As we approached summer this year I thought it was going to feel like a long one. Without the rush of a big family holiday to prepare for I imagined it being languid, like the summers you read about in interwar novels where people spent long, limpid days at home in the shade with a book. And of course it isn’t turning out that way at all, it still feels as though time’s rushing by and weeks are eaten up in chunks, Pac-Man style. I’m finding that I have the “slipping through my fingers” song from Mamma Mia going round and round in my head. The boys are here but they’re not; all three are working – the eldest from home planning his agency campaigns, the middle one helping to run NCS courses for teens who’ve finished their GCSEs and the youngest at Burger King – he somehow managed to find a job that involves a 30 minute drive each way for us but at least he’s earning. And if you happen to be travelling down the M6 and fancy a bite to eat at the iconic Lancaster Services then do pop in and say hello to him!
Finding ourselves home alone more and more, Mr MC and I have been wondering what to do about a break and we’ve decided to go over to Newcastle for two weeks at the end of the month. We have people coming to join us along the way so it should be a mixture of relaxation and fun. Of course it means that I now have the usual long list of things to do so that I can log off for a fortnight. There will be two more posts before I go; today’s is a cornucopia – new discoveries and midlife lately and it’s a long one so tea… wine… gin… you know the score.
Cornucopia – new discoveries: Flourish – a medically led menopause brand
We haven’t talked about menopause for a while but the hum around it is certainly growing. One of the questions that I know a lot of you raised last time is how do you know that you’re peri-menopausal in the first place? GPs are reluctant to run blood tests because the very nature of peri-menopause means that hormones are fluctuating and so a reading taken one week might be completely different to the next. However there’s now an over the counter test that you can buy that will help to confirm whether your FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) levels are changing – a high level of FSH is an indicator of menopause.
It’s no different to doing a pregnancy test, you simply wee on the tip of a stick, ideally first thing in the morning and wait ten minutes for the result. Each pack contains two tests so that you can run them at different times of the month for extra certainty. It will be such a help, particularly if you’re in your early to mid 40s and just starting to wonder whether symptoms such as anxiety or poor sleep are a result of peri-menopause (don’t forget that you can be peri-menopausal even if you’re still having periods). Or perhaps if you’re wondering about HRT and not sure whether your body has definitely reached the right stage.
Flourish sent me a test to try but there’s no point in me using it because it doesn’t work if you’re taking any kind of hormones (the pill or HRT) so I’m waiting until one of my friends starts to wonder about her symptoms and I’ll pass it on. Apparently it’s the same kit that medical professionals have been using for more than ten years and research has shown that it has 92.8% accuracy. There’s more information here and you can buy it from places such as Boots, Tesco, Waitrose, or Holland & Barrett. I can’t help thinking that it will be a great shortcut for so many women who are at that wondering stage. Just the knowledge that you’re in a new phase of your biological life will mean that you can start thinking about how you’re going to handle it and prepare yourself for the changes that might otherwise have caught you unawares.
Flourish is a brand that is dedicated to the menopause so it has other products in its range too. There’s an all in one supplement to help support menopausal bodies, it contains vitamin D, soya, calcium carbonate, ginseng, vitamin B6 and magnesium along with the more usual ingredients such as zinc, vitamin C and folic acid. The point of difference over other menopause supplements is the addition of evening primrose oil which they tell me supports the production of prostaglandins, hormone-like substances which assist in regulating the reproductive system. You can find out more about them here and they’re sold at the retailers listed above.
If your needs are more topical they have other products too including an intimate shower wash. Bear in mind that it’s lightly fragranced so if you’re suffering at the extreme end of vaginal dryness it might not be for you, however it is pH balanced. It contains chamomile extract and glycerin to lock in moisture as well as prebiotics which should help to stimulate the growth of good, protective bacteria. If you’d prefer something unfragranced there’s a vaginal moisturiser which has been specially formulated to be applied externally to your intimate area to help reduce the feeling of dryness and provide all day comfort.
And last of all, for anyone who is struggling with hot flushes or just general menopausal overheating there’s a cooling spray. I can’t comment on how well it works for hot flushes but I’ve been spraying it onto my wrists this week because it’s been hot sitting at my desk and it’s nice to use, it has an almost menthol feel to it as it sits on your skin. The fragrance is pleasant but it may be a bit too strong for anybody who has very sensitive skin.
It’s great that there are brands who are focusing on menopause now and addressing it in a positive way, particularly when they’re providing practical solutions such as the menopause testing kit that will make it easier for women to confirm where they stand and prepare to move on with their lives.
Bloom & Wild
Bloom & Wild is a brand that was loosely on my radar because they always have inserts that fall out of the magazines I subscribe to but that’s the closest I’ve come to them until last week when they got in touch to see if I’d like to order something from their site. I was so impressed by the whole experience that I had to flag them here. It’s a long time since I’ve ordered flowers, we send them to clients every so often but Mr MC tends to handle that and (sadly) I can’t remember the last time I was sent a bouquet.
Bloom and Wild began their lives as a letterbox company delivering flowers packed flat into a box that would fit through a standard letterbox which is, in itself, very clever.
They now have letterbox plants too with sweet little crochet pots that pack flat.
As well as two options for bouquets, the letterbox ones tend to be smaller (15% of the profits from this particular bouquet go to The Carers’ Trust)…
… and the doorstep deliveries are fuller. Rather than the traditional, very formal type of bouquet there are some real English country garden looks like this one which includes rosemary and stocks for fragrance as well as appearance.
You can treat yourself or someone else to a letterbox or doorstep subscription that lasts for as long as you want and there are dried flowers too if you’re looking for something that will last a little longer.
And then there are plants. Now I’ve told you before that although I like plants I approach them with caution because they tend to take one look at me and wilt. However I keep telling Mr MC that I’m going to need new things to nurture in September so when Bloom & Wild invited me to choose something, I went for the most captivating plant I saw. It arrived the following day in lovely packaging:
Unsurprisingly it’s called a pineapple plant although you can’t eat the fruit but isn’t it fantastic? I’ve never seen anything like it.
It was a pleasure to open with a card inside and, importantly for me, instructions on how to look after it.
There were a couple of things I really liked about the ordering process. First of all when you get to the checkout you can choose the colour of the pot which was unexpected and really added to the pleasure. There were other items you could add to the basket too and I bought some florists’ scissors because I’m sick of ruining my kitchen ones on woody stems and anyway, they seem like the sort of thing a midlife woman should own(!)
Flowers are always a pleasure to receive but I love everything about this brand – the choice they offer, the packaging and the tone of voice on the website which was simple and unthreatening, giving a plant killer like me confidence that I can keep this one alive. The whole process of checking out was ultra simple – I know I’m probably more obsessed with retail experiences than others but it made it such a pleasant experience. When I was working as a consultant for M&S we discovered that people allotted themselves 15 minutes if they were coming in to the store at lunchtime to buy a birthday card. If we could make it so easy that they completed the task in five, they would then still spend the other ten minutes in store and four out of five customers would triple their spend as a reward to themselves for their efficiency. I’m digressing but this checkout experience was the same, it was so quick that I went back into the website afterwards to have another look around.
There are lots of good things to read about such as Bloom & Wild’s founding of the Thoughtful Marketing Movement. They’ve built a community of over 170 businesses who aim to communicate sensitively and thoughtfully with their customers, for example by making it easy to opt out of Mother’s Day emails – little things like that can make a big difference when you’re grieving as you know. They’re also a zero waste company working hard to make their supply chain as sustainable as possible, reducing their emissions and offsetting their carbon.
The boys have bets to see how long my new plant friend survives but I’ve told them that by this time next year I’ll be so green fingered that they’ll be coming home to a jungle. We’ll see but in the meantime thank you to Bloom & Wild for a very pleasurable experience. I can’t recommend them enough for the next time you’re looking for flowers or house plant gifts.
I don’t know whether this will interest you or not but I thought I’d give you a quick update on my gym academy progress. I know that this sort of thing can be a bit of a sensitive subject if you’re not feeling your best but I’m hoping it will show that whatever your age, you can make a physical difference to your body in a short time frame. As you know, rather than doing our usual mad ten week challenges, we’ve decided to take a more slow and steady approach this time so we’ve signed up for a year at what our gym calls its ‘academy’ which is a programme of bootcamp classes three times a week along with monthly body composition scans to monitor improvements to health and strength.
It means that we still do the ten weeks with the short term challengers which is good because we’re swept along with their enthusiasm but we then keep training through the in-between times which is where we’ve found we let things slide and undo all the progress we’ve made. We have one strength class each week, one super circuits and one X Force which is like your usual stacked weightlifting machines but they also work on the negative so that there’s an added 40% resistance on the lowering, second part of the exercise.
Why are we doing it? It isn’t about weight loss, it’s because we both have terrible family histories of heart problems, high blood pressure and diabetes. They’re issues that have plagued not only our parents but also our siblings so it’s like having a clock ticking towards a potential version of our future and we’re simply trying to maintain our health for as long as we can. Of course any weight loss as a byproduct is a bonus and a sign of successful changes to our metabolism.
We were on week eight of our first challenge when the first lockdown hit last March. We’d worked really, really hard at it and seen great results so it was very demotivating when we had our comparative 3D body mapping scans this May after the third lockdown, especially as we’d tried hard to stay fit. You may remember that we redid Couch to 5K in October and November so for the five months that followed we ran at least 15K a week. The scans showed that as a result we’d actually lost weight over lockdown but it wasn’t the right kind of weight and we weren’t in good shape. Mr MC had lost ten pounds of muscle and I’d lost six. Despite weighing less we’d both put on inches because that muscle had been converted into fat.
I haven’t found it easy to get back into the mindset of this kind of intensive academy training and what I’ve found over the last couple of years is that it’s your mindset that matters more than anything else but there are other hurdles to overcome too. Almost all of the other women in the academy are 20 or 30 years younger than me and I feel very aware of it. I have to put virtual blinkers on so that I don’t look at what they’re doing otherwise I compare myself and feel rubbish. However, I’ve worked as hard as my body will let me at every session and in midlife that’s what you need to do, listen to your body and know whether it’s making excuses or telling you that something genuinely hurts.
We’re now six weeks into the programme but it’s more like four because we’ve spent fifteen days of that in Newcastle having fun so we haven’t seen as much change as we could have done but even so there’s been some. We had our progress scans last week and they run to seven pages filled with body composition stats but I’ve pulled out the topline results. I know it’s subtle but I really hope you can see a bit of difference – before you look though I want to add that my gym instructor made me pull my leggings below my tummy button on the second scan because he wants to be able to see the change in definition on my abs better in the next one – it means I have a grim but nevertheless honest muffin top!
So six (or more like four) weeks of strength training has cut 13cm off my body, reducing my total body fat by 2%. On the scale of national averages for the UK that takes me from the ‘average’ level of fitness for a woman of 54 to the ‘fit’ level – which makes me really happy. I’ve gained 1.35% lean body mass and 0.3% bone mass. I can see a subtle difference in my abs, arms and shoulders, he tells me that loss and definition in my sturdy lower half will be the last thing to come (typical!). What I’ve found really interesting is how little running did for me other than overall aerobic fitness. I’ll keep doing it but I’ll stick to one session a week now with the balance of my time favouring strength training.
What I hope you’ll take from it is the reassurance that even in midlife, you can make a difference if you decide to go for it. Six weeks is always a magic line in the sand for me, it’s the time when I stop finding the sessions quite so hard and actually start to look forward to them. So if you’re thinking of starting something new for your own health this year, expect it to be difficult and take every ounce of your resolve until week six – then you should start to feel the difference.
If I can do it, almost any of you can. I’m a real wimp when it comes to things like this but I’ve decided that I have a stark choice, I can either slide into an unwell, medicated second half of my life or I can do my best to stay fit and feel better. It’s hard for the three hours a week that I spend training but the rest of the time when I’m on an endorphin high makes it worth the struggle. I’m glad that we’re doing it slowly and still having good times along the way when we let our hair down and don’t worry about what we eat or drink for a week or so. I don’t think 2021 is the time to be sacrificing small pleasures when they come your way so progressing slowly but surely makes it doable.
Thank you to everyone who entered – there was a phenomenal amount of enthusiasm for the JBL competition that I ran a couple of weeks ago. The winner was Charlotte Shelton (Charlotte I’ve sent you an email, JBL should be in touch with you next week). Congratulations!
Oh the football – I wish I hadn’t started watching it now! Here were my two, with the eldest’s girlfriend, dressed and ready and full of hope, waiting for a lift into town where they had a table booked with friends. Mr MC was in Newcastle so I watched at home with the youngest and wasn’t it heart-breaking? What more can you say?
Preparing the path for the youngest
Everybody has a list of things that lockdown stole from them and for us it was the precious trips to university open days that we so enjoyed with the other two. We always tried to make them special, staying overnight if we could and we found them to be very bonding as we and the boy we were with started to tentatively feel our way towards the future. The youngest is going to do exactly the same degree that I did, a joint honours in French and Spanish so I was especially looking forward to going round with him and savouring the topics I studied. Even though he refused to follow my path to the University of Nottingham, he’d agreed to go to the open day there and I was so excited about it because the young tutors I had are now the two heads of department. However it wasn’t to be.
In many ways he’s the most laid back of our three boys and so he was quite cool about picking his five uni choices rather randomly just before Christmas. Of course I was fervently reading through endless prospectuses as he chopped and changed and so I was able to add some gentle direction but even so, his final choices were all made by him. We would have loved him to choose Newcastle but he was insistent that he wanted to discover his own city and so his first choice is Leeds University. That was ok with me because I remembered it well from visiting with the eldest but knowing that it has a very civic setting and this boy is one who thrives in wide open countryside, I wasn’t sure how he’d feel when he arrived.
A couple of weeks ago I spotted on the website that they were offering tours for students with firm offers so I signed us up and off we went on Wednesday with a rather nonchalant boy who wasn’t sure why I was making such a fuss. And here we are on the steps waiting to start, I already knew it was going to be momentous in one way or other and I was just hoping he was going to feel some kind of emotional shift as we went round.
Dress – Eudon Choi for Modern Rarity 2017; Trainers with silver detail (now in the sale)
So we spent an hour with a very enthusiastic student ambassador walking around, it isn’t a campus exactly because it’s very much a city centre uni but the buildings are all clustered together and it’s certainly the most attractive civic uni layout that I’ve seen. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside any of the buildings and of course being out of term time it was very quiet but even so, we got a feel for the place and the feeling was good. At the end of it we sat in the quad outside the student union bar and bought the boy what will hopefully be the first of many pints consumed there. He took his first sip, sat back and said, “I feel excited now.” And that was all I wanted to hear.
I’ve always tried to find somewhere special to stay on these significant trips and this time it was a loft apartment which was architecturally stunning and right in the heart of everything. Part of a refurbished textile mill, it felt like the right way to connect with the city’s industrial past. You can find it here and it was a great choice, the only drawback was that the skylights in the bedrooms didn’t have blinds and so Mr MC and I found ourselves blinking in the sunshine as dawn broke at 4.45am which wasn’t the plan.
I always find Leeds a bit of a difficult city to love. I have one very happy connection to it and that’s the John Lewis event in 2019 where I met so many of you. The others are unhappy because it’s where my niece lived – as she was only six years younger than me she was more like an extra little sister. She went to Leeds to do her nursing degree, meeting her husband at Jimmy’s (St James’s Hospital) and she loved her adopted city but my main memories of her there are the battle with leukaemia that she fought so hard but didn’t win. The shadows of visiting Leeds to see her for the last time and then for her funeral are on lots of corners.
However if the boy gets the results he needs on 10th August we’ll make new memories and I know she’d absolutely love the idea of him being happy there and following in the footsteps of the very many good times she had. They never met because he was born shortly before she died but he carries her surname Nicholas as his middle name and now it feels as though he’s continuing to carry her baton by picking up in the place where she left off.
So the circle of our family life has turned on a little more this week, as I think of my niece I can only ever see her smiling because she always did. The song she chose for her funeral was Kirsty MacColl’s ‘Thank you for the days,”
Thank you for the days
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me
I’m thinking of the days
I won’t forget a single day believe me
Life isn’t easy for anyone at the moment… but we have it. We should all listen to the message she chose to send and be thankful for these days, whatever they hold.
Starting with this weekend.
Disclosure: ‘Cornucopia – new discoveries and midlife lately’ is not a sponsored post
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