Monday, 30 June 2014

Busy, Busy

Last week was crazy busy for various reasons, so I didn't manage to post anything here. It began with smallest daughter's First Communion and included three evenings in a row when I got home from work and had to go straight out again. Work is constantly busy - I love what I do, but we are very understaffed and it is pretty full on with no prospect of it getting easier in the short term. On the positive side I am working on a project to blog the local experience of the First World War, posting daily entries exactly one hundred years after the events they describe. I am working ahead so that I will have a few months done before it goes live in August. I have been interested in the Great War since I watched the BBC's adaptation of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth as a teenager, so I'm thoroughly enjoying the chance to dig deeper.

I was going to write more, but got kind of distracted by a bottle of Rekorderlig peach and apricot cider. The cider was very nice but has left me feeling too sleepy to have any coherent thoughts!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

What I Ate Wednesday

I discovered What I Ate Wednesday at Peas and Crayons just too late for last Wednesday but was all enthused so photographed my food on Thursday. The idea is to record everything you eat on one day a week - it can be any day you like - then post the results and link to Peas and Crayons on Wednesday.

Last Thursday was slightly untypical in that I bought lunch (I usually pack a lunch to take to work). The numbers in brackets are fruit and veg portions. I aim for nine or ten portions a day. Other than that I try to eat a varied, balanced and healthy diet with a reasonable amount of protein because I am trying to exercise more and persuade some flabby bits to turn into muscle.

Breakfast came in two parts. Before I left home I had a raspberry and banana smoothie made with coconut milk, a banana and frozen raspberries (2). I can't remember whether or not I added a scoop of unflavoured protein powder or skipped it out as this was only half of breakfast.

The second part should have been a bacon roll from the canteen at work, which I buy once a week instead of my usual breakfast, usually on Thursday. It turned out to be a sausage roll - I picked it up from the wrong tray but didn't notice until I got back to my desk and went to add mustard, by which time it was too late to change it. I have nothing against sausage in a roll, it just wasn't bacon!

I had to walk into town at lunchtime so bought a meal deal from Boots. This gives a main (sandwich or salad), a drink and a snack for a fixed price which often works out as quite a saving over the prices of the individual items. I got a salmon and prawn sushi rice salad...

... With a green smoothie (2) and a packet of vegetable crisps (1?). I also ate some cherry tomatoes (1) I had taken to work with me.

Mid afternoon snack was a Nakd apple pie bar. I love Nakd bars; they taste good and also contain an entire portion of fruit (1). Cocoa and orange flavour is my favourite. A healthy chocolate hit!

Dinner was a couple of salmon fishcakes from Waitrose, a corn on the cob and green beans (2).

Dessert was fresh pineapple (10).

And two squares of Tesco 72% dark chocolate.

I finished off the day with a chocolate flavoured protein shake made with coconut milk after going to the gym (I often go late, getting there about 8.30 to 9pm). Total fruit and veg count ten portions if I count the vegetable crisps - they may have as much fat and salt as potato crisps, but that doesn't stop them being vegetables. In the interests of honesty I also ate one marshmallow, just because it was there, and half a fish finger and a few grapes left by my daughter.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Purple Hair

I confess I am vain enough to want to cover the grey sprinkled through my hair - I may be old enough to be my small daughter's grandmother, but I'd rather not look like it. I don't like paying out the cost of having my hair dyed at a salon so I do it myself at home. I also don't like committing to a particular colour or running the risk of getting stuck with a colour I hate for too long, so I use a semi-permanent dye which is supposed to last for six weeks. In practice this gives a lot of scope for experimenting with different colours and I am now in a position to offer a piece of hair colouring advice.

Do not choose hair dye because you like the flavour.

More specifically, avoid "blackcurrant" unless you have thought it through and actually want purple hair. You would think I could work this out before putting the stuff on, but somehow I still succumbed to the fruitiness without properly considering the outcome. After all, it didn't look too purple on the packet. And "plum" and "dark cherrry" came out ok. On the other hand I should have learned from "dark chocolate" (oh, I love dark chocolate!), which was extremely dark and not very chocolate.

From now on, I am looking at the colour on the box and not the name! The purple is on its way out as I type and "chocolate truffle" is doing its stuff. Not that I have anything against chocolate truffles, but I put them out of my mind while choosing. Unfortunately I just noticed a large blob of dye which had landed on my wrist and washed it off too late. It now looks as though I have a large and slightly oddly coloured bruise. Maybe I have found a better use for "blackcurrant". Stage makeup?

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Shameless Shoe Shopping

I have been shoe shopping! In two weeks I bought five pairs. This isn't as bad as it sounds - I hope! - as they were mostly shoes I needed and the whole lot cost me under £50. I have never thought of myself as being a "shoe person" but over the last year or two I have been getting more experimental. I blame the friend who talked me into a pair of pink stilettos! Also these days I need both work and casual shoes - add in sandals for summer, boots for winter, and the occasional dressy pair, and it starts to look like a shoe collection.

Pair Number 1: The most boring. Brown boots for autumn / winter. I am short of casual boots to wear with jeans ("short" actually meaning I had none). These were £8 in the New Look online sale. I ordered a couple of different pairs to try and these were the nicest so I sent the other pair back.

Pair Number 2: Chunky black sandals with block heels and a double buckle. Primark £16. I bought these while shopping with eldest daughter. When I pulled them off the shelf she pulled a face and said "too young" (thanks, daughter!), but after I tried them on they got teenage approval. They are comfy, though a little heavy, and practical for work.

Pair Number 3: Flat black sandals. Primark £8. Can wear these for pretty much anything.

Pair Number 4: Casual / dressy flat sandals. Also Primark £8. I love these. They are comfy, summery and go with lots of different things. I noticed that when I went back to Primark a week later they had sold out. Three pairs of sandals might seem excessive in one go, but all I had were old flip flops and a pair of navy platform wedges which are just about wearable for work but not the most practical of shoes.

Pair Number 5: The wild card. Crazy blue heels. £8 in the New Look online sale. I bought them to go with the maxi dress in the bottom (blurry) photo. Thanks to the slight platform they are considerably more comfortable than they look. I don't think I would have ordered them normally but they were so cheap it would have almost seemed rude not to try them. I later spotted them in a New Look store still at the original price! And yes, that does make me feel smug.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Mostly Healthy Chocolate Milkshake

I am a breakfast person but I have at least one daughter who isn't (and I suspect her small sister may be going the same way). I have solved the problem of getting something down her in the morning and giving her energy to start the day with the Mostly Healthy Chocolate Milkshake.

* One scoop of good quality vanilla ice cream - I use Waitrose own brand Cornish ice cream. Anything where the majority of the ingredients are recognisable as food will do!
* Semi-skimmed milk - I use about 300ml
* 4 teaspoons of Nesquik hot chocolate powder. I compared the ingredients and this is identical to their chocolate milkshake powder, but inexplicably cheaper. It has added iron and B vitamins so I use it in preference to ordinary drinking chocolate.
* One 25g scoop of unflavoured whey protein powder

Whizz with hand blender.

The sugar in the Nesquik and ice cream is the only real downside to this, plus a bit of saturated fat in the ice cream - not a problem for a slim teenager. On the plus side it has calcium, iron, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin D, carbohydrate, packs a hefty protein punch, and tastes good. If I was making it for myself I would replace the ice cream with a banana to cut down on the fat and sugar, to add to my fruit and veg count, and to give some fibre.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Five Rules for Healthy Eating

... or How I Lost Weight Without Actually Trying 

In autumn 2011 I resolved that I was going to eat more healthily (and exercise more, but that is another story). As a 50 year old mother of a five year old I realised that if I wanted to be fit and active when she is in her teens I needed to take some responsibility for looking after my health. I had read The Forever Young Diet and Lifestyle by James and Joan O'Keeffe while on holiday - I think I picked it up as a free or very cheap eBook - and the eating rules it recommended seemed sensible and manageable. The main changes I made were:

1. Eat more fruit and vegetables - initially I aimed for 7 portions a day, now I aim for 10.

2. Eat wholegrains rather than white bread, pasta, rice or potatoes - wholegrain bread, brown or wild rice, wholemeal pasta and so on.

3. Include protein with every meal (including breakfast).

3. Drink well - stick to water, tea or coffee (unsweetened). No fizzy or sweetened drinks.

5. Cut down on junk - highly processed and sugary foods.

Most of the time I did pretty well with this, I think because it was not too prescriptive. By eating more good food I found I was less tempted by the junk, but if I really wanted something I ate it anyway. Most days I ate a couple of squares of dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more) and drank a small glass of red wine daily - still do! - so I never felt deprived of treats. Much to my surprise I found that within four months I had gone down a clothes size, six months later I was two sizes smaller, and over the following year I dropped a third size. From wearing a UK size 16/18 I now wear size 10/12, which still astonishes me, all the more so because I have not counted calories or followed any other weight loss plan. Over time my tastes have changed, and now I get as much pleasure out of a good salad as I would out of a pizza. Eating well has become an ingrained habit that I cannot imagine changing. 

Is it really this easy? Well, yes ... and no! Once eating according to these rules becomes a habit it is simple. The hard part is making the changes that allow it to become a habit. Initially it takes thought to work out how to fit in all those extra fruits and veggies into your day; to make sure that enjoyable healthy snacks are always to hand so there is less temptation to grab a biscuit or a doughnut; to find breakfasts that fit into the morning routine and keep you going until lunchtime; to work out how to throw together a quick healthy packed lunch to take to work; to stick to the wholegrains when other family members refuse to be weaned off white bread and pasta. I think it helped that I love food, pretty much any food, so was able to find plenty of healthy stuff that I enjoy. I suspect it would be harder for a picky eater. I also don't have any food sensitivities, so never needed to restrict any particular food groups.

Writing this I realise I could sum up the changes I made to my diet in one overarching rule - eat less bad stuff, replace it with good stuff. This means being aware of what is good - good fats, good carbs, low GI foods that will leave you fuller longer, and so on. Once that awareness becomes second nature it becomes much easier to make good food choices. I am now so enthused about this subject I could go on, ond on, and on ... 

Monday, 2 June 2014

June Goals

I like to think I can use this blog as a tool to keep myself accountable, although I suspect that may be wishful thinking. Caroline at Mrs M's Meanderings has posted a list of her goals for June which has inspired me to do the same in the hope of giving myself a bit of focus. So, this month I aim to:

1. Exercise at least four times a week, with at least two trips to the gym.

2. Get rid of at least ten bags of clutter. Even ten small bags would be good. We are drowning in stuff.

3. Deep clean the shower.

4. Try two new recipes for healthy snacks.

5. Fix the broken garden gate

It isn't much, but if I can manage all five I will be delighted!
Location:June Goals

Sunday, 1 June 2014

The Pieces of Me: An Introduction

So who am I, and what are the building blocks that make up my life? I am in my early fifties, and lucky enough to be feeling fitter and healthier than I did ten years ago. I am happily married and have been for over twenty years. We have three daughters. The eldest is 19, finished school last year, opted not to go to university and is working full time as a marketing assistant. Our middle daughter is 15 and in the middle of GCSEs. If all goes to plan she will be changing schools in September to take the International Baccalaureate instead of A levels. Our youngest will be 8 next week. She is physically petite, but in her head she is BIG! She is highly verbal and has a will of steel, yet can also be very shy and timid. She entertains and exasperates us in equal measure, and is utterly adored by her big sisters (and vice versa).

We live on the edge of Bedfordshire, within easy reach of London and easier reach of the new "city" (though officially a town) of Milton Keynes. After our littlest started school I trained as an archivist and, rather unexpectedly, have found myself working full time. I love my job, although it hasn't been easy recently due to the effect of funding cuts. I have a doctorate in medieval history and love that I am able to do something which allows me to use some of the skills I gained through that. It has also given me the opportunity to extend my historical knowledge into unexpected areas. At the moment I am spending a lot of time working on the First World War as we have a big centenary project under way.

I love music and play an odd mix of instruments, more by accident than design. At various times I play trombone in a brass band, flute in a concert band, and violin in an amateur symphony orchestra, though not all at once - too many instruments, too little time! Currently I am playing trombone and flute. Playing is both a sanity saver when I am stressed and also a lot of fun. I love to listen to a wide variety of music, ranging from rock to classical, though I'm not keen on opera and don't really "get" jazz.

Soon after I turned fifty I got serious about eating more healthily. As an older mother I wanted to stay fit and active for my youngest daughter and realised that wasn't going to happen by default. I made various changes in my diet - nothing radical, mainly a lot more fruit and vegetables, switching to wholegrains, and cutting down on junk - and was surprised to find that weight dropped off without any effort on my part. Over a couple of years I lost 30 lbs and went down three dress sizes. I'm far from skinny, with a BMI still slightly over 25, but I think I am a healthy weight. I have exercised sporadically, but decided at the beginning of this year it was time to get serious about that too. For the last few months I have been going to the gym pretty regularly, doing some yoga, and mix it up with exercising at home when I can't fit in a trip to the gym. I'm not totally there yet, but I am feeling fitter and stronger and determined to make it as much a routine part of my lifestyle as is my improved diet.

What else? I love to knit, especially socks. I have always been a reader, but these days find it too easy to be sucked into puttering around the internet and hard to focus on books when I get home from work tired. Mostly I binge-read when I am on holiday. I am a Mass-attending and trying-to-be-faithful Catholic, having converted in my twenties, but often fail miserably at living that out in practice. I feel that everything can be improved with a dash of humour, I talk too much, I love to spend time with friends, and I cannot imagine a life without wine and chocolate.