Thursday, 18 December 2014

A Review of the Year - one Monthly Resolution at a time

When I decided to abandon New Year's Resolutions in favour of 12 small monthly changes, I had no idea it would work so well or I'd enjoy it so much. This is a round up of the changes:

January To sort out and enjoy my haphazard collection of toiletries. I still don't make enough pamper time and I've still barely made a dent in some of those sweet smelling lotions, mousses, butters, scrubs and gels but at least I now have them organised and tempting me to open the lids and dip in rather than gathering dust, unloved and forgotten.

February Go the Extra Mile. This was a literal extra mile to build my comfortable running distance up from my usual 3 miles and it has been fantastic. I felt a huge sense of achievement when I completed my first Half Marathon  in October this year.

March Plank 40 minutes for Lent. The planking challenge was tough - really tough - but I did it and proved to myself that anything can be possible if you set your sights on it and put in the effort.

April To run with my husband. I mostly run with my daughters and I love it but running with my husband has now become something of a special time for both of us. Last weekend, we ran our local Xmas 5K fun run together in festive dress and I thoroughly enjoyed myself (especially when redeeming the free beer vouchers we were given at the finish)

Photograph by Duncan Murray

May The CHANGE It somehow seemed fitting to include the menopause in my monthly changes! Although my body is ardently hanging onto the last vestiges of fertility, I am still determined to power through and embrace the new challenges of a maturing body.

June Just Get on and Do It It is so easy to find a million reasons to not do something. I am getting very much better at ignoring those reasons. It is amazing how much you can achieve if you make the decision to just get on with it.

July Try new recipes I am really loving trying new recipes. I have perfected two of my favourite desserts - sticky toffee pudding and chocolate brownies. I have made a Dundee cake for Xmas (all gone  already) and discovered a pear crumble cake that satisfies my dad's non-sweet tooth. I even had a go at making lemon curd when I had an unexpected glut of lemons.

August Forgive myself Sometimes, despite my very best intentions, I fail. This month I failed to implement a change and in doing so, inadvertantly made possibly the biggest and most important change I have made all year - that is to forgive myself when I  get things wrong or don't live up to my own expectations.

September Read More Books The literary part of me has received much enrichment from a whole range of books - trashy novels, classics, modern literature, misery memoirs and even a bit of non fiction. It can be frustrating sometimes if the light is not bright - even with my reading glasses I can struggle to focus on the text. For those occasions, there is always the kindle loaded with the Game of Thrones series - on the embarrassingly large font setting!

October Try Something Different I loved being part of a new initiative in our town - singing in a 'pop-up' choir to co-incide with the first local arts festival - and sharing the experience with my daughters. We are on the look out for more projects to get involved with.

November Pole dancing Many years ago, my husband surprised me with a gift of a pole after I expressed an interest in pole dancing. I think he had visions of being entertained with erotic dancing and would in all likelihood be happy if I simply walked around it in high heels and skimpy lingerie. For me it was more about fitness and strength and connecting with my sensuality. I practised in private and never offered to put on a show for his benefit. I might have been more inclined to treat him to a demonstration if I'd been any good at it! I quickly realised that it is physically challenging, it hurts when you get it wrong (I have had some impressive bruises!) and I am very aware that my face contorts with concentration and the sick feeling I get if I overdo the spinning. I am certainly not the effortlessly graceful dancer I once imagined I might be!

Not one to be put off, I thought it was about time to resurrect my ambition and dedicated my November change to doing just that. I found some instructional videos on YouTube and started again from an absolute beginner's perspective.

I have learned from my running the importance of technique and posture and applied this to the pole. I broke the simplest spin down into tiny steps and worked hard to master it. I also know from my running that if you keep trying, you are bound to improve. I did improve but realised that I am a long way from where I want to be.

Following on from the success of the 2014 monthly changes I decided that my 2015 resolution could be: Learn to Pole Dance - 1 move a month for 12 months. This time next year with 12 moves in the bag, I should be performance ready!

December To have a simple lovely Christmas For this I am taking inspiration from my 6 year old daughter who wrote a Christmas planning list for me:

She seems to have it all covered!

Monday, 8 December 2014

The first mince pie of Christmas

I felt justified wearing my Christmas socks this weekend as two excited children decorated our tree, an unexpected gift of home made mincemeat arrived and I had the pleasure of attending a Carol service and Charity concert both featuring the vocal talents of my amazing daughter Charis (along with a good injection of seasonal celebration).

My older daughters always remind me that I would not let them anywhere near the baubles and fairy lights in Christmases past. The tree had to be immaculately decorated with perfect symmetry and  adhere to a strict colour theme. Nowadays I am much more relaxed and enjoy watching my two little ones dive in and turn a plain conifer into a magical work of art. I admit to not being able to relinquish my control entirely - I provide the baubles I want hung rather than giving them a free choice of the countless decorations we have accumulated over the years and once they are in bed, I might just reposition the odd offending bauble (or two!)

It took a lot longer than usual to dress the tree this year. Addy was so excited that she literally jumped up and down after every successful positioning of a decoration and Dylan was intent on using his  remote control vehicle to transport baubles from box to tree. It was a delight to watch but not the most efficient use of time.

And time was tight.

On both Saturday and Sunday evenings, we had engagements at my daughter's boarding school.

Babysitters were organised, glad rags donned and we set off on the Saturday to see Charis perform with her chamber choir and an A Cappella quintet in a concert raising money for a charity whose aim is to provide loving, family based care for all children currently in institutionalised settings around the world.   Understanding the plight of the orphans and abandoned childen was heartbreaking and in stark contrast to the jollity of the evening's entertainment. Charis was superb as always, especially with the quintet, performing one of her own Xmas arrangements as well as a brilliant rendition of Hark Hear the Bells in which she was barely able to take a breath for more bars than I could count. In fact, she was so accomplished and confident you could be forgiven for mistaking her for one of the teachers rather than a student. She has come a long way from the odd little girl who wouldn't talk that she once was.

There were mince pies and mulled wine during the interval. My first mince pie of the year is always a bit of an event for me and this was a lovely way to mark the occasion. The mulled wine had the right smell but looked muddy and tasted foul. I am looking forward to finding the right moment for mulled wine at home (a non muddy version) and mince pies made with my treasured little jar of home made mincemeat.

On the Sunday, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and White Christmas were swapped for Christmas Carols and Bible readings in the school chapel. It was a lovely service and the choir sang with haunting beauty. I had forgotten to take my reading glasses and didn't stand a chance in the dim light of seeing the tiny print on the order of service that would have helped me with the words of the carols that required participation from the congregation. I am always surprised by how many of the words I actually know anyway so I sang along in the glass shattering range I reserve for church and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Things got easier during the candlelit part of the service. My little candle shed enough bright light for a miraculous restoration of my sight (and dripped enough wax on my hand to be slightly disconcerting!)

The busy nature of the weekend meant that the kids missed out on their bathtime and I failed to get the costumes for their school play ready. It was a mad dash this morning trying to make them both look vaguely respectable and stuff suitably coloured clothes and tinsel into separate bags to transform them into a twinkling star and a snowflake. I had hardly finished congratulating myself for getting them to school before the bell when I noticed that one of the mothers had provided a shop purchased full star costume for her little thespian. I didn't even know such things existed! The bag I was about to hand over with a sad bit of gold tinsel started to seem a bit inadequate. Then I remembered Dylan telling me that he doesn't even want to be a twinkling star - he wants to be a twinkling shark.

It made me feel a bit better.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Brighton Brookes 10K - real women drink pints, eat cake and run a lot

I saw somebody recently wearing a pink hoodie that had the slogan "Real women drink pints, eat cake and run a lot"

I honestly believe that "Real Women" come in an infinite variety of guises that may or may not include all or none of the above. However, I am a woman who is proud to drink pints, eats cake and runs a lot.

On Sunday 16th of this month, I ran.

I was one of 3,196 runners that turned up on Brighton seafront at 9.30am to take part in the Brighton Brookes 10K. The weather conditions were perfect - cool, no wind and even the odd golden glow of sunlight breaking through the somewhat ominous black clouds that held onto their watery load until well into the afternoon.

The start of the race was near the pier. Competitors had to run 1.5km out towards the Marina and back with the remaining 7km being out and back in the other direction to finish where you started.

From my position near the rear of the throng, it took 4 minutes to actually cross the starting line which meant that the front runners were on their way back in what felt like no time. It was exciting to see the lead car clearing the way for the elite athletes and the fiercely competitive faces of the contenders for first place. In their wake was the seemingly endless stream of runners, amongst them my husband who shouted his encouragement to me as he passed.  I became a part of that stream as I reached the turning point and ran back against the people behind me. It was quite a novelty to see so many people behind me! I am usually plodding along at the back.

I felt really good running. I remember the first 10K I entered and being very nervous about the distance. The psychological boost of having achieved a half marathon is amazing. I know I have 13 miles my legs, so 10K? No problem!

As I passed under the inflatable finish arch and started the second out and back stretch of the course, I could see the Brighton traffic snarled up due to the road closure. There was a little bit of guilt but mostly I felt quite important. This busy road was closed for me (and the 3,195 other runners of course but at that moment I was only thinking of me!)

I took it upon myself to thank the marshals I passed. It helped to punctuate the long stretch of road ahead and it was nice too see their appreciation of the acknowledgment.

When I heard the familiar sound of the lead car, I got myself in a good position to check out the front runners. They were fierce and they were fast and they looked so angry. It was a stark contrast to myself  - slow but often unable to contain the grin on my face because I am loving it so much. Their world of running is so completely different to mine.

Hubby was looking good as he passed with a cheery wave for me. It gave me a little boost but it still looked an awfully long way to that second turning point.  As is if often the case when I'm running, I start worrying that I'll never make it and then suddenly I'm there. There was a significant psychological advantage  to be running back to the finish at last - add to that the slightly downhill nature of the course at  this point and I was away!

I was overtaking a few people and running against the flow of people behind me who were now widely spaced out and each fighting their own endurance battles. It felt great.

The pier came in sight. I tried to pick up my pace and maybe managed a fraction of an increase. I had already had a very busy start to the weekend and it was far from over with my father in law waiting for us to visit him and a 5 hour journey still to come. I couldn't find enough energy in my reserves for a fantastic finish and face what we still needed to achieve. I settled for just finishing.

I saw my husband coming back to run the end with me but I wanted to finish on my own. Shouting don't run with me made me lose the rhythm of my breathing and made me feel guilty that I had rejected his support. For the first time in the whole of the race I started to not enjoy myself but the finish arch was so close now that I quickly lost myself in the moment and my legs felt strong as they took the finish line in determined strides.

I was grateful for the banana and the water that were handed to me and collected my medal and a new personal best time for a 10K.

Reunited with my husband, who was not at all put out by my rejection, I watched the remaining runners finish.

In contrast to the half marathon I completed, I did not witness anyone running out of fuel and collapsing. The inflatable finish arch, however, did! It was comical to see the marshals desperately trying to hold the arch up high enough for runners to duck underneath to finish whilst another tried to refill the pump engine with petrol to get it blowing again.

It was a wonderful, well organised, well supported event. The winner finished in an amazing 30 minutes and 41 seconds - about the time it takes me to run half the distance on a good day. I finished with a big smile in position 2,862 with a time of 1hr 06minutes and 30seconds. Not a bad morning's work.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A Bristol Reunion

Some weeks ago, I received a message from somebody I hadn't seen in thirty years suggesting a reunion of the housemates I lived with during my second year at Bristol University. How I came to be living with these people was pure chance.

I struggled badly during my first year when I quickly realised that degree level chemistry bore little resemblance to the chemistry I had enjoyed at school.  I loved being away from home but academically, I was not thriving. I suffered with depression and although outwardly I may have seemed perfectly fine, I was not coping well. I persevered with the workload but completely failed to give any thought to where I might live for my second year. By the time I realised my error, friends who may have been willing to share a house with me were already sorted so I wandered to the Accommodation Office alone to see if they could help.

There was an advert in the window. A house share for 8 were looking for 2 more students to make up their number. A chap who I recognised as a bit of a loner from a neighbouring Hall of  Residence was reading the ad. We got chatting and decided to put ourselves forward as the 'two'.

And so I went to live with six complete strangers and someone I vaguely knew.

We did not stay strangers for long and in the way of destiny, one of those students became an incredibly important person in my life. (I married another and had four daughters with him but there is no happy ending to that particular thread!) We all went our own ways.

The idea of a reunion was incredibly exciting. My ex husband, father of my four daughters was not part of the reunion and neither was the only other girl in the house (someone I never really bonded with) or the chap I met looking at the ad that started the whole adventure but a fellow chemist and close friend of the house was. Six of us in total. Six students now in their fifties with thirty years of life lived since we had last been together.

I don't know if it is being fifty that has given me a new perspective on life and a new confidence or if it is more to do with the fact that generally I am in a good place with a husband I adore, four incredible grown up daughters and two wonderful little ones that give me nothing but joy. I never once worried about what my old housemates would think of me with the inevitable grey hairs and wrinkles or if we would have anything to talk about after the first few minutes of niceties. I did worry slightly about the logistics of child care, getting myself to Bristol and the fact that I needed to be in Brighton the following day with my husband for a 9.30am start to run the Brookes 10K race.

Nothing is impossible. I planned to drive down to Swindon on Friday night to stay with my lovely friend Rose and take the M4 across to Bristol on Saturday morning. One of my girls was to take the Saturday nightshift looking after the little ones while my husband caught a train to Bristol. We would then drive down to a hotel in Gatwick (hopefully before midnight) to get a good night's sleep before an early start to Brighton.  Another of my girls was to take over the babysitting leaving us free to run our 10K then visit the father in law to help him with a few jobs. A 5hr drive home to Shropshire would mark the end of a very busy weekend!

The thing I should have been the most worried about was the Friday night drive to Swindon. An abandoned vehicle on the M5 meant a LONG delay. But I survived.

It was wonderful to be back in Bristol. Some parts had changed beyond recognition since my student days but other parts were achingly familiar causing memories that had lain deep in my brain to jolt to the surface. I chose a very familiar landmark to wait for my friends - The Wills Memorial Building.

I sat outside and watched the steady flow of pedestrians passing me by. Once or twice I caught sight of a salt and pepper haired gentlemen and wondered if it might be who I was waiting for but there was no recognition. And then I saw them - the band of five - marching up the road towards me. It was a glorious sight. They were certainly no longer the boys I remembered but the smiles on their faces and the twinkles in their eyes melted away the years until it felt like the most natural thing in the world to greet them with the sorts of hugs you don't want to end.

Fast Forward thirty years...

And Now

We reminisced, we caught up on thirty years of career and family news, we laughed... a lot... and I immersed myself in the company of these five men for whom I have the deepest affection.

I feel so blessed to have people like this in my life - people I might never have known were it not for that ad in the Accomodation Office window. Interestingly, none of them could remember placing the ad which makes me think it must have been my ex husband who was responsible for it. I wish I could thank him for that.

Photograph by Jeremy Randell

Monday, 17 November 2014

A Hallowe'en in Pictures

In quiet moments during the past few weeks, I have composed many posts in my head. Unfortunately for my poor head, the time to sit at my computer and commit these ideas to text has not been readily available. A post about Hallowe'en circles then crosses the path of a post about my latest running exploits as I try desperately to clear enough space to think about what to cook my kids for tea! For the sake of children's diets, I really need to start rounding up the wayward words and spill them out onto my computer screen.

So it begins...

I love Hallowe'en. In many ways, I prefer it to Christmas. I find skulls and spiders far more appealing than snowmen and sparkles. If it ever actually snowed at Xmas, the snowman thing would make more sense to me. Spiders and skulls ALWAYS make sense. And then there's the difference between providing  a few  trick or treat sweets compared with the outrageous expectation that we should be spending hundreds of pounds on gifts to put the same smile on the faces of friends and family. Hallowe'en all the way!

As well as dressing up, our Hallowe'en this year had spooky food (how I wish I had taken a photo of my daughter Charis sucking brain shaped jelly up through a straw)

 pumpkin carving,

 arts and crafts,

 scary story telling by torchlight

and a special adventure at local place of interest, Hawkstone Follies, where the trees are tall and gnarly, the heights are enough to make your legs wobble and the caves are dark. Perfect.

An unexpected stand out moment for me this Hallowe'en was the Mummy Contest, where 17 year old Charis and 4 year old Dylan 'volunteered' to be wrapped in toilet tissue. Dylan refused to leave his bandages  on long enough to be properly photographed but game Charis had a little dance in hers to show the look off to full effect. The real fun started after the loo paper was shed and Dylan decided that "a sandpit of Mummy skin" was excellent fun!

The pumpkins are now in the compost and costumes and decorations are packed away in the loft for another year. There are probably still traces of bog roll under the sofa.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Tickle & Giggle Peppa

Amidst the darkness with the clocks going back and the general Halloween mood, it was quite refreshing to receive a product for review that was light hearted and fun and unashamedly cute. I am guessing that there has been a TV advertising campaign because both my little ones knew exactly what this was and what to do with it as soon as they saw it.

It's Tickle & Giggle Peppa!

I had to act as referee as both children fought over who got to tickle the lead character from the popular animated series Peppa Pig. Once calm was restored, they took it in turns to tickle the tummy and hear Peppa react with giggles, snorts and phrases. When I suggested we do a short video to show people the new toy they were very keen. The video did not turn out quite how I imagined but it made my little boy giggle even more infectiously than Peppa when we watched it through together. 

I'm sure fans of Peppa Pig will love this toy. It certainly added a whole lot of giggling to our Halloween.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Pop Up Choir

With the kids back at school this morning after a wonderfully busy halloweenish half term, there is a definite feel of the year rushing wildly to its conclusion. Looking back I can see that I have achieved a lot over the months. Some of these achievements have been driven by substituting New Year Resolutions with a monthly challenge to change something for the better. I still have two months left - two more challenges - hopefully two more things to be proud of.

For October, I  decided to have a go at something new.

The town where I live was having a go at something new too. In an ongoing commitment to raise its profile as a regional centre for arts, sports and culture, the Drayton Arts Festival was launched. This event ran from Thursday to Sunday at the end of October with all sorts of activities and performances on offer throughout the town.

On the Saturday, I accompanied my daughter Liberty to my favourite pub (didn't need much persuading) to attend an Open Mic poetry reading session organised by the local Writers' Club, of which Liberty is a member. Tears streamed down my face as she took her moment and read her poem Mum is a Bitch, No Wonder Dad Hates Her to a rapt audience. A gentleman came up to me afterwards to let me know that I wasn't the only one who had cried at the heartfelt beautiful words.

Another event was a performance from a Pop Up Choir. I had seen an advert appealing for choir members saying: Please Join! All Welcome! No Auditions! No ability restrictions! No need to read music. This sounded like something I could do! The fact that the choir was to be lead by a family friend well known for his sense of humour and easy going nature was a bonus. I asked Liberty if she would be interested and before we knew it, we were at the first rehearsal.

It isn't strictly true that this was 'having a go at something new'. I was in a choir at school too many years ago to count. It was a shockingly awful choir. It did not seem much of an over reaction when the sixth form boys put ear plugs in their ears during our rendition of "All in an April Evening" in morning assembly. Even the teachers were grimacing... except for Miss Nunn, the music teacher,  who waved her arms around enthusiastically and ineffectively to conduct the caterwauling cacophany which somehow, to her ears, sounded marvellous. We only ever did the one performance!

I love to sing. I sing all the time - in the shower, in the car, doing the housework...

I do not love to perform.

Singing in a choir seemed like a good way to do something I love in a more structured way and deal with my dislike of being in the spotlight by the safety in numbers concept. It might also lay to rest the memories of the April Evening disaster.

The first rehearsal was great fun. The 'Pop Up' nature of the choir meant that we would have only four rehearsals, once performance and then it would be over. It was not a huge commitment.

Despite it not being a huge commitment I missed the second rehearsal. Luckily for me, Liberty was able to give me all the help I needed to get up to speed. By the third rehearsal, my daughter Charis was home from boarding school. As she had two weeks holiday (and is a brilliant singer) she joined the choir with us. It was lovely to spend this time with two of my girls and we were able to practise a little at home together.

The day of the performance came. I was mostly confident about all of the songs. It was a lovely relaxed event and I think I will always remember with great fondness our version of the Hallelujah Chorus accompanied by ukeleles.

I loved being part of the choir (which has the promise of 'Popping Up' again for future events) and being supported by family members in the audience. I am a little sad that it is all over (for now). I'd better start thinking of my next challenge!

Monday, 6 October 2014

Tissington Trail Half Marathon - I did it!!

Angry grey skies and the unforgiving wind and rain that assaulted me as I walked out of my door this morning made me appreciate how miraculous the sunshine, gentle breeze and slight chill in the crisp air were yesterday. The perfect weather for running.

Yesterday, I ran my first Half Marathon.

Despite my best intentions to train properly for this event, time got away from me. My training never took me over 7 miles. I had to keep reminding myself that I know I can walk 13 miles and I know I can do better than that. I did numerous calculations based on how fast and how far I'd run in the past to give myself a realistic target time to aim for but then decided to look at the time for the slowest person to finish at the same event. The bar was set at 2hrs 51minutes.

A gentle  reminder from Liberty's boyfriend back in May to start training

It was hard to imagine actually running for nearly 3hours.

The event I had signed up for was recommended by my daughter's boyfriend. It was the Tissington Trail Half Marathon in Derbyshire, about an hour drive from my home in Shropshire. The route follows the site of a former railway with an overall downhill gradient. You park at the finish and catch a bus to the start 13 miles away. I loved the idea that there were no laps and no loops, just a straight line from the start back to your car. Every step literally taking you a step closer to home.

I set off early with my husband, my daughter Liberty and her boyfriend armed with refuelling gels, glucose tablets, bananas and water. The bananas were eaten in the car along with enough water to leave Liberty desperate for a wee. This is where the stress began.

There was no designated parking for the event so we had to try and find a suitable space in an unfamiliar town being descended on by an army of people wearing high performance running gear and race numbers. Liberty was getting increasingly agitated so we dropped her off at the Sports Centre where the buses were leaving from. She then had her own personal drama of waiting in a long queue for the toilet with a bursting bladder whilst we continued the search for a parking space.

I am so glad it wasn't me driving. I would have been tempted to turn around and drive home, cursing and admonishing that the whole thing had been a stupid idea anyway. Luckily, my husband is not so easily rattled when it comes to parking. He managed to find a slightly dodgy space on a residential no through road and declared that it would do. And do it did. We still had the problem that Liberty, her bag and warm clothes that needed to be left in the car were at the Sports Centre with no idea where we'd parked, and time to catch the bus that would take us to the start was rapidly running out.

I shouldn't have panicked. It all worked out perfectly. We met up with Liberty. My husband ran back to the car with her things cheerfully saying it was a good warm up before the race. We caught the last bus. I started to relax.

The atmosphere at the start was wonderful with elite athletes and first timers milling around together keen to get going. We didn't have long to wait before the starting horn sounded. The runners were let through the start in waves. Liberty and I watched our men disappear from view from our position near the back. As the last wave was let through we began our journey into the unknown.

There were mile markers all along the route. I was amazed how quickly Mile 1 and Mile 2 came and went. The scenery was beautiful and the trail itself was easy to run on. I was loving it. We completed three miles in just over 30 minutes and I was surprised that at the six mile mark, my running watch registered a new record for that distance. We were soon at Mile 7 and about to run further than we ever had before.

Liberty had a strategy in mind to run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit more. I was happy to go along with this and kept the walking pace brisk with my 2hr 51minute goal in mind. We were remembering to refuel regularly with the energy gel I kept down my compression socks in the absence of a decent pocket in my shorts and with the goodies provided at the aid stations (never have jaffa cakes and coke tasted so good). Everything was going well apart from the fact that I was finding it more and more difficult to walk. When I stopped to walk it felt as if my legs were still running and I had no control over them. I was like a defective puppet being manipulated by an inebriated puppet master. I stayed with Liberty until around the ten mile mark then left her to her strategy while I kept running.

It was harder without Liberty for company but the trail was well populated with hikers and cyclists who offered friendly smiles and words of encouragement.

Sometime after I had passed the 11 Mile marker, I saw Liberty's boyfriend sat on a bridge. He had finished his race in an impressive 1hr 41min 40secs in 81st place. He had come back to run the last mile or so with Liberty who I knew would appreciate the support. Just ahead, I could see my husband running back to meet me. I was so proud of him for finishing in 2hrs 01min 30secs (218th) and delighted to see that he was feeling fit enough to run the end again.

I ran with a slightly renewed spring in my step for a while with my husband at my side then my tiredness overtook me. I slumped and despite gentle reminders to lift my head, for the first time I feared I might not make it.  I had less than a mile to go but it felt like I was running on stilts. It was time to walk. I'm not sure I would have had the confidence to stop and walk if my husband hadn't been there to catch me if it all went horribly wrong. I was staggering all over the place but slowly, my tight muscles loosened enough for me to run to the finish.

Just before the finish there was a short, steep downwards section followed by a matching upwards section. There were people at the top of the hill cheering and my husband urging me on. It was tough but I was starting to feel quite heroic and unstoppable. The finish line came in sight. I opened my stride and felt fantastic as I flew across the end and was presented with my medal.

I did have some objectives before the start of the race.

1) Don't die

This is really not a flippant comment. On Saturday, another member of the parkrun family died at the end of a parkrun event. I run to improve my quality of life, not to shorten it. It is stark reminder when I hear of tragedies such as Saturday's that the human body does have its limits.

2) Cross the finish line still standing

I did have concerns that I might not manage this and I know of at least two other runners that collapsed at the end. I have to admit that my legs did go out from under me shortly after my moment of glory. It was a case of sit down or fall down. I sat.

3) Finish in under 2hrs 51minutes

Smashed it! 2:40:35

(Liberty finished about four minutes later one place behind me at 332nd out of 340 and so began the slow process of recovery for us all.)

Friday, 3 October 2014

Shopping, books and brain shaped jelly

I've been thoroughly enjoying the unexpectedly warm, sunny days but the fallen leaves and the nip in the air this morning reminded me that we are now very definitely into October.

I went shopping with my daughter Ivy yesterday. I do enjoy buying new things but there is a very insistent voice in my head that holds tightly to the purse strings and convinces me that I don't really need the majority of the items that catch my eye. Luckily for my retail therapy (less luckily for my bank balance) Ivy's voice is louder and with her encouragement I came home with far more bags than I expected! I went a little bit mad in the underwear department and now own as many pretty, cleavage enhancing bras as I do shapeless sports ones designed to hold everything as flat and motionless as possible. My girlie side has been indulged.

With it being October, the influence of Hallowe'en is evident in the shops (alongside the expanding Christmas ranges). In Primark, I continued an annual tradition of buying Hallowe'en socks and found a must-have glow in the dark T shirt depicting the iconic Mickey Mouse silhouette constructed from three spider's webs. The Hallowe'en range in Asda was fun too. I loaded my basket with skull tableware, candles and the best thing EVER - a brain jelly mould. If my girlie nature was indulged by lingerie, my gothic side was leaping for joy with these few acquisitions.

The start of a new month also brought to mind my resolution to make 12 small changes for the better throughout the year. It has been far more effective than the traditional New Year's Resolution  approach that rarely lasts beyond January. Here we are rapidly approaching Christmas and I am still going strong.

My September change was simply to Read More Books which tied in beautifully with my mum discovering a new charity shop with extensive stocks of paperbacks and hardbacks for sale at 4 for £1. She freely admits that it has become something of an obsession to pop in, choose four books and add them to the pile that grows far quicker than she can ever hope to read them. Dad is a little despairing by the disparity between bookshelf space and books but mum keeps him sweet by going to the charity shop and searching out the books about trains or World War II for him. He can't complain then, can he she says, knowingly!

Every time my mum finishes a book, she passes it on to me, usually with the glowing review that it was  the best story she's ever read. She was taking a long time to read a particularly thick novel by Jilly Cooper. Rather than keep me waiting, she went to the charity shop and bought an identical copy for me (along with three more titles to qualify for the 4 for a £1 deal). You can almost hear my dad sighing with resigned defeat. As well as the books she has finished reading, she also brings me books I might like. I really am spoilt for choice and enjoying stories that I would never have picked for myself.

Once I finish a book, I give it back to mum to return to the charity shop... and while she's there it would be wrong not to look through and see if there are four more she could buy for a pound  (cue dad's exasperated eye rolling).

I love my never ending supply of 'lucky dip' reading material courtesy of mum's obsession but I do have to balance it against my own backlog of books that I want to make time for. It is not unusual any more for me to be part way through three books at any one time (four or five if you include non fiction). Right now I am reading: Overheard in a Dream by Torey Hayden (one mum thought I would like), the brilliant Game of Thrones series by George RR Martin (my choice on the Kindle) and The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh (recommended by my daughter Taylor).

I can think of nothing nicer as the October evenings close in than to snuggle up (halloween socks keeping my feet warm) with a good book (and possibly a brain shaped jelly!)

Tuesday, 30 September 2014


My first husband left me for a younger woman who he likes to dress in designer clothes and expensive jewellery. He lives abroad in an immaculate, individually designed modern house with a swimming pool, gym and games room. He travels to the most beautiful and exotic places. He has brand new cars and the very latest electronic gadgets. He stays in luxury hotels, dines out at the best restaurants and drinks good wine.

Does any of this make me jealous?

Honestly - no.

I love my make do life style, battered old car, hand me down technology, budget holidays, the odd takeaway and whatever wine happens to be on special offer.

But there is one thing - one thing that stirs the murky depths where the green eyed monster resides.

His garage door.

His garage door is remote controlled and glides effortlessly open as he approaches. It closes with the same satisfying simplicity and for all I know might even pour him a whiskey and bring him his slippers.

If his garage door were a sleek, soft footed cheetah commanding the African plains, mine would be a scabby flea ridden feral cat - all teeth, claws and bad temper.

I was composing this post in my head as I was cleaning the inside of my car. My anxiety about having to close the garage door was growing as I ran out of interior to vacuum and polish. The inevitable battle with the door was becoming increasingly imminent.

The bitter jealousy was getting a grip on my otherwise good mood.

I faced my nemesis armed only with a rough knowledge of the sequence of kicks and shoves to get the door aligned in the frame and the final wiggle with the key that required the concentration and steady hand of a safe breaker.

I honestly don't know what happened next. The door cooperated. It slid into place, I turned the key. Job done.

The jealous rage that had been threatening to explode turned into a happy smile. Life is good.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Sandman Triathlon

On Sunday, the sun shone and I was at the seaside.

This was no ordinary trip to the seaside though. I was there to support my husband as he took part in his first Sandman Triathlon which started and finished on the beautiful Llanddwyn beach in Anglesey.

My two little ones were with us but once they saw the sand and the water, any thoughts of supporting daddy were quickly forgotten. It made it quite a difficult day for me trying to balance keeping an eye out for two adventurous children having the time of their lives and keeping an eye out for my husband so I could offer the appropriate words of encouragement. A difficult day - but one I was so glad to be a part of.

The first of my many 'difficulties' arose as I tried to walk the children the mile or so to the beach from the caravan where we were staying. It was a beautiful location with views over the Menai Straits and a stunning forest trail down to the beach. The same trail formed part of the 10K route that the triathletes would have to run having finished their 1000m sea swim off Llanddwyn beach and their 60km cycle around the island of Anglesey. The effort it took to drag my reluctant four year old son along the trail would probably have rivalled the effort put in by the athletes chasing personal bests. It was hard work and as a result, we were late getting to the start of the race. The good news was that the start time was delayed. The bad news, even with the delay, we still didn't make it down in time to wish daddy luck.

We were in time to see in the distance, the crowd of yellow swimming capped wetsuited hopefuls (of which I knew daddy was one) run into the sea and begin their arduous battle against waves, currents and fatigue.

My husband is a strong swimmer with a lazy stroke that could never be described as graceful but his long arms pull him through the water with efficiency. He has swum the Dee Mile and between the piers in Brighton. I didn't think the swim would pose too great a problem for him so I was very surprised when I saw him staggering clumsily out of the water looking as though he was in trouble. I found out later that he had been kicked in the face near the start when everyone is jostling for position. As well as being slightly stunned by the blow, the impact had knocked his prescription goggles off his head. Not being able to see properly was disorientating him.

Meanwhile, my son found out what happens when the tide creeps in and you fail to step backwards.

Somehow, my husband made it to his bicycle but clearly wasn't quite recovered form his ordeal as he tried to cycle off in his wetsuit! I would have loved to have been there to witness this but I was having a troublesome time trying to persuade my children to come with me to the transition area. We eventually got there but not in time to even see him riding away up the hill into the distance. We clapped a few of the other participants then went for a  picnic that included for me, a very welcome flask of coffee.

The children were happy blowing bubbles, playing sword fighting with inflatables and running around so we stayed near the entrance to the transition area and waited for daddy to cycle in.

He had estimated that the cycle would take him 2 hours and he did it in 2:10:57. I mentioned at the very beginning of this post that the sun shone. This was his undoing. As much as the children and I were enjoying the sunshine, overheating and dehydration are deadly enemies of anyone exerting themselves. My husband ran out of water and began to suffer the consequences. His cheery wave to us as he ran into transition belied how bad he was feeling.

As much as I would have liked to position myself in various strategic locations along the 10K route, I knew it would turn into a nightmare trying to mobilise the children to make it all work so we headed back down to the beach. After a quick paddle myself which was lovely, I left the kids playing in a large pool and made myself a base further up the beach where I could watch for my husband on the last leg of his race.

The kids loved the freedom to play in the water making 'adventure playgrounds' out of rocks for the little fish that swam around them. This left me free to watch drama after drama unfold within sight of the finish line as exhausted runners feared they were not going to make it. I would have loved to have seen the jubilation of the people crossing the finish line, but that would have meant I couldn't keep a watchful eye on my little ones.

I expected my husband to finish in about an hour. I thought I spotted him once and called the children out of the water to come and cheer for daddy. They both looked at me like I was an idiot and said No  Thanks! It turned out to be a false alarm anyway so I watched and waited... and waited. I was starting to get really worried but eventually, I spotted him in the distance. As he ran past me I took a photo, told him enthusiastically that he was wonderful and he was nearly there. I watched him run away from me toward the finish line and his own personal (somewhat overdue by now!) victory.

My camera was not zoomed in. I really was this close to him yet he neither saw me nor heard those words of encouragement that I had waited so long to give.

I  persuaded the children to leave the water to come with me and find daddy. We found him. I have never seen him look so utterly exhausted. It had taken him 1 hour and 27 minutes to complete the 10K. He never really recovered from the dehydration he suffered on the bike leg of the race and had walked much of the route as an alternative to just giving up.

I have so much admiration to each and every one of the determined men and women who took part, from the awe inspiring winner who clocked up a time of less than two and a half hours to the last man over the line in 451st place in just over 5 hours.

My husband finished in 421st place with a time of 4 hours 09 minutes and 18 seconds. He is absolutely  my hero.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Butterfly Masks

It's a couple of weeks into the new school term and both my little ones have settled down nicely. Dylan talks excitedly about his friends in Reception and Addy loves how 'grown up' it feels in Class 2 with more emphasis on work than play. However, it has become increasingly obvious to me that she is struggling with numeracy. Simple number bonds to ten and counting in twos were leaving her confused and frustrated.

I love maths. It is elegant and dependable and fundamental. I want my children to love maths too - and be good at it. I felt that Addy's difficulties were too important to leave to chance so some home intervention seemed prudent. She was reluctant at first but I can already see a marked improvement in her confidence and ability.

If I had my way, I could easily spend hours ensuring that she practised until she was perfect and my older children, if they are reading this post, will be nodding in agreement having been on the receiving end of my sometimes over zealous parental approach. Being older and (I hope) wiser, I  am better at striking a more harmonious balance between work and just being a kid. Addy was delighted when instead of maths yesterday afternoon, a craft activity was offered.

The craft set, which we were sent to review, tied in beautifully with our summer holiday project of raising butterflies.

Butterfly Masks

The Butterfly Masks kit contained three patterned cardboard masks to decorate with the paints and glitter glue provided as well as sticks and the tape to attach the sticks to the mask. Addy chose the design that appealed to her the most.

She quickly got to work applying paint to the mask, painstakingly methodically at first then rather slapdash as she neared completion! It was lovely to watch her so engaged on the task, making decisions about how she wanted her mask to look and just enjoying spreading the paint about.

Glitter glue is always a big hit in our house and Addy proudly added the finishing touches for a bit of sparkle.

I advised her to let it dry before attaching the stick but she was too impatient. She wanted to be able to model her creation right then! And very lovely she looked too.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Craft Party Kits from Interplay

I was recently sent two Craft Party kits from Interplay to review.

Each pack contains craft activities for up to six children in the 5+ age range making it ideal for party entertainment.

I had the image in my head of 6 year old Addy's friends coming over to our house for tea and a Craft Party session.

The reality was somewhat different. I had misjudged how tiring the new school routine would be with little brother Dylan starting in Reception and Addy moving up into class 2. Hectic weekend schedules and helping my daughter Taylor to prepare for going back to Uni has left little time and even less energy. Planning parties has not been on anyone's agenda

There will come a moment when things fall into place and a houseful of little girls having noisy fun together seems like the loveliest thing. But not today!

In the interests of the (now overdue) review deadline, I will attempt to give a flavour of the two different sets without the addition of children!

Fairy Princess Party

I think my Addy is fairly typical in her love for princesses and fairies. She was very excited by the Fairy Princess Party kit which contained pre cut foam fairy wings, tiaras and wands to decorate with the stickers, ribbons, jewels and feathers provided.

The instructions include ideas for plenty of themed party games for  little fairy princesses to play whilst wearing their creations.

Mad About Ponies Party

I actually like this particular Craft Party set even more than the Princess Fairy one.

It comes with a set of  beautifully detailed, solidly made white plastic ponies and enough paint and paint brushes for each child to customise their own pony. There are examples of different pony breeds with their distinctive colours and markings for inspiration.

Little Dylan came running over to investigate when we took the ponies out to look at. He loved them just as they were - without even opening the bag with the paints in!

Once the ponies are painted (and dry) there is a show jumping game to play with them complete with little cardboard rosettes to present to winners. I think it is a lovely idea and a great way for the children to show off their ponies.

Addy is already deciding what to name her pony and what colours she wants to paint him.

I am really looking forward to getting to use these kits, with excited children and a sprinkle of mayhem.   The Mad About Ponies kit definitely appeals to the little girl in me that would have loved a pony of her own.

Would it be wrong if I invited one less child to the party so I can join in myself?

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