Friday, 26 February 2016

Muddy Trainers

I don't tend to celebrate Valentines day. The following week is my wedding anniversary so I put my romantic efforts into that occasion instead. My husband did give me red roses and I gave him and the kids red foil wrapped heart shaped chocolates but my greatest Valentines pleasure is buying reduced to clear merchandise in the days following and using them to set the scene for the anniversary celebration.

That didn't happen this year. Immediately after valentines day, I left my husband and my red roses and took the children off for a few days of visiting with my parents. By the time my anniversary weekend came around I had no '75% off' table confetti/ light up ballons/ cuddly toys/ love crackers etc and no plan.

No plan isn't quite true. I had arranged for the little ones to have a weekend sleepover with their big sister to give my husband and I some much needed time together. I thought about how best to spend this precious 'us time'. I considered a stay at a hotel with a spa or a dinner for two at a nice restaurant. In the end, the most important thing was the actual time together so keeping it as simple as possible was probably our best bet. I tidied the house and we bought a few treats for a special home cooked meal. The one thing that we both really wanted to do was to drive out to some beautiful countryside and go for a run.

When we were planning where to go, we made allowances for the fact that it was a bit wet and windy by choosing a forest run. I imagined compacted forest paths sheltered by trees.  Arriving at our destination, we realised our mistake. The route we had selected was actually exposed heathland with gorse bushes and steep hills. The drive through the forest to get there had been beautiful and now, here we were in this bleak landscape being battered by wind and rain. Oh well! No point turning back. Off we went!

The weather did ease off a bit and we had wrapped up warm so that wasn't too much of a problem. The hills drained all the energy in our legs but we weren't here to set any speed records so we didn't mind having to stop and walk.  The worst part was the mud. So many different kinds of mud. A whole pallette of mud from black through to pale yellowy grey with all shades of brown in between. Sticky mud. Sloshy mud. Deep mud. Vast oceans of mud sucking at our feet with every step. It did cross my mind that we could be in a luxury spa right now having a very different kind of mud treatment. We ran. We trudged. We slipped. We slid. My husband fell over in the mud with fairly amusing consequences. Were we discouraged? No! We were having the best time. We were loving it. 

It took us nearly an hour to complete the 5 kilometer circular route - an hour of torturous bliss!

We had a wonderful weekend. My valentines roses even had some life left in them to provide the romantic touch that I'd failed to do with my usual post valentine bargain hunting. The only slight niggle was the state of my mud caked trainers. I feared they would never be the same agaiin. After leaving them drying for a week, I thought that the best way to clean them would be to put them on and go for a little run in the hope that the mud would just fall away.

Today, the sun was shining. I put on my once purple trainers and marvelled at the little dust cloud produced when I tied the laces. I planned the route in my head - out the back gate, across the football pitch to the path that runs around the hockey pitches, through the car park, into the woods, across the meadows onto the footpath that leads back to the road, down the road and back to my house. It was a perfect plan apart from the into the woods and across the meadows part. My trainers are muddier than when I started.

Plan B. Washing machine?

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Giving it up for Lent

I had been drinking too much coffee.

It was the begining of Lent.

I put these two facts together and came to a logical conclusion to give up coffee for Lent.

Had I known how horribly unpleasant withdrawing from caffeine would be, I would never have  considered going cold turkey like that. I would have devised a careful plan to cut down gradually over a suitable amount of time and gently beat the addiction into a manageable habit. I entered into my " give up coffee for Lent" plan with ignorant optimism and found out the hard way how it feels to suddenly be deprived of a substance to which your body has become overly familiar with and possibly reliant on.

The first day without caffeine was absolutely fine. No adverse effects. No cravings. It was day two when the headache hit. The headache could not be ignored. The headache lasted three whole days. The headache was not even the worst of it.

I thought I must be coming down with flu. My muscles ached with a deep niggling ache that made it almost impossible to get comfortable or to have a restful nights sleep. The ache bore into joints as well adding to my misery. I didn't want to do anything and doing nothing was still ridiculously difficult. These symptoms persisted without any other signs of flu developing.

It was during the night when sleep eluded me and I feared I might never be at peace in my own body again that I started searching the internet on a quest for find answers for my malady.

Caffeine withdrawal. It was as simple as that. 

I could have abandoned my self denial plan and launched into "moderate coffee consumption" but I was worried that that might lead straight back to over indulging to a dangerously high degree. I decided to persevere... to remember the relentless aches that had plagued me for days and use than as a deterrent against returning to my old ways.

The aching muscles and joints subsided about a day after the headache lifted. I didn't feel fantastic but I was OK. 

There are still many days before Easter and I am not even going to think about drinking coffee until the period of Lent is over. In the meantime I am drinking occasional cups of green tea or decaffeinated coffee.

I miss the smell of coffee and I miss the ritual of a coffee break  (green tea break just doesn't have that same impact) but I am convinced that what I am doing is for the best.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Andy's Amazing Adventures for little explorers

I had promised my five year old son a treat for being good. He had his heart set on a certain ovoid confection that is not just chocolate but a toy as well. He wanted this with an almost angry passion. He wanted it with an angry passion that I felt his choice did not really justify (unless they happen to be on special offer). He wanted it with an angry passion that was completely forgotten the moment he found himself in the magazine aisle.

My little boy's eyes were wide with excitement when he spotted one particular colourful glossy comic complete with free gift. We bought it. He loved it. I was happy that he was happy and it was great that he was reading but I wasn't 100% convinced that it was value for money.

I was very interested to hear that a brand new comic was being launched based on the popular CBeebies Andy's Adventures. I was delighted to be offered a complimentary copy of the first issue to review but my delight paled into insignificance compared with my son's reaction to receiving it! He literally jumped for joy.

We are very familiar with Andy and his Adventures. The hat, gizmo, backpack checklist that Andy completes before his adventures is a routine that has often featured in make believe play at home. A big selling point of Andy's Amazing Adventures for us (and I'm sure for many others) is the dinosaur content. My son is a self proclaimed dinosaur expert and wants to be a time travelling dinosaur zoologist when he grows up (as well as an astronaut like Tim Peake). This new magazine was pretty much guaranteed to be a hit with him. I can be a little harder to impress, especially when it comes to making decisions about what to spend money on, but I absolutely loved it.

The first issue is 36 colourful pages printed on quality paper and packed full with a really good mix of activities including a story, games, drawing, colouring and making. It is very well laid out and interactive with stickers to add, boxes to tick and little pictures to colour to show an activity has been completed. Andy's very expressive face pops up regularly with speech bubbles for encouraging words and fun comments. The magazine is created in association with the BBC Natural History Unit which inspires confidence that the content is more than simple entertainment and provides notes for parents explaining the learning theory behind the fun. In summary, it is a very appealing publication with real value.

I gave the magazine to my son when he got home from school at 3.30pm. Apart from a brief interruption for tea, he did not put it down until bedtime.

He independently followed the instructions to make his own wearable gizmo and hat and showed them off with pride. He hadn't quite done it right and actually stuck the hat to his forehead with Sellotape which was at least quite enterprising. We played the game together as per the instructions using the mini dinos and T-Rex grabber included as a gift on the front of the magazine. He won. Of course! 

Flicking through the magazine now I can see there are still plenty of activities left for him to do including cutting out and making a Dino land for the mini dinos. That should keep him busy tonight.

Coincidentally, Dad had been at a Dinosaur Talk that evening with local amateur enthusiasts. When he came home and asked his son what he had been up to, the reply was this:

I travelled back in time 65 million years and saw a triceratops!

I think that was time well spent.

Andy's Amazing Adventures on sale from Wednesday 10th February 2016, priced £2.75

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Missing Years

Last year, my husband and I bought a house. Not a house to live in, or to holiday in, or to rent out for profit. We bought a house for our daughter to live in. Don't get me wrong, she does make a contribution to cover the mortgage repayments but it is well below what we could expect from the market rental value. We bought a house for our daughter to live in because she was desperately unhappy with the accommodation she could afford in London where she works - unhappy to the point that it was making her sick.

My daughter has traded her single room with a kitchen and bathroom shared with strangers that intimidated her (she is not the outgoing type) for a two bedroomed house to herself (and her fiancé when he is not studying hard at a University in the middle of Wales). She also has me just a short drive away to offer support when she needs it. The change in lifestyle has made a corresponding change in her happiness and well being. I have had the gratification of being able to help and gained a babysitter and running partner.

For the last couple of days, I have been at the house providing access (and tea) for a couple of chaps who are fitting new double glazed windows. The upstairs is all done and looks fantastic. Rotten window frames and glass dripping with condensation are gone, much like the London room misery. Modern, clean, efficient double glazed units make everything seem much brighter.

Out with the old, in with the new.

It is a lovely little house. Once I got over the fact that a 2 bedroomed end terrace house here in Sussex cost as much as a  4 bedroomed detached  house back in Shropshire where we lived previously, I began to really enjoy the whole process of property purchasing. I spent many happy hours on the Rightmove website perusing possibilities. We viewed three of those possibilities and fell in love with one. The house reminded me very much of the first house I ever bought (many years and a husband ago).

I call the twenty years I spent married to my first husband "the missing years". My current husband, the love of my life, was at my first wedding. If fate had aligned itself in a slightly different configuration, he could have been at my wedding as my groom. We could have begun our life together twenty years earlier - experienced buying our first home, starting a family. It didn't. We didn't. I can't regret any of the twists and turns of my life but I also can't help wondering about the missing years. We filled in a big chunk of the missing years when we unexpectedly started a a second family. We joke that we have a 100% extra free life - 100% supporting our grown up children and trying to find time for ourselves, plus 100% meeting the demands of our two growing children and throwing ourselves into family life. Of course that second 100% is not really free - we can get incredibly tired and over stretched - we pay! 

Buying the house, so similar to my first starter home, provided another opportunity for a buy one life get one life free experience. It was an electrifying thrill to be handed the keys. We opened the door on a "what could have been" and filled in the missing years with cleaning, decorating, fixing and best of all, sourcing essential furniture on a very tight budget. We achieved an incredible amount in a short space of time so that it would be ready for when my daughter's London lease ran out. We made a home. We made a home then returned to our actual home filled with furniture and memories collected over time. We returned to our actual home feeling a wonderful sense of connectedness and with hearts  less justified in their yearning for missing years.

The missing years were not wasted years. My husband and I both lived full lives doing the things we wanted to do - just not together. Our togetherness now seems to make anything possible. We have so much living to do in whatever time the Gods see fit to allow us. If the price is that I sometimes feel tired and over stretched, that is a very small price.
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