Monday, 28 February 2011

To my brother

I never knew you. We occupied the same space but a few months apart. We grew, we were both nurtured and loved. By the time it was my turn, it was already too late, you were gone.

Something went wrong. Something happened to you which meant it was over before it started. You died before you were born. Your heart stopped. Mum had to give birth to a dead baby. A boy. Is that perhaps the thing that hurts the most - that you were the only boy she had and you were stillborn? I cannot imagine how it must have felt to lose a baby in those circumstances. Now that I am a mother myself, the thought alone of losing a child cuts me in two.

Photo credit: gc85
I grew up knowing about you but was never made to feel I or our younger sister were only replacements for the loss of you. We were kept light on the details, presumably because Mum and Dad wanted to shield us from what happened, and still, to this day, I don't think I know the full story. I remember where you were buried. I thought I was imagining that it was part of a playground but I think there are playing fields close to the cemetery. I have never been there as an adult. Perhaps I should. 

Thinking about you now has made me realise something. If you had been born alive and healthy, it's possible I never would have been born as I know I was born quite soon after you. That is quite a frightening thought - that neither I nor my children may not ever have existed, and possibly our sister too. Who knows? Not only is it quite frightening, it actually makes me question why. Why did I survive and you didn't? Neither of us did anything to deserve what happened to us. Should I feel guilty that I got to experience life whereas you didn't? I am sad that you didn't live. No first smile, no first steps, no first day at school. No joy at discovering new things. No sadness. Nothing.

Your birth and death coloured my own arrival. I don't blame you for that, it's just how it is. Mum worried throughout pregnancy. I think that she blames herself to this day and feels she could have done more to prevent your stillbirth. She must have carried that guilt along with me. Names were not discussed; I don't think Mum even dared to think of having a live baby, let alone its name. Dad chose my name and came up with it once I was born safely and Mum asked him what they should call me. 

Growing up, I tried to imagine what it would be like to have you as a brother. It would be wrong to say I craved it but I would have loved the chance to find out. An older brother to play different games with, someone to shield and protect me. Looking at Monkey and Missy Woo, I wonder whether our relationship would have been as close as theirs had we both survived. I also wonder if some of the things that happened to me in childhood would have done if I'd had a big brother been round to keep an eye on me. Would my childhood or family have been different, and if so, how?

Life can be full of "what ifs", but this is bigger than all of them. It's about a whole person who should have been, but wasn't. The baby that never became a boy that never became a man, an uncle, possibly a father. What if you had been born? What would you have been like? 

I have been thinking about you a lot recently because a stillbirth happened to someone I know. They may go on to have other babies. People may think that those children will be largely unaffected by a former stillbirth. I tell you now - they won't be, but you knew that already, didn't you? Unless the parents keep it a secret from them, they will always wonder about the baby that was never born that could have been their sibling. I don't feel pain. I don't really feel loss because I never lost you. It makes me feel numb to think about you. Even 46 years on, you seep into my thoughts from time to time. And I wonder. I'll never stop wondering because the questions I have in my head will never be answered. No-one can answer them except you, and you can't.

To my brother, whom I never knew. Rest in peace. 

For information and support on stillbirths and neonatal deaths, please visit the Sands website.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

State of independence

It is one of the worst feelings that any parent can experience - that dread when you realise you've lost your children and don't know where they are. That happened to me this week.

We were at the Sea Life Centre in Blackpool, just me with the children as husband was at work. We'd been round but at the end was a small soft play area that the children decided they wanted to explore, and I got some drinks and snacks at the usually extortionate prices. They played, I got some peace. Bliss!

Monkey announced that he wanted to go to the toilet NOW as we were putting on coats and shoes to leave. He started walking away and I told him to wait. He said he wanted to go and kept walking. Missy Woo and I started to follow him through the maze of tables. Then a toddler stood in front of me. I stopped, looked down at the little boy, stepped round him and looked up. I couldn't see either Monkey or Missy Woo. In a few seconds, they had both disappeared! I wasn't too bothered because I thought I could just follow them to the toilets. However, I went through two sets of doors, I found myself at the top of some stairs. No toilets. I'd gone through the wrong door.

I thought I'd just turn back. I pushed the door. It wouldn't budge. It was a one-way door, presumably to stop people sneaking in without paying. I stood and waited, thinking someone else would come through within a few seconds. I was wrong. I felt weirdly calm, largely because I knew they were shut in, even though I was inwardly praying the children were OK once they had been to the toilet and I wasn't there.

It was a few minutes until someone finally came through the door and I could get through. I scurried round to the toilets, but there was no sign of them. Great! I started walking back through the exhibition but almost straight away, they appeared with a member of staff. "Mummy!" Monkey called. "We lost you."

Apparently, they couldn't see me when they came out of the toilets so they went to find a staff member and Monkey told him "We've lost our Mummy". They were both fine, neither were upset or tearful. I think they were just confused. I calmly told Monkey that he shouldn't run off where I couldn't see him, but praised him for looking after Missy Woo and finding the member of staff. Secretly, I was quite impressed with the way he had handled it as I don't recall telling him what to do if he got lost. Still, I don't fancy a repeat any time soon. I tried hard not to get too cross with them because if I hadn't gone the wrong way, it wouldn't have happened. I also didn't want to make a fuss and scare them. They still had a strip torn off them later when I told my husband what had happened.

I've reflected on this and come to the conclusion that I have raised independent children, and that this is the downside of that independence. When it suits them, both Monkey and Missy Woo want to do everything themselves or alone. I blogged shortly after Missy Woo started school how quickly she wanted to go into class by herself. The current excitement, for both of them, is managing to do up their own seat belts in the car. They don't manage it all the time but their faces light up when they do.

I cannot and will not curb their desire for independence. This incident may have been one of the negative aspects of that desire but it does have positives - they are so proud when they manage to do something for themselves and do it well, and most of the time, they are prepared to have a go. The challenge for me is to help that independence to flourish within safe boundaries so they don't come to any harm. The pride and sense of achievement that they feel gives them confidence and watching them flourish really is a wonder. For me, it is the best thing about parenting.

Are your children independent? What do they insist on doing for themselves? How much freedom do you allow them to have? Leave me a comment and tell me!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

My Fitness Story... - Holly

Today's post is by Holly, who has been an online friend of mine for several years. Over the last year or so, Holly has totally overhauled her diet and her lifestyle and lost a dramatic amount of weight, dropping 4 dress sizes so far. She agreed to share how she's done it and so, without further ado, I'll hand over to Holly to tell her fitness story. 

In October 2009 I was fat (18.5 stone) and unhappy. I was working as an IT Consultant over 150 miles away from home during the week, away from all friends and family and had £25 a night to spend on food. Joining a gym was pointless as I was never at home to exercise and the more frustrated I got in my job, the more I ate - then I got upset that I was putting on weight and didn’t like the way I looked - so I ate more.

In Vegas October 2009
That month, I flew out to Las Vegas to see one of my younger sisters get married - when I saw the wedding photographs I realised that I couldn't continue at the weight I was - I looked horrendous! Double chin, massive stomach - The fact I was quite tall meant I could 'carry' the weight better than someone shorter, but when you're buying size 22 clothes, you can only bury your head in the sand so long.

When I got back from Las Vegas I went to see my Doctor - I burst into tears and said I was miserable with life - I hated my job, hated how I looked and was having very bad thoughts. The Doctor was lovely and suggested I needed to find another job as soon as possible and lose weight - she suggested the 'GI Diet', one that I had never heard of before. January 1st 2010, I started my 'healthy eating' (I hate the word 'diet') and also started looking to move jobs. The GI diet worked for me as it wasn't complicated - there were no 'points' and no 'bad food' although I did stay completely clear from chocolate, crisps and alcohol for the first 4 months.

In March 2010, I found another job which was much closer to home and this meant I could join my local gym which is conveniently located a 2 minute walk away from my house. I also decided to get a personal trainer so that he could kick my ass if I fell off the wagon. Within 3 months, I had lost 2.5 stone and felt a lot better - my complexion was better, my double chin was going and my confidence was growing. Rather than wearing very baggy tops and shirts, I started buying fitted clothes and liking myself a bit more.
My friends and family were all so supportive, even to the point that they wouldn't eat 'fatty' foods when I was around. I started taking a massive interest in cooking as I was no longer living out of hotels, so started cooking my meals from scratch and I really believe this has helped a lot in my weight loss. Even now, over a year later, I still try and make it my mission to cook one new healthy meal a week, and I still follow the GI principles.

The one thing I struggled with the most was 'guilt' when I ate something I deemed to be 'bad' for me. I had been on diets before (Slimfast, Weight Watchers etc) and when I had a cake, some chocolate etc, I felt that I had let myself down, so my willpower plummeted and I thought to myself 'Well, I've failed, so I may as well just not bother' and I would sabotage myself and continue eating rubbish for a few days. I won't lie and say this hasn't happened in the last year, as it has, but I am still trying very hard to retrain my mind to say 'You know what? You've been to the gym 3 times a week and eaten healthy all week - you CAN have a bar of chocolate and not feel as if you've failed...'

From this
to this
Where am I now? Well, I have lost just over 6 stone and am now 12 stone 2lbs! Have I got to where I want to be? No, not yet as my BMI is still 27, so I know I need to lose some more weight. However, I am so much happier, healthier and for the first time in YEARS, I like what I see in the mirror. To keep myself motivated, I have registered for the Reading half marathon and even if I don’t finish it, I’ll be proud that I tried my best. My current wardrobe consists of mostly size 14 jeans and tops, but I have a couple of pairs of size 12 jeans that I can fit into and if I can slim down to an ‘average’ size 12, then I think I’ll be chuffed.

I learnt a lot of things along the way – the biggest epiphany was that people can sabotage you or demotivate you without even wanting to. For example, when my ex-work colleagues found out I was trying to lose weight, they seemed to take extra interest in my lunches. ‘You’re not allowed that’ was said to me on more than one occasion, along with ‘How can you eat that if you’re on a diet?’ so when I moved jobs, I kept my weight loss goals to myself which worked very well indeed. One friend, who was also trying to lose weight, wasn’t doing very well so she’d try and sabotage me by arranging to go to the gym with me, then cancel at the last minute and suggest we go for pizza! I felt sorry for her, but never said yes – the only person I had to justify my healthy eating plan to was myself.

I’ll never be overly slim, nor will I ever be ‘model’ material – however I hope to continue to be happy in my own skin and like myself. I consider that a success.

Thanks so much to Holly for telling her story today. I am so chuffed for her as I know how much it meant to her to lose weight and keep going this time. She found what has worked for her and stuck at it. Learning to overcome hurdles and dealing with bad days seems to be an important factor in the long term success of any fitness regime, whatever it is aiming to achieve. Losing a lot of weight is a long, long road. There are bound to be problems along the way so getting up again after a slip up ensures you get there in the end. 

Have you lost a large amount of weight? Please share your experience 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, 23 February 2011

The Gallery - Expressions

I never realised until I started trying to find a suitable photo for this week's Gallery prompt of "Expressions" how little variation there in the expressions of the people that I photograph. Largely, that's the children. This may have something to do with the fact that my children learnt to pose from a very young age and break into huge smiles whenever there is a whiff of a camera in the nearby vicinity. The range of expressions therefore goes from happy ones, through a few bemused blank ones from the baby years and in the rest, they are asleep.

But I did manage to find one that stuck from the rest, which is good or you would have got a rogues' gallery full of cheesy grins.

I took this photograph when I took the children to a friend's party. Missy Woo is about 15 months old. At the party, they were doing face painting for all the children. Several of the boys chose to have their faces painted as Spiderman. Unfortunately, every time Missy Woo saw one of them near her, her face crumpled in terror and she started wailing and crying. Every time I'd get her calmed down, one of them would pop up again next to her. Eventually, the boys moved away to play a game or bounce on a bouncy castle and I put her on a rocking horse - one of her favourite toys - to settle her down. She calmed down but as you can see, the terror that afternoon was never completely far away and she was completely on her guard. I could have tried all day and all night to get a smile and I don't think I would have got one. She looks like she could dissolve into tears at any moment, doesn't she?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Calling canny shoppers! Win £12 off a £50 order when you try Tesco online grocery shopping like I did.

Photo credit- cnina
I like to think that I'm a bit of a canny shopper. I have to be. I plan my meals weekly, then write a shopping list. Some weeks, thanks to buying special offers to freeze, I've kept my bill down to about £30. Most weeks, it's closer to £50. I go to Costco for various things on top of that, but that doesn't add much to the weekly bill.

I like to shop online when I don't want to trail around a supermarket. It has benefits over being there but there are also downsides too. If I have kids with me, I don't have to drag them out of the toy aisle if I'm sat at home doing the shopping on the laptop but you can't pick up any last minute bargains. I've tried them all but tend to stick to one favourite site.

Tesco provided me with a voucher to try their online grocery shopping, because they have added new features to their website to make shopping easier, so I gave them another go.

They say the favourites feature is better and loads items bought on previous orders and from items you have bought in store when you use your Clubcard. However, my list was disappointingly short, which is odd as I do shop in-store semi-regularly.

What was more useful to me was the fact the items on multibuy promotions are flagged as soon as you add them to your basket so that you don't miss out. I've been on other sites that don't flag this up until you reach checkout which can be annoying so I definitely liked it.

I also liked the fact they won't charge you anymore if they substitute for something more expensive. Substitutions are often the worst part of online supermarket shopping and I've missed out on offers before because of this. And you can still reject the substitution when it turns up, and you can also reject anything you don't think is fresh enough too. They are meant also to put anything on a short date in blue bags but I had no short dated items - which is definite progress as many is the time I have had things delivered for a week and it has a use by date of the following day!

Tesco have added a special offer tab, giving details of all special offers. However, I didn't find this  particularly helpful. The groupings were too broad and you had long lists to wade through, even by departments and you couldn't filter down further. I also found product searches annoying. I searched for cauliflower and it made me choose from different departments. It didn't make clear that "Vegetables and Fruit" were frozen items! When I found the right category, one of the options was a cabbage. Equally, if you searched for yogurts, you had a great long list of products to look through and you weren't able to filter it further by type of yogurt (ie small pots, multipacks, large pots etc) or by manufacturer which would have speeded up finding the products I actually wanted. It's not fun wading through 200 items.

I would also like the option to sort the items in different ways - like showing the cheapest items at the top of the list, which I can do elsewhere. If you do that, you can just look at the items up to the budget you might have set yourself for that item. Without this, you had to scroll through the whole list. 

Finally, although delivery slots were plentiful, a two hour delivery slot is less convenient than the one hour slots I'm used to and I don't understand why Tesco do not offer it. I would have liked the option. The delivery man was very polite and brought all the boxes into the kitchen as I had opted not to have bags.

I think Tesco have made improvements and have made their grocery shopping online easier, but I do think they could still do more to make it user-friendly and quicker to complete a weekly shop.

Tesco have also given me voucher codes for £12 off a £50 spend for 10 of my blog readers to win so they can try grocery shopping too. Please note that these codes are for first time grocery shoppers only. The codes are valid from 28th February for orders delivered on or before 11th March 2011.

To be in with a chance of winning one of these codes, first follow my blog through Google Friend Connect, Networked Blogs or become an email subscriber. Then, leave a comment below and tell me your tip for saving money on your grocery shopping.

All entries must be received by midday on 28th February. The winners will be drawn at random. Codes will be emailed to the winners after the draw is made, so please ensure your email address is recorded in your Disqus profile or you leave an email address within your comment.

Terms and Conditions

1. There are 10 prizes of a code to receive £12 off your online grocery shop when you spend £50 or more. 
2. Code is valid from February 28th 2011 on a single grocery order, delivered on or before 11th March 2011. 
3. Customers must spend & have delivered £50 or more of groceries from
4. Purchases from Wine By the Case do not qualify. 
5. £50 minimum spend excludes purchases of tobacco, infant milk formulae, prescription medicines & the service charge. 
6. Valid on purchases from groceries site only. 
7. Valid for first-time grocery shoppers only. 
8. Cannot be used in conjunction with other coupons. This coupon is and shall remain the property of Tesco Stores Limited and is not for resale or publication.
9. All entrants must be following this blog via Google Friend Connect or Networked Blogs or be an email subscriber. 
10. Entries must be made via the comments on this post and all comments must be received before midday on Monday 28th February. 
11. Winners will be drawn at random from all qualifying entries. 
12. The Five Fs blog's decision on all matters is final.

(I was kindly given a voucher code for £50 off a £75 order so that I could try out Tesco's online grocery shopping site. I have received no other compensation. The opinions stated here are my own, and have not been influenced by the aforementioned compensation.)

Monday, 21 February 2011

Whose idea was it to have Pancake Day so late?

This is a sponsored post. 

I mean, how very dare they? Pancake Day normally falls happily into half term, providing a welcome activity for one of the days where the school run doesn't rule our lives. But this year, Easter is so late, it's not going to be until the day before Monkey's birthday in March for goodness sake. For various reasons, not just the 6th birthday celebrations, that week is going to be slightly manic.

Some of the good ladies were lamenting this late arrival of Pancake Day (and yes, I realise its official name is Shrove Tuesday - I'm just keeping things secular) so had their own unofficial Pancake Day last week. I think this is going to be the plan for us one day this week, with everyone home for half term so I'm going to  dust off my pancake recipe. I think I'll tell the children it's Early Pancake Day.

I prefer to make my own batter. There are tons of recipes out there and I never realised how much they varied. I always mix mine in a jug - so that I can easily pour the batter into a pan rather than having to ladle it. What I do is sift 110g/4oz plain flour into the jug and make a well in the middle, add a pinch of salt (if I remember - ahem), crack in an egg and a splash of milk from 280ml/half a pint of milk. Then I whisk it together to form a smooth cream. After that, I gradually whisk in the rest of the milk. If I'm making thicker pancakes - kind of American style for little hands to hold - I add less milk to get a thicker batter. People say you need to leave the batter to stand but you don't - but sometimes it's easier to get the batter made and put aside so feel free to do so, just rewhisk it before you use it. Other recipes add in a bit of sugar or some melted butter. I don't, but go right ahead if you want to.

Cooking pancakes never totally works first time for me. I have to make a "sacrificial pancake" at first and accept it might be a minor disaster - at least it gives me one spare to eat whilst I am making the rest. Apparently, it's because my pan is not hot enough according to something I read recently, but as my kitchen is almost full of smoke when I make them, I'm a bit dubious about that.

I put my pan on a high heat and put some butter on with some kitchen paper. Once the pan is really hot, I turn it back down to medium or the pancakes burn. I pour in about 2tbsp of batter and swirl it around quickly to cover the surface of the pan. You might need more if your pan is bigger. It only takes half a minute or so to cook to golden. It's generally cooked when you can see bubbles forming. Then I flip it - either with a fish slice, or you can flip the pan if you're feeling brave. It only needs a few more seconds before you slide it out of the pan. If you're making a pile of pancakes first before eating them, rather than eating them all there and then (or is that just me?), store them between sheets of greaseproof paper. Delia recommends keeping the stack on a plate over some simmering water to keep warm and who am I to argue with that?

If you really don't want to make your own batter, you can buy batter mix. Some of them require egg and milk adding (er, that will be flour and salt then?) but Betty Crocker do one called Shake to Make Pancakes where you just add water to the bottle, shake and pour straight into the pan. You can also find tips for making and flipping your pancakes here.

I don't know how good your flipping skills are - mine are rubbish - but I'm betting you're not as good as this. It's flipping amazing (geddit?)

If you are, then tell me and prove it. That's a vlog I'd love to see!

When it comes to toppings, we normally just have lemon and sugar on our pancakes in this house but jam also goes down well with Monkey and Missy Woo. What do you have on yours? Leave me a comment below with your filling or topping ideas - sweet or savoury. I'd like some new ones to try.

Happy Early Pancake Day!

(This is a sponsored post. I have been paid a fee to write a post about pancakes and include the links to the Betty Crocker website and video. I have not been told what to write, all words, opinions and the recipe are my own.)

Nothing to see here, move on along now


Happy now, Technorati? You'd better be!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

This is me - after a fashion

It's been a while since I did a meme other than the Gallery and Silent Sunday and when I got tagged by the lovely Karen at If I Could Escape, closely followed by the equally lovely Garry from The Blog Up North to take part. It was started by Tara from Sticky Fingers. The idea is that you get your child to draw a picture of you, and post it. Simple.

Both Monkey and Missy Woo like drawing but Missy Woo particularly so. I asked them both to draw a picture of me, in the hope I could cheat a little and get you to compare the two but Monkey got distracted and was more interested in football/eating/riding his bike when it came to it. I thought it would while away some time on a day over half term, but then Missy Woo, who normally spends hours and hours on most pictures, shocked me by finishing it in less than five minutes. I manage to string it out by getting her to writing "Mummy by Missy Woo" along the bottom (I helped with the spelling of everything except the word mummy) but that was it. So, here we go:

Apparently, I'm wearing a dress "for a change" and the star is to make it "look pretty". My hair is a bit short but then, my hair is not down my back (true) and I'm not sure about that crooked leg. She actually forgot one of my arms but added it when I pointed it out. I didn't realise I was quite that triangular though.

So there you go, this is me - through the eyes of my child.

Fancy a go? I'm going to tag a few bloggers to join in but if you're not tagged, you don't have to wait until someone does. Just join in and link up your post. 

I'm going to tag: 

Chris at Thinly Spread

New directions, new start

Photo credit - lusi
I found out on Thursday that I had been elected as a parent governor at school. It feels like an end, but really it is just the beginning of a new phase of my life. 

I hadn't really given being a governor much thought, other than I might find out more about it one day. Then, about a year ago, I had an online conversation with Garry from The Blog Up North. He asked me if I had ever considered becoming a school governor and when I said I didn't really know that much, he told me that he thought I'd make a good school governor. We chatted about the role and what a governor does and I thought it sounded interesting.

Weirdly, the very next day, the school newsletter mentioned there was a vacancy for a parent governor. It was like it was some kind of fate. When they sent out nomination forms, I filled it out, having to write six words about myself. You try; it's almost impossible if you want it to be coherent! I enlisted Garry's help with that bit and we eventually got something together.

When the ballot forms were sent home, reality bit. I looked at the other two candidates and just knew who would win. It wasn't going to be me. I just knew who people would vote for. I was right; the letter came home a day or so after the vote closed to say I hadn't been successful.

Not being successful made me realise that I did want to become a governor at some point, but I couldn't see how it was going to happen. Going through an election is hard work and being a Brit, I can't go round asking people to vote for me. I don't even know if that's allowed!

Fast forward to a few weeks back when they announced that there were two more vacancies for parent governors. I thought about it long and hard. Should I go for it again? How would it look to stand again? Was I standing against any of the existing governors? After thinking about it for a good few days, I decided I would probably never have a better chance, and dusted off my sixty words. I still managed to rehash them ten times before I was happy with it!

This time, there were again three candidates but with there being two vacancies, the chances of success were higher. One of the other candidates was an existing governor who I know reasonably well and is well known around school. Thank goodness everyone could vote for two people!

Thursday was a long wait. The vote closed at lunchtime and I expected a letter to inform me of the result that afternoon as school was closing for half term. Of course, they put the letter in Missy Woo's bag, not Monkey's like they usually do so for a while, I thought that I would have to wait until March to find out. But there it was.

So, I'm a governor now. Right now, it doesn't feel any different - apart from being thrilled that I was elected and that I made the right decision to go for it. Right now, I know very little about the work of a governor other than in general terms, and I know I have a lot to learn. I also know I can learn and that I will try to do my very best to do the job well and give back to the school. It might be sometime before I have a meeting and, being half term, there's not a lot going on anyway, so it doesn't feel that real either.

It is a new direction for me. It is the start of something new. It may not be a paid job, but it's an important one and I hope to put in as much as I get out of it. I'm quite looking forward to the challenge, because I like challenges. I hope I can rise to it.

Thanks for those of you that supported me over the week of the election and sent me congratulations and good wishes on Thursday. 

And finally, a huge thank you to Garry, for igniting the initial spark of interest within me about becoming a school governor, for being my cheerleader, for giving his time and advice freely and offering his support and belief in me. If I can be half as good a governor as you are, I'll be doing alright. I hope I can repay the faith you had in me by doing the job (and the school) justice. Thank you. 

Thursday, 17 February 2011

My Fitness Story... - Corinne

Today's story is a truly inspiring one. It's by Corinne Ellison, who decided she wanted to do an Ironman, started training, but was then diagnosed with a heart condition requiring open heart surgery which she underwent in June 2010. When I first read the post, I was struck by how positive Corinne has remained throughout, even when she has been experiencing tough times. Over to Corinne to tell her story, which she has chosen to call..

Heart Surgery to Ironman

My story starts with a desire to complete an Ironman. To those who have not heard of Ironman, it is a long distance triathlon consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles bike and 26.2 run (a marathon) – one after another!

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not an experienced triathlete. In fact, when I entered my first race, I could only swim 2 lengths and bike round the block! I finished my first triathlon in 2009 and came third….from last! I had been ‘keeping fit’ for a couple of years but I didn’t seem to be improving as I should. I began to become suspicious that something was wrong but put this niggle to the back of my mind. Eventually, I went to see my doctor, complaining of shortness of breath and chest pain - within two weeks I was diagnosed with a large hole in my heart.

This leads me to the motivation behind finishing an Ironman. Facing the prospect of never being able to exercise again scared me immensely. Doctors warned me that I would never be an elite athlete (I wasn’t planning on this!), that I wouldn’t be able to take up my marathon place that year and I facing open heart surgery.

As a woman in my twenties, I felt like the natural concern should be the physical aspects of the surgery – pain, the anaesthetic and the scar. Open heart surgery usually means a vertical scar of around 12 inches down the centre of the chest. This did not concern me, my only focus became ensuring I got back to health as soon as possible. After getting over the initial shock of diagnosis, I had to stop exercising completely as my heart was at the beginning of failure. Whilst I had my long term fitness dreams still burning away inside, I felt unsure about the timescales for achieving them. Over the next few weeks, I began to switch off from sport – I couldn’t talk about it with friends, I stopped going to my club and couldn’t read magazines. The pain of not being able to exercise meant that I had to shut off for a while, focusing only on the here and now.

I was feeling pretty vulnerable whilst waiting to have the surgery and initially afterwards. I was frustrated at not being able to exercise. Doubts started to set in and I was concerned about my ability to ever run again. I needed a positive boost of confidence. This is where the Ironman goal came in. My fixation with achieving of the ultimate physical challenge was cemented. My journey from heart surgery to Ironman began; I fully committed to this goal and used it as a distraction from my fear.

Obstacles in recovery were overcoming the post-operative pain to get out for my first shuffle round the block – a miniscule 7 minutes on my first day! Mentally and physically, I felt fragile but was determined to keep up with the training prescribed by the physiotherapists. Everyday, I pushed myself a little further and soon was walking up to 4 miles a day. My love of exercise began to return and I soon felt the benefit of the fresh air.

What I learnt from the experience was that when something is taken away from you (in my case the ability to exercise and potential ability to race in the future), you want it even more. Scarcity is powerful and I found my determination grew. Ironman became a possibility after a discussion with my cardiologist. He inadvertently told me that as my heart was so ineffective pre-surgery, I should be able to achieve much faster times with my fixed heart. An hour off my best marathon time was jokingly mentioned – I committed this to memory and set my goal then and there. The benefit of having heart surgery, aside from improved health, was that I now appreciate the true value of exercise and how it improves your emotional and physical well-being. Going through a test of character and coming out the other side has given me confidence in myself.

So, where I am today? Almost 8 months after my surgery, I am back to all the sport I love and getting ready for my first race – the Brighton half marathon. A succession of races follows for the rest of the year, with the ultimate challenge of Ironman in November 2012 – the month I turn 30!

Huge thanks to Corinne for sharing her story with us, and good luck for all the races she's running - the Brighton half marathon is actually this Sunday so I will be thinking of her then. Corinne also has a Just Giving page to raise money for GUCH (Grown Up Congenital Heart Patients Association) when she runs the London Marathon for the third time in April. You can also find her on twitter here.

If you'd like to tell your fitness story, please get in touch with me, either on Twitter or via the email address on the About Me page.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


I had children relatively late in life. It could have all gone very wrong by starting out late, but I was very lucky not to have problems conceiving. I didn't know, when I was pregnant with Monkey, whether he would be an only one or not. And, in the first few weeks after his birth I thought he might do as he was one of those difficult babies that wouldn't sleep and would eat all the time. I so felt like I was not cut out for motherhood. Then, gradually, slowly, things got better and I felt more able to cope.

One night, when he was about 4 months old, I was getting ready to go out after he'd gone to bed and it hit me. I wanted him to have a sibling, a playmate. I didn't know if it would be possible and I knew that due to my age, I wouldn't be able to wait too long before trying again. But I felt like I owed it to him to try - just to have another child in the house would change the dynamic massively.

We waited a couple of months before starting the trying bit again and it also didn't take long. Missy Woo was due the end of June, just three and a half months after Monkey turned one. She was late, so the age difference is just a few days short of sixteen months. And thankfully, she was way more chilled as a baby so it was never as bad as first time around.

Their closeness in age is matched by their closeness as siblings. Monkey's first word was "sister". Twice when she was a baby, he tried climbing in her bouncy chair - whilst she was already in it. He didn't do it to hurt her, he did it because he wanted to be like her. Missy Woo is the same in return - she's watched her brother do things slightly ahead of her and she's wanted to be like him. She wanted to be at school with him when he started, hence the excitement at starting last September. Most recently, she was beside herself with more excitement, all because she was due to get spellings to take home every week, just like Monkey.

They may be older now, and starting to have distinct "boy" and "girl" interests, but they are still close. They can argue and fight like cat and dog but they are inexorably drawn to each other. If they are apart overnight - which has happened occasionally - the first thing they do when you get them on the phone is ask to talk to their sibling and then they jabber away randomly at each other until you call a halt or they would honestly talk all night. Nearly every night, they have a kiss or a "huggle" (as Missy Woo calls it) before they go to bed.

This picture is typical. They decided to lay on the floor of the living room the other day for some reason I have yet to establish. At one stage, they were pretending to make snow angels! But look closely, and you'll see they are lying there, holding hands. Yes, they are posing for the camera but they were already holding hands anyway when I picked up my phone to take the photograph. Monkey's not given to public displays of affection but at home, he's different. And he might not thank me for publishing this one day!

I'm so glad they have each other. They are the embodiment of togetherness. They will always have that bond, like an invisible thread connecting them wherever they are; at least I hope they will. Lots of people thought we were mad to have two children so close together, but their closeness vindicates the decision we made to go for it. Just seeing them so close makes it worth it.

Brother and sister. Best friends. Partners in crime. Togetherness.

This post was written for Week 46 of the Gallery at Sticky Fingers.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A bit further along the road - still some way to go!

Six months ago, I wrote that I was halfway along the road on my weight loss journey. Being as that was six months since I started, that should mean I'm there by now, right? Right? Wrong! Is that a bad thing? No!

So what happened? I think the answer is that I have a life to lead. By no means have I not made any progress - I can tell that my clothes are looser, or fit better - I even wear a belt on my jeans now to keep them up and the belt doesn't cut in half so much as it used to. But I also know I still have a way to go to reach the goal that I've set myself, which is to be able to fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes.

Big chunks of life have got in the way. In November, I went away to a family wedding. And there was Christmas too. Actually, I don't think I did too badly then as I was ill just after and I didn't eat properly for a few days. I overate on Christmas Day but hey, that's what you do on feast days, don't you? And I had a birthday with an amazing 10 course tasting menu experience. I'm not going to begrudge any of that because I enjoyed every minute of those times. And every time, I've got back into healthy eating afterwards.

Something slightly more crucial might have hampered my progress. I stopped being quite so careful about recording my food intake. I find, for me, that it's the best way of keeping things in check. I always used to use Food Focus for this but I've recently discovered My Fitness Pal which is very good, and it has phone apps so I can enter my food intake when out and about. So, for the last few weeks, I've got back into that again and because I find the site easier to use, I'm keeping on top of it again. It really helps to make good food choices too. But before that time, I hadn't regularly kept properly on top of things and it's so easy to have an extra few calories here and there which hamper your attempts to lose weight. And it's the food intake you need to be wary of - it has a much bigger effect on your success than anything other than the most punishing of exercise regimes.

Talking of which, my new exercise regime is probably the thing that has gone really well. In October, we got a family membership to the local sports centre and I started going to classes again. In particular, Body Pump which I really love - perhaps even more than I ever did before - as I noted in my post a few weeks after I started back. I go to 2 or 3 classes of that each week, coupled with maybe the odd Combat class. I've had problems with that class recently, in that I was getting backache afterwards which, on talking to the lovely Wendy, appeared to be related to not engaging my core muscles properly when doing lots of side kicks. So, I've had to ease up and that's made me enjoy Combat much less - which upsets me in a way, because when I exercised before, I loved Combat way more than Body Pump. When I've not felt up to that, I have gone back to my old favourite - an EA Sports Active workout on the Wii. My back's a lot better now, and I'm spending a lot more time working with the core muscles.

I probably need to turn my progress into numbers but I don't weigh myself; I'll perhaps cover why in another post. I always used to measure myself to record my progress. Occasionally, I check key measurements and I know that they still mostly equate to the measurements I took when I was six months pregnant with Monkey. I can't help feeling that's quite shocking - and that maybe, my starting point was further from my goal than I first thought.

My only other way to do this is to compare my picture from August to me today, wearing the same clothes and everything. Here we go...

What do you think? I think I can see a difference and I definitely have more "shape". Editing the photos and putting them side by side may change the proportions too! I am not where I want to be yet, but I'm definitely getting there. There's no going back now. Please comment and tell me what you think - I have a fairly distorted self-image sometimes and find it really hard to make comparisons.

And just to finish off, I'm going to post a pic I snapped with my phone yesterday. I like it because I think I look happy and healthy in it, even if you can't see the difference so much since August because of what I'm wearing. And looking healthy, that is what matters, isn't it? I'm never ever going to be stick thin. Thanks to why my shape has changed, I don't think I will ever wear some tops that I wore pre-pregnancy, but the rest of me can get there. If I have to drag it there kicking and screaming, I will. Expect further updates - at the very most, in another six months.

(I've not been paid to mention any of the sites I've linked to. I've mentioned them because I like them!)

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Fresh Bread Bake Off entry - if at first you don't succeed, try again.

I confess, I am a bit of a bread nerd. This mostly stems from when I did an entry level teaching qualification a year or so ago. As part of it, I had to do a mini teach on any subject and I chose bread as my subject, exploring the science behind breadmaking and comparing handmade bread with traditional white sliced bread. I had never made bread by hand successfully until then, although I often use a breadmaker. Having just researched the science for my prep (and taking myself back 20 years in the process - some of my degree included some food science), I understood more about the process. When I made my bread,  I made sure that I kneaded it properly and I found kneading very therapeutic. The results were amazing. I did a taste test with my "students" and they were all pretty impressed with the taste and texture I got as well as noticing the difference in colour. If you make bread by hand, you don't get white bread - the crumb is distinctly cream coloured, although that can depend on what other ingredients are in the bread. White sliced is blindingly white thanks to the bleaching agents they add - and that's just the start of the nasties.

The recipe I used for making bread then is from Nigella's How To Eat. It's great but it uses fresh yeast so I have to remember to get some from Asda (they give it away) and then try to use it all but inevitably, some of it gets thrown. So when English Mum blogged an easy bread recipe for bread using easy bake yeast, I thought I'd give it a go, especially as a few days later, she launched her Fresh Bread Bake Off competition.

My first attempt was not terribly successful - it took ages to rise and I couldn't figure out why. The resulting bread was OK but not as light as I'm used to. A few days later, I worked it out. I have dried yeast in the fridge that I use in my breadmaker. I thought it was easy bake but something caught my eye and I realised it said it wasn't suitable for breadmaker use! I'd only bought active yeast that needs to be activated BEFORE mixing into the dough. No wonder it didn't work properly!

So I had another go following English Mum's recipe but this time I activated the yeast first (which involved adding it to warm water and leaving it to stand for a while, nothing complicated). I also added less oil this time, using 15g instead of 50g which is closer to the proportions that Nigella uses. I may have used a bit too much yeast because after half an hour of rising, it was like this.

And when I turned it back onto the worktop I had to take another picture because you can clearly see the network of gluten chains forming so you get the nerdy shot:

My only problem is that the bread seem to puff up but also spread a lot. Anyway, here is the finished loaf (excuse fairly rubbish photography!), which looks fairly rustic so I guess it's a cottage loaf.

It's gorgeous still warm but as I'm trying to be good, I didn't eat the lot in one go so it's still going and it makes good toast although I can't put it in the toaster thanks to the odd shape. It tastes great, which is particularly noticeable if you've had commercial bread recently, which tastes like cotton wool in comparison with real bread.

Why don't you have a go? You'll have to be quick if you want to enter English Mum's Fresh Bread Bake Off - she needs your entry by midnight on Valentine's Day. The prize is a range of Marriage's flours and some scrapers so you could get more baking done. And then become a bread nerd, just like me.

Jamie at Home DVDs - Winner!

Thanks for all your entries in the giveaway of the Jamie at Home series DVDs. I've just used to draw me a winner and the winner is.....

Kerrie Morley! Well done. I'll send you an email very soon.

Come back soon for more competitions.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

My Fitness Story... - The Black Cloak

Today's post is anonymous at the author's request, for reasons they explain in the post. When I first received this post, it made me cry because it is utterly heartbreaking that someone has suffered alone for so long, and so uplifting that they found the strength of mind to overcome this alone. I won't say anymore, I will just hand you over to today's guest poster.

Starting to write this post is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I've known for some time that I needed to write it, but my own blog didn't seem like the right place. So when Kate asked for people to write about their experience of eating disorders,  I took her up on the opportunity to get this out there finally. But writing this, just getting to the point of writing, has taken me several days. In reality, it has taken years, if not decades. Writing this post is going to make me face lots of things about myself that are long buried, and if I'm truthful, that I really don't like about myself. I have asked for this to remain anonymous because the person I'm about to write about is no longer me and I don't want people to judge me for someone I no longer am. Perhaps that is a message of hope to carry you through the me I'm going to tell you about.

I am a binge-eater. There, I said it. OK, so I am not anymore, but part of me feels like that, given the right/wrong circumstances, it could happen again. I've never been diagnosed with an eating disorder but deep down, I know that is the label that would be placed on it if only I were to admit to someone. Because I haven't. Like all addicts, I've been clever. I've never been caught out. No-one in my real life knows my shame. I have lived this alone.

When did it start? Possibly, childhood. I can remember taking food secretly from the fridge from a youngish age. Back then, it was low grade - just taking food and eating more than I should. But the seeds were sown. I grew in size, I was teased at school. It wasn't pretty. Instead, I kept my head down and got on with school work.

It really started when I moved away from home in my late teens. I didn't want to be overweight anymore so I started to learn a bit more about weight loss and dieting. I stopped eating. Brilliant. I didn't stop totally but the amount I ate was horrendously small. I found things I could "eat" that were very low in calories but could stop me feeling hungry. Lunch could often be a cup-a-soup. Or it might have been dinner. On top of the eating regime - for it was a regime, it was that tough - I took up regular running.

It worked. I lost about 2-3 stone and eventually reached the lowest weight I've ever been as an adult. It was however too low. With the benefit of hindsight, I'd say it was more than a stone lower than my minimum healthy weight, even though it was considered at the bottom of the healthy range on all those weight charts. I wanted to be the best and to me, the way to do that was to be the lightest the charts said I should be. I remember getting comments from family and friends - looking back now, I can tell they were worried but at the time, I dismissed them as being overly protective.

I can't remember now when things started to change but after being so strict for so long, something had to give. And it did. One day, I felt an urge to eat something. So I did. And something else, and something else and something else. Before I knew it, I couldn't stop. Even now, I can't explain how or why I did it. Something within me was driving me until it was too late. I'd eaten too much and I felt sick. I wasn't, however, bulimic - I felt sick but I couldn't make myself sick. I felt rubbish for the rest of the day and took myself off to bed, claiming I had an upset stomach. I did, but not in the way that people thought.

I got into this cycle of eating fairly normally or carefully, then bingeing about once a week. Nothing could stop me when it happened. I will admit to you now, I did things I was not proud of. I stole food from others sometimes, when I was in shared housing. I stress now, that person that did those things was me, but was not me. When I binged, I needed to eat; nothing could stop me. When it was over, I didn't feel better - I felt worse. I felt sick, sometimes for hours, sometimes up to a day. Sometimes, I wanted to make myself sick just so I could feel better but something stopped me from doing so. Perhaps, looking back, that was a good thing. The guilt afterwards too was awful. It enveloped my heart like a black cloak. But boy, I was sneaky. No-one ever actually caught me taking food that wasn't mine. To my knowledge, no-one knew what I did. My housemates might have suspected, I really don't know - but if they did, they never told me or confronted me. I was deceitful, I lied, I stole. I sound like an addict. I was. I had to have my regular fix. Sometimes, even when doing it, I wanted to stop but I just couldn't.

With regular bingeing, and a less strict diet and exercise regime, my weight began to increase. I know now that the crash dieting I did would not have been good for my health and that returning to normal eating would have seen me put weight back on at a faster rate than I lost it. I was not happy with my size again. It was a spiral - I was unhappy with my size, which made me feel bad, so I'd binge - almost like a form of self-harm, and I'd feel worse, my size would get bigger... and so on.

The bingeing carried into my twenties which was a turbulent time in my life. I made bad choices in terms of relationships - which were possibly linked to the underlying reasons for my bingeing in the lack of self-esteem and positive body image - and was unhappy more than I was happy. The unhappy times always coincided with more regular binges. I remember thinking after many a binge whether I would ever stop, whether the binges would punctuate my life until I died. And still, none of my partners ever knew I binged or caught me bingeing. A couple of them knew I was totally and utterly obsessed with my weight. I would weigh myself every day and it was a disaster to me if I'd put on a pound or two. This alone could trigger more binges, which made me feel worse. The cycle was apparently endless. In the end, I got rid of my scales and only weighed myself in shops every now and then. This helped to reduce the frequency of binges but it didn't stop them completely.

So what happened? To be honest, I don't know. There was no light bulb moment, no need to stop suddenly. They just did. That's not to say I don't ever overeat but the overwhelming need to eat and eat and eat until I was ill faded gradually - the binges became less and less frequent and I would think about it less. If I did think about it, I could almost guarantee that thinking about it would mean I would binge within days, so I stopped thinking about it. It was buried in the back of my mind for a very long time. Until one day, I thought about it - and the binge never materialised. I'm married now and I've never told my husband about it. It didn't seem relevant, and I am ashamed of that person that I was. I feel that if I tell him, he would see me in a different light and may not love me anymore.

Since stopping bingeing, my weight has gone up and gone down. I have had children which has caused some of that. I know I have a pretty healthy attitude to food - one of the things that I am grateful for is that I have always eaten lots of veg and fruit and prefer wholemeal options to white, so the basis of my diet is not bad anyway. I've managed to lose weight through sensible eating. I know that I can't restrict myself too much. In fact, I'm scared to do that because I don't ever want to go back to the way I was before. It does scare me that I never got treatment for the bingeing now. It worries me that it might come back if I had some major crisis in my life. When I think about it, I feel the presence of that black cloak. It amazes me that I can think about it and not go off and binge. I hope with every ounce of my body that it doesn't push me into bingeing ever again.

Thank you so much for being so brave in sharing your story. My heart truly goes out to you for all the suffering you've been through and the fact that you managed to keep it a secret for so long. 

If you have any comments for today's guest poster, please do so as I know she will value your support. It takes a lot of courage to write posts like this. Please use the comments to share your own experiences of binge-eating, if you have any. 

If you'd like to tell your fitness story, please get in touch with me, either on Twitter or via the email address on the About Me page. 

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

A note for Mum

Do you know those days? Where the kids run rings around you in the morning and won't co-operate, nothing else seems to go right, and you feel like the whole word is against you? Where you don't know what's right or what's wrong anymore and you wonder why you bother? Yeah? Yeah.

I had one of those the other day. It was going pretty badly, as days go. Then, I collected the children from school and on the way home, Missy Woo told me that she had done some writing at school and that the teachers had taken a copy so she could bring it home. It sounded a bit strange, but I thought nothing of it. After all, Thursday is a bit like my Monday as Monkey has football and we end up dashing back and forth so I don't have to think, just do.

We got home and Missy Woo got her things out of her book bag. She gave me this:

And you know what? My bad day evaporated in an instant. It didn't matter anymore. The spellings didn't matter. She had chosen the words and wrote them herself. It made me smile - if not grin inanely - and I suddenly didn't feel like a bad mother after all. I may have shed a small tear, of happiness of course.

As someone pointed out to me on Twitter, to know that she feels secure and wants to share that feeling is beautiful. They also suggested that I get it framed. And do you know what? I think I will.

She may be only 4 years old, but she never ceases to amaze.

(Thanks to @TheBoyandMe for inspiring this post)

Monday, 7 February 2011

I don't like Mondays

Now, the title of this post probably doesn't surprise you much, does it? After all, the start of the week, getting back into the groove of work and daily routine, is never nice. And no, it's not. But that's not why I dislike a lot of Mondays. Oh no. For a start, getting back into the daily routine means the children are back at school, even if they don't quite seem to remember on Monday mornings that we must get to school by a certain time. I can live with that and the arrival at school on Mondays is like a full stop to the weekend, and I breathe a sigh of relief as they walk through them sometimes.

But no, not that. What I really hate about Mondays is the tyranny of the After School Activity. On Mondays, it is the Swimming Lesson. School finishes at 3.30, lesson is at 5.30, bedtime is 7.00. This leads to an interesting schedule as follows.

3.10 Check tweets.
3.15 Realise the time, grab coat phone and keys for school run.
3.20 Leave house, drive to school, remembering to slow down where they hide the mobile speed camera.
3.25 Hope to get parking space on back road.
3.27 Check phone for tweets and emails. (It's been 12 mins, OK?)
3.28 Get out of car and walk into school playground.
3.29 Play the "Guess which child will come out of their class door first" game and choose door to stand near.
3.31 Mutter that they're late out. Again.
3.33 Realise you've lost the "Guess which child will come out of the class door first" game and that the other child is waiting for you to collect them.
3.35 Wait, pointedly, by other door with child that wants to run all over the playground.
3.36 Door opens. Late, again!
3.37 Remember this means your child is at the back of the line again.
3.39 Child finally appears.
3.40 Realise other child has run off whilst you weren't looking.
3.41 Locate other child and retrieve (For which read: holler at them to come here NOW!)
3.42 Finally leave school grounds.
3.43 Holler at one child again as they run off into the distance.
3.44 Walk back to car with children, trying to ascertain what they ate for lunch/did at school today.
3.46 Get children into car.
3.48 Drive home, remembering about the speed camera.
3.53 Arrive home, herd children with book bags out of car and in through front door.
3.55 Make sandwiches for tea unless tea is already made (vain hope) whilst refereeing argument over whether Sky Sports News or CBBC is the channel du jour.
3.58 Give sandwiches to children, ask them to eat them. (This might seem stupid but at least one forgets).
4.00 Shout at children for not eating sandwiches whilst you get a drink ready for them.
4.01 Make cup of tea. This will go cold before you reach the bottom.
4.04 Remind (shout at) children that they need to get sandwiches eaten and not play with toys/watch telly/argue.
4.07 Remind/shout at/nag children for a third time. Realise one child has at least finished, but wants more food.
4.08 Provide said child with yogurt. Shout at other child to "just eat the flipping sandwiches, how can it be that hard?".
4.09 Tell child who has now finished yogurt to get changed into swimming costume. Lose patience with other child. Have a sip of tea.
4.12 Show child where swimming kit is, ie the same place as last week. Provide second child, who has FINALLY finished sandwiches with a yogurt and ask they eat it quickly.
4.15 Tell second child to go and get their swimming kit and get changed. Remind first child to ensure they remove underwear and visit toilet BEFORE putting on swimming costume.
4.18 Ask loudly why neither child has swimming costume on and uniform put back on. Have sip of tea, whch is now a bit on the lukewarm side.
4.21 Locate child, who has wandered off after a loo trip, and gently remind AGAIN of their mission to put on swimming costume and uniform back on over it.
4.24 Remind first child, who has finally finished getting changed, that they need to get their book bag for you to check. Tell second child that no, they don't need to take their socks off as they will only have to put them back on again in a minute.
4.25 Check book bag. Read newsletter. Have sip of tea. Say through gritted teeth "Will you get that flipping costume ON?" whilst reading. (Thank God women can multitask, eh?)
4.26 Realise child has reading and spellings to do this week. Ask child if they want to do spellings or read book. Get negative answer.
4.30 Realise drinks have not been drunk. Ask children to drink them. Hope children don't need loo again before leaving house.
4.33 Ask second child, who has FINALLY got swimming costume on and uniform replaced, to go and get their book bag.
4.35 Realise they have books to read and spellings to do too. Second child keen to do all of them. Sigh.
4.36 Have a sip of tea. Getting cold.
4.37 Supervise child doing spellings.
4.40 Child finishes spellings. Check them.
4.41 Child settles in to read book to you. Try to get sip of nearly cold tea.
4.43 Remember they get new books on Monday and child is never as good at reading through first time.
4.44 Have a sip of tea. Colder.
4.45 Have another sip of tea.
4.46 And another...
4.47 And another...
4.53 Child finishes book. Locate reading record and insert meaningful comment.
4.54 Instruct children to put on coats and shoes. Quickly get a drinks bottle and fill it with water to take.
4.55 Remind children of their task.
4.56 Get children out of house, remembering to collect own coat, phone and bag on the way.
4.57 Get children strapped in to car, leave for swimming pool.
5.10 Arrive at swimming pool car park.
5.12 Attempt to find space.
5.13 Give up, and park car in the retail park next door.
5.14 Get children out of car. Escort onto premises.
5.15 Get children into the changing room cubicle. Instruct to get undressed and put clothes in swimming bag.
5.16 Find a locker.
5.17 Return to children and remind them of their task.
5.18 Start yanking clothes off children.
5.20 Get bags repacked and place in locker.
5.21 Check children over.
5.22 Get bag back out of locker and give one child the goggles they forgot to get out.
5.23 Send child to toilet.
5.24 Child returns. Send both children to wait by pool for their lesson.
5.25 Child free time begins. Go to cafe by pool.
5.26 Try to attract attention of café staff.
5.28 Finally get a coffee.
5.29 Join rush for tables overlooking pool.
5.30 Watch children in lesson whilst tweeting. Occasionally look up and wave back to child waving at you.
5.57 Reluctantly, stop tweeting to return to changing rooms and join other parents waiting for their charges.
6.00 Lesson ends.
6.02 Go collect towels from the locker. Oops.
6.05 Try to work out where children have got to and realise they have gone for a shower.
6.08 Children appear. Put towel on them and herd back to changing cubicle.
6.09 Dry children, remove swimming costumes.
6.10 Ask children to get dressed. Help get clothes out of swimming bag.
6.11 Go to spin dry swimming costumes.
6.12 Tell child off that has followed you but is not dressed and return them to cubicle.
6.13 Return to cubicle; lose patience with lack of speed of getting dressed.
6.14 Start helping children to get dressed.
6.17 Finally get last item of clothing on child. Give them coats to put on whilst you repack swimming bags.
6.18 Chase child who has decided to run up the changing room. Ask them how come we are the only people left from the class that finished at 6.00?
6.19 Check changing room cubicle for dropped/missed items. Check you still have phone.
6.20 Herd children back outside to car and get them into car.
6.23 Get in car, breathe sigh of relief. Drive home.
6.33 Arrive home, get children and bags into house.
6.35 Get children a drink/something to eat.
6.37 Send children to put pyjamas on. Make cup of tea and hope to drink it whilst hot.
6.38 Place swimming kit in washing machine. Shout in reaction to sounds coming from upstairs which suggest no pyjamas are being put on.
6.40 Threaten immediate bed if children  are not back down in 1 minute.
6.41 Children appear in pyjamas.
6.42 Brush hair. Sip tea.
6.45 Send children to get toothbrushes and toothpaste.
6.46 Put toothpaste on toothbrushes and supervise teeth brushing.
6.48 Send children to put toothbrushes away.
6.49 Allow children to call Daddy to say goodnight. Sip tea.
6.55 Get children to finish call. Take them upstairs.
6.56 Check uniforms out and not just dumped on floor.
6.57 Get children to have quick tidy by removing as much as possible from bedroom floor. Join in or they'll be there forever.
6.58 Get first child into bed, have a hug, kiss and say goodnight.
6.59 Get second child into bed and do the same.
7.00 The children are in bed. I repeat, the children are in bed. Woohoo!
7.01 Remember that you need to cook dinner.

I thought the After School Activity was for the kids, not me....

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Review and Competition: Jamie at Home DVD series

Jamie Oliver seems to have become a bit of a Marmite figure. You either love him or you hate him. Some don't like his accent and his presenting style, others think he's become a bit sanctimonious and preachy with his more recent projects. What you cannot deny is that he has a passion for food and some of his crusades have made a difference to attitudes, as well as the way some of us eat (although there is probably a contract on his head issued by the turkey twizzler industry).

Although I never really watched things like The Naked Chef in the early days, I have watched a lot of his programmes and I do like his cooking style. It's largely unfussy, it's unpretentious, and it makes people think "yeah, I can do that". His fish pie recipe was recommended to me by a friend and it's now a regular in this house as it's less work than traditional fish pie, and not only that, has lots of veg in it which makes it great family food. In fact, I'm about to head into the kitchen to make it again once I've finished writing this post!

I watched Jamie at Home when it first came out and I got the book as a present. I will admit that I have only made occasional use of it. I'm going to rectify that now because I've recently been sent the whole series on DVD by The Sun's Buzz magazine and it's inspired me to get the book out again. The series is a combination of cookery and gardening as it features Jamie in his garden. The focus is on using ingredients that you've grown yourself, largely. I say yourself, but Jamie's gardener features a lot in the programmes! It's worth remembering that growing your own can be quite a lot of effort. Still, the recipes he demonstrates are again simple, though I do find it amusing he does some of his cooking outside with the hugest outdoor oven you'll ever see. Jamie  cooks, as usual, with infectious enthusiasm, such that you almost want to head straight into the kitchen to make them. I have designs on making his sausages with bubble and squeak and onion gravy now - and possibly the only reason I've not made it is I have too many cookbooks!

If you want to get the entire Jamie at Home series on DVD for yourself, you can collect tokens starting today in The Sun Buzz magazine, and continuing in The Sun newspaper for the rest of the week. Take your tokens to Tesco on the day of print and you can get each day's DVD for free. Each one features two half-hour episodes from the series.

Alternatively, you can win a full set of the DVDS by entering my competition! I have a full set of the DVDs to give away to one lucky person.

To enter the competition, you first need to become a blog follower via either Google Friend Connect, Networked Blogs or an email subscriber. You can follow via more than one route if you like, but it won't make any difference! Then, leave me a comment telling me what your favourite Jamie Oliver recipe is. If you can provide a link to it, great. If you have a picture of your efforts that you can link to, even better. But don't worry if you can't - just tell me the recipe and where it's from  - as in which book or series and why it's your favourite. Please mention in the comment how you are following The Five Fs so that I can check you've signed up.

The winner will be selected at random from all commenters on this post who are also followers or email subscribers. The competition closes at 23:59 next Friday, 11th February.

Good luck!

Terms & Conditions

The competition is open to residents of the UK only. (Sorry!)
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 email subscriber. Please ensure you leave contact details via twitter or email.
The winners will be drawn at random from all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a full set of Jamie at Home DVDs - please note the DVDs are in cardboard sleeves with some Sun branding on them; they are not a boxset.
The competition will close at 23:59 on Friday 11th February 2011.
Prizewinners will be asked to provide a full UK postal address with postcode. I will endeavour to post the prize within 1 week.
If a prizewinner does not provide a full UK postal address within a week of being contacted, the prize will be re-drawn and a new winner will be contacted. 
One entry per person only. If you enter more than once, only the first entry will count.

(I was provided with the DVDs to review and have received no other compensation. The opinions stated here are my own, and have not been influenced by the aforementioned compensation.)

Thursday, 3 February 2011

My Fitness Story... - Sharron

Welcome to another episode in the My Fitness Story... series. Today's guest contributor is Sharron, who doesn't have a blog but who does tweet and is lovely with it. Sharron has decided to talk about the time she followed the Marine Diet in order to lose weight fast, a fact complicated by the fact she is a vegetarian and the diet prescribed eating steak! Sharron's experiences will probably chime with many who have desperately looked for the magic bullet that will deliver substantial weight loss over a short timespan. 

Over to Sharron to tell her story.....

Me and the Marine…

I started the Marine Diet purely for quick results, and to kick start me on a strict healthy eating regime.  I had never wanted to be a size zero (good job) or a Marine come to think of it (actually wanted to be a Charlie’s Angel but that’s another story).  My goal was to fit into my clothes comfortably and not be conscious of hanging out of or over what I was wearing.  I’m not hung up on how heavy I am, weight was never a driver other than being the numbers on the scales to indicate my progress.

A work colleague explained she was being considered as a bone marrow donor, but had had to lose weight quickly to meet the criteria and had been given the Marine Diet.  This was a two week diet of grapefruit or eggs every day for breakfast and a concoction of other foods to be eaten strictly at each meal which included the delights of cottage cheese, steak and spinach.  No changes were to be made as the diet relied upon a chemical reaction to help you shed the pounds.  No tea or coffee was allowed and definitely no alcohol.  As my colleague had done so well with it, I was very motivated to get started and enjoy saying goodbye to the stone I would obviously lose in the next two weeks.  I knew it had worked for her and that the strictness would stop the naughty grazing habit I’d got into.  Walking through the kitchen had become almost impossible unless I had something to nibble on.  Naughty I know and I was glad of a remedy!

So shopping I went and packed up my fridge with all the necessary ingredients – well sort of.  I don’t think they expect Marines to be vegetarians so some meals were not quite exact but as near as I could get them (how do you substitute steak?).  I also gave myself some leeway in attending a friend’s birthday gathering at the weekend and enjoyed a visit from the wine fairy.  The diet had not been easy, I had become a diet bore and felt less than healthy with headaches and constant tiredness.  After the two weeks I had lost an amazing 12lbs despite having to tweak it and my little cheat.  I had regained regular meal times again and lost my picking and grazing habit.  My clothes fitted much better and I found things in my wardrobe that I could wear again (and some things I could but common sense told me not to as some fashions just don’t come round again!).

As the diet was only 2 weeks long (strict orders not to do for any longer), I tried to keep my new eating habits but without a plan to follow (I’m not daft but I do like a plan), I soon drifted into my old eating habits.  The fridge witch started throwing olives and cheese at me again, and the wine fairy had repositioned herself to my shoulder so she could whisper ‘pinot’ in my ear.  Eventually the lost pounds were ‘found’ again and my hard work was all undone.  All of that boring talk of grapefruit and spinach, enduring those nasty headaches whilst I went cold turkey from lack of caffeine and proper food, and the looking at a plate of food and thinking “let’s just get this meal over with” – all for nothing.

I have realised since then (I make it sound like it was a light bulb moment, not so unless the light bulb was at one end of the Chunnel and me at the other) that long term weight loss is not so easy or quick! It’s unfortunately about lifestyle changes.  I’ve learnt to look at my diet and choose the good things to eat.  I’ve also learnt that exercising regularly is important and doing this with a friend or two is much more productive for me (I admire people who can drag their ass to the gym or go for a run without someone chasing them up – how do they do this?).  Whilst all this is about as riveting as taking the Christmas decs down (much more exciting putting them up), it does work.  Slowly slowly catchy monkey…  Don’t worry about trying to catch the Marine, he’s a bit of a devil.

I'd like to thank Sharron for sharing her story with us today. Although she writes humourously about her experience, she makes an important point - weight loss is for the long haul. Trying to lose a stone in two weeks is not only hard work (and can be dangerous), it rarely stays off - largely because it doesn't teach you to adopt new habits in that length of time. In fact, because crash diets can mess with metabolism, the danger is that you'll put it all back on fairly quickly - and with added interest.

If you'd like to tell your fitness story, please get in touch with me, either on Twitter or via the email address on the About Me page. Please feel free to share your experiences via the comments below if you prefer.
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