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Two mindful miles

October 8, 2013

I mentioned in my last post that I hadn’t been exercising recently. Well, after a very stressful day of core clinical skills training, which involved taking turns, in small groups, carrying out initial sessions with actors role playing as service users, I knew I needed to clear my head and burn off some nervous energy. I laced up my running shoes and hoped that my still tight lungs would get me through a short run.

To my delight, it was a beautiful, warm fall evening, and the sun was just starting to fade, leaving the last of the summer flowers basked in a sort of surreal glow. And as soon as my legs got going, I didn’t want to stop. I had a route planned, which started off almost straight up a big hill, and although I had worried about how I would feel after a break from running and a bad cold which is still lingering, in the end, I had to force myself to stick to the route rather than carrying on up the hill and extending my run. The last few weeks without running, combined with the stress of the day, made me appreciate the feeling of my legs and my heart pumping and my endorphins surging, more than I have appreciated it in a long time. It wasn’t about the distance or the speed last night, but about soaking up every moment of sunshine and warmth, every detail of the sunset-drenched flowers, and the feeling of being fully alive and in the moment.

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(I even stopped to take two pictures on my phone along the way because the lighting was so amazing – I haven’t used any filters, but the lighting was still far more beautiful in person).

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Last night made me remember why I have grown to love running, and although the days when it’s raining or grey are far less appealing, and on the days when I’m tired or busy my motivation may drop, I want to hold onto the feeling of last night’s run for as long as I can.  As we enter the last few months of the year, I am less convinced than ever that I will make it to 365 miles this year, but last night reminded me that I want to enjoy running rather than seeing it as yet another task to cross off my to-do list, which is always long enough as it is. Really, at the risk of sounding totally cliché, last night reminded me that it isn’t all about counting the miles, but making each mile count.

So no matter what my phone app tells me at the end of the year, I think what I need to ask myself is not how much did I drive myself crazy trying to get those miles in, but how much did those miles help to keep me grounded and happy during the past year. And last night, two miles gave me a calmer mind, a confidence boost, energy to come home and tackle boring tasks with a smile, a good appetite, and a good night’s sleep.

Not bad for two miles.

First day nerves

October 5, 2013

This past week, I started the next chapter of what has been a long and gruelling process to change the direction of my career, and I am happy to report that I am now officially a trainee clinical psychologist. I have made it through the first week, and it is all starting to sink in and begin to feel real.

On my first two mornings before going in, I had an hour spare so I sat down to write about how I was feeling. I am a bit embarrassed to share it now, but the truth is, on the first day, I was nervous and rambling, and sometimes it’s good to remember that you can feel that way one minute and feel fine again the next.

And, because I don’t like to post anything without a picture, here is my ‘first day of school’ picture that Ben kindly took of me so that I could send to my parents since they are far away and I don’t get to share as much of it with them as I would like.

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Happy Four Week Anniversary Chris and Iain!

September 21, 2013

I am really not sure where the past few weeks have gone. Time always seems to go by quickly, but it feels like the past few weeks really have disappeared without a trace. And that means that a couple of very important occasions haven’t made it onto the blog. One of these was Chris and Iain’s lovely wedding four weeks ago tomorrow. I had been looking forward to this wedding for a very long time, and it felt like a perfect day.

It was a three day bank holiday weekend at the end of August, the weather was gorgeous, the grooms looked incredibly handsome and incredibly happy, and every detail of the day showed how much love, care, and planning had gone into this very special event.

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I really wish I had taken more pictures of the day, but I was too busy celebrating and catching up with friends and enjoying myself to pull the camera out of my bag. Therefore, I only have this picture of Chris and Iain plus a couple of pictures of Ben and me all dressed up, and I don’t have any pictures of the gorgeous town hall, the elegant room where the ceremony was held, the beautiful venue for the reception at Room Restaurant, the lovely food and drinks, the magnificent cake made by Chris’s mom, the very personal and touching toasts, the first dance, the packed dance floor, or any of the lovely people we were able to catch up with.

It is nice to have a couple of pictures of Ben and me since we don’t normally get very many of us together, especially all dressed up, and we certainly enjoyed ourselves, but we were not the focus of the day.

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However, in spite of the lack of pictures, my memory of the event will not fade any time soon. We felt incredibly lucky to be included in this wonderful day, and had so much fun catching up with friends, and being spoiled with delicious food and bottomless glasses of prosecco and wine. In fact, maybe I should say that I will remember the day in spite of the bottomless glasses of prosecco and wine!

Either way, I hope the first month of marriage has been your first of many, many, many, many, many happy months as a married couple!

Seasonal eating – waste not want not, simple applesauce

September 20, 2013

In England, it feels like the seasons are suddenly changing. It is dark when I wake up in the morning for work, and it is dark before I go to bed. The beautiful summer weather we had for the past few months (thank goodness we had it) has changed to wind and rain, and I am feeling the need to hibernate.

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However, on a positive note, a change of seasons means a change of seasonal foods. And I have noticed these changes far more over the past few months thanks to our local greengrocer trips.

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To be honest, I love summer fruits and all of the fresh food…but there is something nice about the nights drawing in and the weather turning colder, pulling on warm sweatshirts and sweaters (hoodies and woolly jumpers in UK speak) and stocking up on root vegetables rather than summer berries. I may need to be reminded of this in a couple of months (or perhaps weeks) when I am fed up with winter and there are still many months of it left, but for now, it feels nice to be making stews and warm comfort foods again.

One of my favorite fall foods is apples. Now, I can eat a lot of apples, but the first couple of weeks when British apples were available, I may have bought a few too many.

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But I couldn’t stand to throw them away, and I was feeling too lazy to bake anything complicated. This is how this simple applesauce recipe was born.

Waste Not Want Not, Simple Applesauce

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When September Comes

September 1, 2013

Sometimes the most difficult things for me to write about on the blog are the most exciting things that are happening in my life. It feels overwhelming to try to sum up several years of hard work, excitement, sacrifices, learning, and disappointments in just a few paragraphs. But since April, I have been thinking about all of the things that will change when September comes, at times feeling relieved that it was a long way away, and at times, feeling like September would never arrive. But today is the 1st of September. And at the end of this month, I will become a Trainee Clinical Psychologist.

Now, that may not sound very exciting, but for me, the past few years have been largely focused on making a career change.

From early on in my PhD, I had some doubts about whether I wanted a purely academic/research career, and I spent a lot of time feeling very miserable and regretting spending so much time and energy working toward something I no longer wanted. I felt trapped, I felt disappointed, and I felt like a disappointment to the people who believed in me and helped me achieve what I thought was my dream. On top of this, I had moved far away from all of my family and friends to do the PhD research that I was convinced was the research I wanted to do forever, and I felt very selfish and very lonely. I still remember the relief I felt when I told my parents that I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish my PhD, and they told me that they would support me no matter what I chose. However, I decided to carry on, and although I’m glad I did, all of these doubts and regrets and guilt made it harder and harder for me to feel inspired to do my work, and it felt like the harder I tried, the harder it became for me to concentrate and do my work to the best of my ability. Luckily, I was able to keep doing enough so that my supervisors were satisfied with my performance, and I finished my write-up on time and somehow managed to do quite well. However, the whole time, I felt like a fraud and I felt like at any moment, someone would realise that I really didn’t know what I was doing.

In spite of having wonderful support from my family, lots of amazing friends, and Ben, the stress of dealing with this every day, and not managing the stress in a proactive way, led me to develop IBS, which was another source of stress as I went to doctors and tried to figure out what was wrong with me. I had to totally change my diet, and I knew that I also needed to re-think my career.

In November 2010, I submitted my PhD, and felt like a huge weight had been lifted.

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And in December, I had my viva (oral examination), and I passed. Another weight was lifted.

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I was working to quite a tight deadline, as I needed to finish my PhD in order to get a new visa to stay in England. After my viva, we went back to the US for a wonderful Christmas break and celebrated with my family, and then as soon as my corrections were accepted, I got my final copy bound and submitted, and Ben and I went to my visa appointment in Liverpool, where we were incredibly relieved when I was given a visa to stay in the UK for two more years.

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We were only away for one night, but we did a lot of thinking and talking, and once we knew that I could stay in England without my visa tied to my PhD (as it had been previously) or any particular job, we were finally able to think of life post-PhD. We decided that we both really needed some time to think about what we wanted to do for our careers, and we both really wanted to spend some time with my family in the US. We decided that Ben would hand in his notice for his job, we would hand in our notice for our sweet little house we were renting and move our things into Ben’s parents’ house (thank you Frank and Moi), and we would spend some time travelling and visiting my family in the US and doing some career research and job hunting from there.

We packed up our little home and closed the door for the last time…and set off on our next adventure, with a lot of enthusiasm and also a lot of fear about the challenges which lay ahead.

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On the run

August 14, 2013

I have mentioned a few times in previous posts that I have been doing some more running lately. It is still a relatively new thing for me, and I have been hesitant to say much about it for several reasons. For one thing, I have gone through plenty of phases in the past where I have gone running at least a couple of times per week for a few weeks or months and started to build up some endurance, followed by a relapse to only sporadic running. However, I have decided to share a bit about my recent running for a few reasons. First of all, one of the things I wanted to talk about when I refocused/renamed this blog was my attempts to fit exercise into my life, and it wouldn’t be realistic if I waited to share things until I was sure I would succeed at them. In addition, I have learned a few things about what seems to work/not work for me when it comes to exercise and I hope that by writing about it, I will have a reminder for myself, and that maybe something I have found useful will help someone else as well.

In addition, although it might seem like writing about my work-outs would be a good way to keep myself accountable (and for some people it might be) the primary reason I have actually held off on writing much about my running so far is that I don’t want running to become something I feel I have to do. I want to do it for myself rather than so that I can tell people about it. And I think this has been an important thing for me.

Anyway, let’s back up a bit….

I actually started 2013 with a resolution to run more, and I set myself a very ambitious goal of running 365 miles this year. I know that an average of a mile a day is nothing to some people, but I hadn’t been running at all leading up to 2013, so I knew that this was a goal which would require a consistent commitment throughout the year and which would be a real challenge for me. I will spare you the suspense and say right now that it is over halfway through the year and I am not halfway to my goal. But I’m not giving up yet. Lately, I am making more and more progress, and I am starting to have a bit of hope that I might make it to nearly 365. Whether I make it or not, however, one of the most important things for me has been realising that I may not reach this particular goal, but that I can still strive for it. As a bit of a perfectionist, it probably would have felt easier to me to change my goal rather than continuing to work toward something I didn’t think I could accomplish. But I think that having a very long-term goal has helped motivate me, and it has allowed me to keep working away at it and doing my best now in order to see how close I can get rather than just giving up or focusing on what I should have done earlier. Most importantly, it has got me out the door for a run or running on the treadmill many times when I would have otherwise sat on the couch.

I know that for some people, being a runner may mean running races or maybe even running a marathon, and I have often judged myself by those standards and avoided claiming to be in the ‘runner’ category. However, I am nowhere near the levels that some people are, and I probably never will be. For now, I am just enjoying running and starting to crave the challenge that running provides and the buzz that follows…  And, I have stopped caring so much about what other people’s standards might be. I am starting to feel like a runner. And that’s good enough for me.

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A visitor in Sheffield

August 11, 2013

Two weekends ago, Ben and I had the wonderful pleasure of hosting my younger brother for a weekend in Sheffield. He had been teaching English in Poland and travelling for the month before, and he managed to arrange his flights so that he could come and visit us on his way back to the US.

Ben and I had been looking forward to Will’s visit for months, and we wanted to strike the right balance between showing him the sights and being out, and also just having time to catch up and be together.

The weekend flew by, but we managed to pack a lot in, and I think we managed to find the right mix of active and relaxing.

On Friday after work, Ben and I hopped in the car and headed to the airport in Manchester. We parked and went in to wait at the arrivals area, where I practically threw out my neck staring at the exit door for an hour until Will came through. It was wonderful to see him, and after catching up briefly, we hopped in the car and started our journey across the Peak District toward Sheffield, which gave us some time to hear about his travels and teaching so far. We stopped in Buxton for a very late dinner, and the boys had a pizza each and I had a delicious salad at Pizza Express before we continued our journey to Sheffield. We got in quite late, and spent the time before bedtime chatting and hearing about Will’s time in Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic.

The next morning, Ben and I got up and went running before Will got up, and had a really good long run. However, I must have pushed myself a little too hard because I didn’t feel well at all when we got back to our flat. Ben kindly made the three of us a delicious breakfast, including a smoothie each, and eventually I started to feel almost normal again.

After a quick trip to our local greengrocer, Ben and Will and I set off on a long hike into the Peak District. It was a hike we hadn’t ever done before, and we took two wrong turns, which made it a much longer, steeper walk than we had planned. However, the views were beautiful, the company was wonderful, and we hiked to a nice pub with outdoor seating and delicious food.

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