Maggie Bob Takes: Care Of Myself

Happy new year everyone! Is it too late to say that now? Ah well – my blog my rules. This is my obligatory January blog where I tell you I don’t make resolutions. The problem with resolutions is they are so easily broken, right? But the enforced ‘time out’ over Christmas and New Year – I had 11 continuous days off this year – plus my birthday falling in the middle of that, I definitely find myself taking time to look at where I am in life, what I’m doing, and what I’d like to do over the next year.

Getting ready for the year with my bullet journal

Something that came from a revelation I had last year is that I need to take better care of myself so that I don’t burn out. The crux of this was actually mildly comical/hysterical, and involved me in the middle of Lush forcefully talking myself out of buying a bath bomb because how could I think about spending £4 on one bath? It’s not worth it*… I’m not worth it. Yup, that is where my brain was going, and I know now I was being daft.

As most of you know, I’m currently working full time and running a household of two adults (and now two cats) while my husband deals with an anxiety disorder, and I guess there’s an element of caring for him in there too. I expend a lot of physical, mental and emotional energy and I continue to plough on no matter what and that has inevitably led to me hitting breaking point more than once in 2016.

I see more Lush baths in my future!

Now fortunately I consider myself to be in good general health – yes I still get my periodic migraines, but I eat well, sleep well, walk 5k most days, my allergies are under control and don’t find myself catching bugs all that often – so I am robust and bounce back from these brain melts fairly quickly. But I don’t want to take my health for granted, so in 2017 I’m definitely going to be taking better care of me. Some of my initial thoughts on how to achieve this are:

  • Me time and nights off: this is where the Lush baths come in. I had started a tradition of giving myself Friday nights off; passing on the responsibility for cooking dinner, not worrying about laundry/dishes/tidying/running around after people, and I would take a good book and a nice gin with me and go have a nice bath. I’m struggling with alcohol at the moment, so I’m having to forgo the gin, but I’m still trying to take time off from worrying about what I ‘need’ to get done.
  • Hobbies: I’m desperate to sort out my craft supplies, I’ve got some tat that’s been kicking around for ages and needs gone then I’ll better be able to use what is left. I need to get back to the joy of creating for its own sake. I sort of keep putting myself off because it has no purpose or I’m not good enough at it or whatever – very bad brain behaviour there I know.
  • Get out: I ‘m embarrassed by the number of days I find myself doing nothing but sitting on my sofa, television mindlessly on, phone in hand. Honestly – I enjoy spending an evening like this, but not every time. A change is as good as a rest and I need to get myself out of the house a wee bit more – spend time with friends and do things. This will be hard at the moment, not just because of the wintry weather but also because of the kittens being at home and needing me/me wanting to cuddle them, but I’m going to commit to some events and bloody well get out to them.

I hope you all manage to take some time this year for yourselves.

*Of course, these sort of things are only worth it if you can afford it and will use it. Don’t get in debt just for an extra nice smelling bath!

Maggie Bob Makes: Peach Iced Tea

I’ve talked before about how I drink plenty of water during the day at work. But I’ll be the first to admit I’m terrible for remembering to drink enough at the weekend when I’m not withing 10 steps of a filtered water tap. This leaves me grouchy and tired and headachey most weekends, so I had to do something about it. The husband won’t drink plain water, and I wanted to make something we could both drink. Funnily enough, for someone who doesn’t enjoy hot drinks, the husband is a big fan of iced tea.

Well there was the perfect solution! And with summer on its way (the solstice is next week folks), iced tea seems like the ideal drink to turn to. I could make a big pitcher of it in the morning and we could fill our glasses from it throughout the day. I’m a fruit tea aficionado now, so a quick rummage in the cupboard turned up plenty of choice. I settled on these Knightsbridge peach and raspberry teabags (from Lidl) and some Scottish Blend pyramid bags for the black tea element. I highly recommend the Scottish Blend – made for the softer water up here, you can leave them in to brew for much longer without everything becoming overwhelmed with tannins, which is handy for iced tea especially.

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I find the amount of sugar quoted below as plenty for my tastes, but feel free to add more or less as you prefer. The husband tops his tea up with a splash of apple juice for extra sweetness, which is also quite a good idea.

[recipe title=”Peach Iced Tea” servings=”8 cups approx” time=”2+hr inc. chilling” difficulty=”easy”]

Ingredients
1ltr boiled water
1ltr chilled water
4 peach & raspberry teabags (or other fruit tea)
2 Scottish Blend teabags (or other black tea)
1 lemon, sliced + 2tsp lemon juice
3-4tbsp caster sugar, to taste
Ice cubes, to serve

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Method

  1. Put all of the teabags in a heatproof jug or bowl and cover with 1ltr boiled water. Leave to brew for 10 – 30mins. The longer you leave it the stronger the taste, but beware tannins.
  2. Remove the teabags and stir in the sugar, using more or less according to your tastes.
  3. Top your tea up with 1ltr of chilled water and add the lemon juice and slices.
  4. Chill in the fridge for 1-2hrs, then serve over ice. The tea should keep in the fridge for a day or two

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I hope you give this a try and find it nice and refreshing. Sláinte!

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Maggie Bob Drinks: Infused Water

Infused water isn’t exactly a new thing, but there’s been a recent surge in Instagram-able bottles stuffed with all sorts of colourful fruits, vegetables and herbs, and the internet is flooded with posts about the health benefits. Now I’m not one to latch on to a health fad but I do already drink a lot of water and I love a colourful Instagram so I thought I would at least give this one a go. Plus I was in Primark and they had infuser bottles for £4, so why not?

 

A photo posted by Maggie Woodward (@maggiebob84) on

Generally, lemon water has been known to be a metabolism booster for a long time, but there’s loads of pseudo-science out there about the miraculous things water with stuff floating in it can do for you  – weight loss, the perfect complexion, cure diseases, win the lottery. I can guarantee the following are at least true:

  1. Water and proper hydration is fundamental to basic good health. If infused water encourages you to drink more of that good old H2O this is a good thing. Being properly hydrated can improve your energy levels; help your organs function better; and keep your skin, hair and nails in tip-top condition. Basically – water is good.
  2. This one especially applies to working in an office – drinking water makes you need to pee more. Especially if you are infusing it with known diuretics such as cucumber or lemon. This means you are regularly getting up from your desk and giving your body a stretch and your eyes a rest from the screen. This is vital to staying healthy at work.
  3. If you’ve got a sweet-tooth, some lovely fresh filtered water with a handful of berries soaked in it should appeal to your tastes and is obviously better than swigging down cans of sugary pop. I don’t mind an occasional “tin of ginger” as my Granny would have called it, but I’ve been trying to avoid them during the working day. Having water with a bit of a sweet flavour in it helps with this.
  4. I’m a firm proponent of rainbow eating – the more colour there is in your diet the better variety of nutrients and flavours you are likely to be getting. Why not rainbow drinking too? Although you’re not getting every drop of goodness from the fruit and veg this way, some is certainly passing in to the water and therefore in to your system. And after all, variety is the spice of life.

Four good reasons to try infused water. So let me give you four infusion recipes I’ve have tried recently.

cucumber water

Fairly classic start, but very yummy. All three of these ingredients serve to make your drink extra refreshing. Cut some thin slices of cucumber, a couple of wedges of lime, and squeeze this along with a fistful of mint in to the infuser tube. Pour over plenty of cold water, leave to soak for a while and enjoy. The flavours balance well with nothing dominating – this is a classic for a reason.

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Only my second go and I’m getting a bit out-of-the-box. Lots of thin lemon slices and a a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary (bashed to start to release the oils) went in to the bottle. The flavour started coming through very quickly on this one, so it didn’t need infused for long. This might not be for everyone but I enjoyed it and kept coming back to it. Did make me crave a roast chicken though!

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I thought this was going to be a super sweet treat but it was more subtle than I imagined. I had to used tinned peaches, but that’s fine as long as they’re the kind in juice rather than syrup. After giving this one a good shake the flavours started coming through. Thing is both of these are soft fruits so they started to break up in to the water so I was drinking bits of fruit – not a problem, but not what we’re going for here.

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Going rather out in leftfield here, but anyone who cooks with it knows that basil is a very versatile herb that goes well with sweet dishes (try a basil sauce on strawberries). Again this just required a decent bunch of basil squeezed in to the infuser. The orange is the dominant flavour and the basil sits under it complimenting it beautifully.

So – have I converted you? What do you like in your water? Well, other than whisky of course.

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Maggie Bob Clicks: Clue Period & Ovulation Tracker

It seems that 2016 is the year of Maggie getting organised. After my adventures in sorting out my medicine cabinet with MediSafe, I’ve now started using an app to track my period. My doctor suggested we switch my pill due to my migraines and given that I’ve moved to the mini-pill, which I was told could make things a bit erratic for a while, I decided it would be best to download an app that would let me record my period and related symptoms. That way if something went wrong I would have good hard data to back me up. Don’t you just love data – no arguing with it. So I did what I always do when I want period advice – I put a shout-out on twitter for recommendations. There were quite a few from my awesome menstruating mates, but the name Clue came up more than once, so I decided to give it a try.

01 - Cycle

From their press release:

Clue was founded in 2012 by Danish entrepreneur, Ida Tin, and is the embodiment of her desire to combine science, technology and design to create a platform that will empower women to see patterns in their cycles and accurately predict the next one. Marketing itself as confident, scientific – not pink, Clue is intentionally gender-neutral in design. As a business with a strong focus on gender equality, the app is not a stereotypical women’s heath app. There is a resolute avoidance of clichéd imagery (pink, floral or hearts), the discreet interface enabling women to use the app whenever and wherever they want, to share the screen with their partners and, most importantly, highlighting the fact that Clue is a serious, scientific tool.

This highlights exactly what I like about Clue. I love pink (I love all the colours) but I don’t need a period tracker that looks like a Barbie accessory. The app is scientific, without being clinical. It’s also very simple to use. When I first logged in I gave it some basic details about my last period and latest cycle. It uses this to begin an estimate of my next period. Now before starting the app I was using the pill to force myself in to a 7 week cycle – ie I was running two packets of pills together then having a 1 week break. This is because my periods have been so heavy and painful the doctor recommended I do this to give myself a bit more of a break between bleeds. I can’t do this with the mini-pill as it is taken every day, and may or may not cause periods to stop or become erratic, or carry on as normal – which is thankfully what mine seems to be doing for now. Although this gives Clue some ‘bad’ data to start with, it has changed as I’ve entered my daily updates and will continue to adjust its predictions based on what I enter.

02 - Categories

For day-to-day tracking Clue is easy and unobtrusive. You select what factors to record from an extensive list including; bleeding, pain, mood, contraception, collection method, cravings, temperature, digestion and sexual activity. Selection is via a simple graphic interface, with symbols and words to represent key matrices. This is very customisable and depends on what you are looking to get from the tracking. I’m recording bleeding and contraception, as well as pain and other side effects. My migraines have been getting worse, and it will be interesting if they regularly happen at the same point in my cycle. Clue doesn’t actually have ‘migraine’ as an option in the tracker (you can pick ‘headache’ in the pain section, although we all know this is not the same), but you can add ‘tags’ to record anything additional you want. I’ve contacted Clue, and they note that quite a few people have requested for migraines to be added, so this may well happen in the future releases of the app. If you’re using the app to record fertility to add contraception (or, I guess, avoid it) you can also record your basal body temperature to aid ovulation prediction.

03 - Reminders

Once you’re up and running, logging your daily symptoms takes seconds, and as your data builds up Clue can start to give you reasonable predictions. I’m only in my second cycle since starting the app but it’s already assuaging some of my fears about the new pill as I can see right in front of me, in nice primary colours, that my body is running as expected. There are reminders in the app so it can prompt you to enter your data at the same time each day. You can also have it warn you if your period is due (or late!), if you’re likely to be fertile, and even prompt you to take your contraception or when it’s a good time in your cycle to do a breast self-check. Clue also offers lots of good advice on menstrual and reproductive health. All in all a useful and important app if you want to be more aware of what’s going on ‘down there’ which is something a lot of us take for granted or remain deliberately ignorant of.

Clue is free and available on the App Store and Google Play. All of the pictures from above are from Clue’s website. If you decide to try it and have any questions, I’ve found them to be very helpful on Twitter and via their website.

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Maggie Bob Clicks: MediSafe App

I’ve sometimes joked that age isn’t measured in years, but rather in the number of pills you have to take every day just to keep you going. Thankfully I’m in reasonably good health but I still have three medications I take every day. I’m quite good at taking them on time, but I often lose track of when I’m running out and need to renew my prescription. My husband has 5 daily tablets to drop, plus others on an as needed basis, and as one of the side effects of his illness is forgetfulness, we have to be super organised to make sure he takes the right dosage each day, doesn’t accidentally double up, and orders his new drugs in plenty of time. Thus, we were pointed in the direction of MediSafe.

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MediSafe is a free smartphone app* to help you organise your medications and prescriptions. Medisafe boasts that their users have 86% compliance with their medicine regime compared to the national (for USA) average of 50%. It has a virtual pill box (divided in to 4 timeframes for each day) in to which you load the medicines you need to take. There’s an auto-suggest feature in there with a huge list of medicines in it, or you can free type the name of yours. You can customise the dosage and appearance so that your virtual pill box looks just like your real one. So why, you may be wondering, is this any better than a plastic pill caddy you can pick up from the pound shop?

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Because you tell MediSafe what time you are supposed to take each pill, it can pop up on your phone and remind you if you’ve not done so. Mine alerts me at 9am every day, by which point I’ve usually taken my medicine and I just mark it as ‘taken’ on the app. However, where this works brilliantly is you can have MediFriends – so I also get alerted if my husband hasn’t marked his pills as taken, and I can give him a gentle prod. This is a god-send for someone with anxiety as he doesn’t have to do any of the remembering. You can also add dependants – people who don’t have their own app log in (children, elderly relatives) who you can keep track of medicines for yourself.

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The alerts to re-order prescriptions is also very useful. I usually bung my boxes of tablets in the bathroom cabinet, and keep one strip at a time in my handbag, so I lose track of how many I have left, and often find myself re-ordering with great urgency. When you set a new medicine up with MediSafe you tell it how many dosages you have. Then every time you mark a medicine as taken it reduces the count in your ‘medicine cabinet’ and alerts you at your chosen limit (eg 5 tablets left). This is a huge relief to me as it gives me enough notice to fill out a repeat prescription request or make an appointment to see my GP. The app is really easy to set up and use, and has fit nicely in to our lives already in the fortnight we’ve been using it. There’s other features we’ve yet to use, like tracking doctor’s appointments, that I’m sure we’ll find useful.

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Hope some of you might find it useful too!

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* You can download MediSafe from GooglePlay, AppStore, or Amazon, depending on your device.

Maggie Bob Loves: 5 Things I’ve Learned From Yoga

If you follow me on twitter you will know I started doing yoga regularly last year. An instructor comes in to work one lunchtime a week, and at £2.50 per lesson I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. And now I’m hooked, good and proper. So let me share with you some things I’ve learned about life and myself while bending in to downward-facing dog.

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1. Take time to breathe
I know, I know – everyone says this. But it really is a continuing surprise to me how much simpler difficult things become when you stop and take a breath. Yoga is all about breathing – you move with a breath, hold for a breath, use a breath to drop down further in to a stretch. And the relief when, wobbling as I hold a tricky pose, the instructor says “just hold for one more breath”. I know I can get through anything that seems insurmountable if I can just get through this next breath.

2. Life needs balance
And we’re back to me wobbling away on my mat! I don’t mean physical balance, although I do feel like mine is gradually improving (I spend less time diving out of Warrior 3 than I used to anyway). Because I’m taking an hour out of the working week to stop, and stretch and slow down, I feel more balanced. I can spend so much of my time doing things for others, doing what is needed of me that it’s nice just to allow me some time for me.

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3. My body is amazing
No really – look at all the things I can do with it. I can lie down, sit, stand up. Reach my arms up, out, forwards. Lift my legs, bend my knees, flex my feet. My body can remember sequences my conscious brain has forgotten, and it gets stronger and more sure of the movements each time I do them. When I think I’ve taken my body as far as it can go I hold, take a breath (see above) and push it just that little bit further. Any time I start to worry about an imperfection of my body, I just remember all the things I can do with it.

4. I need to remember to relax
I’ll be twisted in to eagle pose, jaw clenched and shoulders pushed up, and I won’t even realise it until the instructor says “relax”. So I drop my shoulders, let my jaw relax and push down through my tailbone. Suddenly I feel stronger, more stable and more certain. When I think I’m relaxing at home, sprawled on the sofa or something, I’ll realise I’m still tensing up, holding on to something, and I need to remind myself to let go… relax.

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5. I don’t have to be the best at something to enjoy it
I’m not good at yoga. No really – no self depreciation there. I’m uncoordinated, unfit, get my left and right mixed up, and (although I blame it on my foot injury from a couple of years ago) I’ve never had good balance. But that’s fine, because I am still getting something out of yoga. I am improving by doing, something I often lack the patience for. I know with crafting I tend to give up if I don’t master a new skill quickly (see knitting, crochet, painting, jewellery making…), but I don’t feel that frustration with yoga. It’s the journey, not the destination, and I need to remember that when I’m off the mat

And a bonus lesson…

6. My favourite poses seem to be the ones that make me look the most ridiculous.
See – happy baby.

Have you tried yoga? What’s your favourite pose? If you’re interested in starting yoga, try from the comfort of your own home with Do Yoga With Me. To find instructor-led classes in your area, check out http://www.classfinder.org.uk/.

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(All images are free from https://pixabay.com/ because nobody is ready for photos of me mid sun-salutation yet)

Maggie Bob Drinks: Fruit Teas

The first time I tried fruit tea, I took one sip and decided it wasn’t for me. I was still a builders-brew-with-milk-and-2-sugars-please kind of a girl. This barely flavoured hot pink water just wasn’t for me. The brew was abandoned, the rest of the box given away and after that, the closest I got to fruit tea was a squeeze of lemon in my hot toddy.

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Fast forward about 5 years and some serious changes in taste (and I don’t just mean in the wardrobe department) and I won a box of Eteaket Cranberry Apple Riot loose fruit tea. Rather than resign it to the back of a cupboard or the fate of regifting I decided to give it a try. Luckily I had a tea infuser (bought from IKEA on a whim) so I dug that out, put the kettle on, and let everything infuse for 7 minutes – an important factor I didn’t know about all those years ago, which probably explains the insipidness.

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This time my first sip had me hooked. Hot, naturally sweet and just a little bit sharp this was the brew for me! Since then, I have tried a lot of fruit teas, including ones mixed with either black or green tea as well as those on their own. Of course, fruit teas are very good for you. You can indulge in a warming drink without hyping up yourself up on caffeine, it keeps you hydrated, and as well as the fruit the tea blends contain other beneficial herbs and plants. Hibiscus in particular features in most of the ones I have, and is known to lower blood pressure.

Here’s my thoughts on a few I’ve tried:

PG Tips: Red Berries
(Ocado – £1.19 for 20)

PG Tips pyramid style bags mean this brews (almost) as nicely as the loose teas – although one minor annoyance is that the string seems to wick up the water and get soggy very quickly. A decent strength of taste for a big brand, no particular berry dominating the flavour.

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Morrisons Apples and Pear tea
(not available any more, but try Morrison’s Zingy Purple Berries – 99p for 40)

Picked this up on a whim in store, glad I did. Perfectly autumnal taste of crisp apple and sweet pear, like your favourite crumble in a drink. Smells stronger than it tastes, but let it brew long enough and the flavour comes through. Found the same level of quality with the other Morrison’s own brand fruit teas, hard to argue with for the price.

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Eteaket: Cranberry Apple Riot
(Eteaket – £4.75 for 50g)

Still my favourite from Eteaket’s extensive range of loose teas (although I had their Strawberries & Cream in store and it’s a close second). Lots of nice tartness from the cranberries all the real fruit pieces make this feel extra fresh and healthy! Not the cheapest but the 50g carton goes quite far, and it’s a flavour that just can’t be replicated in a teabag.

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Twinings: Oranges & Lemons
(Sainburys – £1.40 for 20)

I don’t know why I expected this to taste like anything other than lemsip. But I don’t mind that it does – it feels soothing. Maybe not an easy going afternoon cuppa, but nice to snuggle up with if you’re feeling sorry for yourself. Add honey for a treat!

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Knightsbridge: Raspberry and Peach
(Lidl – 89p for 40)

My favourite of all the flavour combos I’ve come across in teas I love the sweetness of peach against the sharpness of raspberries. This one makes a particularly good iced tea – brew strong, let it cool down and then serve over ice with orange peel and a sprig of mint.

Do you have a favourite fruit tea? Do tell me below.

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Maggie Bob Reads: No-Stress Meditation by Katherine May

I’ve always been curious about meditation and mindfulness, but certain it wasn’t for me, because I am rubbish at visualisations (“picture a calm stream in a forest”) and I’ve never yet managed to achieve that blissful state of an empty mind.

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All of this makes me a prime candidate for Katherine May’s book. She promises no-stress meditation, and she delivers exactly this. A clearly described ‘no frills’ methodology which requires no special equipment, no particular spirituality and you don’t have to be able to get in to the lotus position. As Katherine herself describes it – “I had hacked meditation to work for me”

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If you’ve tried and failed at other methods of meditation it’s hard to believe it can be this simple, but it really is.

No-stress meditation introduces itself with the methodology above, then talks about the history of meditation, its benefits, and breaks down some of the common myths.

Then comes the real meat – Katherine describes her approach to a meditation session and how to personalise it – covering such ground as where and when to meditate (and how frequently), setting and using your focus, getting in and out of the meditative state, and resting afterwards. These are all discussed in simple but unpatronising terms, explaining why each part is important and suggesting how to adjust things to suit you.

The third section of the book is for troubleshooting, answering common issues and helping you iron out the kinks in your meditation routine.

So – does it work? Well, it seems to be taking for me. I’ve been a bit lax in sticking to my routine but I’ve certainly found the methodology helps me achieve a meditative state, and when I bother to do it I certainly feel that lovely level of calmer. I would say to anyone looking to incorporate some meditation ‘me time’ in to their lives to give it a go, anyway.

You can buy the book in paperback or Kindle editions from Amazon, and you can check out Katherine’s meditation website The Minder for more details.

Thank you to Katherine for the review copy of her book