Me time: Volair Spa, Knowsley

It’s hard to find time to relax as a parent of young children.  Even those times when you do have a few moments to yourself, you can find that your mind goes into overdrive with a mental list of tasks you ought to be either doing or thinking about.

As Mum to nearly-6 and 4 year old girls, I was delighted to be invited to the Volair Spa in Knowlsey this week for a pampering spa day.  A whole day just for me? Doing lovely, relaxing things? Unheard of!

Volair Spa Knowsley
I set out to Knowsley this Tuesday with my fellow blogger HodgePodgeDays anticipating some serious Zen time and we got just that – and more. 

The spa is set within a multi-million pound leisure complex so we had a nosey around there first as we approached the spa. There’s a huge swimming pool for example, coffee shop and welcoming sculpture and art work.

In the spa, we were greeted by the lovely Hayley and her team, who I must thank as they looked after our every need all day.  Hayley showed us to the spa’s relaxation room which was so inviting- full of cosy chairs, squishy beanbags, fleecy throws with dimmed lighting and chill out music.  Every spa should have one of these. 

We had a welcome drink (I chose a fiery rhubarb and ginger tea) and pastries and Hayley explained that our group would be split into two, experiencing the thermal suite and cleansing/facial interactive demonstrations in turn.

Volair Spa Knowsley
HodgePodge and I experienced the thermal spa first, which consists of jacuzzi, sauna and steam room.  But first, a member of Hayley’s team gave us some beautiful-smelling body scrubs to try.  These were by Lycon and I tried the lavender and chamomile scent which made my skin feel so soft and exfoliated – great to do before a sauna/steam.  

As you can see from the above, we spent a lot of time in the jacuzzi! The thermal area is really nice, with beds you can also relax on as you move from room to room, detoxifying.

Volair  Spa  Knowsley
We had to shift ourselves out of the tub however and move to our buffet lunch, followed by the demonstrations.

Here Hayley talked us through how to cleanse and take off makeup effectively – with a real handy hints and using AromaWorks products.  We tried their cleanser, toner and facial oil range.  I do like to use a facial oil on some evenings of the week as I find my skin can get quite dry.  The AromaWorks oils smelt gorgeous, with lots of essential oils to treat the skin.  

Hayley explained that it’s best to cleanse twice, particularly in the evening as the first cleanse will loosen the grime and pollution of the day and the second will then take away any final traces and allow any oils to penetrate the skin. Also, using a wet cotton pad to apply toner means you will use less product each time.  Finally, tapping the skin lightly with your fingertips as you apply moisturiser will ensure the cream is applied evenly and also help the circulation, helping the moisturiser to sink in. 

Our group then watched Hodgepodge have a CrystalClear microdermabrasion facial.  Fascinating! This used an electric tool which gently exfoliated the skin using very fine crystals.  The result was very good- take a look at HodgePodge’s site to see the results.

We felt really looked after at Volair Spa.  I’d certainly go back there (already booked in, in fact).  It’s a lovely, small spa with a personal feel to it.  If you’re in the area and have time for a pamper- give it a go.

Disclosure: We were invited to Volair Spa, Knowsley free of charge.  All opinions expressed are my own. 

Reflections on turning 39

*NB I’ve been working on this post for well over a month and appear to have had a mental block about actually finishing off…wonder what that says??

It’s become customary for me to write a few reflections on my birthday these past few years, for example upon turning 37 and 38.  Unfortunately, I keep getting older which is rather alarming.  It’s a peculiar thing that although ageing is a fact of life, it becomes harder to accept as we get older.  Ok, I’m not that old, but sometimes it bloody well feels like it.  At other times, I feel like I’m 15 again (check out my hen party review for examples of sheer abandon and brazen stupidity).

Previously, my reflective birthday posts have been positive.  I’m more mature, experiencing life more fully than ever before as a mother of two, I know myself better than ever and so on.  But this year, I turned 39 and its felt a little different.

Shit!!! I’m 39!!! How did that happen?? I’m now in the last year of my 30s! I am actually middle aged!

We hear a lot about how ’50 is the new 30’; those aged upwards of 40 and beyond seem to live a much more varied and active life than it appeared they did when I was younger (note the ‘younger’ rather than ‘young’!).  People start whole new careers, hobbies, have amazing holiday adventures.  Why wouldn’t they – the average life expectancy of a woman is now 83 years (79 for men) and is expected to climb to 87 by 2030.  In 1976, when I was born, it was 75.9 years.  Whether they live those years in good health is another matter (factors such as smoking, alcohol, eating a healthy diet, exercise all play a part in this – clearly my body is a temple and I practice all forms of health giving behaviours on a regular basis) but essentially – we reach middle age today and realise we have a whole new life to live again.

Facts are facts, however: my body is changing, I have more wrinkles, I’m more prone to annoying little ‘twinges’ here and there and I have to work harder at particular forms of exercise than I did when I was younger. My husband would tell you about my whinging over the past week or so about a sore shoulder and neck – the result of years of carrying small children around and a heavy bag on one shoulder.

Turning 39 has been part of a journey of acceptance, probably over the past year; acceptance of my own mortality.  Ultimately, although this all seems a bit negative, it’s been uplifting. Honest!

birth trees
My two daughters standing near to their birth trees. I wonder what they’ll be doing at age 39?
So, wrinkles and ageing joints aside what are the positives? I think that having been through this period of reflection, I realise that hey – I’m here! I’m healthy and well, as are my family, and it’s time to embrace this and get on with it, day by day. I know what to do, to keep myself in reasonable shape (eat well, stupid! do more exercise, stupid! actually do some of those mindfulness sessions you downloaded, stupid!) and I should get on with this, too rather than sit reading ‘healthy living’ magazines gathering ideas and talking about them.

There are the obvious benefits that come from being more settled. I’m luckily enough to have a husband (no more dating websites!!! woo!) and two gorgeous little girls (no more preggers for me – joy!). I know what I’m good at and what I’m a bit shit at. I can legitimately turn down nights out as I’m ‘too tired’. I actually wanted to do this many times when I was younger – how much more enjoyable is it to languish on the sofa, glass of wine to hand, watching a film than stand in a packed bar making your voice hoarse in an effort to be heard?

I realise I’m less fearful, less uncertain of what the future holds and this is truly empowering.  I’m looking forward to watching my girls develop and grow to achieve their potential – but I’m also looking forward to achieving more of my own.

 

How to fit a week’s worth of activities into one day

This probably seems like a silly title; who wants to fit a week’s worth of activities into one day?  Me, seemingly.  I’ve been finding it very difficult to unwind recently.  I’m always doing stuff – my life is a timetable of events and activity from washing and meal planning to remembering birthday parties and putting the school library book in the book bag on time.  It’s fun because I have two beautiful daughters; I’m doing this for them and I’m blessed to be able to spend this time with them. But it’s a mad and chaotic type of fun.

I was wondering why I was feeling like this one day recently, and that evening I happened to be at a friend’s house.  She asked me how my day had been so I reeled off what I’d done, after which she said “wow, that’s like a week’s worth of activity in one day!”

This is how that day went:

– Get up, get everyone ready and breakfasted for the school run.

– Do the school run.

– Take the littlest one, not yet of school age, with you for a coffee with a friend (phew- a sit down!).

– Finish coffee, take littlest one to her playgroup.

– Leave the playgroup to collect 4 1/2 year old from school at lunchtime.

– Remember with a slight panic that you need to go shopping and have left yourself very little time to do this in your schedule.  Decide to go shopping that minute, before lunch.

– Go shopping, two children in tow.

– Go home for lunch.

– Panic that it’s actually sunny and the children ought to be outdoors.

– Make a picnic lunch for them to eat in the garden.

– Panic that it’s a ‘good drying day’ and you need to get the washing on the line.

– Put washing on line and put more washing in the washer.

– Panic about an email you sent at work the other day.

– Check work emails.

– Get stuff together to take 4 1/2 year old for her swimming lesson.

– Take them both to the lesson. Sit watching, holding onto 2 1/2 year old while 4 1/2 year old swims.

– Bring them home.

– Make tea for them.

– Bring washing in off the line.

– Get the children in the bath.

– Put the washing away.

– Husband returns home; disappear to bath, shut the door firmly in everyone’s face and put earplugs in.

I did actually bore myself rather a lot writing that list.  I almost gave up in the middle to start writing about egg painting (another story).

We had a good time together that day, but it’s not surprising that after such exhaustive activity (I think I used the word ‘panic’ three times there?) my brain finds it difficult to switch off, regardless of earplugs and firm door-shutting.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I’m looking for ways to become ‘calm parent’ rather than ‘frazzled parent’.  Do I put myself under too much pressure to have everything ‘just so’?

I’ve been reflecting recently on ways to wind down and I’ll be writing another post about this shortly.  In the meantime, here’s a photo of my escape room: every night, around 7:30pm you’ll find me in here.

 

bathroom roll top bath purple lighting
The sodding toddler step still made it into my haven of tranquility, didn’t it?!

 

The Primal Kitchen Paleo Bars (review)

The Primal Kitchen (review)I’m always looking for healthy snacks to eat when I’m out and about, both for myself and my children, aged 2 and 4. That’s not always easy, as they tend yell for cheese strings, biscuits and chocolate.

We love cereal bars, but more often than not they tend to have a higher refined sugar content than I’d like. I also often grab one in the morning – when I’m getting the girls ready for school and then setting off to work, I rarely get the chance to eat a decent breakfast. Quite a few varieties of cereal bar contain chocolate? I mean really – I don’t fancy having chocolate for breakfast!

I was intrigued to try The Primal Kitchen Paleo Bars. I didn’t have a clue what a Paleo bar is, but according to their website, it’s all about the Paleo lifestyle – that is food that tastes good but with real food ingredients and no added junk. Food we were ‘born to eat’.

The Primal Kitchen was founded by nutritionist Suzie Walker. She makes bars that don’t use dried fruit that contains vegetable oils, sugar or sulphites as is apparently commonly found in other snack products (alongside chocolate!). Each bar is made with 4-5 Real Food ingredients, is hand made and cold pressed rather than heated. They are also gluten, grain, refined sugar, soya, dairy, GMO and vegetable oil free.
Paleo
Both my husband and I tried the Almond and Cashew, Brazil Nut and Cherry and Hazelnut and Cocoa varieties. We both really enjoyed them! I’ve tried many health food bars previously and think they can taste bland, but the Paleo bars are really tasty.

Plus, they retail at around £1.49 each which I think is reasonable – it’s certainly on a par with a certain brand of children’s bars that I’ve been buying a lot of recently. I think I could add a few of these to my weekly shop – as they taste so good and are healthy I find them good value.

My girls didn’t get a look in at trying these as we snaffled the lot, but I think they would enjoy them as an occasional snack (not too much – teeth issues and fruit sugars and all that!).

I also think these would give a good energy boost before exercise, should I be a champion marathon runner (actually I have been doing a lot of Ashtanga Yoga recently and try not to eat dinner until after the class, so one of these would be perfect).

Try them if you’re looking for a healthy snack – we enjoyed them.

Disclaimer: I received some Primal Kitchen Paleo Bars in return for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

10 things that make winter better than summer

A couple of weeks ago we resigned ourselves to putting the clocks back on a Saturday evening, bracing ourselves for the long, dark nights ahead – plus quite a few mornings of being woken early by young children who are still on British Summertime in their heads and rejoice in bounding into the bedroom like wildebeest gone 5:30am.

But is winter really so bad?  For some it is.  According to mental health charity MIND, up to 10% of us suffer from the debilitating effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, such as fatigue, anxiety and depression and linked by researchers to lack of light during the winter months.

Luckily we don’t all suffer enough for this to affect our quality of life, but most of us will experience feeling low at some point as summer ends and winter begins.

Last week, I was discussing with a close friend how we both really enjoy winter and feel that we’re in the minority. I began to list out the reasons why I feel I love winter. Ok, so most of them involve having an excuse to wrap myself up warm, switch all the lights on and generally be quite lazy, but they still demonstrate the unique quality of winter in allowing me to rediscover things about myself that I don’t really experience in spring and summer.

1. Being cosy in bed and hearing the wind and rain bashing the windows.  Add in a great horror film on the TV and I’m in winter heaven.   The feeling of being warm, safe and protected from the elements is so comforting. Maybe one day Mr Expression will allow me to go even further and purchase the much-coveted electric blanket…
Leaf collecting in Autumn2. Leaf collecting. Okay this is an autumn one but it’s been so cold on and off it’s practically winter in autumn anyway. Sort of.  My little ones love going to the park and will spend a good half an hour hysterically throwing leaves up into the air and cackling.  Leaf craft is also another winner – sticking the leaves onto paper, drawing round them, tracing the veins with pencil.
3. Bonfire night.  Last year, I wrote about a great bonfire night we attended nearby. Bonfire night is a fab family event which involves wrapping up, watching a huge, blazing bonfire and the best fireworks display you can find. Add toffee apples, candy floss and BBQ sausages for ultimate family excitement.
4. Christmas. We did so many things last Christmas and New Year that I can’t wait to see what this season brings. I’ve already purchased some new decorations and started my geeky ‘Ultimate Christmas Planning Spreadsheet’ and I’m looking forward to making new decorations with my two girls. Christmas is a family event which develops its own ‘life’ each year with trials and tribulations along the way – I love the whole experience.
5. Generally having an excuse to be lazy and drive everywhere.  Speaks for itself really.  I mean, no point walking with the pram if it’s windy and rainy is there?  This is where my tiny Yaris comes into its own – a Mary Poppins-esque car that at times has been known to contain a double buggy, many, many shopping bags, two small children and myself.
6. Feeling really cold…and then feeling really warm again. The contrast is just amazing.  Going for a walk to the shop in the freezing cold weather, feeling your face turning red with the cold and your fingers practically hurting inside your gloves…then coming inside again.  It’s like a free Swedish sauna – just no torturous ice bucket.
7. Snow and its endless opportunities for child (and grown up) entertainment.  Snow produces such unrestrained glee for everyone.  Building a snowman, throwing snow balls, making footprints in the snow, feeling snowflakes on your face – it’s just fun!
8. Sponge puddings.  I do love a mean sponge pudding with custard and it just doesn’t feel right to eat them during summertime (although you may occasionally find me scoffing a spotted dick on a night in on my own in front of a good horror film, even at the height of summer).  My favourites are: jam roly poly (actually a suet pudding I guess), spotted dick and treacle sponge.
9. An excuse to lie in bed at about 8pm.  If it’s cold, what better excuse than to get in bed at 8pm complaining that you can no longer move as your toes don’t work, and instructing your husband/partner/better half to fetch you dinner (and maybe even wine) in bed?  It’s an excuse to slow down and do nothing.
10. Making pies and stews. After all, we need to carb up in winter, burning off all that energy by taking the car everywhere and lying in bed…ahem.  Today I saw a great recipe for a meat and potato pie which I intend to use for favours impress husband with.  It was actually called a Humongous Meat and Potato Pie. I’ve also already given the slow cooker an airing and made a couple of beef stews.

So winter isn’t so bad, surely? I intend to wrap up, make a few stews, eat pudding and enjoy some family time.

Stuff I have to remember these days

Stuff I have to remember We all have things we need to remember. Whether it’s work, family life or hobbies, we have ways of organising ourselves – task lists, notebooks, reminders, family planners. I have my own methods of (attempting to) organise myself and my family, but recently I’ve noticed that the amount of tasks I have to remember has gone stratospheric with the result that my brain is saying “Nope! That’s too much! I’m not remembering that for you, so forget it and go and have a long bath!”.

I’m not sure why – maybe it’s because my eldest recently started school or maybe my brain can’t cope with anymore organising after wedding planning. Or maybe my ability to retain information has seriously depleted after years of sleep deprivation! It’s as though my mind has a certain task list capacity that runs out, leaving a trail of ‘failed to completes’ in its wake.

I felt the need to document the sort of ‘stuff’ I need to remember on a weekly basis. I was going to attempt to categorise them – but sod that, here’s an example list in all its glory (n.b. it should be noted I sat staring staring at the screen with a sense of forboding for a whole 4 minutes before attempting this. Also, this does not include my work task list, which I keep at work using Outlook! Finally, it should also be noted you may need a large glass of wine after glancing at this list):

  • Get bag ready for childminder: remember snacks, drinks, writing in log book, spare outfit for eldest for after school pickup and some fruit.
  • Get bag ready for school: remember to include water bottle, any homework slips or forms required.
  • Ask childminder to sign me up for a parents evening slot, as I won’t be there to do it myself.
  • Buy cake for playgroup for littlest one’s birthday.
  • Ensure plenty of clean and dry school uniform is on hand.
  • Remember to check spare clothes bag at school.
  • Get own bag ready for work; get my lunch ready.
  • Ensure school has enough eczema cream, asthma medication on hand.
  • Ensure childminder has enough of the same.
  • Do weekly inventory of eczema treatments and decide if need to order more from GP.
  • Ensure enough special nighttime eczema vests are washed and dry.
  • Order more from GP if necessary.
  • Create shopping list/do shopping.
  • Create ‘mop up shopping list’ and do mop up shop (for things I can’t buy in Aldi haha!).
  • Reserve panto tickets.
  • Buy school disco tickets.
  • Wrap birthday presents.
  • Buy birthday cards.
  • Organise/pay for swimming class.
  • Write thank you cards; remember to post them.
  • Think about Christmas presents and start a spreadsheet.
  • Post passport form.
  • Research new vacuum cleaner.
  • Ring about littlest one’s two year check as I can’t make it.
  • Clear out toy cupboards to make way for new birthday/Christmas toys.
  • Buy new bath towels and mats.
  • Organise own hair appointment.
  • Finally…think about blog and write some decent blog posts!

Er…why do I get the impression there’s lots of things I’ve forgotten already, despite consulting my lists?!

So, my usual failsafe planning methods, which consist of a variety of lists kept on the ‘notes’ app on my iPhone coupled with calendar reminders, aren’t working. What’s the conclusion? Delegate more? Easy to say but husband has his own stuff to remember. Buy a book about memory improvement? Take on less stuff for myself (boring!).

Or maybe just muddle along…after all, this is family life, right? The tasks get overhelming, but the feelings of reward when you do get to have that longed for bath and you sit back reflecting on what you’ve achieved are worth it.

But if you have some tips on organisation, please feel free to share!

On the realisation I’m an ‘oldie’

Black tomatoesWhen I was but a young whippersnapper, my best mate and I used to refer to our parents as ‘the olds’. In fact, thinking about it, we used to call anyone over the age of 30 an ‘oldie’. These creatures tended to have certain characteristics only found amongst their own kind.

Imagine my horror on the realisation that I am now deeply entrenched in oldie-ness.

Here’s the evidence:

  • I am 38
  • I now listen to radio 4 every morning and just realised it’s years since Chris Moyles was even on Radio 1
  • I religiously cling film every leftover foodstuff before it travels from kitchen worktop to fridge
  • I say “I CAN’T HEAR MYSELF THINK!” several times a day
  • I say “AND DON’T THINK I DON’T MEAN IT!” several times a day
  • I get excited about going to Aldi, particularly the Special Buys
  • I get excited about things like a new ‘easy food chopper’
  • I get excited about my new kitchen radio a kind friend recently bought me every time I switch it on (I may also partake in ‘Mum-dancing’ around the kitchen table)
  • I take photos of my amazing black tomatoes I lovingly cultivated (have a look at this photo at your pleasure)
  • I get very, very angry at the slugs that keep eating my black tomatoes
  • I think it’s a ‘palava’ to go out at night (I still manage it occasionally – but I do wear a coat)
  • I have realised that everything in River Island is ‘unsuitable for a lady of my age’

And so oldie Expression and Confession will shortly take herself off to bed, probably wishing an electric blanket was one of those Aldi Special Buys…

What are your oldie traits? I bet they’re something else.

My hyperemesis gravidarum experience

Hyperemesis GravidarumFresh from wedding fever, it’s back to reality (although I’m sure I won’t be able to resist a few more wedding posts) and the news that the Duchess of Cambridge is suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum in her second pregnancy is bringing back some memories.

Pregnancy is amazing. You’re in a continual state of awe that you can do this – that your body can create a new life. You feel your baby moving around inside you and it feels amazing.

Many pregnant women get some kind of sickness or queasiness in pregnancy but for me, it was something else.

I remember being in hospital during my pregnancy with my second child, on a drip which was feeding me the fluids my body needed. I couldn’t even keep down a simple glass of water. Crucially, I’m now ashamed to admit that I was wishing I could stay in hospital for longer, that the doctors would say I had to stay. To me, that would mean I could be looked after, that I wouldn’t have to worry about looking after myself, let alone my family (we already had a 2 year old by then) anymore.

What this tells me is that hyperemesis affected my mind as well as my body. I mean, who wishes they could stay in hospital? But then, why wouldn’t it affect my mind? I couldn’t go about my day as I usually would. Even getting up was an effort. I felt continually ill, was sick every time I tried to eat or drink something and as a result felt I was failing in my duties as a mother to my 2 year old.

And of course, I felt I couldn’t complain about it. I was so lucky to be pregnant a second time after all. There was nothing wrong with my baby, despite me being on the cusp of being classed as an older mother really, at age 36.

I had hyperemesis with both my children (my eldest is now nearly 4 and youngest nearly 2) I might add. It started at around 6 weeks and lasted until 20 weeks, with the worst period being during that 1st trimester.

I say all this and also say that I would do it all again if I’d have known how it would be. The reward is more than you could ever hope for and we have a beautiful family.

But I do feel for poor Kate Middleton. She’s been through it before and must know she’s got some weeks to come of feeling very ill. There must be so much pressure on her.

I wish her well – but I do also look forward to the happy baby news at the end of her pregnancy.

Image credit: www.pregnancysicknesssupport.com