Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Action for Happiness

I came across Action for Happiness the other day. The site is launching in full force at the start of next year as a movement for social change to help create a happier society. They think we need a shift in priorities to address the gap between rising affluence and levels of happiness:
As our society has become richer, our happiness has not risen in step. Despite ever greater affluence, our lives are increasingly stressful.

There's an interesting piece on their current site about why happiness matters, briefly discussing matters such as material wealth not bringing people increased happiness, selfishness and indivualism, bringing about more positive living, the part that our schools and workplaces should play and more. One point that I liked was the suggestion of The New Economics Foundation to get our 'spiritual equivalent of the 5 fruit and veg a day needed for physical health' by incorporating 'GREAT into our daily lives':

  • Giving

  • Relating to other people

  • Exercising the body

  • Attending to the world around

  • Teaching yourself something new

This advice is nothing new and we all know that these things are good for our wellbeing but it's a good way to remember each one by thinking of getting our '5 a day'.

As we approach the time of year when we start considering new year's resolutions, I think I might use 'GREAT' as a sort of lifestyle mantra for myself in 2011. It incorporates several of my aims for this past year, that truth be told, never really got going. If I feel like I need to do a bit of each every day, it may make the tasks seem more achievable. We'll see.....

In any case, I'm interested to see what Action for Happiness brings us in the new year. If you'd like to be involved and support the movement, you can join and register your interest here.


Tomorrow my husband, son and I will be fighting the snow-fuelled travel disruption to try to get to France for Christmas with my parents so this will be my last post for 2010. I wish you all a HAPPY Christmas and new year!


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Monday, 13 December 2010

Finding the calm around Christmas time

Christmas, Christmas, Christmas!! On Saturday we went to a local Christmas party for families in the neighbourhood, on Sunday we got our tree and decorated it, today my son had a Christmas party at one of his classes. If we don't see Santa again tomorrow, it's going to feel very strange! Time is ticking on and the last-minute rush that comes with Christmas is almost upon us. Even though we've been very organised in our family this year with our preparations (present buying, posting packages to family abroad, writing and sending cards etc), there are still the last few ends to tie up.

Fun as this time of the year is for families, I think parents also face a bit of added pressure and emphasis on Christmas that is hard to escape. You want everything to be perfect for your children, you want them to enjoy the excitement and surprise that Christmas brings but sometimes you just want to think about something else. Of course you can and you should! It's important to have a break from the frantic festivities and take a moment to yourself.

Schedule in something you find relaxing over the next couple of weeks. Maybe it's going to get your hair cut, have a manicure or a massage or maybe something closer to home like a long soak in the bath with music, candles and essential oils or having a couple of hours to yourself one morning while your spouse or a friend looks after your children to just lounge around in your pyjamas, put your feet up and read a magazine.

Making yourself step back from the Christmas rush, the things to do, the shopping, the food, the people, the Christmas-themed everything around you and to focus on something for yourself and something you enjoy will do you the world of good. Even just an hour off duty will recharge, reinvigorate and revitalise you! You'll feel ready to get back to the magic of Christmas, feeling calmer about everything. Do it now, plan something, arrange childcare with your spouse/family/friends, write it in your diary and look forward to it!
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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Giving Christmas presents a personal touch

After last Christmas I told myself I would try to do mostly homemade presents for people next year. There are so many lovely things you can make to give people and presented in the right way, they can look great, as well as being all the more special for the time and thought that has gone into creating them. Here we are around Christmas time again and I completely forgot about that plan and have mostly done all my Christmas shopping!

For those of you looking for homemade gift ideas, I thought I would share a few of my own and also some links to suggestions I've seen and liked online:

FOOD: We made a couple of our favourite Italian nibbles and sent to family this year. One is the savoury taralli and the other is the twice-baked biscotti or cantuccini (almond biscuits). Both are quick to make and keep well for a few days in an airtight container.

Christmas cookies are a nice food item to make with chidren. If you have Christmas themed cookie cutters and some writing icing tubes, it's easy for them to help cut out and decorate the cookies.

Have a look at Stonesoup's 9 Christmas gifts to make at home for some original food gift ideas.

TREE ORNAMENTS: These are fun for children to make and the sort of thing that grandparents would really appreciate. For younger children, you could get some green felt and cut out Christmas tree shapes. With some glue, mini pompoms, glitter, sequins etc, your child can decorate it to their heart's content! Punch a hole in the top and tie some ribbon so they can be hung on the tree.

Paper plate angels are another decorative tree ornament that can be created simply with a bit of adult assistance.

These tree ornaments on The Simple Dollar are another good option and look pretty sturdy and long-lasting.

I love this cute pompom robin over at Nurture Store.

BEAUTY PRODUCTS: I bought some pretty glass bottles earlier this year that I planned to fill with homemade bath or massage oil and give as gifts. You can find simple recipes very easily, such as these.

Lip balm is another great beauty gift that you could make at home. Try this recipe from FIMBY.

STATIONERY: Photo printing websites offer easy ways to create personalised stationary which can be a lovely present for family members. Calendars with a different photo of your children each month, a notebook with a meaningful image on the front cover and diaries with various photos throughout can all easily put together. I use Photobox but everywhere seems to offer these same products.

For more hands-on creativity that gets your children involved too, this calendar using their drawings is a really nice idea, posted last year at Fab Mums.

Have you got any plans to make any Christmas presents for people this year? Are there things you have made in previous years that have been particularly successful? Do share any other ideas in the comments too.

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Friday, 3 December 2010

7 Delights of December

I was speaking to a friend yesterday and she was telling me how much she loves December. She likes getting cosy in winter clothes, the Christmas decorations, the gift buying, the parties and socialising, the mulled wine and other festive food and drink and it's also her birthday later in the month.

For our family, I think we share her sentiments. My son and my husband both have December birthdays so we have to be careful not to let those get overshadowed by Christmas and to enjoy separate celebrations for those. So far, this December has been a little extra fun than usual due to the snow we've had!

December is early enough that the winter hasn't yet started to feel never-ending and we're not yet tired of getting bundled up in our heavy coats and all the layers to keep warm outside. With holiday and Christmas on the horizon, people start to be more relaxed and tend to be in good spirits. There's lots to keep us occupied during the cold days and dark evenings too.

For those of you at home with your children I've come up with a list of 7 delights of December, simple things you can enjoy together this month:

1) The snow. It's early for us to get snow here but get out there! Make some snowballs, snowmen, snow angels, patterns in the snow with your footprints....Wrap up warm and you'll find it invigorating as well as fun.

2) Gift wrapping. Wrap as you go along rather than saving all the wrapping for Christmas Eve. My son loves to help wrap presents too and sometimes he's quite happy to have his own piece of wrapping paper and amuses himself wrapping random objects in our living room.

3) Boxes. We've been getting parcels of some sort almost every day this week but that's partly because of the December birthdays. However, you'll probably get a few too and the play possibilities with those are endless! Putting things in them, using them to make a pretend cupboard/cooker/robot or whatever, making a tower of boxes if you have several are just some suggestions.

4) Decorations. Let your little ones help with the decorations, putting ornaments on the tree for example. I know someone who used to let their children decorate the tree and then once they'd gone to bed she'd rearrange it all so it all looked evenly decorated and of course the children knew nothing of it :-). They love to help and it's a nice task to do together to get into the Christmas mood!

5) Cooking. Make some Christmas cookies, cupcakes, mince pies or whatever takes your fancy. My son loves to mix, he doesn't care what we're making as long as he gets to tip some ingredients into a bowl and mix them all together. Cooking can be a great indoor activity to do with your children. Older children can do more sophisticated tasks like decorating cookies with coloured icing.

6) Arts and crafts. Find some festive art ideas to do with your children and display them at home. Older ones could make Christmas cards. Even little ones can make their mark by decorating brown paper with potato printing to use as wrapping paper.

7) Christmas events & activities. Make the most of what's on offer for the festive season and take your children to see a show, make a visit to Santa's grotto, take older children ice-skating or to a Christmas market.

What other things would you suggest doing with your children this month?


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Monday, 29 November 2010

What's your illness etiquette?

There are a few things that nobody tells you about having a baby, like all the washing you suddenly have to do and how they get one cold or illness after another (which often you catch too).  I rarely used to get colds but since my son has been born, I've probably had more in these past two years than I ever had in my lifetime!

It's that time of year right now where there seem to be lots of germs around, colds and other bugs spreading like wildfire. I guess it's partly because we're all enclosed indoors now that it's got cold. Unlike in the summer when you can be outside in fresh air, we get stuck in confined spaces with each other in the winter!

As a mum, you quickly learn that consideration for others goes out the window when it comes to your child's illnesses. Maybe for the first ever cold your child gets, you keep them away from other babies, kindly not wishing to spread the germs to other helpless creatures. Yet, before long, you find yourself surrounded by runny noses galore! People don't feel the need to keep their child away from others when he or she is ill. I guess they think that at some point sooner or later, the other children will catch something themselves anyway so what's the point in keeping them away.

A few of my mummy friends have recently started their two-year olds in nursery for a few mornings a week and so I've been hearing about their experiences. You're always told that once they start school, they're forever ill with something and that seems to be the case for a lot of the people I know. These mums are paying for the mornings at nursery and as you know, they don't come cheap. When their child gets ill, they send them into nursery regardless as they don't want to lose out on the money they've spent.

A cold is one thing but when children are sent to nursery or playgroups with something highly contagious, I think that's a different story and shows a lack of parental responsibility. It's really not fair to inflict something contagious and likely rather miserable to other children. It's not something they will inevitably get like a cold and so why should they be put at risk of catching something nasty because another parent didn't keep their child at home?

I'm more relaxed with something like a cold and will still take my son to a playgroup if he has a bit of a runny nose. When it comes to something contagious or more unpleasant, I wouldn't take my son to mix with other children. I wouldn't, because I don't think it's fair to the other children but also because I'd like to think other parents would have the same respect for my child and his peers in the same situation. What frustrates me is when parents don't share the same attitude and respect, which seems to be the case more often that not.

What are your views? Do you think I'm being a bit over-sensitive? Is it something that you view differently when your children start school and begin mixing more regularly with more children?


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Friday, 26 November 2010

Something for the weekend

It's been a busy week but rather than not write anything at all, I thought I would share a few links that you might enjoy reading over the weekend.

We have friends coming over for tea and cake tomorrow so I'm planning on making these pumpkin cupcakes that Urban Mums shared with readers earlier this week.

Books always make good gifts and there are some nice recommendations for the adults you might be buying for this Christmas on Five Books.

As it's getting colder and colder now, these 5 tips to keep healthy and happy during the chilly season are definitely worth a read.

I enjoyed reading this post on The Sweet Beet about the intimacy of sharing food with loved ones.

As a vegetarian, I eat a good amount of beans in my diet but after reading 4 of the best beans for health on the Little Green Blog, I think I should look into mung beans!

Is there anything you've read this week that you've enjoyed and can share?


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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

A day in the life

This post is inspired by The Key to a Peaceful Home with Toddlers on Zen Family Habits. I really enjoyed reading Sherri's daily routine with her two children aged 2 and 3. To me, it's always interesting to know what a person's typical day is like, especially that of another mum.

There's always plenty of talk about routine when it comes to babies but less so with toddlers, even though it's just as important to keep their day structured. Sherri's emphasis in her post, was that making an effort with her two young children has helped make the days more fun with her family. One way she has done that, is by following their routine.

So, I thought I would share my routine with you. My son is almost 2.

• Wake up. Breakfast. Tidy up dishes.

• Free play whilst usually getting ready to leave the house.

• Playgroup / park / activity.

• Snack.

• Back home, free play, prepare lunch.

• Lunch.

• Quiet play (read books, do a puzzle together).

• Nap.

• Snack.

• Go out for walk / playdate or have someone over to play.

• Free play while getting dinner.

• Dinner.

• Clean-up, free play, tidy up toys.

• Bath, stories and bed.

This is an average day. Somedays if the weather is bad, we won't go out and we'll do some art stuff or some cooking together. When it's summertime, we spend most of the day outside.

Looking at Sherri's routine, I was impressed by two things in particular. One was the 'kids do their responsibilities' and the other was 'craft time'. She's found a simple way of introducing responsibilities to her children, by displaying and talking through these routine printable cards. If you were feeling artistic, you could make your own. They seem like they might help make chores fun for children and of course they are simple enough for her 2 and 3 year-olds to follow.

As for the crafts, I think that shows real effort. I always wanted to be a mum who did lots of crafts with her child but I don't do them very often at all. As Sherri points out, they do require planning and preparation that she does the night before. I'm going to give that a try, as crafts are a good way to spend some time when it's cold outside and there are fun seasonal things to create.

When I look at my schedule compared to Sherri's, mine involves more getting out of the house. For me, that's an important part of the day. Fresh air, seeing things or seeing people, a change of scene all break up the day and I try to get out whatever the weather, even just for a short walk. My son enjoys it and I feel better for it too.

What would stand out from your daily routine? What particular activities are important to you and your children on an average day?


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Thursday, 18 November 2010

What's your meltdown fix?

For my son, it's listening to 'The wheels on the bus', for others I know it's turning on the TV. I'm talking about the only thing you can do that placates a very upset, unconsolable, frustrated toddler.

We don't have many meltdowns with my son (thankfully....so far) but when we were recently on holiday and he woke up in the car from a nap that was too short and couldn't get back to sleep and nothing would stop his screams, we put on a nursery rhyme CD. The first song on there is 'The wheels on the bus' and that did it. He stopped his crying, his face lit up with a smile and the tears and anguish were all forgotten.

Likewise, the other weekend he was upset after his nap (notice the pattern?!) and nothing we did would calm him down. My husband reached for the CD and again, when his favourite song started the meltdown immediately melted away.

I left my son with a friend yesterday while I went to an appointment. He's been a but clingy just recently so I was a bit nervous about leaving him and could hear the cries as I closed the door behind me and left. My friend has a son of a similar age and had reassured me all would be fine and if the worst came to the worst she would switch on the TV. Her son and mine don't watch TV (her son does only when she needs him distracted to cut his fingernails) so I guess the novelty works for her son and might for mine too. We don't have a TV so I've never used that trick. I have another mummy friend who uses the TV to calm her son down and finds it's the only thing that works.

Today, I looked after the same friend's son while it was her turn to go to an appointment. He's a very good little boy, plays nicely and is no trouble at all. Yet, I had the thought of what I would do if one or both of them lost it. Would 'The wheels on the bus' work for this boy too? I had my doubts. Luckily, I didn't need to test it out!

So what do you when your child has a meltdown? I thought it could be helpful to know what other mums have tried when all else has failed and who knows, we might learn some other techniques to try out from each other.


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Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The little things

I was going to write another Christmas based post when I realised that we're in mid-November and there's plenty of time for more festive focused pieces. I'm sure all the catalogues coming through my door, magazines and articles everywhere mentioning Christmas had something to do with it!

Instead, I thought I'd write about not thinking about Christmas. Not that it's a bad thing but just that there's other things going on in our lives and we don't want to miss any of the small but fun things about just a regular day in November. My last post was about planning for the Christmas period and whilst that might be going on in the background, we should let ourselves enjoy the here and now too.

Here are 10 things I've been enjoying recently, nothing special but just the day-to-day things that are I think are worth remembering and appreciating:

(1) Enjoying a warm bowl of porridge with my family on a cold winter morning.

(2) Cooking together. My husband and I both did some cooking for other people this past weekend and our son loved helping out with the stirring, pouring in ingredients and watching things take shape.

(3) Racing my son around the flat to burn off some energy when it's been too cold or dark to go outside.

(4) My son and I playing with a cardboard box (that one never gets tired!).

(5) Getting lost in a book.

(6) Watching a movie with my husband, snuggled up under a blanket on a cold night.

(7) Trying out a new restaurant with friends.

(8) Taking some family photos (ok, that was for our Christmas card).

(9) Skype chats with parents.

(10) Playdates with friends. Company and the warmth of a home is perfect playtime for winter days.

Sometimes it's good to step back from the big things going on in our lives and think about the little things that make up our day. It can be refreshing to just stop and remember what you've done recently with your family and it helps you identify things you might want to do more or less of to keep a happy balance.

What are some of the everyday things you've been doing this November that have been enjoyable for you or for your whole family?
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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

6 Steps to Stress-free Festive Planning

I won't scare you by saying how many days there are until Christmas but suffice it to say that it's time to get planning now to avoid any last-minute panic or stress! Depending on the size of your family, who you are spending Christmas with and your own family traditions, what you need to prepare will vary. However, there are things that many of us do and I've provided a checklist below to help remind you of what you can do now to get organised:

1. INVITES: If you're hosting and still need to invite family or close friends, better do it sooner rather than later. Think about those family members who live alone and might be cheered by spending Christmas with company.

2. CARDS: More people are sending photo cards these days. If you're taking that route and don't yet have a photo ready, start snapping! Appoint someone to take some family shots, whether that's a friend or professional photographer. Have a think about the setting for the photo and the clothes each family member will be wearing so there are no awful colour clashes ;-). Alternatively, if you're making your own cards, get started and work on a few each evening. If your children are old enough to lend their artistic flair, it can make an excellent indoor activity to do together.

3. GIFTS: If you haven't already begun present-buying, start now so it's not all left to a last-minute rush. I find it helps to make a list of each person I'm buying for and to write down ideas when they occur. If family members have lists or wish lists, make sure you get hold of those so you can get them something you know they want. Again if you're making gifts,  now's the time to start. Food gifts might have to be done closer to the time but if you're making other items, you can get going on those.

4. POST: For those of you who have family abroad, posting cards and presents is something to think about in advance. Check last posting dates and prioritise those items so you can get them sent off in good time.

5. DATES: The festive season is a sociable one and a good excuse to get together with friends. People's diaries fill up with various work and personal Christmas parties and gatherings so it's advisable to get dates in your diary now. Maybe you want to have some friends over for dinner or have an open house where people can drop by to spend a bit of time with you. Plan those occasions now so you can have a sensible social schedule in the lead-up to Christmas that doesn't leave you exhausted.

6. FOOD: It might be a bit early to buy food for the Christmas period but it's not too early to start considering what you might need. A bit of meal planning will make your life easier, especially if you are entertaining and will also help you avoid over-spending. Start a shopping list that you can add to as and when you think of something. Schedule a delivery date for your online supermarket shop if you prefer to avoid the ineveitable crowded streets and stores.

Spend a bit of time this month on the above suggestions and it can only result in a much calmer and more enjoyable festive season. What have I missed out? Let me know of any other organisational tips in the comments.

Here are some other related posts that you might like to read or re-read:

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

10 Simple Joys of Christmas

Staying Happy over the Festive Season


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Thursday, 4 November 2010

Fit body, fit mind

We all know that children should be encouraged to exercise regularly to help combat rising rates of childhood obesity. An article in The New York Times provides another reason. Studies have shown that fitter children who do regular aerobic exercise perform better in tests. Scans on the children's brains revealed that the exercise had led to a growth in the part of the brain responsible for helping us hold our attention and coordinate succinct actions and thoughts.

A second separate study examined the part of the brain associated with 'complex memory' and again, the exercise the children performed resulted in this bit of the brain being larger. The article mentions another couple of studies that support the theory that a child's fitness correlates to their performance in mental exercises. It concludes by saying that we need to get our children moving and preferably not just in front of a screen with their Nintendo Wii:
A still-unpublished study from his lab compared the cognitive impact in young people of 20 minutes of running on a treadmill with 20 minutes of playing sports-style video games at a similar intensity. Running improved test scores immediately afterward. Playing video games did not.

The children who participated in the two main studies discussed in the article were ages 9 and 10. At that stage when they are busy with school, exercise probably needs to be in the form of walking/cycling to school and/or  playing in after-school / weekend sports clubs and teams. As parents, we need to instill early on a habit, enjoyment and desire for exercise to make it easier and more natural for our children to want to continue exercising regularly and staying fit and healthy.

Exercising as a family is a great way to make it an enjoyable activity and part of a regular routine. Going for vigorous walks,  swimming, playing football in the park or other ball games are all good ways to exercise together and have fun at the same time. As your child gets older and maybe develops an interest in a particular sport or physical activity, encourage them to practise and improve their abilities by joining a class where they can exercise with other children their same age.

How much exercise do you do as a family? What are the main forms of exercise your children do regularly?


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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Embracing the seasons

I'm really enjoying our autumn this year. Our local park has a carpet of huge beautifully coloured leaves and still plenty on the trees too, gorgeous reds, yellows, bronzes and greens. It looks so pretty and is a real pleasure to walk through. It's dry and not too cold so it's perfect for being outside and appreciating the beauty of nature during this season.

It's good to engage children in the natural seasons and involve them with their surroundings. I think I've mentioned in a previous post that my son currently loves getting handfuls of  leaves and throwing them in the air with a "wheee!!". I keep meaning for us to collect a few leaves and bring home to make a simple tree collage too.

Winter will follow and for me that's the most challenging season to embrace. In England, it seems to always overstay its welcome. Yet, dressed appropriately, it's fun to play in the snow and make snowmen, snowballs and maybe find a hill for sledding. Pre-Christmas, there's a certain charm in dark, cold winter nights, keeping warm and cosy inside and preparing for Christmas itself, wrapping gifts, putting festive decorations up and looking forward to some family time together. After Christmas, it's a different story though and most of us find ourselves yearning for spring.

Spring is the most uplifting season for me. Spring blossom and the first crocuses to emerge are an encouraging sight to behold. Spring flowers give a burst of colour after a dark grey winter. Lighter, longer days make you feel more energetic and able to enjoy being outside again.

Summer might be the easiest season with which to engage children. Holidays, beaches, sea, sand, buckets and spades, pebbles, paddling pools in the back garden, running in the grass and all the outdoor stimulation that summer brings makes for lots of simple fun activities.

Whatever the weather and the season, it's invigorating to get outside. It's a nice lesson for children to understand the cyclical patterns of nature and appreciate what they can see, touch and experience at different times of the year. My parents often took me on woodland walks in the spring and autumn and sometimes to beaches in the winter. I have fond memories of those times, enjoying the simplicity of what nature offers.

What's your favourite season and what are some of your favourite family activities you like to do during that time?
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Thursday, 28 October 2010

Unpacking & reorganising after a family trip

I just got back from a week's holiday and have been getting everything unpacked, washed and tidied back away. I'm pleased to say that after the first full day back at home I had unpacked and put away all our cases and bags, done at least half of the washing and drying of clothes, caught up on most of my emails.....and that was all on a very disrupted night's sleep! There always seems so much to do when you get home from a holiday, particularly when you have children, so this post shares some of my thoughts on getting organised at home after a family trip.

There are a few things you can do before your trip that make things easier and more pleasant on your return:

Leave behind a tidy home. There's nothing worse than coming back to a mess so try your best to get everywhere clean and everything put away in its place before you leave.

Put clean sheets on your bed. A friend of mine who travels a lot always does this the day before or the day she leaves and had mentioned it to me at some point. I had never thought about doing it but it makes a real difference to come home and not only be only be back in your own bed but be in a nice clean bed!

Use up food.  For the last few days before setting off on your trip, try to avoid buying any groceries and use up what food you have at home. Check the fridge before you leave and if not used up, discard anything that might go off so you don't return to nasty smells or mould.

Get on top of the washing. As you know you'll come back with lots of holiday clothes to be washed, it's a good idea to empty your laundry basket as much as you can beforehand so you don't feel like you have mounds of washing to do when you get home.

Now, some suggestions of tackling the unpacking, washing, re-organising once you get home......

Try to unpack at least one bag/suitcase the day you arrive home. If it's late, just do something small like a piece of hand luggage or the bag with the nappies, toys, entertainment for your children. You feel better knowing you have one less bag to deal with the next day.

Get a load of washing in straight away. If you arrive home late, put a load in and on a timer to start early in the morning so you can get it out and drying first thing. Getting started immediately and then keeping the momentum means the job is over sooner rather than later.

Unpack all other bags/suitcases by the end of your first full day at home. It can be tempting to leave them on the floor, open, half-unpacked.....but it's a lot more efficient to empty them, put things away or in the laundry basket and get the bags themselves put away to leave your home less cluttered.

Catch up with post, email etc without rushing. People know you've been away so no need to panic and feel like you need to respond to everyone as soon as you walk through your door. Have a brief look through for anything urgent and then take a couple of days to deal with any correspondence. Prioritise bills or any time-sensitive matters but respond to other things when you have time to do so.

Don't plan anything for the day after you get home. Especially with children, having a quiet day after a holiday and a day of travelling is important. It's a chance to get re-settled and to return to your regular routine. If you had a long travel day, it's likely you'll be a bit tired and so the last thing you want is to have an appointment or social occasion to attend. Keep things simple, quiet and low-key for that first day back at least.

Keep meals simple. You'll probably need a few basics like milk and bread when you return home but other than grabbing those few bits, don't worry too much about a big food shop at first. Plan quick and easy meals that require little preparation and enable you to use your time to do some of the aforementioned tasks instead.

How organised are you about unpacking and getting sorted out after a family holiday? Do you have any tips to share?


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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Halloween crafts

Myself and another mum have been planning a Halloween party for our local group of mums and their families. We've hired a local school hall, got a couple of people to provide some entertainment for the children (for free) in the form of dancing, baby yoga for the very little ones and a spooky-themed sing-along with a great music teacher who runs classes in the area. It's a simple affair but fun to have the children dress up.

I've been scouring the web for some easy craft activities we could do with the children too and looking for things to make as decorations with a Halloween theme. I thought it might be nice to share some of things I have found and liked in case you want to try any out with your children.

Fab Mums has these fun little spiders that are very easy to make and are made with materials found around the house.

These woollen decorations over at NurtureStore would be good for quite young children to do and look really effective.

I love the Halloween Shadow Art on Artful Adventures and Jude provides different ways to do it with younger children too that makes it less involved.

Using your empty egg cartons to make bats is a simple fun idea from All Free Crafts.

Flowerpot pumpkins are an easy alternative to carving a real pumpkin. Disney Family Fun suggests using terracotta flower pots but you could use plastic ones too, which might be safer for younger children.

For decoration, I like this Halloween Hanging Garland from Paper Crafts.

Are there any Halloween crafts you like to make with your children or any you've seen online that you'd like to try?


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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Raising Healthy Toddlers

I was surprised to read in a magazine that one parent in three does not cook vegetables for their children (according to research from www.MyVoucherCodes.co.uk) and does not provide the recommended 5-a-day portions of fruit and vegetables. Most of the mothers I know are very conscious about giving healthy food to their children (some I suspect make better, healthier food for their children than they do for themselves!).

Some of the parents in the survey believed that 5-a-day was too costly and not essential, but 54% explained that they failed the 5-a-day because their children refused to eat healthily.

Encouraging children to eat healthly is not always easy but I think a starting point is for parents to set a good example. If a child is used to seeing their parents eat healthy food, they'll likely want the same thing. We all know how our children like a bite of whatever we are eating so if we eat fruit and vegetables, that's what they will get used to. Other factors like introducing a wide range of fruit and vegetables at the weaning stage is important too and helps develop their taste buds and willingness to try new foods.

Little People's Plates is a site I came across recently that focuses on feeding the under-3s and raising healthy toddlers. They have various helpful tools and tips, as well as an infant and toddler forum consisting of practising paediatricians, health visitors, dieticians and child psychologists. The information they provide is aimed to "help you make sensible, informed choices about how to feed your toddler whether you're cooking everything yourself or using pre-prepared foods".

One feature on the site is their ten steps for healthy toddlers. The tips are not just about what you should feed your toddler but how to give them an overall healthy balance. They suggest things like incorporating an hour of active play every day, respecting your child's food preferences and not insisting they eat everything on their plate. I'd recommend you have a read of the ten steps, as if nothing else, they are good reminders of what we parents can do to help get our little ones off to a healthy start in life.

Do you make a conscious effort to provide 5-a-day for your children? Do you have any difficulties achieving that? Are any of the ten steps for healthy toddlers things you had not considered or are there any that you think are especially important?


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Friday, 15 October 2010

The simple way to drink enough water each day

For those of you who have been reading Mummy Zen since the beginning, this will seem like a re-post but I lost the original post when I had a problem backing up my website last year. I think it's a good subject to bring up again....

I've barely been drinking any water over the last couple of weeks. I can tell that I've been affected by it too. I've been drinking more hot drinks that normal, probably because I've been a bit dehydrated and I've been eating more rubbish (namely chocolate and biscuits!), even though I've not been hungry. I also just feel a bit sluggish and I still haven't completely shaken off a recent cold.

It's recommended that we drink 6-8 large glasses of water every day. That sounds like a lot but I have a great system for getting those glasses down without really noticing it. I've realised I need to follow my own advice and start drinking more water in a day. This is how I'm going to consume my daily 6-8 glasses:

- Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. (= 1)

- Drink a glass before each meal. (= 3)

- Drink a glass before bed. (= 1)

That's 5 glasses already. To make up the other 1-3, it's always good to drink some water whenever you feel hungry or before having a mid-morning/afternoon snack. If you're exercising, you'll probably want a glass or two after working out. Et voilĂ !

Let's remind ourselves of some benefits of drinking water:

  • Keeping hydrated helps steer clear of headaches, dry skin and some other complaints.

  • It flushes out toxins, helping to fight against colds and flu.

  • It helps keep a healthy heart because if you're dehydrated your blood gets thicker, meaning the heart has to work even harder.

  • It can aid weight loss by flushing down by-products of fat breakdown and can reduce your appetite.

  • Better concentration. Your brain is made up of around 85% water so keeping hydrated keeps it energised and means you are more alert.

  • An energy boost. As well as your brain, your muscles, bones and blood are made up of a significant amount of water. Not staying hydrated results in those not functioning as effectively and that makes you feel lethargic.
I find it can be especially hard to make yourself drink water in the winter when it's cold and you feel like something warm and comforting. Some people get around that by drinking hot water, sometimes with a bit of lemon. I will often drink a glass of water before having a hot drink.

Are you good about drinking enough water each day? Do you find that you are physically or mentally affected if you're not drinking enough?
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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A day is as good as you make it

I've been busy having a fun week, which is why it's taken me until late on Wednesday to get out a first blog post for the week. My enjoyable week so far made me realise that whilst we might all have our odd bad days, there's no reason why we shouldn't have mostly good days in any given week or month. I've been reminded that our attitude towards things that go wrong or that upset our regular routine can really make a difference to the outcome of a particular day.

One thing that sometimes makes my day turn into a harder one, is when my son doesn't nap anywhere near as much as he usually does and should. This can happen quite regularly if he's unwell or if he's suffering with teething. When he wakes up after a short time, he's usually crying and pretty miserable. The afternoon can then be difficult if he's tired and grumpy.

The days I've spent a considerable amount of time trying to settle him back down to sleep have ended up being wearing and frustrating. The times I have made one attempt to get him to go back to sleep but if that failed, let him get up and got on with the day, have always been better experiences. It's the 'getting on with the day' that is the crucial part.

I think every day this week so far he has had shorter naps (1 hour instead of the usual 2-2.5) but we've had fun afternoons nonetheless. Of course, I'm behind on my housework, my blogging and things on my 'to do' list but it just means I've had to work on those things in the evening after he's gone to bed. We've been spending time outside, throwing fallen autumn leaves up in the air and seeing friends. It's been good simple fun. Choosing to do those kinds of things, rather than both of us feeling a little tired and irritable at home alone makes for a much better day. Instead of foscusing on the upset to our routine, we've been focusing on play and interaction and it makes a big difference to both our moods.

Maybe you're having one of those days; your child's spilt or thrown their food everywhere, they've poured their drink on the carpet, they've not made it to the potty in time and you have a stinky mess to deal with.....you're trying to get out of the house to go to an activity or a playdate, you trip over their strewn toys while rushing around trying to clean up. You're exhausted before it's even mid-morning! Everything would suggest it's going to be a bad day and you sort of resign yourself to the fact. Your mood and attitude is likely to be far from positive and open to fun. Yet, if you were to try to put the rough start to the day behind you and get out to do some things or see some friends and generally occupy your mind and body, you'll likely find that your domestic disasters are soon forgotten and your day ends up being a pretty decent one.

What are some situations that usually result in you having a bad day? Do you try to put mishaps and upset routines behind you and to make the best out of the day?


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Friday, 8 October 2010

Pushover or pushing over?

Around the age of 15 months, toddlers start to assert themselves more around other children, as they develop their independence and personality. Amongst my son's peer group who range in age from 15 months to 2 1/2 years, I've noticed two types of child in particular.

One is the kind who snatches toys off children when they see something they want and who will push other children when they want them to move out of the way / give them something they have / do whatever activity they are doing. The other type is the child who lets children grab their toys from their hands, rarely takes things from others and never pushes over another child. My son falls into the latter type.

I've happened to have a couple of conversations about this with other parents recently which has made me think about it a bit more. The first was with a mother whose child is like mine, doesn't fight back for things and doesn't push back. She was starting to be really anxious about her son being too soft and wanting him to toughen up. Her first plan of action was to ask her nanny to get her son to take back anything that got taken from him. The nanny (with many years of experience with young children under her belt) told her that didn't seem like an effective solution so plan A was abandoned. Plan B was to explain to her son when other kids pushed him, stole his toys or whatever, that he should say no and tell them not to do that. As he's barely saying any words just yet, this plan seems a little ambitious in my opinion but I do think communication is always a good idea.

This same mother told me she would rather have a child who did the pushing/grabbing and would worry less about him if he was more aggressive. I suggested that parents of those children were probably worried about their children hurting other children all the time and constantly having to keep a close eye on them.

The other conversation was with a dad whose son at age 19 months has recently started pushing other children around. His dad is very much against this sort of behaviour and can't understand why his son is acting this way. Yesterday in our local playground, he tried to push my son off a piece of play equipment that he wanted to go on. It was a very gentle push and my son didn't get upset but the dad told him to go and say sorry and to give my son a hug. His son completely ignored him and went to push another child instead! The dad persisted and told him that he would take him home if he didn't say sorry and give a hug. His son did nothing and the dad took him home!

On the one hand I admired this dad for his attitude, as I'm used to other parents not taking any notice at all when their child pushes mine. On the other hand, I felt a bit uncomfortable because it really didn't seem necessary to me to have this younger boy apologise and hug my son for something that had barely been noticed (it would be a different story if he'd hurt or upset my son but he hadn't). It felt a bit harsh to have taken him home. The way the dad saw it however, was that he was teaching his son a lesson that pushing other children is not acceptable and that after telling him three times and getting no response, he felt it important to follow through with his threat to take him home.

I think these types of behaviour are simply different manifestations of independence coming out and don't necessarily mean your child will end up being one way or the other. I'm glad that my son isn't aggressive with his peers but at times, I would like him to fight back and take back the toy that someone else snatched from him for example. Mothers I know whose children do grab toys off others are generally good at returning the toy back to the child and explaining to their son or daughter that someone else is playing with it and then distracting them with something else. That seems to me like a good way to deal with the situation. My guess is that this is just another stage in development and so I'm not too concerned about it. As they get older, these young children will learn different ways of reacting to people and circumstances. They'll pick up behaviour from what they see or get told at school, as well as at home.

What do you think? What were your children like around this age (15 months-2 years)? Did their behaviour change as they got older and if so, in what way?


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Wednesday, 6 October 2010

What are you doing on 10:10:10?

This coming Sunday is 10:10:10 (10 October 2010) and the people behind the 10:10 campaign have assigned it 'a'Global Day of Doing'. As regular readers will know, I'm signed up to the 10:10 movement and trying to do my bit to help cut carbon emissions by 10% in one year. If you haven't done anything yet, Sunday would be a great day to change that. People all around the world will be doing some sort of positive activity towards climate change.

From a low carbon lunch to making some small changes around your home or office, using public transport or bikes instead of your car, there are lots of helpful suggestions of steps you can take on the 10:10:10 site. They even have some tips specifically for families. If you decide to do something for 10:10 this Sunday (or any day), let your friends and family know and spread the word. The more people involved, the better.

Just so you know that I'm not all talk, no action, here are 5 things I've been doing this year to reduce my carbon footprint:

  1. Switching stuff off at night (kettle, toaster, anything that is on standby)

  2. Choosing train over plane for visiting my parents in France

  3. Using energy efficient lightbulbs

  4. Reducing our food waste at home

  5. Trying to waste less water (especially when washing-up)

These are 5 carbon-cutting things that I was already doing:

  1. Eating seasonal and local produce

  2. Being a vegetarian (food made from animal products causes a lot of emissions)

  3. Not owning a TV

  4. Not owning a car (we belong to a car club for those occasions when we need a car)

  5. Giving stuff away rather than throwing away (using sites such as Freecycle)

There's always more we can do! Here are 5 things I'm thinking of doing next:

  1. Turning off our hall radiator

  2. Turning our thermostat down

  3. Repairing things instead of buying new

  4. Getting a Hippo (reduces water wastage in toilet cisterms)

  5. Cutting down on our dairy intake

I hope these short lists give you some ideas and inspiration. I'd love to hear about any carbon-cutting steps you are taking or planning on taking. Do you have anything planned for 10:10:10 as part of a global day of doing?


Friday, 1 October 2010

A watchful eye

We live in a fairly quiet, residential part of London. Nice streets with attractive mansion blocks, a few local cafes, delis and shops, friendly faces and a couple of great green spaces to enjoy. It's a really good family area too. Whilst being in London and less than 20 minutes away from some of the major city sites, there's a nice relaxed atmosphere in our neighbourhood and you could easily forget you're living in one of the world's major capital cities. When you love living where you live, it's always a shock when you hear that something unpleasant happened there, as I did earlier this week.

We live less than a five minute walk from our local park so we go there most days, along with lots of other mums. It's a smallish park but has everything you need, a playground for the children, quiet gardens to sit in, a running track, football and tennis courts, a gym and a cafe (I know that makes it sound big, but really it's not - just well laid out).  It's the hub of the local community. It was a shock therefore to hear from a friend that there had been a kidnap attempt on a child there last week! Of course you hear about these sorts of incidents unfortunately fairly frequently in the news but you don't ever imagine something like that happening on your own doorstep.

I do not know the details of the incident, just that the child shouted out, which drew attention to what was going on and thankfully avoided the worst possible outcome. That leaves you presuming that the culprit is still around and might try the same thing again. As responsible parents, we all keep an eye on our children when out and about but at the same time, it's easy to take our eyes off them for a minute or two. Maybe you're walking along and your child is dragging behind you, looking at something or watching another child, or maybe you're just engrossed in a conversation with another mum and not looking at your child for a moment or two.  It's not bad parenting but those brief moments can be all it takes for someone nasty to step in and grab them.

It's easy to drive yourself crazy with worry and fear about what could happen to your child when you stop to think about it or ponder on instances that have been prevalent in the news, cases like Jamie Bulger or Madeleine McCann. That doesn't do anyone any good. There's a fine line with being protective and over-protective of your child and you don't want to let unnecessary concern constrain what you do with your children. The important thing to take from these upsetting occurrences is to always be vigilant of your own child, of those around you and also of the surroundings and other people nearby. Don't be embarrased or afraid to question something you see that seems unusual or strange, better to be wrong than risk ignoring something that could present a real danger.

Do you have any thoughts to add? Have any of you or your friends been affected by any scary incidents concerning children? I hope not!

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Monday, 27 September 2010

10 Indoor activities for Toddlers

One of my first ever posts on Mummy Zen gave some tips for things to do on a rainy day. Back then, my son was still a baby, so the suggestions were for young babies and most of them don't apply to an active toddler. With the weather starting to get colder and more unpredictable as we move into autumn and winter, I thought a post on indoor activities could be useful.

Whilst spending time outside is a lot less appealing in the colder weather, it's still good to do, as long as you and your children are dressed appropriately. Children aren't as bothered by the cold and wet as adults, so they can still have a lot of fun. A couple of weeks ago, my son and I got caught in really heavy rain in the park. I had to literally drag him kicking and screaming back home! Despite getting totally drenched, he couldn't understand why I wanted to leave!

For those days when you are at home however and want to keep your toddler entertained, here are 10 suggestions:

1. Drawing / colouring / painting - If you're like me, you'll probably want an extra adult pair of hands around to help with clean-up after painting so that might be best for when you have a friend and their child over. Drawing or colouring is an easy one though. Let them 'colour' pictures on newspapers or in colouring books for a bit of variety.

2. Collages - these can be fun for something different. Your child could stick all kinds of things to a sheet of paper: dried lentils, spaghetti, screwed up tissue paper, cotton wool, leaves from your garden or local park, sequins or just whatever you happen to have at home.

3. Playdough - my son has recently really got into his playdough. You can help encourage their imagination by making animals, pretend food and shapes from the playdough. Let them roll it, squash it, pull it apart....You can also get various toolsfor cutting out shapes and modelling.

4. Water play - I know this sounds messy for an indoor activity but hear me out....Put some water in either a baby bath or into a sink, with a couple of cups / plastic bottles / bath toys and let them play. We have one of those baby baths that sits over the bath that our son can reach from standing but otherwise they may need to stand on a step to reach the sink. Keeping the water play contained this way should keep the mess quite minimal or at least easy to mop up quickly. Remember to NEVER leave your child unattended with water!

5. Pretend play - engage your child in pretend play such as having tea, cooking, eating, shopping and improvise with props around the house. The more you get involved, the more they are likely to enjoy it.

6. Building - most children like some sort of building play. It might be building a tower of plastic cups or boxes for them to knock down and re-build, making a tower of cushions/books/blocks, or building with Lego or other similar building bricks.

7. Hide and seek - if your toddler is a bit young to play hide and seek themselves you can introduce the game with one of their teddy bears for example. Show them how to play by explaining that you are going to hide the toy and then put it in an easy place to find when they are not looking (behind a cushion for example). Go around the room with them, looking in different places and let them find it quite quickly so they stay interested. You can gradually change the types of hiding places as they get to grips with the game. Make sure they have turns to hide it too!

8. Active play - being inside doesn't need to mean no physical activity. Chasing your toddler around your home, from room to room is a good way to get them moving, burning off some energy and probably squealing with delight! It's likely to be a relatively short activity as they might get over-excited and you want to avoid them taking a tumble and it all ending in tears! Creating an assault course with cushions, cardboard boxes, bean bags, big soft toys for climbing over can be another way to provide some active play.

9. Puzzles - for something a little quieter, puzzles can be good. Ask your child to find particular parts of the puzzle to get them looking at all the pieces and thinking about the overall picture. We have a London bus puzzle which my son loves. I get him to find the driver, the wheel, the woman on her mobile phone, the girl holding a guitar case, the boy holding a yellow balloon.....he really enjoys it.

10. Reading - most children enjoy being read to and it's a good way to encourage their speech and learning. Interactive books with flaps to lift, textures to touch and bits to move/turn on the pages are good for those who find it hard to sit still with books.

What else do you like doing with your toddler at home? What sort of activities hold their attention?

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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Secret to Life Fulfilment

One wonderful thing about being a parent is watching how your child discovers and explores the world around them. Simple things are really exciting to them, like seeing a plane in the sky, different coloured leaves on the ground, a rubbish truck drive by..... Their curiosity and desire to explore new things is a really enjoyable part of childhood and can be fun for parents too.

According to an article in Psychologies magazine, the natural curiosity that many of us develop as children and later lose as adults could be the key to life fulfillment. Dr Kashdan, who has written a book called, Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, conducted research that also revealed curiosity is linked to a child's IQ, "with highly curious children at the age of 12 performing better in IQ tests compared to less curious kids". Most people tend to lose their curious, exploratory side around the age of 30.

By curiosity, Dr Kashdan means not just enjoying new experiences but also looking for new challenges that will involve  doing something different (eg. making new friends, learning a new skill). It also means seeking the new in the familiar parts of lives, such us in our relationships and jobs. It's a way of being mindful. "Each of us experiences moments every day that we can explore or ignore", explains Dr Kashdan. Often those moments can be ones that make us feel uncomfortable because they are 'new' and not what we are used to. Stepping out of our comfort zone is the first step to developing our curiosity.

We all have our routines and ways of going about our day-to-day lives. I'm sure most of us could say that we feel stuck in a rut sometimes. Taking even a few small steps to move away from the familiar can help us in more ways than one. Below you will see some suggestions from Psychologies for developing your curiosity. Several of them involve acivities that could be said to keep the mind active, something that is often recommended to do into old age. Take an interest in something new, different and who knows where it might take you....

Here are the 10 Life Curious Tips

Start your day with a new experience
- Listen to a different radio station or make a smoothie

Find the unfamiliar in the familiar
- Take a new route to work, or chat to someone you see on the train/ at the station each day

Find out something you don't know
- Read a section of the newspaper you wouldn't normally

Schedule in regular doses of novelty and challenge
- Lunch with someone from work you don’t know, and find out something about them

Surround yourself with creativity and creative people
- Visit a new gallery or go to a seminar after work

Be mindful in daily life
- Listen to a new band you've never heard before or check download a new album

Be open and receptive
- Say 'yes' to an invite if you'd normally say 'no', and see where it takes you

Things change...
- Listen and delve into someone else's opinion on a topic you are passionate about

Bond with your party over shared curiosity
- Meet up with a new couple or friends together

Thrive on uncertainty
- Style yourself differently for the day depending on your mood

Life fulfillment sounds like a bold claim but I do think there's some sense in Dr Kashdan's findings and certainly incorporating some of these suggestions into our daily lives could be a good thing and the consequences may surprise us. What do you think about these tips? Do you already do some of the things suggested?


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Monday, 20 September 2010

Out with the old, in with the new

I cleared out my underwear drawer one night last week. I did it while the kettle was boiling to make my cup of tea. It's something I have been meaning to do for ages and now it's done. It was one of those quick jobs that I had no excuse to delay but then these things always seem more overwhelming than they really are.

People who write about dealing with clutter often suggest you tackle one small thing at a time. You get something achieved, a sense of fulfillment at having done so and I suppose slowly but surely you can go through your home that way.

There were things in the drawer that I never wear because they're the wrong size and I knew I'd be getting rid of a good handful of underwear. I had hoped it would mean I needed to treat myself to some new but I unearthed some things I had forgotten I had and it turns out I have plenty!

Recently, Marks and Spencer invited customers to take in unwanted clothes to their stores, which they planned to give away to Oxfam to resell. They gave an incentive too - people would be given a £5 Marks and Spencer voucher for any M&S branded clothing that they brought in. As well as helping to raise money for Oxfam, the store is helping to cut down on what gets taken to landfill. The initiative is part of the Prince of Wales's Start campaign, encouraging people to lead more sustainable lives. I think it's a great way to get people thinking about what they own and helping them to give things away rather then throw away.

Getting rid of something before or right after buying something new is a good way to help manage all the stuff we fill our homes with. Living in relatively small apartments in London that have limited storage options, my husband and I have generally followed that idea. Prior to my son being born, we moved every year to a new place (we were renting) and welcomed the inevitable opportunity for a good clear-out that moving house provides. Mostly, it's clothes we get rid of that we take to charity shops but sometimes, books and CDs.

As a stay-at-home mum, there are things I have realised I can part ways with too. A change in  lifestyle means my clothing needs have changed. I'm not planning on returning to work for a while longer so I'm going to give away most of my work suits to Dress for Success, an international organisation who help disadvantaged women enter or return to the workforce. I have several dressy pairs of shoes that sit in boxes, never worn and never likely to be worn that I can also give away.

My clothing gets moved around at home with the seasons, due to space issues. I keep winter clothes packed away in suitcases or storage boxes during the summer and then switch around once I need warmer clothes for the winter months. It can be a helpful way to regularly moderate what clothing I have and to notice what I don't bother to move because I know I won't wear it. Once something's not been out of the case for a year or more, I recognise that it's probably something I can do without, so I clear out that way too.

 As we enter the autumn/winter fashion period and cooler temperatures, many of us will be thinking about getting a new winter coat, a new cosy jumper or just something we see in a shop that catches our eye. It's also a good time to look at our existing wardrobes and dig out things we haven't worn in a couple of years or those hurried purchases that we never really liked enough to wear. It's a nice feeling to get your wardrobe and drawers all organised for the seasons to come. What will you be giving away?

 Are you good about sorting through your clothes and other items and giving things away? How do you usually get rid of things?
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Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A year of Mummy Zen

Last weekend was the one year anniversary of Mummy Zen and coincidentally I had hit the nice round number of 100 total posts to date. I've had my days when I've thought about giving it up but for the most part, I really enjoy writing this blog.

At the beginning I really wanted to get loads of readers and loads of comments from people but my focus soon changed.  I started out taking it quite seriously, deliberating over each post I wrote and checking my web stats daily. Then I realised that it didn't matter to me, even if nobody was reading because it was the writing I enjoyed, the thought that went into it and the process of putting words together. Once I concentrated more on that process, I no longer felt any pressure and could enjoy writing what I wanted and when I wanted. I can't remember the last time I looked at my web stats.

I'm lucky that I do have readers though! Some of you are regulars, some of you come and go and then there are always some new people who come across Mummy Zen. I'm grateful to you all! It means a lot to know people like to read what I have to say and it's always wonderful to read comments from readers.

In case you were wondering, these are five of the most popular posts from the first year of Mummy Zen:

6 Suggestions for Helping out a New Mum

Natural Toilet Training

Trying Toddlers

Finding More Hours in the Day

Baby-Proofing for Budding Explorers

I'm always open to any suggestions of content you'd like to see covered so feel free to contact me.  If you're not already subscribed to Mummy Zen, you can do so either by RSS or by email to ensure you keep updated on new posts as they appear. I hope you continue to keep reading!


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Monday, 13 September 2010

Mummy Zen on Meal Planning

National Zero Waste Week drew to a close yesterday so I wanted to let you know how I got on with my meal planning, in an attempt to further reduce our food waste at home. The kinds of foods I tend to leave languishing at the back of the fridge are salad leaves or greens but this week, those all got used up without any trouble so I consider that a good result.

I still had some potatoes and carrots left over but they are still fine for being used up this week.  Potatoes can get used as a basis for a soup, to top a casserole/shepherds pie or sometimes I make potato pizza. Carrots are great made into a soup too. I’ve recently started making these yummy carrot flapjacks that are great as a savoury snack, picnic item or to have with some salad for lunch (my 1 1/2 year old loves them too). Leftover carrots can also be a good excuse to make some carrot cake :-)

Meal planning definitely has some advantages and I enjoyed some of those last week:

  • No time wasted trying to think of what to cook in the evening (especially nice after a tiring day).

  • More thought goes into your meals when you plan in advance so you’re likely to choose healthier options than you would if you were deciding on the spot.

  • Saves you money, as you cook with what you have rather than going out to buy more ingredients.

  • Cuts down on your trips to the supermarket.

  • Generally makes you feel more organised and gives you one less thing to think about.

As someone not used to meal planning for a whole week ahead, it was not without its small challenges. My meals didn’t always use as much of a particular vegetable as I had anticipated. Whilst the vegetables still didn’t get wasted, I could have done a better job at judging quantities for meals. One evening, I just didn’t feel like making the dish I had chosen for that night, too much preparation or something. It was ok, as I just swapped with another night’s meal but I guess you can avoid this by focusing more on quick, easy recipes for weekday evenings. I’m sure meal planning gets easier with practice.

Whilst I’m not sure that I would meal plan every week, I am keen to try it out for another week or so.  I can see how it could be helpful if you know you have a particularly busy week coming up. My reason for doing it was to minimise food waste and it achieved that aim and made me more aware of creating meals based around the fresh ingredients we have at home, rather than picking a meal and then cooking with only some of those ingredients.

Do you meal plan? If so, how do you think it helps you? What are you best tricks for using up leftover foods?

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Thursday, 9 September 2010

Healthy, Happy Living

There was a very interesting article in the Atlantic magazine last summer. It was about a study conducted by researchers at Harvard who followed 268 men over 72 years, to see what they could learn about what makes us happy. It's a long article but well worth the read when you have some time to spare. I thought I would share some of the points that I found especially interesting and that are also relevant to parents.

The team identified some factors that demonstrated a strong likelihood for people aging healthily and happily. These included education, stable marriage, some exercise and a healthy weight. They also discovered factors that did not affect a healthy, happy aging process and these were particularly interesting to me. Apparently, cholesterol levels at age 50 do not impact your health in old age. Regular exercise during your university years tends to result in better late-life mental health, than physical health. I'm pretty sure I didn't do any regular exercise during university!

These two points made me think how important it is as parents to instil good habits amongst chidren when it comes to healthy eating and exercise. The research described in this article suggests that what's done earlier on in their lives could have a significant impact on their quality of life in old age. It also made me think that my husband and I should work more on incorporating regular exercise into our daily lives!

Another prevailing point to emerge from the study was the importance of social relationships. Having good connections with family and friends can signifcantly help with "successful aging". The article highlighted the notable strength that good sibling relations can provide, "93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger".

One final point that I thought I would share from the article, was the mention of industriousness in childhood seeming to predict better adult mental health. Whether it be household chores, joining a school club or sports team, or having part-time jobs, this kind of activity influences us emotionally and mentally. I think we'd all probably agree that encouraging our children to help out at home, as well as to get involved in group activities has lots of benefits but this is one more to add to the list!

Presented like this, the results from this extensive research sound somewhat basic but it's fascinating that studying these men throughout major stages of their lives (university, World War II, career, marriage, divorce, having children and grandchildren and moving into old age) has shown that things we know to be important in our lives, really are. Healthy eating, regular exercise, having good relationships with family and friends and keeping active are not just better for the day-to-day but also for long term. As parents, we should think about this for ourselves and also for our children, helping them to do what they can for a healthy, happy life.


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Monday, 6 September 2010

Brighter Days

Some of you in the UK might have heard about the Lighter Later campaign, as part of the 10:10 project that I've mentioned briefly on here before. The idea behind Lighter Later is to change the clocks forward by one hour for the whole year, to enable us all to benefit from extra daylight hours. We would still change the clocks twice a year as we do currently, but an hour of daylight from the morning would have been moved to the evening.

The benefits of this initiative are numerous. Here are just a few:

  • We'll reduce our electricity consumption whilst enjoying extra daylight.

  • People will have more opportunity to exercise outside in the evenings after work before it gets dark.

  • It'll help those people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

  • Lighter evenings make for happier people and a better quality of life for those who are fearful of venturing out on a dark evening.

Other benefits are listed on the Lighter Later site and include employment benefits, a reduction in crime, and of course, reducing a significant amount of CO2 pollution.

I personally think it's a good idea and have done what I can to demonstrate my support. I've signed up to the campaign online and joined the Facebook group. I've written to my local MP asking for her support and her vote for the forthcoming Private Members Bill on 3 December when the government will review the evidence for the campaign and decide whether to change the clocks for a three-year trial period.

The prospect of another long winter and days drawing in early is a bit depressing. Having enjoyed long afternoons outside with my son during the summer, it'll be hard to give that up when it starts getting dark around 3pm. The Lighter Later campaign gives us all the opportunity to benefit from an extra hour of daylight in the evening whilst helping save energy and cut carbon.

Have any of your signed up to support the campaign? Do you think it's a good idea?


A brief note on another topic....today is the start of National Zero Waste Week and as per my pledge, I have planned my meals for the week ahead with the aim of reducing food waste in our household. I'll let you know how I got on at the end of the week but so you all know that I really have planned our meals ahead, here's what we'll be eating this week:

  • Monday: Noodles and stir fry (using spring onion, swiss chard, cabbage, carrot and a few runner beans)

  • Tuesday: Broccoli quiche with salad

  • Wednesday: Potatoes, carrots and garlic runner beans

  • Thursday: Lentil and cabbage bake

  • Friday: minestrone soup using any leftover veg (on Friday's I get our organic veg box delivery for the next week so I will have used everything up by then)

  • Saturday: Spiced broccoli & halloumi couscous

  • Sunday: Leek pie with carrots, potatoes and French beans


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Thursday, 2 September 2010

Sustainability in the City

I'm keeping with the family city living theme for this post. An old article from last year on The Simple Green Frugal Coop blog gave ten steps to living sustainably in the city.  You can read them in more detail over on the site but here are their ten suggestions:

  1. Walk

  2. Stop watching television

  3. Eat fresh, local foods

  4. When not in use, turn it off

  5. Take advantage of thrift stores

  6. De-complicate

  7. De-stuff

  8. Become a part of your community

  9. Compost and recycle

  10. Plan ahead

I think you'll agree that these are very do-able steps that we can all incorporate into our lives. I'm happy to say I do most of these but there's definitely room for improvement! Considering them in relation to family life, they are also helpful to encourage quality time and learning together:

Walking with your family gives time for conversation and noticing what's around you, whether it be city sites or autumn leaves falling. It can be exercise without you realising it and an enjoyable time to observe your surroundings, maybe jump in puddles or run into friends.

Not watching television means more time for play and activities. Children are more active if they're not sat in front of a TV screen and parents are more likely to chat to their children or engage them in something fun or interesting.

Eating fresh local foods hopefully means you eat more seasonally and healthily. It's good for children to learn what grows when and to enjoy trying new things as they become available throughout the year. Fruit picking at farms can be a fun family outing.

Turning off electrical items when they are not being used is a good habit to get into and an example to set to older children. It's something I've made a big effort to do this year as one of my new year's resolutions.

Thrift stores, or charity shops as we call them in the UK, can be a great way to get some new things without spending much money and as a way to help reduce the amount of items that go to landfill. Online sites like Freecycle operate along similar lines. There's no reason why everything you buy for your family needs to be brand new, so it can be worth looking at these places first for things like clothing and books.

De-complicate is very sensible advice. Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op mentioned cleaning products for this point, suggesting you try homemade cleaners rather than filling your cupboard with all kinds of bottles and sprays that can be harmful to children and the environment. It applies to anything though - toiletries in the bathroom, pantry staples in the kitchen....keep it simple!

De-stuff is something we should all do on a regular basis. Take stock of the things you have in your home and if they are not used, give them away to people who will use them. Think before you buy anything and try to make purchases that will be long-lasting in terms of durability and enjoyment (toys, clothing).

Becoming a part of your community is a nice way to involve your family with similarly-minded people nearby. It enables both parents and children to meet new people, make friends and to have a certain satisfaction from being part of a group. Look for local groups or those associated with your child's school or a hobby they regularly practise.

Composting and recycling can be explained to older children and they can help you sort things for the recycling and compost bins.

Planning ahead is very practical advice for families. Everything from day-to-day tasks like making school packed lunches to events like a family holiday benefits from thinking through in advance, making lists, preparing what's needed earlier rather than later and results in less wasted time and money.

Can you think of other things we can do to live more sustainably in the city? Do you do most of the suggestions listed already?


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