Monday, 31 March 2014

Get Cracking on Easter Craft!

I know what you're thinking. Just five more days of free childcare school until the Easter Holidays. Your kids at home high on the thought of all that chocolate coming their way, full of the energy that they normally expend at the free childcare school. And it's you against them in the battle of boredom.

Time for a touch of Yellow Moon craft methinks. Things to keep them busy so you can still snatch some me time (be it a cup of tea, a workout DVD in front of the telly or some push ups in the playroom). And better still you can use these creations as mini Easter gifts for the family - or to decorate your home for Easter.

First up why not liven up your front door (or any door) with a Daffodil Wreath? This is great for concentration and fine motor skills but isn't at all messy as it involves peeling off of adhesive backing, some careful placement and rolling of coloured foam strips. I set my five year old to it and for something that was easy to achieve and glue-free, it is really rather impressive. I wanted her to use it in the Easter Parade at school as it is easy to carry and rather fetching but she was having none of it as she is desperate to fill an Easter basket with her own toys just to ensure she can sneak something cuddly into class for at least one day!

If you'd like to liven up your or granny's windows, why not let your kids loose with these Sun Catcher Decorations. The pack has six designs to choose from and they can be decorated with fine tip glass pens and hung with the supplied silver cord. It's simple for all ages to colour within the lines and the sun we've been lucky enough to have recently makes them sparkle. You might even be able to angle the window decorations so that you can get your kids tracing the patterns that shine through them onto other paper as an add-on craft (like this example on Pinterest).

The early start to the holidays, allows plenty of time to whip up some professional-looking Easter cards for the family. These Bunny Stand Up cards come in some pretty pastel shades, which one of my girls decided to mix and match. You can colour in the rabbity details with pens, pencils or crayons - and add googly eyes, stickers, sparkles and ribbons. My kids also insisted on adding some fluffy tails on the bottom (I think they just wanted to say bottom a lot actually). The cards come with decent quality envelopes if you plan on posting them.

And finally, why not get your kids scratching some Egg Decorations? They comes in a pack of twelve with plenty of scratching 'tools' so you could make this a group activity with some friends. Beneath the black layer lies a beautiful rainbow to discover. Older kids could carve words and messages, while younger children can opt for squiggles and spots. The hanging ribbon is included. Voila!

I hope you've found some inspiration in these crafting ideas. How else are you planning to entertain your children over the Easter holidays? Please share your ideas in the comment box below. Surely the lovely weather we had this weekend can't continue through an entire school holiday?

Thanks for reading
Vanessa. x

The lovely people at Yellow Moon supplied the items we used free of charge, but the kids crafting abilities and the opinions expressed are our own!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Reading Climbing Centre

When you're a harassed mum, there's nothing quite like heading off for a run alone - leaving toddler tantrums and bedtime fights far behind you. But conversely one of the most enjoyable aspects of being fit and healthy is the ability to try out new physical challenges alongside your kids, knowing that you are more than able to keep up with their boundless energy and hoping that you are proving to them they should give everything a try. Even clambering up a very high wall.

And so it was that I ended up with a lovely young man tightening my harness (oppsie, was it loose?!!) and showing me the ropes at The Reading Climbing Centre (see what I did there?). After an initial form-filling session and a check that our footwear was suitable (don't go in flip flops), we were kitted out with suitable harnesses and helmets for the kids. And then our instructor Josh led us 'en famille' into the wall hall to see how it's done.

We started on a little orange wall close to the door. This enables the kids (oh alright and the grown ups) to get the hang of the technique (more pushing up with your legs and less pulling up with your arms than I had imagined) - and to truly believe that you won't fall if you let go. We also had to learn just how to bounce back down after you'd reached the top - again an issue of trust, you have to sit quite far back and down.

Then the kids were asked to choose where they wanted to climb next, although, to be honest, the walls all look the same to the uninitiated. We took turns again, although our youngest was less keen on reaching the summit by now. Which is when I mentioned that if there were Smarties at the top she'd have no problem. So, Josh disappeared off to reception to obtain a little motivational tool...a bag that each climber could take up and hook on the hand holds for the next person up the wall to retrieve.
Like a rat up a drainpipe once an element of competition was introduced!

Sibling and spouse rivalry soon set in, with the younger desperate to take the bag up as high as she could - hoping her sister would be unable to retrieve it. When she did, my eldest set about putting it out of my reach, but I got it. Then I took it up to the top - naturally hoping my less-than-keen-on-heights hubby wouldn't cope (although he did of course). I'm sure we were a heart-warming example of familial love to all those around us.

Again the kids chose our next wall (or 'line' as the professionals say) and couldn't wait to play the bag game. My daughter plumped for a one of the highest walls I could see, although said that she would never make it. In fact she did - all 14 metres of it, which at age 7 isn't bad. At this point Josh began to toughen up on me and hubs. We were only allowed to climb using certain coloured handholds - making it that bit more difficult. I helpfully pointed out when my husband was using the wrong colour. Nothing is too much trouble for me you see.

The place to be heading is Reading (Climbing Centre)

And all too quickly our session was over - Josh was needed elsewhere - doubtless some other floozy was rapidly loosening up her harness (tsk!). We returned our equipment and headed for some lunch (there's a cafe on site). The taster session we took was excellent - I hope it encourages my girls to try it again - maybe during the holidays as a course or maybe as a birthday party venue. It's certainly something we'd try as a couple or as a family again.

How about you? What exercise do you fit in as a family? And does climbing sound like a good option for you and yours? Let me know in the comment box below.

Thanks for reading

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Lychee cocktail or bubbles Mum?

Being a mum is often a thankless task. It's the backstage role, making sure all the props are in place so the star of the show can shine - waiting in the wings ready to prompt if lines are forgotten. Playing second (or third, or fourth...) fiddle to the leading lady or man - it's a mum thing!

Not everyone gets it, but does. Which is why it hosted a special event in the swish No 5 Cavendish Square with drinks, canap├ęs and fancy frocks. There was also an inspirational 'olfactory adventure' from Odette Toilette, a hilarious stint by mum and comedienne Shappi Khorsandi - and the most tempting dressing up room (yes room, not box) stuffed full of girlie accessories from the curated suppliers. For at least one night, showed us motherhood rocks.

But for one day of the year mums have their very own Oscars. And head's up - it's THIS weekend!! So don't let you - or your mum miss out on all the awards fun - come Sunday live a life less ordinary and celebrate those that play the supporting role with a bright, brilliant and bespoke gift!

To make her (or you, hint hint hubby!) dazzle like an a-lister on the red carpet there's some beautiful jewellery like this personalised Russian ring necklace, the silver double heart necklace or the rose gold leather wrap bracelet. Or treat her to the Gym & Tonic tote, a personalised silver plated spoon or the cheeky Mum's Measure Wine Glass to show her how much you care. And you know sometimes, the old ones are the best, so there's always room for some flowers and chocolates - especially if they are as unique as the Map Rose, the personalised Best Mum Chocolate Bar  or the Bucket of Spring Flowers. to bring a smile to her face. What are you waiting for get shopping!!

I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.

Monday, 17 March 2014

No-sew race tee tutorial

One of my pet peeves is the unisex T-shirts that you get at the end of an event - or when you run for charity. Even the 'small' is usually falling off my shoulders and the boxy shape and tight crew neck do nothing for me. Partly this is because I am a short-arse (yes, that is a technical term) but it's also because I am not a man, and therefore a man-sized and man-shaped top is never going to do me any favours!

So, for all the woman-shaped women out there, I have been onto Pinterest and tracked down some ways to remodel that macho tee into something you might actually wear. Since I am also a bit of a lazy-arse (again, a technical term) the phrase' no sew' really appealed. Here's what I was doing on Sunday morning...

The no-sew T-shirt makeover

You'll need: Decent scissors, a t-shirt you never wear but would like to and peace and quiet (good luck with that).

1. Cut off the collar of the t-shirt, if you're careful/lucky you might still be able to retain one line of stitching to prevent fraying. The neckline will look immediately better! You can go a bit off-piste here too, cutting the scoop and width of the new neckline to your taste.

2. Cut along both underarm seams - you need to cut super straight lines so it might be time for a g&t to calm the nerves here.

3. Cut off the cuff at the end of each sleeve (retain the scraps, you need them to make shoulder ties).

4. Cut a slit in the top of each sleeve, up to the shoulder.

5. Tidy up the retained arm cuff by cutting it slightly thinner and cutting away the pre-stitched bit.

6. Pass the shoulder tie through the sleeve, gathering up the material and tie tightly together, This will create a ruffled look. You can tie a bow or cut off the excess.

You're done! 

If you have more time, there are loads of other ways to re-fashion t-shirts. I also liked this more halter-neck style from Nic Howard's  'It's been one of the those days' blog. It requires a tiny bit of sewing, and the result is great.

Alternatively you could turn your tee into a sun dress for your little one courtesy of Pretty Prudent, repurpose a whole load of old t-shirts into a scarf like Just Something I Made or make an eco-friendly bag similar to this one at Craft Gossip.

Let me know how you get on with this project - or about any other upcycling you've done recently - in the comment box below.

Thank you for reading

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Put this in his pocket!

Expert advice is great and all that – but often not cheap. Unless that is, you’ve got a little something up your sleeve, or in your bag, in your pocket or lying on your desk just in front of you. What am I talking about? A decent app on your smartphone or tablet of course!

Win a digital subscription to Men's Fitness UK

Which is where the gratuitous picture of the rather ripped gentlemen above comes in (please, feel free to look again and come back to reading when you can, unless you are a straight man, in which case I’ve just made everything weird). Men’s mag, Men’s Fitness UK has updated its app for iPhone, iPad, Kindle and Android devices so you can access its wealth of expert health and fitness info anytime, anywhere. This includes fully interactive workouts, diet and nutrition advice, and interviews with some of the world’s biggest sports and movie stars including Chris Hemsworth, Usain Bolt, Henry Cavill, Michael Phelps and Hugh Jackman (I cannot tell you how hard it was to concentrate while writing this).

The app is something to recommend to any guy interested in setting and achieving new fitness goals – whatever the level (partner, friend, brother, son, random guy at the bus stop). It has extensive abs, back, chest, arm and leg workouts to help burn fat and build muscle, as well as loads of nutritional and diet advice. Lots of the info relates to everyone that’s working out, so it’s something you could share too (because everyone loves to share their smarphone/tablet right?).

Eyes on the prize...
Top features include the MyPages tool to save your favourite articles for easy reference in the gym, the ability to share workouts and advice with your friends (I think that’s called competition) and exclusive video workouts to make sure your form is correct (nobody wants to put their back out now do they?)

And the good news is that the app itself is free along with a selection of Men’s Fitness content. Although you can also buy individual issues for £2.99 or a 12-month magazine and iPad subscription for £29.99 (includes plus 2 months free).

But the even better news is that I have one digital subscription to give away – so you get all the good stuff I mention above for free, zilch, zip, nada. All you have to do is like the Facebook page of and post ‘I want the Men’s Fitness app’ onto the wall (if you already like my page, thank you, you can just go ahead and post to the wall). If you’re the lucky winner (picked randomly) you’ll get a code to access the digital subscription. You can win it for yourself, your partner, friend, brother, son, random guy at the bus stop (seriously, what is it with you and that guy?). You have one week!

Good luck!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Shopping with a food allergy/intolerance

Recently my daughter had a play date with a friend that has a peanut allergy. Although I had her EpiPen at the ready, it’s kind of normal to want to ensure that a child in your care doesn’t go into anaphylactic shock! With this in mind, I avoided peanut butter on toast that morning and headed off to the supermarket to find some suitable post-lunch treats. I wasn’t very successful and it made me realise just how difficult shopping for someone with a food allergy or intolerance can be.

Stats from the charity Allergy UK, estimate that 45 per cent of UK adults suffer from food intolerance, while 2 per cent have been diagnosed with a food allergy, and that general allergies are on the rise by 5 per cent annually. While a food intolerance or sensitivity might be delayed and include bloating, nausea, an urgent need for the loo, migraine/headaches, skin rashes, joint pain, runny nose or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, symptoms of severe food allergic reaction are often immediate and include tingling of the lips, swelling of the lips/tongue/throat, projectile vomiting, difficulty in breathing, faintness and collapsing. Serious stuff. Especially on a play date!

Tummy troubles related to your diet? (Photo credit: Jenny Rollo)

So if you or a member of your family has an allergy or intolerance (details on how to check can be found here) how can you eat a balanced diet and find food you enjoy? Well, since shopping is one of the things I do best, I had a little nose around the shelves for you! (You're welcome).

‘Free from’ ranges

Food retailers have now had the good sense to dedicate a few shelves (or even an aisle!) to ranges that cater to those with special eating requirements – or you could try a local health food shop. One range to look for is ‘Free & Easy’, which is free from key allergens such as wheat, gluten, dairy and nuts, as well as artificial additives and preservatives but low in fat, salt and sugar. There’s a wide range of products to help you create delicious vegetarian dishes (like curry pastes and sauce mixes) or you can plump for organic soups (carrot and coconut sound good?) and ready meals (like veg hot pot and veg balti). The range also includes drinks, with prices starting at £1.35.

Free & Easy - the way shopping for allergies and intolerances should be?

Georgia’s Choice is another range of high-quality, gluten-free food – snap frozen for convenience. The products are the result of founders Pauline and Gary's search to remove additives from daughter Georgia’s diet when she was diagnosed as being on the Autistic spectrum at the age of five. They developed a commercial range of convenient, but additive-free foods, and later when Georgia tested positive to gluten intolerance, they went back to the kitchen to develop recipes free from wheat and gluten too. Look out for family-friendly dishes such as beef lasagna (made using only British beef, reared and slaughtered in the UK) and fish cakes.

‘Gutted’ you miss out on chocolate?

And good old Holland & Barrett won’t let allergy and intolerance sufferers miss out this Easter either. It has an exciting range of body friendly Easter treats, including the award-winning Booja-Booja Hazelnut Crunch Truffles eggs, which are organic, dairy- and gluten-free and suitable for vegans. Each egg is handmade and decorated by a community in Kashmir, India. The ‘Choices’ range also features dairy-, gluten-, wheat- and egg-free Caramel Easter Eggs with Caramel Flavoured Truffles and pocket-sized, dairy-free bunny bars in milk and white chocolate, suitable for vegetarians and vegans. The Children’s Dairy Free alternative to white chocolate egg in this range was shortlisted in the Freefrom Food Awards and is free from dairy, gluten, wheat and egg.

Find the Booja-Booja egg in Holland & Barrett

Milking it

For some people, diary products can be a nightmare causing digestive problems and compounding eczema in children. Lactose intolerance for example is the body's inability to produce enough of the enzyme, lactase. If this is the case, the lactose in dairy products can’t be digested properly, which causes nausea, cramps and bloating. If you are suffering these kinds of symptoms there are several ways you can tackle the problem.

a2 milk - easier on the tummy

First up, why not try switching to a2 Milk. It’s a natural milk from British cows that differs from your usual pint because it comes from specially-selected animals that produce milk naturally-free of the A1 protein. It has proved popular down under (that’s not a pun!) and can be a first step if you are suffering digestive discomfort after consuming milk (but it is not suitable for those with a diagnosed milk allergy or lactose intolerance). Find it in Budgens, Booths, Morrisons, Tesco, Waitrose and Ocado. 

If instead you need to avoid lactose altogether, try Lactofree, the UK’s only lactose-free dairy range, which includes whole, semi-skimmed and skimmed dairy drink (fresh and UHT), hard and soft cheese, fruit yogurts, UHT portion packs, cream and spreadable. My girls have worked their way through the range and can attest that the yoghurts and cheddar are particularly tasty!

Lactofree yoghurts - gone in a flash once my kids saw them...

For a lactose-, casein-, cholesterol-, gluten-, GMO- and soya-free dairy alternative (phew!), you could try 3-Omega-6 Dairy Free Flax Milk (£1.89 1l). Made with flax seed oil, the milk packs a terrific nutritional punch – just one 240 ml glass has 1,200 mg of omega 3 (about two-thirds of your recommended daily allowance), as well as one gram of protein, 288 mg of calcium and vitamins K and D2, great for bones and teeth. Better still, 3-Omega-6 won’t curdle in tea or coffee and can be used in place of dairy milk in most recipes such as smoothies, rice puddings, ice-creams, soups and cakes. This is one to look out for in health food stores such as Wholefoods and Revital (will hit Holland & Barratt shelves from June). For a complete listing of dairy-free products such as this, you could also try looking at the Vegan Society’s website.

Don't miss out on calcium and vitamins if you can't drink milk

If you are having digestive problems or other health concerns that you think are related to the foods you eat, please pop along to your GP to discuss the issue. 

Have you or your child been affected by food allergies or intolerances? And how have you found shopping for yourself and your family? I’d be interested to know what approach you take – and any brands you’d recommend in the comment box below.

Thanks for reading

Monday, 3 March 2014

Post-race recovery (the hard work is over!)

Just in case you missed my social media posts (or are trying to ignore them - good luck with that!), yesterday I completed the Mizuno Reading Half Marathon in two hours twelve minutes. It was my first ever competitive run and is the culmination of a fair few months of consistent training and comfort zone avoidance.

It's mine

There's no doubt about it, my medal is beautiful and I earned it. The fact that I completed a 13.1 mile course without stopping or picking up an injury, smiling all the way and high-fiving all the kids with outstretched hands along the route just shows you that if you set your mind to it, something you previously thought beyond you is not. If I can do it, anyone can!

But, the day after the race isn't just about shimmying around with your silverware (although, yes I have been doing that!), it's about recovery (for some people this half marathon is just part of the training for something bigger like an actual marathon or triathlon). And so, below you'll find some tips on how to get your body back to normal after a Big Event:

Immediately after the race
Stay warm, don't collapse in a heap and do those stretches! I'm afraid I didn't remember to stretch yesterday, although I had a fair walk back to my car that kept me moving initially - and had brought extra layers to put on post-event (my baggy GAP sweatpants never felt so good). I was really glad for those clothes too, as the wind had picked up during the race and once I'd stopped running it felt pretty cold. Of course I had my 'crisp packet' blanket wrapped around me too - that my youngest has requisitioned as a super hero cape (I have suggested to her that mummy was a super hero for running, but I don't think she was really listening as she zoomed up and down the hall).

Behold - My Mizuno Reading Half Marathon bling

You should also look to eat and drink something to rehydrate and replace your body's lost glycogen stores (ideally something that combines carbohydrates, protein and fat) within the hour. Fortunately most runs provide water during the event, and some in your goody bag too. The Reading Half goody bag also had some cereal bars and some Chia Pods - and a Mars bar (I'll let you guess which I plumped for first...). I had prepared though with a carton of orange juice and a Bounce Natural Energy Ball in my bag. I have to admit that I wasn't that hungry or thirsty after the race, partly because the water stations were great during the course (I didn't usually take water when I trained so a few sips along the 13.1 mile route were a great treat - even though I did manage to squirt one water pack all over another runner - sorry!!).

The next day
Time for a rest, which is actually quite hard if you've been used to working out regularly - or if you are keen to continue your training for a later event. There's a general consensus that it takes about one day to recover for every mile you have raced, but that doesn't rule out gentle runs and cross training in that time. It basically means, don't go nuts in the few days after your event unless you want an injury that could set back your on-going training. This is the time to apply heat, or ice to those muscles (via a bath, a cream, a packet of peas, whatever floats your boat) use Epsom Salts, get on the foam roller or book a massage (yes, yes, please).

Mummy's post-run blanket being 'repurposed'...

You should also make sure you get adequate sleep and continue eating well (if you've been training for longer distances, it's a given you will have been doing both these things anyway right?), as you need to allow your muscles to repair themselves and your immune system can suffer after a race. Unfortunately for me, research suggests women over 40 take longer to recover after a race than their younger counterparts and men in general, because as we age, the rate that muscle fibers are generated slows down. (So if you're female and under 40 start running now!).

Mental recovery
Training for an event isn't just a physical thing. I used a lot of positive affirmations to convince myself that I am in fact a runner, not just a girl in work out gear out managing a bit of a jog. For many people, there's actually a post-race dip that is the result of physical fatigue, a sudden lack of routine and the contrast in endorphin levels.

As such it's important that you celebrate your race, even if you didn't run a personal best or your mate pipped you at the post, because at the end of the day YOU STILL RAN THE RACE!!!! So bask in your glory, in the next couple of weeks enjoy doing a few things that you have been unable to do during your training (a late night here, a glass of wine there) - and then refocus your goals (see my life-coaching article for tips there).

Do you have any tips to add? How did you feel after your event? Has my experience made you feel like running a Half Marathon is something you would want to do - or exactly the opposite?! Please leave a comment below.

Thank you for reading
Vanessa. x