Thursday, 28 January 2010

Mrs Green's 5 Tips for Raising a 'Green' Baby the Frugal Way!

This is a guest post by Mrs Green who runs the popular Little Green Blog. The site focuses on all aspects of green living from green parenting, organic gardening and green technology to natural health and wellness using some of nature's cures.

Having a baby can be expensive. Some sources estimate the cost to be between £3,000 and £4,000 during the first year. In addition, having a baby often raises your awareness about 'green issues'. Suddenly you realise you need to keep the planet safe and healthy for your precious children. But what about green goods - they seem so expensive don't they? Solar panels, hybrid cars, organic food - it all costs so much. I have some tips to help you go green AND save money! Read on for how to raise a baby the green and frugal way.....

(1) Breastfeed
Only 1-3% of women truly can't nurse. So breastfeed your baby for as long as possible; it's healthy, free, plus there is no landfill waste!
Money wise, using formula feed means you need to buy formula, bottles, teats and some way to sterilise your equipment. Breastfeeding costs nothing, means you don't have to carry anything around with you, provides all the nutrients your baby needs and doesn't produce any waste!

(2) Nappies
The cost of using disposable nappies for 2 1/2 years is around £800 to £1000
According to Plush pants , using washable nappies rather than disposables can save you money, even taking into account the cost of using your washing machine and tumble drier. The savings will increase if you have another child and reuse the same nappies!
In addition, disposable nappies take hundreds of years to decompose. Put another way, if King Henry VIII had worn disposables, they would still be in a landfill now.
To avoid making a costly mistake, take advise from the Nappy Lady - you'll find exactly the right nappies for you and your baby

(3) Weaning
Give your baby the best start in life by making your own food. You don't need shop bought baby food which is expensive and creates waste, just blend a little of the food you are eating yourself. This means your baby can really take part in family meals and enjoy a wide range of foods, tastes and textures.
If you're pushed for time, store puréed baby food in ice cube trays in the freezer and take out the amount you need - it's still 'convenient' but healthier, greener and doesn't create packaging waste.

(4) Buy secondhand
Forget ideas of grubby babygrows from a charity shop - there are some great bargains to be found!
Try a local NCT nearly new sale for everything from toys to clothes to baby equipment.
Try Freecycle, eBay or local sales for goods. Friends will be begging you to take things off their hands and you can feel smug that you're saving money and not using up precious resources to make new items for your baby.

(5) Green clean
Recent studies show that some of these antibacterial wipes, sprays and lotions are doing us no good at all. In fact, babies and children NEED to be exposed to a bit of dirt and some germs in order to strengthen their immune system. In addition, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) say that some pollutants are 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside.
Ditch the toxic chemicals and do a little kitchen chemistry:

  • Bicarbonate of soda is a brilliant all purpose cleaner - use it on sinks, taps and the bath to bring a shine and sparkle.

  • Mix 50/50 white vinegar and water in a spray bottle to get rid of limescale and keep your glass and mirrors smear free.

  • Add 5 drops each of pure lavender essential oil, tea tree essential oil and lemon essential oil to a full plant mister of water. This is a safe and effective antibacterial spray for using on highchairs, light switches, the toilet flush and even safe enough to spray onto your baby's hands!


Monday, 25 January 2010

Get Kids' Clutter Under Control

The following is a guest post from Sherri Kruger who writes at Zen Family Habits, a blog celebrating all things family. She’s a stay at home mom of two and also writes at her personal development blog dedicated to sharing simple tips to enjoy life.
Where there are kids, there are toys. Where there are a lot of toys there is usually clutter. In fact, it wouldn't be too bad if all we had to deal with were toys. But there is also all the stuff that comes along with back-to-school, birthday parties, holidays and other events we participate in throughout the year.

Kids clutter can get out of control if you let it. So if you're feeling a tad overwhelmed right now relax, I'll share with you a few ideas on how to get kids clutter under control.

1. Take stock of what you have. Pull it all out. I mean all of it. You can't get a handle on something you don't know the full extent of. Once all the toys, winter parkas, spring jackets etc ... have been dragged out into the center of their room begin sorting. There is a number of different ways you can do this, so choose one that makes sense for you, your family and your storage abilities. For clothes you can sort by season, size, type (pants, shirts, socks) and for toys sort by recommended age, type or size.

2. Purge. One sure way to reduce clutter is to get rid of it. Take a good hard look at all the toys and clothes in front of you. If things no longer fit, are out of style, badly stained or no longer played with, it's time to part ways. Donate or sell toys and clothes that are still in good shape. Everything else that is broken or beyond repair throw it out. Most important thing here is to get it out of your house as quickly as possible and don't negotiate to bring it back in.

3. Choose a sub-set. Before you start planning how to organize the keepers choose a sub-set of toys for your kids to play with for the day/week/month. From my own experience kids become overwhelmed when they have so many toys to choose from. When they have fewer choices they learn to master the ones they currently have access to and they actually become more creative with them. The number of toys you choose to keep out is up to you. But once you've decided it's time to put the other toys away and out of reach.

4. Organize. There are a number of organizing techniques but I always say choose the one that suits you the best. There is nothing worse than going with a system that you have to fight with. For toys, books and art supplies that will be readily accessible for your kids, consider creating a system that is kid friendly. Use baskets, tubs or bins and stick a laminated photo to the front of the bin to indicate what goes in it. If your kids are old enough to read then use a label maker to label drawers, bins or shelves.

5. Switch them out. So you've chosen a few toys for you kids to play with and the rest are safely out of sight. Every week or once a month rotate the toys. Put away the toys they've been playing with and replace them with a few from the storage bin. This works wonders in terms of get your kids interested in and excited for an old toy again.

Other ideas to consider:
  • Over the door pocket organizer - not just for shoes anymore. Use it to hold dolls, papers, crayons, toy cars, small books or toiletries.
  • Cubby system - each kid can have their own set of shelves or you can label each one to corral specific items.
  • Art work - put an end to fridge clutter by framing your kids art work and hanging it in their room, the family room or play area. Alternatively, stick art work to their bedroom door or on a family bulletin board. Take pictures of their art work so you have a memory of it without having to hold on to the physical item.
  • Get kids involved in clean up - at the end of the day take a few minutes to walk around the house and put all of their stuff away. Toys, shoes, boots, jackets, clothing etc ... get your kids involved so they know what's expected of them.
Controlling clutter is easiest when there's little to control. Start small, focus on doing one thing at a time and just get started.
photo credit

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Holiday Adventure

[caption id="attachment_1001" align="alignleft" width="270" caption="Photo taken on our last ski trip to Norway"][/caption]

We're going on holiday on Saturday, skiing with my husband's family in Colorado. I got to thinking about holidays from my childhood and the many fond memories I have. Probably my ealiest holiday memory is when my parents took my two older brothers and I to France when I was four. It was a great family trip. However, I have more vivid memories from a later trip to Italy.....

When I was 8, my parents took me to Italy. My dad had been learning Italian at night-school and was keen to practise with some natives. My parents didn't have a lot of money but we travelled around various parts of Italy for a couple of weeks, using the Let's Go: Italyguide for travel on a budget. It was such a great experience. The Italians love children so I was always being given little gifts and treats from shopkeepers or extra slices of dessert in restaurants. Already at age 8 I drank black coffee which surprised all the waiters. We saw stunning historical sites and beautiful art and architecture, Italian stalions on their Vespas and glamorous signorinas, even Peter O'Toole and Andreotti (alas, I was too young to appreciate these minor celebrity sightings!). We also watched fascinating drug dealers in action one evening from our hotel window in Rome!

There were little mishaps along the way, like my mother and I jumping on a bus and it pulling away before my dad got on, or the day I locked myself in a restaurant toilet and couldn't get out. When I did finally get out, I was greeted by a cheering small crowd and a young waiter carried me down the stairs to my unsuspecting parents who were totally oblivious to what had happened. Needless to say, I got some extra dessert after the ordeal!

A child's outlook on a holiday differs greatly to that of an adult. They are in awe of new surroundings, delighted by the differences of the place and open to adventure. As adults we easily lose that sense of adventure we used to have, as we get exasperated about delayed flights or increased airport security measures. Maybe the hotel isn't what we were expecting, maybe the challenges of travelling with children are getting us down. It's a shame to lose sight of the fun and joy of new experiences one gets from going somewhere new.

Our expectations have a lot to do with our enjoyment of a holiday too. We're all probably guilty of counting down the days to a forthcoming trip and having an idea in our head of what it'll be like, what we'll do each day and how great it will all be. Once we get there, if something isn't how we'd expected it to be or doesn't go to plan, we feel disappointed. Children, on the other hand, don't have these kinds of expectations. To them, it's an adventure waiting to unfold and they're ready for any eventuality.

So, I'm going to look at my holiday with the enthusiasm of a child! Rather than get annoyed by the added security measures currently applied to all flights going to the US, I'm going to get excited about this being our first ski trip as a family. Instead of dreading the 10 hour flight and wondering how we'll keep our son happy on the plane, I'm going to remember what a good baby he is and be well-prepared, so we can keep him as content and entertained during the journey as possible. If he cries a little and we get some dirty looks from fellow passengers, so be it! I'm looking forward to getting away, being with family, doing some skiing, enjoying meals and good conversation, taking in the scenery and natural surroundings. These after all, are the fun simple things that make a good holiday.

What childhood holiday memories do you have? What kinds of places or types of holiday have been fun for your family?


Monday, 18 January 2010

Making Mummy Friends

When I was pregnant with my son, I had only two good friends with babies and neither lived in the same city as me. One doesn't even live in the same country. My husband and I moved to a more family-friendly part of London a month before my son was born. I knew there were lots of other mums with babies nearby and everyone had told me it's easy to make friends when you have a baby but I found it hard to think how I'd meet people that I really liked and anyway, did I really need new friends to talk baby stuff with?

After the first couple of weeks and once my husband had gone back to work, I found myself missing work and adult interaction. I would bombard my husband with questions and conversation in the evenings because I hadn't really spoken to anyone all day! I realised I definitely needed to get out to some groups and activities for some adult conversation.

My first outing to an organised class with baby was when he was 8 weeks old. I went to a post-natal yoga class and at the end, the teacher brought out tea and biscuits so we could sit around and chat. I couldn't put my finger on it but there was something really nice about being with some other women who had little babies just like me and had been through a similar sleep-starved first couple of months.

I joined a local mums group and went along to a coffee meet-up one morning. It was a simple gathering of 8-10 mums sat around a table in a cafe, getting to know one another. It sounds cliché but we shared stories of our births and struggles with feeding and sleeping. There were a few women I met there who seemed very down-to-earth and fun and we've gone on to become good friends. One has since moved away from the area but we still keep in touch and make visits to see one another. With mummy friends, it's not just that you have a baby in common, I think it's more the sharing of experiences as your little one grows and you both go through different stages. Your mummy friends know exactly what you mean and what you've gone through so you don't need to give any explanations as you do with friends who don't have babies.

As the babies grow, they play together and you get some decent conversation and company at the same time. Contrary to what one might think, it's definitely not all baby talk but at the same time, it's ok if it is.

The local mums group I belong to was set up a couple of years ago by an American woman who having moved to the area, realised there were no organised groups of any kind and so decided to set up her own. The group now has 300 members, mums with children from ages 0 to 5. There's a website with details of activities going on in the surrounding area, school information and listings of our meet-ups and events. There's a weekly e-newsletter that gets sent out to all the members, informing everyone of what's going on that week. We organise a big summer picnic in the local park, Halloween and Christmas parties and do things like movie nights and pub nights. It's a great community feel, belonging to a group like this.

Mothers hear about the group mostly by word-of-mouth. The doctor's surgery seems to be a prime place for striking up conversations with other mothers who are sitting in the waiting room with their children. The playground in the park or the singing sessions at the local library are also often places where mothers get talking and someone who belongs to the group suggests to another mum that she might like to join.

If you're a new mum looking to find some mummy friends in your area, check what's on in your neighbourhood. Local libraries, council-run children's centres and parks are all good places to start. You'll probably find other mums smile at you as you walk down the street and even if you're the shy type, striking up a conversation with another mum at the doctor's surgery, in a coffee shop or wherever will probably prove to be easier than you thought. For some reassurance, here's an article talking about how a woman's social life improves after they've given birth!

Do you have a close network of mummy friends? How did you meet them and what do they mean to you?


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Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Cooking at Home

I came across a great list of tips to encourage more cooking at home over at a blog called 'Organizing Your Way'. Written by Mandi Ehman, mother to four girls, the tips are aimed at both those who love to cook and those for whom it's a bit of a chore. There are six really helpful ideas for being more organised with your cooking, perfect for busy mums! I've chosen to highlight three from the list and have provided the link to the post below.

2. Create an idea file and a favorites list. Sometimes you just can't think what to cook but if you've collated those ripped-out recipes from magazines, or stored links from online cookery sites, you can refer back to them for inspiration. Creating a physical file makes it easy to go to and search for something yummy to cook.

3. Throw in some easy options. We all have days when we either can't be bothered to cook after a tiring day or we've been out and are in a hurry to throw something together. My fall-back is usually pasta with an easy-to-make sauce but things like eggs or a stir-fry are other fast but fairly healthy options. As Mandi puts it, 'these nights are usually about survival'!

4. Keep extra meals in your freezer. 'Whether you double a recipe or set aside a once-a-month cooking day, having meals in your freezer is a great way to have home-cooked meals more often'. This is probably my favourite point on the list and Mandi gives two do-able options for keeping food in the freezer.

If you're looking for ideas of what to cook, I have a couple of suggestions. Use your cookbooks! How many of us have lovely cookbooks that sit on our shelves gathering dust and don't get used enough? Take five minutes here and there to look through and reacquaint yourself with your cookbooks. Maybe you want to mark pages where you see a recipe you'd like to try out for easy referral at a later date. I also think eating seasonally helps you seek culinary inspiration. As regular readers will know, I have organic seasonal vegetables delivered each week and I find it really helps encourage me to look around for a new way to cook with a particular vegetable when I receive it several weeks in a row.

We all know home-cooked meals are best for us and our families but so often a lack of time or inspiration can result in us turning to the quick, but not usually so healthy options of ready-made convenience foods or take-aways. With a little bit of planning and thought however, we can make it easier for ourselves to cook at home and enjoy a varied diet.

You can read Mandi's full list of tips here.

Are you a keen or reluctant cook? Are there any other tips you have to share that keep you cooking at home?


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Monday, 11 January 2010

Developing Parental Instincts

I read in the Sunday Times newspaper yesterday about Nick Clegg, (Leader of the UK Liberal Democrat Party) and his tirade on parenting guru Gina Ford. For those of you who haven't read or heard about it, he criticised her rigid approach and compared her book to following an Ikea instruction manual. At one stage, out of exasperation, he decided his own parental instincts were the way forward:
“I will never forget — in the middle of the night, Antonio woke up. Miriam said to me: ‘What does the book say?’ I remember saying to her: ‘Okay, we have got to stop this. I have subcontracted my parental instincts to this book’.”

I think the article could refer to any parenting expert. I didn't ever read Gina Ford but I did read a couple of other parenting books in the first few weeks of my son's life. Like Nick Clegg, there was a particular day when I felt complete despair at those books and decided I didn't need them anymore and that my husband and I were more than capable of making our own parenting decisions with our baby.

The truth is however, for a first child particularly, most educated adults look for a book or two to help them on the path to parenthood, as they would when tackling any new aspect of their lives. Nick Clegg referred to the Gina Ford book as an instruction manual but I think that's sort of what people are looking for. Not literally of course but in the sense that they need some guidance as to how to handle a little human! It's a natural response to put away the book once you feel you've grasped what's needed or learn to trust your own instincts.

Parenting books are fairly recent to society, probably because many of us don't live with or very close to our parents as used to be the case in previous generations. New mothers would do as their mothers did.

Some parents are fervent believers in particular parenting methods because they have worked for them and their children. Some people like to have a rigid schedule to follow and some people don't. Parenting books can be helpful in providing an overview of what you can expect from a baby and there will likely be some tips that work for you and some that don't . The 'shh pat' technique for example never did work very well with our son but one of my mummy friends still uses it with her one-year old now if she wakes up in the night and needs settling.

I'm pleased Nick Clegg feels as a father that he knows best how to deal with his children. I am a firm believer that our own parental instincts are a great lead in parenting but they do take a bit of time to develop or for us to feel that we can trust them. Whether you agree or disagree with Gina Ford's methods, I don't think she deserves to be on the receiving end of such harsh criticism. As someone whose parenting book has sold over a million copies worldwide, she has obviously helped a lot of parents  and her methods have been successful for many.

What do you think about parenting books? How helpful did you find them? Was there a particular book or method that really helped you through some of the more challenging aspects of dealing with a new baby or frustrated toddler?


Friday, 8 January 2010

Beating the January Blues

The first month of a new year should have a sense of optimism about it but for some people, January can seem like a long hard slog of a month to get through. I have offered some tips at the end of this post to try to help you get through the rest of the month without feeling like you have the January blues.

The buzz and excitement from Christmas and New Year celebrations have died down. We're still in the midst of winter so there's cold weather, it gets dark in the early afternoon and going out can be more of an effort. It's too far from the beginning of spring to be thinking of brighter, lighter days. Some of us who enjoyed a festive period surrounded by family and friends may suddenly feel lonely once everyone has gone back to their own homes or returned to work. 31 days in the month can seem a long time to those people who over-spent at Christmas and are counting down to pay day..... Now let's start thinking about how to brighten up the dark days and lift our spirits at this time of year!

All the things that would make us feel better (exercise, fresh air, healthy food) are too often not what people turn to. You hear excuses that it’s too cold to go out and exercise, too dark for a walk, and a chocolate bar is just what we need to cheer us up. We all know of course that staying inside, feeling miserable and eating chocolate won’t lift our spirits. Here are some things to try:

  1. Go out in the morning for some fresh air and to get out of the house again before it does get dark. Get well wrapped up if it's really cold out there, pull on an anorak and wellies if it's raining.

  2. Eat warming healthy comfort food that's tasty and filling – hearty soups & stews,  cooked fruit etc.

  3. Have some fresh flowers around the house for a burst of pretty colour.

  4. Wear something colourful or an item of clothing that makes you feel good (so many people in London wear black clothing, it's nice to see a change)

  5. Do some exercise or vigorous cleaning to keep you warm and get your heartbeat raised. If exercising, try to enlist a friend for company and help with motivation during the winter months.

  6. Use the extra time you are spending at home to work on something you’ve been putting off, for even just 5-10 mins a day (adding photos in an album, updating your baby book….).

  7. Listen to upbeat, lively music to keep you in an upbeat mood.

  8. Make the most of the dark evenings and surprise your loved one with a cosy candle-lit dinner or snuggle up together under a blanket to watch a movie.

  9. Enjoy your Christmas gifts. If you got some nice new books, CDs, DVDs, pampering products, set time aside in an evening to relax and enjoy them.

  10. Plan fun activities. These need not be costly. Invite friends over for dinner or for a movie night, have a girly clothes-swap party, go to a late-night exhibition view at a gallery...It's nice to have things to look forward to.

Do you ever feel a bit of the January blues? Do you have some other suggestions to add to the list above?


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Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Dirt and Cleanliness

I read a fascinating article in the Christmas issue of The Economist about filth and dirt! It explained the historical change in attitudes towards cleanliness. It was news to me that in the 17th-century bathing was judged as a health risk because medical thought at that time believed the exposure of the body to hot water would mean the skin would open up and thus take in ills or disease. Baths were therefore avoided - apparently Louis XIII wasn't given a bath until he was almost seven and in England, Elizabeth I took a bath just once a month!

Fast-forward to the early 20th-century and American advertising campaigns promoted cleanliness for our bodies (in the form of soaps, deodorants, dental mouthwash etc) and also for our homes and clothing (cleaning products for bathrooms/kitchens and laundry detergents). Today we have a mass of products promising to rid our bodies and home environments of all types of grime,  germs and bacteria. The article concludes by questioning whether our current attitudes towards dirt have gone too far towards the hyper-clean, to the extent we create such sterile environments for our children, that their immune systems fail to fully develop. There's a theory that insufficient exposure to bacteria might explain growing cases of eczema, asthma and other allergic conditions in richer countries.

The article concludes by mentioning a book, 'Why Dirt is Good' by Mary Ruebush, an American immunologist. She recommends parents encourage their children to play in the dirt in order that they come into contact with the kind of germs required to establish a strong immune system.

I'm in agreement with Ruebush and playing in the dirt is not something I get worried about with my own son. Whilst I have many years to come of him playing in more serious dirt than he has done to date, I think it's a good part of embracing exploration, adventure and play. As long as hands get washed thoroughly afterwards (and anything else that gets dirty in the process), I'm of the opinion it's all good fun. However, there is a difference between playing in dirt in a garden or playground and playing amongst germs on a heavily populated floor of a London tube train for example.

The earlier item in the article about bathing is interesting to consider with babies and children too. Mothers of newborns in the UK are advised to top-and-tail initially and only bath the baby once a week, so as not to dry out their delicate skin. Bath products are not advised, instead a few drops of olive oil are recommended to help soften dry skin.

Most parenting books, when talking about establishing a good night-time routine with your child, mention a bath as being a good way to wind down and something to associate with getting ready for bed. I think that's why most parents quickly progress to giving their baby a bath every night. Is a daily bath necessary though, especially pre-crawling/walking? I still don't give my one-year old a bath every day. During the winter months when he is playing inside all the time, he doesn't get very dirty and I naturally keep him clean and wash him on evenings when he doesn't have a bath. There's a big market for baby bath products, all with the promise of being gentle to their skin but of course water itself dries out skin. A mother I know who has two children aged 4 and 6 told me she no longer washes their hair (doesn't use any shampoo) and finds that the natural oils keep it looking perfectly clean and healthy.

Hygiene is a personal matter of course and the same applies to your cleaning habits with your children. I would be interested to hear what you think about frequency of baths, products you approve of, when you started a daily bath routine with your own children. What are your thoughts on encouraging children to play in the dirt?


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Monday, 4 January 2010

Keeping a Record of the Year

Happy New Year!

As we start off another year, I've got my 2010 diary all set, birthdays written in and forthcoming appointments noted. As much as I like using my phone and email for day-to-day matters, I haven't yet made the transition to using an online calendar and still like to have a physical diary to carry around and look through to see what's coming up.

I've gone through phases with diaries, from detailing everything with my thoughts for each day, to keeping it plain and simple as just a record of appointments  and notable dates or reminders. Last year I started what I think is a nice compromise between the two and began a one-sentence journal, as suggested by Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project. I think it's a great way to commit to keeping a diary without feeling like it is a chore to write something. Your one sentence can be as basic, literal or abstract as you like. In addition, I make a note of any classes I go to, any exercise I do and friends I meet up with.

My mother kept a sporadic diary and a couple of years ago came across one that she'd written when I was about age 5. It was really interesting to read what she'd written. Notes about a particularly heavy snowfall that year, me being ill and my dad working late, meals she'd cooked and randomly, the cost of some groceries. It was a good example of how things that seem like mere everyday details to you, can prove enlightening insight for another generation.

On a slightly different note, but still on the topic of keeping a record of the year, is the baby book. I was given one by a family friend around the birth of my son and it's a book to record all the notable developments from his first year of life. I wasn't always good about updating it in a timely fashion and I have to admit that it was often my husband telling me that I should 'write that down in the baby book' that got me to write in it before we both forgot when our son did something for the first time! I took advantage of the Christmas holiday to finish it off and aside from adding a few photos, it's now complete.

My mother-in-law kept meticulous records of both her children's first years. If I ever ask her when my husband first did anything, she can refer to it and tell me precisely what age he was and in what context it occurred. Again, a great example of how meaningful a record of a year can be.

Some people use blogging as a way to journal or keep track of their activities, hobbies or skills. My mother is a keen gardener and almost self-sufficient with her extensive fruit and vegetable garden in the south of France. She's planning on starting a blog this year following the planting, growing and fruition stages of her garden. Whilst I don't have my own garden and am not particularly green-fingered myself, I will be enthused to see what she is working on and producing. I can also appreciate that it's the kind of record a future generation would be interested in reading, as an insight into how a grandmother/great-grandmother spent her time.

Writing a diary or however you choose to record a year, is a great gift to future generations. No need to make it feel like a creative project, even the smallest details or the things that seem totally uninspired to you can reveal something fascinating for someone else. If you're not already, maybe you want to think about keeping a simple record for 2010. The one-sentence journal is an ideal way to do this if you feel reluctant about it, are pressed for time or not sure how to start.

Do you keep a diary or any kind of record for the year? Have you done a good job of noting details of your children's developments and achievements?
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