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summer blues….here’s my fix

Wow! I can’t quite believe September is just around the corner and summer holidays are about to end. For me, that means schools are back next week, flip flops will be packed away in favour of opaque tights and beach towels go to the back of the cupboard.

It also means new berries are coming into season so I’m inviting you round to a little afternoon tea or post-dinner treat with my blueberry cheesecake. It’s amateur baker friendly (if I can, you can.) and blueberries are a superfood, which makes our skin glow, brains alert and tidies up free-radicals. My crop of “pink lemonade” variety and normal blue ones are just ripening up nicely, so mine is for our last picnic over the weekend to share after cycling up a few hills!

First off shopping with you, you’ll need to buy for the cheesecake:
50 g Butter (melted) + bit extra to grease your tin
200g Ginger + Oat flake biscuits (crushed – I like Sainsburys ones)
200g Dark Chocolate (I like Green and Black’s 85% or 90% bars)
1tsp vanilla paste
500 g Mascarpone (I use low fat option)
280g Soft cheese (I use low fat Philly)
125g Caster Sugar
2tbsp Cornflour
Zest of 1 small orange and 1 lemon (I use biggest I can find!)
3 Large eggs
300g Blueberries (I use biggest fattest ones)

Then for extra oomph, for the compote:
200g Blueberries (I use economy/value ones as they get boiled down)
2tbsp Caster Sugar
Squeeze of orange juice

1. Turn your oven on at 180°C, fan 160° or gas mark 5 to preheat.
2. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water – go gently and watch out for steam.
3. You need a round tin of about 20-23cm in diameter, which you should line and grease – pop this in the fridge, whilst making the base, to chill.
4. Mix the crushed biscuits and melted butter together. Then press evenly across based of tin and pour over the dark chocolate. Pop back in the fridge to set.
5. Add the vanilla, mascarpone, soft cheese, caster sugar, cornflour and zests. Whisk until combined and then add the eggs, one by one, until well blended. It should increase in volume a little from the whisking.
6. Gently stir in most of the big blueberries and pour the topping mixture over the biscuit base.
7. With the handful of remaining big blueberries, decorate the top – push them kinda halfway in – make a pattern, go random, your choice!
8. Put in the oven for about 45 minutes or until set. It should be a bit wobbly and may crack (hint: hide it with the compote). Leave in the oven with door ajar and let the cheesecake cool completely. (I do this for about 30 minutes and then take it out and put on cooling rack for speed!)
9. Cover and chill in tin until serving (It keeps well overnight in the fridge, if you want to make in advance or can resist temptation)
10. To make the compote, heat the blueberries, sugar and orange juice in a small pan. Simmer gently for about 10-15 minutes.

To serve, remove from tin and either serve with warm or cold compote either on top or in a jug on the side. Enjoy!

I really hope you love this as much as I do – the making, baking and sharing all bring me joy. What do you do to save off summer blues? Do you have a favourite activity, place or recipe?

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straighten up by stretching your hamstrings

This week’s inspiration was a client question during one of my group Pilates classes.

“Why does my back ache when my hamstrings are tight?”

It will come to you as no surprises that tight hamstrings (along with their friends, the hip flexors and glut group) are often left tense and tight due to two things:

  • poor posture
  • being too sedentary
  • not adding stretching to your daily routine

These tensed up muscles can then lead to a forward rotation of the pelvis and compression of the lower or lumbar back. Ouch.

I’ve talked about posture being a pet peeve of mine before, so won’t bore you with the same off message again. OK, well just a tiny bit: if you continue with that poor slumped saggy posture, you’re gonna be in pain! Stand tall, tone your lower abdominals and keep those shoulders back!

Many of us work at desks, whether in an office, coworking space or at home. The hours fly by and suddenly you realise you haven’t moved or looked away from your screen for a couple of hours. First – blink and refresh your eyes. Second – get rehydrated with some water. Third – move about: pop over to a colleague instead of sending an email, walk a lap around the block, trot up and down the stairs. Being seated for long periods reduced muscle length in our legs, hips and butts.

Last off, stretching isn’t considered sexy by most folks. I want you to reclaim your physical wellbeing – yes, do that important cardio workout and build up some muscle strength but OMG don’t forget to stretch. This conditions your muscles to regain their full length after the other two bits of your workout.

So now is the time to ditch your excuses for not stretching. I’m not buying it and to ensure you’re getting the most out of your minimal stretch routine, here’s 4 quick, multipurpose stretches for you to do.

Do these stretches anywhere – no need for equipment, tonnes of space or a mirror:

Hello hip flexor standing stretch

Imagine your feet are either side of a 10cm wide plank. Slide your left foot back “along” the plank and shifting your butt back as go. Bend your right knee into a mini lunge – ensure your knee is NOT bent more than 90 degrees or over your toes. Rotate your pelvis backwards (ie tuck your tailbone under and draw your belly button backwards). Wowzers – hello hip flexors! Hold for ten, release and repeat on the same side. Switch over and repeat on the right.

Gluts and Ham combo

Sitting on a chair/bench/box/step, place your left foot on the floor with your knee bent at about 90 degrees. Cross your right leg over to bring your right ankle to rest on your left thigh, just about the left knee. Place your right hand on your right knee and lean forward. You can a little pressure through your right hand to increase the stretch to increase the glut stretch in your right bum cheek. Release, repeat and then replace right foot to the floor with your leg straight out in front of you. Lean forward again and turn your right toes up towards the sky. Hold, release and repeat on this side. Switch sides and bring the left ankle across the right knee and repeat this sequence.

Pigeon hip openers

This yoga move is often used in Pilates classes as the counter pose or stretch to glut strength work. It releases the hips and the outer thigh (including those run induced tight IT bands!). The best layered variations of this are here.

Knee kiss chase

Sitting on the floor (or potentially a small block if super tight) with your right leg straight out, bend your left leg so that the arch of your left foot is around your right knee and your left knee is in butterfly position. Walk your hands forward along the floor, lowering your body towards your right leg – aim to “kiss” your kneecap. Pause and wait for your hamstrings to relax. Lean into the stretch to increase it again. Rotate your shoulder and rib cage to look out to your left side. Bring your left arm over the top of your head and reach forward beyond your right toes. Keep pushing forward with your left hand and rotate back down to your knee. You should find yourself a little closer to your right knee. Hold, roll back up to sitting and repeat. Switch leg positions and repeat with your left leg straight out in front. Mwoah!

Do these regularly and you’ll soon have longer hamstrings, released hip flexors and relaxed gluts. Importantly, you’ll have ditched one of the causes of backache. Yay!!

Give these a try and let me know how you go – want more stretches, got another problem area or need a specific variation because you’ve got a dodgy disc or are pregnant? No worries, drop me a line and I can help you out on skype. Or if you’re in London, why not book in for a full postural assessment at Physio in the City?

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end of the career path?

This week, my dad finally retired. He’s been counting the days for years. His birthday – the “official” retirement date – came and went. Just a few more months. The second retirement date came and went. As did the third. So, here we are 9 months on and he’s finally hanging up his business cards, email signature and logo embossed diary. Well, until that exhibition in a few months time. Well, it’s good to stay busy 🙂

I was also reminded of this here, which I’ve seen used at a number of universities and business schools to help their students come to the realisation that career paths are no longer linear or for life necessarily.

Lets look back over time…….with a sweeping stereotype of the many generations in today’s workplace.

Post World War 2, we had the baby boomers. A generation brought up by those who’d experienced a seriously tough time at home and aboard, had learned to manage meals, clothing and entertainment on a shoestring of rations and home made/grown produce. Baby boomers went to work to climb the ladder, to be breadwinners and to succeed in providing more comfortable lives for their families. Here is where our view of the career path being straight and narrow came from.

Their children became known as “Generation X” (ok, so having a best selling book titled that helped), who were taught hand work matters, achievements count and do your best in all things. They lived through a time of strong trade unions, angry strikes and periods of redundancy – they learned jobs were often insecure and your staying power was based on your efforts and your relationships. Generation Xers often found the “up and out” mentality unappealing and began midlife career switches to lateral career paths.

At the end of the 70s, Gen Ys began being born. Few remember the 80s workforce dramas, but clearly remember being latchkey kids with working dads and mums. They learned work and life didn’t balance out and that TVs would be their friend. Gen Ys look for more instant feedback and gratification in the workplace (older generations might say they’re attention seeking) and will leave if the hours put in aren’t recognised nor deliver the value to make their work/life balance. Career paths are managed by SMART objectives and promotion centres.

Gen Z or the Millennials follow on and bring in technologic skills galore, yet sometime struggle with interpersonal face to face situations. Short comms on messaging systems replace emails and task chunking key to success. With lower risk thresholds, more millennial are content to look around, move firms, roles and countries to find work they enjoy. Gamification becomes the new HR buzz word in how to develop and grow these employees in an attempt to keep millennials engaged and from resigning.

OK, so I’m not one for stereotypes and do recognise I’ve painted a blinkered view on each generation to highlight a little of their career paths to date.

What I believe is that there are commonalities across generational groups, but there are also exceptions to all rules and individuals within the groups. Phew. Without them, we’d have missed out on quite a lot and there is often a golden thread that runs through their work from school to retirement (possibly beyond too into volunteering or philanthropy).

Take me as an example. I began working in an old people’s home as a general helper. Then I worked as a aircraft design engineer in Germany. Back in the UK, my next job was in the charity sector with a membership organisation, before moving to a people development role in the healthcare sector. Back overseas to Gibraltar, I joined the HR team of a betting company. Heading to London, I lead a staff development function in an inner city college. All before finding a home in people development in consultancy firms. Now I run my own business, helping you stretch your life – as your coach, trainer or Pilates instructor: 3 strong passions of mine and often found blended together to give you what you need.

Who knows what will come next!? What I am sure of it will involve my common thread: people, purpose and passionate energy. I know there is no single path for me and that it will involved plot twists, successes and fails. I’m excited to keep walking it.

Do you know what your common thread is? Or where it will take you next? Let me know if you do or if you don’t, as I’d love to help you move forward into achieving the next step on your path.

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strike the right balance – work, life, play

Hmmm when thinking about this super important b-mail topic, I’ve asked myself some tough questions on whether I’m the right person to give you any advice, insights or suggestions on striking a balance between the many elements of my life.

I juggle a raft of responsibilities and commitments for my family, for my clients and for me. Most of the time, I’m successful. Sometimes, I drop a ball (or two!). Sometimes, I take on too much. Sometimes, I focus on doing things for others and screw myself over.

That said. I recognise I’m not perfect, I’ve got work to do on creating a better sense of proportion across the elements of my life and heck, I’m motivated to keep trying!

You with me? Yes? Then hoorraaaayyy, let’s get going.

First off, I believe there are a few baselines I need to cover off, in order to give us any chance of striking a balance.

Balance is right up there with trying to hit perfection: the goal posts will move and your definition of balance will move to follow. You change. Your priorities change. You adapt to circumstances and to others in your life and work. Accepting balance isn’t going to be a perfect split of time, effort or energies and nor will it be a fixed measure will help.

My take on balance isn’t going to yours and vice versa. Nor can it or should it be. Our unique combinations of personal values, life stages, experiences and motivations make us unique and our sense of balance unique.

Balance is a big picture game, not a detailed minute by minute account. In this case, big is most definitely where you will find beautiful. Using a bigger scale view, I find, means I gain a better sense of control and achievement. Putting myself under pressure to balance each hour or day is a route to failure. Looking at the week or even month adds successes, I’d otherwise have overlooked.

In summary: ditch striking perfection, accept your balance is just that, yours and think big.

Getting to it, here’s my tactics to seeking balance across my life, work and play.

1) Get a planner or diary system that works for you.

I use an Erin Condren planner to collate and carry around with me plus a Day Designer single day printable for my “work at home” days by Whitney English. (Want to check out these? Erin can be found here and Whitney here.) I also use erasable markers in a colour coded way – work is dark blue, family is turquoise, deadlines for bills or submissions are red and so on. I also have shared Google calendars with my partner, so we’re both in the loop and up to date.

2) Ensure you have time for doing your version of self care.

This might be a long bath, refreshing G&T on the seat outside or a hard cycle around the block. Whilst this might feel like a luxury, hardly ever does someone blast through their goals, achieve an ambition or secure a significant change in their life without some rest and recuperation time. That includes you. Call it maintenance, call it downtime, call it being a couch potato. I call it necessary.

3) Chunk it up – Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I’m a bit of a neat freak. I like my counters, cooker and fridge cleaned down and disinfected. I like the laundry basket to be empty. I like my taps to shine. I like the floor to be fluff free (Seriously, where does it all come from!!). That said I can’t do them all at once as time is often short. Priority 1 = countertops and then the rest are done in rotation (or by delegation to the rest of the household!).

4) Balance the rush with some reflection.

Including either a short breathing exercise and a bit of Pilates inspired stretching to a little gratitude practice enable me to see although I might not really feel like I’ve done much or to the standard I’d have liked, I have made inroads into serving others, living my values and showing up in a positive way. I like to count 3 things I did good and 3 things that were good done to me. You might prefer to follow a gratitude journalling app or write a note at the bottom of your planner page.

5) Don’t travel the road alone.

I’m a big fan of combining – mix up two or more tasks into one time slot. For example, commuting and catching up on newsletter, articles and the daily news. My partner and I both love reading – we read aloud to each other in turn and share our passion for different authors. I’ve discovered the Just So stories and he’s learnt about Tudor times. I also skill swap or time swap with friends in order to get things done in a quicker or more simple way.

With those in mind, I’m off to strike a balance and I hope you are too 🙂 What do you do to balance your life, work and play? Is there a mindset approach, a reframe or a practical tactic you deploy? All suggestions welcome!

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the indecision circle & how to get out of it

Something that has been running around many of my conversations recently is the circular nature of indecision. We talk ourselves into a spin by opening up with more options, rather than closing down our choices. We play the “what if” game with our thinking and worry about what might be or might not be if we move into action. We create tension in our shoulders and frowns on our brows by revisiting previously certain items. We second guess. We imagine. We avoid. We make light of our predicaments.

And still we come back to our decision. And it’s really important to us. We really want to get it right, to be happy, to be successful and to live our way.

Woooaaahhhh there. We’re back off into a spin.


Come out of the curvaceous circle of indecision and let’s move you onto a clearer, more certain path to being and doing what you want to.

Approach 1: Brain writing

Grab a notepad and pen. Set a timer for 5 minutes and just write anything that pops into your head regarding your decision. Good, bad, long, short. Everything goes on the page. No judging. No sanitising. No rationalising. Everything goes down on the page.

When the timer goes off, stop and review your page. Ask yourself “is there anything else?” and if there is please keep writing. When you dry up, ask the question again and write away if more things pop up. Repeat until your all out. (FYI I often find the 3rd or 4th time of asking is what produces the gems!)

Next take a big fat dark marker. Review your writing and put a line through anything that doesn’t answer these criteria in positively supporting your decision making:

  1. What evidence or facts do I have meaning this is true?
  2. Is this relevant and valid to my decision?
  3. How much weight or importance should I place on this item?

Looking at what’s left, what’s your gut reaction to your decision with just these inputs?

Approach 2: Conduct an experiment

If you’re deciding between options or potential steps, why not try out a few? To do this without wasting your time, energy and potentially your cash, let’s get scientific:

  1. Set your KPIs or your “how do I know whether this has been successful” factors. TOP TIP: make these objective and firm, not subjective and up for debate.
  2. Create your method or step by step plan including anything you need to get or use to do them. TOP TIP: follow the KISS principle – keep it sweet and simple.
  3. Test out your selected options. TOP TIP: be open minded to what the outcome might be. All outcomes and experiences are useful in making your decision.
  4. Record what happens plus how you feel about it and then assess your results against the KPIs you set in no1. TOP TIP:Stick with the open mindset to avoid swaying your results.
  5. Time to draw your conclusions: which one delivered the best results to fit your preferences and style? TOP TIP: Be lead by the results and KPIs, not your circle of indecision.
  6. What are you waiting for? Get on with taking action. TOP TIP: Just do it! 🙂

Approach 3: Find your motivator

You already know that your status quo isn’t working out, so let’s explore what things would be like if you stick with the status quo or decide to move on. I’ve created a simple comparison worksheet for you and included a worked through example to give you some inspiration.

Download your worksheet here.

Once you’ve completed the costs and the benefits, you will be able to draw upon new motivation to move away from indecision and towards motivated action and your goals. Use the worksheets to create a reminder of why you are making the decision to embrace change in your life, work and play.

I’ve seen all three approaches work for different types of people, who are life and career changers. My hope is they work for you – I would love to hear your tactics for dealing with your indecision circles, how do you spot that you’re in one and what helps you get out of it?

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