Monday, 13 April 2015

#Healthy inspiration from Barcelona

Taking a break is always a pleasure - and should leave us refreshed and revived. So it's not surprising that a holiday is often a source of inspiration too. Take us out of our comfort zone and we can look with fresh eyes at the world around us - be it filled with natural beauty, cultural delights or stimulating scenery. How often have you come back from a trip feeling stimulated by something you saw or experienced and/or relaxed enough to tackle tasks that seemed daunting beforehand?

This is how I felt when I happened across the magnificent Mercat de Sant Josep on La Rambla in Barcelona. A huge walk-through affair that is a magnet to tourists and locals alike, packed to the rafters with tempting, fresh foods. Stepping across the threshold brought back vague memories of how people used to shop in the UK, before superstores, ready meals and ordering online became the norm. At this market individual traders ply everything from fruit and veg, fresh fish, meat, eggs and dried  mushrooms to sweets treats and baked goods. They call out to you, ready to bargain. You can touch and examine their wares - they expect questions and conversation. It's a feast for the eyes and ears sure - and full of locally-sourced, fresh and nutritious foods. You can even sit down and have some freshly made tapas.

How long is it since you spoke to a fishmonger?

And it hit me that we have become too used to looking at photoshopped images, motivational phrases and hashtags like #eatclean, #weightlossjourney and #fittip when we need a reminder to make healthy lifestyle choices. I remember going grocery shopping with my mum when I was small. She took her own bags (I was always transfixed by the wicker baskets people used) and walked to the green grocers for fruit and veg and another shop for milk and cheese, you bought fish when you were by the harbour and meat came from the butcher's (okay, that just happened to be my Dad!!). Mum made everything from pastry to stock and I (and my brother) stood alongside her learning how to cook. Properly. 

Monday, 30 March 2015

Cracking Easter craft

Whether it's a school holiday play date or a family gathering on Easter Sunday keep little hands and minds busy with spring themed activities.

At this time of year it's hard to know if the Easter bunny will need wellies or a sun hat when he comes to deliver his chocolaty treats. On the off chance that it might be too wet, windy or cold to spend all of the school holidays outside (odds are you'll be spending some of your time indoors!) it's great to have some craft activities on hand to entertain the children for the bank holiday and beyond.

Oh Easter tree

Kids always have a whale of a time decorating the tree at Christmas, which might be one of the reasons you can increasingly find sparkly eggs dangling from branches these days. I got my 'tree' from Lidl and my girls were more than eager to adorn it with treasures from Easer baskets past, pretty stickers and their newly-created decorations courtesy of Yellow Moon. And an Easter 'tree' makes a lovely centrepiece!

My youngest has recently discovered sewing in a big way - due in part to a very impressive after-school club she attends. I've already been on the receiving end of a fetching 'LOVE' banner on Valentine's and a beautiful lavender-scented cushion for Mother's Day. Accordingly she was keen to get to work on the Easter Bunny Sewing Decoration Kits - making one up for Granny - her personal sewing and knitting guru. Meanwhile my older daughter set about the Easter Basket Ribbon Lacing Cards for her nearest and dearest.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Cycling in Swinley Forest

Once my cards and pressies are opened, and breakfast in bed is polished off, I like to spend at least part of Mother's Day doing something active with my kids and hubby. As the weather is usually getting slightly less awful by this time of year (but only just!) I like to get outdoors and try something a bit out of our comfort zone. Last year it was a spot of horse riding, and this year I decided on some two-wheeled whole family fun in Swinley Forest, Swinley is part of the Windsor Estate between Bracknell and Bagshot, and not too far from me at all. Since we couldn't get all our bikes on our car, and our six-year-old isn't really that keen on cycling long distances on her hand-me-down bike, my other half was able to use the opportunity to work on his run training - and thereby act as backup for slower riders, anyone that falls by the wayside and on-the-spot bike mechanic (well he is signed up for the Henley Highwayman and the Wargrave Sprint Tri, so we're doing him a favour)!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

TRX - using your whole body

'Ouch, ouch ouch', that was me getting down the stairs on Sunday. But it was great to feel my quads again, as they've been on a sabbatical since November because an ankle injury has prevented me from running or taking part in any high-impact classes.

And the name of my pain? TRX - a 'suspension' workout system that uses gravity and bodyweight to build muscle and core strength. It's called suspension because you use long straps attached from the ceiling to your hands or feet to work through the exercises - be they strength, Pilates, plyometric or cardio-focussed.  For some of the moves you will be standing - for others you'll be on the ground. It can also be adapted to all levels of fitness.

How does it work?

I tried out TRX at a class run by Eileen Unwin of the GoWorkout collective. Held in local gym Expert Fitness Studio in the centre of Henley, the class is small and friendly - great if you're a beginner and wondering exactly where the straps go and how they work! After a warm up, Eileen took us through 3 'sets' of exercises - including moves most people would be familiar with such as squats, press ups, deadlifts, rows and the plank (and then finished with a cool down and stretch).

TRX allows different parts of the body to be targeted - (so it wasn't just my quads that got a workout, I was also very aware my triceps had been put to work too) - and for the intensity to be increased depending on your own experience and fitness level. There is also an element of flexibility involved, as the TRX straps help you to perform rotational moves too.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Sublime science - for a party with a bang!

A child's birthday is always reason to celebrate. For a start it gets the birthday child ever so much closer to 'that' ideal age they want to be (for mine it's 12 - the age I once said was suitable for ear-piercing) - and makes them feel all grown up (regardless of whether they are turning two, suddenly six, breaking into double figures or - LIKE FINALLY - becoming a teen). It's also an opportunity to make your child feel loved and special - and give yourself a sneaky pat on the back for a) keeping the child alive that long despite their best efforts and b) them not turning out so bad after all.

As much as OTT kiddie parties have been in the news recently for extravagant pressies and invoices for absentees, it's always nice for your child to see in their new age with some close, personal friends. Often about 20 of their closest friends in fact! 

But finding new and interesting places to go, or themes that haven't been done to death and adapting to their changing interests can be a struggle. You might well be sick of play centres and pass-the-parcel too - and long for the day your child no longer dreams of a complicated cake combining My Little Pony, Tinkerbell and the colour red (I have learnt that sometimes it's best not to ask...).

Monday, 9 February 2015

How to pack a healthy lunch

We've all seen the horror stories about how many grams of saturated fat and calories there can be in shop-bought sandwich and lunches, and the same goes for snacking on an innocent-looking fruit bar or smoothie when you need a little pick-me-up. So how can you eat on the move - and still stay healthy? The easiest solution (unless you are an absolute whizz at reading nutrition labels) is to pack your own lunch and snacks for the day ahead - be it during the working week or on a trip out with the kids. And as an added bonus you'll likely save money and, with the right lunchbox, cut down on wasteful packaging too.

Where to start

Never skip lunch! It's what gets you through the day - and will prevent you from being so ravenous that you'll pounce on any passing high-fat snacks at a moment's notice as the hours tick past. There's lots of research that suggests taking a break at lunch will also help your brain recuperate, allowing you to 'work smarter' for the rest of the day. Concentrating on what you are eating (rather than your computer screen or smart phone, guilty as charged!) will allow you to enjoy your meal and for your brain to register that its has eaten too, a great way to avoid over-eating. To ensure your lunch is healthy, and sustains you throughout the afternoon, try to pack one portion from each of the five main food groups:

Monday, 2 February 2015

Confident when it matters

In my twenties I spent a night at the Tibetan side of Base Camp Everest, with just a sleeping bag optimistically bought in Thailand for a fiver. The observant among you might notice that there's quite a temperature disparity between Bangkok and the North Base Camp. The 'room' I 'slept' in at Rongbuk Monastery (which has an altitude of 16,340 ft) was made of stone, but the walls didn't quite meet, and neither did the door fit the door frame (where's Nick Knowles when you need him). It was bitterly cold outside, and yes, pretty darn cold on the inside too. At that time of year average temperatures can dip to -12℃. I learnt a lot of things on that trip, and one of those things was to GET THE RIGHT KIT.

Fast forward another a few years (okay decades) and you'll rarely catch me under-equipped. If it's cold I'll have base layers, if it's wet I'll be waterproofed and if it's likely to be hot I'll be in sweat-wicking kit before you can say plyometric lunges. Which is why, when Helly Hansen invited me along to preview its new training range at BARREtoned last week, I said 'ja' (which is Norwegian for yes - geddit?). I said 'ja' because, while already well-respected for its professional mountain and sailing ranges, Helly Hansen now offers workout wear specifically designed for women that looks good and is still properly fit for purpose. We're talking Scandinavian style, fused with professional performance. And I didn't even have to set foot in Ikea. 

Photo credit: Antony Potts

Dressed for the barre

Set apart from the range for guys, Helly Hansen's female kit has a feminine silhouette (drawstring waists on running jackets, scoop necklines on vest tops), and seasonal colours and trends. The collection still uses the Lifa flow moisture-management technology, wind-block fabrics, reflective detailing, mesh for breathability and sun protection expertise as required, but adds in the kinds of fashion-forward colours, prints and shapes you want to be seen in. There's also a stunning range of trainers to complete the look. It would've been rude not too - am I right?!