Elixir

via Daily Prompt: Elixir

So this is a first – I logged in to write a blog post about Iceland, and all the amazing food we had out there, and saw this ‘Daily Prompt’ title and thought I’d give it a go…

Initially I thought I could link it to that aforementioned Iceland food post – but that would be cheating!

Instead I’m going to write about the green smoothies I’m starting my day with and my addiction to caffeine!

I have – at various points in my life – been told to avoid caffeine. I’ve had caffeine poisoning, from guzzling far too many strong coffees, and had a few periods where my M.E. was terrible and my migraines were unbearable, and the caffeine made it all worse – I wasn’t allergic, but certainly had an intolerance to the magical beans. I’ve since pushed through the pain…

In my caffeine-free days I also had to avoid chocolate – which is NOT FUN – and I did search out caffeine-free chocolate. In one health food shop I found some and was over the moon, until I ate it; it looked like chocolate, it smelled like chocolate, and it tasted like absolutely nothing. Like the inside of my own mouth, with lumps. It was like eating a chocolate scented candle.

In my 30s now, one thing everyone who knows me knows is that I love coffee. Properly LOVE coffee. I’m a revolting snob, I won’t drink instant, and I start my day with two (or seven) strong coffees made with my magical aeropress. Pretty much every day I am tagged on Facebook with some coffee meme or funny story – and my friends have all started getting ‘proper coffee’ at home so I don’t pull awful faces when I visit!

But when I get palpitations, my anxiety ramps up and my sweat smells distinctly of coffee, even I have to admit there’s a problem brewing (see what I did there…) and make some changes.

The change I’ve made began – as with so many of my recent positive changes – in Iceland. As well as some amazing food – which I promise I will blog about next – one thing I really enjoyed was the ‘energy boost’ green smoothie at Blue Lagoon.

We got our hands on the recipe for their smoothie, and made some of our own at home. It’s now the start to my day every morning, sometimes followed by a coffee, sometimes not (and just the one if I do, not bottomless cups) and I’m becoming That Person who raves about her green smoothies making life magically better.

But in my case, I often suffer with low iron, dancing on the edge of anaemia pretty much permanently – so the iron boost I get from this is going to have a positive impact. The bananas I have in mine are full of potassium and goodness, and I’m sure there are health benefits in ginger and apples that I can’t be bothered to google – and it gives me a pack of vitamins, minerals, flavour and energy first thing, and it’s reduced the amount of caffeine I’ve been increasingly dependent on, which can only be a good thing. I’m not going to cut caffeine out of my life, I’ve had to do that before and MAN is it dull, but I’ve cut down – and I’m drinking more herbal teas in the afternoons and evenings.

Spring is a time that a lot of us get more energy and drive, and feel more ready to make positive health changes – I started my diet just after Christmas and have been doing ok, but trips away and indulgent weekends mean I’ve only really lost a few pounds – then been putting the same few back on and off every month. So I’m going to take that more seriously, and this green energy boost to start my day is just part of it. This elixir (see, I’m tying it all back to the prompt!) is part of a bigger picture in which I’m also outside a lot more, going to bed earlier, and have gone back to the gym – where I was pleased with how much I could do as much as I was frustrated with how much I couldn’t compared to last summer.

The Blue Lagoon recipe uses orange juice as a base, and mango in the mix – I changed mine to use water as a base (because the kids had guzzled all my orange juice the first day and I realised it tastes just as good this way!) and I throw in two apples, two bananas, a good chunk of ginger root and a few handfuls of spinach. There’s very little measuring (by which I mean none) and I just poke it around the blender until it’s all smooth (which with my crap kitchen appliances takes ages) and then I feel all smug and healthy and superhuman, even if I am drinking it through a novelty straw.

I live in a body that sometimes feels like it hates me – with constant pain, bloating, and bone-deep fatigue that stops me from functioning at the level I want to. I can’t cure my endometriosis, or my M.E. or even determine if they are separate issues or just different manifestations of the same problem – but I can stop damaging myself more by using caffeine as a prop and actually start to take care of myself, with diet, fitness and being outdoors. I KNOW all these things work, and I know that I feel less unwell when I’m doing them properly – but I also know that when I’m unwell and I’m struggling, I just can’t take care of myself, and I have to ride through the gloom before I start to perk up again, and only when I’m already perking up can I begin to take the steps I need to.

I want to be as comfortable as I can be in this sack of skin and bones that rebels.

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I’ve never been a together girl

When I think of the women I admire, and aspire to be, I think of women who fill a room with their presence, who laugh loud, speak up and engage people. 

Women want to be their friend, men want to…well, be their friend, because why the hell wouldn’t they?! 

These women – the ‘together women’ as I call them – have their shit together. They are smart, talented, witty and confident. They don’t fall when they stumble, they keep going on their way. They brush off adversity, and they power through from dreams to doing, to find success and achievement and reach their goals. They don’t think “I wish” and sit back down, they get up and go. 

I have these women in my life. I love them with a fierce flame, and feel grateful to have their influence in my life. 

I was raised around these women – the strong, successful women who influence the world around them; who change lives, with passion and fight, or with a kind of inner peace that spreads by osmosis. Women who make the people close to them want to be the best version of themselves. 

I am friends with these women; I draw them around me like a safety blanket of power and good. Of strength and kindness. Gentle but immense. 

I also know that the ‘together’ that I see, admire and aspire to isn’t the version of themselves that they see. 

Where I see a confident woman who strides into a room, fills it with warmth and draws everyone to her, I also know that before the door opened she was taking deep breaths and clenching her hands together, psyching herself up first. 

Where I see a smart, witty, brilliant woman heading a growing business empire and attracting all the right attention for the success she so very much deserves, I also see someone who has questioned her decisions over and over and worried she’d fall – but who loved what she was doing enough to never give up. 

And the older I get, the more I realise that for every moment in which the together girl truly has all her shit together, there are many more moments in which she’s trying to, failing to and salvaging the pieces that survived the last drop from the mountain top. For every perfectly groomed moment played out to the crowd, there’s the sweaty palmed anxiety behind the scenes. 

I’ve also realised that for every moment I am panicking that someone might see through my facade to the angsty, madly paddling wannabe I see in the mirror, there’s someone who sees me stride into a room with my bright lipstick, big smiles and a firm handshake – and buys into it. 

For all the times I’ve looked at those other women and dreamed of one day being who they are, perhaps I’ve missed that I already am – and that these snatched moments of appearing to be a together girl is all we get? 

If we can walk the walk and talk the talk, and we can make that room full of people think we have our shit together, are we already there? 

Whether it’s true or not, I feel far more like a true together girl when the lipstick goes on. 


Here I am last week; last week I bought a car. The salesman had a weak handshake and told me I’d been a pleasure to do business with, and admitted he finds confident women a little intimidating. 

I threw up before I went, and had been awake most of the night with stomach cramps and anxiety. He had absolutely no idea that I’d cried for an hour before I did my make up – purely because I had never bought a car from a dealership before! 

I knew my anxiety was ridiculous – but buying this car shows how far my life has come in the past two years, from a position where I was feeling completely lost, in a financial hole and believed I had no way out, to sitting down and making a plan, and sticking to it for two years, building up a business from nothing, clearing debts and improving my credit, all very boring and grown up things, and achieving it. 

So many times I have doubted myself, my abilities to do any of this, whether I’d ever make anything of myself. 

And here I am. My business is going great, I support myself and my children and have a comfortable life, we have a nice home, we do fun things, they get new clothes when they need them – I’m not wealthy of course and the clothes are generally from Tesco, but still! 

And I can see all of that and take pride in it – but I still have moments when I feel like the broken shell who was lost all that time ago, and have to remind myself that she’s gone. 

I am the lipstick wearing, room filling smile with a firm handshake. I am a together girl. I am that woman. 

When I need to be. 

Arriving in Iceland

 

For many years I have longed to go to Iceland – of all the places I wanted to travel, it has forever been top of the list, for a string of reasons which include a childhood fondness for Norse Mythology, and the adventures the Vikings had rampaging around Northern Europe, landing on Iceland and creating a new culture because they’d pretty much made themselves unwelcome elsewhere, and a dream of seeing the magical Northern Lights!

Now, I know that isn’t really how it works – you don’t rock up to Iceland in a silly pom-pom hat and just…see the Aurora Borealis – nobody is that lucky, and the chances of getting the right conditions and a clear sky are slim at best – but Iceland has so much more to offer that when the chance came for me to actually go, I threw myself at it, and set to with my notebooks and travel guides, putting together a list of adventures I wanted to have, places I wanted to visit, and experiences I wanted to share – with, of course, the hope that I’d at least see a glimpse of green dancing in the sky at some point.

Our adventures in Iceland were five nights and six days that felt – in all the right ways – like a lifetime of magic and adventure, and I’ll be sharing different aspects of it over a few blog posts in coming days. Nobody in the world ever has a holiday that looks or feels anything like the way a travel magazine or blog can make it seem – but I think my time in Iceland wasn’t just ‘Travel Blog Good’ it was PHENOMENAL, and we got ridiculously lucky with the way we got to experience the country.

It was my first time – but my lovely man has been a few times before, so was able to help me prepare with the right clothes (thermals, waterproof/windproof coat, a ridiculous pom-pom hat and some very good socks!) and to manage my expectations for the Aurora and seeing actual Vikings.

We set off, after some delay (thanks Storm Doris!) and the first excitement was that the Weasley Twins were on our flight out – and I did get a photo with JamesOrOliver Phelps (both of whom were LOVELY, and who only laughed at me a bit when I was the least cool person who has ever accosted them in an airport) but my hands were shaking so much that you can’t really tell who we are, so I shan’t bother sharing it here! My kids were as excited as I was when I told them, so at least they think I’m cool!

Our plans for the first night were to drive north up the coast to our first hotel – the Borealis Hotel, a ten minute drive from Thingvellir National Park, in preparation for starting there to do the Golden Circle (visiting the main highlights of the famous Icelandic natural springs, waterfalls, geyser and such!) before heading a little further north the following evening for a night in a fancy-schmancy hotel with our own private hot-tub under the stars.

That isn’t quite how that panned out!

The storm we’d left England through was heading north, and it hit Iceland as we arrived, with heavy snow the day we arrived, which made our journey to the Borealis Hotel a little nerve-wracking. The roads were covered in snow and ice, visibility was poor, our hire car was dainty, and the sat-nav was determined to send us up what the locals call ‘summer roads’ – narrow lanes that wind through mountains that aren’t passable in winter, and are in fact closed at all times apart from the height of summer!

After battling through the weather, reversing down a mountain with no visibility, getting briefly stuck in a snowdrift, and finally making it to our hotel three hours later than planned (only getting to the door thanks to a tractor with a plough clearing the way up the drive as we approached!) never have I been more pleased to see a welcoming light!

Once we got inside it was even more welcoming, and the glorious barmaid/receptionist told us that we’d missed dinner and the kitchen was closed, but that she could whip up some carbonara for us if we wanted…we wanted!

A (very) short while later, with a bowl of pasta and a beer inside us, we were too giddy to sit in the bar or head to our beds, so we decided to go outside and – as the clouds had momentarily cleared – do a bit of stargazing, take a couple of photos of the night sky, and play in the snow!

We literally stepped outside and walked a few metres to get behind the main building and as he set his camera up, I stood and looked at the sky. We knew we weren’t going to see the Aurora, because the weather was bad and the predictions for Aurora were pretty poor…only, when I looked up…

“Is that the thing? Am I imagining it or is that green? Because it looks green…”

OH MY GOD!

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Image copyright Alex Speed

Look at it! It’s right there! Just…in the sky!

So he panicked and took photos and got very excited, because it NEVER HAPPENS, and I stood like a useless moron and cried at the skies as the colours danced and span and twirled above us, all shades of green, and the camera caught the reds and every hue in between, and we leapt around like crazy people.

Within ten minutes the clouds had flooded back in, the snow had begun to flurry again, and the Aurora had disappeared – and just as we were ready to head inside, another couple came out with a camera and asked if we thought there was any chance the lights would appear tonight…

A couple of snow angels later we headed inside, drank more beer, then hung our wet clothes on radiators and fell into the most comfortable twin beds we’ve ever known (possibly simply because we were so exhausted!)

The following morning, we awoke to even more snow, and severe weather warnings. Our plans for the Golden Circle were off…and our chances of making it to our hotel for the evening, up in the mountains, with the sexy outdoor hot tub…nope. No way we could get close – the roads that way were closed all day because they were too dangerous in the storm – but there was a chance we might make it into Reykjavik if we left immediately. Well, immediately after the plough cleared the road to the hotel, where we were currently stranded…

 

There is only one ‘main’ road in Iceland – the 1 – it circles the country and though there are some good B roads, they aren’t cleared as often by the ploughs as the 1, and so our route of choice to Reykjavik was the 1 – only, as you see in the image above, our simple, 45 minute direct route was…well, not an option! The main road was closed – high winds made driving across the mountain route too dangerous. We spoke to the police manning this blockade and they said our only option to possibly make it to the city was the coastal road. We asked if it was safe. He said “well, it’s not closed yet!” and with that dubious reassurance, off we went!

You can see all the data here from the weather, road closures and wind warnings from the drive. We battled for hours through a blizzard trying to just get to somewhere we could stay – ideally Reykjavik, but as the day wore on and we seemed to be driving for hours without getting anywhere, we just wanted to be somewhere safe.

We ended up making it to a small harbour town on the south coast called Grindavik. Here we were told that every road was closed, that they might open in the early evening if the storm blew over as it was expected to, but that the next few hours were too wild and dangerous for people to be out in.

We found a tiny, harbour side café where we could hole up for some food and warmth while we waited to see what would happen – and were a little thrilled (once we’d managed to battle from the car to get inside, the wind was so strong I could barely take a step, and his glasses were blown straight off his head and the length of the street before landing, chipped, in a snowdrift!) to find absolutely delicious coffee, and the tastiest lobster soup we’ve ever had – salty, packed with chunky lobster pieces, served with fresh bread and bottomless refills!

We spend a lovely few hours in our safe haven – I wrote in my travel journal and filled up on the soup and coffee, enjoying the sense of adventure and uncertainty. My poor chap enjoyed it a little less as he kept tabs on the weather and road updates and tried to find somewhere we could stay, since we weren’t getting to the hotel we had booked, but with all flights grounded and all roads closed, Reykjavik was full and it took a lot of searching and worrying before we managed to book the last room available in the entire city (in a hotel I won’t link to, because though it was beautiful we got overcharged because of the storm, and had no sleep because the staff clattered around in the kitchen – which was next to our room – until well past midnight and from 5am!)

Eventually, as evening began to fall, the roads were opened between Grindavik and Reykjavik – so we jumped into the car and raced (carefully crawled) up the now surprisingly clear road to the city – and once we’d parked and confirmed we had a bed for the night, we found a safe place to sit and enjoy a well deserved beer!

Our first 24 hours in Iceland weren’t anything like we expected – but what an adventure, what a sense of magic and wonder, what an incredible range of emotions and experiences, and thank goodness for beer and brennivin! (That’s the shot you see above; I can’t really describe what it tastes of, but it’s the Icelandic schnapps that certainly warms you after you get lost in the snow!)