Stronger, Fitter, Leaner

Morning! I’ve been AWOL for a few weeks (12…) because the time I used to carve aside every day to write blogposts has been filled with something else – exercise and looking after myself. Was it time well spent? Well, check out the before and after pics and judge for yourself.

After 12 weeks of mild exercise, daily walks, drinking lots more water every day (ok, most days), a little relaxation, and I genuinely feel like a new woman. With a body and brain that function. Even though I kept up my cake habit (hey, one quick squizz at my Instagram feed proves that continued vice beyond doubt!).

So where’s the hard evidence of any change? Where are the numbers? Well, I lost 1% body fat. (Do I really have to admit how bad it was? Ouch – OK. I was 35% fat, according to my scales. That’s unhealthy levels of fat. Still is). I lost a couple of pounds (so now just under 11 st), and 2″ off my waist (now 34″ and fitting my jeans better). That’s all well and good. Plenty of the ladies who I connected with online in a self-help group lost way loads more, and as I say, I do have a cake and wine o’clock habit. But it’s the teeny unseen things that are making the biggest difference to me: under my cushy outer layer my abdominal muscles are now so strong I can actually start our draw-cord lawn-mower easily by myself, for the first time in 9 years (!! I did say the teeny things…) Now I’m able to lift the 3 minxes back into bed without straining or leaking. I can dig out raised beds without hurting myself, and shift huge tubs of the resulting very heavy garden waste into the car-boot and down to the dump myself. I can FUNCTION! Properly. I’m now as strong as I was when I was 30 and at my fittest. Oh, and I’ve developed little shoulder muscles and hamstrings that you can actually see. But no way am I posting naked pics of this carcass on the internet! Just take my word for it. The Boss certainly noticed.

Why am I honking on about this? Normally I just talk about the programme I followed to my friends who’ve noticed my newly-flatter tummy and asked. But on 6 July (this week – in 5 days!) there’s going to be a humongous 45% discount on the cost of the programme I follow. It’s the only discount you can get on it, on one day every year, so if you were ever thinking about buying it, then that’s the day to do it. Not today, or on 5th July, or 7th July. No need for codes or anything – it’s an automatic discount on digital and physical copies of the programme.

It’s called MuTu System (‘MuTu’ as in Mummy Tummy, because it’s targeted at women whose bodies didn’t spring back after childbirth, like they do in myths). Over 12 weeks of daily, gentle exercise and advice, it gets your core muscles back together and functioning. I had a 2 finger diastasis* from 6″ above my navel to my pubic bone. It’s now totally gone and the ‘tummy porridge‘ I felt when I poked into that diastasis* is now healed – there’s resistance. Finally! 10 years after the minx who caused it was born. I loved that the programme isn’t specific solely to your core muscles: it gets your whole body all working together (because funny old thing, we are complete bodies, not just disembodied abs, or glutes). There’s no diet to follow, though there’s plenty, credible, good healthy eating advice. You don’t need special equipment – I’m tight-fisted skint thrifty, so I got by using a little cushion, 2 cartons of 1-litre UHT milk as weights, a pair of tights and the edge of the sofa. Though I *did* upgrade to sand-filled bubble mix bottles and some therabands a couple of weeks ago…

*PS here’s advice and a video on how to check whether you have a diastasis recti and how big it is.

Why am I linking to a programme for sale? What’s in it for me? Well, I was so deeply impressed with the visible and invisible changes in me (so’s The Boss 😀 ), and how much better my life got (melodramatic? Actually, no. Being able to just trundle along being as active as I want without thinking about it is a really big deal) that I asked whether I could be an affiliate. So that means that I get no money at all for advertising it (no need! I’m happy to rave about something like this), but if you do end up buying it, and you do so through one of the links above, then I get a little payment. But I won’t hold it against you if you don’t – I’ll just be delighted for you, regardless.

I really ought to tell you all the benefits of the programme, but do you know what? You’re better clicking through and reading it yourself and seeing what you think. Here are some testimonials from ladies who aren’t slackers like me, and some FAQs.

Will I be keeping this up? Oh yes! You automatically have lifetime access. Which is pretty good, because I bought it 5 or 6 years ago, did 3 weeks, stopped, forgot, remembered, did 3 weeks, stopped, etc. etc. until February this year when I was so horrified at my weak core that I actually committed to taking time to look after myself better. I’ll be doing the core exercises permanently. And when I look at the 2″ lost around my waist and feel my increased vitality and strength, I wonder what I’d look like now had I given up the cake habit! D’you know, I might just do that… I’ll also check in with my continued progress in another 12 weeks – I followed the 12 week MuTu System programme; if you just wish to tone up and don’t need to lose any weight, then have a look into the 8 week MuTu Focus (it’s exactly like the 12 week programme but without the additional get-sweaty Intensive exercises).

Quick Visit Back to Our Old Stomping Ground: Day 1

Friday 8 April, Day 7 of the Easter Holidays

We all felt sad about not getting out camping and were getting fed up rattling around the house – the week had started well with visits around and about but the weather forecast was miserable for the entire weekend. In occasional bouts of nostalgia and wistfulness, I sometimes check the forecast for the area where we used to live. This weekend it would be mild and dry there. A quick Google showed me I could get a nearby campsite place for under £15 for Friday night. It didn’t take me long to convince the rest of the family that we should go.

We loaded the car on the Thursday night and set off for Elgin before mid-morning. With that Historic Scotland membership still shiny and new and with the sun splitting the heavens, we made a bee-line for Elgin’s ruined cathedral. Despite Elgin being our nearest large town for 6 years, we’d never explored or even looked twice at the cathedral. Within 5 minutes of entering, I was regretting leaving our visit for so long! Elgin Cathedral made an even bigger impression on us than Melrose Abbey the week before, which is why I’ve written a separate post about it (I’ll amend this to add a link).

30 seconds before the tent was up and ready

30 seconds before the tent was up and ready

tent home

The nerd tent: bigger on the inside than the outside.

A quick packed lunch in the car and an emergency outgrown waterproofs purchase (Maxi and Midi are growing like weeds), and it was time to drive to Silver Sands campsite just outside Lossiemouth. As it’s mostly laid out for static and touring caravans, there’s only a little grass area set aside for tents. There was plenty of space, though: not many campers fancy pitching a tent in sub-5degC weather. We didn’t hang about: our little Vango Halo was up in a couple of minutes, every tent peg we owned holding it into the sandy ground against the wind! The minxes were delegated the job of jigsawing together the foam floor and placing roll-mats, sleeping bags and pillows. I tried hard to ignore the wails and screams that constituted kids negotiating who slept farthest from whom and closest to “Squashy Mummy”… Camp struck, we hopped into the car and nipped off down the back road to see whether the fish and chip van still visited our old village on a Friday evening.

We were so overwhelmed at seeing the fish van and some old friends in the queue that it took us a wee while to notice that the land it was parked on had been substantially prettified: beautiful plant beds and borders and decorations. Colourful, beautiful and a visual testament to great community spirit – the villagers had done the work themselves.

fish and chips by the seaWe strolled round the corner to the sea front to gaze out over the Moray Firth towards Cromarty while we ate our chips and creamy fish. All 5 of us sat silently, 3 minxes on one bench, us crumblies on the other, happily munching and smiling and reminiscing. Ahhhh, despite the chill, life just doesn’t get any better than this!

climbing wallTummies full, we walked back towards the car with a quick detour via the brilliant climbing wall along the side of the school. We should have driven back to the campsite then, but only got a few feet before all agreeing that we had to stop for a quick play at our old swing-park.

zip wireI think that was our mistake – by the time light was fading and we had to leave, we had 3 sad little faces in the back seat. Mini burst into tears and declared that she never wanted to hear the name of our old village again. “Never say that word again!” she sobbed. Amongst the family, she wanted us to rename it “The-village-where-we-used-to-live”. I think a lot of the tears and emotion were down to being so very tired out. However, I didn’t feel too even myself. I’d have loved to have said hello to our old friends, but I couldn’t really face walking up our old street and it would have been rude and too much of a surprise to just drop by unannounced.

Mummy's 'special' water bottle

Mummy’s ‘special’ water bottle

Back at the campsite, we quickly got sorted out. We could have been very distracted by the tvs in the wall of the bathrooms, but were too tired to linger over teeth-brushing. The girls sleeping-bagged up and collapsed in a big huddle. There were snores almost immediately. The Boss and I just about managed to stay awake to enjoy a shared bottle of Tiger beer (I volunteered to have my half in a water bottle – classy) before we squeezed into the huddle, too. For once, I enjoyed a little bit of insomnia, lying there listening to the wind rattling guy-ropes, the scree of the oystercatchers and the insistent swoosh of the waves, idly NOT planning the next day’s fun.

Arbroath Abbey

Tuesday 5 April: Day 4 of the Easter Holidays

Have Historic Scotland membership; will use it! The Boss and I compared the properties on the Historic Scotland website that we could drive to, alongside their forecast weather, in a demented game of Top Trumps. We settled on Arbroath Abbey. I vaguely remembered visiting it when I was around Maxi’s age and thought it might be quite interesting, so off we drove.

It was empty bar 3 or 4 other people. Maybe they’d heard we were visiting..? We started by touring the indoor visitor centre, whose displays and panels listed the Abbey’s historical timeline, described its links in the 1950s with the Stone of Destiny, and explained why the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 – signed at the Abbey – was so significant in Scottish history. Upstairs in the visitor centre is a model of the finished abbey and a wall of glass through which you can see the Abbey, presumably for when it’s too wet to go out and explore yourself.

Minxes being minxes, they needed to get outside and explore and touch and see and compare. So they did. With much glee. I’m still surprised when they enjoy visiting old crumbly ruins, but I think they each get something out of it: 6 year old Mini likes the freedom of being able to run around; Midi is fascinated by sculpture and carving; at nearly 10, Maxi’s imagination lets her picture what life was like hundreds of years ago, and she’s curious about the differences.

The red sandstone of Arbroath Abbey hasn’t stood up to the elements as well as that at Melrose Abbey, so there wasn’t so much stonework for Midi to study. However, the intact Abbot’s House had some exhibits and replicas inside that took all the hard work out of Maxi’s imaginings and brought the building to life.

We paused for quite a while trying out the very long echo of the sacristy. Even still, it didn’t take too long to explore every opening door and climb every accessible staircase, so decided to have a look further afield.

We’ve been to the town centre of Arbroath a few times, so decided to explore the walk along Seaton cliffs at the very end of the seafront esplanade before going home. It starts beside the public toilets and follows a tarmac path along the edge of the cliffs. It felt safe enough, but we didn’t venture too far – just as we started spotting the sand martins and were looking out for arches and stacks, Mini suddenly was very glad that the public toilets were so close. By the time we’d walked back, it really was time to go home. Perhaps we’ll finish the walk in the summer.

Melrose on a Sunday Afternoon

Sunday 3 April: Day 2 of the Easter Holidays

grunmpy children

We no wan’ no steenkeeng treep out inna rain

We woke early on Sunday in the Musselburgh Premier Inn after a disastrous start to the Easter Holidays. I’m not sure whether The Boss or I actually slept much, with Mini punching and kicking and karate chopping through the night.

The very first thing we did was check the weather forecast. Rain. With extra rain on top. So we changed our plans yet again and hit the all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast instead of heading straight out to explore locally. The service was cheerful and friendly, and the food was fine (apart from the sausages that were hot on the outside, stone cold and pink on the inside, and allegedly not under-cooked, but rather ‘it’s the food colouring’). The girls ate prodigious amounts of everything and we all waddled out to the car to explore the Scottish Borders a little bit before doing the Drive of Shame back home.

Butterfly Girl - day made

Butterfly Girl – day made

I’d have liked to have explored Musselburgh and Portobello at least a bit, but the forecast was for the fog and rain to hang around all day. It looked driest south-west of there, so we drove to Melrose.

“What’s in Melrose?” asked The Boss.

“Dunno. An abbey? Maybe?”, I replied, fountain of all knowledge as usual.

A 40 minute tootle through rolling countryside later and we got out into more drizzle. We broke out the waterproofs so we could properly stretch our legs without worrying about the rain getting heavier. Mini was delighted at spotting a shop called Butterfly. It was shut, like everything else in Melrose. I thought that the north of Scotland would observe Sunday closing and that the south would have more of an English attitude, but my experiences have definitely been the reverse! Never mind, Melrose’s main attraction was certainly open: its beautiful Abbey.

And we had such a brilliant time at Melrose Abbey that I’ve written it a post all of its own.

bulb bed at Harmony Garden MelroseEmerging into the sudden sunshine a few hours later, we decided to push the kids’ hunger levels a little more with a quick run through the small but beautiful Harmony Garden. The beds and walled gardens look like they’ll be incredible in the summer; the bulb lawn, crocuses and fritillaries made me feel very Spring-like.

Lunch! Get me to some lunch!

Lunch! Get me to some lunch!

Tired and hungry, we finally agreed to go seek some food. That was going to be interesting on a Sunday with everything shut! Luckily, I spotted a line of people coming from near a banner advertising The Abbey Mill, proclaiming that it sold woollen goods and had a coffee shop.

And what a find it was! The bottom floor sold touristy cashmere and wool clothes, rugs, scarves and so on; the entire top floor was a large coffee shop. We ordered a cream tea for 4 to be split 5 ways. To boost the spirits of the flagging minxes, we made a big deal out of letting them try some very milky, watered-down tea for the first and possibly last time ever. Properly hyped-up, they washed their hands and sat nicely until the staff swiftly brought a huge platter of goodies. Oh my! Colourful, tasty fresh salad; egg mayo and ham sandwiches, on both white and brown bread; 4 iced cupcakes; 4 enormous warm, freshly-baked fruit scones with strawberry jam and cream. The staff thoughtfully put the teabags by our cups so that we could control the strength of tea for the kids, brought some extra water, then stood well back in safety as the troughing commenced…

Within 20 minutes, all that was left was a small half-ring of onion, a single egg mayo sarnie and half a cupcake. It was absolutely delicious, completely filled us up, and at £6 a head was brilliant value for such high quality food. Midi laughed when I blushed at the praise meted out to the minxes for their good behaviour and pleasant table manners. I tell you, I basked in it, savouring every word. It might tide me over next time we’re slinking out on the Walk of Shame from another cafe on a different day.

We ambled over towards the River Tweed to the chain bridge. We walked over it just for the sheer hell of it, though poor rule-abiding Maxi got herself in a right state waiting for there to be less than 8 people on the bridge at any one time so she could walk over. We didn’t tarry too long on the other side – the path was one long dog poo obstacle course. So we walked back again in the direction of the town centre, via a bit of parachuting off a fallen tree, in search of a play park.

We found a fantastic and very busy playground past the rugby ground and over beside a busy caravan park. The minxes wore themselves out over a one hour thrash around. The bark chippings underfoot were very thick, the play equipment wonderfully varied, Midi made a new friend, and all 3 tried hard to wrench their arms out their sockets on the monkey bars especially.

Around 5pm it was time to call it quits and finally head for home. We paused at Leaderfoot Viaduct to have a good look around and for The Boss to boil a kettle for hot chocolate and coffee. We saw plenty of cyclists zoom down the cycle path from the viaduct and onto Drygrange bridge – maybe that’ll be us in a few years? – but the sheer number of dog poo deposits left on the grass verges, cobbles and paths around that area mean that I honestly can’t recommend it as a stop-off. Unless you’re wearing footwear that can be easily hosed down. It’s pretty disgusting. We’re talking 2 dog poos per A4 paper-sized area of grass. Bleurgh! So a quick coffee and back on the road.

The drive home over the Forth Road Bridge took maybe 4 hours of steady driving. The sun flirted with us, giving us beautiful views over Edinburgh. We finally got home in the darkness and fog and rain that’s been forecast to last until May. I can only hope the Met Office mean May 2016…

Melrose Abbey

3 stoogesSo, we unexpectedly arrived at 900 year old Melrose Abbey, all ready to spend an hour or so running around the grounds in the drizzle.

There was an entrance fee. Of course there was. But the friendly and knowledgeable David explained that if we were likely to visit 3 or 4 Historic Scotland sites in a year, then we’d be better off with an annual ticket. And best of all, paying by monthly direct debit would cost the same overall as paying in one installment, and would mean paying less today than a one-off ticket. A quick look at the list of Historic Scotland sites convinced us both that we’d be visiting an awful lot more than 3 or 4 sites this year – perfect!

heart of Robert the Bruce Melrose Abbey

Heart of Robert the Bruce – perhaps

Tooled up with a free audio guide for Midi, a quiz-sheet for Maxi, and undivided parental attention for Mini, off we set to learn more about the monks who’d set up and lived in the abbey. Mini was obviously listening to me explain who Robert The Bruce was and why his heart was allegedly interred here – she merrily explained who King Robert was later when we visited Arbroath Abbey and talked about how he’d organised the writing of the Declaration of Arbroath.

3 little gargoyles on the south wall

3 little gargoyles on the south wall

I got distracted by the beautiful and still-intricate stonework. I liked the crouching demon and bagpipe-playing pig gargoyles best, and helped Mini spot the telltale zigzags on walls where old staircases used to be.

We 4 eldest all trekked to the top of a spiral stairwell to the very top of the abbey. Such a beautiful view! But I made the mistake of looking over the barrier, down a 25m sheer drop to the ground. I instantly lost my ability to focus, so trotted down the stairs to rescue a scared Mini and take her to ground level. Meanwhile Maxi and Midi impersonated another gargoyle very well. I’m glad that The Boss’s (far fitter) thighs burned as much as mine on the return to ground level. Made me feel like less of a loser.

Maxi reckons this must be a pirate's grave, lol

Maxi reckons this must be a pirate’s grave, lol

After answering all the questions on Maxi’s sheet, reading all the excellent information boards and counting stone-mason marks, we walked over the medieval drains to the 16th century Commendator’s house, which is now a museum. Midi tried on one of the monk habits and looked for all the world like a cream-coloured ghost. The girls spent some time colouring-in and having their imaginations fired by the little dolls while The Boss and I looked at the stones and exhibits and sniggered like teenagers at the unearthed piss pots.

I didn’t expect to enjoy the visit as thoroughly as I did; it was worth making the journey (had we not found ourselves there by accident). The rest of our day in Melrose was just as fabulous.

Changing Me, Changing You – Aha!

Another New Year. Another year I vow to write something every single night, like I used to, even if it’s just boring drivel about our day. Another year I monumentally fail to stick to it, right from the off. I’m not very good at making or keeping New Year’s Resolutions. Or any kind of resolution, for that matter – in my life Pre-Kids I had shelf upon shelf of shiny, colourful self-help books that, even if I actually found time to read them, would go back on the shelf, un-actioned. But I guess deep down there still lingers the desire to make my life even better, happier, more efficient and more productive.

The Book of YOU

The Book of YOU

So you can imagine how eager I was to grab the chance to review a brand-new self-help book: The Book of YOU. It’s a small, beautiful-looking paperback filled with 365 short ‘micro-actions’ and some unobtrusive photos. The idea is that you complete one of the actions every day (so micro-action = daily challenge, if you like) to “achieve a happier, healthier, more fulfilled life”. Each challenge is a sentence or 2 under one of the 4 areas Food, Mind, Move and Love that you can complete very quickly. Although you might think from the cover that it’s been written by Jamie Oliver, there are 6 expert contributors as well as the young team of 5 behind the book.

So. Let’s cut to the chase. How did I get on?

essential bedtime reading for grumpy old trouts

essential bedtime reading for grumpy old trouts

Well, I was never going to be one for reading just one action a day and trying it out in a disciplined fashion, was I? Instead, I had a bit of a browse each morning when I woke up: after slamming off the alarm clock I’d reach for the book and find an action that felt good (or easy…).

Action 6 was all about reflecting on my personal commandments and writing them down. Oof, I can barely see just now, never mind grip a pen and make sensible scribbles. Turn that page. Next!

7. Take Care of Yourself… “Today schedule an appointment with a doctor, dentist, accountant or neglected friend. You’ll feel more relaxed immediately and it only takes a phone call.” Go on, then – I’ll make that dental appointment for a possible filling. Well, after I have a coffee first. And walk the kids to school. And sit down and have a big old fret about it. And wait on the engaged phoneline for long enough to get very anxious indeed. But I have to admit that after the appointment, I did feel good (perhaps because I didn’t need any treatment at all?). In fact, I felt so good that I scheduled the whole of the next day to fighting with little bits of paper and get my tax return done. That was so traumatic that I’m still giddy with relief that it’s been submitted before the deadline. Ha!

Onward to 8. Enjoy the Weather. Oh, this could be pushing against an open door – I’m a confessed cloud-spotter. “All weather is beautiful in its own right. Today take a few minutes and enjoy the weather outside…”. This was the day after the floods cut off nearby villages, stopped many people in my village getting home that night, and all around us houses and fields were under water. And it was still raining. Beautiful? Really? Crikey, this was going to be a challenge and a half! So I took a little stroll to the burn near our house and felt incredibly relieved that although it had burst its banks and was gushing over the footbridge, the gravel beds beside it were doing their job and stopping the floodwater reaching the houses. On the way back I nodded at neighbours doing the same, in a silent, grim recognition that whilst the weather might not actually be beautiful, the forethought of the estate developer certainly was…

Throughout the past few weeks I’ve been carrying on similarly: I ignore some actions; do others repeatedly; do 2 on one day and nothing for 3. I basically dip in and out of the book whenever I sit down for a coffee if I’ve not read it first thing in the morning.

It’s early days yet (I’m only 20 days in!) and I can’t say that my life has changed noticeably – maybe there’s an action later on how to stop pesky night-time palpitations and a dodgy memory?! – but I do enjoy completing the micro-actions. I don’t think that the haphazard approach I’m taking will have a long-term benefit because none of the positive actions I’m taking will be done repetitively enough to turn into habits and therefore become truly life-changing. But completion and success feels good, I’m not hurting anyone, it’s entertaining and it’s keeping me out of trouble.

If this kind of daily challenge is your favoured motivator, then you can get the book from lots of booksellers. I’ve linked to Amazon at the top of this post where it’s currently retailing for just under £7 (RRP £8.99). It’s published by Penguin under ISBN 978-1-405-92413-9. You can also sign up for an App that sends you a daily challenge, but personally I’d find failing to achieve it every single day a new source of anxiety. And the New Me of 2016 is no longer an Anxiety Monkey, seeking out new and improved worries…

Footnote: I should also say that Mumsnet gave me the book to review honestly. I didn’t receive payment.