Friday, 29 August 2014

Give Your Brain a Break!

Could 'Mindfulness' be the key to your serenity?



Does our modern, technology rich, and often stress-filled world leave you with an over-stimulated mind and an inability to switch off?  Then read on…

This time of year’s perhaps not so bad, many of us have had summer holidays and time to relax in the company of our family and friends, leaving us feeling refreshed and our batteries re-charged.  However, we all know those lazy hazy summer months don’t last forever, and before we know it, it’s back on the treadmill! 

So, once the tan starts to fade and the sound of the sea gently breaking on the shore feels like a dim and distant memory, when the cold, dark winter months start to set in, and the stresses and strains of everyday life begin to take their toll , you may want to consider practising a little ‘mindfulness’.

I, for one, am a born worrier!  Add that to the fact that (like most people) I have an extremely busy life, working full time,  looking after a family and home, trying to fit in exercise and hobbies, (not to mention everything else in between), and it becomes virtually impossible to ever fully unwind.

We’re also now contactable right around the clock, every single day of the week (home or away), thanks to explosive developments in technology and social media over recent years. Don’t get me wrong, I rely on my mobile as much as the next person, but every now and again when I’m in need of a little peace and solitude, I would gladly go back to the times when we didn’t even have a landline to the house!

So, how can we escape the constant mental chatter, switch off and tune out all those stresfull distractions?  Well, instead of turning to that post-work Pinot (which I’m the first to admit, does seem to do the trick), I’ve been trying to train my brain to focus on living in the moment , not worrying about the past or fretting about what might happen in the future, just concentrating on the here and now… in other words ‘mindfulness’.

Now I know the idea of Meditation is nothing new, but it’s often associated with sitting in the Lotus Position, breathing in incense and humming ‘omm’ to some weird and wonderful music.  Well, there’s nothing wrong with that if it works for you, but it’s not for everyone (believe me I’ve tried it!)

According to an article I read a few months ago, there is no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness.  It’s simply about making regular time for yourself (5-10 minutes a day) to do nothing, to think about nothing but the moment, in fact time to just simply be!  Easier said than done?.. yes, very much so, but it’s worth persevering.

For you, mindfulness might mean simply sitting down, closing your eyes and turning your attention to your breathing, nothing else.  Concentrating on where you feel it the most, in your nostrils, your chest or the rise and fall of your upper body?

It might be that your mindfulness works best in the shower.  Focus on the sensation of the water against your skin, breath in and enjoy the scent of your shower gel, enjoy how your scalp feels when you massage in your shampoo.

Even just a good old coffee break can turn into mindfulness. Concentrate on nothing but the wonderful aroma of the coffee and the warm soothing feeling in your mouth and in your throat, really focus on each and every sip.

Bedtime might be the time for you, as you lay there, focus in turn on every inch of your body from toes to head.  Notice any feelings of discomfort or tension and try to imagine them easing away with each breath you take.

If your thoughts start turning to ‘I wonder what’ll happen in Corrie tonight’ or ‘damn I forgot to take the meat out of the freezer for dinner’, stop, and bring your attention right back to your breathing / showering / coffee sipping (I can do this for almost 10 minutes now without my mind drifting off – quite an achievement for me!)

It really doesn’t matter how or when you practice your mindfulness, all that really matters is that you’re taking time to focus your brain on tuning out distractions.  The trick is not to try and stop thinking all together (I for one would find that impossible), but to think only about the moment and the sensations your body is experiencing.

Apparently, practised regularly, mindfulness can reduce stress (in turn sharpening memory and concentration), and lead to an all-round happier brain.  Research also shows that mindfulness may support the immune system, improve sleep, lift energy levels and help with pain management.

Why not give it a go?



Tuesday, 19 August 2014

All the Fun of the Festival



This summer, at the ripe old age of forty-six, I finally popped my ‘festival cherry’!

See more Festival Fun pics at the end of the post...
Now I like to think of myself as a kind of fun loving gal, and am always more than appreciative of a bit of quality live music, so why have I not donned my Wellies and Daisy Dukes, thrown my tent over my shoulder and headed off for a wild weekend in a field before now?

I’ve been to plenty of music concerts and one day festivals (in fact I’ve even performed at a few), and actually love nothing more than being out in the open air, dancing and singing, with the beat of a good strong drum and bass thudding in my chest.  Add a bit of sunshine (if you’re lucky), a few cheeky drinks and, well, that’s my kind of heaven.

What’s been my problem with a weekend of ‘festivalling’ so far then, and what made me change my mind this year?  Well, for a start, my ‘kids’ have been big festival goers over recent years, and I have seen the state they come home in!  I cannot begin to describe the smell of their clothes and tents (which were so bad on one occasion, we literally just binned the lot), not to mention the grey look on their faces and bags under their eyes, due to lack of sleep and a ridiculous excess of alcohol.  They’ve regaled me with tales of their “brilliant” weekends, involving activities which I won’t go into (all legal of course – well at least the ones they’ve told me about), but which are most definitely not my idea of fun. They also seemed to take great pleasure in watching me squirm as they described what had been their toilet and washing facilities for the past few days.

I did, when my family was young, dabble in the caravan thing, but I have never been a true camper (well, apart from once in a two man tent during my late teens, which resulted in tears and a last minute check-in at a local B&B, I’ll say no more!)  In fact, up until now, the very thought of sleeping under canvas has always filled me with horror and brought me out in a cold sweat!  Anyone who knows me well would vouch for this, and I think I’ve probably surprised many by taking the plunge this year (actually, no-one more-so than myself). 

So, what did make me reconsider and go for it this summer?  Well, I've always loved live music and I guess I was just feeling adventurous, in the mood to do something I hadn’t done before, something that was way out of my comfort zone… a new experience I could tick off my list etc, etc.   Yes, I know, you seasoned campers / festival goers are probably thinking ‘what on earth’s the big deal, she’s been camping not base- jumping!’, but for me, and my anxieties around camping (in particular the loos), it may as well have been base-jumping!

Anyway, how did it go?  In a deliberate attempt to avoid scenes of teenage alcohol induced carnage (which seems to be part and parcel of many of the larger festivals), we decided to go for the small, family friendly option (remember my blog is from a post-forty point of view ;-), and eagerly booked our tickets for Wickham. Where?! I hear you say.  Well, Wickham is a beautiful little village, two miles north of the town of Fareham (near Portsmouth), so it was a bit of a treck for us from up T’North, but well worth it.

The festival site itself (covered in masses of soft, glistening, golden straw - great for soaking up the mud!) is located in a picturesque rural setting on rolling farmland, which works perfectly with the general vibe of the festival, and is what I would describe as ‘Folkesque’.  Although this festival is described as a ‘Folk’ festival, the music is by no means exclusively Folk, and there really is something to suit pretty much everyone’s taste.  You may not find big names such as Dolly Parton headlining Wickham, but you will find an absolute wealth of talent and breath-taking musicianship on the main stage, including some fairly well-known acts such as James Blunt, The Lightening Seeds, The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain, and Bellowhead. There were also a few other blasts from the past including Hazel O’Conner (remember her from the 80’s?!)…  I wasn’t exactly a fan of her’s back then, but I was very impressed with what she’s doing now, which is writing some fantastic music and singing alongside two amazingly talented lady musicians, one on keys, the other on sax.  I enjoyed Hazel’s set so much that I bought the CD.  There were also two other smaller stages, one featuring new, young talent and the other dedicated to acoustic sets.

As with most festivals I guess, there were loads of craft stalls, real ale tents, an international food fayre, children’s entertainers, vintage clothes stalls, a pop-up bar, a solar cinema and so on.  As I was determined to completely embrace my first time festival experience, I wasted no time in getting into the spirit by buying (and wearing for the whole weekend) a flower headband and a ‘hippy’ style hoodie, having a henna tattoo, sampling a different culinary delight every day (with plastic cutlery, from polystyrene containers, whilst sitting on the floor), and of course drinking copious amounts of alcohol. I even bought myself some incense sticks and an ash catcher.

Wickham itself (which we visited one day for some more cash – no cash machines on site), is a lovely little village and well worth a trip. There was also a local Farm Shop and Tea Rooms right next to the campsite – very handy!

If we had one complaint about our festival experience, it would be on the subject of our wrist bands.  On arrival at the festival site, we joined a fairly lengthy, snake-like queue to receive our bands.  We were expecting this to be the case though, and the queue was dealt with pretty quickly and efficiently by the friendly and welcoming festival staff. We were however rather hoping for a nice colourful fabric wrist band, as we’d seen the kids come home with from other festivals (and then not take off for six months or more!) Instead we got plain, plastic bands that scratched every time they brushed against your skin (a bit like the ones you get when you’re admitted to hospital!).  Sorry Wickham, but at £150 each for a weekend ticket, we were expecting wrist bands with a little more style and comfort… yes I know, nit-picking!

So, we thoroughly enjoyed the whole festival experience, but what about the camping?  Well, we were greeted in Wickham on day one by lashings of rain, thunder and lightning… great!  Nevertheless, we zipped up our rain coats and got on with erecting the tent (I didn’t have a clue, and it was hilarious!) Luckily, my husband is a dab hand at this camping malarkey, so I was in safe hands.  In no time at all, the rain had given way to the sunshine, and we were pumping up the air bed to the sound of the kettle boiling away on the cute little camping stove (all quite a novelty to me!)

Even though I do say so myself, I think I coped well with my first camping experience.  I’d taken a hot water bottle so I wasn’t cold and miserable at night (one of my biggest camping anxieties was the lack of central heating!), and in fact found our tent to be really quite cosy and comfortable.  I wasn’t looking forward to struggling with a camping stove either, but was to be taken aback at how territorial my hubby was over his camping gear and how he insisted on cooking our bacon and eggs in the mornings (the only other time he cooks really is when we barbecue, although he can do a mean Sunday Roast when he puts his mind to it).  However, keen to fully involve myself in this new experience I insisted that I had a turn at cooking breakfast too… just the once though!

And so, to what was without doubt my biggest camping fear and anxiety of all… the loos!  On arrival at Wickham we had opted for the ‘quiet’ campsite, one of the reasons being that on this site you could park your car next to your tent, much more convenient than hauling your belongings over half a dozen fields.  However the quiet site did not have the ‘Posh Wash’ toilets and showers that were advertised on the festival website.  Instead our site had just four, 'Loos R Us' cubicles (you know the type I mean), and no showers. The loos were fine for the first day or two, but by day four were quite literally stomach churning!  Did I cry? no, not once.  Instead, armed with my own loo roll, wet wipes, and taking a very deep breath before I entered the cubicle, just got on with the job in hand.  Although we had read that the other campsite had “posh” loos and showers, it was a little bit of a walk away from our site, so we decided to just make do with the facilities at hand.  That is, until the last day when we decided on our way to the arena, that we’d check out these so-called posh toilets … wow, sheer luxury!  Beautifully clean, serviced toilets and showers equal to the standard of your average budget hotel, we had missed out, big time!  Ah well, lesson learned for our next visit, and I could take pride in the fact I had conquered my anxieties and survived the grotty loos!  In fact, speaking to one lady (who was a regular at Glastonbury), and said the toilets that we had been using were some of the worst she’d ever seen, strangely left me actually looking forward to my next festival and camping experience (not even the loos will spoil my enjoyment!)

And so, my new motto in life is going to be ‘to never again close my mind to anything, however fearful I am, without first giving it a go’.  Actually, I have tried to adopt this philosophy on life before and it’s not easy, but this time I’m determined… bring on the next new experience!






























If you're looking for a gentle, family friendly, talent packed introduction to summer music festivals,
Wickham could be just for you!  http://www.wickhamfestival.co.uk/

Thanks for reading


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Touch of Teal… A Result of my Restlessness!

Ever fancy a bit of a change at home, but can’t afford (or be bothered) with a total re-vamp?  Well, just a few new bits and pieces, adding a bit of colour here and there, can give any room a real lift.


Having been off work now for a few too many weeks (I work in education and have pretty much the whole of the summer at home, lucky me eh?),  I’m starting to get a little restless and am clearly beginning to miss the structure of the working week.  I’ve met with friends, spent time with family, had some lovely days out, done a bit of blogging, baked cakes (and eaten them), read books, relaxed in the garden, I have a long-week end camping/music festival coming up (more about that in a future post no doubt), I’ve caught up with household chores and paperwork… and still have another three weeks to go!

Don’t get me wrong, I love being on holiday, and I know for some it would be their idea of heaven, but six weeks off  work  is just waaay too long for me and my busy head (I quite obviously need to work more than I care to admit!)

Clearly having too much time on my hands, and not enough to occupy my mind, I resort to doing things that really don’t need doing (no, I do not mean things such as ironing underwear and towels, or scrubbing my front door step … yes, really, I know people who do those things - and no offence to them but I'd rather watch paint dry!;-)).  Instead, my quest to fill every hour of every day, leads me to look for little, and what I like to call creative, projects around the home and garden, spending money on things I don’t really need or even particularly want! In the process, I irritate my whole family, who are not fortunate enough to be off work at the moment, are exhausted at the end of their day, and are most certainly not in the mood to hear about my latest and, no doubt in their opinion, fairly pointless ideas... which on this occasion happened to be “introducing a little Teal to our décor”.  Yes, I hear their groans, and understand their lack of enthusiasm, but usually go ahead and implement my little projects regardless.

So, having recently taken to the shade of Teal, and having been strangely inspired by the cover of my husband’s ‘Ukulele Crazy’ book, which sits on the table in our lounge, I went off in search of a few other co-ordinating bits and pieces to vamp up my home décor a little.

Both the style and colour scheme of my home is somewhat eclectic (in other words I can’t make my mind up about anything, so just have a bit of everything going on). I think it works though, and it means I’m not stuck with any particular style or colour, allowing a bit of freedom to play around, and add a bit of interest when I start to get bored of my surroundings (which is fairly often!).

If you've read any of my previous posts, you'll have realised by now that I just love a bargain, and feel a tad cheated if I pay much more than a tenner on any single item (home or wardrobe!).  Well, perhaps that's a slight exaggeration, but I am a firm believer that you can usually achieve the desired effect without spending a fortune (again, I'm talking home or wardrobe). In fact a favourite pastime of mine is to browse the more expensive shops for ideas and inspiration, and then take myself off to the bargain stores and charity shops in search of cheaper alternatives... and I'm not usually disappointed!

Anyhow, here's what I found in my local B&M Bargain Store... inspiration courtesy of a book cover, and a few much larger, much more expensive retailers, which shall remain nameless ;-)

Large wooden Teal heart (£1 in sale) - I 'layered' this with a rattan heart I already had and a bit of ribbon before hanging it on the wall... pretty!
Teal and Mink cushion covers (ones either side of large central cushions), £2.49 each
Small sweetie jar (which I just had to fill with sweeties... obviously!), £1.50
Set of 3 small 'motto' hearts, £2.50, which I've hung on the wall to co-ordinate with my sweetie jar, and a rather cute little Schnauzer card I have! - see below.





And... the original and unlikely source of  'inspiration'


So, there we have it, a little Teal 'introduced' to my decor (at very little cost), which has definitely added a bit of oomph and freshened up 'the look'.

It's also served to keep me occupied for another day or two, and has gently scratched my recurring creative itch...
 'til next time!


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Fresh, Fruity and totally ORANGEASMIC!

Check out this new fragrance range from Soap & Glory, I’m loving it!



Like me, I’m sure many of you are already S&G fans.  Well, if you haven’t already, you absolutely must try out the new ‘ORANGEASM’ range.

Scented with ‘energising elemi, fresh green mandarin, cool mint, Sicilian lemon and sweet orange peel oils’, this fragrance is perfect for those who prefer a fresh, zesty fragrance to get them kick-started in the mornings, as opposed to anything too sweet and sickly smelling (which in my opinion, some of the past S&G scents have verged upon).

This review features the Body Wash, and a Super Tonic Fragrance.  However, the range does also include a Body Butter, which I decided not to try just yet, simply because the formula is probably a bit rich for me this time of year.  I will definitely be trying it when the weather cools down though.

So, on with the review...

The Super Tonic Fragrance


This is a lovely product!  It’s a tonic, so don’t expect a strength-of-fragrance equal to a perfume, or even to an eau de toilette.  What you can expect though is a beautifully light, fresh, cooling spray, ideal for spritzing onto your body for a quick post-shower treat (works beautifully with the other ORANGEASM products to layer the fragrance).  It also works really well as a pick-me-up when out and about. I keep it in my handbag and use it on my neck and arms throughout the day, when I’m getting a little hot under the collar - it has a fantastically cooling and refreshing effect when spritzed onto the back of the neck.

For me, this product is really evocative of long-ago Spanish holidays, when I used to splash myself with the gorgeous Spanish Baby Cologne ‘Nenuco’ (very similar kind of scent). Nenuco was only available in Spain back then, so I used to stock up whenever I visited. It has a real lemony fresh fragrance – clean and natural smelling… aahh just a sniff of this stuff and I’m right back in Spain (I wish!).  Of course with the internet, a whole range of Nenuco products is now widely available. Try Pure Spain if the sound of Nenuco appeals to you.

Anyhow, back to the ORANGEASM… the Super Tonic Fragrance costs around £12.00 for 100ml, so it’s pretty purse friendly compared to many other products – I’ve been using it loads and it seems to be lasting really well.

The Body Wash


This beautiful body wash leaves your skin feeling really soft and silky smooth.  If you’ve tried the other S&G body washes, it’s pretty much the same in terms of texture and formula, but for me, the fragrance is their best yet.  The fresh, clean, zesty scent is so revitalising.  You don’t need much to get a great lather either, so at around £6.50 for 500ml it’s great value for money too… lasts ages.

Also, S&G say, “With skin softening, moisture boosting properties and our exclusive MSUDS™ technology, TRIPLE TEA™ antioxidant complex, GINSENG and PINKPEPPERBERRY™, there's really nothing quite like it! 

Don’t know about the technology/sciencey sounding stuff, but it definitely feels and smells just gorgeous.

Why not add a little ORANGEASM to your Summer, I’m sure you’ll love it!

I believe Boots has their ‘3 for 2’ offer on selected Soap & Glory products at the moment too… so what are you waiting for?