Thursday, 22 May 2014

Mummy likes to horse about

I fancied something different this year for Mother's Day, and hubby came through. Instead of a shopping trip to purchase more items for my full-to-overflowing wardrobe, or a meal at a restaurant primarily chosen to accommodate my kids, we all went horse riding. Yep, all of us together, at a stables just up the road.

Family fun
Fun for all the family (especially the girls!)

First let's take a step back. I was a pony-mad little girl, and couldn't get enough of books featuring fine steeds and their loving owners. I even had models of horses in a glass cabinet and a pair of jodhpurs. But I never got on a horse. Why? Well, unfortunately a family member suffered a bad fall, needed a metal plate in her hip and was never able to have kids. Obviously my parents wanted to protect me from that and indulged my equestrian interest where they could, but would not let me take riding lessons, no matter how much I persisted (and I'm pretty sure I did...).

So, now that I call the shots (I can't actually write that without laughing) I wanted to saddle up. Not that I met with any resistance in my house - the girls were delighted to the point of screaming when informed of my decision to do this for Mother's Day and I'm pretty sure hubs was equally pleased the phrase 'drive into Reading' was not going to be mentioned at all that day. This is also when I learnt he had been lucky enough to have some riding lessons when he was young and actually knew what to do.
equestrian pursuits
Who could resist?
So off we trotted (sorry!) en famille to the Lands End Equestrian Centre in Twyford for a group lesson. We'd already let manager Suzy Jones know our experience levels and age/height/weight  details so suitable horses could be at the ready. We were introduced to our mounts, and there was much smiling and cooing over the cute ponies provided for the kids. We were also introduced to the stable hands that would help us manage them - all bright and happy girls obviously revelling in the days they spend at the stables (all I could think was what a great way to tire out your tweenie/teen by sending them off to ride and muck out all day).

Then it was up into the saddle for an introduction in how to hold and use the reins and operate your feet to let your ride know what it was supposed to be doing (start, stop, left, right, speed up a bit etc). All pretty simple, and yet oddly unfamiliar (when else do I get to push my heels together - weird). And off we clopped out of the stables and down the road. Once we'd got a bit more used to being on the horses we practised our manoeuvres and headed for a trot (although our youngest wasn't too happy with that, so we had to slow down).

Family fun at the stables
Loving every minute of 'mummy's treat'!

All too quickly it seemed our time was up, and we dismounted and patted the ponies goodbye. Although it was just a little introduction for us girls (and a refresher for Mr H), it was a lot of fun - and has given us all a taste for more. Lands End runs lots of lessons (private, group, hacking) plus holiday activities with discounts for membership card holders and block bookings, so we should be able to fit something in for all of us. I think the adults probably need to go separately from the children so that we can up the ante a bit, while our youngest can progress at a pace more suitable for her age. But all in all - a fabulous treat for Mother's Day (and we all know there should be more of those - right?!).

Is this the sort of thing you would fancy for your next family day out? Are you an experienced horse woman - and do ALL little girls (and some little boys) love ponies? Let me know in the comment box below.

Giddy up!
Vanessa. x
Dinton Pastures
For more info on this event click here

Monday, 19 May 2014

Veg for breakfast

Back in March, a new study by University College London proposed that just getting your 'five-a-day' wasn't enough. In fact, the research suggested eating more fresh fruit and vegetables was linked to a longer life and to a lower chance of death from heart disease, stroke and cancer. Risk of death by any cause over the study period was reduced by 42 per cent for those eating seven or more (up to around ten veg/fruit portions a day).

Healthy eating
Seven days of nutritious breakfasts

This led to a discussion among friends about how to fit seven to ten lots of fruit or veg into your day - particularly if you struggled to make the currently recommended five! We felt it was easy to ramp up your fruit consumption with a mid-morning apple here and a handful of blueberries there, but the veg could be difficult we consented. One of our more mathematical friends reasoned we'd have to have two types of veg per meal, and then four pieces of fruit in between meals and as a dessert. We weren't sure this was possible - veg at breakfast time we thought - really?

So last week, I decided to see if I could manage it. Abandoning my usual peanut butter on wholemeal, I had a week of veggie-loaded breakfasts. It was quite hard work, I had to make sure all the ingredients were in the house for a start - I couldn't be popping off to the shops in my PJs at 7am. And like all healthier-eating regimes, I had to really plan what I was going to have, in some cases doing some prep the night before. And let's not forget I have to children to cajole out of bed and feed! And we are all working to a deadline, I can't afford to dilly dally on school mornings!

This is what I ended up having:

Monday - mushrooms on toast with carrot & orange juice
Tuesday - veg frittatas (using red pepper, tomato, onion & celery) with spinach
Wednesday - poached egg with spinach
Thursday - bubble & squeak (with extra spinach) and grilled tomatoes 
Friday - Poached egg on asparagus with grilled tomatoes
Saturday - carrot & courgette muffins

The upside was I certainly got my allotted veg quota - and actually it was fairly easy to do so, once I'd got my head around eating much more of a 'meal', first thing in the morning. I probably ate a lot more green veg too - as I have spinach growing like a weed in my garden and it does seem to go with breakfast dishes quite well. I was of course much fuller mid-morning, which is probably a good thing too. If I ate like this long term, I'd probably need to re-jig my other meals - as something like egg on toast would be the type of fare I'd usually have for lunch! The downside was definitely the work involved, not least when I bought the juicer into play (notice that was just monday, I'm a fast learner!). For someone that like to leave their house tidy in the morning (don't worry, I'm not one of those people!!) having a juicer and saucepans to wash up first thing could be a nightmare. I was also interested to see that certain veg just seem more palatable at breakfast (tomatoes for one) - and of course the majority of dishes incorporated eggs! Maybe some people wouldn't want an egg each day?

My little experiment certainly made me thing about my veg intake, I'm far more likely to throw berries on my muesli that grill some tomatoes, but when I make the effort I do enjoy the change.  It also gave the kids a chance to see that there's alternatives to boxed cereal (which I hate but sometimes consent to them having because it gets eaten quickly!). Perhaps my breakfast food is something I could (and should?) vary a little? Starting at the weekends when there's a bit more time sounds like a good kicking off point. 

What do you think? Would you fancy asparagus and spinach in the morning? And would time be an issue for you? Do you have any other recipes you can recommend that pack a veggie punch? Let me know in the comment box below. 

Thanks for reading

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Maybe it's more than skin deep?


Every now and again I get a little freaked out when I stop to read the ingredients list on everyday toiletries like shampoo and shower gel. I have a basic grasp of certain things that are probably stripping my body of its natural oils but I am not entirely sure what to do about it. I also wonder if I’m not happy putting these things on my stronger, adult skin, whether or not I want to bring my kids up using them. So when I was given the chance to test-out the miamoo products developed by Saira Khan, I jumped at it.

Dry skin
A range that you and your children can safely use

Miamoo products don’t use the following ingredients: Parabens, Petrochemicals, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, Synthetic Colour/Fragrance and PEGS. To understand why, I googled them, and the results were nasty. We’re looking at claims that these common ingredients are linked to everything from damage to the immune system, skin inflammation and headaches all the way to various types of cancer, kidney degeneration and nerve damage to the brain and spinal cord. While some of these results are based on animal studies, it’s clear that these chemicals are best left out of our lives rather than invited in.

Saira Khan spent years suffering with dry skin, and found even the products prescribed by doctors did more harm than good. This made her determined to research and ultimately create, quality skincare products using ingredients that work and are kind to delicate, dry and sensitive/sensitized skin. As a by-product of her work, she has set off the ‘one range skincare for all the family’ revolution – and has reduced the need to have stacks of different bottles clogging up the bathroom (think my hubby would be glad to hear that!).

And I had a great way to test out the 3-step skincare routine that miamoo has created. Recently my eldest daughter was diagnosed with molluscum contagiosum, a viral infection. It is highly contagious and causes small, firm, raised papules (spots) on the skin. The condition is not painful but can be itchy. I know that several of her friends have had it, and since it clears up on its own, the NHS does not treat it. However, my daughter is unhappy with the appearance of her affected skin and does not want the rash to spread. One doctor did mention to me that the problem can be exacerbated by dry skin, and keeping her well moisturised should prevent further discomfort and maybe even the spread of spots. Cue a rush to the toiletries stash. 

My personal favourite - although I have to fight for it!
My children are already used to me using face and body oils instead of creams – and know that some of my favourite natural ingredients are almond and lavender. Accordingly, it wasn’t hard to get my daughter to use the miamoo range regularly, as the product names instantly appealed – along with the lovely smells and the chance to stop the molluscum in its tracks. To be honest both her sister and me were also tempted by the range (it’s just as well the products are suitable for adults and kids)!

So, for a little over a week, I have been using miamoo’s splashy wash, followed by huggy lotion and then baba oil on my daughter’s tummy area where the spots occur. As well as the large spots, her skin there was a bit scaly, with smaller red irritations too. While I knew that the products would not make the spots go away (they can actually last for us to two years), I hoped that she would at least be spared any more developing – and that the area in general would become less dry and irritated.

testing miamoo
Using miamoo for just over a week shows some improvement in the dry skin around the affected area

I’m pleased to say in this short test period I’ve seen some improvement, the skin around the affected areas is definitely much softer – and my daughter says – less itchy. The small red bumps have cleared up a bit and she has enjoyed all the extra cosseting (as any child with any kind of illness does!). She also loves the products because of the scents and the names. My other daughter has also decided to get in on the act, asking me to put the huggy lotion on the inside of her elbows (where a bit of eczema has flared up). And yes, mummy has also been at the baba oil! I love the fact we can all use these gentle products together – and that as well as helping dry skin conditions we are protecting rather than damaging any delicate skin. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship…

Do you or your children suffer from dry or sensitive/sensitized skin? What products have worked – and what hasn’t? Let me know any tips you have and how you feel about the amount of toxins that could be in regular products in the comment box below.


Thanks for reading
Vanessa. x

barnes fitness
For more info on this event click here

Monday, 12 May 2014

Lie back and think of...anything else but this!

health screening
There was some of this involved 

I have a confession to make. Here I am prattling on about all the things I do that are good for my health, when I have a dirty little secret. I’ve avoided going for a cervical smear test for about six years. When I’ve seen doctors for other things in that time they’ve flagged it up to me (like I’d forgotten about it) and I’ve had reminder letters through the post. But you know what? I just ignored them all. I’ll do that another time, I thought to myself, but of course, another time never came.

Anyone that knows me well, could perhaps hazard a guess as to why I’m not keen on the NHS getting its hands on my nether regions. To fill in the uninitiated, let’s just say delivering my first child didn’t go exactly to plan and resulted in a trip to Intensive Care for me, and lots of ‘procedures’ where the way in was ‘down there’. That’s a lot of gloved hands and lubricated things that I’d like to forget. REALLY like to forget. And I think it’s probably given me trust issues with doctors and nurses. And Latex.

But recent news reports about the gradual decline in the number of women attending smear tests over the past decade gave me a bit of a wake up call. In fact, except for a brief hike in 2009 after reality TV star Jade Goody's death from cervical cancer, one in five women who are eligible for screening do not take up their invitation, and for young women aged 25-29 this rises to one in three. And yet an online petition that asked for smear tests to be available to those under 25, following the death of 19-year old Sophie Jones from the disease, attracted more than 300,000 signatures and led to a House of Commons debate.

Cervical smear
Hands up if you'd rather be somewhere else
(Image courtesy of artemisphoto /

So with gritted teeth but open knees I found myself at the doctors this afternoon, considering life as a nun. After a little chat with the nurse, and her telling me quite pointedly that she’d bolted the door and closed the curtains (to be honest, I wasn’t expecting a rush of spectators, but she seemed to like to err on the side of caution), she got to the main event. And in fact, the actual procedure has come on leaps and bounds since I first had a smear. Cold metal speculums have been replaced with plastic devices and a specially designed brush is used to collect cells from the cervix. The process only lasts a few minutes, and I had a lovely little ‘modesty’ sheet so I could pretend I wasn’t naked from the waist down (well it was more like a big sheet of kitchen roll – no patterns of fruit or flowers though).

And while it wasn’t the most pleasant experience of late, it was no more painful than the tricep exercises I perform during my Body Pump class (and that goes on for ages, although there is music to distract me). I also got the impression that for someone so short, my cervix is approximately a mile away from the official ‘entrance’. It seemed to be deliberately ducking out of her way too – like it was determined to play a game of internal hide and seek. I did wonder if the nurse had removed her watch first… 

Cancer screening
Well done you!
(Image courtesy of stockimages /

So now I can feel just a little bit virtous that I have done my duty to my booty and had the test. I will get a letter with the results through the post before too long – and hopefully I won’t need to think about the whole thing for a few more years. 

And if I can do it – so can you! If you’re overdue a health check, why not bite the bullet and make that appointment. I recommend Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust website for really clear info on smear tests – this page in particular will give you all the technical info you need, plus the charity runs a Helpline (0808 802 8000) manned by volunteers who have had personal experience of cervical cancer or cervical abnormalities and have had training in telephone helpline skills. The Helpline offers listening, support and information.

Are you up to date with your health checks? Do you have a guilty health secret you can share? Let me know in the comment box below.

Thanks for reading
Vanessa. x

******DRUM ROLL PLEASE******** has been shortlisted for a Brilliance In Blogging Award (in the health category). Please vote the blog into the final here. At least I get to keep my fingers crossed!!!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The grey matter

I’ve done fairly well up until this point. I mean I’m 44 and I’ve never had to dye my hair to cover up grey. But, well, I can’t help thinking my time is running out! Every now and again, when I look in the mirror, a stubborn little strand quite clearly sticking out against its fellow follicles confronts me. Then I look a bit more and I see it’s bought some friends along, and they are bedding down for the long-term. They’ll have to go I think…

And yet I’m really struggling with the idea of having to cover up what is a natural sign of ageing – and play along with society’s belief that to be attractive you have to be young.  This is partly because this rule only seems to apply to women. Consider Hollywood hunks like George Clooney and Robert Downey Jr – both considered to have aged like a fine wine – ultimately far more attractive now than when they were younger despite greying locks and wrinkles. Society tends to view the older man as a better option to his younger counterpart – perhaps imagining that this is a guy with a better job, more life experience and past the ‘chasing tail’ phase – where we can only imagine he has learnt how to treat a partner properly and just what makes a woman tick (that’s a polite way of talking about sexual experience).

hair dye

While a guy can become a ‘silver fox’ however, a greying female of the same generation has suddenly become a ‘granny’ – the sort of character the wolf eats first in fairy tales. Seemingly a woman with lots of life (or indeed sexual) experience doesn’t hold the same allure. Take a look at the ‘hair’ section of the supermarket shelves – there are probably as many packets of hair dye promising to cover grey as there are styling products. In fact, the anti-aging industry has been projected to reach US$291.9 billion by 2015, and that’s a lot of product, most of it being slathered on the faces of females across the world in a desperate bid to be ‘visible’ in society. And let’s not even mention the menopause.

growing old

So, in the name of research, I’ve been combing (see what I did there) Pinterest to find examples of attractive grey-haired men versus attractive greying women. I’m still not convinced we’re ready to say a female in her forties looks as good with grey hair as a guy can – but certainly there’s hope for us ladies by the time we can claim a free bus pass.

What do you think? Can a woman with grey hair ever really be as attractive as a man? Should we start a revolution and demand older, wiser women are promoted as pin-ups? Add your thoughts in the comment box below.

Thanks for reading
Vanessa. x 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

How the Dutch stay fit

As every gym bunny will tell you, school holidays are a bit of a mixed blessing. While it’s lovely to forget the school run and spend some quality time with your kids, it also means less time to drop those squats and hold those planks. And if you combine school holidays with the annual choc fest that is Easter (although I’m pretty sure it’s not actually about the Easter Bunny…) well, it’s a recipe for disaster!

Cycling in Amsterdam
Out of my comfort zone (and I don't just mean the saddle...)

So it was with a little less spring in my step than normal, that I set off to spend the Easter holidays in Amsterdam. Our self-catering apartment cancelled a week before we left, so we’d had to book into a hotel. I had visions of consuming nothing but pancakes and cheese for the next few days, with just light walking to keep me in shape (a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and this chain has a five year old in it).

But I was wrong! After discovering that the tram was a bit on the pricey side, hubs and I decided to hire out bikes for the entire holiday and see the sights like the locals. So we headed off to MacBike rentals next to the central station and got ourselves sorted with some of the very last cycles available. We got just the normal type for me – and a cargo bike (called a Bakfiets) for he, which basically has a big wooden box on the front suitable for luggage, shopping – or two over-excited children (or a combo of all of the above)! 

Kids on bikes
A box to put your kids in - perfect!

I cannot tell you how easy it is to cycle around Amsterdam. I am not a proficient cyclist, and am not one to head off into traffic when I just have two wheels at my disposal, but the cycle paths and the general level of tolerance to those on bikes there is simply unbelievable. We’re talking wide two-way cycle paths, pretty much everywhere and cars, buses and trams that will wait forever for a hapless tourist not used to ‘that’ side of the road. This is why everyone here is so beautiful I thought to myself – because they all bike everywhere and obviously have done all their lives (plus they don’t wear helmets that mess up their hair…naughty).

But turns out it isn’t just the outdoor cycling that the locals use to keep fit. Throughout the city there are several huge (and free) public parks (in fact there are officially 30 parks, but not all of them are huge!). And the Dutch use them to the max, jogging around the perimeters and mixing it up with boot camps and tai chi classes. While I was there I saw people using park benches for step-ups, monkey bars in playgrounds for pull-ups and performing lunges here, there and everywhere. Sarphatipark Park in de Pijp district even has purpose built adult fitness equipment. I really wished I’d bought my trainers so I could join in! As an added bonus our kids loved visiting and playing in all the different parks as the adults spent all day cycling between them, drinking in the surroundings. 

A playground for adults

So hats off to the Dutch for ingenuity, they have some lovely wide open spaces in Amsterdam city and certainly make the most of them. I came back from my break feeling great – I spent four days cycling and didn’t fall off once (personal record I think) and got to be outdoors for most of the day. It’s given me a taste for two wheels and motivation to try and find out more about working out when you don’t have the time or freedom to head off to the gym (like the they’ll-be-here-before-you-know-it summer holidays for example!).

Holiday playtime
Fabulous outdoor spaces in Amsterdam

So how about you? Does this sound like your kind of break, or do you enjoy a holiday that lets you lie back and chill out? I’d love to hear how you stay fit and healthy when you can’t follow your usual routine. Comments below please.

Thanks for reading
Vanessa. x

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Back to dairy – and off to Britmums Live!

It’s fair to say that within the last century, the consumer has become more and more detached from sourcing food for the table. Children are often shocked to find that the sausage on their plate comes from a pig, carrots grow underground and that fish really don’t have (lots and lots of) fingers. And many adults are also in the dark when it comes to how animals are farmed, the exact origin of many everyday food items and how processed food is really made.

dairy products
Do you know where your food comes from?

But in recent years issues of animal welfare and food safety have hit the headlines repeatedly, and consumers are becoming more aware of the link between food production and health. Many people want to know where their food comes from, how it has been produced and that it is a healthy choice for them and their family. This is especially true for those that suffer from food allergies and intolerances. For these families, scanning the packaging for a list of ingredients is an added chore when grocery shopping.

Which is why it is always nice to discover a food item where the origin is transparent – and one that can help solve many consumers digestive problems. a2 Milk may provide relief to many of the one in five Brits who struggle to digest cows' milk. It is different to other milk you find on the shelves because it comes from cows that produce milk containing just the A2 protein (all milk contains protein but there are two types, the majority of dairy cows in the UK and Europe now produce A1 protein milk because of an historic switch from one breed of cow to another in farming).

preventing digestive problems
Whole and semi-skimmed milk that is easier to digest

Imagine being able to go back to all the health benefits milk offers after years of thinking you were allergic to or intolerant of it!

Which is why I’m pleased to announce that a2 milk will be sponsoring me to attend the premier blogging event BritMums Live! in June. This two-day social media conference sees bloggers and social influencers meet and socialise, network with brands, improve their skills and fire their creativity. Even better, is on the shortlist to receive a Brilliance In Blogging award in the health category – as the event culminates in the annual BiBs ceremony.

Blogging award
Please let me win!

Being linked with a terrific company and making it to the 2014 BiBs shortlist have really been highlights of my blogging journey so far. I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who reads my blog and to those that nominated in the first round of the awards. And of course to a2 for sponsoring me so I can continue to develop my blog. Exciting times!

To vote for in the BiB awards – please follow the link and scroll to section 15 (health category). 

Thank you!