Thursday, 24 October 2013

Make a Smart Restart!

Those that follow me on twitter, especially in recent months, will know that I am passionate about promoting #naturalchildhood and getting kids outdoors so that we can raise a generation of engaged, creative, inquisitive, healthy individuals! Despite this enthusiasm, as a parent I know first hand how difficult it can be to find the time and sometimes, the motivation.

So when I heard about Change 4 Life Wales' Smart Restart campaign it was easy to get behind it.

Smart Restart aims to help parents with children from 4 to 11 years old to make pledges to change their lifestyles for the better. Those who sign-up are supported with fitness tips, recipes, and advice via the Change4Life website and, as I selected, a weekly email and text message.

Change4Life Smart Restart is looking for families all over Wales to sign up online and make a pledge to change one thing – be it preparing healthier lunchboxes, avoiding sugary snacks, or swapping the car for the bike or your legs!!

The pledges are:
  • Stretch Your Legs: Swap some of your regular car or bus journeys for walking, scooting or cycling.
  • Super Lunches: Help keep your kids going right through the school day with our ideas for quick and tasty lunches.
  • Screen-Time Switch: Tempt them away from their screens for 30 minutes a day, with loads of fun game ideas.
  • Beat the Treats: Swap some of your kids’ treats for healthier alternatives.
  • 10-Minute Moves: 60 minutes’ activity a day helps kids stay healthy. Break it down into 10-minute chunks and that goal is easier to reach.
Sweet potato hedgehog, Autumn inspiration
To be honest I wanted to make pledges for them all, but the emphasis is on one to get you started, and there is nothing stopping you taking inspiration from the others!
Already making an effort to reduce Ffion's screen time and be more active outdoors, I chose to 'Beat the treats!'.

I have been fortunate that Ffion has always been a fairly good eater, never too fussy, open to new tastes and textures, especially as a baby and toddler. Recently however, as she has grown in confidence and independence, she has more of an opinion about her food. She also has a sweet tooth, and often the first question I get when I collect her from school is "can we go get some sweeties?"... something I regularly give in to when faced with a tired, pleading face... "I've been good at school Mama, look I got a sticker, please?". Mothers guilt (...there's always something!)
Home Cinema!

What has been key here is changing my mindset... and eventually helping influence hers - there is no nutritional value to sweets, they are not a 'treat'! Off the back of this simple "Beat the treats" pledge, we are making small but steady steps towards drastically reducing the amount of sugar in our diet. I have been shocked at just how many 'healthy', savoury foods contain added sugar (take a look next time you're adding items to your trolley!)

I enjoy receiving an encouraging (non patronising) text on the Monday... we're half way through! We've had suggestions to try making home-made popcorn (something that I loved as a child too!) and to try a new vegetable this week.

For those that haven't tried home-made popcorn... why not?! We picked up 1kg of organic kernels from our local health food shop for just £2.50 and probably have enough to keep us going for six months! How much is a small tub when you go to the cinema?! We created instead a home movie night! (Air-popped popcorn has only 31 calories per cup; oil-popped popcorn has only 55 calories per cup, it is low in fat and high in fibre!).

And this week, rather than a new vegetable I re-introduced one that has failed in the past. Sweet potatoes. 
We made an Autumn colours inspired dinner, with a goats cheese and red onion quiche, cherry tomatoes and a sweet potato hedgehog... which was a huge hit, although was too fun not to play with first!

If you feel inspired to introduce some small changes, to make a smart restart, register for the Change4Life Smart Restart, here:

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Talkin' 'bout my (New) Generation...


I think it would be a fair assumption to say that most of my readers/followers have heard of and/or own GORE-TEX products? From Arc'teryx to Berghaus, Mammut, Marmot, Mountain Equipment and more - all the best outdoor brands are proud to have the GORE-TEX diamond tag hanging from their waterproof and windproof garments. I think it would also be fair to say that the majority of you have had a hugely positive experience of your GORE-TEX products. I know I have.

Oz from the Betws store
Walk-in to Ben Nevis
New Generation Gore-tex Pro test team
Gore works with the best athletes and various mountain guide associations around the world to develop the perfect products for their daily use. A little closer to home, GORE-TEX and Mountain Equipment have a very close working relationship with the guides and leaders based at Plas Y Brenin National Mountain Centre, here in the UK.

Those of you that know a little about me will know that I work for Cotswold Outdoor - which means I am fortunate enough to receive training on and from all your favourite outdoor brands in order for me to kit you out with the best gear for your adventures. This training often takes place in the form of us being able to try out and test kit for ourselves - a definite perk of the job.

Back in July last year I attended the Cotswold Academy Climbing Skills course down in the sunny Avon Gorge (read about my time on the course here)- fast forward 6 months to January 2013, minus around 20 degrees celius in temperature, and add the stunning Scottish Highlands and it was time for the Cotswold Academy Winter Skills course in Glencoe.

The Experience
I was looking forward to having some time to myself on the train journey up to Glasgow, and finally got round to reading High Infatuation by Steph Davis - some good inspiration from one of my favourite climbers. It wasn't hard to spot other Cotswold employees on route to Scotland, lugging our big Mountain Equipment kit bags on and off trains, and so I was later joined by Oz from the Betws-Y-Coed store.

We arrived in a very wet Glasgow and made the long but beautiful coach journey to the stunning Alltshellach Country House where we were greeted by the Cotswold Academy team, Plas Y Brenin Guides and the guys from Mountain Equipment and Gore. It was straight into sorting kit before dinner and the first of our evening lectures.

Avalanche awareness -
building a rutsch block

Pride of place in everyone's kit bags were our New Generation GORE-TEX Pro Mountain Equipment hard shells. Aside from the brands, mountain guides and athletes who have helped develop this product over the last few years, we were among some of the first to get to test these new generation jackets. And test them we certainly would...!

This included a windy day on Buachaille Etive Beag, practicing moving on steep ground, ice axe self-arrests and building Rutsch blocks and snow holes - all this was perfect for testing that durability and abrasion resistant fabrics that GORE-TEX products are so well known for. Despite some hilarious shapes being thrown as we each took our turns sliding down the hillside and plunging in our axes, and despite the wind knocking some of us around more than we had anticipated, the jackets stood up to the test.

Perhaps the most special day though, certainly for me, was our last day on Ben Nevis, which saw the whole team (including those of us doubting our physical - and mental - capabilities) take on Ledge Route. Arguably the best route of its kind in the UK, the Ledge route has a bit of everything - starting in No. 5 Gully on Ben Nevis and weaving an improbable line up Carn Dearg Buttress, leading to a narrow ridge and finally the summit of Carn Dearg on the Ben Nevis plateau. And as well as being on one of the best routes of it's kind, we were also joined by one of the UK's top climbers - Dave MacLeod, what a privilege.

The walk in was gentle and kind to those of us who were tired from the previous days out on the hill, and was a great warm up before tackling the steeper ground of Ledge Route, including a few rock steps to negotiate and a few exposed ridges.
Warm, dry, comfortable and happy
The Plas Y Brenin guides overwhelmed me with their patience, encouragement and commitment to seeing not only the group, but each of us individually, achieve things that some of us doubted we could achieve.
After a windy, cloudy and snowy climb, we were rewarded on our descent with spectacular views over the Scottish Highlands... a magical moment.

While the view, the climb and the people I shared it with all made this a memorable experience, I was able to enjoy it all the more because I was protected, warm, dry and comfortable throughout the whole trip.

For someone who "runs hot" when it comes to activities, but chills off very quickly when stationary, I was overwhelmed at how little (if at all) I needed to play around with my layering system when wearing our Mountain Equipment new generation Gore-tex Pro jackets. I wore it on all three days as my outer shell with either just a base layer, or a base layer and fleece, and despite the freezing temperatures, spindrift and wind chill, despite the frequent work-rest cycles - I stayed comfortable and my regulation of body temperature remained at a near constant.

The technology
New generation GORE-TEX Pro is designed for extreme and extended use on the hill which is going to offer you better comfort in more conditions - and while it's going to keep you protected from the wind and rain when walking the dogs, or strolling along the coastal path, it's also going to withstand multi-day trips tackling mixed routes in the Scottish Winter to multi-week excursions backcountry skiing in Canada. It's going to handle your heavy packs, your harness, ropes and slings. It's going to work whether you're in temperatures of -20 or +10 C. It's also going to work whether the humidity you're operating in is 35% or a rather unbearable 100%!

This new generation fabric has a completely new membrane, exclusively used in GORE-TEX products, and consists of multiple ePTFE layers with a unique microstructure.
Ledge Route
Ultimately, it's the durably waterproof windproof GORE-TEX you have come to know, love and depend on, but with improved ruggedness and up to 28% increased breathability.

The Thank You's
I really can't emphasise how wonderful our stay was, nothing was too much trouble for the hotel staff, we were looked after so well and the meals were all wonderful.

And of course the guys at PYB, Mountain Equipment and Gore-Tex for providing us with not only all the amazing kit but the knowledge and experience to back it all up.

After looking forward to it for many months, it feels sad to know it's all over... but it has fueled an already burning passion for the mountains, and inspired me to keep getting out there, to make the most of my limited and precious time off - and to wear the best gear to ensure my time on the hill is safe, enjoyable and most of all memorable!

  • New Generation GORE-TEX Pro will be launching exclusively to Cotswold Outdoor in early June, before hitting other stores! 
  • Cotswold will be running a customer blog competition throughout June and July - keep an eye on the website for news! 
  • Thanks to GORE-TEX, Mountain Equipment, DMM and The Mountain Boot Company for the use of equipment throughout the course. 
  • Thanks to the PYB Guides and staff at Alltshellach for a memorable stay. 
  • Thank You to The Cotswold Academy Team for the experience.