Friday, 27 June 2014

Slimming World, Instagram and my Buddy!

So, I've managed to get to day 3 and I haven't cheated once. I am determined to stay focused, and I'm keeping myself motivated by following other Slimming World member's successes.

Instagram, is a great place for Slimming World meal ideas and support from the #slimmingworldmafia (which is how they tag themselves). I try to post a photo of at least one meal a day. It gives me a visual reminder of how I'm getting on and it's great to see the 'likes' from slimmers. But it's the 'before and after' photos from other Slimming World members that I find so inspirational. I long to get to the stage where I can post my own 'before and after'. So every time I feel the need to get a treat from our 'goody cupboard', I grab my phone and nose at strangers photo's! I reminds me of why I'm doing what I'm doing. Here are some of my own photo's from Instagram this week:

Breakfast: Bacon, egg and chopped tomatoes

Lunch: Tuna, feta pasta and salad

Dinner: BBQ chicken, roasted peppers and onions, SW chips and salad

Snack Time: Green tea, Muller Light yoghurt.
To follow me on Instagram click here.

The other thing that is helping me greatly is a Slimming World buddy. My buddy happens to be a friend from college, although I know other people use a buddy that they've only 'met' and spoken to online.
I'm finding my buddy to be a great source of support. We're both mums, both mature students, we're the same age and the same weight. We also have a very similar backgrounds and gained weight due to the same reasons. We text each other several times throughout the day to discuss our meals, snacks and cravings. We motivate each other and talk about how well our day is going. If we feel like fall off the wagon, we drag the other back on! My other close friends are really supportive, but it is not the same as having someone to talk to who knows exactly what you're going through and how you're feeling. Not only that, but I think the friendship with my buddy and I is growing and growing and we'll remain close friends, even after reaching our targets.

Ok so it is only day 3, and I have a long way to go, but something feels different this time. Perhaps Instagram and my buddy are the difference? Either way, I'm going to stay on track and continue to share my journey with you, which sort of makes me feel like I have a responsibility to stick to it. As with all things in life, there will be ups and downs, but I'll document them honestly as honestly as I can.

You can find out more about Slimming World here.

As always I'd love to hear your opinions or advice. Feel free to post below.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Back to Slimming World

My relationship with Slimming World can be described as a roller coaster ride. We have ups and downs, highs and lows. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it! But one thing's for certain, it works! When I have stuck to the plan 100%, I never fail to lose weight. It isn't really a diet, more of a lifestyle change so it isn't difficult to stick to either. There's plenty of food you can eat as much of as you like, so there's no need to be hungry.

However, over the past six months, I've used every excuse under the sun! Moving house, my birthday, my friend's birthdays, a celebratory night out, the I'm happy and don't care about my size so I'll eat what I like one... The list of excuses is endless!

However, I weighed myself this morning and I was disgusted!!! Not only have I gained more than half a stone in this past month, but I've also reached another 'weight milestone' of a different stone bracket!! I know the positives outweigh the benefits, so I am determined to get back into the healthy eating zone and stay there! I am miserable with how things are now and the only person who can change things is me. I am hoping by posting publicly on here, it will motivate me to stay focused and get good results! Wish me luck!!!

My Healthy, Slimming World friendly lunch, salad with ginger, chilli and lime infused salmon.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Book Review: The Fault in our Stars by John Green.

The Fault in our Stars. John Green. Pub. 2012. Audible Copy. Narrated by Kate Rudd.

Iconic cover of TFioS

When I signed up to Audible, Amazon's audio book service, I was offered a free trial with one free book. I chose The Fault in our Stars (TFioS) by John Green, mainly due to the hype surrounding the book and its upcoming movie release. It was free and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Now, I have made the mistake before of reading a book because of the media hype... (Yes, I'm looking at you Fifty Shades), and have been immensely disappointed by the poor quality of writing and subsequent reading experience, that I wasn't expecting much from the much media-hyped TFioS.

However, I found myself listening to this audio book at every available opportunity. My 4 hour ironing stint passed in no time at all thanks to TFioS. Now, I cannot be certain whether it was the content and quality of the book that excited me, or the novelty of being able to 'read' a book whilst doing household chores. Whichever it was though, I found this book to be an easy, enjoyable read.

The Audible version of this audio book is narrated by Kate Rudd, whose voice I found to be a little irritating at times. However, that's probably just me and my dislike for listening to someone else speak for a long period of time without letting me get a word in! The dialogue of the different characters voiced by Rudd was exceptional, so much so that I knew which character was speaking without the need of being told who it was.

The book itself is set in Indianapolis and is written from the point of view of sixteen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster, who has terminal thyroid cancer, which has metastasised to her lungs, leaving her permanently dependent on oxygen. Despite this, against the odds, Hazel has responded to a drugs trial which means her tumours whilst ever present are not growing or metastasising further.

Too ill to attend school, and having very few friends, Hazel's parents insist on her attending a support group for children living with cancer. There she meets Augustus Waters, a 'hot boy' who has survived osteosarcoma and is living now, with 'NEC', no evidence of cancer and a prosthetic leg. He has only attended support group to support Issac, whom Hazel has become friends with via the group.

Hazel and Augustus swap their favourite novels and appear to bond over a love of literature, which is recognisable in their dialogue. I love the language used by the teenagers, it's wonderfully descriptive and full of metaphors. It is however, far too advanced for their years, it gives me flashbacks to that late 1990s series Dawson's Creek! (Who remembers that?) This is especially evident, juxtaposed with their typical teenage strops and love and video games.

Hazel's favourite novel, 'An Imperial Affliction' written by the reclusive Peter Van Houten, forms a base for the story. Her favourite book ends without closure. Determined to find out what happened to the characters of the book, Augustus plans to use his 'wish', granted to children with cancer (Hazel has already used hers) to take Hazel to meet her literary hero in Holland. Hazel however becomes very ill and ends up in hospital, as her 'crappy lungs' fill up with fluid. Following this episode, Hazel makes up her mind not to get romantically involved with Augustus, as she doesn't want to leave him broken hearted when she dies.

Once recovered, and after much persuasion, her parents and doctors agree that she can travel to Holland. Hazel, her mother and Augustus arrive in Holland, where inevitably, Hazel and Augustus fall in love and begin their relationship. The trip doesn't go exactly as planned because her hero Van Houten, is certainly not the literary genius they expected. Instead they find an alcoholic, bitter cynical man, who refuses to answer how his book ends. Nonetheless the trip isn't entirely wasted as the couple's true feelings are revealed as they admit their love for each other. Augustus also reveals an ironic twist in the tale that changes the whole perspective of the story.
More is revealed as the story ends, about Hazel, Augustus and Van Houten.

I've not really mentioned, that throughout the story, cancer is a major character of the novel. The struggles of daily life and the perspective of a cancer sufferer is very evident and real. Not only Hazel's struggles, but also those of her parents and the other kids at the support group. The protagonist Hazel, is philosophical and realistic, but her vulnerability is also evident. She has a wonderful sense of humour and her sarcasm about how cancer sufferers are treated by society is refreshing. Augustus is also a well developed character, but I find him a little less believable. He appears to be the most perfect gentleman, which at the age of sixteen, having been through an ordeal that would leave most young men quite angry and bitter I find a bit idealistic. He is wildly romantic and talks in vivid descriptive metaphors, which I found to be a little bit pretentious for a teenager hooked on war role playing video games.

There are other characters that I would have liked to learnt more about. Lidewij, (Van Houten's assistant), Issac and Van Houten in particular. They definitely have interior lives that would be well worth exploring further. It is touched on briefly, which I suppose is adequate, given the focus of the book is on Hazel and Augustus. All of the characters in the book have been affected by cancer, making cancer the antagonist character of the story.
There are some flat characters of the story, such as Hazel's only friend outside of support group. A shallow British girl Kaitlyn, who finds it difficult to connect with Hazel other than on a superficial level.

It is important to remember that this book is written for young adults, it is not an adult book. That said, it is no less enjoyable to read. The hype surrounding this book is no doubt follows the rising popularity in young adult fiction, whilst I found the novel compelling and touching, I've not found it to be life changing, like so many have suggested. In spite of this opinion, I can see how it could be for a teenager, its target audience. It's certainly an uplifting book, despite its subject matter. It has a positive message and it's characters are well-rounded with beautiful dialogue. It's certainly a book I will be urging my daughter to read when she is a few years older. Well worth a read.

Silent Sunday.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Introducing... Pet's Corner!

Whilst considering topics to write for my blog, I looked to the questions I get asked the most. Before I left employment, I was a Registered Veterinary Nurse. I  began my career in Veterinary Nursing in 1996 and qualified in 2000. I have worked for several private veterinary practices, and most recently for a large charity animal hospital. I have also worked as a lecturer of Animal Care and Management to adult students. Therefore, without doubt, the advice that my friends and family seek from me most frequently, is regarding their pets or their potential pets.
Registered Veterinary Nurse Badge

The number of unwanted/stray animals in the UK, (particularly cats and dogs) has reached crisis point, and the main cause of this I believe, is irresponsible pet ownership, along with lack of education regarding the ownership of domestic animals. That's why it is important to promote responsible pet ownership to children from a young age.

Whether they have their own pets or not, kids need to learn to respect animals, so that they continue to be respectful of them throughout their adult life. We need to teach them that animals are not just a disposable commodity, they are a living being, with continual needs that have to be met by their owners.

Owning a pet, be it a fairground goldfish or a Great Dane requires time, effort, responsibility and money. Being the owner of a pet does not come cheap, and as adults, we must ensure we can commit the required amount of time, effort and money to care for an animal for the rest of its life, before making it a part of the family. It is not only morally right to do this, it is the law. Failure to meet the needs of your pet is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

So how do we get it right? How do we resist our children, begging us for their latest furry friend with the huge sad eyes? Can you make pet ownership work for your family? Over the next few weeks, I'll be writing some posts about popular children's pets and answering common questions about owning them. I will include a guide to their requirements which may help you to decide if a particular pet is for you. As a parent, I'm not immune to the pressure that your children can put on you to own a pet. As an animal lover, I am definitely not immune to the charms of a four-legged furry, but hopefully I can help you to make a decision as to which pet is most suited to your family and lifestyle.
One of my four cats: Simba

I am also happy to answer any questions you have regarding general animal care, just drop me a line in the comments below. If you need medical advice for an animal, you must seek the opinion of your veterinary surgeon. For legal reasons, I am unable to give medical advice online.

Please make sure you are following me using the buttons on the right to keep up to date with the forthcoming posts, in the meantime, you may find these links useful. 

Find a Local Vet
Cats Protection
Dogs Trust
Rabbit Welfare Association
Animal Welfare Act: Protecting Pets

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

This week I'm loving...

So, I have decided to write a weekly account of products, experiences,technologies or just about anything that I have been enjoying over the past week. Just little things to remind me, that there is always something to smile about. Here goes... 


Audible (part of Amazon), I believe, is fabulous! For those who've not heard about Audible, it is a service that offers download-able audio books. There are over 100,000 books available for immediate download. (This is very dangerous for those suffering from bibliophilia, such as myself!) Once you've downloaded your book, you can then listen to it on your laptop, smart phone, tablet or mp3 player. I signed up and received one free book. You can then choose to become a member or download future books as a one off purchase. I've not looked fully into the different membership options, but I'll definitely become a member. I get through so many books, and this is a great way of 'reading' one relatively quickly. My 4 hour ironing session yesterday, passed in the blink of an eye thanks to my audio book. I think you can exchange any books you do not like, which is great. 
Of course, nothing is as good as the real tangible thing in my opinion. So yes, I love my Kindle and yes I love this service, but nothing will replace actual books for me, which is a shame because I am running out of space to put them all!
For more information take a look at Audible now.

Muller Light Yoghurt.

I am a 'currently off the wagon' Slimming World member. Yet whilst I've been avoiding group and the salad bar, I have been keeping an eye on the latest weight loss friendly treats. It seems everyone has been talking about the Skinny Cappuccino flavour Muller Light yoghurt. How nice can a coffee flavoured yoghurt be? I pondered. 

I ponder no longer. They are just as good as everyone has been raving, and then some! I can see an obsession coming on!


Put simply, Tinder is a dating app. Having been single for quite some time now, many friends have urged me to start my search for a new 'special friend'. Whilst to be quite honest, when it comes to meeting someone new, I am not too concerned because I am really happy with my life at the moment. I'm of the opinion, 'if it happens, it happens'. However, I thought there'd be no harm in seeing what all the fuss was about. After all, several of my single friends had used it, with varying degrees of success.
It matches couples based on physical attraction, taking photo's and information (which you can edit) from your Facebook account. So you only get to 'converse' with someone whom you have 'liked' and they've 'liked' you back. Extremely superficial, but easy to use and fun, and who knows what could happen. Try it out here.

And there you have it. Three little things that have brought a smile to my face this week. I'd love to hear about your loves or great finds of the week. Let me know in the comments below.

Also, just to note that these are my opinions only, that have not been influenced by any payment or products.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Book Review: Paula Spencer by Roddy Doyle

Paula Spencer. Roddy Doyle. Pub.2006. (277 pages).

I first encountered the character of Paula Spencer in Doyle's earlier novel 'The Woman Who Walked Into Doors'. (1996).
The book was recommended to me by my literature tutor, as a good example of working class fiction, which stood out largely due to Doyle's creation of Paula Spencer, an ordinary housewife and mother, who endured years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her husband Charlo. She was also an alcoholic. 
I enjoyed this book so much so that I chose it as the subject of one of my literature modules for my course.  

Therefore, when I discovered there was a sequel to 'The Woman Who Walked Into Doors', set ten years later, I couldn't wait to get reading in the hope that Paula had blossomed after Charlo's death.

The book begins on Paula's 48th birthday. She has been sober for four months and five days. Life around Paula has changed. Dublin is now home to coffee shops and delicatessens. She still works as a cleaner, but all of her colleagues seem to be young women from Eastern Europe. Her youngest children Jack and Leanne still live at home. 

The book's main focus is on Paula's daily struggle to remain sober and to rebuild  relationships with her children. Years of dealing abuse and alcoholism has distanced her from them. 
Her eldest daughter Nicola has made a success of her life and is frequently buying her gifts. Nicola was the child that witnessed most of her father's abuse towards her mother and perhaps is not resentful towards her mother because of this. Yet Nicola's generosity and concern annoy Paula, she feels humiliated by the support given to her from her daughter, but she's proud of her too. There is a lot of ambivalence in Paula's feelings throughout the book towards all of her children.
John Paul, her eldest son, left home a heroin addict in the previous book. Paula has been estranged from him for nine years, four months and thirteen days. He turns up at Paula's house, before she had stopped drinking. He's now clean. No more drugs, back from the dead. He asks if she is sober:
''John Paul looked straight at her. And she realised. It made her want to die or kill him-he expected her to answer''. (p.54)
John Paul idolised his father, he had no parent to guide him during his formative years, and the guilt that Paula feels because this throughout the book is overwhelming. Their relationship is very awkward and the sensation of 'the elephant in the room' is ever-present when they meet.
Leanne, her youngest daughter lives with Paula. Their relationship is dogged by skeletons of the past. Leanne was the most affected by her parents relationship. The book documents Leanne's descent into alcoholism, and Paula's subsequent reaction. There is so much anger in Leanne's character towards her mother and at times it can be difficult to understand why, especially as the narration is entirely third person from Paula's point of view. 
''Leanne scares Paula. The guilt. It's always there. Leanne is twenty-two. Leanne wets her bed. Leanne deals with it. It's terrible.
Her fault. Paula's fault. The whole mess. Most of Leanne's life''. (p.5)
The recurring theme of violence rears its head in this relationship, as Paula again becomes victim to a few outbursts from Leanne. 
Her baby, Jack, is now sixteen. Severely repressed, stays in his room, terrified of his mother falling off the waggon. It is clear he is Paula's favourite. She is concerned by his introspective personality, but there are no ambivalent of feelings towards him like there are for her other children. 

The narrative of the book is entirely third person, which I am not sure I like. One of the great features of Paula's characterisation in the first book, was her idiolect and free indirect speech. This still occurs, but there is no first person narrative whatsoever.
In some ways Paula Spencer is quite depressing. Life around her has changed, Dublin has moved with the times, society and culture has changed, Ireland is not such a repressive place as it was during the height of her abuse. Yet Paula hasn't changed, she has adapted somewhat. However, she is still a victim of Charlo's abuse. He enters her thoughts frequently and has left a huge psychological scar. She is the one shouldering the blame for the inadequate parenting received by their children, yet she is also a victim.

I warmed to Paula immediately in The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. In Paula Spencer, I didn't. This may have been Doyle's intention, to realistically portray the inner thoughts of a recovering alcoholic. Her thoughts towards her children, at times, are shocking and seem unloving, but considering her life are perhaps realistic. Likewise, the children's attitudes towards their mother, who was abused horrifically by their father seem to lack empathy. The blame appears to be all apportioned to her. Perhaps this is just due to the way the book is written from Paula's third person point of view and her perception of it? Or it could be because she was an alcoholic and 'absent' from them for a large period of their lives, that they cannot trust her?

A positive relationship, that remains, is the one with her sister Carmel. Carmel has been there for Paula through everything and remains firmly by her side. There becomes a point in the book where it is Paula's turn to be a rock for Carmel, which I believe she does. The sisterly bond is arguably the most enjoyable relationship throughout this book.

Whatever the reason for the awkwardness and difficulties in rebuilding the relationships with her children, one thing that is missing from this book is a resolution. I found myself turning each page, believing an almighty showdown would surely occur. It definitely was needed by the family, too many things had been left unsaid. Yet it never occurred. And I think that is the beauty of the book. Like its predecessor, the realism is solid. The atmosphere created between the characters is thick with tension that never really gets resolved. They're just getting on with life as best they can, hoping that each day will be less of a struggle, and that each day takes them a step further from the past.

I must admit, I was slightly disappointed in the characterisation of Paula this time round. I also desired more for her. I wanted her to have turned her life around following Charlo's death. I guess that's what all readers want for a good protagonist. But I do believe Mr Doyle has given his readers a slice of real life. Paula will never have a fairy tale life, like many of us, she is just getting by, taking each step as it comes.