Saturday, 12 August 2017

Pretty nails and a relaxing bath - because you're worth it.

One of the things about being a mum on the go is how much it takes out of you. In light of this I've made a commitment to 'self-care' which was one of the strategies on a course I went on recently. I thought I was pretty good at taking care of myself what with swimming regularly and having Saturdays as 'my day' to do with as I please. What I realised was that I was rushing around to fit in a swim and using my free day to do chores while the boys were out. What I'm trying to do now is make proper time for myself. The other week I went to the theatre for pretty much the whole day - by myself - and loved it.

In order to convince you to take this self-care business seriously too I've been looking into some simple ways to help yourself to have a break and look after yourself better. I know I'm all heart.

Mavala Nails: 

One of the things I've treated myself to for a long time is nice nails and a salon brand I love is Mavala. The shades for this season are based on the Hindu festival of Holi with gorgeous bright colours named Pink City, Coral Bay, Blue Mountains, Red River, Rose Hill and Purple Beach.

My nails used to grow really long and loved painting them myself, but in recent years - well since I had my oldest son actually - they've been pretty weak. I've been using a Mavala product called Mava Strong to help strengthen my nails and it really does seem to be helping. With all the swimming I do it's inevitable that my nails will be soft and break, but this has made a big difference to them in the month I've been using it and it's a great base for the colours.

To finish off there is a fantastic top coat with a gel finish to really make the brightness stand out and it also helps the varnish last longer. A must when you are busy and don't lead a life of leisure.

Westlab Pure Mineral Bathing:

I'm not a bath person. I rarely take them and I have never understood the appeal of lying in one when a shower is so much quicker and - to my mind - cleaner. Of course this is fine until you want to actually relax and then a bath comes into its own. In the old days I tried bubbles, bath salts, bath oils and even those baths bombs that are all smell and cleaning up afterwards. Not so much with the relaxation.

The lovely folks at Westlabs, however, have given me a new found respect for baths and the curative effects of their pure mineral bathing range. I have heard of dead sea salt - of course - but hadn't ever tried it before so it was a real eye opener for me. I'm running again - ok I'm jogging, this body was not made for running - and one of the effects of this is that I have tired and aching limbs. A bath with reviving salts after a period of exercise is more likely to interest me than a soak in smelly stuff and I would recommend the Epsom Salt from Westlab. The 1kg bag is a really generous size and even if you are a hardcore exerciser it will last a long while. You don't need to use much and it's effects are gentler than the old school stuff I used to use that smelled medicinal and didn't do much.

I've mentioned before that I'm a very keen swimmer and the consequence of many hours in chlorine is dry skin. As I've got older my skin has become drier anyway and the swimming has added to this. The Dead Sea Salt bath is perfect for this and can be used on skin with conditions such as Psoriasis and Eczma too. It's gentle and healing while also being relaxing.

For total indulgence you can go for Himalayan Salt - which is also detoxifying. I think pink crystal salt is pretty special so you could even give this one as a luxury gift. Pop it in a nice basket with some nice chocolates and fizz with a pretty bow and you've got an indulgent treat right there. If I got that I'd be delighted !!

I'm going to be taking this muscle spray with me tomorrow for after my run. Ok I'm no Mo Farah, but  until I get home and get into a recuperative bath this will help with muscle recovery. It uses the same espom salt that is in the bath products, but with the addition of spearmint and eucalyptus so there is a chance that I will smell like a Koala bear !

If you get the chance to spoil yourself make the most of it. Treat it as you would a gift to someone else. Why not gift wrap something and make it an occasion ? After all, you're worth it.

Disclosure:The nice folks at Mavala and Westlabs sent me some products to try so I could tell you about them. 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Visit Winchester: A foodies paradise (with gin !)

Winchester is a place I know a little from visiting with mother-in-law for a celebratory afternoon tea. I also know it a bit from studying history at Uni. What I didn't know is that it is a big cultural destination and even has festivals and cultural ambassadors for the city. Visit Winchester invited a few bloggers to come and experience what they have to offer and there is so much to tell that this is the first of two posts I'l be writing about it.

Historic letter box 
On arrival we walked to the tourist information office and it gave us the opportunity to bask in the unexpected sunshine that we had not dressed for at all. Our first host was an official city tour guide who took us to see the beautiful cathedral and gave us a lot of the history including the limited time that Jane Austen lived there.

Alfred the Great 
Jane Austen 

There are some lovely touches to Winchester that are eccentric and unexpected. These bollards for instance are decorated in different artistic styles. There is a Mondrian and an Andy Warhol one and they do look pretty striking. They are located outside the City Museum which is the first purpose built museum outside London. We skipped it on the day we visited, but as I fully intend to go again I'm saving it for a future trip.

Having seen the beautiful sights and learned some of the history of the city we went to meet Gary Whiter of the Cabinet Rooms who is the Food / Drink ambassador. He took us to see some of the independent resturants and bars that are putting Winchester on the map as a foodie destination. He and his partner opened their chic bar having been drawn to the city by it's focus on organic, local produce and artisan gins. We spent a lovely afternoon meeting some of the people bringing wonderful food and drink to this historic location.

Flat Whites is based from a coffee van that built a loyal local following that has enabled them to see off a sandwich chain that has set up directly next to it. We spoke to the staff who told us that they also have a branch in Southampton so when I next visit the in-laws I will have to search it out.

Forte Kitchen is universally regarded as one of the best places to eat in Winchester although the chef / patron Ollie is suitably modest about this accolade. While we were there they were preparing for lunch service in a tiny kitchen in which they prepare simple, but ridiculously good food that requires you plan ahead to ensure you get a table. I will definitely head here for breakfast on my next visit - I hear the pancakes are amazing.

Ollie chef/patron at Forte 

Pie Carumba has the dual honour of being the best named place I've seen in a long while and having by far the best decor. I think my kids would love it here and Hubbie would definitely appreciate the menu. It's tucked away a bit so you do need to look for it, but I suspect it's a local's favourite. 

Chococo is on my list of heavenly places. On a previous visit to Winchester I spotted this shop and just stood outside drinking in all the chocolately goodness in the windows. This time we went inside and even got a chance to taste some of the delicious chocolate. It is really excellent quality so you don't need much to get a sweet hit, but honestly when it looks this fab how could anyone resist ?

I feel as though I've barely touched the surface of what we saw on the day, so there will be more in a future post. For now though I'll share a view from our walk along the river. We passed a weir and joked about making a future visit to properly take in the food places and drink some of the local gins. I didn't even mention the Ginchester festival !!

You can find out more on the Visit Winchester website and the social channels @King_Alf on Twitter and King Alf on Facebook under the hashtag #CreativeWinch.

Friday, 3 February 2017

All my sons - all of the time

I always envied those celebrity mums who would say thing like, "I stay slim running around after my children." and "I make special time for each of my children every day." The latter is even more impressive because Angelina Jolie has six of them !

It has taken me time to work out how to do it, but I have finally got the hang of spending quality time with the boys. At first I did the same things with them both which invariably led to one of them being bored and unruly which spoiled it for the other one (and me). Now I make time to do thing with them individually and tailor the activities to what they love to do. It's been a journey of discovery that has reminded me they are similar, but different and of the value of one to one time.

Last week I took Blue Bear to the theatre to watch Ben and Holly's Magical Kingdom on stage at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley and he loved it. He sat nicely throughout the show and joined in when they asked the children to shout out, although he didn't want to sing the laughter song. At the end he said, "more Ben and Holly Mummy." and I explained that as the are little children they had to go home to go to bed just like he did. He was very upset that it was over. It's so different from the first time we took him to watch a show and when the lights went down he freaked out and didn't want to stay. We took him to meet Sooty, Sweep and Soo after the show, but I think Hubbie was far more impressed than the boys were.

Brown Bear is a different kettle of fish and enjoys nothing more than a day out doing fun stuff like visiting Daddy at work. We went to the Science Museum at the end of the Christmas holidays and as his office is right next door we popped in to see Hubbie for lunch. I have always taken Brown Bear into London and we usually go to the London Transport Museum as it's one of his favourites. In the past we've been ice skating, on a treasure hunt and on a boat trip on the Thames. I have already promised him some one to one time during half term when his brother is at half term camp. It's important to him that we get to do things just us.

Before we adopted Blue Bear everything was about Brown Bear and he loved being the centre of attention. In the summer holidays we would go out and visit the London Transport Museum once a week and visit parks almost every day. We'd go to rhyme time, gymboree and stay and play and he had the busiest schedule of any toddler I knew. I was careful not to overload Blue Bear in the same was as we didn't want to overwhelm him. Helping him settle into the family meant taking things at a pace that would suit him. Even though they absolutely love each other now the early days were pretty tough to negotiate.

We took both the boys to London and planned lots of fun things like an open top bus tour and a boat trip. They bickered and fussed the whole time. What we hadn't accounted for was that Blue Bear wasn't used to days out and Brown Bear had already done all of those things. We needed to do things differently. This is where we had to take them on one at a time. By having one each and giving them special attention they respond far better and we all have a nicer time. For Brown Bear's birthday we went to Legoland and we made sure both boys had a fantastic day. At times we split up and did things separately and then we came together as a family and had fun being trainee firefighters.

When it works it can be amazing. After all I don't have a nanny or a personal trainer to bail me out when I don't feel like being mum. What I do have is a wealth of ideas about how to have fun with my boys.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Go Mum Go is kicking this year into shape

I have made a decision that my approach to 2017 is to live without fear. In that spirit I am taking on challenges and pushing myself. This includes applying for jobs that I love the look of, even if I don't think I will get them. I am saying yes to opportunities and volunteering.

So far I have committed to a few activites and I started a 5 week boot camp in January. I've done this before and it's hard work, but completely worth it. The post Christmas period can be so deflating so doing this really pumps me up and gives me strength and energy. It also motivates me to think about my health overall. This coincided with my giving up bread, sugar and alcohol for the first week of January to kick start the year with a fresh look at what I eat. I reintroduced bread the second week and then sugar the third. I've had a glass of wine tonight and last night. The exception to this was when we went out for my lovely friend's birthday and enjoyed a fantastic three course meal, delicious cake and wine.

Last week I also tried my first kickboxing class. I did try once before, but the teacher was intimidating and the other students scared me so it put me off for years. This time it was held at Blue Bear's pre-school by a great teacher who also runs classes for children - in fact I'm taking the boys to his class on Monday after school. I was in a lot of pain for a few days afterwards, but the best thing was that I gave it my best shot. I tried hard during the warm ups and even when I hurt myself learning a break fall I still managed to put some oomph into the punches. I'll be taking the classes throughout February so hopefully it won't hurt as much next time.

Somewhat rashly I've signed up to do sugar free February to raise money for cancer research. I'm pretty sure I can manage to do it, not least as it's the shortest month of the year. It's a good warm up for an event I did last year that really tested my will. Dechox for the British Heart Foundation. This involves giving up chocolate for the month of March with the added motivation that when it ends it's Easter not long after. Last year I found that although I was looking forward to eating chocolate again when April began I wasn't in a rush to reach for the sweet stuff as I'd been off it for so long I didn't crave it as much. Of course once I was back on it the old habits returned pretty quickly.

I've already talked about the Moonwalk in May and I'm in training for that already. Walking and getting fit to ensure I can finish in good time and hopefully without injury. I'll be walking in a team for a change so that will be great fun and help in keeping me going when it gets to the tough bits.

I'm making a good start to the year and am motivated to get stronger and fitter as the year progresses. I will keep reporting back on my progress and showing how to Go-Mum-Go !!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Roll up, roll up, Cirque Berserk is in town.

Theatre is one of my great loves and, fortunately, I can indulge regularly as we have some wonderful local theatres who kindly invite me to previews. Only this week I went to see a show with Hubbie and it was a complete surprise for two reasons. Firstly he rarely accompanies me as there aren't many shows he's really interested in seeing, but on this occasion he said yes. Secondly because I had no idea that Cirque Berserk even existed. It's a genuine circus that is adapted to suit theatre venues. If you remember Zippo's Circus you will be familiar with the founder of Cirque Berserk, Martin 'Zippo' Burton. I can recall Zippo's visiting schools when I was at uni so that children who might not have been able to see the circus otherwise could enjoy the show. 

The wonderful variety of acts includes performers who are the latest of generations of circus folk. They are from all over the world and many still perform in traditional circuses during the 'big top season' ie. the warmer months. As it was explained to me, it's not so easy to hammer tent pegs into frozen ground. 

Seeing a circus in a theatre like the Churchill Theatre in Bromley is a real 'wow' experience, especially as they don't use safety harnesses or nets and the aerialists in particular are pretty high off the ground ! From the moment the show opened it was breathtaking with non-stop action and incredibly evocative music. These were punctuated with visits from Tweedy the clown who is no slouch when it comes to circus skills himself . His repertoire includes juggling, tightrope walking and riding a unicycle (while juggling). 

There are tumblers from Kenya, a knife throwing act, the most phenomenal stunt team from Brazil who ride motorcycles inside a globe on stage at speed and with increasing jeapordy. We met one of the riders from Team Lucius during the interval and he explained that he has broken every bone in his body at some point. Once you've seen the stunts you will see why that is and why it's more surprising that he is actually still here ! 

I did take a video clip of the 'globe of death' stunt to show Brown Bear and he was open mouthed and wide eyed at the sight of it. I won't spoil it for you, I think you really should go and see the show in person. The tour continues from Bromley to Glasgow and during half term the circus will come to the New Wimbledon Theatre. This show is suitable for the whole family although younger children might find it a little long as just under two hours. 

You can find out more about tour dates and book tickets here:

Monday, 16 January 2017

Easy like Sunday morning

After the excitement of the snowfall last week we decided to have a relaxing weekend. It was quite cold outside so I planned some home cooking for Sunday that would keep us warm and cosy and also involve the boys. Brown Bear has always enjoyed helping in the kitchen so we decided to make some pastries on Sunday morning. 

I bought a Jus Rol kit and asked Brown Bear to check the instructions - he likes to look up the temperature and cooking times for me. It helps with his reading and also I ask him to check the cooking timer so there is some sneaky maths going on too. Mwah ah ah (evil mum laugh).

He loved the twisty carton and said, "Wow !" when these pastries pieces came out of the tube. I used some baking parchment to stop the pastry sticking to the baking sheet. We've had an issue with this before so I learned from my mistake.

Brown Bear laid out the chocolate slices onto the pastry sheets and carefully folded the pastry over the top. 

We decided to brush the pain au choc tops with milk to make them golden brown.  Brown Bear loved using the pastry brush. 

They look pretty good don't they ? 

A treat for Daddy - breakfast in bed on Sunday morning. 

It was only afterwards that we noticed we were supposed to put the folded side down on the baking sheet, but it didn't matter. The boys enjoyed them just the same.

Cooking with the kids is such fun and they love to eat what they've made. Now that Blue Bear is older and can understand safety in the kitchen a bit more I hope we can cook together too. I would recommend the Jus Rol kits as they contain everything you need and are simple to use. I have some lovely recipes that are really easy to make so I think we will start with cookies - they also taste great.

Do you cook with your children ? What are you favourite things to make ?

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Brave New World

I've set myself some ambitions for this year and one of those is to be more true to myself. I started this blog because when I look back at the adventures I've had since becoming a mum I realised that I've been braver than I thought I could be in so many things. I always wanted to learn trapeze, but didn't have the guts to despite taking impro classes in a venue called the circus space. It wasn't until I was on a mini cruise with Brown Bear that the opportunity to learn trapeze was there. He decided he fancied the kids club and I was left with nothing to do so I wandered to the sports deck and gave it a go. I was terrified. It was the least easeful thing ever if I'm honest, but I'm so proud to be able to say I did it.

Don't be fooled - I was shaking like a leaf !! 

The other day me and Brown Bear were watching Blue Peter and he said, "Look Mummy they're going skydiving like we did." I hadn't exactly forgotten, but it had escaped me how momentous that was. Not least as he was only 4 when we did it. It wasn't out of a plane - I wouldn't push my 4 year old out of a plane, I'm not a sadist - it was in a wind tunnel thing. We both had a go and it was exhilarating and exciting. He was the youngest child there and so brave to have done it.

On our summer holiday in Cornwall last year we had a surfing lesson together. I'd wanted him to have a go for ages and when he turned 5 he was old enough and he asked me to go with him. We had such a blast.

Since then we've done a park run - which he did not enjoy, but I held his hand so he could get all the way round and he was very proud to finish. He hasn't wanted to do it again though so clearly not a runner.

The bonding that comes from doing these things together is great. As well as being active and having fun we also now have in-jokes that he drops into conversation when I least expect them. It makes me smile when he does that.

I wasn't a risk taker as a child. It's not something that was encouraged in my family so I didn't really try new things or consider myself capable of doing much. I take a very different approach with my children. They are already so much braver than I've ever been and it's made me more adventurous as a result.

I am so delighted when they try something new and succeed at it. They do all the things I wish for them and more. Things like:

Dance freely and without inhibition

Enjoy the outdoors in any weather

Draw without any fear of it not being 'right' or 'perfect'

Choose clothes that they love and wear them until they are wet, filthy and (usually) full of holes

Make friends with children they've just met and play with them like old pals

Run up and give me cuddles and kisses when they feel like it and shake their heads vigorously when they don't want to

So this year I'm taking a leaf from their book. I'm going to be brave and silly and I'm going to enjoy being Mum.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The day we went to space and still got home in time for tea

With the boys being at different stages of schooling Blue Bear went back to nursery a day earlier than Brown Bear went back to school. I decided that we could take advantage of this 'bonus day' and we went into London. I gave Brown Bear the choice of either going to the London Transport Museum (which he loves) or to the Science Museum in South Kensington. He opted for the latter as it's not one we go to often and I don't think he remembers when we've been before. 

The Science Museum, Natural History Museum and the V & A are all close together and are free, but they do suggest a donation amount. On this visit we found there were queues to get in as there are now desks where you go through security, make a donation and can buy a guide book or map. I guess the voluntary donation system didn't work so well and this is how they ensure better financial returns. The cloakroom is also chargeable with a per item cost and if you want to take part in some activities such as watching an imax movie you have to buy a ticket. Otherwise the general museum is still free - as it always was - and my boy really loved seeing the spacecraft and the suit that Helen Sharman wore. We also went ooh and aah at the transport exhibits such as Puffing Billy and Stephenson's Rocket. I was very conscious of the time so we went to the 3rd floor to explore some of the interactive exhibits. Brown Bear particularly enjoyed designing a space rover and testing it on tough terrain to see if it would survive on the lunar surface. It took quite a few tweaks to the design for it to work, but it was interesting to see how he learned from trying different shapes and wheel placement. 

Designing a space rover

I remember going to the Science Museum with my friend Neil years ago - before children - and we spent a whole day there and only managed to really explore one floor and maybe a bit of another. I was optimistic thinking we'd see much in only a few hours. Also, Hubbie works right next door so we had arranged to meet him for lunch and that was even more exciting for Brown Bear.  

I've always thought we're so lucky to live close to London and to have all the fantastic museums practically on our doorstep. Now that Brown Bear is older I can take him to the places that I've loved so much from my own childhood. As we walked back to the station we passed the ice rink in the grounds of the Natural History Museum and I reminded him that we went there a couple of years ago for a skating session and hot chococlate and he used a penguin to help him get round the rink. "I don't need one now Mummy, I can do it myself." I agreed with him. 

We passed a busker playing Get Lucky on the saxaphone and he said, "That's my song Mummy." I took his hand and said, "Yes it is." and thought how lucky I was to get this special extra day with my boy. 

Monday, 2 January 2017

Making plans and tidying up

Hey hey hey it's 2017. I hope you have had a wonderful Christmas and New Year. This week the boys go back to school and nursery and Hubbie goes back to work. I will get the house back to myself again and I can really get ahead with my Marie Kondo style tidying. I got her book Spark Joy for Christmas and have been through the house like a buzzsaw already !

I've KonMaried our front room ! 

So are you making resolutions or setting goals for this year ? Do you have ambitions or dreams you intend to follow ? I know it's a cliche, but the start of a new year often encourages us to look at reinvigorating our lives, or taking up new hobbies. That's why we have Veganuary, Dry January, discounted gym memberships and those baffling part works. I would love to know at what point in the year you can no longer buy the cross stitch magazines or how many of the later editions they even print.

Hubbie bought a copy of Men's Health for the first time today and was up and our for a run before I even surfaced from under the duvet. I am not passing any judgement on this as a year ago when he took up cycling I scoffed that it wouldn't last and here he is commuting 13.5 miles to work on a bike every day. I'm glad I didn't make a wager on that !

Anyway, as I felt sorry for myself over Christmas lying on the sofa with a stomach bug - secretly thinking ooh that's a good start to my weight loss goal - I thought about what I want to achieve with the next random allocation of 12 months.

I'm taking part in the Moonwalk in May - it's a marthon walk during the night through London and this year is the 20th anniversary of the event. The last time I did this event was before Brown Bear was born and I was at least a stone and a half lighter than I am now, I was fitter and much less sleep deprived. In order to give it my best shot I went for a 3 mile walk today and I'm getting into my training plan early to make sure I'm fit and well before the big day.

Having taken time to be at home with my boys - which has been rewarding and tiring and maddening all at the same time - I now want to work doing something else. I've worked full time before, and before Blue Bear came to live with us I was working again, but now I have to find a way that fits in with all of us and make that a priority. I will keep you posted on my progress.

The best thing about being at home has been the time I've been able to spend doing the things I love. Writing, radio presenting and volunteering. I intend to bring you more adventures, fun days out and even some great things you can do for yourself. It's much more fun if you can share isn't it ?

Well, that's out there now so I have to do it don't I ?