Wednesday, 7 September 2016

This thing called Swing!

Just over a year ago now, my hubby Neil and I set ourselves a challenge,  learn to dance!   Little did we know back then, that this thing called Swing would impact so positively on our lives.

It was during a weekend at the wonderful Retro Festival in Newbury, Summer of 2015, that we first witnessed the joy to be had through Swing Dance (click here to read previous post on Retro Fest, 'Vintage and Retro Heaven').  Neil and I share a love of all things vintage and retro, and we were looking forward to spending our weekend listening to live music from the 1920s to the 1960s, browsing stalls selling clothes and artefacts from a bygone era, and perhaps mooching around the odd classic vehicle exhibition (and we did).  What we hadn't expected though, was to be totally wowed by some absolutely amazing vintage dancing.

We watched in awe as young, old, and everyone in between took to the dance floors busting their Lindy, Charleston, Balboa and Jazz moves. They were fabulous, clearly having a ball, and we were totally inspired.  Right there and then, we decided to set ourselves a goal... not only would we learn one or two of these impressive moves for ourselves, but we would return to these heaving dance floors the following year and join in the fun!

As soon as we got home from our festival frolics we began our search for dance classes and soon found that 'Swing Dance Leeds' ran a whole range of Swing Dance opportunities in our area (click here for more info on SDL).  We wasted no time in getting ourselves down to a Lindy Hop Beginners' class and, from that very first lesson, realised what a fantastic hobby we'd discovered.

It kind of goes without saying that dancing in general (whatever the style) is fun, and it certainly can't fail to improve those fitness levels. It also helps to flex the old grey matter, learning any new skill can be a challenge (especially when you're forty something!) and dancing is certainly no exception. However, having been involved with other dance genres in the past, I feel reasonably qualified to say that Swing Dance certainly stands out from the rest, and most definitely has a certain je ne sais quoi! 

Obviously it holds huge vintage appeal, along with the amazing music and clothing styles that go with the fabulous Swing era, but there are one or two other reasons to fall in love with this particular dance scene. Twelve months ago we had no idea such a large community of dance enthusiasts existed in our very own city.  Now, quite literally, we could be dancing and socialising every single day of the week (if only we had the energy!)  Yes, Swing Dance certainly seems to attract a certain kind of person... friendly, fun loving and so very welcoming of anyone who simply wants to join in and dance - whether or not you believe you have two huge left feet or a sub-zero sense of rhythm - but that's enough about Neil and I (haha).  Seriously, get yourself involved in the Swing Dance scene and you'll soon pick up a few impressive moves.  We've found that even the most experienced and talented of dancers are far from elitist, and are more than willing to dance with us newbies, passing on their knowledge and offering invaluable social dance and learning opportunities.

During this past year my lovely hubby and I have attended regular and varied classes with SDL, we've participated in dance workshops and have hit the social dance floors as often as we can (very tentatively at first, but our confidence is growing and growing). Last year, we threw ourselves in at the deep end and took part in a public dance performance in aid of charity (again through SDL) which involved learning a routine with a bunch of lovely people (all of whom were strangers at the time, but many of whom we still meet and dance with regularly), and we've even dipped our toes in the Sydney Swing Dance scene during a recent trip to Aus (thank you to the lovely Iona for introducing us)... it's all been absolutely fabulous!

So, if you're looking for a new challenge, a little fun and fitness and the opportunity to meet and dance with some great like-minded people, do I recommend Swing Dance?.. absolutely!  If you're based in Leeds check out SDL, if not just search the net for Swing Dance lessons in your area, I can almost guarantee you won't regret it.

And, did we achieve our goal?  Well yes we did, although sadly we couldn't return to Retro Festival as it clashed with a rather marvelous trip of a lifetime to Vietnam and Australia :-) - perhaps a later post to follow about that.  However, when we returned to old Blightly, we did attend the equally exciting Twinwood Vintage Dance and Music Festival where we confidently took to the dance floors along with the throngs of other dancers, (young and old) to soak up the music and simply enjoy this fabulous thing called Swing!

Thanks for reading, hope you're inspired to dance and have fun!

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Liquid Lunch Anyone?

According to the Urban Dictionary, a Liquid Lunch is "a lunch break comprised entirely of alcoholic beverages and no food"... well not this one!

Au-contraire, not only is this liquid lunch alcohol free, it's nutritious, refreshing and tastes way way better than it looks, honest.

Feeling a little sluggish and under the weather, skin looking a tad dull, and with my 50th birthday now less than two years away, I decided it was perhaps time to make a few small changes to my lifestyle.  It could be said I'm partial to a little over indulgence, and can all too easily adopt the "what the hell, life's too short" attitude when it suits. Not that there's anything wrong with enjoying a drop of Merlot, tucking into a favourite chocolate bar, or sinking into the settee instead of taking some exercise (in fact I often enjoy all three at the same time)... and yes therein lies the problem!  Not that I don't buy into the idea that life is absolutely for enjoying, but I also acknowledge the importance of looking after myself - now more than ever. So, time to moderate my all too regular over-indulgence, and get a grip! 

For me, the need to change my habits wasn't anything to do with weight loss, but everything to do with feeling a little healthier and a whole lot 'cleaner' on the inside.  So far (touch wood), I've managed to get through life without too many ailments, and I've not had to work too hard to keep off the extra pounds.  However, I figure at the ripe old age of forty eight (apparently a time of life when everything can start to go rapidly downhill), I can't take this state of affairs for granted any longer... an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure as they say.

Now, having recently made just a few small tweaks to my lifestyle, I'm already feeling the benefits. Just a few months on, I'm feeling fitter, have more energy, my skin's looking better than it has in a long time and, as an added bonus, my clothes are fitting much more comfortably.

So what have I changed?  Well, for a start I needed to significantly reduce my alcohol intake.  I love sipping on a glass of vino to unwind, and would think nothing of pouring myself a glass or two most nights. Now, having taken stock of the situation, this treat is restricted to weekends only. Another positive change has been my hubby and I taking up a fun, energetic and very sociable form of exercise, Swing Dance. Not only are we having a great time learning this new skill together, but we've made some lovely friends and it's working wonders on my fitness levels and muscle tone (more about this in another post).

And so, onto the most recent tweak in lifestyle, my luscious green liquid lunch which I've been enjoying at least four times a week. Now I know green smoothies have become very popular recently and with very good reason. Yes, I can understand why some may find the look totally off putting, after all who could deny this concoction looks like something from the bottom of your garden pond. However just one serving of this latest lunch fad probably contains more goodness than I was previously consuming over the course of a week. What's more, it's refreshing, quick and easy to make,  and actually tastes really great. Of course if you find you need something more substantial for lunch, this smoothie would make an equally great breakfast, just add a spoonful of porridge oats and/or a drizzle of honey... deelish!

So, how to make it?  You'll need:

Blender - doesn't have to be anything fancy,  mine's only a very cheap and simple one. 
Curly Kale (v large handful) - one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet! Really pack as much of this into your smoothie as possible -  it's oh so good for you. Don't worry if you're not a huge fan, you'll barely taste it (same applies to the spinach and cucumber). 
Baby Spinach (v large handful) - good source of fibre, vitamins A/C, calcium and iron.
Cucumber (as much as you can fit in) - low in calories and rich in a number of nutrients.
Banana x 1 - low in saturated fat, no cholesterol, source of fibre.
Grapes x 4-6 - very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, good source of vitamins C/K.
Small cup of cold tap water.
Juice of half a lime or lemon.

Like a bit of spice? Then add one of the following:
Teaspoon of ground Cinnamon - good for balancing blood sugar levels.
Small pinch of  Cayenne Pepper - known to help boost metabolism. Go very steady with this until you've found the perfect amount for you... it really packs a punch!
Thin, thumb sized slice of fresh Ginger - helps aid digestion, ease nausea - also helps fight flu and the common cold.
For a bit of change you could use a small unpeeled apple or pear, kiwi fruit (skin removed), or any variety of frozen fruit (mango and pineapple are delicious). Keep the fruit to a minimum though, in order to avoid overdoing the natural sugar content. 

It's an absolute must for me to enjoy this smoothie super chilled. If you don't have time to wait for that, add some crushed ice before blending. 

Then, quite simply, slam it all in the blender and give it a good blast... voila!

I guess I should finish by saying something along the lines of this liquid lunch is to be enjoyed as part of a well balanced diet... so there you are. I should probably also say that on the days I have my smoothie for lunch, I do also have a regular breakfast and dinner.  This particular tweak to my lifestyle was about increasing my intake of the nutrients and goodness found in it's ingredients, not about dieting!


Sunday, 14 February 2016

Our Valentversary!

So what does this day of love and romance mean to you?

Maybe it’s all about the flowers (the price of which would buy you the whole florists shop any other time of year), or could it be the romantic intimate table for two in the usually dead but tonight full-to-bursting restaurant, where you can choose from a ‘special’ (and triple the usual price) Valentine’s menu. Perhaps a fancy box of champagne truffles would be the key to your heart (even more-so if accompanied by a chilled bottle of the bubbly stuff itself). It could be that none of the above fit your idea of romance, and in fact you’re more of a good Rom-Com DVD (if there’s such a thing), take-out pizza, few beers, and a cuddle on the sofa kind of gal!

Well, for me and my Valentine, this day of love and romance has an extra special meaning... it’s also our Wedding Anniversary!  And no, we’re not a pair of incurable old romantics, just the day we'd decided upon (mainly due to work commitments) was the first Saturday of the February school half term holidays - which that particular year just happened to be Valentine’s Day!

And what a fantastic Valentine's Day it was! This was marriage number two for both of us, and we wanted to keep things fairly low key, but obviously still very special.  So, we decided that our nuptials would have more the feel of a celebratory evening out than a ‘wedding’.  I didn’t want an ivory ‘gown’, wedding cars, or bridesmaids, and Neil didn’t want a stag do in Amsterdam (well at least that’s what he told me!) or even a best man to get him organised. I didn’t want to ‘surprise’ Neil on the day so, completely breaking with tradition, he came wedding dress shopping with me – he was the one I wanted to please, I wasn't too bothered really what anyone else thought. I didn’t want to be escorted down an aisle or ‘given-away’, and we didn’t want a guest list as long as your arm, consisting mainly of long-lost family members we'd never even met.

So, after not too much deliberation, we decided on a guest list of just 24, and our venue was a gorgeous little country house hotel on the outskirts of Leeds. The ceremony itself took place in the hotel Library, a beautifully intimate room, with a roaring fire and red carpet laid out especially for the occasion!  Being a pair of fairly modest souls, we didn’t really want to make a grand entrance and so, we gathered with our guests before the ceremony to enjoy a celebratory glass of fizz.  Then, when the time arrived, we casually sauntered into the Library, together with our guests (still sipping our champagne), to the velvety tones of Nat ‘King’ Cole's ‘Let there be Love’.

Once the serious stuff was done, we made our way into the hotel restaurant (exclusively ours for the evening), for our delicious reception meal.  The table was beautifully decorated ‘Valentine style’ with a scattering of red rose petals, love-heart confetti, Valentine’s trivia and lots and lots of twinkling tea-lights... perfect!

Bellies full, feeling happy and relaxed, and having made our way through more than a glass or two of the old fizzy stuff, some of us (in fact most of us), let our hair down and had a bit of a boogie before our wonderful day sadly came to an end.

That’s all seven years ago now (I’d forgotten just how blonde I was! - should I go back there? uugh, no I don't think so!), and obviously we’re never going to top such a fabulous Valentine’s Day. As you fellow married folk will know, the honeymoon period doesn’t last forever.  We were under no illusions though, and knew only too well that our relationship would have its ups and downs (and believe me, it has!) But here we are, still together, still enjoying the good times and working together through any not so good times... and, most importantly, we're still very much in love.

So, this Valentine’s Day, once the champagne has run dry, when the red roses are starting to wilt, and when the credits roll on the Rom-Com DVD remember this (one of the readings from our very, very special Valentine’s Day wedding) ...

Sooner or later we begin to understand that love is more than verses on Valentines, and romance in the movies.  We begin to know that love is here and now, real and true.  Love is the creator of our favourite memories and the foundation of our fondest dreams.

Have a very 'love'ly day!

Friday, 8 January 2016

Brand New Year, Same Old Me?!

So, did life suddenly change for you at the stroke of midnight this New Year's Eve?
Well maybe for some it did, but I'm guessing for an awful lot more of us 2016 will hold much of the same old, same old... and perhaps that's not such a bad thing.

Having probably spent the previous couple of weeks (and in some cases possibly months) eating your way through mountains of mince pies, spending obscene amounts of money on gifts no-one really wants or needs, and having watched endless TV repeats of festive 'classics', I don't know about you, but I'm more than a little relieved to get back to some normality this week. And it's no wonder some of us feel this way - evidently, so eager are we to ensure our family and friends have the most magical of experiences over Christmas and New Year, we feel the need to begin our endless preparations sometime around mid-September! Don't get me wrong I love the season of goodwill as much as the next person but, at the risk of sounding old fashioned, I do not love the consumeristic circus it's become. And so on to the New Year... once the multi million pound firework displays have quite literally gone up in smoke in capital cities across the globe, when the party popper streamers have been eaten up by the Dyson, and when you've finally managed to shake off that Prosecco party hangover, what next?

Well, contrary to the impression that last paragraph may have given, my intent with this post was not to rant on about how, in my opinion, the joys of a more traditional Christmas have become lost, but rather to rant on about the apparent expectation of some that we, and/or the world around us, will improve overnight simply because we are entering a new calendar year!

Of course change (for better or worse) just happens, it is one of life's few inevitabilities, and I shared my thoughts on this in an earlier post 'My Thoughts on Change... the Only Constant'.  However the kind of change or improvement many of us look to make each new year include things such as give up alcohol, eat less chocolate, and not just join a gym but actually visit and work out there once in a while! Sounds great eh but if you're anything like me, whilst all of these things are not impossible, buckets full of determination would be required to achieve them; as well as a level of commitment which, if I'm honest with myself would not last beyond mid-February!

So I decided for me, the dawning of 2016 would not only provoke thoughts of things I might want to change or improve, but also of those things that make me happy just as they are. Instead of half killing myself at the gym in an attempt to achieve that washboard stomach or pretending to myself I could ever become teetotal (let's face it neither of these things are ever going to happen) I am determined to regularly count my blessings and appreciate the things about myself and my life with which I'm already absolutely content... those things which I hope will never change. And what about the things in life that I may well want to change or improve, but know that I never can? Well, I'm simply going to accept that's the case and let them go - c'est la vie!

I know there's always room for improvement and that it's healthy to strive for it, indeed I will for sure try to drink less alcohol, eat less chocolate and work on improving my fitness level (just a little!). However, I certainly will not be losing sleep or be beating myself with a big stick if I happen to have lost the will by Valentine's Day!

And maybe... no hopefully, no definitely, I won't be just the same old me in 2016.  But the new and improved me won't be the result of anything to do with chocolate, alcohol or any old treadmill, it will be the result of my realisation that there's an awful lot to be said for just being happy and content with who you are, and with what you have... call it an age thing!

Happy New Year, and good luck with those resolutions!