Tuesday, 4 November 2014

What is NaNoWriMo?

You may, like me, have seen the strange word "NaNoWriMo" popping up all over the web in the last few weeks or months. I had noticed last year and the year before and had wondered what on earth it meant.

To be honest I had difficulty even saying the word .... NaNooMeeeMooo.... NaWriMaMooo..... MaaaNaaaMiiiiReeee...

I had no idea...

To my surprise, this year, I received an invitation from my brother and his girlfriend to take part in NaNoWriMo... or, as I prefer to say..

National Novel Writing Month

My brother explained that the thing was a writing challenge. Write a 50,000 word novel in a month. To be specific write it in the month of November. I would need to average about 1600 to 2000 words a day if I was to complete my masterpiece in the set time span.

Well, I've often been told by people, mainly my husband, that I should write a book. My answer has always been to stare in disbelief at him, them and shake my head. Write a book? Just like that?

I have no inspiration, no ideas... how can I write a book?

Well, Grasshopper ... this is where NaNoWriMo comes in. You just write. I see that other people have varying approaches. Some plan meticulously before November, having plot, characters, history all prepared before the start date. Others just sit down and start writing on the first day.Some adopt a combination of the two methods. This is what I have done.

It doesn't matter if you don't finish. It doesn't matter if it's rubbish. What matters is that you sit down and write. Apparently only 17% of people who try it succeed, but if you do you get ... well, actually you get nothing but a little virtual badge of honour and a feeling of smugness in your heart. You also, I would imagine ( I say imagine as I am currently on Day 4 so 50,000 words seems an awfully long way away) you also would enjoy a very large sense of achievement. 2,000 words a day is no small feat when you have a job, kids, a husband or wife who thinks you're mad...

The NaNoWriMo site is full of forums, support groups, graphs to show your word count and links to Pep Talks. They arrange meet ups in local coffee emporiums all over the world so that you can write with company. I do like a graph.

So, as I say... I am on Day 4 and things are going ok. I am fitting my writing in around work, taxiing children, sport, housework and a husband with a bad back ( say no more). My plan is to write as much as I can early on so that on the days when I have absolutely no time ( and they will come, Grasshopper, they will come) I am ahead of the game.

My story seems to be channeling itself through me from somewhere, though God knows how. I am certainly enjoying myself.

If you are reading this and wondering whether you should do it, I say yes!! What do you have to lose? You might be able to start now if you work hard, or you could start planning for next year. Or perhaps you are reading this next year... in which case... Do It!!

Its free, its a challenge and its not going to be judged by anyone. What's not to like?. I don't think I will end up being the next J.K Rowling, but I will at least have proved to myself that I can string more than 300 words together.
I will come back and write another post when and if I finish....

Friday, 31 October 2014

Changing lifestyle & Walking to be Fit.

Over the years I have been fortunate to be pretty fit and healthy.I have tried my hand at various sports and although I've never been particularly brilliant at any of them I've not been awful either. My basic level of fitness has been good. Six years ago I ran the London Marathon and before that I was running four times a week in order to train. I've enjoyed playing football once a week, tennis, skiing.

Blimey! I sound like a complete sports freak!! But I'm not and as I say I have never been particularly brilliant at any of this. The main thing thing though, and the most important thing, was that I was getting out, trying my best and having fun. My heart, lungs and muscles were active, as was my mind.

Over the last couple of years my activity has slowed down, dropped off and has been replaced by ... well, basically by sitting on my fat backside eating crisps and drinking wine...

This has begun to worry me. I am 50 now and I don't want to turn into a big fat unhealthy couch potato. I find running harder these days because I end up with sore knees and hips and its just not as enjoyable as it used to be. So I have started to create a new regime of exercise. I have begun yoga classes once a week and plan to practise yoga at home too. I have also started adult ballet classes once a week.

But I have been wondering what else to do that will raise my heart rate, be enjoyable, but not pound my joints. I read a really interesting blog post from Morgan Prince today over at Shaking Away the Cobwebs. She was saying what I had been thinking. She goes out walking, makes time for a 30 minute walk each day and she has started yoga. She shared a great yoga video for beginners too. I read it and thought Yes! This is the way!

The thing is, we all are in such a rush these days. My Granny used to walk everywhere, even into her 80's and she was as fit as a fiddle. Now we want to get everywhere quickly. The journey is an inconvenient part of our day that we want over as quickly as possible. Even the times I have walked to work I have been worried about how long it has taken, how long it will take me to get home. Hurry, hurry, hurry.

So today I have decided to take a leaf out of Morgan's book and make time for myself. My walking will be 30 minutes to an hour of exercise, probably 3 or 4 times a week - sometimes more, sometimes less. And in that time I can take photos, fill my lungs with fresh air, think and get my heart working. I went out this morning ...

I had such a lovely walk and my heart rate went up, my muscles were working, my lungs were working. It felt great and I could wear my normal clothes. No changing into sports bra and running kit - just put on my walking boots and head out the door. I came back happy and full of beans. 

If I can keep doing this I will be walking about 6 to 10 miles a week as well as my ballet and yoga. And the walking is free, which is excellent! I am determined not to let my body go to seed and I want to invest in my future. I don't want to look at myself in 5 years time and think "God! What went wrong?!"

We only have one body and I have been lucky enough to be fit and healthy for the last 50 years. Now I need to make a conscious effort to try and be fit and healthy for the next 50!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Toffee Apple Disaster.

So, its Half Term and I have lots of time on my hands - lucky me. I came over all Martha Stewart today and decided it would be marvelous if I wrote a magnificent post on how to make Toffee Apples. How hard can it be?? And I could take the delicious Toffee Apples to my mum's house to share with my triplet nephews.

First Job ... stick sticks in apples

My first job was to stick my sticks into my apples. An easy job, but finding the sticks proved tricky. Bewildered faces met me at every turn when I went into various supermarkets to ask for Toffee Apple sticks. You would have thought I'd asked for some sort of instrument of torture...

But in my Earth Mother mode I was not daunted. I would make my own damn sticks from Mother Nature herself. I grabbed my clippers and went outside in the rain to chop twigs of the appropriate size. Good work Mrs Secret Housewife!!

Then came the other ingredients ...

400g of sugar

150ml apple juice & 100ml maple syrup

And a teaspoon of cider vinegar ...

The next bit I was a tad nervous about. I would go as far as to say that I was scared. I had to slowly melt the sugar in a sturdy pan without burning either it or myself in a horrible sugar scalding accident. I have read that you don't stir the sugar, you just watch it and shake it lovingly occasionally. So I did.

When it had melted I added the maple syrup and apple juice and cider vinegar, letting it bubble and boil for 7 minutes...

bubbly sugary stuff

And that, dear reader, was when it all went horribly wrong.

Drop little bits into a jug of cold water, they said. And the little bits will solidify into lovely crispy toffeeness.... Well not in my house they don't.

Eventually I thought that I would dip the apples anyway. I mean, how long can a girl boil sugary stuff before she keels over from exhaustion? So I dipped the apples and put them to set on my newly bought baking paper. (Non Stick... I hope)

And before my very eyes most of the sugary sticky stuff slid majestically down the apples to form a delicious pool of ... stuff on my tray.

There may still be some sort of hope. There is a chance that in the next 5 years the toffee will set to a crispy crunchy delight, but I am not overly optimistic. Still, at least I tried and I hope that, if you attempt or have attempted Toffee Apples you are more successful than me.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Halloween Face Painting and Ghastly Lychee Eyeballs.

Not long now until Halloween... Halloween is one of those nights that wasn't too much of a big thing when I was a child. We didn't go trick or treating and I really don't remember the shops being full of orange and black merchandise as they are nowadays. As my boys grew up Halloween seemed to become more and more popular and it became a bit of a tradition to dress up, go trick or treating and make Halloween type food.

Now my boys are "big" they don't trick or treat, but we do enjoy getting our house ready for the little ones who do come around. We are lucky where we live in that there is a sort of unspoken etiquette that surrounds the whole Halloween thing. If you are happy for people to knock and collect sweets you put a pumpkin on your front step, lit with candles or tea lights. The odd freaky spider or web will help people know that you are ready. Children come round in groups with their parents and they don't usually visit past the age of about 9 or 10. Also, people don't come round past about 6.30 pm or 7.

I know some people really don't like Trick or Treating, and I can totally understand their feelings if they have had bad experiences, but we have been fortunate enough to be visited only by excited groups of little witches and skeletons who chorus Happy Halloween and politely thank us for their packet of sweets. Its rather a nice community event.

A ghoul and the monster pumpkin we grew on our allotment!

This year I have been asked to face paint my friend and her teenage daughters who are going to a Halloween party. They have given me photos of how they would like their faces painted and I am excited to paint them! I shall put photos of them on here when they are done! Last year I painted my son and his friends ...

I find painting these ghoulish ghastly images very enjoyable! You can really let your imagination go wild!

Similarly I love making Halloween food ... a real favourite is my Halloween Eyeballs ...

lychee eyeballs for Halloween

All you need is a tin of lychees ( stoned ), some blueberries and some raspberry jam. You just spoon some of the jam into each lychee and then pop a blueberry in the lychee hole. The jam spills out like blood and they generally look pretty disgusting, They taste delicious though! Sometimes we have some for trick or treaters who are brave enough to try one! Not many are!!

So ... that's what we do at Halloween. I've posted a little early this year in case anyone is looking for Halloween recipes and wants to have my Eyeball idea. I'm looking forward to doing my face painting and seeing what other people get up to. I hope you have a very Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Ballet Class as an Adult Beginner.

Yesterday I went to my first ballet class. Well ... I say first ballet class, and it is as long as you don't count about 4 classes 45 years ago. I had always wanted to be a ballet dancer. There is something about the way they move, the shapes they create, that mesmerizes me. I have spent hours drawing and painting their feet in pointe shoes ...

And now, at the age of 50, here I am, in little pink leather ballet pumps standing at a barre attempting to tease my feet into various positions with toes pointy and chin aloft!
I am so thrilled to be doing it! The teacher makes the class fun, but its hard. She tells us what moves to make in French ... none of which I can remember right now! But I enjoyed it so much. 

I don't think I am a natural ballerina, but I love the feeling of holding in my tummy, lifting up my core and holding my legs just so. I don't really care what I look like on the outside. On the inside I am Darcey Bussell, Margot Fonteyn and Tamara Rojo leaping for joy!!

As for the fitness side of it I think I am going to end up with thighs of steel because they certainly hurt like Hell after the class yesterday!!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

MurleyDance 'Hail Britannia' 2014 ... A Review.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a ballet dancer. There was something about ballet that touched my soul... the beauty of shape, the elegance and precision of en pointe dancing, the  way the dancers brought the music to life through the movement of their bodies. I didn't ever become a dancer - that's another story - but I do love to go to the ballet. Last night I went, with my friend, to a performance of Hail Britannia by the MurleyDance Company.

We were both very excited to be invited to the Shaw Theatre on the Euston Road to watch this young dance company's touring show Hail Britannia - a celebration of  aspects of British Culture. MurleyDance were only formed in 2012 and since then they have appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe and as part of Resolution! at the Robin Howard Theatre in London. They are London based and led by David Murley. Their vision is to fuse classical technique with theatricality.

Last night's performance consisted of four pieces, danced by the fourteen dancers of MurleyDance. Hail Britannia began with Shaadi, the story of a young Indian couple preparing for and going through their marriage. I loved this piece! It was vibrant, both in colour and dancing exuberance! Not only did it show an Indian marriage in Britain today, it used a mix of music from both cultures. Opening with the colourful strains of an Indian song they then danced to both Brimful of Asha and I'm Getting Married in the Morning. The effect was a joyful fusion of Anglo/Indian celebration and we loved it!

photo courtesy of @MurleyDance Instagram

Anaish Parmar did a great job choreographing this piece and we were both excited at what was to come. The dancers were all obviously technically very skilled so we were looking forward to the following three parts.

Next came Wayward Kinship, choreographed by Richard Chappell - the story of the relationship between Thomas Becket and Henry II. This was a very different piece. It was very dark, very atmospheric.

photo courtesy of MurleyDance
Richard Chappell is only 19 years old and when you consider his young age this piece was very good. I really liked the emotional interaction between the two male dancers in their red and purple velvet. Not only were their costumes striking in their simplicity and impact, the shapes they made in their dance were beautiful.

dancers in rehearsal courtesy of MurleyDance

rehearsal photo courtesy of MurleyDance

The only thing I would say to the negative was that the space at the Shaw Theatre was not really big enough for the ambition of the dancing here. The dancers were not able to really let loose and so their steps were, at times, a little confined. 

Now for the third piece, Frisky Claptrap, choreographed by David Murley himself. Its premise was the journey of three backpackers on trains around Britain and the eccentrically named towns they visit. Well... what can I say? If I am going to be honest this was such a disappointment. It was more like a sixth form sketch, with very little dancing and a lot of ridiculous slapstick and innuendo. It was rather self indulgent and a waste of the talents of this ambitious young troupe.

Moving swiftly on ... we were shown the Highgrove Suite. This was a ballet performed to The Highgrove Suite, a piece of music commissioned by HRH The Prince of Wales to celebrate his gardens at Highgrove House. This, again, was choreographed by David Murley and it revolved around the journey into womanhood of a young girl.

photo courtesy of MurleyDance

I particularly liked the mother and daughter in this piece. The dancer playing the mother was elegant and precise, capturing the emotional pain she was feeling perfectly. The daughter was a lovely dancer. If the dance had revolved purely around the three or four main characters then this would have been beautiful, but for some reason there was also a flurry of backing dancers tip toeing around the main scene for no discernible reason. They didn't add to the piece in any way and I found myself questioning why they were there. Again the stage seemed too small for that many dancers and their movements suffered from the confined space.

Of course, a fledgling company cannot pick and choose their venues and so they are bound to perform on smaller stages, but perhaps this should be considered when choreographing? I love the ambition of this company and the sheer enthusiasm with which they approach their aims. They are clearly a talented group of dancers with a strong desire to fulfill their aim to create a fusion of ballet and theatre. It is early days for MurleyDance and although I'm afraid I didn't feel my soul touched this time, I think that in the future they have the potential to be great. I am really grateful to have been invited to see them dance (I was kindly given complimentary tickets) and will watch out for them in future.

If you fancy attending the remaining performance of Hail Britannia they will be in Cheltenham on Saturday 25th October.