Monday, 15 December 2014

Xmas craft - a great way to countdown to Christmas!

When the weather outside is frightful, why not have a day indoors making delightful Christmas crafts with your kids? It's the perfect way to pass the time in the upcoming school holidays - when the countdown to the big day dominates every conversation!

Get making with little wooden houses that can easily become home to lost teeth or found treasures. Decorate with paint, pens, stickers or gems. Give them to best friends or keep them for yourself.

They make a perfect stocking filler too - if you can sneak them past your kids! (I failed!)

If you've got some presents to wrap harness your helpers! Start out with some plain brown parcel paper and let them personalise it with self-inking stamps - you could even add some sparkly stickers.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Swimming: A change is as good as a rest!

Recently I picked up an Achilles injury and had to face the fact that the high-impact workouts that I normally enjoy (such as running and Body Combat classes) would have to be put on hold until I was back to full strength. The easiest thing to do would have been to throw a massive strop and give up altogether - busying myself with the multitude of Christmassy responsibilities I currently have on my Things To Do List. And don't think I wasn't tempted! Instead though I headed off for a gym assessment and got myself a new little workout using a stationary bike and rower for fat-burning, with lots of free weight routines to cover the strength and toning side of things too.

I also determined that it was high time I improved my swimming. In what was a watershed moment over the summer, I realised my six year old can swim better than me. Admittedly, she's been putting in the work. She's swum at least once a week, every week from being a baby! Even when we go on our holidays there's no let up as we usually head off to the beaches in Cornwall, and have also dallied with Centerparcs and Ibiza. Both my girls are fully equipped for the water with an array of cozzies, wetsuits, goggles and even aqua shoes. In fact my older daughter wanted a full length wetsuit for Christmas, so she can go open water swimming in the river just like Daddy! She's eight.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Christmas CAN be healthy!

If you've spent the whole year being healthy then the festive period can prove a bit of a shock to the system - and derail your fitness journey completely. But everyone deserves a little break - and it's not all bad. Here's my way of looking at it...

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at

Festive fare

Now I'm not going to lie to you, mince pies are not a health food. They contain sugar and fat. And they taste good too. Moderation is of course the key (now, where did I put it?) But not all Christmas nibbles need be sent to the naughty step. How about nuts? Full of protein, vitamins, fibre and minerals they are a powerhouse of nourishment. My personal fave, almonds, are high in vitamin E, which is great for your skin, while within its own skin you'll find heart-protecting flavonoids. Meanwhile Brazils are rich in the mineral selenium, which aids thyroid function and supports immunity, and walnuts are rich in omega-3, which can help prevent heart disease and stroke, and also contain cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Then there's the traditional turkey, which like all meat, is a a rich source of protein (plus white meat like poultry typically has less fat that dark meat, cook skinless for an even lower fat option). It is also a source of iron, zinc, potassium and phosphorus and contains vitamin B6 and niacin, essential for producing energy. Turkey also contains the amino acid tryptophan, which helps to strengthen the immune system, and selenium, which is essential for thyroid hormone metabolism. Winner, winner Christmas dinner.

Monday, 17 November 2014

The #Earlybird Challenge - an extra hour and less stress

As we hurtle towards Christmas, I don't think I'm the only mummy that is already feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of family admin. There's presents to buy, school fairs to organise, tombolas to donate to, cards to write and plays to find costumes for. There aren't enough hours in the day. Or are there? Last week I teamed up with Free Office Finder who are championing the benefits of early mornings. Get up early for a week they suggested - and seize the day! So I did. And this is what I discovered...

1. Early mornings are quiet

With less traffic on the roads, my children still tucked up in bed and planes not yet heading in and out of Heathrow, there's a lovely calming stillness that's best enjoyed with a solitary cup of Earl Grey. It's like meditating without the chanting.

2. Apparently I have a husband

When my alarm goes usually off I'm alone. I have to grapple with the kids and their breakfast demands and uniform preference peculiarities single-handed. My OH has already hit the motorway early - or is at the gym only to breeze in and out. I seriously couldn't tell a police officer what he was wearing that day if he got lost (my husband that is, I'd assume the police officer was in uniform...) . Instead I actually saw him and exchanged some (albeit limited on my part) conversation and affection. Which was rather good for the soul.

3. It's where calm comes from

If you can sneak an extra 30 minutes alone time into your morning you can ponder your 'things to do list' in an efficient way - and instead of feeling like you spend your life firefighting - desperately trying to remember who has a non-uniform day, who is supposed to be learning lines for an assembly and what on earth you are all having for dinner - you can prioritise your chores. This meant I felt in control and spent less time stressing over the little things.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Discover Dogs - and the ways they improve your health

Despite being a proud cat owner, I was brought up with dogs - and have a family that to non-pooch lovers could be described as canine-obsessed. Even my first editorial job was at Dog World Publishing (the flagship product being a weekly newspaper that covers the pedigree dog 'scene' - yes there is such a thing!). One of my daughter's (if not both) also has the dog-loving DNA too and in a few years I hope to be in a position to make her dreams come true and welcome four little paws into the family. Which is why we rocked up to Earl's Court 1 this weekend as it played host to the Kennel Club's Discover Dogs event - where visitors can meet over 200 different breeds of dog, and learn all about the distinctive personalities, traits and needs of each. It's a kind of canine matchmaking service!

Your new jogging buddy

While getting a dog is not a decision to take lightly, I truly believe it is one of the best things that you can do for you and your family's health. Not least is the exercise requirement of all dogs - they must go outside whatever the weather and however you feel. This fact alone will prevent you from leading a sedentary life - and allow you and your nearest and dearest to appreciate how enjoyable that daily constitutional is! Children that grow up walking will more likely continue it as they grow up.

Obviously some dog breeds require more exercise than others - with some able to go for many hours longer than their weary owner ever could! Some dogs will make perfect running or hiking partners (but you must wait until their bones are fully developed before pounding the pavements or scaling hills) - other may be suitable for agility work or flyball - great ways to get up and off that sofa. Other ways to keep fit with your dog include obedience trials and even dancing! Certain breeds also have very specific sports they can train for - like racing with huskies. That said, never underestimate how much walking a dog originally bred for 'working' will enjoy and make sure you are up to the challenge - otherwise you'll quickly find that your bundle of fur is becoming bored, naughty and destructive (say goodbye to your slippers, wallpaper, furniture...).

Monday, 3 November 2014

The kit to covet

I don't think it's too early to think about Christmas shopping - well not when it's for my own Xmas requests anyway! So if you've made it to the 'nice' list too (I have, right?), why not give Santa some little pointers to make sure you look as good as you feel when you workout in 2015?

Charli Cohen at a recent pop-up event in Carnaby Street

The best of both worlds

Charli Cohen is a twenty-something fashion graduate and a personal trainer. Since her debut collection last year, which was sponsored by Lycra®-owner INVISTA, Charli has turned heads in the Brit fash pack for combining the covetable sports luxe look with practical and wearable pieces you can actually get sweaty in. Yup, look in the pages of Vogue people, her designs are there! This is the sort of kit that you should definitely wear to the gym AND also to the school gates and - for the purposes of this article - is quite possibly the reason that cool rhymes with yule...

The Gymtote - WANT

Bags of style

Are you familiar with the expression 'You never know what is missing from your life until you see it in a shop window'? Well, that adage certainly applies to the range of Gymtote bags. Quite literally I cannot believe no one thought of this before! The Gymtote is a bag that 'looks like a handbag, but performs like a gym bag'. This means that you can carry it like a normal, smart shoulder bag but that the cleverly designed zips open up breathable, wipeable, water-resistant sections that are perfectly sized to store your kit, trainers and water bottle - all separate from the areas to pop your purse, phone, keys and travel card in. And it won't matter if your footwear is muddy, your water bottle leaks and your gym clothes are ready for the laundry, everything is protected and neatly tucked away. Of course you could also use the Gymtote as a stylish overnight/travel bag thus avoiding the 'I'm a tourist try to pickpocket me' look on a city break - and the padded handles make it comfy on the shoulder wherever you are off to. Sod slipping a sable under the tree, Santa baby, just get me one of these!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Jelly, jelly frightening!

Freaky flavours

Halloween is a lot of fun sure, but rarely is it very healthy - especially for your kids as they trick or treat their way round the neighbourhood. So when Hartley's asked me to try out its 'monster' jelly range I wanted to throw a curveball into the equation - and at least try to sneak some nutrition in along the way.

If you wanted to go super healthy of course, you can make your own jelly using fruit juice and gelatine. But if you don't have the time or the inclination head to your local supermarket (Tesco, Asda, Waitrose, Morrison's or Ocado) and pick up these limited edition jelly packs, sachets or pots for as little as 45p.

Eyeballs for tea?

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

'We' time beats 'me' time (and wins stacks of prizes too!)

Ah, there's nothing quite like strapping an electrode to your head is there? Especially if while you're doing it you get a quick shoulder massage, a chance to catch up with Facebook and a squiz at a trashy magazine - all while someone else minds your kids for you. Or is there?

 Recently, my girls and I were part of an experiment organised by beloved British brand Pears Soap that identified a 'Golden Moments' scale. Along with some friendly boffins, Pears Soap, which is celebrating its 225th anniversary this year, set out to find out a quick-fix formula to help mums over  'Blue Mum-Day' - which statisticians have identified as the most stressful day of the year for mums when shorter days, half-term childcare issues and ongoing payment of the debts racked up in the summer holidays really hit home. You may know it as today!

Watch the video - and see if you can spot me in my fetching 'electrode headband'!

By wiring us guinea mums up to technology that could measure brain activity and physiological responses, the fist-of-its-kind experiment actually proved that 'we time' - activities undertaken with and alongside your offspring - was far more emotionally rewarding than 'me time'. In fact while a hug from their child tops the Golden Moments scale, checking social media scored the lowest and along with online shopping, actually left mums feeling drained rather than relaxed. Other moments with the feel-good factor included giving a child a small gift, decorating a fairy cake together and reading a story. Even everyday tasks such as helping a youngster wash their hands failed to score negatively. Put simply, 'me time' can't make a mum happy in the way 'we time' with her kiddies can. Those electrodes don't lie!

And the happiness doesn't stop there! Pears Soap is now running a Facebook competition with prizes including holidays and days out on offer. Readers of also have a chance of winning Pears goodies and a £50 John Lewis voucher too. All you need to do is submit a favourite mum moment (everyday moments that make you feel good) in the comment box below - and you'll be automatically entered for both competitions. The closing date is November 26th. 

Add your comment below - you could win weekly prizes from Pears Soap, a holiday or a John Lewis Voucher and a hamper. 
Competition open to UK residents only. Pears hamper and £50 voucher will be sent direct to winner by Pears Soap.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Event review: Run or Dye Oxfordshire

When I was a tad younger, standing in a field among thousands of other hyper individuals as a DJ dropped some tunes was not associated with the healthiest of activities. But times have changed - and novelty fun runs have hit the UK big time this year. Combine this with the mild Autumn and the rather lovely country pile that is home to Lord and Lady Rotherwick - and you've got the ingredients for a great Saturday morning.

Arriving at Cornbury Park in a convoy we'd become part of as we'd left the main roads, I realised this event was no small thing. The Run or Dye phenomenon was big news - even away from the bright lights of London (where most new run events pitch up, assuming us suburbanites can hop on a train). In fact my other half and I were among about two and a half thousand runners ready and willing to become 'part of the rainbow' - aka doused in plant-based powdered dye as we ran a 5k course. 

A fun-filled goodie bag

After a quick check-in (er, there were no queues, what's that about?) we slipped off to the portaloos to change into the t-shirt provided in the pre-race goodie bad - and proceeded to apply the tattoo to our faces. We'd also been given a packet of dye - and so got our kids to start the dousing. We were in good company as run revellers were already covering each other with the complimentary colour packs - and rushing off to buy extras well before the klaxon sounded.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Get your kit off - and keep it clean!

What else is growing in there?
Image courtesy of anankkml at
So, I received a press release, which mentioned Netmums research that showed the majority of people only wash their sports kit after every third gym session. That pretty much made me want to throw up as it wouldn't occur to me not to chuck my clothes straight into the laundry post workout. But it did make me reconsider how clean my washing actually is - particularly as my kit sits in the washing basket alongside my husbands' cast offs, waiting for a 'full load' to mount up.

Dirtier than you think

For a start, lab-coated experts have recently discovered that bacteria grow faster on high-tech polyester sports gear than on regular cotton clothing. It is also likely that close-contact sports encourage bacteria including the cold and flu virus (and even MRSA) to transfer across the team players. Add to that the chance that dirty gym equipment (from the guy who doesn't wipe down the spin bike after he's finished for example) can transfer yet more germs onto your clothes - and you're looking at more than just a nasty pong on your capri pants.

How should I be washing my family's workout wardrobe?

Monday, 13 October 2014

Event review: Dinton Duathlon

Recently I wrote about how lucky I am to have loads of well-organised fitness events close by. And last weekend I took part in one such race, held at a local country park. This was the third Dinton Duathlon and combined a 5k run around the park, a marshalled 20k road cycle and then a second lap of the 5k run route. I entered as part of a team, taking on both the runs, while a friend covered the bike section. The majority of entrants were completing the whole duathlon themselves, although there is a good mix of abilities, age groups and gender. While some participants are really VERY good, at no point did I feel out of place as a newbie.

Lining up at the start

Location, location, location

Dinton Pastures is also a great location for the event - there is plenty of parking, decent trails for the run and a well-stocked cafe for before and after (and all those last-minute panic trips to the loo!). Between my two runs I was able to get changed into fresh kit too. The park doesn't close to the public, but there's plenty of space for the race to go on alongside the families and dog walkers typically there early on a Sunday morning. There were also plenty of high-vis-wearing marshals and signposts (so sadly no way I could 'accidentally' go off route and take a short cut...).

Smiles after the miles
The Barnes Fitness event is well-run and isn't huge, the pre-race briefing told us all we needed to know but didn't go on so long we all got frostbite/bored/confused! The transition area was clear and easy to manoeuvre. The friendly nature on the day also means it is a great way to build up some confidence for competitive events, particularly if you have your eyes on a triathlon in the future. The race was also time-chipped - and results were immediately available on a large TV screen - so I could see if I had beaten my target of getting at least one of my 5k runs in under 30 minutes (I did - hurrah!!). 

First time Triathlon? Talk to Jenny!

According to governing body British Triathlon, triathlon is a fast-growing multi-sport, consisting of swimming, cycling and running with no break between the three disciplines. It’s also a great way to set yourself a challenging goal that will encourage you to train regularly.

Jenny gets ready to rack her bike in the transition area
This was one of the reasons first-timer Jenny Thorpe signed up for the recent tri at Hever Castle, officially the UK’s third biggest such event. Having watched many a friend undertake a personal challenge such as a marathon or cycle ride for charity, the 26-year-old digital marketing agency Account Manager was also reassured by the prospect of training alongside her cousin, who already had one tri under her belt. It ‘helped make the whole thing less intimidating’ she explained, although in retrospect, Jenny adds she needn’t have worried about company on the big day, as she ‘loved every minute if it’.

How much training will you need?

Part of the Castle Series, the Hever tri runs across two days in September, with a variety of races for adults and children, that accommodate the novice to the elite. Jenny signed herself up for the super sprint, a 400m swim, a 20km cycle and a 4k run – and was in an all-female wave. Jenny only started specifically training for the event about two months beforehand, since she was already a regular gym goer. She ramped up her swimming first, as she felt that was her weakest discipline, and then added two spin classes a week to her schedule and gym cycles to get used to the saddle. Each week she also got a few 3 to 6k runs in – and took part in an organized 5k for race practice.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Health for hire

For many, combining a healthy lifestyle with parenting can be a real struggle. Not only do you need to find the physical and mental energy to set and reach health and fitness goals, you must also contend with a whole host of practical problems that stand between you and a workout.

If your children aren’t already at school or a nursery, can you afford to pay for someone to look after your child while you go to the gym – and do you even want to? If you are paying for your child to be looked after while you are at work – can you justify spending longer away from them while you exercise? If you’re just getting back into shape after having a baby are you intimidated by the thought of lycra-clad lovelies at the gym? How will you find the time to travel to and from your workout – and how does this fit around your kids and time spent with your partner, and your other responsibilities?

Work out at home when it suits
Unfortunately, logistics such as these prevent many a mummy from making it to a gym or fitness class. So what’s the solution?

Make exercise fit your lifestyle

One way to fit regular workouts into your schedule is to bring the gym to your home – by hiring fitness equipment such as a treadmill, a rowing machine, an exercise bike or an elliptical cross trainer. This will save you investing in a permanent piece of kit that just ends up as an expensive coat rail and allows you (and your partner or even a friend!) to hop onto your chosen machine whenever you have the time – when baby is napping, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and in fact any time when you can’t leave the house but want to workout. You can even fit in three lots of ten-minute sessions if half an hour is looking difficult, which is a great way to get back into shape if you’ve been inactive for longer than you’d like.

Hire Fitness is a national company that delivers quality fitness equipment for both short- and long-term hire (in fact you can start off by hiring an item for just four weeks). And an extensive franchise network means that the company can deliver and install the equipment all across the UK and most areas of the republic of Ireland. You can even have a free 20-minute in-home demo to decide which piece of equipment would suit you best (maybe you fancy a vibration plate?) – and swap machines around during the rental period to help you maintain your motivation (for a small delivery charge). There’s also the option to hire weights and a bench for strength work and accessories such as gym balls. If you wanted to assemble a home gym combining cardio and strength work, it’s worth noting that if you rent three pieces of equipment, the cheapest piece is free!

Vary your equipment to prevent boredom

Get 20% off 

And if this still hasn’t convinced you that hiring is good for your health, how about an exclusive discount code? For a discount of 20% off any hire of eight weeks or more, mention the code 'ahappyhealthymum' when calling to book or enter it online at the checkout stage. This code will apply to readers in the UK or in Ireland.

So, no more excuses - just plenty of results!

Ways to work out for George Clooney

I can see him!
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at
Right ladies, it's no secret that George Clooney has reportedly bought a house a stone's throw away from mine (if you're good at throwing stones that is...). So naturally we all want to look good for when we 'accidentally' bump into him (some might call it stalking). You might be rowing along past his riverside mansion (backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards), you might be casually perusing the aisles of Twyford's Waitrose - or you might just be enjoying a drink at The Bull in Sonning (every. single. night. if. it. kills. you). Either way there's no time for slacking 'cos Clooney's packing for Royal Berks.

Watch and learn

A quick trawl of the Internet has revealed this footage of the  man himself getting into shape for the 2010 movie The American. Time to drop to the floor for some push ups girls - and install a chin up bar like this one in your kitchen. In the past, George has been spotted working lycra on a bike in Italy and enjoying a spot of basketball too, and apparently he is a devotee of Bikram yoga as well. All great ways to work up a sweat in readiness for your personal curtain call. More recent news reports have suggested that just before his wedding Mr C was shedding using home exercise equipment however (which is no fun if he stays indoors - boo). And if it's in The Daily Mail, you know it's gotta be true!

If you want my advice you'll stick with rowing though. Any Hollywood celeb round this way is bound to want to enjoy the thoroughly British business of mucking about on the River. Henley Regatta will be a must for George and his-soon-to-be-ex-wife-if-us-locals-get-our-way Amal Alamuddin. The stretch of water outside the French Horn is going to become increasingly busy mark my words! And then there's running, because you know, you look really innocent just jogging along around fields and private roads, past security men and right up to people's windows.

Good luck!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The wonder of wild swimming

As I write this, my running gear is drying on the bannisters and my trainers are in a muddy heap by the door. I actually enjoy running in the rain - perhaps more than doing so in the sunshine - and it's been such a slow start to Autumn I'd begun to forget what it's like to embrace the elements. Something about being outside when you work out is exhilarating and challenging in a way that a gym fix can never be.

And this is much the same feeling that Andrew Fusek Peters describes so well in his lyrical memoir 'Dip', which records a year of  extraordinary wild swimming experiences. As I sat aboard the Hibernia last week at the Henley Literary Festival, listening to Peters read from his book, I was enthralled by his enthusiasm for the outdoors - and bravery for taking the plunge (literally!) - where others would hesitate, or simply pass by unawares of the beauty and potential these places offer for both the body and soul.

In the pages of his book, Peters leads us to rivers, lakes, waterfalls and hidden pools, and explores how immersion in these wild waters inspires and heals him. The narrative charts his swims in the borderlands of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Wales across all four seasons, and the nature he encounters, melding these experiences with his personal journey back from depression. 

Whether it's a soak at sunset, a dive into icy depths or an extreme subterranean swim in mysterious mines, each recorded experience proves that you will never get out of the water in a worse mood than when you got in. 


Do you like wild swimming? Have you ever passed by a lake or natural pool and felt the urge to take a dip? Do you have other ways to enjoy the outdoors? Let me know in the comment box below.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Putting the fun into run (and a discount code for Run or Dye!)

One sure fire way to motivate yourself to work out is to involve your friends and family - and to make sure you enjoy what you do. And what better way to have fun than run a race where the idea is to get as messy as possible? The kids love it - and so do I!

And this is exactly what we got up to yesterday - on the recreation field behind our house. Wearing some old clothes we didn't mind getting 'colour-bombed', we headed off to the very first 'Colour Me Twyford' event, organised to raise funds for the local youth club. After a warm up by a local sports coach, it was googles and sunglasses on and off we went on the 3k course, running a gauntlet of helpers armed with multicoloured powder to splatter us with.

By the end we looked like a very bad attempt at an '80s tie-dye outfit - but were all wearing smiles too. The kids had a great time (it's amazing how far a child that doesn't want to walk anywhere will happily run a race without stopping!) - and so did the adults. Medals and goodie bags handed out, we headed happily home! But this isn't my only chance to 'run the rainbow'...

Monday, 15 September 2014

Six Habits of Highly Healthy People

Sometimes you look at people and wonder where it all went so right. Fit, slim, toned, defined, full of energy, healthy, happy - however you describe these people, they make having it all it look easy. What's their secret you ask? Luckily I had the good sense to get them to tell me - and then I wrote it all down. Read on...

1. Be true to yourself

'Don't buy into every article you read, trainer you hear from, or diet craze rumoured about' says vblogger Erica Lin of American Cheer Queen, since 'everyone's body is different, and everyone has different needs'. She also believes that just because something is 'healthy' doesn't mean you 'have' to eat it, and likewise 'just because your friends all swear by gluten-free or juice-cleansing doesn't mean you should do it too'. 'Ultimately' she adds, 'find what lifestyle works best for you - find something you enjoy!'. 

2. Make exercise a priority
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
'The #1 thing I have my weight loss clients do is to make their activity a priority in their day', says Susan Campbell from The Weight Loss Laboratory. 'I have them do their workout first thing in the morning before the craziness of everyday life gets in the way and decreases their chances of exercising at all' she continues. She also recommends that they schedule their activity on their calendar like it's a doctor appointment. 'They see it on the calendar and know they can't break the appointment with themselves', she explains.  

Thursday, 11 September 2014

50 ways to work out

The other Saturday morning I was up bright and early to get to my BodyStep class. Before I set off, I had to wait for my husband to return from a training session for his upcoming sprint triathlon (completed at the weekend since you ask). As he came home he saw our neighbour and a friend just setting off for a cycle around the tri course too. As I drove up to the gym, there were already plenty of people out and about running and cycling along the A4. The gym was packed too, I'd had to book a week in advance to get into this class, but since Saturday opening time is 7.30am, there were already sweaty bodies pouring out of the Spin studio and yogis looked seriously stretchy and chill. Suddenly it occurred to me that I must live in the healthiest place in the country. Here we all were - up and at it - and it wasn't even 9.30am!

50 ways to work out
Anyone want to join me?
How lucky am I - and my kids - that we live in a place that has so much to offer and so many ways to keep fit? In a couple of weeks (Sept 21st) the recreation field behind my house will play host to a family fun race called 'Colour Me Twyford' with spectators asked to cover the runners in colourful powder, the month after sees another family event with 1m fun runs for adults and kids (Oct 5th). While these are small, charity events, more serious competitors can head to the local country park, where you can find a series of 5 and 10k runs, as well as duathlons (the next one is October 12th, and I'll be there if other newbies want to join me!) and aquathlons. Other organised activities at the lakes at Dinton Pastures include sailing, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding. Runners have also have a local parkrun, just three and half miles away from Twyford, with half marathons in the larger towns nearby - Reading, Maidenhead, Marlow and Henley. And for those that prefer trails, there's the Cliveden Cross Country. But if you're really up for a challenge (and like mud, and you know, being electrocuted - who doesn't?) there's the Tough Mudder event in Fawley in May.

50 ways to work out
Triumphant at the triathlon
With the Thames on our doorstep, there's also rowing, sailing and open water swimming to enjoy in the nearby towns, with loads of opportunities to enter events for all levels of abilities in both Henley and Marlow. Local villages also hold regattas, with a mix of fun and competitive races. Dorney Lake, 
which hosted the rowing and kayak events during the Olympic and Paralympic Games for London 2012, is about 13 miles away and plays host to rowing, canoeing, triathlons, duathlons, aquathlons, half marathons and other road races. Many people just pop along to cycle or run the 5k track around the lake too. If wake boarding and water skiing are more your thing, there's Liquid Leisure boat and cable park in Datchet.

Monday, 1 September 2014

'Wild' camping at Inwood

Camping with the kids is always a good idea. And if you take a gaggle of other mums and their offspring the idea just gets better. So, for the fifth year running some ladies I've known since my very first ante-natal class and I, gathered up our children and headed off to mark the end of the summer hols with a mass camping trip.

This year would be our second at Inwood Camping in Farleigh Wallop (near Basingstoke). The site combines grassy meadows and mixed woodlands, and you can choose to pitch in large open spaces or within the woods themselves, arranging your tents as you please. This freedom from many of the rules typically associated with campsites that use marked pitches and don't allow the flexibility large groups often need, is one of the reasons we returned. That and the fact you can have real campfires to toast your marshmallows on (you can hire a special grill for a decent BBQ from the site, and you can buy the wood you'll need for the fire). Us mummies get to chop the firewood and build the fire while the kids gather a bit of kindling.

The kids love having the freedom to explore the woods, building dens and playing make believe. There's many a thing to discover as you walk about the country estate - from wildlife, to the camps of previous kiddies visiting, to a few follies and a gentleman on a fine-looking mount. The mums meanwhile appreciate the fresh air, catching up with friends (and actually finishing a sentence for the first time in five weeks) and the chance to let the kids off the leash in a safe environment. Put simply it's a lovely, stress-free end to the summer.

Do you camp with your kids? And have you been with a big bunch of friends? What do you love about time spent in a tent - and what do you hate? Please share your thoughts and any recommendations in the comment box below.

Thanks for reading

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Tips to beat school holiday stress

Much as we love our kids, six weeks (or thereabouts) with the family can end up being an intense time. Often we are balancing work and children, breaking from normal routines and watching siblings develop their relationship - teetering between best-ever friends and worst enemies. You could be trying to entertain your offspring without breaking the bank and trying to avoid the summer 'brain drain' all the while wanting to make memories that you and your children can treasure for years to come. Plus the house is awash with junk modelling, beach combing finds and rediscovered toys - the less charitable might even say it resembles a pigsty...
Get some me time
Photo credit: Marin at
So, hands up who has had enough? Not just me then! But if a mum doesn't take care of their own well-being, how can they find the energy to care for others? In your bid to be the best parent you can be, never loose sight of the simple fact that if mummy isn't happy, nobody is happy! Here are some top tips to help you relax, repair and revive yourself (the three 'r's that count - am I right?) once the kids are in bed. And better still, they work before, during and after school holidays!

Set the mood

Clutter and responsibilities can be a drain at the end of the day, so before you pack the kids off upstairs cut them a deal. They can spend the next ten minutes clearing away their toys - or go to bed early. Put like that, most kids will choose a bit of a tidy up - and you can spend the time making sure your essential chores are done too, freeing up your evening later on. Once they are asleep (or at least in their rooms pretending to be) make a 'things-to-do' list for (just) that night - it might include planning meals, setting out clothes or checking train or opening times - and get those things out of the way. Once these are crossed off the evening is yours to enjoy - you might want to use the time to work out, read a book or call a friend. Turn your home into a haven of relaxation by burning essential oils, lighting a relaxing candle or turning on your favourite music.
A healthy habit for your home
Photo credit: Marin at

Have a bath

Taking a bath is a great way to relax - it can ease sore muscles, stimulate circulation and help to detox your body. A water temperature of 32-35℃ will open the pores and encourage sweating, great if you have a cold coming on. Up the ante with a bath oil that can soothe everyday aches and pains or one that will restore you - or scatter in some herbs. There's no better time to exfoliate the body or indulge in a face mask either. And an added bonus of a lovely warm bath is that it will help you sleep better. As your body cools after you step out of the tub, it releases the hormone melatonin, which signals that it's bedtime to your body.

Sleep well
Sleep well Mummy!
Photo credit: FrameAngel at

From nursing newborns at all hours and convincing young 'uns that it's just their bed they sleep in, to homework demands of older children and the trials and tribulations of the teenage years, sleep is in short supply among parents. But lack of sleep can make you fat, forgetful and far less likely to want to get jiggy with it, and in extreme cases sleep deprivation can cause high blood pressure and heart disease. Experts recommend you steer clear of caffeine for as much as six hours before you slumber, instead try a drink designed to help you relax - like Dr Stuart's Tranquility or Pukka Night Time blend. For a little extra help nodding off, consider Rescue Night Liquid Melts capsules, using Bach Flower Essences, or the herbal supplement capsules Night Time by Pukka with Valerian and Ashwagandha (great for restless legs syndrome).

Do you have any tips for winding down during the school holidays - or on any day when you need to switch off from being a parent? I'd love to hear them in the comment box below.

Thanks for reading

Disclosure: Recognising that mummies need some pampering G Baldwin & Co sent out de-stress kits to several bloggers. Obviously that's lovely, but my opinions are always my own (nobody else wants them!). 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Bucket list - The FlowRider

For several years now when I've visited the Retallack Resort in Cornwall,  I've sat and watched individuals enjoying what looks like a cross between an angled swimming pool and a bouncy castle. Officially the FlowRider is a simulated wave surface, or sheet wave, that you can bodyboard and surf on. Submersible pumps inject a three-inch sheet of water over the surface creating a wave that allows those of all ages and skill levels (just as well eh?!) to surf the wave face. Technical descriptions aside, the FlowRider looked fun and scary all at the same time. But since I've seen little kids on it (it's suitable for age five upwards), I figured how hard could it be? So this year, in a wetsuit clearly designed for someone much taller than my good self, I decided to find out...
Ready to go

First up a big shout out to our instructor Tom Heayel, who somehow combines the skills of an athlete with the patience of a saint. He dishes out the instructions as you get used to the FlowRider and boards, and then is as hands-on or hands-off as you need him to be, as all those booked into the hour-long session take it in turns to ride the waves. He is also great with kids, and took our keen eight-year-old and our not-quite-as-keen six-year-old down the waves on a board with him until they felt ready to go it alone (or not!). There were several other children who had obviously been on the FlowRider with him before and loved both him and the experience so much they were back for more. Happy smiley faces all round.

At the beginning of our session, we started out with the water switched off so we could see that the surface of the FlowRider is a bit 'trampoliney', and then once the water was switched on we bodyboarded down on our tummies. The next challenge was to go down the wave and release your board, pushing it out in front of you and catching it as the wave pushed it back. After that, Tom demonstrated how to bodyboard down and then get up on your knees (something I failed dismally at, getting totally wiped out and ending up in the frothy 'pool of shame' at the top end of the FlowRider, with hubby absolutely killing himself with laughter, afterwards saying I looked like I was being repeatedly savaged by Jaws as I staggered up and down trying to regain my composure). From there we progressed to starting off on our knees (I could do that thankfully, one trip to the pool of shame was enough). And by the end of the session we started at the lower end of the FlowRider on a short wooden stand-up board. And yes, I managed to retain my balance and ride the wave all by myself (was it core strength or fear of ending up the class clown I wonder?). in Cornwall
Surf's up!

At the end of the £25pp session we all jumped into the hot tub to recover (I had got quite cold by then) - the use of which is part of the package (along with the full wetsuit hire). Alongside our family, our group consisted of a 30-something mum (her partner and small toddler had watched) and a dad with his grown-up daughter and her boyfriend - meaning that we were quite a varied lot of ages, sizes, experience and fitness levels, and yet we were all able to enjoy the FlowRider as much as each other. I was amazed that our elder daughter and I had both managed to stay up on the short boards - and impressed that we'd all had a great time doing something out of the ordinary as a family. As well as the FlowRider in Cornwall, you can find the attraction in Bedford and Yorkshire, resorts like the Merton Hotel in Jersey and on cruise ships and hotels and water parks around the world. I'd certainly recommend the FlowRider experience for you and your family - rain or shine.
Enjoying the hot tub afterwards

So, that's that ticked off on my bucket list (the kids already want to go back). Would you put it on yours? Let me know in the comment box below.

Monday, 18 August 2014

10 life lessons from the sea

Maybe it's because I've had a full two-weeks holiday for the first time in seven years, or maybe it's because I was born and bred in a seaside town and crashing waves still speak to my soul. Whatever the reason, my recent trip to the coast brought out my inner philosopher and while I was out enjoying the surf I couldn't help but mull over what life lessons the sea can teach us. This is what I came up with...

  1. You miss some of the best waves if you are always waiting for a better one.
  2. Some things that look intimidating from a distance aren't so bad close up.
  3. Share the waves or stay on the beach.
  4. Everyone gets wiped out.
  5. If you fall off, there's always another wave coming along.
  6. Sometimes just as you think you are on top, you get knocked down.
  7. Not everyone that looks cool knows what they are doing.
  8. The best waves are the ones that take you all the way home.
  9. Nothing beats riding a wave.
  10. Nothing beats riding a wave with someone you love.

Monday, 4 August 2014

I'm off to the circus!

Messy floors and sibling bickering getting you down this holidays? Find yourself threatening enforced summer camps, early bedtimes and worse? Don't worry, you're not the only one that gets desperate. But this summer you can actually run away to the circus with your kids - and all enjoy the thrills and spills of the Big Top!

In preparation for the the grandchildren visiting, mum had looked around for some days out near to her house in Folkestone. Billy Smart's Circus was in town and we were all keen to go along (despite the youngest child's distrust of clowns!). Tickets were easy to buy at the on-site box office as we passed by the venue on the way back from a day at the seaside. It was a little tortuous waiting for the 2pm admission time to come round - as the kids were eager to take their seats - but at least it made them eat up their lunch properly!

Once we had chosen where to sit (oldest wanted to get as close as possible, youngest didn't, on account of the clowns, although actually there was only one and he didn't do anything alarming!), we all drunk in the atmosphere. I was rather taken by the uniforms of the ringmaster (mistress?) and other door staff, while the prospect of glamorous leotards and candy floss beguiled the children.

Soon the show kicked off with a little history of Billy Smart (the first show was in 1946, the Big Top came in 1951) - and then we were off. Act after act received gasps and whoops as a trapeze artist swung, acrobats bounced and a juggler used her feet to twirl balls, cylinders and more. There was smoke, there was fire, there was clapping. Soon the interval kicked in and we rushed off to the candy floss machine, only to rush back to our seats as soon as possible. We didn't want to miss a thing!

The second half started with an amazing trapeze troupe - complete with daring somersaults and catches. There was also a stunning Argentinian Bolas act (twirly metal balls, whirling to the beat of drums, that eventually got set on fire too!). The highlight for me in this half was the X-treme Brothers, three incredibly strong guys who managed to balance on each other in various formations - they were fit and had abs that would put David Gandy to shame! I just couldn't believe the balance and core strength they had!

The girls loved the whole thing - the youngest won't even surrender the discount vouchers we got as we left because she wants to remember the show. Their favourite acts were  Caroline, the ballet-trained trapeze artist (who was the epitome of grace) - and Team Fonz, who performed a lively trampoline display based on the musical Happy Days.

Granny and me were both impressed by the X-treme Brothers (funny that...) and Grandad thought the trapeze troupe was the most impressive because of the meticulous timing required. I also liked Alina Eskina’s ‘cube’ routine, as it too was visually captivating.

I'd certainly recommend Billy Smart's show as holiday entertainment. It was a proper Big Top affair, and very inspiring for the children to see traditional circus skills so beautifully choreographed and performed. You can check if the circus is coming to your town here - and book discounted tickets online too. It will take your breath away!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Drink up!

Of course, the best health drink there is, is good old water. It will keep you hydrated (the brain is about 90% water, the body is about 70%), flush out toxins and without it, you'd die after three to five days. But that's not to say that once in a while you don't fancy a little liquid treat to fit into your healthy lifestyle. Something tasty, that gives you a boost, maybe with some bubbles and ideally looks like summer!


And that something could just be a new all-natural energy drink called SUPER!NATURAL. Best served chilled, a can of SUPER!NATURAL combines fruit juice and caffeine extracted from green coffee beans. There's no added sugar and no artificial colourings to worry about, which immediately places it above some of the fizzy drinks or canned energy drinks you might be familiar with (and probably try to avoid!). Best of all it looks pretty enough to serve as soft drink at a classy gathering, when it's too hot for tea or coffee.  Cheers!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Seven days of summer craft

Yipee! It's the long summer holidays - time for you and the kids to kick back and chill out. Ummmm, except they're kids - they don't actually do that - they like to run and jump and sing and play and make and make and make. Yes, it's the loooooong summer holidays, time for you to abandon the idea of a tidy house and alone time. Thank goodness for craft supplies - stock up now and you'll stay sane until September!

Here's an idea for every day of the week:

1. Mini garden

Beach hut craft
Our school recently held a little competition alongside the Spring fair. The kids were asked to make a tiny garden in a tin lid using anything they liked, from lego to twigs. The results were amazing (I think maybe some parents might have helped just a little bit...) - with everything from dino-scapes to fairylands being proffered. My girls immediately set about the task (in fact only one had to, the other joined in because it was such a fun idea) - requisitioning these little beach hut money boxes as the focal point to their gardens. You don't have to stick to a tin lid either - you could use a box, a tray or just get your offspring out into a quiet bit of your garden to build the habitat (mine have spent the last few weeks building a fairy city underneath some trees).

2. A puppet show

Puppet show Which child doesn't enjoy performing a puppet show to a rapturous audience (that'll be you!)? But while the show may be over fairly quickly and simply involve lots of giggling and puppet bashing, the preparation can potentially keep little fingers and minds busy for a fair few hours. For the puppets you could use simple cardboard shapes, decorated by your child and stuck onto lolly sticks (or straws). The shapes should lend themselves to the performance of a well-known story or song (for the safari theme think The Animal Fair - for the farm animal shapes you could try Old MacDonald). Your children might also want to construct their own puppet show booth - with a large cardboard box and some spare fabric. And if you want them to practice their writing and number work, why not get them to make some posters and sell some tickets?


Bookmark kit

My kids have really taken to the 2014 Summer Reading Challenge theme of a Mythical Maze - and by the look of the library the last few times we have been - we aren't the only ones! To further encourage your children to spend some quiet time reading over the holidays, why not equip them with some bookmark kits. Relatively simple to construct - with self-adhesive parts (no glue necessary), the bookmarks are great for fidgety fingers in the back of a car - and simple enough for younger children to complete too.

4. Old magazine bunting


Some kids just love to cut up and cut out (and then leave all the offcuts all over the floor, oh yes, I'm talking about my kids). If you have plenty of old magazines, newspapers, catalogues or junk mail you'd like to recycle, why not let the kids make some unusual bunting for their rooms or the garden. Provide a triangle template for younger ones, or let them go freestyle and then use tape, wool or string to display them all. If you wanted to, you could even add some paint, stickers or glitter to 'enhance' the individual pictures.

5. Finger skateboards

finger skateboards

If your child really wants to be doing rather than making, long car journeys to the coast and meals out might be a nightmare over the holidays. But these finger skateboards can be easily decorated with PicTixx pens, some stickers or temp tattoos, and then played with in a relatively confined space. Believe it or not your can even download books about how to master finger skateboard stunts...

6. Suncatchers

suncatcher decorations

Who doesn't like the sun to shine over the summer hols! But that doesn't mean you or your kids want to be out in it all day, every day. When you want to worship the sun from the shade, try some acrylic sun catcher decorations. Colour them in with porcelain and glass pens and then string them up in a line at the window or from a tree in the garden to catch the rays and watch them sparkle.

7. Wild dreamcatchers

Wild dreamcatcher craft

If you do want your kids to get out of the house for a while, a good way to encourage (okay, trick) them into walking further than they realise is to distract them with a scavenger hunt. Create a list of items for them to find (four feathers, 3 twigs, pretty stones, some vine and dandelions or daisies) - and then take the treasure home to make a dreamcatcher. This could just as easily be done on the beach too, with some seaweed, shells and driftwood (probably best to leave the finished item in the garden if it has a seaside theme though!).

Do your kids love to craft over the holidays - and do you encourage them? Please share any comments on this post - and ideas for other holiday craft activities in the comment section below.

Thank you for reading

The people at Yellow Moon were kind enough to give me some craft supplies to help with this post (but we made the items all by ourselves!).

Monday, 14 July 2014

End of term gifts for sporty teachers

Chocolates, wine or a teddy that reads 'World's Best Teacher'. I don't know about you but I usually feel pretty uninspired when it comes to shopping for end of term 'thank you' presents for my daughter's school and clubs teachers. Until I realised that for once, I did know a little about the interests of teachers in question - and even had something in common with them - we'd all run the Reading Half Marathon earlier in the year (and one of them did it in an amazing time too!). With this is mind I could finally hope to buy a present that would be great to give - and receive!

cycling books

Reading between the lines

Since my eldest daughter loves to read, and one of the super fit teachers I was buying for takes her for literacy, it made sense to start at the bookshelves of Amazon. Running Shoes Are A Girl's Best Friend, tells the stories of 53 women who run (they share their reasons, motivation and tips too) and would be just the sort of book I'd love to settle down to. While something like The Extra Mile would be a great inspirational read. Of course if you're buying for a keen cyclist, a swimmer or yoga enthusiast, then there's plenty to choose from too (I looked for titles under £10).

compression socks

Cool workout wear

I could look at gym clothes all day. And then some. So shopping for some sporty teachers was pure pleasure for me! Amazon has some great basic sportswear, which I'd probably been missing out on in the past. If you happen to know teacher's size you could consider buying a decent workout vest, some standout compression socks or trendy shorts. You might even want to get together with a few other parents and get a personalised hoodie made up so your gift can be practical and personal.

pilates socks

Little extras

If you workout regularly there's always another little bit of kit you have your eye on - and fortunately a lot of these items aren't expensive. There's always room in the kit bag of a fitness fanatic for another water bottle, new earphones or a cute towel. And depending on their interests a teacher might also appreciate pilates socks, protective gloves (for weight lifting, cycling etc), a stunning yoga mat bag (again a great 'clubbing together' present) or some Zumba toning sticks. gift guide


Perhaps your child has taken after-school activities to an altogether different level and is training hard in a sporty discipline with a more specialised teacher? Or maybe you happen to know that golf, horse riding or tennis is the field that a particular teacher enjoys? Yep, Amazon has pretty much something for every sport and healthy hobby out there! And it's guaranteed to go straight home to be used - not left in a staff room sink awash with mugs ironically all declaring 'No 1 teacher'!!

Do you buy teacher gifts? Or will there be a class collection? Do you have a killer idea for an original present - or are you against the idea totally? Perhaps your child takes the time to write a thank you note or make a present? I'd love to know how other parents deal with this time of the year - and the sheer amount of thank yous required! Please add your comments in the box below.

Thank you for reading
Vanessa. x