Tag Archives: lifestyle blog

How to Fall in Love with Your Mountain Bike

She was called The Bobcat and it was 1985. My grandfather hauled her, all shiny and new – silver with neon lime and orange lettering – out of the back of his pickup truck and it was love at first sight. I rode The Bobcat up and down the dirt trails and backroads of Nova Scotia until about 1990 when I got too big for her and my mother gave her away to a neighbourhood kid. She was my first mountain bike.

Since then I’ve been a pretty avid cyclist – always mountain bikes. (I once tried using a street bike when we rented some in Amsterdam on holiday. It was embarrassing, I had no idea how to use a back brake and totally lost my temper.) But all through high school I cycled about 11 miles a day after school and I continued cycling until my mid 30’s when I moved to an area of London where my husband and I had 3 of our mountain bikes stolen in succession. So we gave up on owning bikes for a while and the only times since then I’ve cycled has been on holidays and trips to Canada where I could honestly spend days exploring the trails of Kejimkujik National Park. But now we live in a leafy, green suburb (still in London) and have just our daughter her first bike. So its time to get the family cycling again. Its something we’ve been thinking about since our trip to Kielder Water and Forest Park in Northumberland last year. It was an amazing place to hike, but we’ve been itching to get back there on our bikes.

The key to learning to ride your mountain bike is to ease yourself into it. You can do this and you will love it. I promise. You will get on that bike and you will just want to cycle for miles. And the next day you will ache. Badly. So start slow. Make the process a gentle one. Maybe just ride through the local park or around your neighbourhood (around 1/2 mile) for the first day, then make it a full mile the next day, and slowly ease yourself into longer rides. Make sure you can easily do a 3-5 mile ride before you start taking on any trails and always start with the easy (green) trails. It goes without saying, but make sure you have your phone with you so you can call for help if you do have an accident whilst out on the trail. These are just a few basic starter tips based on my knowledge and experience cycling in Canada, the US, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and here in the UK. Helpfully, Halfords have published a beginner’s guide to cycling which includes a great list of cycling trails throughout the UK, and rather helpfully they are graded for difficulty.

Getting Started

You honestly don’t need a lot of fancy kit to get started.

Essentially, you need a good quality bike that is well suited to your height and build, some comfortable clothes (nothing too loose in the legs, so it won’t get caught up in the gears) and a safe helmet. I survived with only these items for a long time. When you have the right bike, it makes all the difference in the world, so its worth spending just that little bit more money to get a comfortable one with good quality gears and Shimano brakes. I’m on the shorter side at 5’4″ so I prefer lighter and smaller 27.5″ wheels on my bike, and these are great for winding trail routes, however someone taller might prefer 29″ wheels.

Over the years I have found that there are a few other bits and pieces that can be helpful to have and I’ve listed them below:

Bike & Helmet

Obviously you need the bike, and the helmet is a no-brainer in this day and age.

Cycling Gloves

If you’re a bit of a weenie, like me, you might find cycling gloves will help you avoid getting painful blisters and callous build up on the palms of your hands and on your fingers. If you fall they’ll also help protect your hands from getting grazed.

Mudguards

I’ve never NOT had mudguards on a mountain bike. Why would you not have them unless you like having a vertical line of heavy mud spatter up your back and in your hair.

Lights & Reflectors

If you plan to ride at night or in the evening, you’ll need some lights. I don’t ever ride at night so I don’t have these – just a set of front and back reflectors.

Glare-Free Wraparound Sunglasses

When you’re riding in the daytime you’ll want some glare-free sunglasses. I’ve always worn a pair of Oakley wraparounds that I only wear for climbing and cycling. Sadly they don’t make that model anymore, but there’s plenty of new brightly coloured models to choose from if you don’t mind rocking the Dog The Bounty Hunter look. Actually I’m joking (kind of) as there are loads of tasteful options to choose from and the optical laser quality testing that Oakley performs on their lenses is second to none. Eye health and good vision is incredibly important to me which is why I feel passionate about this topic. I found a YouTube video on it here if you have no idea what I’m talking about. However, if Oakley is out of your budget, there are definitely lots of more budget-friendly wraparound sunglasses on the market.

Visibility Jacket or Vest

In terms of clothing, I have over the years bought cycling shorts, cropped cycling leggings, long cycling leggings and special cycling jerseys. But honestly I don’t think that most of it is all that necessary unless you’re commuting long distances with your bike, on a cycling holiday or taking up cycling at a really serious level. (Technical clothing is helpful for wicking away sweat, and can be comfortable, but for novice riders, a pair of jersey leggings and a t-shirt will do just as well.) I do think, however, that a bright yellow visibility jacket or vest is really good to have because you want to be sure, even during the day, that cars can see you.

Water Bottle or Hydration Pack

I’ve always been a fan of the old fashioned water bottle stuck in a little wire holder which is attached to the frame of the bike, but you can get hydration packs which will hold a lot more water for longer rides. I am intrigued by these systems and may well make the investment at some point. Again, this is only something you need when you’re on a cycling holiday or out for whole day rides. Not necessary for a morning pedal through Wimbledon Common.

Make Some Memories

A GoPro. Because there is nothing your friends and family will love more than watching infinite replays of your 4 hour cycling trail video. Well, maybe not, but you know, I’m a bit of a camera bore myself, and when you’ve done an amazing ride and you come out of the forest to a glorious sunset view of a lake or canyon or a secret waterfall, I can promise you, you will enjoy having a secret replay of it just for yourself, come January when your bike is tucked away in the shed and there’s snow outside on the ground. So meanwhile, start making those memories. (And you don’t need a GoPro to do that!) Get outside, hop on your bike, whether its Kielder, Kejimkujik…or even just Wimbledon Common, and enjoy the summer while it lasts.

This post was sponsored by Halfords, the UK’s leading cycling retailer.

How to Pack a Travel Capsule Wardrobe

As an experienced traveller, you quickly learn that there’s little to be gained by dragging around too much luggage. Packing light is a skill that is learned with time and practice, but I’d like to share some of my tips to help you slim down your luggage and make your trip more comfortable. Once you know how to do this, you will have a small but versatile wardrobe and you won’t feel deprived of options.

What you pack specifically depends on where you’re going, what you will do when you get there and how long you’ll be away. But to start with, get out all the things you think you will need and then ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I really need to bring this?
  2. How often will I use this?
  3. Can I carry all my luggage on my own if need be?

The Guidelines I Recommend

Colours

Its tempting to just pack all your favourite stuff, but you’ll be much happier if your wardrobe coordinates, so try to pick a wardrobe from one colour family. (For me that tends to be neutrals – black, white, grey and blue – but that could just as easily be coral and turquoise if you’re that kind of a gal.)

Fabric

Choose fabrics which will deal well with being compacted into a tight suitcase or packing cubes and which will easily release wrinkles. As with colour, make sure the textiles all will work well together.

Cut & Style

Try to make sure that the cut of clothing is simple, that it suits your personal style and above all is comfortable and suitable for all the activities you’ll be doing at your destination.

How Many Pieces Should I Bring?

As a general rule, I pack 12-15 main items of clothing for any trip 5 or more days in length. This will be reduced to around 5-6 pieces if I’m just away for a long weekend. Its summer now, so here’s what I’ll be taking with me to Canada next month. I choose to buy most of my clothes second hand from eBay, Frenchy’s (a chain of second hand shops in Atlantic Canada), and here in the UK from charity shops, Shpock and Preloved*.

Shoes

I always bring one pair of very comfortable walking shoes wherever I travel. This summer it will be my Vivo Barefoot vegan trainers* which roll up super tight for tight packing and have ultra thin puncture resistant soles.

vivobarefoot primus vegan trainers

anthracite birkenstock mayari vegan

As its summer, I’ll also bring a pair of comfortable but stylish sandals which will look good but also stand
up to hours of walking. I have tried bringing heels with me on holiday but its always an utter waste of space unless I’m on a business trip. Thank goodness Birkenstock now make vegan sandals which aren’t just horrible moulded plastic (like they used to be) and look good with shorts and dresses alike. You’d never think these beautiful Mayor Birko-Flor in Anthracite were vegan, and they’re what I’ll be wearing this summer.

1-2 pairs shorts

I bought these Gap shorts second hand on Shpock from a local lady. They were exactly the colours and cut I was after. I wear shorts a lot during the summer, so I’ll probably bring 2 pairs with me on this occasion.

 

1 pair jeans

Cropped jeans are the perfect length for warmer weather trips and just what I need when the weather gets a bit chillier in the evenings. If you’re looking to buy a pair of really comfy jeans in a jegging style (that doesn’t look like a jegging), Hue jeans are what you’re after. My mom bought me this pair last summer when I was visiting her in Canada and I didn’t stop wearing them until the end of September – they are so flattering! – and you can buy them in the UK now*.

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1 pair leggings

For me, a pair of good quality soft cotton black leggings that are comfortable and high waisted with a comfortable waist band are an essential for travel at any time of year. I usually wear them on the plane for long flights because they’re comfy and feel a bit like you’re wearing pyjamas. And of course, they can double as a pair of pyjamas when worn with a t-shirt. In the summer I might wear cropped leggings rather than full length ones. Sadly these seem to be difficult to buy second hand. I choose black because they’ll go with a neutral wardrobe, they’re more forgiving to the figure and also more forgiving to getting a bit dirty while travelling.

3 -5 t-shirts

Three is a good number to bring, but bring 5 if you know you’ll have limited access to a washing machine during your travels. I’ll usually make sure at least one is 3/4 length sleeve for a more versatile look. These organic ones are the Maple design from Absolutely Bear.

black t shirt and white t shirt

1 casual shirt

I usually opt for some sort of crisp white, chambray blue cotton or linen shirt that I always wear with the sleeves rolled up. I can wear it with a pair of jeans for a smart casual look in cities or when visiting museums, or I can wear it open like a jacket over a t-shirt with a pair of shorts for a preppy summer look.

1 fleece

I’ve had my black North Face zip up fleece for probably 15 years and I love it so much and its still in ace shape. Its great for hiking when you don’t know what’s going to happen with the temperature and you want to layer. I don’t know that I’ll necessarily replace it with another microfibre whenever it does reach the end of its life (because, you know, fish) but to be honest it looks like its not going anywhere soon.

1 jumper (sweater)

absolutely bear grey jumper lyndhurst

If you’re going somewhere a little too smart for a fleece its good to bring a jumper (sweater for my fellow North Americans) instead. I have a favourite second hand grey one which has another year or so of life in it, but I love the jumpers from Absolutely Bear since my husband bought his back in January. (I’ve been wearing their organic Maple t-shirt for years now.) They’re beautiful quality, designed here in London, ethically made and give 10% of their profits to charity.

1 dress or skirt

For me, there will inevitably be some occasion to look moderately smart when travelling as my husband likes going out to a nice meal or two. As such I’m not so minimalist that I would veto a touch of elegance in my life. I’ll either bring a simple black jersey maxi dress or my knee length Gap denim skirt which I bought second hand, but I’ve not decided yet.

Swimsuit & swim shoes

Obviously this applies only if I’m going to a location where I’ll be swimming…which is usually most places I travel. I just bring one suit. I’ll also bring a pair of swim shoes because often the best and most beautiful places to swim have ouchy rocks, pebbles or coral and I have weenie soft feet. They’re also an essential for kayaking, my favourite summer hobby, and I’ve never regretted packing them.

Hat & Accessories

I’m not much of a hat person so I’ll probably just bring my old Roots baseball cap because ultimately my only need for a hat is just so I don’t get a sunburn. The one accessory I cannot do without is a pair of sunglasses. I believe in wearing good quality sunglasses for the sake of your eye health and have always worn a pair of Ray Ban Aviators, but will be making the switch to a pair of more travel savvy folding Wayfarers. I also should mention that I don’t travel with jewellery. I always wear my wedding ring (although not always my engagement ring depending on where we are travelling – if its somewhere with a higher crime rate or in poorer communities where it may appear ostentatious) and a plain silver bangle that I always wear, but that’s it. Travelling with jewellery just provides one more thing to worry about losing or have stolen.

Luggage

I recommend having a bag which holds somewhere between 25 and 45 litres. Personally I pop my clothes along with my LL Bean toiletries bag and my laptop into my 25 litre Tom Bihn Synapse 25 backpack (see video below) and I’m fine, however I may upgrade to their 45 litre carry on (which also conveniently has backpack straps) for longer trips and to allow room for my camera gear.

There are a few affiliate links in this post marked with an asterisk*, but mostly just links I’ve popped in for products I like and have no association with. The affiliate links are companies whose products I know and have years of experience using as a plain old regular customer. I’d never try to flog you something I don’t have experience of using myself. When you buy through these links you are supporting my blog and you’re not paying any more than you normally would on those sites. Thanks!

zero waste tips for renovating your home

Zero Waste Tips for Renovating Your Home

We recently had a major piece of work done on our home – the addition of a new floor upstairs – and I was absolutely shocked at how eco-unfriendly and wasteful the whole process was. We did our best to ensure that the existing building materials which were still in good condition, such as the slate roof tiles, were reused, recycled or repurposed. It wasn’t a great experience, and when it was all over we came to the clear conclusion that we will be personally be managing any future property improvements ourselves.

But that got me thinking, can you create a luxurious, comfortable home while still saving both environmental and financial resources? Surely there must be companies out there willing to make an effort to reduce the waste in building or renovating a home? And finally, at the end of your project, there must be some creative ways to repurpose unwanted kitchen and bathroom goods rather than sending them to landfill sites?

Here are some ways you can update your home while still keeping your eco cred:

1. Buy a Second Hand Kitchen or Bathroom

We inherited our cheapo white standard IKEA kitchen when we bought our home several years ago. We’ve updated the room by having a pantry built (to match the white finish of the cabinet units), we had the wooden countertops refinished, installed some attractive handmade Spanish tiles and then painted the room a pleasant shade of pale blue. Its a very simple but functional kitchen. In my heart of hearts, I still don’t like the shiny white cabinets though.

I recently saw a piece on the news about a couple of companies which make birch plywood doors designed to fit standard IKEA kitchens like mine. I think they look really cool and appeal to my Canadian/Scandi aesthetic. It could mean just replacing cupboard doors and handles for a kitchen like mine, rather than ripping out all the cupboard units unnecessarily.

But some kitchens are really and truly badly laid out and I know how frustrating that is. You really do need a whole new kitchen when this is the case. If you’re building a home from scratch or doing major renovations to a property, you’ll also be shopping for a whole new kitchen. But the good news is that you don’t need to actually buy a new kitchen – it just needs to be ‘new to you’. You can now buy beautiful kitchens and bathrooms second hand.

There are a few ways of doing this. You can go onto a second hand website like Craigslist (US, Canada & UK), Gumtree (UK), or Kijiji (Canada) or even eBay. You’ll be really surprised with the beautiful high spec kitchens and bathrooms, barely a few years old which you can find for sale second hand.

You can even get a free kitchen (or give your old kitchen or bathroom away rather than having it sent to a landfill site) on Freecycle.

And for those who will not compromise on having their perfect Shaker style kitchen or white Carrara marble counter tops, there are also companies like the Used Kitchen Exchange (UK) which sell both used and ex-display kitchens, bathrooms and other rooms for a fraction of the price of buying them new. You’ll also get the reassurance of 14 day purchase protection.

This family-run business has a number of environmental, social and business awards behind them and all the kitchens they sell have been pre-surveyed for quality. There is a visualisation service so you can see how the kitchen will work in your space and there’s also the possibility of selling them your old high spec kitchen which they will professionally remove (saving the main hassle when you’re selling it yourself).

Photo of Shaker style kitchen

2. Refinish, Repair & Restore, Don’t Replace!

Wooden floors, kitchen work surfaces, banisters, mantles and furniture can all be refinished. Our downstairs neighbour recently had her old gap-py and yellowing pine floor boards sanded down and the gaps between the floor boards filled in, and it looks amazing now – a luxurious Scandi-look pale smoked finish.

All the beautiful natural chalk paints on offer these days can paint over a multitude of sins in your home. I hear great things about UK-based Frenchic and of course you can get Annie Sloan just about anywhere these days (though not as confident in her eco cred as much as Frenchic). They do paints for furniture, walls, trim as well as waxes and something you paint on for a crackle effect if you like that kind of look.

A friend in Canada (well, my BFF really) updated the upholstery on a dozen or so of the old vinyl covered chairs from her in-laws’ long-gone Greek diner from the 50’s and ended up with the most beautiful, sturdy teenage-boy-proof chairs that were both a labour of love and have some family history to them.

Exquisite walnut floor boards or oak stairs could be hiding underneath that horrible carpet from the 80’s and lovingly restoring them may take a little time and effort but will respect the heritage of your home and could save you a lot of money.

Damaged surfaces such as chipped countertops, scratched wood floors, cracked tiles and furniture can all be repaired. I recently read an article in Good Housekeeping singing the praises of a company called Magicman. Their technicians can repair wood, stone, marble, uPVC, veneers, laminates, granite, ceramic tiles, stainless steel and even glass, rectifying chips, dents, scratches, burns, holes and more, on site, nationwide throughout the UK. I haven’t tried them yet, but have a burnt elm Ercol table which could use a little love.

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3. Buy Reclaimed

When shopping for the wooden floors for our new loft bedroom, I was delighted to see that its pretty easy to get a hold of beautiful reclaimed flooring these days. You can always go to a salvage yard to get rough flooring and refinish it yourself, but if you aren’t that brave (like me) you can get it through one of a number of reclaimed wood flooring specialists – just Google ‘reclaimed wood flooring’ and you’ll be surprised by the variety on offer with nationwide delivery.

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4. Recycle, Reuse & Repurpose

And finally, when you have your lovely new home updated, what do you do with what’s left over that you haven’t been able to sell or give away?

If you have an old unwanted carpet, check out Carpet Recycling UK for ideas on how to dispose of it. It can be:

  • Given away on Freecycle.
  • Donated to a furniture reuse network
  • Used in your allotment or community garden (to keep weeds at bay on paths and in plots). Wool carpets have a high nitrogen content which helps to increase growth and growth rates too!
  • Donated to a local animal rescue shelter for kennel mats (especially to keep animals warm in winter).
  • Laid down on your loft/attic floor for some added insulation – it will help retain heat and lower heating bills!
  • Used as a pond liner in your garden.

For a full list of specialist carpet recyclers go to Find A Recycler Near Me.

And all the other leftover bits? What do I do with those? Well, I asked my friends in the Zero Waste community what they’ve done…

  • Sinks and some parts of old kitchen cupboards can be used to make mud kitchens in the garden – lots of kindergartens and preschools want to build mud kitchens and may be happy for the donation.
  • Tiles can be broken up and used as drainage for potted plants.
  • Old bath tubs can be used for raised bed gardens in allotments – great for ‘fussy’ vegetables like asparagus. They can also be used as garden ponds.
  • Old glass shower doors can be used for cold frames in the garden or to cover alpine troughs in winter.
  • Wooden kitchen worktops can be turned into bread boards.
  • Kitchen worktops can be made from old recycled wooden doors.
  • Kitchen cupboards can be downcycled for use in garages, greenhouses and/or potting sheds.
  • Old paint can be given to a community repaint scheme or there may be a donation point at your local recycling centre for paint to be re-used rather than recycled.
  • Anything else you don’t know what to do with? Check the Recycle Now website for ideas.

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This article was in part sponsored by Used Kitchen Exchange