Thursday, 21 June 2012

10 years on

Next month it is 10 years since I took my final A level exam and left school. This weekend I am marking the occasion with a mini reunion with two of my best friends from the two years of 6th form, E and K. E is one of my oldest friends, and we've known each other for approaching two decades; we've stayed in touch pretty much constantly since leaving school, having a routine whilst at university of emailing each other on a certain day of the week, that lasted through several years of work before life has just got too busy. Although K and I were good friends, we have only met once in the last eight years which was at my wedding lunch last summer. I'm pretty sure we can pick up where we left off and am looking forward to filling in the gaps and having fun like we used to - there's something very comfortable about being in the company of the people who saw you through your inappropriate crushes and inability to choose clothing.

It's got me thinking though as milestones always do (and I haven't even had to navigate the minefield that is a school reunion yet), about what we've achieved in the last decade, and how much or how little of that could have been predicted then. E and K and I *were* all clever, getting reasonable GCSE results, and in the case of E and myself, excellent A level results that took us to Oxbridge, but never really lauded as being clever by our school. Since then, between us, we all have first degrees (2:1s), there's a Masters (with distinction), and a PHD that's nearly completed. Along with a myriad of professional qualifications in both librarianship and tax accountancy.None of us had boyfriends (except K, briefly) at school, yet one of us is married, and we all own property with our partners, and have been with them for 8, 5 and 4 years respectively. My inability to cover a Christmas cake neatly hasn't stopped me from successfully making my own wedding cake, and E's procession of unfinished sewing projects doesn't prevent her from making cushions and other things for her house with her own sewing machine. My Physical Education teachers would be astounded by the fact that I regularly choose to enter competitive events and that I swim in excess of 20km every week and recently completed a 10k swim followed by a triathlon only a fortnight late. I could go on.

I'd like to be able to tell my 18 year old self that you never really know what's round the corner. You may feel that you have been set upon a certain path, but you don't know how that works out; I wonder if that is the sort of advice my 38 year old self will want to give my 28 year old self? In some ways I am entering a period of stability in my life with a marriage and home ownership - but so many things are uncertain. Who knows what another ten years will bring?

Oh, and who'd have thought that we'd end up in the garden centre at the pyo fruit farm that I took the ladies to buying plants? Seems city dwellers (unlike suburban me) don't get access to proper countryside or gardens very often. Or that we then spent at least an hour discussing our respective vegetable growings?

Hello Kitty cake

It's been a while since I made a cake for Free Cakes for Kids, but here is my latest for Angela who will be 9 at the weekend and who requested Hello Kitty on a Victoria Sponge with strawberry jam and buttercream.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Garden update

As it's not raining for once, it's time for a little garden update. I have to say that the recent weather (torrential rain and high winds) has not been pleasant for my little babies and I hope they will survive. I planted the tomatoes out on Jubilee Weekend and they do just about seem ok although desperately in need of some sun.

 The courgettes went out a week ago - following the first lot of courgettes which failed, we decided that part of the problem was that the ground had not been properly prepared so Mr W has kindly sieved the soil and then tipped five bags of compost on top (Sainsburys special offer...) and then I planted them out. They ARE very floppy but it seems one doesn't need to cane them. I think one of them won't survive, but two of them have started growing little flowers which I was very excited to spot when I watered them earlier. They seem quite thirsty, I'm not sure whether it's the compost that's super absorbant or that they are planted next to the garage but they seem to need a lot of water in addition to the rain that's falling. Won't be so much of a problem once Mr W fixed the outside tap and I can either use the hose (now that the hose ban has been lifted) or at least not carry my watering can so far!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

A busy Saturday

So, alarm went off at 8am today and although I could have easily slept for another four hours and probably should have done, I was up and out of the house by 8.30 heading back to Bedford for another go at a 1.5k swimming race at 10.30. As you can see by this photo that Mr W took, I probably should have stayed in bed. Especially as the windy conditions seemed to promise a repeat of last Saturday. However, I got in, swam, and was pleased to get out in about 22 minutes, 20 seconds, which given the wind, the fact that I hadn't taken a rest day yesterday, and that I was very tired is pretty good given that my best time is 22:03.

Out of the water and dressed again by 11am, Mr W drove us home, and it was time to clean and tidy and hoover the house again in anticipation of my afternoon tea guests. The cake that I showed you yesterday was decorated with my interpretation of the Virago Books logo, and the people coming for tea were friends from the Virago Modern Classics Librarything group, a group devoted to people who like myself love and collect Virago Modern Classics. I couldn't wait for them to see my collections!

The ladies (and gentleman) had spent the morning in Oxford looking around bookshops and having lunch, and then came on up to me. A lot of new faces, although twitter pictures and facebook helped me to identify people, as well as old friend Claire and friend/colleague Stuck in a book Simon. A sumptuous tea was provided partly by myself (look at my apple shaped shortbread!), and some of the guests also contributed things - coconut and raspberry cake and chocolate brownies. Tea and squash was drank and I hope everyone had a good time!

Friday, 15 June 2012

Reading SLUMP

It’s been a bit of a blogging slump too, and I guess for the same reasons.  Too much openwater swimming and triathlon, too much occupying myself at work, gardening to be done, and too many vegetable box vegetables to be put into eating form.  I’ve barely read a thing for weeks with the possible exception of magazines (mainly on healthy living and triathlon and swimming) and a few Brownie books and Chalet school fill ins.  However, I started reading one Chalet School fill in on Monday, and I still haven’t finished it.  I realised I must be in a slump at lunchtime today when I went to the library and nothing caught my eye at all and I came out empty handed with the exception of a DVD borrowed in an attempt to make me sit down at lunchtime.  The swimming is great and I’m desperate to make the most of the short season available but it IS time consuming.

I feel like I’m failing a bit.  I had plans at the beginning of the year and I’m not really delivering on them.  Oh well.  I think I need to get back to small and realistic goals, such as an hour of cross stitch a week,  taking at least one of my tea breaks a day and using it to read rather than run errands. 

Since I stopped getting the weekend newspapers I've missed out on reviews of recent books published and I've barely got time to do more than skim blog posts at the moment (apologies also for lack of commenting!) so ifyou've read or come across any recent books which I might like, let me know and I'll try to get them from the library!

Anyway, tomorrow I have a large group of people who I have mainly never met before coming to my house for tea.  I’ll write more in due course (I hope!) (determined to find some time to write this weekend) but perhaps from this photo of a cake that I made for tomorrow you can tell what we all have in common?

Sunday, 10 June 2012

First ever triathlon

So, less than 24 hours after starting yesterday's Long Swim, I found myself at Blenheim, ready to start my first ever triathlon.  I have to say I wasn't feeling tip top after the race yesterday and woke up this morning feeling nauseous and dizzy.  I wasn't sure if it was an after effect of yesterday, a bug or nerves, but having paid £75 to enter Blenheim Tri (so expensive!), I was determined to see if I could at least start it even though I felt so rough.  The short car journey there was punctuated by a discussion about whether I could stop after the swim or the bike or just do one lap of the bike.  Here I am sitting waiting for it to be time to go and get ready for the start of my wave.  Check out the giant inflatable sports drink bottle in the background!

Here I am dressed up in my wetsuit and nearly ready to go.  Sun had briefly come out which was nice!

 Here I am somewhere on the left waiting for the race to start.  I was exceptionally happy that my wave was given pink hats to wear.
 Here I am coming out of the swim (750m), and running (400m uphill) to T1.  I was happy that I managed to get out of the top of my wetsuit very quickly and easily.  I was one of the first out of the swim on my wave, maybe 4th out of about 200.
 After stripping my wetsuit off completely, donning socks and shoes and my number belt and the all important helmet, it was time for 3 laps of the bike course (total 19.8k).  There was a horrific hill which was very hard on my bike, which as you see from this picture is better fitted to commuting than triathlon (I only have 6 gears), which I had to do three times, but I was happy that I didn't have to stop and walk.  I must have got overtaken by almost everyone from my wave as when I got back to the bike racks they were virtually full again.
 Finally, dispense with the bike and helmet for the run.  2 laps, 5.4k, getting quite hot by this time so very glad of water at the aid stations which could be thrown over one's head.  Ended the race with a very damp chest area. I was proud of myself for not walking at all, and overtook a couple of people who were walking (but was again, mostly overtaken)
 And finally, just approaching the finish.  Looking distinctly grumpy.  Obviously a sprint distance not long enough for me.  Does an ironman beckon?!  (I jest...)
Looking at my watch I could see that I had got around in 1:50ish which was a good ten minutes faster than what I could have hoped for.  I guess I was lucky over yesterday when the windy conditions would have made the swim and the bike a lot harder.

When the official times came through, I immediately realised there was a mistake as I had been given a time of 31 minutes for the swim!  Given that my watch had said 11 minutes just as I approached the exit, and that I can swim nearly 2 km in 31 minutes, I thought it unlikely.  Ken realised that my  chip had obviously got mixed up with the previous wave as deducting 20 minutes made it all more realistic.

My correct times have just been issued: 11:29 for the swim (750m), 57:29 for the bike (19.8k), 34:21 for the run (5.4k). Total of 1:50:46, so around 7 minutes in transition. Not bad given that T1 involves a 400m uphill run!

I am really pleased with it!  I am not sure if I have got "the bug", greater improvements would involve more time training on the bike and the run and taking time away from my beloved swimming, and really I would have to spend money buying a "proper" bike.  We'll have to see.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Third swimming race of the season

This time a 3.8k swim at Lechlade, a pretty 3/4 hour drive away (so practically on my doorstep for once).  3.8k is the distance that I have really been working on in the last year; the holy grail for this distance is to achieve it in under an hour.  I am confident that I am pretty close to doing this....depending on the conditions.

A personal best *was* achieved, last year I completed a race at the same distance in 1:09:13, this year in 1:07ish - official results have yet to be posted.  Not quite what I was hoping for.  But it was the conditions.  You might have noticed it's been a bit windy in the last 24 hours, my first impression of the lake when we arrived was that it was a bit like the sea.  A strong current in one direction created by the wind meant a difficult fight down half of each lap, with waves seeming to appear whenever you wanted to breathe, as well as making it very difficult to swim in a straight line without "sighting" every 6 strokes (or less).  Mr W comforted me afterwards by pointing out that only one person got in under an hour (yes, there were tears at having missed my target by quite so much).

If I'm honest, I also went into this race a bit tired and perhaps a bit under carbohydrated.  It took me longer to bounce back from my 10k than I would have liked and I have had a few stressful things going on in the last fortnight.  I am going to prioritise rest in the next week or so as well as trying to eat sensibly, my next 3.8k attempt will be in 3 weeks time.

Anyway, rest won't begin until tomorrow night.  Tomorrow, less than 24 hours after starting today's race, I'll be doing my first Sprint Distance Triathlon - 750m swim, 19.8k bike, 5.4k run - at Blenheim Palace - a nice setting, which admiring shall provide an excuse for going slowly.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Two ways with bananas

I've mentioned before that bananas can be somewhat a bane of the weekly veg box. Don't get me wrong, I love bananas and would be most upset if we didn't get some each week, but I don't always get around to eating my daily banana (particularly if they are not at the right level of ripeness) and then there is that dreadful moment when you realise you have more than one banana which is past the pleasant eating stage. So I'm always on the lookout for good banana recipes and here are two I've made in the last fortnight.Firstly a banana cheesecake from a recipe in last month's Good Housekeeping Magazine. It was actually a banoffee flavour but I didn't have any toffee sauce, merely a packet of maltesers which had accidentally been left in the sun, so I mashed them up and put them on the top instead. Cheesecake is a bit of a faff, separating eggs, and whipping the whites and folding it all together without losing the air, but it's a rewarding faff I think and Mr W appreciated.Secondly, this is my second attempt at banana and coconut flapjacks using this recipe. The first batch was exceedingly tasty, the banana makes them nice and moist (sometimes flapjacks can just be a bit too dry), and the coconut provides a different sort of texture. This second time around I added in some raisin.s

Monday, 4 June 2012

Happy Jubilee

If I'm honest, I haven't managed to do much to celebrate the Jubilee. Saturday was spent visiting a relative in hospital (the Bank Holiday traffic almost doubling the time taken for the 300 mile round trip), and Sunday spent celebrating my Dad's birthday, before coming back to work today (not too much of a hardship given the unpleasant weather). But how could I pass up the opportunity for a bit of themed baking? here are my Jubilee Battenberg and my Jubilee Cookies. Apologies for the silence on the blog front; it seems that swimming 10k took me longer to bounce back from than I would have liked, which is frustrating as I am gearing up for my first of 4 attempts this season to swim a 3.8k in under an hour on Saturday, and doing my first triathlon on Sunday. Oh well, I will continue to eat cake...