen her twice, and she does give him a lot to do outwith the sessions. There's a table analysing his negative thoughts, and a sort of diary of what he's done each day (including the time spent doing OCD checking), and an exercise where you try not to think of a pink rabbit. And some more stuff, but I can't remember the details.

In a way this is good, because we, rather than the taxpayer, are paying for the sessions, and we want the therapist to get the information she needs quickly, so they can make the best use of the sessions. On the other hand, I can see why he quails at the thought of filling in a table with percentages every time he has a negative thought - wouldn't you? Then again, I WANT him to fill in the stupid tables. We do not have an unlimited budget for this, and it is imperative that he engages with the process right from the start. Which means, as far as I can see, providing the information on his moods that is asked for.

So I stropped back, and he did the tables, but I am feeling not very noble, and also that you're not supposed to have to tell 28-year-olds to do their homework.

The guinea pigs are sweet and squeaky. And fluffy. Brownie came and sat on J in a successful attempt to get him feeling phlegmatic enough to tackle the tables.

I am still trying to catch up on work for my course after having been ill, which isn't putting me in the best of moods. The world suddenly seems to be full of wondrous activities which I could be doing if only I could get the course over with.

Sorry if I sound gloomy. I'm not, really; but I'm trying to give an honest run-down on the day with these daily posts. The general stropping is over. J has gone to bed, and I shall follow him shortly, and tomorrow will be another day.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sunny day

Not that I've been out in it much. We were at a marriage blessing and party yesterday evening, and although we were in bed by one a. m., we were both pretty tired today. We've been doing exciting things like dusting and hoovering the sitting room, and trimming the guinea pigs' toenails. What an exciting life we lead.

When I'm tired, I find it very easy to rationalise eating junk, because it seems logical that I need an energy boost. However, we don't have any. We don't have any exciting food at all, with the exception of the leftover sweeties from Hallowe'en. There was a very low turn-out of guisers this year - we bought four bags of assorted sweeties and lollies and only emptied one. Fortunately for me, I don't find Love Hearts and Fruity Pops particularly tempting, or not in large quantities.

At work on Friday, one of my colleagues had the local radio station on, and it was already broadcasting Christmas adverts. I know that IKEA has had Christmas stuff in for a while already, but I just can't quite get my head around it yet. It seems like ages - and yet, I have eight days of leave to take before the end of the year, and I can't quite think how I'm going to fit them in, since I only work three days a week. Take two weeks off completely, and go home at lunchtime on four Fridays? Take one day off every day? I have no pressing reason to take time off at a particular date, so I'll have to see what suits everyone else.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Quick little update

I got back on the bike for the first time on Tuesday evening, going to see Neil Gaiman at the Church Hill Theatre. I didn't fail to make it up the hills (it's almost up hill all the way to Morningside) or have a massive asthma attack, which were my two main fears. I've biked to work every day since. I'm still a bit husky, but nothing terrible, and the preventative inhaler seems to be working. It's "the brown one" (Beclometasone) which isn't all that powerful as they go.

It's been really cold this week. I have been wearing a fleece over my longsleeved technical top while I cycle, and gloves with closed fingers, and a hat, and I'm still cold. Britain has had some freaky weather this week - snow in the south of England, which doesn't usually happen at this time of year if at all - and although Edinburgh hasn't had snow, it feels very wintry.

This is a problem for J, as he appears to have developed Raynaud's disease, which is a circulation problem that comes on when it's cold. His fingers go yellow and nasty-looking, and they're very painful as they warm up. We're thinking of getting him some heated gloves as it's a particular problem when he's cycling. In the meantime, I am pestering him to remember to wear his woolly gloves, and giving him my small hot hands to hold.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cough cough

Well, I've been to the doctor. The cough was diagnosed as probably a virus which has been complicated by asthma - the virus itself has run its course by now, but my lungs are now irritated by all the coughing. Which means that I keep coughing and irritate them further, and so on. She says I may just have lungs which are easily irritated.

She's given me a preventative inhaler (which I 've never had before) and told me to rest. Which sounds good.

At first I was a little incredulous, since my asthma is generally triggered only by allergens and very cold dry air, and often I don't pick up my inhaler for months at a time. But now that I think about it, this happened to me on a lesser scale when I was 20: I had mild bronchitis, but the cough lingered on through most of a university term, causing me to miss a lot of football practice. And according to Mum, my little brother used to have similar problems.

The new inhaler does seem to have improved matters a little already; I'm still coughing, but not so breathless. I'm still quite sore, though. I don't think I'll be going running just yet. Maybe next week.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Holidays, coughs, stuff

So we had a lovely time in Devon. It was like taking a holiday in some kind of mythical kinder, gentler time, with everything you could possibly want from a seaside holiday if you are, like me, endearingly wholesome*. This included beaches (sandy and pebbly); retired donkeys; mini golf; craft galleries; stripy deckchairs on the prom; thatched cottages and elegant Georgian stuccoed houses; clifftop walks; gardens filled with flowers. And it was warm. We paddled.

J started compiling a collection of Things Overheard in Devon – samples:
“Joyce, what did you do with my teacake?”
“Has anyone here lost a sunhat?”

I slept very well and it was highly restful and I’m glad we went.

J's mother sent us some photos of the trip, and while I can enjoy them as a record of us having a nice time, my pleasure is tempered slightly because I look really chubby in every photo. It would be nice if the camera was lying, but I don't think it is.

I am not taking this too much to heart. J described the photos as "lovely" before I had seen them, and I'm sure he genuinely thinks I look nice in them. I may cringe gently, but nobody else cares particularly.

However! This should spur me on in continuing with the healthy eating and trying to move a bit more than I currently do. My efforts in this direction are going OK as far as food is concerned, but not exercise because two days after we returned from Devon I started coming down with a cough, which is still with me (that's almost two weeks). I'm going to the doctor later today, as I'm too short of breath to do anything much, and frankly it's getting me down a bit.

* This is now my official description - see comments to last post. I would say that the “wholesome” bit is pretty accurate. Nobody would ever mistake me, even at a distance, for someone who is edgy, louche or slinky. Despite efforts in my late adolescence to wear a lot of black, read intellectual books and cultivate a taste for international cinema, I am still a fundamentally unsophisticated person, and I still like doing pretty much the same things I did when I was ten. Some might call this boring.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Where did September go? Never mind August...

The answer to this question, short version:

I had a lot of work to do for my course, and then I collapsed in a heap for a while.

Actually, I wasn't totally collapsed. I seem to have done a few things in the past month or so:

* I knitted a pair of fingerless gloves
* My friend C came to stay for a few days and we visited castles
* I learned to make pastry from scratch (it's easy: what was I afraid of?)
* I bathed the guinea pigs on three occasions (they had a skin problem, poor little crumbs)
* I found a pair of comfy shoes I can wear with skirts
* I read a lot of books
* I ate tomatoes and peas that I grew myself
* I planted a lot of bulbs
* I watched several episodes of Firefly, and - only three months late - the series finale of Doctor Who
* I had my 29th birthday

What's that you say? None of these have anything to do with fitness? Oh.

I have to be honest (or what is this blog for?) The fitness isn't going well at the moment. I've been working hard, and am tired, and there's also been worry about J's health (nothing new, but no clear improvement in sight, either). Although I know I need to get back into the swing of eating healthily and exercising harder, the will has not been there. I went out running twice with my new trainers back in July, and that was it. I'm still cycling, but that's about it.

The tiredness is something of a concern to me because I know it's probably because I haven't been exercising enough or eating the right things. On the days when I'm at home, it's not too bad, but work tends to have Bad Foods sitting around the office. I don't even really want to eat them; it's just... they're freely available, and it's an excuse to get up from my desk, I suppose.* And I have no self-control, especially when I'm a bit stressed. I haven't quite got to the stage where I ask my workmates to put the biscuits somewhere I can't see them, but nearly.

My weight is a good bit higher than I'd like at the moment, but again... I know what I need to do, but the will isn't there. The next module for my course has just started, so I feel that if I start anything now, I'll soon become so busy that it'll be hard to stick to it. Which is rather silly, because you could use that excuse for not starting things in almost any situation.

There are two minor bright sides to the situation. Firstly, this is my last module (assuming I passed the previous one, that is), so I'll have a bit more flexibility from late November onwards. The end is almost in sight.

Secondly, although the numbers look bad, I'm clearly in better physical shape than the last time I was at this weight. My bodyfat percentage is lower by 7%, and I can still get into my jeans, although the Annoying Jeans are slightly more annoying than usual. And my thighs still look a lot more toned than they were last time. I've never been terribly convinced that cycling makes a huge difference to my physical fitness, or not at the level of intensity I usually manage; but I think it has had some damage-limitation effects, for which I'm duly grateful.

Despite the lack of any new content for almost two months, Sitemeter tells me there were 60 visits to this blog last week. Again, I'm grateful if anyone is still reading! It's a bit late to answer individual comments on the last entry, but I do read them and appreciate them.

We are going away for a few days tomorrow. I'm planning to go for walks (if it doesn't rain all the time - and it might not) and catch up on my sleep. And do some reading for my course, naturally. See you when I get back.

*I've tried going to the watercooler more often instead, but it only works up to a point.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Back on the bike

I have indeed been back on the bike and zooming all over the place. It's been hot this week (by British standards, anyway) and I'd no doubt have been very sticky were it not that I now have a cycling top.

I've had it for a while. It came from a shop called Mountain Warehouse, and was reduced to about tuppence in the sales, possibly because it says it's a size 18 but fits me (generally a size 14 or 16 on top) pretty well. It's grey and a darkish fuchsia pink; possibly not the colourway I'd have chosen first, but it makes me nicely visible to traffic, and (as I said), it was cheap. I've also acquired gloves, and I've been wearing knee-length baggy shorts this week and feeling almost like a proper cyclist.

I've noticed that I seem to be a lot more noticeable than usual when I'm wearing the "proper cyclist" kit. Over the last few days:
  • Several waves and smiles from other cyclists, mostly togged up in much more impressive cycling gear
  • Happy hen-nighters leaning out of the windows of a pink limo at one in the afternoon, calling "Keep pedalling darling!"
  • Smiley young man at traffic lights with Afro hairstyle and American accent: "Live strong, lady!" (This is really not the sort of thing people tend to say to each other on the streets of Edinburgh.)
  • Wolf-whistle from guy in van.
This is all rather a mystery to me, especially the last two. It's not as though the cycling kit is remotely revealing or anything. It must be the fuchsia. Or maybe it's the warm weather making everyone uninhibited.

I haven't been feeling all that attractive lately. Over the last few weeks, I've had to accept that the numbers on the scale have gone up a bit, and it isn't just a random fluctuation which will go down again next time. It's not very encouraging.

I know that some of it could be muscle from all the cycling - my bodyfat percentage has stayed much the same, and my thighs and core seem to have firmed up a bit. But my eating hasn't been fantastic, and there is definitely squidge on top of the muscle. Things have been a bit stressful* and busy lately, and there's been chocolate at work, and that's not a very good combination. I need to take in grapes or something to nibble instead, but I keep forgetting because I am pathetic sometimes.

On the other hand, I have now had my last podiatry appointment for a while, and my feet seem to be working well with the orthotics. Unless I develop another problem, I don't have to go back for four to six years - and I don't have to go through my GP again if I do. I can just phone the clinic and make an appointment directly.

In preparation for the Last Podiatry Appointment, I got myself to Run and Become and bought myself some new running shoes so I could get the podiatrist to take a look at them. Unlike the last pair, these were properly fitted; they have a neutral footbed (not one designed to correct pronation) but the insole lifts up and the orthotic fits underneath. As with the ordinary shoes I've bought, it was a bit tricky to find shoes that were both deep enough to take the orthotic and wide enough for my duck-like feet, but I'm fairly confident.

I have yet to take them for their first run, partly because it's got to be a trial run on the treadmill just in case they aren't right and I have to swap them. The plan is to pay for a single session at my old gym and see how I do, and then join the beginners' group in the running club I used to belong to at work. That's if I haven't lost my ability to do this in the year I've been off. Wish me luck.

*The stress probably deserves a post of its own, but the short version is that J is still having problems with depression and OCD, not sleeping well, and finding it very hard to leave the house to go to work in the mornings. Not good. I am pretty busy with work and coursework, and I'm not able to provide as much support as I want to. No doubt this too will pass...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I'm back

We returned from our holiday yesterday - we spent a week in a holiday house near Rydal, not far from Windermere, with my parents, uncle, aunt and grandmother. (The siblings were at home, working and looking after my parents' cats and our guinea pigs.)

It was very restful, but rather wet. We had one day when it was sunny in the morning, and several days when it rained torrentially for most of the day. These stepping stones* were just along the road from the house. This is what they looked like when we got here**. By midweek, they were completely underwater.

The weather rather put a damper on my plan to go for lots and lots of healthful walks - we did manage three walks, but none was longer than a couple of miles. It was long enough to discover that I will really need to get some better walking shoes. I spent most of the week wearing these, which are perfectly comfy, but since I wear them to work I had better get something a bit more mud-resistant.

We did go to Blackwell (very pretty Arts and Crafts house, highly recommended), Brantwood (the home of John Ruskin), Hawkshead village, Hawkshead Brewery (which is not in fact in Hawkshead at all, and which would probably have been more interesting if we'd managed to be there on a Saturday), and Dove Cottage.

We also took a trip on the Eskdale and Ravenglass steam railway, took a boat trip on Lake Windermere and had a wander round various villages. Which all sounds quite busy, but on the other hand there was also rather a lot of lying around on sofas reading books or doing the crossword. And, as J puts it, "eating two meals a day", by which he means going out somewhere for lunch and then eating a cooked meal in the evening as well. Which we did.

So although I feel rested, I also feel that the past week has contained more food and less physical activity than might be entirely optimal...

Time for another system-reboot, I think. And time to get back on the bike.

*My camera is not working and J was taking film photos which have not yet been developed, so the pictures in this post were found on Google Images.

** Except that it wasn't so sunny and the trees had a lot more leaves.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Terribly sorry - I fell off the world

Yes, I know it's more than a month since I last posted. I have no excuses, other than being busy. I still am, so this is just a quick update on what's been going on.

J finally returned to work in late May, and managed about three weeks without needing to take time off. Then he got a stinking cold with a temperature, had to stay at home to recover, felt exhausted and weedy and became despondent again. However, he saw the doctor yesterday and she thinks he has post-viral fatigue syndrome - which is quite plausible as he's had it before. The possibility that there might be a physical cause for the way he's feeling is actually making him a little more cheerful. We'll see how things go.

Meanwhile, I have had an awful lot of reading to do for my current module, which is hard work, and also a fairly busy time at work. Which doesn't leave me much brain left for blogging. Also, my digital camera continues broken-ish (it seems to think the battery is depleted almost instantly).

I got my orthotics on 4 June. They're quite sturdy chunks of plastic, but only half-length, for which I am duly grateful. They have foam insoles which go over them to stop me sliding about. I was able to break myself in to them quite quickly (thanks to my bendy ligaments) and now have two new pairs of shoes. No sandals yet. I may blog the Shoe Search in more detail later if I feel like it.

I completed my detox week and felt a lot better in myself, although I didn't lose even a tiny bit of weight (although I did lose about a pound and a half the next week - some sort of delayed effect?) But I have now gone back to my coffee-drinking pasta-eating ways, although I am eating less sugar.

One interesting thing that came out of it was that I avoided cow's milk during that week, and when I ate a wholemilk yoghurt after the week was over, I felt really weird, digestively. Almost immediately. I'm used to this feeling, but hadn't thought it might be caused by anything specific before. I tend to be sceptical about the concept of "food intolerance" - it seems like an example of the modern tendency to find quasi-medical descriptions for everything - but will concede that it might be worth cutting down on cow's milk a bit. I have since had a couple of lattés* with soya milk as an experiment, and can't say I notice any difference in taste or texture. That's probably as much milk as I ever take in at any one time, anyway. I think if I gave up cow's milk completely, I'd want to take a calcium supplement, though.

The next thing on the plan: get back into running. According to the podiatrist, my current trainers are rubbish, not "foot-control running shoes", and too big for me. Which has been apparent for about three years**, but I'm dense and also unwilling to spend money on running shoes when the current ones hadn't fallen to bits and there are so many nice books waiting to be bought.

Oh, and go on holiday. I am going to the Lake District in early July. Looking forward to that quite a lot.

*I came of coffee-drinking age in the 90s, naturally.
** Yes, three years is a long time to go without replacing running shoes. But I haven't been running at all for nearly a year because of the foot issues!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Not so much a detox as a system reboot

This is detox week.

I don't normally follow any diet other than "every meal must contain protein, not too many carbohydrates and lots of vegetables". I'm a vegetarian, so I've become accustomed to watching my protein intake over the years, and what I eat tends to be low-fat, though not low-carb. After tracking my general intake, I've worked out that I don't really need to worry about the amount of fat I eat as much as I do carbs. And even those, I don't worry about very much. I try not to eat large quantities of bread because I don't seem to digest it very well, but that's it.

However, the last few weeks have felt a bit uncontrolled, food-wise. J's parents came up to visit and we went out several times, and then my family's Birthday Season started. We have three birthdays within a week of each other in May, and then one a month all summer. So last week contained three birthday dinners (and a strawberry shortcake on J's actual birthday) and it feels as though cake has developed into a major food group lately. I've also had a few more glasses of wine than I normally would; nothing major, but again it's calories I wouldn't normally have.

I've also not been making the best choices for lunch on work days, and I've been finding myself drinking a lot of coffee and not sleeping too well. I know it's partly that the weather is warmer and the mornings are lighter - I keep waking up because I'm too hot, and then I can't get back to sleep at all after about 6am. Which wouldn't be a big problem if I had to get up then, but I don't. So I've been tired and a bit headachy in the afternoons.

The number on the scale isn't looking terribly happy either. (The battery ran out the other day, and when we replaced it I accidentally programmed the scale to say that I was male instead of female, and it displayed my bodyfat percentage as 25% instead of 36%. What's going on there, I wonder? Is it in fact not measuring BF% by electrical impedance, as claimed on the box, but just putting the total weight reading through a sex-specific algorithm? I wonder how I could find out... Sadly it went back to normal once I'd corrected the setting.)

The last party was on Sunday. So this week I'm:

not drinking coffee
avoiding bread
drinking lots of water and herbal tea
making a concerted effort to eat vegetables or fruit as snacks, not carbs or random bits of cheese
avoiding anything sugary
trying to get plenty of sleep

I'm not counting calories or not eating when I'm hungry, just changing the choices I make a bit. So far, I'm doing well on everything except the last (I stayed up late to finish a piece of work on Monday). But then I've been at home. We will see how well I resist the siren call of the chocolate biscuits once I'm back at work. If this goes well, I may extend it for another week.

In the past, I've definitely noticed that if I avoid something for a while, I don't crave it. While I don't plan to give up coffee or bread or sugar permanently, I do want to remind my system that it can do without them perfectly well, and that I don't "need" coffee or sugar to get to the end of the afternoon without falling asleep.

I am also weighing myself every day, just to keep myself mindful of what I'm doing. Today's number was one pound lower than yesterday's, which is probably one of those random fluctuations, but mildly encouraging nonetheless.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The official diagnosis. Or rather, diagnoses.

I finally went to the podiatrist last week, and - I'm sure you were all on tenterhooks - she didn't mention weight at all, even though I was wearing shorts. Which Mum said she wouldn't. Mums are wise.

The short version: I have the feet of a baby. And I do need orthotics. I'll get them in a couple of weeks.

It seems I'm significantly hypermobile (though still not so bendy as the siblings). That means that my ligaments are stretchy rather than taut, so my feet don't support themselves, which is why the arches are flat. Also, my knees bend backwards and have a tendency to "lock" when I stand. I've always known this, but apparently it is very bad and I mustn't do it.

When babies are born, their feet are flat and tilt outwards a bit. (Imagine a baby's feet dangling as you pick it up.) As children grow, their heels and the balls of their feet tilt inward and downward, leaving the arch of the foot higher by comparison. But my feet didn't make it all the way, so that effectively leaves me with feet that are still tilted, and which roll in when I stand, causing me to overpronate. And that's what's causing the pain.

As a secondary result, my big toes aren't working properly because they're at the wrong angle.

The podiatrist was very thorough. She examined my wrists (to see how bendy they were), the pattern of callouses on my feet, and the way I stand; she got me to walk up and down for several minutes; she drew lines up the backs of my heels and calves and examined the angle at which my foot rests. Somewhat worryingly, for my foot to be at a natural angle, I'd have to tilt it outwards far enough that none of the toes rest on the floor. The orthotic inserts will fill in that gap so each foot is level.

They'll be made of polypropylene (which sounds a little sweaty to me, but there we go) and I'll get them at the beginning of June.

I also have exercises to do: calf stretches (familiar to the runners among us), balancing on tiptoe, standing on one leg (well, one at a time) with my eyes closed, and walking around on my heels. This last makes me feel, and no doubt look, very silly.

But it's doing something! My feet don't hurt when I get out of bed in the morning any more.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sorry for disappearing

That wasn't meant to happen.

I am having a few weeks with no coursework to do, and this seems to mean that I don't turn the computer on nearly so much in the evenings. So I haven't been blogging. You would think I'd be capable of coming upstairs and pushing a button, but... no.

There are several posts in my head which I meant to get up during Blogiversary Week, but some of them required illustrations, and my camera has died, and...

And I've been feeling really boring lately, somehow.

Life has not been totally without occurrences; I had a cold (another one) and then we went to see my in-laws, and while we were there we went to the theatre, and work has been busy, and I've been knitting and reading a lot and watching Doctor Who and doing the garden... no. I really am boring. I'm not unhappy, but I'm slightly discontented with myself at the moment; I look in the mirror and see a sort of harried scruffy mouse-ish person. This is probably the mood in which other people get exciting new haircuts that they later regret. I'll just have to resist the temptation to buy lots of new clothes, and also resist the temptation to eat chocolate, which is only a short-term mood lifter.

There is little to report on the fitness front, except that I'm still biking to work - and indeed I go somewhere on the bike most other days as well, so I probably rack up about 40 miles per week. Probably I should do more; the weather's getting nicer, and I'm not so tired in the evenings as I am during the winter (that said, I came home from work on Friday and fell asleep on the sofa at 9pm). I still can't walk more than a few miles, or go running, because I'm still having problems with my feet. Warning: even more boring bit coming up.

Remember my feet? I've had long-term problems with arch pain, blistering under the arches, and aching feet when I get out of bed in the morning. Last September I went to the doctor about this - I thought I had flat feet, and he agreed, told me to avoid doing anything that set it off (like walking long distances or running) and referred me to the podiatry clinic. When my appointment came up in December, the podiatrist decided that I had plantar fasciitis, for which he gave me exercises. Although he agreed my feet were a bit flat, he thought it wasn't that bad. He also picked up that I'm slightly hypermobile (double-jointed) which can cause joint problems, so referred me on to the orthopaedic clinic for assessment. In the meantime, he told me I shouldn't go running, although doing weights and cycling would be OK.

The appointment for that has just come through - I'll be going on the 6th of May. While I'd be the first to admit that my sore feet are not exactly an urgent or life-threatening condition, I'm not overjoyed that it's taken so long from start to finish. When I got the appointment in December, I naively thought I'd be getting measured for orthotics there and then, and would be able to get back to what I consider normal activity pretty soon after. I've been doing the exercises I was given - possibly not quite as often as I should - but haven't really noticed any improvement: just as before, my feet don't hurt if I don't run or walk on them much, and if I wear either Doc Martens, Clarks' flat mary janes or the increasingly battered black Skechers I wear to work. School shoes, in other words. (This is something of a grief to me. I have lots of interesting and decorative shoes, and I've not worn most of them for months. It's not even as if I am a diehard fan of high heels - most of them are flat and sensible, just not quite supportive enough.) I took trainers down south with me the other week, walked into town in them, and bingo - arch pain and rubbed areas on my insteps.

In the meantime, I think I've discovered something else wrong with my feet: Morton's Neuroma or possibly Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome. Which is just a scary-sounding way of saying that I get pins and needles in my toes when I exercise, which is caused by trapped nerves. This has also been going on for years, but I didn't know there was a name for it; I often get numb toes in the later stages of a longish bike ride, and I always used to get them on the cross-trainer (another thing I haven't done for ages). Apparently these conditions are associated with flat feet, and tarsal tunnel syndrome is brought on by exercise in that way. It may be possible to sort it with orthotics, or I may just have to put up with it.

The weight is still hovering around 180. I have a horrible feeling that the doctor at the clinic is going to tell me that I have sore feet because I am asking them to carry 180 pounds, and that they'd get better if I lost weight, and that there's nothing else to be done about it. Maybe I'm being paranoid. I hope I'm being paranoid. Not that I wouldn't like to lose more weight, but in the past I've only managed to do so through running several times a week... which is exactly what I've been told not to do at the moment.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy birthday, dear Square One

This blog is three today! *

It rather astonishes me that I, the most unmethodical person I know, have managed to keep doing anything for three years. Admittedly**, there have been some times when I've posted less frequently than others; there have also been times when the whole Fitness Enterprise has taken a back seat. But I haven't ever forgotten about it, or lost sight of the goal of being fitter and healthier even if I wasn't in a position to make a lot of progress.

This week seems like a good time to look back. I don't usually reflect earnestly on my own progress, but I am going to do so now. Be warned!

When I started doing this, I was fairly unfit. I walked quite a lot - slowly - but I thought of running as a thing I just couldn't do. Though I'd never lifted weights, I was fairly strong, but my cardiovascular fitness was not great. When J and I went for a walk, I would be labouring behind before too long, and if we climbed a hill he'd have to wait for me to catch up.

I don't mean to indicate that physically speaking I'd been a total slug all my life. I didn't enjoy sports at school, but I'd been in a dancing team and ridden horses, and at college I'd cycled all over the place and played in a women's football team. But I'd somehow done all these things while feeling fat and unfit. I was Not Sporty. That was how I defined myself.

I wasn't happy with this state of affairs.

I also wasn't very happy with the way I looked. Although I'd got over the episodes of angst about my body that I used to have as a teenager, and mostly come to accept the way I looked, I was fatter than I was comfortable with. When I was younger, I'd thought changing my level of fitness was impossibly daunting, and then later there were other things I was concentrating on (such as university). But in 2003 I'd started reading diet and fitness blogs, and began to realise it might not be so hopeless after all.

I'd been engaged for about six months, and I knew that if I wanted to lose weight before the wedding, I would have to get on with it. (I felt like a bad feminist for needing such a shallow reason to get started, but there we go.)

I joined a gym. It took me two months to work up the nerve. In the meantime, I got a pedometer and tried hard to get in - was it ten thousand steps a day? I think so. At the time, I had a job that required lots of walking back and forth to the photocopier, and if I got in a walk at lunchtime, that brought me up to the total. But although it was undoubtedly better than nothing, I needed to go up a gear.

To begin with, I only used the exercise bike and the Nautilus machines, which I'd been shown how to use. I was scared of all the other cardio machines: couldn't work out how to get into a rhythm with the elliptical; was scared of falling off the back of the treadmill and landing on my bottom with a thump. The Nautilus machines, however, were my friends. This was something I could do!

I also managed to start weighing myself, which I hadn't done in years and years. I still tend to behave slightly oddly towards the scales - I don't want to know what they say, and put off finding out, but once I weigh myself... it's just a number. Which was just as well, since it was (in this case) a rather higher number than I was expecting.

As you know, this isn't one of those dramatic weight loss stories. These days I weigh about sixteen pounds less than I did then. At my lowest (where I'm trying to get back to now) I could claim to have lost twenty. In the world of the fitness blog, this is very small potatoes.

On the other hand, I have lost at least ten percent of my body fat. I conquered my fear of the treadmill and learned to run. I also learned to brave the mostly-male arena that is the free weights area at the gym. My teenage self would be very surprised.

I also acquired some clothes with horizontal stripes and some skirts that stop above mid-calf, and that's something my teenage self would NEVER have believed.

Tune in later this week for further installments of this enthralling narrative!
While I'm at it, here's a little update on more recent events.

J has come off his anti-depressants with his psychiatrist's approval. They were not having any visible positive effect, just unwanted side-effects, including constant exhaustion.

Since he's stopped, he has, on the whole, felt better. He's been playing music, which he hasn't done much for about a year, and has been cycling and running again. He's been feeling very unfit because the pills made him too tired to exercise, and also made him hungry, which is not a good combination. Fortunately he's naturally slender, but it doesn't do a lot for the self-esteem.

There was a temporary bad patch at the weekend, but this week things have been much better. Fingers crossed!

Meanwhile, I have been very busy trying to catch up with the academic work I missed while I was ill. Hence the radio silence this week, and there will probably be a small hiatus after I finish my birthday-week posts. However, during April I will have some time off from academia, and I have some plans... watch this space.

*It is also Pi Day. In celebration we had pies for tea tonight. (Actually, it was not in celebration but a total coincidence. The pies were Linda McCartney vegetarian ones; they're quite good.)

**If I don't admit it, I know
Isabelle will point it out :)