Tuesday, 31 August 2010

In praise of family city living

Quite a few of the first mummy friends I made in my local area of London have recently moved out of the city and into the country, to live in small villages with more open space, bigger more affordable properties and gardens of their own. I can understand why they've made the move and I'd be lying if I didn't say that I had tinges of jealousy when I hear of their large houses with play rooms, utility rooms and a space for everything.

For people who don't live in London, it can be hard for them to imagine living with young children in a big city. The idea of not having a car and taking children on London buses or on the tube sounds like a struggle to them. Living in small apartments with no back garden and limited space and storage can seem very restrictive and challenging to those in spacious houses in suburbia. The crowds, the crime, the dirt and pollution associated with big cities can all be viewed as negative aspects to family life. The advantages of young families living out of the city are clear to us all but I'd like to highlight some of the advantages of city living:

Space saving: smaller living quarters is a great way to avoid hoarding unnecessary clutter. Toys are limited to what you have space to store, so you end up being more attentive to what you buy for your children and maybe also passing things on that don't get used or get grown out of, to ensure the inventory stays down.

Exercise: most people living in a city tend not to have cars and therefore walk a fair amount. It's good exercise and also a way to get to know your surroundings and appreciate what's around you.

Parks: London is lucky to have wonderful parks but even if your city doesn't have such choice, there are bound to be green spaces and playgrounds that are perfect for little ones to run around in and enjoy being out in nature. They also become a sociable place to gather with other families - something you don't get in your back garden. When you don't have a garden, it makes you more likely to get out of the house and go and do something.

Excitement: The buzz of the big city provides endless sources of adventure and entertainment for families all year round. From ice-skating in the winter, amazing museum with loads of kid-friendly activities to events like Notting Hill Carnival, there's always something happening.

Community: People don't often associate a sense of community with a big city but I think it definitely exists. Certainly where we live in London, there's a really nice community on our doorstep. We have wonderful free playgroups and drop-in sessions that are good for meeting other mums. Our local library and shops are well-used by residents. There's the group of mums I've mentioned before who regularly meet and arrange fun family events. I think having children helps you seek out your local community, or encourages you to enjoy it and maybe participate in it. Things like that become more important to you when you have a family.

Diversity: Whether it be people or places, diversity is part of living in a big city that you often miss out on in more rural areas. I think it's enriching to grow up around different people from different countries and backgrounds, to hear different languages and accents,  see old and new architecture,  rich and poor areas, and to be surprised by the unexpected.

Of course, there are pros and cons to living in the city and living in the country or in suburbia. I'm pretty confident we won't always live in London but I enjoy it while we do. What about you? Have you moved out of a city since having children? What aspects of city or country life do you find important or miss?


Photo credit


Monday, 23 August 2010

Cooking for Victory

'Cooking for Victory' is the theme for this year's National Zero Waste Week. Mrs Green who runs the My Zero Waste site, providing all sorts of great inspiration to help people minimise their landfill waste,  invited me to participate. The week runs from 6 to 12 September and the aim during that week is to tackle food waste at home. According to a report by WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme), households in the UK waste 8.3 million tonnes of food and drink each year, costing the average family £50 per month.

I had to think of a pledge to reduce my own food waste for National Zero Waste Week. When I mentioned it to my husband, we both struggled to think of how we wasted food in the first place and to think of an area to work on to reduce it. We don't consistently throw away a particular food each week, nor we do we struggle with leftovers (it either all gets eaten, made into another recipe or frozen) and we eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables that we buy on a weekly basis so it doesn't go off.

After a bit of thought, I realised there were times when I wasted food. It would be when I'd accidentally hidden some lettuce or something at the back of the fridge, forgotten it was there and when I found it a week or so later, it was inedible. Or, I'd have yoghurt sitting in the fridge that we were in no rush to eat and then at some point I'd realise it had gone well past it's use-by date and I would throw it away. There, I've said it - my food waste sins are out!

The way I plan to avoid this kind of food waste, specifically during National Zero Waste Week, is to plan our meals for the week ahead, based on the fresh ingredients we have in our fridge. That way, I will ensure everything gets incorporated into a meal and not left to wilt away. My pledge is to meal plan.

There are lots of benefits to meal planning, but it's something I've never done. My mother used to meal plan when I was very young and I think that was mostly as a cost-saving measure. In recent years however, she has never been a meal planner. I've admired her ability to go from having no idea what she's going to cook that evening to creating something amazing just by looking at what ingredients she has and putting them together in an effective and delicious way. I've always tried to follow that way of doing things when it comes to cooking  :-)

Like all these little challenges, I think you learn something about your own habits and you're made to think about doing things differently. Sometimes the changes you are forced to make turn into changes you decide you want to continue. I see National Zero Waste Week as a small step to helping decrease our household waste and a learning experience along the way.

I hear lots of mums tell me they deplore the food that gets wasted when they cook something in particular for their baby or toddler and then they don't eat it. Others lament the poor quality of some fresh foods from the supermarket, like summer berries that are soft and mushy as soon as they get them home and end up getting thrown away. Whilst most of us would not dream of wasting food, it happens more easily than we might think. What kinds of ways do you and your household waste food? Do you plan meals for the week ahead?

You can read more about National Zero Waste Week here. There are a few suggestions of pledges you could make, if you'd like to participate yourself. I'll report back on my meal planning technique to tackle food waste, after National Zero Waste Week has passed.


Photo credit


Tuesday, 17 August 2010

How did you celebrate your child's second birthday?

We went to a two-year old's birthday party the other week. The parents had brought in an entertainer for the children. It was certainly eye-opening to watch a group of children aged around 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 react to the entertainer. Unfortunately, she didn't do a great job of keeping them entertained. She was meant to be playing a character but she wasn't convincing or interesting enough to engage them. She had a few props that some children liked but not all. She sang some songs which were enjoyed by a few of the children and then she tried to tell short stories and have a bit of dialogue which was totally ignored by them all! It's a difficult job with that age group.

As this was the first of many second birthday parties to come, it was good to see what I'll have in store later in the year when my son turns two. I had no idea even that people started bringing in entertainers for a 2-year old. Based on what I saw at this recent party, I'm yet to be convinced that they are a good idea for this age.

The day of this particular party was a wet, very rainy day so whilst the plan had been for everyone to be outside (as you would hope in August), everyone was forced to stay inside in the same room. Towards the end of the party, the rain had stopped and the parents let their children go outside. That seemed to be the highlight of the party for the children, being able to run around, burn off some energy and splash in puddles!

Fine weather birthdays are definitely easier to organise and enjoy. Being outside is always a winner. As my son has a winter birthday, that's less likely to be an option so I'll have to think hard about what to do in terms of keeping the little party guests amused. I've read a few short articles and tips about planning a birthday party for a two-year old. I think one of the best pieces of advice I read was to plan activities that involve the children, instead of entertaining them. When I think of the more successful moments of the entertainer I saw, it was definitely the parts where the children had things to do that they enjoyed most, like having their own tambourine to shake to a song.

I'd love to hear what you arranged for your child's second birthday party. Did you have an entertainer? Did you plan activities or games for the children? Did you have the party at home or in a hired venue? It would be great to hear what worked best for you.

Photo credit

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Baking benevolence

A chef friend of mine recently discovered the organisation Free Cakes for Kids UK. It provides free birthday cakes for children from families who struggle to provide one themselves. Volunteers lend their baking skills and usually cover the cost of the ingredients to make the cake.

As someone who enjoys baking, I think it's a really nice idea and a simple way to help out in your local community. The UK group was set up in 2008 by a lady who had heard about the organisation in the States, Free Cakes for Kids. Currently there are just three community groups in the UK. My friend and I are in the process of looking into setting one up in our local area of London.

Many mums take to baking when they have children, sometimes for the school fete as well as for birthdays. I thought some of you might be interested in finding out more and possible volunteering wherever you live too. Let me know what you think!


Photo credit


Monday, 9 August 2010

The Benefits of Barefoot

My son gets unsettled easily by walking on strange surfaces. A couple of weeks ago, we went to a park with a big sandpit play area with some friends. I promptly removed his socks and shoes ready for him to get stuck in to playing and he promptly started crying, loudly! Similarly, we were in another park where the ground around the play equipment was all chunky bark and even with his sturdy shoes on, it felt uneven and lumpy under his feet and he didn't want to walk about on it unless holding my hand, and even then, barely walked on it at all. In the house he never wears shoes and will happily walk around barefoot or in socks. The odd time I've put him barefoot in the garden, he stands frozen in one spot and will only take a few steps. I guess I just need to persevere with the barefoot time in the garden and recognise that with time he'll become more comfortable with textures like sand.

There was an article in the Guardian today, Why barefoot is best for children, which had some interesting points. We are probably all aware that allowing our children to explore barefoot from a young age is important but with all the cute baby and children's shoes on the market, you wonder how many people really encourage it. The main benefits of children being barefoot, accordingly to the article are as follows:

  • It helps the muscles and ligaments of their feet to develop.

  • It strengthens the arch of the foot.

  • It aids toddlers'awareness of their position in relation to the space around them.

  • It encourages good posture.

The article also explains how important it is for childrens' footwear to be well-fitting:
The human foot at birth is not a miniature version of an adult foot. In fact, it contains no bones at all and consists of a mass of cartilage, which, over a period of years, ossifies to become the 28 bones that exist in the adult human foot. This process is not complete until the late teens.

If you read the article all the way through, you'll see that a particular type of shoe is recommended for children that encompasses a lot of the benefits of walking barefoot but with the protection that a shoe provides.

Most of us would be concerned about our little ones walking around in public areas barefoot, with cigarette butts, rubbish, dog dirt and such like around. Ensure they wear good shoes when they are in areas where their feet need protection and when they are in safe, clean areas that you can control, such as your home and garden, allow them as much barefoot time as possible.

Are your children comfortable walking around barefoot on different surfaces? Do you already encourage them to go barefoot as much as possible?


Photo credit


Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Swapping online for outside

Parent Hacks is a website I go to every now and then. It's an online sharing of parenting tips sent in by parents who've tried something that works well and who want to pass on the suggestion to other parents. There was a post on there recently that caught my eye. Not a tip but a note to readers from the website's founder that if her online activity seems slower or less present, it's because she's enjoying some time offline, making the most of the summer with her family. I could really relate to her approach of stepping back from busy online activity and using the time to do fun things outside with her children while the weather is good. Although it wasn't intended as a tip for readers, I think swapping online for outside is great advice!

Summer seems so fleeting in the UK, that every day we wake up to a blue sky and sunshine feels like a special day to be enjoyed. My son and I spend a lot of time outside. You only have to think about the dark, cold winter days to realise that you should seize every opportunity to get outdoors in the summer while it's pleasant and bright. When my son is napping, I usually spend those couple of hours doing jobs around the house or doing stuff on the computer. I've even made myself stop doing that some days and taken a book outside to sit in the sun in the garden. It's felt quite refreshing!

Emails, blogs, online shopping, whatever it is you do online can wait. It's August, lots of people are on holiday, it's the height of the summer months and we should take every moment to enjoy the here and now of it. I'm not suggesting you stop doing everything on the computer that you would do in an average day but restrict what you do and the time you spend on it. Save it for the evening when the sun is going down and you're less likely to be outside anyway. See people, rather than email them. Read books, newspapers or magazines that you can take out with you to the garden or the park, rather than only your regular blogs, news sites and other online reading sources. Save the online reading for every other day, instead of daily.

Less time online and more time outside can only make you feel better too. There have been recent news reports suggesting that some of us are  not getting enough vitamin D from sunlight, which helps keep our bones, muscles and teeth strong. Fresh air boosts your mood, gives you more energy and makes you feel happier. Everyone likes the sociable side to summer, bringing people out to parks or to their gardens for picnics, barbeques, outdoor games and swimming. Let's make the most of it while it lasts!

Is it a natural response to summer for you to spend less time online or do you have to consciously tell yourself to spend less time on the computer and more time outside?


Photo credit