Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Seeking Solace

I loved reading this list of 19 tips from 200 years ago for cheering yourself up over at The Happiness Project recently. I've chosen a few from the list that I like and that work for me:

  • Be as busy as you can.

  • See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.

  • Compare your lot with that of other people.

  • Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.

  • Make the room where you commonly sit gay and pleasant.

I had some upsetting news recently and was feeling pretty sad and definitely needed cheering up. When I look at the tips I've listed above, I can honestly say those were all things that helped me through a tough couple of days.

Keeping busy makes the time pass faster and gives you less time to think and get upset. Seeing friends is a great distraction and mood booster. Realising and thinking about your own sad situation in comparison with others you know who've suffered much worse, makes you feel thankful and more fortunate than you felt at first. Being out in the open air is invigorating and helps clear your head of sad thoughts and makes you aware of other things around you. The last point, of making your surroundings at home pleasant is important too. If you are sitting with a cup in a tea in a tidy living room with some of your favourite music playing, you're going to feel a lot better than if those surroundings were in complete disarray.

One thing I'd have to add to the list: have lots of hugs. That always helps cheer me up!

Have a look at the full list and let me know which you like the best. What do you find works best for you when you need to be cheered up?


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Friday, 26 March 2010

Natural Toilet Training

A friend of mine recently heard an interview with Mayim Bialik, an American actress who is now also a spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network, a group for parents focused on holistic, green living. One of the subjects touched on in the interview was that of 'Elimination Communication'. For those of you unsure of this term (as I was), it's essentially a form of toilet-training that involves none or minimal use of nappies. The parent has to tune into the signals their child gives when needing the toilet. Mayim had her second son trained by 11 months.

At first thought it sounds a bit crazy and extremely messy! However when you think of more primitive societies elsewhere in the world who don't have access or need for all the stuff we use with our babies and children, they obviously get by just fine and probably use a similar technique of looking for indications from the child. Same goes for when you think about many years ago before nappies were first used (back in the 1590s).

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that whatever you may think about the idea itself, it certainly gives the parent a strong incentive to develop a particular awareness of their child's toilet habits. With the reliance we have on nappies, the ease and convenience that they provide, we don't have the same incentive to toilet train our children. Often it's a case of needing to potty train because a nursery or school requires it or because your child reaches an age where it's normal to start the process.

Whilst it's not something I feel I'd be brave enough to tackle, I think it's a very interesting approach to toilet training. It encourages parents to trust and follow their instincts and to develop great awareness of their children. I definitely have admiration for those mothers like Mayim Bialik who have used Elimination Communication successfully for their babies. For me, this was something I hadn't even heard of before my friend related the interview she'd heard, but maybe that's just me! It obviously compliments the same philosophy behind attachment parenting, with a focus on a mother demonstrating sensitivity to her child's needs.

If you want to find out more, have a look at these websites here and here.

Had you heard of Elimination Communication? What are your thoughts about the approach? Can you imagine using very few nappies with your baby or none at all?


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Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Spring into Action!

After a long cold winter, spring seems to be here and we've enjoyed a week or two of sunny days and milder temperatures. The days are longer and brighter, flowers are blooming and more people are out and about. It's a lovely time of year and one that usually gives us a real boost after months of dark dull days. People tend to feel full of energy and eager to get outside or to tackle jobs they've been putting off.

The start of spring used to be the start of the new year, back in Babylonian times (2000 BC) . In terms of the seasons, it certainly seems a more natural beginning than the start of January. I think it's definitely a good time to take stock and think about what you've achieved (or not) so far this year. If your new year's resolutions never really got off the ground, you might feel more like putting them into action now. If you've been delaying on jobs around the house or know your home would benefit from some spring cleaning, now's the time to do it! If there are relatives you've been meaning to visit, now's a great time of year to make the effort and maybe combine it with a nice day out somewhere.

Here are my own top 3 projects that I plan to get stuck into this spring:

SPRING CLEANING: I've made a list of cleaning jobs to be done as part of my spring cleaning. Some I can do in a spare 15 minutes here and there and other bigger jobs will be saved for a weekend and some assistance from my husband! I find breaking it down into a list of individual tasks makes the whole process seem less overwhelming.

CLOTHING CLEAR-OUT: As I start to pack away some of my thick woolly jumpers and bring out some lighter-weight clothing for spring, it's a good opportunity to sort through my clothes and get rid of anything I haven't worn in the past year and know deep down I'll probably never wear again.  Having sorted through my wardrobe I often come across things I forgot I had or haven't worn in a while which can sometimes be a nice surprise. We'll take any discarded clothing to a charity shop and benefit from a bit of extra space in our drawers and wardrobes.

OUTINGS: Better weather is the perfect reason to make the effort to go on some nice little outings at the weekend. We took the train to Salisbury a couple of weeks ago and went to  Kenwood House last weekend. Having an American husband helps me be more of a tourist in my own city and country than I probably would ordinarily be but it's fun to get out and about and see places. It doesn't need to be a costly outing either, a nice walk somewhere new can be a lovely thing to do on a sunny Sunday morning.

What about you, do you have spring projects or plans?


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Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Our Forgotten Moments of Happiness

A few months ago I came across the Secret Society of Happy People. They have a blog and a recent post talked about 'Taken for Granted Happiness'. It's a short post with a simple message but I thought it was a good one to think about. It reminds us that as much as we might be dealing with 'chaos' in our lives; in the form of jobs we don't enjoy, people who rub us up the wrong way, sad things that occur to us and our loved ones and other challenging situations....amidst all of that are lots of happy moments we take for granted and don't stop to think about. The article suggests if we counted all these taken for granted happy moments in any given day, they are likely to far outweigh the chaotic ones.

So what kind of pleasant experiences are we taking for granted? The post suggests the following:
breathing, walking, running, thinking new thoughts, laughing, seeing a sunrise and the full moon, hearing words, songs, and birds chirping, the feel of a hot shower or hug, feeling–even when the feelings aren’t so happy, and especially when they are happy.

These might seem pretty basic but not when you imagine what it must be like not to experience any of those things listed. I'm sure we can all think of lots more examples. I know my husband's very good at pointing out the bright side of things to me any time I'm having a bit of a moan or a mope about my day! Once you do focus on the easily forgotten happy moments, you often start to realise how good you've really got it.

Today's been a bit of a tiring day for me. My son has hand, foot and mouth disease (such a nasty-sounding name for a fairly harmless virus) and is naturally feeling miserable. Unfortunately, that makes the day a little harder for me. He's not interested in playing. He cries lots and the only way to placate him is to go out for a long walk or read to him. Whilst both those things are pleasant activities, at some point, it would be nice to sit for a few minutes out of the day and have a quiet cup of tea or be able to prepare my son's lunch without constant loud crying. His naps are all messed up and brief at the best of times, which means I haven't had a moment to do anything around the house. I feel like everywhere's a mess and needs a good clean but I feel ready for bed and all out of energy by the time my son goes to bed.

However, if I stop to think about the happy moments in the day that I've taken for granted, I realise there's not much to really moan about after all. I got outside a lot and so was able to enjoy the sun on my face, see the trees and flowers in bloom, watch lots of happy children running around in the park, had a nice chat with my mum....and despite all the general upset, I did get a few sweet smiles from my son and even managed to get a laugh out of him a couple of times.

Next time you've had a tough day or are feeling like you're dealing with a particular kind of chaos in your life, try to take a minute to think back on some happy moments you've taken for granted during the day. I'm not suggesting it will melt away any anxiety, stress or upset, but I do think it's a good exercise to get things into perspective and to remind ourselves of those little things we have to smile about. What happy moments can you think of from today that you've taken for granted?
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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Mother's Day Movie Ticket Giveaway

This Sunday is Mother's Day in the UK, a day to let our mums know how special they are to us. As we don't live in the same country, I won't get to see my Mum on Sunday but we'll make do with a video call on Skype. As for myself, I've already put my order in for breakfast in bed!

I got to thinking about some of the fond memories I share with my Mum. There are many from the past and many more to come I'm sure. When I was young, we did lots of cooking together which I loved and she always baked impressive cakes for my birthday parties. She also did lots of sewing and made great costumes for my ballet and other dance performances. She's always encouraged the adventurous side in me and let me travel alone to visit friends in France in my early teens and then to go to Austria to work as Au Pair when I was 17. She was always there on the end of the phone when I was having big dilemmas or stress with my wedding planning four years ago. She burst into tears of joy when I announced I was pregnant two years ago (on video on Skype :-)). My Mum gives me lots to be thankful for, lots to learn from and lots to live up to!

Last year was my first Mother's Day. My son was around 3 months old. I remember it was a cold but bright sunny day. We went out for breakfast and my son sat peacefully in his pram so my husband and I got to eat a leisurely breakfast. One year on and whilst he still won't be aware of Mother's Day this year, it means the world to me to be his mummy and to have such a treasure in my life. That alone assures I'll enjoy the day!

Now onto the ticket giveaway......I have four tickets to see Nanny McPhee and The Big Bang this Sunday, 14 March in London. The film stars Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans and Maggie Smith. It would be a great family outing to celebrate Mother's Day and a chance to see the film before its official release date of 26 March. There'll be 'fun in the foyer' before the film itself starts at 11am. Perfect timing for going for a nice lunch after seeing the movie!

For a chance to win the four tickets, simply share a muumy-related memory in the comments section. It might be about your mum or about yourself and your children. A winner will be selected on Friday and the tickets will be emailed in time for the event on Sunday. Good luck!


Monday, 8 March 2010

In Celebration of Women

Today is International Women's Day. It's a day to celebrate  women's economic, political and social achievements and started back in the early 1900s. In some countries it's an official holiday where men honour the women in their lives by giving flowers and small gifts. Events are held all around the world today, bringing attention to women's progress and their accomplishments. Although IWD  initially represented women's fight for better pay, voting rights and an end to discrimination, today it focuses more on inspiring women worldwide and celebrating their achievements.

A fitting example of a great female success story is last night's Oscar award for best Director going to Kathryn Bigelow for the film, The Hurt Locker. Kathryn has made history as the first woman to win the award - an impressive achievement!

On a less glamourous scale, the United Nations (who now sponsor the annual 8 March IWD), highlighted in their statement for this year's IWD, the commendable attitude and efforts of the women in Haiti. They have done so much to aid the recovery efforts by helping look after communities and neighbourhoods, caring for children and sharing what little they do have with those around them. The United Nations Development Fund for Women Executive Director also expresses how the female President of Chile has tried to learn from the examples of those women in Haiti:
Two weeks ago the President of Chile, Michele Bachelet, travelled to Haiti to express solidarity with these women struggling to rebuild their lives and communities — and this week she is inspiring her own country to come back stronger from another devastating earthquake. This is the kind of leadership, from the community to the highest level, that women have demonstrated in all places seeking to come back from conflict and crisis. But unlike in Chile, women are rarely part of the decision-making process on relief or resources, or on how to plan for the next time disaster strikes.

I think International Women's Day is a great reminder of the many inspirational, admirable women in the world and their achivements both big and small that impact others on all kinds of different levels. We can all probably think of a female who's demonstrated something significant and worthy of celebration today. Let's take a moment to applaud and learn from these women.


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Thursday, 4 March 2010

Being Creative with Toys

Toys can be great fun for children. They can provide amusement and be educational. However, they can be expensive and they can take up a lot of space in your home. Inevitably, you'll have some toys that your child never plays with and it can be hard sometimes to know what they will really get hours of enjoyment from, when you are staring at shelves of toys in a shop. This post talks about a few ways you can be a bit creative with toys, enabling your child to play with a variety of things, develop their exploratory side and yet not requiring you to buy and store lots of new toys.

My son has recently discovered the contents of one our kitchen cupboards. Conveniently it has little plastic containers in that I used to use for storing his pureed baby food when he was younger and they don't get used now. They're small, they're unbreakable and they are within easy reach when you open the cupboard, so are perfect for him to take out, play with and then put back. I remember a Mummy Zen reader once mentioned in a comment that she had set aside a cupboard in the kitchen for her child in which there were some things to play with and I thought that was a nice idea. I guess that has sort of happened but without me planning it!

You often hear how children enjoy playing with ordinary things around the house, sometimes more than their own toys. I've mentioned before that my son has enjoyed playing with cardboard boxes and he also likes flipping the pages of  magazines and playing with random articles of clothing he finds. The site Simple Mom, back in 2008 listed these 11 cheap (and free) toys for young children:

1. Egg cartons.
2. Chalk.
3. Water and cups.
4. Paper and safety scissors
5. Dried beans or rice.
5. Toilet paper or paper towel tubes.
6. Old clean socks.
7. Washed out empty food containers.
8. Balloons.
9. Books.
10. Paper and crayons.
11. A cardboard box.

Myself and a group of mums and toddlers meet in a space we hire out for an hour and a half one afternoon each week. We all bring a few toys with us and then all the children play with each others toys and have space to crawl and run around. It's been great in the cold weather when we can't get outside to play. My son always enjoys it and loves getting to play with toys he doesn't have at home and that are very different to things he does have. The other children are the same. It's a simple way to share toys amongst friends and sometimes if a particular child develops a strong attachment to a certain toy, the owner of it  will usually suggest to the child's mother that they take it home for the week.

That brings me onto toy libraries. A local playgroup near us operates a toy library once a week. You borrow toys for a week and everyone's very generous about bringing toys for lending too. It means your child can try out toys you don't have at home without you having to spend any money.

With the cost and clutter associated with toys, it's good to be a bit creative with them. It's easy to do, either by encouraging play with things around the house such as those in the list from Simple Mom above or by lending and borrowing toys amongst friends or using a toy library. These methods can provide all kinds of fun for your children whilst you avoid accumulating more stuff in your home and save money too.

What kinds of things around the house have your children taken to playing with? Do have lots of toys at home or have you got rid of things your child's grown out of and no longer plays with?


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Monday, 1 March 2010

When Your Child is Unwell: 10 Tips

Last week ended up being a tiring one with my son suffering from a bad cough, cold and a bit of a fever for several days. He was thoroughly miserable and you could tell it hurt his throat every time he coughed and he must have got sick of me wiping his constantly runny nose. We had a couple of disturbed nights as a result too and daytime naps were all over the place. It's a common enough scenario for anyone with young children, it's upsetting to see them suffering and can make for long tiring days for the parent or person looking after them.

I've written before about colds and ways to try to avoid catching them and how to deal with them if you do catch one. I think my son had more than just a cold this time round though and it made me think about ways to deal with looking after a sick child when they are not fit for anything, have  no desire to play, are too ill to take out to usual activities or to mix with friends and just getting through a day can feel like a bit of a struggle. These are some of the things that helped my son and I get through a tough week and some other ideas I had for dealing with a child who's unwell:

(1) Be flexible. Chances are your usual routine will be unsettled when your child's ill. Follow their lead and if it seems like they want a snack at a time you wouldn't usually give one, let them have something. If they seem like they want to sleep at a different time to when they take their nap, lay them down. They'll soon bounce back to the regular routine once they are feeling back to normal.

(2) Fresh air. This depends to an extent how sick the child is but usually you can get them out for a walk at some point. As long as they are well wrapped up for the weather, it can do you both the world of good to have a walk somewhere. I found my son in much better spirits whenever we returned from a walk out in the fresh air.

(3) Keep hydrated. Both of you should drink plenty of water throughout the day.

(4) Do things differently. Accept that when your child is feeling under the weather, they won't want to do what they normally do or play what they usually play. Try doing something with them in a different room of the house or show them something new that might bring a smile to their face. My son seemed brighter when we were in the kitchen or in our bedroom, rather than in his usual play area in the living room.

(5) Have some company. Whilst my son was too ill to go to a playgroup or to a friend's house to play, I did still get him out in the pushchair to the park and was able to meet up with some mummy friends for a bit of a chat. It can be a good boost to your mood to see friends or to have a phone conversation with a friend.

(6) Rest when they rest. I hadn't done this since my son was a newborn but decided to have a lie-down when he napped during the day and it really helped. I was refreshed when he woke up and able to give him all the energy and comfort he needed.

(7) Be patient. You might feel exhausted by their crying, clingyness or complaining but it must be pretty frustrating for them to feel unwell and not be able to do anything about it and maybe not be able to communicate what's wrong to a parent if they are very young. If you're feeling fraught, take a moment for some deep breaths,  roll back your shoulders and gently roll your neck from side to side to regain a sense of calm and to relax your body.

(8) Take a break. This isn't always possible but if you have a friend or family member who can come and relieve you for a while, it'll do you the world of good to have a little 'time off'. My husband was able to come home a bit earlier than usual on a couple of evenings and it brightened up the day for both my son and I!

(9) Easy eating. Make life easy for them and give them foods they like and that are easy to eat and comforting to them. Don't worry if they seem off their food. They'll soon get their appetite back once they are feeling well again.

(10) Lots of love. Extra hugs and attention are important to provide reassurance when your little one is feeling under the weather. Let them know you're doing everything you can to make them feel as happy as possible and to speed their recovery.

What works for you when your child is ill? Do you have other tips to share?
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