Sunday, 31 December 2017

2018: Goals and Aims

Greetings lovely readers, I am delighted to share with you the very last post of 2017!  My previous post looked back on the successes, failures and achievements of the past year, so in this post I'll be looking forward to 2018 and listing my goals for the year about to start.

Goal 1 - Use Happiness Jar

My newly acquired Happiness Jar

My first goal is to make use of my new Happiness Jar to record and remember things I'm grateful for, including moments of success and good things that have happened.  In general I'd like to try to be more grateful and appreciative of the things that I have this year.  There are some major goals that I have yet to achieve, but though remaining focused on your goals is a good thing it is also important to remember, acknowledge and congratulate yourself for the progress that has been made so far.

Goal 2 - Complete 52 Lists Project and Q&A A Day Books

52 Lists Project and Q&A A Day books

52 Lists Project book - double page spread

Q&A A Day book - double page spread

I was lucky enough to be gifted both of these books last year and have been eagerly awaiting the new year to start them ever since!  The 52 Lists one lasts for one year with you making one list per week while the Q&A book lasts for five years with the owner answering one question per day.  I really enjoy activities like this that get you thinking about your peccadilloes, interests and priorities - though the prospect of recording over a whole 5 year period scares me somewhat!  I'll be halfway through my thirties by the time the Q&A book is complete.  There are so many things I want to achieve by that time... I wonder if I'll have managed to accomplish them all?

Goal 3 - Driving

Probably my biggest goal of 2018 is to pass my practical driving test, after that I intend to take motorway driving lessons and once I feel I've mastered driving on a motorway I will buy my first car.  After that some major milestones will be driving to Manchester and back to visit my partner Pete's family, and then later in the year helping with the drive to Scotland and back to visit my brother James and his family.  They've indicated that they'll be spending Christmas at home in Dunfermline next year and will be inviting us up from Leicester and my sister in law's family over from Northern Ireland to spend it with them, so I'll have some time to prepare for this goal!  I'll be particularly happy to achieve this though as I always feel bad about not being able to contribute to the driving on such a long journey.

Goal 4 - Health

Me in October 2016

Me in September 2017

As stated in my previous post I've already made some great progress in this area over the year by losing 25kg, following an NHS prescribed eating plan and increasing my activity and fitness levels.  In 2018 I'd like to go the distance and finally reach my goal weight of 60kg by losing a further 25kg over the course of the year.  This would put me in my healthy weight range for the first time in my adult life (I've struggled with excess weight since my age was in single digits) and would greatly decrease my risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.  This second stretch will likely be even harder than the last: my weight loss plateaued for a few weeks prior to Christmas though after a few adjustments (cutting back further on starchy foods in particular) I've managed to have it dropping steadily again by about a kilo per week.  I'm sure such plateaus will occur again as I near the finish line, so I'll have to see what sacrifices I can bear to make while still enjoying life.  In support of this I will be aiming to continue going to the gym 3 times a week and completing further long walks in the Peak District.

Goal 5 - Career

To further develop my career I'd like to improve my skills in deign programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign.  Presently I feel that I'm competent in these programs but would like to fully master them.  I also want to continue learning to code in HTML and CSS and start learning to code in JavaScript.

Goal 6 - Personal Development

During 2018 I'd like to gain further experience of public speaking in a low pressure environment to build my confidence in this area.  I may take on some small speaking roles at the non-religious Sunday Assembly group I attend and perhaps attempt some larger ones as the year progresses, possibly including a 15 minute presentation about Pedestrian, the arts education charity I work for.

Goal 7 - Illustration

This area was badly neglected in 2017 so I'd like to make some modest improvements and work on some more creative goals in the coming year.  I intend to make a new piece of work to be submitted to the Leicester Open Exhibition in 2018 as well as completing some outstanding pieces of work and designing  Christmas cards to send to family and friends.  I will also aim to do some on-location or observational drawings every month.  I am hoping to update this blog and my Facebook page once every other month as well as continuing to share good quality content on my Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Goal 8 - Relationships

A newly added category but an important one!  I've recently reconnected with a good friend I've known since infant school so I intend to keep in touch with her better by writing a letter at least once per quarter.

Phew, it's going to be quite a year!  What aims, goals and ambitions have you set yourself for 2018?  Let me know in the comments!

Best wishes for the new year, and thanks as always for reading.


Sunday, 17 December 2017

Emma is Doing Her Best: Looking back on 2017

Hello dear readers!

Welcome to my latest blog post and what will probably be the last installment of 2017!  It's been an exciting year with many ups and downs, trials and tribulations.  Mostly it has been a year of successes and positive developments, there's a sense that things are finally moving in the right direction after a few years fraught with difficulties and setbacks.  Many of my goals have yet to reach their endpoints, but I have made good progress this year and am optimistic that they will be accomplished in the new year.  So without further ado, here is what I have achieved in 2017:

This year my driving has improved a great deal, I feel so much more confident behind the wheel and in my last few lessons there has been very little for my driving instructor to correct me on.  This year I succeeded in passing my theory test with good marks, practised driving in my Mum's car (i.e. with no instructor, second set of pedals or other person to take over if I mess up), gained experience of driving in a petrol car (my instructor's car is a diesel one), memorised the notorious Pork Pie roundabout and became fully confident at driving at speed and on county roads.  I have yet to pass the final finish line and pass my practical test (having attempted it twice) but considering how well things are going I have a feeling that a pass is just on the horizon.  The only challenge to this is that as of the 4th December 2017 the content of the practical test changed, so I'm going to have to learn some new things before I can put in for my test again.

I've made some dramatic improvements to my health in 2017, the journey towards which began in January when I was referred by my GP to a programme run by the NHS called Lifestyle, Eating, Activity Programme (LEAP).  This consisted of 12 sessions run weekly during which we were weighed, then had an hour of diet/food education followed by an hour of exercise in the form of circuit training.  At the beginning of the programme we were given a diet regimen tailored to our measurements and activity levels to follow, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was all very common sense (moderate portions of carbohydrates and lean protein, plenty of fruit and vegetables and as little fat and sugar as you can manage to do without) and that there was no mention of all the nonsense you see in the national press about eating macca powder, chia seeds and other quack 'super foods'.  My apologies, but I don't have the patience to make smoothies and Buddha bowls!  A great thing about the diet (or rather, 'lifestyle change') is that it's very easy to stick to, flexible and doesn't restrict whole food groups.  And even better - it works!  By April I had lost 9.5kg (1.5 stone) and by the end of this year I have lost 25kg (about 4 stone).  By the end of next year I hope to lose another 25kg and reach my goal weight of 60kg (about 9.5 stone).

Alongside watching what I eat, I have also increased my exercise which has the dual benefit of helping with my weight loss as well as improving my physical fitness.  Earlier in the year I was doing Aquafit class, yoga and a gym session each week, which were good fun but the classes tended to finish later than I would have liked and were difficult to fit around my schedule.  Plus, to get home from the gym I had a 40 minute walk - fine on balmy summer evenings but not a pleasant prospect in the cold and dark of winter!  So I recently swapped gyms for one in the city centre that I can go to directly after work, do a full hour session and then catch a bus home.  I'm finding this routine pretty easy to stick to (goals need to be achievable, after all) and in a few weeks time have seen a marked improvement in my stamina and strength.  I also succeeded in completing two walks lasting about six hours across challenging terrain in the Peak District this year, which was testament to how far I'd come and how much my fitness has improved.

I don't think I've stated it explicitly anywhere but as you may have guessed I decided in 2015 to cease pursuing a career as an Illustrator and instead find a more 'normal' job.  In August that year I secured a role as Administration and Finance Officer for an arts education charity in Leicester called Pedestrian.  It plays to my good organisational skills, and I'm lucky that I still get to work in the creative sphere and for a worthy cause.  This year I've been focusing a lot on the marketing side of things, and in October took on the role of PR and Communications Coordinator for a project we're involved with called Moneywise Plus.  This was a really positive development as I'm interested in progressing into this area and it gives me opportunities to use my written and design skills in creating posters, invitations, flyers, blog/social posts and press releases.  I gained some valuable experience with using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system and am looking to improve my knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite by working through some books I bought called 'Adobe Creative Cloud Classroom in a Book' for Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign.  I have them ready and waiting for the new year!  I've also started learning HTML and CSS coding through Code Academy this year.

Personal Development
Probably one of the things I'm most nervous about is public speaking, so in a bid to improve my skills and gain some confidence I stepped forward to do some small speaking roles at a group I attend called Sunday Assembly Leicester.  These are gatherings that happen on Sundays once a month at Leicester Secular Hall, the idea being that these are fun non-religious events that anyone of any belief system is welcome to attend.  It involves singing songs, listening to talks and readings and then having a vegetarian lunch together.  This year I did three readings (including an excerpt from a story by Isaac Asimov) and filled a slot we have called 'Doing Their best' in which we talk about our successes and failures (much like this post!)  I was pleased that I managed to get a few laughs from the audience and was praised afterwards by one of the attendees for being brave enough to talk about my weight loss goals and struggles.  It was a really positive experience and definitely an area that I'd like to continue developing in 2018.

Creative Development
Oh dear, there's always going to be one area you end up neglecting!  Unfortunately this year I've been so busy pursuing other goals I've not had much time and head-space for creative activity, I always find I need a decent block of time and some physical space to relax and settle in to making artwork and I've not had a vast amount of either recently.  This is definitely something I need to improve on next year!  I also failed to achieve my aim of updating my blog with a new post every month, by the end of this year I'll have done 5-6 posts (including this one) so updating my blog bi-monthly looks like a more reasonable target.  I have however been very active on Twitter and have been pleased with some of the photographs and posts I've shared on there.  I'm by no means a professional photographer but a fun snap on the fly is always satisfying!  Chatting and sharing with others is such an enjoyable activity and there's been steady growth in my followers on that platform, so this is an activity I'll be continuing.

That's all for now folks, as always thank you for reading!  Join me closer to the new year when I'll be setting and sharing goals for 2018.  It promises to be an exciting year!

Best wishes,


Thursday, 26 October 2017

More Peak District Hiking Fun

Greetings lovely readers!

In the last installment I shared with you photos from an aborted hike up in the Peak District, so I am pleased this time to share with you some documentary evidence (in the form of photos!) that we returned a few weeks later and completed it successfully!

View of the Grindsbrook path from its apex

View of the landscape from the top of Grindsbrook

We headed up the Grindsbrook path as before, taking the correct route this time so the ascent onto the Kinder Plateau wasn't too arduous.  There isn't really a photo that can do justice to the altitude you climb in such a short space of time, but you can get some idea from the pictures above!

View of the landscape from the top of Kinder Scout

Interesting rock formation

Rock formation that looks like the head of a crocodile - people have even put in little stones for teeth!

Shallow waterfall on Kinder Scout

Shallow waterfall on Kinder Scout

Shallow waterfall on Kinder Scout

Rocky outcrop

Terrain on Kinder Plateau

We then travelled across the top of Kinder Plateau (also known as Kinder Scout), enjoying the somewhat alien looking terrain and interesting rock formations as we went.  There was also a small waterfall to traverse which made a lovely subject for photographs.

View down Jacob's Ladder

View up Jacob's Ladder

I made it!  Reaching Jacob's Ladder at last

View across farmland

 Despite poor visibility due to mist we found our way around the ridge and eventually to the top of Jacob's Ladder.  Once we'd descended (stopping to take cheesy celebratory photos) there was a stroll across farmland and then onto the Pennine Way for the home stretch back to Edale.  We thoroughly enjoyed having a walk on the wild side and found the route challenging without being exhausting.  Though as with any extended trip I'd definitely recommend taking plenty of water and snacks - this walk took around six hours and the last thing you want is to be stuck up on the tor, hungry and thirsty!  Lots of warm layers and a waterproof are also a must.

I hope you've enjoyed this post, thank you for reading!


Saturday, 26 August 2017

Hike in The Peak District: Edale to Jacobs Ladder

Hello everyone, and welcome back!  This time I've just popped in to share with you some photos of our latest adventure, a hike in the Peak District from Edale up Grindsbrook to the  Kinder Plateau and down Jacobs Ladder.  Well, that was the intention anyway!

We headed up Grindsbrook, trotting along mud paths, scrambling over boulders and negotiating the stream at various points.  Unfortunately the weather wasn't in our favour, rather than rain proper there was a very fine drizzly mist that meant that by the time we were on the climb up to the Kinder Plateau we were soaked through even under waterproofs.  We took a break for lunch to refuel but the ordeal had proved a bit too much for my partner's youngest, who was rather too young for a trek as challenging as this and who was too tired to continue.  Furthermore we discovered from a kindly and experienced walking guide who passed by us that we had accidentally taken the more difficult route, and would soon have to negotiate a waterfall to continue or descend back the way we'd come for some distance to then climb up the easier way.  Since progress with the little one was so slow it seemed unlikely that we'd complete the walk in a reasonable time frame, so we decided instead to retreat to the Penny Pot Cafe in Edale for hot chocolates and coffee.  Even though we didn't complete our goal this time it was refreshing to be out on the Peaks again and I enjoyed snapping away with my camera capturing all the wonderful colours and textures.  Another big plus is that walkers are some the nicest, most polite people you can meet!  This will probably be our last trip up the Peaks this summer but hopefully we will return next year.

If you're interested in this walk you can find the route and map on the Ordnance Survey website, hopefully you'll have more luck completing it than we did!  Happy hiking!

Thanks as always for reading and see you next time, best wishes,


Thursday, 3 August 2017

Trip to Sweden

Hello lovely readers, and welcome back!  Well it's looking like summer has been and gone again, I wonder if we'll get any more warm, sunny days before the year is out?  In June I and the fella went on a trip to Uppsala in Sweden; we'd packed plenty of warm clothes since Scandinavian countries have a reputation for being cold but as it turned out it was much warmer than expected.  Here's some photos and details of our stay in the land of meatballs and Ikea (we did see an Ikea from a train window, but no sign of meatballs during our stay).

Day 1: Uppsala Cathedral and Botanic Gardens

On the first day of our visit we swung by Uppsala Cathedral (Domkyrka), where scientist Carl Von Linne and Gustav Vasa (Gustav I of Sweden) are buried.  The interior was very richly decorated with lots of gilt, sculpture and painted patterns.

Uppsala Cathedral
Carl Von Linne's grave

We then made our way to the Botanic Gardens, which house over 10,000 species of plants and which as an orangery and tropical greenhouse.  It was gorgeous to take a stroll through, sit on a park bench overlooking a lake and let the world go by.  I also had fun spotting the local plant and bird life.

View from Uppsala Castle to Botanic Gardens

Uppsala Botanic Gardens

Uppsala Botanic Gardens

Birdlife of Sweden - I believe this may be a Fieldfare

Day 2: Old Uppsala

On the second day of our trip we caught a bus a short while north of the city and found ourselves in Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala), the site of several burial mounds and boat graves.  They had an impressive museum on the site which showed some of the best finds and gave a background in local history and Norse mythology.  The remains in the burial mounds had been cremated so there was frustratingly little that could be determined as to who was buried there, though there are several theories (including that they were ancient kings, or the graves of important noblewomen).

Burial mounds

We then headed to Odinsborg for refreshment, a restaurant famed for its horns of mead.  We also popped in Gamla Uppsala Church.

Odinsborg ceramic stove
Odinsborg collection of kettles

Gamla Uppsala Church

Day 3: Linne Museum

 For our third day's activities we headed to the Linne Museum, dedicated to Swedish scientist Carl Von Linne, who was a famed botanist and developed the sexual system of classification as well as binomial nomenclature i.e. the scientific way of naming species usually using latin names (homo erectus for humans, for example).  The Museum was his home where he lived with his wife and five children,  Adjoining the house was his garden, restored to be similar to what it was like while he was living there.  It even contained his favorite plant which he had named after him : Linnaea borealis.

Statue of Carl Von Linne

Linne Garden

A marsh-like flower bed in the Linne Garden

We then made a pit stop at Cafe Linne where I made sure to try a slice of famous Swedish Princess Torte - which apparently is often served up as a birthday cake!  I had fancied trying ever since I saw it on Great British bake Off.  You can find their recipe for it here.

Cafe Linne

Day 4: Uppsala Castle

On day 4 we decided to have a look around Uppsala Castle (Slott), which was built by Gstav Vasa in the 1550s.  It burned down in 1702 but in the years that followed was rebuilt and took on its present form.  It was possible to look around the old ruined parts of the castle where there were still scraps of floor tiles and wall decorations to look at, which formed part of what was once a very ornate castle.

We then had a chilled out stroll through the green spaces of Uppsala, stopping by the urban garden (Stadstradgarden).

Lake in the urban garden

In the afternoon we called by Ofvandahl's bakery-cafe (konditori) for a cup of coffee and a pastry.  Apparently it's quite the institution and is endorsed by none other than the king!

Pastries and coffee at Ofvandahl's
An impressive selection of cakes - the whole green one is the aforementioned Princess Torte
Cakes, pastries and sandwiches at Ofvandahl's

Day 5: Stockholm

We couldn't miss seeing the capital while we were in the country, so on the morning of our fifth day we caught the train over to Stockholm for a flying visit to see the sights.  We walked by loads of impressive buildings as we made our way along the waterfront from Stockholm Central Station to Djurgarden (the capital is made up of a series of interconnected islands).

Building in Stockholm

Building in Stockholm

Situated on Djurgarden is the Vasa Museum, dedicated to a warship called The Vasa: a disaster of engineering that sank barely after leaving port in 1628 and which was raised from the deep in 1961.  The bottom of the ship was built far too narrow, meaning that the ship couldn't roll without tipping over and didn't have enough ballast to make it stable.  A real shame given that the ship was richly carved and painted, it also took several members of its crew to the bottom of the deep with it.

The warship Vasa

Stockholm waterfront

We then made one last stop by a sweetshop so my fella could pick some treats up for his kids.

Stockholm sweetshop window
Stockholm sweetshop window

We then had another day in Uppsala, where we mostly took it easy and went to visit the Museum Gustavianum, which contained an amazing 17th century art cabinet as well as an early autopsy theatre.  Unfortunately it was a little too dark in there to take decent photos without the camera flash on.  We also went to see the Carolina Rediviva, which is the university library usually housing a fine selection of texts and manuscripts (that section was closed on our visit due to restoration works being carried out) and the Upplands Museum which houses collections and displays relating to the history and folk culture of Uppsala.  In general we were very impressed by the quality of the museums on offer, the collections were well displayed and always very informative.

Then finally it was time to catch our last train back to the airport and a flight home!  We had such a lovely time and would love to go back for another holiday, perhaps in the capital this time so we can see some more of the sights there.  We were glad to be in Uppsala though as it was a little off the tourist track and just a lovely, green and peaceful city to wander through.  And as it houses Sweden's oldest university (Uppsala University, founded in 1477) it was a hotbed of learning and education resources.  I don't think I've ever seen a city of the same size so densely packed with museums!

Next time I'll share with you some photos of an (attempted) hike up to Jacob's Ladder in The Peak District.  Things went a little awry, but I'll tell you more about it then!

Thanks for reading, until next time!