It’s the simple things in life

Some people look at the summer holidays as downtime. For me and many others the approaching summer holidays are not that simple. In fact they can get quite complicated. I’m a working mom of 3 and although I always look forward to the summer vacation, I panic around March and start booking my kids into all sorts of summer camps and activities to ensure a) they are not bored and b) I have childcare cover while I work, as being “English emigres” we can’t rely on family for this. Around July I take a deep breath and vow never to “over plan” summer again. Life is like a merry go round, so March comes round the next year and the whole process starts again.

This year I am afraid to admit is no different than the year before. The kids have swim team most days until the middle of July. The eldest took some gentle nudging and the enticement of her best friend’s attendance, to agree to do it. The youngest two were delighted and most days dash out the door for the community pool, eager and excited. I am a big fan of swim team, something we don’t have back in England. It creates a structure to the start of the holidays and gives the kids some purpose. Not to mention they all return home in the evenings with only enough time to wolf down some food and collapse into their beds. I’ll endure the scattered soggy towels and the constant smell of chlorine permeating throughout the house any day if it means they are spending time outside, doing exercise and forming new friendships.

In addition to swim team, the kids are all booked on outdoor adventure day camps. These are hosted by either the Charleston county parks organization or through the awe inspiring father of one of my son’s friends who hosts a watersports camp at his house for one week of the summer. A braver and bolder soul than myself!

What this can mean for me is that I spend a lot of the summer sat in a car ferrying kids to activities, finding it tricky to fit in exercise. It also coincides with a time of year when we get quite a few visitors from England who want to escape their appalling weather and grab some sunshine in South Carolina. Food and alcohol feature quite prominently in these visits. Then before you know it, August is here and so are an extra few inches around the waistline. Being a control freak, (you mean to say you hadn’t picked up on the clues?) I am aiming to combat this phenomenon this year. I’ve looked at the diary and scheduled in exercise time for me around all the things we have going on and I’ve dusted off the salad cookbooks ready to create some new favorites. I may also be brave and bold enough to jump off the merry go round once in a while and enjoy the simple pleasures such as reading the newspaper in the hammock, practicing softball with my daughter and dashing through the waterjets of our sprinkler with the kids to cool down. I will try hard not to over-schedule the “downtime,” aiming to go with the flow, always remembering the motto “enjoy the little things in life, for one day you will look back and realize they were the big things!”

For those who are following our family competition. Last week’s highest minutes’ winner was our son who got to play HIS music in the car all week. Having to live with two older sisters who are music lovers, he tended not to get a chance to play his music. Pecking order and all that! It coincided with Mick buying a new radio for the truck. So I am offering a formal apology to Mt Pleasant residents who may have had to endure country and punk music being played at high volume while two boys (big and little) fly to school in a red truck with giant smiles on their faces.

By Pip Palmer

Social support acts as a silent motivator

There is a great Peanuts cartoon which has Snoopy lying flat on his face and the quote “I’ve been hiding from exercise. I’m in the Fitness Protection Program.” It got me thinking about why I had started exercising and moved myself outside of the Fitness Protection Program. Although I had played sports at School, initially, I did very little after that. I remember the sum total of my sporting activity at College as being one game of racquet ball in my second year. So what changed? With hindsight I owe a lot to the people I hung out with. I had a boyfriend who liked walking and hiking and we would go off in a group camping in the North York Moors in the UK. It reminded me of the fun days spent as a child when me and my 3 sisters all went camping with the boy scouts as my dad was a Venture Scout leader. Later when I moved to Scotland I met my other half who didn’t own a car and bicycled everywhere. He is still bicycling everywhere (although he now owns a truck) and has probably been the biggest influence on me in relation to staying out of the Fitness Protection Program.

I look at my kids now and see the parallels with why they enjoy certain activities. They all do swim team during the summer and enjoy the camaraderie of the pack. Swim meets on a Wednesday night are usually followed by hoarse voices the next day as the kids have been shouting at the top of their voices for their fellow team mates. Jess had her first season of Softball this spring and has reveled in being part of a group of girls who are learning new skills while making new friendships. They learn far more than just the sport per se. After a Softball game one evening with a proud look on her face Jess told me she had learnt how to spit sunflower shells “like a cowboy.”

This social support acts as a silent motivator and binds us together in little ways: shared buckets of sweat, an encouraging word here and there or feeling the need to turn up to a workout on a “tired day” not because you want to but because you might be letting your friends down if you don’t. When we moved to the US I had been running for a while but it tended to be on my own and was a way to clear my head and de-stress. I stumbled across what was then the Try Sports running club fairly early on after moving to Mt Pleasant and haven’t looked back since. The group has outlasted the shop and I get a friendly “we missed you” text when I haven’t shown up one Tuesday or Thursday morning (Alhambra Hall, Old Village at 6am – just saying!). We as a family are incredibly lucky and have benefited from the social influence of those around us and this has helped us work towards a healthy lifestyle (still a work in progress). What it has taught me overtime is “you become like the people you spend the most time with”. So in summary “Choose carefully!”

By Pip Palmer

A Family Recipe Scrapbook

If I was rich one of the first things I would spend my money on would be a chef. Not a cleaner or butler, but a chef. I have never really enjoyed cooking as a past time and wish at times that I had the same passion for this as healthcare, running and Robbie Williams. I can truly identify with the postcard I once read which said “ I read recipes the same way I read science fiction. I get to the end and I think, ‘Well, that’s not going to happen’.”

I am chief cook in our family and cater for a meat avoider, meat lover, dairy free teenager and a gluten free diet. Thus, coupled with the lack of joy I feel when I face the prospect of meal planning it’s also quite complicated. I’m still holding fast to the idea of eating together as a family so need to accommodate everyone while cooking a quick and healthy meal. Like most women I know, I own a ton of recipe books but seldom use many of them and only have a handful of recipes I use from each book. Don’t get me wrong, we have a home cooked meal most nights from scratch and I don’t seem to get any grumbles from the recipients so I must be doing something right. But it really is a chore.

We’ve been lucky enough to chat to a dietitian once a week as part of this challenge and it has brought me out of the daily grind of preparing and planning meals. I knew I would get on well with her when I felt she had given me permission to eat dark chocolate on a daily basis. I usually do a huge shop once a week and plan what we are going to eat each week rotating around the same humdrum dishes. The first week she suggested buying a cooking magazine and getting the family to pick some recipes out of it to cook. Surprisingly I found some healthy gluten free recipes which didn’t take forever and a day to make. This second week I have started a recipe scrapbook which easily and quickly records the dishes which work for our family and store them all in one place. In the coming weeks we are going to have our very own version of Iron Chef America as a family, using only ingredients we have in the house. Let’s hope that we get through that with all digits intact and something edible at the end of it. Perhaps by the end of the challenge I may have tested my perception of cooking as a chore and even managed to instill a little bit of passion for it in the rest of the family.

For those who have been following this – for the sake of continuity – the internal family challenge (who has the most exercise points on a weekly basis) has been a great success – we have some healthy competition going on to earn the right not to do the washing of the dishes this week. The boys (big and little) tied for first place which is a disaster as it means this only leaves 3 of us to do the chores for 7 days!

By the Palmer Family

Finding time for fitness: Are you an owl or a lark?

Are you an Owl or a lark? Do you get the best from yourself in the evenings or mornings? I always used to think I was an Owl and as a student I was at my most productive writing essays after 9pm at night. Since having 3 kids this has shifted and I find if I am going to fit in any “me” time it had to happen early in the morning and I became a lark. This syncs well with the hot, humid months of summer. Hence I find myself sitting writing this after a half hour run which I sneaked in before dropping the younger two off at school at 7.40am. It means turning up to work with dirty dishes still sitting on the counter top, mop-like hair still wet from a quick shower and the inevitable slump which hits me later in the day after waking up at 5.15am. Fitting my fitness into a brimming schedule is probably the trickiest part of family life.

However at the risk of being controversial I have found South Carolina less geared up to incorporating activity into everyday life. In England there are no car loops at schools, a lot of kids walk to school, sidewalks are commonplace, bicycle path networks exist across the country, golf carts only exist on the golf course, yard maintenance companies are few and far between, there are fewer elevators and good public transport around and between towns is common place. In the US I admire the quest to make life easy and accessible but this can lead to us exercising as an “add on” rather than as part of our routine everyday existence. During this Family Fitness Challenge I have set a challenge for myself (and particularly my less active daughters as both boys (the big and little one) are seldom sitting down) to not only work on exercise, which I am getting better at squeezing into the early hours, but be more active in general: take the stairs, walk on the beach, park further away from Barnes and Noble. It’s early days but maybe I’ll be able to get a little more general fitness from this source and the knock on will be some much needed extra minutes sleep. Then I won’t need to worry about being either an owl or a lark. If you are curious you can find out if you are an owl or a lark at http://www.surrey.ac.uk/features/sleep-quiz-are-you-owl-or-lark

By the Palmer Family

My body has had to put up with me for 45 years

I recently saw a quote “take care of your body it’s the only place you have to live” which resonated with me. I’ve lived in mine for 45 years and my husband Mick has lived in his for another 6 years on top of that. It’s true to say that I haven’t always taken care of mine. Being an all or nothing person I get into a sport and do it for a while and then get bored easily, I’m a bit of a yoyo dieter throwing myself into whatever is current and then falling back into snacking and a few glasses of red wine. I tend to throw myself into life and don’t always give myself a chance to set the refresh button and the kids and hubbie tend to get pulled along in the wake which adds to what I’ve heard aptly named the “stress bucket” of life.

Having three kids, Katherine 14, Jess 11 and Finlay 10 means life is bustling with kid’s activities, fitting in a full day in the office and keeping on top of whatever that particular day may bring. We moved over from England 4 years ago and were motivated to move here to give the kids new opportunities, experience a new way of life and make the most of the glorious weather (coming from damp cold England I can’t over emphasize how enticing this was). Some would say we are a give it a go family but over the years Mick and I (I haven’t introduced myself – sorry I’m Pip) have tended to do more sporting activities on our own as our kids lead more “friends centered” existences and more sedentary lives. Keeping the Palmer train from coming off the tracks and building a life for ourselves in sunny South Carolina (did I mention the glorious weather?) has taken precedence over family fitness. When the opportunity to take part in the Fit Family Challenge came up I decided this would be a chance to shift gear and work together as a family on fitness, healthy eating and establishing good habits on which to build.

This week is kick off week and we are all now full of good intentions. We’re going to work on improving our diet, not easy for a family containing a meat lover, a meat avoider, one on a gluten free diet and a daughter who is diary free. We’re going to monitor our activity as individuals over the next two months and have a family competition on a weekly basis and I’ll keep you posted on who is in the lead (should be interesting given the youngest two are as competitive with each other as a pair of young thoroughbreds about to run their first horse race). We’re going to find time to do activities together and by this I don’t mean arguing, sitting in front of the TV screen or sitting in the same room staring at different devices. We’re going to try new things, whether that be yoga on the beach, walking the neighborhood with my youngest daughter while she listens to her beloved audiobooks (anything to get her outdoors!) or getting the kids to cook us a healthy meal. Already ticked one new thing off by writing this first blog! But most of all we are going to enjoy time together. Something we forget to do when the competing priorities of 2 + 3 emerging adults get in the way.

I hope it will set us on a fun course to refresh our lives and our bodies so that we can come away with good habits which will be hard to break. I am sure there are many of you who can relate to where we are as a family (let’s face it we maybe foreigners but we aren’t that foreign) and you can share the journey with us. Let’s see if this can help add another 45 years + to my “use by” date and at least for the months of May and June live by the English poet Philip Sidney’s motto “the ingredients of health and long life, are great temperance, open air, easy labor and little care.”

By the Palmer Family