Sunday, 15 January 2017

Something Els

I've renamed my blog Something Els, and moved it to Typepad.  So please update your bookmarks...

Monday, 2 January 2017

Reading and Resolutions

Back in 2015 I set myself a challenge to read a book a week, and exceeded my target, reading 53 books over the course of the year.  I had planned to try and do the same in 2016, but for one reason and another I was unable to read at all for many months of the year. I still kept a record of the books that I read though, and have catalogued them on Goodreads as before.  Although there were only nine of them, I did a graph of my reading patterns over the year:

This year I also included four children's books, as 2016 was the year that I introduced my son to Harry Potter, by reading them to him at bedtime.  In a year we managed to get through the first four books, but we are now having a break from them, as the fourth book was quite scary and even induced a few nightmares for the 9yo.  He absolutely loves the series, and is now Harry Potter obsessed, but agreed quite willingly to have a break, so I think he realises how scary they are for him.

Of the five books that I read myself, the one that had the most impact on me was Marie Kondo's The Magical Art of Tidying.  I have wanted to declutter for years, and had a good go a couple of years ago, but it wasn't until I read this book that I was finally able to get rid of a whole load of unnecessary stuff.  My books have now been reduced from an amount that filled two Ikea Billy bookcases, several shelves and many piles on the floor to a much more manageable number that all fit on one Billy bookcase, with space for DVDs and CDs as well.  I can now fit all of my clothes into 2 drawers and half a wardrobe, and I have even managed to reduce my photos to one shelf of albums and some picture frames.  I can't say that I live in a minimalist home, but with three children in the house under the age of 10 that isn't really going to be possible.  I have reached a point however where tidying only takes a few minutes, and feel much better about the space I live in.

As it's the New Year, I have also made two resolutions.  I'm keeping it simple this year, with a plan to read just 24 books over the year, and to finish (or discard) my various crochet and knitting projects.  I have really enjoyed learning to crochet over the last few years, and even managed to design my own crochet bunting back in 2014, but I have ended up with four projects actively on the go and one as-yet-unstarted knitted scarf promised to the 9yo. I have resolved that I will not embark on any more woolly projects until I have either finished or discarded all of these.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Advent Calendars

When I was a child, our advent calendars had pictures in them, behind little doors.  I can still remember being really excited to discover which picture was behind each door, even though I had to share the calendar with my brother and so only got to actually open a door once every other day.    As I got older I became aware that other children not only had their very own calendars, but sometimes had chocolate instead of pictures behind the doors.  Every year I secretly hoped I would get one with chocolate in it.  That didn't happen until I was a teenager, and at some point I promised myself that if I ever had children I would do things differently.

For the first few years of being a parent I was happy enough to buy chocolate advent calendars, but I kept thinking of ways to make things a bit better.  When my oldest was 4 years old I realised that I had my very own calendar just waiting.  One of the pieces of furniture that I inherited from my mother is a Chinese medicine cabinet, which has 42 decent-sized drawers in it.  I set about finding 24 tiny gifts, 24 very small wrapped chocolates,  bought some tags and string, and the first calendar became a reality:

It was a huge success.  My then 4-year-old could recognise all the numbers and was only too happy to show his sister which drawer to open every day. I knew then that a tradition had been started.

For the next year I made it a bit more Christmassy, with green tags and red ribbon, and also took a picture of all 48 wrapped presents.  And let me tell you, it takes longer than you think to wrap so many teeny tiny gifts!

The children now look forward to the calendar being set up every year, and ask about it for several weeks before December starts.  I never put any tags on (or any presents in the drawers) until they have gone to sleep on 30th November, so when they wake up on 1st December it is a lovely sight for them. 

This year we now have 3 children in the house, which meant wrapping 72 presents. The presents are also colour-coded, so that there can be no arguments as to who gets which present every day.

This year all the presents are Lego-themed (in case you're wondering, sourced from previous years' Lego Advent Calendars), as that is something that all the children enjoy playing with, but part of the beauty of using this cabinet is that the presents can change as the children's interests change. 

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Cauliflower Cheese and Starting Again

Last week I went back to eating LCHF again.  For one reason and another I had fallen off the wagon, for nearly 9 months. Inevitably I had re-gained all the weight that I had lost, but that didn't bother me as much as the other symptoms.  The worst one was the reflux.  When I'm eating carbs I need to carry gaviscon tablets around with me all the time, which is no fun, let me tell you.  I also really hate the fact that my ankles are swollen almost constantly when I am eating carbs.

I've been low carb again now for just over 10 days, and have had no reflux symptoms at all for the last 9 days.  The constant hunger that I have when eating carbs/sugar has already receded, and my ankles have come back again.  I didn't weigh myself at the outset this time, as I don't have weighing scales in the house anymore, but some of my clothes are already slightly looser around the waist.

One of the things that I find the most difficult about eating low-carb is the amount of cooking involved.  I find that unless I have a ready supply of meals in the freezer and suitable snacks in the fridge that it is too tempting to eat foods that are too high in carbs.  I'm going to try from now on to make a point of always having appropriate meals available in the freezer, and one of those meals is cauliflower cheese.  I've always loved cauliflower cheese, and spent many of my weight watchers years trying to make a low-fat version.  They never worked though, and after a while I just resigned myself to only eating it when having a 'cheat day'.

All of this meant that the first recipe I wanted to tackle when embarking on a LCHF regime was cauliflower cheese.  And let me tell you, in all the times I have made it since, with slight differences to the recipe each time, there has never been a dud one.  It is now one of my favourite meals.

The last time that I made it I took time to write down the amounts of ingredients I used, and even took a few photos, so that I could keep a definitive recipe for myself. You'll notice that my recipe is in fact for cauliflower and broccoli cheese with bacon.  I can assure you that it will work just as well without the broccoli or bacon, but I think they make this recipe perfect.


1 head of cauliflower
1 head of broccoli (just use 2 heads of cauliflower if you prefer)
6 rashers of streaky bacon (optional)

400g cheddar (you could substitute 100g of this with blue cheese and it works wonderfully too)
150ml cream
400g full-fat cream cheese


Steam or boil the vegetables until they are almost cooked, then drain all the water away.
Cook the bacon until crispy. Put the vegetables and bacon into a baking dish. Don't forget to put all the bacon fat in with it too.

Put the cream cheese, cream and almost all of the cheddar into a pan and stir together to make the best cheese sauce you have ever tasted.  It will seem like a lot of cheese sauce.  Trust me, you'll need it all.

Pour the cheese sauce over the vegetables and bacon and mix well to ensure there is sauce covering everything.

Sprinkle your reserved cheese on the top and bake in the oven at 200C for about 25 minutes.

Look at that - doesn't it look fabulous?

It serves 4-6 people, depending on how hungry you are.  If you're cooking for 1 or 2, just freeze the rest.  When needed again, cook in the microwave for 2-4 minutes for a speedy, delicious, LCHF ready meal.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Book a Week 2015 - Overview

Last year, for the first time since I can remember, I made a New Year's Resolution that I actually kept.    In fact I even did better than I planned as I read 53 books in 52 weeks, a whole book more than my target.  Along the way I kept a record of the books, and some information about them, as I wanted to know whether this challenge would encourage me to read different books to the ones I would normally choose.  Also, I do love a spread sheet.

Books by genre

I've split the fiction books up into generic fiction, science fiction, fantasy and detective.  One of the greatest things about this challenge was rediscovering my love of science fiction books - as a teenager I read only science fiction for about 2 years, and I had forgotten how much I enjoy it. I have also split non-fiction into generic non-fiction and self help, using my own arbitrary category system.  I only included one children's book, although I read many, many more with the 6yo and 8yo over the course of the year. The one I included was Matt Haig's A Boy Called Christmas, partly because I read all of it (rather than it being a joint effort between the 8yo and me) and partly because I enjoyed it more than any of the other books I read with the kids last year.

Books by month

I was also interested to see if I read at the same rate through the year.  The chart below shows how many books I finished in each month. As you can see, there is a wide variation - from zero books finished in June to 12 books finished in April.  This mainly reflects the timing of my annual leave during the year, and that in January I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone temporarily. June was a very hectic month for various reasons and so reading went out of the window for a bit.

Books by Source

One of the things I really wanted to get out of last year's challenge was to read books that I otherwise would not have come across.  I also resolved that I would try as far as possible to read any book that I was recommended to me by a friend, even if it really didn't appeal to me. When I looked back at the source of the books I read, I was surprised to see that more than a third of them were either gifts, recommended by a friend, or inspired by people I follow on twitter or blogs I read during the year.

When I reflect on the books I enjoyed the most they were mainly from among those that had been recommended to me.

The best books

The best non-fiction book I read was The Unthinkable: Who survives when disaster strikes - and why by Amanda Ripley.  It was recommended to me by one of my friends and is an absolutely fascinating look at how people react to disasters and stressful situations.  In particular it gave me some very interesting insights into how the correct training in medicine can help doctors to overcome their natural response to stressful situations and apply basic principles to ensure they react to emergencies appropriately. 

Among the autobiographies I read, the stand-out one was Matt Haig's Reasons to Stay Alive.  I learned of its existence by following Matt Haig on twitter - so you could say it was recommended to me by the author itself.  It is a brilliant book about surviving, and living with, depression and is one of the books that I will be keeping because I know I will read it again and again.

The best fiction book (well, technically science fiction) was The Martian by Andy Weir.  I read it just after having seen the film and absolutely loved it.  It kept me up until 3am as I could not bear the idea of going to bed without having read the ending.  As is almost always the case, it was much better than the film - although I must say that I really loved the film as well. 

More than any of these books though, one of the books that I read last year changed my life.  That book was Why We Get Fat: And What to Do about It by Gary Taubes.  It was one of many books I read last year about diet, and the one that inspired me to start following a Low Carb High Fat diet. 

Next Year

For next year, I plan to try and read a book a week again, because I enjoyed it so much, but I won't put myself under pressure to do so.  I would also like to continue keeping the spread sheet, as it has been really interesting for me to go back over the year and see which books I read.

If you'd like to have a look at all the books I read in 2015, you can find the complete list on Goodreads

Saturday, 26 December 2015

LCHF Take 2

Boxing Day is the new New Year for me.  I've fallen off the LCHF wagon in quite a spectacular way over the last couple of months, to the extent that my weight is back up to my starting level.  Interestingly my waist measurement is not quite back to where it was, so I'm hopeful that at least some of the excess weight is water.

There are several reasons why I started eating too many carbohydrates again, but it has taught me four very important things:

1) I am clearly very insulin resistant.  My body's response to eating carbohydrates again was almost frightening in the way I craved bread, pasta and potatoes almost instantly after eating that first bowl of pasta.

2) I am addicted to sugar, and in particular poor quality chocolate.  Once I start eating milk chocolate I find it genuinely difficult to stop.  Back when I was firmly following a LCHF diet earlier in the year, the occasional bit of 85% chocolate was fine, but it turns out that with milk chocolate I really can't stop at just one piece.

3) I am probably not someone who can have a 'cheat day'.  I comprehensively fell off the wagon after I allowed myself to eat some sweets at Halloween - not even 2 months later and I have regained all the weight I had lost.

4) While I don't have coeliac disease, my gut's reaction to going back to gluten and sugar was 'interesting'.  I'm really looking forward to not feeling bloated anymore in a few day's time...

So, back to LCHF it is.  Starting today, rather than 1st January, so that it is very firmly not a New Year's Resolution.  In addition to looking at all the websites I used before (such as Diet Doctor) I have also signed up to the Banting online course.  I already have the Real Meal Revolution cook book, but I feel that the course will give me the kick start I need.

As the website does everything in kilos, my new starting weight is 89.2kg.  This is a lot more than I should weigh, given that I am only 160cm tall.  I do feel more confident than I ever did when re-starting WeightWatchers though, as I know already that I won't become irrationally hungry, and that I will enjoy all the food I eat.  It does mean I have to be very organised with pack lunches for work, but I'm up for the challenge.

Starting on Boxing Day is a surprisingly good idea as it turns out - the fridge is full of leftover turkey, bacon, sausages and cheese, so the first few days should be easy.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Wheezing and Junior Doctors

I've never used this blog to talk about the NHS before, but today I feel I need to:

Yesterday our 8yo was very, very wheezy. After following our inhaler escalation plan he was still wheezy. On a Sunday evening at 6pm. We rang the out-of-hours GP service and a doctor rang us back within 15 minutes. She felt he needed to go to A&E and that ideally it would be in an ambulance. We explained we were 4 minutes from our local hospital by car, so she advised we drive him straight there rather than waiting for an ambulance, so he could be treated quicker.

A&E was incredibly busy, but we were triaged by a nurse within 3 minutes of arriving and saw a doctor (a "junior" doctor) within 10 minutes. After more treatment the 8yo was still wheezy, so he was given some steroids and more of his inhalers, with a plan for him to be reviewed and re-examined by a doctor within an hour.

Despite the fact that the department was so busy we had to sit in the waiting room rather than a hospital bed we were reviewed on time by both a lovely nurse and a very kind and polite "junior" doctor.

After 4 hours in A&E his wheezing had improved enough that we were able to go home. We were given a comprehensive treatment plan and very concrete advice as to what to do if he did not continue to improve.

Everyone we saw was kind and considerate, and no one complained about how busy it was. They apologised for the lack of a bed for the 8yo to rest on while waiting to be reviewed, but his treatment was not in any way compromised.

This, by the way was in an A&E department that our health secretary tried to shut down, but which remained open after a vociferous local campaign.

By the time we got home it was midnight. The department was still busy when we left, and the staff were working together to look after all the sick children still waiting to be seen.

So when you see a "junior" doctor on a picket line tomorrow remember these things:
- We already have a 24-hour health service.
- It is one of the best in the world.
- It is already operating at more than capacity.

What we need is more doctors, more nurses, more radiographers, more pharmacist, more physiotherapists, more midwives and more support staff.

We do not need more cuts, or less pay for more hours worked, or a further demoralised workforce.

We should all be working together to fight for our NHS. Please join me in supporting our junior doctors when they take action tomorrow.