Friday, 28 February 2014

Do your thoughts have spatial awareness? Headspace: A review.


'Mindfulness', defined on Wikipedia as 'an attentive awareness of the reality of things'. It was this word that set me on the path leading to Headspace, a new meditation phenomenon that is taking the world by storm.  
Whilst have a coffee with my friend and former hypnobirthing instructor I was talking about my self imposed challenge of blogging every day for a month. I described how actually while it was hard work it was a positive experience, as I was thinking about everything I was doing and whether it was blog worthy. She immediately nodded and told me that's because it was, like the hypnobirthing, making me more mindful.  
It seemed like a funny coincidence that just a few days later, on a saturday, I came across an article in The Times magazine talking about mindfulness and meditation. It was an interview with LA based Bristolian, Andy Puddicombe, creator of the headspace app. This is the person who the New York Times cite as 'doing for meditation what Jamie Oliver did for food' and already has a following of the likes of Davina McCall and Gywneth Paltrow. There are some very specific reviews on the headspace website from Vogue and the BBC as well as the Times and the headspace channel available on all Virgin Atlantic flights.   
Meditation is something I have dabbled in and when doing hypnobirthing for the birth of my second child, daily meditation was a vital part of the training process. This was my first real experience of the intense relaxation that meditation can bring about. I remember the first time I succeeded, I felt a little bit like I'd discovered a rather intense tranquiliser, but in a good way. However, despite feeling like a I got a lot out of learning hypnobirthing it never crossed my mind to utilise these skills once I'd done the birth bit.  
This daily meditation that I had undertaken so rigourously was something I greatly missed post birth. Caring for a newborn just wasn't conducive to taking so much as a few minutes a day to empty your mind and focus on your breath. Quickly, my relaxation training fell by the wayside, totally submerged in the pit of my new world of childcare and homemaking. 
So, the idea of having meditation spoon fed to me and available via my phone or ipad sounded appealing. However, it didn't come with a time machine allowing me to fit it seamlessly into my already bursting at the seams day. So of course I was dubious and kind of expected it to be great for a few days but then, once again, it would join the dusty bits of lego under the sofa of my mind.  
I signed up for the free 10 day trial and had no idea what to expect. Day one starts with a short clip presented by Mr Puddicombe himself, talking you through a series of short animations using metaphorical imagery to describe the mind and our thinking process. He then talks you through a 10 minute meditation. I have already touched on the fact I have no time, so I decided that the only time slot available, would be just before I go to sleep.  This wasn't ideal, as a few times I fell asleep mid-meditation and woke up face down on my kindle. Also I am someone who finds going to sleep sometimes difficult because there is so much going round in my head and after my first few meditations, I would immediately afterwards have to write down a to do list of things that kept popping up in my head. I couldn't risk letting them be forgotten. However, suddenly I found going to sleep very easy and I also really looked forward to my pre sleep relaxation time. Soon, my quick, post-meditation to-do lists were abandoned, I felt like I didn't need them anymore. I cannot explain why or how this works but compared to some of my previous pursuits for mental agility and satisfaction, such as bullet proof coffee, this certainly compares more favourably and has less impact on your cholesterol levels.  
I was surprised how easy it was to complete 10 consecutive days. I received emails throughout, telling me the cost if I signed up for a year. I am still dubious that it could still fall off my radar and so have signed up for a month, if I can successfully manage this then who knows. Watch this (head) space.


Some further reading on mindfulness READ HERE
Check out the Headspace website HERE

Thursday, 27 February 2014

How do you teach equality?

A blog a day for a month challenge: Day 27



Is it wrong that I am relieved that my children are male because already that gives them a head start in life? Yes it's wrong and fundamentally flawed, but it is true. So it is with fervent vigour that I attempt to reinforce the message of equality to them. However, as their primary carer and chief homemaker how can I really translate this message when on a day to day basis the arrangement in our house, purely through circumstance, is quite traditional and, dare I say it, stereotypical. My boys don't see the career woman I once was before their arrival so how will I demonstrate my capabilities beyond laundry and some rather mean iced buns (RECIPE HERE)

I could write all day about this, however another parent blogger, in a similar situation, has summed this up beautifully, so instead of listening to me please READ HERE

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Fancy a buttery brew? My first sample of bullet proof coffee



This bizarre cocktail of coffee, butter and concentrated coconut oil was invented by the self titled 'bullet proof executive' Dave Asprey, who makes some very bold claims indeed. 

He states on his website "It’s the creamiest, most delicious, highest octane cup of coffee you’ve ever experienced. People who use this precise recipe experience a kind of mental clarity and focus that is hard to express in words. You owe it to yourself to try it made perfectly at least once before showing yourself that changing the ingredients doesn’t work very well. This exact recipe works for Billboard musicians. Professional poker players. MMA fighters. CEOs. Entrepreneurs. World champion athletes. And hundreds of thousands of people like me who just want to be in control of their energy and focus all day. I live this. For more than 7 years, I have started the day with a cup of Bulletproof coffee, using the extra energy to hack my body and build this blog while blowing the doors off my career in Silicon Valley”.

Apparently it originated from a remote region of Tibet, where our inventor (whilst wandering around in freezing temperatures) happened upon a cup of yak butter tea which made him feel so rejuvenated he came up with this bonkers mixture. 

As a coffee lover I couldn’t deny I was curious. 

I am relieved I didn’t read his website in any further detail prior to making this, as the rest of his back story is thoroughly off putting and smacks of ‘preying on the vulnerable’. I cannot even bring myself to go into more detail on here. It reminded me of all those irritating celebrities who congratulate themselves on losing a bit of weight and think they can preach to the rest of us how to do it. He virtually says that if you follow his various methods of diet, ethos and exercise then your body will actually repel bullets and any other items hurled at you at high velocity. View THIS at your peril. 

I have no interest in any purported slimming benefits here and I cannot help but feel that consuming spoonfuls of oil and butter on a daily basis in the name of weight loss is beyond mental, but what attracted me were the claims about energy levels. Browsing the various forums where those who had sampled ‘bullet proof’ coffee were people who had now made it part of their day because of improved  energy levels and mental agility.

Of course I was unsure about drinking coffee, butter and oil but after a night from hell with 2 poorly children requiring my attentions on an hourly basis last weekend, I would have eaten solidified lard had it promised an energy injection similar to the above, and I most definitely needed building up for my professional poker match.
Having found numerous recipes online, I didn’t follow Mr Asprey’s ingredients exactly to the the letter as they required purchases of 'bullet proof upgraded’ items such as the alarmingly labelled ‘brain octane’. THIS RECIPE seemed a little simpler for a dubious first timer with a sleep deprived brain matching the consistency of mashed potato.

I brewed up the usual morning 6 cup Bialetti and poured the equivalent of 1 espresso cup of my usual morning elixir into a bowl and added the butter and oil.

I then blended it using my stick blender. I was slightly concerned it wouldn’t be powerful enough, as everything I read reinforced the importance of a strong blender, otherwise the oil and butter would separate. However, within seconds I had beautiful looking pool of liquid coated in golden foam. I cannot deny it smelt incredible. 



I’m going to sound very simplistic and lacking in creativity when I describe the taste like buttery coffee but that’s exactly how it tasted. I prefer a short shot of espresso to a mug of cafetiere coffee which is probably why I found it relatively easy to drink as it’s quite a small amount. It’s by no means normal though. You can feel the butter throughout to the point it almost films your teeth. I wasn’t sure about it at all. 


However, I cannot deny that drinking it, afterwards I felt like I’d had a very satisfying breakfast and definitely felt slightly sharper through my sleep deprived haze. Usually at times of exhaustion anything sugary is my sustenance, it’s quick and you don’t have to think about it to get a boost, yet drinking this coffee I didn’t feel this urge. There was something about it that also felt very warming and perhaps the sort of thing that, had you access to all the paraphernalia to make it, you would have on an arctic expedition or before running a marathon. 

I said this to my partner and insisted that he try it however, he felt very different indeed. He didn’t feel energised in the slightest nor did he feel like he’d had a filling breakfast. He generously proffered the suggestion that I might be wasting my time but using slightly fruitier language. 

Nevertheless I sampled it again this week before one of the more vigourous yoga classes I attend at my local studio, to see if would assist my flexibility. I have to say that on this occasion I was disappointed. I didn’t get that feeling of satisfaction at all. After my class I came home and devoured a fridge full of yoghurt followed by several biscuit chasers.

Regarding mental agility I have to confess this coffee did not assist me in any way here. I still managed to forget my shopping list in the supermarket, I ran out of my yoga class early, convinced I had to get home for the window cleaner (which I didn’t) and then nearly got my car key jammed in my front door, having mistaken it for my front door key. This was all just in an afternoon. 

So will I be making this bullet proof coffee part of my morning routine? Well yes, definitely. Only if I happen to be running a marathon that day though. 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Time for a graphic novel review, Jeremie Dres 'We Won't See Auschwitz'

A blog a day for a month challenge: Day 25

So I cannot let 'blog month' pass without at least one comic book review and I have to say that this is a very fine specimen indeed. From UK independent publishing house Self Made Hero comes 'We Won't See Auschwitz'. I have always had a penchant for Holocaust literature since studying it in a module as part of my degree. However, it was Art Spiegleman’s ‘Maus’ that had always had the greatest impact on me. So I was extremely excited by the opportunity to read something that revisits the effects of the holocaust in modern day Poland and the unrelinquishing grip it still has over Polish society today.

We Won’t See Auschwitz. Written and illustrated by Jeremie Dres. Translated by Edward Gauvin. Published by Selfmadehero 2012.


‘Auschwitz: five years of annihilation for more than a thousand years of life and history of the Jewish people of Poland. A trauma still so real it threatens to make us forget everything else. It’s the everything else that I went looking for' (from back cover)

This is the true account of 2 Parisian brothers of Jewish heritage, set in present day, who decide to retrace their Grandmother’s Yiddish roots by visiting her pre holocaust home in Warsaw. Their aim is not only to try and rediscover her family, but also the history of Jews in Poland after the holocaust, but without the obligatory trip to Polish Jewish history's tragic focal point: Auschwitz.

The story begins with the writer, after the death of his grandmother Therese, debating whether to make this journey. His family urge him to go on a trip that appears to be on all their unfulfilled agendas, although he is given a stark warning to beware of the Poles and their deep rooted anti semitism. His older brother Martin also decides to join him. 

We quickly discover some eye opening facts about Poland since the war. As result of Nazi destruction, just 15% of Warsaw retained it’s original buildings by the end of the war and was rebuilt in 1949, based on the 18th century paintings by Canaletto. However the ghetto, considered a poorer area, was not rebuilt and nothing was put in place to commemorate what happened. 

‘Before the holocaust, Poland ranked second among countries in terms of a Jewish population (three and a half million). It was the cradle of Yiddish culture, which spread throughout Europe’. After the war there were 300,000 and currently as few as 5,000 Jews living in Poland. 

The two brothers talk to as many Polish Jews from a variety of organisations and different levels of faith. These include Zoom, for Jews under the age of 35 and the TSKZ, one of the oldest and, at one point, the only Jewish organisation in Poland. There is no doubt that, even 60 years after the end of the second world war, Judaeo-Polish relations are still strained and of course, it’s complicated. They touch on historian Dariusz Libionka, who compared the collaboration in Poland to the Vichy regime. 

They also talk about the effects of the 6 day War in March 1968, between then Communist Egypt and Israel. Poland was allied with Egypt and as a result of Polish anti semitism, a further 25,000 Jews fled Poland. 

There are a selection of beautiful light bulb and brick wall hitting moments as Martin and Jeremie slowly but surely find traces of their Jewish family in the now derelict cemeteries, registry offices and interviews conducted with leading figures of numerous grass roots organisations that have sprung up to assist those still searching for their families in the aftermath of the holocaust.

We hear some heartbreaking conversations where Jews living in Poland today describe the volume of people returning to there on a daily basis in pursuit of their lost relatives. 

The story overall is a stimulating and surprisingly uplifting read with many themes running throughout: a brotherhood rediscovered and restored in the ubiquitous 'road trip’, a family history veiled by the tragic events of the holocaust rediscovered and a factual report of the effects of the anti semitic ethnic cleansing, that seemed to come from all angles even after the fall of the Nazis.

The artwork is plain, black and white, fine-line drawing, in pen and ink. It’s rough, childishly simple yet accomplished in it’s style and structure. Sometimes I had difficulty distinguishing the characters, however this was more down to the sheer volume of people you meet throughout the story, rather than the artists inability to create strong characters figuratively. The lettering is also the same, written in charmingly sloping freehand. At the end there is a delightfully gratifying portfolio of black and white family portraits of the Dres family, showing the real faces of the people the 2 brothers rediscovered on their journey.

Ultimately this is yet another stunning piece of journalistic comic art. The style harks beautifully to Marjane Sartrapi or the leader in this field (in my view), artist and graphic novelist Joe Sacco. Like Sacco's analysis of Palestine and Gaza, this book raises some uncomfortable questions about modern day anti semitism and xenophobia. After reading the book I realised how naive I was about the lasting impact from the sheer destruction of families during the holocaust. I had always thought that even those who perished were at least accounted for, their place of rest identified and their family tree re constructed, if only on paper. However, there is still a harrowing magnitude of unanswered questions that will always remain in the ashes of the holocaust. Yet the splinters of Jewish faith and race that remain in Poland will continue to slowly but surely piece themselves back together.

If you like this….
Further reading  
Pyongyang: A journey in North Korea - Guy Delisle
Joe Sacco: Footnotes in Gaza, Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde, Journalism, most recently The Great War.
Marjane Satrapi ‘Persepolis’, 'Chicken with Plums'

Monday, 24 February 2014

In the name of No more page 3 and international homophobia, will you co-operate? Please take a moment to back these brilliant campaigns..


So if you follow this blog occasionally then you'll know that 'No More Page 3' campaign is something I am rather passionate about (READ WHAT I WROTE HERE). If you feel the same then please take a moment to read the NMP3 blog post (HERE) and assist by getting behind their drive to persuade the 'democratic' supermarket, the Co-op, to give their full support to this incredibly important cause. I have done it, it takes 5 minutes! 

Another campaign that also desperately needs your support, and takes less than 30 seconds to do... 

Today in Uganda, President Museveni signed a bill to legalise the prosecution of homosexuals. Now in Uganda, to be gay will result in life imprisonment and a 7 year sentence for anyone who assists gays or lesbians in any way.  Please sign the petition to 'kill the bill' (HERE) to show your support for international equality. 


Sunday, 23 February 2014

Toddler participation food in it's purest form.























So I have mentioned before on here the trials of baking with toddlers, mainly holding their attention long enough so you don’t end up half way through the process, surrounded bowls full of ingredients, whilst your child has moved onto other ‘more interesting’ pursuits and you have nothing edible to show for it. (Read it HERE).

Recently I mentioned this to my son’s key worker at his nursery, when I was presented with a fairy cake he had made. It was then explained to me that actually he hadn’t made it at all, he had decorated it. They understood that for the children to bake and decorate something, that was a feat too far and so bought the fairy cakes in and the children were then let loose on them, armed with icing sugar and hundreds and thousands.

So, bearing this little short cut in mind, it is with great pleasure I present this AMAZING recipe for iced fingers CLICK HERE. Proofing aside, which takes 2 or so hours, this is beautifully simple to make (even more simple if you have a food processor with a dough hook). They require few ingredients and you choose at what point you get the kids involved. So for my two, it was once the buns were baked and I had made the different coloured icing sugar. They then had a great time dipping the rolls in the icing sugar and adding the sprinkles. 



Before and after shots of the dough, which took around an hour to proof.

 





Again these took around an hour. Please note, I didn't follow the advice of the recipe and put the dough on a oiled baking sheet. As a result the buns completely stuck to the baking parchment



They then took just 8-10 mins in the oven.


For me, these completely eclipse fairy cakes and taste so much better. 

Weirdly though, the pink ones tasted so much better than the blue. Why is that?

Saturday, 22 February 2014

A saturday evening product review: Coffee beans and cucumbers

This is an unsponsored product review, conducted totally at my expense and off my own back..



Another find that costs just one pound! So I have to confess when I planned to do some product reviews, I ended up coming out of my local branch of Savers will all manner of lotions and potions, and a random scented candle (read the review of that HERE). All of which I have been diligently testing over the last few weeks. I am going to sound like a snob but I went into this with low expectations. Surely if these things were that good everyone would know about them already right? 

Of course so far there are a few things that have already been filed or should I say recycled, ahem, and of course I am not going to waste your time by reporting the things that were about as effective as massaging your face with a blunt market vegetable. However, I hope I can point out what worked for me and what will now be taking up a permanent place in my regime (I don’t know why I use the word regime, if I had to explain my current regime it would be 2 words: ‘face wipes’) 




I only picked Sublyme Cosmetics ‘Pure’ cucumber and caffeine eye roll on, because of it’s price. As a rule I don’t use eye roll ons, never quite got the concept if I’m honest. If you use an eye cream why then slather this stuff on? Of course there is no doubt more to it I’m sure. However, the other day after a particularly rough night looking after 2 poorly children I decided there couldn’t be a more perfect time to test out this substance ‘enriched with cucumber extract and caffeine to help soothe and stimulate tired skin under the eyes and reduce the appearance of under-eye bags’? Bearing in mind my eye baggage had already checked in, browsed around the duty free and was now sat in departures eating a giant toblerone, I was straight in there.

So I found the overall eye roll on experience thoroughly refreshing indeed. Initially I wasn’t wowed, however, after a minute or so my eyes felt considerably better. That burning sensation I was feeling around the edge of each eye lid had virtually disappeared. This stuff was good, good enough to write about though? After just one sample that wouldn’t be a fair test. However, since its initial test I have now been using it on a daily basis and it now lives in my handbag. 


Of course, I haven’t tried the fancier eye rolls on so I cannot proffer any comparisons although I do recall buying tinted Garnier one a few years ago that I didn’t use because the tint didn’t match my skin tone in the slightest (I looked like a clown on the one occasion I put it on) However, I also do not intend on buying any of the fancier ones as I have this little budget beauty in my life. 

Friday, 21 February 2014

Mud-respite can be found here! An outing to a zoo with a difference

Living in London with small children can get a little claustrophobic at times. We are lucky that where we live there are numerous playgrounds near by, however we have witnessed over the last few, rainy weeks each of them being slowly transformed into giant mud baths. I have lost count of number of times I’ve fished one of my children out of a puddle or had to do a swift full outfit change for either one or both of them as a result of covering themselves from head to foot in mud within minutes of arriving at the park (always the one that’s the furthest away from home). The icing on the cake for me was last week, whilst on yet another quest for fresh air and an energy burn off session, we inadvertently caused a group of shivering parents huddled by the climbing frames to hold back tears of laughter. I’d like to think that none of them knew the big yellow curly slide had filled up with enough water at the bottom you could do widths, because no one stopped the 3 of us clambering up there and then merrily sailing into the murky drink at the bottom. Who knew things were getting so bad that I would have to start taking an outfit change out for myself.



It was with great relief last weekend that finally, in the small window of sunshine that briefly hovered over London, we managed an afternoon out. I mean out out. Not to soft play or a playground but to an oasis in the mud: Battersea Park zoo. This place is listed in London's top 10 sites for kids and quite rightly so. 

I have come across other ‘zoos’ found in parks and they generally consist of a few chickens and temperamental llama. However, Battersea Park Zoo blows all those mundane token animal enclosures out of the water. 

Just the animal repertoire of this place is beyond genius. Of course it has all your usual chickens, ducks and guinea pigs but if you could hand pick the animals that you know will go down a storm with your little ones these are ALL here. But it’s not like a zoo, it’s totally designed for kids and adults with kids, in mind. I have always struggled to find anything entertaining for toddlers outside of soft play or a trip to feed the ducks, as quite often even some playgrounds are just a bit too oversized. So you end up spending the entire time trying to empower your little one, lifting them up ladders or guiding them over ropes, constantly reassuring them they’ll be able to do it soon. How soon? Once they’ve grown a few inches and grasped the concept of gravity. However, this place has a playground for every age. 

Where do I start? Apart from the multitude of playgrounds, a giant real fire engine and a sit on tractor and trailer, there is a giant sandpit full of ’sand transporting devices’ which is a stand alone feat of engineering with buckets and spades provided. There is a pond full of remote control pirate galleons. Then there are the animals. This is not an exhaustive list however, these include: Capuchins, Yellow chested Bolivian Squirrel monkeys, Lemurs, Rabbits, Donkeys, Miniature Shetland ponies, Chinchillas, Bearded dragons, Giant African Land Snails. There are Meerkats, Wallabies, Emus, Miniature Shetland ponies, Kune Kune pigs (Kune in native Maori on New Zealand means fat and round) Turtles and Corn snakes. Also did I mention there are Miniature Shetland Ponies? 

There are prehensile tailed field mice and Emperor Tamarins, named after Kaiser Wilhelm II, who apparently had a similar moustache. Not to mention it’s close proximity to Heathrow, ensuring a constant stream of aeroplanes and helicopters, a brilliant distraction which I never thought I’d be grateful for. 

All of this for the bargain fee for a family of 4, of £28 (I have paid nearly double this amount for lesser zoos!). On a bright day this place is pure delight that I cannot recommend highly enough. 

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Agnes Gereb is released from house arrest!

You might have seen my blog a couple of weeks ago about Hungarian midwife Agnes Gereb (read it HERE)



A message went out on the Freedom for Birth Facebook page an hour ago confirming that Agnes has been released from house arrest. 

Film maker Toni Harman, who co-created the documentary Freedom For Birth issued the following statement:

'Wonderful news!!! Agnes Gereb - the imprisoned Hungarian midwife - her house arrest is over. After three years imprisonment inside her home, Agnes can now leave her house, but she still can't leave Budapest while the court cases against her are still pending. This is from an email I received from Agnes earlier today - "House arrest is over... I am allowed to go free inside Budapest!" This is an important first step towards justice! 

Agnes is still, in the eyes of the authorities, a criminal, however, this the first small, but not insignificant victory, in the long battle to clear her name. 

I cannot imagine Agnes' happiness to be able to leave her house for the first time in 3 years. It's not the complete and full pardon she deserves but it's the most the positive move towards it, to date. 



Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Are you sitting comfortably?

This morning whilst running around the house doing my usual sweeping motion to pile toys into one corner, so at least some of the room looks temporarily tidy, I half caught a piece on Lorraine (or should I say Kate Garraway) where they were inviting people to comment on a story about a pregnant lady not being given a seat on public transport. 'That old chestnut? I could write for days about that' I thought, and made a note to track down the article they were discussing, later.



With half the story in my mind, I went about my morning, writing this post in my head. I'd already decided what the article said and, more importantly, what I was going to say about it. 

I was going to start by saying that whoever this person was, they were probably another country bumpkin who just doesn’t get that if you want a seat on public transport in London you have to ask for it. I thought this because I was once that pregnant country bumpkin standing around on buses, waiting for people to notice my delicate condition. I was standing for a very long time until I realised no one noticed me or my bump, and if I wanted to sit down I would have ask people to move. 

Secondly, why do just pregnant women get all the press, what about everyone else? Specifically the old lady I saw on the bus the other day, with a zimmer frame and about to keel over as she was diabetic and her sugar levels had dropped (she also had sciatica, her daughter told me all of this). Not an able bodied soul in the priority seats got up to offer her their place. 

Another factor I wanted to highlight was the whole fear of mistaking someone for being pregnant who isn’t. I’ve been there and it felt infinitely worst than actually having to ask someone to give me their seat or as much as the sharp pain in my heels that developed 6 months into pregnancy.

I recall that by my second pregnancy I was such a natural when it came to turfing people out of their seats on public transport, I didn't even bother getting one of those fancy 'baby on board' badges, available from TFL on application (email babyonboard@tfl.gov.uk). I was a pro at ensuring my backside was comfortably parked throughout most journeys. I wasn't always confident, I didn't always like doing it and there were times when I might have half sobbed as I muttered the words, 'Can I sit down please, I'm pregnant’. Then when I sat down, I would quite often spend the next ten minutes questioning myself over why I felt the need to use such a lowly, apologetic tone to do it. 

Hence my message was to urge all you pregnant ladies out there to take courage, remember that people might just have the fear about wrongly identifying you as pregnant so make it easy for them by making the first move. It isn’t easy but no one is going to say no. 

Then, finally, I found the ACTUAL article and guess what, the pregnant lady had asked for a seat and the seated said no. 

I don’t mind admitting I felt a little sheepish and quite angry. This lady asked for a seat and was refused? Suddenly the bottom dropped out of my soapbox. Never once on all my escapades, even before I sported the most legitimate of bumps, had anyone ever turned down my request for a seat

There I was, all argument and no solution whatsoever. The woman had, quite proactively I thought, asked South West Trains if they might consider giving her a pass to sit in first class when the train was full. Oh the relief, a sensible solution (which could also be applicable to anyone needing priority seating i.e. elderly or disabled). Wait a second, South West Trains also said no? Apparently when you’re on a train and you feel unwell the correct procedure is to tell a guard or pull the emergency cord. Seems a little drastic, not to mention the number of people who would leap off their seats in a second, if it meant you refrained from pulling the emergency cord and bringing the train to a calamitously jolting standstill. 

Growing up in Hampshire, in the days before automatic train doors, I remember South West Trains went through a phase of covering their carriage doors with stickers that read:

‘Save us time, save your time, please shut the door’ however, one sly but oddly very prolific graffiti artist couldn’t resist a minor alteration, which bearing in mind their attitude on this occasion, seems very appropriate ’Save us time, save your time, please... take the bus’. 

For those who refused to give up their seats? I now feel infinitely less guilty about ignoring the old woman who approached me the other day, wanting directions, she definitely wasn’t pregnant and she wasn’t in need of a seat. Karmically speaking, I am immaculate, well almost.  

Monday, 17 February 2014

Did you sign the scroll?



A Monday evening microblog, linking to a heartwarming Youtube clip, looking back at some of the highlights of Precious cargo raising money for Motorcycle Outreach  HERE (yes that is Amanda Holden!) I am proud to say I signed the scroll. 

For more information about the fantastic work that Motorcycle Outreach do please click here 


Sunday, 16 February 2014

Put on your breast expression

On a day where UKAMB (UK Association for Milk Banking) are inviting people to take part in a a survey about Milk Banking (storage and re-distribution of donated breast milk to neonatal units around the country) I thought I would share an article I wrote last year, in conjunction with the London Milk Bank at Queen Charlotte's & Chelsea hospital, for my local NCT newsletter. 



‘You did what?’ I stare in disbelief as our dinner guests file back into the sitting room. ‘I didn’t think you’d mind’ says my grinning partner who has just revealed to me that, while I was upstairs settling our youngest son, he had shown our friends the contents of the freezer. ‘Someone’s been busy, what you going to do with it all?’ my friend asks ‘because if you carry on at this rate you've got enough to last you a year’

The fact was that, having given birth to my second son, I had decided that having struggled to maintain any kind of store of breastmilk first time round, this time I would get myself into good routine of expressing and freezing milk on a daily basis.  Now that my son was 3 months old I was barely able to shut the freezer door.

It was at this point, when my partner started giving guests guided tours of the milk factory, that I realized that if I was going to ever store food in my freezer again I would have do something. I had heard rumours from friends about the possibility of donating breast milk to premature baby units in hospitals and so I consulted Google to see what information I could find.  I quickly came across details of the London Milk Bank, a division of the United Kingdom Association for Milk banking (UKAMB)

I clicked on ‘Becoming a donor’ and completed the application form. I was then posted out a blood test kit and a batch of sterile bottles so I could start expressing and freezing milk immediately. I took the kit along to my Doctors and within a couple of weeks received a letter stating that I was now an official Milk Donor and could arrange for the contents of my freezer to be collected. I was stunned at how easy it was and of course I couldn’t help but a feel a little chuffed when I was able to hand over 6 litres of breast milk to the Milk Bank courier. 

Finding out about UKAMB I felt appalled that my only initial motivation for doing this had just been to make room in my freezer. Due to the advances of modern medicine thankfully more and more premature infants are surviving which in turn creates a greater need for donor milk and the process required to become a donor is brilliantly simple.

The storing and distributing of breast milk, known as milk banking, is a practice that is now over a 100 years old. Gillian Weaver, Manager of the Queen Charlotte & Chelsea Hospital Milk Bank outlines why there has never been a greater need for women to donate their breast milk: ‘Of course donor breast milk is only ever second best to the infant’s own mother’s milk and shouldn’t be a substitute for every effort to help and support a new mother to establish lactation and provide her baby with her own milk. However, the realities of having a tiny and possibly very sick baby can impact on a mother’s ability to express enough milk, particularly in the vitally important early days.  When babies are born at less than 26 weeks gestation, the mother may not yet be ready to lactate fully as a result of incomplete developmental changes within her breast tissue which in turn enable breast milk production.  All mothers of sick and premature infants experience the stress, tiredness and anxiety that can also interfere with lactation.  Additionally, there are the mothers whose babies are born early because of their own ill health and who need life saving cancer treatments, or those who spend time in intensive care because of problems that arise during childbirth or as a result of pre existing health problems.  These are the times when donor milk is on hand in some neonatal units to ensure infants can still be fed with breast milk and when the availability of donor milk can be so very supportive for the mother. 
Given the fact that breast milk is now unequivocally the preferred means of feeding premature infants and the research evidence shows they are less likely to develop life threatening gut infections, the increasing interest in human milk banking is understandable’

There are some requirements to becoming a donor: you can’t smoke or consume more than 4 units of alcohol a week and you must start donating before your baby is 6 months old. You can donate as little or as much as you like although most milk banks ask donors to express each day for at least a month to justify the cost of all the screening and the blood tests. A premature baby may drink less than 20 ml a day so whatever you can give is very highly valued, this is beautifully summed up by UKAMB’s mantra : ‘Every drop counts’ 

Want to find out more about milk banking?
 Visit the United Kingdom Association for Milk Banking (UKAMB) website: www.ukamb.org. If you are interested in becoming a donor go to the ‘Your Milk Bank’ section and find your closest milk bank. 

Of course you don’t just have be lactating to help, UKAMB is an organization that is desperately short of badly needed funds, you can donate immediately by clicking ‘Donate to UKAMB’ on the front page of their website.

Or contact Gillian Weaver, Manager of the London Milk Bank at Queen Charlotte's & Chelsea hospital, on Gillian.weaver@imperial.nhs.uk for more information about becoming a donor or supporting the milk bank. 

Complete UKAMB's survey about Milk Banking HERE

Saturday, 15 February 2014

A Saturday evening product review: MAGIC £1.98 NAIL VARNISH


So what's so special about this rather unremarkable bottle of Rimmel nail varnish? 

This was one of the purchases I found on my search for budget items to review (which I have paid for myself and have not been sponsored in any way) and I expected the usual outcome of my nail varnishes. I'll forget to put marigolds on to do the washing up and so my varnished nails won't even make it past lunch time. 

I have a bottle of Chanel Vernis, it is a beautiful dark grey that shines like a mirror. However, if I so much as have a shower I come out with a chip on every nail and I expected this, with it's £1.98 price tag, to be no different. 

I was brilliantly surprised. So a little photo of freshly applied nail varnish (please try and ignore my wrinkly fingers)


Now follows the after shot and when I say after, I mean after a day of some very glamourous activities including washing up, bathing children, showering and scrubbing out my bread bin (who doesn't do this of a saturday afternoon)




There are a couple of chips here and there but overall I am stunned it has survived so well. Once again this is a budget find that I will absolutely be stocking up on. Nuff said. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

A book review of a love story for Valentine's day

Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘The Raven Girl’ 

I know I am not alone in my love of Niffenegger’s ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’. I remember thinking the premise of the story was thoroughly off putting: a time traveller, who falls in love, but has no control over his body when it decides to travel through time. It all sounded a bit 'Quantum Leap' for me, but I was so glad I persevered as it is easily now in my top ten reads. I had heard rumours of Niffenegger writing other books that included her own illustrations and so was very intrigued when I came across ‘The Raven Girl’, a gothic fairy tale about a girl who is half raven, half human. True to form, for me this was another off-putting introduction to a story, which captivated my interest even more. 

The story is set in East of East, a desolate suburb that could be anywhere, although there is something about the Postman’s ethos that is distinctly English, perhaps it is the nightmares he has about email. 

One day the postman, whilst delivering to a new address beneath a raven’s nest finds a female raven and, thinking her injured, takes her home and cares for her. They fall in love and one day she lays an egg which hatches to become a ‘raven girl’: immaculately human in every way apart from her voice, she can only crow and caw like a bird. She never learns to talk and can only communicate with her mother to whom she laments about her lack of wings. She grows up and her time comes to leave home to go to University to study biology. There she meets a doctor, a Frankenstine figure who specialises in transforming people and ‘improving’ them, giving women horns and men forked tongues. The raven girl convinces him to give her wings. However, a boy who has observed her in her classes notices her absence from university and tracks her down to the hospital where her transformation is taking place, with shocking and tragic consequences. 

This short synopsis by no means summarises the story in its entirety but it does set the scene. At this point I intended to list the issues I had with the character development, or rather the lack of it and the fact the whole thing was simply too surreal for me. However, there was one huge factor to this story that I wasn’t aware of until the end which changed my entire interpretation completely.

The reason this story was written was not initially to be read, but to viewed by an audience, as it was danced before you on the stage. This book is the synopsis of a ballet written by Niffenegger for the Royal Opera House. At this point everything falls into place. The lack of flowing explanation throughout is no longer required. Immediately my mind was ignited as the characters, assisted with feathered puppetry, came alive and began to dance. 

However, there is a very important element to this book that I have not yet touched on: the illustrations. For me, these charmingly simple aquatints (water colouresque etchings) are easily the best thing about this book and I keep going back to them. They are childlike in their style but still maintain artistic integrity. I am always a sucker for a book with pictures. I am a great believer that even if the story isn’t present, if there is good artwork then it is no time wasted. Is this judging a book by it’s cover? Of course, how else would the comic book industry, for example, survive if it wasn’t for an enticing front cover to make you pick the book up in the first place?

If you are a fan of Niffenegger’s work generally then I would say absolutely read this book. Once again her theme of the ‘super human’ and the doctor that assists in ‘fixing’ or rather helping them assimilate into our world is recurrent here. 

If I could own this production though, I wouldn’t make it into a ballet, I would animate Niffenegger’s beautiful pictures. 

Read a review of the actual ballet HERE

Read some more reviews of the book HERE

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Out of college and out of the closet...a note on NFL Prospect Michael Sam




Footage of American newsreader Dale Hansen’s inspired response to negative comments made regarding NFL prospect Michael Sam revealing that he is gay has gone viral in less than 24 hours (VIEW IT HERE)

This groundbreaking breath of fresh air in the sports arena deserves more time than I can currently give it however I can offer a link to THIS ARTICLE that (forgive the pun) kicks things off beautifully. To be continued.  

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A happy accident which gave birth to these downright tasty, if somewhat radioactive-looking, beauties.

Mint Choc Chip Cupcakes


So in my first foray into food blogging, my initial plans were to make THIS recipe for buttercream filled cupcakes which I came across on google. I have to confess I generally find cupcakes, despite their recent revival, to the extent that any trendy vintage teashop worth their Royal Albert would not open their doors without several platters of them on display, generally taste quite dull. However, this recipe’s initial description, along with enticing picture, pushed all my sugar-coated buttons. A cupcake filled with buttercream AND coated in chocolate is, without a doubt, the kind of jazz my cupcakes would be playing. However, on further reading it swiftly transpired that if you actually followed this recipe word for word then you would just end up with buttercream iced cupcakes with no creamy filling whatsoever. I could have sobbed. However, I had toddlers who needed entertaining so we pressed on. 

Cooking with toddlers is a real skill that doesn’t come easily to me. So I spend a lot of time scouring around for recipes that are really simple. If all the ingredients can all be shoved into one bowl, that I can pass to one of my little assistants to stir and splatter as they please, before swiftly decanting into cake tin then it's a winner. Generally if I’ve managed to hold their attention this long then I am happy, although ordinarily they will have moved onto greater things elsewhere in the house, involving lego, superglue and curtains.

This recipe, despite not fitting it’s own description, ticked the simplicity boxes. However, whilst my eldest and I merrily chucked the ingredients into a bowl for him to set about mixing, I proceeded to have a little mishap which involved mistaking peppermint essence for vanilla.  

I feel like most of my baking projects tend to become salvage operations and the realisation that this was no exception, hit me at the same time as the aroma of my now mint flavoured cupcake mix. However, I take pride in my silver lining approach to cooking and have managed to turn round some potentially horrendous creations. Of course, I could just have very dishonest family members committed to giving me lip service about the inaccurate greatness of my food, but if that’s my bubble then please may it remain intact, for now. 

So after a quick rethink, some additions and an overhaul of the icing process please find the re-born cupcake recipe below:

If I had more time I would tweak the ingredients as this makes a whopping 36 cupcakes which not only fed my kids and their friends but also everyone at my partner's poker night

Preparation time:15min. Cooking time: 20min  

Ingredients
  • 375g plain flour
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 30g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 250ml milk
  • 250ml water
  • 250ml vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • Approx 50g dark chocolate chips
Icing ingredients.
  • 450g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp peppermint essence
  • 3 tbsp hot water
  • Green food colouring (I use the gel but you need hardly any at all unless, like me, you like a halloween-esque cupcake)
  • 50g Dark Chocolate roughly broken into pieces
  • Couple of drops of olive oil 

Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 190C/Gas 5. 
  2. Line 36 cake tin holes with paper cases.(Or cook in batches if, like me, your biggest cake tin only fits 24)
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt. 
  4. Then make a well in the centre of your mixture and pour in the eggs, milk, water, oil and peppermint essence and mix well.
  5. Fill each cupcake case half-full of cake mix.
  6. Once they are all filled then sprinkle a few chocolate drops into each individual case of cake mix. As the mix is quite runny if you do this before hand, they will all just sink to the bottom. 
  7. Bake in preheated oven for around 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool completely
Instructions for icing
  1. Put the kettle on and while it boils sift your icing sugar into a bowl 
  2. Add 3 tbsp of your freshly boiled water, the peppermint essence and the food colouring to the icing sugar and mix until it forms a thick green paste
  3. Using either a spoon or a pallet knife place a large blob of your green icing on top of your cooled cupcake and smooth it gently to the edge.
  4. Next place a saucepan of water on the hob with a glass bowl sitting on top on the pan. Make sure your bowl isn’t touching the water beneath. Add your chocolate pieces and then heat the water until it’s gently simmering. Once the chocolate is melted, stir in a couple of drops of oil to stop it from congealing and remove from the heat. 
  5. Using a spoon, drizzle the melted chocolate over the tops of your iced cupcakes and leave them in a cool place to set.   

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Never thought I'd confess an addiction online, but here I go

'So you might get a headache, you might feel dizzy, you might even feel like you’re going to die. Don’t worry, that’s all perfectly normal. Whatever you do, don’t leave. The aim of today is just to stay in the room’ 

These are the mildly terrifying instructions one is given before entering a hot yoga class for the first time. 

Me practising a pose, not really! 

So I thought yoga, even in a hot environment like the one I was about to enter, was meant to be a calming and relaxing experience, allowing you to connect with your body via your breath. How wrong I was. Hot yoga is a very different animal indeed, hence the warning, before you attempt it for the first time, to take it easy. I wasn’t really sure what to wear so had gone for shorts and a t-shirt and was, quite possibly, the most overdressed person in the room. There were muscular ladies in bikinis and men in trunks, although there were a few hardcore exceptions, dressed in head to foot thermal running gear, I assume to generate even more heat.  

I have dabbled with yoga, pilates and occasionally body balance, on numerous occasions but it’s been a good 7 years since my last attempt and never before in 40 degree heat. The class was a relatively even mix of beginners and advanced practitioners. This was a good set up as the instructor most of the time, walked around the class, talking you through your poses. rather than demonstrating them, so having people at the front who knew what they were doing for you to follow, was very helpful. Although there were moments where I was hit by the stark realisation of exactly how good they were as they expertly flexed in ways I never would. The poses, I am reliably informed, were a mix of Ashtanga, Hatha and Bikram yoga.

I was also advised that generally one takes 3 towels to a hot yoga class, one to put over your mat, one to mop your brow and then one for the shower afterwards. This seemed excessive however I quickly understood why. Not to go into too much detail here but the sweat is unbelievable, it pours over your eyes, in your mouth and when you bend over, up your nose. It pours off of you in a steady stream almost, and you leave class in a similar fashion to exiting a swimming pool. Having a shower afterwards is mandatory. 

I had every symptom listed to me in my first class and I did repeatedly think I would have to make a break for it, into the cool of the heated reception area. However, I was successful, I didn’t pass out and while I struggled to maintain my balance I didn’t do any comedy falling over backwards or a poorly judged indiscreet attempts at passing of wind (I’ve been caught out with that one before). I didn’t manage to hang around for the meditation at the end though and I stood up far too quickly, causing me to weave about to find the door to the changing room, whilst mentally batting the stars from my vision. I say stars they were more like purple clouds. 

The sheer bliss of the cool shower afterwards almost brought real tears to my eyes, as opposed to sweat based ones. I walked out of the subterranean studio feeling a little bit like I’d visited another land, a spa-like underworld, like I’d spent the last hour and a half sat in a humid cloud and some of it’s fluffy ether had transferred into my mind. It was warm, comforting and bizarrely serene. I realised then what exactly it was that I was feeling, I felt relaxed. I’d forgotten long ago what that felt like and needless to say I happily confess, I am well and truly hooked. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

A grey rainy Monday calls for a story with a happy ending..


Last Friday on Mumsnet, an appeal went out for Margot, a little girl diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia called 'dual lineage' leukaemia, which is formed of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and acute myeloid leukaemia. A bone marrow transplant was Margot's only hope however, due to her multi ethnic dual heritage this was proving to be a challenging task. 

Read her story HERE

Since this appeal a match has been found much to the relief of Margot's family - read the happy news HERE  

As a direct result of this appeal Delete Blood Cancer have been inundated with potential stem cell donors. It takes 5 minutes to register as a stem cell blood donor, I know because I did it earlier, so why don't you start your week with a little boost of karma. They will send you a swab kit and add you to their register. For more information please click HERE.