Friday, 26 February 2010

Fairtrade Fortnight

We are in the midst of Fairtrade Fortnight which is running from 22 February through to 7 March. The Fairtrade Foundation launched a campaign called The Big Swap, suggesting we all swap our usual products for Fairtrade versions during these two weeks- everything from our morning cup of tea to the lip balm we use. It's a simple way we can all make a small difference and show a stance towards helping developing world producers.

I have to admit I'm not an active shopper of Fairtrade goods, but for no particular reason. I recognise the value of the Fairtrade label which indicates a guarantee that the producer has been paid a minimum price for their produce and that a premium has been paid to support social, environmental and development projects. However, not all crops are covered under Fairtrade and there is no recompense for the quality of the items. Unfortunately it is not available to some farmers in more developed countries who experience the same kind of exploitation as someone in a more developing country.

Having said all that, when you read on the Fairtrade Foundation site  that a third of the world survive on less than $2 a day, it's clear that there are a lot of people out there who are struggling with unfair trade rules that leave them powerless to improve their own situation. Any help is beneficial and it's great if we can all do something towards the efforts of the Fairtrade Foundation.

The idea of The Big Swap makes it easy for us all to make a small contribution during Fairtrade Fortnight. Just by choosing the Fairtrade products when you're next in the supermarket can help towards a consolidated step to offering a better deal for producers in the developing world. With pretty much everything having a Fairtrade option these days, it's a good way to try something different too. Whilst it might mean you're not buying your usual brand of a particular food, slowly but surely manufacturers are making changes, with companies like Cadbury who switched to Fairtrade certified cocoa at the end of last year and Ben and Jerry's who recently announced that their entire global ice cream range will go Fairtrade from 2013.

I might be a little late in participating but I think I'll make the effort this next week to buy Fairtrade where possible. What are your thoughts? Do you buy Fairtrade produce? Will you be making some swaps for the remainder of Fairtrade Fortnight?


Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Trying Toddlers

I was at a playgroup yesterday and was talking to another mum whose daughter is a few months older than my son. She was telling me how difficult it is anytime she leaves somewhere to go home. Her daughter will lie on the floor, kicking and screaming and not wanting to go. Her mother had advised bribing her with chocolate biscuits so that was what she planned to try when it came to the end of the playgroup. I watched as she carried out her screaming daughter, telling her she could have a chocolate biscuit. She put her in the pushchair and gave her the promised biscuit and her daughter calmed right down and nibbled happily on it. The mum was relieved and impressed that her mother's tip had worked. She had started to dread going anywhere because of her daughter's tantrum when it was time to leave but now it seemed, she had a successful way to deal with it.

I had to wonder to myself whether rewarding her daughter's screaming with a chocolate biscuit was really a successful solution. I am yet to experience a tantrum with my son but I can appreciate how stressful they can be for a parent and that every mum wants something that will fix the situation fast.

We all know tantrums are a toddler's expression of frustration, growing independence and sometimes a demand for attention. They are a challenging side of parenting and an exercise in our own self-control and patience. From what I've read, the overriding pieces of advice for dealing with tantrums seem to be as follows:

  • Ignore the child's outburst as much as possible.

  • Avoid yelling or making a scene and try to stay calm.

  • Distract the child with something else.

Once over, the tantrum should be forgotten and a hug given to the child. Praising good behaviour and allowing your child to have choices when possible are thought to help towards minimising the number of tantrums.

Sometimes it will be simply tiredness or hunger that cause a tantrum. Hunger should be easily dealt with if you carry snacks and a drink with you when you are out and ensure your child's been fed before a supermarket trip or other visit where you want to avoid a melt-down. Tiredness can be harder to control if you're doing something out of their usual routine, like travelling or attending a wedding for example. We all have those days when our children refuse to take a nap and sometimes there's just nothing you can do!

There are no easy answers for dealing with trying toddlers. The best thing we can do as parents is to try to be calm around them, identify what might have caused a tantrum so we can address it if it's related to food, tiredness or them needing help with a task and remember that it is after all a stage in their development and won't last!

How do you deal with toddler tantrums? Do you have any advice to share to other mums?


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Monday, 22 February 2010

A Parenting Manifesto

Some of you might have read Tom Hodgkinson's' Idle Parent' column in the Daily Telegraph.  His parenting advice is of the very laid-back approach and his writing is certainly good for a laugh.  As Editor to The Idler magazine, Hodginson has gone on to write a few books, one of which is called The Idle Parent: Why Less Means More When Raising Kids. I haven't read the book but I did recently come across the website for the book.

Included on the site is the following parenting manifesto:


We reject the idea that parenting requires hard work
We pledge to leave our children alone
We reject the rampant consumerism that invades children from the moment they are born
We read them poetry and fantastic stories without morals

We drink alcohol without guilt
We reject the inner Puritan
We don’t waste money on family days out and holidays
An idle parent is a thrifty parent
An idle parent is a creative parent
We lie in bed for as long as possible
We try not to interfere
We play in the fields and forests

We push them into the garden and shut the door so we can clean the house
We both work as little as possible, particularly when the kids are small
Time is more important than money
Happy mess is better than miserable tidiness

Down with school
We fill the house with music and merriment
We reject health and safety guidelines
We embrace responsibility
There are many paths
More play, less work

I definitely don't agree with everything here but I do think there are some good statements and I've put those I agree with in grey text.  I like the idea of writing a manifesto for the kind of parent you want to be and think it's a nice way to consider what's important for you and your partner in bringing up your children. There are probably lots of things I could add to my own manifesto but here are a few thoughts:

  • We nurture family traditions

  • We seek adventure both close to home and afar

  • We share fun with friends and learn to play together

  • A happy child has happy parents

  • Most things can be replaced so we avoid upset over accidental breakages

  • We respect those around us and our natural environment

Whilst I might not be an 'idle parent' myself, I do share some of Tom Hodgkinson's values as expressed in his manifesto and find it a nice reminder of some of the significant and enjoyable aspects of being a parent. An emphasis on play, merriment and happy mess might not be practical all day, every day, but those after all are the things that children enjoy and that help towards a happy memorable childhood. It's useful to bring attention to those activities and attitudes that represent good parenting for you.

How much of the Idle Parent Manifest would you agree with? What would be on your own parenting manifesto?


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Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Cultivating Little Book Worms

When our son was first born, one piece of advice from a member of the extended family was to start reading to him immediately. She thought it helped them get used to being read to before they are at an age where they can fidget and move away. Both my husband and I are quite keen readers anyway, but we took her advice and started reading to our son early on. When he was  too tiny to stay awake long or notice the book properly, we would just read our own books aloud to him for a little while. As he got a bit older, we started reading children's books to him and as with most parents, a story before bed is part of his bedtime routine. Now at age one and a bit, he loves books and being read to. He'll sit quietly on your lap and help turn the pages. He loves books with flaps to lift too.

I just added a few children's books to my Library page on here. Interestingly, none of them are books I had in my own childhood but they are all enjoyed by our son and we like reading them too! I do however have memories of my parents reading books to me regularly and I grew up loving to read. Two books stick out in my memory in particular. One is a large flower fairy book that was probably between two and three feet high and used to be my mother's. It was thirty or so years old when I was a child and a bit fragile, beautifully illustrated and unique for being so big a book. The other, is Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, a collection of humorous cat poems that my dad used to enjoy reading to me.

There's something wonderful about getting wrapped up in a story and as a parent, watching little eyes engage with the pictures and later, with the story itself. With TV, computers and living in an age of digital media, I think it's nice to encourage an appreciation of books with our little ones and there are some great books out there for all ages to make the task easier.

What are your favourite children's books? Do they tend to be ones you remember from your own childhood or do you go on recommendations from other parent friends? Do you read to your children before bed? If you have older children, how have their reading habits developed?


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Monday, 15 February 2010

Getting out of a Rut & Inspiring your Creativity

Artist and musician Scott Hansen had the great idea to ask 25 artists and creators, "What do you do to inspire your creativity when you find yourself in a rut?" Their answers provided some fascinating insight and tips. I've chosen some of them to share with you below.

Whilst the people at whom the question was posed are all creative professionals, creativity is something we all deal with. As busy mums, we try to provide creative play for our children, be creative in the kitchen, creative at work and in our minds, some of us do creative art and craft activities and others are creative outdoors; growing plants, vegetables and trying to be more self-sufficient and respectful of the environment.

New ideas and bursts of inspiration are invigorating, fun to put into practice and sometimes challenging. However, most of us at some point find ourselves slipping into easy habits and as time goes on, feel stuck in a rut. That's where these suggestions come in handy! Here are some of my favourites from Scott Hansen's list and my interpretations of how they can work for mums:

• I tend to say yes to more than I can do, and the fear of failure keeps the work flowing. Keeping busy and saying yes to activities, invites, visits etc can lead to some good ideas of things to try at home or with friends and family, as well as often being fun. Keeping busy also means less time to drift and feel unmotivated.

• Lots of reading and lots of sketching. Sketching might not be for everyone but even if you're not artistic, it's a good way to distract your mind and focus on something very different to the everyday. Reading keeps your mind stimulated, and depending on your choice of reading matter, can be instructive and inspirational. It's also a nice relaxing alternative to slumping in front of the TV in an evening!

• I try to take some time off if I feel a lack of inspiration. Time off can be as simple as an afternoon or a couple of hours to yourself while someone else looks after the children. Being removed from the day-to-day humdrum is an effective way to revive yourself in all aspects.

• I find it from a combination of sources; experimental music, mid century design/cinema, nature/wildlife, etc. To achieve full creative potential I must sit in the woods, watch Mad Men, and listen to Boards of Canada simultaneously. Getting out in nature, even if it's just your local park is a great way to clear the head. Enjoyable distractions are a necessary part of escaping the daily grind to help you relax and open your mind again.

• Clean my surroundings. I cannot think clearly when there’s a mess around me. I can't cook in a messy kitchen and I'm sure crafty types can't create on a desk piled with papers and rubbish. A clean slate is always a good start.

• Diversify your interests. It's easy to get locked in our comfort zone of doing the things we are used to doing and regularly enjoy. For whatever reason, many of us tend to stop trying new things but it's a great way to broaden our interests, meet new people and feel excited about something new.

• What always works the best for me is talking with my friends. They always have some new way of looking at problems that I never would have thought of, or a cool bit of inspiring artwork to show me, or just some words of encouragement that will get me moving again! I too find it helpful to talk with friends. Sharing ideas and getting their input can often be invaluable.

Do you use any of these suggestions when you feel in a bit of a rut? Are there other things you do in an effort to inspire your creativity? If you're a fellow-mummy blogger, how do you deal with writer's block?


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Thursday, 11 February 2010

Finding More Hours in the Day

I feel like I'm having a constructive week. Despite going to bed earlier, I've accomplished a lot more in a day than I do usually. I've been tackling some areas of clutter in our home and getting rid of stuff, I've done some baking, caught up with some non-mummy friends and in the evenings I've been reading and doing a few crafty bits and pieces. I've really enjoyed filling my time with more variety and feeling like I'm achieving more in a day.

Getting more done has involved quite a lot less time spent on the computer each day. I don't spend loads of time on the computer in an average day but I do tend to use most of son's nap time for reading news, other blogs, sending emails and writing my blog of course! In the evening when my son is in bed, I sometimes do a bit more of that, whilst my husband is often doing the same. This week, I've been confining my computer time to the day only and also reducing the time spent on it. So, I haven't read any news and only read a couple of the many blogs I enjoy reading but it's been time well spent in other ways.

The non-mummy friend I saw yesterday isn't working at the moment. She was telling me how she struggles to get things done and misses the satisfaction of working through a list of tasks at work and feeling in control of what's to be done. She told me she imagined having a baby helps to give your day a sense of structure. She's right to an extent. I have to get up and start my day around 7.30am every morning and the day is naturally split it up into sections around my son's naps, meals and bedtime. However, it's easy to 'waste' a day faffing around and not actually doing anything, even with a baby.

The way to get around that, as I think this week has shown me, is to set yourself several very small tasks. For example yesterday, as part of my de-cluttering project, I tackled one big basket in our living room that had a bunch of baby-related stuff in it, from the old NHS pregnancy book my doctor had given me about two years ago, to instructon manuals for baby-related equipment and scraps of sentimental paperwork I wanted to put in my baby book. It didn't take too long to sort out but it was great to deal with it and get rid of a lot of rubbish I'd been hoarding in there. In addition to that task, I needed to mop the floors and do some cooking in advance of visiting family. All small tasks, but all useful to accomplish and easy to fit in around looking after my son during the day.

It can be a challenge to do things when you're at home looking after a baby or toddler and I'm not suggesting you should have a rigorous schedule or plan of events for each day! Using the snippets of time you do have free when they are napping or happily engaged in an activity where you can be doing something close by is a good way to fit in a little more though. Dealing with a nagging task might not seem like something to spend time on but as with my basket de-cluttering yesterday, it's often easier and quicker to get done than you imagined. It's nice to cross those things off the list! It's also nice to sit and do something for yourself that you don't do as often as you like, such as reading, some simple crafts or cooking, depending on what you enjoy.

How do you spend your days if you're a stay-at-home mum? Do you find it difficult to get stuff done during the day?


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Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The Happiness Project

Happiness ProjectAs a regular reader of Gretchen Rubin's inspirational blog The Happiness Project, I couldn't wait to read her book which was published at the end of last year.  It finally arrived a couple of weeks ago and I just finished reading it. It was a great read and one I think many of you would also enjoy.

The book details her year-long pursuit of seeking to increase her personal sense of happiness through focusing on different areas of her life and following a set of resolutions.  She read a lot on the philosophy of happiness and her resolutions involved a variety of techniques based on what she felt might be worth trying. It's a very engaging read and the strategies Gretchen employs are things that we can all try out ourselves.

These are the subject areas Gretchen chose to focus on for the project (one for each month of the year, with December as the final month to try all of them at the same time!):

  • Vitality (Boosting energy)

  • Marriage

  • Work

  • Parenthood

  • Leisure

  • Friendship

  • Money

  • Eternity

  • Passion (Pursuing a passion)

  • Mindfullness

  • Attitude

There were many helpful and insightful resolutions in the book but I'll highlight three in this post, each from a different subject area:

Vitality (boost energy)

Going to sleep earlier: Only the other night my husband said to me, 'Every morning I tell myself that I will go to bed earlier, but every evening I stay up late finishing something and then in the morning I regret it!'. This is a great correlation to Gretchen's task of going to bed as soon as she felt sleepy. Many of us mums can relate to her point that evenings are valuable to us because the children are in bed, our partner is home, we have some free time....all these things make it hard for us to go to bed. We stay up watching TV, reading, browsing the internet, sending emails and go to bed later than we intend. Yet, as her resolution proved to her, Gretchen felt the benefits of getting a full eight hours sleep at night. More sleep really does equate to more energy.


Acknowledge the reality of people's feelings: This might not sound like something concerning parenting but Gretchen discovered the importance of acknowledging her children's feelings. She realised that she frequently said things to her children like, "You can't possibly want more Legos, you never play with the ones you have" or "You're not hungry, you just ate". When she instead repeated her child's assertions back to them, it was surprisingly effective as a means to diffuse their frustration. Instead of saying "Don't whine, you love to take a bath!", she said, "You're having fun playing. You don't want to take a bath now, even though it's time". Gretchen wondered if they felt reassured that their thoughts had been recognised and acknowledged, instead of feeling like they were being ignored. In addition to this technique, Gretchen lists five other ways to acknowledge her children's feelings that she tried out. In all cases, Gretchen demonstrates that responding in a caring way rather than jumping to be dismissive of something your child says works best for both parent and child.


Give positive reviews: Gretchen's aim here was to tone down her critical side and to show more warmth and enthusiasm towards others. Finding the positive side to a situation isn't always easy but it makes a big difference on those around you. Gretchen gave one example of going to see a movie with her husband and when her mother-in-law asked her about it afterwards, she resisted the urge to say, "Well, not bad" and instead told her, "It was such a treat to go see a movie in the afternoon". Being surrounded by happy, positive, cheery people usually tends to reflect back on us, making us feel the same way. We can all probably aspire to be a bit less critical in our interactions with others. Whilst it's a lot easier to snap at someone, trying to override that inclination and saying something positive will make you and those around you feel happier.


Have any of you read the book or plan on doing so? Are there any areas of your life that you think could benefit from a resolution or two?


Friday, 5 February 2010

Keepsakes: What to Keep

There are lots of little things associated with our children that we want to hold onto....a first babygrow, some toys, examples of their artwork. Even when they are quite little you find yourself wanting to keep things of theirs that you think they'll appreciate seeing when they are grown adults and when they have children of their own. This can involve storing items for quite a period of time so it's important to consider what's really worth saving.

Over at the Small Notebook blog, mother of two, Rachel, offers some good advice on the topic of keepsakes. Rachel suggests we ask ourselves three simple questions:

  • How much was it loved?

  • How big is it?

  • How well will it keep?

It's easy to form sentimental attachment to things which are not practical to keep long-term. By asking yourself these three questions you eliminate holding onto items that can become tiresome to keep because they take up a lot of space or are prone to damage.

We have all probably been asked by our parents what they should do with boxes of our own childhood keepsakes. We might not want them at the time they ask us, we might not have the storage space to take them off their hands but Rachel rightly advises tackling the boxes together to sort through and decide what you really want to keep. For those of us living far away from our parents, Rachel suggests the process can be done via email, with pictures sent and the simple question, 'Do you want this?'. I haven't done this yet with my parents but I can immediately think of things they have stored away that could be cleared out.

I think keepsakes are an important part of treasuring childhood memories for both parent and child. They are a touching reminder of the past and of joyful moments. They can also serve as a kind of fun historical insight for grandchildren or great-grandchildren, if a toy or object no longer exists. The key is in striking a balance between keeping a few things of significance and not letting our sentimental side get the better of us.

How do you decide what keepsakes of your children to hold onto? Are you very sentimental or quite ruthless when it comes to keeping stuff?


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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Lessons from 'The Age of Stupid'

We watched the film, 'The Age of Stupid' at the weekend. For those of you who haven't seen it, it's a film about climate change and the link between our current lifestyles and the probable climate change impacts that will result for future generations.  A narrator (supposedly in the year 2055) shows actual news clips from 2008 and wonders how the people living at that time could have misunderstood climate change when the evidence was on obvious display. We also follow the stories of seven real people, each from a different country and each presenting a different perspective to a particular issue of climate-change. The film poses the hypothetical question of why we ignored the signs, the warnings and the advice of global warming scientists and essentially brought about own ruin (by 2055) through our own inaction.

On the one hand, it didn't tell my husband and I anything we didn't already know. Humans are using up the earth’s resources faster than they are being reproduced, ice caps are melting, there is very little political will at the local or global level to implement change, air travel is the most detrimental effect individuals make towards global warming etc.... On the other hand, there was something about the movie that really made an impression on me. One of the scientists interviewed mentioned that because the effects of global warming are not immediate, people find it hard to comprehend the necessity to act now. I think that's true. We hear a fair amount about climate change on the news and yet many of us are still sceptical / reluctant / lazy about doing something to help avoid the effects of global warming on the earth and on future generations.

As parents, our outlook on world issues certainly changes when there are little people to consider. You feel a sense of responsibility for your children and want to leave them the world as a good place, even better than you found it. Things that might not have interested you previously suddenly take on a significance, from politics to the environment. 'The Age of Stupid' struck a chord with me and highlighted the importance of acting now and doing everything we can, before there's no time left. We need to look ahead to assure a safe and happy future for our children and grandchildren.

Part of the reason people are not taking enough action right now is I think because it involves making choices that go against what we're used to and that disrupt our comfort zone. Take flying for example. One of my close friends saw this movie before we did and commented that whilst she recognised the concern of climate change, she couldn't envisage cutting down on her flights. She's a voracious traveller and doesn't yet have children. She's somewhere in the Carribean as I write.... I also love to travel and between us, my husband and I have close family in three different countries so not flying isn't an easy option for us. We can however make choices, like taking to the train to visit my parents in France or taking our own holidays closer to home to avoid air travel.

One of the characters in the film is a British windfarmer and you watch with dismay and a bit of disgust as his proposed windfarm in Bedfordshire is denied, mainly because the locals don't want their view spoilt. At some point, we have to acknowledge that compromises have to be made - we can't have it all. Or rather, if we try to have it all, there will be nothing left for future generations.

One of my new year's resolutions this year is to be more green. Specifically, I'm aiming to do small things like switch off the toaster, kettle, coffee maker etc at the plug each night, waste less water when washing up dishes, be more aware of our use of electricity (lighting in particular) and reduce my usage of plastic bags in supermarkets (by taking my own re-usable bags). After watching this film, I went to the Not Stupid website and was pleased to see it full of helpful suggestions of how we can each contribute to reducing the impact of global warming. It suggests you firstly sign up to the 10:10 campaign, whereby we all work together to cut the UK's carbon emissions by 10%. Each month, you'll be given a tip on how to reduce your own carbon footprint. Have a look at their checklist for some ideas to get you started. I've signed up. You should too! If you're not in the UK, have a look at their global site.

If you haven't yet seen The Age of Stupid, you can download it from the official site here. If you've seen the film, what did you think about it? What are your thoughts on climate change and cutting carbon emissions?


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Monday, 1 February 2010

Sleeping Like a Baby

"People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one".

Leo J. Burke

We're back after a great week away. The 10 hour flight (18 hour total journey time) to the middle of Colorado went well and we were again impressed by the travel resilience of our one-year old. The return flight, as is usual when flying from the US back to the UK, was overnight and crossed a 7 hour time zone difference. My husband and I had been pretty confident that this return leg of the journey would be a breeze because our son would sleep the whole way. How wrong we were! Probably due to the fact he'd only had a 25 minute nap that day, he was overtired and we had a complete melt-down, something we've never experienced before with our generally chilled-out little guy. Anyway, we all survived but were exhausted and sleep-starved by the time we were back home mid-morning. We all had a good two-hour nap after lunch and then that night we had the luxury of a 12-hour night's sleep (just over 14 hours for our son)! That was the best night's sleep I have had in a long time and did us all the world of good.

It made me think back to those first couple of months of motherhood when a regular night's sleep isn't even an option. No matter how tired you are, there's just never that opportunity to have an extra-long sleep to catch up. Even napping when they nap, as everyone righty advises, doesn't help that much and is more difficult than it sounds.

Chris Lopez, dad to four girls, writes a blog for busy dads to help them keep a healthy active lifestyle. He wrote a post towards the end of last year, listing his tips for managing your energy levels during the tough time of sleepless nights. Whilst his site is aimed at dads, his tips apply to anyone and I think he has some good advice for anyone struggling to keep going on little sleep. His six tips are as follows:

  1. Stay on Schedule (even though every ounce of your being is telling you not to)

  2. Drink lots of water

  3. The 20-minute nap

  4. Avoid sugary foods

  5. Caffeine management

  6. Get outside

I have to agree with all of these but especially drinking lots of water and getting outside. Keeping hydrated is really important when your body's deprived of something (sleep in this case). Going out for some fresh air is something I feel like I'm always going on about but it simply makes you feel much better, both physically and mentally.

For any new mums or mums to children who still have sleep issues, these are helpful suggestions to hold you over until the stage when you can go back to enjoying a full uninterrupted night's sleep. It feels like you'll never get back to that stage but you will! I don't think you ever appreciate sleep as much as when you are a parent, it's a real luxury to me these days!

Do you have any other tips to add for surviving on very little sleep?


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