Well, where to start…

Clay at the top of a tree during our trip to Font
Clay at the top of a tree during our trip to Font

Regular readers of this blog might remember a post in which I mentioned a friend of mine who is currently in hospital after a rather dramatic fall from a tree at work.

After much pestering on my part he has very kindly written a post for me about his experience and his first (metaphorical) steps on the road to recovery.

I hope this inspires you as much as he inspires me. 

***

Well, where to start…

I don’t know if there’s a particular technique to staying positive that I personally follow, in fact I’m not yet convinced I’m a person who stays positive all of the time anyway. I suppose I get told I smile a lot, and many of the photos taken of me feature my smile or some ridiculous face or other, but who doesn’t want to smile for a camera for crying out loud.

I’m lying in my hospital bed, the same one I’ve been laying in for the past four and a half weeks now, never leaving the confines of this bed. I’ve two broken heels, one smashed so badly there’s little left of the bone itself, they have replaced bone with live muscle tissue from my thigh. The idea is that the body recognises the muscle, realises is should be bone and grows bone to replace the muscle, this is a surgical procedure I never knew existed.

On top of that I’ve broken my fibula and tibia in two places and my femur in two places. They have put one long rod through my femur, making a grand total of 5 metal pins in my right leg! I have screws in my pelvis to hold it together and a broken vertebrae – that’s no big deal only a small break – and lastly I had surgery on my shoulder to put it back in place and replace the floating piece of bone that broke-off.

I realise this sounds all rather dramatic but at the end of the day I will walk again, maybe not at 100%, although I don’t believe the doctors when they say that. So although things are a tad grim for now, the future looks bright and there is the challenge of a long road to recovery.

So I suppose for me staying positive is more my reaction to a challenge; so long as I can see a way to complete the problem I chase the success of completion. I absolutely love a challenge especially a physical one, so for me sure having this accident was a bad thing, but the future brings constant challenges and difficulties that I must overcome.

I’ve always liked change in my life, usually I prefer moving towns, countries or jobs. However this is what life has given me so I will embrace the change to my life; it’s a new pace, a new sporting challenge, a new way of living. This is what makes living enjoyable, challenge, change, success and failure, experiencing new and different things, anything less is the mundane and I’m not a person comfortable in the mundane.

I must now ask myself what goals to set, what do I want to achieve on this journey of mine? What do I need to achieve to be a normal person contributing in society? What about sporting achievements, am I able to return to the sports I love the most? This is the hard part, how does one stay positive when faced with the potential loss of a sport you’ve grown to obsess over? My foot may never even fit into a climbing shoe again, my ankle may never roll again, making footwork impossible. What about running, once upon a time I would run over 100 kilometres a week, now my poor old ankles may not handle any form of running, not to mention the multiple pins in my leg.

These situations and set backs are riddled with ifs, buts and maybes, on the flip-side the surgeons are some of the best in the country and are most likely going to be able to clean the huge lump on my foot. If I work hard and stretch I’m confident I will get full movement back in my ankle… I already have some side to side movement, even with the huge amounts of swelling.

Again more challenges. Me versus my body. Me versus what the doctors say is possible.

It’s about being determined it’s about being stubborn it’s about pushing your limits no matter what life throws at you.

What will I learn from this? I’ve no idea, hopefully patience, hopefully training techniques, most importantly I want to learn to relax in my work environment, no more pushing my limits 55 feet up a tree with a chainsaw. Life is too short to be taking shortcuts with safety in my line of work, especially with chainsaws in hand, there’s a time and place to push limits, I have decided work is not the best place for that.

It’s taken me a couple of days to write this entry and already I’ve made some baby steps on the road to recovery. My mood is getting ever better because of it, so I will continue making short and long term goals to keep me dedicated and keep my mood positive…. Perhaps this is the key?

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My First Veganniversary

birthday-cupcakeA guest post from my good friend and fellow blogger Georgina, to celebrate her first year as a vegan. 

I feel, today, rather like I have graduated from a training school. One year ago precisely I resolved to go vegan, and reaching this milestone feels akin to passing from the ranks of raw recruits to those of proven commitment – or at least those whose commitment is more seriously taken.

For one full year now I have forsaken meat and all foods with any trace of dairy, egg or other animal derived product. In other words: for one year I have shopped, cooked and eaten according to different priorities from those that directed my diet previously in life. For one year, I have negotiated sparsely-optioned restaurant menus and waiters helpful and hopeless. I have gone hungry at numerous (inadequately) catered events, and been touched by the consideration of friends and family members, who must now regard my appearing on their doorstep expecting food as something of a bewildering imposition.

For one year, I have forced my relatives to eat vegan chocolate cake on every birthday (my vegan chocolate cake being, mind you, disgustingly delicious), and have survived my first Christmas without turkey and my first Easter without a Cadbury’s Creme Egg. In between, I have travelled to Portugal, Germany, the US and Ethiopia (countries all with very meat-heavy traditions), and succeeded in sampling the local cuisine of each country while navigating my way around the potential pitfalls laid by each culture in the path of the plant-based dieters and discovering some unexpected delights along the way.

LENTILAbove all, it has been a year of tolerating responses to my dietary choice ranging from aggressive incomprehension to genuine curiosity, and answering questions from the sincere (“What is the reason for giving up milk?”) to the absurd (“Can’t you just eat a bit of steak occasionally?”) to the frankly exhausting (if anyone dares ask me where I get my protein from again, they may feel the force of my lentil-powered muscles).

I am a little amazed, as I reflect on these experiences, that I have been vegan for a full year. But that is amazement at the speed with which this past year has passed, not that my resolve has held firm. On the contrary, to return to my earlier metaphor; if I have today graduated, it was from a course I never for one moment contemplated dropping out of. Because for me, veganism is not a sacrifice. If it were, I would not be writing this: I simply do not have the will-power for the senseless deprivation of deliciousness. Hence I have often repeated the truism that I could not be a vegan for a day were I not still allowed to eat hummus and peanut-butter.

So, to repeat the most oft-repeated question I think all vegans face: why am I doing it? Well, in my case, the realisation that I wanted to go vegan came upon me quite unexpectedly.

PBLast summer, I was mid-way through a challenge to do one new thing every week of the year, which I chronicled in weekly blog posts. Most ‘new things’ took the form of one-off activities, such as speed-dating, pole-dancing or wakeboarding. I wanted, however, to balance these against longer-term experiences that would challenge me not for an hour or a day, but a whole week or more. An obvious candidate for such an extended experience was to undertake a dietary challenge, such as giving up caffeine or going gluten-free. In the end, I went vegan for one week. All I remember of my reasoning was that I had rejected vegetarianism as inadequate because I only ate meat occasionally anyway; veganism therefore seemed far better fodder for an interesting blog. In other words, my decision was effectively mercantile and motivated by my own doubt in my ability to survive seven full days as a vegan, thus providing me with an opportunity to recount in amusing detail my struggle with self-control, and the inevitable victory of my sweet-tooth – and the biscuit shelf at work.

However, far from succumbing to the temptations of a chocolate digestive before the week was out, the most surprising thing happened. I enjoyed my week of veganism.

After a mere seven days I felt healthier – not in any way I could pinpoint, rather in being conscious of an indefinable betterness. I had loved all the recipes I’d tried, and was already beginning to think more about what I was putting into my body, and to appreciate the extraordinary variety of possible foods I could still eat. And then, as the week rolled on, I began to do some research into animal welfare, the conditions of factory farming and the impact of the meat and dairy industry on the environment, the world’s ecosystems and global warning, not to mention our global food supply. As I read up on these subjects, veganism, which had already proved itself as a perfectly pleasant way to feed myself, became more than a dietary quirk or an obsessive behavioural tick. It revealed itself as a responsible approach to my body, to our planet, to the other living creatures we share our planet with, and to helping ensure the sustainability of our way of life.

HummusPut simply: I had realised a more logical way to live. To revert now would defy reason, and undermine any claim I could have to interpret and live life rationally. Hence veganism, this past year, has never been a hardship. Hence my gut reaction, if only I dared ever say it, to the question “Why are you a vegan?” is “Why on earth are you not?”

Of course to ask that question would be insufferably hypocritical of me – I was after all not a vegan for the first 26 years of my life. My excuse for why it took me so long is simply that I don’t think it ever occurred to me before to question what I was eating – to really think about what we accept in our culture as a “normal” human diet. Because I’d been subconsciously ingrained by habit since childhood to believe that the heart of a meal is the meat portion and that milk is an unquestionably vital part of our diet. So convinced are we of this that we rarely stop to wonder whether it is not odd that humans are the only species to drink milk beyond infancy and, what is more perverse, to drink the milk of a different species.

On the flipside, I had never previously given veganism any thought either. In which I do not think I am unique: many non-vegans I have spoken to lack a simple understanding of what veganism is, and, crucially, assume it is highly restrictive, and therefore difficult and dull. Some people I speak to seem to think I must subsist on nothing but nuts and celery. It’s not uncommon to be asked if I can still eat bread. I’ve even been asked if I eat vegetables, and been asked whether supermarkets sell my “kind of food”, as though vegans eat some kind of special food that the uninitiated are not privy to.

Why I find all these responses so amusing is simply this: far from feeling that my eating options have been restricted or dulled, I have been more experimental and adventurous in my cooking this past year than ever before. I probably have a greater range of ‘standard’ recipes that I knock-out of an evening – from English cuisine to Indian, Moroccan, Italian and Chinese – and love nothing more than ferretting around in wholefood stores to find tasty new lunch and snacking options. Essentially, by forcing me to think more about what I’m eating, I have come to re-appreciate food, and truly enjoy it more than ever before. In other words, veganism, for me, has been something of a food liberation.

Exercising, eating…and chemotherapy

ruthAn inspirational Monday morning post from my foodie, fitness friend and fellow blogger Ruth Chesworth on diet, exercise and chemotherapy:

So in 2011 I was diagnosed with a rare type of tumour in my abdominal wall, by that time it’d taken over the left side of my not-so-6-pack. Having had it, and the muscle it was in, removed in 2011 it recurred and in March 2013 I started IV chemotherapy. The tumour and the chemo have had a huge impact on my life but here’s a little bit about the effects it’s had on my diet and exercise.

In terms of nutrition there are two things that made the biggest difference, the most obvious being the side effects. Although I was lucky enough not to have too much nausea, my appetite disappeared and I had awful mucositis; meaning the lining of my mouth and gut were super sore all the time. I needed a way to get calories in via soft food or liquid, and to do it in small quantities. Secondly, and a little more unexpectedly, was a shift in my view of food. Prior to the chemo I’d tried to get my ‘5 a day’in but also enjoyed a good old take away and a decent amount of processed food. There is something about consciously allowing poison to be pumped through your veins that will make you think a lot more about what you put in your mouth.

ImageSo I started having smoothies in the morning, first just cucumber, kale, coconut water, banana and lemon juice, and then experimenting with spirulina, chia seeds and all sort of other goodies. It gave me energy through the morning, wasn’t too sore on my mouth and made me feel positive about what I wash putting into my body. I became totally lactose intolerant so used a lot of almond and coconut milk, something I’ve stuck with since finishing the chemo. Soups became my new best friend and, thanks to my mum, I was kept well stocked with a fresh, homemade selection. Although there were loads days when I felt lousy and missed the time before chemo, I’m incredibly grateful for the shift in my thinking it’s led to.

Six months after my last dose of chemotherapy and, although I can now chew a little better, I’ve tried to keep up with a diet that’s much healthier than before. That’s been made easier by the comparison I can now make if I do have a week where I just can’t face the food prep and end up eating badly – I immediately feel tired, sluggish and down. The final thing I find tough (and I realise some people find it hard to accept that not being able to eat enough is a problem) is the getting enough in. The tumour is currently about the size of a grapefruit and I’m pretty little. Imagine that feeling after christmas dinner; everything stretched to the uncomfortable limit. Well that’s how I feel with much more than a drink in my stomach. So working out the most nutritious and good-calorie dense food has been important.

It’s been interesting, and difficult at times, to develop a new relationship with food but it’s opened my eyes to the difference it can make.

ImageI had a real mental battle exercise-wise. Just as the poison made me reassess my diet, I felt I wanted to make my body stronger with exercise; slight problem being that I was totally and utterly knackered most of the time. There was no way I could go for a run or a swim a) I was too tired and b) some of the nasty side effects on my skin meant that tight clothing and warm water were a no go. After a couple of months I’d got into a pretty good routine thoug. I did a fair amount of searching online and found some really good resources for exercising on youtube. I’d focus on arms one day and legs the next, trying to do physio for my abdomen every day. I’ve also got a dog so there was plenty of walking to do. I think my biggest tip for anyone starting chemo would be to give yourself time, see how you feel through one cycle and then plan for the next one. By the end of my six month course I had muscle definition I’d never had before, all from 15 minutes each morning and evening with nothing but a yoga mat and some 2kg weights.

I’m still struggling with the exercise thing. I’m a real all-or-nothinger and because I know I will never be particularly good at running, cycling, yoga etc etc because of whats going on in my core I do find myself feeling pretty negatively about exercise. So I’m working on avoiding the comparison and reminding myself of the benefits for me; it’s a work in progress.

ImageSome of the changes I had to make, some of them came about because of the time I had and the situation I was in. Whether you’re gearing up for a course of chemo, you’ve just signed up for a marathon or you fancy trying to get a bit healthier, it all comes down to the same thing: Find a balance, work out what will fit in with your life and remember that if you try to change everything at once you’ll end up setting yourself up to fail and that’s no good for the psyche.

Follow my journey at rooth121.blogspot.co.uk

Let them eat cake

cakeA guest post from my running partner and cake baker lovely Louise Cooling.

For those tempted to abstain from animal produce for Lent, or those just looking to cut down on dairy products more generally, here is proof that you don’t need to give up cake!

One of the things I love most about baking – apart from the all the cake, is how happy it makes the people around me. As a passionate home baker, I regularly knock up an assortment of baked goods and I like nothing better than sharing the things I bake with my family, friends and colleagues. Unfortunately that can get a little tricky if someone in your circle has embraced a dairy-free lifestyle and nothing kills a baking-buzz like apologising to your new vegan friend for the none-vegan cookies you made – trust me, I’ve been there! So, despite being a life-long, milk guzzling carnivore, in the name of inclusivity I’ve decided to become a more equal opportunities baker. This means routinely using as many vegan-friendly alternatives to traditional baking ingredients as possible.

Since embarking on my quest to become a more enlightened baker, I’ve discovered that vegan-friendly baking requires imagination and creativity. Dairy, in the form of eggs and butter are at the corner stone of baking. Not to get too scientific, it’s the proteins and fats in dairy products that help baked goods to rise and define their texture. Whatever you’re none-dairy replacement, it has to react in a similar way to its diary counterpart if you’re to get a similar result. Luckily, there is a whole world of vegan-friendly substitutes out there that I hope with a little experimentation and practice will help me make sweet-treats that everyone can enjoy!

Below are just a few of my favourite vegan-friendly subs to date:

Eggs

  • Fruit or veggie purees (I love homemade applesauce or super ripe bananas as they allow you to cut back on sugar too)
  • Vinegar and Bicarbonate of Soda
  • Flaxseed meal and water

Butter

  • Coconut oil (the non-dairy fat du jour, as both a solid and a liquid its amazingly versatile, although the jury is still out on the supposed health benefits)
  • Cold-pressed Rapeseed oil
  • Applesauce

Milk

  • Unsweetened soya or nut milks
  • Coconut milk
  • Rice milk
  • Oat milk

Cream

  • Full-fat coconut milk
  • Homemade cashew nut puree (cashews are insanely versatile and delicious to boot)

Nothing says Happy Birthday like cake and in the spirit of experimentation I tried out the following recipe for Vegan Chocolate Cake with Ganache using some of the ingredients above for my chocaholic cousin’s birthday last month. The resulting cake was as decadent and delicious as a chocolate cake should be and a huge hit with my definitely none-vegan family!

Vegan Chocolate Cake with Ganache and Fresh Raspberries

410g Plain Flour

60g Cocoa Powder

2 tsp Baking Soda

½ tsp Salt

170g Soft light-brown sugar

160ml Rapeseed oil

420ml Unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used almond)

60ml Water

2 tbsp White wine or cider vinegar

For the ganache

250ml Full-fat coconut milk

250g Dark vegan-friendly chocolate

Preheat oven to 175 º C. Grease a 20cm (8 inch) round spring-form tin.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and sugar. In a separate jug or bowl combine oil, milk and water. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well until it’s thoroughly combined. Lastly add the vinegar and stir quickly.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the middle of the oven for about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the cake cool for 10 minutes in the tin before transferring to a wire rack. Allow to cool completely decorating.

To make the ganache, in a bowl, break up the chocolate into even size pieces. Bring the coconut milk to the boil and pour over chocolate. Allow to stand without stirring for five minutes. Stir to fully combine and allow to cool before sandwiching and icing the cake. Decorate with fresh fruit or toasted hazelnuts.

For a guide through the slightly weird but definitely wonderful world vegan and dairy-free baking subs check out the brilliant Fork and Beans blog at http://www.forkandbeans.com/

4 Reasons to Reconnect with Nature – Health Benefits of the Great Outdoors!

A vegan, climbing blogger after my own heart!

jennovafoodblog

Cannot believe it’s already October and I only have a few weeks left in the Red. Although I’m very excited to see all of my family and friends (especially my two oldest sisters who I haven’t seen since June!), I’m sad to leave the place that I’ve called home for the past half year! I cannot begin to describe how enriching of an experience living out here has been or how happy I feel getting out there every day with some pretty amazing people that have become my climbing partners. I haven’t quite figured out my way back to Canada (trying to leave as late as possible), but I should be back home in a few weeks for my sister’s baby shower. After that, I plan on sticking around for a short while and then hopefully heading out for a month long bouldering trip a bit more south… Although the…

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Stretch it out

Yoga posesA guest post for a Friday from my running club team mate and fellow fitness blogger Bex Howitt:

With new yoga studios popping up all over place, it is easier than ever to take up yoga and to find a style that suits you. If reciting chants at the beginning of the lesson isn’t your cup of tea, then fear not. The range of yoga lessons on offer is huge and there’s something out there to suit everyone, from those looking for a good workout to those embarking on a spiritual journey. Over the years I have tried and tested various styles, with vinyasa and hatha yoga being my favourites. If you’re a yoga newbie, you might like to read about some of the different yoga styles on offer and perhaps find a class to try out.

Different styles of Yoga

Ashtanga

Astanga is a very physically demanding style of yoga that would suit those looking for a good workout. It is based on ancient yoga teachings, but was popularised and brought to the West by Pattabhi Jois in the 1970s. This demanding style of yoga follows a specific sequence of postures, which is always undertaken in the same order. Most ashtanga classes last 90 minutes and should leave you feeling energised, if a little exhausted.

Bikram and Hot Yoga

Bikram Choudhury developed this school of yoga. Bikram classes are held in artificially heated rooms, meaning you should be prepared to get very hot and sweaty! The class follows a sequence of 26 poses which takes about 90 minutes. Hot yoga is very similar to Bikram, but classes do not  have to follow the same strict sequence. The heat is meant to help increase flexibility and aid weight loss but I personally find it a bit too much. The constant washing of towels and yoga clothes also got the better of me!

Hatha

Hatha yoga is a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures, so technically all yoga classes are hatha yoga. However, hatha yoga classes you see advertised are generally quite gentle and will focus on basic postures. I find these classes very relaxing as they provide gentle stretching and focus on breathing techniques. They are great classes for beginners as the pace is much slow, which means you won’t be getting left behind.

Iyengar

Iyengar yoga was developed and popularized by B.K.S. Iyengar. Iyengar is a very meticulous and precise style of yoga, which focuses on getting the proper alignment in a pose. To help students to achieve this, there are often lots of props in a class such as blocks, bolsters and straps. Students will stay in the poses for extended periods of time so it doesn’t provide the same cardio workout that other styles of yoga might.  However, it is great for increasing strength (mental and physical) and for people recovering from injuries.

Vinyasa

Vinyasa is the Sanskrit word for “flow”, which is why these classes are known for their constant fluidity and movement. Poses should move seamlessly from one to another with the movements connecting with the breath. Vinyasa classes are challenging but because they do not have to follow the same sequence, they are more varied than Bikram and ashtanga.

Benefit of Yoga for Runners

When training for an event, the body can find itself under a lot of stress and strain and even more so if you are training for something crazy like a Tough Mudder! Yoga can be used to complement training at any level, here’s how:

  • Yoga helps to stretch and lengthen tight muscles, in particular the hamstrings. Running can also cause tension in the lower back and shoulders, which various yoga poses can relieve. This helps to make the body more stable whilst running.
  • Yoga decreases your risk of injury by realigning and adjusting your muscles and bones.
  • Yoga provides a workout for the whole body. When practised regularly, it can greatly increase strength and stamina.
  • Yoga teaches an awareness of the link between the breath and movement and can improve lung capacity. This in turn can improve sports performance and endurance.
  • Yoga increases flexibility. Major muscle groups, ligaments, tendons and other soft tissues are stretched during yoga practise.
  • Yoga improves sleep. Regular practice of yoga can help people relax making it easier to nod off after a long day.

I hope I’ve been able to give you a brief overview  of yoga and of some of the benefits that yoga can bring to your overall fitness and health. Give it a go, you might just find out you are a bit of a yogi! If you want to read more about running, fitness and yoga have a look at my blog, ‘Twins in Trainers’.