Thursday, 31 March 2011

My Fitness Story... - Ben

Welcome back to my weekly My Fitness Story... series. Today's guest poster is Ben, who blogs at Mutterings of a Fool. I'm really pleased that this is now the third male guest poster who has written for this series, because the male perspective on fitness and weight loss is often quite different, but men struggle with their weight too. Ben's story will be familiar to many people who have sedentary jobs, but his approach to solving his weight problem was quite different, proving once again that finding a way to work fitness into your lifestyle works best. So, now it's over to Ben to take up the story. 

I have a long history of being fit and active, I started playing rugby at the age of 6 and by the time I was 18, I was playing 6 or 7 times a week for school, club and country. I’ve run 3 half marathons and, as one of 5 children, spent most my childhood running around. In addition, throughout my childhood I was always incredibly skinny; rake like might describe it best. So much so that by the time I went to university, I weighed 2-3 stone less than all the other players in my position at rugby.

Fast forward to the present and the last 6 years have been full of significant change; I went from being a full time student at university to a married office worker within 2 months of graduating. Not only that, I also started commuting 80 miles a day on the M4 and working for a multinational company often means having meetings outside of normal office hours.

Since graduating, I’ve tried to keep active by going to the gym at lunchtime. I’m lucky in that my employer provides free membership to a hotel gym next to the office. However, trying to consistently free up time during the week to do this can be hard, and the pressures of the job mean that I often work through lunch. The alternative was to try and run in the evenings once home, but getting home at 7pm tired from a day’s work means that the motivation to go back out of the house is pretty low.

So the volume of exercise decreased, and at the same time visits to the coffee shop in the office increased often including a pastry of some sort. The warning signs are clearly there; less exercise, more eating of fatty foods, sitting at a desk for 9 hours a day and 2 hours in a car commuting. I didn’t suddenly put on 3 stone and change body shape, but slowly and surely I developed a tummy and the muscle from being a rugby player gradually turned to fat. I became less fit, more likely to get ill, and generally less happy with my body.

The lightbulb moment came in May last year when I was offered a free health assessment through work. I went along and had my weight, diet, spine, fitness and general health assessed. I was then informed that with a BMI of 25.3, I was classed as overweight and had a body fat of 24%.  Call it what you want, this was the moment where something clicked. If I carried on with this lifestyle, then by the age of 40, I would no doubt be sporting a nice beer belly, probably have back problems from sitting all day and potentially have stress problems. This kick up the back side was exactly what was needed.

My daily routine needed to change and include more exercise, but avoiding the commute wasn’t an option. So I started taking the train to work, and running to and from the station each end. Yes, that’s right, I run EVERY day. Not only that I run with a rucksack containing my laptop, clothes and lunch. But the great thing about this is that I now incorporate exercise as part of my commute and don’t have to try to build it into the day's schedule somehow. What’s more, I get into work (and home) feeling refreshed and full of endorphins, plus I’m able to work on the train which reduces the need for working in the evenings etc.

Body wise, I feel good; I’ve lost the tummy and feel very comfortable in my body. I managed to keep going all through the winter, even in the snow which was interesting, although I did question what I was doing in the pouring rain when I could be in a nice warm car. It does take some planning to make sure you have shoes in the office, the right clothes and enough food (I now have a drawer in my office well stocked).

For me, this fitness routine has been successful, because it doesn’t take up any of my free time, I don’t have a chance to opt out because it’s cold etc (I’d just miss my train), and it doesn’t cost me any money.

The interesting thing will be to go back for another health assessment in a couple of months and see how my results have changed. In the meantime, I’m trying to find a few races or challenges to take up and make use of my new fitness levels. Now that I’m almost a year in, I feel I need a new target to aim towards. Nothing too crazy this year with a baby due in April but next year, I definitely want to do a marathon and I have also been eyeing up a 40 mile off road race from the Lizard in Cornwall to Lands End.

I'd like to thank Ben for taking the time to write his story for my blog and I hope everything goes well with the baby that is due any time. As I said in the introduction, Ben found a way to work exercise into his daily routine and he has made it work for him. It may not work for you, but maybe it will inspire you to find something that you can fit into your lifestyle, whatever that might be. I admire Ben's fortitude in running every single day in all weathers, especially as running is not my favourite pastime!

Please share any experiences you have in the comments below. Alternatively, if you have a fitness story to tell, then get in touch with me on Twitter or via the email address on the About me page. I will link back to any blog you write if you wish, or you can remain either partly or fully anonymous.

There'll be another fitness story here next Thursday. Do come back for the next one if fitness is your interest. Why not visit the rest of my blog too?! 

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Gallery - Hair


I love Missy Woo's hair. She was actually born with quite dark hair which has gradually lightened and is now a gorgeous dark golden blonde. Her hair, usually straight as a poker without extra help, looks like millions of fine golden threads are falling from her scalp, glossy and shining like they have almost been polished. Other mothers have told me that they would give anything for hair like hers.

When she was very little, her hair on the top of her head would stick up because she has a double crown. The only way to make it lie flat is to keep it long. It's reached her waist now, a budding Rapunzel.

Having long hair is a double-edged sword. It looks pretty and she loves that it makes her look almost princess-like, but combing it is a task of Herculean proportions and is bound to elicit tears when tangles are  reached. And that's just me. Even the special tangle combs hurt her occasionally. At least tying it up for school means that it gets less tangled but even then, she manages to get food in her hair all the time.

And yes, school has exposed her to that ever-present menace, headlice. She got them earlier in the term when her hair came out of her ponytail one day at school. Attempting to get them out with a comb took hours but the masses of golden threads were a perfect hiding place for the nasty little critters and it took resorting to some nasty liquid which turned her hair greasy to exterminate them all for good.

When I was her age, my hair was almost as long. I had it all cut off when I was a few years older than her. My choice. Looking back, it was a mistake. I hope that she keeps it for a lot longer than I did but she knows her mind and I wouldn't stand in her way if that's what she wanted.

She is a beautiful child in spirit as well as appearance, but nothing defines her more than her burnished blonde hair.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Meal Planning Monday

I've just realised I gave this totally the wrong name last week. Mrs M, from At Home with Mrs M, has actually called it Meal Planning Monday and I called it Menu Planning Monday. Only two words different and subtly different meaning. Hey ho and profuse apologies to Mrs M. 

So, last week's menu went mostly to plan, except I changed Saturday's as I remembered I had some nice beefburgers in the freezer so we had those grilled, with a potato and sweet potato wedges and salad. Everything else went down well - the Rosti Bolognese Pie went down a storm as did the Honey Mustard Pork and two casseroles. I loved the Mustard Chicken with Bacon but my husband was not wild about it. 

As I mentioned last week, I actually planned this week's meals last week. I've already had to tweak the plans as Missy Woo is having a friend come to tea on Tuesday. 

So, here we go for this week commencing 28th March

Monday - leftover Pork and Veg Casserole (see last week)
Tuesday - Pizza for children, Chickpea with Chorizo and couscous
Thursday - Sausages with Onion Gravy (slow cooker) with mash and peas
Saturday - Roast Vegetable Pasta
Sunday - Mother's Day; I'm not cooking - we're going to Parkers Arms for lunch and I can't wait! 

Hmm, lots of pork again this week! Will have to be a bit more balanced next week, maybe some chicken again?

You can find more entries for Meal Planning Monday over at Mrs M's blog.

Playlist: Dream Time

Mumra Playlist
After my little trip down Memory Lane for last week's Playlist, I thought I'd see how it goes and maybe join in again in a few weeks.

Then I saw what the prompt was for this week - Dream Time. Sarah, from the Planet of Mumra, used to like falling asleep to music. I must admit, I have not done that too many times in my life. But there is one song I associate with chilling out - and also an incredible earworm - that I have to share with you so I'm joining in again.

I originally came across this when it was used as the theme tune for the now defunct reality TV series called Shipwrecked. (Andrew Lincoln also did the voiceover - what's not to like? Oh yeah, it was all style and no content - in other words, crap.) You're probably more familiar with it being the background to some holiday ads featuring the Redknapps. Still, I love it and will forgive this minor oversight.

It is - if you haven't guessed already - The Sea by Morcheeba.



If I had to choose a song to drift off to, this would be it.

Check out Mumra for more entries - just click the record badge above or go here.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Review: Three MiFi

You might have noticed that I'm a bit of a social media addict. Admittedly, I'm not big on Facebook these days, but I tweet a lot and I blog. Since I got a fancy new phone in January, I love the fact that I can tweet write blog posts, read other blogs and do pretty much anything wherever I am. After a fashion of course - there are times where you'd really love a bigger screen so that you don't go cross-eyed looking at the screen and there is a lot of typing to be done so only your laptop will do. Then comes the problem of how to get it online - unless you want to sit all day in certain chains all day long where free WiFi is on offer.

Three sent me a MiFi mobile to try out for a couple of weeks. It's a small wireless modem/dongle that you can use to connect up to 5 devices to mobile broadband. The dongle is small - it will easily fit into a pocket or a handbag - and needs very little set up from scratch - just a SIM inserting and switching on. Devices connecting to it to access the Internet don't need any special software installed - they just need to enter the password when they first connected.

I did have a problem with my laptop the first time I tried to connect it. It connected fine to the modem but couldn't see the Internet beyond it. However, I think it was just my laptop as the next time I tried, it worked fine. My phone and my husband's MacBook both connected and worked OK straight away.

Once connected, you do notice that download speeds are slower than being connected to a standard WiFi connection but that was to expected. My phone also works as a WiFi hotspot too so I did a comparative test of speed and performance with the MiFi. I found they had similar download speeds but we seem to have good reception on both networks in the area where we live.  (My phone is on O2)

Two things I did notice about the MiFi are worth mentioning. Firstly, when in use, it could get quite hot to the touch. Secondly, the battery indicator can catch you out - it can seem like it is adequately charged, then be showing low battery after a short period of use and you're left wondering what happened! When fully charged, it should give you around 5 hours of browsing. As It charges via USB, if your laptop is connected to mains power, you could charge it up whilst it is in use. When connected via USB to a laptop, it loads on-board software which allows you to manage your Three account and even send text messages.

Overall, we liked the MiFi. My husband found it particularly useful as he took it to his parents and showed them videos of him running in the Barcelona Marathon - which was great, as my father-in-law has only just returned home after a 3 month hospital stay and they don't have a home computer or Internet access. It also seems reasonable value - the cheapest being £9.91 per month for a 1Gb data allowance on an 18 month contract.

I won't be buying a MiFi because I have a phone that does the same thing. However, if you do travel around a lot and need to connect your laptop anywhere, or can't get broadband any other way, this is a pretty good option and we found it easy to set up and its performance was good. A big thumbs up from us.

(I was sent a Three MiFi to try for free for a trial period and have received no other compensation. The opinions stated are my own, and have not been affected by the aforementioned compensation.)

Friday, 25 March 2011

Recipe - Raspberry and Almond Tray Bake



I decided on the spur of the moment to make this the other day. I found it in another of those little booklets that they send out with BBC Good Food magazine. It was full of recipes for kids. I'd got my eye on it and it's largely based on ingredients that in my store cupboard so I decided to give it a go. I was a bit short of raspberries (I had some in my freezer) so I ended up using less and it was fine.

What attracted me to it was a combination of some of my favourite flavours, coconut - which I adore - and raspberry. The original recipe suggests you can use other fruits - such as chopped pineapple, mango, plum or whole blackberries - but I don't think it would be as nice. Coconut and raspberry is truly a marriage made in heaven so I can't see how you can improve on it. And I can confirm that using frozen fruit straight from the freezer works fine!

This filled the house with the most gorgeous aroma whilst cooking. I could barely wait for it to cool down before having a taste, but by then, the children were home, and wanted some too. How very dare they!

Bake this, you won't be disappointed. The bottom was light and spongey, studded with juicy raspberries and topped with toasted coconut. These have disappeared at a vast rate of knots. It would be a crime to keep these for the children, quite frankly.

This is my take on the original recipe.

Raspberry and Almond Tray Bake
(Cuts into 24 pieces)

Ingredients

250g/9oz self-raising flour
200g/7oz butter, diced
50g/2oz ground almonds
280g/10oz golden caster or granulated sugar
2 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
70g/2.5oz desiccated coconut
340-450g/12oz-1lb raspberries, fresh (or 340g frozen)

1. Butter an oblong cake tin - approximately 30x18cm and at least 3cm deep - if it's non-stick, it won't need as much, if at all. Heat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Either place the flour, ground almonds, sugar and diced butter a bowl and rub the butter in , or place in a food processor and whizz together until the butter is evenly distributed. (Tip - if you have a small food processor like mine, tipping the butter in first should help it mix in better as the butter will be closer to the blades. It also helps to be slightly soft and not straight out of the fridge!)

2. Take out  85g/3oz of the mix and place in a bowl with the coconut. Stir together and keep on one side. Add the eggs, and the vanilla extract if using, to the remaining mix and whizz together or mix. The mix does not need to be very smooth.

3. Spread the mixture over the base of the tin, then place about half of the raspberries over the top. Sprinkle over the coconut mixture and place in the oven for 45 minutes. Dot the remaining fruit over the surface, then bake for a further 15 minutes, until it's firm to the touch. Cool in the tin, then cut into slices or squares.

Allegedly, they keep for up to two days in the fridge. If they last that long.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

My Fitness Story… - Desperate Measures

When I was first contacted by this week’s guest poster, I didn't appreciate the scale of the tale that she had to tell. She outlined her story and admitted she was nervous about telling it. Having reassured her that she could remain completely anonymous, she said she’d write the post when she felt ready. Imagine my surprise when the post arrived in my inbox the following morning.

And then I read her story. I was totally blown away. I understood then why she had been so nervous about reliving this part of her life. She has been, and is, incredibly brave. For this poster took drugs to help her lose weight. Not just "slimming aids", illegal drugs. 

This post is longer than usual, but I urge you to read it and give the poster your full support in the comments. I know she is nervous about the publication of this post and has told me she is unlikely to read the comments, but you're generally very supportive and I'm sure lots of helpful comments will encourage her to read them. (Abuse will just get removed by me anyway). This post is not written to justify her actions because she is ashamed of them. It's written to explain how she came to take drugs to help her lose weight and the effects it had on her and her life. It is a cautionary tale, it is shocking, it is powerful but it's also uplifting.

So, now, I hand you over to my anonymous contributor, who will tell you her fitness story about the desperate measures she took to lose weight. 

Ah. I’d had a bottle of wine when I offered to do this guest post, and I’m already unsure as to whether or not I can pull it off, but I’ll give it a try. I can’t possibly fit the entire story of my battle here, so I’ll try to cut it down to the weight-based bits for the purpose of the post...

Freshly single and working in the pub industry, I suddenly became acutely aware of my weight. Well, not so much my weight but my size. I was 22, 5’2” tall and weighed around 13 stone. My dress size was 16 and I’d never been as big as I was then. Working in the pub wasn’t my only job, so I was tired too and had little time to make new friends. I was lonely.

One day, I was moaning to my flatmate about how knackered/fat/fed up I was when he suggested I do what he did and take a bit of speed at weekends.

I was horrified! It’d never crossed my mind to take such drastic action. He explained to me how if I just took a small amount on a Saturday morning, I’d feel much more energetic and the weight would surely start disappearing. I had no boyfriend, no kids and no real responsibilities back then, so I decided to give it a try and had some the next morning.

It was great! I felt so full of energy and my housework was done in no time! Now what? Oooohh yes, we should go for a walk. We walked for hours, my flatmate and I, until I had finished the 1.5ltr bottle of water I’d taken with me and desperately needed a wee, so we went back. Being this full of energy, I thought, I’d lose weight in no time at all!

And lose weight I did. I didn’t want to wait for months to look great though, so rather than having speed at weekends, I immediately started having some EVERY morning. Even the ones where I went to work at the office. That wasn’t a total disaster either – I was completing the workload of two people every day. The weight just ‘fell off’ (I hate it when people say that now) and within the first week, I’d lost a full stone. I was thrilled! I very quickly became less about the energy and so, so much more about the weight for me. I was taking this stuff every day because it was really helping me.

Four months later, I was a size 10, I had a very busy social life, worked both jobs comfortably and was happy - sort of. I was paranoid, I avoided my family and I was obsessed with not eating. I could live with that though, because I was slowly but surely creeping towards that never-worn-before size 8. Once I got into a size 8 dress, I would definitely stop taking it. Or at least cut down – because I did have some days where I didn’t have any speed and ate like a horse all day (so it wasn’t like I was starving myself, right?) Food became my nemesis – I so desperately craved it but looking at it made me feel fat, I felt like a failure if I ate it. I didn’t do much shopping – most of the meals I did have were from a take-away because they were almost always an impromptu and knee-jerk reaction to a sudden, overwhelming urge for food. Disgusted by what I’d eaten, I’d then eat nothing for at least two days to balance things out.

By the time I met the man who would be my husband, I had reached my goal – I went on my first date with him in a size 8 denim dress from Topshop. I’ll never forget that dress. He wanted to take me out for meals, call at KFC and eat it in the car overlooking a beautiful view, and have McDonalds’ hangover breakfasts. It was brilliant. I didn’t take any drugs for the first few weeks with him and although I missed the feeling of being in control of my hunger, I was having such a great time getting to know him I didn’t really care. At least I didn’t really care until THAT dress stopped fitting me. I only took about 3 weeks to happen, and I didn’t like it. I had eaten too much – what a fat, greedy pig. He would never want me if I was fat so I had to go back to taking speed. I figured I had no choice. It was no real problem though because I’d just have it in the week and see him on the weekends – problem solved! Whatever I did, I couldn’t risk getting fat again because then I would be unhappy.

I couldn’t keep it up. I missed him when he wasn’t there, but couldn’t phone him because I’d talk forever or become furious for no reason and I didn’t want him to think I was a cow. I really wanted this relationship to work, and so one day I made what was a huge decision for me. I told my boyfriend all about it, warts and all.

It sounds like such a cliché, but he saved my life. By the time I started to see things properly, I realised just how much of a mess my life had become. I didn’t have friends at all – only people who used my house to chill out in. (Don’t picture some kind of crack den when you read that – I didn’t have a large group of ‘drug friends’.) I might’ve been thin but I was desperately unhappy – I’d started and dropped out of a degree course because I couldn’t do the work required. I’d had other, more pressing matters to attend to. One evening for example, before an assignment was due, I spent 6 hours rearranging my CD collection.

I asked my flat mate to move out (after he’d stolen my car and I scolded the policeman who pulled him over) and began to get my life in order. It was incredibly hard going for both of us. Panic attacks, paranoia, sleep paralysis and totally unforgivably irrational behaviour towards my boyfriend were just the tip of the iceberg. I was so very depressed, too. I’m not sure I will ever truly get over the depression really. If anyone was going to help me through this though, it was this man. He has been so, so patient with me over this whole thing and for that I will never, ever be able to tell him just how grateful I am.

Now I look back, and I feel lots of things. Shame, sadness, disgust. Worry that my children will one day inevitably be offered drugs. Hope that they will be a stronger person than me and say no.

Most of all though, I look back at those old photos and feel so very lucky to have been ‘found’. I honestly have no idea where I would be now without my husband, although I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a great place. I may have been thin, I may have worn designer clothes and looked great (in my eyes) but now, 6 years on and back to my original size 16, I realise that I was never, ever, happy. Yes, I complain regularly about my thunder thighs, my baby belly and my bingo wings, but if I’m truly honest I don’t do much about it because I can’t be bothered. It’s been 6 years and the thought of writing this post still woke me at 4am, filled with dread.

I made some terrible decisions when I was younger, with some consequences that will be with me forever. The most important one though was the best one I ever made, and so as I finish this post to go and eat left over Chinese food for breakfast, all I can really tell you is that I would far rather be fat and happy than thin and ... lonely? Homeless? Unemployed? Unloved? Paranoid?

Dead?

The first reaction I had when I read this was "Wow". I've read it several times since and I say "Wow" every time. Thank you so much for writing this post and for telling your story so powerfully. I really hope writing this helped you in some way, but I also hope that this post helps others who might consider such a course of action, as it shows that what might seem like a simple solution is actually nothing of the sort. There were huge repercussions, which impact on your life to this day. What I think this shows is there is no such thing as a magic bullet, no easy way. Losing weight is a lifestyle change and it can't just be solved by taking drugs.

Do you have any similar experiences that you'd like to share? If so, please leave a comment below. Even if you don't, leave some supportive comments for my guest poster. She has been so very brave in coming forward.

If you have a fitness story to tell, then get in touch with me on Twitter or via the email address on the About me page. I will link back to any blog you write if you wish, or you can remain either partly or fully anonymous. Don't forget you can read all the previous posts in the series by clicking on the My Fitness Story... tab above. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Gallery - Education

This week, we're being encouraged to share pictures on the theme of Education. Tara seems quite interested in our own school days as much as those of our children. A lot of people were keen on sharing photos from their school days. I shrivelled in horror at the thought of this. I don't consider that I was a very pretty child, especially as I decided when I was 7 to get my hair cut quite short which I don't think helped.

I have only one picture from middle school that I won't post for fear of blinding you, as the uniform for girls included a seriously bright yellow shirt.

No, instead, I have plucked up the courage and you get this picture of me - and a few others - in the sixth form. So, here we go, here is L6 Wren from Chesham High School, circa 1981. Yes, it is (nearly) thirty years ago. Yes, I am that old. No, I'm not telling you which one is me. No, we didn't have any dress sense. Yes, we were the geeky lot. We left being cool and hip, mostly, to Kelvin and Scott. Oh, and being good at everything except the house drama competition.


Brings back memories good and bad, this picture. I am not in touch with many of these people now although none of the people I really disliked from school were in my house thankfully. I'm friends with a handful of these people on Facebook, but the majority do not even seem to know what Facebook or Twitter are. The person I consider my oldest friend is also in this picture. We don't see each other or get in touch that often but we always pick up exactly where we left off whenever we meet up.

And the saddest, scariest thing of all about this picture? At least one of these people is no longer alive. Chilling thought. A terrible counterpoint to a photograph of young adults just setting out on adult life, driven by dreams of success and hope for the future.

Go on, have a guess which one is me! I think it's probably fairly easy. And no, my dress sense is no better than anyone else's. Leave me a comment telling me which one you think is me (anyone suggesting I'm one of the blokes will get a virtual slap) and I'll tell you in a day or two. There are no prizes for getting it right, just the kudos of being a clever clogs.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Menu Planning Monday



I've been asked before if I'd share my weekly meal plans with you, and I was thinking of doing it this week when, lo and behold, I noticed that Mrs M, on her blog At Home with Mrs M, has started Menu Planning Monday. I usually plan my meals over the weekend for the following week so I have a shopping list ready for Monday or Tuesday. This week, for various reasons, I've actually planned two whole weeks (get me, Superwoman) but I'll just share what we're going to have this week. I tend to plan around my husband's shifts so where he is working until 7pm, I try to put something on that he can reheat, or I'll do separate meals for the children. That's normally when the slow cooker comes into play.

I try to balance out my weeks so we have different meats, at least one vegetarian option and maybe some fish. Unfortunately, that doesn't always work. Last week, there was a hell of a lot of chicken. This week, there is a hell of a lot of pork but at least it is in different forms!

So, here's my meal plan for the week commencing 21st March.

Monday - Rosti Bolognese Pie - heavily adapted
Tuesday - Red Lentil and Aubergine curry with naan breads
Wednesday - Honey and Mustard Pork, mash and broccoli
Thursday - Mustard Chicken and Bacon for us, sandwiches for the children (it's football night!)
Friday - Barley Beef Casserole
Saturday - Leek, pea and pancetta risotto (similar recipe here)
Sunday - Pork and Vegetable casserole

I'm actually making double quantities of the Pork & Vegetable Casserole as we are all going to Deepdale next Monday night for the England U21 game, of which more soon, so I wanted a decent amount of leftovers that I can reheat. And, it's worth noting, something normally goes wrong with the plan and something normally ends up shoved off the list.

Why not pop over to Mrs M's blog and see some more Meal Planning Monday entries?

Recipe - Pork and Veg Casserole


It's ages since I blogged a recipe, so I thought I'd pass this one on. Don't be put off by the name - this is actually really nice and the children asked when they could have it again; always a good sign! It's really easy. I would imagine that you can double it easily - if you can find a big enough dish - for freezing into portions.

I found the original recipe in one of those little booklets they produce to go with BBC Good Food magazine. The booklet concerned was a part Weight Watchers promotion. I've adapted it slightly because the original recipe says to use low fat cooking spray but the research I've done suggests that most people don't know what a "spray" consists of and overestimate, so I just use oil instead. 1 tablespoon across 4 people makes about 30 calories difference per serving.

The casserole is baked in the oven , but it would work in the slow cooker too. If you want to slow cook it, just follow the recipe but place the ingredients in the slow cooker instead of the oven. It should take about 6-8 hours on low. Don't forget to use less stock than the conventional recipe!

I found kidneys beans in chilli sauce in Waitrose/Ocado by the way but if you can't find anything like that, one of those tins of spicy baked beans would do. Alternatively, a tin of baked beans with some added chilli powder would also do. You can serve this with rice, jacket potatoes or some mash.

Pork and Veg Casserole
Serves 4

Ingredients

1 tbsp oil
450g pork shoulder, cut into chunks
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 medium apple, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
2 medium carrots, sliced
200g swede, cubed
420g mixed beans in chilli sauce
400ml hot vegetable stock (300ml if cooking in slow cooker)

Method

1. Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole and cook the pork, adding a handful at a time. Cook over a high heat for 3-4 mins until the pork is browned.

2. Add the onion, garlic, apple, carrots and swede, and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring.

3. Add the beans in chilli sauce and hot stock, mix thoroughly. Bring to the boil, then put the lid on and put in the oven. Bake for 1 hour. Check the seasoning before serving.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Playlist: Breakin' Shapes

I'm joining in today with Week 5 of the Mumra Playlists. Sarah, the lovely blogger behind Mumra, sets a theme and you blog a track or tracks that you feel fits it.

When I saw this week's theme, Breakin' Shapes, I knew I had to join in. I am not the world's best dancer, but I'm far from the worst too. I don't always want to dance for hours but I do like to dance if the music is right. There is one song that will always get me dancing. In a way, it provides the soundtrack to a part of my life - a time when I was ridding myself of someone who had a profoundly negative effect on me to the point that it destroyed my confidence and my self-esteem, even though I knew that most of the things that I was being made to believe were untrue. As I managed to break myself free of his influence, this track had been out as a single for a few months. Some of the words seemed rather relevant:

Heartbreaks and promises, I’ve had more than my share
I’m tired of giving my love and getting nowhere, nowhere


and

So baby if you want me
You’ve got to show me love

and to me, signified the rebirth of my independence (and my confidence to some extent). If you don't know what it is, it's Show Me Love by Robin S, one of the biggest dance anthems of the 1990s. 

Serious part aside, the whole track is a cracker. The riff from the Korg M1 synth (I looked that up!) is so distinctive, I can recognise the song within a split second of it starting. I can't help but want to move whenever I hear it. Even if I'm not actually dancing, my foot taps or I nod my head. Many is the time I have stopped what I'm doing to dance to it  - at home, I'm not about to start some weird solo flashmob in a clothes shop, although that could be interesting. Have a listen and I defy you to remain motionless throughout. I can't do it anyway. 



Hop on over to Mumra to discover more entries that will get you toe-tapping, body-popping and yes, maybe even starting that flashmob in a clothes shop...

Mumra Playlist

Silent Sunday - There's a fairy helper in my kitchen


Silent Sunday

Friday, 18 March 2011

Term time holidays: are they such a bad thing?

Two weeks ago, we took Monkey to Barcelona for the weekend. Primarily, it was because he wanted to see his Daddy run in the marathon but he also wanted to go to the Nou Camp and see FC Barcelona play. The fact this fell just before his birthday meant we could do some negotiating regarding presents and party and so the deal was struck.

Obviously, it's term time so he missed a couple of days of school. Thankfully, our school is fairly relaxed about absences and as long as you have asked for permission on the right form, they will grant permission if you've not exceeded the 10 days limit for absence in any school year. And yet, I have heard tales of other schools stating that they will not grant permission for any term-time holidays at all and some go as far as issuing fines for unauthorised absences. Seriously?

This gives the impression that any parent taking their child out of school in term time is depriving their child of a proper education and are somehow failing. But is that really the case?

Monkey learned so much in the four days he was in Barcelona. It was the first time he'd been abroad and be old enough to appreciate all the things that were happening. When we first landed in Spain and were finally in a place where Brits were in the minority, his eyes were as wide as saucers. He could hear people talking and not understand a word they were saying. All the posters and billboards had words on them that he could no longer read. He'd never considered before that being in a different country really was so totally different. As it happened, his teacher had given him a reading book about tunnels which we took with us - and then he went down more tunnels than he'd ever seen before, which helped him understand the pictures and words he was reading. Then, we saw a massive drill that was digging a tunnel to allow high speed trains to come into the central station nearby. He went back to school to tell the teacher all about all the tunnels he'd been in and what they were like.

It wasn't just tunnels - Monkey experienced what was, to him anyway, a whole new world. New food (he ate copious amounts of calamari, tomato bread, patatas bravas and pasta salad), new language, sights, sounds and people. At school, he'd have been doing some reading and some topic work on fruit - so we took him around La Boqueria market so he could see all the fruit, amongst other things, on display. In fact, he learnt so many things, I swear he grew an inch or two whilst we were there.

OK, so not every holiday is a city break to a place that has so much that can be considered educational. But I found a quote from an Ancient Greek philosopher Euripides which is as true now as it was thousands of years ago. “Experience, travel - these are as education in themselves”. Whether it is a trip to the seaside in the UK, a city break, a beach holiday in Europe or further afield, it provides new experiences for a child, which surely, they must learn from.

I appreciate why they say children should not miss school - largely for reasons that are more disruptive to the school and fears it will hamper the child's progress - but if it's managed carefully and planned, surely it can't be detrimental? And how much more disruptive to a child's learning must unplanned absence for illness be? Persistent lateness is likely to be more disruptive to the child's progress too, if not more so, as it will affect more school days than a week or two of authorised absence.

So, why do some schools frown so much on term-time holidays? Or is it because the pressure on them to deliver on targets for attendance as well as academic performance mean there is little margin for error? Surely it pushes parents to lie to the school and say their child is ill instead! Many families are now finding that taking a term-time holiday is the only way they can afford one. (I won't go into the whys and wherefores of the price of holidays during school holidays; that's a whole other post). Taking children out of school to spend valuable time with their families that they would otherwise not have is likely to be a largely positive experience that has the potential to benefit their school work.

Or is it just me that thinks that? Am I just being a rebel?

For the record, I'm not planning to take my children out of school regularly although this was the second time they had been out of school this year, due to attending a family wedding in Devon that took place on a Friday. Last year, Monkey missed no school days at all, not even one for sickness. Next year may well be the same - the way that the school holidays have worked out, we can take a holiday this summer during the last week when most schools are going back so prices have dropped quite sharply. All the same, I don't think that if we choose to take them awayduring term time, I will worry too much about any harm to their progress at school.

Because they have so much to learn, the world is out there. And unfortunately, the world doesn't come to them inside the confines of a classroom.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

My Fitness Story... - Garry

Welcome to the My Fitness Story... series, which has now become a regular Thursday feature on this blog. Today's contribution is by Garry AKA Him Up North, who is a good Twitter friend and blogs at The Blog Up North, which is always a fantastic read. Garry also designed the badge for this series as he has the ability I lack in design! I knew he had a fitness story to tell, so I asked him if he would write a post for this series. He took a bit of persuading that his story was worth telling but, as I have said before, this series encompasses the full range of experiences that people have with diet and fitness. The fact that he has a personal experience means he has a story to tell, so he wrote it, and as always, it's a great read. Garry had to lose weight for medical reasons, having never been on a diet in his life so he had to work out how to lose the weight. Here is his story. 
Two years ago, a doctor told me to lose weight. I had a health problem which was being exacerbated by carrying a bit too much timber. “A stone or a stone and a half,” he said.
Okay, I thought. Which limb do I cut off...? Seriously, I was at a complete loss.
I’d never tried to lose weight. I wasn’t a gym type. My story, like many men, was one of gradual middle-age spread (ie my age was spreading to my middle). But my choice was clear. Lose the weight or face surgery and quite possibly pain. Lots of pain.
So I assessed my lifestyle and realised I was doing many things wrong:
  • I was eating the wrong things, often at the wrong times. Working shifts meant I was relying on convenience foods (so called because they belong in a convenience) and eating at odd times of the day.
  • I was far too sedentary. I drove everywhere, even short journeys such as the school run, and got virtually no exercise. Because my job is a) desk based and b) has no long break that also reduced scope for activity.

As Gandhi would have it, I had to be the change I wanted to see. Pretty obvious, really.
So my plan was a simple one.
My diet became more virtuous. I cut out bread altogether because up to that point, what I ate had been something of a yeast feast. I reduced my calorific intake by cutting out snack foods and sweet things.
It was bloody hard – I was a grazer – and the lure of the biscuit barrel was great. But I had my motivation – threat of pain – and gradually “educated my appetite”. I could eat little without feeling hungry.
My lifestyle became more active. I left the car behind for any trips around town. Much to the kids’ chagrin, we started walking to and from school (which just happens to be up a steep hill – cue much redness and sucking of air in the early days).
Okay, I didn’t take up trampolining or orienteering. But I did start walking just for the exercise; a four and a half mile route with hills and stuff became my workout.
Because my target was a statistical one, I weighed myself regularly. To my astonished delight I found I was actually losing weight. It was slow and gradual. There were times when I lost nothing or actually went back up. I realised my metabolism meant it was a high wire act with very little margin for failure.
But I had my target and I knew my changed habits could work. I was down to my target weight in about ten months. My regime, such as it was, had become normal. By the time I saw my consultant, my weight was no longer a contributing factor and I avoided the surgeon’s scalpel. Phew.
However, with the threat went the motivation. I played fast and loose on that high wire, choosing to dive into the safety net too often (or the crisps stash as it’s known). Some of the weight is back and I’m verging on disliking it all again.
I realise getting fitter and losing weight was and is very much a journey without end. Just a series of signposts. It may be time to embark upon it again.
Many thanks to Garry for telling his story. I'm sure men can end up feeling a bit inadequate when they see magazines like Men's Fitness which show men with bulging six packs (in the right way!) that give the impression that you have to do lots of exercise in order to get and stay fit. It doesn't have to be that way if it's not for you - simple changes that you build into your lifestyle are more effective for many as they are easier to keep doing when they become part of your normal routine. 

Please share any experiences you have in the comments below. Alternatively, if you have a fitness story to tell, then get in touch with me on Twitter or via the email address on the About me page. I will link back to any blog you write if you wish, or you can remain either partly or fully anonymous.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Gallery - Trees

My heart sank a tiny bit when I found out this week's prompt was trees. I don't do fancy photography well and I'm not for moody, atmospheric shots. Being as they are one of Tara's favourite things, the pressure is on to find something looking just so.

What I didn't realise was how few shots I actually have of trees. There was nothing, nothing I tell you, on my computer. Well, not unless you count the tops or bottoms of Christmas trees with other more exciting things in the foreground - and anyway a) the tree is not real and b) it's March, silly - I'm not doing Christmas now. Oh, and there was the odd shot of someone stood by the trunk of various trees. Hardly thrilling.

As a desparate final measure, I dug through my web albums and what do you know? I found a picture, largely of trees. It's actually not a bad shot, which is amazing when you consider that I took it with my old phone.


It looks so peaceful and serene, doesn't it? I wonder if you can guess where it was taken? A good few of you are bound to have been there. In fact, I know for sure that some of you have. Leave your guesses as a comment below. There are no prizes for getting it right, just a bit of kudos and some admiration from me, which I'm sure is better than any prize. But then again...

Silvophiles* should pop over to Tara's gaff to see more entries in this week's Gallery.



* Tree lovers, silly!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Competition: Win a pair of tickets to the X-Factor Live Tour this Sunday


I have a little competition for you today, which is perfect for you if you are a fan of the X-Factor.

I've been offered two tickets for the X-Factor Live Tour as a prize by the people at The Sun Buzz magazine. The tickets are for the 2.30pm performance at the O2 Arena in London this Sunday, that's 20th March. The prize is just for the tickets and doesn't include travel to or from the arena, nor anything else at the performance. (i.e. buy your own merchandise, drinks and snacks!)

To enter the competition, ensure you are following or subscribe to my blog via one of the many different routes - RSS or email subscription, Google Friend Connect or Networked Blogs. You may also want to like The Five Fs fan page on Facebook. Then, just leave a comment below, telling me who is your favourite X-Factor contestant of all time, and why. Make sure I have a twitter ID or email address to contact as I will need details quickly if you are the winner.

The competition will close on Wednesday 16th March at 12 noon. I will draw a winner at random from all qualifying entries and contact to ask for address details. If there is no reply by 8am on Thursday 17th, I will redraw the winner. Address details will be passed to a PR agency solely for the purpose of posting the tickets to you.

Good luck!

Terms & Conditions

The competition is open to residents of the UK only.
There is no cash alternative offered.
To enter, please leave a comment below as required above and become a follower of the blog via Google Friends Connect or Networked Blogs, or become an RSS or email subscriber. Please ensure you leave some contact details via twitter or email or I will not be able to contact you if you win.
The winner will be drawn at random from all qualifying entries. The winner will receive 2 tickets to the 2.30pm performance of the X-Factor Live Tour at the 02 Arena on Sunday 20th March 2011. Tickets cannot be exchanged for another performance.
The competition will close at 12:00 on Wednesday 16th March 2011.
The 
winner will be asked to provide a full UK postal address with postcode. If they do not contact me by 08:00 on 17th March, I will redraw the winner to ensure the tickets can be used. 
Address details will be passed onto an agency to post the tickets out to the winner, and is therefore beyond my control. I cannot be held responsible for tickets being lost in the post although I will endeavour to liaise with the agency.
One entry per person only. If you enter more than once, only the first entry will count. I reserve the right to disqualify entries if I believe multiple entries are being sent by the same person or the entrant is not a blog follower or subscriber.
The Five Fs blog's decision is final in all matters relating to this competition.


(I have not been paid to write the post. The tickets have been offered for use as a competition prize only.)


Edit: This competition is now closed. I've drawn the winner courtesy of random.org and the winner is: DJ Jason Sensation - commenter number 7 below. He's been contacted and has responded with details which I've passed on. Thanks for all the entries and well done to Jason.

How do you perceive me? Roll up for the One Word Meme

Another week, another tag... Lynne at honiebuk - who is also a real life NCT friend who I've known for four years - tagged me in this fantastic meme. For a change, this involves me getting you to do the hard work here. Basically, you have to sum me up in one word. The originator of this meme, Michelle from Mummy From The Heart, explains it thus:


This got me thinking about an email I received a few years back, one of those circular things that I normally hate but this one I loved and have never forgotten.  It was about the power of positive affirmations and how knowing what positive things others think of you can boost your own self-esteem.  It talked of an inspirational teacher who got all her children to write one positive word down to describe the other children in the class and then they had to hand them in.  The teacher then collated all the positive words for each child into a special sheet for them and handed it to them to read and keep.  They learnt that their peers saw them in ways they had never imagined and it had an immense effect on them.  The story goes that one of them died and a number of them attended the funeral and it was found that they all still had their lists 20 or so years later as they had been really touched by this loving gesture.  Did this really happen?  Who knows, but I love the sentiment of this story and therefore it does not matter to me if it was real.
Well, what about if us bloggers and virtual friends did something similar?  How marvellous would we all feel to learn these new facets of ourselves that we did not know existed.  Someone may say I am inspirational (another one I have heard about myself a few times recently) and me being me I would say ‘no not me’ but what have I done there?  Rubbished their opinion and that is not right, only they know if I have actually inspired them to do something.  If people are kind enough to give us a compliment we should be gracious enough to accept it…. and why not go one step further and actually go out and ask for it?
Well that is what I want us all to do.  I am creating a meme, called the 1 Word Meme and I would love for every one of us to be able to collate all the positive words left by our real life friends, virtual friends and fellow bloggers so that we each have a sheet of positive affirmations to treasure and boost our self-esteem.
We do spend our lives listening to our critical inner voices, which are sometimes so loud that it drowns out positive words from others. I'm not bad at accepting compliments, I think, but does it shut my critical inner voice up? Does it heck! The feelgood factor from having nice words from others lasts about as long as my cup of tea stays hot. Which is not very long, given that I drink a lot of cold tea.

So, now it's your turn. How would you sum me up in one word? Bit of a tall order, that one, given that I can't do it. But still - come up with that word and leave a comment below. And I promise - I'll try to make the feelgood factor last beyond my next cuppa.

As this is a meme, it is only right and proper I wave my tagging wand over a few other lovely bloggers to take it forward to have people say nice things about them too. They are:

Sarah from Happy Mum, Happy Child, Happy Life!
Sharron from Chocolate Is Therapy
Jane from Never Plain Jane
Deb from One Rubber Band
Sally from Who's the Mummy?
and Garry from The Blog Up North

(The badge code can be grabbed from Michelle's original post)

Onwards and upwards, folks. Don't forget to get to it in the comments below. Do your worst, eh?

Friday, 11 March 2011

The Five Fs recommends... Barcelona

As you will have noticed from my Gallery post, we've just come back from Barcelona. Well, actually it was just the three of us - Missy Woo went to stay with her Granny for a few nights, so it was just us and Monkey. I thought I'd do a post recommending various places based on each of the five Fs that this blog is (mostly) about. These are purely personal recommendations - everything I've mentioned is purely because we love them.

Firstly, we have family. Barcelona is generally family friendly as the Spanish love children. Monkey got in the way of a few passing pedestrians and the worst he got in return was an indulgent smile and a ruffle of his hair. Getting around is not too bad, even for those still in the buggy years, thanks to copious lifts on the Metro system. My main recommendation in this category is The Patio B&B. It has only two rooms so it's perfect for families who can take over the place therefore not disturb anyone nor be disturbed. It is amazingly quiet, save the distant rumble of Metro trains passing through the tube station across the road - it's located at the back of an apartment block and is surrounded by buildings on all sides. Traffic noise is often a problem when staying in Barcelona so a quiet retreat is great, especially when you have children. What really makes it for me are the owners, Liz and Tony. Liz is English and is a source of lots of information and great help to make your stay run smoothly. She was great with Monkey too, who benefited to the tune of several chocolate bars! A stay there is so relaxed; our second stay there was as good as the first, if not better. We'll be going back.

Our view last Saturday
Then, there is football. You can't really go to Barcelona and not visit the Nou Camp, can you? The Nou Camp experience is the most popular museum in Barcelona but not that good for children - Monkey spent only half an hour there before he got bored. However, actually going to a match is a different experience but not a particularly straightforward one. Let me offer a few tips:

  • Although the fixtures for a weekend are known months in advance, kick off times are not decided until 2 weeks beforehand which makes planning difficult. Kick off times can be anything from 6pm until 10pm, 9pm on Sunday so small children might need to stay up, but it's worth it for those who are into football, plus it makes a Sunday night flight home impossible if you are planning a trip.
  • Season ticket holders can sell their tickets back to the club for resale if they cannot attend a match. This means tickets become available at any time and is the only way you can buy tickets for most areas. If you can't get what you want straight away, keep trying. You may not be able to get tickets together, particularly in a large group but you can often swop once you get inside. Tickets cost between 32-102 euro, more for bigger games.
  • If you want to buy tickets in advance of travelling, buy your tickets from servicaixa.com - we tried several times over to book tickets from the FC Barcelona site and it wouldn't let us. A phone call to Spain pointed us at this site and it actually worked.
  • If you do book tickets online, you still have to turn up with the card you used and some photo ID to collect tickets. I spent an hour queueing (and I use that term loosely) to collect our tickets because we did so on match day. If you can go on another day to collect, you'll probably wait a lot less! You can also collect from ServiCaixa terminals of La Caixa bank - IF you can find one.
  • Finally, get there early. The layout of the stadium is not straightforward and they send you in an access door which forces you to walk round to your "boca" (block).. and then the odd numbered seats are one side of the aisle, and the evens the other! And be prepared for a crush on the Metro on the way home after, or walk if you're feeling up to it.

Next, we have food. I have to be honest here and say we discovered nowhere new this time. Our itinerary didn't really allow it. We apply the following rules when selecting where to eat:

- nice outdoor chairs; plastic ones are a total no-no
- the bar must stock Amaretto; not my guideline and this is not always strictly applied!
- there must be no pictures of the food, especially the dayglo ones that are supposed to make it look more appetising but fail
- never, ever buy anything to eat, other than perhaps an ice cream, on the Ramblas, it'll be expensive rubbish

Most of our eating occurred in two small chains where we've had some great tapas. The first is Tapa Tapa, which I've visited every time I've been to Barcelona and our first meal this time was down at their restaurant in Maremagnum, where we sat outside at Monkey's insistence. (I know they are environmentally unfriendly, but thank God for patio heaters!) We had some stunning calamari there, and tried some black rice with allioli which was gorgeous. The second was Taller de Tapas where we had some great patatas bravas and a tapa of spinach, pancetta and chickpeas, an old favourite of ours. We were very happy when we discovered there is one close to the Nou Camp so we stopped there before we went to the match.

And a special mention for Buenas Migas as a great stop off point for coffee and cake, or their great foccaccia. Husband managed to steer us in the direction of the branch behind the cathedral as he wanted some of their flapjack with yogurt but we also discovered their salami dolce this time around which is enough for two to share! I think we've pretty much visited all the branches in the city in our time and they're always good.

So, we're onto fitness. Strangely, I don't have too many things to say about that. You walk in Barcelona. A lot. Even if you go by Metro, you walk. You soon discover that most line changes actually involve a walk of around half a mile. It's generally pleasant walking in Barcelona if you can avoid the crowds (in which case, give the Ramblas a miss at busy times although you have to experience it once). But if you really want a fitness challenge, perhaps consider entering the Barcelona Marathon. The scenery is stunning and it's only 50 euro to register which is much cheaper than, say, the London Marathon. And it's much quieter too - only 13,000 out of 15,000 registered started last Sunday although it has grown rapidly in recent years, meaning you will get a place rather than having to go through a ballot.

Monkey and Miró
Finally, fun! There is actually quite a lot for children to do in Barcelona. An aquarium for starters, which we didn't get time to visit, nor CosmoCaixa (a science museum) a bit out of the city centre. There are also tons of smaller parks, but Monkey discovered his favourite on our final day. It's Parc Joan Miró, where there is huge Miró statue which totally dwarfed Monkey, but also extensive play areas for different ages of children as well as football pitches and basketball courts. It has a café too, so parents are catered for whilst their children run off some steam. Perfect.

We have been to Barcelona many times, and we will no doubt go again. It never fails as a great place to visit and now Monkey loves it as much as we do. As I said at the start, I've recommended these places I've mentioned here purely because we love them. If you go to Barcelona and try them out, we hope that you will too.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

My Fitness Story... - Emma

Welcome back to the My Fitness Story... series of posts. This week's story, by Emma who blogs about her life in Cyprus at A matter of choice, is her tale of how she overcame an almost lifelong struggle with her weight and changed her habits for good to finally lose the extra pounds. 

As far back as I can remember, I was overweight. I was always told I was not fat, I was ‘big boned’ and I suppose from that over the years, I assumed that there was nothing I could do about it.

Before
At age 12, I was 12 stone, and as I got older, it gradually increased. When I left home, I ate junk and drank beer and did no exercise at all. I thought I was being good by eating ‘healthy’ ready meals. Once, I joined a gym but left after just a couple of sessions. It felt like a pointless activity and I ‘knew’ that I could never be a size 12. I started a new job in 2001 and they had to order me a special uniform in a size 20 but even then I didn’t do anything. I even got married at that size and didn’t even think of trying to lose weight beforehand.

There was no ‘lightbulb” moment for me. My Dad, in a bid to encourage a friend, had started going to our local Slimming World group and I was so surprised. I thought if he could do it, then maybe it was worth a try, maybe I could lose a few pounds.

I started going in January 2006, I had no target in mind at all. My ideal weight was so far from where I was, I felt there was no way I could lose that much. In the first week I lost 2.5lb, in the second 5lb. I was stunned – I had lost weight and not only that I had lost over ½ stone!

Still with no final target in mind, I just kept going, doing pretty much the same thing and averaging one or two pound loss each week.  It totally changed my eating habits and it taught me to cook as well. For the first time, I was eating fruit and fresh vegetables, I was cooking from scratch rather than buying ready meals and I felt so much better for it.
After

I also started exercising, it was hard at first having never done it, apart from being forced to at school but slowly it got easier, and to my surprise I actually ended up enjoying it!

A year later, I felt it was time to set a target weight and in September 2008, I reached it; I had lost just over four stone. It’s no exaggeration to say it changed my life, I felt so much healthier and confident. I had thought that losing weight would be impossible so now I had done that I realized that I could do anything if I really set my mind to it.

There were several amazing moments but one day I was walking past a shop window and saw my reflection and thought it was someone else – I stopped dead in the middle of the high street and stared in amazement.  The other was being nominated by my group for “Woman of the Year” and coming second in the regional finals. I was featured in our local paper and a national newspaper too – not bad for a girl once called “Emma the elephant” at school!

At the Woman of the Year regional finals
The Slimming World plan (and I do think of it as a plan not a ‘diet’) is brilliant, obviously it is designed to help you lose weight but it taught me so much more than that. It is not a ‘quick fix’ but about changing your eating habits for the better. There is nothing you can’t eat but it does teach you to eat more of the ‘good things and less of the bad.  Because of the change it had brought about in my diet, I am confident that I can bring my son up knowing the importance of healthy eating. It was always a worry of mine that I would have a ‘fat kid’ like I had been and I wouldn’t be able to help.

When I got pregnant in 2009, I obviously put on weight but the day I was to be induced I stepped on the scales and I was still lighter than I had been at my heaviest. I still have about a stone to lose to get back to my ‘new target’ I am not aiming for the lowest I have been as I don’t feel like it would be an easy weight to maintain, my goal is to fit back into my old clothes but mainly to feel as fit and healthy as I did before.

Although I know the Slimming World plan inside out, it is much harder without the support of going to a weekly group, as I moved to Cyprus a year ago and  had to leave my group behind. Fortunately, Slimming World has just reached us out here and a group has opened in my area. I will soon be attending to give me the added motivation for this last little bit.

Even now, I am still stunned and amazed that I did it, and although it sounds like a bit of a cliché, if I can do it anyone can. I just now need to remind myself that if I did it once, I can do it again, and get back to my target weight.

Thank you, Emma, for telling your story today. Don't you agree that she looks fantastic? I realise this is the second post in as many weeks that have seen success with Slimming World but I can promise you that this is a coincidence and that no-one has been paid to write these posts. These are personal experiences and it has obviously worked for them. As Emma points out in the post, it's a longer term change to eating habits and leading a healthy lifestyle more than it is a diet, so it has a better chance of long term success. 

Please share any experiences you have in the comments below. Alternatively, if you have a fitness story to tell, then get in touch with me on Twitter or via the email address on the About me page. I will link back to any blog you write if you wish, or you can remain either partly or fully anonymous.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Gallery - One Word

My blog post today serves a dual purpose. It's my Gallery post, for which the prompt this week is "One Word" but today is a more auspicious occasion. For today is Monkey's 6th birthday. Six years ago today, I became a mother. I may never republish his birth story (I wrote it for a discussion board I used to be on when he was born), mainly because it was so long and drawn out, I'd bore you all to tears. It featured lots of stops and starts, twists and turns, things that nearly happened but didn't. It went on for days. I was so exhausted when he was born that I couldn't really feel anything for him - I'd barely slept for several days and not at all overnight on the day he was born.

He was a difficult baby as a newborn - not the sort that would sleep easily, and I really struggled for a while to adjust to motherhood. I swear he knew how to drive us mad sometimes - he'd cry in the evenings after being put to bed, and stop just as one of us would get to outside his room, then start again when we got back downstairs! But eventually, things settled down and I soon realised how much he meant to me.

Over the intervening five or so years since, I have watched him grow from a baby to a toddler into the boy he is today. I've seen him learn to walk and talk, I've seen him meet, get to know and love his sister. I've endured his tantrums, some of which have made me cry and feel like a dreadful mother. I've seen him flourish at school, approaching everything he does with enthusiasm and a relish for new challenges; he's progressing in leaps and bounds. Last weekend, we took him to Barcelona to go to the Nou Camp and watch his dad run the marathon. He was a total trooper, prepared to pull his own case around when travelling, trying out new food and loving all the new experiences, even if some of them scared him at first.

He's funny, smart, and has an infectious laugh that can lift everyone around him. He may be naughty sometimes but he is also polite and usually rises to the situation if you explain to him that you really need him to be good for you. He's a football obsessive, which is maddening (though we only have ourselves to blame!) but it has been a joy to watch his interest and passion grow for the sport.

On Sunday, when we were waiting for my husband to finish his marathon, I realised that lots of runners were getting their children to run the final couple of hundred metres with them. One guy even picked up his sleeping newborn! I asked Monkey if he wanted to do the same and when he said yes, I popped him over the barrier to wait by the side of the road to join Daddy. He sat quietly until he appeared, ran up to him, took his hand and happily trotted off to the finish line. It was an amazing moment - even though I actually missed them crossing the line as they disappeared into the distance.

So, my picture today is of Monkey, my birthday boy, dressed in the Barcelona shirt he'd managed to talk us into buying. It has David Villa's name on the back - bet you really wanted to know that, but it's important to him! It may not be the best picture in the world but it encapsulates the boy he has become.

And in case you were thinking I'd forgotten the Gallery theme, I haven't. I've given this photo a title that describes how I feel about my boy, my Monkey. I give you one word - and that's "proud".




Happy Birthday Monkey. We love you loads.


Monday, 7 March 2011

Review: Zoobles!

I was sent a new toy for me and Missy Woo to review. They're a new collectable aimed at girls called Zoobles. Curled up into little balls, they open up when placed on their "happitat" to become little character to play with. There are apparently over 150 of these to collect.

When I first received this, Missy Woo said she'd never heard of them, despite my having seen a Zoobles advert on the channel they were watching a day or two before. She soon remembered as she started talking about the happitat without my mentioning it, and also she could knew what you had to do to make them come alive. She was keen to get it out to play with it. When you place the Zooble on top of the happitat (it's magnetised), it sprang open and had wiggly ears. If you place it inside the happitat, the Zooble could go to sleep. The Zooble is quite small - which is both a blessing and a curse; small enough for little hands to hold easily but also, easily lost.

The Zoobles are grouped such that they come from different lands. Ours came from Petagonia. If you visit the Zoobles website, you can explore these lands as well as update your collection of Zoobles as you buy them.

Given that there are 150 to collect - and of course, some of them are rare - I think they are quite expensive at £5.99 for a single Zooble, although you can buy two for £9.99 and playsets for £19.99. At those prices, it's like those partwork magazines; when you add up the total cost, your mind is totally blown. They're even a bit expensive for pocket money treats, unless I'm a scrooge. They are aimed squarely at girls over 4 - although Monkey was interested in them too - but I can't see us building up anything other than a small collection thanks to the cost. For me, that is the biggest issue - although that is not a concern for Missy Woo.

But then it wouldn't be, would it?

(I was provided with a Zooble toy to review and have received no other compensation. The opinions stated are my own and not affected by the aforementioned compensation.)
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