Sunday, 7 June 2015

Managing Stress

For several years I have run as a means to keep fit and healthy, always in pursuit of that washboard stomach. But running has other benefits; it is a great mood booster and has been scientifically proven to reduce stress levels. In addition to this, engaging in physical exercise for 150 minutes per week can also reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer, by up to 50%.

I have been running more often as a way to improve my mood and reduce anxiety and stress. There are of course other ways to combat stress but not all of them are free. For instance, my favourite and tried and tested method is clothes shopping. My wardrobe has been particularly rammed as late but I am not complaining, I have acquired some fabulous new outfits dah-ling! Anyway, it's not as though running doesn't have its own drawbacks. Although running is recommended to unwind and improve your emotional state, if you're running whilst feeling angry, tense, stressed or anxious you increase the likelihood of causing injury to yourself. It kinda defeats the object if you wait out your down moods until you're calm and collected. Higher levels of Cortisol and adrenaline can actually boost your pace short term but too much, and it can affect your form. To reduce the risk of injury and ensure your run is enjoyable, follow these simple steps.
  1. Warm up and warm down. Don't slack on these pre and post run, your body will thank you for it later. If mid run you feel your muscles twinge or it becomes uncomfortable don't be afraid to stop. Knead your calf muscles and spend extra time stretching then get back to it.

  2. Run on a flat, well lit surface. It is preferable that you run a scenic route that you find calming so that you can enjoy your run and be present and in the moment. 
    • When running my route in the city of Leicester there are several traffic lights that force me to stop mid run and noise and pollution add to my already frayed thoughts. Sometimes the buzz from running isn't enough to take my mind away from unwelcome distractions and my performance is hindered. In contrast to this, I enjoy a more leisurely pace in Wivenhoe, taking in breathtaking views along the river Colne and pretty fields with far off vistas. (See below picture of poppy fields I happened across on my run today!) This route inspires me to run again soon.

  3. If you're feeling angry you may feel inclined to go all out and blow off steam, don't. Take it down a notch and slow your pace. Get into a nice rhythm and control your breathing. 

  4. Listen to music. Whether outdoors or on a treadmill, music is a great stress reliever. Create different playlists with songs that have a calming effect or that energise your workout, depending on what you need at a given time. 
              Wivenhoe poppy field near Essex University.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Keith Lemon

Last year I bought a lemon tree. After starting to be more conscious of leading a healthier lifestyle I was eager to grow as much of my own fruit and vegetables as possible. Although living in an apartment, I have still been able to grow strawberries on my balcony and herbs in the kitchen. The lemon tree was a welcome addition and there was already a large yield of lemons growing and ripening when I bought it. With so many lemons growing, I was not able to consume them all so gave them away to friends and family. I aptly named my lemon tree 'Keith Lemon'.

Unfortunately, I did not research the needs of a citrus plant and the leaves started to droop and become dried over time. The fruit shrivelled up and dropped off the sad branches. I desperately tried to revive it but to no avail, Keith Lemon was dead.

When buying an established lemon tree they can cost over £20.00. Having already invested in Keith Lemon, I decided to take a cutting for my next lemon tree. You can take a cutting from any plant, it is free and really rather simple. As well as being cost effective, it also allows you to grow a plant from a variety of your choosing. You can choose the characteristics you wish your plant to have; so if you want it to produce a lot of lemons, take a cutting from a lemon tree that has a proven yield and has good health. My sister Camella shelled out £36 to purchase her lemon tree just over a week ago but it is quite large and has many buds. If you prefer instant results, you may prefer to just buy one. You can check out 'John Lemon' here.

You will need:

An established plant (to take the cutting from)
Compost specific to growing fruit and vegetables
A plant pot, preferably with drainage holes
A trowel (optional)
Garden scissors

I recycled the plant pot Keith Lemon was in. I recommend you choose a plastic plant pot to grow your cuttings in and place the pot inside an ornamental pot once you know the cutting has taken to the soil and has grown roots. It will take approximately 4 weeks before roots form and you are able to determine whether the cutting will survive. If roots have formed, leave the plant for a couple more weeks before considering repotting it. 


Use a good compost specifically for citrus plants, fruit or vegetables. The compost I used had nutrients enriched in the soil which last for 6 weeks. Fill your pot with compost using your hands, gloves or a trowel (if you don't want to ruin your nails!) Fill the pot with soil up to about three quarters. 


You may want to sift the soil to ensure you get all of the lumps out. I used a small tool to do this but you can also use your fingers.

Use a pencil (or again your finger) to create a hole in the soil in which to put your cutting into. 


It is advisable to take several cuttings as not all of them will grow roots and form into an established plant. I took a cutting from my mothers lemon tree; Keith Lemon II (Mammy did not have any name suggestions of her own so adopted mine). Mammy's lemon tree does not have many branches and is still recovering from the Winter, with only a few new buds left that will form lemons. In light of this, I only took one cutting. When taking a cutting, make sure to take it where the stem is green and has not formed a brown bark-like texture. Cut the stem between 8-10 inches. It is also important to cut the stem at an angle, so the bottom of the stem has a greater surface area in which to take in water and grow roots. With the cutting, you should ensure there are no more than three leaves. This is so the cutting can concentrate its energy on forming roots, rather than feeding leaves which will serve no purpose at this early stage. For the same reason, ensure the stem is not bearing any fruit and if so, remove them.

If you are away from home when taking a cutting, wrap your stems in a damp paper towel and pot up as soon as you are able to. Place the stem into the hole you prepared earlier and pack the soil around it. If you are positioning more than one cutting, place them apart. With the view of taking more than one cutting, I had placed mine slightly off centre inside the pot. 


Ta-da! You now have your very own lemon tree. To care for your plant and help give it the best odds of survival, place it in a warm, sunny position. Ensure you water it and keep the soil moist. If you allow the soil to dry the plant will most likely fail to produce roots and you will have to start the process over. I have my fingers firmly crossed and hope 'Keith Lemon III' does not meet the same demise as his predecessor! 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Clarice House

On Monday I visited Clarice House in Ipswich with my sister Fallon. We purchased the spa day some time ago but was unable to go due to work and other commitments so we paid a small fee to extend the voucher expiry date. We had previously visited Clarice House in Colchester on another occasion but this time the availability was limited and the voucher end date was fast approaching again. It just so happened that this overdue visit now fell at a time when rest and relaxation was much needed so we opted to visit Ipswich instead.

Recently my stress levels have been extremely high. Work demands have been ever increasing since January and this pressure has accumulated in me working late to try and fulfil all duties whist taking on additional workloads. I am usually very calm and laid back but the last couple of months have been fraught and I have been unable to cope with the mounting pressure, at times feeling so overwhelmed that I have been on the brink of tears. This stress has recently resulted in me experiencing chest pains and constant headaches so I have been trying to manage my health by taking time off work, in the hope that I can alleviate some of the pressure and restore my work-life balance.

Our spa day was booked early on Monday morning with a 9am start for our first treatment; a back, neck and shoulder massage followed by a facial. I was reluctant to accept these times when booking but availability was also limited at the Ipswich Clarice House so I hesitantly accepted the booking. Fallon and I set off early, factoring in the early rush hour traffic and allowing some time for delays (getting lost!) Although only a short half an hour journey from Wivenhoe to Ipswich I was also apprehensive about driving as it was the first time I had driven for several months following a car accident late last year. I did not fail to live up to my 'last-minute' status either and insured and taxed my new car the night before our trip so had not actually test driven it.

Ironically setting off for a full day of relaxation the journey was anything but and we feared our day would culminate in more stress. We immediately hit rush hour traffic and was at a standstill for some time. Stopping off for petrol to fill my new car for its first trip we decided we should also purchase some snacks as neither of us had eaten breakfast. Stomachs rumbling we set off again and I hoped to gain some pace and make up for lost time when reaching the A14 but we were met with roadworks and a 40 mile per hour limit. The clock was ticking but we still had half an hour before our first treatment was due. I followed the sat-nav and arrived into Bramford ahead of time. Feeling relieved I drove up Bramford Road, eyes peeled and ready to locate signage for Clarice House. My relief was short lived when my sat-nav directed me into Ipswich town centre. A knotted sensation twisted inside my stomach as I realised there was no exact address for Clarice House and the sat-nav was just directing me along the road I had typed in. After much circling I pulled up into a residential street and referred to Google maps. Fallon also helped but unfortunately neither of us fair well with map reading. I drove for an extra hour and ended up on an industrial estate. Through process of elimination we managed to figure out what end of Bramford Road we needed to be at. The clock was now showing 9:30am so with the knowledge we had missed our massage and facial, we resigned to the fact we needn't worry anymore about arriving on time as we were so far beyond it. I drove back up the road I had been driving on for the past hour and retraced much of our journey before glimpsing the sign for Clarice House and viewed a small opening off the road. Of course I was not able to react quickly enough and drove straight by! So I carried on until I could turn back around and eventually we reached our destination, two hours after having initially set off.

By this point our stress levels were high and we were panicked about the reaction of the staff regarding our lateness. It was raining torrentially so we turned up at the spa counter wet and bedraggled, deflated that we had missed our treatments and would only now have access to the pool and facilities. Upon arriving at the counter there was a flurry of activity. A friendly blonde lady identified us as the latecomers and reassured us that she was at this moment in time, rearranging our treatments for us. Fallon and I turned to one another in disbelief and thanked the team profusely, whilst trying to explain what had happened to us. We were given new appointment cards so we would still receive our massage and facial. We joked that the trip to the spa had created more stress for us. We were given a tour of the facilities and were guided into the changing rooms. Laughably, we devoured our snacks whilst sat in the changing room (a scotch egg and cereal bar).

From then on in, our luck changed and throughout the course of the day our stress levels reduced. So much so that Fallon left her purse and locker key in the dining room. Upon realising they were missing, there was no urgency to go and find them as she was in such a state of pure relaxation and felt completely care free about the incident. A member of staff happened to locate us and reunite Fallon with these items. We swam some lengths in the pool, rested in the jacuzzi and used the sauna and steam room. We both agreed that we ought to visit a spa more often. Included in our spa package was a two course lunch. We conversed over a large glass of Pimms and lemonade and enjoyed a starter of tomato soup, Fallon then opting for a Ploughman's lunch and I, a bacon and cheese steak burger. The food was plentiful, albeit a tad too generous and I only managed to eat a quarter of my main. With a half an hour wait for Fallon to receive her pedicure I enjoyed time to read a magazine. I was so appreciative of having this quiet downtime and realised that I need to find time for myself and wind down. Fittingly, I read an article on how to manage stress through exercise; namely through pilates, yoga and running. More on this to come! The day ended well, our visit saved by the helpfulness and friendliness of staff. I will certainly be planning another trip now that I know where to find it!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Wivenhoe

Wivenhoe is my second home. Currently living between two places can certainly have its advantages. When working in the city of Leicester I am able to feed my shopping addiction on a half hour lunch break, dine out at a choice of restaurants and unwind in the evening at a hip cocktail bar.

Yet when I leave the hum of Leicester behind and embark on the 150 mile trip back 'home' to Wivenhoe, I am instantly met with a calmer, more tranquil pace of life. It is during these quiet moments of downtime that I can truly feel at peace, away from the constant drone of the city. 

It was a glorious day albeit a little windy at times when I set out for a stroll along the Wivenhoe Quay to Alresford with my sister Camella and her boyfriend.




Future aspiration, own a yacht! 



I first stumbled upon this abandoned church back in 2011 when I was on a bike ride along the Wivenhoe to Alresford trail and blogged about it here. It has become a favourite Spring/Summertime walk and I always make sure to visit the church each time. The church was destroyed by fire on the 2nd October 1971 but was never restored.



My sister Camella donning my favourite style, nautical stripes!

What Camella wore:
White dress - Forever 21 - £21
Striped Crop Top - Primark - £4



Of course the walk ended with a pit stop at the local pubs beer garden and Pimms was ordered all round. 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Impara l'Italiano

Belladonna, n. In italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues - Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devils Dictionary.

For several years I have vocalised my aspirations to learn a language to friends and family. This was even featured in my blog post back in November 2011. My desire for learning a language was somewhat realised when I was accepted onto an internship in Italy that same year. I successfully completed an intensive two week beginners course in Italian and consolidated my learning by immersing myself in the Italian culture for three months. Upon returning to England, I soon got back into the routine of work and my experience became a distant memory. Learning a language however was still present in every New Years Resolution I made and I would often research language classes in my area, hoping to find one that I could fit into my busy schedule.


The notion of continuously developing oneself has always appealed to me. I have so many desires to learn different instruments (guitar, ukelele, drums and piano to name just a few), a language, dance, arts and crafts; that it has become almost impossible to commit to just one for fear of losing out to another. The irony is, I have never ended up pursuing any for this very reason!


Yesterday however, all that changed. Since becoming acquainted with my dear friend OHJ, I was encouraged and inspired to finally make learning a language a reality. I attended my first Italian language class at Leicester University. I have enrolled onto a 10 week intensive Beginners course which is held for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday between 6-8pm. The times are tight with me finishing work and have added a slight strain to an already burgeoning schedule but I am fully committed. The thought of having homework again is actually quite exciting and I vow to stay organised and consolidate my learning after each class. The course cost £250 but this is quite reasonable for 60 hours worth of tuition and the class size is very small, with only four learners (including myself). I have purchased a student textbook 'Amici' from Amazon to aid my learning, which can be found here. You can of course engage in self directed study but I personally find I excel when I am given direction and incorporate my learning into a routine, for example; attending a class.

It became apparent during the course of the two hour class that the other three learners had previously met before and had in fact attended a 10 week Pre Beginners course back in January. The tutor, Marco, skipped the basics and focused the lesson on how to communicate where we live and describe our home in detail. This included learning the names of different pieces of furniture within the home. The pace was quick and at times uncomfortable when asked to remember phrases and speak full sentences in Italian. Had I not already possessed some prior knowledge of the language, I would have certainly felt out of my depth. But I felt an accomplishment and relief as I stumbled my way through speaking broken Italian and Marco rewarded me with an enthusiastic "molto bene!" I came away from the class feeling inspired, my brain in overdrive trying to process all of the new words. It was a 30 minute walk home in the rain from the university. I found myself muttering out loud the pronunciation for words I had learned. When the realisation hit and I was conscious of what I was doing, I decided that it must be standard when learning a new language.


The message I would like readers to glean from this is; you are never too old to learn. You can make as many excuses to delay something you want to do. Your circumstances may not ever really be ideal. You may lack the time or the funds to invest in such projects. But those things worth doing, you can make happen.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

In Pursuit of Happiness Pink Hair

My pursuit for pink hair has been ongoing for several years. I attempted to realise this dream as a teenager and used a home dye kit. Naively I underestimated how much peroxide I would need and ended up with only half my head bleached when I ran out of dye. This resulted in a quick dash to the shops to acquire more but the results were still disastrous. A trip to a salon rectified my mistake but I never put pink to my newly blonde tresses for fear of creating more damage. My long hair was cut short into a blonde, chin length bob and I felt bitterly regretful each time I ran my fingers through my hair, which had become dry and brittle. It was a stark contrast to the black, shiny hair I always had and it has never actually quite been the same. In addition to this my scalp felt tight and itchy. I vowed to never attempt to colour my hair again, let alone bleach it.

A decade passed and all concerns faded. I thought my dreams would finally be realised this week as I plucked up the courage and voiced my desires for pink hair to my hairdresser. He seemed eager and excited to take on this challenge so I allowed him to do the necessary and he promptly started to snip strands of my hair (which had only just been newly styled!) He chatted animatedly about concocting different strengths of peroxide and would 'play around' with it so I would have a colour range of baby pinks to choose from.

Upon arriving for my hair consultation yesterday my hopes and dreams for baby pink hair were soon turned to bitter disappointment as I stared at the results. My hair had been soaked in peroxide for two hours but had turned into an orange bale of straw. I tentatively picked up my hair sample and it broke apart in my hands. 

My hairdresser not wanting to be defeatist, brought out a shade chart and suggested that I lighten my hair gradually. He pointed out a dark, honey blonde. Ironically for someone who desires pink hair, I like the natural look and try not to deviate too much from darker or slightly lighter shades when experimenting with colour.

He then asked whether I have heard of hair chalk. I had, but was not very familiar with it. Before I knew it a bright fluorescent pink liquid was being painted onto my hair as my hairdresser debriefed me on what it is. Hair chalk comes in any colour and is applied (painted) straight onto dry hair in liquid form. The chalk is then dried, either naturally or blow dried. It is recommended to blow dry the colour on otherwise your hair will turn dry and crispy. Depending on how often you wash your hair, the colour should last between two days up to a week. I wash my hair daily so the colour will fade within two to three days.

For me, the results were not quite what I had envisioned but I was pleasantly surprised 5 minutes later when I had an instant, damage free mane of pink hair! I think this is a pretty good alternative to bleach and it is ideal for me, considering I change my mind all the time. I had to ramp up the filter for the photograph because the pink did not show up very well with the lighting. Hair chalks come in all colours and you can do it yourself at home. The brightness and shade will be dependant on how light or dark your hair is. I was surprised at how well the pink took to my darker locks. I am now on the lookout for a box of hair chalks and am already eager to try turquoise.