Saturday, 10 December 2016

Tips on Vegan Eating while Travelling

In this post I talked about our recent trip around Europe and there are some restaurant tips for the cities we visited.

I also have some general tips on how to have a nice holiday, and not live off of chips:

  • Plan ahead. I researched each city we were visiting and saved web pages as PDF's in my phone (in case we didn't have wifi access) with details of vegan friendly places. Sites like Happy Cow and TripAdvisor list vegetarian and vegan restaurants. Or just a google search will find you plenty of sites. 
  • You can also download areas of google maps to use offline to take with you, and can search for addresses in it as usual so this can come in handy with finding restaurants from the PDF's.
  • If you can't plan ahead that much, i.e. if you don't know where you will be staying, don't wait until you are hungry to try to find somewhere to eat. We tend to keep an eye out while walking around sightseeing in the day for places to go for dinner, look at menus outside restaurants and look out for likely places, and make a note of them. If you stop somewhere for a drink or coffee ask to see their menu or ask if they do any vegan options. It hardly takes up any time out of your day (we don't stop and look at every menu just if we are going into somewhere for a coffee or passing the door) and it means you can just have dinner or lunch later without any hassle.
  • Language Barriers - I took the Vegan Passport from the Vegan Society with me on our recent trip because we were visiting so many different places with different languages, I didn't use it but it was nice to know if I was really stuck I could. I actually find the wording in it a little arrogant and I was reluctant to give it to someone (It doesn't ask what on the menu is vegan for example, it says to prepare me something and "be imaginative", kind of makes me cringe). If I am going to one country I tend to research how to say a few stock phrases (and take them on paper too in case my pronunciation is terrible!) like "I am vegan" "no meat" "no dairy" "no eggs" "please can you help me" "can you show me what on your menu is vegan" etc. Also please, thank you and hello don't go amiss just to be polite. 
  • We had the car on our recent trip so took a plug in cool box, and bought things to go in it along the way from supermarkets. This helped with a driving holiday as the choice in service stations isn't always great (even for meat eaters anyway!) so I'd recommend taking a cool box and some supplies if you are going on a road trip.
  • Hotel breakfasts actually have more potential than you think. I brought a carton of soy milk so I could have tea, cereal and granola. Some places have soy milk but not many I've been to. Also toast and jam, some of the pastries (ask what's in them) and fruit from a continental breakfast. If there is a cooked breakfast there are often hash browns, beans, mushrooms (if not cooked in butter) and sometimes even a veggie sausage (though I don't see it too often).
  • Think about how you eat at home, if the local cuisine isn't very vegan friendly then think about Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mexican etc. 
  • If you do find you are not eating ideally because options are limited think outside the box on ways to get some better food. You can always go to supermarkets or markets and get some fruit or healthy snacks for lunch instead of having fast food. You can visit farmers markets or local farm shops for some fresh fruit. I usually make sure to take vitamins with me, although I actually forgot them on our most recent trip (I don't take them very often at home), just in case the food isn't ideal to keep me feeling good
  • You might need to be flexible in restaurants. For example if the vegan option is only salad and that won't be enough for you then maybe order some sides to go with it too, or order a platter of sides instead.
  • If in doubt ask someone! Ask at your hotel reception, or your tour guide or the host you are staying with. They will be able to find out for you if they don't know anywhere.
  • Remember at a push there is always chips/fries, or plain side salad, or a plain jacket potato, or a burger king veggie burger without cheese and mayo is vegan. You won't starve, you might just have to lower your standards momentarily :)
Happy travels!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Minimalist Challenge - Week 3

I recently started the "Mins Game" or Minimalist Challenge, the idea is that you get rid of one thing on day one, two things on day two and so on increasing by 1 item every day until a month has passed...by the end you will get rid of over 400 items!

Week 3 was still quite easy, I keep wondering when I am going to start to struggle! At the time of writing this I'm into week 4 and it's still easy to find all my items every day. I thought once I got into 20+ items a day it would start to get hard, but not even started places like under the bed yet and that will last me at least a few days!

I had a free pass until day 18 as we had so many CD's and DVD's to go from the week before, so I used the time to sell some stuff on ebay (our Wii and Wii fit board for £65, nice!) and get rid of some of the things that had gone into the 'holding zone of crap to get rid of' a.k.a the dining table. 

Day 18 through 21 were actually all pretty small stuff, more discs and small bits and bobs. Started on the actual clutter hotspots, like the box under the coffee table and the cupboard under the turtle tank. Lots and lots of paper and random little knickknacks this week, nothing massive except the Wii. The kitchen was done this week though and it was quite a nice one, we gained a whole free shelf in one cupboard (in a kitchen as small as ours this is a lot of space!) so I could get all my protein powder and creatine etc off the counters. Plus there is still space in there for the slow cooker that I am hoping that Santa brings me!

Some things I have learned so far over the last 3 weeks

  • If you build it they will come, also if you have a space to put stuff you will fill it. After this challenge is done I'm going to get rid of a few things like the boxes under and on the coffee table, it just encourages us to leave stuff in there rather than put it away!
  • We really do keep some random old junk. Most stuff has been easy to get rid of, there's not even a second thought as to whether we should keep it or not.
  • Glasses and glasses cases seem to be my favourite thing to hoard, I must feel like I shouldn't throw old glasses in the bin when I get new ones - a friend is an optician and has kindly taken my stash off my hands for charity. Next time I get new glasses I am giving her my old ones immediately!
  • The hardest part has been actually disposing of the stuff, I can't go the the charity shop or the tip every day so it just piles up until I can. Hence the "airlock of junk" that is our dining nook in the hallway!
Onto week 4! I am really starting to think I'm going to make it to the end of the whole month, which is slightly embarrassing considering we only have a 1 bedroom flat :)

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Vegan Food Travelling In Europe

I went on my first few trips this year since I went vegan, and I didn't end up just eating chips!

The first were short breaks to London and Dublin. There was plenty of choice and being English speaking places I could ask for what I needed, and I knew the chain restaurants I could go to if I had to.

Then the big one, we drove around Europe for 2 weeks.

Hm, that's a lot of different languages, cities, countries and cuisines. Didn't pick an easy one to start with! There is always chips, and I knew I could just go and buy some fruit etc if I really struggled, but it would be nice not to have to. As it turns out the only time I had to just have a plate of chips was in a random service station in the middle of nowhere in Germany so I think I did quite well.

Anyone visiting Brugge, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Switzerland or Luxembourg...here's what I found! Click on restaurant names for links to their websites. We stayed in most places 2 nights, so didn't eat in lots of places just dinner when we arrived, one full day then breakfast (usually just in the hotel) before we left for the next place. 

Bruges
We arrived pretty late into Bruges as we drove there from home and had the ferry crossing (FYI there was nothing much on the ferry, take food) so once we checked into the hotel we wanted some food. We found a place literally down the road from our hotel (the Ibis budget by the train station) called De Stoepa that did a few things. I had the quinoa salad (or it was maybe cous cous) and it was lovely, really large portions and the garlicky sundried tomatoes were amazing!

Second day we were up early as we had been to bed quite early due to being knackered from travelling, so we walked through the Minnewater park into the town - I would recommend an early start if you are staying here as once the day trips arrive it gets busier. We had a really lovely few hours in the morning wandering around the quiet scenic streets. We had lunch at Le Pain Quotidien which did really good brunch and lunch options. Be aware though the menu was a bit confusing and the "botanical" items weren't actually all vegan, I'm not 100% sure what it was meant to mean (organic?) but some had cheese and butter. The staff all spoke English (everyone we spoke to in Bruges spoke perfect English it was a bit odd) so could advise me and were really helpful. They also did soy milk so I could have a cup of tea and not black coffee - always a plus point!

For dinner we went to a Greek restaurant just off the main square called the Olive Tree because we happened to walk past and see they had a clearly marked vegan option in their menu, always a bonus when abroad if it is clearly specified on the menu. The food was good, although not that cheap but Bruges is generally not cheap so comparably it is probably not expensive.

I bought some nice dark chocolate here too that kept me in car snacks for the next few journeys :)

Amsterdam
We arrived in the early afternoon after driving from Bruges, so we decided to have a late lunch then a small dinner. We got caught in a downpour of rain so ducked into a bar/restaurant called Venus & Adonis while walking through the De Jordaan area, they didn't have anything marked vegan on their menu but the waitress confirmed that they could do me the pumpkin soup without cream and that the bread was vegan. That with a side of fries was perfect. 

In the evening we just had some takeaway food (I'll be honest I can't remember what I had, I'd had a few shandys) from the plethora of pizza and burger joints in the city centre.

The next day we had lunch at wok to walk as we were passing at lunch time (having been to a vegan restaurant that was fully booked), I love places like this as it's so easy, just choose your options and no fussing around about whether stuff is vegan or asking for things to be taken off (which in a foreign country isn't always easy). 

We had dinner at De Bolhoed  as we had just been to Anne Frank house and it's nearby, the food was good although the wait for it was a bit long. There is a resident cat which is always a bonus for me. This was the first actual vegetarian/vegan restaurant we had been to - my husband is not vegan so we try to find places that accommodate us both if we can, although he doesn't mind going to veggie places at all.

Berlin
Ah Berlin. You don't need a vegan food guide for Berlin. I was spoiled for choice. I don't know what it is, it's a pretty liberal city so maybe that's it, but the vegan choice is the best I have ever seen. Most places we went past had vegan options clearly marked on their menu, and if once place didn't the next place did.

The drive from Amsterdam was loooong so when we got there we didn't want to venture too far for dinner from the hotel (the Ibis in Friedrichshain). A quick google search showed there were about 3 Vegan or Vegetarian restaurants within walking distance of the hotel, but wait look a street food area literally over the road from our hotel with 5 or 6 vegan options. Hotel breakfast had vegan options, for lunch the second day we had Mexican. They had a vegan page on their standard menu (no asking for the allergy list here) and after that I didn't want a lot of dinner.

We stopped at Veganz vegan supermarket the way out of Berlin so I could get some things as we would be self catering later in our trip. I've already informed Tom we are going back again soon with more time so I can just eat, and eat, and eat, and bring back a suitcase of food.

Prague
The language barrier in Prague was a minor issue, but we managed. Our hotel was a bit out of the city (we had the car and not many city centre hotels in our budget had parking) so I was a bit concerned I would end up with chips on the first night as when we arrived from Berlin we didn't really want to get the tram into the city just for dinner, but the hotel restaurant had a pasta dish that was suitable (after an amazing effort by the waitress who said her English was not good but managed to get what I was on about and check for me).

The next day we had lunch at a vegan restaurant on the walk up to the castle called Vegans Prague, I had the vegan feast and a raw cake and it was gorgeous. There was a raw vegan place a few doors down and a cafe downstairs of you only wanted a lighter bite. We walked 16km that day around the city so I was glad to get a good meal! 

Prague is the only place I kind of struggled and we actually ended up eating at veggie places for all our meals here, as not many places had vegan options on their menu in fact some didn't even have vegetarian. Although vegetarian places were quite easy to find so it worked out OK.

We had dinner at Country Life which is a pay by the weight of your plate style canteen. Perfect as we had such a large lunch so just wanted a bite to eat before we had a few drinks in the evening! There was lots of choice, although I played it safe as I couldn't read the labels of what things were.

Salzburg
The drive to Salzburg wasn't so long, and we were entering the less city break part of the holiday so we were getting into smaller towns and more rural areas. We stopped for lunch on the way for a picnic with the stuff I got from Veganz (ham and cheese sandwiches with garlic mayo). When we arrived into Salzburg we walked along the river into the old town and had dinner at a small Italian restaurant. Austria seems to have good rules about allergies, most menus were clearly marked with a little key of what had different allergens in. This made it really easy to ascertain what I could eat, I had a pasta dish with tomato and basil.

The next day we had lunch at BioBurger Meister. The burgers were AMAZING, not too expensive either and definitely worth a try. They serve meaty burgers too if you have meat eaters in your group (I know unless you are travelling alone or your partner is vegan to can be difficult to please everyone).

We had dinner at Spicy Spices, a vegetarian Indian restaurant with lots of vegan options. The chef/host/waiter (as far as I could tell it was just him!) was really friendly and helpful. The food was really good, my husband likes Indian food more than me and he was impressed. He also bought some of the spicy chutney to bring home from the little shop portion of the restaurant. This was also good value we had drinks, both had starters and mains, and I had dessert and the bill was very reasonable.

Innsbruck
The drive from Salzburg to Innsbruck was beautiful, but we struggled to find any food as we didn't realise it was a national holiday and everything was shut! In the end we stopped at a garage and cobbled some breakfast together with some bread, a pretzel and some of the stuff I bought from Veganz!

We were self catering here so I don't have many food recommendations, but generally the old town was very nice and there were plenty of restaurants. Food seemed expensive in the supermarkets (although at this time the pound was worth naff all against the euro so it could have just been the exchange rate), especially certain fruit and veg so this is something to bear in mind. Tom also said certain meat was quite pricey too. Just something to bear in mind if you are self catering.

Switzerland
Again we were self catering, we stayed in Alt Sankt Johann in an AirB&B and it was beautiful, lots of walking and lovely scenery right outside the door. The kitchen was also very well equipped (I could have done Christmas dinner in there if I felt like it!) which was great, we made pizzas and pasta and nice breakfasts.

Luxembourg
We only stayed here one night to break up the drive home as Switzerland to the UK is along drive. We ate at a bar called Snooze, originally we just went in for a drink but we noticed they had a good range of veggie burgers. This was the only place we ate in Luxembourg as we arrived late in the afternoon and left early in the morning.

So that's the trip, I'll do a post on general tips on eating while travelling soon :)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Minimalist Challenge - Week 2

I recently started the "Mins Game" or Minimalist Challenge, the idea is that you get rid of one thing on day one, two things on day two and so on increasing by 1 item every day until a month has passed...by the end you will get rid of over 400 items!

You can read how week 1 went here, week 2 was actually pretty much a breeze! I started to actually delve into drawers and shelves and the clutter to get rid of was plentiful.

I have been posting pictures on instagram, if you feel the need to see pictures, but this week I got rid of:

  • What seemed like about 50 glasses cases (I get a new one each time I get new glasses and never use them!)
  • Cleaning products I have bought, used once, did not get on with and for some reason have kept.
  • Pet things that we/they don't use/eat/play with
  • CD's and DVD's galore!
I actually had enough CD's and DVD's to take me into week 3, I post dated the days (on day 11 I counted and I had enough to go up to day 18!) and stacked them up ready to go, and had a little break! 

I actually used the time to send all the good disks off to Music Magpie for some money (not a lot but every little helps right!) and to advertise some other things on Freegle.

Freegle or Freecycle is a really great resource for all those things you think nobody would want to buy (hence not worth donating to a charity shop either) but it seems a shame to throw in the bin. You advertise it and people collect it, so it is also great for getting rid of old furniture without having to take it to the tip or pay to have it removed. The aim is to keep as much out of landfill as possible and it's always nice to see things go to use rather than to waste. I got rid of some pet bits and bobs and a bag of shells for arts and crafts.

Onto week 3, I have 4 days of it sorted already so I'm hoping this will be an easy one too! Next on the list is the kitchen, we have too many glasses and random utensils that we don't use, and I want a slow cooker for Christmas so I'm motivated to make room! I'm starting to think I'm maybe going to make it to the end of the month but we are getting to over 20 items a day soon and that is a lot to get rid of although I haven't even started on under the bed or the hall cupboard yet...

Friday, 25 November 2016

The Minimalist Challenge

I recently started the "Mins Game" or Minimalist Challenge, the idea is that you get rid of one thing on day one, two things on day two and so on until a month has passed...by the end you will get rid of over 400 items! I started it with the aim that I would get as far I could but probably wouldn't make it for the full 30 days. I am now thinking I'll make it at least past 20 days, maybe even to the end!

It's helpful to break it down day by day and it makes it seem like so much less work, this week I've gotten rid of 28 items already and I hardly even noticed doing it! 10 minutes a day after work at most so far, this will get more time consuming as it goes on I imagine but if you have too much stuff (who doesn't) I would recommend giving it a go even only for a week or two. If you follow me on Instagram you can see some pictures of all my rubbish (if you really want to) but here's how it's been going...

Week one actually took 2 weeks as after day 5 I had to take a little break due to a nasty cold but other than that it was a breeze to find things!

I started out just picking things up that were out in the flat, clutter from surfaces and floors. I got rid of so much stuff without even opening a drawer or cupboard it's kind of embarrassing! You know those things that just hang around, and never really have a home because you keep meaning to do something with them. Yeah those things, just bin or donate them.

So far I have gotten rid of things like a broken air bed, a load of old prescription glasses and some random gifts and wedding favours that we just don't use. I haven't even started on any of our "problem areas" for clutter yet and I have already put so much stuff in the bin, and Tom took a box full of stuff to the charity shop at the end of the week. This is the easiest week so I am anticipating it will get harder, but I am already seeing a difference in the flat that it just looks a little cleaner and less cluttered! This is my motivation to keep going!

I have also learned a few things already:
  1. I keep packaging for WAY too long and for stuff we don't need it for. Next time I buy something the box goes in the bin right away!
  2. I do not get rid of gifts because I feel bad for not keeping them. I am trying to change this to see it as donating them so other people can have them who will use them! Sometimes I feel like I should keep something because objectively I agree it is a nice/useful/pretty thing and I would buy it for someone else, but it just doesn't fit in with my lifestyle or our flat etc so doesn't get used. I'm trying to treat gifts the same as if I bought them.
  3. Most of the clutter so far is mine, or stuff I have bought for "us" or "the flat" but really it's all stuff I wanted. Tom actually has very little in the way of clutter other than his man drawer and probably in his wardrobe. I should do something with this information like STOP COLLECTING SO MUCH CRAP.
  4. I have also found it has spread into other areas of my life, I am generally getting more stuff sorted like returning things to people, getting films developed, replacing old furniture. I am trying to pare down and reevaluate my bills a little. I will do a separate post on how it works out but so far I've changed pet insurance supplier to save £30 a month!

On to week 2! I'm going to try and get into some of our more cluttered areas like under the bed, our CD's/DVD's and the storage cupboard in the hall...

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Thinking of trying Crossfit?

I have been doing Crossfit about a year now, I get a lot of interest in real life about why I started it and what it is.

It's often seen as an extreme or hard option, or something that only super fit people do. As with a lot of things though it's not as scary as you think!

I always share the free taster sessions on my Facebook page and get comments like 'Oh no I could never do that' or 'I'm not fit enough' or 'that's too hard'.

Here's why you should give it a chance though guys:

'I don't even know what half of it is! Let alone know how to do it!'
This was me after looking up the first WOD (workout of the day) I went to before I left home (It involved squat cleans and I had never touched a barbell), I googled what I didn't know and was a bit apprehensive when I saw the results. Just ask the coach, they won't just say "right today we are doing this" and leave you to get on with it. If you are unsure or struggling or have never heard of what you are meant to be doing then just say. I think at most of my classes for at least 2 months or even more I hadn't done at least one of the things included in the workout before. I think the thing about cross fit is that it takes away the need to plan your own workouts to some extent, you turn up and the work is on the board. If you don't know how to do something or need help then you ask and you learn. If your coaches are the same as at the box (gym) I go to they will know you are new and give you some extra help anyway.
The woman who had never picked up a barbell until a year ago getting a new 1RM in a competition. Photo credit CM Photography
Everything is scaleable
The reasons a lot of my friends give as to why they can't try Crossfit is that they can't do a lot of the things on the session, well neither can I, or a lot of people who have been going longer! Everything is scaled to your ability, so if the workout asks for you to do something you can't do because it is a skill you don't have yet like double unders, or the weight is too heavy, or you have an injury or are just not fit enough yet? Then do any skipping you can, or a lighter weight, or run a shorter distance. Or just talk with the coach about what you can do. I can count on one hand (maybe 2 hands, I honestly can't remember how many) the amount of workouts I have done to Rx (as it is written on the board with no scaling) and I have been going on average 3-4 times a week for a year.

I've heard it can be dangerous
Scaling also ties in with what some people (In my experience people who have not actually ever done a WOD) say about the workouts being dangerous, they could be if you turned up on your second week and tried to do the Rx workout. Be sensible and realistic about your ability and don't try to be a hero. The coaches I have met would never let anyone do this anyway and they will make sure everyone knows what they are going to do in the WOD beforehand and that it is suitable for their abilities. With any form of exercise there is a risk you might get injured or have an accident but in my experience I am not any more likely to hurt myself at Crossfit than I am out running (I regularly trip over running at night!) or at another type of gym. The workouts and the atmosphere do push you to do more, but I have never felt like I couldn't say "actually no, I really can't do that" and I have had times where coaches have helped me to change to lighter wights mid WOD, or said to me to scale to less burpees during a long WOD where it became apparent that I was not going to finish it if I stubbornly kept trying to do the 5 burpees involved every minute.

You will progress.
Nobody will be mean or judge you for not being able to do things right away, and you will look back in a few months and not be able to get over what you can do now. I had literally never picked up a barbell before starting Crossfit. I had been doing some assisted pull ups because of climbing, but was nowhere near being able to do one unassisted. I couldn't do push ups, handstands, double unders (still can't) and many more things I can now do or I can do a scaled version of. However, I am progressing (faster at some things than others) and getting better. I was a bit embarrassed at the start about how many bands I needed for pull ups, or that I had no idea how to clean or snatch (still struggle with that one tbh!). A lot of it is things you have probably never tried before, especially women in some ways. In PE we did netball and hockey, nobody will have taught you to climb a rope or do olympic lifts unless you sought that out. Just turn up, do the best you can do, learn good form and build strength, and you can't go wrong!

This is me, still not doing double unders. Photo credit CM Photography
Everyone looks so fit I feel so out of shape
Someone I persuaded to a taster session said this to me. Yes a lot of people there are in good shape, they are the people who have probably been going for ages. You will also get people who are not in such good shape, or who have just joined too. It's not just for people who are already super fit, you will soon get sucked into worrying more about what your own progress is than whether you have a bit more tummy fat than others. Also if you stick with it you could look like some of them in a couple of years!

The attitude is so different and refreshing
For me the focus being on what you can do rather than how you look is such a relief. I personally am not motivated by a trainer telling me a certain exercise it good for my muffin top, I'm more motivated by an actual challenge. You are more focused on learning all the new things in the first month or so you don't even notice the weight coming off, and once you do you notice you are more concerned about getting better than getting slimmer. The atmosphere is also so different to other gyms, there is a social and friendly vibe which comes from all doing the same WOD. Whether it's the second or millionth time you've been you all do the same, and while some scale and some don't everyone supports each other. I have made friends through Crossfit and there are socials and competitions regularly, it's actually more than just a gym in a lot of ways.
High fives after we finish the workout! Photo credit CM Photography
I always urge anyone to try it out, the taster sessions are always friendly and not scary at all. I really wish I had started sooner!

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Vegan festival food

After my first festival season as a vegan, I thought I'd share my tips. Most of these translate to vegetarian or other diets too.

Tips for eating vegan at festivals:
  • Prepare - If you have a food allergy or restricted diet you are likely used to taking food places with you anyway. I plan to take at least - granola/cereal bars, instant porridge pots (just ask vendors for hot water if you aren't taking a camping stove and kettle, sometimes it's free too although sometimes they charge), a few bananas and oranges, a couple of packs of sweets and some uht portions of soy milk (I got mine off ebay) for cups of tea.
  • If you are not taking food then at any festival (even smaller ones) there are always going to be chips, jacket potatoes, some form of potato wedges/waffle/hash brown, some falafel type wrap and if you're lucky a veggie burger that's vegan. Also look out for mexican food as often that can be altered by asking for no cheese and sour cream. If you're going to a large festival there may be more choices like a vegan or vegetarian food vendor (at download this year there were 3 I went to!), some decent salad, vegan cakes or baked goods, pizza you can have without cheese or lots of healthy food vendors which will include some options for us. 
  • Some festivals release their food vendor list prior so you can research and know whether you need to take food or not.
  • Some festivals allow camping stoves or BBQ's, some do not, you can usually find out on their website. If you can take one this will of course broaden your food options and you can take some tins of beans, bread, veggie sausages or burgers. It depends how much time you want to spend cooking at the tent and whether you want to carry it all in (I do not)
  • Alcohol - I know what UK brands are vegan in cider and most festivals will be sponsored by certain brands so it's easy to find out what's going to be available (It is likely plastered all over the website). If you rely a lot on researching what to drink at the bar, then maybe look a few up before or ensure you will have phone battery the whole time by taking something to charge your phone with like a solar charger or battery pack. If in doubt go for spirits!
Basically you won't starve, and the festival food options have come on a lot more than the greasy burger van, but it's always worth taking a few snacks in case!

Also some of my general festival tips:
  • Take more bin liners than you think you will ever use, they are a godsend for putting wet muddy clothes in, keeping your camp litter free, and in a pinch double as a fetching waterproof coat.
  • Take wellies and a waterproof coat even if it's not meant to rain. It will probably still rain at some point. I have a cheap pac a mac that has been a godsend as I can just pop it in my bag even if I don't think I'll need it.
  • Take a tent that is easy to put up (not a massive 4 room one with 500 poles) but that is waterproof and sturdy, we have a dome tent we borrow from my mum for festivals. It goes up quickly but is a good tent and doesn't collapse at the first sign of wind. We have a big tent for proper camping but for festivals it's just too big and takes ages to put up. 
  • Take more socks and pants than you would usually use, if you get soaked through dry socks and pants will sort your life out!
  • Take something to sleep in, nothing worse than trying to get dressed hurriedly in a tent when you need a wee in the night! I am not usually a PJ wearer so have been caught out by this before.
  • Get a good camping spot, not on a slope and not at the bottom of a hill. You do not want to be flooded or sleep on an incline, you might have to walk up a hill to get back to your tent every time but it's worth it to be dry and not in the run off from the tents above you.
Have fun! Let me know if you have any vegan eating or festival going tips :) xx

Monday, 11 April 2016

Training for Kilimanjaro

I touched briefly on my fitness build up and initial goals back hereThis post is a more in depth training guidance for anyone planning to climb Kilimanjaro. Obviously you may have a different fitness level than I did and you should take into account any health conditions or injuries etc. before taking on such a challenge – so this plan assumes you are reasonably healthy with no injuries, and you haven’t done anything like this before.

Basically my thoughts on the challenge are that you do not need to be running ultra-marathons or be mega fit to make the summit, but the fitter you are the better time you will have and you need to be in good shape. Having had time to think about my training and what I did right and what I could have done more of it’s good to write it all down, hopefully it will help someone!

The top things I did to train were:

Walking

In the year or more leading up to the trek you should go on at least a few challenging hikes (at least 10 miles, and involving rugged terrain and steep ascents), and generally walk as much as possible. Once a week, or a few times a month. Running or walking on a treadmill is fine for some of it but you also need to get used to uneven terrain, unpredictable weather, doing it in boots with a heavy bag etc.
The Malverns

Walking is what you will be doing on the mountain and lots of it, get your boots as early as you can and walk in them. Also get used to carrying your backpack on long walks with 2L at least of water inside it as well as waterproofs, layers, food and suncream etc. We did a night summit of Snowdon to try to simulate summit night, nothing actually does simulate summit night but it was worth it to have at least some experience what walking in the dark for hours is like. We also got in the habit of walking everywhere via the hills nearby, BBQ at dad’s…lets walk there (12 miles)! Sunday dinner at mum’s…walk there (14 miles)! Food festival in a nearby village…let’s walk it (10 miles)! I did a walk as often as I could mostly on a Sunday, sometimes with Tom sometimes on my own. We joined some organised walks too at a local walking festival.

Forest of Dean
We are lucky to be in a city area but with nearby access to countryside, I found some walks nearby that I could do in a few hours so could squeeze them in if I didn't have all day. I made sure these all included some steep hills to go up, one day I just went to one nearby hill and walked up and down it as many times as I could in the time I had available. However if you aren't able to access walks easily then you will need to set aside some time to go on trips to places where you can. I drove out to some areas like the Malverns (the walk from Herefordshire Beacon to Worcestershire Beacon and back again along the spines of the hills is a nice one, easy to follow path and parking available, with lots of hills) and we went to the Peak District and Wales - Brecon Beacons and Snowdon. The Snowdon night summit was an organised trip with Action Challenge who we did the climb with, they had other options for training walks and other companies we looked at did similar. It was actually really nice to get out and about in the countryside and made me appreciate our local area and the UK countryside.

Local Hillside
Cardio

Improve your general fitness and cardiovascular health. When I wasn't walking I did a bit of running, climbing and lots of gym classes. The best one for kili training I think was circuits once a week, lots of burpees, lunges, kettlebell swings etc. I also did gym circuits on a Saturday which used more of the machines, a tabata class (short bursts of body weight or cardio exercises) on a Friday and another class on a Wednesday/Thursday which changed every so often like boxing, TRX, running club, circuits again…to be honest I can’t remember all of them but it was basically classes mon, weds, fri and Sat. I usually did 3 classes a week out of those 4, then the rest of the days were either climbing or running. When we stopped climbing so much as Tom sprained his ankle I picked up the Saturday morning gym circuits and did 4 classes a week.

Running

You want to improve your general fitness, my personal goal was to get to running 5k reasonably often. I wasn't a runner before I started training so it was a benchmark for me on how my fitness had improved as to how easily I could run 5K. If you are already a runner then maybe work in some interval training and hills too. I found the kili trek to be a lot of epically hard parts interspersed between not so hard parts, so some interval runs and hill running will help build your endurance and power.

Legs

Basically I spent 2014 doing leg day over and over. Your legs are the main part that you will use, so I did loads of squats, lunges, leg presses, walking, running, cross trainer and stepper. Have a leg day at least once a week - If not more!

Conditioning

Get outside! We spent just under a week climbing in Stanage Edge following a night summit of Snowdon, which was great for testing our kit. The conditions are the hard part really of the trek, being outside for a week straight (or more depending on your route) is hard, getting wet, hot, cold, bitten by bugs, sun burn, wind chill and exhausted...in the space of a day. Go camping a few times if you aren't outdoorsy already, practice packing up your tent every day and check if you can sleep well in a tent, do you need ear plugs? Is your sleeping mat comfortable enough? See my post here on kit. 

Snowdon night summit - watching the sun rise
Other than that you can do altitude training to get used to the altitude effects, we didn't and I don’t regret that. My thoughts were that if I was going to be affected by the altitude I’d deal with it when it happened, we read enough to know what to expect if we did get altitude sickness and had experienced guides and a team doctor, if I knew before that I was going to get bad altitude effects what would that change for me other than make me anxious about it? 

What could I have done more of? Well we made it so it seems our training was enough, but I felt that I could have done a little more training generally. I basically did no exercise until about 10 months before we went, so I think just having longer to prepare would have been helpful as I was starting from unfit. Other than that maybe some more strength training or weights, as I feel MUCH stronger now than I did when we went. However I'm unsure if this would have made a huge difference in how well I managed the trek other than in my mindset!

You can read about my Kili experience on my old blog, and I will copy them over to here at some point. Any questions please comment and I'll do my best to answer or direct you to someone who can!

Monday, 25 January 2016

5:20...AM?!

Honestly who gets up at that time to exercise? Apparently me...

In my post here on having a break over Christmas I talked about being back to crossfit more in the new year, and also about finding a better schedule and going more when I could use the car. So the first week back to work in January I tried out going in the morning before work.

Sounds a bit counter-intuitive to get up earlier so that I get more rest, I reasoned that if I went to the 6am class I could be home in time for Tom to take the car to leave for work, and enough time for me to then shower and get to work.Then my day goes on as usual but I've already done a solid hour of exercise.

Now I can't say I ever thought I would want to go to the gym in the morning, I love my sleep, I love my bed, and I hate getting up early for work as it is. I never thought I would be volunteering to get up earlier!

So how did it go?
First the obvious drawbacks, I won't lie getting up at 5:20am when it is dark and -5 outside is not high on my list of enjoyable things to do, and it is just as bleak as it sounds. However putting my clothes out on the radiator to warm and having a nice breakfast ready helps. Also I repeat to myself 'If you don't go this morning in the car you'll only have to cycle there this evening' over and over and over...

The only other negative is having to go to bed earlier the night before, but we rarely do a lot on week nights anyway as we both work full time.

The benefits?
Time wise it's a win win trade off for me, I have to get up earlier but it means I have my evenings free, which means my weekends aren't taken up by all the chores I didn't do in the week. Which means I can go and see family and friends, or go on a long run, or even have a nice rest day, maybe even relax and read a book. I actually found the first weekend free a struggle to remember what to do when I have nothing to do!

I can go more often, because I'm not having to sacrifice my after work or weekend time any more I can go as many times a week as I feel like. It's also sometimes like your workouts happen as if by magic, hard to explain but it's like you go so early it's a bit surreal sometimes and you forget you went this morning...but you are still making progress and getting fitter!

I actually go every time I plan to, with going after work there is always the risk that something comes up and I end up having to rearrange my session. I also haven't had a chance yet to have a horrible day and be tired by the time I get there!

I don't have to cycle there every time. This was really the main reason for me!

I find I get to work feeling more awake and motivated, and I don't need to stress about rushing off to get to my evening class on time. You know that high after a great workout? I get to take that into the rest of my day!

There's also a certain sense of satisfaction, or smugness maybe haha, that I've already killed (or erm completed) a hard workout before work, before most people have had breakfast.

If you are thinking about it, give it a try! Preparation is key for an early morning start though, I get my breakfast ready the night before (overnight oats), as well as my lunch for taking to work. I also get all my gym clothes out as well as my work clothes for when I get back. Down to socks and underwear even. I even fill my water bottle and put my car keys, cross fit notebook and protein bites in my coat pockets. This means I can literally roll out of bed into my gym stuff, brush teeth and hair, and go. Then get back and just shower, eat quick breakfast and go back out. No flapping around looking for my keys or trying to find a clean sports bra. All means an extra 10 minutes in bed too!

All in all I'm finding it a lot better, and it is working out for both my training plan and my new years resolution to make life a bit easier for myself.

Anyone else an early morning exercise convert? I'd love to hear any tips x

Monday, 18 January 2016

My Fitness Story

I talk about my fitness on here, but those of you who don't know me in real life (or some who only know me as myself now) will not know my fitness back story. I feel like some context might help you to understand some of my future posts on training...


Over the past 2 years I have practically transformed my lifestyle, body and mindset on fitness. I feel like I want to share how and why this happened…this makes for a long rambling post so please stick with me, I've broken it up into a few different parts to try to make it more easy to read. 
Back story and reasons to get fit
Back story on my fitness is pretty short. I was unfit. I was never a ‘sporty’ person, and didn’t feel at home in the gym or on the running track. I have always been slim (ish) but never really done any regular exercise. However I gave up smoking a few years back and I’m also not getting any younger, so the weight crept up on me a bit. All of a sudden I couldn’t fit into my jeans, and I felt heavy and unfit.
I tried fitness DVDs, running, and various gyms over the years. Nothing seemed to stick. A story I hear over and over again from others too.
With regards to diet…I am not good at ‘dieting’. I was a strict vegetarian (now vegan) so my diet is already pretty limited and limiting it more makes me miserable. That said I think I have a healthy attitude to food, and while we eat out every so often we don’t have lots of takeaways or fast food and our meals at home are quite healthy. I think on balance my diet is ok, room for improvement, 8/10. I did used to eat a lot of cheese and butter and carbs but going vegan has naturally limited that.
So I was a person who ate reasonably well, and I didn’t have any regular exercise that I enjoyed but I wanted to get fitter, and forever not for summer or for the wedding. I don’t really care whether I’m a size 8 or a size 18 but I cared that I felt unhealthy. I believe there is no quick fix or magic formula other than eat better and exercise more. I wasn’t going to take diet pills or do fad diets. I don’t want to be a size zero or have a thigh gap and I have no goal weight or dress size. I just wanted to feel better, and do things I wanted to do without being held back by my lack of fitness.
First steps
Just after we got engaged I asked Tom seriously how to start (he has always been in good shape) and he took me bouldering with him, I enjoyed it and haven’t really looked back. I just needed that opening into exercise. Getting engaged did kick start me back into trying, but I wouldn’t say it was about looking good in the dress at that point. Just the thought of having my wedding at a time where I was probably at the lowest point in my body confidence made me think ‘why the heck have I not done something about this already?’
My advice is to find something you enjoy and value. We’ve not been climbing so much over the last year as Tom sprained his ankle pretty badly bouldering in February 2014 so has been a bit hit and miss with it, he did start back up but found it set his recovery back so didn’t go again until we were back from the Kili climb. When we haven’t been for a while I actually miss it! Missing an exercise is an odd feeling for someone who has never liked fitness before.
The mind set is really what I want to talk about here, I can see now why I never lost weight before. If you don’t really exercise then you won’t get fit or lose weight. Looking back I hear myself saying things like ‘but I do exercise….’ when bemoaning why I couldn’t lose weight but really I didn’t, I took the stairs occasionally or went for the odd jog but I didn’t have any real regular exercise. Now I’m focussing more on being fitter, not thinner, but the weight loss is a very welcome added bonus!
In for a penny…
After having been climbing for a while I let Tom talk me into climbing a mountain, Kilimanjaro, something I never would have agreed to before.  I really looked at my fitness and what I needed to do to be ready and realised I could do it. I was already climbing or bouldering 3 or 4 times a week, I just needed to add in some more cardio and to improve my general fitness.
I bought a groupon deal for some classes at a local gym in January 2014 when we booked the Kili trek, and after that joined on their classes membership. It meant I didn’t actually go to the gym just classes, but it definitely got my confidence up to be in a group of like-minded (and similar fitness level) people.
I even went to the running club, and actually didn’t hate it. I didn’t used to like running but since I’m a bit fitter I feel a little less like a stampeding hippo. Going with a club was good as it gave me motivation to keep up, I reasoned my first few attempts I didn’t need to be first, but I couldn’t be the slowest. I’d definitely recommend a beginners running club to anyone wanting to get started. Sadly the one at my gym never really got off the ground and has stopped now, but I’ve completed the couch to 5K program and can’t recommend it enough. It really is designed for complete beginners and gets you up to running 5k within a couple of months! My aim was to be able to run 5K before we go to Kilimanjaro, and now that’s done I’ve started the 10k version! Before the wedding I was up to 8K, however I’ve not been sticking to it recently due to the honeymoon and wedding and training for other things but I think I’ll restart it sometime. I do still have mixed feelings about running, I can’t say I love it but I don’t hate it as much as I used to, it gives me a good cardio workout and I like to do races and events of which running is a part.
The outcome and the new me
Now 2 years after I started bouldering, and 18 months after I started gym classes and running…I feel great, I have a lot more energy, I feel strong, healthy and fit. I am starting to enjoy exercise in and of itself rather than as a means to an end which has to be tolerated. I like to get out of breath and sweaty and tired, rather than avoiding it at all costs. Seeing what my body can actually do is amazing, all that was holding me back was my lazy brain! I have also branched out into a lot more areas since my first foray into bouldering and the gym, and have changed to a larger gym, then quit that and started crossfit, and even done the lead climbing course (although we still don’t go climbing a lot) which is not something I ever thought I would do.
Having something to train for has really gave me such a boost and helped to keep me motivated, so if you’re struggling to keep on track, then book something in…maybe don’t book a mountain trek and wedding within 6 months of each other though! That was an intense year.
I enjoy being able to do things I couldn’t do before, and I am starting to get motivated to set and achieve goals that have nothing to do with Kili or losing weight. I am a person who needs a plan and a goal otherwise I lose focus, but I am starting to progress to a point where I can set my own goals. This is the mindset you need to develop, take ownership of your body and your mind rather than make excuses.
What’s next?
I’ve done some of the mud run type events and liked them so I’m always up for those, it keeps the motivation ticking over, and I am booked in for the Superhuman games next year. Yikes! Serious! I was a smoker, who couldn’t run for the bus 3 years ago, and ate whatever I felt like and never gave 2 seconds thought to how much I could lift. Now I’m looking at a weight training plan to improve my strength, planning climbing holidays and entering actual competitive events.
If I can do it anyone can!

Monday, 11 January 2016

Giving yourself a break

The 2 weeks before Christmas I did no exercise. None at all. Some of it I was ill so didn't worry about not exercising but once I was better I felt like I should get straight back on the metaphorical horse.

Problem was I didn't want to.

For someone who has been doing something (running, climbing, gym or crossfit) at least 2 or 3 (or 7) days a week for the last 2 years this was a bit scary.

I realised though that I just needed a break, I decided on being back stronger and more often in the new year, and called it a day until after Christmas.

This was hard for me to do though! I felt burnt out, tired, I'd been ill with tonsillitis or a virus, I was feeling pressurised to get everything done before Christmas....and yet I still felt guilty for not going to crossfit for 2 weeks.

Sound familiar to anyone? I'm an all or nothing kind of person, I don't half ass things so I find it hard to give myself a break sometimes. Looking back though I've been full on this year and last with training, wedding planning, work, life, races, mountains, and an attempted social life around that.

So if I want to skip crossfit once to eat a mince pie and wrap some presents while I watch Love Actually is anyone actually going to judge me? Probably not, I'm not a professional, I have nobody to prove anything to other than myself. I'm training for Superhuman next year but am already pretty on track for that, actually better than I thought I would be since starting crossfit.

We're our own harshest judges sometimes, so I decided that for a new years resolution I don't need to lose weight, eat better, give up smoking, drink less or any of the usual ones. I'm already doing the best I can.

This is my new years resolution: CHILL OUT! Help myself to do better and make life easier for myself, instead of pressuring myself to do everything. To do this I will:
Sort a better schedule to include rest days strictly for rest. With some longer breaks of a few days here and there to prevent getting burnt out.
Get myself a foam roller, and get massages regularly.
Get a new bike so that I am not battling up hills on the way back from crossfit while stuck in a high gear. It is not helpful when trying to go more often that I hate getting there and back. Also work out a way to go more often when I can take the car.
Remember my flat is not a show home, and my life is mine only. Nobody cares but me if there is laundry all over the bedroom and the dining table is covered in craft stuff.

So far I have done ok, I've not got a new bike but am taking the car more often and have started going in the morning so I have my evenings to myself after work.

How are you doing with your resolutions?

Monday, 4 January 2016

What will NOT happen when you go vegan?

Following my post here on unexpected benefits of going vegan, I started thinking about the things that people told me would happen and didn't. Those things you hear all the time as a vegetarian or vegan, like protein, B12 blah blah blah.

You'll never get enough protein
Nobody ever cares about how much protein you are getting until they learn you are vegan. I get plenty of protein in my diet, and can supplement it if I need to. Protein is in so many more things than meat and dairy anyway.

Food will be really boring/Doesn't vegan food just consist of lettuce?
There are thousands of plants, spices, carbs and pulses we can eat. Why does cutting out meat and dairy mean that I will not have any variety? My diet the last couple of months has been more varied and interesting in some ways. In other ways I can still eat everything I could before, like pizza, burgers, pasta, cakes, biscuits, sandwiches, chilli, roast dinner etc etc etc.

I could never go vegan/vegan food is gross
Well you could go vegan, you just don't want to. No need to insult my food just because you don't want to eat like me. People often tell me they don't like vegan food, or they could never eat vegan food. What you've never eaten fruit? Or oreos? or a salad?

What about B12?
Yes B12 is hard to get from a plant based diet, but lots of things are fortified with it and I take a vitamin daily. There are lots of vitamins not found in meat too you know.

It'll be so expensive you won't be able to keep it up.
Vegetables are cheaper than beef in my experience, I can buy a whole bag of vegetables for the same price as a few steaks. With that I can feed myself for dinners for a week. Yes some vegan stuff is expensive, but in the same way some meat or dairy foods are expensive, It's all down to taste and budget.

But bacon!
But pigs. Also by this time I usually know the person I'm talking to is either:
A: An idiot.
B: Completely out of valid points so is just bringing up one food that I don't eat.
C: Actually feeling very defensive so just trying to end the conversation.

But chocolate!
I can eat chocolate, just not milk chocolate. I can have oreos and bourbon biscuits, and chocolate almond milk, and hot chocolate, I had an advent calendar and regularly make chocolate cupcakes.

What if you were on a desert island and the only thing there is a pig? Or some cheese?
OK who put the cheese there and why is it not completely gone off? Also what is the pig eating? Also why am I on a desert island? Also WHY do people KEEP asking this GODDAMN question?? If I were to be stranded on a desert island I would eat coconut as they populate most islands, if not yucca, if not then fucking grass or something. I would probably not even have tools with me to kill the pig as I tend not to travel with weapons, and wouldn't have any idea how to even go about hunting and killing it anyway so even IF I tried to I would probably fail miserably. I would be more concerned about how the fuck I ended up on the mystical island with only a pig or a glass of milk for company. Seriously people stop asking this question it makes you look moronic.

NB for those sick of hearing this the best response I ever heard was 'what if you lived in a civilisation with an abundance of plant based food and drinks? Would you still continue to torture and kill animals for no good reason?'

But vegans don't save any animals really, you're just one person.
Actually going vegan saves a lot more than animals, it saves water, pollution, deforestation, my carbon footprint and many many more things. Yes I am just one person, but it was just one person who started a lot of things. Just one wierdo started drinking cows milk in olden times, and now you think it's completely normal.

Milk is good for you!
No it's not. I get plenty of calcuim elsewhere, we were not built to drink breast milk all our lives. ESPECIALLY that of another animal.

But cheese!
But pus, but baby cows taken from their mums, but farmers being forced to sell milk at a loss, but the forest cleared for animal grazing, but PUS.

What do you even eat?
Uh loads. Literally I never stop eating.

Ugh but tofu is so gross.
Me - Really how did you cook it?
Meat eater - Um actually I've never really tried it.

That's the conversation most times, I mean at least I know what I've given up eating. If cooked properly tofu is great, I agree raw it is gross but then so is chicken...

If we stopped eating meat and dairy then cows would go extinct.
omg no. We aren't all going to stop eating dairy and meat as a species overnight, so it's not like there will be billions of cows left in abandoned farms. Cows are not a man made species they used to be wild.

What about if you had kids? Surely that wouldn't be fair to them?
What? Unfair to give these completely hypothetical children a healthy, well thought out diet that is well balanced and nutritious? Yeah poor kids. What about your kids? How many times do they have fatty processed meat a day, a week? None of my business? Yeah, none of yours either.

Vegans only care about animals, what about starving children?
Why can't I care about both? Also I'll just leave these here...


You can find these pictures on my pinterest page with their sources

This is just for a bit of a laugh, so any meat eaters reading please don't be offended. I have truly been asked or told all of these things numerous times, by otherwise intelligent and normal people. I just wanted to make people think about the silly things they say to vegans and vegetarians. Let's all just get along :)