Latest Posts

Happy Women’s Day to my women

As I scrolled through Instagram this morning, it seemed that there was an usually large amount of love going out to women on my feed. It took a moment to register as to be fair, in the current climate there is generally at least two or three ‘strong women lift each other up’ type posts every day. Today it’s almost constant, occasionally interrupted by a pretty plate of food  (I love me some #foodies).

It is of course International Women’s Day. It’s prompted me to think about the women in my life and I realise that there have been, are and will be a HUGE amount of significant women in my life. What better way to celebrate than say thank you.

To the most important woman in my life, who is yet to be a woman, my daughter. Thank you for being the little embryo that could. For giving me hope when I was at my most hopeless. You could forget every Mother’s Day and I will still be indebted to you for making me a mum. That said, you know how much I like gifts…

Thanks to my mum. Another warrior, who taught me to always take the next step no matter how hard it is. I just have to think of you and I feel safe and comforted, such is the legacy of a good upbringing.

Thanks to the mother of my husband. You gave birth to the man of my life. He is a fascinating mix of gentle, kind and stubborn. May I be so bold as to say all directly given by the woman who brought him up?

To my two sisters: The one I share parents with – thank you for showing me that you can be lifelong friends with someone who is different in almost every way. And to the sister who taught my husband to be a friends with a woman – thank you for loving your brother (my husband) so constantly.

Thanks to my cool aunt, who showed me that women can drive fast, play any sport and stay happily married for life.

Thanks to my grandma. You loved me with such delight, I always felt cherished by you. If you hadn’t been my grandma and were born 60 years later, I totally would have wanted to be your friend.

To the woman who showed me Jesus. Thank you for being the most faithful of followers and the best of mentors.

To the wise lady who welcomed me into her home and let me be messy. For introducing me to a counsellor in my troubled teens. And loving me like I was one of your own. I thank you.

To my friend who I picked up from Scotch Corner to start a new life. You have one of the strongest minds I know and you have the cutest booty on the dance floor. Thank you for being a rock of a friend since that summer we discovered each other.

To the women who teach my children. Especially to the one that sits with my son every day and helps him catch up with the rest of the children in his year. To motivate my son to read and write is no small feat!

To the GP (in NZ) who always seemed genuinely happy to see me, would listen to my fears, talk me down from Google paranoia and looked after me as a person not a number. I realise now, you are rare.

To two female bosses who inspired me to be professional, hard working, determined and to never “settle”.

To the friend that never forgets my children’s birthdays, loves going to the cinema as much as I do (perhaps more!) and laughs just as loud. Thanks for all the memories of pure joy, too many to mention.

Thanks to the soul sisters I have met in churches all over the world. For praying for me, standing with me and pushing me on. My faith is stronger because of your faith.

For the GFC ladies in Liverpool. Thanks for the most honest conversations I have ever had, over good food and lots of wine. Let’s all try and wind up in the same old people’s home so we can see out our days roaring with laughter!

To the woman who made my marriage legal. We literally wouldn’t have got there without you keeping me on the straight and narrow!

To the mother of two of my best friends, whose home I was married from. Thank you for teaching me what a gracious wife and mother looks like, and how to roast vegetables.

To my most badass friend, with the sharpest wit and tiniest waist. You may be petite but you have the biggest personality and I love hanging with you.

To my blog-writing buddy. Thanks for coming with me to hard medical appointments and not keeping your distance when you had three babies and I had none.

To my Melbourne-trip besties. Thanks for the Friday night gatherings, for sharing dreams and disasters and helping me to feel at home in a foreign land.

To the woman who scooped me up at Christchurch airport when we landed with our babies. It wasn’t your job to entertain random english children and find me a pushchair but you saw a need and met it.

To the woman whose mum gave me the best dog in the world. Your passion for parenting is a gift, thanks for sharing all your wisdom and inspiring me to parent with purpose.

 

To the mum’s in my village. Thank you for inviting me and my children into your homes and to your parties. Who knew such a little village could contain this many beautiful, talented and genuinely interesting women.

Thanks to Julia for the beauty, Mary for the cakes, Alice for the health, Alanis for the melancholy,  Michelle for the leadership, Jane for the love stories, Jenn for the worship and Sweaty Betty for the lycra.

There are a thousand others. I hope I remember to thank you in person when next we meet, because I love you all and I am so grateful for your lives.

#internationalwomensday

By the way, if there is an International Men’s Day – I could totally fill a page of thanks to all the amazing men in my life!

 

 

It’s not OK, but it will be

Sometimes, it’s just not OK. You’re not OK. Life isn’t OK. Things are not OK. There is pain, disappointment, anger, fear and it feels like more than you can bear. You can’t stand up as it crashes down on you. You have nothing left. You’re lost. You can’t escape. But oh no, you’ll just have to go through it (yep that’s a ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ reference).

To be in a moment where it feels like you have nothing left, is the worst place to be on earth. And yet, I’m here to say, it is possible to walk on, to stand, to get through.

There is something that gives us what we need to conquer the giant in front of us. We see people do it all the time.

  • A husband stands outside the room as a team of medical staff help his wife fight to deliver their first born through shoulder dystocia.
  • A woman who has married three times before, in the face of her doubts and those around her, chooses to believe this one, in her present, is her forever love.
  • After the despair of a miscarriage, in the unrelenting grief for a child that was never held, a couple get pregnant again.
  • A first time entrepreneur gives up her steady job and spends all her savings on stock for her dream business.
  • A husband gets up, catches a train, walks into the office and puts his all into a job he knows is not for him.

These are all real-life examples. These are people I know. I have watched friends and family go through these things and I am amazed that they could do it. What got them through?

Hope.

Hope that the doctors know what they’re doing, hope that they made the right decision, hope that something outside of themselves will bring change, hope that this time it will be different.

When we are in the depths of despair, like literally on the floor, can’t move: there is hope. Hope helps us to achieve the impossible. Because hope feeds the leap of faith. It fuels grit and determination. It pushes us forward to the light at the end of the tunnel.  As the original Superman says, “Once you choose hope, anything is possible”, (so said Christopher Reeve).

I am so thankful for hope. It’s a gift that rises to the surface when there is suffering. Have you noticed that? We don’t talk about hope when all is well, when we’re strong and sure. Hope comes to play when we are unsure, when things are out of our control, when the outcome is out of our hands.

I don’t think that hope ever leaves us. I think it is sewn into our souls from the moment we are given life. The Bible refers to it as one of the three things we need when all else is stripped away, “and now these three remain; faith, hope and love…” 

Without hope, life would be too hard. If life is hard for you right now. Let hope rise to the surface. You were born with faith, hope and love, and although they may be pushed down, bruised and battered, they never leave. No matter what happens, every human being has these three things inside of them. You have them and you have enough of them to live your life.

Music helps me find my hope. It connects with my soul so I can be vulnerable and connect with what’s going on inside. Through my life, there have been songs that I have literally drowned myself in, just to accompany me through the emotion I am feeling at that time.

After my daughter was born I was so broken. I had lost a lot of blood in the birth so I was anaemic and our little communicator would often just scream through the night. She had colic, which meant after her night feeds I would have to hold her upright in my arms for ages before I could put her down. I remember after a middle of the night feed, the normal half an hour had turned to two hours. I moved downstairs to the living room so Gareth wasn’t disturbed and I was circling our dark living room, feeling so alone, overwhelmed by disappointment and a voice in my head telling me I was failing, that I was getting it all wrong. First time mum anxiety was heavy upon me.

I had music on, and Ingrid Michaelson’s ‘Keep Breathing’ came on. For the next hour I put it on repeat and I walked round, sobbing. It let me connect to the hope I needed. It reminded me I just had to keep breathing, take every hour at a time, know that they would turn into days. Each day would bring change. My baby would grow, I would learn how to look after her, we would get through this. And we did. There was my hope. And what I hoped for (a whole night’s sleep), eventually came to pass.

The beginning of this week was Blue Monday, apparently the most depressing day of the year. I get it. It’s cold and dark (in the northern hemisphere), Christmas is over, we realise that just because it’s a new year, it doesn’t mean everything in our life becomes shiny and new. It’s all a bit grey.

Well we survived it and now it’s the weekend. And it’s less than six week’s until Spring. Take that Blue Monday!

You may have made a resolution or you may have a challenge coming up this year. Or you might be having a tough time right now. You might be in the middle of the storm and you feel overwhelmed by the waves crashing down on your head. Well there is hope. It’s inside you. It can’t be taken away. It’s yours for life. So allow it to do its work. Don’t push it down. Don’t ignore it. Put some music on (you can borrow my song if you like) and invite hope to rise to the surface.

Hope will move you forward.

 

Dear Joe Wicks (for the last time)

Happy New Year! Hope you had a good Christmas and your new book is selling well.

Thanks to you, I had a good start to the New Year. I graduated from the 90 Day SSS plan on Saturday 6th January.  I had worried that my interpretation of Cycle Three had been too flexible and my results would have started going in the wrong direction.

This is not to say that I went careering off the rails. But it was December, there were nights out, family gatherings, Christmas Day for heaven’s sake! I had planned to have blow-out days on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, but as the days (and nights) went on, it was obvious there were going to be quite a few mini blow-outs along the way. I had a few nights were I had a festive tipple and with a lot more treats in the house, I ate way more chocolate and sweets than I had in the previous cycles.

All that said, I did carry on with all the exercises and even threw in the odd extra 20-minute HIIT when I knew I was going to have an off-plan meal. Whilst I was pretty naughty by 90 Day SSS Plan standards, I would say it’s the healthiest Christmas I have ever had!

Once again, I wasn’t expecting too much on results day. My dread was that I would have put on some weight or inches so that in a couple of weeks with a few indulgent days my final results would be less of a reflection of all the hard work and disciplined days I had put in for the other 10 weeks. As it happens, like a Christmas miracle, I had still lost a bit more weight and a few more inches.

I don’t want to share my table of results with the world, because I feel like it leads to comparison.  Our bodies are all so unique and measurements are too. They are just numbers and they don’t reflect shape, water retention, menstrual cycle, bone density any of that. But I do want to give you credit where credit is due and show that your programme does make a difference. So I’ve put my overall results on the picture above. Hopefully this encourages someone else, who reads this and is wanting to get healthy and lean, to consider the 90 Day SSS Plan as something they could do.

For me, instead of starting 2018 feeling like I need to make the usual resolutions of eating better, giving up sweets, exercising more; I was walking into the New Year feeling pretty happy about my regime. I do now have the challenge of keeping up with the healthy lifestyle that I’ve developed on your programme. In some ways that is more challenging than the challenge itself, because now I am flying solo. No heroes to help me along. No prescribed meals and exercise sessions. Just Claire, committing to not eating Haribo every afternoon whilst cooking the dinner.

I do have hope though; that I will keep this up.  I’ve learnt so much and certainly I have changed my eating habits. The heartening thing is that it wasn’t terrible for me. I don’t miss having starchy carbohydrates with every meal. Eating more protein hasn’t turned me into the Hulk. When I eat lots of sugar now, it doesn’t make me feel great, in fact I feel really horrible sometimes. I like eating three big meals a day. I am going to find some different healthy snacks though, that soy yogurt with sugar-free jelly really was a low point!

I thought what would help, is for me to make a list of “rules” I have learnt along the way and that I can use as a focus, as I go forward without you. These aren’t strict but if I can aim for them, then I may have a healthy lifestyle for life.

  • Only have carbohydrate in meals after workouts. Although if I am going out for dinner and I haven’t worked out in the last 90 minutes, it’s OK to have the rice served up on my plate.
  • Only drink alcohol on the weekend.
  • Exercise five days a week. This can include long walks, Pilates and playing football with the children.
  • Do weights a few times a week. Got to keep that bone density!
  • Have (healthy) snacks in the day time, rather than the evening.
  • Add protein powder to smoothies and porridge.
  • Eat more lean protein in general; turkey bacon, chicken, fish, lean red meat, pulses, mushrooms, eggs are all good with me.
  • Drink at least 2 litres of water a day.
  • Have two meat-free dinners a week.
  • Be disciplined whenever possible but break the rules if I need/want to.
  • Choose dark chocolate before Candy King and Haribo.
  • Enjoy food, experiment, make up new recipes, give tofu a chance.

I have one resolution for this year – have the same measurements at the end of the year. The only way to achieve that – choose the healthy option. When in doubt, ask ‘what would Joe do?’

It’s been a great experience and I got what I was looking for: develop healthy food habits, get stronger and leaner, fit back into clothes I’d grown out of and graduate.

Thanks so much for doing what you do. All the best to you and your heroes!

Claire x

PS I didn’t get a six-pack…I knew it was too much to ask.

 

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 hoummus 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…. Hoummus 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.