Sunday Sunday here again

6 Nov


I feel lacking in self-will. Two of my November resolutions are already broken. Last night I hosted the Academical Couple for dinner and broke resolution #7 (not to drink); and blogging today as the first time since Thursday breaks resolution #1 (writing here every day). Rats.

Thinking about my lack of self-discipline in these two areas (my excuses are no more than tirednes and inclination towards a lovely glass of cava) led me on to contemplation of the area of my life that lives in a big black box in the corner of my brain with the lid tightly closed: money. Broadly speaking, my life is good – full of purposeful activity, good food, exercise, time with my boy Londonshrink and our wonderful friends like the Academical Couple. I have a great job that pays well. But my financial affairs are a mess, and I’m scared even to be honest with anyone about the extent of the mess. Despite working for a decade, my student loan appears not to be paid off, and the personal loan I took out to fund a holiday and some extras just seems to get bigger rather than smaller (currently at around £7k). I have a credit card that needs paying off (around £2k) and miscellaneous obligations of perhaps another £500. I have no mortgage, and my rent is manageable; I have no kids, no car, no store cards. I don’t really have expensive tastes: my clothes are high street and usually secondhand/charity shopped rather than new. We don’t regularly travel on huge adventures around the world. I probably eat out (2/3 times per month?) more than I should and spend too much on crap – books, coffees, nice food to try. Still, I am too scared to open the post at times for fear of the unexpected bill that leaps out at me and takes all my spare cash. I have no savings, no pension, no disaster money, no escape fund.

I know I need to sort this mess out: watching Londonshrink pay off his loan for his masters degree should have inspired me, but it just leaves me feeling small and scared and overwhelmed.

So I have a thought (maybe it’s a silly one, of the type that comes to you in the shower as your legs are still shaking from Level 3 of the 30 Minute Shred); maybe I could get one of the wonderful frugal bloggers to give my finances the once-over in return for an equivalent amount of time spent by me doing something that would help them? I’m good at several things that others find daunting:

    I craft great job applications that help get people over the shortlist hurdle and into the interview, and I’m great at helping people prepare for interviews and tests
    I’m a good career coach and mentor, and able to help people make decisions for themselves about their direction in life
    I write great speeches and presentations and am a practised editor of the written word
    I understand politics and social policy and will happily run skillshare workshops on a range of issues.

So, maybe out there there’s someone who needs help with their career or is looking for work, needs an editor for their NaNoWriMo project or dissertation, needs help putting together a great campaign to save a local service or just wants me to spend some time working through their direction in life with them. All in return for an afternoon spent sorting out my finances with me – a skills exchange, if you will. Does anyone know that person?


Miscellany: goals & shredding

3 Nov

I gather the done thing in the lifestyle blogosphere is to set goals. Here are mine for November (first drafted at Jenn’s place in response to her review of October. Thanks for the encouragement Jenn!)

To blog every day, tuning up my writing and relaxing my mind (daily writing is supposed to be a marvellous discipline and form of self-therapy)
To complete the 30 day shred and then start over again to make it 60 days by mid-December
To put some cash aside for Christmas, and buy at least fifty per cent of the presents I need to get this year for my four loved ones (Londonshrink and I have already bought one another a new year’s trip to Belgrade, so nothing needed for him…
To put aside some cash for said trip to Belgrade
To cook at least four healthy new meals
To practise conscious kindness in my everyday life, especially with those closest to me
Not to drink any alcohol during November unless not to do so would cause offence
Not to buy any new clothes but do only charity-shopping

Sadly, I’ve already broken one of my resolutions: I failed to pack gym bottoms this morning, so had to do a gym-bound mercy dash via M&S’ leggings section this evening.

This was caused, though, by my beflusterment at the HotPants disaster. Mid-Shred, yesterday, after just one outing, the new Groupon’d hotpants shredded themselves, perhaps in sympathy with my screaming muscles. I completed the Shred cycle with one leg of hotpant open down my side and thigh from top to bottom. Thank goodness for M&S full briefs for saving my modesty – there was no way I was leaving my daily session half-done! I rather think the fella next to me was rather careful to keep his eyes on his own posture, though. Anyway, the hotpants are on their way back to Zaggora, wrapped in brown paper and disappointment.

Exercising in said new leggings this evening, I was bemused to find the studio next to me was full of young women in skimpier-than-usual gym gear shimmying up poles. Well! I marched up to the manager at the end of my workout and pointed out, in no uncertain tone, that sexualising the gym space was not what I paid my subs for. I doubt I shall be using that branch of LA Fitness again.

Still, I’ve now completed 19 days of the 30 Day Shred; not even pole-dancers, obstreperous gym managers and shredding Hotpants are going to stop me getting to 30!

What I ate Wednesday

2 Nov

One of my big fascinations since starting to read lifestyle blogs (thanks to a fortunate Google which inadvertently took me to the Cosmopolitan blog awards and into a whole world of eating, exercise and style) has been the varied documenting of eats. I’m completely fascinated by how other people eat: it’s so easy to get into a routine and just go with the same-old flow. And I’m discovering new foods: chia seeds, for example, and green smoothies in bowls with nut butters on top. I haven’t plucked up the courage to try them yet, mind…

So, here is my inaugural What I ate Wednesday. I gather I am to place the button here, so:

My day is not Wednesday, it’s Saturday. So, here goes!

Breakfast is, as always, Special K and skimmed milk, with Yorkshire Tea for hard water areas. The tea is a new discovery, and has revolutionised tea-drinking in SmallCity, where most tea tastes like dishwater. No photo, as frankly Special K is Special K. I swear in a year I eat my weight in the stuff.

Lunch – on the run, between errands is my standard go-to: toasted pitta, sliced cucumber, sour cream and chive dip. Completely delicious, and the only thing I know I can eat lunch-in, lunch-out for weeks on end.

My snack, after the gym, is some gorgeous fresh figs:

Then, in the evening, after Londonshrink had finally arrived (he usually appears on Friday evenings, but had to stay in London for a delivery on Saturday morning), my one decent cooking escapade of the week: Madhur Jaffrey’s prawn curry (via Helen at Food Stories). I did a low-fat makeover on the dish, using spray oil and zero-fat Greek yoghurt, but otherwise followed the recipe faithfully. We eat lots of curry, and have an awardwinning Bangladeshi restaurant really close by (as well as faithful Nepalese and Pakistani neighbourhood joints) so I’m not a curry novice. The curries I cook, though, are often so disappointingly bland after the delicate fire of those we’ve grown used to. But this recipe was an absolute winner – a fresh and complex taste with all the spices coming through separately. I had it with cauliflower rice, stirfried with a bayleaf; Londonshrink had basmati. We both had grilled red pepppers and fried onions to garnish. Delightfully, there was enough left over for me to have some for lunch the next day.

So. that is my first What I ate Wednesday!

Live to work

1 Nov


I’ve always known that I fall into the “live to work” side of things. I occasionally look with envy and awe at those who work to live, and maintain polymath or portfolio lives, but I know myself well enough to understand that they’ll never be me.

This summer was my ten-year-in-work anniversary. Through six brilliant jobs with five fantastic firms, I’ve learned masses and grown with the advice & mentoring of some incredible women (never men; my industry & specialism are very female dominated.)

As is the way of these things, I now have a team who depend on me to lead and inspire them as I was once led and inspired. And maybe today I’m meditating on commitment to work as one has given his notice. He was headhunted for a once-in-career chance. I am glad for him; our industry will be better for it. But I will miss him.

This is our way, for those who live to work; work is all-encompassing. Our colleagues are ever-present, until they’re not, and that easy intimacy of the familiar daily round is broken, never to be recaptured.


31 Oct

Today, after more than a week of impatient waiting, my Zaggora HotPants finally arrived, hurrah! I’d been reading some of the reviews (not least on Where are my knees where they’ve been running a giveaway) and thought I’d treat myself. Then, the Friday before last, they pop up on Groupon for just £19 rather than the usual £45 – I had to have some.

I did my first workout in them this evening – day 15 of the 30 day shred. My conclusion: great workout shorts than provide real support and are immensely flattering, holding you in for that all important mirror boost as you get sweaty. As for the much advertised inchloss: we’ll see. Be assured I’ll share the results!

Jillian and me

30 Oct

Trainers and iPod

Tomorrow I reach the halfway point on the 30 Day Shred – day 15. A milestone, of sorts.

I’d never heard of the Shred until the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards nominees list, stumbled upon by accident, tipped me into a whole world of women who write about food, style, weightloss and exercise. Reading someone mention the Shred, I casually googled, and was quite taken by what I found.

The Shred is a Jillian Michaels workout. She’s “America’s toughest trainer”, apparently, and is a cornerstone of a TV game show/reality piece where contestants compete to lose weight. Since starting the Shred I grew curious to see it, so Tivo’d an episode. It was like the US version of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, all crashing music and manufactured conflict, with Jillian obviously cast as the ogre.

But on her exercise films, she motivates rather than barks, and I find her chatter endearing.

The USP for the series is simple: you exercise for 20 minutes per day, guided by Jillian, every day for 30 days. There are three levels which are increasingly exacting. Each workout is three sets of three minutes of strength, two of cardio and one of abs work.

For me, of course, the discipline of a daily short workout is perfect. My gym membership with LA Fitness allows me access to clubs all over the country, so wherever I am there’s usually one nearby. My home gym is SmallCity, obviously, but I can frequently be found in several London clubs too, frantically switching through the routines to Jillian’s pace. I’m completely bemused by home DVD workouts, and wish to retain cordiality with my downstairs neighbour, so exercise to the video on an iPod in the gym.

As I said, I’m on day 14, and the changes are apparent. My flexibility and balance have come on hugely, and there’s definite toning apparent to waist, abdomen, upper arms and thighs. But, infuriatingly, despite transforming what I eat, I’m completely plateau’d at 12st 10-12lb. All the guidance says this is to be expected early on, as you replace fat with muscle, but I am more than a little discouraged to be working so hard (it’s damn tough) with no further progress to that elusive 11st goal.

Still, I have made a deal with myself, and there’s no way I’m giving up now. Tomorrow you’ll find me once again with the jumping jacks, military presses, chair squats and chest flies…

By her tote will you know her

29 Oct

I find commuter style is a particular modification of office style.

Firstly, money: by the time you’ve taken the decision to commute, you’re probably out of the Primark phase. You’re heading mid-market – M&S for basics, plus Next, Wallis and maybe even Reiss, Hobbs and Whistles. But commuting imposes costs (steep ones); so spending money on clothes when annually you write an enormous cheque to the transportation company of your choice, not to mention all the ready meals, feels extravagent. I deal with this dilemma by buying pretty much everything secondhand, from charity shops and the clothes agency at the foot of my road – a wardrobe of British high street classics at Primark prices.

Secondly, preparedness. I leave my house on commuting days at five to six in the morning. At that time, it’s impossible to know how to dress for the day’s weather, so I best guess. As I step out of the house, nervously checking my watch and wishing I’d hurried up in the shower, a cross-section of my capacious tote would show you (variously) sunglasses, flats, an extra cardigan, an extra scarf, a winter hat and gloves, two mobile chargers for the blackberry and iphone/ipod and a necklace or chandelier earrings in case of unexpected drinks after work, plus, always, a gym kit. There are some months when the hat and gloves are left behind, but they are few.

Thirdly, comfort. When I sit down in my place, I wish to snooze from just past six until our arrival in London at half-past seven. I want dresses that will stand up to a day that takes in my early start, smart office meetings, errands, running to the gym and socialising. My weekday wardrobe is thus dresses with some stretch, worn with a rotating set of jackets and jewellery, and patent courts – with patent flats for running.

Fourthly, commuting makes you fat (all that sitting and the temptation of a-little-something-for-the-journey-which-can’t-hurt). Be prepared, like me, to have a number of wardrobes at different size points. This was not a planned undertaking, but a result of my 18-month cycle, faithfully maintained over more than half a decade and several revolutions, of curving up through a 16 peaking at 18/20 and then slowly curving back. Joyfully, I am now on the downwards trajectory, after losing more than a stone since the summer. I took pleasure in looking out from their vacuum bags the dresses there consigned following the last upward curve of the yo-yo. These dresses will hopefully enjoy a brief swansong before being packed away with the 18s and 16s as I move ever closer to that elusive size 12. Then the fight will be on against the uptick as the cycle starts again…

So there we have it: commutershrink’s ruminations on commuter style.