Thoughts on a Tuesday.....

Well, my overall thought is how quickly this long 'summer' school holiday is actually going! It is flying by. Helped by the fact that ours was just over two weeks shorter due to the Junior Certificate exams. Of course the lack of seasonal sunshine to our so-called summer can, on the other-hand, make some days interminable. As does a particularly long bout of insomnia. More of which anon...... Sigh.

With 'only' five weeks left before we're back to the school routine I've just realised that I haven't yet accomplished any of my Summer Bucket List trips! We have been busy though, with a lovely family holiday followed ten days later by scout camp for my teen boy, which was immediately followed by a week of computer coding with the fabulous team at Academy of Code. We're lucky, I know, but it was great to be able to do these things to keep occupied. Scout camp added a little maturity, independent thinking, and ..... ummm.... more fun..... to our ever- growing teenager. I could see a change on his return. It does a teenager good to get away from his or her 'nagging' parents. If only to realise that there is no such thing a free ride in this life and that expectations are placed on you no matter where you go in your in school, home and, eventually, work life.

July is almost at a close and we finished it with an overnight stay in the stunning Druids Glen Resort for our wedding anniversary. This is such a fabulous resort, filled with little touches that makes it deserving of it's five start rating. And if you work it properly - I am an expert at this - you can easily turn an overnight into a full two day break! You simply arrive waay before check-in time on the first day, enjoy breakfast, have a stroll through the grounds, savour a lazy lunch-time glass of wine etc; then stay 'waay' after check-out time the following day. Fitting in some relaxing pool time on both days of course! And you never know whom you'll meet on that exceptionally scenic stroll.......

                                      Baby cygnets too busy feeding to look at the camera!

So, that only leaves August then. I am determined that next month will be filled with those Summer Bucket List walks and trips, providing a perfect antidote and alternative to teen gaming.

Speaking of which, as of today we now have a night-time screen time alternative that will get teenager and parents into the one room viewing the one screen. At the same time....

Yes. you are now looking at one of the newest additions to the growing #Netflix #StreamTeam blogging community!

We can't wait. Thanks to my tech-savvy teenager it's already set up with some preferred box-sets and movies all ready to go.

So much Netflix viewing...... so little time.

See ya in September!!

Just kidding, I'll be sure to re-surface from the comfort of our snuggly sofa to let you know how it's all going.

BE AWARE: Choose Your Pilates Class Wisely.........

On this date one year ago I  happily and energetically dashed along to my local gym to attend what was to be a very fateful Pilates class. I had attended only one class the previous week and truly had no idea of the months of pain and anguish that were to follow that day's simple act.

As a fit and relatively flexible (in comparison to others of similar age) ex-dancer, who also had at least two years Pilates experience from previously attended classes a few years back, this really should have been such a simple act. It was the summer, my Curves gym had closed down and I wanted to do some gentle exercise to keep me fit for the remainder of the season. Something I'd enjoy doing, and as an ex-ballet dancer Pilates really ticked that box. Not only that, it is very good for you and helps with any back issues. If correctly taught that is......

The first indicator that something was wrong, had I been paying any attention, was the cost of the class; at €4.50 per class it was very cheap. The next indicator was that although the instructor briefly mentioned the 'zip and hollow' method of 'engaging your core muscles' - this is an absolutely essential tenet in the teaching of Pilates which protects your lower back while you exercise - he didn't actually teach it. The instructor of the previous week's class never even once mentioned it. 

The final indicator that should have sent me running out the door - ironically I thought I'd complete this class first then never come back - were the amount of class members in attendance. In excess of twenty people attended each of those classes, which meant they were mixed ability classes although were not advertised as such. The instructors didn't know the abilities of each attendee, nor did they ask; they simply demonstrated the exercises and let each class member decide what level of each exercise they were able for and had very little time for individual correction.


Besides, you put out a 'challenge' like varying levels of one exercise ( for that is what it will be seen as - trust me) to a relatively flexible ex-dancer and she's going to give it her best shot, isn't she? Of course she is, especially if the 60 year old beside her can do it!

Turns out that sit-ups from a prone position are not advisable for someone, however fit they are, who hasn't done Pilates in a while. Attempting this, even though it was a really good attempt that didn't leave me feeling too strained immediately afterwards, can lead to a serious back injury. It can lead to an inability to simply place your leg into your pyjama bottoms going to bed the following night. That leads to not being able to walk the next day. A simple act that can lead to being practically bed-ridden on a downstairs sofa for two whole weeks, until you're eventually admitted to hospital with your doctor's words of  'immediate MRI ..... and..... concerns of paralysis' ringing in your ears.

Never doubt the agony of a bulging disc lying on a sciatic nerve.

And all because of , in my opinion, a very improperly taught Pilates class.

See, the problem with Pilates classes here in Ireland is that anyone can teach them and there seems to be no watchdog and no Board of Registered Pilates Instructors to oversee that everyone is safe - I did ask. As I understand it Gym Instructors can receive Pilates training as part of their over-all training - or receive additional Pilates training - they then adapt and adjust their knowledge to fit the gym-based class ethos.

Last summer was ruined for me and my family, and last Autumn and Winter too, but I now know how to keep safe when practicing Pilates - yes, I'm back at classes!

The gym I attended on that fateful day will not accept that the way their classes are taught makes them culpable in any way and they consistently maintain that their classes are beginners level!

Therefore I feel that it is up to me, as someone with a long background of dance, exercise and Pilates (see note below) experience to share what I have learned in order to help others choose their Pilates Class wisely and exercise safely.

If you are thinking of attending Pilates classes, or are returning after a long absence, then I urge you to consider the following when choosing your class:

  • ONLY ever attend Pilates classes taught by trained Physiotherapists or Pilates-specific instructors* (i.e. an instructor who teaches Pilates only.)
  • Ensure that the class you attend has only 8/12 attendees.
  • The classes you attend should be streamed in differing levels e.g. Beginners, Improvers, Advanced etc... 
  • Always start at Beginners level.
  • You should never be asked to do sit-ups from a prone position in a beginners class. N.E.V.E.R.
  • The class you attend will most likely cost more than €4.50! Expect to pay €15 which, in my hard-earned opinion, is well worth it.
  • A really good Pilates Instructor will spend time, every week if necessary, teaching you how to 'zip and hollow' in order to 'engage your core muscles' - and will repeatedly remind you to do so.
  • A really good Pilates Instructor will go from student to student on each exercise ensuring that your posture is correct and that you are therefore safe. This is simply not possible in a class in excess of  twenty people.
  • Don't just listen to your Physiotherapist/Pilates instructor...... listen to your body and don't continue with any exercise that causes any discomfort.
  • A really good Pilates instructor will constantly assess how each exercise affects each student and will not allow any discomfort.
  • A Pilates exercise should never cause you pain. 
  • Avoid Pilates classes taught in Gyms. If they don't tick all the above boxes then, in my opinion, they are not safe.

[*Update: Pilates teachers trained by the 'only licensed Pilates training centre in Ireland' - Stott Pilates - can be included in 'Pilates-specific instructors' above. Thank you Little Messers House for that very informative comment below! However I would still consider to this check-list no matter who the instructor is. For personal safety reasons.]

And what of me, one year later?

Well, I can happily say  that after months of pain and inactivity I am now, thankfully back on my feet. I am getting stronger and fitter and more flexible as each week passes. Ironically the one thing that has helped me the most is going back to Pilates classes! But this time I chose wisely - very wisely indeed. I now  attend a Petite Pilates class taught by Physiotherapist Hope Staunton and this 'group physiotherapy class' - as I like to call it - has been instrumental in my recovery.

In fact it has made a new woman of me and has almost restored me to my previous flexibility!

If you have any similar experience or any thoughts or advice I'd love to hear from you.......

Take care......

Note: I have previously attended Pilates classes taught by a Pilates-specific Instructor, a class taught by a Gym Instructor and am currently attending a class taught by a Physiotherapist, so this blog post  is therefore based on these and my recent painful experiences.

Empty Nest Prep......

It's that time of year again. The family holiday is over and the family nest has been once more briefly vacated by my energetic teen, who's away - hopefully - enjoying this year's scout camp.

So, once more all is quiet on this Western Front and all, so far, is well. There was no fuss, no panic as we sent him on his way this year - me being such an old hand at this lark by now. Well, it is his third time to spend over a week away from home after all. We're getting used to it.

He has willingly swapped the comforts of home and his 'customised' bedroom for a world of camping outdoors, with long forest hikes, backwood fires and camp-fire songs. A world where he'll eat what he's given (or starve), helps with meal preparations and clean-ups, gets his own drinks/snacks, keeps his own space tidy and quickly learns that the bellowing of 'Muumm....where's my/can I have.....' doesn't really work. Where there are tons of activities like: falconry, horse-riding and the every much liked rifle-shooting and archery, just for example, to fill their days. They can even go zip-wiring or walking through the treetops..... although personally I would prefer the latter to the former!

                                        Sooo glad I wasn't there to see what happens next!                                                                                        (both photos cropped to reveal only himself)    

So what of me while my teen is off gallivanting through forests and activities?

Well, I've swapped a world of teen-minding - which in fairness is more about encouraging outdoor activities than anything else - for a very, very quiet world indeed. This my third endless day filled with.... well.... whatever I feel like doing if I'm honest. I do plan on accomplishing some jobs while he's away. Yet here I am blabbing blogging on my laptop for anyone who wants to read. Well, it is more fun than anything else I've got planned! There will be a couple of nights out too, don't worry!

I'm getting used to the quiet if I'm honest and, although it may not win me a 'Mother of the Year' prize anytime soon, I must admit that I kind of like it!

Sometimes. It's easy to like what you know is thankfully only temporary. It is a little lonely too and I constantly find myself wondering what he's doing. Facebook photo updates on the closed scout group page keep me informed, and very happy.

I thought of him as the sky began to darken last night. What are they doing now? Sat in their tents? How long a night that would be, every night, I thought to myself? Then my question was answered this morning with a lovely video uploaded of them singing - very loudly - around an open camp-fire! Such fun! I'm sure there will also be night-hikes and a spot of bivouacking for the very brave too!

I thought of him again this morning as the rain was falling outside. Their week is going to end with a lot of rain, especially this Thursday and Friday. What on earth will they do then, asks the mammy in me? They're scouts and as such they're well prepared! Sure isn't that why they brought their wet-gear, and the mountains of clean socks/underwear? How lovely to go traipsing through the forest with the rain dripping through the verdant leaves.... or sitting in tents listening to the tympanic sounds of the raindrops hitting the canvas. It's all part of the scout camp experience.

Soon enough the week will be over and our scouting teen will return home with happy thoughts and memories, a rucksack to be emptied directly into the washing machine, himself to be flung into the longest shower - ever - and hopefully.... possibly... some of those 'helpful' skills listed above? I can but hope....

This is a week that prepares us parents for when the nest empties more permanently which, when I think about it, may not be a million years away. And it's a week that gives our teenager some skills to help him depart it.

At least that's how I like to think of it.


Tales at Bedtime - Technology Gone Mad?

My love of books began at an early age and as a child I was an avid reader, I loved my books and was reading my much favoured Enid Blyton stories from the age of  five or six. I also vividly recall been given my first book ever - a Rupert the Bear Annual - by my parents when I had a short hospital stay to have my tonsils out. Oh, I adored that book and loved when either of my parents read excerpts from it when tucking me in at night, even though I was perfectly well able to read it myself!

In time I got to enjoy the ritual of the bedtime story telling as I tucked my own child in to his bed at night. Admittedly it can sometimes be the last thing you feel like doing after a busy day and the battle to actually get your child into their bed, but it was always an enjoyable parenting job once in the midst of it. Even if more than one book was requested! It was irreplaceable parent and child time, snuggling together in the bed with tales told in quiet whispering, ever-changing to suit the character, voices. And I did a mean read of The Gruffalo books, if I do say so myself!

Now I know that things have moved on in this technological age of ours and, don't get me wrong, I love my technology I really do. These days I like to mix it up by reading physical books that I either get from my local library or purchase if they're by a favourite author, or purchase on my Kindle. I enjoy the read no matter the method but nothing quite beats the feel of a physical book in your hand and the turning over of a page as you devour the words,

So far it would seem that the e-reader hasn't quite usurped the print version and I sincerely hope it never does, if for no other reason that I feel that a lot of books are condensed to the point of causing confusion when being made e-reader ready.

Now, getting back to bedtime stories, imagine there was an available technological bedtime reading or tale-telling alternative for your little one at night. Some children are too young to read to themselves of course so this would need to be via a different method. An audio one perhaps? So then, imagine downloading a carefully penned, and probably beautifully told, fairy tale with soothing background music and most likely accompanied by appropriate special effects, on to your MP3 player or iPhone. You then connect your earphones to chosen device, pop your little one into his/her bed. You tuck them in, lovingly kiss them goodnight as you ruffle their sweet smelling hair, popping the earphones into their ears as you press 'play', then tiptoe out of the room.......  whispering 'Night Night' as you go.

Well, there is such an available alternative as I was informed via email today and, rightly or wrongly, the above is the scenario that immediately came to my mind. And it saddened me, it really did.

Technological Fairy Tales.

Is this technology gone mad ..... or can it be absorbed into our eclectic daily lives in a supervised, monitored and fun way? And, should it be?

No doubt children will adore it. It would be like a.... a movie without the pictures, but how sleep inducing would that be?

Either way of one thing I am absolutely certain; it could never replace the irreplaceable parent/child bedtime ritual and it could never give your child a good cuddle until he/she gently floats into slumber land.

And whatever you do don't let Joan Burton get wind of this! She already thinks that lone parent's seven year olds + no longer need their mothers, so much so that they should go back to work (or an educational programme), somehow obtaining the magic nineteen hours work required to qualify them for another allowance (FIS) to supplement her Lone Parent cuts. Technological 'advances' like this might be seen by her as a nice, gentle activity for a seven year old+ key-latch kid as they wait for their mum to get home from her part-time job/study having let themselves in after school!

Good Lord, what next?

Technological babysitters?!

Or perhaps you think differently.........

Teens on Holidays and Lovely Lanzarote

Family holidays are usually  such memorable, fun occasions that change as our children grow older. I remember so well holidaying with our boy when he was younger and so on our recent family holiday I got to thinking....

Holidays with toddlers and younger children are definitely memorable, fraught as they are with tantrums, laughter, constant supervision, much joy and squeals and screams of over-excitement and tiredness. Quite the mix but ultimately good fun! Going prepared, choosing the right location and adapting activities to suit our children really make for an enjoyable holiday for all.

As our children grow older certain obligations can be relaxed, meaning that the constant supervision can be reduced as the years go by and that our children's tolerance levels for.... well, everything really ... are mercifully increased!

Then when our children become teenagers and, if we're lucky, still want to holiday with their Jurassic parents then the whole family holiday dynamic changes. However, while that may sadly mean no more kiddies disco - What?.... I liked to 'help' at these! - somethings remain similar in nature. 

Things I've discovered about teens on holidays......

*Teenagers have tantrums too. However these teen tantrums are perpetrated by gangly, taller than you young persons, and are accompanied by much improved and - *ahem* - 'expanded' vocabulary than their toddler equivalent.

*Teenagers can give toddlers lessons in moodiness. Although teenage hormones do help enhance these  frequent and without warning events it is far easier for parents to ignore the teen version; moving to another pool level - alone - if needs must. Poolside bar anyone?

*Screen machines definitely come on holidays with teenagers too. But only if they pack them, their chargers and all 'must-have' items themselves. If they don't engage in the packing process then any forgotten item is the fault of the teenager and not the packer! That said teenagers travel far, far lighter then younger children. Well, male ones that is! 

*If a teenager chooses to spend a lot of their time on holiday in the room playing on said screen machines well then, you do your best to offer alternative options then leave them to it. They can go unaccompanied up and down  to the room as they please, and it is your holiday too you know! 

*Teenagers are such cool, pretty much self sufficient young people to travel with, who bemusedly roll their eyes at any screaming/crying/noisy young child on board; safe in their knowledge that they never, ever behaved like that. Don't worry, I put him straight on that one! 

*Teenagers are also full of fun and energy and bring a young dynamic to your family holiday, facilitating trips and activities you may not have otherwise chosen. 

I have found that the trick for a successful family holiday with teenagers is no different than the one for younger children - location and available fun activities - but are more difficult to find. Most hotels have kiddies clubs but not many have the organised teen activities essential for the only child. Which is why we didn't waste much time looking for one this year, we just returned to where we knew we would all be happy.

This was our third stay in VIK San Antonio Hotel in Los Pocillos (tail end of Puerto del Carmen), Lanzarote and it didn't disappoint. It's a good quality and affordable family hotel and this year we noticed an increase in Irish families staying here. Half-board we find is a good option that makes a holiday affordable yet gives you the freedom to eat out and visit other venues some evenings if you wish - you can swap dinner for lunch on these days. Space is important when travelling with teenagers so this year we booked the larger family room; a junior suite which offered space and some privacy and a small balcony with a lovely sea view. The hotel pool leads onto the beach, affording a beautiful view from your sunbed also.

There's also a stunning view from the upper pool (my escape-from-everyone pool!) too - well, apart from the feet that is......

The big attraction for us of course was the range of adult/teenage activities such as archery, pistol and rifle shooting, darts, aqua aerobics etc., available There's also pool, table tennis and (across the road from hotel) mini-golf to play at your leisure and this made for a very successful family holiday....

There is lots to see and do in Lanzarote but as we've been here numerous times we've done most of the available trips, so what to do? Well, in an attempt to keep everyone happy, we eventually chose a very interesting trip to the Cueva de Los Verdes (Green Caves) and a very cool Waverider Lanzarote excursion which saw us buzzing along the coast, 'dancing' through the sometimes choppy waves and included beautiful scenery and a spot of snorkeling with the fishies for those who wished! I doubt we would have done the latter trip without our teenager's presence.

I'm not sure quite how many family holidays we have left with our young man but I do know that we enjoyed this one very much. 

And he must have too as he's talking about the next one already.......