Monday, 27 April 2015

Jogging in jeans

I love my boys more than I could describe.  They are funny, lively, inquisitive, caring.  They are also LOUD and, however funny it is hearing them singing their own odd song 'everything is awesome, everything is awesome when you Bon Appetite', after a period of time my nerves start to fray.  The incessant 'mum, mum, mum, mummy, mum, mummy...' and Tigger like bounding around is sweet but wearing. 

Last week this was compounded by a post illness malaise where I wasn't properly ill but just felt exhausted and craving a bit of quiet and rest.  The result -  grouchy mum, which the kids picked up on and reacted to by being particularly obnoxious, culminating in an incident while we were having packed lunch with a volunteer friend.  The poor lass was trying to arrange a play date for her boy to meet my two, but Ollie in particular was being so downright loud and rude that I'm amazed she persisted and we managed to set a date to meet up before I dragged the boys off to the car with the threat of no gymnastics that afternoon, which in turn provoked an absolute screaming toddler style meltdown in Ollie.  My lovely, take them anywhere boys had embarrassed me to the point where I felt like having a screaming meltdown myself (not helped by the fact I forgot our jumpers and had to go back into the building where the whole population of Health Visitors and Children's Centre staff must have heard the commotion, with Ollie still screaming all the way there and back to the car).

Good grief I needed a break from them.  Amazingly the answer came in the post that day in the form of a product review.

I have been ridiculously lucky to have reviewed products for Ozeri in the past, and on that horrible day they made my day by sending me a clever 4x3 sport digital pocket 3D pedometer with tri-axis technology and 30 day memory to review.  I have owned several cheap pedometers over the years, so I was in a good position to appreciate this flashy new piece of kit with its 'tri-axis' technology which enables it to recognise when you are going up stairs and makes sure it never misses a stride. Why was it such a godsend?  Well, it meant a reason to focus my mind on doing more walking and running - the surest step to achieving mental equilibrium in my experience.

The walking bit I could do with the kids in tow - back in the days last year when I used to walk Ollie to nursery and then on to playgroup with Toby in the pram I used to rack up 20 000 steps, but lately this has dropped off (much like my last cheap pedometer, which dropped off my belt and went plop straight into the toilet).  A new pedometer was a great way to get the ball rolling again.  My control day where I did nothing extra only clocked up 3500 steps, well below both the default target on the device of 5 000 steps (progress towards this goal is indicated on the left side of the screen) and health campaigners recommendations of 10 000 steps a day.  This spurred me on to walk the boys to Toby's nursery the next day (a return journey of an hour at small child pace) and to the local shops with Ollie afterwards to pick up craft supplies.  That day I clocked up just over 10 000 steps.

The device is really clever because it records a cumulative number of steps for 30 days, as well as displaying the current days' steps and the previous days' are available to look at too, so no more writing down my totals by hand each night.  It also resets automatically at midnight, so no more wandering around half the morning before I realise I haven't reset the pedometer.

The new Ozeri pedometer also encouraged me to take the plunge and do something I haven't done in a long time - child free jogging.  My goodness the sense of freedom of ditching the boys to play on the pebbles with hubby Matt while I took off down the seafront!  I was in good company with the dozens of runners pounding up and down the tarmac resplendent in Lycra, massive headphones and ergonomically shaped water bottles, even if I didn't look anything like them.  Picture a very large lady in bright pink shoes, jeans and a scruffy jumper with a backpack stuffed full of kids spare clothes and wet wipes interspersing slow jogging with brisk walking accompanied by the soundtrack of mild wheezing and you get the idea.  Now imagine the quiet contentment of sitting for a couple of minutes taking a breather at the far end of the beach and seeing I had clocked up 6311 steps, with another 4000 to go before I got back to the car. 

The pedometer was easy to set up and gives a reading of calories burned and distance travelled as well as steps.  As I use it more I will take advantage of the goal setting features more too.  I like the large buttons, and the clip case which means I can glance at the display without having to fiddle around undoing a clamshell case like on my old one.  It works beautifully, again unlike my cheap (£7 from supermarket) old one which had me grumbling at it because it seemed entirely random as to whether it reset back to zero steps when I pressed the tiny invisible reset button).  Out of all the fancy stuff it can do though, my favourite feature is a simple little lanyard with an extra clip which attaches the pedometer more securely to my belt than the normal clip.  I have clumsily knocked the pedometer's main clip off my belt several times as with my old ones, but the difference now is that instead of losing it, it just swings gently from the lanyard clip ready for me to reattach it.  It was also simple to set up with a clear instruction booklet, of immense importance to me since none of us have got time to be faddling around.

In a time when we all need to move more I'm really pleased to have this extra motivation to do so (there has even been an early morning pre-breakfast jog this week).  For my physical and mental health the benefits are limitless, but above all for my capacity to be an effective and gentle parent I need to move more and moan less, and this neat little device will certainly help me to do that.

Note:  I received the Ozeri 4x3 sport digital pocket 3D pedometer with tri-axis technology and 30 day memory for free as a product to review, but opinions, photos and disturbing mental images of wobbling jogger are all my own.  As of this being written (27/4/2015) I have been wearing the pedometer for a week during which it has functioned perfectly and not fallen in the toilet once.  It is also currently on sale half price on at £19.99 reduced from £39.99.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Everyday beauty and small adventures

One of the greatest gifts we can give to children is the time and the encouragement to experience the wonder that comes from the everyday beauty and the small adventures you have every time you step outside your door.

The success of climbing a hill and being master or mistress of all they survey, as their minds lay out stories of dragons and goblins and fairies.

Gazing at the shimmering magic of dew drops on spider webs, rolling their tongues around the slippery, whispery new word 'gossamer'.

Lying full stretch on little tummies to look at the stained glass window of sunshine through dandelion leaves and flowers, green and gold.

Carefully exploring the softness and prickles of teasels, the deliciously naughty risk of a pricked finger.  Staring up from the webby leaves of this year to the sentinels of last year standing tall against the bluest sky.

Playing shops, with flowers as toys and leaves as money. 

Prising apart the flowers to learn about stigmas, anthers, pollen and ovules.  Tripping out the word 'compositaceae' as though they'd known it all their lives and not just heard it for the first time as we talked about how the inflorescences of dandelions and daisies are many tiny florets closely packed, and comparing them with the blue speedwells growing nearby to see the difference between a single flower and a composite one. 

Laughing as they dusted themselves and each other all over with yellow pollen - the daisies are the best.  Grumbling as we head home, because there is always one more adventure still to be had.

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Great Allotment Challenge

With the weather warming and the days getting longer we are ramping up the time spent at our allotment.  We got it in the Autumn last year and weren't expecting much produce off the neglected plot with a good covering of perennial weeds like dock and a large area covered in morning glory.

We cleared one bed straight away and boxed it in with old planks found on the plot, and planted it up with broad beans, onion sets, leaf beet, leeks, turnips, radishes and purple sprouting broccoli.  To our great surprise everything survived and we have enjoyed plenty to take home already, with the PSB being a particular favourite after recovering miraculously from serious pigeon damage to provide us with several tasty meals.

 As you can see the broad beans are in full flower, although I may need to help them along in the pollination department as we seem to be largely devoid of bees (I have sowed calendula and nasturtiums to try to encourage them in later on in the year).  I planted shallot bulbs in between the beans and the PSB which are starting to sprout happily in the shelter of the larger plants (which will be cut off when done and the roots left in the soil).
 There's really good points about the plot - south facing slope, good access to water.  This should help us overcome the challenges - heavy clay soil and quite exposed so the wind dries the clay to rock pretty quickly.

We're mostly concentrating on getting the soil right this year - wood or turf edging around the beds to help stop the soil washing off down the slope, removing the problem weeds, adding organic material and nutrients to the soil.  Consequently we're probably over planting with 'boring' crops like potatoes (the shade from the leaves will help to suppress weeds and clear new beds)  and onions (at 50p a bag for sets from Lidls it makes the likely failures less upsetting).  Later on we'll get in other reliable crops that we've sowed at home, including French beans and courgettes.

The boys are desperate to get up to the allotment, where they can run around all afternoon in the sunshine, make sculptures from the clay, dig, water and wheel barrow fulls of weeds up to our compost bins (which we found under the bindweed and have repaired).  It's good exercise for all of us and there's growing evidence of the myriad health and well being benefits of gardening.  It supports the kids in developing a really healthy relationship with food and an awareness of just how much time, water and other resources goes into producing food.  We've never wasted much and this explains why to them.  Including foraged from site nettle tops, clevers and plantain leaves that joined our leaf beets in a yummy balsamic vinegar and tomato sauce this week also means that they get the benefit of a good boost of vitamins and minerals from the very freshest of fresh food.

The biggest challenge?  So far it's planting onions while being ridden as a horsey (I noticed at least a couple go in upside down).

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Sauerkraut for cultured kids

 I've had IBS since my early teens and over years of trial and error have got to a point where I'm largely symptom free.  One of the things I think helps is maintaining a healthy gut flora, where I give as much help as I can to my body to maintain 'good bacteria' and suppress the ones that add to unpleasant symptoms.  As well as outcompeting 'bad bacteria', a healthy gut flora helps us to extract nutrients from our food and even synthesises some including B12 (which you may not think about at all unless you are a vegan because eating animal products such as meat, fish and eggs provides plenty).  Even bacteria we are used to hearing about as a 'baddy' when it's in the wrong place, in the right place is a 'good bacteria' - E. Coli is now known to produce Vitamin K in the bowel.  A poor gut flora is now being linked to all sorts of health problems, including rising levels of obesity and autism (theories are wide ranging and include things such as that pesticides destroy our gut flora, high levels of sugar encourage yeast which lead to fermentation instead of digestion, kids aren't exposed to dirt to build up their gut flora etc...) .

 I am not a health professional and cannot comment on whether there is any truth in these claims, but it does seem a sensible idea to me that raising children who are 'cultured' (i.e. exposed to good dietary practices and microbialy cultured foods) is likely to have long term benefits to their health without having any potential downsides.  This is not some weird faddy diet excluding whole food groups, it is simply adding in things that benefit a healthy gut flora and reducing the things that damage it such as processed sugar.

 Many helpful things are likely to be already in children's diet including raw and cooked veggies, fruit and yoghurt. Others may be traditional to some diets and not others, such as Sauerkraut and fermented drinks such as Kombucha.  Some helpful things are 'prebiotic' such as yoghurt and contain the useful bacteria, others are 'probiotic' and contain things like fibres which the bacteria need, e.g. inulin from chicory or bananas.  Personally I don't favour the fermented probiotic drinks that are common at the moment in places like supermarkets because they contain high levels of either sugar or sweeteners, but there are plenty of alternatives.

Fermented foods were likely to be a commonplace part of the diet up until recently because of the need to store food over winter before the invention of electric refrigerators.  I have tried making yoghurt in the past (it sort of worked but I think I need more practice) but decided yesterday that we would have a go at Sauerkraut as a serious foray into making our own cultured food.  Sauerkraut is a lacto-fermented product - when submerged in salty water Lactobacillus bacteria naturally present on the vegetable converts sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid, which then prevents the sauerkraut rotting.  As well as the useful probiotics, sauerkraut is also a good source of vitamin C (for some reason more than cooked or raw cabbage) and fibre, and a source of vitamin K and iron.  I wouldn't give mounds of it to the kids though as it is quite salty - a tablespoon is about the limit no matter how much they beg for more.

I tried Sauerkraut for the first time years ago and hated it, but I kept trying it until lo and behold I now love it.  To their credit the kids took less time to be converted to it, and regularly ask for it as a side to their dinners.  Ironically, the reason I wanted us all to eat it in the first place was probably lost in translation because I was buying it in jars from the supermarket, so it was likely to have been pasteurised - heat treated to kill bacteria.  The solution is to have a go at making our own.

Sauerkraut is in theory easy to make, being just cabbage and sea salt.  I used the instructions on this website as it seemed the simplest and didn't involve complicated equipment or mounds of cabbages.

1) With clean hands and equipment we shredded one white cabbage (I washed the outer leaves and saved them for later in the process). 

2) Then added a tablespoon of sea salt and spent about ten minutes scrunching the cabbage up until it went limp and yellowed a little - the aim is to break up the plant cells to release the sap.  You will be able to squeeze liquid out from a handful.

3) Pack down as tight as possible into a big jar (or several smaller ones) - I used a spoon to repeatedly ram it down.  You want to get out all of the air bubbles and make sure all the cabbage is submerged.

4) The recipe suggested weighting the top with another smaller jar full of marbles to prevent any cabbage floating.  I deviated and used washed cabbage leaves cut to fit to top it off, I'm expecting to need to remove and replace these every couple of days as they go slimey so the jar thing is probably better.

 5) Top with a clean piece of fabric, not a sealed lid - the aim is to keep out insects and dust while allowing air flow.

The recipe suggests pressing down again every day until all the bubbles are definitely out and topping up with liquid if there isn't enough to cover.  The minimum given is 3 days fermentation, with 10 days or even after that (some recipes suggested a month as a minimum and several months for connoisseurs).  When it tastes 'right' screw on a lid and keep in the fridge.  If it smells wrong it probably is, discard it.

I have no idea if this will work or not, but it was a good fun sensory activity in the meantime and for very low cost.  Toby certainly enjoyed helping clean up the leftover cabbage shreds.  Wish us luck in our fermentation experiment and do look up the original recipe here for the advice from an experienced source!