50 sanity-saving summer holiday activities

Now the summer holidays are well underway, are you running out of ideas to keep the children busy? Don’t panic! Here are 50 of my favourite sanity-saving holiday activities.

50-sanity-saving-summer-holiday-activities

  1. Visit the library.
  2. Build Lego models.
  3. Go hunting for new games in the charity shops.
  4. Make a den under the table/behind the sofa.
  5. Decorate the path/patio with chalk.
  6. Have scooter races.
  7. Write postcards to your family and friends.
  8. Make junk models from the contents of the recycling bin.
  9. Make pizza.
  10. Write Christmas wish-lists.
  11. Make a scrapbook of your summer with photos, tickets, and drawings.
  12. Design your own board game.
  13. Make Christmas cards.
  14. Make things out of holey socks.
  15. Design your own T-shirt.
  16. Go swimming.
  17. Do a garden treasure hunt.
  18. Blow bubbles.
  19. Make your own ice cream (whisked double cream + tin of condensed milk + extras).
  20. Fly a kite.
  21. Play musical statues.
  22. Have a board games tournament (play all the games you have and see who is Winner of Winners).
  23. Get brochures from the travel agent and plan a perfect holiday (cut out pictures of the nicest hotel, swimming pool, food, etc)
  24. Rearrange their bedroom furniture (if they will cope with the change).
  25. Home spa – nail varnishing, massage, give each other hairdos…
  26. Plant flowers.
  27. Use printable activity sheets (these Twinkl outdoor activity sheets are free to download).
  28. Make ice lollies.
  29. Play with Fuzzy Felt.
  30. Make people out of lolly sticks and washi tape.
  31. Go to the beach.
  32. Find a playground you haven’t visited before.
  33. Visit a pick-your-own farm.
  34. Make fairy cakes.
  35. Make models out of Plasticine or Fimo.
  36. Go blackberrying.
  37. Make your own animation (a friend gave this to Joanna and it is very fun).
  38. Visit a pet shop.
  39. Make a scene with gel art window decorations.
  40. Go litter-picking with grabbers.
  41. Earn a Blue Peter badge.
  42. Make an alarm to keep your annoying sister out of your bedroom.
  43. Make wax rubbings of coins, leaves, Lego bricks…
  44. Design a new pencil case for going back to school.
  45. Go birdwatching/tree-spotting/vehicle-spotting with an I-spy book.
  46. Create a mini-book about something you love.
  47. Put on an audiobook.
  48. Fill an in-car entertainment station.
  49. Create an animal footprint tray for your garden.
  50. Do a science experiment.

And if none of those will work today, my vote is for putting a new film on their Kindles and having a small doze on the sofa. How about you? Let me know in the comments.

Before you go…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! ūüôā
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
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Review | The PCOS diet plan

PCOS is really common, especially in the adoption community, and can cause weight gain amongst other symptoms. Enter specialist eating plans to help lose the weight and improve the other symptoms. If you like your meals to be heavy on the science and intense on the planning front, The PCOS Diet Plan could be just the book for you.

Review PCOS Diet Plan

My PCOS experience

I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) at the age of 17. The person doing electrolysis on my rampant facial hair (picture Evan Baxter’s ‘It just keeps growing back’ scenes, if you will) suggested it would be a good idea to investigate the possibility with my GP. After numerous blood tests and ultrasounds and being prodded about Down There by student doctors (mortifying), the diagnosis was confirmed, I was handed a prescription for Dianette, and off I went.

It wasn’t until later that I read more about PCOS and the association with weight gain. I was a bit overweight as a teenager and as an adult have managed to lose large amounts of weight with Weight Watchers a couple of times, but it is a battle and on top of the trials and tribulations of adoptive parenting (read: I eat when stressed) I have not yet been able to conquer it again since the girls arrived.

PCOS and adoption

I know that many people come to adoption having had issues with fertility and that PCOS is a common problem. I ran a poll on Twitter:

The result: more than a third of my Twitter followers who took part in the poll have a PCOS diagnosis. This is higher than the average in the overall population (estimated at 10%), and especially when I didn’t ask only women to participate in the poll! It wasn’t conducted in an especially scientific manner. But it is broadly in line with what I expected, ie that¬†there is a higher-than-average prevalence of PCOS among adopters. With that in mind, I tried out this book to see if it’s worth a go.

The Book: First impressions

If you’re either (a) really into nutrition or endocrinology, or (b) love to do a lot of detailed homework before starting something new, it’s more likely you’ll enjoy the first section of the book. I found it like wading through treacle, which, given the emphasis on avoiding refined carbs, is probably not the effect the author was going for. The first half of the book is not dissimilar to an academic paper, with lots of citations of various studies and long latinate science vocabulary that explained the why¬†and took a long time to get to the ‘what to do’ element. I’m fine with a couple of chapters of it, but spent at least an hour’s reading wishing the author would cut to the chase and give me some sample menus so I could see what I was dealing with.

The PCOS Diet Plan: what’s it about?

The short version is that women with PCOS should aim for a plate of food that is 50% non-starchy vegetables, 25% protein (eg chicken or fish), and 25% wholegrain carbs, with yogurt of milk as a snack between meals. The long version (and it is a lot longer) involves ‘carb budgets’ and using one of the diet/nutrition apps (I used MyFitnessPal) to work out how many calories you should be on for your height and weight and then dividing those up between carbs and proteins. I’m¬†used to having all these details figured out for me by Weight Watchers and just dealing in points, so it made¬†my head spin a bit.

If, like me, you’re a frazzled adoptive mum looking for simple steps to lose a few pounds, you might want to pass on The PCOS Diet Plan.

I wanted to love it.

I tried it out for three days.

It was just too complicated.

I ate fewer carbohydrates, was alarmed at how much sugar there is in a mango, and had to faff about entering nutritional values into the app. Yes, I lost a few pounds. But I couldn’t sustain all the faffing on top of an already bonkers lifestyle (y’know, the CPV and whatnot). For people with more time and inclination, I’d say go for it, but it’s not for me.

The details
Professional Reader

The PCOS Diet Plan
Hillary Wright
Ten Speed Press
£14.18 (Kindle £14.99)
Published 2 May 2017

Disclaimer: I received this book free via NetGalley in return for my honest review.


Before you go…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! ūüôā
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It¬†contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.

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Self-Care Week, Day 4: Sustenance

To mark Self-Care Week, I’m revisiting my series The Seven Components of Self-Care, which first ran from February to April 2015. Nearly two years on, I’ve re-read and updated it¬†a bit, and am reposting¬†it every¬†day this week. If you missed them, you can catch up with¬†part one (sleep) here, part two (support) here, and part three (sports) here. Join in the discussion in the comments or on Twitter using #selfcareweek.

Sustenance

Photo by Michael Stern

Photo by Michael Stern


I’m using ‘sustenance’ to mean all things foody because it alliterates with the previous topics, and I love a nice bit of alliteration.

(I am now going to write an entire blog post about food while sitting in Starbucks, worryingly close to a tempting stack of paninis, with my beloved caramel macchiato in my non-typing hand. OK. Let’s do this.)

Food, stress, self-care and me
I really like food.

But also…¬†I know that I¬†eat¬†as a response to stress, and my children’s behaviour is often a trigger. Once they’ve been home from school for half an hour five minutes, the bickering has begun, and the listening to me has stopped, I head to the kitchen for something else to do. At this point I am usually thinking that I need to (a) save my sanity and (b)¬†model an appropriate way to deal with frustration. (The eating part might not be a great example, but removing myself from a situation rather than yelling at them is positive, so let’s go with that.)

This is why, as I mentioned last week, I can be found at my local Weight Watchers meeting every week, checking in and soaking up inspiration as I aim to lose 4st in 2015.¬†¬†I’ve now been doing Weight Watchers for just over a month (without the accountability it¬†provides, I fall off the wagon). I’ve lost 7lbs, so I’m on target so far. And the sense that I’m in control of this aspect of my life feels good, especially when the kids are off the scale and we live with a lot of unpredictability in terms of how they feel like behaving on any given day. So, me¬†doing Weight Watchers is me doing self-care. (As I would say if I was American, go me.)

Why it matters
As we all know, food is fuel and a good balance of the healthy stuff (protein, carbs, fibre, vitamins and what-not) equips our bodies to run well. This is especially important for people who experience high levels of stress on a day-to-day basis (such as those parenting¬†children who have experienced trauma), because the combination of stress and unhealthy¬†eating¬†can lead to severe long-term health issues, such as diabetes, heart problems, and depression. As the Stress Management Society¬†says, ‘Lack of nutrition will inflict a greater stress on the body, plus other problems that pose a threat to your physical and mental health’. They elaborate:

‘One of the main issues with stress is that it can cause unhealthy eating habits. This applies mainly to people who are always on the go and lead a busy lifestyle. People that fall into this category often endure large amounts of stress and have no time to fit a balanced nutrition around their busy schedule. Additionally, stress makes the body crave foods that are high in fats and sugars. This flaw in eating, in time will inflict a greater stress on the body, plus other problems that pose a threat to your physical and mental health.

‘When a person becomes overwhelmed with stress, a common reaction is a sudden urge to eat food. The majority of the time, foods consumed in this situation will be ‚Äėconvenience foods‚Äô that are considered a quick fix to nullify stress. The theory of a quick fix is entirely false however, as these foods/drinks only worsen the problem. Consuming foods that are of a ‚Äėjunk‚Äô nature actually increase the volume of stress on your body.’

(Their guide to eating to combat stress then goes on to talk about the perils of sugar and caffeine, and, well, as I read it I start to feel that I am being nagged. At this point I am finishing my caramel macchiato and concentrating on the bit about not smoking where, having never touched a cigarette, I can feel virtuous. Ahem. Shall we continue?)

How? When? Where?
So what should we be doing food-wise to help us cope with stress, and how can we add taking care of our nutrition to an already overwhelming to-do list as adoptive parents? Exactly what should we be eating to help our bodies cope with the relentless stresses of adoptive parenting?

  • B vitamins: These help ease stress,¬†depression and anxiety, as well as other physical benefits. (There’s a helpful list of exactly which B vitamins do what here.) They’re found in Marmite, eggs, wholegrain bread and fortified cereals. So eggs and toast and Marmite takes care of that one.
  • Vitamin C: Protects¬†the immune system and lowers the amount of cortisol (a ‘stress hormone’) in your body. It’s in¬†many fruits and vegetables, with particularly high levels in oranges, red and yellow peppers, blackcurrants, strawberries, broccoli and brussels sprouts. Making sure you get your five a day and include some of these sorts this one out.
  • Magnesium: Helps with¬†muscle relaxation, fatty acid formation, making new cells and heartbeat regulation, and is found in green leafy vegetables, meat, fish, nuts and dairy products. So a dose of salmon and spinach and few more almonds, and you’re done.
  • Protein: Helps¬†with growth and tissue repair. Good sources include¬†meat, eggs, nuts and seeds. So a handful of almonds mid-morning will do that one.

(Obviously a multivitamin pill could take care of all this for you, but isn’t it more enjoyable¬†to do some actual eating?)

If you’re the sort of person who can look at at a list like that and go off and put it into practice without gaining an ounce, good for you. I am not. I see a a list like that as a licence to eat brazil nuts all day ‘for my mental well-being’, and add in a bacon sandwich with thick slices of granary bread and magnesium-rich margarine at lunchtime to make sure I have enough of the good stuff in my system. Hmm. So to manage it all appropriately without looking like a hippo in a T-shirt, I need a plan.

As I’ve said, Weight Watchers is a large part of the solution for me. I commit to spending 45 minutes in a meeting every week, weighing in, talking about making the right choices, and reminding myself that I need to invest in my health as a fundamental part of my self-care, rather than reaching for a quick fix in the moment. I can work all the healthy stress-proofing foods into my points allowance, so I snack on grapes and bananas and (very tiny) Marmite sandwiches when I’m feeling wound up, and try to skip the nuts most of the time (because I am very bad at stopping eating them) and go for eggs instead.

I also have a Fitbit (bought in the sales on Boxing Day) which syncs with the Weight Watchers app on my phone, and basically converts exercise into more food. Excellent.

The Fitbit app
The FitBit app
2015-02-25 11.53.34
The WeightWatchers app

Related to this is my need to stay hydrated to help with my self-regulation, as I was saying on Twitter recently:

…which speaks for itself.

So, hands up who’s joining me in the land of Marmite sandwiches? Or do you have other ways of getting all these stress-beating foods into your diet while still having a life (and maybe a sneaky coffee or two)? I’d love to hear your comments.



Further reading
The Energy Diet (NHS)
Combating Stress with a Balanced Nutritional Diet (Stress Management Society)
Weight Watchers

What are your thoughts on the importance of making good food choices¬†to your own self-care? Is it something you’re managing well or struggling with? Do you have strategies that work well for you? Please share your comments below and join in the conversation on Twitter with the #selfcareweek¬†hashtag.

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Thankful Thursday

Welcome to another Thankful Thursday, this time on a Friday, because I forgot.

'Be Thankful' by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

‘Be Thankful’ by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

This week, I have enjoyed…

Reading
Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller (loved it).
I’ve just started¬†Searching for Sunday¬†by Rachel Held Evans (I follow her blog¬†and really enjoyed her previous books).

Writing
Case studies for my book.

Eating
Healthily. Back on the Weight Watchers plan after what we’ll call an Easter blip (to the tune of 8.5lbs). Ahem.

Watching
W1A. We’ve been waiting such a long time for the second series and it didn’t disappoint.

Listening to
Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast, which this week included a discussion of the benefits of treats.

…and I’m also thankful¬†for
Term time!
Sunshine!
Non-iron school summer dresses!

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What does your self-care look like?

Nutella

I’ve talked before about how my own self-care is a bit less about posh shower gel and a bit more about trying not to eat an entire jar of Nutella at a single sitting.

My perfect self-care scenario involves someone else looking after the children for a weekend, just so I could have prolonged uninterrupted conversations with Pete during daylight hours, maybe go out for lunch, and we could lie on the sofa reading books all afternoon, just like the old days. Bliss.

What is it that you want from your self-care?

I’d really like to have some more conversations about what it looks like for you. Let’s start with a quick poll. (You can choose as many answers as you like, and feel free to add comments.)

 

(If you chose the healthy eating or exercise options, I’m especially keen to hear from you as I start to put those chapters of my book together. I’d love it if you would fill in this short¬†self-care case study form¬†and then email it to me. Thanks!)

Do you think there might be a difference in what people want from self-care depending on whether they are extrovert or introvert? Male or female? Single or in a couple? Have younger or older children? I find the whole subject really interesting and would love to continue the conversation, so please respond below with your ideas!

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Thankful Thursday

Welcome to another Thankful Thursday.

'Be Thankful' by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

‘Be Thankful’ by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

This week, I have enjoyed…

Reading
The first few responses to the call for case studies for the self-care book. There’s still time if you’d like to be involved.¬†Just note that I now have enough volunteers for the ‘sleep’ chapter, thanks, so please pick one of the others if they apply to you. In the next couple of weeks I’m especially looking for people who are making an effort to eat healthily or exercise regularly in the name of self-care. More details about it all are here.

Writing
Still my book. (Still eeek.)

Eating
Passionfruit frozen yogurt from the new ice cream emporium that’s just opened ten minutes’ walk from our house. (*DANGER KLAXON*)

Watching
Children’s films¬†on Amazon Prime’s streaming service. Holiday sanity-saver. We had Monsters Inc and Cars 2 (both new to the girls) back-to-back yesterday for free. I buy from Amazon on a weekly basis anyway, so Prime pays for itself easily. Love it.

Listening to
Happy robins singing in the garden. (We have a nest by our kitchen door and I saw a little fledgling robin this week, too. Gorgeous.)

…and I’m also thankful¬†for
‚ÄĘ ¬†
Lovely people continuing to come forward as case studies. SO grateful.
‚ÄĘ ¬†Great weather that means the children have been¬†playing happily outside, which is generally way better than inside in terms of¬†their ability to regulate and get along with each other.
‚ÄĘ ¬†Successfully getting Charlotte out of nappies at night, at last! We started during Easter¬†weekend and have only had two incidents, which I think is pretty good.
‚ÄĘ ¬†Holiday club all day today (again).
‚ÄĘ ¬†My parents having the girls so I could write (again).
‚ÄĘ ¬†My in-laws paying for the mending of our roof (just the once, we hope).

Hope your Thursday brings things to be thankful for! You’re welcome to share them below, or using #ThankfulThursday on Twitter.

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Thankful Thursday

Welcome to another Thankful Thursday.

'Be Thankful' by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

‘Be Thankful’ by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

This week, I have enjoyed…

Reading
This¬†excellent post on the Tories’ latest idiotic education pronouncment.

Writing
My book. (Eeeek.)

Eating
My own bodyweight in little Lindt chocolate rabbits.

Lindt rabbits

Watching
Back in Time for Dinner. Such a a great programme about how society and technology and food have changed since 1950 and how they have all affected each other. If you’ve missed it, it’s definitely worth iPlayering. When it got to the 1970s and 80s me and Pete were quite animated as we recognised things from our own childhoods¬†‚Äď my family had things like the brown plates and the brown sofa from the 70s and the red trim on the kitchen cupboards in the 80s reminded me of a B&Q cabin bed I had that was in a very similar style.

Listening to
David Tennant on Just a Minute.

…and I’m also thankful¬†for
Holiday club who have the girls All Day Long today (8.00 ‚Äst5.30).
Friends and family who are taking it in turns to have the girls on various days in the holidays.
The girls’ former social worker who has gone above and beyond to help answer some of their questions about their birth family. She is amazing.

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Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, everyone!

I hope you’re able to find some time today for self-care, even if that means locking yourself in the bathroom with a handful of mini eggs and singing ‘Thine Be The Glory’ at full volume to drown out the sound of squabbling siblings. (Don’t say you’ve never been there.)

Aaaaand… breathe.

Here is Joanna’s Lego Easter.

Lego Good Friday

Lego Good Friday

Lego Easter Sunday

Lego Easter Sunday

It was inspired by this video, currently doing the rounds on Facebook.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m writing this on Saturday night and I have some bunnily duties to perform.

2015-04-04 19.33.36

Check back next Sunday for some more self-care stuff. In the meantime, you could always complete my short self-care survey. I’ll be sharing the results soon.

Again, I hope you have a great day. May the chocolate be plentiful and the grace be abundant. Not necessarily in that order. ūüėÉ

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Easy chocolate birthday cake recipe

The WASO theme this week is chocolate recipes, and here is one of my favourites. This is my default birthday cake recipe and is always a winner. It’s easy, uncomplicated and looks fun. It also disappears very quickly. Here goes…

chocolate, birthday, cake, adoption, adoptive, children, family, parenting

Ingredients
3 eggs
175g margarine
175g caster sugar
150g self-raising flour
¬Ĺ tsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa powder

Topping
200ml double cream
100g milk chocolate
100g dark chocolate
M&Ms

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180¬įC.
  2. Grease the cake tins. (I like to use cake release spray. This saves a lot of faffing about with lining them.)
  3. Cream the margarine and sugar, then gradually beat in the eggs.
  4. Sieve the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into the creamed mixture.
  5. Divide the mixture between two cake tins* and bake for 20¬†to¬†25 minutes. Don’t disturb them until the time is up.
  6. While the cakes are cooling, melt the chocolate in a bowl over boiling water.
  7. Remove the bowl from the heat and allow to cool for five minutes, then stir in the cream. Leave the mixture to thicken for a few minutes.
  8. When the cakes are completely cool, use a quarter of the topping for filling, then put the rest on the top and sides of assembled cake (it’s not supposed to look too tidy!). Decorate it with the M&Ms. Ta da!

chocolate, birthday, cake, adoption, adoptive, children, parenting, family, recipe

*For this big cake, I doubled the quantities and used the same tin twice.

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