Where the grass is greenest after all

I was on a first aid course today. This meant hubby taking the day off to look after the children. It meant me being child free from 9am-5pm. Similar to what a lot of working parents do several days of the week. I was also lucky enough that the course was being run a 5 minute walk from my house, so no extra time away travelling.

I had been quite looking forward to doing something grown up for the day.

I did enjoy the day. I did get to be a grown up all day. I put my coffee down at the edge of the table. I ate my lunch without getting up once. I went to the toilet on my own without anyone insisting on opening the door at inopportune moments. I learnt some new things and got to practise old skills.

I realised how much I enjoy being at home with my children.

I remembered just how lucky I am to be able to stay off work for now.

Being a stay at home mum can be a frustrating experience. Here are some of my regular frustrations:

  • There are tears and arguments over the most seemingly ridiculous things. Did I mention the day I had to stop the cargo bike on the way to nursery because the children were getting hysterical over whose turn it was to throw the imaginary ball to the imaginary dog?
  • There is very little peace. Between bottom wiping, potty emptying, crumb sweeping, lego building, sticker sticking, story reading, milk pouring, snack providing, clothes changing, etc, etc – somebody always seems to want something from me.
  • The endless household chores. There seems to be far more laundry than could possibly be produced by just 4 people and far more meals to be made than we can possibly be eating.
  • I am never alone. Never.
  • I am never alone when I am on the toilet. Never. Somebody always wants something when I go to the toilet. Quite often, that is the very moment when one of them decides they want to bash their sibling with a toy doll.
  • The tedious arguments. Seriously, just put your shoes on. Please, just put your shoes on. Just once, put your shoes on the first time I ask and don’t make me ask a hundred times.

All these petty frustrations can add up and start to drag you down.

Today gave me some perspective about the positives of staying at home with the kids, as compared to going out to work:

  • I am the mistress of my own time. Ok, there are constraints – we have to get to nursery and playgroup on time and I have to collect them both on time. But my children are still young enough that the eldest is only away for three hours,and the youngest only for 2 hours a couple of days a week. The rest of the day is our own and we get to choose what to do with it. We can play in the garden, go for a walk, go swimming, build fantastic lego constructions, bake, go to the library, whatever we like. When you go to work, you have to be at work, until work finishes – even if you decide you’ve had enough of work now.
  • I get to do all the things that were great fun as a child. It turns out that lots of these things are still great fun as an adult, I just forgot. Building lego is fantastic once you throw away the instructions. I love the challenge of using every piece of train track in building a mega track. As for chasing bubbles in the garden – brilliant.
  • I get to move. Today, I mostly sat in a chair. By the end of the day I felt twitchy and irritable. When I’m at home with the kids, I often wish I could just sit down. Turns out that’s not what I want after all.
  • I don’t miss anything about my childrens’ lives – good or bad. I am a part of it all. Sometimes it seems endless, especially when I’m standing in a play park which I would really like to leave now. Today, I walked past an empty play park and I felt like crying. I felt like crying because it made me realise that there will come a day when my children don’t want to go to the play park. And on that day, I will really really miss standing in that play park trying not to feel bored.

I’m not saying that staying at home is the best way. I don’t believe that there is a one-size-fits-all best way. I don’t want to spark a working parent versus stay at home parent debate. I think that every family has to make a difficult choice about what is right for them, and then try and find a way to make it work for them.

All I am saying is that today I counted my blessings.

Today I truly appreciated that for me, at this moment, the grass is definitely greener at home, with my beautiful, hilarious, fascinating, frustrating children.

“That woman with the bike”

Pretty soon after I started using the cargo bike on a daily basis, I realised that I was no longer just ‘a cyclist’ to the people I came across. I became “that woman with the bike”.

I know this because I have a friend who is lovely and who looks the part of a playground mum. She is ‘in with the playground mum chat’. What I do not know is the tone that people use when they say “that woman on the bike”. I like to think that it’s not snarled through gritted teeth but sometimes I suspect otherwise.

I also find it incredible how many other cyclists tell me where else in the city they have seen me on my distinctive bike.

And I find it incredible how many people say “oh, you’re the woman with the bike” when I am off the bike but talk about it.

It is a strange feeling not being anonymous.

It makes me realise how often we are anonymous in daily life. We don’t really recognise people that we don’t know, even when we see them every day walking or driving or cycling around our streets.

Trust me, you do get recognised when you ride the only bakfiets in the village.

It also makes me realise that there is more than one way to ride a bike.

I consider myself a safe cyclist.

I consider myself an assertive cyclist.

Others perhaps consider me an aggressive cyclist.

Others definitely consider me an annoying cyclist.

Here’s the thing. I take the issue of safe passing distance very seriously.

There are plenty of articles available online detailing close pass statistics. A quick Google of ‘close pass cyclist’ will provide plenty of links. I’m not going to bother repeating them here.

I am going to speak from daily experience.

Close passes are scary.

Close passes can be terrifying.

Close passes are completely unnecessary.

In my more generous moments, I think people pass me so close I could reach out and touch their car / van / taxi / bus because they just do not realise how vulnerable cyclists are. They do not realise how close they are. They do not see the potholes that might mean I need to move further from the curb.

In my less generous moments, I think people people pass that close because they really do think that their journey is more important than my life and my childrens’ lives.

West Midlands Police recently ran a campaign to educate drivers about the dangers of close passes. Other police forces also showed interest in this and Cycling UK are running a kickstarter campaign to provide close pass cycle mats  to every police force in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I think this is a fantastic initiative.

I think it can make cycling safer.

Even more important, I think it can make cycling more attractive to people who currently don’t cycle.

I think it could encourage more families to take to their bikes.

I hope it could encourage more families to take to their bikes on the school run.

Back to why I know I am an annoying cyclist.

I do not cycle right next to the curb. I cycle around half a metre from the curb. Maybe more, maybe less, depending on the state of the road. I have always done this. Long before I realised that this is exactly what the police would advise. I have always seen this as providing me with somewhere to go if a driver does pass me too close for comfort.

Sometimes, this means that a vehicle cannot get past me as soon as they might like to.

But it does mean we are safe.

Anyone who has had any experience of the school run will know the kind of parking which goes on. This narrows some of the roads I have to use to one lane. If I squeeze into the kerb and drivers pass me as close as they can, then there is still room for them to pass me immediately.

But that means we are not safe.

So, I won’t allow it.

If a road is narrow and there is not room for a car to pass me with at least a metre to spare, I will cycle much more than 0.5m from the kerb, to make drivers wait until the road is wider before they pass me.

And that means that we are safe.

There are a couple of roads where I do this every day.

I can appreciate that this must be frustrating for some drivers.

I am not trying to make any kind of point. I am not trying to upset anyone. I am just keeping us safe.

The roads where I do this every day are not very long.

The delay to drivers cannot be more than two minutes.

The minority of drivers who react to this by shouting abuse are not going to make any difference to me.

I will still cycle.

I will still cycle defensively.

I will still wonder, does two minutes really make that much difference to a person’s day?

Winning the Weight Loss Challenge

I’ve posted a couple of times this year about weight loss and me. About losing weight after pregnancy and about the culinary challenges I now find myself facing.

Time for an update and the update is positive.

Since New Year, I have lost just over a stone. Even better, I find myself fitting into clothes a size smaller. This is the first time I have been a size 12 in many, many years.

Yay for me. I feel great and I feel positive about maintaining my new weight.

The remarkable thing is that I’ve not really found it that tough to lose the weight this time. I’ve not been hungry and I’ve not gone without my red wine and chocolate at the weekend.

So I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing.

I discovered the myfitnesspal app when I first started losing the ‘baby weight’. I think it’s a fantastic tool. But, like any tool, how well it works depends on how well you use it. I have used it well and I have used it badly. More about that in a future post.

Here is why I think I might just of got it right this time:

  • Accurately measuring calories out:

I got a new Garmin (I am a bit of a Garmin gadget addict). My lovely husband bought me a Garmin Vivoactive HR for my birthday. I have tried all sorts of heart rate monitors over the years. All of these used chest straps to measure heart rate. All of them have ended up flung across rooms in disgust. I came to the conclusion that I am simply not the right build for chest straps.

My new Garmin is a watch which measures heart rate at the wrist. I have found it to be reliable and accurate. It uses the heart rate measurements to calculate calories burned, so the calorie count is pretty accurate. The Garmin Connect app talks to the myfitnesspal app so the calories I burn are added onto my daily allowance. It also counts steps so I don’t have to tell myfitnesspal how active I am (since this varies every day anyway).

  • Thinking about the quality of everything I eat

I have had my daily calorie ‘allowance’ set at around 1500. This is fairly low, but because I am on the bike pretty much every day for transport or fun, I generally have another 500 calories added to this to make up for calories burned. I have found that this level is perfectly achievable without feeling hungry as long as I think about the quality of everything I eat. For me this has meant lots of fruit and veg, and lots of malt loaf. I look for what I can eat which will make me feel the most full, for the least calories.

Sadly, if I consume 685 calories with a slice of tiffin and a medium latte from Costa (I love tiffin and latte from Costa) that is a huge dent in my allowance and it doesn’t really keep hunger at bay for long. That said, a small skinny latte from Costa comes in at 70 calories and, because milk is largely protein, this is actually not a bad high quality, low calorie snack.

  • Eating enough and eating often

Eating enough and timing when I eat has been a tricky one for me. I now never go out without snacks (for me, as well as the children). I would no more leave the house without bananas and malt loaf bars, than I would leave without a packet of wipes (Once you have had children, it is almost impossible to contemplate not having wipes on hand at all times, even once the children are out of nappies). I have realised that, if I actually let myself feel more than slightly hungry, I overeat.

Mid-morning and evening are the important times for me. We have breakfast pretty early, then the nursery and playgroup run is on the cargo bike. By the time I have done that, I always eat something. I often don’t feel hungry, but if I don’t eat something around 100 calories, I will find myself eating closer to 500 calories later.

I now try to keep meals under 500 calories, but I kind of count snacks as a meal – especially evening snacks. I eat with my children at around 5pm and I go to bed around 10pm. That leaves a huge stretch of time without eating if I don’t have enough calories to eat in the evening. So, I make sure I have enough calories to eat something in the evening. This is usually the calories I have burned through cycling, especially if I have been on the bike in the evening.

Some days, I find it hard to get my head around eating enough in the evening. It is hard to see that you have 800 calories left because it has been an active day and not to think that that is an achievement, especially if I’m not actually feeling all that hungry. I have done this in the past and have found that the next day, or even the day after, I go on a bit of an eating rampage. Bring on the Costa tiffin and unlimited home baking! So now, if I have 800 calories left at the end of the day, I use those calories before I go to bed.

  • Minor changes in family meals

I recently watched the ‘Hairy Dieters’ programmes and thought they had lots of good ideas for cutting calories without sacrificing enjoyment. I bought the cook book too and have found it really helpful. It has some good, simple, tasty recipes which have been acceptable to everyone in my family (Husband: larger portions, 4 year old: happy to eat most things, 2 year old: put bread with it).

I have taken the hairy biker idea of little swaps and used that with other meals too. So, if I make pasta and pasta sauce, for me I swap the pasta for baked sweet potato (5 minutes in the microwave so not a separate meal to my mind) – just as filling, half the calories. My family loves chilli and quesadillas – I make the chilli with quorn mince, use the food processor to add in loads of peppers in disguise, and I have baked potato instead of quesadillas. Lunches have been the same minor changes – one slice of toast with extra baked beans or scrambled egg is more filling for less calories.

  • Chilling out about going over my daily ‘allowance’

I no longer panic when I go over my daily allowance. I regularly do go over it and I am still losing weight. My reasoning it that I have my allowance set fairly low and that leaves a nice ‘margin of error’. According to the NHS, a woman should consume around 2000 calories a day to maintain her weight. So, even if I go over by 500 calories every day for a week, it’s really no disaster. I probably won’t lose any weight that week, but I probably won’t gain any either, and that is fine.

I am not en elite athlete and I never will be. It is not vital that I keep my weight low, it never will be. I just want it a little bit lower. I always go over my allowance on Fridays and Saturdays. Wine and chocolate. It is worth appreciating just how easy it is to consume a couple of thousand calories through wine and chocolate. This allows me to be moderate in my indulgences and to be aware of them, without giving them up entirely. If I have kept more or less within the limits I have set throughout the week, although I go over at the weekends, my average daily calorie consumption for the week is still under 2000 calories so I should still lose weight.

So, these little revelations have meant that for now I have found a ‘diet’ that I can keep to and not feel deprived. I also feel that I am not demonstrating an obsession with dieting to my children. I am perhaps demonstrating an obsession with healthy eating and moderation to my children. To me that is ok. I want to bring my children up to be active and to eat healthily, not to diet. I find that if I stay active and eat healthily (not Costa tiffin, or at least not too often), then I don’t need to diet.