2018 – a year of firsts

I write this in the final minutes of 2018. Here’s my take on 2018, a year of many firsts for me.

1. Running my first half marathon

One of my biggest goals for 2018 was to run my first half marathon, the Cardiff Half Marathon, in October.

I was thrilled to run it for the Stroke Association in memory of my Grandpa Cliff.

It was tough (who knew mile 12 was uphill?) but the incredible atmosphere, and support from my running club, got me through.

2. Visiting Venice

Mr Pyke and I marked our 10-year wedding anniversary with a trip to Venice, a city I’ve always wanted to visit. It was glorious and well worth the wait. Read about what we did and saw here.

3. Giving up chocolate for a month

In March, I gave up chocolate for a month by taking on Dechox for the British Heart Foundation.

It felt like a very long 31 days (especially as the first day began with a 4am start with the children 😱), but I was pleased to raise £100 for a brilliant cause.

4. Being more open about my mental health

Living with depression and anxiety can be exhausting and isolating. Many of us know that one in four people live with mental illness, and the stigma seems to lessen day by day, but it can make you feel like you’re the only one who feels that way.

So in 2018 I’ve tried to be more open about it, especially when I’m struggling. It find it hard, but it helps.

The things that help me are relatively simple but sometimes feel very difficult when I’m having tough times. Meditation, quiet time, running, walking, sleeping, eating well and music all help me.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, talk to someone you trust (or organisations you can trust like the Samaritans or Mind).

A huge thank you to everyone who has been there for me in 2018 and to those of you who’ve shared your stories with me. It means a lot.

5. Running 300 miles

I started running with the Pencoed Panthers 18 months ago and I am proud to have run 300 miles (or 311 miles to be precise!) in 2018.

There have been tears, numerous swear words and more complaining than I care to remember, but I’m proud to have kept up the running.

If you’d told 15-year-old me who struggled to run a mile in PE lessons I’d have laughed out loud. Thanks Panthers! I’m aiming for 500 miles in 2019.

6. Being a grown up bridesmaid

I was a bridesmaid for the first time in almost 30 years for my gorgeous sister’s wedding. It was the most beautiful day.

And I got to go on my first hen do abroad – to Ibiza no less – to celebrate it!

7. Being a suffragette

What better way to celebrate the centenary of some women getting the right to vote than to be a suffragette? In July I was one of 100 women who marched as suffragettes with the Porthcawl Museum float at the annual Porthcawl Carnival. It felt marvellous!

8. Becoming a trustee

Earlier this month, I was co-opted as a trustee to the fabulous Women’s Equality Network Wales, which aims to make Wales a fairer place for women. I am so pleased to be a trustee for this brilliant organisation and am looking forward to getting stuck into the role in 2019.

So thank you 2018 for bringing me lots of firsts as well as lots of ups and a few downs along the way.

Wishing you all a happy, peaceful and healthy 2019 whatever it brings.

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On anxiety

I felt it descending last week.

A relatively small thing pushed me from just about bobbing along to feeling as though I’m swimming against a riptide.

It presented in the usual way. It’s as though someone’s jangling clanging car keys inside my head, a constant noise and distraction.

That little voice is there, getting louder, sneering and critiquing every thing I do.

And I’ve found myself doing the usual, trying to quieten it with comfort food, buying stuff, incessant screen scrolling and cancelling plans, all of which I then feel guilty for doing.

They just don’t help.

I’ve tried to shake the perpetual grumpiness, the frayed nerves that make me jump at the sound of a simple knock at the door.

I’m usually a juggler, someone with (what I suspect is) high-functioning anxiety which means I appear to – and generally always – keep things going.

I’m a super planner (Monica Gellar has nothing on me), nearly always on time and I pride myself on being reliable. I try my hardest at everything I do.

I remember permission slips, PE kits, birthdays, deadlines, favourite teddies, shopping lists and the other little things that keep my gorgeous little family ticking along.

But when I’m having a spell like I’m having now, keeping things going feels like driving in fog with no headlights.

Doing simple things, and even the things I love such as exercising regularly, feels harder.

I forget things, I’m less present than I should be and I’m irritated easily, much to my own frustration.

So, for all my friends and loved ones in real life, please bear with me.

I’m trying to work my way through with my tried and tested toolbox – exercise, meditation and being as kind as I can to myself.

But it takes time.

The Cardiff Half – to be or not to be?

Tomorrow was meant to be my last long run before my first half marathon.

At the start of the year, I signed up to run the Cardiff Half Marathon, a lifelong ambition of mine, in memory of my grandad for the Stroke Association.

I started running properly after joining my local club in June 2017 and steadily progressed from the couch to 5K then to 10K. I signed up for the half as a nerve-wracking but exciting next step and started my training on 2 January in the cold, blustery rain with my best friend.

If you’d asked me four weeks ago how the training was going, I’d have answered: “Pretty well cheers!”. I felt quietly confident.

From May, I’d upped my distances and my commitment to running going out three to four times a week.

I painfully worked my way from 10K to eight miles, to nine, to 10 and was covering more than 20 miles a week, which is a lot for the girl who couldn’t run to a lamppost a year before.

Sunday mornings were for long runs whatever the weather. I plodded through ankle-splashing puddles and sweltered in unseasonably hot sun with my fellow runners.

A particularly rainy run

My trainers came with me on holiday and on overnight stays for work. I took them out at 6am on Mondays, 8pm on Wednesdays, basically whenever I could between the children and working.

Running has not only made me fitter and healthier, it’s also brought my asthma under the best control I’ve had for years.

It has made me happier too.

It is time for me to think, run it out, push myself and silence the voice that says I can’t, which has often been too loud. To run away the worries that can come with juggling work and a young family trying to be the best I can be at both.

So I didn’t really struggle to put my trainers on for those runs. I’d committed to the half and wanted to train well. All was on track.

And a fortnight ago I ran 11 miles doing Castle 2 Castle for Velindre Cancer Centre with a month to go to the Cardiff Half, an excellent training run for a great cause.

I met one of my all time heroes former Wales and British Lions captain legend Sam Warburton who waved us runners off and kindly obliged in our photographs. It was hard but excellent practice for the half.

But I haven’t run since.

A niggling cold developed into a chest infection earlier this week that’s making my asthma symptoms flare up in a way they haven’t since I joined my running club.

I’ve rested, drunk honey and lemon, inhaled steam and followed all medical advice. I’ve been on antibiotics and steroid tablets to ease my asthma problems since Tuesday and thankfully the cough that took my sleep for days has eased.

This week’s training regime

But now I’m at a loss.

Will I be able to do the challenge I set myself almost 10 months ago, for a charity I love and did so much for my grandad?

I’ve felt sad about every run I’ve missed and I know I’ll feel sad tomorrow when for the second week I’ll have missed my long run.

My fellow runners training for their first half are doing amazingly – and I’m so proud of them – but I can’t help feeling left behind.

The doctor says wait and see and that it could be possible so for now I’ll continue to rest – and hope.

A peaceful break at Wooda Lakes in North Devon

Looking for a family-friendly and tranquil staycation near Cornwall? Then Wooda Lakes is a great spot for you.

Nestled near Holsworthy in Devon, and just seven miles from Bude, we found it to be a lovely base for family days out and chilled out evenings.

We stayed in one of 11 self-catering lakeside lodges, which overlooked one of the site’s five fishing lakes. Each lodge has an outdoor decking area meaning we could sit and eat outside when the weather was kind enough.

The accommodation was clean, comfortable and inviting with little touches that helped us settle right in on arrival.

We were greeted with a small basket of essentials including tea, coffee and biscuits and a glass bottle of milk in the fridge meaning we could have that longed-for cuppa soon after checking in. Bliss!

The setting was beautiful. The children loved walking around the lakes and watching the family of ducks who lived on site.They also liked the play equipment including a slide and two swings.

They also enjoyed watching people fishing. The site is particularly popular with anglers with its well-stocked lakes and each lodge has an outhouse to store fishing equipment and refrigerate the day’s catch.

It was a brilliant base for family days out in Devon and nearby Cornwall. Wooda made sure visitors had the kit they needed for a day at the beach with a helpful treasure trove of buckets, spades and bodyboards for residents to borrow. Again, a lovely touch.

Disclaimer: We booked our holiday at Wooda Lakes through Hoseasons and paid for it in full.

On being phone shamed

Today I was phone shamed. I was in a family-friendly museum with the children, our third outing of the day, and they were having fun in the toy room.

It was a hands on toy room filled with vintage toys for them to play with from old-fashioned dolls prams to cars to spinning tops. They were thrilled.

As they settled in to play, I took out my phone to look at the photos of the children taken at the beach earlier today.

Photos are important to me. I love taking them, reviewing them, sharing them.

I was the girl who couldn’t wait to get my photos developed when I had my first yellow Kodak camera.

The girl who went to the local photo shop as soon as possible and paid extra to have photos developed quickly.The girl whose walls were covered in photo collages of friends and family at home and at university. So, yes, I love photos and I take most of them on my phone.

A man walked into the room and announced: “It’s so nice to see them playing with toys that aren’t electronic. But oh!” he sneered, nodding his head towards the phone in my hand. He left the room before I could answer.Yes, like most, I’m a little too addicted to my phone. I have to put boundaries on how much I use it. I’m conscious of not using it too much around the children and when I’m with company. Do I get it wrong sometimes? Absolutely. But I don’t think I got it wrong today.

The man with the sneer didn’t see me plan our three holiday trips out that day, packing snacks and beach gear, giving the children their breakfast beforehand, helping to them pick their clothes and brush their teeth. Reminding them to wear wellies and making sure we had coats and spare clothes with us just in case.

He didn’t see me take them to two beaches earlier that day, which I’d researched to make sure they were suitable for families, and zipping them into their bathers and wetsuits so they didn’t get too cold in the sea.

He didn’t see me pushing by body worries aside to jump waves with them for an hour in just my bather. Or see me dry them off, fill their rumbling tummies with snacks and wipe sand from in between their toes so they didn’t get sore.

He just saw the mum with the phone and he judged me for it.

We all judge. I get it. I’ve done it. But when I catch myself judging I try to tell myself that I don’t know the person, their story or the whole picture. And I try to keep that judgement in check.

So please, if you find yourself judging, try to remember you’re not that person. You’re getting a snapshot, a quick insight into their life and it may not be their best moment of the day.

11 things to do (or d-ewe) at The Big Sheep in Devon

Fancy family-friendly fairground rides and interactive farm animal experiences all in one place? Then The Big Sheep in Devon is just the place for you.

Based in Abbotsham near Bideford, this sheep-filled theme park offers plenty of activities for a brilliant family day out.

We spent more than four hours at the theme park (a record time for us!), which is testament to how much there is to do and enjoy there.

Best of all, most of the rides and activities are included in your ticket price.

If you’re planning a visit there soon, here are our 11 things to do at The Big Sheep.

1. Sail on Swan Lake

Our children enjoyed taking a ride on a Swan Lake pedalo and made sure we were pedalling hard as we took a turn around the lake. “Pedal faster!” was a common refrain.

2. Ride the piggy pull-a-long

No grown ups are allowed on the piggy pull-a-long (except the driver, of course!) making this a popular choice for children.

3. Flip your tummy on the Rampage roller coaster

This family-friendly rollercoaster is suitable from the age of four (children need to be three foot tall). It was our children’s first roller coaster ride and the first thing they spotted as we arrived in the park. Adults are allowed on (yay!) and children can ride unaccompanied when they’re aged 7 or over. Buy your ride photograph for £2 as a reasonable keepsake.

4. Try out Twister

This vintage-style swing ride takes riders high in the sky. Wave from the sidelines or join in as adults are allowed on too.

5. Feed a lamb

Lamb-feeding is a must. Get to the feeding area in the show arena with plenty of time to grab a good spot for bottle-feeding the lambs, although every child gets a turn.

6. And a sheep

Buy your sheep feed at the gate (75p a bag or £2 for three) and feed some of the 300 sheep who live around the park. Our children enjoyed feeding them at Pets’ Corner.

7. Bump along on a farm safari

Climb aboard the tractor trailer for a bumpy farm safari around The Big Sheep. The ride takes you around the park. The driver introduces you to the various farm animals on site, including the escaping pygmy goats!

8. See a sheep show

Fancy watching sheep-shearing or a sheep race? Stop off to see the shows throughout the day. And if you’ve had enough of sheep, watch the dog display or the duck trials at the Duck Arena!

9. Bounce like never before

Bounce on to the jumping pillows for a bounce-tastic experience. Our children loved this so much they came back for a second bounce before we left for the day!

10. Slide in a sack

Head to the indoor play zone to enjoy a super high slide in a sack and three levels of play equipment. Our children didn’t want to leave.

11. Ride a pony

For just £1, children aged 3 or over can enjoy a pony ride. Our daughter loved her ride on new pony Poppy, the first time she’s tried pony-riding. For an extra £1, your child can wear a pony-rider rosette.

The Big Sheep costs £14.95 for adults and children over three feet tall (£11.96 if booked online in advance like we did) or £6 for children under three feet (£4.80 if booked online). Other concessions are available.

Disclaimer: We paid in full for our visit and The Big Sheep did not know I’d be blogging about it.

Chicken and egg club – an afternoon at Amelia Trust Farm

Amelia Trust Farm is a fantastic educational farm set off Five Mile Lane near Barry. It’s recently revamped its events for families in a bid to make the charity more sustainable and offers hands on experience for children.

Earlier this year we did a lamb-feeding experience at the farm, which the children loved, so much so they still talk about it. So when I saw their latest event offering – chicken and egg club – advertised, I booked them a spot each.

Costing £7.50 each (plus a £5 weekend admission charge), the event gives children the chance to meet and feed the chickens, find and wash their eggs and take them home at the end.

The event started with a short talk from the staff about what to expect, including an explanation about the difference between free range chickens and caged chickens.

Each child was then given an egg tray and a bag of feed as we headed on our egg hunt.

The children enjoyed seeing the chickens up close and meeting them with the staff. They were happy when the food attracted the chickens.

With the chickens fed, it was time to retrieve our eggs from the sides of the hen houses. Each child was allowed to choose six eggs for their tray.

With the eggs retrieved, it was time to go back to the shelter to get our eggs ready for home time. Step one was given them a thorough wash before drying them.

The staff then stamped each egg before the children put them in boxes to take home, which they then labelled and decorated. Each child was then offered a recipe to take home.

Overall, this was a lovely event which gave the children a hands on experience in this working farm. They were happy to take home their eggs at the end along with their recipes. Pancakes anyone?

Chicken and egg club is running at Amelia Trust Farm at weekends in August and September costing £7.50 per child. Find out more and book online here.