Day 365/366: the good. What I learnt this year whilst wearing my wardrobe

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Tweed pinafore by Tu – secondhand via Ebay

Despite the backsliding I described in yesterday’s post, I do think that this year’s exercise in looking at my clothes shopping habits has been helpful.

I went into town yesterday to have a look in the sales, but it was incredibly uninspiring; I looked through the rails and just went “meh” as nothing made me excited.  What I think I have evolved is a bit more of an original style than I had when I was thoughtlessly spending money on clothes and I just bought anything that fitted.

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Skirt is years old M+S, jumper is Oasis via a charity shop

Pretty much all of the clothes I have bought this year and have kept fit me really well.  Most of them have a slight retro feel to them, and I have definitely moved away from any bohemian, frilly, lacy or draped sort of styles.  My wardrobe seems to have refined itself into simple but strong structured garments; either nipped in waist swing dresses with cropped cardigans or straight or slightly A-line skirts with fitted jumpers.

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Secondhand tartan dress via Ebay, cardi from Lindy Bop

 

As a fat child and adult, I always veered towards clothes that draped, hid or disguised my body. This just made me look shapeless when actually I do have a shape, albeit a bit of a butternut squash rather than traditional hourglass shape.

What I have been learning this year during my wardrobe wearing experiment is what suits me.  I have moved out of hiding and into the light of Instagram and blogging.  I take photos of myself and I use them to give other women confidence that they can wear nice clothes too.  Life is too short not to wear pretty clothes, I don’t need to cover myself in shapeless baggy fabric. I don’t need to apologise for existing as I am.

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I do love this outfit.  Skirt is new this year from Primark, jumper is C+A from 2014

What I have also learnt is that charity shopping is thoroughly satisfying, enjoyable and productive, but internet shopping is my downfall.  It’s too easy to turn to the Facebook selling pages, the online vintage repro dress retailers and that old time and money pit, Ebay.  I turn to the internet in times of stress and look at pages and pages of clothes.  I don’t even like most of them, but feel like that old void that needs filling with stuff is still there.

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Second hand Monsoon pinafore dress

So my plan for 2017 is no internet shopping for clothes, shoes, jewellery or makeup.  If I want to buy something I have to get it from a shop.  I also have to buy it with real money, not with a credit/debit card – I have to see those notes cross the counter.  Much as I’d like to, I don’t think I can continue my shopping ban as it really hasn’t worked for the whole year. I do however think that stopping my internet shopping habit will be a helpful and more to the point an achievable goal this year.

Meanwhile, I will continue to wear the gorgeous clothes in my Wardrobe.  Bring on Wearing my Wardrobe in 2017.

 

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The Collectif Caterina – one of the only two dresses I bought in a shop this year. I love it, it has so much weight and swirl.

Day 212: I really don’t know what happened there

OK, so I haven’t blogged since April, but this doesn’t mean that I’ve given up.  I have kept to the letter of my promise not to buy any new clothes this year from shops or Ebay, but perhaps not really to the spirit of it.  I’ll explain.

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Lady V London dress via Facebook selling community called Horne’s Curvaceous Hunnies

In April I discovered selling communities on Facebook and these have really been a bit of a downfall as I have bought a quite a lot of clothes from several different sites over the past three months.  What is really good about them (and also really bad for my willpower) is that it’s mostly people selling lovely dresses in plus sizes.  There is such temptation!   I have also continued to buy clothes from charity shops as I do enjoy the thrill of the chase.

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Dress from Evans via a Facebook page called Plus Size Night Market

 

The problem is that probably half of the things I’ve bought from the selling communities don’t fit, or don’t suit me.  And as they are usually a bit more expensive than buying from charity shops (where at least I can try on the clothes).  This has meant that I now find myself with a number of dresses which I can’t wear.  So I’m now trying to sell some of these on but not having too much success.

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“Tess dress” from Yours via Betty Pamper’s Instagram selling page

I have also decided to sell or give away many of the clothes that I don’t feel comfortable wearing, but have kept because I like the idea of them or that they were expensive.  There is one dress in particular that I wore to a really, really horrible meeting, and then later on, on the same day, I got stuck in a lift in it.  It brings me no pleasure to look at or wear the dress despite the fact it’s really lovely.  So that’s on my for sale list now with a sense of relief. It’s unnerving how much an inanimate object can project so many bad feelings.

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Dress from Tu via aforementioned selling page.  I altered this a lot to get it to fit, but I think it was worth it as it’s such a fabulous pattern. 

So, yes I am still wearing my wardrobe, but it is a wardrobe supplemented by clothes from charity shops and selling communities.  Maybe I should have just said I wouldn’t buy any clothes full stop this year.

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Another dress from Tu – I love this and have worn it to work a number of times.  Best of all it has pockets.

I’ll do a rundown of all the amazing things I’ve got from charity shops in another post and also update on how I’m getting on wearing my unworn and unloved clothes – a sneak peek below of something I bought last year and didn’t wear. I have now worn this gorgeous dress several times already this year.

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Joe Browns dress via Depop last year – worn today for an outing to an exhibition of pottery art.

Day 101/366: the first one hundred days

I thought I would look back on the first one hundred days of Wearing My Wardrobe in 2016. Outfit pictures are from Instagram over the past month or so.

  • I have NOT bought any new clothes so far in 2016.  I would class this as a major achievement for me as I never thought I would make it this far.

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  • I have not bought new clothes despite having been to Preston, Manchester and London for work.  Usually I would have made time to check out the shops, but this year I haven’t done this.  It make the visits less eagerly anticipated though which is a bit of a shame.

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  • I have also not bought anything on the internet despite having had a pretty stressful year so far. Internet shopping has been a real bad habit for me in the past during times of stress so I’m pretty pleased about this. Unsubscribing from all the clothing companies’ emails and their feeds on Instagram and Facebook has been a huge help
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I found this AXParis Curve dress in a charity shop in Penrith.  I think it’s the best thing I’ve bought this year, I really like it.
  • I’ve not bought any new boots or shoes.  This wasn’t an aim for the year, but I’m happy with what I’ve got, and not shopping for clothes means that I haven’t been exposed to new  shoes either.

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  • I have not gone overdrawn yet this year because I’ve spent too much money on clothes which was happening with more regularity over the past couple of years

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  • I’ve not worn the same outfit twice (except for scruffy clothes for working at the allotment or housecleaning, but they don’t count!)

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  • I have been motivated to sell clothes on Ebay and have so far sold 24 items of clothing and some unused perfumes.
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This skirt is an ancient Monsoon sale purchase. Having to find new outfits in one’s wardrobe really makes you look through everything you own quite carefully and there are some real gems in mine.
  • I have found out that I don’t actually like some of my clothes very much and these have either been Ebayed, given to friends or donated to charity shops.  It seems that being critical of one’s wardrobe is actually quite cathartic

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  • I have altered quite a lot of my clothes to make them fit better
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I altered this skirt to make it more of a wiggle style (altered on right), I think it looks significantly better now!
  • I have discovered the joy of hunting for interesting clothes and jewellery in charity shops and have started doing a bit of charity shop tourism when I visit other towns.  The thrill of charity shops is that you never know what you’ll find and there’s something new every week.  I have to admit that I may have to stop visiting the shops quite so often as I almost always come away with something to wear.
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I absolutely LOVE this jumper – it’s by Oasis and I would never normally even bother looking in Oasis as the clothes are usually small, but it caught my eye in a charity shop and I think it looks great!
  • I’m looking forward to going through all my summer clothes and wearing my favourites (and also passing on those that I’m not so keen on)

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  • I really don’t like the KonMari method (sorry Cassie and Leah!!)

 

Day 99/366: feeling low

I’m putting on weight.  For all the body/fat acceptance work that I have done with myself, I still feel awful and ashamed about it.  I have been on a particular medication for two years and I was taken off it at the end of February, and I think this is what is causing the weight increase, as I lost weight (unexpectedly and without trying) when I started taking it, going from a solid size 20 to a 16/18.

Add to this nearly losing our dog Marley to an attack of ideopathic vestibulitis two weeks ago, grief from losing Bella and extreme work stress,  I feel terrible both mentally and physically.  Marley still isn’t quite well although he is a lot better and back on his feet.  As he’s so old, I worried that we are keeping him alive for our sake rather than his (although he is so much better now and is definitely still interested in life).  It’s a really hard call, but he didn’t tell us that he was ready to go even when at his sickest two weeks ago, unlike Bella did two months ago.

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Poor sick Marley

The question is, why is my sense of self worth so tied up with my weight?  I do wonder if the huge amount of stress and grief I’m going through at the moment is actually making my emotional reaction to my (so far very small) weight gain worse.  I have observed in the past that when I’m feeling low my attitude to my body is far more negative.  It’s that classic “I feel fat” feeling which really should be more accurately interpreted as “I’m stressed/scared/tired/anxious/upset”.

The problem with documenting my outfits on social media is that I can see the difference between me this year and me early last year.  I wore the dress in the picture below on Tuesday to a meeting and I spent the day feeling incredibly self-conscious about myself.  When I wore the same dress this time last year, I felt wonderful.  Looking at the two images, there are differences, but they are very subtle, so why do I feel them so acutely? Why do I feel ashamed of how I look on the left, but happy and confident on the right?

Kerry who blogs at Ruby Thunder blog (http://www.rubythunder.com/) posted a video on Facebook earlier today.  Its called Embrace and is a trailer for a documentary by Taryn Brumfitt of the Body Image Movement (http://bodyimagemovement.com).  I sat and watched it and cried my eyes out as it pinpoints the fact that most women feel awful about themselves and how they look and that it’s such a complete waste of energy and emotion.

The part that set me off was when the majority of women that Taryn interviewed in the street and asked to describe how they feel about themselves said negative things about themselves.  There were at least five women who called themselves disgusting.  No one should feel that their body or appearance disgusting, but we are living in a society that encourages people to pick on their flaws rather than celebrate the diversity of human appearance.

This is such a sad state of affairs for us, so much negative energy spent telling ourselves that we don’t meet arbitrary societal standards rather than putting that energy into making life better for ourselves and others, or having more fun, or volunteering or baking or doing art or making music.  We spend too much time staring in the mirror pinching our flesh and criticising the vessel that carries us around; feeling inadequate, or thinking that people are staring at us and criticising us for our appearance.

And yet, I know that I don’t go around looking at people in the streets or at meetings or in the pub and thinking critical things about their appearance.  I’m more likely to be concerned about what they do, how they act and how they treat people. So why do I think that other people are looking at me critically.

I seriously need to get myself out of this negative self talk as my work life is unlikely to get better or less stressful over the next two years and my appearance has nothing to do with how I cope with what’s going on. I have had a period of four or five years where I have felt significantly better about myself, partly down to reading wonderful fat acceptance blogs and actually meeting some of these amazing, positive women who have created this social movement for self-acceptance.  I feel like I need to go back to the beginning and start again.

 

Day 80/366: Plus 40 Fabulous – what am I most proud of?

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Thanks to Cathy for this month’s theme: what are you most proud of?

Most people probably won’t know that I’m actually Dr Kate.  My proudest achievement is that I carried out five years of research during my 20s and early 30s and was awarded a PhD in Landscape Ecology in 2002.

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Great robes, absolutely terrible outfit underneath!!

One of my (many) reasons for doing the PhD was to prove to myself (and others) that fat women aren’t stupid and lazy, a message that I had received all of my life.  I knew I wasn’t stupid and lazy, but I wanted to demonstrate to the world that I was more than how I looked and that judging people by appearance is generally a ridiculous thing to do.

I always loved studying geography.  It was my favourite subject at school and I went off to university in 1990 and did a physical geography degree.  I loved my time at university, but I was having too much fun to really put the time in to studying, and I scraped by with a 2:1.  I wanted to go on and do more, but it wasn’t to be; so between 1994 and 1996 I worked and spent some time volunteering for a conservation charity to enhance my skills.

In August 1996 I was offered a funded PhD jointly between Liverpool University and Chester College (now Chester University).  The funding was provided to study in the semi-desert Almeria Province in southern Spain looking at the landscapes of badlands and their vegetation.  I was to be provided with remotely sensed data of the area by the Natural Environment Research Council who had undertaken flights over the site in early 1996.

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Remotely sensed data of one of my field sites overlaid on a digital elevation model.  Looks similar to Google Earth, but I had to process all the data myself, it took MONTHS

Within a week of moving to Chester, I found myself in a small field study centre called Urra in the middle of nowhere in the wilds of southern Spain at a conference!  It was all very, very intimidating, all these academics, mostly middle aged white men and there I was a small, chubby 24 year old daring to think I could join their ranks.

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Urra Field Study Centre, SE Spain

I spent five field seasons out at Urra where I “ground truthed” the remotely sensed data that had not yet turned up.  This meant that I went out to the sites I was studying and recorded plant and soil data in 5m square quadrats.  What I was aiming to do with this information was to use it to help train the software I was using to recognise different plant communities by analysing the data.

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Perched like a gnome on top of a badland
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Looking hot in my fieldwork gear and essential hat

I spent a lot of time standing in terraced fields counting plants!  I didn’t mind though as the scenery was absolutely mind-blowingly incredible.  The rock and soil of the area is so easily washed away by torrential rain that that huge gulleys form in the sides of the hills, and sometimes enormous pipes form under the soil where material has been washed away under the surface.  It was an utterly fascinating landscape to study in.

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Huge gulleys cut through what used to be agricultural terraces, where most of the soil has been washed away
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Typical badland formations looking north to the Sierra de los Filabres in the background

The first year went well, I gathered my field data, I analysed soil in the lab and I learnt to use a Unix computer (scary).  However, the promised data didn’t arrive.  It also didn’t arrive in 1998 by which time I was running into my third year and my funding was about to end.  I was seriously depressed by this and decided that as the promised data was now two and a half years late, I would never finish my PhD, so I decided to look for a job.

I applied for and got a job.  Of course life being what it is, in-between being offered the job and starting it, the data arrived in Feb 1999.  My PhD supervisor, a very kind and supportive man called Alex suggested that I at least write up what I had already done to get an MPhil degree so that I and the university got some benefit from the work carried out.  I decided to take six months off the PhD to concentrate on my new job, and then go back to writing up.  But meanwhile, I managed to get hold of the remote sensing software for my home computer and I started to analyse the data and tie it in with my fieldwork.

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Classification of the remotely sensed vegetation data. Class 1 is bare soil, class 6 is dense vegetation

The results were so interesting that I really wanted to research it properly which is how I ended up both working full time and finishing off my research and writing up my PhD.  I had so much support from Alex, I couldn’t have done it without him.

2000 – 2002 was possibly the most stressful period in my entire life as during the two years it took me to finish the work on my PhD and write it up we also bought a house, got married and I was severely bullied by my manager.  So all in all I am most proud of having had the fortitude and resilience to work through this absolutely fraught period of time and come out of it with my sanity (mostly) intact.

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Obligatory wedding photo.

One highlight in this rather terrible period was our honeymoon which was a trip to SE Spain to help me finish off my fieldwork.  We got the ferry  from Plymouth to Santander in northern Spain and then drove our Ford Ka down through central Spain to Almeria.  We had a wonderful time even if we did spend one week of the three out in the terraces counting plants (well I did this and Dave went to sleep in the sunshine!)

I graduated in November 2002 in Chester Cathedral.  There were buglers and a choir and it was an amazing experience which I will never forget.

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The completed thesis; I still can’t believe I wrote 100,000 words about something!

And whilst a thorough knowledge of the vegetation and geomorphology of a small part of SE Spain doesn’t actually sound particularly useful for someone who lives in the Lake District, I am able to apply an awful lot of what I learnt about how landscapes function and change to my job now.  I’m so lucky to work doing something I’m interested in which is intellectually stimulating and related to my thesis.

Check out the other lovely bloggers writing about what makes them proud 🙂

Cathy: http://www.southernyacht.blogspot.co.uk/
Christy: http://www.sprintingwithscissors.blogspot.co.uk/
Daisy: http://daisysays.co.uk
Kate: https://wearingmywardrobein2016.wordpress.com
Kath: https://fatheffalump.wordpress.com
Leah: http://www.justmeleah.co.uk
Lee: http://www.pinkybellesshed.co.uk/
Lisa: http://www.kitandkoboodle75.blogspot.co.uk/
Mookie: http://www.mookieslife.com/
Nikki :http://www.nattynikki.com/
Perelandra: http://www.pamperandcurves.com/
Sarah: http://www.plussizeproud.co.uk
Steph: http://www.misskittenheel.com

Vicky: http://therandomnessoftwee.blogspot.co.uk
Yvonne: http://woosangwashere.blogspot.com

PS The Abstract for my thesis is copied below in case anyone is interested….

ABSTRACT

The Sorbas basin lies within the Betic Cordillera of south-east Spain. It is a recently uplifted sedimentary basin with readjustment of drainage systems still occurring, and hence intense erosion is found in places. This erosion, coupled with a semi-arid climate and a history of human impact has lead to a variably patchy vegetation cover throughout the catchment. This thesis examines controls on vegetation cover patchiness in a pair of adjacent catchments using a landscape ecology approach. These catchments display contrasting patterns of landcover and represent two stages in an erosion-stabilisation cycle driven by base level change on the Rio Aguas into which they both drain.

Cover and species type data were collected in the field along with soil samples. The vegetation analysis programs DECORANA and TWINSPAN were used to explore the cover and species data collected in the field. Results of the analyses were correlated with environmental variables to identify controls on distribution. Airborne Thematic Mapper (ATM) data were acquired from a NERC ARSF flight in 1996 along with aerial photographs of the study area. The ATM data were used to produce a clustered landcover image based upon the clustering of an NDVI image followed by interpretation of the six end groups using the cover data collected in the field. The aerial photography was used to produce a digital elevation model, and from this the environmental variables aspect, slope gradient and wetness were derived. The digital elevation model was also used in conjunction with the aerial photographs to produce an orthorectified image of the study area.

Geology was found to be the most significant control on cover type distribution, closely followed by geomorphology and soil chemistry. Species type distribution is also strongly controlled by geology with geomorphological history being almost as significant, and soil chemistry controlling the distribution at a fine scale. Slope gradient and aspect were not particularly associated with either cover or species distribution. The clustered landcover image, in which the six classes of cover ranged from very sparse to very densely vegetated, was analysed in conjunction with aspect, slope gradient and wetness to identify which of variable had the closest relationship with cover distribution. It was found that aspect had greatest association with cover, and wetness the least. However, all three show a statistically significantly relationship to cover class. The clustered landcover image was then used in conjunction with FRAGSTATS, a landscape metrics program, and a class buffering technique was used in order to quantify the landcover patterns in the two catchments. The quantification of pattern enabled an assessment of the relative controls of each of the environmental variables on the cover pattern in both catchments. Geology was found to be the most important control on the cover distribution, with geomorphological history and aspect important at a finer scale. Slope gradient, wetness and soil chemistry were not found to be very significant controlling factors.


 

 

 

Day 74/366: charity shopping is fun

So, my resolution not to buy clothes this year was not buying clothes anywhere apart from in charity shops. This means I have now become an avid charity shopper, popping into the shops in Kendal most weeks and whenever I visit a different town, I look out for the charity shops. This website http://www.charityretail.org.uk/find-a-charity-shop/ is a wonderful tool for finding charity shops and I discovered three new ones in Penrith that I hadn’t come across before as they are in a back street.

These are two of my first three buys this year a Laura Ashley shrug and a purple sweater from M+S.  The third is a 100% cashmere jumper which is not at all smart but very warm so is great for slobbing out at home.  All of these three came from the Salvation Army shop in Kendal.

 Kendal has an Oxfam, British Heart Foundation, Scope, Salvation Army, Barnardos, a tiny Age Concern, RSPCA shop and a tiny Age Concern.  I have had the most success in Oxfam, Scope and Salvation Army and have yet to ever buy clothing in Barnardos as the choice there is truly awful (although they do have a good range of books and DVDs).

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Per Una brown cord coat

This coat is fab. It’s a little small for me, but as I’m wanting to wear it in the spring, I won’t necessarily need to do it up and it fits well everywhere else.  I altered the button position and also took the top button off and sewed up the button hole as it just wouldn’t fit across my bust. Also took up the sleeves, but I have to do this on every single coat I ever buy.

So far, Penrith has afforded the most spoils at the lowest prices, the charity shops in Kendal do seem to be more expensive – they are happy to charge £10 for a dress which I do think is a bit over the top to be honest.  I went to a number of charity shops in Islington when I was in London a couple of weeks ago and was horrified at the prices, and even more horrified that the largest item of clothing was a size 16 (and that there was only one of them).  Obviously charity shopping is not for the poor or fat in the capital.

Some of my Penrith charity shop finds

 

I paid too much for these too dresses (£10  for the Monsoon dress and £8 for the Tu dress), although I do like them both

This cardigan isn’t necessarily my style, but it’s lambswool and has the most amazing decorative cuffs!

One of the things I have made sure I do is actually wear the clothes I purchase from the charity shops as I have in the past been known to buy items and then not wear them, so I have really been trying hard to get them all worn.

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Brand New AXParis Curve dress – I love this the most of everything I’ve bought so far

One of the things I love the most about charity shop shopping is the thrill of the chase, will I find something amazing that someone else has discarded that I can take and make my own, and love and give a new lease of life to.  I really have had some successes this year, and I’m hugely enjoying the challenge as it’s making shopping exciting for me, and it also means that I’m not buying new, I’m helping to reuse clothes that are still very wearable, and that I’m donating to charity at the same time.  There is nothing not to like about this!

So my top tips for charity shopping are:

  • Try on things that aren’t in your size.  My finds above include a size 14 dress and a size 20 dress, both of which fit really well
  • Look for good quality fabrics – I’ve had real luck finding woolly jumpers and cardigans.  I rarely buy acrylic/polyester jumpers though unless they look brand new as they are generally bobbly
  • Be prepared to take things up or take them in.  I will need to take in the Monsoon dress as it’s a bit too big on me, but should be able to do this with no problem
  • There are almost always fantastic coats available
  • Dresses are hit and miss, you really have to look carefully to find anything nice and often there isn’t anything appealing
  • Go into your local charity shops every week or so as new things come in all the time
  • I’ve had no luck finding shoes, but I do hear of people who have scored pretty much brand new pairs for not much money
  • Take stuff to donate to charity shops if you’re not wearing it

 

 

Day 50/366: what makes me feel amazing, happy and excited?

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This month’s Plus 40 Fabulous theme is what really makes us excited, happy and feel amazing. For me, there is one thing that makes me feel this way more than anything which is wild swimming.  For me, this means swimming outdoors in a completely informal setting with no lifeguards and if possible no crowds of people.

I have always been a complete water baby, I can’t remember not being able to swim and I have never felt uncomfortable in the water.  As a child, family holidays generally involved staying with my grandparents who lived near the Kent coast where we would go for proper windbreak-sandcastle-icecream-picnic lunch-shrimping days out at Sandwich Bay or Dymchurch or Westgate.  As a teen we moved to my grandparents’ village and we sometimes used to swim after school or at weekends at Deal or Walmer.

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I would also take every opportunity I could to swim in rivers, swimming pools and the sea.  Wherever we went I would want to find somewhere to swim and often goaded friends into swimming in possibly slightly unsuitable places. I swam through Durdle Door on the Dorset coast aged 14 a truly amazing experience.

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Swimming in Coniston with Marley and Bella

I was lucky enough to go to a school that had an outdoor 25m pool, and this would open in the summer term. One summer term I had a timetable on a Wednesday where I would swim during PE in the morning, swim at lunchtime, swim in Wednesday afternoon games lesson and then after school.  I was obviously slightly obsessed, but I felt that the pool was the only place that I could feel comfortable in my body.  Bizarrely considering how much body shame I lived with as a teenager I never felt ashamed of my body in a swimming costume, probably because swimming was the one exercise I did well and I felt totally at home in the water.

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I wore a bikini and no-one died

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One of my most amazing swimming memories as a teen is a holiday to the Greek island of Paxos.  The family hired a small boat and we went over to a tiny island to the south called Anti Paxos.  Here we found the most beautiful cove of tiny white pebbles and water so clear that you could hardly see it.  There were fish to look at, and caves to explore.  I wanted to stay there forever and I cried when I left.  I have never been back, but it’s still stuck in my memory thirty years later.

As a student at Lancaster, I was able to visit the Lake District and I was lucky enough to have some amazing swims here in the early 90s.  In 1995 I moved to the central Lakes.  1995 was possibly the best summer since 1976.  From May until September it was hot and sunny, and I was living right on the shores of Windermere.  Sometimes I swam two or three times a day and me and a group of friends explored the gills, tarns and lakes  finding some amazing places.  One weekend we camped in Langstrath and walked and swam up the river all the way to Angle Tarn which we then swam across.  It was incredible.  I also have some wonderful memories of skinny dipping with friends after a couple of beers on a moonlit night in August (warning, this is not sensible!!).

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Swimming in Wastwater, England’s deepest lake

I was lucky that Dave is also a keen swimmer. We have had so many swimming adventures in our 19 years together, and the past few years we have spent holidays exploring the amazing rivers, lakes and coasts of France and Spain as well as impromptu after work swims in our favourite local lakes, Rydal and Coniston.

The advent of waterproof cameras has meant that we have been able to document our swimming adventures, and the publication of three books; Wild Swim, Wild Swim Coast and Wild Swim France has fed our desire to discover amazing new swimming holes.  What was most gratifying is that we had already swum in many of the places  in the books.

We are also lucky enough to have a camper van and this has given us the freedom to tour around the UK and France finding amazing places to stop and swim.  In France, campervans are allowed to park up overnight, and this has meant that we’ve just turned up at places and had the most fantastic swims in the middle of nowhere at sunset or have got up for a sunrise swim.

When I am swimming outdoors in a beautiful lake or river, with eagles or red kites or alpine swifts flying overhead (yes, this has happened on a number of occasions in France) I forget about myself as someone that doesn’t quite fit in, I forget about physical discomfort of medical conditions or the mental pain of depression and anxiety and I actually feel like I belong in the world.  Sometimes it’s almost a meditation or possibly it’s sort of unmindful, without effort mindfulness.  I am allowing myself to just be, to savour the sensations of water and air and sunshine.  The silence of a lake or the rushing water of a river.  There is just something about being in or near water which makes me whole, it reincorporates me and I feel wonderful.

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Other times, it’s like the most fun thing in the whole world.  Dave and I find rocks to jump and dive from, we wear goggles so we can look at the fish, we dive down, do handstands, chase each other or find a rapid and ride it down the river time after time.  It just makes me feel so HAPPY, a childlike uncomplicated delight in just physically being in the water.  Yes we act like children, and no we don’t care.  This is why there are so many photos of me in rivers and lakes grinning from ear to ear like some sort of lunatic.  It’s because  I’m besotted by the water.

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Swimming in the sea in Britanny
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Les Cascades de Sautadet
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Swimming under Pont d’Arc on the Ardeche
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Waterfall swimming in the Lake District
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Gorge d’Herault
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Sillyness in the Chassezac

 

Don’t forget to check out the other fabulous ladies also taking part

Cathy: http://www.southernyacht.blogspot.co.uk/
Christy: http://www.sprintingwithscissors.blogspot.co.uk/
Daisy: http://daisysays.co.uk
Kate: https://wearingmywardrobein2016.wordpress.com
Kath: https://fatheffalump.wordpress.com
Kellie: http://www.bigfashionista.co.uk/
Leah: http://www.justmeleah.co.uk
Lee: http://www.pinkybellesshed.co.uk/
Lisa: http://www.kitandkoboodle75.blogspot.co.uk/
Mookie: http://www.mookieslife.com/
Nikki :http://www.nattynikki.com/
Perelandra: http://www.pamperandcurves.com/
Sarah: http://www.plussizeproud.co.uk
Steph: http://www.misskittenheel.com
Vicky: http://www.therandomnessoftwee.blogspot.co.uk
Yvonne: http://woosangwashere.blogspot.com

Day 39/366: joy and loss

This blog post is very image heavy and <trigger warning> also includes an account of the death of my beautiful dog Bella.

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Bella

This isn’t a blog piece about clothes or consumerism; it’s a blog about the joy of spending 12 years with, and then the devastation of the loss of a beloved dog.  On Friday we had to have our beautiful black Bella-dog put to sleep because she’d lost the use of her back legs. I am absolutely devastated by her death, so much so that I don’t know what to do with myself.  Despite the fact that we have another dog, the house seems so empty. Bella was a noisy little dog who made her presence felt in so many different ways.  Now she’s gone, it’s just not right.

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New Year 2015

I’ve spent the last 24 hours going through all the photos from the last 12 years and picking out pictures of Bella; this has eased my heart slightly, but then I resurface from the good memories and realise that she is gone forever.  To lose a beloved dog we have cared for, for over 12 years who loved us completely unconditionally has left an enormous hole in our lives and hearts.  Nothing will ever be the same again.

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I need to write down how much she meant to me and express all my feelings about her, some of which are conflicted as maybe I didn’t love her as much as I could have done especially when she first came to us.  But what I do know is that overall she brought immense joy into my life and I hope Dave and I brought love, care and a happy, stable home to hers.

Bella came into our lives in October 2003.  I was walking Marley our border collie in a local field in town when I noticed a little black dog slinking along by a dry stone wall.  I sent Marley over to say hello to her, and she took one look at me, and rushed over and started whining and crying at me.  She was so thin, and her coat was matted and full of dreadlocks.  I phoned Dave and asked him to come and meet me with a spare lead so that we could take her to the police station.

The police kept her over night, but phoned the next day to ask if we wanted to foster her for a few weeks. She had no collar and tag and no microchip.  No-one ever came forward to claim her, and a few weeks turned into more than 12 years.

Bella was a difficult dog for the first few years.  As we never knew her background, we had to cope as best we could with her issues and insecurities without knowing her past.  She had physical issues to start with, her right hind leg and tail had been damaged at some point and she kept coming up lame for the first six months.  He tail was always crooked having been broken, but didn’t appear to pain her.  She had a real fear of traffic for a long time and would jump and cower when vehicles went past. We assumed that she’d been knocked over by a car.

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Hiding under the hedge at my parents’ house

She had obviously also been mistreated by people.  She would sometimes duck away from a hand when we tried to stroke her head.  She was frightened of plastic bags being shaken out, and a rolled up newspaper would completely terrify her.   She was on a hair trigger at first and would bark at people walking past the house, at random noises or for no apparent reason at all that we could work out.  She would also bark to find out where we were as then she’d come trotting up the stairs to find us when we told her to stop barking!

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Watching Dave to make sure he doesn’t go out of sight

For understandable reasons she also had very bad separation anxiety and the doors in our house show the scars of a number of years of her scratching at them to get into the bedroom where we were sleeping, or to get out of the kitchen where she was put to stop her scratching at the bedroom door.  She was very hard work at times.  But, she was so, so worth it.

She taught my dog-fearing mother in law and also my niece and nephew and a number of other children that dogs could be friendly and loving.  My niece was scared by Marley, our border collie because he was boisterous and bouncy whereas Bella showed immense patience with small children and would allow them to hold onto her fur or explore her face and ears or stroke her the wrong way.

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Me, my niece and Bella going up the Wrekin
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My niece and nephew aged one and a half and three petting Bella

She was really good with most people, but she especially loved Dave.  For some reason, Dave became her person, and out of choice she would always spend her time as close to Dave as possible, lying under his feet when we were out at the pub, or sitting next to him in the evenings when we were away camping.  She was also terribly protective of him, and would fight other dogs who came too close.  This was an issue at times as we have lots of friends with dogs, and Bella was renowned for fighting them because they came too close to us.  She ended up with nicknames like Bellazebub, Alien-teeth and Betty/Bete Noir (black beast) because of her habits of getting her teeth out or even fighting other dogs.  She would often end up put in the car or camper van at parties where there were other dogs to remove her from the situation and reduce her stress (and ours!)

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Relaxed in Dave’s arms

But she was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character as she also made a lot of human friends and was definitely a favourite dog amongst people who liked quiet, calm, and people-friendly dogs.  She loved being fussed by people and was so responsive to kindness, making friends with so many.

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Happy Bella and Rob

 

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Such a cuddly little dog

She was a great dog for going on adventures with us and took to mountain climbing like a pro.  Two months after she came to live with us, we took her and Marley to Scotland where she climbed her first Munro Stob Coire a Chairn in the Mamores.  She was brilliant at mountain climbing and could do hard scrambles without any fear at all, compared to poor Marley who never really had a head for heights.

She came almost everywhere with us, and we had lovely holidays away in Scotland, Wales and England with both dogs.  She swam and walked with us so many times, and would fearlessly jump into water to fetch a toy, and was a really good swimmer until she got too arthritic.

She would “frill up” in excitement when something was going on.  If you asked her whether she wanted to go for a walk, she would cock her head to one side and look at you as if to say come on then.  She had a very distinctive “I’m excited, I’m going for a walk” bark which was very different to her “someone has come near my house” bark.   She was actually a really vocal little dog and would always yowl with what appeared to be relief when we got home.

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All frilled up

She injured herself one holiday when we’d gone up Stac Pollaidh, a hill in the remote north west of Scotland.  She and Marley were playing around near the summit in the snow and she put her foot into a hole and twisted her shoulder really badly.  This meant a 120 mile round trip to the nearest vets in Inverness.  Thankfully, she hadn’t broken anything, but I’m fairly sure that this is when her problems with arthritis started.

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Bella up Stac Pollaidh again, two years after damaging her shoulder

She was the most accomplished snoozer I have ever met – anywhere that might possibly be warm and comfortable was a good candidate for having a kip.

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One of my favourite pictures of Bella, she looks so happy and comfortable

She was a real scavenger which I put down to her being a stray; she’d been surviving on her own for at least a few weeks before she found me.  She raided bins and was caught out on a number of occasions eating stuff off the table or the worksurface in the kitchen. One year we brought a tupperware box full of homemade mince pies home from Dave’s Mum and stupidly left them on the kitchen table.  When we came back in it was to find the box with the lid off and the greaseproof paper neatly put to one side and empty of pies.  There wasn’t a single toothmark anywhere.  I don’t know how she did it.

In the last couple of years when she’d not been able to walk too far, she had some fun by raiding the waste paper bins in the house. We’d come home from work to find shredded tissues, wrappings and paper all over the floor.  She even learnt how to get into the pedal bin in the bathroom, I think she took great delight in it.  Last time Dave was away, Bella slept in the bedroom with me (a rare treat) and I woke to find her delicately taking things out of the bedroom bin at 3:30am.

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On the scrounge!

In around 2010 she started losing her hearing, and rather than this being awful for her, I think it made her life a lot easier as she was no longer on a hair-trigger and so nervous about unexplained noises.  She stopped barking so much and seemed to sleep better and be happier.  Her door scratching also reduced significantly and it seemed that her separation anxiety was a lot less.

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One of Antony Gormley’s men at Southport beach gets a good sniffing
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As close to Dave as possible AND asleep, what could be better

The last six years with Bella have mainly been incredibly rewarding.  She became slower as her arthritis became worse, and was on Metacam (an anti-inflammatory) for the last five years.  But up until two years ago she was still pretty active.  Unfortunately one evening two years ago Marley knocked her down the stairs and her back was quite badly hurt by the way she twisted and fell trapping a nerve and slipping a disk.  Since then she was not able to do the big walks any more and spent a lot more time at home whilst Dave and Marley have been walking.  This is a real regret as she loved being outside so much and it was sad to see her reaction when they went off on a walk whilst she stayed at home with me.

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Autumnal walk

The last long-ish walk she did at Easter 2014, we had to turn back early and she needed to be carried back to the car.  We knew that the time had come for no more long walks. We still took Bella out with us as much as we could, but tailored our activities to suit her capacity like taking her up to the allotment on a sunny day or a short flat walk very near home.

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Carried down the hill

She was managing fine up until last Thursday evening when she suddenly became very, very unsteady on her back legs.  She hardly managed to go outside to do a wee.  We hoped that it was something temporary, but unfortunately on Friday morning she was no better had to be lifted out of her bed and could hardly stand up and then kept falling over.  The way she looked at us was heartrending.  Dog owning friends had told us that we’d know when she’d had enough and whilst not wanting to acknowledge it, we both knew that she didn’t want to go on.

Dave had to go to work for a meeting Friday morning, so I spent the morning with Bella in our bed because it was the only place I could make her comfortable. I cried and kissed her and told her what a good dog she was and how much I loved her.  I stroked her beautiful frilly, expressive ears and kissed her lovely black velvety nose.  She relaxed against me and slept a little.

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Such beautiful paws

When Dave came home at lunchtime we made the decision to phone the vet and ask them to come to our house.  Bella hated going to the vets, it stressed her out so much that I couldn’t bear to take her there.  We had two hours between the phonecall and the vets arrival and spent it with Bella giving her as much love as we could, calling her all her silly pet names and remembering the good times we had with her, stroking her and making sure she knew that we were there with her.

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Such soft frilly ears

When Liz the vet came, Dave brought Bella downstairs and put her on the floor.  She staggered around and tried to get into her bed and had to be helped to do this.  She then curled up.  It was so obvious that she didn’t want to go on.  Liz told us what would happen and explained about how the anaesthetic used was a massive overdose which would send her to sleep and then stop her heart.  She said that this was the last and greatest thing that we could do for Bella as it would happen quickly and without pain.  She wouldn’t suffer.

We gave consent and then cuddled Bella as the injection was given, telling her all the time how much we loved her, how we appreciated the time that she’d spent with us so much and that she’d been the best and most loving of little black dogs.  She looked at us and then put her head on her paws in a tired way and life left her.

The vet had said beforehand that she may gasp or twitch, but she did none of these things. It seems her body was ready to go.  It was very peaceful, her transition between life and death. She really did look like she was asleep, curled up in her bed like she had been every night for 12 years. I kept waiting for her to wake up.

We buried her on a hillside overlooking Scout Scar on some land belonging to kind friends of ours.  We laid her in a nest of bracken, she looked like she was asleep.  Covering her with the earth and leaving her behind was so, so incredibly hard. Leaving her behind because her time is finished whilst our lives continue, emptier and sadder without her.

Bella, my beautiful, funny, frilly, demanding, affectionate little black dog I will remember you and love you for the rest of my life. You brought such joy and love to our lives that I know that in the end this terrible pain I feel right now will be worth it and that Dave and I will eventually look back on your life without feeling the acute pain that we do now at its ending and see that you blessed us with uncomplicated, unconditional love and huge amounts of joy.

Goodbye my lovely dog.

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Day 32/366: more choice doesn’t make me happy

In his TED talk The Paradox of Choice Barry Schwartz talks about how the the conventional wisdom of capitalism that the more options we have, the happier we’ll be, is almost entirely wrong. More often than not, the proliferation of choices leads to people being less satisfied, and we regret our decisions more. Fewer options means we are happier because it’s less likely we could have done better.

I can’t be the only person who has agonised for hours over a purchase to make sure I get the best deal for my money, especially online.  For example, my hair straighteners are broken.  No means of getting them fixed in our throwaway society so I would now like a new set.  Looking at the options, there are hundreds of different makes and models, everything from the most basic set in Argos for under a tenner to a set of GHD “limited edition” straighteners for £300.  On Amazon there are 1598 different sets of straighteners for sale; how on earth do I chose which is best for me?  Are the GHD set really 30 times better than the £9.99 Argos set? A cost benefit analysis of the straighteners on Amazon is like a giant quadratic equation and it makes my brain hurt.

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Pretty aren’t they, but are they really worth £300?

So it would appear that I am doomed to be dissatisfied with my choice of straighteners because the equation is impossible to solve and therefore I don’t know whether I will be buying the best straighteners at the best price.  This then takes the shine off the purchase.  Will I see a better pair and have buyers remorse that I didn’t get them instead?  That is of course if I ever get round to buying them because I am currently paralysed by indecision!

I think this constant feeling that we could have got something better or cheaper when it comes to purchasing stuff is beginning to wear on people.  There is perhaps starting to be an acknowledgement that there is too much stuff in (some, certainly not all) peoples’ lives and instead of more stuff bringing pleasure, it brings anxiety and dissatisfaction and doesn’t satisfy the cravings that we are trying to fulfill by aquisition.  It’s an addiction, this desire to buy more because we are never satisfied with what we’ve got, and we are looking for the next thing to buy even before what we bought on the internet arrives in the post (I’m oh so guilty of this).

So I need an attitude adjustment. I need to change my current mindset which is that having more clothes/makeup/boots/perfume/gadgets/art/trinkets will make me happier.  I need to believe this deep down emotionally as well as rationally as my purchasing behaviour is definitely not rational despite the fact I constantly justify it to myself on the basis of need.

I need to concentrate on the things that make me happiest for the longest time.  These are things like swimming outdoors, playing the ukulele, festivals, meeting up with friends to play cards, France in the campervan, collecting pretty stones, watching birds, going to the beach, cycling and reading books. Looking at this list, it is doing things rather than having things that makes me happiest and I need to concentrate on facilitating happiness or at least contentment in my life rather than chasing after more stuff.

These are a few of my favourite experiences.  I don’t need to buy any more stuff to do them.