2020 A Year in Review

2020 may have been the oddest year of most of our lives but it’s done now, and we have to have hope that 2021 will be better. I have, for the most part, managed to stay mentally sound throughout most of the year, which I know isn’t the same for everyone. I thank my lucky stars that this happened now and not a couple of decades ago when we would have been far more isolated that we have been thanks to Zoom, FaceTime and Teams.

I also massively appreciate the fact that we have outside space which, although at the moment isn’t at all enticing due to the inclement weather, got us through the warmer months of the year with relative ease, especially so when we were allowed to have people in our garden.

Here are some of my favourite garden photos of last year.

The garden was reasonably productive in terms of fruit and veg in 2020 …

… and we had quite a few visitors of the fauna variety!

Inside the house, we made a few home improvements. The first was pre-lockdown when, with the help of my Dad, we transformed our bathroom from dingy to sparkly clean safari wonderland.

During lockdown when I was furloughed and hubby’s workplace was demonstrating exactly how a zero hours contract benefits the employer (they still are!) we tackled first our spare bedroom/my home office making it a homage to all things Harry Potter …

… then when I was unfurloughed but hubby was still unbusy with zero hours, he decided to tackle the woodchip in our living room and we completely redecorated including wallpapering, laying laminate flooring, opening out the fireplace and hanging the TV on the wall.

Outside we built a catio on the side of the kitchen so our furry girls can get some air safely.

Away from home, amazingly we did manage to squeeze in three holidays. The first was, to paraphrase Craig Revel-Horwood A-May-zing!! A week long cruise round the Caribbean preceded by a two night stop in Orlando and a trip to Universal to go on the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures coaster. This was pre-COVID, in fact I remember the first I heard about it was by scanning the Sky news app whilst I was sunbathing on deck, and I assumed it would be like the previous SARS disease. I never even entertained the thought that it could turn into what it has! Blissful ignorance, eh?

In between lockdown 1.0 and lockdown 2.0 we managed a short break to Norfolk which was a game of two halves – lovely to get away and see the sea, but I got bitten by a dog, we had to come home early because hubby had a job interview (which he didn’t get!) and I got a flat tyre!

In September we went to Edinburgh for my birthday. This had been booked pre-pandemic and we didn’t know until the last minute whether we’d be able to go, but I’m so glad we could because we had a fantastic time. One of the best holidays I’ve ever had.

We had a few great days out – we walked alpacas, visited confetti fields, played with meerkats, met gorillas at Twycross Zoo and we walked and cycled many times in Sutton Park and Kingsbury Water Park …

… and we also had a couple of great days in making up for things that we should have been doing. We had a non-Jamaica party for two on the day we were supposed to be flying out and we had a tennis afternoon tea on the day Dad and I were supposed to be going to watch the ATP tour finals in London.

I also did a lot of crafts – mainly crochet, but also knitting, baking, jigsaws (do they count as crafts?) model making, felting and, obviously, mask making!

So, all in all, although it certainly didn’t feel like it at times, 2020 was actually a pretty full year and I achieved quite a lot. Amongst all this, I was also working full time (apart from being furloughed for nine weeks in the summer) in a job that I only started six weeks before we were plunged into lockdown and home working, and I feel that I managed very well to learn the new job (although this is an on-going process) under challenging circumstances. It turns out that home working, while it doesn’t suit everyone or every job, works pretty well for me, and for my team. As I mentioned before, thank goodness for technology!

Now it’s time to look forward to 2021 and I’ll finish with a quote that I recently read in a fiction book, the sixth in the Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley but that is based in fact (the first book I didn’t enjoy as much, but I’m so glad I persevered because they got better and better and one thing to look forward to in 2021 is the release of the final in the series).Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards – Soren Kierkegaard.

Slimming World

I’ve had a little bit of writer’s block lately which has led to me being less present on my blog. Or is it just that I’m leading a dull life lately and have nothing of interest to say? There’s been a couple of times when I’ve been tempted to write a negative post because I’ve had a few blues days recently, but I’ve decided against it because I don’t want to have blue days recorded in writing to haunt me forever and a day. I’m sure you guys don’t to read gloom and doom either. Anyway, I’m working through the main thing on my mind and hopefully there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

I did do one definitely not dull thing last week.

I went to Birmingham uni with one of my very best friends (was supposed to be two of my very best friends but the dreaded lurgy struck!) to Birmingham Literature Festival where we saw Adam Kay. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, he wrote (as the photo shows) This is Going to Hurt. It’s a fantastic book written from diaries he kept during his days working in the NHS and it really gives an insight into the life of a doctor. It is, in pretty equal parts (if we’re judging by emotional response rather than actual work count), funny and heartbreaking.

His performance last week was brilliant and well worth venturing out on a drizzly Thursday evening for, and, just like the book, very funny but ultimately heart rending. Turns out he’s a pretty good musician as well as a writer, and a portion of the show was based on him singing and playing the piano when he also got the audience involved. I’d highly recommend going to see him if you can.

Another exciting thing that happened is that my company car finally arrived.

Isn’t she beautiful? I was a bit confused by the colour at first. When I built her on the configurator on line she was very green, like the old Rover colour British Racing Green. In the flesh, so to speak, she looks almost black. I’ve got used to it now though and she is definitely green. Look!

Anyway, on to the topic in hand. I’ve been following the Slimming World plan since the end of May, and it’s been going pretty well. I’ve lost over a stone, all my clothes fit again and I’m starting to feel a bit happier with myself. However, this last couple of weeks have been tough and, I admit, I’ve cheated a little bit which means I’m not seeing movement on the scales (or not in a downwards trajectory anyway) and I’m getting a little despondent.

The problem is, I’ve got back down to the weight that I’ve got to so many times before where it starts to get harder. It’s like my body doesn’t want me to get any lighter and my brain starts playing tricks on me.

It should be an oxymoron for your own brain to trick you into sabotaging yourself, but mine does! It starts seemingly independently thinking things like, you may as well stop because you never get any further than this, or, oh go on, have crispy chicken with pineapple – you deserve it, and most of it’s free (never mind the fact that it’s deep fried!) or if you stop now you won’t have to spend a fortune on a new wardrobe or everyone’s expecting you to fail so you may as well stop trying (rationally I know this isn’t true but it seems so real when faced with the choice of either an apple or a chocolate bar!) or you won’t be able to maintain it if you go any lower so you may as well eat cake! It’s really hard to fight with yourself and retrain your brain.

I’ve only got half a stone to go to get to the initial target that I set myself and I really want to get there to see if I’m happy with myself at that weight so I’m going to share some of my favourite meals that have got me this far in the hopes that I might find my diet mojo again.

I’ll start with that most British of meals – a chicken roast dinner.

Here we have chicken cooked in the slow cooker (tastiest and most convenient way to cook a whole chicken in my humble opinion) served with potatoes parboiled and roasted in frylight, potatoes mashed with milk and a bit of grated cheese from my healthy extra a allowance, broccoli, petit pois and roasted carrot batons and the only items with any syns, an Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire pudding (4 1/2 syns because they were fancy ones left over from Christmas) and gravy made with Ah Bisto (showing my age there – 1 syn). Such a yummy meal and doesn’t taste ‘diet’ at all.

Also very British whilst not being British at all!

Chinese chicken curry made with Mayflower extra hot curry powder. I got the tip off for this delight from the Pinch of Nom Facebook group and it’s become a firm favourite in our household. You can get it in B&M Bargains or Iceland and it tastes as good as from the Chinese takeaway. 4 syns for the sauce and the rest of it’s free.

I’m switching to breakfast now (probably should’ve done that first, eh?)

This is a slightly modified Pinch of Nom recipe – Bakewell Baked Oats. I make them into muffins rather than in one big dish. They have almond essence in them which really makes them taste like Bakewell Tart and I top them with berries and a couple of spoonfuls of yoghurt. It’s like having cake for breakfast and the combination of egg and oats keeps you full till lunch.

Sticking with breakie.

Overnight oats. I’m not sure I could get through the week without my overnight oats. I LOVE them! I usually make a few portions on Sunday night and they keep for a week in the fridge, in fact, they get better as the week goes on and the juices from the frozen fruit seep through into the oats. Yum! I normally do them in takeaway containers, but I treated myself to a Kilner jar so I can have posh overnight oats once a week.

Next up, the great British fry up (Slimming World style!) Good for breakfast, lunch or tea.

Egg and mushrooms fried in frylight, baked beans (has to be …… erm, Branston for me), bacon medallions, a slice of wholemeal toast for half my healthy extra b, a Quorn sausage for 1 syn and a tablespoon of ketchup (which does have to be Heinz – ketchup of kings) for 1 syn.

Back to the first meal of the day.

Third attempt at making a sweet omelette and I finally cracked it (no pun intended). Two eggs with sweetener, almond essence and vanilla essence fried in frylight till it’s golden filled with berries and yoghurt (raspberry doughnut mullerlight in this case).

Back to teatime.

Pizza and chips. This uses my healthy extra b which is usually done and dusted by the time I’ve had breakfast, so I don’t have it often but it’s lovely. It’s a Weightwatchers wrap topped with tomato purée and bbq sauce and then whatever pizza topping you want. This one was leftover chicken, peppers and mushrooms with my healthy extra a of cheddar grated on top and then shoved in the oven for five minutes. It’s nice with blue cheese, onion, sweetcorn and peppers too. The chips are made from Maris Piper potatoes (any decent potato works well, Charlotte ones are nice too). I chop them, soak them in cold water to remove some of the starch, drain and pat dry and then spray with frylight and cook in the air fryer for fifteen minutes. We have these a lot – they’re really nice and they’re free. They’re nice reheated for lunch.

Speaking of lunch, do you notice a distinct lack of lunch recipes? This is where I struggle most. Can’t have a sandwich because I’ve usually had my healthy extra for breakfast so would have to use syns for bread, soup doesn’t satisfy me – I find myself craving something nice like chocolate, not because I’m hungry but because I’m not satisfied. I normally end up with leftovers from the night before or a Mugshot which is low syn. Today I did better. I bunged four potatoes in the slow cooker yesterday so all I had to do was heat one up in he microwave at work. I weighed out my healthy extra a of cheese and walked round to Tesco and got some beans (Branston, of course). I’ve got the same tomorrow. There are a couple of good options for eating lunch out. Most Subway salads are free as long as you don’t have cheese, dressing or olives, and they’re really nice. If I have some spare syns I have Subway tuna salad – it has mayo in hence the syns. Nandos is good too, my go to is butterfly chicken breast with the skin removed with spicy rice and macho peas. It’s a huge meal for 4 syns.

One thing that I’ve found invaluable on my weight loss journey (ugh, I hate that phrase) is the Pinch of Nom recipe book.

Somehow (through lots of experimentation I think) they’ve managed to make low/no syn alternatives to lots of classics and original recipes, that actually taste great. Dare I say it, much better than the official Slimming World versions. Their chip shop curry sauce is amazing and tastes just like the real thing. Diet Coke chicken has become a regular feature of our week night kitchen, as well as creamy garlic chicken.

Well, you know what, I think writing this out has actually helped. I feel ready to attack it again with gusto. I’m going to look back through the book to refamiliarise myself and I’m going to check out the syns in my favourite Gousto and Hello Fresh recipes. I may get a small gain this Wednesday on weigh day, but ….. tomorrow’s another day and I can and will do this.

Happy birthday to me!

It was my birthday this week. I reached the grand old age of 42. According to Douglas Adams I should now have the answer to life, the universe and everything. I’ve been thinking really hard, racking my brain, think, think, think ….

…. but nope! No nearer to having all, or actually any, of the answers! I’m sure when I was small, people in their forties knew exactly where they were headed in life, knew how to behave in every situation and always knew exactly what to say. Turns out, now I’m here, that either I’ve gone horribly wrong somewhere, or my prepubescent self really wasn’t paying proper attention to adults! I do think that my generation has had a whole load of bumps and twists along the road – super competitive job market, ridiculous housing market, major recession and now the dreaded ‘B’ word – all of which have made getting on in life harder and have massively affected confidence, but hey, on the plus side, and in contrast to my Great Grandparents and Grandparents, we haven’t had a war (despite some politicians seemingly best efforts) so it’s not all bad.

Anyhow, I digress ….. birthday talk!

At one point I thought I was headed for a really depressing birthday making the epic trip back home from my work trip in northern Spain, but luckily the trip was shifted forward by a day so I made that tiresome journey on my birthday eve instead.

I was at work on my birthday but it was my first day back after a week’s holiday and three days away for work, so I didn’t mind being there because it was nice to catch up with everyone and I allowed myself a day off Slimming World so we went to Notcutts for lunch and I treated myself to a jacket potato with tuna mayo and salad with pesto dressing. I know that probably doesn’t sound particularly indulgent, but it’s my favourite lunch which I haven’t had since I started Slimming World at the end of May. I really enjoyed it! I let myself have an orange fondant biscuit from the selection of obligatory birthday sweet things that I took in for my colleagues.

I didn’t open any cards or pressies in the morning because time’s of an essence and hubby was still snoring away when I left so they were all waiting for me when I got home. I always open my cards first and leave the presents till last, and this year was no exception.

Didn’t I do well? Notice all the cats? My friends and family know me well.

I got lots of lovely, thoughtful gifts from my loved ones.

I love everything I was given.

Hubby excelled himself!

I ordered the two project bags from him a couple of weeks ago, along with the new Edward’s Menagerie crochet book which I haven’t got yet because it’s not released until next week but he surprised me with the two biographies. I’d looked at them in WHSmiths a few weeks ago, and he was obviously paying attention!

My Mum sent me a home made bag.

Isn’t she clever! I haven’t decided what I’m going to use it for yet.

The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed the Apple Watch draped next to the former First Lady.

Dad (in Birmingham) and I went shopping for this yesterday and I love it! We almost didn’t get one! The first shop didn’t have the silver aluminium finish in stock so we headed off to a shopping centre further away, and found they have a reservation system so they don’t run out of stock, and I got the last available slot! I’m still working it out, but I used it to log my workout this morning and it says in an hour of combat I burnt 577 calories and my average heart rate was 140 bpm, and so far today I’ve done 6504 steps.

My Dad (in Worcester) and C contributed towards my swing chair and also sent me garden centre vouchers which I will very much enjoy spending (I’m considering getting a Pampas Grass, they had lots of it in Spain and the plumes were in full bloom and were so pretty).

We’ve sat on the swing chair a lot since we got it, and have really enjoyed the luxury of swinging back and forth forgetting our troubles and strifes, and whilst it’s raining cats and dogs out there at the moment, I’m staying optimistic that we might get an Indian Summer so we can sit out there a bit more this year. If not, it’ll still be there waiting for us next year.

So, that’s almost it for another year. I have a meal out planned with the girls on Friday so there’s still a little bit of celebration left to look forward to.

Have a great week all!