Sunday, 29 April 2012

Get fit and lose weight for summer: My diet tips!

Despite the rain and the wind battering the UK this April; I know what you are all doing.  All you women that have a holiday booked this summer; are mentally assessing your wardrobe and your weight.

We all do it.  It gets to April. There's a hint that summer is fast approaching.  The Easter school break comes and goes; and suddenly, the next big school holiday is the summer one.  It's time for heading to the beach and baring that skin in a swim suit.  Or bather.  Or cozzie.  Or bikini.  Or any number of other terms for the Lycra filled, no holds barred, shows every blemish and roll of flesh - piece of material that we all insist on wearing.

I'm doing it now; the assessing; not the holidaying.  I am sitting here with my entire wardrobe flashing through my brain, knowing I've put too much weight on over the last month due to consumption of at least two chocolate bars a day.  I know that I can halt the gradual weight increase by cutting back to my usual one bar of chocolate per day.  And I also know, that if I want to loose any weight, I'm going to have to cut out the chocolate all together; remember not to replace it with cakes and biscuits thinking they won't count; and I'll actually have to do some exercise.

I've always said I don't do diets.  I don't.  Not fad diets anyway.  All the methods my friends use: Atkins, Dukan, Slimming World, Rosemary Conley, Weight Watchers.  I have heard about them all.  I've watched people use them, loose weight, stop the diet, and throw the weight all back on again, until they, once again, start the diet, loose it all, and repeat the process in a yo yo fashion. 

If you are happy with the yo yo weight management system, then that's fine.  Loose the weight for the summer, put it all on again over winter.  Ensure to have two separate wardrobes.

Put I'm not happy with that.  I don't want to spend half the year craving food and stopping myself have eating what I love.  Life's too short.  Besides; that doesn't feel like a healthy long lasting approach to looking and feeling good.

So here's my 'diet'.  Here's what I do when I feel I have over indulged for a while and I need to get back on track.

There are two stages:

1. Halt the weight increase. 
That means I may feel a little hungry to start with.  My stomach will have expanded to accommodate my large food intact, so now I need to teach it to shrink a little again.  I need to do the following things:
  • Cut back on the sweet stuff.  Recognising that if I've already had a bar of chocolate today I really don't need another.  This doesn't mean I can't.  It means I take a second to remember that I am trying to adjust my eating habits slightly and make the choice then.
  • Making a few more sensible choices.  Picking lighter or smaller chocolate bars when I do indulge.  Or swapping for a biscuit (just one if I can manage it)
  • Eating a few more omelettes (because they fill you up for longer and reduce snacking).  
  • Drinking more water; particularly before and during meals.  Again because the water fills you up (reducing that hungry feeling) and dehydration is a major cause of bloating.  Who needs bloating on top of the bulge?

2. Encourage the weight to fall off
Continuing with the list above, I'll also add these things in:
  • Have soup for lunch at least once a week.  This fills you up (liquid does so more than solids) and thus reduces snacking.
  • Cut back on alcohol.  I love wine; but it is full of empty calories; so I try and have only one cherished glass at a time, with a maximum of one bottle per week if I am trying to loose weight.  
  • Increase the exercise.  That means anything from walking to school as often as is feasible, to playing chase with the girls in the garden, to getting out to the gym, the local swimming pool, out on a bike or to a dance or Zumba class.  For my review of Zumba click here.
  • Exercise even whilst doing other tasks.  There are stretches you can do whilst getting the dinner ready, arm toning you can do for 3 minutes before you settle down to watch the TV (or even during the adverts!) and bottom toning exercises you can do whilst cleaning your teeth (I always do this!  Check out how easy it is here)  
  • And always, always have breakfast.  There's an old saying which goes something like; "breakfast like a King; lunch like a Lord and dine like a pauper".  The idea is that you need the most calories and energy first thing in the morning to get you going, but hardly need any calories to get through the final 2 or 3 hours between your last meal of the day and bedtime.  So eat more at the start of the day to enable yourself to have time to use it up and burn it off.  I always have cereal for breakfast; but I've noticed that if I add half a banana to it, in slices, I don't get hungry mid morning.
And my biggest tip?
Use smaller plates.  It sounds crazy but really does work.

I am convinced that one of the prime reasons for women putting on weight when they settle down and get married (or move in with a partner) is that they begin to eat all their meals with a man.  Men need more calories on average.  They eat bigger portions as a result.  If you use the same plate size as them; you'll end up eating just as much.  Which is, of course, too much for you.*

Use a smaller plate.  You won't even notice the food you've not eaten. If you are anything like me you'll want to clear the plate.  My upbringing means my body is comfortable that it's finished it's meal when the plate is empty; regardless of how large, or small, the plate was.  I am used to clearing my plate, and we didn't have second helpings of the main course when I was growing up.  There just wasn't any need for making more food that was required.     

One final word of advice
 If you are trying to lose weight, remember this.  To lose weight you have to use up more calories than you consume.  You know this; don't even pretend you don't!  You know also that it will involve feeling hungry to start with, whilst your body adjusts to smaller portions.  This is the stage where you have to be mentally strong and remember why you are doing it.

And once you get to your ideal weight the battle isn't over.  Now you need to learn what level of food and exercise you need to adjust to, to maintain a static weight.

So don't do 'A' diet.  Do 'YOUR' diet.  Find your balance.  Enjoy your food.  Enjoy your exercise.  Enjoy your life.

That, ladies, is my secret. 


I am 5 foot six inches tall and a UK size 12 (US 10 - conversion chart here) usually.  This week I am a UK size 14 (US 12).  I weigh 11 stone 5 pounds (72.12kg - conversion chart here) at the moment.  I am aiming for 11 stone for a comfortable size 12, but really I'll be happier when I can run around the garden for more than 5 minutes without getting tired.

You can browse Amazon here for fitness products. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Tips for winding your baby

Does your baby scream every time they are laid on a changing mat?

Does your baby happily fall asleep in your arms, but scream the second they are laid in their cot?

There's a good chance they still have wind.

Even when they fall asleep in your arms after a feed and you wait a good half an hour before trying to transfer them to a cot, there's a good chance any screaming is to do with wind.

Our eldest particularly struggled with this, because it took us such a long time to work it out.  We'd wind her; she'd bring up some wind and snuggle into our arms, or up on our shoulder.  She'd fall to sleep.  Then we'd try and transfer her to a cot and the screaming would start instantly.  We thought it was all to do with wanting cuddles.  She'd sleep in her bouncy chair; sitting upright of course.  She'd sleep in her car seat. Sitting upright.  Spot the pattern yet?.  But she wouldn't sleep flat.  Eventually we learnt that she still had wind.

We discovered that we needed to test our winding success by leaning her back into a flat position whilst still on our knee.  If she started to scream, or arched her back, or pulled her legs up to her chest, then the wind hadn't all cleared, and we'd continue to wind her.

Sometimes she'd scream throughout the winding, and fling herself backwards whilst we were trying to sit her on our knee to wind her.  We learnt to stay calm and keep winding, because that was the only solution.

Some tips for good winding include:

  • sit baby up on your knee, leaning slightly forwards, chin supported with one hand (obviously away from the neck) and rub your hand repetitively up baby's back.
  • Whilst in this position, different rubbing techniques include using two fingers to snake up either side of the spine in a wave motion.
  • Alternate rubbing (always upwards) with panting on the back.  Three or four pants, starting low on the back and moving upwards are particularly effective.
  • Some parents find winding up on their shoulder easier.  The same hand motions can be used.
  • Don't forget to use a muslin to protect your knee or shoulder in case more comes up than air!
Just remember you are trying to ease a pocket of air out from their tummy upwards to their mouth.  So the most effective winding eases the air pockets upwards.

Your baby may start to fall asleep sat up on your knee (despite how uncomfortable it looks).  Don't be fooled though.  Gently lie them backwards, to a flat back position.  If they wake screaming, your job isn't yet finished.  Keep that winding going.  If, however, they stay asleep, your work here is done.  Transfer to cot and pop the kettle on quick!  You probably won't get long!

I hope that helps.

For tips on how to change a nappy click here.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Help! My child doesn't want to go to school!

Late on Sunday evening, the night before school was due to start a new term after the Easter break, my friend's five year old daughter took a tube of toothpaste, squeezed out three or four large gloops, and rubbed it all into her dry hair like shampoo.  All over. 

Her mother, understandably, was fairly upset.  It took four actual shampoos and rinses to get the bulk of it out of her hair.  Bedtime was somewhat delayed.

You'll obviously have worked out that this child wasn't keen on school.  It's nothing new; she's been coming up with excuses to avoid going to school for the whole 18 months she's been in attendance.  Luckily, her mum, being the sensible woman she is, hasn't let her daughter win this battle of wills.  Attending school is not a debating matter.  But, the daughter has obviously inherited her mother's fighting spirit and stubbornness, so it's a battle of wills that continues to rage.

Excuses have included;
  • I can only go to school when it's sunny.  
  • I've broken my leg. (she obviously hadn't).  
  • I can't find any socks (she'd hidden them all)
  • I can't find my shoes (she'd hidden those too)
There's no doubting she's got a brilliant imagination.  But mum has had mornings where she has had to take her into school in her pyjamas, uniform in bag, and carry her to the door kicking and screaming.

Ironically, once at school, all reports suggest that she enjoys it.  She is super bright; reading texts far beyond her years; but appears to socialise happily in the school environment.

Her mother, though, is starting to wonder if she'll ever go to school without fuss.

Can anyone help? 

Is this something that she will eventually grow out of?  Or is it a habit that she'll find hard to break?  Is there anything more mum can do?

What inventive things has your child done to avoid school?

Friday, 13 April 2012

The National Trust: 50 things to do before you're 11 3/4 years old

We have enjoyed some of our best days out at National Trust properties.  And my favourite memories of childhood are set outdoors; so I was really pleased to see that the National Trust's current campaign aims to get children back outside.

Climbing trees; building dams; making mud pies; digging for worms; these are activities that were pretty much all children did in the 70s, but which, in today's technology and health and safety obsessed age, seem to have disappeared, victims either to the lure of the DVD and games consoles, or to the wrap-in-cotton-wool mentality of parents.  According to the report commissioned by the National Trust three times as many children are taken to hospital having fallen out of bed, compared to falling out of a tree.  A third have never even climbed a tree and a shocking one in ten can't ride a bike.

You can pick up a scrapbook from any National Trust property and start ticking off the activities; then continue the fun at home; visiting the 50things website and earning points towards an explorer badge.  Although it would be slightly ironic if all the children simply 'logged on' to earn their badge, instead of actually getting outside!

This is a great idea; and if you want to get started; here's the list:
Sudbury Hall & the National Museum of Childhood, Derbyshire

1. Climb a tree
2. Roll down a really big hill
3. Camp out in the wild
4. Build a den
5. Skim a stone
6. Run around in the rain
7. Fly a kite
8. Catch a fish with a net
9. Eat an apple straight from a tree
10. Play conkers
11. Throw some snow
12. Hunt for treasure on the beach
13. Make a mud pie
14. Dam a stream
15. Go sledging
16. Bury someone in the sand
17. Set up a snail race
18. Balance on a fallen tree
19. Swing on a rope swing
20. Make a mud slide
21. Eat blackberries growing in the wild
22. Take a look inside a tree
23. Visit an island
24. Feel like you're flying in the wind
25. Make a grass trumpet
26. Hunt for fossils and bones
27. Watch the sun wake up
28. Climb a huge hill
29. Get behind a waterfall
30. Feed a bird from your hand
31. Hunt for bugs
32. Find some frogspawn
33. Catch a butterfly in a net
34. Track wild animals
35. Discover what's in a pond
36. Call an owl
37. Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool
38. Bring up a butterfly
39. Catch a crab
40. Go on a nature walk at night
41. Plant it, grow it, eat it
42. Go wild swimming
43. Go rafting
44. Light a fire without matches
45. Find your way with a map and compass
46. Try bouldering
47. Cook on a campfire
48. Try abseiling
49. Find a geocache
50. Canoe down a river

I'm afraid I'm fast approaching 40 years old and there are still 7 things on this list I haven't done yet.  I'll enjoy discovering those with my children.

Can you guess which ones?  Which have you done?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

I have found the best jeans ever for mummy tummies!

Monsoon Farah Regular Jeans £45
I have discovered the best pair of jeans ever.  This is no easy feat.  I have been looking for jeans that fit me properly since, well, since I worked out that the boys in school preferred jeans to the flowery skirts I thought were trendy in the early Eighties.  

Even before I had children I struggled to find jeans that met my stringent criteria; stay up throughout the day; don't gape at the small of my back; be the right length.  I realise that these are completely unreasonable criteria.  They must be, because if they were sensible pre-requisites then the designers would have addressed them before now.  

However, it appears I am alone in my requirement to keep my jeans up on top of my hips and certainly alone in the wish that they didn't show off my pants at every possible opportunity.

Of course then I had children.  My pre-baby body was always larger at the hips, with a slim waist.  But now I have a tummy that certainly isn't concave, and so I discovered that, short of wearing braces with my jeans, I was unlikely to find any that stayed up without a belt.  

Therein lies yet another problem (I told you this was a feat) any mother that has a similar (overstretched) tummy from giving birth will know that belts, when worn on jeans that like to sit on your hip bone, are the most uncomfortable belts in the world when you try and sit down.  The belt rams itself into the folds of flesh that you wish you could magic away with 200 sit-ups a day.  Oh if only we had the time.  You end up having to hoist the jeans back up onto your waist before sitting down.  Not an attractive sight, and second only to hoisting tights up to the correct position by lifting one leg at a time into the air in an unseemly manner.

So, in a world that designs it's jeans for (so it appears) size zero models only, where would I find a pair to meet my needs?

It turns out, that I found them when I wasn't even looking.  When I had, in fact, given up the search in favour of actual trousers.  I found them at Monsoon; one of my favourite stores.   

The Farah jeans are beautiful.  They come in a short or regular length, which is great for me, as the regular is perfect.  Usually regular lengths are too short for me, and long lengths only good when I happen to be wearing 4 inch heels.

They don't gape at the base of your spine.  At all.  

They completely hide my mummy tummy.  Completely.  Without digging in at any point.  If you think they may look too high, don't worry.  They don't.  And I always wear tops that fall slightly over the top of my jeans anyway, so that's not a problem.

When I tried them on in the store I nearly cried.  I extend my heart felt thanks to the shop assistant who pointed me in their direction.

They fit!

If you have curves and usually struggle to find jeans that fit, try them.  You won't be disappointed.

I provide only one caveat.  These are 2% elastane, and so do make an attempt to slide down your hips.  You can feel them trying (if you stand up for a long stretch of time and are specifically concentrating); but they don't get far because of their shape.  I love them.  A lot.


This review is my honest opinion of jeans that I discovered in store and paid for myself.  I would be more than happy to test other products for Monsoon, should they be interested (wink).  I purchased the Farah Regular Jeans £45.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Chatsworth House Easter eggstravaganza! A review

If you are thinking of heading out for the day this weekend you wouldn't do much better than a day out at Chatsworth House.  The home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, this beautiful house is set in the heart of the Peak District in Derbyshire.  From the house, to the extensive gardens and grounds, to the farmyard and adventure playground, the farm shop and animal handling; there is something for everyone here.

And of course it's EASTER!  So this week, until the 15th April, Chatsworth plays host to the Easter Bunny (and cheeky he is too).  There are Easter Egg hunts throughout the day and with 2,500 mini eggs strewn all over a field (per hunt) it's a child's paradise!  There are Easter crafts in the Oak Barn, so that you can keep out of the rain (if it threatens) and make those all important bunny ears for yourself, or an Easter card for Nana.

The Easter Eggspress is trundling around the grounds at regular intervals throughout the day and it's from this brilliant tractor ride that you may spy the Easter Bunny himself.  Do you think he'll come over and say hello?  Of course he will.

If you manage to fit in an Easter Egg Hunt, Eggspress ride and craft session, you still need to leave time to enjoy the refurbished woodland adventure playground with new Rope Challenge finished only last week.

Tip 1:  But remember; take everyone's bucket and spade, wellington boots and spare clothes.  That sand gets everywhere and for some reason the children love the water!

For us, these activities filled the day; but you've still got the animal handling, milking demonstrations, farmyard daily talks, tours of the house, formal garden tours and a separate, more subdued, egg hunt in the gardens; where the eggs are less edible!

If you take a picnic, then a day out for 2 adults and 2 children (3yrs to 16 yrs) would set you back £17.10 for a family ticket entry to the farmyard and adventure playground*, £3 for car parking, £10 for four seats on the Eggspress and free entry into the Easter Egg Hunt (though you must remember to ask for your Egg Hunt tickets when you pay.  Easter crafting is free.  That's a total of £30.10 for a family of 4.  You'll also come home with children wearing bunny ears they've made themselves and with pockets full of mini Easter eggs from the hunt, as well as small bag of mini eggs from the Easter bunny!

On the basis of the smiles that were glued to our two girls' faces all day today; that's £30 well spent.

Tip 2:  HOWEVER, it's a very good idea to either arrive early (the farmyard opens at 10.30am, so be parked by 10am at the latest and queueing at the farmyard gate); OR, even better, book online and print your tickets before you arrive.

If you don't pre-book and arrive at around 11am, you'll be queueing for up to an hour.
If you do pre-book, there's a separate queue for that and you'll waltz right in.  (Chatsworth House members also get to use the fast queue!)

For details of the Easter activities and to book your tickets; click here

If you are travelling from further afield you can stay in Chatsworth's historic holiday cottages to give you more time to take in the beautiful surrounding countryside.  You'll find fine food and a bed and breakfast at the Devonshire Arms in Beeley; or indeed at the Devonshire Arms in Pilsley on the Chatsworth Estate.
And a final tip:  Take extra coats, jumpers, hats, scarfs and definitely gloves this weekend.  The temperature had dropped suddenly today and out there, in the Peaks, you notice it.  Go prepared.  The car park is so close, it doesn't matter if you end up popping them back in the car, just remember to get your hand stamped when leaving the farmyard, so you can get back in again!

For other ideas for crafts and baking activities to keep the children entertained this Easter please click here.


*£19.80 with gift aid resulting in a £2.70 voucher back to spend in the shop or restaurants.  If voucher is used, net cost is £17.10.  £18.00 without gift aid.

Please note:  this is an independent review based on our family's experience of Chatsworth House on Friday 6th April 2012.  No payment, gift or encouragement of any kind has been received by this author.  This blog prides itself on unbiased honest opinions of products and services.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Disney on Ice: A review

So is it worth the hassle to take two small children out on a Friday evening, past their bedtime, when they are worn out from a busy week, to a large ice arena?


Just remember to get organised to ensure it's the special evening you planned!

I was thrilled and delighted to win a family ticket for four from the women's on-line community website "In the Powder Room" to go and see Disney on Ice at the Sheffield Motorpoint Arena.

I had previously looked at the tour dates and prices and we'd decided that we couldn't quite afford it.  So it was wonderful to win this prize.

Despite being on a Friday evening, when the children were already worn out, they luckily managed to have a short nap en-route to the Arena, which refreshed them enough to have a great night.  Once we arrived at the car-park we had a picnic tea in the car, (what was I saying about planning ahead?) and changed them into their princess outfits (also packed in the car much earlier in the day). Rapunzel for the 5 year old, complete with long blond wig, and Snow White for the 3 year old, complete with red cape.

I'd been misled into believing it would be cold in the Arena (due to the ice rink, of course) so we went in with cardigans.  It was lucky we did.  Not because of the cold inside (it was, of course, really warm), but because it was chilly when we came out.

The show was brilliant.  It ticked the boxes easily because all eight of the Disney Princesses appeared in the show.  Yes; there are eight!  Meaning that, it really didn't matter which your child's favourite was; they were going to see her. *

There were circus skills on display; with sailors swinging from ropes (on Prince Eric's boat of course); and clowning around (who else but the Ugly Sisters); but most of all there was great professional ice dancing topped off with the most famous of all narrators; Mickey and Minnie Mouse, ably helped by Goofy.  And if this wasn't enough, the magic of the evening was supplied by none other than Tinkerbell!

This show is great fun, with something for all children (young and old) to enjoy.  Even I was open mouthed at the fire-breathing dragon (Maleficent obviously) and we cheered Prince Philip on as he leapt about with his trusty Sword of Truth.

I would have loved to have got some great pictures to show you, but we weren't ring-side.  However, if you want to see a clip, up and coming Disney on Ice shows around the world can be found at the Disney on Ice website, simply select your country and see what is currently touring.  

Other Disney Live shows in the UK can be found here

It's truly worth a visit.

And if you are visiting Disneyland Paris this summer, click here for some hints and tips to help your holiday go without hitch!

*I have since been corrected by my knowledgeable daughter who informs me that Mulan and Pochohontas were not in the show, therefore not all of the princesses appear; just most of them.

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