Monday 31 May 2010

Does my bum look better?

I am not a blogger who normally reviews stuff. But I made an exception when Reebok's PR team contacting me saying that they would send me a new pair of EasyTone Trainers, plus a bunch of other training kit. Given that at the time I looked like a smallish elephant, particularly the saggy bottom and heavy legs, I said yes.

These shoes claim to increase muscle activation by 28% in bum muscles and 11% in thighs and calves. This is due to special 'balance pods' in the sole which cause instability, making the muscles work harder to correct your balance. (An aside: if walking while unstable gives you better toned legs, perhaps drinking too much wine is actually good for my figure after all?)

You can see their website here.

After being able to pick and choose the things I wanted from a shopping site, I waited anxiously for it all to arrive. Which it did, while I was away in New Zealand for a month, so it was a delayed start on my part.

But the minute, I got back, I put the shoes on and did some gardening. Now I'm not sure whether it was the shoes or the hours of squatting over flower beds that did it, but the next day I had a sore bottom.

I then attempted to run in them. I have since learnt (because I didn't go to the briefing in which they told people this stuff) that you're not supposed to run in them. All I can say is Oh. My. God. My normal 3 mile run felt far more like 6 miles. My legs burned like mad and I felt as though I managed to get a good cardio run PLUS a session pushing weights. Two for the price of one. But after several more runs in the EasyTone's I realised that they weren't good for running in,, so I saved them for doing the school walk instead.

The school walk is a brisk 5 minute march up a hill. The EasyTones are perfect for this. What normally wouldn't be classified as any real exercise actually starts to feel like it's worthwhile. A day walking around the house and you definitely feel the burn. (Incidentally, it's a nice burn. A long, lingering, tired-deep-inside your leg muscles sensation, that makes you feel as though you've really worked out hard, but all you've done is hoovered the house).

But the clincher of work outs came when I wore the EasyTones while trying to teach my son to ride his bike. There is honestly nothing as exhausting as trying to run behind a small wobbly person on a bike, doubled over at an awkward angle. It is a great cardio workout and good arm and shoulders stuff but mostly, it's all about the butt. And when combined with the EasyTones, it was a bum work out par excellence.

I've now been wearing them most days for about a month and I can honestly say that my legs look more toned and my butt seems less inclined to plunge earthwards. In fact, this weekend I went shopping and tried on a teeny tiny uber tight little blue pencil skirt. It was one of those 'Well hello Ms Jones' type skirts that almost certainly lead to inappropriate thoughts.

Ordinarily, had I put on a skirt like this, I'd either be laughing out loud or crying even louder. But this time, I actually looked awesome. Seriously. I had a pert bottom. Yes, you read it here first. Pert!

I didn't buy the skirt because I didn't think it would work on the school run (raised eyebrows I feel) and sitting at my home office doesn't have much call for a slutty secretary look (and it might even have given my husband ideas). But I was chuffed to bits that I could a) fit into it and b) look good in it.

There are two things about the EasyTones that I don't love. One is the tongue. I cannot get it to lie comfortably on the top of my foot. After wearing the shoes for a while, I want to take them off. Not because my legs are too tired, but because the tongue is irritating my foot. I've tried all kinds of ways to adjust it but it just doesn't seem to be quite wide enough, so the seam rubs on the top of my foot.

My second complaint is the styling. As far as trainers go, they're pretty nice to look at. But if they're not designed for running in and are intended for wearing while doing ordinary tasks, they're not quite cool enough for general attire. They look like a running shoe, not a converse trainer, so going shopping in them for example isn't a great look (unless it's for groceries in which case they're entirely acceptable and indeed recommended).

Despite the fact that it looks like a trainer and has an irritating tongue, I would still recommend them because they do seem to have worked wonders on my legs and bum. And truthfully, when I want to nip into town just wearing trainers instead of something a bit more fashionable so that I can be comfy, at least now I have an excuse: I'm working out!

Now, if they could just invent something for my stomach, I might manage a bikini again one day.....

PS - the training trousers and bra top from Reebok are AWESOME. Very cool design, super comfy and no bouncing boobs. Hoorah!

Thursday 27 May 2010

A mini rant-ette (that probably has a well worn path in the blogosphere)

When couples have a baby, they tend to end up having arguments that go along the lines of who has the harder life, who's having the least amount of sleep and who does the most stuff. These arguments reach a peak somewhere around 9 months after the baby is born. It's about this time you'll have a screaming row about why it's ALWAYS you who has to pack the baby bag and why does he ALWAYS just have to walk out of the house clutching keys and tutting about being late.

You might think that it will never get better. But it does. Eventually he learns that he gets shouted at less if he packs the baby bag and he might even suggest you go out with some friends so that you can get some you time. But mostly, you just learn to accept that life has changed a lot, particularly for you and that there is no point getting worked up about it.

It has taken me quite a long time to reach this place of acceptance (possibly one of the reasons I sailed across the Atlantic last year). But I do still find it incredibly hard to balance work and children and it continues to be a niggle that just won't die.

Take yesterday. I had a big client launch. I got up at 5am, raced into London, performed the PR luvvie dahling thing, raced back home, barrelled through more work while the kids played next door, then raced downstairs at 4.30 to make dinner. Realised that dinner was still frozen, but managed to defrost chicken, turn it into chicken nuggets, chops up potatoes to make chips, get veg on the go, race next door, grab kids, return to finish dinner. Force feed them food, while ironing karate outfits, get them dressed while they were still eating chicken pieces and then was charging out of the door, when my husband waltzed down from the office saying: Do you want me to take them?

Now I should have been pleased that I could get out of racing through traffic to get to karate and could at least use the time to catch up on work, but I just felt annoyed. Why is it that he gets to work undisturbed all afternoon, concentrating solely on his to do list, while I have to interrupt my work to charge about like a lunatic doing 1 billion other things?

Today, the same. I have to stop working at 2.30 to fetch the kids, get them back home and then become 'The Provider of Snacks' (I'm thinking about getting a super hero style cape for this role), 'The Swimming Pool Life Guard' and 'The Meanie' (this last title being awarded to me by son1 as I forced him to do his long overdue homework.) I then got to do laundry, make dinner and break up several fights. Meanwhile, my husband is upstairs working. The amount of work I have waiting for me is staggering, so it means I have to do it at night (when I'm tired) or early in the morning (another 5am start today).

I know, I know. His salary pays the mortgage. Yada yada yada. But how am I ever supposed to build a career that enables me to pay the mortgage when I'm so busy doing so many other unpaid jobs? Why is it that men have the luxury of working on just their job, while women juggle several things at once?

Before you think my husband needs a slap - in his defence, he does help around the house (when he's here). But he does what he's told to do. He doesn't have to THINK and PLAN what has to happen.

I try to see the bright side - I get a varied life and get to spend time with my children (although with today's behaviour that isn't much of a selling point) - but every now and then, that little wrinkle of resentment furrows my brow and if feels like the baby bag days all over again.

I know I'm not alone in this. Solutions on a post it please.

Monday 24 May 2010

Pink & bubbly

Following hot on the heels of The Wonderful Weekend, I just had to blog about the tail end of it.

As mentioned, I headed off to the local, very lovely pub for the monthly pub quiz. Until now, taking part in the quiz has involved blokes. And we've done fairly well. And they obviously put it down to their masculine genius. Admittedly, they did know far more of the answers to the car insignia round...

So it was with some trepidation that we entered an all-girl team. But we were determined to prove that we had just as much spurious general knowledge as blokes do, even though we normally have far more important things to talk about (shoes, Boden sales, weight watchers points) than the trivial shite than men seem to discuss for hours, thus equipping themselves well for pub quizzes.

Anyway, there we were. Five of us. All mummies with kids at the same school. All wearing a shade of pink or purple, all slightly glowy from the weekend of sun. We weren't quite Sex & The City glamour but it wasn't our normal jeans and t-shirts uniform either.

We shunned our inside table to sit at an outside banquette. It was glorious. A warm evening and chilled pink prosecco in long glasses. Girly conversation flowed, the pink bubbles flowed faster, and then the quiz started up.

We were on fire! At last a quiz where I actually knew more than one answer. Maybe it's because we took a very feminine approach to it all. We discussed it, all threw our thoughts into the hat, debated the merits of each and finally democratically came to an answer. A stark contrast to the uber-competitive masculine approach of getting the answer out first and having to be right.

As it turns out, we came a very respectable fourth. Ta da! Equalling our last position with the boys.

But that wasn't the highlight of the evening. No, the perfection came when I realised that I was sitting outside, on a gorgeous evening with girls, giggling, chatting and gossiping and it felt like a real evening out, like something I haven't done in a long, long time. It was as though the veil of motherhood that has been covering my eyes for the last 6 years was lifted and I got a sneak peak of what lies beyond. And it was fabulous.

So I raise my virtual glass to girly friends. Because they are what make life pink & bubbly.

Sunday 23 May 2010

What weekends are meant to be

Despite being from Africa, I don't do very hot weather very well. I long to live somewhere warm, where flip flops and t-shirts are the order of the day, but with a gentle cooling breeze making it all bearable, rather than oppressive.

Which is why England on a sunny summer's day is about as good as it gets. Honestly (to you lot with raised eyebrows). You wake up to a dawn chorus, with a perfectly blue sky and a sun that promises a day full of potential. So often in this country, you are faced with a choice of wet, grey or cold, or possibly a combination of all three. It doesn't inspire adventure or the sense of opportunity that a sunny day does. When there is sun, the whole world opens up.

So with 3 whole days (that happened to coincide with a weekend!) of glorious sunshine, we were all set for perfection. And it would have been had my husband been in the country instead of me being a single parent. But despite this one small snag, it was exactly as a weekend should be.

It started with friends to play on Friday afternoon while the mummies sat in the sun sipping on chilled drinks. The kids got to swim in the newly opened pool. The same pool that one short month ago was home to 8 frogs (all now sadly perished from a choline overdose) and was almost solid green with multiple congealed worms floating in it. But after 30 days of hard graft on my part (again, someone tell me why the pool is my job?) it is now sparkling blue, if a little chilly. After swimming (them) and chatting (me), Son1 went off to football practice in the evening while son2 and I vegged out enjoying the evening sunlight.

Saturday - and another morning that you could write poems about. Morning cartoons for the boys, a long hard session on the cross trainer for me, setting me up for a day of virtuousness which meant I could eat with impunity. And indeed I did.

Then off to our first ever cricket practice at the brand new cricket club in the neighbouring village. I sat in the sun with my Saturday paper wearing a sun hat and occassionally giving a little clap when the boys got close to a ball. If I'd taken a flask of tea and a few scones with jam and cream, it would have been perfection. What's more I got to talk to other adults. This is always a novelty given that I work at home on my own and seldom leave the village, even to get groceries (see previous post).

Grilled sandwiches on the BBQ for lunch, followed by the friends who live over the road coming round and the boys spending all afternoon in the pool. And then another BBQ for dinner (because if it's BBQ weather, we SHALL BBQ). And then a quiet evening on my own with a chilled bottle of chablis and full control of the TV remote.

Sunday morning. And possibly even more glorious that the one just gone. French toast with syrup and cinnamon for the boys (something slightly less calorific for me) before heading out to the nearby nature reserve for a bike ride with friends. I didn't bother to do any exercise this morning as I knew what was coming up. Attempting to teach son2 to ride a bike without stabilisers. I challenge anyone to come up with something more strenuous that running semi- crouched holding someone upright.

Then back home for - you guessed it - a BBQ! Sausages and garlic bread this time. And then more swimming in the pool, the boys climbing over the fence to go fetch their friends from across the road, them racing over, all of them shrieking and splashing and generally having a ball while I got to read the Sunday papers. Eventually even I was too hot to stay out of the water and spent ages chashing the boys around the pool.

We finally all lay on a big blanket in the garden, drying out. The lazy heat of the late afternoon sun, combined with the gentle breeze left me feeling all tingly as my body tried to figure out if it was hot or cold. Eventually it settled on sleepy and I drifted off with my son lying in my arms.

And now, I'm just about to put two small boys to bed before I head off to the local pub with an all-girl team for the pub quiz, which will involve wine and other things not approved by weight-watchers.

It has been lovely. Utterly lovely. Carefree, spontaneous and exactly the way I want my children to remember their childhoods. May all weekends be as good as this.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Apparently I am lazy.

Today my 6 year old son said to me: "Mommy, you're getting quite lazy you know."

(I should just explain here that they call me mommy because I'm South African and we are mommies, not mummies, even though I say mummy to people here in case they think I'm strange).

Given that I have been getting up at 6am, doing the usual laundry, tidying, lunchbox packing, breakfast making, cross training, crazy mother trying to get kids out to school-ing, working like a mad women on multiple new business pitches and two client launches, racing to do pick ups, more work-interspersed-with-cbbc-and-breaking-up-fights, making dinner, charging off to karate classes, bed/bath and more work till midnight most nights, I didn't really feel like I'd been lazy.

So I politely asked why he felt this way.

"You've been lazy with the groceries mommy."

Oh right.

True. Tonight they did have to eat an instant lasagne from the freezer (thanks husband for stocking those). And as there was nothing instantly weight watcher friendly in the freezer, fridge or cupboard, I was forced to enter into a WWII ready steady cook event. (Note how World War and Weight Watchers have the same initals. Hmmmm. Interesting.)

I was rather proud of the soup I made out of 3 limp carrots, 2 sticks of celery, an onion, some sprouting sweet potatoes, a tin of lentils and a hefty (a little too hefty in hindsight) sprinkling of curry powder.

I did point out that the avocado man (Ocado for those of you who don't speak child) was coming tomorrow but that yes, perhaps I had left it a little late in getting some food in, particularly as tomorrow's packed lunch for son2 looks likely to involve pasta salad sans salad. i.e. plain boiled pasta, cold. Or a frankfurter and a celery stick. Or as son2 pointed out, he could have cheese and crackers. Because we still have both of those. Just. Scraping the mould off shouldn't take long.

So yes, maybe I have been a little lazy on the groceries front, but we somehow seem to manage to eat our way through an exhorbitant amount of food, particularly as husband is away abroad (eating steak and drinking great South African wine not that I'm in any way envious) and I'm still on my starvation kick and the kids ignore most of the stuff I put on their plates anyway. Where does all the food go?? Surely it was only seconds ago since I bid farewell to the last avocado man (Bob, in the Cabbage van, nice to meet you).

I seem to spend vast sums of money on food that lasts minutes. Besides the expense of it all, it's rather time consuming all this shopping, even with the wonders of instantly filled online shopping baskets.

So yes son, I have been lazy. And you know what, I don't actually care. Tomorrow, if Petr in the Strawberry van doesn't get here in some cruel twist of fate, you'll be having dinner comprising meringue nests (a left over from election night dinner's Eton Mess), topped with frozen peas and corn (possibly defrosted if I can be arsed) and a side serving of frozen frankfurters. Because that's what we have. Suck it up.

Thursday 13 May 2010

Stuff you may like to know. Or not

Life in the home of Home Office Mum is busy. As always. I seem to go through these crazy swings where I feel as though I can take on the world, build a business empire, achieve wanting to just lie down in a quiet place, have a rest and say 'sod it, it's all too hard.'

Which is why my blog posts are starting to resemble buses in West Berkshire - seldom seen and when they are, they trundle along aimlessly without really going anywhere.

But I have been tagged by not one, but two lovely bloggers so this post is for them. First of all, the ever gorgeous Metropolitan Mum has asked me to rummage in my photo files, go to the oldest folder, find the 10th picture in it and tell the story behind it. So here it is. Wish it was something slightly more visually stimulating.

In December 2002, husband and I decided to bid farewell to our time in the USA by driving all the way across the Southern states, from coast to coast. This was in the early part of the journey as the sign says South Carolina. Had I been asked for the 50th photo in the file, I would have been somewhere around Texas, but the pictures all look pretty similar. Long, long, long stretches of road. In case you hadn't spotted this on a map yet, the USA is quite a big place. It took us four days to drive across Texas. So we have a whole photo album of cars driving on the wrong side of the road. You can imagine our friend's joy when we invited them around to see our holiday snaps.

The second tag I received was from someone living in the US no less. Nappy Valley Girl, who lives in Long Island but formally of a different wetter island, has kindly given me the Beautiful Blog Award, which comes with a lovely logo, but I can't figure out how to copy it and am time pressed with starving children demanding breakfast. I am to reveal 7 things about myself that you might not know. Due to starving children, I'm going to have to keep this brief:

1. I am terrified of caterpillars. Particularly silkworms. They literally make my skin crawl and give me a violent urge to gag. My children obviously make a point of trying to find caterpillars so that they can watch their mother shriek and run.

2. My first job was a being a PR poppie (that's an Afrikaans term for...well how do you explain poppie? I suppose an African luvvie dahling is as close a description as any) for the South African Blood Transfusion Service. Part of my job was attending blood donor clinics (wearing a nurses uniform), pricking people's fingers and doing the iron tests. Not quite sure how this was helping our reputation with the public, but there you are.

3. Part of the aforementioned job also involved me having to tie posters for blood donor clinics onto street poles along busy motorways. There I'd be in my little nurses outfit, reaching up to tie the posters on, causing my skirt to creep ever higher, with all the charming, gentlemanly males of the country driving past, hooting and cheering for the nurse poppie on the side of the road. Who says PR isn't glamorous?

4. I am allergic to seafood and in one particularly dramatic incident, I had to be 999d out of a fancy restaurant in Manhattan during a PR launch. That probably wasn't a career highlight either. There appears to be a theme emerging here.

5. I make very good lasagne. I'm not saying it's the best in the world - because that would be boastful - but I can say hand on heart that my lasagne is pretty bloody tasty. There are three secrets to it and I will share them with you here (obviously if you tell anyone I shall have to kill you). One - always cook the sauce for a long time. Two - always add carrots but chopped small. Three - crumble cornflakes on top for the ultimate crunch.

6. I once stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Bali for a week all paid for by British Telecom. This was probably one of the genuinely more glamorous parts of being in PR. While on another British Telecom PR lark in Bangkok, I got taken to a titty bar. It was awkward. Do you look at the (male) client and discuss how to build the BT brand or do you look at the ladies on stage? Seemed rude to talk during the show but I didn't really want to look at other people's bosoms.

7. I once had a job cleaning heavy machinery (diggers etc) at a dockyard in Rotterdam, Holland. Don't ask.

Many of these seem to have been about past jobs. Didn't plan that, just happened. Right, I should pass this onto other bloggers but unless I get cereal down the throats of these children in minutes, there is going to be a riot.

Thursday 6 May 2010

When votes really count

Today is election day. And this is one election that really has had me glued to the screen. So much so that I've been watching the Campaign Show on BBC instead of Desperate Housewives or Glee. Now that is saying something.

Even my 6 and 4 year old know all about it and can name the leaders of the 3 main parties. My eldest is in favour of Cameron because he had a friend called Cameron once and he thinks he looks like a nice chap. My youngest prefers the Lib Dems on account of the fact that he likes the colour yellow. As for me, I'm one of the undecided but think I know which way I'm going to go, although I'm not utterly convinced by any of them.

However, as much as the UK thinks this is an exciting election, it pales into significance when compared to the first time I could ever vote.

It happed on 17 March 1992. I was at last old enough to vote and I am so pleased that my first vote was for something so incredibly meaningful. This wasn't an election. It was a referendum. The choice was simple: Vote Yes or No.

Voting Yes meant ending apartheid in South Africa. Voting No meant staying with the status quo. Never had the choice been quite so simple. Never had votes counted quite so much. Never had the queues been longer at polling stations. Never had an outcome been quite so important.

I clearly remember that day and being moved to tears that I was getting a say in how the country would change. And change it did. It's hard to believe that Apartheid was such a recent occurrence that I was able to vote to end it (or maybe it simply means I'm old) but the excitement of that voting day will stay with me forever.

While today might not have quite such life altering consequences, it's just as important to go vote. Because voting is a priviledge. So use it.