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February 6, 2016

What’s the first thing you do when embarking on a new project?  Buy books of course!  I’m possibly slightly addicted to The Book People who are very naughty and keep sending me little mini-catalogues through the post and tempting me with Very Necessary titles.  Hmmm.  In any case, this is what I purchased;

Smart Food for Smart Kids by Patrick Holford. I like him, he’s the one all about Optimum Nutrition etc and this book promises to improve your child’s moods, sleep patters, general wellbeing, sugar cravings etc.  The recipes look great although I’m not sure I can get my children to actually eat any of them. It also contains a rather brilliant meal plan but I’m daunted by the amount of cooking involved.  I also feel like I should follow the plan to the letter and then make notes about any changes I see my children, as the book suggests. But then that’s also rather daunting. Hmm.

How to Unplug Your Child Absolutely necessary in our house, already an addicts den of screen time, or ‘watching’ as we refer to it. The more I tighten the rules around watching the more time we spend talking about it.  A source of constant conflict, I understand it’s practically the only topic of conversation between parents and teenagers too.  We’ve started early then.  At first glance the book seems all about alternative activities, which is not what we really need, as I’m perfectly capable of thinking of those myself.  But I’d better read it before I give a full review.

I Quit Sugar: Simplicious I’m sort of fascinated by Sarah Wilson. I got her first book too. My main impression is that you can use dates instead of sugar in most things, but they have to be medjool dates. Anything that mentions chia seeds makes me reach for the wine but I aspire to making some of the dishes in this book.  One day.

What Every Parent Needs to Know Actually this is a winner; it’s about the National Curriculum and how you can support your child with their learning, by telling you what they are learning in school. When you’ve got a school like our where communication is pretty non existent, this feels very comforting.  Also I got my friend L to look over it, and she’s a primary school teacher. She gave it the thumbs up.

The Gut Makeover Diet This is the book I threw in the basket last minute so I could qualify for a free delivery. It’s only a fiver and generally I hate anything with ‘diet’ in the title, but…  I had a quick browse and I like what it says already.  It’s making the connection between digestion and mood and, despite a rather harsh 4-week detox-type diet, leads you towards a more mediterranean way of eating for life.  Having suffered both depression and IBS I believe that our physical wellbeing has a profound effect on our mental health and our relationship with food is vital.  Prozac sorted me out in the end, in one fell swoop as it were, but it would take me years to learn how to look after myself with healthy eating habits.

Weekly Planner Pad  Obviously I spend January scouring the shelves for the perfect calendar or planner for the family.  As a lifelong admin I know that keeping information in more than one place, such as in my diary, on my phone, on the wall calendar, is WRONG.  But I’ve yet to come across a system that works for everyone.  This planning pad promised to solve all those problems and even help me with the dreaded Meal Planning!  I’ve yet to use it though…

That Dale Pinnock looks nice doesn’t he? That’s a book recommended to me by my friend S and fits with my interest in food as medicine.  More on this another time.




Week 3; in which exercise is banned (sort of).

February 5, 2016

So exercise is not totally banned, due to my bad back, but Michelle advises that I should avoid all impact work, running, weight training, almost all gym type activities and even yoga and pilates!  I can stick to walking, the cross trainer and a bit of aqua jogging for the next 3 months.  That’s put somewhat of a spanner in the fitness plans of course.  The day I had planned to start running again was of course the day I woke with my bad back (honest guv, it was) and I actually enjoy running, once I get back in the groove so to speak.  I mean aqua jogging? Have you ever tried that?  Or seen it done?  It’s possibly the most graceless kind of exercise possible, with the exception of Aqua Fit classes which are hysterically funny (but not necessarily useful).  More on this later.

Walking fits in with the general plan to get the family fitter of course, and our vague ambition to explore all the National Trust has to offer here in Northern Ireland.  If only the bloody weather would co-operate…

And I haven’t even mentioned “Week 4; when I went back to work and chaos ensued”, nor “Week 5, in which the back is back”.



Meal Planning; first attempt (Week 3)

January 29, 2016

So who knew that meal planning could save your life? I mean, no kidding, it will help you save money, save time, lose weight AND be super healthy, plus make your children extra intelligent, polite and mega sleep monsters. OK, I exaggerate a wee bit…

But seriously though, I do need to lose weight, I do need to save money on my grocery shopping and I do need to be a bit more organised in general, but in the kitchen particularly. Especially now I have a play coming up, with rehearsals and everything, meaning that I do have to have some food ready to throw on to the table once I pick the kids up from after school club. (Not literally.)

Of course in this day and age, no one needs to be on their own with a new venture. Frick’s sake, we got the goddamn innernet to do all our work for us! I like to think I did meal planning already, with humanly mixed results, but of course the innernet is there to tell me how to do it. Good Housekeeping has pages and pages of recipe ideas but no templates (or at least I can’t find them). Netmums comes out on top as it has both blank templates and completed ones (either proving impractical for my purposes, but whatevs, you’ve got to start somewhere) plus a tonne of advice. Even the blinking NHS gets in on the act!  Then it all gets a bit gah and dull so I just start putting pen to paper and this is the result:


Plan Reality Excuse/Reason
Monday Fishcakes, homemade (at Oscar’s request). Fish and Chips (from John Dory’s) I’m late home from an Equity meeting. I’ve planned so well that I forgot to eat lunch and so I am starving. We eat at 5pm.
Tuesday Home made burgers Lamb Chops We are home later from swimming than I thought, but no matter as I’ve been to the butchers! I only buy 4 lamb chops because you never know with the kids but evidently, this is nowhere near enough. On this epic night, Oscar eats 2 chops, fried potatoes, half a sweetcorn cob, broccoli, gravy, half a punnet of strawberries with yoghurt, a banana and, finally, a plum. Who knew? Last Sunday he ate 4 slices of Veda bread all day. Bladdy kids.
Wednesday Lasagne Pasta Pesto We took Sasha for a walk today (cousin Jayne’s gorgeous Weimeraner). Smug me thought we’d be back by 4pm, plenty of time to make lasagne, or even yesterday’s burgers. No. We are barely home by 5pm and have to leave at 5.45pm to get to Oscar’s first Squirrels at 6pm. Pasta pesto – with mascarpone, cheddar and ketchup to make it proper gourmet like.
Thursday Spag Bol! Spag Bol! I make Spag Bol! From scratch! In the hour between brunch with the girls and school pick up.   Thursdays are mad because I have arranged 2 x BYT drama club, rush hour traffic home and then Beavers.   Meal planning is key! Cousin Wendy texts; would we like to drop in for spag bol before giving Hannah a lift? Sure!   Mine can go in the freezer. On the way home in the car I ask the kids what they had for lunch. The answer? Spag bol.  Of course.
Friday ?? Ribs It’s time to eat the radioactively orange mega fatty pork ‘ribs’ I bought from the butchers on Monday. They take an age to cook. The kids wolf them down. Nothing left for me. Probably not a bad thing.
Saturday Oh FFS who gets this far?   And btw fyi, most online plans don’t even include weekends, so there.
Sunday Um, whatevs.   Roast chicken.   Hallelujah.

Sigh.  I’m sure it gets easier each time… CleanEating.Humor_





The Marvellous Dr Christie

January 26, 2016

Here is an update on Alfie and his terrible cough, as posted here.  This is what happened that very afternoon!  I should mention that he hasn’t coughed a speck since.  Not once at all.  Quite mystifying but a great relief!

At the Ulster Independent Clinic Dr Sharon Christie takes charge and immediately a battery of tests are ordered; I can hardly keep up. She takes a full history from birth until now and Alfie is shepherded around for a chest x-ray and a skin prick test (for allergies).


Doc McStuffins. Nearly as awesome as Dr Christie!

A blood test is arranged at my GP surgery for the following day (because I would have to pay otherwise) and a full lung function test (no, not just the ordinary oxygen blah thingy the asthma nurse does) will be arranged, possibly at Dr Christie’s hospital clinic. We can’t get bumped up the list because we’re private patients but we’re likely to get an appointment after Easter.

So, the results are in….

  1. Glue ear. In both ears. We had noticed some deafness (I say two months, Pete says six) but put it down to a growth spurt or just ordinary 6 year old lack of listening. This will be checked again in 3 months and if no improvement then likely grommets will be put in. Poor love. It does rather explain his excessive volume levels; I wonder if he’s had it since birth?
  2. NO ALLERGIES! Hurrah! Some good news. He was tested in Bangkok age 3 and came up allergic to dust, cats, feathers, grass and cockroaches (niche category for Asia, that one). But this time there is no reaction and this is further backed up by the blood test results a week later. I am more than a little excited and relieved by this, especially as I no longer have to feel guilty about specks of dust and my lack of cleaning zeal in his bedroom causing his cough. It also means we can consider actually having things in his bedroom, like curtains, books, posters, toys (all massive dust catchers in case you didn’t know).
  3. Patches on his left lung. This is worrying, for me anyway. It indicates an infection and Alfie is put on Azithromycin for 3 days, 4 days off and then another 3 days. Then we will see. Of course his cough all but disappeared the day after our appointment with Dr Christie, so he seems loads better. Mainly though, I am a terrible mother for taking my son skiing with pneumonia.

I can hardly describe the enormous relief of finding someone to take us seriously enough to book tests AND get results. It’s a shame the GP’s don’t seem able to do this. I don’t know how many times we’ve been to see the asthma nurse (monthly? Fortnightly?) to be given the same piece of paper and same advice over and over again; up the inhalers, up the inhalers, up the fucking inhalers. I felt like ramming the fucking inhaler down her throat. The last time I was told, in not so many words of course, that really the only solution was to bring him in to be nebulised, preferably to A&E at the hospital, and once he as some kind of crisis, or preferably quite a few, he may be referred on to a specialist. Maybe. Gee, thanks for the free blood test though *gritted teeth*

this one

Yep.  Pretty much.

Which is why I am fangirling over Dr Christie. She rocks.


Apex Clinic

January 25, 2016

God but they’re brilliant. I’m so fragile I can’t even push the door open* and reason that it must be locked (I’m not thinking straight, unsurprisingly). The nice lady opens the door for me and I tiptoe in, all zombie-brained and twisted like a rope and contemplate sitting down but feel it will be too much effort – it’s the getting up again that hurts. Michelle comes to get me and her room is the furthest away, of course, but says cheerfully I can stand if that’s easier, so I do. She’s also about 12 years old and I find it hard to believe she can know anything about bad backs, young whippersnapper that she is. But she’s fab. She nods sagely when I outline the History of the Back Twinge, explain how I’ve just been skiing for a week and did ten lengths in the pool yesterday (woo hoo). When I mention the weirdly heavy periods, the headaches, the nightly pins and needles in my right hand and arm, the constant ache in my elbow, she smiles and says oh yes, that’s all related and probably stems from that neck injury we saw you for last year. I’m floored. All that because of a crick in my neck? Which was so insignificant I thought I would go running anyway and thus turned it into the second most frightening thing that ever happened to me? When I thought I may never be able to move my head again and almost fainted from the pain and had to go and see Michelle at the Apex Clinic for the very first time? Well, I never.


This captures my physique perfectly.  Damn!

Somehow I am able to lie on my side, after much gentle manoeuvring and with Michelle holding my legs for me as they are too heavy for my back to carry. She works her way up my spine, manipulating joints and making notes with her pen straight on to my skin. Once I wince and once I yell out and when she asks my pain score it is 11 out of 10 when I ‘catch’ the twinge and 8 when I can avoid it. Then she starts manipulating a space between my ribs (it feels like) and I feel a correlation on the other side of my back, like miles away, very odd. Then she moves to another place and I feel distinctly nauseous. But I also feel safe and able to relax, just a little bit and I’m flooded with relief because I know that it’s fixable and I will be OK and I’m not crippled forever. In Michelle’s hands I’m OK and begin to cry – again.

Apex Clinic

*this follows my earlier post on back pain, which you can read here and for which I received a great deal of Facebook love, thank you!  Much better now, more posts to follow.

Week 2, in which I am An Unfit Mother

January 23, 2016

Wednesday morning I wake and immediately know something is terribly wrong with my back. I can barely move. Not in itself unusual, especially when one wakes wedged between two hot boys, but this time it’s bad. It’s an old lower back injury, from a riding accident aged 13. It’s given me trouble all my life, from time to time, but usually I know what not to do and it’s rarely been this bad. Only twice before in fact. Once when I was 14 I couldn’t get out of bed and scared myself silly. That was the first time. Eventually I managed to crab crawl to the doctors down the road to be patronised and smugly laughed at, so I never went back. The last time was when my Dad died and I totally seized up two days before the funeral. I was getting on a bit by then (ten years ago) and riding his horse out every day, coupled with sleeping on the floor, probably wasn’t the best solution. And now this. I’m suddenly and acutely aware how vulnerable I am, on my own with 2 smalls. (These things prey on my mind occasionally and I wonder what on earth we would do if anything ever happened to me or to Pete.)  im fineIn any case, here we are and I can barely get my clothes on, let alone go to the toilet or manage the stairs. But I do because I have to and I’m a mum and that’s how it works. I scream in pain and clutch the bannister when attempting to put Oscar’s shoes on and Alfie becomes my right hand man, manfully stepping up to dress his brother and pat me on the back, saying ‘don’t bend your back mum, stand up straight’. I cry.  For all sorts of reasons. We are 20 minutes late to school because it takes me that long to negotiate getting in the car. For a long time I think I won’t be able to drive and cry with frustration. The kids HAVE to go to school! Mainly because I simply can’t deal with noise or movement around me and need space to deal with this unbearably frightening pain. Not only that I but I have to get myself to the emergency appointment at the physio – the rather brilliant Apex Clinic, who have seen me before for a neck injury (sigh). So I finally mange to sit and actually the car seat is the most comfortable space all day, it kind of envelops me and holds me up and if it weren’t so sodding cold I would sit in it all day. I push my foot on the brake for traction and realise I can drive, carefully, slowly, like an old lady, but we can go. Thank God.

And so it begins… Week 2

January 21, 2016

We got back from skiing on the Saturday night and on Sunday went to see Uncle Gilbert, who had managed the mean feat of spending both Christmas and New Year in hospital with a suspected dicky heart. Thankfully he got the all clear but at the age of 88, with a quadruple bypass behind you, you can’t be too careful. That afternoon we waved Pete off as he went back to work in South Sudan, and I settled in for a week of washing, planning healthy meals and daily exercise for all of us.momguilt

One genius plan to help us get moving (and help Alfie get trim and fit) was to walk through Belmont Park to school, rather than park across the road or even, (horrors!) drive all the way in. Weather permitting the kids could scooter and I could alk, also having the added benefit of walking back through the park to fetch the car afterwards. I calculated, correctly, that we should leave the house at 8am, about 20 minutes earlier than usual. Minimal protest from the kids and dry weather so it all looked good. Except for the fact that Alfie coughed his guts out from start to finish. The temperature had dropped to a couple of degrees and the minute we hit the cold air he was a goner. If you’ve never heard an asthmatic child cough then count yourself lucky because it does sound like they are coughing their guts up and indeed vomit can often be involved. I had the pink Seretide inhaler and spacer with me but had forgotten the blue Ventolin, so we did 3 puffs, then another 3 puffs, then another. It was horrible. By the time we got to school I was a nervous wreck. Alfie is sanguine about all this, it never seems to faze him. Just as his racking night time coughs never wake him (but wake the entire rest of the house), he takes it all in his stride. He’s not keen on the inhalers, sometimes getting fed up with yet another request to have a couple of puffs, but mainly it doesn’t bother him, even when he coughs so much he vomits

Thankfully an angel was to hand, angel in the form of my good friend L, whose own son suffers from asthma and related respiratory conditions, to the point of being hospitalised. I was so fraught I couldn’t think straight and she totally took me in hand, insisting I get in her car and parking up to let me have a good wail, even though she was on her way to an important appointment. There and then she found the number of the Ulster Independent Clinic  and I was able to make an appointment to see a paediatrician that very afternoon. She also gently but firmly told me to call my GP and demand a referral letter (necessary for the appointment) and all that plus a shoulder to cry on too.

And what a difference it made! I walked back through the park as planned, sobbed down the phone to the GP’s receptionist and was promised a letter by lunchtime. After school that day we went to see the truly awesome Dr Sharon Christie and by that evening I was not only relieved, but quietly elated (and absolutely shattered). Finally, finally we were ‘in the system’ and on our way to getting some actual answers. Thanks L, I owe you big time.



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