Friday, May 30, 2008

Don't confuse me with Sharon Stone

... but what goes around comes around.

Far be it from me to suggest that bad karma causes natural disasters, but I like the think it was a good move to have given away my first Daring Baker's challenge to Recaro's niece as she and her friends partied on the beach.

Her mother (my sister in law) who lives just three doors away has just turned up on my doorstep to give me a tiramisu. She's been practicing for a dinner party and had to share. Isn't that great? I don't like English trifle - but I reckon Italians know what they are doing.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Playing tag

It's week three of the SLFP and I'm still running twice a week. Just a shame I'm not doing all the yoga and sit-ups that I intended. Ah well - I've done more than if I hadn't posted about it.

And I have to keep it up because I've signed up to do a 5km charity run on Sunday 22 June. I've even got a fundraising web page, I've posted about it on Facebook, told Recarro and I'm even going to tell people at work on Monday. I might even get a donation from the company.

There's no backing out of it. I'm doing the run and I'm going to finish it. If anyone fancies sponsoring me - all in aid of Cancer Research UK - you can click here to go straight to the fundraising page. Alternatively, you can just gasp in awe out how pink I can get.

I've also been tagged by working mum. She wants to see my tea cups, which is kind of sweet. These are our Moomintroll mugs. Whoever makes tea in the morning gives the other person the 'Stinky' mug and gives themselves the 'Love' mug.
We don't put our visitors through this sort abuse though. If you happen to call by, we'll offer you a cup of tea from one of the other Moomin mugs.

When we are feeling brainier we use our scientific mugs. However, I still don't know the circumference of the earth or how far we are from the sun.

Rose (our cleaning lady) and my dad get offered the Seaside mug. It's large but is also bone china. The Guiness and Espana mugs are for builders, plumbers, electricians, kitchen fitters and other tradespeople.

I need to tag a few of you know for this lovely game. Get with it Amanda, Suburban Correspondent and Trish at Pink Collar Living.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

and the winner is...

... the Reluctant Housewife.

Which just goes to show that good things come to those who crochet. I sent Amanda a box of these chocs too, so you can check with her that they are worth winning - I thought she needed the strength for her fabulous fitness regime (think supportive chocolates, not sabotage chocolates).

We had to leave one restaurant where we didn't think it would be a good idea to let her get down from the table and the Mokabon coffee shop when she just completely lost it. I think the coffee shop was too hot, too busy and just too much.

I carried her out under my arm, dragging the buggy behind me. Once strapped in the buggy, Recarro gave her a proper talking to. I was quite impressed. If she was 15, it's possible that she would pay attention, but I expect much of it went over her pink, sweaty, screamy head. And then, much to my embarrassment, I had to go back into the shop to buy the fabulous yellow baggy of coffee for this giveaway. The things I'll do for you, Reluctant.

But two out of seven isn't bad. Makes me think my threshold for toddler tantrums and general naughtiness might be a little higher than Suburban Correspondent and Scrappy Sue who both thought that I might have bailed out of all seven.

As if I'd let a toddler get between me and my next meal.
Reluctant - email me your address and I'll send your package to you pronto.

My first Daring Bakers' challenge

Inspired by the Happy Baker, I thought I'd brave the choppy waters of the Daring Bakers' challenges. I was terrified at the prospect. These people really know their stuff and seem to make the most astonishing and ambitious goodies.

To date, I've only ever made 'heavy' cake. I was a stranger to that lightness of touch which is essential if a cake is to rise, stay risen and get eaten. All too often, I've had to throw whole cakes away.

I wasn't happy with the thought of not being able to knock out a decent sponge. Training was going to be the way forward. Daring Bakers were going to be my personal trainers.

The Daring Bakers said bake an Opera Cake. Instead of the usual chocolate mousse and coffee buttercream, this was to be a lighter, more spring like version. I went along with this, because a) I am new to this game and b) I didn't even know what an Opera Cake was, so who was I to argue.

I had to make the cake at the beginning of May while the weather was gloriously sunny and we had lots of relatives visiting for lunches over the long May bank holiday weekend.

Incredibly, this cake turned out to be fabulous. The quantities in the recipe were vast - if I ever make this again, I'll halve all measurements. It took three days to make - all the filling on the first day, the sponges on the second and stacking them all up and the final topping on the third day.
It sounds - and perhaps even looks - complicated, but everything was easy. I made sure I didn't have Peaches in the kitchen with me, because I find I concentrate better that way. Don't know about you, but I find it's tricky to bake when she's clutching my legs, dancing on my toes and either turning the oven up or off altogether.

Recarro, Peaches and I all tucked into the trimmings off the edges of the cake. And then I cut the rectangular cake into a large square and a smaller rectangle. My mum came to visit and we ate all the smaller one with her.

My next challenge was to make a diet version of this cake. The quick and easy solution was to take it to the beach where Recaro's neice was entertaining friends and their children at a beach hut. They willingly accepted the calorie laden challenge of finishing the bigger cake. That surely had to save a pound or two off my butt and a kept the dentist's bill down as well.

Also, it has added to Whitstable's reputation for seaside jolliness. It made several people very happy to think that just as they are starting to wish for cake, someone might show up and offer them some.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Week 3 - The strangely lush fitness plan; 3 beautiful inspirations

Week one Week two

This might not be the toughest fitness plan you've ever read, but it is possibly one of the most realistic. This plan allows you a lot of flexibility for your own preferences, free time and general fitness. The tough part lies in staying motivated and making the best choices for your body.

Let me tell where I'm doing well;
  • I'm taking the stairs to the inner voice which chants 'stairs are my friends'
  • I am cycling and walking where possible - although that hasn't meant very much over the past week. It seems all journeys have been by car or we've stayed home.
  • I have finished a number of meals after Recarro. This is a huge achievement for me and I can be genuinely pleased about this.
  • I have run twice a week since starting this plan and I'm feeling good about the run I'm just about to do.
However, I'm struggling to get through my sun salutations - even though I know I feel so much more limber after doing just three or four. If only I'd been doing twelve every day - I'd have lovely stretchy limbs by now.

Water still seems like too much trouble. Especially when there's a beer or wine alternative...

As for not eating Peaches' food. I have to confess to already slipping back into bad habits. I'd better get a grip on this one. It's not as if I need chocolate buttons or baby crisps in my life. What makes it doubly hard is that Peaches finds it fun to feed me. If she gets hold of snack food, at some point she tries jamming some into my mouth. Just you try resisting a mini scotch egg at the end of a long day.

Over the course of the weekend, Recarro prepared a beach picnic of pate, gorgonzola cheese, ham, bagutte and wine. I didn't have it in me to tell him I was contemplating pregnancy-inspired diet tips. What was even better (worse?) was that he also cooked spaghetti vongole for dinner. I love clams - it really is just as well I'm not actually pregnant.

So the idea for Week 3 is to do three beautiful things;

First, is to say, 'Yes' to all things active. I've just agreed to run in a Race for Life event at Quex Park, Birchington on 22 June. I've said, 'Yes' to Recarro when he asked if I'm running again today. I'll have to make sure I say 'Yes' to my sun saluations tonight...

Next, is to try a bit harder. I'll be doing a far better job of resisting Peaches' food, drinking more water, running further and a little faster. In fact all of the things I've been talking and thinking about in the plan so far, will be done a bit better, more purposefully and more consistently.

Then, focus. Target the part of your body that bugs you most and exercise it. For the next week, I'll be finding time to do three sets of ten sit-ups every day. I want my waist back and this is going to kick start some muscle tone. If you are struggling for time and motivation, this focus will help you get going with exercise where you want it most. None of us are going to get a new body in a week, but keep going with these baby-steps and we'll get there soon enough.

Is there anything you are finding difficult about the strangely lush fitness plan, life, universe and everything right now? What are you going to do about it?

Swept away

I haven't posted for a week and I've not been reading either. And then I got writer's block - or at least, I couldn't decide what to write about first.

Then we had the bank holiday weekend, which meant that in Whitstable at least we spent a day and half in glorious sunshine on the beach. Barbecue, picnic, music, kite flying, paddling and sand castle making.

It was fantastic and I'm proud to say that I was so living in the moment that I didn't turn on the laptop once. I'm making up for it now though. I've got a few posts to get up here so that I can announce the winner of the giveaway.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Ever get the feeling they watch your every move?
If you've not already done so, don't forget to enter the chocolate and coffee draw. One more post to go and then I'll announce the winner.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Week 2 of the strangely lush fitness plan

Just because I'm giving away coffee and chocolates, don't think I've forgotten the strangely lush fitness plan. I have realised how difficult it is to introduce routine into a finely honed schedule of rushing around followed by lolling around in the precious moments left in the day.

In week two, I'm keeping things simple. First of all - here's a refresher on the basics;
  • spending a few minutes at the start or end of each day doing some sun salutations
  • taking stairs whenever possible
  • cycling or walking whenever possible
  • eating smaller portions slowly and drinking more water
  • finding 10 minutes to half an hour for exercise a couple of times a week.
Here are three additional challenges for the week;

Keep the exercise going. Tell me about your exercise plans for the week. How are you improving your general activity and what time are you devoting to exercise this week? Posting a photo or self portrait of some aspect of your activity would be great. This is all about inspiring you to keep going. I've bought myself a pedometer - just like CC! This will keep me interested in my activity levels for the next week at least.

Do not eat your children's food. Don't pinch their crisps, chips, dip or fromage frais. Don't finish the food they don't want to eat. Don't drink their milk. Do not eat their chocolate, sweets, candy or lollies. Eat with them by all means. Just don't eat for two. Even pregnant women aren't supposed to eat for two. I really struggle with this - sometimes it seems that Ellie has all the fun food.

Talking of pregnant women... was there anything in your pregnancy diet that would be a good thing in your current diet? More vegetables, more fruit? How about drinking orange juice with meals to improve your iron intake (and avoid alcohol)? Did you give up soft cheeses, yummy pate or shellfish. Consider re-adopting one pregnancy food tip - this is about getting you to think about your options more carefully and choosing well-balanced food.

Stay strangely-inspired, there's a world out there of lush clothes to fit into.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Window shopping in Ghent

Despite the lack of parks and the abundance of bicycles and trams all threatening to run a little girl down, I believe the good people of Ghent love children. (Though it's possible they love dentists more, given the way they serve small children orange juice in glasses edged in sugar...)

Not only are there hundreds of sweet and chocolate shops, there were masses of really lovely children's clothes shops.Ellie was very taken with a pair of sandles, but this shop was so posh that they wouldn't sell these shoes to us. They were too large. Phew. That saved us a bundle.

Here I pretended to take a photo of Recarro enjoying his first Belgian beer of the weekend, but in truth, I was taking a photo of the clothes shop behind him for you guys.
I didn't think about children's clothes all the time. As if my attention span would allow it with all this abundance of beer, chocolate and boutiques.

At American Outfitters, I was drawn to their easy list of how to be hip. But really, how many among us can make striped jeans work. I'm not sure I really want the lines of jeans to emphasise the curviness of my butt and thighs. Also, I have no idea what a cache-coeur is. It sounds like a marketing term for a best seller, pronounced in a very dodgy French accent.

Also, what is a vichy smock short. I think I must be a long way off hip. I'll have to confer with Don Mills Diva for much needed guidance.
Ghent shop keepers like to have a free rein on how they use their shop windows. Some fill them with junk utterly unrelated to what is being sold inside.

Others, get over excited at the possible use of a mannequin. But perhaps that's better than just filling the window of your umbrella shop with ... let's be wild here and suggest umbrellas!
There will also be many among you who are desparate to recreate that vintage 70's look in your homes. For those of you who have no time for modern taupe and buttercream and don't wish to dally with highlights of mint, sage or lavender, I've found just the shop for you.

You CAN buy retro wallpaper. You can recreate the kitchens of your childhood. In fact in Ghent, they have a number of shops dedicated to the stuff.

Groovy baby.

How many more miles?

Other countries do things differently. I love arriving in France and considering the possibilities of where to go.

Our route to Belgium took us through France's industrial north. Having left the crowded south east of England, I'm always struck with how much space the French have for vast factories. They don't seem to have to consider making their factories look attractive and they sprawl as far as they like.

Even if industrial planning laws appear to be easy going, it doesn't stop them going to some trouble to jazz up their bridges. About ten of them had a funky tiling thing going on. The next in the series were bright blue with zig zag red rails.
They also like to paint a picture of what you'll be missing if you drive past an exit.
It could be history, a beach, go-karting.
You'll notice we had our right hand drive car with us. Always funny and slightly dangerous to go somewhere and drive on the wrong side.

These signs get less frequent once in Belgium. But Belgium is also leafier and prettier. At least it appears that way from the motorway.

This is a photo for car lovers. We drove past seven audis in test-drive paint work. I think they were testing the fins - or at least I hope they were. They seemed to be taped on with duct tape.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

First things first. The giveaway!

Recarro is reevaluating our approach to holidays. He spent a lot of time trying to distract Ellie from the intriguing slopes and steps of shoe shops.
And from the steps outside cathedrals.In fact everywhere. He never lost his cool, but it drive him nuts.

You see, it didn't matter to Ellie what the weather was doing. Rain or shine, she just wanted to play. And play hard.

City breaks might have to wait a few year, but that's not to say we didn't have fun. I've got a few adventures from our holiday to Ghent to show you. But in the meantime...

Get your name into the draw. To win, tell me how many restaurants/bars/coffee shops we went into and then left before eating anything. Out of seven dining establishments which we walked blithely into - how many did we walk out of before even tasting so much as an olive?

You know the deal, you get past the 'easy' time of the first eight weeks when you can still take a sleeping babe in arms into a michelin-starred restaurant, past the still sitting in one place months and then reach not just 'toddlerdom' but 'I can scream really frigging loud over nothing at all' time which really starts to test your parenting skills in all kinds of new ways.

Yeah. We are there. Compromising our fine dining ideals . I never thought it would come to this. I thought we were invincible with baby-angel. Hah and double-hah.

Can't be bothered to say? Well think again, a bag (delightfully yellow-baggy) of freshly ground Mokabon arrabica coffee and a box of finest Ghentian chocolates are up for grabs.

If you have any doubts about the pedigree of these chocs, here's a photo of the workshop where they were made (glass floor from the shop through to the choco-cellar - that's my kind of cellar!)
The winner will be announced on my 100th post - just THREE to go. You all get a chance to change your entry just the once - any duplicates and there'll be a draw. I wish you could ALL win, because these chocs are delicious and the coffee smells incredible.

Road trip to Ghent

Satellite navigation is a mixed blessing. On the one hand it makes you think you can drive (if not walk) on water. But on the other hand, it did send us on a ridiculous route past the white cliffs of Dover. This meant we missed out train through the channel tunnel and delayed us by one hour.
Fortunately, this gave Ellie enough time to hone her shoplifting skillz. After dragging her loot back to the car, she settled into getting her paperwork done.
Before driving us through the channel tunnel.
She did get freaked out when the train moved. She could see through the train window when the train got going. Ellie really thought she'd made us move. Very cute.

Recarro is working on editing a bit of film to show us getting on the train. Not sure when I'll get to post that, so keep your eyes peeled.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Overnight babysitters ROCK

I'm here in Ghent blogging from the hotel. It's a beautiful city, I don't think I'm going to stop wanting to take photos all weekend. Of course, I forgot the cable for downloading photos from my camera. My complete travel post will have to wait till Monday (Tuesday, Wednesday etc), instead I'll post about something completely different.

Recaro and I went to a party last weekend. It was a friend's 40th birthday party held at the local football club. It was one of those parties that only childless people seem to have, a bit random, no food, people playing in their own rock bands. Incidentally, I don't think the birthday guy will always be childless, it's just where he happens to be right now.

Ellie stayed at Rose's house overnight, so we'd be able to sleep late in the morning. Though, in fact, we did get up and go to church. It's nice to do that without Ellie once in a while.

We didn't get home till half past one. We felt like kids again. All wild and free, cycling back from our night out. Except for the babyseat on the back of my bike. That cramped my freewheeling style by a smidgin (which isn't by much).

Time for another adventure

Tonight, Recaro, Ellie and I pack for our weekend trip to Ghent.

Where's Ghent?

Well obviously it's in Belgium.

Where's... okay okay. Here's a map.

Ghent is in the north west of Belgium so it should only take a couple of hours for us to drive there via the channel tunnel. As far as holidays go, we are again choosing the easy option, taking the car and not going too far - but at least it takes us to another country and that's always fun.

We plan to eat continental breakfasts, shop, drink Belgian beer (we'll let Ellie watch), have siestas in our comfortable hotel and all go out to dinner together in the evening. On holidays we switch Ellie on to her continental holiday routine. I expect we'll suffer for it on our return, but in the meantime we'll all have a good time.

I'm about eight posts away from my 100th post. I'm not planning to answer questions - though I'm happy to answer any that you have. Instead, I'm going to buy a 100th post giveaway or two from Ghent. No idea what this will be, but I thought you'd like the chance to get excited. Just what do they make in Belgium anyway - I've heard their chocolates are rubbish.

If you are concerned that all the Belgian beer might set back my strangely lush fitness plans, have no fear - I've been doing my yoga, drinking water, eating slow-ish and I ran a mile and half run this lunchtime. And don't worry, I've got more plans for you guys next week...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Baby steps to strangely lush fitness

This is a first week progress report on my strangely lush fitness plan. I'm feeling very motivated right now, so I'm making the most of my enthusiasm by taking up all my exercise opportunities.

My best opportunity for running is to go out in my lunch hour when I'm working in the office at a leafy green business park. There's a shower at the office so I don't have to feel grotty and sweaty for the rest of the afternoon. Not that I'd go running at all if there wasn't a shower in the first place.

I choose go faster stripes on my joggers for obvious reason. My green trainers cheer me up and make me go GO GO.

Because I'm a good girl I did some warm up stretches and headed off for a ten minute run round the block. I followed that up with two sets of 10 sit ups and the same again of leg raises. I was going to call it a day, but saw a fellow mum from the office taking a moment to sit nearby in the sun.

She's facing exactly the same get moving or look pregnant issue. She's also been going out for lunch time runs. I found her quite inspiring, so I did my 10 minute run all over again back to the office.

Then I looked like this.
Sweaty, but elated. I got considerably pinker over the next 10 minutes, but I'm alright now.

I wonder how the rest of you are getting on with putting the plan into action. Is anyone taking bets on whether Amanda ate her dinner quickly and went back for seconds? Jakelliesmom is planning to take the stairs to her office. Mine is on the third floor. Gulp. Will I, won't I, take the lift? And will Reluctant make it to her swishy, childcare-included gym?

The strangely lush fitness plan

You've buoyed me up with your support and interest in battling with the baby bulge. So I'm going to share my thoughts on the strangely lush fitness plan. First, let me explain my starting point.

The effect having a baby has on one's body is strangely shocking. People did tell me life would never be the same again once I had a baby, but not surprisingly, other mums never confessed that their tummies were quite different too. Also, noone said how annoying caesarean scars are too, but it's okay. I'll save that for another diatribe.

At some point most of us move on from watching every dip and upturn of their baby's weight, to gasping at our bodies' inability to 'ping' back to normal.

A friend of mine has indeed claimed that her mid-30's body did 'ping' back to shape. Her words. Of course, now she's living in Germany so I can't see the truth of this for myself.

By the law of averages, I suppose it's possible. But why not for me? That's all I'm saying.

So now, my plan is to get lushly fit - without having to spend a fortune on the gym, hire a personal trainer or giving up too much of my spare time which I'd rather spend with Ellie. This last aspect is possibly one which changes depending on the age and number of your children, but stick with me.

At this early stage in the strangely lush fitness plan, see how many of the following five goals you can squeeze into your life in week one;
  • Be more active than you have been. Whereever possible, walk or cycle instead of jumping in the car.

  • Embrace the stairs. Tough luck if you live in a bungalow. The rest of us should go up and down whenever we need to. Forget trying to be efficient.

  • Wake up to sun salutations. Or go to bed with them. Try and do 12 of these - but even if you only manage four, you'll feel more invigorated than otherwise. This video shows what a sun salutation is - and how to do it properly (by the way, I do NOT bend like the lady in the vid - at least not yet).

  • Eat slowly, drink lots (water or dilute juice - save the champagne for special) and no seconds. I really struggle with the eating slowly, but smaller portions are more satisfying if eaten slower.

  • Spot your opportunities for exercise. If you've only got specific windows of time free to yourself, think about what you could do. Run/powerwalk for 10/20 minutes? Swim for half an hour? As a mum, you are OBVIOUSLY an organising sensation. Pack your bag or get dressed in your fitness gear so that when your moment comes, you have no excuse. I'm refusing to buy gym membership because I don't have the time to make it worthwhile - but I can get out for a couple of 10/20 minute runs twice a week. Think about what it is you'd like to do and can find the time for.

If you want to sign up to the strangely lush fitness plan, post your comment here. Let me know how many of these five ideas you can do this week - and next week, there'll be more ideas and inspiration.

We'll be yummy mummies yet.

Monday, May 12, 2008

For the record; I am NOT pregnant

Two women (TWO!) congratulated me on being pregnant last week. I'd say they were friends, but I'm not so sure anymore.

One was the HR woman at work. The other was at a party (at the start, she wasn't drunk or anything).

I stayed composed, though I found it hard to speak after the party woman put her foot in her own over-used mouth. I was shocked to think my profile is looking pregnant. I'll have to do more sit ups.

Of course, it's possible I might have only myself to blame - apart from the fact that both of them might have engaged their brains before opening their mouths. After lots of running and exercising in January and February, I've been steadily indulging in all kinds of tasty foods over the course of March and April.

Not exercising is one of the worst things I can do. Actually that's not true, is it? I can easily think of a few other terrible things I could do, so perhaps not exercising isn't up there with the great evils of mankind.

However, I'm changing my weekly routine from today. I cycled Ellie to her childminder's and went to the swimming pool for a good 20 minute swim on my way home. I'll collect her by bike this afternoon too. For as long as this good weather lasts, I'll avoid using the car as much as possible.

Tomorrow, I'll be working in the office - but I will put my running gear in the car tonight so that I'm good to go out for short run at lunchtime. It was a mistake to break this habit back in February, but I'm going to shake off the negativity I've feeling about that and just start up again.

Also, I'm going to do a few sun salutations every couple of days. There's only one way to a lithe and supple body - and lounging on the sofa in front of the TV isn't it. I'm no yoga guru, but if I've learned anything about yoga, it's the doing it that counts. So even if the weather turns nasty, I'll still be moving about.

I'm going to carry on eating normally - changing one thing at a time is enough for the moment. It's a challenge to find the time and motivation for exercise so that's where my focus will be for the time being.

In the meantime, any recommendations on where to buy flattering, and shall we say - generously-cut - tankinis will be greatly appreciated. Somehow, I don't think eight weeks is going to be enough time to lose enough weight for a stringy, skinny-minny bikini, but at least I'll be able to move quick enough to avoid the bad mouths of HR and party woman.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

We're going shopping. Want to come too?

At least one of us was excited to be going to the butcher's and out to breakfast this morning. I don't think that someone was called Ellie. It must be tough to always have a camera in your face.Recaro took this delightfully flattering photo of us. Ellie's hiding and I've got my eyes closed. Also there was so much glare off the water that I've had to photoshop this pic like crazy just so you can see I have a head.

He's no David Bailey or Mario Testino.
After 20 minutes of tough cycling along the promenade, we make it to the butcher's shop.
Did you catch the name?
The special offers basically consisted of selling items such as Beef! Chicken! Pork! Sausages!

I realise now I should have moved from where I was standing (holding the bike and baby up) so that I could maximise the full comic potential of this sign.

On the other hand, I was in a good spot to capture a shot of Recaro throwing himself out of the shop head first.
Onwards to the paper shop!
Which is right next door to a very funny little old fashioned shop. I love shop names which name real people. This one sells second hand furniture, cuts keys and lots of household gizmos which until you see them... you don't realise you need them.
Imagine yourself standing here. Peering in through the yellow anti-sunshine plastic which is there to prevent the discolouring and fading of, waaaaiittt for it, window squeegees. In fact, you don't want a window squeegee at all. But on the other hand, I don't want this shop to go out of business. This always leaves me pondering if I should go and buy a squeegee out of local-yokel loyalty.
Then we had to wait for our favourite cafe, Tea & Times to open. We went to the beach, saw people we know and generally hung out until T&T was ready for us.
If there's a caption for this photo,
it goes something like 'Give me a milkshake, NOW!'