Thursday, 27 May 2010

Safer Skincare

There are lots of organic baby bath products, lotions, nappy creams etc and they are a popular choice with parents nowadays. I know lots of mothers choose those products becuase there comes a certain reassurance with them that what they are putting onto their baby's delicate skin is safe and doesn't contain any questionable ingredients. What about mummy's skin though? Are you as careful with your choice of products for your own body?

A few years ago, I got a forwarded email about the danger of lead in lipstick. The email linked to a site called the Cosmetic Safety Database where you can look up a product and see its rating in terms of the safety level of its ingredients. I started looking up some of the beauty products I regularly used and was concerned by some of the ratings. From that point, I started looking more at organic beauty products and began trying out natural/organic alternatives, especially for things I use daily like moisturiser, shower gel and body lotion.

Whilst in some cases, research is inconclusive as to the potential risks and dangers some ingredients pose, the fact that they are at all questionable is some concern in my view. These are some of the ingredients commonly found in everyday beauty products that you might want to look out for and possibly avoid:

  • Sodium lauryl sulfate

  • Sodium laureth sulphate

  • Aluminium

  • Lead

  • Mercury

  • Mineral Oils

  • Parabens

  • Petroleum derivatives

These types of synthetic chemicals, some toxic, some carcinogenic, should definitely be ringing alarm bells if you consider that our bodies absorb around 50-60% of what they come into contact with. If you think about all the things you rub, smear and apply to your face and body each day and then check the ingredients of those products, it can be a bit of a scare. No need for a drastic re-stocking of your beauty cabinet but maybe you want to start replacing a couple of your heavily-used products with more natural substitutes.

Whilst I use organic products on my body and for the moisturiser on my face, I still use regular make-up and know that I could be using safer alternatives. Skincare products are a personal choice and it's a matter of trying a few different options until you find something you like using and that seems to suit your skin. For this reason it can be better to make the switch to organic products as a gradual process.

In the past couple of years, the market for natural, organic beauty products has increased and become more mainstream. The result being that there is a much wider choice of products available and at more affordable prices too. Two of my favourite on-line shops for organic beauty products are So Organic and Content (both have London-based stores too). They sell everything from bath and hair products to make-up, making it easy to be a yummy mummy the safe way.

What are your thoughts? How conscious are you of your beauty products and their ingredients? If you already use some organic products, what brands or particular products do you like?


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Monday, 24 May 2010

Eating Alfresco: 4 Fun Family Recipes

Summer brings picnics and more outdoor eating. I decided to share a few recipes I like for some great food that's easy to make and convenient to transport for journeys, picnics or whatever. As I'm a vegetarian, so are these recipes but you can certainly play around with them and include some meat if you'd like. I've chosen things that are suitable for young toddlers to eat but that are also grown-up enough for adults to enjoy!

I've chosen 3 savoury recipes and 1 sweet, all of which are quick to throw together. You could make them the night before, a week before and freeze them, or in the morning before heading out - whatever fits in best with your schedule. They are fairly healthy - nutritious and delicious as my niece likes to say! At the end of the post, I've also listed a few other food ideas.

Courgette Mozzerella Muffins I omited the ham, salt, sugar and chilli flakes in mine and they still tasted really good. You could also do variations on the recipe, substituting the courgette and mozzerella for something like olives and feta cheese or carrot, corriander and cheddar cheese...whatever you fancy! Savoury muffins are a good way to make vegetables a bit more fun and accessible for fussy eaters. You could make mini muffins for a party or picnic.

Chickpea Patties. The recipe for these came from Nigel Slater's book Tender: Volume I, A cook and his vegetable patch (my current favourite cookery book). Super-easy to make and delicious served with a sauce of yoghurt, grated cucumber and mint. Makes 6-8 small patties.

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In a food processor or with a hand whisk, combine the following:
  • 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp hot paprika
  • 1 egg
  • small bunch flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • small bunch mint, roughly chopped
Blitz until smooth but not too smooth, keep it a little lumpy. Leave for 5-10 mins to firm up then fry small, flattened spoonfuls in a non-stick frying pan with a bit of olive oil until golden on each side (3-4 mins). Serve warm or cold with the yoghurt sauce/tzatsiki.

Bean and herb sausages. This recipe comes from Vegetarian Pregnancy and Baby Book. The sausages can be eaten warm or cold. Makes 18-20 sausages about 10cm/4 inches long.
  • 420g can haricot/cannellini beans, drained, rinsed & mashed with a fork
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 45g grated cheddar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1tbsp fresh herbs of your choice (eg, thyme, parsley)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • dried breadcrumbs
Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. Form into sausage shapes and roll each one in the dried breadcrumbs. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 mins. Fry the sausages in a little vegetable oil, turning frequently to brown them evenly (8-10 mins cooking time). Drain on kitchen paper.

Fruity Flapjacks: these are healthy and quite filling. The recipe is from a Tesco magazine but I can't find it online....

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Simply combine all the following ingredients, press into a lightly oiled 18 x 28 cm baking tin and bake at 180°C/160°C fan/Gas 4 for 20-25 mins or until golden. Cut into bars while still warm. Makes 12.
  • 350g oats
  • 85g plain flour
  • 150g dried fruit mixture (eg. raisins, apricots, figs, dates, apple, prunes)
  • 3 tbsp runny honey
  • 1 egg
  • 175ml apple juice (I substituted this for water to make mine less sweet)

Some other ideas:

Dips: humous, guacamole..... make your own quick healthy bean dip by simply whizzing up your choice of canned beans with a couple of spoonfuls of plain natural yoghurt and some seasoning/herbs to taste. Dip in vegetables or breadsticks.

Mini quiches. Lots of great recipes here. If you don't have Individual Quiche/Tart Pans, use a fairy cake/cupcake tin instead to make bite size ones instead.

Arancini: a bit fiddly to make but these rice balls are so delicious! Try this recipe.

Fruit. There are so many lovely summer fruits that come into season and are delicious to sit and munch on!

I hope this gives you some fresh ideas for picnic fare or even just for making food for your young children that's easy to transport and a bit more interesting that just a sandwich.

What kind of food do you like to take outside that's also enjoyed by your children?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Mindful Mothering

This is a guest post by Allison Evans, Hypnotherapist specialising in HypnoBirthing and HypnoBirthing Fertility Therapy.

If you’re reading a blog called “Mummy Zen,” you’re probably aware of the concept of mindfulness:  that is, bringing your full awareness to the present moment.  There is something about raising a child that seems to invite mindfulness.  You can’t help but notice how in-the-moment children are, how they delight in the smallest details, and you delight in their joy, too.  There’s also an undeniable pull out of the present moment, as we must think and plan for the future – “What do I need to pack for our outing?”  And as we reflect on past missteps – “How could I have forgotten the sun cream?”  This is just part of being human, especially when you are responsible to others!  But if you ever find yourself feeling disconnected, vaguely dissatisfied, quick to anger and wondering where your sense of humor has gone, mindfulness may be what you need.

A few years ago, when my children were four and two, that’s exactly where I was.  Fortunately for me, a friend introduced me to a wise Naturopathic Doctor.  Her simple suggestions turned my life around, and I have shared them – and some discoveries of my own – to many others to positive effect.   Here they are:

1.  Breathe. Deeply.  Every day.  Breath is foundational to the HypnoBirthing method that I teach.  Deep breathing actually short-circuits the body’s stress response, and helps to keep a mother in labour – or anyone – calm and in control, no matter the circumstances.  I now recommend that mothers continue their breathing exercises after their babies are born:  5-10 minutes of slow, deep breathing through the nose, two times per day, and in moments of stress.  Focus on the breath, allow it to be all you do for those 5-10 minutes, allow it to nourish you and be grateful for the simple miracle of breath!

2.  Mono-task. Yes, I mean stop all the multi-tasking!  Start by picking one routine task where your mind has a tendency to wander or that you might do while also talking on the phone.  For example, as you do the washing up, focus on each of your senses:  feel the warmth of the water, notice the flex of your arm muscles as you handle the dish, smell the fragrance of the dish soap, listen to the sound of the running water.  Avoid the tendency to mentally prepare yourself for your next task.  Focus on this one, menial chore and smile.  Smiling reinforces good feelings, similar to deep breathing.

3.  Allow yourself to be interrupted by your child at least once per day. How often has your child heard, “Just a minute, honey”?  As convenient as that phrase is, it does send a message to your child that the laundry is more important than she is.  Is it?  That’s mindfulness, too:  not just reacting, but taking the time to respond consciously.  If what you are doing is, in fact, time-critical, pause to hear her out.  Make eye-contact with her as you listen to what she needs, then give her a realistic time frame for when you can attend to her.  Similar to responding to your baby’s cries, this attention, even when it’s inconvenient, encourages her trust in you and the world.

4. Make a date with your child. Take a moment to think back over the last month.  What makes you smile to remember it?  Was it how clean your bathroom was?  A television programme?  More likely it was something your child did or said!  Schedule time each day to be present for such moments.

5.  Make a date with yourself. Make yourself a priority, just as you have made your child.  Get up earlier than your child so you can enjoy an hour or so of the prime morning time all to yourself.  If your child is a very early riser and that isn’t practical, use the child’s nap time to do something that restores you, such as meditating, reading a book, or corresponding with a friend.  Resist the urge to “get something done.”   It can wait.

These mindfulness exercises will ground you in your life and bring you a real sense of peace.  Enjoy!

I invite you to practice these mindfulness techniques and please share your own with us.  Let us know what happens!


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Monday, 17 May 2010

Household Play Ideas for Toddlers

Yesterday it was raining. We'd planned to go out and do something but the weather put an end to that idea and instead we felt stuck inside needing some inspiration to liven things up a bit. Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote a post about things to do with a young baby when it rains but now our son is an energetic toddler, some of those suggestions aren't so effective. We did have a bit of a sing-along session and we did go out for a walk anyway but in the middle of all that, we were desperately thinking of something different to do with him at home. In the end we built a living room 'tent' by draping blankets over chairs!

Later that day, I stumbled across a blog post of 10 simple play ideas for toddlers. Too bad I hadn't read it earlier in the day as there are some good things to try:

  1. Tissue Box (for posting things into and then shaking them out)

  2. Utensil drawer

  3. Old phone and keyboard

  4. Pegs

  5. Saucepans and lids

  6. Cup stacking

  7. Lining up (eg. putting socks on a window ledge and then knocking them all down!)

  8. Pillow obstacle course

  9. Dustpan and brush

  10. Cubby (like the 'tent' we made in our living room)

The mother of five children who wrote this post, points out that most toddlers love to play with household items so these can be perfect play solutions for your little ones. I put a similar list (from Simple Mom) in a post a while back but as all the things on this list are totally different, I decided to include another similar post as we can never have too many of these kinds of ideas in my opinion!

My son loves to watch me use the dustpan and brush (especially when I pretend to sweep him up!). He also likes to help me unpack the dishwasher and passes me the cutlery one piece at a time. Utensils and plastic containers are still a big hit with him, as I've mentioned on here before. No surprise then that sometimes the best ideas for fun play are letting children loose with some of the everyday items they see you use so often.

Are there some household items or games you play with your children at home along similar lines to those suggested above?


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Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Baby/Toddler Travel Tips from a Travelling Mum

Last month, we went to Croatia for 10 days. When we got back, I found out I'd won a copy of the book, 'Tales from a Travelling Mum', after leaving a comment on an interview with the author Alice Griffin over at the blog Angels and Urchins. It might have been better timing to have read the book before our trip but reading it afterwards, meant I could relate a lot more to Alice's tales and tips.

The book covers Alice's journeys with husband and daughter Isabella, beginning when her little one was a mere eight weeks old and covering the first two years. After having a baby, Alice didn't want her love for independent travel to be affected by parenthood and so her book is a great narrative of how you can make it work with a baby in tow. She provides both anecdotal stories and practical tips to give other parents the confidence to travel at whim with their children. Her travels were not just a week spent here and there but lingering road trips over a period of weeks and months. As a result, Alice has all kinds of insightful experiences to share with her readers.

I've decided to pick a few of my favourite pieces of advice from the book for this post, which I am sure you will find helpful for your own family travels:

Babies exist the world over. You don't need to stuff hundreds of nappies in your suitcase; just pick them up at a local chemist. Whilst this might sound obvious, many of us are guilty of over-packing when it comes to our children. It's good to stop and think what makes sense not to pack, like nappies and formula that you can pick up at your destination.

Consider self-catering accommodation when visiting a city as it provides a home-from-home environment for you and your baby. This is what we did in Croatia and it definitely makes life a lot easier than all being cramped together in a hotel room.

Old toys will not hold Isabella's attention if she feels irritable. I therefore now always have a handful of new items or toys she has never seen before, or that she sees as forbidden. This is something we learned on our recent trip. Whilst we had toys with us to keep our son busy as we had a coffee, waited for a meal or during a car journey, he barely took any interest in them. I'm now starting to collect a secret travel batch of toys and hope the novelty of these will hold his interest a little longer on our next trip.

It would be wise to visit a city with a little one at a quieter time. It is less overwhelming for little eyes and ears and everyone  has a more enjoyable experience. I wholeheartedly agree with this piece of advice and think that before you're constrained to school holidays, it makes sense to take family trips out of season. With less cost involved and less tourists, it's definitely the way to go.

When you're heading off on a long car journey make sure you have a good selection of stories and nursery rhymes on CD. I wish I'd had this tip before our holiday. We had to resort to lots of singing in the car!

There is no need to take huge numbers of large toys. There is usually something much more interesting going on and you will just find yourself lugging them about for no reason. We took a small selection of small toys with us and it was fine. Our son was given some toys by friendly waitresses and shopkeepers and there were fun things to do outside like throwing pebbles into the sea and building sandcastles.

For many more helpful suggestions on travelling with a child under the age of two and for some wonderful travel stories, do get yourself a copy of Alice's book, Tales from a Travelling Mum: Navigating Europe with a Babe-in-arms. Also, check out Alice's website here.

What have your baby/toddler travel experiences been like? Do you have some tips to share?


Monday, 10 May 2010

Managing Mealtimes

When our son was only about four months old, we had some friends who came to stay with their 2-year old son. For dinner, they got him some spaghetti in a tomato sauce. They sat him at the table with it but he seemed uninterested and despite some encouragement from his parents, wasn't eating it.  The adults all got to talking and a few minutes later, our friend's son was happily tucking into his plate of spaghetti. Once the attention had been taken away from him, he just got on with it.

I experienced a similar scenario with my own son, now aged 1 1/2 last week. He likes to feed himself but still has some trouble scooping food onto his spoon or fork so I help him with it. I had made him something for lunch that included some broccoli. It's not his favourite vegetable but he does eat it and he liked everything else in the meal with it. I helped him get some onto the spoon and guided the spoon towards his mouth but he took one taste and spat out the broccoli! After a couple more tries, he was then refusing to put anything in his mouth so I just ignored him and ate some of my own lunch. In no time at all, he had the spoon in his hand and managed to scoop some food onto his spoon and into his mouth (including some broccoli). He was very impressed with himself and I clapped and congratulated him too. He proceeded to eat up all his lunch, including ever scrap of the broccoli!

I think these two examples highlight a couple of points. One is that around the age of 1 1/2-2 a child's independence is developing and becoming more important to them. They like to do things their way and having someone standing over their shoulder or making them the centre of attention is maybe a bit threatening to their feeling of independence.

Secondly, without meaning to, sometimes parents can unintentionally put some pressure on their children at mealtimes. We all want our children to eat well, healthily and to eat a sensible amount for each meal. By focusing on their eating too much, we can forget that mealtimes should actually be a relaxed enjoyable family time.

Have you experienced similar situations with your children? Do you find they eat better when they are left to get on with it themselves?


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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Are you the Parent you wanted to be?

I was recently reading an article about the drink Ribena and it's questionable claims of vitamin C content. The article happened to have some insightful comments on parenting too. I thought that the following paragraph was probably very relatable to many parents:
I was a fabulous parent before I had children. I confidently predicted that I would not dismiss my kids’s feelings or emotions, nor utter dismissive phrases like ‘you don’t really feel that way towards your brother’ or ‘you can’t be tired, you just slept’. Basking in 8 hours of blissfully uninterrupted sleep, I recognised then the genuine feelings and emotions of children; that it is perfectly possible that they could have just slept and still be tired; or that they might well be angry with a sibling. Stock parental responses – aimed at stemming that particular argument – would never pass my lips.

I remember writing something called 'The Postive Parenting Programme' when I was at school. I can't remember the purpose for writing it now, but the idea was to encourage parents to respond in a positive way to their children and to minimise the use of negative language like 'no' and 'don't do that'.... As I grew older, I maintained the view that we didn't need to use the word 'no' with children and I guess I hoped I would be a 'positive' parent.

The truth is, I do use the word 'no' with my son and I do tell him not to do certain things. On the one hand, maybe that's the easy option because it takes less time to say 'no' than to use a different technique like distracting them or stopping to think how you can tell them to stay away from something in a postive way. On the other hand, as a parent now, I see things a little differently to how I did when I was younger. I think it is ok to say 'no', especially in a potentially dangerous situation when you need your child to sense the risk or hazard in something they might be touching or doing.

For me, it's more important not to use negative language like 'no' or 'don't do that' too much of the time. If you use it all the time, it loses its significance somewhat. Also, something I've read that I think is a good point to remember is that we should pick our battles. If your child's doing something you'd rather they didn't but it isn't actually naughty or dangerous, then let it go. So what if something gets messed up? It can get cleaned up later and it's all part of our child's exploratory nature that sometimes we need to remember to encourage.

Most likely, many of us are not the parent we wanted to be. The reality of parenthood is that it can be a lot to deal with sometimes and as a consequence we can react to our children or respond to situations in ways we never thought we would. Being a parent is a wonderful, rewarding journey but there are all sorts of challenges along the way, which we have no way to prepare for in advance! I think it can be helpful every now and then to consider our own parenting, how we speak to our children and whether we're doing all the things we'd hoped to do pre-parenthood. Whilst we might never achieve our idea of the 'perfect parent', thinking about our attitude and approach is a good way to recognise areas where we could make small changes for the better.

Are there things you do now as a parent that you never thought you'd do pre-parenthood? Has your outlook on parenting changed significantly since you have become a parent?