Everyday Distractions…

IMG_8230As I type, there is an industrial floor sander working in the next room so loud I feel I need to wear ear defenders, there’s a plumber working on the shower in the bathroom, the Tour de France is on the telly, we are looking at websites trying to find suitable furniture for the room that’s being sanded and hopefully have it all done and dusted before my elderly mum comes to stay next week! It’s her birthday – and several other family members’ – so presents need to be found, wrapped and posted, too. All in all, I’m a little distracted just now, have been for a few weeks to be honest, what with having the decorators in (same room), choosing plants for the garden (which the snails and slugs apparently thought were Christmas lunch and so promptly decimated and killed them), trying to get a date for the drive to be resurfaced (in 2 weeks’ time) and fit in a haircut (next Wednesday).

This is all by way of a long-winded explanation and apology for neglecting not only my blog at the moment but reading and commenting on others. I try to fit in a few when I get chance, but now that all the Tour de France stages are being televised from start to finish, the men in lycra are just too distracting!

In case you’re wondering, that’s Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas winning the yellow jersey the other day.  Unfortunately I don’t have him in our family Tour de France fantasy league, but I do have his teammate Chris Froome who took it over yesterday and I too am currently in the lead – my  very competitive, bike-mad son sent me a text last night to tell me to look behind me as he is catching up fast! (He likes riding up very steep hills for very many miles and even managed to fit in a ride up one of the climbs of that year’s Tour de France when on his honeymoon a few years ago!)

When all the madness has calmed down, I’ll post photos of the parquet floor we’re refurbishing, but if you want to follow the process in real time, take a look at my Instagram account (@pearsnotparsnips) to see the transformation.

I hope normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. I’ll be posting a new gluten-free bread recipe soon. Meanwhile, enjoy the holidays and some relaxing days in the sun, fill up on Vitamin D (but beware of the midday rays), some fresh air and exercise – and commiserations to those of you in the southern hemisphere!

PS The plumber can’t fit the new shower, turns out the previous installer had extended the wires and connected them with insulating tape which makes it very dangerous! So now we have to wait for an electrician to come and rewire it – in 11 days’ time, the cost now being three and a half times as much <sigh>.

Photo by Team Sky.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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Ducks, Daves and Detours

Some of you may have read my post An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle …, and were kind enough to say you found it amusing, well, here’s a little sequel for you…

But first, I must tell you that the other day someone used the search phrase ‘how far away from Fiji is the Bermuda Triangle?’ and guess where they were directed? Yep, my Mother’s Day post! If you’re reading this too, I am so sorry I couldn’t be more helpful answering your question.

On with the sequel: we have established that my husband has a reputation for going off road, or at least off the road he’s meant to be travelling, and ending up somewhere else. What you may not know, is that he’s also terrible with names, and since he knows an incomprehensible number of Daves, he tends to use this generic name whenever he gets stuck. This is relevant later on.

IMG_1448After the earlier post, he invited me to accompany him to his bike-fit session at a bike shop called Bicycles By Design. The shop is 15 miles away – more or less, depending on whether or not HB is doing the navigating: when we did our recon last week, it was 30 miles away because we made several unplanned detours! As you may recall from the earlier post, a bike fit involves setting up your bike to fit your particular physical quirks so that you can ride in comfort and avoid those niggling aches and pains from riding in the wrong position.

As exciting as that prospect was, I politely declined, citing hair washing and nail filing, and I looked forward to having a few hours on my own playing indie (or Indian as hb insists on calling it) music very loud, while eating raw chocolate almonds* and bantering on social media. No car keys to find, no bike parts to admire, no iPad problems to sort out (despite spending years working with computers, he just can’t fathom how to tweet or message on Instagram).

Friday morning came and all went according to plan. Hb left early for his bike-fit. It was a lovely morning and I had breakfast outside, while listening to the birds and watching the bees. Bliss.

He arrived home, happy with his bike adjustments and no impromptu sightseeing – or so he reckoned. However, on putting his bike away, he noticed Dave, the bike-fit guy, had left a shop quick-release on the back wheel instead of replacing his own. He had to take it back. He was going to have a quick bite to eat and set off. The sun was out, the bike shop is on the river, it was going to be a quick in and out, so I decided I would go with him.

Surprisingly, we had an uneventful drive and pulled up outside the bike shop. It was in a lovely setting, part of an old building that used to be the china works but is now a Youth Hostel, café and the bike store. The cherry blossom was breathtaking, the sun was shining and it was so quiet. Just the river flowing behind us and the occasional whoosh of beating duck wings flying by.

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Hb went in and returned the quick-release to Dave, then we spent some time by the river and the canal which runs alongside it which used to serve the china works with its bottle kilns, tar tunnel and tracks, but is now home to a large colony of mallard ducks.

 Bottoms up!

We realised it was getting late and we needed to set off home before the rush hour.

First, though, we had to find our way out of the vortex of these 4 small towns!

I don’t really need to say it do I? We got lost. Again. No, we still don’t have a Sat Nav. In all fairness, the signage in this area is woeful, and that’s putting it mildly. Several times, you arrive at a junction and the sign will indicate that the town you are aiming for is in fact in both directions at once! So you ‘discuss’ the alternatives and whichever you choose, inevitably end up having to go back on yourself, spinning round and round the local plughole until it finally spits you out, dizzy and exhausted, and barely speaking to each other, as both are adamant their way was the right way!

On the way there, we had passed what looked like some lovely public gardens and I suggested that on the way back we take a look to see if Mum would be able to manage a visit – she is coming to stay for a few days soon. Needless to say, we couldn’t find them. They just disappeared. I had made a mental note of whereabouts they were, I could describe the row of cottages nearby, the railway bridge and so on, all of which we found, but no gardens. Apparently sucked into the vortex.

By this time, we were both tired and hungry so we agreed to give in and made it home without further issues.

Apart from the energy-sapping journey home, it was a lovely afternoon. Next time though, can we just borrow the Tardis?

Oh, and Dave the bike man? His name was Rob!

*Highly recommended, but be warned, very moreish!

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The Raw Chocolate Company

Copyright: Chris McGowan

An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle …

28064096_Unknown… Actually, the fact that it was Mother’s Day was almost incidental. The adventure wasn’t planned because it was a special day. It just happened to coincide with the clocks going forward, Spring conjuring up a spectacularly sunny day, and Hb wanting to scout out a bike place some distance away for a bike fit session the following week. (For those of you who are not members of a family whose lives revolve entirely around bikes and their mechanical whatnots, this does not mean getting sweaty in a large room on a stationary bike, but having your bike adjusted to give you the optimum fit, thereby (hopefully) avoiding any aches and pains in neck, back, hips or knees).

28063888_UnknownI don’t know about you, but I always feel discombobulated when the clocks go forward, it takes me ages to adjust. I got up at my usual hour which was now halfway-through-everyone-else’s-morning time, but before I could reach the shower, my favourite Daughter phoned me for a Mother’s Day chat. (I have only one really). Having been given a cup of tea in bed, she was instantly abandoned by her boys in favour of a Minecraft game and as I was in the role of bike widow, we were able to have a rare, uninterrupted natter until eventually son number two demanded she put the phone down as he’d brought her breakfast in bed. It would be some time before I got mine.

28063760_UnknownI had my shower, then tried to phone my mum, but someone else had got in first, she was busy throughout 20 minutes of trying. I knew she could be in for the long haul and I was starving. A Papaya & Pear Smoothie* beckoned. My whole morning was already awry, when Hb announced his plan for a quick drive to the bike place and asked if I’d like to come. Normally, I would politely decline on the basis that I planned to spend the day watching paint dry or filing my nails, but it was a lovely day, I was going stir-crazy and there was a possibility of seeing water, flowers, trees and birds along the way, so I decided to take the smoothie and go.

Now, normally when we go off in the car I make sure we have plenty of food and drink, a chair, cushions, jigsaw (well, maybe not), because inevitably a ‘short drive’, or a ‘quick there and back’, turns into a ‘why don’t we take the most circuitous scenic route and get lost again’ trip! We have no Sat Nav. We got lost in this same vortex last summer and I should have known better when Hb’s response to taking food was ‘we won’t need it, it’s just a quick-there-and-back.’ Famous last words.

There are four towns popular with tourists that form our local Bermuda Triangle. (I know, but you know what I mean). We can never go straight to the one we want without going round and through the others first, then having found it, we can’t find our way out of it again! Last time, we pirouetted in so many concentric circles, we resembled water going down a plughole and I thought we might end up Down Under.

This morning, or rather lunchtime as it now was, we set off, only to put in some early practice by instantly returning home via a circuit of our block. Hb didn’t feel confident without a map. He had one on his iPad. We came back to get it. It made no difference. The other towns were well signposted, but we couldn’t find our destination for love nor money. I kept saying helpful things like ‘we’ve been past this already’ and ‘I remember seeing this earlier…’

Beeeep. What’s that? Some gauge or microchip had registered a drop in tyre pressure. We needed to look for a garage. Great. Now two things we needed to look for. I, and three dogs, spent 20 minutes in the sun in cars with windows ineffectively cracked open for non-existent air but plenty of petrol fumes, while our drivers checked oil, tyre pressure or bought armfuls of snacks. None of us was in a chatty mood when they finished. The car still noted a drop in tyre pressure.

We were just about ready to turn around and head for home when I got very over-excited at a small signpost indicating left down a narrow road, and I couldn’t get the words out quickly enough as I realised Hb hadn’t noticed. Too late. The local cycle club, of which he is a member, will never appreciate his decision to carry on to the next layby to turn around, rather than mow them down like skittles, as would have happened if he’d responded to my hysterical navigation!

Having arrived in the town, and successfully winning a game of chicken over a single lane ‘Weak Bridge’ to reach a car park, I was so glad we’d persisted as I then spent a peaceful hour sitting outside a lovely old pub on the river in the sunshine, watching the water and the world go by.

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The Weak Bridge, a single-lane iron structure that was just the width of a medium-sized car. BMWs were a bit of a push and their drivers – young and male – extremely rude and impatient! 

 

 

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The water was flowing quite fast, I almost missed this shot of the canoeist 

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After trying to convince me a floating log was Nessie’s cousin shimmying by, Hb strolled off to recce the town for the bike shop. This is always a mistake. He always gets lost. He found his way back just before I sent out the St Bernards, by which time my stomach was telling me I had missed one or other, if not several, of the various meals/snacks/juices it was used to, and a bottle of fizzy water was not going to cut it. I knew we should’ve packed proper sustenance. Being vegan and gluten-free makes it extremely difficult to find emergency rations when your blood sugar starts diving. And now we had to navigate the Triangle again and avoid being sucked into its vortex.

First, though, I had a lovely if somewhat frustrating not-Mother’s Day chat with my son (the signal kept disappearing). He always calls on Mother’s Day but pretends it’s just a normal everyday call because I’ve spent decades telling them I don’t need over-priced cards and flowers to make me feel special. He was just back from a 110 km ride in wind, sun and dust – see what I mean about my family of bike enthusiasts, he does this for fun!  (See the link below to read more about his Mother’s Day surprises).

After a couple of wrong turns, we made it home unscathed. I had my juice, phoned my mum, everything returned to normal.

Hb plans to do this 30 miles-each-way journey next week on his bike. I’ll put the St Bernards on standby.

The car has an appointment with its mechanic.

For those of you who may not have seen it, here’s a link to last year’s light-hearted Mother’s Day post  A Tribute to My Children

*See my Instagram feed for the ingredients @pearsnotparsnips

And here for your delectation and amusement is The Pushbike Song!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

It’s January: S.A.D.? Do What You Love!

I bought a new mug the other day. Well, actually, it’s a rather large cup that you need two hands to hold, one of those Friends-type ones that you can snuggle up with, full of hot chocolate*, in front of a cosy fire. It’s nothing special. It cost 99p in a local shop and is both dishwasher and microwave safe. It was what was written on the front that resonated.

I don’t usually like things with slogans, but this one says:

‘Do what you love!’

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Being January, with its cold and damp grey days, and being a little susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, I have learned to try always to have a project on the go to absorb my attention and give my brain something else to contemplate other than when is the sun ever going to wake up and the garden turn green again?

In the past it’s been family history research: when I finished my own, I helped someone else. I try to catch up on letter-writing too. Real letters with real ink written on real paper! I love to use a fountain pen, and this year I have my precious old one sent to me by my primary school teacher, Evelyn (you can read about it here).

21f65416-e275-4687-a6cc-13eef10a45aaI’m currently on my second week of a juice plan, so that has occupied me somewhat – and made me get some much-needed early nights! – but I needed something creative too.

Every year, when we take down the Christmas cards, I put them away for recycling and reusing in November for next Christmas. But I always think I should do it now because November is always such a busy month with all the other preparations and my back really suffers so that I’m always in pain at Christmas.

img_2968This time, when I saw the mug, it was like a message from the universe! So, here I am, doing what I love, making Christmas cards in January! Oh, and drinking my favourite liquorice and cinnamon tea.

This is also the time of year when the professional cyclists dust off their lycra, don their new team strips and bring us some much needed sun from Downunder!

The Tour Down Under began this week in Adelaide, just what I needed: sun, culture and men in lycra – and leading the family Velogames league after Stage 1 and 2 (I don’t even cycle, they take it very seriously) <wicked laugh!>

So I may be a little preoccupied for a while … with the cards I mean 😉

Time for my next juice, cheers!

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What do *you* love to do during these winter months?

*Recipe for Spicy Raw Hot Chocolate with Hemp Milk (or nut milk).

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Zingy Kale Salad Juice

Are you ready to ditch the festive food yet and get healthy again? 

I am.

Food is a real problem for me when all the family get together. My juicing routine is interrupted and meals take so much time and preparation that I end up compromising and eating things I know are going to leave me feeling uncomfortable if not in great pain.

Yesterday was one of those days.

With a houseful of meat-loving teenagers, there are only so many times you can get away with vegan nut roast or pizza, fruit salad, and raw chocolate treats, before you have a mutiny on your hands. So yesterday, their final lunch was fish and chips from the local chip shop! There was no time for juicing or making salads as they were on a tight timetable for their journey home. I ended up having a few chips, my first potatoes of any kind for 18 months. They were crisp and freshly made and tasted good with Himalayan pink salt. I ate them slowly and mindfully. I asked them to be kind.

Those few chips caused me so much heartburn and acid reflux, I was in pain all night and had no sleep! What’s more, the skin on the back of my hand began to itch (see How I Juiced My Skin Clear: A Rash Decision?).

This morning, I decided that was it. Back on the juice.

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This is one of my husband’s concoctions. It’s a throwback to summer days in the garden. Sometimes you have to take a deep breath, hold your nose and cross your fingers, but this turned out really well!

Wash all the ingredients, keep the peel on unless you’re using a waxed lemon, in which case pare it very thinly to leave as much pith as possible, this is where the micro-nutrients live and we need them in the juice. It helps the kale to go through the juicer more easily if you chop it roughly and feed it through in scrunched-up batches between apple and cucumber. Feed the lemon in with another item and leave the celery to last if your juicer doesn’t cope with it too well.

This juice has protein, antioxidants, B vitamins, healthy omega fats, electrolytes, fibre and is hydrating and good for your skin.

Ingredients

Large handful of Kale

2 Apples

Half an unwaxed Lemon with peel

3″ Cucumber

1 Stalk of Celery

Handful of Green Beans

1/4 of Avocado

Wash and juice everything except the avocado which is blended into the juice.

(Begin with apple and end with apple for best results).

You can chop and freeze the remainder of the avocado to use for future blended juices or in guacamole etc.

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Juicing in the garden during the late summer while hb mends bikes – it’s his thing. It’s very messy and that’s as close as he gets!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Monday Kind of Post

I had a bad day yesterday. At least, it wasn’t my bad day at all and I feel bad for feeling bad if you see what I mean. Of course you don’t, I haven’t told you anything yet!

First, a jar fell out of a cupboard, hit a dish – dish was ok, jar was ok – bounced onto the counter and onto the floor – jar was still ok. Contents intact.

Phone wasn’t. I had left it on the counter.

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 I am convinced there is a malevolent phone genie operating within our family. 4 of us are currently awaiting an expensive phone repair and my husband has had to replace his a month ago after dropping his old one on our newly-laid floorboards!

You can’t see all the damage, it’s cracked all down the black screen, too. Virgin quoted us £404 ie the cost of a new phone! Apple said £109 and in both cases I would be without my phone for up to 10 days. We found a local company that will come to my home and repair it there and then, for £84. An expensive accident.

But worse, much worse, I had some bad news about the health of a loyal, lifelong friend and I can’t stop thinking about it and him. It knocked me sideways. Of course, I told myself at regular intervals, you can’t make this about you. He’s the one dealing with it, and dealing with it very positively. I sent a hopefully positive and supportive response to his email. But my head is full of this news and I don’t know to deal with it. I didn’t sleep last night. I kept thinking of all our exploits when we were young. His songwriting friendship with my brother after I left to go to uni, his ongoing support after my brother’s fatal accident. How he always makes me laugh.

Today all I could do was sit and eat! I tried distracting myself with a very bad comedy film but it wasn’t as diverting as the fridge! Let’s just say the almost full peanut butter jar is no longer almost full.

Then my ever-weather-optimistic husband began hanging out all the white bedding despite the black clouds and the rain warnings on the weather app.

This happened:

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Now, a very long time ago he bought one of those washing lines that you pull out from the wall and fasten to a tree or something and then it recoils when you no longer need it. Of course it’s still in a cupboard while the existing washing line was tied together having broken once already. It was bound to happen. And it chose today.

So, this afternoon, I had words with myself and decided to watch La Vuelta, the pro-cycling Tour of Spain. I am leading our family Velogames Fantasy League, having chosen the winners of the first two stages. My son is not a good loser and is not taking it well that I tweet about my wins each day and I looked forward to extending my lead.

Within minutes, I lost a rider! He didn’t even crash – an acceptable reason for abandoning the race – no, he has sinusitis. Now, he arrived with sinusitis, a very painful, debilitating condition. No-one is going to get through an uphill 3 week race in the upper 30’s with sinusitis! Why would they start him and why couldn’t they have told me before I chose him?!

I looked up out of the window and saw this:

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I burst out laughing. My husband had been awol all day, I presumed mending bikes in the shed, he hadn’t mentioned anything about chopping down ash trees. I’d assumed he was just giving me some quiet time.

Anyone who knows us knows that the only tools my husband is safe to be left alone with are bike tools. If he so much as looks at a drill, we all run for the hills. He is accident-prone, falls off ladders, bikes, has flooded the kitchen trying to decorate behind a radiator, so no way would I have let him near a saw unsupervised haha.

But yesterday, I had remarked that I could see an ash sampling sticking up well above the height of the shed and growing behind it in a very inaccessible position. I said we needed to ask someone to get it down, we couldn’t allow it to get any more established.

Today, he was beaming from ear to ear, brandishing the saw in one hand, the 20′ tree in the other. I couldn’t believe it. And no injuries or damage to property.  He’s even more pleased with himself because he’s going to chop it up and dry it off to add to the woodpile.

Even better, he finally solved a problem with his bike that has been taxing him for several months – I’ve had to listen to endless descriptions of the problem and to no end of YouTube videos purporting to show him how to resolve it and his frustration when they didn’t. He’d stripped it down and replaced lots of bits. In the end, as often in such cases, all it took was a £3.50 part!

Now I just need Sky to get the win on Stage 3.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Cycling, Juicing & Health aka An Excuse to Write about Cav!

I am writing this post under the guise that cycling is good for your health: fresh air, Vitamin D, exercise, camaraderie (unless you come off, that is!) It’s also good for the environment, no petrol or diesel fumes clogging up the atmosphere – or our lungs. (Except when you’re commuting). It lifts the spirits, challenges our physical and mental boundaries and gets us away from routine and stress for a glorious hour or two of communing with nature and the elements.

However, as many of my regular Twitter followers will be aware, I am a bit of a cycling groupie. In fact, when I sent a text to my son this morning, the auto type thingummy preferred Cav (as in former World Road Race Champion Mark Cavendish) to cat! (That’s him at the front of the pic in the Tour of Britain race 2013).

The off-season is a barren time for professional cycling followers with little else but reports of new kit, new sponsors and new team-mates to keep us going. There’s always the off-season weddings to distract though, and the off-season babies. But we have to bear the dark days of January without any of the sun, sea or outstanding scenery of professional cycling tours (I exercised restraint there, I could have included shorts, ‘seats’  ‘saddles’ and tan-lines!)

But, rest assured. Those dark days are over. One February morning the sun shone and the sky was blue – and that was just in the English Midlands – when first Australia and then Dubai showed up to fill the cycling void on tv.

After a winter on the track training to qualify for the Olympics, Cav stretched his legs in a warm-up in Oz and today came second on the first desert stage of the Dubai Tour. But mainly he stayed upright, so we can all breathe again! Great German rival Kittel came first, but he was due a win after an awful year of illness last year so we won’t begrudge him that, and Hour Man Sir Bradley Wiggins smiled his way to the front of the peleton like days of yore to remind himself how it feels to go the distance in his own Olympic preparation.

Riveting stuff, eh? 😉

 I will get around to cycling for your health, but first I just want to get this off my chest after watching the first tour of the season: how confusing it is when you’re still looking for Marcel Kittel in his black-and-white striped Giant-Alpecin kit instead of his new dark blue Etixx strip, and how it’s even harder to see the diminutive Cav hiding behind his lead-out team now he’s in the black strip of Dimension-Data and no longer last season’s light blue of Etixx!

And how weird is it going to be seeing Richie Porte in the red and black of BMC and not the turquoise and black of Sky? A rival to Chris Froome and no longer his trusty lieutenant.

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Cav alongside Chris Froome in Leeds at the Tour de France 2014 (yes, I know, but the first part is usually raced outside France!)

So this is what life will be like in this juicing household for the next 10-11 months. I had to warn you because you’ve only known me in the off-season when I had little better to do than think and write about juicing – which, by the way, a lot of professional cyclists benefit from nowadays. They also eat rice cakes and raw treats. (Nice segue there, don’t you think?!)

So, as this is meant to be a health blog, I shall justify this post’s existence by advising that now Spring is here, get your bike out of the shed or from under its tarp, give it a good clean, tighten everything up, oil what needs to be oiled, check your helmet – always wear a helmet, it saved my husband’s life twice in the last 3 years – and organise a family cycle at the weekend.

Get the kids on two wheels early and it will stay with them for life, and you will all have a common activity – and they may even let you talk about Greipel’s quads and Froomey’s watts and sit and watch highlights of the Tour de France with you in July!

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Amazing book of watercolour paintings of cyclists done during the Tour de France by the very talented Greig Leach.

(Ok, I’ll stop now).

Copyright: Chris McGowan