Monday, 21 February 2011

The psychology of partner dance

It will come as no great surprise to anyone, I'm sure, to learn that I can be a little headstrong at times. So what on earth, you may wonder, possesses me to take up Swing Dance, where the leader leads, and the follower, well, follows? I'll give you a clue. Women are not the leaders here. So, there's all sorts of characteristics which you need to be a good dance follower that don't, shall we say, come terribly naturally to me.

First, you need to trust your partner. If you're dancing properly, you're committing your momentum and body to moves that will only work with the physics of him catching that momentum and working with it. If he sends you out on a spin, or pulls you back from one, it's his job to catch you and guide into the next move, and yours to stay upright and in rhythm, going wherever he sends you. Abdicating control so completely is something that's taken me months to get the hang of. It's still hard with new rhythms and patterns, but it's getting easier all the time.

Secondly, it's the lead's job to decide what happens. If he's not telling you what to do, you don't get to make it up or decide. And just because you've been practising a move all class doesn't mean that's what he's going to do next. I'm getting better with this. It's a mental shift to realise that all options are on the table, but once I do make that shift I've had some of the most fun ever, especially doing moves we haven't explicitly been taught.

Related, I need a strong lead. Again, no surprises there to anyone who's ever met me! If the guy is acting like he knows what he's doing and pushing me around (in dance terms), I can do things I didn't know I knew how to do. If I'm floundering around wondering if that was a lead or just a change in pressure, my footwork goes to pieces, my composure falls apart and it's just a disaster. As in dance, so in life...

This is the the final thing, and the reason I'm learning all these weird mental shifts: it's truly co-creating. You both need to do your bits, and only your bits, for it to work. And when it does, it's glorious. As in dance, so in life...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Not quite tapas chorizo in red wine

This is heavily inspired by - but in no way based on! - one of my favourite tapas dishes, namely chorizo in red wine reduction.

2 venison sausages, cut into 3/4" chunks
2tsp diced garlic (I used Very Lazy Garlic)
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
Spritz of olive oil

  1. Spritz a heavy-based frying pan with oil, add garlic, and put on a high heat
  2. When the oil is hot but not smoking, sear the sausage chunks, then turn the heat down to medium
  3. Cook the sausages for 10-15 minutes, turning regularly.
  4. When the sausage chunks are cooked, add the balsamic vinegar and toss the sausage chunks in it
  5. Turn the heat down and simmer until the balsamic vinegar forms a syrup
  6. Serve immediately

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Feel the fear: lessons from scuba-diving

For much of my life, I worked off the basis that "winners never quit, and quitters never win". It brought me a lot of success in many ways, because most of the time my physical, mental and emotional reserves were greater than the task at hand. I could, in fact, keep up with the boys on a hike with my feet in tatters. I could be close to the top of the class and play two instruments to a high standard. But, a sizeable minority of times, I over-estimated my own strength and collapsed in a heap of exhaustion, made worse by my own recriminations for not being good enough to meet some arbitrary, outside standard.

In late 2009, I went scuba-diving in the Caribbean. I'd been interested ever since regretting not taking up the "Try Scuba" course on offer in Egypt in 2001. Let's bear in mind that while I'm an OK swimmer, my base stamina is pretty poor unless I'm in training for something. Also, I hate having my face in the water. Also, I'm terrified, in an unspeakably primal way, of drowning. Why scuba? Because it's a challenge. Because there's a while world of nature to explore which rarely sees signs of humanity. Because for all I hate getting my face wet, I love being in the water. (I outlined this post while in the bath!)

So I signed up for a scuba session while cruising around the Caribbean. Warm water, gentle waves, pretty fish...what more could you want?

A couple of days before, I went snorkelling for the first time in years. It was ok. I actually enjoyed it by the end, after a couple of hours finning around at my own pace. I now realise my latent tension caused the mouthpiece to give me an ulcer, which is important later.

So the scuba course starts, and I'm quickly separated off for some personal hand-holding for this whole breathing-under-water lark. But I can do it, I rejoin the group, we swim away from the shore, see a ray, some coral formations and several schools of fish. So far, so good.

On the boat out to the dive site we find out it's a wreck dive. Absolutely awesome! And not something I'd thought you could even get close to without at least the basic qualification. I'm pleasantly surprised to discover I'm not seasick and have acclimatised after 2 weeks on the cruise ship. We descend down a line, me following someone with ear problems because it's a nice, slow pace. At the point we're to leave the line and swim openly, I freeze. I'm acutely aware of what feels like a hole being worn through my cheek. The obvious solution is to spit the regulator supplying me with oxygen out, yet that's clearly a dumb idea too. A slightly panicked exchange with the guide later, during which time she does remove and check my regulator (eeeek!) she agrees to take me back to the surface. As soon as I step over the back of the boat I'm hit with wave after wave nausea that none of my usual techniques touches. A seasickness pill doesn't help and I spend the 2 hours of the dive and return to shore trying not to throw up.

The pill didn't help, of course, because it wasn't seasickness. It was pure and simple gut-wrenching (in the most literal sense) terror.

Despite that, I consider the dive a success. I felt my fear, I did it anyway, and quit while I was ahead. I did not break myself, and I did not put my own life or anyone else's at risk.

And you know what? I still want to learn to scuba-dive one day. A 5 day intensive course is not the right route for me, but in slower time I can do it. At the point where I have time, money and a hot climate available, I will.

And the most valuable lesson I have learned from this (and have good cause to apply elsewhere right now)? It's ok to not succeed. It's good to know your limits, so you can extend them gradually rather than busting them - and you! - wide open out of impatience, stubbornness or pride. I've been guilty of all three in the past, but I'm choosing not to be again.

Challenge yourself. Stretch yourself. And always leave a harder challenge for next time!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Jordan: What's a girl got to do to get a shower around here?

Way back in October I spend a week hiking through Jordan. I've been intending to blog about it ever since, and failing miserably. Since then I've also been to Venice, and have just booked a further international trip for late April. I'll try to be a bit more timely about those ones!

Anyway, I spent a week hiking from Dana Nature Reserve to Petra, booked through KE Adventure. The temperature was consistently over 40C, and there was comparatively little shade. Indeed, some days seem to consist of hiking from the shade of one tree to the shade of the next...We were supported by a team of Jordanians driving 4x4s, but all our hiking was on Bedouin tracks, and we only saw the trucks at the campsites. Because of the remote nature of the campsites:

and the arid climate, all the water we used was carried in by 4x4. So, after a full day hiking through the heat, how do you make yourself fit for the group dinner time?

If there's a convenient waterhole, you can sluice yourself off, but without any soap or detergent in that. Or, you can just chill out, as at this stream we came across in the middle of day 3. We'd had an enormous climb that morning, so this was like a little slice of heaven when we descended the col and found a shady stream for our lunch stop:

Assuming that there is neither stream nor waterhole, the first thing you do is gather up your - ideally environmentally friendly - toiletries, and your 1.5L bottle of water. Then you find somewhere to provide some shade and privacy:

You look behind you to make sure you're not going to inadvertently flash an unsuspecting group member or local:

Then you set up your stuff in a convenient niche:

It is - just about - possible to wash yourself, and wet and rinse my shoulder-length with the 1.5L bottle. It's a bit of an art form, but it is doable. And the balmy 30C+ temperature combined with the aridity meant there was no need to towel off! You'll also appreciate - ok, maybe not - the exfoliating nature of the fine desert dust that gets into absolutely everything, and the combination of sunscreen and dust that gave my hair the most body it has ever had. I'm assuming it looked horrendous, however, so I won't be recommending this as a beauty regime any time soon.

And there you are. All ready for dinner at the communal mat:

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Venison casserole: tonight's randomly-seasoned crockpot meal

This is a real make-it-up-as-I-along job, even more so than normal.

Serves: 4, especially if do a baked potato on the side.

Main ingredients
4 venison sausages
1 small butternut squash
1 small parsnip
3 small carrots
2 small onions
2 courgettes

1 tbsp juniper berries
A good slosh of Worcester Sauce
A smaller slosh of Balsamic Vinegar

  1. Dice vegetables.
  2. Slice sausages into 1-1.5" chunks.
  3. Put all ingredients in slowcooker (crock-pot).
  4. Add water to half-way up the ingredients.
  5. Sprinkle/slosh seasoning over ingredients.
  6. Stir. Turn crock-pot on, leave for 4 hours or until you're hungry.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Lottie Loves: Finishing School K is for Kit

Lottie's challenge runs thus:

Find a space which can be yours for your beauty routine. Obviously a dressing table is ideal but it can be anywhere else. You can use a bathroom counter, a random table, a chest of drawers, a desk, anywhere where you can find a bit of space just for you. It need only be small, enough room for a basket or two. If you already have this space then tidy it up and make it work better for you. My big thing about beauty areas is that they must have everything in sight and easy to just grab. No digging around in bags, draws, boxes. If you can see everything you can grab it and go.

A-ha! I thought smugly. I have one of those already. I did tidy it up before taking this photo - apologies for the glare, it's a south-facing baywindow so when there's sun there's no way to shade it. My make-up stuff is in my room, while my toiletries are in the shared bathroom downstairs and I haven't photographed that because it would look like I'm on commission for Lush or something!

Then I read the next bit:
  • Mirror: yep, got one of those. This flat has more mirrors than you can imagine. There's one fixed to the wall behind my dressing table (alright, chest of drawers...) and one to the other wall of the bay behind me. While I can't see my whole face in natural light at the same time, I can at least have one side lit and try to match them up!
  • Make-up brushes: I have one I love, and a few that are adequate but no more. The one I love is great precise application of eyeshadow as a liner, but not so good for covering large areas. It was free with Cosmopolitan magazine years ago. I so rarely use any of the others, though, I've never really had the impulse to buy better ones. Although I might wear blusher more (and I really should if I've put foundation on as I'm so pasty to start with) if I had a brush for it I liked...
  • Storage for hair accessories: Check. It's the bottom drawer of the mini chest of drawers you see on the right of this picture, plus the three oversized brooch/hairpin flowers lying on the front.
  • Cotton wool & buds: Downstairs in the bathroom with the nail varnish and remover. I use tissues and spit to remove make-up mistakes, or cover them, depending on the nature. Very occasionally I get it wrong I go right back to the beginning and cleanse, tone, moisturise, make a cup of tea and start again.
  • Make-up: In the right hand chest of drawers. The top draw has eyeshadows, the middle has bracelets (ok, not make-up!) and the bottom has lipstick and blusher. The foundation chills out on the top all the time. Eyeliners and lip-liners live in the pencil pot along with mascara, nail scissors and file.
  • Wipes: I don't use them. Tone + cotton wool does the job, and they live in the bathroom.
  • Potions and lotions: Deodorant is up here, body moisturiser is both up here and in the bathroom, hand creams are one pot per room, facial cleanser/toner/moisturiser is in the bathroom. I have about 4 different varieties of perfurm up there, two of which I wear regularly, one I never wear and should ditch and one that's heading that way but it was a gift and I feel bad...

As to where I got the chests of drawers and pencil pot? Rymans Stationers. They're sold as desk organisers, but they're felt lined, good quality and just perfect for this!

The left hand chest of drawers contains my costumer jewellery and my earrings are on the stand on top of it. There's a pair of gold cufflinks (pen nibs, love them!) just in front.

The red and white tape is not crime scene tape. :) It's holding the opposite window shut while I wait for my landlady to give me the number of the handyman who can finish the job of fixing it.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Rooftop gardening: January planting

I'm lucky enough to have a roof terrace attached to my apartment, and it came with many, many pots. I used to have an allotment, although my record with house plants is atrocious. It seems that plants have to be practical for me to remember to look after them.

Anyway, I ordered a multipack of four types garlic, some shallots and some dwarf peas in the depths of winter. Garlic is supposed to be planted out in Nov-Dec, but it doesn't start growing until the spring. So I put two of the garlics out when they arrived (it's not like they're going to grow sat in a box on my windowsill, after all) then promptly forgot about them. I went out this morning to plant another of the garlic types and the shallots. The shallots, at least, are supposed to be planted out now. And some of my earlier garlic had grown!

I think this is the Purple Solent, but I forgot to make a note.

These pots have the other garlic I planted originally. I'm not giving up on it yet, but I do need to remember not to plant other stuff in these pots!

Today's garlic - an elephant variety - went in these pots.

Finally, each of these pots has two shallots in it. I'll probably add carrot and/or basil or thyme to the pots to make more use of the space.

We're also getting a trellis, via a very long and involved story. But trellis means full size peas and beans and sweet peas! I'm not quite sure where we're going to put it, however...