Thursday 30 April 2015

Wanted: one retreat centre. 
What would I like for Christmas?  A retreat centre, that's what.  Nothing big and fancy and smart. Not a kick-ass spa or a fancypants hotel but a simple place where people (myself included) could  
Where would it be?  It doesn't entirely matter - though feng shui would prefer that it have water (ocean ideally) in front and mountains (or some sort of hills) behind.  It would embrace all the elements and be head over heels in love with every season.  It would be a place where the devas, the elementals and the nature spirits would smile.  A place to sun, moon and star bathe. 

This I do know: there would be open fires, there would be big deep baths, there would be snugly throws and hammocks and sweet sweet scents. There would be silence sometimes and music from time to time too.  There would be laughter and smiles, sometimes tears maybe but of the healing kind.  It would be a place to breathe deeply and well.  There might have to be animal therapists.  There could be a labyrinth.  

I'm not sure I'd want to inflict a programme or routine.  But, if people chose, they could join in daily meditation and yoga, in gentle walks and mindful mealtimes.  Food would be picked and prepared with love and care, a prayer breathed into every pot.  

There would be no preaching or pontificating, just peace and prana (and some Puckish fun too).  It would, in my dreams, be a place where people could let go of their cares and worries; a place that, maybe, might inspire them to remember who they are - really/unreally - and to take that back to their everyday lives. It would be a place that would remind me to do that each and every day too.

Above all, it would be affordable.  Every time I go away and report on these amazing retreats and spas, it hits me that only a few people could afford to go to them - and often not the ones who really need them.  I remember back when I used to go to the Pelican Centre in Somerset (now sadly no more) that I used to pay extra each time I went (as did other people) so the Centre could offer free or discounted places to those who needed them but couldn't afford the full whack. I like that idea.   

Anyhow, that's what I'd like.  It doesn't have to be immediately.  My son still has two years of school to go.  But then...well, that would be tickety-boo.  Of course I have no money to buy it.  Not a penny. But hey, I'm putting it out there, out here, as - who knows?  

Shiny happy people...

I'm so clean, I'm squeaking.  I swear my innards are glowing. What was going to be a ten day juice fast turned into a twelve day one and, to be honest, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to have kept going.  But one has to come home at some point and so I broke my fast on the plane with melon, nibbling chunks from my little pot while the couple next to me chomped away on monster chicken rolls, crisps and KitKat.  No judgement there, by the way - each to their own.  Talking of that it did amuse a little that a few people got a bit aerated about my fasting.  Dark mutters of 'it's not healthy, you know' and 'you don't need to detox - it's all nonsense' were heard.  But hey, I'm not asking anyone else to do it, just reporting my experience.  And my experience was good.  The proof of the pudding (so to speak) is, for me, in the not eating.

I arrived in Portugal feeling pretty rubbish.  I was aching all over, not sleeping, feeling dizzy and generally out of sorts.  I wondered if it was menopause finally getting snarky with me and had gone as far as to buy some herbal remedies (which I promptly forgot to take with me) but swiftly realised it was simply that I had been putting crap in my body and in my mind.

By the time I left my aches had all gone.  I was sleeping like a kitten (early to bed, early to rise). The dizziness had vanished too.  I felt bright, alert and clear-headed.  Also - praise be! - my rotator cuff decided to sort itself out (or nearly sort itself out).  What else?  Oh yes, now I'm back in a room where I can actually see my face in the mirror (my room there was VERY dark) my skin is clearer and softer and my eyes are brighter.  I've shed about five kilos of very much unwanted weight and I'm standing taller and sitting easier.  My mood is improved about 500 percent too.

It's not just the juice fasting, of course.  The yoga played a large part - all three teachers were great but I learned tons about bringing yoga into everyday life with Drew.  Then, of course, I had two mind and body-blowing sessions with Anita that really rummaged around in the murky depths of my psyche, untangling a lot of messy knots and activating a shedload of suppressed energy.  She is an extraordinary therapist and a big high five to Moinhos Velhos for having the guts to employ someone who works so deeply.  I've been on a lot of detoxes and they've all been pretty good but it's people like Anita and Drew who make the difference here.  Of course, it won't suit everyone - the Moinhos experience runs on Om and dances to Shiva - if you like to keep it all more...clinical...then there are plenty of other detoxes to choose - see the selection on Queen of Retreats (where I'll be filing my report on MV).

Of course, you don't have to go to a dedicated retreat centre to detox.  I wrote my book The Detox Plan
to help people do a gentle detox at home.  It includes a very sensible month-long cleanse that can fit around the average working week.  Ouch, that looks like a sell, doesn't it?

I promise I'll shut up about this now (or very soon).  But, you know, what it does drive home to me is that so many issues can be cleared up with three simple things:  food, movement, clearing mind/emotions.  If you eat crap, you'll feel crap.  If you don't move, you get stiff and uncomfortable. If you don't address your core issues and mind hang-ups, it's odds on you will stay miserable.
Do you have to do a twelve-day juice fast?  Of course not. But if you want to feel a shedload better, I'd heartily advise looking at how you treat your body and mind.
Now, of course, the big challenge is to stay in balance.  As I've found, time and time again, it's easy-peasy to do this stuff when you're away from home and work with all its stresses and temptations. Once you come back, it's all too easy to slide back into crappy habits.  We shall see...

Sunday 26 April 2015

Loving the Light - Days Eight and Nine

Where is the time going?  I'm losing track.  I'm feeling less and less inclined to turn on my laptop, or even my phone.  More and more I'm finding myself able to enjoy each moment.  I'm noticing the flowers - the bottlebrush (like zingy pot scourers), the mimosa, the orange blossom (oh heady, heady aside in a dell), the jasmine (almost overwhelming, almost sickly), the honeysuckle (bigger, brasher than at home but shy of scent, as if it feels it can't compete with its more powerfully olfactory neighbours), 'look at me!' bourganvillea and, 'no, look at ME' hibiscus. And then there are the roses.  Oh the roses, crimson, carmine, tequila sunrise, orange sorbet with a scent so deep and sweet. They lure me in a way they never did before.

One day, I forget which, we went to the beach, bundled in a minivan, like a school trip.  The sun went shy but it didn't matter.  Four of us went down to the shore, and three of us walked through the shiver-cold water along the sweep of the bay.  Coincidences abounded.  We found we knew people in common; we'd been to the same places.  For heaven's sake, three of us had all worked at the same office.  Clare and I had even been at the same university, at exactly the same time. We lived in the same student flats one year.  How strange is that?  So we swapped stories of bands we'd seen, people we knew, places we'd been.  It was the most curious, delicious, wild mind-loop, as old memory files were awoken; old cells rejiggled, old faces summoned (where are they now? who are they now?).

We're a harmonious group.  A kind group.  Our ages range from 33 - 78, our homes span across Europe. So, while I spend a fair bit of time on my own, I also spend time with others, learning from them, enjoying their stories, sometimes telling mine.  And I also get to talk to the people who live here - because this place runs partly like a sort of community.  People come and live here and work for various lengths of time - upwards of three months usually.

Anyhow, the rest continues as always - yoga, juice, cleansing through water and fire, meditation (formal and informal), letting go, letting go, letting go... Shedding not just weight and toxins, the accumulated dross that accumulates when you eat badly, drink badly, but also the old tensions, emotions that no longer serve, the past, the fear.  Leaving one feeling just so light, light, bright and full  Corny?  Maybe.  But you know what?  It's a much nicer way to feel and be and live than holding on and shivering with fear.  


Friday 24 April 2015

Stretching and steaming into Days Six and Seven of Detox Diary

Day Six at Moinhos Velhos and everything starts to shift.  The headaches are gone and I’m feeling lighter, brighter, more settled in myself.  You fall into a routine and it’s actually rather nice not to have to think about food; about what to eat or what not to eat.  Now, to be fair, I find fasting easy – and this is the easiest kind of fast of all because you’re actually getting a fair few calories from the juice so you don’t feel the lethargy that can sneak in when you’re water fasting.  But most people here are finding it fine – so far there’s only one woman who’s still not feeling too good.

Anyhow, so far I’ve been talking about the intestines (some might say too much) but it’s worth remembering that it’s not just the guts and the liver, gallbladder and kidneys which are involved in the detox process.  Our lungs are a vital element of detoxing, which is why yoga is so important.  Here the yoga practice has a large focus on pranayama, the yogic art of good breathing.  

So, every day we do:
Kapalabhati – the pumping breath – which cleanses the whole respiratory system.  It also strengthens and increases lung capacity, allowing the red blood cells to draw in more oxygen.  The strong abdominal contractions help improve digestion and massage and tone the internal organs - liver, spleen, pancreas, stomach and heart.  Anything else?  Yup, it refreshes the mind, increasing alertness and helps eliminate excess mucus, clearing the sinuses.  

We also do alternative nostril breathing – which, again, cleanses and strengthens the entire respiratory system.  In fact, it actually harmonises the whole body and is particularly soothing for the mind.  Use it whenever you need to focus and concentrate – or when you’re feeling stressed.  

Then we go into several rounds of Surya Namaskar, the Sun Salutation, that perfect warm-up for all yoga asana.  Not only does it warm up and stretch out pretty well every muscle, but it also helps to regulate your breathing and to focus your mind.  

Then - it depends.  There are three yoga teachers here so it varies a bit but they all agree that the following asanas are superb for detox:  
Sirsasan (Headstand) - or Dolphin. I still can't do an unsupported headstand day. 
Sarvangasan (Shoulder Stand) 
Halasan (Plough)
Matsyasan (Fish)
Paschimothanasan (Seated Forward Bend)
Bhujangasan (Cobra)
Salabhasan (Locust)
Dhanurasan (Bow)
Ardha Matsyendrasan (Half Spinal Twist) 
Padahasthasan (Forward Bend)
Trikonasan (Triangle)

Okay, so the wifi has been a bit flaky and the schedule here is also pretty full-on so I didn't manage to post the above, yesterday - so you're getting two doses in one.

Day Seven and I had a crap old friend insomnia came back to bite me.  So I launched into the week (weak) point feeling tired and a bit pathetic.  But, once again, a good dose of yoga perked me up, even if I had to sink into Balasan (Child) and even Savasan (Corpse) at certain points.
Still not hungry.  A giant spot appeared on my nose which reminds me to talk about the other great elimination organ - the skin.  Every good detox should, to my mind-body, include a goodly dose of stuff to help the skin throw off the nasties.  Here they have a great Jacuzzi (with mega powerful jets to ease out back tension too - an added bonus) plus a fabulous wood-fired sauna.  Now, I never used to like saunas - steamrooms, yes, but sauna no.  But I've become a bit of a convert and, truly, there is nothing nicer than a wood-fired one.  There's something deliciously elemental about hearing the crackle of the wood, seeing the flames flicker, feeling the heat and steam rise and swirl in the darkness (this one is blissfully dim).  Then you chuck on the water and there's the drama of the hiss, the steam, the sudden burning in the throat as the heat throws itself at  you.  Heaven.
So, I've been doing a fair bit of that - with some experts from Sweden.

Anyhow, there it is.  Going into Day Eight feeling good.

For more reports on detoxes see Queen of Retreats 

Of course, if you fancied trying a DIY detox at home, I outline a very gentle one in my book The Detox Plan - along with more stuff on yoga, meditation, breathing, hydrotherapy and so on.  It's available on Kindle for a couple of pounds or so, so click on the top right-hand corner link if you feel so inclined.  No Clysmatics included!  

Thursday 23 April 2015

Rummaging in the bowels of detox - Day Five

Day five of my stay at Moinhos Velhos. Fourth day without solid food.  I didn't sleep well and woke feeling a bit dizzy but a good yoga session with Sita sorted me out. Aches and pains have lessened off (I forgot to say I've had raging aches in my joints for the last few days). Hungry? Maybe a little bit at night but nothing to write home about.  One of the retreaters has come off the fast (she'd been fasting before she came so enough is enough) and is eating 'normal' food (tucked away in the living room) but it doesn't remotely bother me.

So, remember when I said you can't be squeamish about bodily functions on detox?  Well, that's down to the colon cleansing.  Here they use a system called the Clysmatic - a self-administered cleansing procedure for the large intestine.  Now, I have a bit of an issue with colonics - the first time I had one it was on the recommendation of a friend who raved about them.  'You'll feel fabulous,' she said.  'So clear and clean and just wonderful.'  Unfortunately I felt like...well...shit.  I could barely get up the energy to walk away from the clinic and I didn't feel right for weeks (quite apart from not having a normal crap for absolutely ages).  But the self-administered ones I've used on detox retreats are way more gentle and, the more I do these detoxes, the more I've come to realise that they really do make life a lot easier.  I've detoxed with and without these things and, trust me, life is far more pleasant when you use them - less headaches, more energy.  The theory behind it goes that, when you detox, all kinds of toxic gunk gets offloaded into the guts and, truly, do you really want that hanging around for days on end?  Bear in mind how constipated the average bod is - how many of you have more than one bowel movement a day?  Come on, own up!

Anyhow, that's the theory.  Of course some people say that there is absolutely no reason to cleanse the colon.  Then again, the same people would probably say there is no reason to detox in the first place - that our bodies can do it perfectly well on their own.  That's true, of course.  The body has a perfectly good self-detoxification system - lungs, liver, kidneys, intestines, skin...  But sadly we no longer live in a world where we can eat clean food, drink clean water, breathe clean air.

Meanwhile, back in my little bathroom at MV, I've been grappling with the Clysmatic.  Actually it's pretty simple - though, having said that, I've managed to flood my bathroom twice.  You fill up a container that's mounted on the wall above the loo.  Then you attach the tube that comes out of the bottom of the container to a contraption that fits around the seat of the loo, pop a rectal tube (please do look away at this point if you can't handle this kind of detail) on the metal tube and give it a good libation of Vaseline.  Then you (carefully) ease yourself onto the tube (yup, it goes about 3-5cm into your arse) and get comfy.  Open up a valve in the upper tube and the water will start to flow up your bum and into the intestines.  You keep your rectum squeezed tight until you feel the pressure build up and then you simply let go.  The tube stays in all the time and, truly, it's simplicity itself.  The whole thing takes about quarter of an hour and I have been using the time to catch up on texts. So, if you've had a text from me in the last few days...

So, we've been doing these twice a day and even those who were all 'Eeewww, I don't want to talk about it' are now regailing everyone round the table with tales from the coal face.

The upshot is that I'm feeling a lot lighter (quite literally - 2kg if you were wondering, Rachel!) and a shedload better.  My skin is looking clearer and my eyes are brighter.  After yesterday's emotional splurge, I've been mulling over a lot of things, trying to figure out why I make everything so damn hard for myself.  Time for some serious releasing of all my old shit - not just physically but metaphorically too.

If you made it this far, well done!  Here's a nice picture of flowers as a reward.

Full report coming on Queen of Retreats when I get back.  You can also read reports of other detoxes on the site here.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Coming a bit undone on Day Four of my detox

The headache comes and goes - sometimes just a tug on the temples, sometimes a vice around my forehead.  It's part of the detox process, of course.  It's my third day without solid food and, actually, that part of it is absolutely fine.  But I'm realising, more and more, that I'm too uptight for words.  I sit by the pool and find myself fidgeting within minutes. I lie on my bed and realise that my shoulders are locked and my arms are so rigid it's as they're clutching something - an imaginery sword? My jaw is clamped.  When did I get so tense?  Why can't I relax?

'You're exhausted,' said Janni, looking at me with huge compassion from her side of the computer. She's been testing me on something called the Physiospekt (but more of that later). She reckons that it's my major problem - total exhaustion brought on by constant tension.

So I figured maybe some bodywork might help.  Moinhos Velhos has a core team of therapists who cover everything from reflexology, deep tissue massage and acupuncture to 'Herbal Stamp' (no, I'd never heard of it before) and 'Tibetan Pulse Healing" (nope, not heard of that either).  So I found myself stripped off in a small warm room with Anita pressing deeply yet softly (if that makes any sense) down either side of my spine.

'What would you like me to do?' she'd asked.  She does the lot, does Anita - hypnotherapy, past life regression, rebirthing, NLP, spiritual life coaching, cranio-sacral, deep tissue, astrological birth chart reading as well as Tibetan Pulse Healing (which, it turns out, is a mix of sound vibration, deep/soft touch, and pulsing of the energy centres of the body to release stress and stuck energy patterns in the bodymind).
'I'll leave it up to you,' I said. 'Use your intuition.  But I don't want to talk, I've done enough talking; I'd rather do it via the body.'
Which is exactly what she did.  She loosened my shoulders, my neck, my back, my arms - sometimes it felt like acupressure, sometimes more like remedial massage, sometimes like Tragerwork. Pressing, pulling, shaking, shimmying.
Then she asked me to start conscious connected breathing (the breathwork of Rebirthing, in which you inhale and exhale through the mouth without any retention of breath - no pause.)

Now, I've had amazing bodywork before and I've done Rebirthing but I've never experienced the two combined.  You know what?  There are no words really.  When I think back over what ended up as a two hour session, I lost about an hour, somewhere in the breath, somewhere around when she was working on my heart.  It hurt, it really hurt. Not physically, although the breath can feel a little uncomfortable, but emotionally.  I was embraced by a coldness, the emotional equivalent of being stuck in a freezer.  My heart turned stone.
'Breathe into it,' urged Anita and I tried, I did, even though it was like breathing with a huge boulder pressing down on my chest.  Desolation.  Hurt.  An  unbearable sadness that tunnelled way back to a time and place so far away it felt like a different continent.  I couldn't stop myself crying.

Now I thought I'd done enough of this stuff, I really did.  I thought I was through all this emotional crap, but it seems not. It struck me that once again, lately, I'd done what I've done all through my life, form a carapace around myself, so as not to feel the pain.  It works, in a way, but it's not a comfortable way to live one's life, is it?

So, Anita worked on it, and unravelled me a bit and told me stuff I knew but never seem to take on board was good, it was damn good.  So I left a lot looser and easier in myself and took myself down to my little room, feeling almost happy.   Here and now.  Or rather, there and then.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Detox Diary Day Three

Day three of my juice fast at Moinhos Velhos.  'It's perfectly normal to feel totally pants today,' says Janni, one of the owners and, comfortingly, an ex-nurse.
I don't feel too grim although a vague headache floats around for most of the day.
So, as I've said (if I recall - one's brain goes a bit mushy doing this stuff), we get three juices a day, plus a clear vegetable broth in the evening.  As far as I'm concerned, this is riches indeed - my early fasts were water-only.

In between juices we take a selection of pills - four times a day.  For those who are interested in these things, they are:

Co-ton - a mix of herbs (fennel; barberry; cascara; ginger; turkey rhubarb; cayenne; goldenseal; lobelia; raspberry) which dissolves and breaks up mucoid matter and expels it from the body; reduces gas in the stomach and intestines, purifies the blood and stimulates and strengthens all the organs (in particular the heart, liver and eliminatitve organs).  Anything else?  Oh yup, it strengthens, heals and re-builds peristaltic action.  Not bad for one pill.

Pancreatin - a mix of enzymes amylase, protease and lipase  - helping to break up old deposits of undigested proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Niacin (vitamin B3) - used to dilate the blood vessels to increase blood flow and so speed up the elimination of toxins from the bloodstream.  It also pushes blood deep into underactive tissue so vital nutrients can get through.  Only downside?  It can produce a hot red flush.  I was stunned to look down and see big red patches on my legs and arms.  My face also turned bright red and I thought, at first, that I'd overdone the sun.  It doesn't last long though and apparently some men actually take it to find out what a menopausal hot flush feels like.  Why on earth would you do that???

Finally Spirulina which provides essential trace minerals and elements, plus a good dose of iodine, helping the body maintain its energy during the fast.

Daily yoga is grounding and balancing - today it's Dru yoga with Richard Brook.
I also had a pretty amazing session with Janni - but that needs a post all of its own.

A daily sauna is part of the healing - once again helping eliminate garbage, this time via the skin (our largest organ, remember).

Evenings end with a meditation session.  By now I'm not feeling so great.  The evening broth seems to have done peculiar things to my innards which are conducting their own form of noisy meditation. My head decides it needs some of the action too and joins in with a bass thud, thud, thud.  It's hard to focus so I just limp through and stagger down the hill.  I'm in bed and fast asleep by 9.30pm.

For reviews of other detoxes see Queen of Retreats

Monday 20 April 2015

Detox Diary Day Two

So, I slept for ten hours straight (hugely unusual) and woke up feeling...absolutely deathly.  My head was hammering as if I'd downed an entire bottle of Tequila.  I got out of bed - gingerly - and crashed back down again.  Dizzy, weak, totally pathetic.
Detox headache?  It's common when you come off coffee but I rarely drink coffee.  Then I had a pee and realised what had gone wrong.  Now then, we're not going to be squeamish, are we?  Because the thing you have to realise about going on a detox is that everyone - even the most fastidious - ends up talking almost obsessively about bodily functions.  In deep detail.  Just remember this.

Anyhow, my urine was the colour of a Double IPA (can't you tell I'm married to a beer writer?) - in other words I was hugely dehydrated.  My own fault entirely.
I really did feel rubbish, to the point that a pint of freshly squeezed orange juice (as in taken from the trees and squeezed) made me feel queasy.  Okay, so let's explain here.  It wasn't just orange juice. Three times a day you take a container with an inch of Bentonite clay in it - you add a bit of juice, and then two teaspoons of Psyllium husk and then shake it like crazy.  Why?  Cos if you don't, the whole thing congeals and turns into stomach-chuning fetid porridge.
The Bentonite clay acts like a sponge and apparently it can absorb 40 times or more its own weight in toxins, bacteria and parasites. Yum. It yanks these along with mucoid layers (I did warn you!) from the walls of the intestinal tract.  The Psyllium husk swells and acts like a broom, sweeping the loosened gunk from the intestines.  Together they push everything down from the small to the large intestine.

Next up was yoga and, while all I really wanted to do was crawl back to bed and sink into blissful unconsciousness, I padded over to the yoga temple.  Not because I'm just a total goody two shoes who does everything she's told but because I know from experience that if you do good yoga on a juice fast, you feel great.  If you don't, you feel crap.

And, true to form, I came out two hours later feeling pretty tip top tickety boo.

It's amazing how busy you are at this place.  There are three juice 'meals' a day, supplements to take in between (I'll save those for another day), Clysmatics (ditto), meditation and all manner of other gizmos.  But what you mainly need to know is that you really, truly don't feel hungry.  The Psyllium takes care of that.  And the other thing you need to know is that you really must drink plenty of water - particularly when detoxing in a hot climate like this.

For reviews of other detoxes see Queen of Retreats

Sunday 19 April 2015

Yoga isn't just for skinny bunnies. Yoga isn't a style thing. Yoga is for every body.

Fab, aren't they?  No, that's not me - or Sharon.  
It started with a pair of yoga leggings.  I was on Sugar Detox with the Body Retreat back in January and I noticed the fabulous Sharon Walker wearing this pair of slinky leggings with a cool buffalo skull motif on the hip.  I asked her where she got them from and she said, ‘Teeki. They're made from recycled plastic bottles.’ Cool.  So, I went on their site, spent several hours dithering (cos, really, I loved nearly all their designs) and thought, the hell with it, and bought a pair in the sale.  Now then…I’m not as slim and svelte as I’d like but I’m not vast.  I’d say I’m probably a UK size ten on a good month, and a size 12 on a month when my good intentions fly out the window in a blur of chocolate.

Anyhow, I ordered a medium and they are, shall we say, snug to the point of organ constriction. Which is fine (the sizing, I mean, not the organ constriction) except…the largest size they do is a large…so, a UK 14 maybe.  Teeki swear they stretch but even so…  It got me yoga only for skinny people these days?

Now, let’s be fair, it’s not just Teeki.  My gorgeous soft as a peach Manuka leggings are also a very snug medium (and large is as large as they go).  Sweaty Betty are far more liberal in their sizing - I'd say their medium would fit a goodly size 14/16 and they go up to XL - Go Betty!  But, truly, it's rare. Where are the yoga pants for BIG girls?  Not to mention big boys.
Manuka leggings - gorgeous, huh? 

It makes me wonder - is yoga sizeist?  It follows on from my rant in Natural Health magazine when I got all arsey about the way so much of yoga has become a case of style over substance. Disco yoga?  Purlease.  More and more it seems as though the original heart and soul of yoga is being warped into something ‘trendy’ – it’s a style statement...  So many people these days ‘do’ yoga, the way they ‘do’ turmeric smoothies and buy meditation cushions and move to Stoke Newington.  Am I being unfair?  I think I might be. Cos I truly believe that there's no right way to anything really.  And if someone gets off on disco yoga then good for them!  Who knows, it might be their route to nirvana.

But, back to those leggings. Hmm, are they bothering me so much because I really do need to shed a few pounds?  *smile*   Of course, you could really get back to the original spirit of yoga and say ‘sod it’ to leggings altogether…just wear any old thing, a longhi even…or, then again, nothing at all.  But let's save naked yoga for another time, okay?

And then I was wandering around Facebook (as you do) and I came across this guy. Let's not mince words, he's a big guy. He knows he has weight to shed (for his health) and he's doing it slowly, surely, eating right (apart from the odd blip, but we all know about that) and doing yoga.  Yay!  Big guys doing yoga - bring it on!

I’m going to quote him verbatim because I think his message is spot-on. Check him out on Facebook here.
“My yoga teacher took this [pic] of me today. When I look at this my first reaction is of disgust. I didn't see what my teacher saw. "Look at your top arm and leg. The openness at your chest and hips is beautiful!! How straight you are able to get, and how you are supporting yourself and balancing on one arm and leg." Years of hating myself won't go away over night, but with the help of supportive friends I'll get there. Yoga is for EVERY BODY.”

It is. It should be.  And, actually, it wouldn't even matter if he wasn't straight and wasn't balanced. He's doing it, for yoga's sake!

Now, back to those leggings.  I know it’s a teeny tiny thing in the scheme of things but, yoga clothing people, please take note.  I get a kick out of a new pair of yoga leggings – I know it’s silly but it gives me a bit of motivation, makes me think that maybe I will try out a new class or do some extra practice.  I’m sure the same goes for most people regardless of size.  So, have a heart, yoga clothing guys and up your sizing? A big fat Namaste to you all.

Detox Diary Day One

So, it struck me as I lay in bed this morning, feeling like death warmed up, that a lot of you probably haven't ever experienced a detox.  You might wonder what it's all about.  You might wonder how you feel.  As I said, I'm at Moinhos Vehlhos doing a ten day juice fast (reporting for Queen of Retreats).  I figured that, while I'm here, I'll try to write up a daily diary telling you what's actually goes on on detox. Who knows, it might persuade you to try it - or it might put you off for life!
Then again, I might run out of steam entirely.

I'll stick to the detox elements on the whole - you'll have to wait for the QoR report for the full Monty.

Of course, if all this leaves you completely cold, then feel free to avoid me for the next week or so.

So, yesterday...

Had about an hour's sleep (you know the score - when you know you have to get up at 3.30am, it's damn tough to slumber) so felt pretty grim at Bristol Airport.  Ate a granola yoghurt pot and plugged myself into FlowerSpirit's meditations and listened to those on loop for the duration of the flight (dozing in between).  'You'll be met at the airport by someone wearing a yellow t-shirt,' Frank had said (Frank is the co-founder of Moinhos).  Usually I peer at signs myopically but there was no missing the phalanx of people in canary yellow.  I shared the cab with a lovely woman called Bianca so barely noticed the journey.

The first thing I noticed at MV was the peace.  It's set in a valley, surrounded by trees - bathed in birdsong.  Quite magical.

I nibbled on some fruit (oranges straight from the tree) and got my bearings.  Supper was vegetable soup - with chunks of courgette, sweet potato and carrot.  Last solid food for a while.
Feeling pretty good.
Back to my room and realised I should have shut the door.  Three house martens have decided to make themselves at home and are swooping around the room, perching on my mosquito net and using my duvet as a bathroom. Twenty minutes of gentle persuasion later we part company.

I have all kinds of good intentions for meditating, doing some wind-down yoga, reading, whatever but my body has other ideas.  I lie back on the bed and I'm fast asleep by 9pm.

Am I hungry?  Not remotely.  Not yet at any rate.

Saturday 18 April 2015

Fasting for a liv(er)ing - plus what I pack for retreat

So, by the time you read this, I will most likely either be whizzing above the clouds in a metal tube or in Portugal.  Or, who knows, somewhere else entirely (because, after all, who knows anything?)
I'm off to test out a ten-day detox (this one is a juice-only cleanse, with added yoga). Nice.
I know it only seems like two minutes since I was in Austria, testing out the new VIVAMAYR clinic, undergoing the 'Cure' but, hey, this is what I do - I fast for a living. Can't be bad, huh?
This time I'm checking out Moinhos Velhos for Queen of Retreats.  I review a lot of lovely places for this great site - read my reports by clicking on this link.

Anyhow.  Right now (as in, a couple of days ago), I am (was) packing.  What does one pack for a juice fast with added yoga in Portugal?  Well, not so much really.  I don't like lots of luggage - I'm a firm believer in the art of smart packing (roll, roll, always roll) and the beauty of yoga and juice retreats in moderate climates is that you really don't need a lot.  If I can avoid hold luggage, I always do.

My essentials for yoga/fasting retreats

Manuka Mehndi leggings
* Yoga leggings x2.  I treated myself to a new pair in the Sweaty Betty sale and they're pretty good. But I'm also trialling some from Manuka which look and feel fabulous.  The beauty of nice yoga leggings is that they double up as bottoms for hiking, sight-seeing and evening wear.
* T-shirts x4.  
* FitFlops.  Have had a love affair with these ever since the fabulous Victoria Health sent me some to trial way back.  My current pair are shiny black so they still look reasonably smart for going out or evenings (doesn't often happen on this kind of retreat but you never know). Also they're uber-light.  I usually travel in a pair of Fitflop Mukluks which then double up as slippers on retreat.
* Hoodie.  Handy for chilly evenings or post-yoga coverup.
* Trail running shoes.  Heck no, I don't do trail running!  But they're great for hillwalking and rocks scrambling (should one need to rock scramble).  My current ones are ASICS from
* Two swimsuits and one bikini.  Nothing worse than a soggy swimsuit.
* One kaftan.  This time I'm testing out the Seafolly one below from Coco Bay for Queen of Retreats.
* Two long black tops.
* One pair of shorts - rocking a rather fab Paisley pair at the moment from Zara.  Think they're meant to be men's swimming trunks but what the hell?
* One cardigan.
* Sunglasses and sun-hat.
* iPod (with new addiction, BassBuds headphones), iPhone (no need for camera) and fully loaded Kindle. Travelplug adaptors (x2).
* Notebook and many pens (stored in plastic pouch). Used to swear by Moleskine but have switched allegiance to Muji (fraction of the price and weight).
* Lightweight waterproof jacket (you never know).
* Stretchy black jeans (uber comfortable in case a spot of impromptu horse-riding occurs - I live in hope).  If not, handy for evenings.
* Light cotton bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and trial size cosmetics.  At the moment I'm loving Balance Me.
* Tazeka Aromatherapy Travel Companion - I sniff it religiously throughout flights to ward off bugs.
* SF50 suncream.  Still looking for a totally natural one that really performs (and comes in 100ml sizes or less).  Suggestions welcome.
* Underwear, obviously.  Tend to take five pairs and wash while away.
* Cosy socks.  Even in a hot climate feet can get cold in savasana - particularly when fasting.
* Small lightweight rucksack.
* Passport, boarding pass, credit card, bit of local dosh (doh).  Plastic pouch for security check-in liquids.

Actually, now I've written it all down it looks like a heck of a lot.  But truly, it all fits into a small carry-on with room to spare.  Did I miss anything?  :-)

Friday 17 April 2015

Make your own natural beauty products

'Do you have any recipes for natural cosmetics in your books?' asked Frankie Sachs on Twitter.
The short answer is yes.  The longer answer is, yes but not really enough to merit buying them purely on the basis of unguent recipes.
So I said I'd post a few here.

Why make your own stuff?  Well, some people like that artisanal approach.  When I was in my early twenties I used to spend hours buying raw ingredients from Neal's Yard (back when it was just a tiny little shop off the side streets of Covent Garden).  It was good fun but the real beauty of home-made products is that you know exactly what is going into them.  No chemical nasties.  Because, as I'm sure you know, even products which promise, hand on heart, that they're 'natural', 'organic', 'pure' - often aren't.

They won’t keep as long as shop-bought products though so keep them in the fridge and use swiftly.

Here are some ideas from the Beauty Weekend from The Weekend Healer (available in Kindle version - click the cover).  See how you get on.

LIGHT MOISTURISER (suitable for most skins)
10ml melted beeswax
45 ml wheatgerm oil
20ml boiled water, mineral water or rosewater
6 drops geranium essential oil (if your skin is very oily use bergamot instead)

1. Put the beeswax and oil into a small heat-resistant bowl and place in a bain-marie containing boiling water.
2. Stir thoroughly and remove the bowl from the pot.
3. Now slowly add the water into the warm oils, stirring all the time until the cream thickens and cools.
4. Add the essential oil.
5. Pour into a clean (boiled) jar and refrigerate.

15ml beeswax
20ml almond oil
20ml grapeseed oil
5ml wheatgerm oil
20 ml rosewater or mineral water with 5 drops of cider vinegar added
6 drops essential oil (your choice from cypress, fennel, juniper, mandarin, neroli)

1. Melt the beeswax and pour into a small, heat-resistant bowl.
2. Add the grapeseed and wheatgerm oils, and place the bowl in a pot of simmering water until the oils are blended and warm.
3. Remove the bowl from the pot and slowly add the water, stirring thoroughly all the time until the cream thickens and cools.
4. Add your choice of essential oils.  Pour the cream into a clean (boiled) jar.  Store in the fridge and use within a month.

Feet often get neglected.  Soak your feet for 15-20 minutes in a large bowl of warm water containing the following:  15ml sea salt, 3 drops almond oil, 2-6 drops peppermint or patchouli oil.

While you’re soaking, give your hands a treat.  Soak them in warm water for about five minutes. Then massage them with a mixture of 10ml of wheatgerm germ oil,  5ml of wild honey and five drops of lavender oil.  Use small circling movements.  Push back your cuticles and massage your nails with the mixture.
Image: Andrea Hübner
Give your face, hair and body a soothing treat.

1.  Mix up a luxurious hair treatment.
Mix together two egg yolks, one tablespoon of almond oil and a drop of tangerine essential oil.
Moisten your hair slightly and then massage the mixture into your scalp and hair.
Wrap your head in a plastic bag and then a towel over the top (to add some heat).  Keep this on throughout the following steam and bath.

2.  Steam.  Add two or three drops of geranium oil to a bowl of just boiled water.  Put a large towel over your entire head and over the bowl, keeping your face about eighteen inches away from the water.  This steam will open the pores for deep cleansing.  Stay under for about ten minutes if you can – but don’t become uncomfortable.

NOTE:  do not steam if you have thread veins, if you are asthmatic or suffer from a heart condition.

3.  Make a cherry mask with fresh cherries (if available).  Crush them into a slushy paste and put all over your neck and face.

4.  Next pour a hot bath.  Add four drops of fennel oils to a cup of milk and agitate to mix.  Now add to the bath. Soak for about twenty minutes.  Drink a cup of green tea while in the bath.

5.  Pat off the cherry mask.  Finally unwrap your hair and wash.

Have an early night.  Beautiful dreams!

Let me know if you try these and find they work (or not)?  And let me know if you want me to post up some recipes from my ayurvedic book, Live Well.

Thursday 16 April 2015

Bear Grylls The Island (plus Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead and Geordie Shore) - yes, I've been watching telly

James has been studying hard for his GCSEs. I've been keeping my nose pressed to the screen of my PC trying to work. So, come evening, we like to veg out in front of something on the box. Okay, so we should probably be doing something more meaningful, like creating mosaics or meditating but hey...

I'm not mad on zombies but he lured me into watching The Walking Dead and we spent many happy evenings huddled under the snuggly throw.  Little rituals... shouting 'Away with you!' over the opening credits; singing along with the theme tune at the end waving our hands in suitable zombie fashion; seeing who could make the other jump at some unspecified moment in the middle of the show; muttering 'He's so dead'.  You know the kind of thing.

Now we have Game of Thrones of course, which is totally excellent.  One of those cases where the TV series is actually better than the books.  I'm waiting for Arya (my favourite) to start her assassin training (as you do).  James doesn't see the attraction - he just goes very quiet when Daenerys sulks onto the screen.

We part company on Geordie Shore.  I've tried but I just sit there slack-jawed.   So, last night, when he said he was looking forward to the TV slot, I winced.  'I'm not watching Geordie Shore,' I said. 'My eyes can't take it.'
'Noo,' he said.  'It's The Island.'
Have you seen this?  They (the proverbial They) dump two bunches of people (one group is all-women, the other all-men) onto remote Pacific islands and let them get on with it.  It sounds great in principle except these islands don't just have white sands and turquoise ocean, they also have dangerous rip-tides, tropical storms and a lot of poisonous wildlife.  It's not just the snakes and scorpions, the stone-fish and the stingrays - even the vegetation is out to get them.  Have you ever heard of the Death Apple?  The clue's in the name, right?

Anyhow, we watched it and already they're getting on my nerves.  This isn't like 10,000 BC (yes, we really do watch a lot of crap!) where they dumped people in Bulgaria in winter without even a knife between them.
This island is teeming with food - and yet they're all lying around limply starving.  I harumph and mutter darkly.
'What's the matter with them?'
'Come on, Mum. Would you do any better?'
'Well, yes actually, I think I would.'
We launch into a debate about survival skills.  James rolls his eyes.  He knows what was coming. And, yes, I spent a large part of my teens building shelters in forests or pitching tents on the sides of mountains.  I learnt how to track and trap, how to light a fire from nothing, how to keep (relatively) warm and dry.
'Be fair, Mum.  They haven't had any training in that stuff.'  Subtext: they weren't weirdo teenagers who skulked around the woods in their spare time.
But really, if you had even the faintest inkling, the slightest possibility that you were going to be left on an island to fend for yourself, wouldn't you at least learn how to fish?  And if you were a resourceful vegetarian wouldn't you figure out which plants were edible?  They've got yams, for pity's sake!  And coconuts!  And they're sharing out a roasted scorpion the size of a finger?  Pitiful!

Of course, the biggest problem they have is not battling the elements or the animals, but each other. Some guy left the island purely because another guy pissed him off.  Wha?  Then the other one left. Humans, eh?

Anyhow, I'm wondering if the women will do any better.  James says not - that they're in even worse shape than the guys.  Which is enormously annoying really.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Web-savvy help needed for hapless numpty

So, there's the thing.  Meeting Sasha Wilkins (see previous post) really made me feel like a right numpty.  It opened my eyes to what I should have been doing for the longest of times, gave me a kick up the arse and, yes (let's be honest), made me madly envious.  It's not that I want to race around doing everything Sasha does (I'm way too lazy) or (don't laugh) be a digital media guru but I'd like to be a bit...tidier.
My website is so ancient, it would probably merit a place in the museum of website-building.  My blog is about as basic as it's possible to get.  I did get as far as buying a new template for my WordPress blog but then flailed around helplessly and made it look even worse than before.

What?  You want to see my shame?  Well, you're already here but, trust me, this is the best bit.
My WordPress blog is here:  Jane Alexander
And - *wince* - here's my website:  Jane Alexander
Now you've finished slapping your thighs in mirth, let's get down to business.  I really need to pull it all together, don't I?  Have one decent on-line presence.  I have shedloads of content - literally thousands of features and book excerpts that I could put out there.  But how? Biggest problem is that I just don't have a lot of dosh to spend on a fancy web design.  Come to that, I don't really want a fancy web design - I want something that I can update myself easily, quickly, efficiently.  But I also want it to look good.  No, scratch that, I want it to look great.

WordPress is the way to go, right?  A magazine format that looks clean and clear and can pull together all my features, (hopefully) sell my books, and have a nice corner for my blog ramblings too. If it could make a bit of money via affiliate links or advertising, so much the better.  I'd also love to feature some great photography so if any of your snappers out there would be up for my sharing your images (suitably labelled and linked of course), do get in touch.

Your thoughts?  Any brilliant WordPress fixers you know who have a strong philanthropic bent?  My brother has been nagging me about this and I have promised I will get a bit more savvy.  Find people, he said.  Ask them how much they charge and ask to see samples of their work, he said.  In fact, he said, send me samples of their work (see, he knows how web-rubbish I am!)

I also need a name for it - something that pulls together my interest in natural health, manic fitness, yoga, psychology, spirituality, travel, books, music, nature, mythology, dodgy humour, crap TV, love, friendship and pseudo beagles.  Something that would sound good before 'dot com' cos being an org of one is a bit embarrassing.  Help me out?  Best answer gets a prophecy from the Beagle Oracle (remember that?)  :-)

Tuesday 14 April 2015

On kindness, L'Ombre Dans L'Eau, care parcels and the sublime LibertyLondonGirl

Kindness.  I like kindness.  Simple kindnesses smack me in the heart, bowl me over, make me cry.
I came back home from a funeral at the weekend.  I'd crashed face first into my past and it had brought me up short.  I also crashed, quite literally, into the closing doors of a tube train and consequently now have two bruises running the lengths of both arms and a freshly re-torn rotator cuff.  I hurt.

'There's a parcel on your desk,' Adrian said.  And so there was.  A long white box with tissue paper hiding lots of little boxes and bags.  I fell on it like a small child at Christmas and uncovered the most deliciously divine care package of gorgeous things.  Perricone foundation (I’ll report back); the perfect nude lipstick (Clinique Matte Suede, if you’re wondering) and the perfect nail varnish to give a subtle shimmer to stress-bitten nails (Estee Lauder Blushing Lilac).  It didn’t end there.  As I snuffled down the parcel, all other kinds of lovelies tumbled out, including some of my very favourite natural brands (Dr Hauschka, Annee de Mamiel).  And ooooooh… But wait…let me backtrack and explain how I became the recipient of such a cornucopia of cosmetic riches.

Back in Austria, at VIVAMAYR I met Sasha Wilkins, aka Liberty London Girl.  She introduced herself as a blogger but that's somewhat like Mo Farah saying, 'I run a bit'.  Sasha is a Queen of Dragons who commands legions of Unsullied (oops, sorry, bit over-excited about Game of Thrones starting again).  I mean she’s a digital journalist, ex- Wall Street Journal, ex-Vogue (and many others) and a full-on TV bod but, since 2009, she has been running her own digital seven kingdoms of LLG Media.
Way cuter than Daenerys, dontcha think?  
This woman doesn’t just do digital, she IS digital – she rocks social media with her blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest (click on the links - you can lose yourself in recipes, nice things and legions of dogs for hours).  She has a digital media consultancy business LLG Consults, Wilkins & Ross, a digital film production company, and…and…and…and…so on it goes.  But what you really need to know is that she loves sausage dogs and she is a damn nice person.  Kind.

I’d asked her about foundation (as you do when trying to take your mind off chewing an endless spelt roll) and she’d recommended Perricone No Foundation Foundation.  I’d said how rubbish I was at make-up and that I really needed to up my game.  We talked a bit about various brands and then someone wandered past and sniffed the air and asked who was wearing that absolutely gorgeous scent.  I naturally assumed it would be Sasha but no, it was me – squeezing the last gasp out of a sample bottle of Diptyque’s L’Ombre Dans l’Eau. Seriously, how could anyone resist a scent called the Shadow in the Water?  It’s gorgeous, utterly gorgeous – warm and yet crisp at the same time. Like the grown-up sophisticated sister of another old favourite, Jo Malone’s Lime Basil Mandarin.

Anyhow, back to my parcel.  Yes, she’d sent it.  Not just enough face and body stuff to make me look almost presentable, but also…a whole coffret of Diptyque samples.

I was quite overcome and, yes, I found myself snuffling a bit (rather like a sausage dog actually). Because it wasn’t so much that this was a box of serious loveliness but that everything had been picked out with such care and thought.  It was kind, damn kind.  And, like I say, that makes me cry.
How gorgeous is Lettice? Pic (c) Sasha Wilkins

Anyhow.  If you haven’t already made the acquaintance of LLG - you really should. I have huge admiration for her because she made the decision to wave goodbye to the corporate nonsense of mainstream media in which advertising and editorial are so incestuous they need therapy and a social worker.  She now writes about the things she loves, the things that interest her, on her own terms – so that includes a lot of fashion and beauty but also flowers and food.  Not to mention sausage dogs.  Just check out the pics of Lovely Lettice, a dog with a great line in photogenic stares and her own ramp onto the bed.  She’s also extremely ethical and very honest. That’s Sasha, btw, not Lettice (although, who knows, maybe she’s an honest and ethical dachshund – why not?).  My second dog was a dachshund, btw, but that's another story.

Oh, and she (Sasha, not Lettice - I really shouldn't have started confusing things with Lettice) has recently published her first cookbook, Friends, Food, Family – so if you like uncomplicated recipes, bursting with flavour and served with flare, check it out.  Click on the pic below for more details.

Monday 13 April 2015

Wandering around Wigry - travels in Poland with my teenage son

So, my piece on Poland finally appeared in the Mail, nine months after I wrote it.  A good gestation, eh?  Take a look here.

These things always tend to get cut and spliced, squashed and squished into the available space - much like most things really. So, in case you're interested, here's a longer version.

'Evening diving in the ancient glacial waters of Wigry lake.  It's the third biggest lake in Poland, but it has the longest and most winding shoreline.  Actually, 'wigry' means 'winding' in the language of the Yotvingian tribes, who used to live here thousands of years ago.  The depths of the lake exceed 70 metres.  Its abyss is like a universe.  So is the inside of a quark.  Vast, empty space flashed across with impulses travelling at the speed of light in all possible (and impossible) directions.  Many at a time.  Electric lake eels...'

A passage from Symphonic Bridgesa book I first read almost five years ago, the one that launched me on my meditation/fasting/spiritual rejuvenation malarkey.  Wigry Lake wound through the book and it intrigued me.  So then last year its author, Marek and muse/soul-mate Malgosia invited us all out to visit.  Adrian couldn't come so it ended up as just James and I.  And it was magic.  It really was.  
The Wigry National Park (Wigierski Park Narodowy), nestles right up against the Lithuanian border. It’s the furthest outreach of the Masurian Lakes (Poland’s Lake District) and the most sparsely populated.  We fly into Kaunas, in Lithuania and, as we drive south-west, my heart sinks.  The countryside is flat and boring, the road straight and monotonous.  Yet, almost the moment we cross the border into Poland, everything changes.  The roads shrink and start wriggling around perky hills and Fuzzy Felt farms and woods.   Then the trees become denser and, every so often, we spot a glint of water.   We’ve reached the lake.

Our base is an unassuming but pristinely clean hotel right on the Wigry lakeshore.  The National Park snuggles all around, primeval forest and waterways that are home to otter and beaver, wolf and elk.  It may be unspoiled but it’s exceedingly well set-up for outdoorsy pursuits.  The hotel rents out mountain bikes and Nordic walking poles and you could cycle or hike for days around the well-marked and maintained trails.  Or you can take to the water.   Whichever way you turn there’s another beach, another jetty, another twisting corner of Wigry: the name means ‘winding’ in the language of the tribes who lived here thousands of years ago and it has the longest and most winding shoreline of all Poland’s lakes (yes, I nicked that bit).  The water is so inviting it sits up and begs.

I’ve never been big on wild swimming but the water here almost cuddles you.  ‘Are there sharks?’ James asks, as we float, our faces turned to the sun, the mildest current swaying us back towards the reeds.  ‘Only cold water ones,’ Marek jokes and we all laugh as James scythes through the water back to shore.  But as we peruse the menu on the wall of U Jawora, a lakeshore restaurant, monster pike with dagger teeth glare down from over the bar.   I try to divert his attention with a debate over whether he should have pierogi (large ravioli) or fish.  ‘I’m not eating one of those,’ he says firmly, glancing upwards.  You can’t con a teen.

The food here is solid, verging on stolid, big piles of comfort stacked high and priced low, way down low.  Kartacze (potato dumplings stuffed with meat) or pierogi stuffed with potato and cottage cheese each weigh in at a lightweight £3.  A thick bowl of creamy beetroot soup served with a hearty side of potatoes (rather than bread) strains to reach £2.

We need the calories with the amount of exercise we’re notching up.  We cycle through the forest, keeping a hopeful eye out for wildlife but we’re too noisy, what with our clanking gears and my muffled grunts as I hit yet another tree root.  For the umpteenth time, I wish I were wearing padded cycle shorts like Malgosia.
The area has a time-slip rustic feel – it’s hard to pin it down but I’m put in mind of 1950s Americana, Yogi Bear style.  In fact it’s all so darn wholesome that, as we sit by yet another pristine lake, watching the sun dip down to the water, I find myself singing old girl guide campfire songs as James takes another swim (thoughts of killer pike clearly forgotten). The place has somehow transported me back to my own teens, to a time when holidays didn’t need to be sophisticated or expensive; when fun came from the simplest of pleasures.

And yes, I got to hear this - an all-time favourite song - live, by the campfire.

‘You know what?  I’ve loved this holiday,’ says James, as we sit for the last time on the hotel jetty, sharing a bar of chocolate and watching the stars.  He looks slightly bemused but I can’t argue.
 'Me too,’ I reply.  ‘Me too.’

See the Mail piece for details of where we stayed.
And, if you click on the cover below, you can buy the book and read the rest of the M&M story.