5 Days of Summer

As the weather becomes….mixed…I thought I’d share the photos I took during our mini heatwave a couple of weeks ago. It’s been bucketing it down all day today, so allow me to indulge in the memories of those real summer days, the first Lal Lass has experienced. The ones featuring grazed knees, ice lollies and paddling pools.

Summer days equals no shoes outdoorsSummers day sailing at Gaasperplas

Happy as a pig in shit!

Happy as a pig in shit!

Lola runs free round Nellesteincalm before the storm...

When its like this in Amsterdam, everyone’s off to picnic or BBQ in the park (Vondel, Westerpark, Amstel and the smaller neighbourhood parks), head to the beach (Zandvoort, Bloemendaal, Wijk aan Zee) or cool off in one of the public paddling pools in Amsterdamse Bos. We stayed local for the most part – Gaasperplas is a gorgeous place to be on a sunny day, and with large fields, playing areas and a local beach, we’re pretty sorted.

We did take a day trip to Het Twiske on the hottest day. It was the first time I’ve been there and surprisingly Ewoud had never heard of it before. If you haven’t, it’s a huge recreational area in Amsterdam Noord, with lots of beaches, lakes, open fields, a farm and restaurants/cafés. Basically, a larger version of Gaasperplas, but with more going on.

Photo taken 5 minutes before seeing a sign asking the people not to feed the horse…

sells organic low-sugar icecream and has an honesty box!

hanging out by the sailing club at Twiske

It’s been raining here all day but now the sun is out again for the evening. I have hope that we’re going to get more days like these this year. Until then, the deflated paddling pool is leaning against the wall of the balcony, waiting.


Don’t Panic – It’s Just an Attack!

** I originally wrote this post a few years ago for an old blog, but with today being the notorious Blue Monday and my  2012 mission to help raise awareness for mental health, I thought I’d reshare and add resources for those living in Amsterdam.

‘It’s true I had a lot of anxiety. I was afraid of the dark and suspicious of the light.’ ~ Woody Allen

You may have experienced the symptoms. Palpitations, gasping for air, sweaty palms, all wrapped up in the sudden feeling of impending doom – and nope, you’ve not been caught in the act by shocked and appalled parents. You’re about to have, or are in the midst of having, a panic attack. The world as you know it has ended. You’re not sure what is about to happen, but you are certain that it is the very worst thing that ever could.

Popping my panic cherry

My first panic attack came about 9 years ago and seemingly from nowhere. One minute I was lounging on the couch, watching television (actually it was the news…), the next I was racing around the room, eyes wide open, heart pounding, hyperventilating and convinced I was about to drop dead or the world was going to explode. The episode lasted for two hours, until I was completely exhausted and my housemates had gone from bemused to concerned. The next night, around the same time, I felt lightheaded, started gulping air and went off on one again.

Knowledge is a cold shower

I typed my symptoms into Google and came across a lot of sites relating to anxiety. This was news to me, I had always been pretty confident and level-headed. I was a strong, assertive and intelligent girl damn it! So what was the deal with the panic attacks?

After a week of almost daily attacks I took myself off to the family doctor. He prescribed beta blockers to control the physical aspects of the ”episodes”, helping me to break the daily cycle. I felt reassured just by having the medication in my pocket, the knowledge that I could put a stop to the attack before it started. It didn’t quite work like that though, the attacks came on strong and unexpectedly and by the time I was in the middle of one, I couldn’t take my finger off my pulse long enough to take the medication. Back to the docs. This time he said a very simple but profound statement to me,

“Think about what’s going on in your life, because life doesn’t have to feel this hard and happy people don’t have panic attacks.”

Woooah. Okaaay. What was the problem then? Well, in hindsight, I had lost my nanna and close friend within 9 months of each other and dealing with it by going out and getting drunk and not looking after myself definitely didn’t help. At the time though, I was grieving, hungover and eating crap so I wasn’t in the best state to ponder on my mental health.

It was a long time before I got to the stage where I could talk about it. When I did…..what a %*@ing relief! I started to address the problem in different ways and I’m going to share them with you, hopefully it’ll take you less time (and misspent energy) to get to the place I’m at now.

If I could talk I’d tell you…

With 1 in 4 of us destined to experience mental health issues in our lifetime, there is a high probability that you or someone you know has also experienced them (and has also kept quiet out of fear, embarrassment or denial). By speaking up, you are acknowledging something is not working for you and welcoming help and support – this is not a failing, it’s the single biggest step you’ll take in overcoming your anxiety and helping others to do the same.

We tend to be our own worst enemy when it comes to keeping things to ourselves. I could bring on a panic attack by worrying that I might have one in front of my friends and be forever known as the wierdo woman-mental. So we made a joke about it. I told my closest friends what they could do to help me during an attack and they promised not to point and laugh if they happened to be in the vicinity.

I found that the more I talked about it in a lighthearted way, the less significant and threatening the thought of these attacks became – if they happened, it wouldn’t even matter. Aswell as bringing some comic relief, talking about it strengthened my friendships. Letting my guard down (or having it totally blown off it’s hinges by an impromptu panic attack) allowed people to get closer to me. Not a bad thing as it turns out.

Don’t aid and abet panic attacks by keeping quiet, they are isolating enough!

* The Cove in Amsterdam offers Cognitive Behaviour Therapy in English.

I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour…

It was a logical step. I would start feeling anxious around 6pm, then focus on the feeling until I had a panic attack by about 7pm. I could have set an alarm for the time I would have an attack (instead of beeping, it would be the sound of me hyperventilating. That would stop you hitting the snooze button, eh?). Sooooo, instead of doing that, I went to the pub. The second drink normally got me out of the danger zone. After that I was relaxed enough to get nicely tipsy and let go of any worries I may have had.

Unfortunately, low blood sugar levels and dehydration can also get the body all wired up. So, instead of having panic attacks in the evening, I started the day off with them, like a fry-up for the mind. Lovely. I found a way around it though, with the old ‘prevention is better than cure’ remedy…..drink cola for a quick sugar hit. Yep, this was short lived also.

Goodbye Sugar Girl

Well, I can’t say I gave up sugar without a second thought…I still rely on it too much at times and I just love cupcakes…ahhh! Every year I have around a month without sugar-no honey, no spoons in tea/coffee, no dried fruit or concentrated fruit juice, just naturally occurring sugars in whole fruits and vegetables.

When I haven’t had sugar for a while, I notice I have more energy, I lose the weight I put on when satisfying daily cravings and above all, I feel more in balance. Low blood sugar crashes can imitate feelings of panic, so if you are experiencing anxiety, taking control of your diet could help.

You don’t need a special eating plan, just know the basics and fit them into your daily routine. Eating every couple of hours will keep your sugar levels steady and everything else in balance. For an idea of when and how often, it roughly works out as breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner (leaving no more than 3 hours between any of these). Make sure you have good sources of protein at the same time as complex carbohydrates and have a look at low GL recipes for examples of balanced meals.

Where do I stand with sugar right now? I eliminated sugar completely for six months back then to cut down anxiety. Afterwards, I introduced it bit by bit and then it became a standard part of my diet again – and since then I’ve been all or nothing when it comes to sugar. Now I want to role model healthy eating choices (and good mental health!) for my daughter, as well as lose the “toddler weight” and get back into some old clothes. I’m rethinking the need to eat biscuits when what I actually need is a nap and also looking at more healthy and creative ways of having treats.

Sarah Wilson also has some great articles on quitting sugar and its affects on health. You can also check out the I Quit Sugar Facebook page.

If you’re living in Amsterdam and looking for other sweet alternatives, try lunchroom Sugarless. You can also check out the produce at the Biomarkt on Weteringschans or Ekoplaza on van Woustraat or visit the monthly Puremarkt from March onwards.

Where is my mind?

So we know what we can do to empower ourselves, but what about external life events that are beyond our control? Bereavement, abandonment, life transitions such as becoming a parent, moving home, being promoted or made redundant can also affect our ability to deal with stress and can become overwhelming. As well as talking to friends and family, talking to a trained counsellor or a professional who specialises in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy could work for you.

Our mindset is influenced from the start by genetics and our environment, it’s then enhanced by the people we surround ourselves with. Our self-belief, thought patterns and values are so deeply ingrained it can take years for us to see that they might not be serving us too well in our adult years. Speaking to an objective person can help to put your feelings into context.

Witness the fitness

The old faithful….exercise! Yeah I know, I struggle with this, I tend to go in cycles of all or nothing-something for another blog post. Exercise helps to manage anxiety by releasing the excess adrenalin that we store up as we prepare to fight our dragons. It builds up our self-esteem, encouraging a more positive belief system, helping us to manage our stress better and improve our cardiovascular system. It also helps us take control of our breathing – a helpful skill to have when hyperventilating!

Exercise doesn’t have to be all sweaty and competitive, yoga is great for calming the mind, controlling breathing and helping us to block outside triggers and negative anticipation, by concentrating our minds on the present.

Tip! I bought a crosstrainer last year which was collecting dust in the spare room, whilst I was vegetating on the couch in front of the TV. Now I’ve put my favourite series on my laptop, which I now watch in the spare room while I do 45 mins on the crosstrainer – so far so good – I’ll let you know if I end up leaning on the crosstrainer instead.

Around the Web in 10 Links

Firstly, if you are in Amsterdam today, meander down to the Sunday Market at Westerpark this afternoon. Sinterklaas is there, so it’s a good choice for families (ahem, aside from the controversial Zwarte Piet…but that is another blogpost).

Secondly, if One Day happens to be a favourite novel of yours, then perhaps avoid the movie. Disappointing. One Day the novel, portrays two complex and extremely likeable characters and documents the evolution of their relationship over 20 years on St Within’s Day. One Day the movie portrays two unbelievable actors trying too hard for too long. Anne Hathaway’s accent is all over the place, which is particularly annoying for a northerner who is supposed to be listening to another northerner, and Jim Sturgess sneers his way through the role of the charming Dexter, which made me want to slap him after the first 10 minutes.

To undo some of the damage, I will wait a while, read the book again and then pretend the movie didn’t happen. Moving swiftly along…here’s some sites that caught my eye this week:

1. Check out this set of plates featuring designs by Rob Ryan

This book also looks like a lovely Christmas gift for daughters, sisters, friends, mothers and all other women in your life. Check out Rob’s site for more inspirational paper cuts.

2.  Along those lines, I’m loving the look of the latest book by Pia Jane Bijkerk. Now living in Sydney, Pia’s heart once wandered to Amsterdam and she wrote some lovely posts about that time here.

3. Vintage wooden blocks for the babies. I heart Etsy.

4. I love reading about the creative process of writers, and the photographer and creator of Unravelling the Heart, Susannah Conway, has started a sporadic series about this in her blog.

5. This video went viral for the second time this year! Zach Wahls comes across as an intelligent, articulate, confident and compassionate man. If Lola ever made this kind of speech, I would be beyond proud.

6. Write to Done offer a free e-book summarising their strongest blogposts on becoming a better writer.

7. If you can’t get away from it, you may as well get involved – check out these photos celebrating 100 days of Winter, then go to Angie Muldowney‘s website for some cool photography tutorials.

8. Great review in this week’s Guardian about one of my favourite British films, Kes. First released in 1969, Kes has been remastered this year and has regular showings this month at Vondelpark’s EYE film museum.

9. My Parents Were Awesome is a brilliant site for vintage photos of people’s parents.

10. Some nice quotes about reading by favourite writers.

Happy Sunday!

Sunday Papers: October’s End

Not one, but TWO fundraising and awareness events  for cancer in November! The first is Movember, where Mo Bros begin the month with a face as smoooth as a baby’s bum and aspire to end it looking like one of these fine specimens. Movember raises awareness and funds for men’s health issues, including prostate cancer. You can register for this year’s event here.

The second event takes place on 26th November in the south of England. Striding for Survival was created by my feisty friend Rachael Rogan. The walk raises awareness of and funds for pancreatic cancer, the aggressive disease that Rachael and her sister Rebecca lost their father to 25 years ago.

SfS debuted in May this year, starting in the gorgeous Lake District and ending in our hometown, Barrow-in-Furness. Next month, it takes place in Lee Valley Park…this gal knows how to pick her venues! If you fancy a challenge and in the neighbourhood, get involved! You can also join the SfS community on Facebook.

For an altogether more self-indulgent challenge, if you’ve ever fancied sitting down and writing that novel, November is the month to make it happen! NaNoWriMo starts on Tuesday! If you’re not yet familiar with NaNoWriMo, this month-long event challenges you to write at least 50,000 words (approx 175 pages) by November 30th. And if you’re worried about the amount of guff you’ll be writing to hit the target, fear not…NaNoEdMo arrives in March!

And the rest…

Watch this film for dreamy scenes of Paris and the 20s.

Check out this guy’s pumpkin gallery and then turn your lame attempt round to face the wall.

Watch this doc and sigh over the beginning of the end of the British Indie dream.

And ahhhhh my new favourite magazine….and I can subscribe to it from the Netherlands. Woohoo!