I like a bit of crochet or knitting as much as the next person (maybe more than the average person), and I’ve been known to knock up some pretty nifty creations with a bit of wool – but to me Yarn Bombing is bringing the craft into disrepute.
Who wants to see trees, benches and bridges covered in knitted stockings? It’s unnatural and spoils the beauty all around us. If trees were meant to wear leg warmers then people would have been doing it for generations. If benches were meant to come wrapped in wool then they’d also come with blankets and cushions. Granted, some colourful rib might brighten up a drab corner for a day or so, but as soon as it rains (and rain it surely will) we’re left with soggy knitting draped randomly here and there. Not nice.
Once Yarn Bombing has been imposed who will be brave enough to remove it without being branded a killjoy? There’s no way I’m going near it without several layers of Marigolds on. Just imagine the creepy crawlies and germs that move in to the woollen haven. Yuk!
Our local celebrity the Beeman of Beeston was Yarn Bombed recently – and does he look happy about it? No he does not.
The only Yarn Bombing I’ve ever appreciated was a tree in the grounds of Nottingham Trent University which was adorned with tiny woollen decorations hanging from the branches. Yes, I can appreciate the artistry of that, and it looked amazing. But like many art installations it was intended as a temporary spectacle and was removed after a couple of weeks.
Unfortunately most Yarn Bombing consists of a garish patchwork covering which gives the impression that all knitters and hookers (people who crochet – OK?) lack taste and sensitivity. I like my trees to look like trees, not like extras from ‘Fame’.
So, Yarn Bombers – what do you have to say for yourselves? Perhaps there is some great crafty secret that no-one has told me about yet, which makes Yarn Boming a good thing? If so, just get in touch and let me into the secret. Until then, please cease and desist. Instead why not gift your wooly creations to a living, breathing person? Or even your dog. Actually, on second thoughts please don’t be so cruel to your dog.
Do you have a carrier bag grading system? I realised that I do when I narrowly stopped my husband from putting muddy boots in my Cath Kidston carrier bag! Horror!
He didn’t quite get what the issue was, but for me that bag is way too good to be used to transport muddy footwear. Never mind the fact that it came with my prized possession (Big dotty Kidston bag), it’s nice and large and substantial. Perfect for re-use.
At the other end of the spectrum are the flimsy bags that you get from supermarkets, which are frankly pretty rubbish at carrying anything of substance, and are not fancy enough to re-use in public. If they manage to escape the carrier bag recycling, then their only purpose is as waste bin liners.
So, this got me thinking – does everyone have a carrier bag grading system either real, or in their minds?
Granted, we have a fairly small collection now given the big re-usable bags that we use when we remember, but the carrier bags still seem to multiply when you’re not looking.
Here’s my starter for ten with examples:
Keep for best (eg Kath Kidston) – Not too shabby and could be taken out to lunch.
OK to be seen in public (eg M&S, Next) – These are OK to be re-used or given to the kids to transport items but you wouldn’t be upset if you never saw them again.
Practical but boring (eg Sports Direct, BHS) – Perfect for storing muddy boots or frankly anything else. Substantial and practical. They won’t disintegrate but you wouldn’t take them anywhere in public.
Fit for the bin (Supermarket bags) – Flimsy irrelevances who generally have holes in them before they have even done their job the first time. Fit for bin liners or carrier bag recycling.
Impossible – any paper bag, or plastic ones where the handles face the wrong way (eg Boots!)
Am I strange to have a carrier bag grading system?!
I remember when I first went back to work after having a baby. Most of my colleagues were unmarried, child-free and unable to relate to the difficulties of working parents trying to juggle work with children. “The times they are a changing”, I think as I saw this wonderful poster at a large London agency yesterday.
It’s great that an employer recognises that there are particular challenges to balancing family and work, which can be solved with the right level of support and understanding. At the same time acknowledging that parents are valued employees who haven’t suddenly gone to seed, just because they arrive at work with yoghurt smeared across their shoulder.
Snot and Weetabix
It seems like a long time ago for us now, but I remember those trying years like they were yesterday! Trying to function in meetings on little sleep, the coughs and colds and sudden temperatures that necessitate a day off at short notice, trying to keep your work clothes free of snot and Weetabix every morning, and the urgent phone calls from nursery or school because little one has bumped their head. Not forgetting the need to leave on the dot to get home before chucking out time, and arriving at nursery to find that your little darling has a bump note, not eaten at all or has bitten 5 children during the course of the day (true story!).
At work there were raised eyebrows because of repeated days off ill or to look after a sick child, lack of understanding about arrival and departure time, and social invitations dried up because they assumed you had no life outside of Pampers-land.
Work life balance
Not all employers are the same, and I was lucky enough to have a more understanding employer and boss when number 2 child arrived. For my part I always tried to give my team the understanding and flexibility they needed to care for family (whether children or older relatives) and accommodate part-time working or job-shares as well as supporting people through those blips that happen as part of our lives. I believe that with the right support employees will repay that understanding many times over. And importantly, dads are parents too – not just mums.
I like to hope that employers and colleagues are more aware of the challenges of balancing professional and home life now, which is why I was so chuffed to see this Parents Forum poster yesterday. Power to the parents!
Last weekend we held our second Christmas – complete with cracker jokes and paper hats.
There we all were, towards the end of January with our full Turkey Dinner, crackers, presents, party games and a bit of booze to merry us along. One year we even had the tree and lights out again! The kids love catching up with their cousins and we get to sit and relax with family just like on the big day itself.
This tradition started one year when one family member had been ill over Christmas and therefore hadn’t managed to enjoy the festivities on the day. We thought it would be great to give Christmas a second chance in January or February, exchange presents and re-enact it all. It’s been such a success that we now plan head for our second Christmas, getting the date in well before 25 December itself.
An added bonus is that it takes the pressure off over the Christmas break, when we used to spend long frustrating days driving up and down the country to make sure that we saw all the family. One memorable Boxing Day was spent in a traffic jam on the M6 with our toddler howling his head off for now apparent reason for literally hours. Now we know that we will all see each other at Second Christmas, so there is no pressure to dash about ticking family off the list.
The kids get to open their presents from aunties and uncles, we get to have a few drinks with family and most importantly relax. I don’t think there is any other time in the year, other than Christmas, when we allow ourselves to chill out, enjoy good food and company for a whole day. It feels incredibly indulgent to give yourself the day off again in the New Year and not adhere to your weekend routine of kids clubs, chores, grocery shopping and so on.
We share out the responsibilities and cost for the Christmas Dinner so that it’s not too much for any one host, and we all bring along left over Christmas crackers, chocolates and anything else that is still fit to be consumed.
The downsides, if there are any, are that it doesn’t help with Dry January or any new year diets! I did also wonder what the passengers on the Number 108 bus thought we were doing with our Christmas cracker hats on in the middle of January.
The challenge: bring a desert for 6 adults for a dinner party. Hmm. What to do? A cake would be too heavy after a large dinner and several glasses of vino, and I didn’t want to fall back on my old faithful the Bailey’s Cheesecake again.
This was a tough one – time for a cup of tea and a biscuit!
The solution: Delia came to the rescue like an M&S Fairy with her Key Lime Pie recipe. It looks simple and quick to make, could be made in advance and would be easy to transport. It would be tasty and not too heavy. Perfect!
I adapted the recipe by making one and a half times the base so that we had a good amount of pie. My eggs were normal medium ones so I added 4 yolks to Delia’s 3 large ones. Other than that I followed Delia’s instructions to the letter!
The addition of Grape Nuts was the only ingredient that was a bit unusual. Aside from the rude-sounding name, Grape Nuts are a bit like All-bran but firmer and more circular. They add extra crunch to the base, but I would say that the pie would be fine without them.
The result: Well, it came out well and was readily eaten by all the guests. The sides to my pie were a bit rough so it looked a bit more of a rustic version to Delia’s perfect creation, but I don’t think that affected the taste. I decorated it with flakes of dark chocolate to give it some extra garnish.
I ate mine so quickly I don’t really remember how much it tasted of lime (I had consumed a few glasses of Vimto by then!), so I might just have to make it again to savour properly this time.
The only thing I would do differently next time would be to make sure that the digestives are completely bashed beyond recognition as the lumps in my base made it crumble a bit too readily. Actually, I might miss out the Grape Nuts too as I’m having to eat them for breakfast until they are used up (waste not want not!).
Is your New Year fitness resolution becoming a challenge? Are your fitness goals looking unrealistic?
Joining a gym just isn’t for me. I was put off years ago at the sight of sweaty muscle men grunting as they lifted an impossible bar of weights, and by the ladies in the changing room that paraded around naked as they got changed, and then put on a full face of make-up before heading home to bed. I just don’t fit in.
Aerobics and steps classes are not my scene. I’m the one who steps left when everyone else moves right, and I just don’t feel like I’m part of the in-crowd. I’m worried that Zumba would be a step too far, and Salsacise just reminds me of food.
I’ve tried Spin (crazy cycling to music for 30 minutes) but I mistrust that anyone else EVER raises the resistance level on their bikes when the instructor says so. They can’t possibly keep peddling against that level of resistance and still be able to walk out of the room at the end of the session.
Pilates and Yoga have also had my custom, and I got on OK with them, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was lying down for an hour and not really getting a workout. (note – I now understand the difference between cardio and strength training!) But now there aren’t any classes nearby that fit in my busy week.
If like me you just can’t (and don’t want to) keep up with the glamourous, co-ordinated fitness extroverts, then there are other options for keeping up your New Year fitness regime.
Set your own fitness goals
Setting fitness goals can feel a bit like you’re setting yourself up to fail, so for me the important thing is to set goals that are right for me. They might be too much or too little for the next person, but this is not a competition – it’s about you and no-one else. In running, it’s all about the Personal Best (PB), which is an individual measure and a great principle to transfer to any activity you do. Personalise your fitness goals to suit your expectations and no-one else’s.
Build activity into your normal day
I try and run, walk or cycle if I’ve got errands to do locally. I did look like a bit of a loon this morning jogging with a carrier bag full of clothes to take my Next returns back to the local retail park, but it killed two birds with one stone. Cycling is fun – you feel like a teenager all over again and the sense of freedom is great.
Count your steps with a pedometer or a phone app as that really makes you realise how sedentary you can be – on days that I’m office based I can just get over 2,000 steps – no-where near my 10,000 daily steps goal!
Join a team
A few years ago I joined a local netball club at the same time as a friend. I hadn’t played netball since school, and initially wasn’t very good at it. She’s since moved on to other things (and is awesome at them!) but I have kept going and now can hold my head up on the court. I’m not a great player but am doing OK through perseverance and the lucky circumstance of being slightly taller than average.
As well as fitness and challenging myself to develop a skill I’ve met so many lovely women and broadened my social circle. There’s a wonderful initiative by England Netball called Back to Netball that is a great entry point for people new to the sport, or those who haven’t played for years. If netball’s not for you then search for women’s basketball, football, korfball or a racquet sport. Teams and clubs are great motivators to keep going with a sport.
Run rabbit run
I started running a few years back, after various post-children health problems were sorted out, and whilst I haven’t always stuck with it I have definitely now made running part of my life. At first I could only jog 100 yards before walking for a bit, but now I am running 5k twice a week, and really love that chance to get out on my own with just music for company. There’s loads of couch to 5k apps that can help you on this journey, and I’ve found Runkeeper and ParkRun to be great motivators to set your own PB goals and keep going with them.
Work on your Apps
I have a few free apps that I use a lot to motivate and track my activity. I’ve already mentioned Runkeeper, which also lets you track activities other than running. You can find friends so that you can see each other’s activities, or you can share your achievements on Facebook if you want to be really shouty about it.
Withings Health Mate is also good as it tracks weight, activity, blood pressure and sleep (you need extra gadgets for some of those). I use it to track weight and activity. It takes data from Runkeeper and also my daily step count, and it gives me a daily step total.
Daily Abs Workout is a free app that gives you a quick 5 minute workout for the core muscles that you can do at home any time of day. The videos show you how you should be doing it, and gives you a count-down for each exercise. The upgraded version is not expensive and gives you more workout options and removes the annoying adverts! I am just getting back into this after a break, and I remember that last time I used it regularly the exercises definitely got easier as time went on, which means my core muscles were getting stronger.
Myfitnesspal is an app with a massive library of foods and recipes, so if you are calorie counting this one is for you. I used it for a while to see what my calorie intake was, which really helped to understand portion sizes and make informed decisions about what I was taking in as fuel.
Find your perfect moment
Finding the time for exercise is a challenge when you’re a busy working mum, but once you’ve identified a slot or an opportunity then you can build exercise into your routine. For instance: Jog whilst your child cycles to school/clubs; Liftshare to drop your kid off at a party and jog back home; Go for a swim whilst your child is at Brownies/Scouts; or do some crunches whilst the kids watch TV.
Any activity is better than none, so don’t beat yourself up if you are not initially meeting your high expectations. A short run is better than none at all, and swapping a car journey for a cycle will notch up some miles.