Review: “Singled Out” by Julie Lawford

I met Christoph again this year at the Bloggers Bash. He’s just published this lovely review of Singled Out, which I hope you’ll forgive me for sharing. I know it’s blowing my own trumpet, but I could use a bit of cheering up at the moment and a positive review is just the ticket. I’ve even forgiven him for getting my name wrong 🙂 [By the way… I corrected it!]

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I’ve had the pleasure to meet Julie at last year’s Bloggers Bash and seeing her again this year reminded me that I still had her book on my kindle. This weekend’s sunshine provided me at last with an opportunity to indulge in this very accomplished novel.
What I’m talking about is a very well-written thriller set during a holiday trip to Turkey, catering to single holiday makers. You might immediately assume that this is chick lit territory, but that would do the character depth and writing style grave injustice. While certainly appealing to female audiences this novel doesn’t limit itself to pure light-hearted romantic interests but visits darker sides of the dating game and crime.
Using alternate narrative strands and voices we get insight into the characters, but we’re shown enough to be drawn deep into these characters.
Things are not as they seem and while you have an incling…

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Irene Lawford – My Mother, my Inspiration

Yes, it happened. My mother died earlier this month following a short but intense period of illness.  In late February a series of minor falls had resulted in a trip to A&E and a scan, which revealed a large and rapidly growing brain tumour.  Called a glioblastoma multiforme, this is a Grade IV malignant tumour. No treatment plan was offered, as it was deemed inappropriate for a woman in her 80’s, and in any case, the tumour was too far advanced and in too inaccessible a part of her brain. She was given steroids to bring down the swelling which had brought about the falls, and once she had temporarily recovered some of the lost capacity that had given rise to those early falls, and had a little speech and mobility therapy, she was sent home. To die.

We, my brother and I, knew this from that first day in A&E. But my mother chose not to acknowledge the fact, though we are assured she understood it. She deftly side-stepped words like growth, tumour, malignant and cancer. She didn’t ask us to Google glioblastoma. When told there was to be no surgery, she pronounced herself relieved that she didn’t have to worry about that any more. When introduced to palliative services, she would begin her sentences with ‘when I’m up-and-about again’. Her approach throughout the whole period of rapid decline was extraordinarily stoical and positive in a way that made us wonder more than once whether she truly understood her predicament. Her strategy, to continue as normal, calling her reduced mobility and changed circumstances ‘the next phase of my life’, showed a resolve and strength that amazed us. Though when you read about her life, you may see the roots from which sprung that courage and determination.

Tumours of this kind grow faster the more advanced in age the patient is. Nobody would tell my brother and I ‘how long’. But we got the picture when the hospital consultant made an outpatient appointment to see my mother, at her request.  We couldn’t understand why a hospital consultant would agree to see an untreatable, incurable former patient in an outpatient clinic. Though when we realised the appointment was for July, we understood. And we got our ‘how long’.

In actual fact, things moved rather faster. A month in hospital, and a month at home, was all she got.

As I process the feelings of shock and loss, I may write more. But for now, I wonder if you will gain inspiration, as I do, from my mother’s life. She was a wonderful and unique woman, though occasionally light on some of the qualities one traditionally associates with motherhood. But when you understand her life, you may understand why, and the energies that drove her, as I do. She determined to overcome a traumatic and lonely childhood and carve her own path in life; she strove to make her mark and ultimately, to ensure her German Jewish family’s contribution and heritage was revived and restored; she was a person who saw what she wanted, and pursued it, relentlessly, but always charmingly. She was engaged, sociable, connected around the world; an intellectual, a music-lover, a writer; a giver of talks, a traveller and a student of whatever sparked her interest.  She loved her family and her children and grandchildren, and she had a real zest for life. Right up until a month before her illness made itself known, she was travelling, learning, and meeting new people.

My wonderful, amazing mother. I give you my thoughts on a truly inspirational woman, one who knew no boundaries.

Irene Lawford was born in 1935 in Leipzig, Germany to Max and  Marie-Luise Hinrichsen.

Her father (my grandfather), was from a large family, there were seven brothers and sisters in all. The family was prominent in Leipzig society, being the owners of a music publishing business, C.F. Peters.  The young composer, Edvard Grieg, published by Peters Edition to this day, was a family friend and a frequent guest at the imposing building at Talstrasse 10, which housed both the offices of the business, and the family apartments. As well as being a successful music publisher, Henri Hinrichsen, (my great-grandfather) was also a philanthropist, whose projects included funding the purchase of the collection which became the heart of Leipzig’s Music Instrument Museum and becoming a founding benefactor of the Henriette-Goldschmidt Schule, a college for the further education of women.

But the union of a Catholic mother and Jewish father in the disturbing pre-Holocaust era made my mother a ‘mischling’ in Nazi eyes – that’s like saying ‘half-breed’ today. In 1937, at just two years of age, along with her parents, she emigrated to England to avoid the worsening Nazi persecution. Most of her family believed that ‘things couldn’t get worse’, and chose to remain in Germany, trusting that some kind of sanity would prevail. In all, 17 members of her family, including her grandfather and grandmother, would subsequently perish in Nazi concentration camps, or as a result of restrictions placed on Jews by the Nazis.

Max and Marie-Luise’s foresight led to them leaving Germany with the means to establish a life elsewhere. They set up home in Hampstead – though during the war years they were forced to move frequently, being ‘enemy aliens’ and ‘bloody foreigners’. My mother attended several boarding schools, where she would have to learn quickly how to settle in unfamiliar places, connect with strangers, and make friends.

She spent the largest period of her education at St Christopher’s School, Letchworth, a forward-thinking establishment which even today boasts that ‘We treat young people as individuals, encouraging them to develop into capable, imaginative, responsible people with a zest for life’. At the time the school was vegetarian, something which underpinned her enthusiasm for healthy eating. I well remember being dragged along to health food restaurant, Cranks, when on trips into London in the 60’s, long before clean eating was fashionable. By her own account, my mother enjoyed St Christopher’s School.

My grandparents’ marriage was unsettled to say the least, and the life of a music publisher’s wife proved too unexciting for the impulsive and bohemian Marie-Luise. She met a Hungarian pianist and when my mother was just 14, made the inexplicable (to me) decision to leave her husband and daughter, to live with her new love in Hungary, behind what was to become known as the Iron Curtain. My mother was to see her own mother only once more, before she died when Irene was just 22, committing suicide when it became impossible to access the drugs she needed to treat her advancing multiple sclerosis. One can only imagine the impact maternal desertion must have had on a 14-year-old girl already parcelled off to boarding schools, let alone the suicide that followed – but equally to conclude that her stoicism, impenetrable defences, inner strength and self-reliance may well have had its roots in this period.

Her Auntie Lotte, also escaped from Nazi persecution, settled in the lovely town of Church Stretton, in Shropshire, and it was here that my mother spent her school holidays. She always retained an immense affection for her aunt, for the closest she came to ‘normal’ family life as a child, and for the beautiful Shropshire countryside.  As a family, we returned often to the area, staying with Auntie Lotte and walking the Long Mynd and Carding Mill Valley.

In the intervening years, her father Max had established his music publishing business in London, originally as Hinrichsen Edition, and now Peters Edition. On leaving school, my mother was apprenticed – sent around Europe staying in different cities for a few weeks at a time, with other music publishing houses, to learn the trade. She describes being unsettled by the thought that her father, just six or seven years after the war had ended, thought fit to dispatch her back to Germany, alone. Whatever else, this time reinforced her sense of self-reliance and allowed her to hone her communication and rapport-building skills, as she sought to settle into life in different places and different countries every few weeks or months. When she returned to London, hopeful of a key role in the business, she took up the simple clerical job offered by her father in the office of Peters Edition.

Disillusioned by the mundane nature of her work responsibilities, she set about building a social life for herself in London, and it was here she met the man who was to become her husband and my father, Derek Lawford. They married in 1956. My mother would maintain that it had always seemed to disappoint her father that his daughter preferred to marry and create a family of her own, over pursuit of a career in music publishing. In fact, Max’s second marriage would lead to this opportunity being withheld indefinitely, and a distance engineered between them that would have lasting consequences for her.

With two young children, the family spent several years living in Sittingbourne, Kent, before returning to North West London, where my father established a successful business. But my mother was never destined to be just a housewife – throughout her life she always pursued a vast array of hobbies and interests:

  • Evening classes in languages, art/history, pottery and other creative skills, and carpentry (the garden shed/workshop with its workbench, heavy-duty tools and stacks of miscellaneous woods and veneers was always her domain)
  • Courses at the City Lit (City Literary Institute)
  • Over six years, she worked dilligently for, and achieved, a BA degree through the Open University
  • She drew up her own family tree with pen and paper, long before these could be done on-line – her interest in family history would be an enduring theme of her life
  • She was a passionate collector and, having inherited her father’s love of music stamps, set about amassing a comprehensive collection, from which she would regularly exhibit. She has also at times collected, amongst other things, antique visiting card cases, musical postcards, art nouveau prints and dolls in national dress from all over the world
  • She learned languages – speaking German fluently, but also French, Spanish, Italian and even a little Russian
  • She was a passionate correspondent, always writing to and receiving letters from people all over the world – all this in the days before email and social media
  • Latterly, she enjoyed many activities with the U3A, though for years she pronounced herself not old enough yet to join them. Once persuaded, she immediately felt at home in this network of active, intellectually engaged friends and acquaintances. She very much enjoyed giving talks on music history, and leading a German Conversation group which met at her house on alternate Tuesdays.

Back in the late 1960’s, her interest in stamps spawned an even greater passion – the Philatelic Music Circle. Along with a friend, she founded this organisation dedicated to the interests of people who collected stamps around the theme of music. Fuelled by their enthusiasm, ‘The PMC’ became the largest thematic stamp club in the world, with its quarterly magazine (edited by her) and annual convention. It remained active for upward of 30 years, with my mother at the helm.

She had always been an confident traveller and her PMC connections gave her a wonderful excuse to visit other countries, knowing there were people everywhere with whom she could connect. Her love of travel would underpin her later years and she toured places as far afield as Peru, China and Russia, as well as the USA and Canada, the Caribbean and just about every country in Europe.

My father died in 1988 after a long illness, through which my mother had nursed him at home. At around that time then, her life was undergoing dramatic change.  Also undergoing dramatic change was the landscape of Europe, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Cold War and the separation of East/West. My mother was to use this opportunity to make her first ever visit to the city of her birth, Leipzig, which had up until then, as part of what was East Germany, been behind the ‘Iron Curtain’.  And it was here that she discovered what would become her mission for the next 25 years of her life.

She found a city that had largely lost a sense of its Jewish cultural heritage, with what knowledge there was, buried, quite literally, in basements.  She realised her own grandfather’s family, his achievements both commercial and philanthropic, had been erased from history during the Nazi era, and not in any meaningful way rediscovered throughout the Cold War years. She found a depleted Leipzig C.F. Peters office unsure of its heritage.  She set about reviving the history, re-establishing the heritage and ensuring that her grandfather, Henri Hinrichsen, and his family, received due recognition for their contribution to Leipzig society.

My mother visited Leipzig several times a year thereafter, researching, canvassing for support, assisting anyone and everyone who showed an interest in reviving the city’s Jewish cultural heritage. At the Music Instrument Museum, she discovered the plaque naming a room in the museum after her grandfather, in a basement – it was soon to be reinstated. She spearheaded the setting up of a memorial stone to the family in the Südfriedhof cemetery – and many, many more notable achievements. And on every visit, she would give interviews to whoever requested, and talks to the students at the Henriette-Goldschmidt Schule, on the history of their city and the Holocaust, as it impacted the Hinrichsen family.

As a result of her visits to Leipzig and her growing involvement with her family heritage, she began researching and subsequently wrote two books; the first a detailed history of C.F. Peters over 200 years, and the second, tracing her Jewish heritage back a full 500 years, an account of the family’s migration from Spain and Portugal in the days of the Spanish Inquisition, through Germany and onward across the world.

 

She was a keen speaker, giving her talks to whoever would invite her – Jewish societies, clubs, music societies including the Grieg Society, the U3A and more – on her books and their topics, and on many aspects of music appreciation and music history. Writing, recording history accurately, documenting and educating remained her collective mission right to the end of her life.

My mother always enjoyed travelling. She had a passion for new places and experiences. Her trips always involved expanding her mind; exploring history, architecture, art or music, learning Pilates, cookery, yoga, writing, and more and her year would always be one filled to the brim with adventures, education and experiences.

Apparently undaunted by the trauma of cancer, when it impacted, she began planning her autobiography and set about instructing my brother and I on the changes she wanted to make to her garden, ideas she had for home reorganisation, redecoration and future travel plans.

She celebrated her 82nd birthday in early April and was thrilled that we had managed to organise a small party for her in secret. Though bed-bound by then, she enjoyed the sociable afternoon chatting with her guests. We were blessed with a beautiful day, sunny and warm, and her new downstairs bedroom overlooked the garden, where guests could come and go from her bedside. After they left, she pronounced it her ‘best birthday ever’.

My independent, strong, kind, generous mother, passionate about music and her heritage, and with a deep enduring love for her family, died peacefully, just three weeks later.

Note: Anyone interested in my mother’s books can find them on the website of Peters Edition, here. Both books can be obtained from the USA and UK Peters Edition companies. If you have a passion for classical music or an interest in Jewish or European history, I commend them to you.

It’s good to talk

Since the latter part of February, my life has been upturned. My mother is extremely ill with, it transpires, an inoperable brain tumour. This is impacting her mobility amongst other things, whilst her mind remains largely unaltered; though she is now bed-bound, is increasingly weary and sleeps a great deal.

I’m not going to dwell on the distress of all this, which is extreme. I want to focus on one thing today, which is the strange privilege afforded to the loved-ones of someone in my mother’s condition.  And that is, that we are – at last – beginning to say to one another the sort of things we don’t normally address in our regular daily lives.

Wholly independent for all of her now 82 years, my mother has lived alone since my father died almost 30 years ago; she has travelled extensively, written two books, given talks and spearheaded an incredible 20-year project to re-establish her grandfather’s and her family’s heritage in Leipzig, Germany, the city of her birth. I will write more on this in due course, as it’s an incredible story. But for now, I want you to know that my mother is a unique lady, an intellectual, a reader and writer, who lives life very much on her own terms. And as she faces this most challenging of times, not much about that has changed.

We’ve never been a particularly emotional or overtly expressive family when it comes to affection and so on; and we’re still not. But my mother and I are now talking of how much we love one another, how proud we are, how we admire and respect the way we have each chosen to conduct our lives. I love that I can say these things to my mother, and that she can also hear them from the many friends and acquaintances who are taking the time to visit with her. I love that I can hear from her, what she thinks of me, and how happy I have made her through so many aspects of my life, and lately through achieving something I’ve never managed before, to lose so many excess pounds and ‘get healthy’. (In fact, an aside, I have no idea how I could be managing the present circumstances, were I still hauling around that extra 70 pounds.)

The situation and its inevitable consequences are what’s driving this bittersweet aspect of our conversations, and whilst I would wish it away with all my heart if I could, I am strangely grateful for this opportunity and the words we are exchanging.

Whilst it’s exhausting, physically and emotionally, I’m acutely aware of the other privilege afforded to me, of being able to care for my mother at this time.  As a self-employed/freelancer I have been able, through the kindness and forbearance of my clients, to take a temporary break from work.  Periods during which I could concentrate and focus on work projects are minimal and diminishing, and I’m very grateful that I have extremely understanding clients, and that no employer is hopping from one foot to the other somewhere, expecting me to balance what has become the most important (indeed the only important) thing in my life, with business matters.  I know it might seem strange that I’m regarding this all-consuming and discomforting challenge as a privilege, but I have recently learned of a friend whose mother has just died, with absolutely no warning at all, and this friend is in shock at having been robbed of their mother so suddenly. Meanwhile I’ve been granted the privilege of care, and of loving conversation.

So this is today’s contemplation; that there are grains of positivity and comfort in even the most traumatic circumstances; that it’s good to talk; that you shouldn’t really ever put off saying the things you always mean to say, but never quite do; that there is nothing, nothing at all, as important as loving, comforting, reassuring and caring for those who are dear to you.

I’ll be back sometime soon, internet friends.

Guest Blogger: Davey – Learning to Live Life

IMG_0995This week’s guest blogger has a truly inspirational story – and I’m so glad he agreed to venture on to my blog to tell it. Davey has turned his life around with a quite phenomenal weight loss – and he’s still going.  I stumbled across Davey’s blog by accident a couple of months ago. He’s been documenting his life-changing transformation (more than that, I’ll leave him to explain) and his incredible attitude to walking off his surplus pounds.  I commend Davey’s blog to you – he writes with emotional intelligence, insight and honesty. He speaks right to the heart.  Without further ado…

DAVEY – LEARNING TO LIVE LIFE

When Julie asked me if I’d like to write a guest post I was extremely flattered – but also suddenly a little overwhelmed. I looked at Geoff and Ritu’s excellent pieces – and realised that in order to be a passing contributor I’d have to explain who I am – which is something that sometimes I’m still honestly not sure about myself.

The reason for this is that I’m still very much in transition as far as weight loss goes – and I still have a long way to go. At my last reckoning I still have lose the weight of a fridge freezer.

However, let me wind the clock back to January 2016 where, in a period of personal crisis surrounding the death of my mother I had received a stark wake up call.

My mother was a committed smoker and a stubborn lady. She’d never even tried to stop – or for that matter wanted to as far as I can remember – and even when she knew it was killing her she carried on regardless. Over several months I sat and watched her tied to oxygen tubes and slowly drowning in her armchair – yet even this failed to dampen her resolve to have a cigarette.

I wasn’t angry with her though – and it was this realisation that proved to be my turning point.

I understood her. 

As I sat and watched my mom trying to breathe I realised that I was doing the same to myself with alcohol and food. My drinking had always been generous. I’d over imbibed as long as I can remember – and by the time she passed I was (in part due to the increased stress surrounding this event) regularly consuming three bottles of wine in an evening.

I later worked out that my food and drink intake back then was around 8000 kcal a day.

I did no exercise, had a sedentary lifestyle, oedemas in my feet and lower legs, sleep apnea, continual bouts of cellulitis, high cholesterol, borderline high blood pressure, type two diabetes that was spiralling out of control and I was becoming practically immobile. I only moved between my living room and my office (with my car this was probably less than 100m a day) and everything else in my life required home delivery.

A number of things happened in those moments sitting at her side.

Firstly I decided to give up drinking. This was pretty much immediate. The last one passed my lips on the 26th January 2016.

Secondly I decided to give up my job – which oddly enough worked out quite well because I was unexpectedly made redundant.

Thirdly I needed to get fit and healthy – but this would be a long road. I’d tried exercise very early on after giving up alcohol but it was a massive struggle. I couldn’t walk to the end of my road (around 200m) and back without being in agonising pain. When I did so the first time I tore both calf muscles and ended up with long term plantar fasciitis.

By the time April rolled around I was still alcohol free and my clothes actually felt a little looser. I decided it was time to join some form of group and happened to notice that my old next door neighbour was running a Slimming World meeting nearby. I went along, and listened to the plan and the group talk. Then – when everyone had left the room – I stood on a pair of scales capable of weighing me for the first time in about 8 years.

The consultant quietly read out my weight.

I was 34st 8.5lbs (approx 220kg).

When I arrived at the meeting that day this is roughly how I looked and these were also the clothes that I was wearing. The waistline of my jeans was 66 inches and my shirt was an 8XL.

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In order to reach my ‘healthy’ BMI (12st 7lbs) I would need to lose 22st.

I went home and cried. I honestly couldn’t believe how bad things had managed to get and how low I’d sunk.

Although I had a slow start with Slimming World I eventually got my head around the plan and started to embrace their approach to grouping foods as ‘speed’ ‘free’ and ‘syns’ (amongst others).

I – like many others had tried a lot of diets over the years – and in all cases had lost weight, but then almost immediately regained it and more. I’d been to Weight Watchers (twice), followed the Atkins plan (twice), did the Cambridge Diet (twice), the Harcombe diet, Juicing diets, NHS healthy eating plans, Slim-Fast (on this one I lost count of the number of times), and I’d even been to Slimming World before.

Any progress I made was destroyed when I stopped dieting.

Although I can’t claim to have arrived at my current approach immediately I began quite quickly to treat my new membership in a slightly different way to previous attempts. This couldn’t be a diet. It had to be a wholesale lifestyle change. I had to develop a new way of living.

I wanted ‘a new normal‘.

Slowly but surely I began to view all pre-prepared meals and the vast majority of processed food as the enemy. I have either completely stopped eating it or have it very occasionally. I don’t do ‘fakeaways’ (SW friendly versions of takeaways) which are a big thing in my group – because a fake kebab or a fake pizza just reminds me of all the bad things I used to like to eat and maintains my taste for the types of food that got me into trouble in the first place.

I don’t want to crave them in any form any more because if I at some point ‘fall off the wagon’ I want to have re-trained my palette so much that when I falter – I reach for cottage cheese and olives rather than calling for a Dominos Pizza delivery.

For this reason I also don’t do snack food like crisps or chocolate, and I usually (but not exclusively) use my syns within my cooking instead of on treats. If I feel like adding avocado to a salad or a drizzle of olive oil to a vinaigrette then thats where my points for the day normally get used.

As I started losing weight and began to feel more active I started trying to walk around my local park – which has lots of benches, a flat circuit and is exactly a mile long.

The first few times I did this resulted in way more time sitting than standing – and a lap took over an hour. I used to refer to my early attempts as ‘bench pressing’ – because sitting down to recover occupied the lion’s share of the time I spent there.

Gradually however things improved and bit by bit my recovery time (I was continually struggling with injury) got better and better. After a while I was able to walk seven miles in a week – but still couldn’t do a whole mile in one go without resting along the way.

As time went on and I lost more and more weight I found that I sat less, and my recovery time increased. I could do more things in a day and my sleep was improving. I felt better all the time. Before I knew it in the space of a few months I could walk seven miles in a week, then 14, then 30!

It was still hard going – but I had started to really enjoy walking.

Oh – and remember the fridge freezer? Due to all the activity I’d lost the seven stone that this item represented by October.

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It wasn’t until I got out and about that I truly appreciated how small my world had become.

I can now walk over 70 miles in a week – and have been plotting my cumulative distance travelled on foot since last April. By the time December had rolled around I’d walked further than the distance from Land’s End to John o Groats (it’s 847 miles or thereabouts according to Wikipedia).

Now, nearing the end of March 2017 I’m probably about a month away from having walked back again and I can do a mile in around 16.5 minutes.

As an added bonus while my exercise levels went up my blood sugar levels went down.  Previously I had to take five tablets a day to control my levels, but gradually I’ve managed to bring my HbA1c readings under control. They’ve dropped from 94 mmol/mol (the stratospherically high level I had when I was first diagnosed) to 30 mmol/mol at my last test.

Currently I take no medication and can manage my condition by diet and exercise alone.

My blood pressure has also massively improved. Previously I was on the cusp of it being classified as high but now it’s now 124/70. This is less than the level of a man of a lower age group than me (the 25-34 bracket is expected to be 131/72 and I’m in my mid 40’s.)

I still have the clothes I was wearing in those earlier photos (in case you wondered) but they now look a little different on me. I currently weigh 22st 5lbs and I’ve lost over 12 stone. The waistline of the jeans I’m wearing as I type (which are also under my old clothes in this photo) are a 50 inch waist and are falling down. I’ve ordered some 48’s.

My shirt size is now 4XL and I’m able to get into some larger 3XL tops, depending on the shop.

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It’s not been an easy road though, and while I can say that I am now both the fittest and healthiest I have ever been in my entire life there are other emotional and mental hurdles to overcome related to this massive change.

My journey has made me question everything about my life, and examine every decision that I make now and also made in the past.

I’ve made choices in my life for so long with weight and mobility as my primary motivator that I’ve not stopped to think before what I’d do if they were no longer a problem.

The worry that’s always with me though is will I manage to keep off all the weight I’ve lost?

I have to believe I will. I can do anything I want to do. All I have to do is want it enough.

Now I can sit in restaurant booths and normal cinema seats, I can wear a seatbelt in other people’s cars, I can sleep on my back, I can stand for hours rather than minutes, I can wear the upper end of clothing from high street shops, I can put my socks on while I’m standing up, I can get into my bath and have a soak, I can cross my legs while sitting in my armchair, I can use a laptop on my lap, I can walk further and for longer than a lot of my friends.

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So what do I do with all of this? Who do I become? Who will I love, what will I do for a living and what will I learn about my new life?

I honestly don’t know – but I’m currently very much enjoying trying to find out. If you want to figure it out with me then pop over to my blog (link) and say hi!

Davey

Guest Blogger: Ritu Bhathal – Positively Poetic

It is my great pleasure to introduce you to prolific blogger and the cheeriest, most up-beat and positive poet I’ve ever encountered – Ritu Bhathal.  Ritu finds so much to smile and be positive about. Her blog is a wellspring of optimism and good cheer, liberally sprinkled with her delightful poems, stories of her life, family and friends – to say nothing of the spiritual musings of Spidey and her cat, Sonu Singh.

But the reason I asked Ritu to guest on my blog is that she has recently been – yes, you guessed it – losing weight and getting healthy. I hope you enjoy Ritu’s inspiring post, lovely photographs and intriguing breakfast recipe, which I shall be trying very soon (though, I have to say, without the sweetener or the chocolate sprinkles).  Ritu – it’s over to you…

Ritu Bhathal – Positively Poetic

Hi there!

Thank you Jools for welcoming me to your amazing blog for a post!

For those of you that don’t know me, I am Ritu, of www.butismileanyway.com

A happy go lucky blogger, who like to find things to smile about in life. I might even be classed as one of those annoying people who seems to be perpetually happy.

And you know for the best part of life, I am. There are, of course, times when I can’t be smiling, like when I wrote my car off on the motorway the other week… but other than that… no, I generally will try and see the brighter side of situations, and smile through them.

What does this have to do with weight loss, I hear you ask? Well, there was one other time recently when I felt my smile melt away. We had planned a surprise family trip to Finland for my Pop’s 70th birthday, and part of his surprise was a whole family photo shoot. This was a brilliant idea, and we got lots of pictures. My brother arranged that we all get individual photos taken too, as he suggested they could be used for my author profile. Great job!

So off we went, posed for photos and created some lovely memories for that week.

Fast forward a month and the photos came through. They were lovely… but I was horrified! My face looked so puffed up, compared to how I usually look. I was actually disgusted with myself. How had I managed to let myself go to that extent?

I mean, it was a perfectly lovely photo, just not what I thought I looked like.

My mum politely confirmed my own thoughts, telling me to try and do something now, while still young and able. As age creeps up, it becomes harder to shift, she knows…

It was the kick up the backside that I needed to be honest.

A few years previously, I had tried the JuicePlus+ diet system, with some form of clean eating, and shakes for a couple of meals for three months. I did amazingly! Lost lots of weight, and was weighing in at 9½ stone for the first time since before I had married in 2001. There was a wedding I attended, and I felt amazing. All those compliments… What girl doesn’t like to be told she is looking good?

But let’s get realistic for a moment here. Reduced calorie intake, shakes twice a day… it’s not sustainable, is it? Unless, of course you’re made of money… (these plans can cost quite a bit too…)

It didn’t take long for the weight to pile back on… and oh my, did it pile on. I stopped standing on weighing scales, but I knew things were going backwards.

After the photo shoot realisation, I had a Doctor’s appointment to get my pill prescription. The obligatory weigh-in was done, and I left that surgery red faced. For the first time since I’d been pregnant, I was over eleven stone. That was… awful!

Something had to be done. So I started the school holidays with a plan. I would lose two stone. Somehow.

I don’t mean that I was going to lose it in six weeks. No, I knew I needed to take my time, be sensible and aim to get there, slowly but surely, and in a manner that I could maintain the lifestyle and eating habits after hitting my self-imposed target too.

I went for walks, was very conscious of my food intake and I even included exercise. My exercise bike and the walking track near our house got used plenty. Five weeks in, I’d lost around five pounds. Not bad.

But I was starting school again and I knew how easy it was to fall into bad, convenience food habits. Plus, exercise, aside from running around the nursery after 20 3-4 year olds, was pretty hard to fit into my schedule too.

So, I took a step I hadn’t planned on taking initially. I joined Slimming World. Several of my colleagues were following their eating plan, and my best friend had also been losing weight with them, so I figured it was worth a try.

I signed up on my 41st birthday, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Having a target to aspire to was one thing, but my written promise to myself, and the fact that I was blogging about my Healthy Eating Journey every week, gave me the added boost to do something properly, and not to fall into the weight gain swamp again. #icandothis

I’m not going to sing the praises of Slimming World too much here, after all, this post isn’t sponsored! However, it is a fantastic plan, and way of eating, and it has helped me to reach that target of mine in six months.

There is a lot of common sense in the plan, with regards to the good foods you should use, and reach for. But you are allowed your ‘naughty’ treats too, referred to as ‘Syns’. Each day you’re allowed 5-15 syns. And you HAVE to eat them! That can include certain chocolates, crisps, cakes, alcoholic drinks, and anything not included in their ‘Free Food’ lists. But guess what…? You can eat potatoes and rice and pasta! Also you are to eat most proteins, as long as they’re lean, and all fruit and veg. In fact, there’s no reason you should ever feel hungry, as there’s so much you can eat.

It’s very much about how you cook and prepare meals too. Less eating packaged meals and more preparing them yourself, so you know what you’re putting into your cooking. It may sound like a faff, but cooking from scratch means you can bulk cook and freeze meals for another day. It’s also good as you plan what you’re going to make for the week so you don’t over shop.

Here are some photos of examples of breakfasts, lunches and dinners I have eaten over the last six months.

I’m a bit of a chocoholic, so I checked the Syn values for the treats I could have, and made sure I had everything handy, for those craving moments.

Did I manage to exercise? Well, the running around after my class and family tended to be my only form of physical exercise still, but I also started a Bhangra Dance class (which I can’t attend at the moment, due to my whiplash). I’ll get back onto it as soon as I’m able.

And now? I’m 9st 3lb. Exactly two stone down from where I began.

I feel so much better in myself; my clothes fit much better, and I think I may have to give my wardrobe a complete overhaul, getting rid of some of those larger sized clothes. People really notice the difference, which feels good, and makes me know I’ve done the right thing.

But now the hard part starts… that’s maintaining the loss.

My next goal is to keep the weight off, and not stray above 9½ stone at the very most. I think it’s always good to have a little goal in your mind, nothing too crazy, but something to keep you on track. I know I’ll be seeing many of my dear Blogily in June, at the Annual Bloggers Bash in London, and I want to be able to show my newly-svelte self off to everyone. That’s one reason to keep to my target!

I think it wouldn’t be fair to not share a recipe at least, for something that feels rather naughty, but is a wholesome, healthy breakfast, that I love to make. It can be kept simple, or you can ‘syn’ it up a bit, depending on how you feel!

Baked Oats

Ingredients

  • 40g porridge oats
  • 1 tspn sweetener
  • 1 small egg
  • 85g (½ pot) Vanilla Muller Light yoghurt, or fat free vanilla yoghurt
  • (I sometimes use the vanilla with dark chocolate sprinkles)
  • Selection of fruit or berries
  • 12g chocolate chips (if you fancy being a bit decadent!)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius
  2. Combine oats, egg, yoghurt and sweetener
  3. Pour into small oven proof dish
  4. If you wish, sprinkle chocolate chips on top
  5. Place in oven and bake for 20-30m minutes until golden brown on top.
  6. Place cut fruit on top and serve hot!

I tend to not cook the fruit as once cooked, the fruit takes on a ‘syn’ value, but if you wanted to, you could combine the berries into the mix and bake them too. Either way, a yummy breakfast!

And I am a poet, so I’m leaving you with a little poem, penned about my struggle with the belly.

Middle-aged Spread

Oh my God I can’t stop eating
My waist-line’s seriously taking a beating!
Last year I got myself so slim
In fact I’d never been so trim!

I exercised, I dieted
My stomach fat, oh I got rid!
Bye bye size 14, hello size 12
Into my old clothes, did I delve…

Then something happened, I began to relax,
Enjoying my life to the max.
Exercise? Sorry what was that?
I’d rather sit and have a chat?

So happy was I, that I began to eat
I ate a lot, it’s no mean feat!
And then the pounds, they crept back on
Oi ! You! Waist-line! Where’ve you gone?

The jelly belly from days of old
Is, not so firmly, standing bold
And no amount of hula hooping
Will, back to me, my waist-line bring.

You see, in order for that to work
In the kitchen I mustn’t lurk
This snacking, oh I’ve got to quit,
And I really must get fit!

This, along with other verses, can be found in my poetry anthology, Poetic RITUALs, available from Amazon. myBook.to/PoeticRITUals

My author page: Author.to/RituBhathal

When Everything Changes

I’ve started this post a dozen times now, each time with a few words, a sentence, a line or two. Then… delete, delete, delete. Truth is, I have no idea how to appropriately express what’s going on at present.

But I’m going to try one more time, and I hope you’ll forgive the lack of detail… Someone extremely dear to me has been admitted to hospital and is in a serious condition. Beyond that, until there is detailed feedback from the specialists and an indication of possible next-steps, all there is, is uncertainty.  I am bereft, and overwhelmed, and doing everything I can for the person I love.

There’s another thing too. By inconvenient coincidence, I was scheduled to have a growth (a disruptive but nothing-to-worry-about growth) excised from my lip, for which objective a minor operation took place last Wednesday evening, involving local anaesthetics and lasers and a wasted hour in bed, when my blood pressure shot through the roof (hardly surprising, considering). Since then I look like I’ve been in a fight. I have four stitches in my lip and for a few days at least, this most fragile flesh blew up like a puffer fish, then oozed and bled a little (keeping me from the hospital for a day) before at last settling down to a raw, then crusty blob. I would be hibernating under normal circumstances, though I guess the one place where you can actually blend-in with stitches and bruising… is a hospital.

If you will allow me a moment’s wry observation, there’s nothing like a personal crisis to disrupt a weight-loss plateau. Whether it’s stress, distress or anxiety, lack of sleep or loss of appetite, disruption of routines, tail-chasing or all the above – I don’t know. But in the first two days, I dropped four pounds and almost three more since then, in just over one week. If I took the time to breathe, I would be weirdly appreciative of this.

I’ve lately been thrilled to be picking up new readers every day for this blog. It seems to have caught a wave with people at last, some maybe seeking inspiration for their weight-loss journeys or support in making lasting lifestyle changes; and others, well, just… people of the blogosphere, engaging, connecting.  Now I need to ask you, readers new and old, to bear with me please. I may be gone a little while, or sporadic in my blogging. I certainly won’t be my usual chippy self.  Someone recently suggested I might invite a few guest bloggers, so you might see one or two strangers taking up temporary residence in the coming weeks. Those I have in mind have inspirational healthy/weight-loss stories to tell, so they’ll be worth the read. One or two have already indicated their willingness to pen a few lines for me – you know who you are, and I am very grateful.

I’ll be here, now and again, or in a while, or posting ‘lite’. I’m not sure yet. But I do so hope you will stay with me. For what it’s worth, I’m firmly and resolutely in my healthy zone, and very determined that this disturbing turn of events and disrupting period won’t upset the ‘new normal’ of good eating habits I’ve established over recent months. (Not so sure about the exercise though, unless you count power-walking a hospital corridor every day.) I know I’m already coping better with what’s going on than I would ever be, were I still hauling around those surplus 70+ pounds.

Special Places – Part Two #inspiration #reflection #nurture

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Welcome to Part Two of my journey through a few of the places which have special meaning for me.  Here’s Part One if you missed it, in which I picked out a few places from my childhood and career. In this second geographically inclined post I’ve focussed places which have connections from a relationship or social perspective. This was meant to be just one post, but the more I thought about it, the more places I found.

Fleet Services, M3 (Northbound), Hampshire, UK

2016-07-17-15-14-52How shall I put this? I once made a connection with someone at Fleet Services on the M3 motorway (northbound). It was very many years ago. It was one of my earliest experiences of that beyond exciting realisation that someone I was attracted to, was attracted to me too. More than that, I will not share, as it’s too private a memory. Save to say that much water has passed under the bridge since then, and that life can have a funny way of coming full circle.

For several years, I would avoid this motorway pit-stop as it held the first fragment of what had started in a thrilling way (for the guileless adolescent girl I was), but become a bad memory. But I had cause more recently to review my negative emotional response to it, and the bigger story, and armed with a little more awareness and understanding, I dropped in and took this photograph one day when I happened to be passing by. Yes, I know, it’s a motorway service station.  But meaningful personal landmarks aren’t always about quaint streets and sumptuous scenery. Sometimes they’re about perspective, empathy and closure.

Beer, Devon, UK

One place that is all about quaint streets and sumptuous scenery is the pretty village of Beer in Devon. Here I took my first grown-up holiday with a steady boyfriend (who, a few years later, was to become my husband). We paid a thrifty £10 for a week’s hire of a static caravan with no umm… facilities (for these we had to stumble down the hill to a communal toilet/shower block – not much fun in the dead of night).  So small was this caravan that we had to fold the bed away every morning (and whenever we wanted to take a photograph that our parents might see). We fed a very hungry electricity meter with absurd amounts of coin and charcoaled the rear-end of a chicken in an oven the size of a matchbox. We walked a few miles of the Jurassic coastline each day, found delightful pubs to sit outside, ate our fill of crab sandwiches and cream teas, and had the best time.

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My husband is now my ex-husband, but we are fortunate to remain good friends. The village of Beer is intimately entwined in my mind with simpler times, and an enduring connection, which is very important to me. I’ve been back once or twice – it seems hardly to have changed, and that is much to its credit.

Lycian Coast, Turkey

I started going to Turkey around the early 1990’s – mainly on singles holidays (which I’ve written about here). Are you seeing a connection already?

img_2312I’ve loved every minute I’ve spent in Turkey; I’ve never had a bad holiday there. It’s a beautiful country and a wonderful place to relax and revive. On my first trip, I spent a week in the hectic port town of Kusadasi, but thereafter I picked small towns and villages along the Lycian coast and Gulf of Fethiye, and around the Bodrum and Bozburun Peninsulas. I also took a couple of week-long gulet cruises, which cannot be beaten for away-from-it-all bliss.

When I came to fulfil a long-held ambition to write fiction, I decided to follow the ‘write what you know’ principle, and located my psychological suspense story on a singles holiday in Turkey.  I began writing in 2010 and wrote about the process and what I was learning about the art of writing fiction, in the earlier posts in this blog.

I set ‘Singled Out’ in a fictional village – it’s a fusion of several of the places in which I’ve stayed. I had this idea that I wanted the story to immerse the reader in the setting – make them feel as if they were on the holiday themselves – and to do that, I drew on all my recollections of those earlier holidays. In 2013, I made a special trip back to Turkey for research purposes, to update and refresh my memories and gather some specific sensory data to ground my story. I visited the ancient city of Ephesus, just as my characters do, and I took a day-trip on a gulet; not the same as a week drifting the sea with no shoes on and nights lying under the stars, but not bad, given the time constraints.

img_2408‘Singled Out’ was, I now realise, my practise novel.  It explores the dark side of the kind of holiday where not everyone is who they seem. I think I’ve made a decent fist of it, but now, when I dip into its pages, I can see the journey I’ve been on and the things I’ve learned in its shortcomings. A few agents expressed initial interest, but it never made the cut, so I self-published in 2015. Readers have so far been extremely kind in their feedback.  You can check it out here, if you feel so inclined.

Sanibel Island, Florida, USA

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In January 2015, after having prevaricated, pushing back on her generous invitations for three years, I went to Florida to visit my cousin Martha. The reason for my prevarication was my grossly overweight state and the simple fact that I couldn’t face the discomfort of a nine-hour transatlantic flight and all the other fun-and-games of a transit into the USA. As it turned out, and entirely to my expectation, the journey was a gruelling one, as I was at my very heaviest (it would be nine months before I began to get to grips with my healthy/weight-lossy project). But I’m so very glad I bit-the-bullet and overruled my fears.

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Martha was a New Yorker, lately moved to Connecticut. On retirement, like others with sufficient funds for a holiday home, she began to fly south, to Fort Myers, Florida, for the winter. There she made a beautiful second home to which she welcomed a seemingly endless succession of guests. My visit began a day late (I wasn’t joking about the gruelling journey), but it was sunshine and smiles from the moment I arrived. Martha was the most wonderful, thoughtful and generous host.

Spot the basking alligator
Spot the basking alligator

One of her favourite places was Sanibel Island, and she treated me to a day trip. We crossed the endless road-bridge and drove on down to JN ‘Ding Darling’ Nature Reserve, where I got a little too close for comfort to a basking alligator. We dined on fresh seafood at Traders Gulf Coast Grill and Gifts (yes, and Gifts – those American’s never miss a retail opportunity).

img_3592Then we mooched around taking photographs in the botanical gardens and on the beach at Sanibel Moorings and stopped by the lighthouse before heading home. It was a special day, as everywhere we stopped was either a favourite place for Martha, or it harked back to holidays of her youth.

My lovely, wonderful cousin was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer just six months after my visit. She died in September 2016. I can never express how glad I am that I made that trip when I did, and was able to spend such special time with my ‘sister of the heart’.

Home, Greater London, UK

Talking of hearts, home is where the heart is, so they say. Cliches notwithstanding, I love my home. It’s just an ordinary suburban house in a quiet street, with a small courtyard garden. As well as being my home, it’s my workplace – and it’s my sanctuary.

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Over the years I’ve renovated and redecorated, so now the whole place reflects my personal style.  It’s calm, neutral (too neutral for some) and uncluttered. It’s geared around my needs and activities too. I have a room set aside for my Pilates and exercise equipment, and another which is my workplace and writing space.

fullsizerenderI like things just-so (call me obsessive if you will), and nothing pleases me more than to arrive home after a busy day with a client or up in London, to leave the world on the other side of my front door, and sink into my comfy curly-uppy chair in front of the TV.

I have a personalised relaxation recording prepared by a hypnotherapist a few years ago. In it, she urges me to picture the safest, most relaxing place I’ve ever been. For ages, I would try to picture lovely beaches where I’d been on holiday – they’re relaxing, after all, aren’t they? But it was when I realised that the place where I feel safest and most relaxed was my own home, that I began to use this recording most effectively. I would lie on my sofa, or recline on a chair in my garden, and I wouldn’t have to imagine myself anywhere, because I was already in my safest, most relaxing place.