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Dear Joe Wicks (again)

I am very pleased to report that I graduated from Cycle Two last week and today is my first day on Cycle Three of your 90 Day SSS Plan.

I have to say, it does feel good to be over halfway. It’s been such a positive experience for me. I guess it’s a good sign then, that I am beginning to feel like I have learnt enough and it would be quite nice to test my wings, and see if I can fly this balanced-diet-with-focussed-exercise journey alone.

That said, I do like to finish things that I start and after a weekend of letting myself off the hook a little, I am ready to be a good student and work to plan for a final 30 days.  This takes me, rather inconveniently, to the 2nd January. Nothing like increasing the challenge tenfold by doing the final cycle through the Christmas season eh!

It’s OK though. Don’t panic, I have a plan. One thing I have learnt so far is that calculated “blow outs” are no bad thing.  I could never eat only the good stuff day in day out, forevermore. I’ve found that I can be very disciplined for about 3-4 weeks, but at some point around week four, I need treats.  I find that if I plan it, book it in, decide on a day when I am allowed treats (in abundance), then it will be just that.  One day or one evening of indulgence. It’s not out of control, I haven’t fallen off the wagon, I have decided to enjoy the naughtiness. It’s a positive part of the plan.

So I am giving myself Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve off.  Plus when there are parties or festive gatherings, I am going to have a glass or two of wine. I am pretty sure if I stay on plan for the rest of the time and bash out the exercises, then progress will still be made.

Which takes me to my progress report for Cycle Two. My expectations were pretty low for this one as I’d read a lot of the graduate testimonies saying this was the cycle they saw the least change in.  Plus I have been enjoying the carbohydrate-for-every-meal rule on training days, so all that bread would surely not equate to major weight loss?  How wrong I was!

I don’t go on scales as a general rule, so I literally stand on the “sad step” once in the month to send in my results and would you believe it, I lost a further 5kg! This takes me to my pre-children weight. Along with that, I had lost a couple more inches off my waist and chest (not necessarily a good thing!).  Oddly, my hip measurement has gone up from end of Cycle One but is still less than where I started. I haven’t felt that in my clothes, in fact it’s been great this month, wearing trousers and jeans I haven’t worn in a few years. I am hoping it’s because my bottom has got more pert so it’s sticking out more? Arms and legs stayed the same.

Getting results is great.  Each time there has been change in the right direction and this gives me an enormous sense of well being (yeah I’m quoting Blur). What is far more exciting for me though, is the daily result of feeling stronger and more energetic. And enjoying wearing my clothes. I don’t have a muffin top over my jeans anymore. This is so liberating! When I am late to pick up the children from school, I can run up the hill and not arrive at the school gates out of breath. I can feel my muscles. I don’t mean I squeeze my biceps with my hands, I mean when I am moving I don’t feel like everything is wobbling, I feel like my body is working. It feels engaged with what I am asking it to do.  It’s hard to explain, but I just feel like my body is more alive/switched on.

Now then, I feel like perhaps the PR on food for Cycle Two was a little misleading.  I had understood that I was going to be given lots of freedom and be given permission to start using my own healthy recipes.  I was excited about smoothies for breakfast again and maybe enjoying some houmous for lunch. That wasn’t really the case. I tried to get my favourite smoothie signed off by one of your heroes, but got a firm shut down.  Think it might be the splash of maple syrup they were opposed to, surely couldn’t have been the spinach or coconut water??  I even tried to get a couple of your smoothies through, but it was a hard no. I may have rebelled a couple of days…ahem…. Houmous was nowhere to be seen on the rather strict list of allowed foods for my pick n’ mix meals, so chicken and salmon remained lunchtime faithfuls.

I took my freedom from the set-recipe regime of Cycle One and didn’t weigh things out anything like as much as I used to.  Perhaps this is also because I now know how much protein is the right amount and for my money, you can never have too much green veg on your plate.

Quite surprisingly, I found that having carbohydrate in every meal on training days, felt like too much.  I was happy to just have it after the training.  Although as I train mostly in the mornings, being able to have carbohydrate for my evening meal, particularly when I was out or having dinner with friends made life a little easier.  As I planned my menu for my first Cycle Three week, I realised that I can only have one dinner this week with carbohydrate. It’s all good for a relatively quiet week but when the social engagements come up, it’ll be tough!

The introduction of weights into the programme has gone really well.  I was a little daunted as free weights haven’t been in my routine in the past, but I found dumbbells straight forward and I was able to adapt the weights to the exercises to work to the right level. Perhaps I thought I would see more results than I have.  I don’t really see any definition in my arms, shoulders or legs.  And yet, I always ached the next day so I’m pretty sure I was doing it right.  Maybe the definition comes in Cycle Three with the ‘pyramid training’?  I shall let you know.

Overall, I am happy with the results.  We’re going in the right direction. I am starting to think about how it will be in the New Year, when I am fully graduated and free to take the reins myself.  I think I will be ready. I’m going to write out some rules as I see you did on Instagram, I’ll show you mine when I write at the end.

Have a lovely Christmas, don’t eat too much Ben & Jerry’s!

Claire x

Oaty Millionnaire’s Slice

At the moment, I am not getting much opportunity to bake. I miss it. I need a school fundraiser or something!!

Once a week, I bake something sweet for the children to have in their packed lunches or as a yummy treat when they come in from school.  I always want to have something in the house that I can offer to anyone who pops in. To have a tin with something in is what makes a kitchen homely I think.

Normally I love experimenting with dairy free baking, but as I’m on the SSS 90 Day Plan at the moment (you can read about what I am up to here and here) I am going all out on baking with butter, cream and milk, so I can’t be tempted. This one is full of it!

I LOVE caramel and I am of the opinion that Millionnaire’s Shortbread is just one of the best slices ever. This recipe adds some extra goodness with oats and coconut getting in the mix.  My theory is that although the slice is still full of all the naughty stuff like gooey caramel and chocolate on top, it has the added bonus of oats and coconut to give it more substance. A little portion will go longer than your average slice.

I got the ingredients from Jo Seagar’s recipe for ‘Caramel Oat Slice’ in The Great New Zealand Baking Book, but the method is a little different to make it more Millionnaire’s Shortbread like.

Recipe

Base

2 cups of plain flour

1 cup of self-raising flour

1 cup of desiccated coconut

2 cups of brown sugar

3 cups of rolled oats

2 eggs

300g of melted butter

Caramel middle

200g of butter

400g of condensed milk (sweetened)

4 tbsp of golden syrup

1 tsp of vanilla essence (although it strikes me you could experiment with other flavours)

Chocolate top

390g milk chocolate (this makes a pretty thick layer so you could do less)

Recipe

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a large 25cm by 35cm slice tin. Make sure the baking paper comes well over the top of the edge of the tin to help get the slice out.

Combine all the dry ingredients for the base, give them a really good stir. Add the two eggs and melted butter.  Work it through until there is no more dry mix left.  Press this firmly into the base of the tin and put it in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Until the top is going a lovely golden brown.

10 minutes into the base cooking, melt all the caramel ingredients together.  Bring to the boil and then simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture has thickened slightly. Whilst it’s simmering, stir continually.  If you leave it for even a few seconds it will burn and then you have little brown bits floating round the caramel, not a good look.  Get a magazine or your phone ready, so you don’t get bored standing there.

After 10 minutes of the caramel simmering, the base should be ready to come out of the oven.  Put it on a cooling rack and then pour the caramel over the top, making sure it gets all the way to the edges and there is an even coverage. Leave to cool completely, until the caramel is set.

When it’s cold, melt the chocolate in a bowl sat over a pan of simmering water. Once it’s melted, pour it over the caramel. Again, make sure it goes right to the edges and you get an even coverage. Let this cool and set.

Once the chocolate is set, you can carefully pull the slice out of the tin and on a flat surface cut it into squares.  I would make them relatively small as each one does pack a full punch of oats, butter and sugar!  Adults can always go back for a second slice.

Making it even punchier: I haven’t tried this so I don’t have measurements to give you, but I just thought this would be even more decadent (although not suitable for packed lunches) if you stirred some smooth peanut butter into the caramel before you poured it onto the slice. Then you could sprinkle crushed salted, roasted peanuts on top of the chocolate after you have poured that on, so the nuts set into the chocolate. Oh my gosh that is so naughty!!

Lessons from the Body Coach

One of my main motivations for challenging myself to do Joe Wicks’ 90 Day SSS Plan was to learn some new habits. I’ve always loved sport and exercise, but after having a bulging disc and then the operation to sort it, my fitness routine had taken a bit of a battering. Selling our house and moving back to the UK had played havoc with my diet too.  Normally a healthy eater, who likes treats on the weekend and special occasions, I had got into the habit of eating a 100g bar of chocolate before 5pm every day. Apart from anything else, it was getting expensive!

You may be the same as me, busy and distracted by being as good a mum as you can? Doing something that is good for your well-being often comes second to putting the needs of your children and husband first. You know you need to look after yourself so you’re in a good place to look after your loved ones, but it takes discipline to actually do it. Simple truth is that there has to be balance in your life, which means sometimes you need to channel your efforts into you. For me, signing up to this was a way of swinging the pendulum over to my side.  For my birthday I asked for this and vouchers so I could have facials as rewards at each milestone.  There is some financial investment (£125 for 90 Day SSS Plan + £180 for three facials) but the biggest investment is from me; every day to eat well and be active.

This is why I chose to do this: I wanted the structure, I wanted an end goal to aim for, I wanted to try something new, I wanted to learn, I wanted to see some muscles!

Halfway in, here are the things I have learnt/taken from it so far:

  1. To lean up and see muscle, you need to up your protein.  I’d always considered a high protein diet to be for men wanting to get buff so you would NEVER see me tipping protein powder in my smoothies. I realise now, that when the increase in protein is in a balanced diet that isn’t also full of sugary and fatty foods, and you’re working out regularly, you get lean muscles. No bulk. No thunder thighs.
  2. You have to look at every meal, as a meal. Normally I would consider dinner at 6pm with the family, as The Meal of the day. Breakfast and lunch were quick food stops that simply filled a hole.  Lunch would often be missed and I would just graze through the day. Grazing doesn’t work for me, because I lose awareness of what is going in. The stretch from 4pm to 6pm would be my worst time for chocolate and crisps consumption. I’ve learnt to respect each meal of the day as an opportunity to get all the good things in and you know what, I haven’t missed grazing at all.
  3. Carbohydrate doesn’t need to be in every meal.  On this plan, carbohydrate consumption relates to exercise.  Essentially you have to work for your bread! I suspected that the large pasta, rice, bread element of our meals was probably not ideal or necessary, for me and Gareth.  We have lots of meals now where there is no carbohydrate at all, just protein and tons of vegetables. I’ve never felt hungry after any of my meals.
  4. Anyone who knows me, knows I have a sweet tooth. Sugar doesn’t really feature in this plan.  You can only have one piece of fruit per day. I have no intention of keeping to this once I am off the plan, but I hope that in 90 days my body will get used to a low amount of sugar per day so treats become a weekly event, instead of daily.
  5. To help keep on plan, Pepsi Max has come back into my diet.  I know, I know – diet drinks are of the devil (although actually they aren’t, see here). I called the Body Coach support crew about this and was surprised when they said it was an acceptable way of managing the sweet cravings.  Of course they encourage you to have as little as possible, mainly because fizzy drinks aren’t good for your tummy. For the purposes of this plan it’s a lesser evil than other things, but when dark chocolate is back on the menu I’ll be shunning the aspartame.
  6. What I eat has a bigger impact on my body than the exercise I do. Exercise is important and necessary (see next point), but it is the input not the output that makes the difference. I’ve always exercised but my body shape never really changes and since having babies, just upping exercise doesn’t equal trimming down. Less carbohydrates, no sugar and more protein is giving me a leaner body. Fact.
  7. As I get older I realise that being fit is not as much for the aesthetics, as it is for my quality and length of life. I want my heart, lungs, mind and bones to get me to a ripe old age.  Exercise isn’t a guarantee to a long life but it ups your chances of getting past 80, which is where I want to be when I say goodbye to this life on earth. Apparently lifting weights is key for us ladies who start losing bone density once we get into our middle life (check out this article), so buy yourself some dumbbells and pump some iron four times a week ladies.
  8. My shape is tall and athletic. I have broad shoulders, a wide rib cage and no boobs to speak of. I am built for running, not burlesque dancing. My limbs are long, which is lovely thank you God, but I’ve always had a tummy that sticks out and at my heavier times, creeps over my waistband. I envy friends who have curves with a small waist line and when I stand to the side, I would love to not look four months pregnant. I don’t know if I actually will get a flat tummy as I keep going, but for the first time in a long time, I don’t have a muffin top in my jeans and I don’t have to keep billowing my tops out when I sit down as a way of disguising my pot belly.  I can feel muscle is under there and maybe, just maybe it will be visible in 45 days time. Crop tops will not be returning to my wardrobe, but the tucked shirt into a pair of fitted trousers may make an appearance.
  9. I’m not bored on this plan. I thought I would get sick of eating healthy all the time. I did get a bit over the recipes provided in Cycle One, so it’s good to be in the phase where you can make up your meals. I’ve been buying recipe books that are more focussed on healthy eating and I’m looking forward to being fully in control. Sure I’m going to bring back chocolate and sweets but I’m preparing to have an 80% lean diet, not just for me either. Less sweets in the house is good for everyone!
  10. Supplements do make a difference. Everyone is different and your body may lack or need different things to what mine does.  I’d been suffering from sore boobs all the month long.  I even went to the GP about it.  She suggested Starflower Oil and my mum already had me on Evening Primose Oil.  These taken every day, possibly combined with a lower intake of sugar, has meant I’m not even getting sore boobs before my period – nice. I also take Omega 3 and a probiotic, the latter of which I think has really helped to look after my digestive system, again combined with no dairy, less sugar and little caffeine. Happy tummy.

I think the big take-away so far from the 90 Day SSS Plan is that whilst this feels like a big commitment, coming from a place where I wasn’t really focussing on my health much at all. It is teaching me that it’s actually pretty straight forward to eat well and small changes on a daily basis make a big difference to your body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freelance Re-visited

I first became a freelancer when I was 30.  After graduating with a languages degree in 1999, I had spent the rest of my twenties working for various companies and charities in Liverpool. It was a considered career move, something I wanted to do and I took my time to be ready to take the leap.

At the time, it felt really scary, almost reckless. With hindsight, I can see that it was the best time to go for it.  My husband had just been employed by a big, global company, which gave us at least one secure income.  We didn’t have any children, so I could pour my all into the work and my availability to clients was 24/7. Having worked in Liverpool for almost a decade, I had contacts to approach for possible work.

It was a great experience for me.  To begin with, I had lots of little pieces of work.  A fundraising job from an old employer, book keeping for a friend’s business, a monthly event to manage through another friend and I even baked chocolate slices for a mate’s cafe. I’d lived in the city for 10 years, so the pool felt small to me and I could get my name out relatively easy.

Whilst I always had work, it wasn’t easy and there were times when panic set in because work would often come in at the 11th hour.

Something I found difficult at the beginning was knowing how to charge myself out. When you’re building a reputation, your daily rate needs to be really competitive.  If your clients are friends, essentially supporting you to work for yourself, you want to return the favour with a good rate.  Whether it was lack of confidence or part of a growth strategy, I pitched myself low. Ultimately it paid off, because I was recommended, I built my reputation and a few years down the line, I was putting my rate up and the work was still coming in.

I’m sure the challenges I faced are common to most people who go freelance:

  • Unless you have one major client who has you on a retainer, the work isn’t guaranteed so it can feel pretty daunting when you are close to finishing one job and there isn’t another secured.
  • To avoid work drying up, you are always on the look out for work and if you can’t afford to be out of work then you can’t be picky. This leads to work that isn’t exactly what you want to do or who you want to be working with.
  • When you are a one-man/woman-show juggling a few clients at a time, it can get pretty hectic. Your client isn’t going to want to hear you can’t make a meeting because you are with another client.  It’s not possible to put every customer first all the time, but you can give them the impression you are!
  • Similar to the previous point, clients don’t want to know that you are on holiday either.  They have engaged a freelancer so they don’t have to worry about sick pay or holidays. We would book holidays around my work.  I remember sitting in the only cafe that had WiFi in Kassiopi, Corfu, in my bikini and emailing a client so they didn’t realise I was out of the country.  I always took work with me on holidays, as little as possible, but I never completely stopped.
  • The bigger the client, often the slower the payment. I worked on 14 day payments, and it was often the little charities and fellow freelancers that would pay me within a week of receiving the invoice.  Whereas an organisation like a university could take over a month. It’s not to do with available funds, it’s to do with how many people you have to go through to get to the person who actually pays you.

In 2007 and 2008, I worked on a really big project for an events company who were commissioned to organise one of the highlight events for Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year.  For me, it was the best freelance work I had had to date. I loved the people who were leading the team, I learnt so much in that time and grew in confidence.  Plus, I had a key role so I was working a lot of hours, giving me a steady income. We all worked our butts off and it worked out to be a huge success, so it was an incredibly positive project for all involved. I then went onto work with the same company again on a couple of other events in Liverpool and Manchester.  However, it was in 2009 that the first big challenge to my freelance work came along…I got pregnant. We had been trying for years and had done IVF, so it was the most wonderful thing, and yet it did mean an end to the work I was doing at that time.

The fantastic thing about being freelance is that I could then pick work that would suit my new priorities.  Quite soon after my first baby was born, I picked up some book keeping work for a friends’ business, working one day a week.  I loved being in a team again and doing something that took me out of the all consuming, full-time work of a new mum. I got pregnant again and before that baby’s first birthday, we had moved to New Zealand. Second major challenge to freelance work.

New Zealand is a great place to be freelance because they’re very positive and open to people who have ideas and are willing to work hard. I was involved in mostly post-earthquake events and projects in Christchurch. It was incredibly hard at times with two pre-school children, especially when some weeks I was working 70 hours. And yet, I see how much my confidence grew and I’m so proud of what I achieved.

This brings me to the present. I now face my third big challenge to freelance work. The challenge has many elements to it:

  • I’ve returned to a part of the UK where I have no work contacts
  • I live in a village
  • The type of work I would like to pursue has only been in my job title for one year (although I have been doing it as part of all my other roles for 20 years)
  • I don’t want to work full time
  • Due to being a mum of two young children, flexible hours is a requirement

Two months in, and I realise how much easier it was to start freelancing 11 years ago.  Thankfully, I’ve been doing this long enough now to know that success comes from perseverance. All it takes is for one piece to come in and you’re on your way.  Still I look back at my 30 year old self and I have to say, I’m a little jealous.

 

Rice Krispie Treats

At the moment I am on the Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach, 90 Day SSS Plan.  I fancied a challenge and my body needs some care after all the neglect of repatriation and back surgery. The rest of my family are not on the programme so they still get treats. The trick for me is to make them with dairy. That way I won’t be tempted.

Take these Rice Krispie bars for instance.  Made with a large Galaxy milk chocolate bar I had hanging around. Once that is in, there is no way I am going anywhere near them, even though they smell so pretty.

That said, I have some ideas of what I am going to do when I finish the SSS Plan (Joe is an advocate of occasional treats, I’ve seen the cheesecakes his brother makes!) which I will share with you at the end.

Ingredients

50g coconut oil (could be butter but this probably makes them a little healthier)

200g milk chocolate

100ml golden syrup

150g Rice Krispies

A handful of jelly sweets to create a little surprise (I used some Halloween themed Haribo we had lying around)

Recipe

Break up the chocolate into a glass bowl. Fit the bowl snuggly over a pan of simmering water and watch it melt.  Give it a stir to help it along. Put the coconut oil in a large mixing bowl and pour over the still hot, melted chocolate.  The oil will submit to the chocolate, but help it along with lots of stirring until you have a smooth consistency. Then add in the syrup.  Finally add in the Rice Krispies and sweets and stir until it’s an even, sticky mess.

Pour it into a lined brownie tin.  I used a loose bottomed one because it’s easier to get it out at the end. Press it down really firmly so it’s tightly packed into the tin.  Put it in the fridge for a couple of hours so the chocolate sets again.

You will now have a breeze block of chocolate, Krispie yumminess. Get a long, sharp knife and cut up into bars.  My knife kept getting stuck to the sweets so they weren’t the neatest of bars, but seriously “tidy” is not the priority here.  I keep them in the fridge and they work for lunch box treats or an after school snack, right through the week.

Alternatives I have been thinking of are:

Easy dairy alternative – use dark chocolate.

I am looking forward to trying out the new Green & Black Velvet Edition, which are dark chocolate with flavours. Not all are dairy free, for instance the Salted Caramel isn’t (yes I have checked even though it’s another 56 days to go). I was thinking of using some for the following combinations:

  • Mint chocolate and chopped up liquorice allsorts.
  • Orange chocolate with chopped up hazelnuts.
  • Sea Salt chocolate and miniature marshmallows.

Finally, and this one may take a few test runs to get right; dark chocolate, smooth peanut butter, chopped Medjool dates and some crushed salted peanuts. May get a caramel, peanut taste sensation??

What would you do to pimp up the traditional Rice Krispie bar?

* this blog has not been sponsored by Kellogg’s, Bassett’s or Green & Black’s, but if any of them would like me to invent some recipes for promotional purposes, please do get in touch.

 

 

 

 

Would I have been a better mother in the 70’s?

Our children are six and seven years old. Both are at school. They can use forks. Conversation with them is coherent and interesting, sometimes illuminating and educational. One of them can wipe their bum, the other still prefers to let others take care of that.  Our family can walk 5km in about an hour. At least once a week, they make their breakfast without setting off the smoke alarm. OK, that’s cereal day.

We are officially parents of children: no babies, no toddlers.

Quite often, either Gareth or I will turn to the other and say these words; “I would never have talked to my parents like our children do to us.” This is often followed by a frustrated debate about why our children can be so disrespectful. Gareth leans towards our children being punks, I lean towards our skills being deficient. We settle on, maybe we’re being punk’d?

I could be paranoid but I get the feeling that our parent’s generation are quietly wondering what all the fuss is about. Why do mum’s get so obsessed with spending quality time with their children? Not cooking with mushrooms because the littlest doesn’t like them. Children attending a minimum of three out-of-school activities a week. Shelves stacked with books about being good parents. General bemusement at our ritual of following the perfect parent, with perfect children on Instagram and then complaining that it makes us feel like terrible mothers.

When the children are feral and I’m screaming into the vortex that is my children’s total disregard of anything that isn’t the chaos they want to be in right now, I am aware that anyone over the age of 60 who is observing, is saying to themselves, ‘Children were never like this in my day’.

It’s probably true. But is that because they were better parents? Or were we better children? Does the latter really follow the former?

Here are my thoughts.

Peppa Pig has a lot to answer for.

In fact, all cute, clever cartoons and children’s shows that have an underlying message that children should rule the world and adults are idiots should have limited viewing. Peppa is a spoilt, precocious little madam.  If she was my child (and I mean if she were human and real) I wouldn’t take her out in public, for fear she might open her mouth with some condescending putdown to any adult she meets.  Then there are all the superhero cartoons that have children saving the world and adults either don’t exist or are very much sidelined in the crazy, complicated plots. When you do get an adult in a cartoon, like the ridiculous Mayor Goodway in Paw Patrol, they are completely useless and obsessed with a pet chicken!

We were brought up on Rainbow, Blue Peter, Fireman Sam, Postman Pat, Thomas the Tank Engine, Inspector Gadget and Danger Mouse, who I assume was adult judging by his dulcet tones. Adults were heroic, clever or at the very least coherent in these programmes. Even in books like the Famous Five, where the protagonists were children, the adults were at least respected.

Media and entertainment is such a massive part of our children’s lives and if the common theme is that children are in charge and adults are unnecessary, then is it any wonder we get some resistance when we try to take the lead in our children’s lives?

I am not shirking the blame here for behaviour I don’t like witnessing from my children. Happy to take full responsibility for my lack and failings. But I am saying that perhaps we have more of an uphill challenge than our parents had when we were children.

It’s true, I wouldn’t have given my parents the same amount of back chat and sass as our children have given us by the age of six.  Oh no, I saved sarcastic retorts and accusations for the more acceptable age of 16.

When I was young, I think I was more frightened/in awe of my parents, because there was a much bigger gap between adults and children.  We spent less time with them.  We were probably in the home with them more, but we weren’t necessarily engaging with them.  I used to spend hours in the garden on my roller skates, or biking round the estate we lived on, and I did my homework in my room on my own. My dad and I went horse riding together and we would go to WHSmiths most Saturdays, but when he was watching Match of the Day or reading the paper, I would make myself scarce. I did talk to my parents but I knew very little about their lives or their thoughts.  It made them more mysterious and removed from my little world. At school I didn’t know my primary school teachers’ first names, if they were married or had children or what they liked to do on weekends.  I was only given access to them as my teacher. In relation to a couple of them, I’m glad I didn’t know!

As 21st century parents we’re encouraged to interact with our children as much as we can.  That’s not a bad thing. I don’t want my children to feel distant from me or that they can’t ask me to hang out. They certainly don’t.  I would say my children think it’s their right to have all of my attention, all of the time. So much so that if I were to sit down and read a book on a Saturday afternoon, they would hunt me down and do everything in their power to distract and over power.  This would include bitter complaints of being bored and me being a mean mum.

I actually think we do have a relatively healthy balance of our children getting to do what they want and them coming along for what we want to do.  For example, we have fought hard to make family walks an acceptable part of the weekend routine, but we have endured many miles of weeping and gnashing of teeth from child number one, and promises of ice creams or lemonades at the finish line are standard tools for getting compliance.

It’s not like I loved family walks when I was a child or that I loved every meal mum put on the table.  The difference is that when I was seven, I would generally accept what the adult said as final, and whilst I might have lodged a complaint here and there, I would never have dared to embark on an argument with an adult over what I wanted. I feel like I argue with my children every day, usually between the hours of 4pm and 8pm.

I realise that the movement of giving children more empowerment has the best of intentions, in terms of children not being abused, neglected or overlooked. However, I still want children to realise that for the most part, particularly in a loving family, adults should be trusted, respected and allowed to lead.  We all need our time to be children, to have little or no responsibility, to not have to make decisions for the greater good, instead just make decisions that are in a child’s realm of understanding. Children should spend time away from adults, so they can play without agenda, exercise their imaginations and figure out that boredom is a state of mind, not a lack of food or television.

It feels like it’s too late to bring up Charlie and Lola. Our children are growing up in an entirely different world, but I don’t want to make that an excuse for rudeness.  I am going to fight hard to teach my children that we have their best interests at heart, that we are ultimately in control until they are 18 and we have the right to say no. I believe they will thank us for it when they finally are given the burdens of adulthood. I have one request of the parenting generations who came before us; don’t judge us or our children based on the world of yesteryear.  Seriously we would love to go back to a simpler time before Peppa Pig and iPhones, but it’s too late.  Maybe have some sympathy for those that are the pioneering parents in the era of Apple, Netflix, social media and XBox. We’re literally fighting for our rights!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old fashioned slice of sweetness

The Louise Cake is a classic Kiwi tea time slice. I imagine that it’s been around for decades, because first of all it’s called Louise so it must date back to the Seventies at least. It doesn’t have any fancy ingredients, a simple treat that goes very well with a cup of tea and a yarn. It’s made up of three layers; “cakey” biscuit bottom, jam and coconut meringue topping.

What I love about this, is that you can easily make it gluten and/or dairy free, it’s nut free too so you can pack it off in the children’s lunch boxes or donate it to a school cake sale.  Plus you can have fun with the middle layer; it could be any flavour jam, or lemon curd, caramel or if you can eat nuts, you could spread Nutella in there. Oh my gosh, I want to do that right now! Despite having three layers, it is quick and easy to make and it looks really pretty.

I’ve used the recipe given by Natalie Oldfield in the The Great New Zealand Baking Book and I’ll note the variations where I would make them.

Ingredients.

For the cake:

150g softened butter (for dairy free you could use 150g margarine or 130g coconut oil, I use odour free)

1/4 cup caster sugar

2 egg yolks

2 cups of self raising flour (for gluten free you can use the equivalent GF flour, or go half GF flour and almond meal, if you can eat nuts. It will come out a slightly denser base, which is no bad thing)

3/4 cup jam/curd/caramel/Nutella

For the meringue:

2 egg whites (I actually add a third here, which I know wastes a yolk but it’s worth it for a higher meringue)

1/2 cup caster sugar

1 and 1/2 cup desiccated coconut (if you don’t like coconut you could just have it as plain meringue, but unless you are allergic I would suggest trying it as it’s subtle)

Recipe.

Pre-heat your oven to 180°, or 160° if it’s a fan oven. Grease and line a 30cm by 20cm slice tin (I used a square 22cm by 22cm, loose bottomed tin. The loose bottom makes it easier to get out without crushing the meringue)

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (praise the Lord for my Kitchen Aid), then add the egg yolks and beat well.  Sift the flour in and mix in thoroughly.

Now with a doughy mixture you can press it into the bottom of the tin.  I use my fingers to get it right to the corners and edges, then the back of a spoon to get a level and smooth finish. Then spread your middle of choice over the top, I used strawberry jam for the one above.

Whisk up the two egg whites with the sugar until you have a thick, going towards stiff consistency. Fold in the coconut, or not if you don’t like it (weirdos!).  Gently spread the meringue on top of the jam, on top of the cake.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, to when the meringue is browning on top. Let it cool off fully in the tin.

Pop it out of the tin, and I would cut 12 slices out of this.

It’s just so yummy.

 

We’ll always have ice cream – Part Two.

Our family have worked through some major life changes in the last few months.  Moved country, sold our home, given up our dog, new job, new schools, new friends and I’ve (temporarily) given up sweets.  These are all major changes. All. Of. Them.

I’m not an expert in child psychology or parenting, but I generally fulfil the role of Change Management Co-ordinator in our family, so I thought I would share some things I’ve learnt along the way. As I said in Part One, children do adapt to change but it takes time and they need help to navigate through the choppy waters of change.  As their parents, we are in the best position (frankly it’s our responsibility) to help them along the way.  And at the same time, parents can make things harder if they’re not switched on to the version of events as experienced by the little people. Something I realise now I have hindsight on the first half of this year.

It’s not surprising, given I blog, that I believe when you know there are changes coming, it’s good to communicate with your children about what’s around the corner.  Children want to know things.  They are constantly asking questions, wanting to know what we are doing on the weekend, how many days until Christmas, what cake can they have for their birthday, who’s coming for lunch on Sunday, what did the person on the other end of the phone say, how old will I be when they get married?!?! And nothing frustrates them more than the passive, blow off. I’m not saying we communicate on the big changes, so they can have an input. I personally think children should be allowed to be children and their opinions on the big decisions of life are not required in order for the adults to make decisions for the family. However, when our decisions are going to have an impact on their “normal” life, then I think it is important to talk to them about it.  When we knew we were coming home to the UK, we took the children out for a hot chocolate and explained what would be happening.  We gave them time to ask questions and we answered them as fully as we could.  How exactly the container was going to be put on the ship was a little out of my expertise, but I talked about cranes and such like, it seemed to help….

The thing with communicating with young children, is you have to be aware that their internal interpretation of what you have said, may not be as accurate as their nodding heads would lead you to believe.  Check in with them regularly to find out what their understanding of the situation is. It was a few months before the move that we told our children, and there were smaller changes happening along the way. We would remind them of what was happening, ask them if they had any concerns or questions.  Minnie was excited about going back to the UK where her grandparents and cousins lived, but I needed to clarify that we would still have to travel to visit them and we wouldn’t see them every day.  For a while there, she believed that the UK was one happy village where all our family lived next door to each other.

Timing is everything. Yes communicate, yes be honest, but sometimes it’s not best to tell the children things as soon as you know or when it’s still not fully certain.  When we arrived in the UK, we had to go on a waiting list for the village school.  One weekend we were all in the car and I knew a place was coming up for Jackson at the village school so I was talking to Gareth, in ear shot of the children, about getting new uniforms etc. The following week, the school he was currently in called to ask if Jackson was leaving at the end of the week, because that’s what he was telling people.  When I talked to him about it, he said that there wasn’t any point making friends because he wasn’t staying at this school – eek! I had to do some back tracking there.  Lesson learnt: children can listen to a conversation in the front of the car whilst watching a film in the back. That whole thing about males can’t multi-task must kick in after puberty/their wedding day, or something?

When the changes are big and stressful for you, you need to find your own peace.  Children know when their parents are struggling with something, probably ours do more than others as we’re ‘heart on our sleeves’ kind of people.  When we were preparing to leave, we had a lot going on.  The house had work to be done to get it ready to sell, we were both trying to finish well at work, our beloved dog needed to find a new home, and fundamentally we were both really sad to be leaving NZ.  I think it would be ridiculous to suggest we should (or even could) have hidden some of the real emotions we were feeling through all of this.  I burst into tears when we said goodbye to our dog and sobbed as we landed at Heathrow. The children saw I was human and was feeling things like they were. However, I know I exposed the children to too much of my stress and frustration about the whole thing. I wish that in the really stressful times, I had taken a moment to say to myself – I am confused, I am angry, I am upset, I am not in control.  I give those things to God (you can send your concerns to whoever or whatever you’d like to give them to) and choose to not burden my children with them. It seems overly simplistic but acknowledging those feelings and choosing my attitude for the day, i.e. not shouty, grumpy and irrationally strict mummy, would have helped them to feel more secure in the changes.

On my best days, I managed to share the fun in the changes. Ultimately, I want my children to not fear or hate change, because change can often be the best thing ever, even change that is hard can have positive outcomes, so to be able to adapt and not lose hope when things change in your life, is a great strength to have. When we first arrived in the UK, we tried to see as much of the family as we could; that way the children immediately saw the benefits to be being back on this side of the world.  We signed up for the National Trust, we went to Legoland, we ate really good fish and chips, travelled on a train, I took them to an M&S food hall and we put the heating on so they could marvel at the wonder of radiators. We tried to highlight the exciting things about leaving one country and discovering another. Looking for the bright side is a skill I want my children to have.

Change can come in so many forms. It can affect one part of your life or be a change that alters everything in your life. Children are resilient and they will adapt, but there is much we can do as parents to help them come out the other side, stronger, happier and more confident in who they are and what they can achieve.  What our family have discovered is when the tough days come and it feels like we’re on the wrong side of overwhelming, there is always ice cream to bring a bit of comfort, joy and delight.

 

 

Dear Joe Wicks

As you have become the fifth member of our family since I embarked on your 90 Day SSS Plan, I thought it would be nice to give you a personal update on my progress so far. This is not to say that your Support Heroes aren’t perfectly lovely, they really are very helpful and friendly. Although I have to confess I did nearly come to blows with one of them over the dairy substitute for yogurt.  I really do dislike soy but they dug their heals in about it.  Something about the macros and fat content ruining my fat burning. On reflection I’m pleased they persevered as full almond yogurt is prohibitively expensive, and the soy with a touch of almond works fine as long as there isn’t too much of it in the recipe. More on that later.

I am very pleased to say that I am now a Cycle One graduate.  Submitted my measurements yesterday and as I carry on with Cycle One rules for the time being, I am looking forward to getting my Cycle Two instructions.

Let’s talk results first. I can confirm ‘sad step’ is right. After four and a half weeks of faithfully sticking to the recipes (so much so that the scales are permanently sat on my counter), saying no to chocolate and Candy King, having only four glasses of wine over the entire month and nailing 23 cardio sessions, I have lost exactly 1kg. I have to confess, I had a wee bit of a sulk about that on Cycle One Graduation Day. I’m better now.  It’s possible that during ‘Shape’ and ‘Sustain’ the weight could still ‘Shift’ so I’m going to ignore the voice that is shouting, ‘Seriously?!? Put some chocolate on your Ocado app girlfriend, it won’t make no difference. Get used to that tummy lady, it ain’t going anywhere. And what were you doing this for anyways, no one expects a 41 year old mother of two to look good in jeans!  Baggy tops all the way pet.’  Because whilst the weight loss was pretty unimpressive, there were losses in other areas that actually have a more real effect on my life.  I lost me some inches baby! Three off my waist and two and a half off my hips. I am currently sitting in a pair of Jack Wills skinny jeans.  That’s right, not nice and forgiving GAP or Next jeans, no.  These are “we really only design for undernourished students” Jack Wills jeans. That’s progress.

I’m just going to side step the before and after photos. Apart from anything, my family read these blogs and they don’t need to see me in my Alan Whickers, never mind a rogue stranger that might stumble upon my blog.  Me and the hubby studied the ones from 30 days ago and the ones from this week and we were hard pushed to see any changes. Again, it’s early days, plenty of time to get concerned about aesthetics.

All in all, I am feeling fitter and healthier and my clothes are sitting on me a little better so these are positive results. I thank you.

When I say that you have become part of the family I mean that your name and your voice are as much a part of our household as the rest of us.  Phrases like, ‘Hurry up, we need to get home so I can do “a Joe Wicks” before dinner’ and ‘Is this something Joe says we have to eat?’ are quite common place. Your cheeky chappy voice is often what wakes up my children at six thirty in the morning, as I squeeze a HIIT in before breakfast.  I have to say, my children have very mixed feelings about you, as whilst they are quite fascinated by your workouts and even sometimes try to join in (my six year old son’s interpretation of a burpee is priceless), they have not always enjoyed the meals.

Which brings me to the food side of the plan.  I’ll tell you now, I’ve never followed a diet.  As I have always loved exercise and I’m a pretty healthy eater (apart from the serious sugar addiction) I’ve never needed to get really serious with something like Weight Watchers.  Frankly fads like the Atkins Diet seem ridiculous! So this is the first time in my life when I have had a prescribed eating plan. Due to a bulging disc followed by surgery earlier in the year and then moving back to the UK in May (by the way, when you have finished in the States, get yourself to NZ they will love you!) my eating and exercising has been terrible so I thought this would be a focussed way to learn new habits and challenge myself.  Plus I am totally curious to see if I can get muscle definition on my upper body for the first time in my life.

I already plan our family meals for the week ahead so filling in your meal planners wasn’t too much more effort.  I am the only one on the SSS Plan, but I didn’t want to have to cook separate meals in the evening so I “adapted” your meals to make sure my husband didn’t feel deprived and my children were getting the carbohydrate they need for their growing bodies.  For the most part, I think we got away with it.  Breakfast and lunches I did my own thing and everyone else had their usual.  At dinner time, if I was on a low-carbohydrate meal I would just add rice, pasta or potato to whatever I was cooking. Apart from nearly blowing off the heads of my children with your Thai chicken curry (totally my fault, I was way too generous with the paste!) and needing to pimp up the salmon fishcakes (hope you don’t mind, I added some lime zest and just a spoonful of creamed coconut to give them more flavour), all the meals were very successful.  The favourites were probably the Chicken Cashew Curry and Lean Mince.

I found lunches that worked for me.  Basically anything that didn’t require more than 40g of yogurt.  Being dairy free and even with the substitution of soy/almond yogurt, some of the dressings were just too, well yogurty. And on that note, again I hope this is OK, I changed the 235g of soy yogurt you’re meant to add to jelly for the Mousse Me Up snack to about 60g of yogurt as that first attempt was just nasty.  I am really hoping the snacks will be different in Cycle Two as I only really liked two out of this list. The day I gave a protein shake a go was traumatic.

You’ve certainly introduced me to a good selection of tasty new recipes that I will use again. Plus my husband and I have learnt that we don’t need carbohydrate with every meal to feel full and happy at the end. That said, I am looking forward to the freedom I hear I am about to get in Cycle Two as we’re all a little bored of the limited selection of Cycle One.

I found you through YouTube HIIT workouts so doing these a few times a week has been relatively easy.  Although I do love to run, and after my back surgery, doing lots of fast squats can be dicey. Therefore I balanced three 25 minute HIITS with two over-6km runs every week. Hope that’s OK?  I am preparing for the weights coming in on the next Cycle. I know this is good for a forty-something mum as my bones need to keep their density, however jumping and running keeps me sane so I am a little concerned that whilst the food side of things may take a turn for the better, pumping the iron may be the biggest challenge so far.

As I am sure you will be curious to know how I get on in Cycle Two and all this feedback is hopefully welcome by you and your team of heroes, I’ll write again in 30 days.

Love your work.

Yours faithfully, Claire

 

 

 

 

We’ll always have ice cream – Part One.

There are many observations and pearls of wisdom that I have heard over my time as a parent:

“It gets better”

“Try not to be anxious about it, they smell your fear.”

“Oh I breastfed my children until they were one and they never get colds.”

“You can’t give in to them or they will just keep doing it.”

“I’m sure that’s perfectly normal but perhaps just go to the doctors to check it out.”

“My my, what spirited children you have.”

In relation to all this moving around the world business we keep subjecting them to (OK it’s only been twice in five years but it feels pretty regular from where I’m sitting), you often get one of the most popular phrases about children said to you:

“Children are really resilient, they will adapt to the changes.”

And it’s true.  Children are resilient and they do adapt. However, that 10-word sentence does not tell you how they will adapt, or what you should do to help them through change, or at what point you will have pushed their resilience too far.

In terms of change, emigrating to another country is arguably one of the biggest you can experience in your life.  My children have done it twice already, and I have a sneaky suspicion they will be doing it at least one more time whilst they’re living under our roof. As they were babies the first time, they don’t remember that change at all.  Our eldest was two and a quarter and she doesn’t remember the house in Liverpool, the friends she had, the long flight over.  All they both know is Christchurch, New Zealand.  For them, that is home and where all their memories are from.

Which means even though this second move is in fact us coming back to our home country, they view it as emigrating. Yes they are coming back to the place where all our family live, but as we have moved to a part of the UK that their parents don’t know and where we have no family nearby, it is essentially moving to a foreign country!

It’s a big change for them and nearly six months on, they are still processing it.  So yes they adapt, but it doesn’t happen overnight. This rang true to me yesterday, when I was talking to the head teacher of their new school.

We are celebrating a victory this week.  Minnie has finally been given a place in the village school.

One of the biggest challenges a family will face when they move, even just from one town to another, is getting their child(ren) into school.  Where you live is crucial to where your children go to school.  We got it wrong in New Zealand. We bought a house that we loved on a street we loved, only to find out two years later, when Minnie was about to start school, that we were 14 houses out-of-zone for the school that was closest to us.  Despite me creating a brochure on how awesome our daughter was, the school’s hands were tied and as the in-zone school didn’t have great reviews, we had to apply for out-of-zone places to schools further away.  Wonderfully, both our children got into a fantastic school and the only downside was that I had to drive them.

I was determined to get it right this time.  Unfortunately, over in the UK, even when you live in a house that is in-zone for the school you want, you might not get a place, because it’s a numbers game over here. If they have too many already in, then you’re out. It took seven weeks from landing to get the children in a school that was five miles away.  A lovely school, but not our village school.  We joined the waiting list.  Then in September, we found out that there was a space for Jackson – yay! Surely, they would then take his big sister, who is in Key Stage Two where you can push out the class size and she’s such a lovely, compliant pupil, a blessing to all teachers who are fortunate enough to have her in their class? Nope.

What had been really good news, turned into the worst news.  Now I had two children in two schools, that begin and end at the same time, but are five miles apart. You do the math on that one.

In short, not an ideal situation. Thankfully, you can appeal.  Which we did.  And like a beautiful miracle, a rainbow in the sky, an unexpected gift, we won! In two weeks time, BOTH my children will be pupils at the delightful village school, where they can make friends, introduce me to their friend’s mummies so I can make friends, have play dates after school and most delightfully of all WALK TO SCHOOL!

I’ve totally digressed from what I was going to tell you, but it’s good news, and who doesn’t like good news? Plus it’s scene setting…

…so I am talking to the rather disgruntled (remember the school didn’t want to take Minnie) head teacher as she rather brutally, but at the same time graciously says even though she’s not happy Minnie has been given a place, she can start after half term (it was hard to hear but her honesty makes me think I will grow to like this woman and I’m determined to show her that having the full team Cowles in her school will be the BEST THING EVER). Concerned that Minnie may get wind of this conflicted welcome, I tactfully say that I hope they will help Minnie settle as she has just found her place in the second of three schools she has attended in one year, and although she is the best pupil ever and a blessing to any classroom she comes into, she may need extra encouragement as she once again gets to know another classroom of strangers. In her reassurances that they will, the head teacher comments that in fact, Jackson had said he was missing his old school. But not the second one, the first one, in NZ.

And this is my point. What I wanted to say right from the start, but took a long walk to get to.

Children do adapt to change. In twenty years time, this change will be one of many character building changes that our children will have adapted to and learnt just how resilient, courageous and awesome they are. But right now, in what Americans might call “the adaption phase”, change can feel tough and overwhelming for our little people. It isn’t an overnight thing.

So in Part Two (I’ve split this up into two blogs, otherwise I break one of the golden rules of blog writing, “Don’t try to fit a book into one blog, rather make a book out of many blogs and cash in!”) I’m going to tell you what I have learned about helping children adapt to change.

Nail biting stuff hey.