Wonder Women

Am I Wonder Woman? I do have the outfit in the loft (my 30th birthday party costume), although I don’t tend to wear it on a daily basis and I don’t have super powers as such but at times I really feel like I am.  Juggling a part-time office manager role, virtual PA work, once a month kids menu review for a website, this blog (less frequently than I would like) and of course I am still desperately trying to be a good mother to my 3 year old, who is only at nursery 3 days a week and my 5 year old son, who has just started school.  There is also a husband that I try at times to be a good wife to.  It all gets a bit overwhelming at times, I live in a state of constant tiredness and I rarely know what day it is but at the same time I really wouldn’t have it any other way. I love being busy and I need to be able to engage my brain, that is very important to me.

I am not alone, there are more of us than you can imagine and I’m really just discovering this.  I love the idea of supporting these wonder women and their endeavours.  I was inspired by meeting a woman who employs several part-time mums.  These mums are intelligent, creative women who couldn’t go back to their old jobs after maternity leave as their companies wouldn’t let them go back part-time.  These woman are focused and driven.  They are only at work three days a week so when they are there, they put maximum effort in.  However, going to work for someone else is not always feasible.  Not everyone is as lucky as me.  I only recently found my office manager position and it really is flexible, something other roles have promised in the past but didn’t deliver in reality.  Although having a wonderful boss who offers flexible working hours may still not be enough for some mums who are unable to cover the childcare costs.  Escalating childcare costs have encouraged some mothers to set up businesses from home while looking after their children. More and more parents are working from home, part-time and often for themselves. It is a trend that has given rise to the term “mumpreneur” – the stay-at-home mother who keeps one eye on the children and another on her business.  I admire these women so much, woman who are willing to take a risk in life and follow their passion.

My admiration made me want to do something, anything, to help support these woman locally.  There are lots of mummy groups on Facebook where mums share their worries about their babies and get great advice and there’s a real camaraderie at times.  I do have to say though that occasionally there is a certain amount of judgement and it is incredibly easy for people to hide behind a Facebook profile and give an opinion that they perhaps wouldn’t give in person.  I wanted a different group, a group that brings mums together but not because of their children.  I wanted the women that don’t just want to be defined by the fact that they are mums. They want to work, promote their businesses, even if they are not working they want to support others that are and discuss the things that make it hard to be a working mum.  So, with that in mind I set up a group for working mums in my area and I have been amazed at how many mums have joined so far. There was obviously a real need for this kind of supportive group.  I hope to arrange a little networking event next year to encourage even more support because, even Wonder Woman needs a little help sometimes….

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Don’t be shy, have a good feel………

A month ago I found a lump in my breast, I wasn’t checking I just kind of brushed past it while putting my vest on. I asked my husband to check, I don’t know why, I knew I hadn’t imagined it. I wouldn’t have been overly concerned in the past but in January 2013 someone very close to me, my auntie, was diagnosed with breast cancer and that changed everything.

She is someone I have always looked up to, especially in my teenage years, so I was utterly devastated by the news. She has always been strong and really I had no doubt that she would beat her breast cancer. She has beat it after Chemo and Radiotherapy but I don’t believe she will ever be the same. To the untrained eye she is back to her old self but I see I slight sadness in her eyes that wasn’t there before. It would be naive of us to think that after having cancer, facing death and enduring the horrendous side effects of the treatment, that everything can just go back to normal. She was a hostage of cancer and although she has been released, the fear is still there. The wounds on the inside can take a lot longer to heal than those on the outside but I really hope that eventually she can thoroughly heal.

So this is why I was a little bit more concerned, because it was all very fresh in my mind. I went to the doctor and was referred to the specialist breast unit. I got an appointment a few weeks later, it should have been quicker but there was an error with my referral which meant it took a bit longer than usual. My husband dropped me at the clinic and went off with our daughter so I was left alone with my thoughts.

I looked around at all the women in the packed waiting room and wondered what their stories were. Women of all different ages, reading, texting, chatting to a loved one next to them. I felt like I was one of the youngest in the room and that made me feel like the odds were in my favour. But, there is always that large part of me which is terribly morbid. I wondered how I would tell my loved ones, not how I would cope or whether I would survive. I was worried about them, my children, my husband, my family…..how would I tell them….in person…..on the phone?

My experience at the clinic was fantastic, they examined me and then carried out an ultrasound guided needle test where they take out a sample of the lump. They did it all at the one appointment which surprised me. The staff were lovely and the doctor said that she didn’t think it was anything serious and I just needed to come back a week later for the results. This put me at ease and I really didn’t have any anxiety about it at all. It turned out to be benign but I am having it removed at the beginning of January as it is uncomfortable and this means I don’t have to monitor it in the future.

I found my lump by accident but I will definitely be checking more regularly in the future as I hope you all do. If you don’t, go now, don’t be shy, have a good feel………

Sugar Free September – The End

Yesterday was the last day of ‘Sugar Free September’. Did I start today with sugar laden cereal or go for coffee and cake to help me stay awake after very little sleep (thanks to my son)? I could if I wanted to, the challenge is over but no, strangely I haven’t headed for the sugar…..

The last month has been a real eye opener. Thirty days of no sugar, pasta, bread and dairy. Thirty days of eating clean. I love a challenge and I’m pretty hard on myself so there was no way I was going to give in. Even last week, with 17 people in my house for a Macmillan coffee morning and enough cake for about 50 people. I didn’t so much as lick a stray bit of cake off my fingers. I’ve found it all pretty easy apart from those first few days. What I have really noticed is how many things contain sugar. I have had to cook pretty much everything from scratch. It’s made me look more at what I’m giving my children as well. I don’t have a problem with them having sweets or chocolate as a treat occasionally but I want to be the one who controls how much sugar they are getting. When you start to look at how many daily food items have so much added sugar you realise how it’s been taken out of your control and you are actually giving them much higher amounts than you intended. My major concern is sugar laden cereal and I am going to stop getting this for my children. It’s difficult because they have a routine of having milk and dry cereal every morning as a pre-breakfast and the proper breakfast is wholemeal toast, fruit or porridge with raisins (no added sugar). I am going to have a chat with them and hope they understand.

I didn’t take on this challenge to lose weight but the 10lbs loss has been an added bonus, I have also lost the following inches:

Bust 1 inch
Waist 3 inches
Hips 2 inches
Arm 1 inch
Thigh 1.5 inches

I feel good, less bloated, have more energy and I’m strangely calmer. I don’t know what I expected but it certainly wasn’t feeling like this.  My taste buds have definitely changed and a dried fruit bar that was a bit tasteless to me a month ago now tastes really sweet to me.

The future is the hard part for me, my idea is that I continue to live like this whenever I’m at home but if I’m out and really feel like a treat I can allow myself that. I can’t forget day two and three, going through withdrawal from sugar like it was a drug.  It was awful and I don’t ever want to go through that again. I want to keep that memory for as long as possible to help me stay on the right track. I am going to try to make some cakes that don’t contain sugar.  I’ve tried baking a few in the past and they have been pretty awful and inedible but that could just be my cooking, I’m certainly no Nigella.

So I want to leave you with some things to consider. Do you know how much refined sugar you are actually consuming? Are you feeling tired, irritable and bloated? Do you think it could be time to cut down your sugar intake…….

Sugar Free September – Week 2 1/2

Life got in the way last week so apologises for my late post.  Week two has come to an end, week three is in full swing and I am surprisingly still sugar free! It seems to be becoming second nature to me now. I am not tempted at all and don’t crave sweet things like I used to, the way I eat has completely changed.  I ate out for lunch one day this week as I write reviews on kids menus for http://www.welovebrighton.com and it was fine, I just didn’t have a dessert (my daughter did).  I am feeling very positive and upbeat even with more things on my to do list than there are hours in the day.

I still haven’t completed any of the exercises that are part of the challenge but I walked 2 hrs on Monday and 45 mins on wed as well as taking part in my little girls first dance class. She was glued to me so I had no choice but to join in.

For breakfast I alternate between a banana omelette (with ginger and cinnamon), scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and avocado, coconut milk yogurt with fruit and almond slices or occasionally I have my granola (No added sugar granola) with coconut milk and fruit.  I used to get up (between 6am and 7am) and immediately have a cup of tea and then breakfast.  Now I start the day with a big glass of water and then don’t have my breakfast (with my cup of tea) until around 8.30am.

Lunches are normally lentil Dahl soup, couscous with roasted veg, salad with avocado and sliced almonds or leftovers from the night before.

Dinners  have been gammon with masses of veg, chicken stir fry with brown rice, steak and salad, smoked haddock with stir fry veg, tuna steak with homemade bean salad or homemade chilli with brown rice.  I often have some fruit straight after.

You are not really meant to snack but I occasionally do with a handful of nuts, a coconut yogurt or a ‘raw bite’ bar which are delicious.  I’m trying to make this sustainable for me and to go from a grazer to only eating 3 meals has been difficult so I think a little snack every now and again won’t hurt.

I have lost another 2 lbs making me lighter than I’ve been in over two years.  I am shocked because I’ve been struggling with diets for the last two years, diets that have been hard work, diets that have left me hungry.

I will be coming back to you at the end of the month and right now I am a little nervous about this coming to an end.  While doing the challenge people will excuse the fact that I am not having a slice of cake or a dessert after dinner but in every day life its much harder to say no.  I know I shouldn’t have to come up with an excuse for people but its easier and better sometimes than coming across as a fussy eater or that you’re being difficult or boring.  Anyway I am not going to worry about that now, I will continue with the challenge and see where it takes me.

 

Sugar Free September – Week 1

I took on this challenge because honestly I love a new fad diet and that’s really what I expected it to be. I didn’t fully look in to what was involved, I just signed up. It is the ‘Sugar Free September Challenge’ with Rachel Holmes.  I thought I ate pretty healthy food, lots of fruit and veg with meat and fish but like many people I’m sure, I tend to ignore those biscuits, cakes and chocolates that I eat! I have to add that the last 2 months have been stressful. Moving house and my son starting school have meant stress, takeaways and chocolate.

Before I started the challenge I warned my husband of the potential rage that could be heading his way as it had with many of the diets I had tried over the years, that left me starving and craving naughty treats. He has been really surprised at the outcome so far….

The two days before I started the challenge, I consumed my own body weight in donuts, sweets, desserts, chocolate, more than I normally eat but it was the thought of not being allowed all these delicious things that made me want them more. This was obviously the worse thing to do because my body then struggled at first to give up sugar.

Day one was fine, I honestly didn’t struggle at all. I felt positive about things to come. Day two couldn’t have been more different. I woke with the worse headache and had to force my breakfast down through nausea. I felt so bad I had to come home from work and sleep, it was either that or throw up at my desk, it was that bad. Even once the nausea passed my head still felt like it was going to explode and no amount of medication helped. This continued to day three and I considered throwing in the towel. Then day four came around and suddenly I felt great, no sugar cravings, in fact my appetite was much smaller than usual. My energy increased even though I wasn’t sleeping so well.

I should admit that I haven’t done any of the exercises I was meant to do but I did walk 30 mins three days this week so that’s better than nothing. I have given up sugar, refined and natural (but not fruit) and pasta, bread and most dairy. This is all part of the challenge. I’ve been eating eggs, meat, fish, brown rice, potatoes, coconut milk and coconut milk yogurt, nuts, fruit and of course lots of vegetables.

As the days have gone on I have continued to feel amazing which wasn’t what I expected at all. I have actually found it easy. I even went out to dinner with my husband last night and while I didn’t have a dessert I did have a starter and main course. Alcohol is a judgment call, I was allowed to have it if I really wanted to (although not advised) but chose not to and it wasn’t a problem at all. Today I have spent the day as a volunteer for the Rockinghorse Appeal, helping children to decorate cup cakes. Surrounded by cakes, icing and sweets, and yet I didn’t feel tempted…..I don’t recognise myself.

An added bonus of this is that I have lost a surprising 7lbs in one week which is crazy. I feel amazing and the sleep problem has passed. I don’t know whether it’s the novelty of it, because it is still early days, but right now I feel like this ‘diet’ could really become a new way of life for me. I’m calmer, more relaxed and feeling so positive, let’s see if I’m feeling the same when I write next Sunday or whether the dreaded sugar has won me back.

Reflections…….Then and Now……

Today I supported my brother at a funeral of an old friend. A funny, kind, caring man who left this world too soon. We were told how, through all of his suffering he never complained and remained a real rock to his family.  I remember him fondly, spending time at our house when I was a young teenager.  He left behind two beautiful children and his wife read a speech written by his daughter, a part of which really struck a chord in me. She said that ‘although goodbyes are hard, you have to look at them not as endings but as new beginnings’. Wise words from someone so young.  It made me think of a Maya Angelou quote that I used to have pinned to my office wall at an old job ‘If you don’t like something, change it.  If you can’t change it, change your attitude.’ Life doesn’t always go the way we plan and it’s not always within our power to change things and we have to accept this at times.  While death is hard the one positive that it can bring, I think, is it makes you look at the life you are living and decide whether you need to make changes and whether you are living life to its full potential. It makes you appreciate the people you have in your life and it makes you reflect on the past, be it good or bad.

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently, reflecting on decisions I made in the past. I was invited to a school reunion and while I really wanted to go, a big part of me was scared to.  School didn’t end well for me, I won’t blame it on anyone but myself. I made some bad decisions, got my priorities wrong and as a result I lost most of my close friends. Sixth form was tough for me, by the end I dreaded every day I had to go in. I had alienated myself from the people who really mattered to me. This is one of my biggest regrets in life and something I’ve thought about a lot especially now we have the world of Facebook. I was happy some of my old friends accepted me on Facebook but in some ways it made things harder. Seeing pictures of them at each others weddings, holding each others babies etc. it makes me feel sad. It shows me everything I missed out on. So because of this I made myself go to the reunion and I’m so glad I did. I felt physically sick driving up, but when someone came straight to me at my car and was genuinely friendly it made me feel at ease.  Everyone was lovely and while it doesn’t change the past it helped me let go of my regret and move on.  It helped me change the ending of the story.

Life is too short and in the blink of an eye you can lose the ones you love. Spend as much time with your loved ones before it’s too late. It’s easy to use the excuses of a busy life but you have to make time, make plans and stick to them. Don’t put yourself in a position where you are regretting the time you missed out on. I ask anyone reading this to reflect on their life. Do you need to make a change or do you just need to accept the things you cannot change?  I think I need to do a little bit of both……..

Carry On Camping

House buying this year has meant that Mediterranean holidays are just a daydream right now. The reality is, four days camping in Sandy Balls. Yes, this is a real place! It’s in the New Forest but we didn’t get around to visiting the actual sandy balls so I’m still none the wiser as to the origin of its name.

I have very vivid memories of camping for my Duke of Edinburgh award as a teenager. Mostly memories of being cold, there were fun moments of course as my friends were there but the main thing that really sticks in my mind is being colder than I had ever been before. The zip of our tent frozen together, wanting to stay in the same clothes for three days to minimise the exposure to the elements, eating frankfurters for breakfast (why?!?!). Looking back it wasn’t that bad but being a teenager at the time meant it was obviously the worse moment of my entire life!!! I no longer exaggerate quite as much as I did then but my pure hatred of being cold is still very strong today and probably always will be.

Every inch of our large car was filled with bedding, toys, clothes, potty etc.  and we were ready to go. The journey was surprisingly pain free because both little ones slept for the majority of it. We arrived to the joyful sight that is, an erected tent. My dad and his girlfriend had been hard at work putting it up and judging by the need to drink wine at 4.30pm on a Thursday I’m thinking it was a pretty tough job. They were sleeping in their camper van and we were in the tent, I could barely contain my excitement at the four nights that lay ahead. Four nights in a tent with my husband and two wriggly children, four nights on an air bed, four nights of using the toilet block, who needs an all-inclusive resort in Lanzarote when you can have all this!

After unloading our essentials and exploring, we decided that we would eat at the campsite restaurant. I know it’s cheating but we were on holiday after all.  As I sat sipping Prosecco and eating an amazing Tapas I thought that maybe this camping business isn’t so bad after all. Of course I didn’t realise that at that very moment our air bed was slowly deflating in the tent. The first night was mostly spent awake due to the volume of my dads snoring coming from the camper van and the slowly deflating air bed and as I walked to the toilet block at about 6am I was mesmerised by the lodges that the foot path insists you walk past. You can hire lovely looking lodges at Sandy Balls. These lovely looking lodges weren’t so friendly though.  As I walked past they were taunting me with their curtains and lights, bathrooms and beds, and most importantly, heating.  They were showing off and my goodness they looked like heaven at that very moment in time.

The day was packed with outdoor play, swimming, pub lunch, indoor play and a wonderful magic show where my quiet four year old volunteered to go on stage and laughed so hard he could barely speak. I have never seen him like that before and it was a total joy to watch. The day ended with a BBQ, a few drinks and a Snickers bar, pretty damn perfect. The rest of our trip carried on like this, eating, drinking, hanging out outside enjoying each other’s company and there were plenty of crafts for the kids to do to (arranged by the campsite). Because dad had his camper van we got to sit inside for our morning cup of tea, dad and his girlfriend even cooked us a wonderful fry up one morning and the kids had a place to hide from the little thunderstorm while watching Frozen on the iPad.  Of course there were a few tantrums and fights but I’m pleased to say they where only involving the kids, and of course there was that ever deflating air bed that needed pumping up every night. It was cold at night but a pair of socks and a sweatshirt solved that problem and the weather was unusually glorious most of the time.

So I have to say that I actually enjoyed every minute of it.  I just loved seeing the kids spending time with my dad, exploring the outdoors and growing in confidence. It might not be the Med but my son said he wished we could stay forever and that’s good enough for me. I didn’t think I would say this but I would actually do it all over again although I think the lodges might be calling…..

Positive thinking – Are you helping yourself ?

There are hundreds of self-help books on the market that promote positive thinking. People turn to these books when they are in the middle of a crisis or struggling to get where they want to be in life. While I myself have never felt that the help I required could be found in these books, I do feel that the ultimate message is good and that people helping themselves is never ever a bad thing. I want to make it clear straight away that I am not talking about people with depression. Depression is a very real illness that you can’t just ‘snap out of’. It must be handled with sensitivity and care, and with the assistance of doctors.

Some people are luckier than others in what they are born into, but really it’s about our actions.  I struggle with people who feel the world owes them something. For most, things aren’t just handed to us on a plate, it’s about hard work, it’s about drive and focus. Discovering what you want and then doing everything in your power to get it, not waiting around for it to happen because it rarely does. Look at some of the great entrepreneurs like Sir Alan Sugar and Steve Jobs, they didn’t have privileged backgrounds but worked hard, had vision and have accomplished so much.

I have a friend who lost her mum at age 16, was passed around family members and separated from her sibling, a long and painful story but not my story to tell. She is now 19 has qualifications, a great job and pays her own way in life.  Even though she had every reason and every right to lack motivation and to give up, she didn’t. She pushed herself and she really is a true inspiration to me. There are times when she herself says she feels ‘lost’ but she just keeps on going. She has managed to turn her life around in the last three years and she has done it all herself, she should be so proud of what she has achieved.

Then there is Stephen Sutton, who I’m sure many of you have heard of. A brave teenager who has been battling an incurable cancer for three years. He has been making sure that the time he has left is being put to good use and has now raised over three million pounds for the teenage cancer trust (https://www.justgiving.com/Stephen-Sutton-TCT ). People like this make you truly grateful for what you have and give you motivation to go for what’s important to you.

I am not naturally a positive thinker, if I’m honest the glass is always half empty in my mind and I am really trying hard to work on that.  To help with this I set myself a little task.  Every day in April I had to note down at least one event that I needed to be grateful for, ‘Grateful April’.  At first I really struggled to find one item a day because my mind-set was to focus on the bad occurrences. After a week I was putting at least 3 good things a day and I honestly found that by concentrating on the good, the bad seemed less important. The good things didn’t have to be massive, some examples of mine were the sun was shining, an impromptu child free night out with my husband and a lie in until 7.30am (my son is usually up before 7am). Although a huge thing that did happen was my husband had a sickness bug and I felt no anxiety.  If you have read my post on Emetophobia you will understand why this is such a big deal to me. I could have looked at the negative but actually a negative situation showed me how far I’ve come with my phobia and that was by far the most positive experience in April.

While I don’t believe that sitting around thinking positively can get you what you want in life, I believe that positive thinking helps you motivate yourself to go get what you want in life and enables you to dwell on the negatives less.  Help yourself to help yourself, by believing, striving and achieving. Success is all the more sweet when you’ve worked for it.

Love for the 80s

I was only 11 in 1989 so I don’t remember the 80s and yet strangely I feel like I do. I feel so much affection for that decade. In my mind I was there but in reality most of what I know and feel about the 80s comes from American 80s movies. Last week we caught up with the rest of the world and joined Netflix. The day after it was movie night in our house, and my choice for a change, but instead of choosing a new release, box office, Bafta winning hit I chose Pretty in Pink. This is one of my absolute all time favourite 80s films (along with Heathers, a film which I can sadly quote most of the words). I didn’t particularly love any of the characters (apart from Iona who was quick witted, warm and changed her style daily), but it drew me in. I remember watching it in my teens with my friends, wearing our pjs and eating malteasers. As I watched it again last week I got that feeling that I can only describe as the feeling of coming home. That feeling of familiarity, security, comfort and happiness, I had to stop myself from smiling all the way through it. I love how a film, like a song, can evoke such strong feelings in people and take you back in time. Even after the film had finished, the soundtrack was going round in my head as I lay awake in bed. 80s films taught me that the clothes were awesome (although I do feel they should stay in the 80s), that hair (women’s and men’s) with that much volume took a lot of mousse, blow drying and hairspray to achieve, that there was a massive divide between rich and poor (in high school anyway), and that everyone drove cars that my husband now calls ‘classics’.

There was so much more to the 80s though, it was a decade of excess and the decade that we finally witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was the decade that really paved the way in technology to the world we know today, a world of mobile phones and home computers. We were introduced to such high-tech innovations as 8-bit gaming consoles (personally I could have definitely lived without these!), compact audio systems, mobile phones and portable listening devices. Where would we be today without some of these things, it’s hard to imagine.

It was an outstanding decade for music, the icon that is Madonna came on the scene. Who knew then that she would become one of the great queens of pop. Although Prince released his first album in 1978 it was the 80s that really saw the genius in him that now holds him up there among the greats. Of course how can I not mention Michael Jackson, he could do no wrong back then and we could not have predicted the controversy that would surround him in the future. There were so many great songs, so memorable that they have managed to stand the test of time and are still enjoyed en masse today, songs by Culture Club, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Duran Duran, Human League, Whitney Houston, Wham, the list is endless and no party is complete without a few of their tracks.

The 80s were cool, I hate to use that word but it really needs to be used in this case. I only wish I was old enough to have properly experienced all it’s greatness. I can’t change that so I guess I will just have to keep watching 80s films and listening to my Purple Rain album unless Doc really can create that time machine……..

Take a Pretty Picture

This morning I went on the beginners photography course with the City Photography School (www.cityphotographyschool.com). I took a train to London at ridiculous o’clock in the morning and wondered why I was putting myself through this. I got my camera for Christmas and have taken a few mediocre pictures on auto but any good pictures were really only down to luck. I was hoping this course would help me take my camera off auto and take some pictures I can actually be proud of.

I arrived at Waterloo with my fellow students, all of us looking like camera tourists with our huge SLRs round our neck, eager to see what the morning had in store for us. The sun was shining and London was looking at its best, showing off, asking to be photographed. The tutor, Andy Fallon, took us to our first location and told us a little bit about himself and it was reassuring to know that he is an actual working photographer with plenty of knowledge to share. He was warm, funny and really interesting, not what I was expecting at all to be honest. I was expecting a large booklet of dos and don’ts, but photography is very different to anything else I have ever studied. Instead of a class where you are just told what to do, we were told why we do it and what we hope to gain from those adjustments in our pictures. We discussed apertures and shutter speeds and then used our cameras to take pictures that illustrated how they affected the light and clarity. What struck me was how passionate Andy was not only about photography, but also about helping people get the best picture possible. The 3 hours flew by and I enjoyed every second of the course. The key is to have a direction and purpose for your photography and really think about your subject matter. Don’t just aimlessly take random pictures, think before you snap.

I went on the course hoping to learn how to use my camera, I left wanting to be a photographer. Ok I don’t really want to be a photographer but Andy did inspire in me a desire to take pictures that matter. Pictures that tell a story and have depth, and when I have managed that I will proudly show them to you all. I would totally recommend this course to anyone who has a camera and wants to take pictures a little less ordinary.