Sunday, 30 January 2011

Saturday, 29 January 2011

The innocent victim of the Sky sexism row

I'm sure you've read blogs, columns and articles aplenty about the sexism row that led to Andy Gray's dismissal and Richard Keys' resignation from Sky. We all have an opinion on whether they should have been made to go (cos believe it, the words mean nothing - I suspect Keys got the nod to go), and I don't want to focus on that in this post.

Because, in the middle of it all, lies one innocent victim of all this.

That person is Sian Massey, the assistant referee officiating at the Wolves v Liverpool match, who ruled Fernando Torres correctly onside for Liverpool's opening goal, thus displaying her knowledge of the offside rule, something that Gray and Keys had questioned in off-air comments before the game. It was her second match in the Premier League. She'd worked her way up to this and to be running the line at a Premier League match is pretty close to the top of the pile - although she has officiated in international matches in women's football. She turned professional only last year, leaving her other job as a school teacher, and obviously did a good job at her first Premier League match, at Sunderland v Chelsea over the Christmas period.

I'm sure she was offended and upset when she heard about the remarks. What I don't think she could have predicted was the negative effect that it was going to have on her. She received apologies from the two men - if you believe Richard Keys, he rang her and apologised to her personally. I suspect she thought that might be the end of it.

If she did believe that, she was wrong. The PGMOB (Professional Game Match Officials Board) withdrew her from the next match she was due to referee, a League 2 game between Crewe Alexandra and Bradford City. The PGMOB said it was because they believed the attention on her would detract from the match itself. But then, yesterday lunchtime, the PGMOB withdrew her again from a Conference North match between Corby Town and Eastwood Town. This time, the PGMOB, in its infinite wisdom, withdrew her a second time because of the large number of requests for access from the media. In other words, the press want to be there when she next runs the line.

So, two guys lose their jobs for making these remarks and this poor woman, who has done nothing wrong, is having her career negatively impacted as a result. Let's be clear about this - whenever she returns to refereeing, there's going to be a media scrum. That, I'm afraid, is inevitable. Whether it is now, in one week, or in one month, they will be there and yes, she will be under scrutiny. For that game. By denying the press their photo opportunity, the PGMOB are making things worse. It's creating more of a frenzy. When will they realise that they can't play the media the way they want to? They will have, to some extent, dance to the tune of the media for a little while, give them what they crave - and then they will lose interest. After all, they can't follow Sian Massey around in that sort of number forever but I believe they won't stop until they get that moment.

How many more matches are they going to "withdraw" her from? I'm assuming she's lost out on two lots of match fees so her main source of income is being denied to her. For being a woman, for doing nothing wrong. How long do the PGMOB seriously think they can go on withdrawing her?

I learned from this post that there are only 850 women out of 26,000 active match officials in England. I make that about 3%. I guess that women will probably never achieve parity due to the smaller numbers of women regularly involved in football but the PGMOB need more women to train and work their way up through the ranks like Sian Massey has. If they are to do that, they need to be seen to be supportive of their match officials across all genders, races and creeds. I believe, in this case, they should be helping her deal with the media madness. I accept they might believe that they are protecting her but they are not. Actually, I bet they don't think that way - they appear more bothered about how football looks and how it might create bad press for them. Believe me, that's already happening. After all, the Corby manager was quoted as saying that he didn't mind if it was a "man, woman or elephant" refereeing as long as they did it properly. Clubs appear supportive (although I accept that Corby might have struggled to accommodate all the media requesting access - but they could have restricted access to a small number), I suspect her colleagues are supportive, and I suspect most of the general public are too.

If the PGMOB don't handle this the right way, and they have not covered themselves in glory thus far, they could lose Sian Massey. I would certainly not stick around in a job where I didn't feel I was supported, particularly if I had not done anything wrong - in fact, I did just that once. Football would lose a talented referee and gawd knows they struggle to get anyone to be referees these days. I believe it would also send out the message that being different makes you a liability, even if you do your job well and that when your difference becomes part of the story, your employers aren't prepared to back your ability and allow you to continue. I mean, as someone pointed out to me on Twitter yesterday, did they withdraw Howard Webb after Ryan Babel tweeted a picture of him in a Manchester United shirt? No, they did not.

I really hope that it doesn't come to it. I hope that the PGMOB gets over itself soon, and allows Sian Massey to get back on the pitch, or rather along the edge of it. Accepting there will be a media scrum is an important part of that - it will happen come what may. It's sinful that, in withdrawing her, they have almost allowed the sexists to win. After all, the dinosaurs out there - possibly including the two that made the remarks in the first place - didn't want her there in the first place.

By keeping her from doing her job, they are giving the sexists exactly what they want. No women on the pitch, that's progress. It gives the Kick It Out campaign, which is funded by the governing bodies of football, a hollow ring to its messages.

Sian Massey has been treated pretty disgracefully all round. I hope she gets support from the right people soon, as well as from the rest of us.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Recipe: Slow Cooker Chinese Ribs

I decided to blog this recipe when I mentioned it on Twitter and immediately got a request from The Coffee Lady for the recipe. It's not your average slow cooker recipe - it doesn't need as much cooking but it is a "bung it all in and leave" type thing, with some grilling at the end. I have two variations in the recipe book I got this from - the other is maple glazed ribs, but this is much nicer. The original recipe suggest eating it with some coleslaw but rice is nice with it too. In the pic below, I cooked some rice with a bit of stock and some coconut cream, and stirred in some soy sauce and petits pois near the end of cooking. The cooking time is listed as 5 to 7 hours but I would imagine it could be cooked in less time than that as the meat is falling off the bones and the bones disintegrating.



Chinese Ribs
Serves 4

1.25kg/2.5lb pork ribs
1 onion, quartered
1 carrot, thickly sliced
2 bay leaves (entirely optional)
2 tbsp malt vinegar
1 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp salt
1 litre/1.75 pints boiling water

For the glaze:
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp light muscovado sugar
juice of 1 orange (tho I often use about 2 tbsp of freshly squeezed orange juice)

Put all the ingredients into the slow cooker and cook on high for 5-7 hours or until tender. Mix the ingredients for the glaze with about 100 ml of stock from the slow cooker pot. Drain the ribs, transfer to a a grill pan lined with foil (preferably on a rack) and preheat the grill to high. Cover the ribs with the glaze  - I use a silicon pastry brush for this but you could spoon some over each rib. Grill for about 15 minutes, turning once or twice. I often take them out every 5 minutes and brush more glaze on as they cook, continuing until all the glaze is used. They're done once they are browned and sticky all over.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

My Fitness Story... PhotoPuddle

Today's story in the My Fitness Story.... series is by a lady known to many as PhotoPuddle, who blogs at It's all about the photos, which contains some stunning photos taken by her and others. PhotoPuddle wanted to tell her story of how she lost over a stone. That doesn't sound like a huge amount, but it's all relative, isn't it? Anyway, over to PhotoPuddle, who has decided to call her story:

Weight loss – the everywoman’s tale

When Kate said she was after people to guest post about fitness and weight loss, I was quite excited as last year, I finally lost the weight I’ve been meaning to shift for years. I really am very proud of myself so wanted a place to shout about it and my own blog wasn’t really the place (It’s a rather nice blog about photography though, so do come check it out!)

Anyway, this is my story. I’m not exactly slimmer of the year but I hope I can be a bit of inspiration to someone who just wants to shape up a bit. I’ve never been fat exactly but slowly over the years, my weight just kept creeping up and I really wasn’t happy about it. I’d tried dieting before but to be honest, I really lacked motivation. I’d lose a couple of pounds but then I’d be back to my usual snacking ways. I even failed to get motivated to lose anything before my wedding or before a holiday in the Caribbean.

So what happened this time, I hear you ask? Well it was the way people often decide they need to lose weight – a holiday photo! I just looked at this particular picture and thought enough is enough.

I started the way I usually do when I go on a diet and that was by keeping a food diary. It’s really the best way to shock yourself into realising just how much junk you shovel into your mouth in a day. My problem has always been snacking. I’d come in from being out with my daughter and cram a few biscuits in to my mouth. I’d be out at coffee with friends and always order a cake to go with my drink. And evenings would be the worst. I’d have dinner and then an hour later, be tucking into a bag of crisps or some chocolate. So the snacking had to stop and this time I meant it! And you know what, something inside must have clicked because I did stop snacking. Now if I do want a snack in the day, it’s a rice cake or a piece of fruit.

And I am proud of what I’ve achieved because it’s not been a diet - my whole relationship with food has changed. I really don’t feel the need to snack on rubbish any more. I realise that it was just boredom or habit that made me eat in that way. I had final confirmation that my eating had changed over Christmas. On Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day I decided that there were no calories and I could treat myself to whatever I fancied. And you know what, I really didn’t fancy much at all. I was a bit naughtier than usual but the day I imagined with my face in a tub of Celebrations just didn’t happen.

So the result? We’ll I’ve lost over a stone which, as I said, isn’t a huge amount but it’s what I needed to shift. I’ve also gone down at least one jeans size which is actually a little bit annoying as none of my jeans fit me any more so I’ve had to have a bit of a shopping spree on that front. But it’s amazing how much more confident I feel about myself now.

So there you have it. That’s my story. I know it’s not a dramatic weight loss and I know I could still eat better but I thought I’d share simply because I think many of you out there can relate it. There are so many people out there saying they want to shape up but never really get round to it. It’s simple really - eat less (and exercise more of course!). By that I don’t mean make food the enemy, just stop with the pointless snacking and huge portions. Start enjoying your food and making what you do eat count.

Oh, and I still don’t think there are any calories on Christmas Day. Or your birthday in fact! Result!

Thanks to PhotoPuddle for sharing her story with us. I totally agree that food diaries are a great way to start becoming aware of just how much you're eating - and not just in snacks; many people underestimate their portion sizes and actually eat way more than they realise. I also think that getting your state of mind right can be critical to your success or failure. Sometimes, things do just click mentally - I think starting off with a goal in mind, but not expecting it to go overnight helps a lot. Weight loss is not a sprint, it's a marathon and there are no prizes for coming first, everyone who crosses the finishing line wins. 

If you'd like to tell your fitness story, please get in touch with me, either on Twitter or via the email address on the About Me page. Please feel free to share your experiences via the comments below if you prefer. 

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Baby Face

Tara from Sticky Fingers set us an easy one this week. The prompt for the Gallery was Children. Now, as you know, I like to post copious pictures of Monkey and Missy Woo given the chance, but I feel it's wearing thin, so I thought I would do something slightly different.

Unusually for a third child, I was the first grandchild in my dad's family. This is because my elder sisters are half sisters and had a different dad. Now, I'm sure you all know that a first grandchild is often a much treasured thing by immediate family and the attention lavished on said grandchild is akin to the same sort you'd give to visiting royalty. As a result, there were tons of photographs taken of me, compared to my younger sister who arrived 18 months later, even in the long-before-digital era. If I also remember correctly, I was also the first great grandchild - which is amazing as both my paternal grandparents were from large families - and I believe my great-grandfather changed his will to make me sole benefactor. However, he had a change of heart before he died and left it all to a cattery or something when he died a few years later. (There was a suggestion that he was "targeted" by one of his carers, but I don't think anything was proven and after all, it was his choice. I don't think it would have made me rich, he was not well off at all.)

When I was in my late teens, my now late uncle gave me a green plastic wallet. In there were several photos of me in the back garden of my grandparent's house - I can tell by the pebble dashing and the layout, it's ingrained in my memory. I had never seen these photos before but my uncle had taken them, had them developed and kept them to give to me to keep when I was an adult. I still have those photos in the same green wallet, stashed away in my file of important things. This one is probably the cutest - some of them I am pulling some embarrassingly horrible faces. I look like I have quite a tan there (note no sunshade too - who'd heard of skin cancer back in the 60s?), so I'd say it's summer time and therefore I'm about 6-7 months old.



Stop sniggering at the back there. Where's YOUR baby pic then, eh?



(Please take a look at the Gallery and visit some of the other entries, they are always brilliant.)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

What do your kids eat for breakfast?

Do you insist on only healthy options? Or do you take the view that anything is better than nothing? Do yours even HAVE breakfast?

I know, that last question sounds shocking but I went to a event called Snap, Crackle and Blog at Kellogg's UK headquarters last Friday, and they revealed that 1 in 6 children do not eat breakfast, 1.7 million of which are children under 6. I think that last statistic shocked me most - babies and toddlers, with tiny tummies and who need to have food regularly, going without breakfast. That's awful - I can't believe all of those 1.7 million children don't want to eat in the mornings. On top of that, school children spend £646 MILLION pounds on the way to school buying snacks and drinks. That's over £3.5 million every school day.

Kellogg's are obviously the market leader in the UK breakfast cereal market. Their market share is way ahead of their nearest competitor - something like 40% with the next biggest around the 15% mark. Obviously, it is in their interest to tell a group of mum bloggers that statistic, because maybe our blogs about the event will mention it and maybe more people will buy cereals to eat breakfast. But is that so bad?

We all know that breakfast is a positive thing. It helps us to function better throughout the day. Getting a child to eat breakfast is a habit we want them to have for life. But many of the breakfast cereals on the market have what people perceive to be large amounts of sugar in them - think Coco Pops - and consider that to be bad. When we were there, and we were discussing this with one of the Kellogg's dietitians, I remembered a programme I watched a couple of years ago made by Professor Lesley Regan looking at children's products and part of which investigated sugary cereals. Lo and behold, I have managed to find a video of that programme for you to watch here (and funnily enough, Kellogg's are featured). It also features one of my favourite bits of trivia from last Friday - that most people who consume Frosties are actually young men, rather than small children. Brilliant.



So, maybe we all need to relax about things like that - they get so many other things from it. For instance, cereals are now the leading dietary source of iron for most children. Speaking for myself, I am happier if Monkey and Missy Woo have the healthiest options for breakfast but occasionally, they have Chocolate Weetabix, and sometimes for a special treat, I buy them chocolate spread for special breakfasts. But when it's run out, I don't automatically replace those things and they are happy enough having less sugary cereals like Rice Krispies. Missy Woo is currently having a big porridge phase and will devour bowls of it with only a few raisins added to provide sweetness. I'm happy with that balance - they understand that some things are treats and not to be eaten every day. Were I to have a really finicky child and a sugary cereal was the one thing they would eat for breakfast, I'd give it to them. So shoot me.

Still, Kellogg's say they are looking to reduce the sugar content of some of their sweeter cereals. That has to be a gradual thing because tastes change slowly, although they can be changed. The same applies to cereals. There will come a point where they can't reduce it any further because we just won't eat it. I'm thinking of some reduced salt and sugar baked beans that taste so bland, I want to add salt so I don't buy them.

Beyond the serious side of nutritional messages, it was a great event and I met some lovely bloggers for the first time, and some others for the second or third time. Kellogg's had us "making" our own cereal - and even designing our own cereal packet. I use the term designing loosely as I am so not crafty, it's embarrassing. Still, I think I did OK - and the cereal is actually quite edible. Here's mine, along with a few things that Kellogg's gave us to take away.


And yes, that is my face on a Cornflakes packet! If you saw my Silent Sunday post this week, hopefully all is now explained - they took photos of all of us at the start and then printed them on either a packet of Cornflakes or Rice Krispies for us to take away. Incidentally, did you know that the cockerel on the packet is called Cornelius? (Geddit?) I didn't!

Because I can't fit them all in, I've put pictures from the morning into a slideshow for you to peruse at your leisure.



Apart from coming away with arms laden with stuff, the one thing that stuck with me is this: children need breakfast. And as things go, cereal ain't necessarily that bad an option. If your child will only eat the sugariest thing on the supermarket shelf, let them have it. In the grand scheme of things, it's no biggie. If that's OK by Professor Regan, then it's OK by me.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Get thee behind me, January.

It may be my birthday month, but January is my least favourite month of the year. It just doesn't do me well, and this year seems worse than most.

My birthday happens so soon after the New Year that there is barely time to draw breath before it arrive. It feels like the festivities and parties start in mid-December, continues on through Christmas, New Year and onto my birthday. Then, all of a sudden, reality kicks back in, and to top it all, I'm a year older. The weather and lack of daylight also play their part - it is no surprise that my best winters have been when we have had trips abroad to sunnier places in early January. It's not that anything bad happens, I just don't feel right.

I internalise a lot. This is partly out of habit; it's just something I do. I don't give the impression to those around me that anything is wrong. I'll still laugh and smile genuinely and seem fine for the most part. And the truth is, in part, that I am. But if were to have a emotional protective layer around me, I would say it wears so thin as to be transparent and doesn't offer much protection at this time of year. The word I'm looking for is fragile. Bits of me have felt like they are breaking off.

Things I would normally allow to wash over without a second thought become big issues. I don't know if I imagine slights, but I become hyper-aware of them in the things people say. I see bad things in them. And I believe them. You know that small nagging internal voice that tells you you're not good enough? For me, at times like this, it becomes louder and louder and louder until it's all I can hear. It kicks me when I'm down. It hates me. As a result, I start to hate myself. There have been times where I've been reduced to tears over it. Just typing that now and reading it back seems so ridiculous.

I get so cross with myself as a result. I have this big internal battle with myself - that nagging negative internal voice shouts down the bit that says "Well, actually, you're alright really and you know it". Deep down, I know that bit is there but I can't help myself - and the internal battle drains me of the ability to get on with the stuff I'm meant to be doing.

This year, it's come across in my tweets and I've found myself tweeting, much to my own horror, stuff I really shouldn't tweet, but I don't know why. Really, in the end, I lost patience with myself about all the whingey, whiney moany tweets. The folk of Twitter were, as ever, lovely but I didn't do it for that. So those went out the window. Not that I haven't felt different, I just didn't want to be that person.

Last week, I decided I didn't want to be like this any more. I am not going to pretend that I changed overnight but I had a light bulb moment, or maybe a couple of them. The first came when I realised that no-one else can except me can make me like myself.  The second came when I had a "Oh stuff it" moment when I had a sore back and booked a massage at half an hour's notice. It was brilliant but halfway through, I had an emotional release when I found myself, spontaneously and silently, crying for no reason at all. I know it can happen, but it surprised me. It made me realise that I must be kinder to myself; do a few things just for me, enjoy things for the hell of it. I wanted to go out there and then for lunch. I couldn't, so I went and bought myself a nice sandwich and took it home to enjoy with a little peace before the onslaught of the school run and its aftermath.

Just a small change in attitude seems to have made a big difference. I'm sure some will say that it's down to  the days beginning to get a bit longer and that does help a bit. But just that shift in my head - knowing that perhaps it's just this time of year, that I need to be kind to me, and listen more to the positive inner voice (I'm sounding like a crank here, but frankly I don't care) - is making me feel better. It's like a small twist in a kaleidoscope. What was disjointed and ugly has transformed into something colourful and beautiful. It's not perfect  - what is? - but the seeds of hope have been sown and I'm more at ease with myself. I will not, will not let my own head drag me down any more. I don't need to be so harsh on myself. I don't need to look for slights in what people say or do - real or imaginary, they do not matter and I can't allow myself to care.

Still, I won't be sorry to see the back of January. Only a week to go. Get thee behind me, January. I'll be glad when you've gone.

(PS If you've made an effort to make me smile when I've been down, cheer me up, or generally make me feel better during the last few weeks, then thank you. You know who you are.)

Thursday, 20 January 2011

My Fitness Story... Steve

So this is the first post in the My Fitness Story... series. If you want to know what it is all about, this post from yesterday explains my thinking behind what I hope will be a series of posts. 

As I said yesterday, I don't want this just to be straightforward success stories and I want people to share many different experiences about fitness. Today's post is a perfect example of that, because the main aim of Steve, today's guest poster, was weight gain, not weight loss. People who want to gain weight healthily are often forgotten by the fitness magazines, because of the focus on obesity in the media. I've been on diet and fitness discussion boards and seen some people who have asked for advice on healthy weight gain be treated quite poorly by others, who think they should be grateful for being thin, but of course, it's possible to be thin and still need to shape up or have some better muscle definition. 

Over to Steve now to tell his story.

Before
My story starts way back as far as I can remember as I’d always been really skinny and one of those annoying people that can eat what they want without putting any weight on. Well, that’s what I was to other people but to me, it was anything but a good thing to be growing up and staying so thin.

All the things that many people take for granted, I couldn’t or wouldn’t do because of the body image I had of myself. I never went swimming, I never wore shorts and I certainly never changed in front of anyone. I’d been 6’ and 10st for as long as I could remember and around a year ago, I decided to really try and do something about it for the first time.

My plan was to bring out the weights I’d owned (and never used) and get some advice on how to get the best out of training at home. My job, coupled with my partner's evening job and having a 4yr old daughter, meant going to the gym on an evening was not going to be possible. I got some great advice from the internet and a plan was devised for me to work to, three times a week. This plan was something I felt at ease doing and managed to stick to it for 16wks before disaster struck and during lifting a barbell bent over row, my back twinged pretty badly and I took that as a warning to be very careful in how I progressed.

This actually led to a bit of a gap in my training and I would miss one night here, one night there until I found myself not doing any training at all, which felt like a such a let down after the work I’d put in to get to that point. Whenever I did try to put a session in, I’d find that I could now only manage 15 or so press ups whereas I could easily double that when I was training properly. That is very demotivating.

And so from that point, more of a gap was to build before around five months ago, I decided to give it another attempt. I’d removed all of the exercises which were most dangerous to my back and had caused twinges before, and I set off again on my quest to build some muscle. Aswell as the exercise, I worked hard on the calorie and protein intake and took a smoothie recipe from an expert which boosted my daily calorie intake by 1500Kcals in two servings, I’d have one for breakfast and one after training or just later on in the evening if not training. This smoothie was pretty hard going but it did the job I was looking for, I used it every day for six weeks and managed to move up to 11st5lbs which was an all time high for me. Unfortunately, 10wks into the training and all going perfectly well, I had to spend a week in London on a training course and this was all the spanner it took to jam up the workings once again. I found that I just couldn’t get back into it and generally managed to find an excuse not to do a session.
After

As much as this was a disappointment, it taught me a very valuable lesson about my own motivational skills and my chances of succeeding down the line. I find that as long as I stick to something, I can happily pursue that and keep it going faultlessly. Once I allow something to get in the way of that, everything comes to a grinding halt and the motivation to continue just stops.

In the period between then and now, I had become really quite inactive. An average day for me would consist of driving to work, sitting at my desk all day, driving home and then sitting around on the evening and that’s not going to do anything for my overall fitness levels, so again things just had to change. I’ve even put on a few pounds which has all seemingly gone direct to my stomach, thanks for that!

Lifting weights is just not for me, it’s way too big a commitment in so many ways and I’m not really up for the disappointment of failing again which I actually see as inevitable, so the tact had to change.

The plan has now partially reversed, in that the plan is no longer to pile weight on, it’s to try and remove the little extra I’ve accumulated and try to develop a six pack during 2011. I did actually manage to go swimming a couple of times last year during the weight training period and although I felt very uncomfortable in shorts, it felt really nice because it was a major achievement to me. I know that if I looked more sculpted and toned, even without being bulky, I’d have the confidence to go and do that again.

My current plan is running. I dipped into this throughout last year but never consistently enough to call myself a runner. I now do this three times a week and I use an application on the iPhone called Runkeeper Pro to track my routes and times and this helps keep my interest. I also do abs exercises such as sit ups, crunches and leg raises and I do chin ups with a bar that I have just to try and tone up.

So, would I class my fitness attempts as success or failure? Well, the first attempt I’d have to resign off as a failure. I allowed it to slip and have nobody to blame but myself really. The second time was more of a success. I allowed it to slip once again but the gains were worth the effort, the weight gain and toning that came from it. This time with the running and exercising, it’s much more of a success. I’m sticking with it, enjoying it and it can’t fail but to benefit my life in many ways.

My tip to anyone would be to not let the failures control you, find your exercise and go with it. If weights don’t work for you, try something else. If running doesn’t work for you, try something else. Will I get my six pack? Ask me again at the end of the year!

Thanks, Steve, for sharing your story and progress pictures with us. I think what it shows is that enjoyment is a key factor in succeeding long term with any fitness regime, started for whatever reason, as it helps to keep you motivated. What might be right for me is not for you and vice versa - and there is nothing wrong with that. No-one can tell you what works for you - except you. Good luck with the six pack.

If you'd like to tell your fitness story, please get in touch with me, either on Twitter or via the email address on the About Me page.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

My Fitness Story... - An Introduction

At the start of January, I wrote a post giving my tips for starting a fitness regime and some people said to me that maybe we could update in a few weeks. It led me to thinking how I could perhaps include more fitness on this blog - after all, it's one of the Five Fs and I'm painfully aware that I don't blog about it all that often. I don't feel my story is exciting to share with you at the moment although I'm planning an update of my (slow but steady) progress soon.

That was when I came up with the idea of asking people to submit posts about their own fitness story. I think fitness and weight loss is such a broad subject and there are so many different ways of doing it, good and bad, that just talking about what I do doesn't even scratch the surface. So, I asked on twitter if anyone would share their stories and a few people popped up expressing an interest so I've decided to give it a go. 

I want to cover as broad a range as possible. What I'm after is experiences of following a diet or starting a fitness regime, with a goal in mind. It doesn't have to be a great success. If it was a qualified success, or an abject failure, I want to hear those stories too - about what you learned from the experience, perhaps how it changed your ideas or outlook on diet and fitness, and how you moved on from that. It can be a recent experience or one from years ago. 

A lot of issues surrounding diet and fitness can be very personal so if you want the post to be published anonymously, I'm happy to do so. I'd prefer to know who you are, but I promise not to pass that on if you don't want. If you're happy to be named and you blog, I'll link to it in the post. You don't have to be a blogger to take part, of course. This is open to everyone to contribute stories. 

Of course, you may read a post and want to offer your experience of the same thing, particularly if yours was completely different. Please do leave a comment - they are always welcomed, positively encouraged in fact - or if you like, write your own post to be part of the "My Fitness Story..." series. 

So, if you think you have a story to tell, then please get in touch with me, either on Twitter or by email. I already have a couple of posts submitted to me, and a few more are being written. I plan to publish one or two posts a week, so I need stories to make this work! 

I hope you find this series interesting, thought-provoking and useful.  The first post will be published tomorrow - please take a look and give the poster some comment love if you can.

Thanks to Garry from The Blog Up North for making me a badge to accompany the series. 

Compare the Meerkat


I was completely stumped by this week's Gallery prompt of Mother Nature. It's not really a time of year to be out a lot with your camera and anyway, I am not one of the world's nature photographers. I don't have many pictures to fall back on, so had resigned myself to giving this week a miss.

And then, Garry from The Blog Up North published this forlorn picture. And it prompted a memory of a trip to the zoo of our own, admittedly completely different and somewhat lighter in mood. It's a bit of a cheat for the prompt, but I know there are often different interpretations. So shoot me.

Last May, I took the children to Blackpool Zoo on Spring Bank Holiday Monday. It was their first ever trip to a proper zoo although we'd taken them to a marine park in Portugal the year before. As my husband was working in the morning, the children and I did most of the trip on our own, wandering back and forth around the zoo, stopping and starting at random, allowing for loo stops, sandwich consumption, ice cream purchases, and chasing of birds. I forgot my camera in the rush to get myself, children and packed lunch ready but I did have my phone with me.

Monkey and Missy Woo loved seeing all the animals. There was, however, particular excitement when we found where the meerkats were housed. Maybe it's those ads, although I do have a recollection of Monkey saying he'd seen some at school on a DVD they'd played to his class. They couldn't wait to see them, and afterwards, they insisted I take this picture of them.


If my photography skills were halfway decent, you'd see that they were stood in front of a larger than life meerkat cutout. Try saying that without your teeth in.

Do you think they'd pass for the real thing if they snuck into the meerkat enclosure? Would Aleksandr sniff them out as impostors or are meerkats really simples and not notice? What do you reckon?

Monday, 17 January 2011

I'm going to Cybermummy11 - thanks to SeaWorld Parks!

This is a sponsored post.

I only started blogging last April and last summer, I noticed a lot of bloggers talking about Cybermummy. It turned out to be an blogging conference for parent bloggers in London. Much as I would have liked to go, it fell on the weekend of Missy Woo's birthday party. So, when this year's date was announced, I was pleased to find I could make it. My next problem was affording it - the cost of a ticket, travel to London and a hotel room soon add up to a lot of money. I'd heard that some people had got sponsored last year but wasn't sure how to go about it. 

After following up a few possibilities, the lovely Laura from Are we nearly there yet Mummy? asked me if I was still looking for a sponsor and when I said yes, she passed my name on to a then unnamed possible sponsor. They then get in touch and I was blown away when I found out who they were. After a bit of toing and froing during which I wrote a pitch for the first time in my life, they confirmed that they'd love to sponsor me. Wow. I'm going to Cybermummy! 

So, who are the lovely people that are sponsoring me? Only SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment in Florida! If you've been on a Florida theme park holiday or are planning one, you'll be very familiar with them. They have 4 parks in Florida - SeaWorld, Aquatica and Discovery Cove in Orlando and Busch Gardens in Tampa. Until I had children, I was never into theme parks but Monkey and Missy Woo have been to ones on a small scale in the UK, and are starting to show interest in the bigger ones. I know they would love SeaWorld as they love zoos and marine parks and would love to see Shamu, the famous killer whale. I love the educational aspect, as you can learn about the work SeaWorld does to rescue and rehabilitate marine animals. They would also love Aquatica, which is a waterpark with rides, as well as the chance to meet more animals. They are perhaps a little young to make the most of Discovery Cove, which is an all-inclusive sandy tropical oasis, where you can do the thing that is on most people's list of things to do at some point: swim with dolphins. That's pretty cool. From this summer, Discovery Cove will also have a 2.5 acre Grand Reef, where you can paddle in shallow water or dive deep to see some of the 10,000 animals. You can even trek the reef on foot wearing dive helmets to look at the wildlife. 

But I am pretty sure what the children would love the most is Busch Gardens. Monkey has been on a rollercoaster ride once and loved it. He's now just about big enough to try out their new ride this year, Cheetah Hunt, which takes you through an African landscape as if you were the fastest animal on land, twisting and turning at 60mph before a final plunge into the abyss. I'm not so sure about Missy Woo as she may be too small, but she chickened out on her last rollercoaster ride - much to her mother's relief, it has to be said. However, we can all enjoy the Cheetah Run where the trainers hold daily sprints with the cheetahs to show just how fast they are, or you can view cheetahs up close from glass panelled viewing areas.

Oh yes, my children would dearly love the SeaWorld parks. Sadly, I don't think the pennies will stretch that far this year. However, if your pennies will stretch to it, there is a special "3 parks for the price of 2" offer for all tickets booked by the end of May and activated by 31st December.

So, they are my lovely sponsors, without whom my trip to Cybermummy would not be possible. I'm truly gobsmacked and very grateful that they chose to sponsor me for this event. It's the one big event that bloggers travel to from far and wide, not only to learn more about blogging, but also to put faces to names of the people behind the many blogs we all read. Thank you, SeaWorld Parks, for making it possible for me to be part of that. And a huge thank you also to Laura (whose blog never fails to make me laugh) for recommending me to them.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Sleepyhead


She's asleep. She actually looks as if she knows the camera is there and she's pretending to be asleep just to humour us so the photo can be taken, a hint of a knowing smile on her lips. Knowing her as I do now, I wouldn't put anything like that past her but she's only a baby here, right? In fact, I just checked - she's eight days old in this picture. The angle has cleverly disguised the baby acne she had so I think I got her best side. And I'd forgotten how dark her hair was at birth. 

My little sleepyhead, now known as Missy Woo. 


This is my entry for this week's Gallery at Sticky Fingers. The prompt this week is Body Parts. Why not take a look at visit some of the other entries - or even join in yourself? 

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Giving

Giving from the heart. It means so much more than something tangible. The only problem is that giving from your heart so often means giving a piece of your heart and with that comes responsibility for the recipient, whether they know it or not. Whether they like it or not. That piece, that precious piece of your very being, is fragile and needs care. It needs to be nurtured, like a seedling germinating; just the right amount of food, water, and love. So easily squashed whilst it's still small and precious.

They cannot give it back to you. You can take it back if you choose. You can choose to leave it where it was and hope that it's cared for. That the recipient has recognised its value, its wonder and its mystery and chooses to cherish such a gift from you.

That's why you have to give carefully. Choose wisely. And accept that the recipient is human.

(This piece was written for the Writing Workshop on Sleep is for the Weak. The prompt was Giving, to help launch a new campaign by anti-poverty charity ActionAid.)


Saturday, 8 January 2011

My birthday treat - and review - at The Longridge Restaurant

As you know, it was my birthday on Thursday. I managed to secure a babysitter to look after the children and planned a trip out. After looking around at the local eating establishments on various review sites, an old favourite stuck out at me - The Longridge Restaurant. We'd been there a few times over the last nine years but hadn't been for ages - children and the more limited funds that part time working brings put paid to that. They had an offer for a 3 course meal and wine for £50 so I rang to ask if it was still on. Unfortunately, I got an unsatisfactory response and was told to ring back on Thursday! I fired off an email to them saying I wasn't happy with the service. Imagine to my surprise, a couple of hours to receive a call from the head chef, Chris Bell, ringing from his holiday in Ireland to apologise for the confusion and offering to sort it out. An email exchange a few days later with a lovely lady at the restaurant and we were booked in for the night of my birthday.

Off we went on the night up to Longridge. The restaurant is never going to get much passing trade - it's not located on a main road, more of a side road (although there is a brown sign directing you to it from a main road) so really, you have to know it's there - and its reputation - to make the trip. The situation is odd, a 19th Century stone cottage, surrounded by houses and just by the exit of a large holiday park; incidentally, where the children spent a happy week with grandparents in August. The restaurant is the original restaurant opened by Paul Heathcote in the 1990s. It used to have a Michelin star and everything, but more recently has fallen on harder times and lost its star in 2007. Paul Heathcote had even put it on the market to sell it when the head chef that rang me returned after running a local pub with his wife, who runs front of house. The place has been done up since we were last there but remains in character with the building. The style is what they call modern British with a distinctly local twist - lots of black pudding, Goosnargh chicken and duck, that sort of thing.

It was busier than it has been in other visits when it arrived, which is good for the first Thursday in January. We sat down in the bar and perused the menus. The lady serving us - who was the lady I'd been emailing, it became obvious - told us we could have 50% off anything off the main menu. And that included the gourmet menus.

All of a sudden, we had a sudden rush of blood to the head and decided to have the ten course gourmet menu. Yes, that's right - ten. From being an evening when we were out to have a quiet meal to celebrate my birthday, we were looking forward to a very special evening. Trying a gourmet or tasting menu is something I had always wanted to do but the cost was seemingly beyond us. I think my husband thought it was the price on the menu was per table, not per person (!) but still, he stayed true and didn't tap me up for some of the bill at the end.

The first course arrived whilst we were still sat in the bar. Two canapes each; a Lancashire cheese fritter with apple jelly and a Morecambe Bay shrimp tartlet. The tartlet was absolutely outstanding and flavoured with a little dill, one of my favourite herbs. I'd taken the photo of this before we had decided on the gourmet menu and luckily, I'd snapped it on my phone. Apologies for any of these photos being a bit on the blurry side.


We were then taken through to our table and this is the view that greeted me when I sat down:


All a tiny bit intimidating. We were muttering "start from the outside, work in". We were a bewildering array of bread. I chose brown bread with onion, husband chose white bread with brie. I made the better choice - my bread smelt and tasted oniony and the crust was beautifully crunchy against the softer crumb.

Next to arrive was the soup. On the menu, it was billed as butternut squash soup, which I know the husband was looking forward to as he had that very dish, with truffle oil, there once and it is one of his abiding food memories. What we were presented with was a jug of mushroom soup, and a tiny soup bowl containing artichoke purée and toasted pine nuts. I only took a picture once I'd poured soup in.


This didn't disappoint. I love mushroom soup anyway but it was really nice with the artichoke purée stirred into it. The pinenuts made a real difference to the flavour - they were what I called just the right side of burnt - in that they were browned but not bitter. There was still some left in the jug so I had some on its own; still nice, but better with the accompaniments.

Our next course was a fish based course. Gravadlax of salmon, Morecambe Bay shrimps, horseradish (I think), creme fraiche, dill and marinated cucumber with a pear and apple chutney.


I've made gravadlax before but this, of course was so much better than mine! (Funny, that..... ) The salmon was so tender, It didn't need to be cut, it just pulled apart. We worked out the horseradish flavour; the husband said he thought he didn't like horseradish but I'd seen Nigel Slater saying only a few days before that if you think you dislike it, try the fresh root rather than the stuff out of jars. This was far more subtle. The pear and apple chutney was a nice change - much spicier than anything else on the plate but also lending a sweetness to the dish. I liked it but husband didn't rate the chutney as part of the dish.

Toddling along nicely now and yet another fish based dish arrived. Here was where I nearly failed you. It was scallops which I adore and I was just about to plunge my fork in the dish, when I remembered I was meant to be photographing it and grabbed my phone.


So, this is seared scallops with wilted spinach, artichoke purée, cranberries and pickled celeriac. Now, I've had scallops with apple before now, but never cranberries (they were cooked, a bit like cranberry sauce). The sweetness went well with the scallops. The pickled celeriac added a sour note. I loved it but husband didn't like it as much as the previous courses. A qualified success, I think.

Then, we had the proper fish course, proper fish knives and forks and all.


This is roasted turbot, an it's on top of some little gem lettuce and slivers of Cumbrian ham, topped with a slow cooked duck's egg. The yellow you can see at the top is the yolk oozing out of the egg. The turbot was much firmer than I thought it would be, but then I guess that's because of the roasting. I don't think I'd ever had turbot before so it could very well be that it has a firmer texture. The ham made things salty but the real star was the egg. Runny oozy, only just cooked and a really rich flavour. This wasn't something I had expected to be wild about but it was incredible.

Then we got a risotto. Again, we deviated from the menu which had advertised a Morecambe Bay shrimp risotto but instead they brought us this:



It's a mushroom risotto, with shavings of Parmesan, toasted hazelnuts and truffle oil. Now, I'm always impressed by a good risotto. I always manage to colour it slightly but this was perfectly creamy - almost like a savoury rice pudding. The smell from the truffle oil was amazing. I'd never thought of putting hazelnuts on a risotto and didn't think it would work but it did and added to the earthiness of the risotto. The shavings of Parmesan were seriously good too. The truffle oil lingered in the mouth for quite some time, even after the risotto was long gone.

I didn't feel too bad by this point but realised the main event was coming up next and I was feeling slightly full. A slightly bigger portion this time - the main course.

 

This was duck breast with seared foie gras, celery and celeriac, potatoes, cherries with a cherry reduction. Now. I hadn't expected to get foie gras with this dish and I've never had it before, to my knowledge anyway. I'm not sure if it was mentioned on the menu, but if it was, I didn't notice it. I do have issues with the way that a lot of foie gras is produced (and I've since tried to find out how the foie gras used here is produced, but so far, no word) but I thought I would try it anyway. And you know what? I liked it. It didn't taste livery at all to me, just meaty with a really light texture. The duck was pink, as you can tell, and melted in the mouth, it was so tender. I could however feel myself filling up fast so I decided to leave some of the dish although I ate all the duck and the foie gras. Husband, who likes to eat things together in a set combination, nicked some of the celeriac and celery me off me. I didn't feel the potatoes added too much here so I left one of those too.

Phew, we were getting there. I remembered at this point to text my babysitting friend to let her know we might be later than planned - after all, it was 10.15pm by this point and they'd sat us down nearly two hours before. We were then given a little pre-dessert.


It was coconut mousse, topped with cherry sorbet. The mousse was extremely light and a lot more subtle in flavour than I imagined it would be whereas the sorbet was really fruity and sweet. It was a lovely combination (and I don't normally like cherries that much) and it was lovely to have something so light at this point.

Nearing the end now, after the pre-dessert comes..... dessert of course. We knew it was chocolate tart and we'd seen some other diners eating fairly large slices of it, but thankfully they were eating off the main menu and when ours arrived, it was substantially smaller. Good job, or I might have burst.


The tart came with a passion fruit sorbet and the smear is a rosemary caramel. The caramel was salty and I thought quite subtly flavoured with rosemary, which I couldn't necessarily taste combined with other parts of the dish. The passion fruit sorbet was fruity but had a citrussy edge as it tasted a bit like lemon curd to me. You really needed to eat the tart with either the sorbet, the caramel or both as it was like eating solid chocolate and thus, was not particularly sweet and very rich. I'm so glad the portion was relatively small. Not being a chocoholic - although I do appreciate good chocolate - I would be happy with a portion of this size after a meal off the main menu.

We were, at last, on the home stretch. Cheese and biscuits. Having seen it on the menu, I hope that it included my favourite blue cheese, Blacksticks Blue, which is produced a few miles away from Longridge.


I wasn't disappointed! A sliver of Blacksticks Blue, the round one is Kidderton Ash (made by the same producer as the Blacksticks) and finally, there was some Cornish brie. There was also some celery, grapes and some fruitcake as well as the biscuits. Husband doesn't like any blue cheese but he did try the Blacksticks and then donated his to me. Hurrah! He said it was the best blue cheese he'd tasted in the same way that it was the best kick in the teeth he'd had! The brie didn't taste of much, but I put this down to the temperature at which it has to be stored and thus can't be ripened.

Phew, we were done. But were we? We ordered a couple of coffees and oh no, they brought out some petits fours!


Left to right, there was cocoa-covered candied peel, chocolate truffles with a white chocolate covering, a prune and armagnac tart, and some fudge. I tried all of it - the truffles and fudge were gorgeous but I wasn't wild about the prune and armagnac tart. Strangely enough, we didn't really finish these - but this was technically our eleventh course and we were fading fast. 

Whilst we were waiting for our coffees, the head chef Chris came to speak to us to apologise again for the mix-up and to check we had enjoyed the meal. I thought it was a nice touch for him to make an effort at the end of service to come to see us. Big thumbs up to him and his team for producing some outstanding food and a birthday experience I'll never forget. 

So, that was my birthday treat. Dull, wasn't it?! I was trying to think if I had a favourite dish and I really can't choose one! It was all good. Some of the combinations were definitely not ones I'd have normally tried but it was good to put ourselves in the hands of the chef and eat things together we might not have otherwise selected from a menu, and found that they worked. I'm glad I took pictures of everything, even if I did look a bit of a nerd snapping with my phone every time food arrived. I had intended to tweet the odd bit but I was worried about my battery so I saved it all up until we got home when I twitpicced them all to twitter. 

(I have not been paid to write this review. I have chosen to do this off my own back, because I enjoyed the experience so much)


Thursday, 6 January 2011

Epiphanous celebrations

Photo credit: cornnius
By the time you read this, I'll be another year older. For today is my birthday. When your birthday is the first week of January, it's a challenge to celebrate. The whole world spends all its money over Christmas and New Year and by 2nd - or possibly 3rd some years - are on a real diet, or at the very least, a money diet and the return to work marks a distinct end to the party mood. If friends and family have not budgeted for your birthday present, forget it. You might get something in February. Or March. (I had an ex once that finally bought me a present in April. The following year, I lent him the money for my present. The year after that, we'd broken up). My husband hates having to buy me two presents so close together - just because he lacks ideas, not begrudging the money - but forgets that means he's largely off the hook for the rest of the year.

A birthday at this time of year means that you are at the mercy of the worst that winter can throw at you. My 21st birthday meal was cancelled because the snow followed me up the M1 back to university for the start of term and there was no way that 10 of us could go out further than the end of the road. Last year was the same - school was shut for the first week of term, and the in-laws didn't want to come over to babysit, understandable with all the snow and ice. So, like the mad fools we are, we set off on a family trip to the Trafford Centre where they were still trying to clear the car parks with snowploughs where we had lunch in a nearly empty restaurant and the manager gave us free cake when he found out it was my birthday.  I bought steak from M&S and cooked my own birthday dinner.

Winter illnesses can also get the better of you when your birthday is this time of year. Mum tells the story that she went to get me up on my very first birthday, and found I had chickenpox. Lovely. My 7th birthday party was actually a mumps party (remember those?) and one year as a child, I had the gift of a sickness bug. If it's not me, it's someone else. Husband had only just recovered from a sickness bug when we went out for my birthday a few years back,.

We let the feast of Epiphany pass us by in this country, but there are about 20 countries where they make a big deal out of it and have a public holiday. For some, it is their Christmas, or at least the day when they get their presents. I keep saying I'm going to move to Spain for this very reason. Strangely enough, we went to Spain straight after New Year one time for a holiday with Monkey, to Andalusia, the driest region in mainland Europe. It rained and was cold all day long on my birthday (the only day out of 14 it did so) and we sat in just reading books. We went to the Algarve in 2009, which mostly went to plan although Portugal doesn't celebrate it in quite the same way as Spain does.

Oh yes, an epiphanous birthday is a joy. There are upsides. You rarely struggle to book a table at a favourite restaurant (unless they are closing for the staff Christmas party) although the atmosphere can be a little lacking or get tickets for cinema or theatre. You can take your birthday money and shop in what's left of the sales. As no-one has any money, you don't feel obliged to invite lots of people out for the night. They'll say no! Savings made on rounds.

This year, Missy Woo is beyond excited about my birthday. She's reminded me every day of this week how many days it is until my birthday. I know it's because she thinks I'm going to have a party and so she is going to be sorely disappointed. Although, the morning is going to be filled with two little excited faces wishing me Happy Birthday and helping me open presents. They may well be cold excited faces because the boiler broke yesterday and we have no central heating or hot water until the engineer returns with the part he needs to buy.

The official definition of an epiphany is "the sudden realisation or comprehension of the (larger) essence or meaning of something". Well, every Epiphany, I wake up and realise I'm a year older. Scary prospect when you've reached 46. At the same time, I realise I'm probably very lucky in the things I do have, whatever I say about it. I may not get the birthday of my dreams (and I may, on occasion, have sneaked a half birthday in because the weather is better in July!) but my birthday is the only one I've got so I may as well make the best of it.

Monday, 3 January 2011

My tips for starting a New Year fitness regime

Photo credit - dariuszman
So, it's 3rd January and lots of people made New Year's resolutions to get fitter, lose weight, be more healthy, yada yada. Obviously, these normally involve starting a new fitness regime. I've started many in my time, and not just in early January, so I thought I'd pass on some tips. Obviously, you can choose to ignore them and it's a long list, but you will have a better chance of keeping it going for longer and seriously improving your fitness if you follow as many as you can. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments at the bottom of this post. Please remember I am not a qualified fitness instructor, this is just what I have learned over the years of being a punter. Some of these are learned from hard experience, some I've learnt from others.

  1. Get proper medical advice if you have a condition or an injury that might mean that exercise could be harmful. Do this before you start if this applies to you.
  2. Choose activities that you think you will enjoy. There is no point in doing something that you hate, because you will fall at the first hurdle. You can run, take up a new sport, join a gym, go to classes, or workout at home. If you're not sure what you want to do or will like, try a few things out but give each option a good few weeks. No-one is ever good as soon as they start. 
  3. If you join a gym, try to get a trial period before signing your life away or pay as you go for a while. Check any contract very carefully as some gyms charge large cancellation penalties. Don't be swayed by fancy facilities at a private gym - council run leisure centres are often cheaper and the staff are normally well trained. They also allow you to pay as you go although memberships will work out cheaper. Don't think that paying lots of money will guilt you into going. That's how fitness clubs make their profits - all the people that pay hundreds of pounds a year who go twice. In total.
  4. Get the right equipment. Some people find they are more motivated by buying new fitness gear. You don't need to, but if it works for you and you have the money, do it. There is, however, one piece of equipment where no reasonable expense must be spared - running shoes. Please don't think you can get by starting to run with any old trainers. A trip to any of the sports chains (Yes, you JJB, JD Sports and the like) will not cut it either. Go to a proper shop for runners where they can analyse your gait and help work out the best type of shoes for how you run. If you don't, you risk developing shin splints, which will seriously hamper your progress. Invest in good shoes and the risks are greatly reduced. Definitely worth the money. 
  5. Put your workouts or runs or classes in your diary like any other appointment. It takes about 3 weeks to create new habits, so making time for your workout may be an effort at first. So many good intentions fail because people don't make the time. You only need about 3-4 hours week to get started. Putting the time aside to do your workout will help you see yourself as a regular exerciser until it becomes second nature. Home workouts are particularly prone to other distractions. I got round this by doing EA Sports Active's 30 day challenge which recorded what you have done and when so you had to do the workouts. 
  6. Consider having a fitness buddy. It works for some - it will help motivate you each other when the going is tough and you're answerable to them if you want to bunk off. Or you could spend your whole time trying to get them to go. Your call. 
  7. Start out gently and build up gradually. I cannot stress this enough because it will help prevent injuries and stop you getting demotivated. To get fitter, you need to challenge yourself, but not to the point of pushing yourself too hard. If doesn't matter if your first few workouts feel easy; just make a mental note to run a bit faster, work a bit harder or whatever it is next time. The first few workouts - if not the first few weeks - are for you to find your level. And remember it's your level, not anyone else's. If you really can't keep up, don't try. 
  8. Set goals realistically. Particularly true of running, I think - there are plenty of running programmes around which you can follow. Stick to them, don't try to do them at twice the pace. You won't become fit overnight, it will take time to see results. And see point 7!
  9. Make sure you get enough rest. When do you think you actually get fitter? Is it whilst you are exercising? It isn't! When you exercise, your body is under stress. When you rest, the body repairs itself and if you've been challenging it with exercise, it adapts to the challenge and you become fitter or stronger at rest. When you're starting out, it's a good idea to rest every other day if you can, but if your schedule doesn't allow it, working out for a couple of days then taking a rest will do. Overtraining gives no time for recovery and can turn niggles into injuries. 
  10. Have contingency plans. This particularly applies to outdoor pursuits, like running, which can become dangerous in winter weather, but it could something as simple as your class being cancelled. Have a back up plan so that you can at least have a workout when this happens, especially if the activity is going to be laid off for more than a couple of days. I go back to EA Sports Active on the Wii when a class is unexpectedly cancelled.
  11. Listen to what your body is telling you, particularly if you get ill. You will get ill or injured at some point. How you manage it is important to the speed of your recovery. If you get a cold, you can probably still exercise if your symptoms are above your neck and the rest feels fine, but if they are below the neck, it is best to wait until you get better. You can make yourself very ill if you exercise when ill so admit defeat and concentrate on getting better. Same goes for exercising with an injury - rest if necessary and if it's more serious than you first thought, get proper medical advice. Better to miss 1 or 2 workouts to get better than have to miss 12.
  12. If you are exercising with the aim of losing weight, try to measure as well as weigh yourself. Keep a record of the measurements and measure regularly but only about every 2-3 weeks. This is because you may find that you lose fat but it not show on the scale. Muscle is denser than fat so it looks slimmer - and believe me, it's a good thing to have more muscle. 
  13. Don't expect to lose weight by exercise alone. As I was once told, "you can never outrun your mouth". Watch what you are eating. Some people start to eat more after they have exercised when in truth, particularly at the start, they may not have burned that many calories. My pet hate is someone coming off a cardio machine at the gym saying they've earned themselves a chocolate bar (the calorie count on those things is often way out). You may find may appetite is increased but try not to overdo it. And DRINK! Keeping hydrated may take away the hunger pangs. Honestly. On the flip side, don't starve yourself - exercise needs fuel. 
  14. When starting out, or starting back even after a shortish break, you are likely to get achey in your muscles the day after. The technical term for this is DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and it will pass after 2-3 days. Your body will get better at reacting to the exercise over time but the first few can really hurt. Warm baths or a sauna can help, and if it's really bad, so can painkillers. 
  15. Always do a warm up before each workout with some gentle exercise and do a cool down afterwards. Learn how to do a few basic stretches but don't overstretch.
  16. Finally, don't expect there to be an exercise that will spot reduce fat from one problem area. It's just not going to happen. 
Finally, let me end by giving you some links to some useful sites or posts: 

jagsfitnessblog.com - written by my friend Jo about her own weight loss and fitness journey. She has written some useful posts on Frequently Asked Questions and Diet and Fitness Myths which are well worth a read.

stumptuous.com - lots of useful advice for all, with a particular slant towards women using weights. 

ExRx.net - a huge free resource with calculators and exercise directories, featuring videos of how to perform each one. 
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