Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The Secret to Successful Fitness Resolutions

This is a guest post by Jacqui Porjes, Personal Trainer, BuggyFit and Yoga Instructor.

[caption id="attachment_858" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Photo by Adria Richards"]Photo by Adria Richards[/caption]

As 2010 beckons, many of us will be aiming for a healthy start to the year. One way to begin as you mean to go on is to make some fitness resolutions.

On average only about 20% of us keep our New Year's resolutions. Unfortunately, some of the biggest failures are found in fitness resolutions. No need to let the statistics get you down though. By following the tips below you'll be better equipped to fall into the successful 20% category.

Choose an attainable goal. Resolving to look like a model is not realistic for most of us, but promising to include daily physical activity in our lives is very possible.

Avoid choosing a resolution that you've been unsuccessful at achieving year after year. This will only set you up for failure, frustration and disappointment. If you are still tempted to make a promise that you've made before, then try altering it. For example, instead of stating that you are going to lose 30 pounds, try promising to eat healthier and increase your weekly exercise.

Create a game plan. At the beginning of January, write a comprehensive plan. All successful businesses start with a business plan that describes their mission and specifics on how they will achieve it. Write your own personal plan and you'll be more likely to succeed as well.

Break it down and make it less intimidating. Rather than one big end goal, dissect it into smaller pieces. Set several smaller goals to achieve throughout the year that will help you to reach the ultimate goal. Then, even if you aren't able to reach your final goal, you will have many smaller, but still significant, achievements along the way. For example, if your goal is to complete a 10K race, your smaller goals could be running a 5K in less than 30 minutes, adding upper and lower body strength training to increase your muscular endurance, and running 2 miles with a personal best completion time.

Make contingency plans: don't assume sticking to your plan will be smooth sailing. Plan on hitting bumps along the resolution road and be prepared with specific ways to overcome them. What will keep you from skipping your workout or stop you from having a cigarette? This may mean seeking help from family or a professional, writing in a journal, etc.

Give it time: most experts agree that it takes about 21 days to create a habit and six months for it to actually become a part of your daily life.

Reward yourself with each milestone. If you've stuck with your resolution for 2 months, treat yourself to something special. But, be careful of your reward type. If you've lost 5 pounds, don't give yourself a piece of cake as a reward. Instead, treat yourself to something non-food related, like a professional massage.

Ask friends and family members to help you. It's good to have someone to be accountable to. Just be sure to set limits so that this doesn't backfire and become more irritating than helpful. For example, if you resolve to be more positive ask them to gently remind you when you start talking negatively.

Don't go it alone! Get professional assistance. Everyone needs help and sometimes a friend just isn't enough. Sometimes you need the help of a trained professional. Don't feel that seeking help is a way of copping out. Especially when it comes to fitness, research studies have shown that assistance from a fitness professional greatly improves people's success rate.

Limit your number of promises. You'll spread yourself too thin trying to make multiple changes in your life. This will just lead to failure of all of the resolutions.

Test your flexibility: realize that things change frequently. Your goals and needs may be very different in April then they were when you made your resolution in January. Embrace change, even if that means that your resolution is altered.

Keep a journal. A journal helps you recognize your positive steps and makes it harder to go back to the same old habits.


Jacqui Porjes | 07947 568890 | Jacqui@porjes.com |www.buggyfit.co.uk


Mummy Zen: You'll find you can apply these same tips to many other types of new year's resolutions, not just those related to fitness.

Do you have any other tips to share? What has worked for you in the past, enabling you to stick to your goals?


Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Quick-fix Calming Techniques

We all have times when we get flustered, stressed or anxious about something. Going into panic mode only makes matters worse and what we really need to do is take a moment to calm ourselves down so we can then deal with the situation appropriately. I've put together a list of techniques below.

Anything from being with a crying baby who can't seem to be consoled to dealing with a demanding boss or a stressful social occasion can result in us feeling overwhelmed. By calming ourselves down we can feel a bit more in control of what's going on and act accordingly. If you are calm, those around you will tend to also be calm and that can only be a good thing. Next time you are tearing your hair out, try a couple of these techniques and hopefully you will feel the benefit:

Take some deep breaths (count in for 4 and out for 4). Even better if you can close your eyes whilst doing so.

Actively relax your body. Try scrunching your shoulders up towards your ears, hold for a couple of seconds and then drop them purposefully. Head rolls and stretching exercises can also help.

Have a hug from a loved one or friend.

Get some fresh air. Always a good way to clear your head. A brisk walk around the block or even in your garden if you have one can work wonders. You can take a screaming baby or toddler along and it might just help them calm down too!

Do something else (if possible). Anything to distract you from what's making you tense and anxious. Clean something, call a friend...

Walk away from the situation for a couple of minutes (if possible). If you're dealing with a toddler tantrum in the middle of a supermarket, this isn't really an option but if you're having an disagreement at home, go into another room for a breather.

What techniques do you use to calm yourself down in a stressful or difficult situation?

photo credit

Monday, 21 December 2009

Staying Happy Over the Festive Season

happy!As we are just days away from Christmas now, most people are busy with last-minute preparations and probably don't have a lot of spare time to think about much else! Getting wrapped up in the festivities and the feeling busy that comes with this time of year, seems to last all the way through until the new year. Are we really all so busy or is it a welcome distraction from the day-to-day normality? What is the best way of staying happy throughout the festive season?

One thing I realised I have been guilty of in the past is using Christmas and the holiday as an excuse not to do the things I'd do in any other week of the year. Things that make me feel good, like exercise. Or I do things I wouldn't usually do in a regular week, like unnecessary shopping (lured by the sales) or eating way too much chocolate. Lots of people complain that they feel unhealthy, sluggish and a bit depressed after Christmas and I think these types of things are part of the reason.

It's great to have a relaxing time over Christmas, enjoy some special treats and do activities you might not have the time to do when your partner is not at home to help with the children. I think it's important to do different, fun things as a family and not worry too much about the regular routine. However, there are some things it's good to keep doing, to help keep you feel happy and healthy. If you normally go for a run, a workout or some kind of exercise, that's probably one part of your routine you might consider keeping over Christmas. You'll feel better for it and indulging in richer festive food won't then be so bad :-)

When the Christmas holiday comes to an end, your husband or partner goes back to work, and you're left with a house that needs a good clean, a body that needs a detox, your purse strings feeling tight and a pile of new gifts and sale purchases to find uses for and space to put away, you'll probably feel pretty miserable. Instead, if you do a little bit of cleaning most days (just 10 minutes of tackling one small area of the house), you won't get a build-up of dirt and clutter. If you intersperse your rich meals with healthy light foods (fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds etc) and keep your body hydrated by drinking plenty of water in-between glasses of wine, you won't feel so full and bloated. A brisk family walk every day can be an enjoyable activity if you go somewhere new or stop off to see friends and getting out alone for a run or to do some other kind of exercise will be reinvigorating and mood-enhancing!

It's good to remember what Christmas is all about and what it means for you and your family. I think we need to be wary of using it as an excuse to do or not do certain activities that we enjoy and benefit from, even if they don't seem so attractive at the time. You can make these things fun so they feel less of a chore. Eating healthily after a day of indulgence, can be more enjoyable if it involves cooking a new recipe and being a bit more adventurous with food. Exercise can be easy to do if you play a game or sport with family or friends. To really have a happy Christmas, you need to feel happy yourself!

Is there anything that you do or don't do , routines that you keep or discard during the holidays to keep in the festive spirit?


Friday, 18 December 2009

Simple Changes for More Sustainable Living

Green Household Management This is a guest post by Caroline Harris, author of 'Ms Harris’s Book of Green Household Management: The Essential Thrift Bible'. I asked Caroline to share her story about how she came to write the book, and for some of her top tips.

It’s all down to my son, really. I decided to try and be greener as I contemplated what state the planet might be in when his generation inherit it, and what kind of possibly harmful cocktail might be brewing in his infant body from the 100,000 chemicals that make their way into our households. We started to buy more organic and fairtrade, we attempted the reusable nappy route, we changed to more eco-friendly cleaning brands.

But it wasn’t until one summer holiday in Cornwall that I came upon the idea for a book of green household management. We were staying at a cosily lovely holiday cottage near a family-friendly cove of beach, but beneath the sink, instead of my usual eco cleaners, was a gaggle of brightly coloured big-manufacturer potions. It started me thinking that I wished I knew how to really go back to practical, thrifty basics, and clean with the likes of baking soda and vinegar.

I began researching. The British Library, for household manuals from centuries gone by; the internet, for up-to-date advice; friends, parents, experts at green organisations. I turned our home into something of a laboratory, as I monitored our energy use, measured our greywater, composted, sowed (and sewed), tested recipes and tried out the likes of eco washing balls and soap nuts.

As I say in the book, I’m far from perfect in my greenness, and our Victorian mid-terrace is still a work in progress. But the book has taken me on a journey that I’m still exploring. From rediscovering crafts such as sewing, knitting, and making my own lip balm, to helping organise a Zero Energy Day with candle-lit story time and camp-fire cooking at my son’s school. From taking my part in local food days and workshops with our Transition Larkhall group (www.transitionlarkhall.org.uk) to the pride I feel that we are self-sufficient in jams and chutneys.

Green household management is smart household management. It’s about making your home welcoming, people-friendly and environmentally friendly, saving carbon emissions and cash – and enjoying challenging ingrained old habits.

1. Last-minute Christmas presents
If you’re stuck for presents you could try some homemade ideas, such as clementine marmalade (the recipe is in the book, and pictures going up on my blog at www.ms-harris.com). Fabric circles, or brown paper tied with preloved ribbon (in other words, the stuff you saved from last year) will liven up the lids. Or how about kilner jars filled with biscuits or simple sweets, such as fruit-and-nut-strewn chocolate bark, which I’ve just made with my son for his teachers.

2. Visit your local charity shop
They’re great for raw materials, such as fabrics for sewing and teacups to hold soya candles, as well as fashion finds. I’ve discovered Susie Cooper ceramics, a Fenn Wright Manson jumper, and a number of good TopShop items. You can park the children in the toy section while you browse.

3. Easy bathroom cleaning
You might be surprised, given that I’ve written a household management book, but I like to do the minimum cleaning I can get away with. You don’t need headache-inducing bleaches for bathrooms. Spritz toilet bowls regularly with a distilled white vinegar spray, and tackle stubborn limescale with a couple of tablespoons of citric acid left overnight. A few drops of lavender oil on a damp sponge makes a fragrant wipe for the seat.

4. Put lids on pans
It’s amazing how much you can turn down the heat – though watch they don’t boil over. Try to double-use an oven, so you cook more than one thing at a time, and prepare double quantities of meals: heating up takes less energy than cooking from scratch, and will save your time too.

5. Plant a fruit tree
Apple trees are a lovely addition to the garden, and winter is the time to plant these and other fruit trees and bushes. You can buy a few raspberry canes or a blackcurrant for about the priced of a punnet of soft fruits, and they take very little looking after. You can even grow them in pots on a patio


Mummy Zen: This is a really enjoyable book and provides a wealth of great tips covering everything from general cleaning to eating, shopping, gardening, clothing, as well as some lovely creative (and green) ideas for special occasions. Click on the book image to get your copy or order one for a friend (it would make an excellent gift). Today is Amazon's last day to order for Christmas with their free super-saver delivery.


Wednesday, 16 December 2009

10 Simple Joys of Christmas

We got our Christmas tree at the weekend. We enjoyed it in its natural green glory for a day before decorating it but now it's looking extra pretty with some decorations and fairy lights. I've dug out a cookie recipe to make some festive shaped cookies and today it snowed for the first time this winter. The joy of Christmas is in the air!

On that note, I wanted to remind us all of the some of the very simple joys of Christmas. These might be the little things we don't even think about or some easy ideas to create a festive atmosphere and to help towards an enjoyable holiday. Here are my 10 simple joys of Christmas:

(1) The smell of a real Christmas tree.

(2) Some simple decorations. You may not have the money, space or inclination to decorate your home extensively but I think a few little things can really help create a nice Christmassy atmosphere. A couple of ideas:
  • A red candle as a table centre-piece, surrounded by a few seasonal leaves/sprigs/fir cones looks good
  • Display the Christmas cards you receive  around your mantlepiece/a large mirror/end of bookcases or hang on long lengths of wide ribbon and pin each card to the ribbon
  • A pretty bright red poinsettia always looks festive and natural

(3) Freshly baked festive-shaped cookies. Try an easy recipe like this one. They're fun to make with your children and can be used as decorations, given away to friends who stop by, as well as just eaten!

(4) Playing a game or watching a Christmas movie together as a whole family.

(5) If there's snow, building a snowman or having a family snowball fight.

(6) Music. It needn't be Christmas carols or annoying Christmas songs that all the shops play but put on some music during the festivities. It can be relaxing or can be fun for the little ones to dance to.

(7) Light some candles. As the days are shorter and it gets dark so early now, having some candlelight gives a lovely cosy feel to your home.

(8) See friends. I've always found it relaxing and fun to see friends close to Christmas day. No need to host a gathering at home, meet them at a pub or go for lunch somewhere. It's sociable without any of the stress that can sometimes be experienced around family.

(9) Time off work. For those of us not back at work, our spouse probably will have a few days off work during the holiday so enjoy those extra days together!

(10) Excitement! If like me,  your own children aren't yet of the age to understand what's going on, don't let that stop you feeling the excitement that comes with Christmas. Maybe I'm just a big kid but I love seeing all the gifts under the tree on Christmas morning and watching family open fun and thoughtful presents from each other.

It's easy to get caught up in the hectic side of Christmas and especially if you are hosting a family Christmas with parents and in-laws coming to your home. You find yourself worrying about everything from how tidy the house looks to whether you've got all the festive food planned, whilst finishing off your Christmas shopping and maybe attending some Christmas parties along the way!

The truth of the matter is that families don't come to your home on Christmas day to judge you on your hosting skills, food presentation or immaculate-ness of your home. They come to spend time together and share the feeling of happiness and festive fun! That probably won't make you any less concerned about wanting to make everything perfect but try to remember that often the simplest things can make for a happy day.

What simple joys of Christmas would you add to the list?
photo credit

Monday, 14 December 2009

Seasonal Eating (Battling with the Brussels)

brusselsI've mentioned before that we get an organic vegetable box delivered to our home each week. It means we eat seasonally and consume (relatively) locally sourced food without the conscience of air miles. The boxes come in different sizes for different sized households. The contents are published on their website a week in advance so you can choose to add to your box or even create your own box if some of the vegetables are not too your liking that week, or you just can't face another week of cooking with cabbage!

For the most part I go with the standard box, as opposed to creating my own. Whilst some customers might lament of receiving spinach for five consecutive weeks when in season, I find it a fun challenge to try new recipes, cooking it in different ways. The downside to having their standard box is that sometimes you inevitably receive vegetables that you don't like. That happened last week - we got brussel sprouts and beetroot, both of which I really dislike.

The vegetables are all fresh, flavourful and of excellent quality. I'm certainly not going to waste any, even if I don't like them. Instead, I make an effort to find a recipe that involves being a bit more creative with the particular vegetable. With last week's examples, I made a soup with the brussel sprouts and a cake with the beetroot. Both are delicious! I get a real sense of satisfaction when I find a way to eat a food I wouldn't ordinarily ever choose or take delight in eating.

Just as baby food books talk about disguising vegetables for little fussy eaters, the same applies to us as adults. If like me, you groan at the mention of brussel sprouts with the traditional English Christmas dinner, try cooking them differently and see how they go down. Finely slicing them and frying with chilli and ginger renders them a whole different texture and taste to the regular boiled version.

Do you have any inventive ways to cook your least favourite vegetables?

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

A First Year of Motherhood

My little baby boy turns one tomorrow! Everyone says 'they grow so fast, the time time goes so quickly, bla bla bla...' but isn't it true? My son is such a joy and has given my life a whole new enriching perspective. It's been a wonderful year, full of all kinds of new challenges and experiences.

I thought it might be helpful to new mums out there especially, to share a few things I've experienced, learned and thought about this past year.

5 things I wasn't expecting from motherhood:
  1. To feel so tired so often. Even once the sleepless nights are a distant memory, it's still tiring work being a stay at home mum. An early night feels like a real treat to me these days!
  2. To find enjoyment from such little things. Examples include: smiling at my son and seeing him smile back at me, the first time he ate any new kind of food or meal, watching his excitement when he's grasped a new skill....
  3. To have so much fun! Sometimes I feel guilty that while others are at work I'm running around the flat squealing and laughing with my son, or getting to enjoy being outside with him on a sunny day.
  4. To feel fulfilled without a career. Before having my son, I had an interesting job working for an international auction house. I thought I would miss the deadlines, the research and the buzz of the art world. Instead, I am more than happy being a stay at home mum.
  5. To rely so much on a new peer group of mummies. I've made some great new friends in my local area who all have similarly aged babies. I see them almost every day and they are like a lifeline to me. As well as sharing questions, advice and suggestions on our children, we also just have a lot of fun and enjoy each others company. I'd feel lost without them.

5 things I've learned from a year of motherhood:
  1. Treasure every moment. They really do grow, change and learn so fast that you don't want to wish away any time. Enjoy them at each stage of their development.
  2. Follow your instincts. I'm a firm believer that doing what feels right often is right.  I think you get more attuned to your child's needs so it becomes easier to know what they want and how to deal with certain situations.
  3. The difficult times don't last! Those trying first few weeks, surviving on barely any sleep and feeling like you can't cope soon fade in your memory. There will be other obstacles of course but it's those tough times that help us to really appreciate the good times.
  4. Getting out lots is good for baby and you. I remember going to a postnatal yoga class when my son was 8 weeks old. It was raining and I had to take the pram on the bus for the first time to get there. I made myself do it and was so glad I did. Being around other new mums did me the world of good. I think my son has also benefited from being taken to a variety of activities. He enjoys being around other babies and it's got him used to being in different environments.
  5. Routines work! As much as you might not like the idea of having a routine with your child, it makes life easier for baby and you. They benefit from knowing what's coming next throughout the day and you know when best to schedule activities/outings.

What do you remember learning or experiencing from your first year of motherhood?

Monday, 7 December 2009

My Day, Yesterday

videoThe title of this post refers to a video group set up by a guy called Garrett Murray on Flickr. The idea is to shoot a video of a day in your life, put it together to last no more than 90 seconds and post it on his video group. No music or sound effects should be added.

There's something about this idea I really like. We're so wrapped up in going about our regular activities each day that we probably don't realise what we do because it all seems like the daily humdrum. Watching Garrett's video, you get the impression technology is a very important part of his life! He appears to live alone and not have a family though. I think we all might get a surprisingly interesting perspective on our own lives if we did a video along these lines. There might be something we do a lot of that we hadn't ever noticed before.

It could also be a helpful little project in the same way when you get video taken of you when you are teacher training, doing a course on presentation skills or learning a golf swing for example. Watching videos of yourself can make you cringe but also reveal things you do that you were completely unaware you did. Incidentally my husband just told me this weekend of something he's noticed me saying lots recently which I wasn't even aware of.

I think it can be good for us to look at ourselves and our actions from an outsider's view. I'm not suggesting we all go and make our 90 second video of a day in our lives but we might want to consider what that video would show us if we did make it. What do you think a stranger watching you go about your day might notice or wonder? Maybe we sit at home too much and need to get out more. Maybe the tone of voice we use with our partner or children could be nicer and more reasonable. Maybe we don't play enough with our children or have proper conversations with our partner. Maybe we're always picking at food but not eating healthy nutritious meals.

With a little reflection, we would all probably notice elements of our daily lives that could be improved. Ordinarily, we would just carry on as usual without stopping to think about it but we'd probably benefit from taking time to reflect.

Have you ever been made aware of something you didn't know you did? Have your own reflections lead you to make any big or small changes in your life?

You can see Garrett's video, 'My Day, yesterday' here.


Thursday, 3 December 2009

Unexpected Creative Cooking

This week I’m following a ‘Yogic diet’, also known as an Ayurvedic diet. My yoga teacher asked for a couple of volunteers to trial the diet for a week to help her with something she’s writing. Always one for a challenge, I was keen to participate. (It’s not a diet to lose weight, more a kind of eating regime).

I’ll provide you with a couple of links at the end of this post for those of you interested in finding out more but here’s the basic idea…. Ayurveda is the traditional medicine of India, originating over 5,000 years ago. Its focus is on re-establishing balance in the body through diet, lifestyle, exercise, and body cleansing, and on the health of the mind, body, and spirit.

Firstly I had to identify my Ayurvedic type, of which there are three: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. There's then a corresponding list of foods for each type and the object is to eat the foods that are 'balancing' and steer clear of those that are 'aggravating'. As expected, caffeine and alcohol are to be avoided and the more fresh fruit and vegetables eaten, the better. Your stomach should ideally be 50% food, 25% water and 25% empty.

For my yoga teacher I am keeping a food diary that has to be submitted once the week is up. It's the first time I've kept a food diary. It certainly makes you more conscious of what you eat when you know somebody else will know about it! I don't think it would be so effective if my yoga teacher wasn't going to be reading it.

Being a vegetarian, I thought I would find this 'diet' a breeze. Instead, it has been quite challenging but in a positive way. It's given me an insight into my eating patterns and tendencies and I have had to be more creative with certain foods. As a couple of examples, in an effort to eat seeds I have had pumpkin seeds sprinkled on my porridge and sunflower seeds in a salad. That's another thing - salads. Generally I rarely eat salads in the winter, instead prefering something warming in the cold weather, like soup or jacket potatoes. I've really been enjoying the salads this week and have made a tasty variety to keep them interesting.

We get a box of organic vegetables delivered to us each week so eat fresh, seasonal vegetables on a very regular basis. This week though, I had to go and buy a load more to last me the week. It made me wonder if we really do eat a lot of vegetables or do I make myself less-nutritious lunches in an average week?

I'm enjoying the questions arrising from following this 'diet' and the need to think a bit broader when deciding what to eat for a meal. If nothing else, I will have gained a good look at my own eating habits and will have learned to be a bit more creative with the food I eat.

Have you ever kept a food diary or followed a diet that's forced you to be more creative with food?

Find out your Ayurvedic type here and list of foods to eat here.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Mind the Gap

mind the gap
If anyone came to mummyzen.com last Thursday around noon, you'd have found no site! Regular readers amongst you might have noticed a couple of missing recent posts. Whilst trying to back-up my files, I accidentally deleted them! You can imagine my despair.  Luckily, not too much is missing and I can live with a little gap in my posts. Apologies to those readers who had commented on the missing posts and whose comments are therefore now lost.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Creating and Enjoying Family Traditions and Memories

When you think of childhood memories, Christmas is probably a time you remember quite well. An annual celebration, excitement, family time and  traditions all serve to establish memories (hopefully fond!)

I remember helping my Dad wrap presents for my Mum on Christmas Eve, staying up late and going to midnight mass, leaving out a mince pie and a glass of sherry for Father Christmas and a carrot for Rudolph, waking up one Christmas Eve convinced I'd heard Santa's sleigh bells. As a family, we'd often play board games in the afternoon after the excitement of all the gifts had died down and would usually go for a walk for some well-needed fresh air and to stretch our legs.

My husband's family have some distinct culinary Christmas traditions. They always have French onion soup on Christmas Eve and duck for Christmas dinner. The duck tradition has a nice history dating back to his parents first Christmas together just weeks after they were married and while being far away from the extended family. My mother-in-law still has the hand-written recipe card where she wrote the duck recipe that had been memorised by her husband (the Christmas budget wasn't enough to buy the cookbook!).

In a very enjoyable and inspiring post on her blog Serene Journey, Sherri Kruger, mother of two, writes about her chosen theme for the Christmas holidays being to create great memories. She lists some ways she plans to do that and there are some lovely suggestions like having a tea party for the females in the family, enjoying a craft day with family or friends and hosting a movie night. It reminded me how fun it can be to create your own traditions, fun activities and memories as a family. (Read Sherri's post here).

As parents to young children, you have the opportunity to create your very own family traditions, experiences and memories that will bring happiness to all the family. It can be fun to think of what these might be or get ideas of something new to try. They might be particular activities you do all together or specific recipes you make and enjoy as a family. Often the simplest things give the greatest pleasure because it's the sharing and togetherness involved that gives a sense of family fun and will help form happy lasting memories.

What are some of your family traditions or special memories? If you have a very young baby, do you have ideas of things you want to do this Christmas to start a family tradition or a particular activity/meal you can all enjoy this Christmas and for those to come?
photo credit

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Baby-Proofing for Budding Explorers

Once a child starts crawling, they find a wealth of exploration and adventure around the home. Once they start pulling themselves up, cruising furniture and getting ready to take their first steps, they find a whole lot more is within their reach.

My son's favourite activity at present is standing at our coffee table and pulling everything off onto the floor, one item at a time. I was chatting to a couple of other mums the other day and one of them said that they got rid of their coffee table and the other mum said she was considering doing the same thing.

We really have not done any baby-proofing in our flat as yet. The crawling stage was manageable and when our son inevitably went towards things like wires and leads, we told him 'no' and so far he seems to have learned to steer clear of those things. Maybe we've been lucky and I don't want to tempt fate by writing down and publicly declaring the things he hasn't even touched or bothered with but so far it really hasn't been a big deal.

My own mother and my sister-in-law (both mothers to three children) told me that they didn't do any baby-proofing, as they felt it was good for the children to learn what's ok to touch and what's not. My sister-in-law made a good point that if you transform your own home into a totally baby-friendly abode, then when you're at someone else's house, your child won't know that it's not ok to grab their books and rip the pages out or whatever.

So far, our son's prefered activities have come in phases, as his curiosity and development has progressed. I figure the table de-robing is just another phase. I can deal with picking the stuff up off the floor and putting it back on the table several times a day (they're obviously all unbreakable, insignificant things and we've added a few baby-friendly things too). I really don't think we would ever consider getting rid of the coffee table!

Of course, I have a lot of respect for those parents who take measures to create as safe and clear a home environment for their children as possible. It's all done with the utmost care and desire to protect a child from unnecessary risks. I'm sure there will be elements of baby-proofing that we will incorporate into our home as our son becomes even more mobile, such as kitchen cupboard latches to avoid access to any potentially dangerous implements or substances.

However, I think the touching, picking up, moving and general exploration of new things is an important part of a child's development and a way for them to exercise some independence. It's crucial that as parents, we ensure there are no dangerous items within reach but I feel a total re-arrangement of your home should not be needed and could be counter-productive.

What are your experiences? Did you do much baby-proofing of your home? Please share any helpful suggestions in the comments.
photo credit

Friday, 20 November 2009

Mum's The Word

mum's the word
I'm usually the kind of person who keeps ideas, plans or projects under hat until they come to fruition. Like Mummy Zen for example. I didn't tell any of my friends I was working on a blog for Mums, so the first they heard of it was when the site launched and was ready to go.

At the moment I have another project on the burner but this time, I decided to let a couple of people know about it whilst it is still very much in progress. As Kat Vitou mentioned in her business tips post, telling a fellow mum about a business idea you have is often helpful, as they can provide useful feedback and maybe come up with an aspect you hadn't thought about. The few people I have recently spoken to about my project all provided invaluable suggestions that I am incredibly grateful for and will benefit from.

It's not only in matters of business ideas or personal projects that it can help to share your intentions with others. If you are trying to lose weight for example, it can be a good idea to tell your close friends. By verbally communicating it to them, you will feel more motivated to keep up your healthy eating and exercise plan to achieve your goal and your friends will be there to provide encouragement along the way. If you don't tell anyone, it's a lot easier to give up because you only feel accountable to yourself.

I remember a friend telling me that when you are looking for a new job, you should mention it to everyone you come into contact with. The thought behind it being that someone might know of a suitable position or of somebody you should be introduced to. It can be a good way to network.

Travel plans are something many of us are keen to tell our friends about and are a good example of how worthwhile it can be to share plans with people you know. I have had all kinds of useful information provided on areas or cities to visit in a particular country that friends have been to or know well.

Maybe you are naturally open with those around you but for those of you who need a little encouragement to reveal your plans, ideas and projects to others, here are 4 reasons to do so:

- Motivation. Once you tell someone about your idea, their response and excitement will likely motivate you to keep pursuing it. Friends can also be there to help motivate you if you feel like you're struggling.

- Accountability. Telling a couple of friends lends itself to feeling a sense of responsibility for your intended actions so you are more likely to follow-through with your aim.

- More ideas. You'll probably find your friends have some surprisingly helpful suggestions or ideas you hadn't considered. They might have specific expertise to offer you too, relevant to your project.

- Confidence. Voicing your ideas can be confidence-boosting (just the act of saying it out loud). Support from those you talk to about your plans also gives you confidence to work towards achieving your end goal.

Have you benefited from sharing with friends a particular plan, project or goal?

Photo credit

Monday, 16 November 2009

The Importance of Enjoying 'Me-time'


The other morning, I was walking past a local cafe and saw a mum I knew sitting in the window, sipping on a coffee and reading a newspaper. I gave her a wave and thought to myself how nice to just be able to go have a coffee and enjoy a bit of 'me time' in the morning. Her two children had already been dropped off at school and she works part-time so was probably on her way to work.

As a mother, and as a stay-at-home mother particularly, 'me time' can be hard to come by. There are opportunities of course and it's important to take as many of these as you can. Maybe a family member or friend is able to come over to babysit for an hour or so while you go out to get a haircut or meet a friend for coffee. If your child goes to nursery or school and you're not at work, you can do a little something for yourself amidst the daily chores. After the little ones have gone to bed is another good time, as are weekends when Dad is at home. You can get out by yourself or even stay in but do something relaxing and indulgent for yourself.

By 'me time', I mean time to yourself to spend as you like. That might be alone time; going for a walk or a coffee to enjoy some quiet and be with your own thoughts. It might be seeing friend for a chat and laughter over dinner or a glass of wine. Maybe you use your 'me time' for a bit of pampering like a well-deserved massage. Whatever you choose to do, the important part is to feel like that bit of time is all yours.

Even an hour can be a nice break and gives you a chance to step back from the day-to-day routine. 'Me time' helps you recharge and feel energised. It gives you a respite from monotony and the humdrum. I know whenever I get out for some 'me time', I return feeling lighter, happier and enthused to be back with my family doing all the regular things.

To help you get the most out of your 'me time', I've come up with these four tips:
  • Schedule it. Put a time in your diary and stick to it to ensure you don't miss out. This is especially important if you don't have family or friends nearby to help out with babysitting as it's easy for the time to pass without you getting a breather.
  • Plan it. Decide how you want to use your 'me time' so you don't waste any of it.
  • Mix it up. If you usually use your 'me time' to catch up with friends, be sure to allocate some time that's for you alone. It's good to have a bit of quiet time for yourself too and really helps you relax and recharge.
  • Encourage it. Everyone needs their 'me time' so help your husband/partner fit in his fair share too. You'll get the benefit of their time out too when they come back energised and feeling in a good mood.

Friday, 13 November 2009

A Small Effort Goes a Long Way

autumn walk

We all know that making a small gesture towards someone, such as a phone-call to a friend/relative living alone or giving flowers will bring that person a whole lot of happiness and makes them feel cared for. The same principle applies when we make a  small effort to do something for ourselves. It's maybe even harder to make the effort when it's not for someone else, but it's no less important or beneficial. Often the hardest part about it is that the time when you need to make the effort is usually when you feel least like doing so.

My husband's been away most of this week for work. Last night, I felt tired, had a bit of a headache and generally couldn't be bothered to do much. I was deciding what to make myself for dinner and wondering if I could eat pasta and pesto (my default quick and easy meal) for the second time this week. Then I felt ashamed of myself. I love cooking and always thought I wouldn't be one of those people who says it's no fun cooking for one. I knew it wouldn't take me long to make myself a nice bowl of soup which would be a healthier meal and more what I felt like eating. So that's what I did. I forced myself to make a little effort and felt all the better for it.

When we're feeling tired, emotional, depressed or a bit run down we usually lack motivation to do much at all. However, what seems such a struggle at the time, really only requires a little effort. If we make ourselves do one small thing, it tends to do a world of good and make us feel much better. Think about the times when you're not feeling in a sociable mood and just want to curl up on the sofa at home.....you'll probably find that a chat with a friend revives you and is exactly what you need to perk you up. Or when you look outside at the rain and the grey sky and think that the last thing you want to do is go out for a walk - often a walk is the best thing for you and you feel better for getting out of the house.

Next time you feel a bit deflated for whatever reason, try to reason with yourself and do whatever it is you're not quite in the mood to do. By making a small effort, I'm sure you will benefit more than you might expect.

Photo credit


Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Do You Play?

paper boatThe School of Life, for those of you not familiar with the organisation, is a little place in London offering courses and services to people who want to expand their mind on topics ranging from philosophy to literature, psychology to the visual arts. Some of the staff, faculty and ambassadors write interesting little musings on their blog and last week I read one about 'The Fear of the Amateur'. In the post, Cathy Haynes presents a view that we have all veered so much towards being audience-critics, with the plethora of TV shows on DIY, cooking, home renovations, singing and dancing; that we no longer dare try being 'amateurs' at a new skill, hobby or activity.
"We fear the amateur in case it causes us to loose face and look uncool. But at the root of the word amateur is the Latin amare, to love. An amateur pursuit is something we have genuine passion for, regardless of how we look to the outside world. By abandoning it, we lose the pleasure of doing something that is playful, creative, absorbing, and solely for itself."

Haynes thinks that we would sooner buy something than make it because we think a purchased product much superior to anything we could produce ourselves. I would add to that, the issue of time. People are always rushing to get things done or wanting to have something new immediately so they just go out and buy it rather than thinking about spending any time on it. Part of the fun of play I think is getting absorbed in what you are doing so that you don't give a thought about the time.

As adults, play shouldn't be something we leave to our children. Just as they enjoy making things and creating, we should remember that we can also still have that kind of enjoyment. It's not about making something perfect, it's about engaging in an activity which can be relaxing, intellectually stimulating, challenging and fun!

Read 'Cathy Haynes on the Fear of the Amateur' here.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Dressed to Impress

fashionWith Stella McCartney's new kids clothing range for Gap recently launched in the UK, there have been lots of articles about fashionably-dressed children and celebrities dressing their children as 'mini-me' versions of themselves. Looking at pictures of the McCartney range, it certainly looks very pretty but I was struck at how 'grown-up' it all seems and can't imagine wanting to dress a little girl in an up-to-the-minute fashionable sweater dress or a cashmere and silk hoodie. Even the less grown-up looking tutu looks more frou-frou than fun.

Yesterday I read of an American study conducted by child health researcher Dr Kristen Copeland, looking at 34 playgroups where children between the ages of three and six were attending. She discovered that those children dressed in pricey designer wear were hesitant to engage in running or rough play for fear of ruining their clothes. Likewise, staff were cautious about encouraging them to join in such activities.

It seems sad to me that children would feel such concern over their clothing that it impinges on their enjoyment and playtime. Of course, if we dress our child in a cute outfit, we all like it to stay looking as good as possible, for as long as possible but we also know that whether it's food, play or a messy nappy - accidents happen.

A few friends and my sister-in-law have very kindly passed on clothes from their children for my son to wear. Hand-me-downs are such a great gift. With babies growing so fast, you could spend a fortune on clothes that last just a couple of months. When my son was christened, another friend (with a selection of more formal outfits to dress her son in when they are in her native Spain) lent me an outfit for him to wear. It was nice not to have to buy something just for the sake of the occasion, that I knew he would never wear again.

I take my son to the park almost every day and there's often a good bit of crawling around in the grass that takes place and his trousers tend to get pretty filthy! On the suggestion of a friend, I now dress him in his 'park' trousers when I know he'll be doing that. A couple of pairs of his trousers have been assigned for the purpose of getting muddy so they don't all get really dirty and in the case of any stains, it won't matter. There will always be the special occasions when we want to dress up our little ones so saving the nicer clothes for those days minimises hassle all round.

There are some adorable clothes out there and I do buy the odd thing that I think is super-cute and can't resist but we should try to have realistic expctations of our children and remember that nice new immaculate clothes probably won't stay that way for long!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Getting the Energy to Boost Your Energy Levels

[caption id="attachment_611" align="alignleft" width="160" caption="Photo by Will Foster"]Photo by Will Foster[/caption]

I read a good list yesterday; 'Eight Tips for Feeling More Energetic' (see link at end of post). With each one, I could definitely say I knew it worked for me. Often the hardest challenge when you are feeling lethargic or in a bit of a slump is making yourself get up and do something that will make you feel better. You know that a brisk walk or a chat with a friend will give you the boost you need but it's the' doing it' that can be difficult.

When there's a baby or young child added to the equation, it can sometimes be even more of a mission to take a nap or resist reaching for the chocolate. You need your energy more than ever if you are at home looking after a little one so it is important to do what you can to conserve it or bring it back if you have a lapse.

How to summon the energy (or motivation) to follow helpful suggestions? Well, one good way is to do the things listed on a regular basis. For example, get out for a walk every morning or lunchtime and see or call a friend for a chat at least 4 times a week. By incorporating the suggested tips into your daily life, they become easier to do when you need to do them at a specific moment in order to feel more energetic.

Another idea is to mentally visualise the last time you felt energetic and remember what led you to feel like that. Chances are, you had done something off the aforementioned list of tips. Whilst it can be a mind over matter struggle, by identifying something that worked for you before, you hopefully will want to do the same thing again to return to that feeling of energy.

Read 'Eight Tips for Feeling More Energetic' here.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Business Mama - 8 Tips for Starting Your Own Business

businessThis is a guest post by Kat Vitou, mother to a one-year old and a very inspiring business-woman. Since becoming a Mum, she left her career in magazine publishing to pursue her own ventures. She has set up a successful events business, writes regular magazine features and has another business set to launch next month!

Outlooks on motherhood and career differ for us all and depend on our own personal priorities. Whilst some of us are flying up the career ladder and keen to get back to it after a baby, others find their priorities have changed and decide to be a stay-at-home mum. There are a whole host of successful businesses set up by entrepreneurial mums who have used motherhood as a kickstart to launching a business that matters to them or who have taken an opportunity to pursue something they enjoy with the benefit of flexible working hours.

If you have made the decision not to go back to work, but you want to work for yourself now - here are 8 tips from a mummy who runs businesses without a nanny!

  1. See this as the best opportunity - you are at home already so you have no complications

  2. Have a really good think about what you are interested in to make sure you will continue with it

  3. Do some research. Speak to other mums about your ideal casually and see what they think - mums are intelligent creatures so the feedback generally will be priceless

  4. Develop a business plan. It doesn't have to be difficult but get your ideas written down, look at your spending, check out your market, think about your goal - do you want this to be your bread and butter?

  5. Save some cash - not lots, but enough for you to not get in debt, this could be just £20 a month if that's all you can afford

  6. Manage your time - with a little one this can be a struggle but if you really want it, it's possible. Instead of watching pointless TV when they have gone to bed, write a plan, build a website, get excited and do something with your brain

  7. Find a mentor - someone who has done it and can help guide you - it also helps motivate you

  8. Finally, take the plunge and stick through the hard times. If you want it you will achieve it!

How many of you work from home or have a business idea brewing?

Monday, 2 November 2009

Trying not to make a meal out of it

rejecting foodI haven't written about a baby-specific topic for a while but something came up yesterday which I've decided to share.

My husband and I went out early evening and had good friends of ours over to look after our son while we were gone. They have looked after him a couple of times before so he knows who they are. It turned out to be a challenging evening of babysitting, as he refused to eat any of his dinner and wouldn't touch his bedtime bottle of milk. Every time they tried to give him either his dinner or later his milk, he would become distressed, cry lots, squirming and pushing away whatever they were offering him.

He was fast asleep in bed when we came home and we weren't out long. Our friends (who don't yet have children) were asking us what we thought it was; separation anxiety? was he ill?? It's always a bit of a guess with a baby and certainly for us, teething has often been used as an explanation for particular symptoms or behaviour in our son (it's a running joke now between my husband and I, especially as our son still has no teeth to show!). I went with the guess of separation anxiety. He is at the age where it can strike and demonstrated typical separation anxiety behaviour for the first couple of days we were away with my family in Cornwall the other week.

My husband on the other hand didn't think it was separation anxiety because our son did not cry when we left the room, was not acting clingy before we left, nor displaying any of the other common signs. He thought the difficulties occured because our son is so used to the two of us doing everything for him that if someone else does these everyday tasks with him, it makes him unsettled. Maybe they hold his bottle at a funny angle, maybe the way they speak to him at the dinner table is very different. My husband's point was that we don't really ever have anyone else do these things with our son. This is mostly because we don't have family nearby (both sets of parents live out of the country). Neither do we have close friends right around the corner who are likely to stop by regularly and help out with the baby.

The more I thought about it, the more I started thinking maybe my husband was right. It was naturally a bit upsetting that our baby had refused food and milk while we were gone but it also gave me a bit of a reality check. Should we have encouraged family to feed our son whilst we were all recently on holiday? Should we sometimes coincide visits with mealtimes so friends can feed him whilst we're around to reassure him? It must be one of the benefits of having family down the road who are always coming over and helping out but as we don't have family close by, it's harder to incorporate these simple things into our son's life.

Lots of people live far away from family and are in similar circumstances to us so maybe some of you more experienced Mums have some suggestions to share.....

Friday, 30 October 2009

A Model Mother

chagall I've just started reading a biography of the artist Marc Chagall. He was the oldest of nine children, living in Russia at the start of the twentieth century. It was his mother, who against the odds, got her son into school where Chagall's interest and desire in becoming an artist was born. It was again his mother, who listened to her son's calling and took him along to a school of painting where Chagall was identified as having artistic talent and promptly enrolled as a pupil.

For a young Jewish man (still in his teens) living in a Russian town during this period to declare he wanted to pursue a career as an artist would have been totally unfathomable to his mother. Thanks to her maternal instinct, her belief in her son's conviction, her courage and love and respect for her son, she did everything she could to support his aspirations and Chagall went on to become one of the most successful artists of the twentieth century. She certainly sounds an admirable character and the kind of mother we all need and should strive to be!

Everyone wants the best for their children, for them to accomplish and achieve their dreams. As a parent, it can't be easy to watch them struggle at times or to see them pursue something far removed from what you might have liked or hoped for them to do. It's difficult for parents and grandparents to live in different cities or countries from their children, as is now more and more common among families. I imagine it can be challenging accepting certain lifestyle choices that your children make or observing their relationships with people you find it hard to warm to. Yet it's these very challenges that I think define parenthood.

Chagall's mother is a testament to what good parenting can achieve. Giving encouragement, support and respect to our children, whilst allowing them to create their own destiny. I was reminded of this extract from Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet:
'Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, and yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward, not tarries with yesterday'.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


My son and I are going to a 1st birthday party today. There are quite a number of first birthdays around this time, due to the friends I've made with similarly aged babies to my son. Then there's Christmas not so far away......  Choosing gifts for children can be difficult or maybe it's just my own inexperience. With such a bewildering array of toys for children, it can be hard to pick out something.

I recently read an article called 'Economically Shopping for Christmas Toys' and have provided the link at the end of this post for you to read. A couple of points stood out for me:

- Kids can only soak in so much fun before it gets overwhelming and you are wasting your money. It seems many parents want their children to have lots of gifts to open so the fun never ends but maybe the parents/grandparents are the ones having more fun watching the gifts being opened, rather than the child appreciating all the new toys.

- Resist the urge to wrap a bunch of cheap toys just for the impact. Buying a few quality toys that will last for years is much more economical. Quality, not quantity is definitely a good adage to follow and it's nice to have toys that siblings or other friends and family can continue to enjoy.

When I think of some of the best presents given for our son, the hand-made gifts certainly stand out. Some of our family and friends gave us hand-made blankets, a rug, hand-knitted jumpers and a mix CD for the baby and us to enjoy. Every time we use these things we think of the people who gave them to us. There's a great deal of value in the kindness and thought behind these gifts.

Are there particular gifts that you and your children have really appreciated and enjoyed? I'd also be interested to hear how do you do gift-giving in your family.

Read the article, 'Economically Shopping for Christmas Toys' here.
photo credit

Monday, 26 October 2009

Big Family Get-togethers: 8 Ways to Minimise Stress & Maximise Enjoyment

We just got back from a week's holiday with my family - parents, brothers, sister-in-laws, niece, nephews, aunt etc. There were 13 of us in total and we'd rented a big house by the sea in Cornwall. With family members living in France, Italy and England, we don't have the opportunity to be together very often and it's even more rare that we are all in the same place for as long as a week. We were celebrating lots of significant birthdays/age milestones and thought it would be good to organise a holiday to celebrate the birthdays and spend some proper time together.

With Christmas not so far away, many of us will be involved in big family get-togethers. Not all of us are fortunate to have good relationships with all our relatives and it can therefore be a stressful time when everyone is together for the sake of a special occasion, such as Christmas. Whilst I am lucky enough to have a lovely easy-going family on both sides, I wanted to share some ideas I came up with after my family holiday this past week. I have compiled a list of 8 suggestions below that will I hope will help minimise stress and maximise enjoyment at your next big family get-together.

When lots of people convene, even in the best set of circumstances, there can be clashes of personality or disagreements over the smallest of things, like what time to eat a meal or where it's best for everyone to go on a day out. Everyone has their own routines back home and their usual ways of dealing with day-to-day situations, not to mention having their own opinions on what will make a 'perfect' celebration or event. It's important to be open to ideas and doing things differently.

Some people like to plan every fine detail, from the meals that will be eaten and the places visited, to the games played and the music listened to, but inevitably things do not go to plan and it can lead to disappointment when your expectations are not fulfilled. By having a flexible, laid-back approach, you will feel more relaxed and better able to enjoy the time with your family.

Here are 8 ways to get the most of your next big family get-together:
  • Manage your expectations. If you resist the urge to form all kinds of expectations then you are less likely to be disappointed by the way things turn out.   (This is true of so many things in life!)
  • Keep it simple. Rather than arranging lots of activities that can lead to petty arguements, enjoy doing simple tasks together like cooking a meal together or going for a nice walk somewhere.
  • Play together! Board games, Nintendo Wii, quizzes, cards, football, table tennis....whatever you like. Playing a game as a family is fun for all ages and is a great way to pass time if making conversation can be challenging.
  • Make an effort. If there is someone you don't usually get on well with, try to give them some of your time and talk to them; ask them questions, tell them what you've been doing lately. You might be surprised by their positive response and they will likely appreciate your efforts. If they don't, at least you will know you have tried.
  • Get out for a breather. When your get-together is  longer than a day, it can be helpful for you, your partner and children to get out for a short time away from the rest of the family. Something simple like going for a coffee or taking the children to the park for an hour or so can be reviving and restore your energy so that you return feeling able to deal with the larger group again.
  • Share the load. Whether it's helping with meal preparation, washing-up, playing with the children or cleaning a room full of discarded wrapping paper, if everyone does their bit it lightens the load and means there is more time for doing fun things together. It is always noticeable when someone just sits there doing nothing whilst everyone else is helping out.
  • Be open. Accept that it won't be the same as when you are at home with just your immediate family but that doesn't mean it won't be a good experience. Try to be open to doing different activities, eating different foods, sharing different family traditions. You might find you enjoy these more than you expected.
  • Have some time for the children. It can be especially hard to create a happy environment if there are children present who are not happy. Maybe you have a crying baby who's unsettled with the new surroundings,  a 5-year old who's upset because he doesn't have his usual toys to play with, or a young teenager who's bored because she's too young for adult conversation and activities and too old to play with younger relatives. Allow some time to do something they will enjoy and you'll find their happiness will radiate amongst the rest of the group.
How do you deal with big family get-togethers?
photo credit

Thursday, 22 October 2009

'Dad Rules' Parenting Tips

Dad RulesSome of you may be familiar with the 'Dad Rules' column that used to appear in the Sunday Times 'Style' magazine. Written by Andrew Clover, Dad to three girls and also a comedian, the column would often provide amusing anecdotal parenting insight to readers and there was many a Sunday morning when I would start laughing out loud whilst reading it.

Before having our son, I cut out one particular column and stuck on our fridge. It was entitled 'Everything there is to know about children'  and listed 10 parenting tips. They seemed both practical and helpful, whilst still retaining Andrew Clover's usual humour. (See the link to the column at the end of this post).

Now that I am a parent, these 'Dad Rules' tips have greater resonance and I think they offer really good advice. Here are a couple I've chosen to highlight and add some of my thoughts to:

1) Stick to the Schedule - children are creatures of habit and routine and they are reassured and comforted by knowing what's coming next.

2) Never Bribe - although my son is not yet at the age where he understands a bribe, I hear so many parents of older children using bribe tactics and I think it suggests desperation and a lack of parental authority.

6) When they’re upset, show you understand, then distract - children are quick to forget something that happened just a moment ago and so it's good to help them focus on something different that will bring a smile back to their face.

Read the full list of 'Everything there is to know about children' here. Andrew Clover also published a book last year, 'Dad Rules: How My Children Taught Me To Be a Good Parent: What I Learned from My Girls'. If you are interested to know more, click on the image above for details.

Monday, 19 October 2009

'Make-Do And Mend'


The radiator went on my brother's van recently. After getting a couple of quotes to have a new one installed, he bought the part and fitted it himself, saving almost £200. I was really impressed by this and it got me thinking how people tend to become so much more resourceful when they have a limited disposable income.

As another example, a friend of mine who recently lost her job and is currently job-hunting has taught herself how to sew and has been making bags and skirts. Again, I was impressed!

There's a sense of satisfaction at your achievements when you are resourceful, whether it's being proud of a soufflé you cooked for a dinner party with friends, knowing you've saved yourself some money, or developing your creative side.

More people are having friends over for dinner rather than all going out to a restaurant and as someone who loves cooking, I know of so many great recipe sites when you are looking for inspiration or just want to try something different. A couple of my favourites are 101 Cookbooks and BBC Good Food.

Last month, John Lewis updated and produced a current-day version of the war-time government publication 'Make Do And Mend', which back in 1943 provided practical, frugal tips to help people deal with the rationing of food and clothes. Their modern-day version has all kinds of domestic tricks which save you money; from cleaning with vinegar and toothpaste to freezing left-over wine in ice-cube trays so you have a glass to add to casseroles without having to open a bottle!

I also noticed that John Lewis are running knitting and sewing workshops at their stores, catering to people who are getting into the  'make-do and mend' way of thinking. Skills like knitting have also become more popular with a younger generation through the growth of groups like 'Stitch 'n Bitch.'

Being resourceful seems to be enjoying a resurgence at the moment and reminds us that learning a skill, practising a creative hobby or simply trying to do something yourself rather than paying someone else to do it can bring lasting fulfillment and happiness. It's a strong contrast to the fleeting buzz we get from frivolous spending and extravagance, which require no effort on our part.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The Curse of the Common Cold

This is a post I wrote for the London Mums Blog that I wanted to share with Mummy Zen readers too.


The whole family is suffering from colds at the moment. I rarely got colds before our son was born and now in his ten months of life, I’ve lost count of the number of colds we’ve all had and how many sick days my husband’s taken! It starts with my son and then it’s just a matter of days before my husband and I get it and it seems to take so long for us all to be properly better again. Parents of older children tell us how it only gets worse, as once they attend school they pick up bugs all the time.

Being ill with a baby is in itself something challenging too. You can’t just have a duvet day and wallow in your own self-pity when there’s a little one to look after. They are miserable with their sniffles and you are miserable with yours and it all makes for some long days. If you are both feeling up to going out for a walk then I think that helps, just to get out of the house and have some fresh air. If you are lucky enough to have a family member or friend nearby who can come over and keep you company or help with the baby while you have a rest, then that’s a great option. Other than that, you have to be patient and remind yourself that you will soon be better and back to your usual selves.

As we are moving into peak cold-catching season, I am keen to try anything and everything to avoid more colds in the family. Here’s what I researched on the matter of cold prevention and the best ways to deal with a cold when you do have one. You’ve probably read it all before but a reminder for this time of year can only be a good thing. I learnt, for example, that I definitely don’t wash my hands for long enough at a time and that I shouldn’t share a drinking glass with my husband as I often do….And how many people do you see on the tube who sneeze or cough into a tissue???


- Wash your hands regularly, so that germs get killed. Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice whilst doing so. It’s the rubbing of your hands that gets rid of the germs.

- Moderate daily exercise is linked to a reduced risk of colds

- Get out for some fresh air. Central heating dries out your your body making you more susceptible to catching colds

- Take regular saunas! A 1989 study revealed that those who took a sauna twice a week got half as many colds as those who didn’t.

- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to reduce your chances of infection.


- Don’t share drinking glasses or utensils with anyone as this will spread a virus.

- Drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration, ideally 6-8 glasses of water a day.

- Get as much rest as you can during the day and plenty of sleep at night.

- Eat hot (spicy) foods: ginger, chilli, garlic, wasabi and horseradish are all good for your immune system

- Eat fruit rich in vitamin C.

- Always sneeze and cough into tissues, not into your hands

Do you have any other tips that work for your family to keep colds at bay?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

5 Reasons Why Cleaning Makes You Feel Better

I still remember the upsetting phone conversation where I was told my grandmother's death was imminent. That was nine years ago when I was living in Italy. I'd had the conversation at a phone box on the street and came back to the flat barely able to fight back the tears. One of my flatmates, Steve, gave me a hug and said some nice words but then his next suggestion took me aback. He told me I should do some cleaning. A moment later, both of us had cleaning supplies out and were cleaning parts of the flat that had never been cleaned before. Strange as it may sound, it was the best possible way to spend my time and really helped me focus on something, so as not to sit and dwell on the sad news I'd just received.

I've used cleaning since then as a kind of therapeutic outlet and wanted to share with you some reasons why I think doing some cleaning really can make you feel better. Here are 5 for you:
  1. It clears your mind and keeps your head empty of thoughts because you are concentrating on the task in hand
  2. You move parts of your body so it's a mild form of exercise and (in my humble opinion) shares similar benefits of releasing endorphins, thus improving your mood
  3. It gives you almost instant visual gratification to see the area you've been working on become clean and spotless
  4. As a mother, you feel happier knowing you've helped towards providing a cleaner, safer environment for your child
  5. 'Tidy house, tidy mind'. Having a less cluttered, disorganised home makes you feel more organised and focused
Next time you feel upset or frustrated about something, try doing a bit of cleaning. It doesn't have to be a lot, just 10 minutes of thorough cleaning will make you feel better.
photo credit

Friday, 9 October 2009

The Give-up/Take-up Plan


A few years ago, my husband and I were talking about small changes we wanted to make in our lives, things like exercising more, finding time to work on little projects we'd been meaning to do for ages, read more, write, paint..... Even starting to do just one new extra activity in your life can be a challenge to the best of us and it often means you end up having to stop doing something else or change the way you approach an everyday part of your life. With this in mind, we came up with a plan we called 'Give-up/Take-up'. It involved choosing one thing to give up and one thing to take up each week or each month.

One week we decided to give up 30 minutes of sleep and to take up sitting down to breakfast together. Turns out we really liked sitting down to breakfast together rather than grabbing a quick bite before rushing out the door. So, we never went back to the extra 30 minutes in bed and we didn't miss that little bit of sleep, or maybe it was just that we enjoyed the breakfast together more.

The Give-up/Take-up plan is an easy one and a way to try doing different things or not doing things that you usually do. It works like this:
  • at the start of a week, think of 1 thing you want to give up and 1 thing you want to take up in the forthcoming week or month
  • write them down and put the list somewhere visible during the week/month to come
  • check the list every day as a reminder

Here are some suggestions of things you might want to give up or take up. The idea is not to choose huge life-changing resolutions but very small manageable things that you can try for one week. That way, it is realistic for you to follow-through and yet you still feel a sense of achievement with having fulfilled these small aims. It's also a good way to find new habits that you enjoy and want to incorporate into your daily life.  Don't feel bound by these suggestions, the list below is simply some ideas to get you started. I've listed under categories to break up the list.

  • give up watching 1 hour of TV every evening (or give up watching TV altogether!)
  • take up cooking two new recipes per week for dinner
  • give up 15-30 minutes of sleep and get up earlier to have breakfast with your partner or go for a run.....
  • take up 10-15 minutes of reading/writing a journal/painting every evening

Health & Fitness
  • give up coffee/alcohol/chocolate/smoking
  • take up some form of exercise 3 days during the week
  • give up a couple of stops on the bus/train or park a couple of blocks away from where you need to be and walk the rest of the way
  • take up something relaxing 2 nights a week (a candlelit bath, a massage, yoga, meditation - whatever helps you unwind)

Family & Relationships
  • give up using your Blackberry/iPhone/computer after 9pm to ensure you get some time to switch off and relax with your partner/family
  • take up sitting down to dinner together without TV or other distractions so you can chat about your day, plans for the weekend, news, holidays etc
  • give up 10-20 minutes of morning sleep/work to spend extra time with your children
  • take up doing something for your partner every day (something small like getting breakfast, paying a compliment, doing a household task that the other person usually always does....)

By committing to only two small changes over a short time-scale of either a week or a month, the goals you set yourself won't feel demanding or difficult to accomplish. You'll definitely feel better for making these small changes and in the process, you might find that you want to make some of the changes permanent in your life.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Mummy Zen's Money-Saving Tips

moneyChildren can be expensive little treasures. You don’t need me to tell you about the wealth of temptations out there which encourage you to spend. Then there’s the small day-to-day things that all add up, like the lattes for your walks around the park.....

I therefore present to you some Mummy Zen tips for saving money and still having fun:

  • Babysitting swap: for evenings out, but also take it in turns to leave your child with a couple of mums during the day. They can look after their own children plus yours while you go out shopping or to get a haircut etc.

  • Coffee mornings and playdates at home: rotate with your friends to share the hosting.

  • Creative play: make some toys at home. Cleaned, empty plastic bottles or containers can be filled with beans/rice/pasta to make rattling toys; fill a bottle with water and add some glitter; older children can use things like empty cereal boxes, egg boxes and kitchen towel rolls to make all kinds of spaceships, robots etc.….

  • Lend, borrow, swap: if you have mum friends with children a few months behind or ahead of you, you can lend and borrow clothes, toys and baby equipment or organise a toy/clothes swap party.

  • Local library: many host free baby/toddler activities like singing and storytime sessions and you can check out all the parenting/weaning/fiction books you want and rent dvds at low cost. Register your baby with their own library card and they get no late fees! Ideal for borrowing story books so you're not re-reading the same old books at home.

  • Shop on-line: free or discounted prices, both new and second-hand, here are some websites I like to use which sell all kinds of baby and child items:

www.ilovefreegle.org – get stuff for free & help keep landfills empty



www.netmums.com – check out the ‘Nearly New’ board

Do you have any money-saving tips to share?

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Sea

Guest post by Allison Evans, Hypnotherapist specialising in HypnoBirthing and HypnoBirthing Fertility Therapy

beachI took my children to the beach yesterday. We are visiting the southern coast of Virginia, in the US, for a few weeks, and thought we'd make the most of the deserted beaches and last days of warm, summery weather.

We had an effortlessly wonderful day. We dressed in our bathing costumes, and then I packed a simple picnic of sandwiches and watermelon slices, along with the basic supplies of water, towels, and suncream. Mother Nature did the rest! The children, who at home are prone to complaining of boredom with their old toys and bickering with each other, amused themselves easily and cheerfully at the beach. They dug in the sand, hunted for shells, made sand angels, and splashed knee-deep in the gentle surf. Best of all, they were happy! There was a calmness of spirit in the kids and in me that is, I'm afraid, all too rare in our daily, scheduled-up, inside life. I think it was the influence of the sea.

The sea is my favorite metaphor for labour. I teach HypnoBirthing, which is a preparation for natural childbirth using self-hypnosis, visualization, and special breathing. We teach that pain is not a natural accompaniment to labour, but rather a cultural one that is rooted in fear: when you release your fear of birth, you short-circuit the tension that causes pain in labour. Thus natural childbirth, in which "pain relief" isn't denied but honestly not-needed, is not only possible but a wonderful and empowering experience! Like the sea, labour is primal and powerful. But if you honor and respect it and if you learn to swim with it, its power is yours.

When I was in labour with my first child, my surges -- that's our gentler and more descriptive word for "contractions" -- were becoming intense, and I braced myself as I felt one coming on: body rigid, breath held, face in a grimace. It hit me like a wave that knocked me over! I thought, "I can't do this! This is just the beginning!" Then I remembered HypnoBirthing, which I had been practicing for months, but hadn't needed until that surge. I thought, "Well, let's try it." I sat on the sofa, comfortably supported with pillows, put on the music, and relaxed. When I felt the next surge coming, I breathed, I visualized, and I relaxed. Instead of feeling like the surge was a wave that knocked me over, I had the sensation of swimming up to the crest of the wave, and then sliding down easily the other side. It was actually wonderful -- I was full of wonder! Wonder at nature's beautiful design for birth, at my body's instinctual knowledge of how to birth, and at the power of Mother Nature: power that was mine because I was not fearing it or fighting it, but working with it.

Childbirth changed my life, and not just because it made me a mother! It connected me with my instinctual nature and gave me trust in it. This has been an invaluable gift as a mother, because I trust myself. It connected me with Nature and enhanced my appreciation for all life. This has made me feel powerful and not over-awed by my responsibilities as a mother. Finally, it gave me a special affinity for the sea. Clearly my children, with their serenity and joy at the beach yesterday, feel it too.

Allison is currently traveling in America with her family, en route to a new home at Yokota Air Base, near Tokyo, Japan.  She can be reached at allison@wisdomchildbirth.com.

Click here for more information about HypnoBirthing.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Mummy Zen

tree of life

Welcome to Mummy Zen, which has launched today! I wanted to create a blog for mums with useful practical information and suggestions, as well as more contemplative content focusing on enjoying a healthy balance in our busy lives. Being a mum takes up a lot of our time and energy and it's a constant learning and enriching experience. However, there's another side to us and it's just as important to put time and energy into that part of our life. By feeling happy, healthy and having dreams and goals to pursue, I think we all feel better equipped to be a good mum, friend, wife, partner and can achieve a cohesive balance all round.

Mummy Zen will be a sharing of thoughts, experiences and ideas ranging from the day-to-day basics to more specialised insight from some of our contributors. We can all learn from each other and benefit from different perspectives so you'll find regular guest posts on the site and links to other sites and articles that I come across and think are worth sharing. Please feel free to add comments to any of the posts and to offer your own ideas to fellow readers.

Thanks for coming to check out the site and I hope you come back for more.... There'll be 2-3 posts per week. Bookmark the site or subscribe to the RSS feed to keep updated!

Parenting Tips from a Pro


Leo Babauta, very successful blogger and father of six (!) recently wrote a post with some great parenting tips – I’ve provided the link at the end of this. The first half of the title to his post is almost off-putting, ‘How to let go of Hyperparenting‘, but his suggestions are good ones to try. I’ve chosen three to list here that I particularly like:

  • 1) When you get angry, pick them up and hug them. This makes me think of counting to ten before saying something in a stressful, tense or frustrating situation, which really helps you to think before you speak. Forcing yourself to take a moment, to have a little patience, to breathe and to delay your response works wonders for calming you down and enabling you to react more positively. Giving your child a hug when you automatically would snap or speak sternly to them is a challenge and an exercise in self-restraint. You know you’ll feel a lot better after that hug though.

  • 4) Let her play, let her explore. Definitely important to allow self-discovery and adventure, as long as you have the area child-proofed or any dangerous items well out of reach! If you live in a small flat and it’s impossible to clear all dangers away, then set up a dedicated play area and take time outside to explore too.

  • 9) If the kid is “acting up”, try to figure out why, and meet that need. Whilst this might sound obvious, I think parents can get caught up in the heat of the moment and it's easy to forget that naughty behaviour is usually just a child’s form of expression to let out frustration, jealousy, desire for affection etc. Once that’s identified and dealt with, the challenging behaviour disappears.

See what you think about the rest of Leo’s suggestions and read the full post here on Zen Habits.