Sunday, 29 July 2012

Lost in France so far...

In Paris we visited various cafes of course as well as saint Chapelle and the Conciergie then the Pompidou Centre covering miles of pavement along the way. So much so that I actually wore my feet out. Never ever have I felt feet so sore nor felt like such an old woman. I blame tramping streets looking for the Apple store (& indulging son) a task hindered by not realising how the French system of street numbering works... Paris is of course busy, beautiful and just so fabulously French. Je t'aime. 
We then took a train to Orleans. Not sure what to expect I was surprised - in a good way. From the market stalls selling books to the compact size and friendliness, this is a place I could have stayed longer than a day in - although we had 'done' the sights in that time. Joan of Arc is of course big in these parts with a statue, museum and house to her name. And the odd cafe or two. 

We were then heading off to Loire Valley. Picking up a car in Orleans I drove straight onto the busiest section, had a near miss with a tram, apparantley went through a red light (I didn't see the tram let alone a traffic light!) and got stopped by a spectacularly humourless police man. Let off with a stern telling off, thankfully the rest of the journey was less eventful. We arrived safely at the gite, greeted by Madame whose instructions and warnings made it sound like a 5 star establishment rather than the basic slightly shabby place it actually is (she also stung me for extras including sheets and cleaning and refused to take a card payment so has less than endeared herself to me) But no matter, last night was the first time for a while I felt very relaxed, slept amazingly well and woke quite refreshed. We've been exploring the local towns and chateau, the food and wine is good (except its no place for a vegan and I have been seduced by the local cheese) and we are as they say Having A Lovely Time. 

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Losing control - and passports

I sometimes think that I am quite a laid back, easy going, chilled type of person - though others may disagree with me, in fact I have heard the term 'control freak' uttered in my direction on more than one occasion.

As I tell my son (usually when he objects to my interrogation about his plans, timings and social arrangements) I just like to know what is happening, I need to get things done and I like to have a plan. It's not control freakery it's just good management. When you are juggling many things, especially when you live on your own and there is noone else sharing the load, this makes perfect sense. In a work environment I am used to being in charge, making sure things are done and delivered, being ultimately accountable.

I did however slightly worry that I may have a tendency for OCD when last week my mum helpfully hung some washing out for me but IN THE WRONG PLACES. I hate the fact people could see my underwear so that always goes along the bottom line of the rotary dryer with the larger items hung from the top lines hiding the pants. And surely everyone knows you fill a whole side up with garments before starting to peg them onto another side... But I digress... As I say I am NOT a control freak!

I do like organising holidays. I much prefer to book my own flights, accommodation and everything in between. Again I don't think this is control freakery, it's just the preference I have for more independent type of travelling that suits where we like to go and what we like to do.

This year we decided to head to France, (not being a control freak, I consulted with son, it was a democratic rather than a dictatorial decision). So over the past few weeks I have sorted a trip that involves flying to Paris, staying there a couple of nights, a train to Orleans, pick up a car there, to a gite for a week in Loire Valley then back home via another couple of nights in Paris. It's just me and number one son so I reckon this gives us enough city time to keep him entertained and me enough chilling time to be able to relax without either of us getting bored or restless (and we are both quite happy mooching about as we call it and equally able to pass the time reading or being entertained with an iPad).

I'd booked the final bits just last week, found a book in the library on the Loire Valley, dug out an old guidebook on Paris and got some maps. The thing I love best about preparing for a holiday is coming up with places to visit or things to see and do (it's called good planning not control freakery remember). This was what I was looking forward to doing when I woke up in the middle of the night a few days before we were due to fly off and suddenly realised son's passport hadn't yet come back from the passport office. Cue a few days of increasingly irate and desperate phone calls to the passport office number, escalating stress levels and several nights where I was forced to drink wine to try to get a wink of sleep. Even son's laid back 'it'll be here' started to wane a bit when it still wasn't here two days before take off. Actually I hadn't even been able to speak to anyone in the actual passport agency (the poor call handlers who can only take details and say 'someone will ring you back' were the ones getting my angst ridden calls because their colleagues weren't ringing me back at all - in fact I am still waiting for that much promised call back..)

This was stressful for many reasons of course but one of them very definitely being it was Out of My Control. Horrors. Apart from emailing (three times) phoning (I actually lost count of how many times I pressed re-dial) and sending my son to the passport office (just the once - fortunately it's not far)- whether or not my son was going to be able to come on holiday felt horribly, horrifyingly beyond my control.

I came up with options for plan B of course (as a good planner - not a control freak - does). These were: I'd not go at all (and waste all that money), go on my own (I don't mind going solo but it's not the holiday I would've chosen to do by myself), or find someone to go in son's place (I have one friend who I know could possibly have done so at very short notice - but then my mother volunteered herself...which made the situation even worse!). But I couldn't solve the problem of my son maybe not coming with me, it was out of my hands - and I can't remember a time I have ever not been able to make things right, solve problems or sort things out when they involve him.

This is a tale of woe with a happy ending though. The passport finally arrived on Monday afternoon, bringing with it an outpouring of relief, cheers, celebrations. We are back on track, maps are out, itinerary is being sorted - and we are off to France today! And the lesson learnt, for this control freak, sorry - top planner, is check whether your passports need renewed many months rather than weeks in advance in the future.

Au revoir mes amis!

(and this is me when the passport finally arrived....)

Monday, 23 July 2012

Hairy house

I'm testing out using email to post to my blog so here's a pic of a rather excessively ivy clad house I spotted yesterday. I think it looks hairy and uncomfortable like an out of control beard....

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Good things even in One of Those Weeks

While I now usually post five fab things about my week on a Friday, I believe it's better late than never - so here's some good things about my week this week, and it can be Smashing Saturday instead of Fab Friday...

This is a particularly interesting thing to do today as last week was One of Those. It started with getting turned down for some work I'd put a bid in for and really hoped to do, in the middle of it I had a *phone call* from school (in 12 years I have NEVER had a phone call from school!) to say son had given his notes to another pupil who'd copied them verbatim and put them in to be marked by the exam board who were none too pleased. Then the week peaked when I woke up in the middle of the night Thursday/ Friday and realised that son's passport renewal that I'd sent off several weeks ago hasn't yet come back from the passport office. And we're going to France this Wednesday.

So just a little stressed and distressed this week - although more positively, I have more work opportunities to go for, I spoke to son's teacher and he isn't the one in trouble he was just a bit over generous, and - you know what - the sun is now shining and I'm soon heading up to a cottage in Northumberland for a walking, eating and drinking girly night. The passport saga does however continue. After a day and a half, more than a dozen phone calls I am still waiting for someone to call back and let me know where his passport is... I am though breathing deeply and chanting 'it'll be fine'...

But now to the good and the things this week I am grateful for...
1. My new neighbour - I have a little pond in my garden, nothing fancy like the type you could keep those huge fancy fish in, just a little hole in the ground with some water and green stuff in it - but it now has been given the seal of approval from a froggy friend who has decided it's good enough to move into. Welcome Kermit!

2. Lovely libraries - I spent nearly a whole day in my local city library this week, first time I've really used it beyond popping into the cafe or for some sort of talk or event. Despite being nostalgic and a bit sad about the loss of staff stamping books (all self service don't you know) the facilities, building and staff are all pretty fabulous. It is now going to be one of my regular haunts too as without distractions I got a lot of writing done.

3. Proper pubs - I met a friend in one of those dying breeds, a proper pub where as you open the door you are greeted with a wall of aroma, the unmistakeable smell of stale beer, where whatever time of day it is it's quite dim inside, where the half dozen blokes resting on the bar are unmistakenly regulars, and where there is a no nonsense bar maid in sensible shoes in charge. In my yoof there were so many proper pubs like this, I even worked in some of them, but of course one of the drawbacks of development is that so many of them are now gone or changed into chain pubs, wine bars, or glitzy gastronomic places. I love proper pubs with proper beer.

4. My favourite flower - lots of things are growing fabulously in the garden thanks to the deluge of constant rain and if you can see past the humungous weeds many of the flowers and shrubs are blooming. One of my favourites is this clematis, I just find the colour and shape of the flower pretty perfect. The arch it normally climbs up came a cropper in recent winds but I have another one to put up and in the meantime it carries on flowering regardless. A lovely, pretty piece of pleasure.

5. My final fab thing of the week is - yep - those kittens. I have already posted a pic so won't spoil you or bang on about them again, but they've been fabulously soothing!

How many fab things have you found this week?

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Purr-fect way to de-stress

I'm currently kitty sitting for my next door neighbours pair of pussies while they are away. Popping in, scooping the poop, filling up the food and water are all easy to do. But these little fellas love a cuddle too and it is impossible just to pop in and straight out again. They demand some play time, lap to sit on and an audience for their purrs which reach earthquake tremor levels.
And I have found it the perfect way to take half an hour out, sit and be still, switch off and de-stress. The house is silent apart from their content rumblings, they've been fed, watered and played with and they fall asleep curled up and happy. All is well with the world.
 You can't beat a cute cat pic!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Five fab Friday things

I've been all over the place this week, in all kinds of way, but here are five things I'm thankful for this week...
  • Friends - this week I have been out and about seeing new ones and old ones (in the relationship not the age sense!) They have made me welcome, made me vegan food and we have talked, laughed, eaten, drank, talked and laughed some more. Friends are fab!
  • Home - I do like being away, travelling, seeing people but I sooo love coming home, especially when my boys (one son, one dog, one cat) are all waiting and so happy to see me back
  • Tofu - not something I thought I would ever be grateful for given its curious consistency and bland look and taste, but my one of my friends made me the best vegan chocolate mousse type pudding ever and the secret ingredient was tofu - who'd have thought...?!
  • Navigational skills - or lack of them, actually maybe fairer to say my lack of all things geographical. This skills gap allowed me to think that Bristol/ Swindon/ Nottingham/ Leicester were all near neighbours (and very near London) which is why I planned in one trip to stop off at so many places which are actually not that near to each other at all (and not just outside London) But I'm glad I did it all.
  • Losing my phone - or more acurately, finding it again! I lost it in a field after thinking that the pocket I had put it in was too small (always listen and act on your gut feeling is that lesson!) when I went to take it out it had gone. After several circuits of the field, with a rising panicky feeling (addicted to my iPhone - moi?!) and berating myself I spotted it hiding in some long grass. Phew!
What's been good about your week?
Amazing but true... this is made of tofu!!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Visual dare - distorted

I'm delighted to get time to take part this week in Angela's Visual Dare. I'm not quite sure how I got to this from her fab photo prompt but guess that's part of the fun..! 

Her heavy sealed eyes opened slowly, scouring the room. Strange faces in a photograph stared back, a bright red dress, the kind she would covet but never dare wear was slung over a chair. Was she dreaming or ill, maybe she had a fever. Then droplets of memory started tapping onto her thoughts. Bright lights, sticky smells, a fairground. A dare to go into the tent of Mystic Mags. She’d entered laughing, saying she’d cross her palm with silver. She hears clearly the voice replying ‘so you want a new life, a new you? Well if you're sure my pretty...'

Friday, 6 July 2012

Fab Friday Fings

I've decided every Friday shall be Fab Friday for me - not just because it's my favourite day of the week, but so I can look back and remind myself of the good things that happen in a week.
So, starting today, five things I'm thankful for on this Fab Friday are:
  • Booking a holiday with my boy - he's nearly 17 but still wants to come on holiday with me, this year I wasn't sure if he would... and I'm well prepared for a refusal happening some time in the near future! But we get on well, have fun when we travel together and knowing that some day soon he'll prefer to be off with his mates makes it even more memorable. And I love arranging holidays! So in three weeks time we are off to Paris, then on to the Loire Valley where we've not been before.
  • The car park present - a lovely chap came up to me as I was just about to pay £10.50 (scandalous amount!!) for parking in a city centre multi-storey. He gave me a ticket and explained he gets them free from his workplace but not to say anything as he'd get sacked if they knew he was giving them away. He saved me money and made my day with his random act of kindness - and of course I won't say anything at all to anyone...!
  • The rain - yes I am actually counting the rain as a Good Thing. Last week it was a Terrifying Thing as I ploughed my poor little car through floods that came over her bonnet, but as I sat in the garden yesterday (the one day in ages it hasn't rained) I appreciated how green, lush and thriving everything is (yes weeds included...!). And it saves my having to water the garden (see - really looking for the positives)
  • Sweeties - going vegan has definitely curbed my sweet tooth - no biscuits, cake is a rare treat - but this week I have found sweets, totally and utterly vegan sweets! Sooooo excited I bought (and ate) two packets...
  • Our beach - no it's not really ours but that's what I call it, just a few miles away from my house. This week as the fields have been too swampy to go walking in me and my dog have been to our beach every day in the rain, fog, wind and even - once at least - a bit of sunshine. It doesn't matter what the weather is like, it's one of my favourite places to be, a calming place that always helps me get perspective and peace.  

What things are you thankful for this week?

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

So how was it for me?

My trial month of being vegan is over - I committed to one month in June because it sounded like a do-able time scale and I honestly didn't know if at the end of it I'd be reaching for the cheesy scrambled egg with extra mayo.

The fact that I'm not and have no desire to three days after the official end of the 'trial', even though I could if I wanted and justify it to myself, says something.

What has been fascinating is focusing on food and realising how distant our normal relationship with it is. I was surprised on my first vegan trip round the supermarket to realise, after an unfeasible amount of time label gazing, how much seemingly unnecessary stuff goes into what we eat. Even usual things I'd buy as a vegetarian mostly contained some kind of dairy product added in some guise. Veggie sausages, falafel, quorn, pesto - all out.  It's also been a revelation just how much diary as a vegetarian I must have been eating, it does become not only a meat substitute but often the only thing people can think of to offer you.

Making meals at home hasn't changed much - much of what I'd make anyway would be relatively vegan, or easily made into vegan by say leaving the parmesan out. I can actually say I haven't missed cheese which is surprising (until my brother turned up and his partner hadn't known and had brought me a bag full of gorgeous looking cheeses as a present... I sulked and son scoffed them!) The only think I do think about occasionally is scrambled eggs on a weekend for brunch - I haven't tried the tofu version of them yet, I know it won't be the same.  Meals round friends houses have been great, they've wanted to try new recipes and it's been fab hearing other non vegans exhort how delicious (and easy) vegan food can be.

Eating out however is a whole different experience. Restaurants have to be picked carefully or given a pre-warning phone call - it's like the olden days where you wore a bell around your neck that signalled you were 'unclean'.  Eating out on a lunchtime is the trickiest thing - the usual grab something in a cafe like a normal person means at best I am lucky to get some fruit or a salad and a packet of (plain) crisps. Of all the things this has been the most difficult. Apart from train travel - which was a similar barren experience and actually meant I was hungrier longer as had a long journey.

It means that you have to be a little more organised and prepared ,which quite frankly I'm not - yet.

I decided to try vegan because of the potential health benefits - so have I noticed any? It's hard to say given I had an operation 12 days in which meant hardly eating for a few days after, then a week later suffered from a stomach infection which meant surviving a few more days on soup and bread. But, given that I am at the end of quite a stressful few months (April - trekking in Peru and suffering altitude sickness, May - having a hysterectomy, June - having plastic surgery done) I am feeling surprisingly well and what I do know is the days when I have eaten well and slept well I've felt very well. And it has 'cured' me of picking and snacking (one of the downsides of working at home) and of my sweet tooth - no longer can I just have a couple of biscuits or piece of cake with a cuppa.

So, partly because I have had the blip in the middle which blighted the experience a bit, partly because it is starting to feel like the 'norm' and partly because I'm still fascinated as I have only just scratched the surface and have loads more to try and to look into, I am not going to end my vegan experience with the end of June. Oh no, I am carrying on being that awkward one, that one who has to explain what they can and can't eat, that one who just says 'it's fine I'll just have the salad then - no dressing' for at least a while longer yet...  

And if you want to follow my vegan ups and downs, recipes, good (and bad) places to go you can like my Vegan Virgin FaceBook page