Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Your conscience can be as clear as your skin!

healthy, organic, safe, beauty
Beauty products you can trust
I'd be lying if I said I'm not tempted by cult beauty items - with their whiff of cool, promise of eternal youth and the inevitable celeb endorsement. But the more I learn about the products on our shelves - the more I worry about what I'm putting on and in my body. And what my children are exposed to - both physically and culturally. And what the wider impact of those products is - be it on other populations, other living creatures or the environment. Even how the multi-billion beauty industry is making us (and my daughters) believe that looking real - and realistic - just isn't good enough. And I'm not even a worrier!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

5 Ways to Keep Calm this Christmas

Christmas stress, health
Is Xmas getting on top of you?
Photo credit:
It's December and from here on in, it's non-stop Christmas jumpers, shopping, fairs, drinks, nibbles, plays and parties. I even got my very first Xmas card delivered this morning! Don't get me wrong - I love the season - and have already popped up the tree, donned my tasteless jumper and baked mince pies - but it's also the time when the stresses and strains of being a mummy can become too much. Here are some top tips to make sure you don't go Christmas crackers (see what I did there?)!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Stay safe on winter workouts

If you can keep your motivation up over the colder months, you'll be 2016 race ready far faster than those that favour fair-weather workouts. But winter brings a whole new set of challenges if you're heading outdoors to exercise. Keep on top of plummeting temperatures, wet and windy weather and shorter daylight hours with these top tips:

Light the way

fitness, workout, health, running
Be safe - be seen!

Have you ever been driving along and suddenly realised there is cyclist or runner on the road? I often wonder why people that ride or run in the evenings, nights or early mornings don't make more of an effort to be seen. The obvious solution is to put some lights on your bike or body - front and back! Flashing lights help with distance perception so that drivers can tell how far away you are from them - and how fast you're moving. The Nathan LightBender is a great weather-resistant armband with multi-settings for blinking or steady stream lights. But a decent head torch will light up your way so you don't trip and fall or run into a low-hanging branch (which I have done - awkward). And if you ever need to dress up as minion, you're half way there...

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Body Shop comes home

beauty, cosmetics, Body Shop
Playing with the products
If there's one smell guaranteed to send me back to my misspent youth then it has to be the Dewberry scent from The Body Shop! By the mid-80's The Body Shop and it's founder Dame Anita Roddick were household names and the watchword for everything ethical and cruelty-free, refilling bottles and putting fair trade onto the agenda and the high street.

I remember my trips with my mum to the Canterbury store, to stock up on White Musk goodies and lip balm in precious glass pots. A few years later there was certain rooms in the uni halls of residence that smelt just like those shops. So in a fit of nostalgia I recently opted to test out a few of the products on unsuspecting friends that had come over for a birthday drink.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Space hopper giveaway!

space hopper, fitness, health
Bring some boing
into your life

While we might have sneaked an extra hour in bed when the clocks went back, there's not many of us that look forward to the start of winter. But the shorter days and colder temperatures didn't put off, which last month distributed hundreds of space hoppers throughout London to brighten up people's day. This included instigating a 'bounce mob' of commuters and children in Pottersfield Park, who all enjoyed their communal 'boing'. Still more more space hoppers were handed to disgruntled commuters during the two-day DLR strike - offering them a fun, alternative way to travel to work (or at least just to bring a smile to their faces!!).

Live near me? Fancy a bounce?

But better still, there's a few kid-sized space hoppers left over for me to bring the #JumpOnIt campaign to Twyford (and Charvil and Wargrave!). I have two of the space hoppers featured in the video to giveaway to my local readers. 

To win one, just head over to my blog's Facebook page and leave a comment under the #JumpOnIt post. This time next week I'll pick two readers in a random lucky dip and you can get your boing on! 

Since the hoppers are currently in my house, I can only open up this comp to people in Twyford, Charvil and Wargrave.

Watch the video here...

Friday, 13 November 2015

Eating for a healthy smile

healthy living, diet tips, fitness
Order up plenty of fresh veggies
if you want healthy teeth and gums
At this time of year, it's all too easy to give up your healthy eating habits and start on the mince pies that bit early. But it's not just your waistline you need to worry about if you miss essential nutrients and minerals in your diet - you could be damaging your teeth. Here's how to have the picture perfect smile ready for when Santa asks if you've been a good girl...

Eat your Vitamins (A, B and C)

Since Vitamin A helps immune function and cell growth, it's an essential nutrient for healthy teeth and gums, fighting off infections and aiding recovery. In fact it's the reason you'll have a healthy amount of saliva. It also contains beta-carotene, an antioxidant. Vitamin A is also critical for all the main organs, your eyesight and reproductive health, so not one to miss if you value your health!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Is being healthy in my genes?

health fitness
The myInnerGo kit - all ready for my DNA
As any TV crime show aficionado will tell you (AKA me), DNA can be taken by using a 'buccal' swab rolled around the inside of your mouth. And so it was with gratuitous excitement that I followed the instructions on my MyInnerGo kit to provide the company with a sample of my DNA for genetic analysis. I then popped my swab into a test tube for safe keeping and into the pre-paid envelope provided so that it could be posted off to the lab. What exactly would I discover about my health and weight control potential? I was fascinated!

If this all sounds a bit futuristic, that's because it is. Personalised medicine and genetics are an emerging practice that uses an individual's genetic profile as a guide to potential health and fitness. While lots of the lifestyle choices we take go on to decide our actual health, much of what we are - and what we can be - is pre-determined. Just consider that 40 to 70 per cent of body weight is affected by genes, and that genes also account for half of the variations in physical performance between individuals. Why waste time following a regime that just doesn't suit you - when with a little bit of self-knowledge you can find out what your strengths really are?

[Spoiler alert - there's a discount code at the end of the post!]

Monday, 19 October 2015

I moustache you a question...

All hail Movember! It won't be long before we start seeing social media posts from our male friends and colleagues as they grow a moustache (with varying degrees of success) all in the name of male cancer awareness (and other health issues that face the male of the species). In fact, it's likely that one in eight UK men will be effected by prostate cancer at some point in their lives - which definitely puts your loved ones in the firing line. 

My family have been effected - and benefitted enormously from up-to-date research and treatment options. And last year a friend and I ran the Muddy Mo 10k - dressed as Frenchmen with stick on tashes (since you ask).This November, as well as the run events and the facial hair growing, the Movember Foundation is also spearheading the MOVE 30/30 challenge - which challenges people to move for 30 minutes for 30 days (moving more can help prevent cancer and speed up recovery).

One of the supporters of the event, Discount Supplements, an online health and supplements supplier, has also produced a handy infographic which highlights the six ways men can 'escape' cancer - simply by being aware and checking themselves. Take a look at the chart - and encourage your menfolk to do the same. It outlines exactly what to look for - and can help save lives. It's often a concerned woman that forces a reluctant guy to see the GP about worrying symptoms - maybe you are that woman?

Discount Supplements will donate £10 to Movember for each blogger that posts a website link.

Monday, 12 October 2015

What's your excuse?

It's all too easy to think we don't have the time, energy or money to stay fit and well. And as the weather gets cooler and the sunshine dwindles it's not uncommon to loose all the motivation you had just a few months ago when the beach beckoned and it was BBQ and salad season. If you've lost your way lately, perhaps you recognise some of these classic excuses?

Excuse #1
I'm too stressed to eat properly or exercise

Hard times call for decent food and a healthy outlet. A workout will help you focus on something other than your problems and release some feel-good chemicals in your brain. The right food will provide the long-term energy you need too. And there's nothing more stressful than seeing all your previous hard work go to waste because you've let a situation beyond your control steer you off course.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Let's go outside

Make the most of sunny skies
with these stained glass kits
I feel thoroughly spoilt at the moment with the weather. Sunny days, clear skies and some fantastic sunsets have allowed us to make the most of Autumn's arrival. We've also been able to benefit from enjoying all that nature has to offer - from collecting conkers and acorns to talking an interest in native wildlife (which is the theme to class names in my children's school this academic year adding to the interest levels). We also recently got a puppy which has meant more walking amongst ripening berries and falling leaves. And plenty of time to admire the scenery as the little dog stops to sniff!

And since getting out and about in the fresh air can boost your health and your mood, I'm keen to encourage and celebrate the outdoors with some seasonal craft...

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Growing your own

Fresh from the veg patch
With the last few days of lovely sunshine the tomatoes I toiled over much earlier in the year are finally really ripening. And there's nothing better than plucking one for your lunch - and eating it while it is still warm from basking in the sun. And each time I eat something from my veg patch it reminds me just what a great feeling it is to grow your own. My efforts last Spring were minimal I'm afraid, but I have still had strawberries, summer squash, onions, tomatoes, chillies, spinach, blueberries, peas, apples and potatoes (plus some lovely wild blackberries that were growing in my hedge!) to enjoy. I have some plump pumpkins growing now too - ready for a hearty Autumnal soup methinks.

From garden to plate to tummy!!!
And I'm going to try and hold on to this feeling all through the winter and into early next year, so I can put a bit more effort into into planting come next March, because growing my own seems to be the healthy option. Not only does it force me to get out in all weathers - bending, stretching, wrestling, digging and - the worst of all gardening jobs - weeding, it also encourages me to eat more plant-based meals and turn my back on the over-packaged and chemically-enhanced products that often now grace the supermarket shelves.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Try out your rugby moves - and win!

Ball games are a great way to get your entire family active over the summer - and encourage physical exercise in people of all ages. As well as teaching skills such as dribbling, throwing, aiming and bouncing to your kids, ball games also depend on team work and social interaction. Regularly throwing a ball about on a pitch, a beach, a field, in the back garden or playground will help improve the motor skills, hand-to-eye co-ordination, posture and muscle and bone development of everyone that joins in. And as well as countless kiddie classes, there's plenty of opportunities for parents to take up and continue a ball sport as a regular workout too.

Next month sees the kick off of the Rugby World Cup 2015 - and there's never been a better time to pick up ball for some family fun. Allianz is celebrating its partnership with rugby union club Saracens (last year's winner of the Premiership title and a team that boasts seven England Internationals), with the #PassAroundTheWorld campaign. You can join in the fun - and win great prizes too! The question is - who will you pass to?

Monday, 3 August 2015

Top tips for buying a new sporty swimsuit

Swim yourself to health!

Photo credit: Winnond/
Whether you favour the pool, the sea or the river, if you've been bitten by the swimming bug, chances are you'll be in the market for a new suit. But if in the past you've been more interested in poolside posing than lengths and laps it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to buying a costume that will meet all your new needs - and last longer than a string bikini in a summer romance! Here's some essential advice if you're buying a swimsuit for fitness (as well as fun...).

Monday, 27 July 2015

Bendy, stretchy children for summer!

Stretch out the summer hols
Buy the book here

If you have kids, you'll have noticed how they can't sit still. And how they like to use the living room as an assault course. While keeping active is to be encouraged it can be a little disconcerting when you see your little ones springboard off the sofa. Bumped heads and worse are every parents' nightmare - and a trip to A&E pretty low down on the list of ways you want to spend your summer holidays. But if you want to keep them active without any injuries, what's the solution?

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Camping - the healthy holiday!

There's nothing more traditional than packing up your family car and heading off for a few nights under canvas during the school holidays. Kids and (some) adults alike love the idea of setting up a temporary camp off the beaten track - and sleeping under the stars. You can choose to go high-end with sturdy, ready-pitched accommodation featuring a decent loo and stove - or bite the bullet and pack your own tent and 'rough' it, cooking on a burner and using compost 'facilities'. And the good news is that whichever end of the scale you favour, camping is good for your health - and here's why...

Monday, 6 July 2015

Running with a buggy - the perfect combo!

One of the hardest times to look after yourself physically is when you have a baby in tow. Alongside sleep deprivation and weaning, dirty nappies and milestones it's difficult to prioritise your own needs - even though by the time your baby is nearing his or her first birthday you're probably keen to fit some me time into your life. And perhaps even hankering after a regular workout.

But if you don't want to put your child into a gym creche or other care provider while you take time out - or if that's just not feasible - you can be left with very few fitness options. Which is why running with your child is such a great idea. It's free for a start - and a great way to fit exercise around a changing timetable as your baby develops. You can go alone - or with friends - and both you and your offspring get a healthy dose of fresh air and togetherness.

So, how do you get started?

Monday, 29 June 2015

Steal this from your kids!

'And then Mummy said to me,
don't go anywhere near my bendy rollers...'
As a parent you'd be forgiven for thinking that you no longer have any possessions that are truly your own. Nothing is sacred, be it your Chanel nail varnish, your high heels or your expensive shampoo. But seems it cuts both ways - and one of the upsides of having littlies in your life is the access to a whole new world of toiletries and bathroom goodies. And many of them might just find a place in your gym bag...

Water babies - and their mums...

If you have a child that suffers from repeated ear infections but enjoys swimming, you have probably already discovered SwimSeal. These protective ear drops coat the outer ear canal and prevent trapped water from causing pain. You pop a few drops in each ear before exposure to water and a barrier is formed (added Tea Tree oil also acts as an anti fungal and antibacterial agent too). Since adults can use them too, it's perfect if you swim regularly and suffer from these types of problems (particularly if you've got a cold coming on - which is pretty much all the time if you have a young kiddo!!!).

Monday, 22 June 2015

Event review - Henley-on-Thames Triathlon

There's a first time for everything, and this weekend saw me tackle the rite of passage that is the mark of many a middle-aged mum these days - the Triathlon. For those that don't know (do you live under a rock or something?), a triathlon is a 'multiple-stage competition involving the completion of three continuous and sequential endurance disciplines'. In practice this usually means a swim, followed by a cycle and then a run - changing clothes and equipment in a crazy we're-late-for-school-type panic in between. With no desire to get up at the crack of dawn on a weekend - and being the sort that likes to check out the route properly beforehand - I like to 'go local' for events and thought the Henley-on-Thames Triathlon was perfect. So what went down on the day?

Monday, 8 June 2015

How to train SMART when you cycle

One of the hardest parts of taking up a new sport is knowing where and how to start. You're not sure how to get - and keep - going - or even what to wear. Which is how I happened across cyclewear brand Fat Lad At the Back. The company produce a range of bike clothing specially designed to fit the average-sized UK man and women (the female range is Fat Lass At The Back) - not some super sleek athlete (or model) that has a natural affinity with lycra and elastane!

This is little old me, testing out the
Galavantin' short sleeve jersey - with the cleverly-designed
 graduated colour way from Fat Lass At The Back!
The label is produced in Italy and created to make the wearer, whatever their size, feel comfortable and confident in their workout gear. The the 'lasses' clobber for example, has been designed to complement the shape of a typical women with a one-of-a-kind outline to flatter female curves. Instead of leading you to wonder if you are  S-, M- or L-sized,  the sizing is based on the hips, bust and waist (you know, like, um regular clothes are!!!). 

And as for how to start - and make some headway with - your new interest in two wheels, Fat Lad At the Back also has the answer! The company has teamed up with Better Cycling (a company that offers cycle coaching, fitness training, mentoring and bike fit to all levels of cyclist). And Mike Wilson, Better Cycling's Head Coach says that to gain the most benefit from training it must be structured,. He even has a great little acronym for how he recommends you train. It goes like this!

Monday, 1 June 2015

(Swim) suit up!

After a somewhat unnerving re-enactment of the infamous Babs Windsor bikini scene in Carry on Camping in the pool recently, I decided it was high time I got a 'proper' costume. I usually just wear one of the mix and match bikinis I already own, since shelling out for something that ultimately gets eaten alive by chlorine seemed extravagant. And maybe such a move even amounted to taking my swimming seriously? But I'll be honest, a bikini designed primarily for poolside posing or sunbathing on a beach  isn't really a suitable option for lengths (and lengths!) of front crawl. So while Sam Cam may be wowing everyone with her bikini bod in Ibiza - I'll be working on mine in the pool - but looking just as cool...

Make a splash!

Thankfully, the swimwear market seems to have moved on since I last needed a practical one piece (y' know - 30 odd years ago...). And I was pleasantly surprised at the reasonable prices too. The first I trialled was the Lima swimsuit (SRP £25.99) from Aqua Sphere, which has an additional bust lining for support and 'modesty' (no one wants to be accused of smuggling peanuts - am I right?!). It looks and feels properly sporty, with a racer back, high cut legs and flattering go faster stripes that draw the eye in. I felt far more professional from the minute I had it on - and in the water it allows for lots of shoulder movement while still feeling very much 'on' (a feeling I was lacking with the bikini approach to fitness laps). Despite being engineered with chlorine-resistant, breathable fabric it's still very smooth and soft - and dries fast. I've worn it - and rinsed it - a couple of times now and there's no change in the fit (soggy bottoms just aren't wanted any where are they?). It's great to go to the pool and - at least - look like I know what I'm doing!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Glitter in the garden

There's nothing like a bit of fresh air to wear the kids out over the holidays. But sometimes you need a break from rushing around and just want to stay home. This needn't mean your kids must be cooped up indoors though. Try these tips to keep fidgety fingers busy on those relaxed days.

1. Use garden-themed crafts 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Do you have a drinking problem?

This? Oh this is just me hanging out with England rugby player Danny Cipriani earlier today. Danny wanted to discuss his diet and training with me - and in particular how a milk intolerance has affected his performance in the past. In the interests of clarity, I guess I should confess a few things. Danny didn't invite just me for 'elevenses' (I guess he's shy?) - and in fact the invite came via The a2 Milk Company.

Danny and a2 have teamed up to spread the message about the 'Welcome Back to Milk' campaign. Seems there's a lot of misinformation in the 'free from' arena. Allergies and intolerances have got all jumbled up and there's a right scrum (see what I did there?!) about what we can and can't, should and shouldn't eat and drink. So let's 'try' and break it down (ok, I'll stop now).

Monday, 18 May 2015

Safety tips for novice cyclists

The upside of my running injury (groan, am I still on about that?), is that I was forced to look for alternative cardio activities. One of my options was to learn swim better, with goggles on and head down in the water, working on my bi-lateral breathing. Now I'm in the pool a couple of times a week, regularly getting through 50 lengths and on the verge of upgrading my beach bikini to an actual proper swimsuit (only because I had a Babs Windsor 'Carry on Camping' moment the other day - eek!). Soon I might even look like a real swimmer. 

Another option was to get on my bike and try out some road cycling - which is very much de rigueur round these parts - in fact the local A road is full of MAMILs on a sunny day. I should make it quite clear that prior to the Victoria Pendleton hybrid I bought last summer with a view to keeping up with the kids, I hadn't owned a bike since I was 12 - and my only biking experience during that time was cycling between wineries in Australia. This experience only served to prove that I was far more familiar with sinking a few cheeky glasses than calculating cadence! Time to ditch my deeper understanding of the grape and get grappling with gears...

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Step away from the black leggings!!!

I've got a LOT of gym clothes. There's countless capris, run tights, shorts and a skort taking up one drawer, then t-shirts, vests and other tops in another. There's also a pile of jackets, fleeces and long-sleeved options in the wardrobe for those colder months and specific underwear for specific activities in another cubby hole. And let's not even get started on footwear. And yet, there's a dominant colour in all of these. Black. Yes, because despite the occasional flash of blue and some hi-viz pink for biking exploits, there's a whole lotta black going on in my workout wardrobe. But it's something I wish I could change! And not least because when I get changed after working out I invariably put on - yes you've guessed it - BLACK!!!

So, while I was at Be:Fit the other weekend, I  checked out some lesser-known but far more colourful alternatives and here they are:

Tiny Fish

This is what happens when two stylish, over-achievers get together. Two close friends, two impressive career paths, lots of memories and now - one rather fab range of colourful leggings boasting two-way stretch, UV protection and breathability. Tiny Fish leggings come in capri or full length and are made from Italian Lycra and suit an array of sporting activities from yoga and dance to running and beyond. The leggings also offer muscle control and piling resistant technologies to keep your sporty look luxe for longer.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Be:Fit London - healthy inspiration to last the year!

At this time of year, there's a lot of pressure to be 'bikini ready'. Apart from the dubious overtones that carries with it (not least the issue of unrealistic photo-shopped beauty ideals for woman to beat themselves up about), health and fitness is never about the quick fix. If you want to maintain a certain level of cardio fitness, body strength and flexibility - and if you want to eat a nutritious diet - then you're in in it for the long haul. And you're going to need to keep up your motivation levels.

Which is where a three-day health and fitness 'festival' dedicated to woman comes in. Be:Fit London was recently home to some of the UK’s top trainers and classes in a bespoke fitness studio, and offered wellness, nutrition and health experts plus Olympic icons in dedicated kitchen and theatre areas. You could even get a free nutritional assessment. And just in case you got bored (unlikely!) there was also over 125 premium health and fitness brands to peruse from food and drink to fitness equipment, clothing and holidays. It's a great way to learn more, set yourself achievable goals and kit yourself out with everything you need to progress. And just what inspired me, you ask?

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Can you read a food label?

The other day I was on the treadmill in the gym and caught a tiny bit of 'Rip Off Britain: Food'. The very lovely Gloria Hunniford was talking about food labelling - and in particular explaining why sometimes quantities on food labels just don't add up (sometimes the ingredient percentages quoted can add up to more than 100 per cent - and even with my limited maths skills I know that can't be right!). The answer to this riddle is that often food manufacturers quote the percentage of that ingredient before it is cooked, rather than as a percentage that ingredient is of the final product as it is eaten. This might for example mean that a product such as jam could start off with a lot of fruit and some sugar, but when cooked, would lose a lot of the fruit in the cooking process but not lose much of the sugar. So, while you might buy such a product thinking it was 70 per cent fruit, by the time it's going in your mouth things could be very different...

It's easy to know what's in some basic food staples
For me it was just another example of how food manufacturers are desperate to keep information about exactly how food is made to themselves. They'd probably call it 'good marketing' - after all we all know certain food are high in sugar and fat - and kind of like to forget the details sometimes and just enjoy a treat. But the problem really is, that we can't really tell what is a treat anymore - hidden (and often unnecessary IMHO) sugars and hard-to-pronounce chemicals litter the labels of prepared food. Low-fat foods are a prime example of clever labelling - as they often have extra sugar to make the end product taste appealing instead - a kind of giving with one hand and taking away with the other approach. While in a perfect world we'd make everything from scratch, it would be nice if we could just grab and go from time to time - but I think those that are selling us that dream don't want us to ask too many questions. Ignorance is bliss after all!

But maybe it's time to wise up?

Monday, 13 April 2015

#Healthy inspiration from Barcelona

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

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

How long is it since you spoke to a fishmonger?

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

Monday, 30 March 2015

Cracking Easter craft

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

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

Oh Easter tree

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

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

Monday, 16 March 2015

Cycling in Swinley Forest

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

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

TRX - using your whole body

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

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

How does it work?

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

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

Monday, 2 March 2015

Sublime science - for a party with a bang!

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

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

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

Monday, 9 February 2015

How to pack a healthy lunch

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

Where to start

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

Monday, 2 February 2015

Confident when it matters

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

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

Photo credit: Antony Potts

Dressed for the barre

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

Monday, 19 January 2015

Are you ready to raw?

Who doesn't like fresh veggies?
Spurred on by my addiction to Nakd bars, and my menu boredom that kicks in every now and again, I recently decided to dabble with some raw food recipes. Officially 'raw food' is a term that covers food that has not been heated above 48℃. Many proponents of this way of eating believe that foods cooked above this temperature have lost their enzymes and nutritional value and that food in its natural state is free from the hidden nasties that lurk in processed food. Typically on a raw diet you'd be eating fruit and veg and nuts and seeds, but raw foodies also use raw nut butters and milks, cold pressed oils, seaweed, fermented foods (like miso) and vinegars and foods cured in vinegars. So how do you get started?

Monday, 12 January 2015

Winter skin - what not to do!

Don't let winter ruin your workouts
Image courtesy of tiveryluckyat
I think we can safely say that despite relatively mild Christmas temperatures, the winter weather is now here to stay - at least until March (sad face). And while it's a great opportunity to layer on some snuggly jumpers and enjoy a roaring fire from the comfort of your sofa, no one wants to emerge into spring looking more like a wrinkly chrysalis than a butterfly. But harsh winds and colder conditions combined with central heating and even super-hot showers will leave your skin parched and prone to sensitivity (and make you look older - eeeeek!). So what's a mum to do?

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Back in the saddle with Helly Hansen

In the continuing series of 'things my 8-year-old can do better than me' (cross reference swimming, the FlowRider and boogie boarding), on our last day of freedom/school holidays I went out for a bike ride with my eldest daughter. She's had a new bike for Christmas, her first with gears, and I've been trying to get out on my Pendleton I bought a while back but am daunted by the thought of traffic and (going down) hills. For me it's my first bike since I was about 11, when I ruined the 'shopper' my parents bought me scrambling over muddy bumps near the canal with a friend called Donna Gale. But since I can't improve my cycling unless I actually get on my bike (!) I thought the New Year period was a good a time as any to 'upshift' (that's a technical term - lol!) my ambitions! 

Having a child with you means that no one wonders why you aren't racing along at full pelt - and allows you to ride along the pavement for tiny bits when the road is really narrow (it's for her benefit you know - not mine). I chose a route that was mostly off-road anyway, and that I'd run along in the past - so I knew it well! In total we cycled about 7k, which was probably enough for her - and a good circuit for me to add on to as I learn some local rides. There was one tiny incline, which my daughter jumped off and ran up and then gleefully came down the other side at full pelt screaming 'wheeeeeeeeeeee!' and explaining that it's great when you don't have to pedal. Obviously I'm not allowed to jump off going uphill (and really it was barely worth it!) and use my gears and brake to ensure I don't go careering off at a speed I can't cope with (so any speed then really) in case I go 'endo' (look it up - it's more bikey lingo!).