Month: January 2019

Rising Above Odds In Unexceptional Situations

We’ve been talking about rising above odds since last October when we did Series 2: Episode 3 – Rising Above Odds with Hannilee Fish. It is a huge topic.Sometimes the odds are stacked against us owing to economics, a disability, or other complicated conditions. Hannilee talks about growing up in poverty and how she overcame. Other times, however, the odds are stacked against us in situations that are consequentially, such as when Hannilee’s  mother attempted suicide. How does a teenage girl overcome such dire circumstances? Still, we sometimes elect situations in which the odds are stacked against us such as joining an all-male sports team, joining a club where the majority are a different race to ours, or dating someone from a different background or even moving to a different country. Nothing wrong with any of these choices, which often bring personal growth opportunities, if nothing else. This gets me thinking back some 21 years when I left my cushy life in Atlanta for a new start in London. Much like when I went to New York City at the ripe young age of 23, the odds were stacked against me and more than a few people thought they ought to warn me of the dangers which stealthily might be ahead. In my 20s, it was the temptation of sex, drugs and rock n roll, so to speak. Moving to my mid-30s, the stakes seemed even higher to some. I had a good job, a lovely apartment, even if I was renting, a fast red car, virtually a life of independence. And here I was giving it all up for the unknown; worse yet, without a job to secure independence. What if it didn’t work? What if…what if? Fast forward to the ripe middle age of 56, it did work, but let’s face it not without challenge. Make no mistake about it, I have nothing to boast about, but I do have a few bits to share on how I rose above odds in what was actually an unexceptional situation. I say unexceptional because people have been picking up and moving across the world for yonks. Nonetheless, I do understand that such an effort is not a mundane thing and without challenge. Still, it was just as well that it wasn’t new; I didn’t have to start from scratch, hence the first tip on my list.
  • Speak to others who have been there and done that, preferably someone who won’t take a cynical approach. And if there is no one on hand, read a book. Fortunately, I knew someone who had recently moved to Holland to wed a Dutchman. I loved talking to her before making the move and in the early days of living in London.
  • Have a plan. Honestly, you might think. That doesn’t sound very adventurous. That is the key. Electing a life change need not be looked on as an adventure but rather a new life experience. Thus, I latched on to the advice to have a plan, even if I did ignore the many warnings and the what ifs firing away at me.
  • Stay in your comfort zone. I know, I know, there is all sorts of advice out there against this. But one step at a time is quite enough. For example, rather than to change my hair radically, according to the stylist in my neighbourhood, I branched out and found someone who spoke my hair’s language and mine, too.
  • Get acclimatised as quickly as you can. This does mean venturing out and trying old things that amount to new things in your new situation—things that encourage, instil confidence and give you what you need to exist happily. In my case, it was independence. I learned to drive in the UK pretty early on. And yes, I had to overcome roundabouts, a big odd stacked against me, but I persevered.
  • Stay in touch with what is familiar, making your transition a little easier. For me, I kept close to my family and a few good friends. My mother wrote to me regularly, and I wrote to her and we chatted on the phone, her teaching me how to make cornbread dressing, even if I had to go to extremes to source the cornmeal. Also, my best girl spoke to me daily, came on the journey with me spiritually, and visited when she could as well.
  • In addition, I looked for home away from home in church, went to gospel concerts, and made friends with other American women living in London under similar circumstances.
  • Embrace your new life. This is the grandmother of all the tips. It’s all about seeing the opportunity in any situation. Even when I longed to return to the US because I missed my cushy life there, I held onto building a new one here, appreciating the new experiences, the new ways of doing things. For example, I took a master’s degree to build credentials here.
Again, these tips are not about bragging or long suffering or suffering in an untenable situation. They are about rising above the odds against you, ensuring personal growth, which often leads to happiness in the space where you actually are. For more tips on rising above odds, check out Series 2: Episode 3 – Rising Above Odds.

All About Skin

It’s Elizabeth as guest blogger again, this time writing about skin.

Someone once said that youth was wasted on the young. With each new wrinkle that forms, I am starting to see the truth in that saying and often imagine how great it would be if I knew then what I know now.

As a teen girl, I often neglected to pay my skin any attention and, while there is no magic fountain of youth or a fool proof solution for perfect skin (what a shame!), I have learned along the way that there are certain things that can help to put your best face forward.

Firstly, let’s talk about skin care. Since our skin is unique to us and our life-styles, I like to think of caring for my skin in terms of feeding it with both inner and outer nutrition.

Inner nutrition is having a healthy diet with plenty of water and consuming less of the things that are bad for my skin, such as sugar and alcohol (okay, I’m not a saint and do indulge every now and then!) As a girl, however, I didn’t really understand the connection between sugar and break-outs, for example. You live and learn, a good segue to outer nutrition.

This is why I nourish my face with a good moisturiser and full body with body cream to hydrate from the outside. Long gone are the days when I use just a face-wipe before bed, but that’s something I’ve only realised in my 40s! Experts say that a good skin care routine should start in your teens, ideally from the age of 14 years. However, as Jenny Hawkins points out in Episode 3: Your Skin Inside Out, it is important to use age appropriate products. The products in your mother’s cupboard, for example, are likely to be too mature for your skin.

Next, let’s talk about skin and the sun. In my late teens and early 20s, it used to be a case of applying sun cream and then forgetting about it for the rest of the day, the lower the SPF the better. Now, and with the benefit of hindsight, a tonne of research and hot tips from our podcast, it is clear that the reverse is true. That is, the higher the SPF the better and it is important to re-apply regularly. My kids, however, don’t agree and you might not either. But take it from someone who has been there and done that, protecting your skin from the sun is non-negotiable.

And finally about the topic of make-up, less is most definitely more. When I was a teen, I wasn’t allowed to wear heavy make-up and no doubt protested at the time. In hindsight, I’m thankful for my parents’ guidance as I only ever got the occasional spot.  Don’t get me wrong though, I love to wear make-up. It makes me feel more confident and ready to face (sometimes literally!) the day. The key is age-appropriate make-up and products that are right for our individual skin type. A heavily made up face all the time, particularly for young skin, could cause blemishes and other damage, too.

No wonder I love the clean feeling of taking off make-up at night and lately I find myself trying to have days where I take a break from wearing it altogether. In my 20s and 30s, I wouldn’t have dreamed of venturing outside without a full face of make-up on, but ironically as I’m getting older and probably need it more with bags, dark circles and wrinkles, I find it strangely empowering to go without.

I love this quote from actress Drew Barrymore, ‘I like to take a break from vanity…when a woman is laughing, fresh from a workout or just enjoying her life…that is when she at her most beautiful.”  Personally, I couldn’t agree with her more and feel the key to a happy life is ultimately to be happy in your own…you guessed it…skin.

For more tips on skin and how to care for it, tune into our podcast with skin expert Jenny Hawkins – Episode 3: Your Skin Inside Out. Jenny offers some amazing tips and inspirational advice, too.

As Simple as Good Food to Stay Healthy

I am no goodie two shoes when it comes to my eating habits, contrary to popular belief. So, I do have veggies at all three meals regularly, including breakfast but I still know how to find the best chocolate chip cookies I can eat even though I am gluten intolerant, and if I can’t source such a treat from one of my trusted supermarkets, I can always find the perfect recipe.

A few months ago, I made gluten free cinnamon rolls. Amazing!

But let me be clear—chocolate chip cookies and the likes are a treat for me nowadays, not a regular snack. Partially, I came to this conclusion because of my conflict with gluten but there is another reason I decided to relegate sweets to the back of my diet, only to come forward from time to time as a treat.

The answer is: I feel like a different person when I am not full of refined carbohydrates. I feel well, full of energy, ready to meet the day. It is as simple as that. Looking over my shoulder I do often ask myself, what took me so long to get this simple message. And here is what I stumbled on.

First of all, I didn’t have time to eat healthily all the time. Even as a teen girl, I was on the go. We had cheerleader practice, then choir rehearsal and all the rest, which sounds like a cake walk now compared to the schedule of my teenage niece. Still, I felt lucky to grab a pack of cookies, some potato chips (crisps) and maybe even a soft drink to keep going. I was young, my body could handle it. After all I would eat a nutritious supper that my mother prepared for supper. One good meal was enough, I rationed.

As a young writer, I carried on a bit with that same flawed thinking, too busy to stop to eat but I always had time for a cup of coffee, a cola, for energy that is until I got a headache, ill or something that put me out of commission totally.

Now when I find myself about to miss a meal, I always have a treat on hand—an apple, some pecans—until I can get a balanced meal. The key is planning and preparing, a point that Judit Ressinka makes in Episode 2: Your Body Inside Out. Admittedly, some days lunch is a little later than recommended but almost always it is the right fuel. The payoff for making the time is I get to carry on working, feeling really well and out comes a good result.

Next, I didn’t think I really liked what was called healthy food—a salad, beetroot, some nuts, etc… For many years I was sort of a meat and potatoes kind of girl and though no one loves French fries more than I do, they don’t necessarily serve me. Thus, I find substitutes that are equally as tasty such as sweet potato fries, parsnip and carrot fries and so on, and keep it moving and leave the real deal for a special treat. The key, however, is to keep the extra ingredients such as flour out of it, and roast or bake with a little olive oil. How tasty is that!

Finally, I thought I could eat what I wanted and just shake it all off in the gym. Admittedly, though the few extra pounds came off, I could never quite budge that heavy feeling. I learned rather quickly that weight is not just about what is on the scale, it is about everything that you are carrying inside. A lot of it is dead weight down to inappropriate food and unnecessary anxiety as well, some of it triggered by food. Though enjoying food is important, make sure you are enjoying the right food for you.

Now about those cinnamon rolls made back in October last year. Shush, don’t tell Judit Ressinka. Anyhow, they are ever so sweet as a treat from time to time. Notice I didn’t say were—they are (in my freezer in portions) because I do get it now, that eating properly is what it takes to feel well and full of energy. It is as simple as that.

A Bit Of Inspiration

Body image is a heavy topic, especially when it’s personal. And though I am in a good space now I haven’t always been, particularly during the last and first months of the year. The time of feasting can so often lead up to the time of questioning, scrutinising and trying to shed weight, one of the issues that can lead to poor body image.

Thankfully, I am in good stead for now. Still I am thrilled that we have chosen this week to re-release our fourth podcast ever, Your Body Image Inside Out, with personal trainer Laura Miles, released in May 2017. In the podcast, Laura who was an obese teenager, not only tells her personal story but also shares tips about how to keep fit without obsessing and comparing.

The bottom line is you are the only you in the world, so while you might not be exactly like some of the other girls, never mind. That was a hard lesson for me as a teen girl, believe it or not. I do remember feeling if only I had a body like her or even her I would be better at sports or more attractive and so on.

But over the years I have come across some tips that have helped me to embrace me, genes and all. Many of our UIO podcast guests, including Laura, either directly or indirectly have given some top tips on how to find happiness in the space you are in, starting now.

As published in my blog in May 2018, here they are, as apropos as ever.

Banish self-deprecating talk!
Focus on health!
Embrace genes, fanny and all!
Focus on likes and not on dislikes!
Make the most of the haves (that is what you have); ignore the have nots!

These tips can help with all poor body image problems, not just weight issues. And to add to the list: get active. Research shows that girls don’t always enjoy getting into sports, for example, owing to body image problems. Recently, our guest Laura wrote in a social media post that because she was no good at sports, likely to do with being obese, she refused to engage for fear of letting the team down. It was only when she found spinning, something that wasn’t a team sport or activity of sorts that she got active and begin to stop obsessing over poor body image and started getting healthy.

I can relate to Laura’s fears about letting the team down. Admittedly, I dreaded P.E. and sports days, but now I am one of the first to the gym, at least on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s, because I understand the importance of exercise in the big scheme of things. And I get the bit about eating healthily, too, so important to developing a good body image.

When you feel better, you are better all around. Check out Episode 4: Your Body Image Inside Out for more tips and inspirational quotes on body image. During this first month of the year we could all do with a bit of inspiration. I know I can. Enjoy!

What do you want for your life?

There’s something exciting about a new beginning, something which encapsulates the tenderness of youth, something which holds promise and therefore, refreshes and invigorates the spirit.

No wonder the New Year marks a time when so many of us make resolutions, particularly ones around weight loss and wealth acquisition and so on. The trouble with this, however, is that as the year matures, the resolutions mature as well, feel a bit yesterday, if you will. In short, they don’t materialise.

Admittedly, I have never been big on the hype and pressure around making New Year’s resolutions, not because I am a kill joy contrary to some belief, but because I tend to be more of a realist than an idealist.

Ideally it sounds great to kick all the bad habits I have acquired throughout the year in January, but can I really do it? Unlikely! Over the years, I have taken a tip from the story of creation. For nearly five years now, I have enjoyed a daily reading called the Bible In One Year (BIOY) with commentary by Nicky Gumbel, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton where I happen to belong as member, and though I love reading most Bible stories, the first ones are amazingly uplifting and refreshing.

I say that because when God created humankind in particular, He was clear about what He wanted for us and when it didn’t quite go to plan, He had a strategy to get things back on track—my take on the things, not Nicky’s or sound theology, so do bear with.

It is sort of like new parents deciding what they want for their baby’s life, not only from day to day, but from month to month and from year to year and setting goals to achieve their dreams and desires, not waiting for the last hour to decide. Certainly, along the way, things fall to the wayside and sometimes don’t go as planned but they don’t leave it to the pulse of the moment, New Year’s Eve or Day, to resolve, to make adjustments, to get back on track.

They think about health and wealth, hopefully not obsessively, throughout the year and often use a new beginning such as the New Year or a birthday to reflect, to assess, to celebrate, to launch the next phase in life.

I have found this approach hugely gratifying in both my personal and professional life. From a personal standpoint, it’s all about well-being with the underlying question to do with what do I want for myself? And that which I can control, I stay in the driver’s seat as much as possible. I run, I train, I keep good company and eat well most of the time and when I don’t, well, I reflect, assess and get on with the next phase. And that which I don’t control, I pray about it and try to give it the perspective that it deserves, which is a good segue to what’s on the agenda professionally.

Same underlying question—what do I want for UIO in 2019? Naturally, I would have pondered this question long before these fresh few days in January and am delighted to say that there is so much brewing for UIO in 2019, all to do with the well-being of teen girls throughout the world.

Later this year, we launch a new campaign to do with reclaiming the teen girl space.  Exciting, yeah! And lots of other good things on the horizon with a view to help carve a better quality of life for our girls. So watch this space and keep listening to our podcasts, which all offer opportunities to reflect, to assess, to celebrate, to launch the next phase in your life. Meanwhile, wishing you all that you want for your life in 2019. Happy New Year!