Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Gym hell

A couple of months back I finally started going to yoga again. The fact that the classes are literally next door to where I work is a huge bonus as it means I can go during my lunch break. I’m finding it to be an enormous stress-reliever and I only wish I could go more often – I had long forgotten what it felt like to do something physical, especially when like most people I spend all day using my head – or trying to.

While the classes aren't that fantastic (loud music from the techno-booming spinners next door) I’m enjoying it even more than when I first started a couple of years ago, yoga can take a while to get into at first but this time the adjustment has been almost immediate – though not for my stiff ‘ole joints who are not being very co-operative!

Anyway, a few weeks back I decided to try one of my gym’s other offerings, stretching, or strechin as they write it at the gym. I thought it might help with my yoga as I’m naturally inflexible. Well, I got a lot more than I bargained for. Not only did I stretch, but I got stretched by the only other student in the class, a man as it would happen. Now, physical contact with a complete stranger might be the most natural of experiences for some, but not for moi I’m afraid. Anyway, I went along with it and did pair stretches with my new buddy – he was actually an amiable sort, not at all creepy. In short, the whole thing was just about bearable. That was until the perky strechin teacher asked me to sit on the floor and my partner (Javi, let’s call him) to kneel right behind me while I lay (yes, lay) my head on his chest (yes, a stranger’s chest and entire frontage). Right now I am no longer in bearable territory but being the polite Brit that I am I comply and allow him to bend my back forwards, diagonally and sideways. To be honest it would even feel quite nice if it weren’t for the fact I don’t even know this guy’s name.

Just when I think things couldn’t get any more awkward, I hear the word ‘massage’. Oh my God, she’s asking him to give me a shoulder rub (whilst I lean on his chest), and now she’s asking him to give me a head massage. Yes, a random stranger’s hands are running their fingers through MY hair. At this point I sort of lose consciousness, but not in a good way. This is like the bit in those true life stories in The Daily Mail when people report to ‘float above themselves’ and ‘watch it all happen with horror’. And then it starts to dawn on me: I’m going to have to return the favour, aren’t I? Oh yes, I kneel behind Javi, and proceed to knead his scalp while he closes his eyes and makes little noises that I really don’t want to hear. I'm sorry if this all sounds gross, but I have to get it off my chest!

Why didn’t I run for it? Why didn’t I make my excuses and flee? Politeness I guess. I sometimes get a similar feeling when I get a taxi and they drive like a maniac. I say to myself ‘just ask him to slow down’ but I just can’t say it and I continue to let them terrify me for the next 20 minutes and then pay them 30 euros for the pleasure… I mean how stupid would it be do die because of politeness?! But that’s a whole other post.

Needless to say I haven’t returned to streching .

Friday, 4 May 2012



Do you drink the recommended 8 glasses of water a day? I certainly don’t. One of the obstacles to my water intake is the fact that in the office we have a water cooler with no room-temperature option, and ice cold water plays havoc with my sensitive teeth and friolera (cold-sensitive) body.

Tap water is a viable option as the water in Madrid is good, but we don’t have any decent sized glasses in the office and if you bring one from home and leave it on your desk overnight the cleaning lady inevitably takes it to the kitchen and it finds its way into someone else’s hands! Some co-workers use plastic mineral water bottles but I have two issues with plastic – 1) doubts about whether it’s safe, and 2) water just tastes so much better from glass.

Well, for some months now I’ve had water bottle envy of a colleague who sups water from a trendy glass bottle – great as you can take bottles to meetings unlike glasses of water which tend to spill as you carry them into meeting rooms together with laptop, notebooks, pens etc. So, propelled by my envy, I’ve ordered two of these beauties from Amazon, one for David, one for me. Retap bottles are award-winning Danish-designed water bottles with extra strong glass and lids made of ‘safe’ plastic. The price is also ok I think, for something you’re going to be using every day. Can’t wait for them to arrive, will let you know if they live up to my expectations!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

5 tips for choosing a wedding colour palette

Not exactly suprising, but here is another weddingy post :-) 5 tips for choosing a wedding colour palette;
  • Choose an object/image for inspiration rather than a set of matching colours. I.e. instead of choosing yellow and grey because they go well together (which they do) get inspired by a favourite yellow and grey rug, vase or postcard. Why? Because I'm not a designer and because these objects have in theory all been designed by designers or artists who have carefully thought not only about the contrast between these colours but also about in which proportions to use them, what tones, what accent colours complement the main duo, and what patterns work well with them (e.g.polka dots, art nouveau swooping arcs etc). The idea for using an object for inspiration is a pretty standard one I'd imagine but I cottoned on to it after reading an interior design book from my beloved Apartment Therapy. More on AT another day, but that site literally saved me from insanity during a period of convalesence a few years back. See yellow and grey wedding colour palette from Kate Miller Events.

  • Get inspiration from your surroundings. A sleek city wedding might use a black and pale pink palette, a sea-side wedding might go for turquoise and sea-glass green. I think the key to making these work is not to overuse the theme - i.e. not using shell motifs on absultely everything with a beach wedding. Don't just get isnpired in terms of colour but also shapes, e.g. the skyline of your city. See city colour and invite inspiration below via Martha Stewart Weddings.

  • Think about your own colouring and personality. If any of you have every read anything about Colour Me Beautiful you'll know what I mean! As 80's and throwback as this whole CMB concept might seem, their colour recommendations are quite often pretty spot on. 'Winter' people like me with dark hair and a cool skin tone tend to look good in bold reds, navy blues, ice-grays and whites. And perhaps that's why the whole pastel palette I was originally looking at didn't feel right. I don't think we need to go all colour-police here but after having looked at hundreds of wedding photos online I would go so far as to say that blondes do seem to shine alongside pale pinks, blues and mint greens - and redheads do look stunning with green or red accessories. Basically, I think if you wouldn't wear the colour because it doesn't suit you, don't include it as one of your main palette colours.

  • Think about the season. Red, which is one of my colours, is often a favourite for winter weddings (though personally, I'd be concerned about it looking too Santa!) - in order to make red more suitable for summer it helps to combine it with other colours such as orange or pink. Purple also works well in winter. Spring weddings work well with pastels and fresh colours like lemon and mint. Summer screams out for vibrant pinks. And autumn offers a whole load of gorgeous ombre tones - it's just a  question of whether or not you'd dare to use them - I wouldn't because ombre and rust tones happen to look awful on me!

  • Consider the venue. One of the many reasons I didn't go with a pastel pallete in the ends was our venue. We booked our casa rural via my inlaws without having seen it in person, and while it's a charming venue it doesn't quite have as many trees and flowers as I was hoping for. I was envisioning a country house much like those in the UK, overflowing with blossoms and greenery which would in themself provide the colour scheme - meaning I'd only need to add a few gentle pink touches here and there to merely complement what was already there. Turns out it's actually pretty short on blooms! Instead of throwing a bridezilla the 3rd hissy fit I decided to change the palette to stronger reds, figuring that we'd need bold colours in order to detract from any of the percieved shortcomings of the venue. In contrast a truly stunning venue may be able to get away with an all-white palette which doesn't detract from its beauty, with a winery venue you could draw inspiration from grape tones and with a farm wedding golden hay tones might work. See below for some stunning sea-side inspiration via love my dress - gorgeous. (Would have considered these colours if they suited me!)

Saturday, 7 April 2012

All things weddingy

I'm now well into the swing of planning our wedding this August and it has surprised me how much trouble I had choosing a colour scheme. My initial feelings were 'country wedding - country colours' - for me this would have been gentle pinks and peaches, glass jars of peonies, raffia placemats and a simple white flowing gown - a dress that was somewhere between grecian and boho. After much rooting around on sites like The Perfect Palette I decided on something along the lines of this gorgeous colour palette featured on love my dress:

Well, I was more or less content with this until I found THE DRESS. It's true what generations of brides have said before; 'you don't find the dress, the dress finds you'. Or at least that was my experience. It became clear on my first trip to a bridal shop (with a gaggle of my best friends for emotional support) that my plans for a modest country frock were not going to happen. What had never occurred to me is that the ladies who work in bridal shops have seen hundreds of brides-to-be walk though the doors and pretty much know what you'll look good in as soon as they clap eyes on you. You see, I'd never imagined myself in lace (prissy), strapless (need ample bosom) and mermaid cut (80's) but that's exactly what I've got - not through any evil plan of the lady at the wedding shop (Pronovias) to make me look yucky - but because it turns out that's exactly what happens to suit me (much to my surprise).

So, back to the colours. Turns out hollywood-diva-glamourpuss-dress would overshadow demure peonies and raffia baskets. Also, odd as this sounds I started to feel the pastels would suit a blonde much better than a brunette. Anyway, THE DRESS just screams out for bold colours, and as we wanted to give a wink to our multi-ethnic backgrounds (6 races between us!) but without having anything so obvious as Bollywood bling or Arabic geometrics - we decided on deep red, orange and a touch of fuscia along the lines of the photos below - both taken from lovely weddings featured on Martha Stewart.

Still, I wasn't quite happy with it. There seemed to be something missing to tie it all together - yes we had the colours but we didn't have a theme. It's not that having a theme is a must, just that a colour palette is just that - a set of coordinating colours that look good together but don't necessarily say much and run the risk of looking too matchy-matchy as you're tempted to get every single accessory, flower, napkin and invite  in those colours. So, the other morning I was reviewing (for the 100th time) the stuff I needed to buy before the big day and I came accross manton de manila on my list - one of those beautiful Spanish embroidered shawls that I'd always wanted to invest in and had planned to wear for the evening do. I'm after a white one with red and blue flowers, and it occurred to me that this would actually work really well as a colour palette. As it turns out we had decided to exchange rings in tiny Turkish Izmir ceramic bowls and I realised that these also tend to follow the red, white and blue palette. And with Turkey being a place both David and I had visited and loved it seemed to form the ideal basis for our colour scheme. Bless him, David is being very patient and showing admirable amounts of interest in all these girly dilemmas. So Izmir-meets-flamenco here we come! The whole Izmir thing also gave a gentle nod to our Eastern roots without going all-out ethnic. And not only does it include a strong red that matches up to my dress, it also includes blue which will be really nice to have as the venue (casa rural) looks out over the sea in Galicia and is a bit of a nod to my mum's coastal Bournemouth roots too :-) Everybody wins. The only thing we need to be careful of is the whole red, white and blue thing not looking too much like the French/British/US flag.

Over the past day or so I have been collecting bits of inspiration for this new set of colours and have actually bought the GAL lip balm favours for the ladies so there's no going back now!

(P.s. sorry for not including photo sources, but I had initially collected these for my own private inspiration and now that I've decided to post them I don't have the refereces. In any case if anyone has any rights issues give me a shout!)

Friday, 2 March 2012

Never knew...

...getting married in Spain was so complicated! When I finally work out how to actually tie the knot I'll do a post on it as finding clear information online in almost impossible :-)

Saturday, 11 February 2012

HAPPY New Year - and some resolutions

A little late - but surely it's never too late for a little well-wishing? This year instead of my hugely ambitious and bucket-list like list of promises to self and others my resolutions are quite simple and practical - which will hopefully make them more achievable :-) Ever the future-planner I wrote this list back in November and here they are below and an honest review of whether I'm actually sticking to them or not;
  • Do yoga at least once a week and stretches at home - I've started yoga again this week so maybe I will achieve this one!
  • Run twice a week - err have had a cold for the past two weeks so haven't being going out with D. But with my new running shoes from Laister (the place to gor for any Madrileños thinking of taking up running - they'll do a biometric test to see what shoes you need) and super-discounted Nike leggings from Privalia at least I'll look the part when I get back in the swing of things ;P
  • Do a facial once a week - not doing this but thanks to a new daily beauty routine suggested by Cosmetic's Cop Paula Begoun my skin has improved noticeably. While I haven't bought any of her own products I highly recommend her scientifically-based reviews and her advice for different skin types found here. Clinque's Turnaround Concentrate is working for me despite the mixed reviews here.
  • Get a gynae check once a year - sorry to discuss this in a mixed forum, but this is important, enough said.
  • Bake once a month - haven't. baked. one. measly. cake :-(
  • Cook a healthy 'green'/eastern recipe once a week - have fared better on this one. D and I went to the Eastern supermarket in Principe Pio a couple of weeks back and stocked up on dumplings, spring-roll wrappers, lemon grass, fish sauce and more. The prices are great. Made my own spring rolls the other week with a bit of help from Youtube (green and eastern but deep frying isn't exactly healthy!)
  • Take lunch to work twice a week - managing to do this thanks to cooking up big batches of one-pot meals at the weekend. Lentils and cocido (Madrileño chickpea stew) have been in my lunchbox recently.
  • Cook at least one thing at the weekend that can be eaten for dinner during the week - ditto packed lunches.
  • Always have healthy work snacks on the go - sorry to obsess about what I eat at work but I'm there for so many hours that I think it's worth it! Hmmm, not doing so well on this one. Am taking in wholegrain bread to make toast drizzled with olive oil for a second breakfast but not doing any vegetable crudites, nuts etc for the afternoon. On a more positive note am managing to drink more water and making huge mugs of delicous organic Yogi Tea Green Chai. This company have an excellent selection of herbal teas - the best in my humble opinion.
  • Make my own cleaning products - err I don't remember how I got so obsessed with this! Probably after reading about how toxic and nastly regular cleaning products are. Anyhow after much research about how to do this I came unstuck when trying to get the necessary 'raw ingredients' in Spanish droguerieas. Bicarb, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide etc have all been easy to come by, but liquid Castile soap - a Spanish invention I would imagine from the name - has proved to be completely elusive!! Plenty of places sell Castile floor wash, clothes deterget etc but no-one seems to stock just plain old Castile soap in liquid format... So please, if anyone knows of a stockist let me know!
  • Do something creative; sew/draw up house plans, etc - We have been on the lookout for a sewing machine for some time but have found it hard to find good brands and specialist shops (El Corte Inglés do not have a good selection). There is a specialist shop in Embajadores but really don't recommed it; the owner was pushy, rude, wouldn't even let us take notes about the models, and will tell you the only good machines are his particular brand. Anyway, the sewing-machine hunting has been put aside and my time has been taken up with another creative project - wedding planning! My lovely David proposed at Christmas and we're tying the knot this summer :-) Will post more on this later but I can say now that we're going to have a small civil ceremony (about 25 people) in the countryside. We don't have much time to plan so it's going to be an intense few months! Will be posting more on this soon - needless to say I'm very excited :-)
Well, hope you had a Happy New Year, and thanks for reading my resolutions despite them being an unashamed rouse for announcing my wedding!

Friday, 14 October 2011

This summer

I've finally got round to writing about our trip to Panama this summer, so here goes!
We started out in Panama City – and it was nothing like I expected: towering skyscrapers, fancy cars and malls bigger than anything I've seen in the UK. This contrasted sharply with the poverty and tumble-down houses seen in less-priviledged parts of the city. The most interesting part of the capital for me was the ‘casco ‘viejo’ or the old part of town which is being done up and experiencing something of a cultural revival, with a mix of little boutiques, European-style cafes and prettily painted and flower decked colonial houses.

From PC we made a trip to ‘La Chorerra’ where D’s grandparents live – it was so nice to see him reunited with them and to see that they were so lively and in such good shape. Than, we drove across Panama (an-oh-so-slightly terrifying experience!), stopping off with D’s uncle on the way before settling in the highlands of Boquete for a few days. Here we relaxed in the gorgeous Rancho de Caldera, went on coffee tours and cloud-forest safaris and saw a Quetzal (apparently the 2nd rarest bird in the world - no idea what the 1st is?!). Here's the view from our 'rancho'...

Next stop – the Caribbean! What surprised me about Bocas de Toro wasn’t so much the pristine palm fringed beaches, but the sheer amount of wildlife, which I just wasn’t expecting. Dolphins, sloths, colourful frogs, toucans, parrots, starfish, monkeys and more surrounded us. And perhaps the most memorable part of our days in Bocas was when we got to see giant sea turtles laying their eggs one night and then help recently-hatched baby sea turtles make their way to sea. The next photo is of the secluded beach just steps from our room.

From Bocas we drove back east through Panama and bid farewel to los abuelos. 2 weeks really wasn't enough to sample all that Panama has to offer - but here is my list of 5 unmissable things to do in Panama:

1. Eat, eat, eat: sancocho - a traditional type of chicken soup is delicious as are the fried plantains - patacones, ceviche made with Panama's national fish 'corvina' is yummy too. Also try the raspados from a roadside trolley - watch the seller grate fresh ice into your cup and top it off with a tropical juice of your choice – Passion fruit was a favourite of mine.

 Lobster on the Amador peninsula near Panama City (Los Bucaneros restaurant)

Ceviche at Amador

Raspados in the Casco Viejo

2. Buy a Mola - an indigenous indian embroidered panel that can be used as a wall hanging or sewn into a cushions, bag etc.

3. Climb Mount Baru and see both the Pacific and the Caribbean sea from the same vantage point. I'm sorry to say we didn't do this due to the poor visibility at this time of the year, but I'm told it's well worth the climb (which can be done partially in car).

4. Get up close and personal with the wildlife
Red frog (the hand is mine)

5. The Panama Canal - lunch at the Miraflores Lock Visitor Centre while you watch the boats go  by is an unforgettable experience - the huge ships look like whole apartment blocks floating by and the food is excellent.

As we're saving these days I don't think I'll be going on any exotic trips for a while, but I have a weekend in Merida coming up and another in Galicia so I can't complain :-)
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