Thursday, 28 October 2010

Unpacking & reorganising after a family trip

I just got back from a week's holiday and have been getting everything unpacked, washed and tidied back away. I'm pleased to say that after the first full day back at home I had unpacked and put away all our cases and bags, done at least half of the washing and drying of clothes, caught up on most of my emails.....and that was all on a very disrupted night's sleep! There always seems so much to do when you get home from a holiday, particularly when you have children, so this post shares some of my thoughts on getting organised at home after a family trip.

There are a few things you can do before your trip that make things easier and more pleasant on your return:

Leave behind a tidy home. There's nothing worse than coming back to a mess so try your best to get everywhere clean and everything put away in its place before you leave.

Put clean sheets on your bed. A friend of mine who travels a lot always does this the day before or the day she leaves and had mentioned it to me at some point. I had never thought about doing it but it makes a real difference to come home and not only be only be back in your own bed but be in a nice clean bed!

Use up food.  For the last few days before setting off on your trip, try to avoid buying any groceries and use up what food you have at home. Check the fridge before you leave and if not used up, discard anything that might go off so you don't return to nasty smells or mould.

Get on top of the washing. As you know you'll come back with lots of holiday clothes to be washed, it's a good idea to empty your laundry basket as much as you can beforehand so you don't feel like you have mounds of washing to do when you get home.

Now, some suggestions of tackling the unpacking, washing, re-organising once you get home......

Try to unpack at least one bag/suitcase the day you arrive home. If it's late, just do something small like a piece of hand luggage or the bag with the nappies, toys, entertainment for your children. You feel better knowing you have one less bag to deal with the next day.

Get a load of washing in straight away. If you arrive home late, put a load in and on a timer to start early in the morning so you can get it out and drying first thing. Getting started immediately and then keeping the momentum means the job is over sooner rather than later.

Unpack all other bags/suitcases by the end of your first full day at home. It can be tempting to leave them on the floor, open, half-unpacked.....but it's a lot more efficient to empty them, put things away or in the laundry basket and get the bags themselves put away to leave your home less cluttered.

Catch up with post, email etc without rushing. People know you've been away so no need to panic and feel like you need to respond to everyone as soon as you walk through your door. Have a brief look through for anything urgent and then take a couple of days to deal with any correspondence. Prioritise bills or any time-sensitive matters but respond to other things when you have time to do so.

Don't plan anything for the day after you get home. Especially with children, having a quiet day after a holiday and a day of travelling is important. It's a chance to get re-settled and to return to your regular routine. If you had a long travel day, it's likely you'll be a bit tired and so the last thing you want is to have an appointment or social occasion to attend. Keep things simple, quiet and low-key for that first day back at least.

Keep meals simple. You'll probably need a few basics like milk and bread when you return home but other than grabbing those few bits, don't worry too much about a big food shop at first. Plan quick and easy meals that require little preparation and enable you to use your time to do some of the aforementioned tasks instead.

How organised are you about unpacking and getting sorted out after a family holiday? Do you have any tips to share?


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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Halloween crafts

Myself and another mum have been planning a Halloween party for our local group of mums and their families. We've hired a local school hall, got a couple of people to provide some entertainment for the children (for free) in the form of dancing, baby yoga for the very little ones and a spooky-themed sing-along with a great music teacher who runs classes in the area. It's a simple affair but fun to have the children dress up.

I've been scouring the web for some easy craft activities we could do with the children too and looking for things to make as decorations with a Halloween theme. I thought it might be nice to share some of things I have found and liked in case you want to try any out with your children.

Fab Mums has these fun little spiders that are very easy to make and are made with materials found around the house.

These woollen decorations over at NurtureStore would be good for quite young children to do and look really effective.

I love the Halloween Shadow Art on Artful Adventures and Jude provides different ways to do it with younger children too that makes it less involved.

Using your empty egg cartons to make bats is a simple fun idea from All Free Crafts.

Flowerpot pumpkins are an easy alternative to carving a real pumpkin. Disney Family Fun suggests using terracotta flower pots but you could use plastic ones too, which might be safer for younger children.

For decoration, I like this Halloween Hanging Garland from Paper Crafts.

Are there any Halloween crafts you like to make with your children or any you've seen online that you'd like to try?


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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Raising Healthy Toddlers

I was surprised to read in a magazine that one parent in three does not cook vegetables for their children (according to research from and does not provide the recommended 5-a-day portions of fruit and vegetables. Most of the mothers I know are very conscious about giving healthy food to their children (some I suspect make better, healthier food for their children than they do for themselves!).

Some of the parents in the survey believed that 5-a-day was too costly and not essential, but 54% explained that they failed the 5-a-day because their children refused to eat healthily.

Encouraging children to eat healthly is not always easy but I think a starting point is for parents to set a good example. If a child is used to seeing their parents eat healthy food, they'll likely want the same thing. We all know how our children like a bite of whatever we are eating so if we eat fruit and vegetables, that's what they will get used to. Other factors like introducing a wide range of fruit and vegetables at the weaning stage is important too and helps develop their taste buds and willingness to try new foods.

Little People's Plates is a site I came across recently that focuses on feeding the under-3s and raising healthy toddlers. They have various helpful tools and tips, as well as an infant and toddler forum consisting of practising paediatricians, health visitors, dieticians and child psychologists. The information they provide is aimed to "help you make sensible, informed choices about how to feed your toddler whether you're cooking everything yourself or using pre-prepared foods".

One feature on the site is their ten steps for healthy toddlers. The tips are not just about what you should feed your toddler but how to give them an overall healthy balance. They suggest things like incorporating an hour of active play every day, respecting your child's food preferences and not insisting they eat everything on their plate. I'd recommend you have a read of the ten steps, as if nothing else, they are good reminders of what we parents can do to help get our little ones off to a healthy start in life.

Do you make a conscious effort to provide 5-a-day for your children? Do you have any difficulties achieving that? Are any of the ten steps for healthy toddlers things you had not considered or are there any that you think are especially important?


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Friday, 15 October 2010

The simple way to drink enough water each day

For those of you who have been reading Mummy Zen since the beginning, this will seem like a re-post but I lost the original post when I had a problem backing up my website last year. I think it's a good subject to bring up again....

I've barely been drinking any water over the last couple of weeks. I can tell that I've been affected by it too. I've been drinking more hot drinks that normal, probably because I've been a bit dehydrated and I've been eating more rubbish (namely chocolate and biscuits!), even though I've not been hungry. I also just feel a bit sluggish and I still haven't completely shaken off a recent cold.

It's recommended that we drink 6-8 large glasses of water every day. That sounds like a lot but I have a great system for getting those glasses down without really noticing it. I've realised I need to follow my own advice and start drinking more water in a day. This is how I'm going to consume my daily 6-8 glasses:

- Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. (= 1)

- Drink a glass before each meal. (= 3)

- Drink a glass before bed. (= 1)

That's 5 glasses already. To make up the other 1-3, it's always good to drink some water whenever you feel hungry or before having a mid-morning/afternoon snack. If you're exercising, you'll probably want a glass or two after working out. Et voilĂ !

Let's remind ourselves of some benefits of drinking water:

  • Keeping hydrated helps steer clear of headaches, dry skin and some other complaints.

  • It flushes out toxins, helping to fight against colds and flu.

  • It helps keep a healthy heart because if you're dehydrated your blood gets thicker, meaning the heart has to work even harder.

  • It can aid weight loss by flushing down by-products of fat breakdown and can reduce your appetite.

  • Better concentration. Your brain is made up of around 85% water so keeping hydrated keeps it energised and means you are more alert.

  • An energy boost. As well as your brain, your muscles, bones and blood are made up of a significant amount of water. Not staying hydrated results in those not functioning as effectively and that makes you feel lethargic.
I find it can be especially hard to make yourself drink water in the winter when it's cold and you feel like something warm and comforting. Some people get around that by drinking hot water, sometimes with a bit of lemon. I will often drink a glass of water before having a hot drink.

Are you good about drinking enough water each day? Do you find that you are physically or mentally affected if you're not drinking enough?
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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A day is as good as you make it

I've been busy having a fun week, which is why it's taken me until late on Wednesday to get out a first blog post for the week. My enjoyable week so far made me realise that whilst we might all have our odd bad days, there's no reason why we shouldn't have mostly good days in any given week or month. I've been reminded that our attitude towards things that go wrong or that upset our regular routine can really make a difference to the outcome of a particular day.

One thing that sometimes makes my day turn into a harder one, is when my son doesn't nap anywhere near as much as he usually does and should. This can happen quite regularly if he's unwell or if he's suffering with teething. When he wakes up after a short time, he's usually crying and pretty miserable. The afternoon can then be difficult if he's tired and grumpy.

The days I've spent a considerable amount of time trying to settle him back down to sleep have ended up being wearing and frustrating. The times I have made one attempt to get him to go back to sleep but if that failed, let him get up and got on with the day, have always been better experiences. It's the 'getting on with the day' that is the crucial part.

I think every day this week so far he has had shorter naps (1 hour instead of the usual 2-2.5) but we've had fun afternoons nonetheless. Of course, I'm behind on my housework, my blogging and things on my 'to do' list but it just means I've had to work on those things in the evening after he's gone to bed. We've been spending time outside, throwing fallen autumn leaves up in the air and seeing friends. It's been good simple fun. Choosing to do those kinds of things, rather than both of us feeling a little tired and irritable at home alone makes for a much better day. Instead of foscusing on the upset to our routine, we've been focusing on play and interaction and it makes a big difference to both our moods.

Maybe you're having one of those days; your child's spilt or thrown their food everywhere, they've poured their drink on the carpet, they've not made it to the potty in time and you have a stinky mess to deal're trying to get out of the house to go to an activity or a playdate, you trip over their strewn toys while rushing around trying to clean up. You're exhausted before it's even mid-morning! Everything would suggest it's going to be a bad day and you sort of resign yourself to the fact. Your mood and attitude is likely to be far from positive and open to fun. Yet, if you were to try to put the rough start to the day behind you and get out to do some things or see some friends and generally occupy your mind and body, you'll likely find that your domestic disasters are soon forgotten and your day ends up being a pretty decent one.

What are some situations that usually result in you having a bad day? Do you try to put mishaps and upset routines behind you and to make the best out of the day?


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Friday, 8 October 2010

Pushover or pushing over?

Around the age of 15 months, toddlers start to assert themselves more around other children, as they develop their independence and personality. Amongst my son's peer group who range in age from 15 months to 2 1/2 years, I've noticed two types of child in particular.

One is the kind who snatches toys off children when they see something they want and who will push other children when they want them to move out of the way / give them something they have / do whatever activity they are doing. The other type is the child who lets children grab their toys from their hands, rarely takes things from others and never pushes over another child. My son falls into the latter type.

I've happened to have a couple of conversations about this with other parents recently which has made me think about it a bit more. The first was with a mother whose child is like mine, doesn't fight back for things and doesn't push back. She was starting to be really anxious about her son being too soft and wanting him to toughen up. Her first plan of action was to ask her nanny to get her son to take back anything that got taken from him. The nanny (with many years of experience with young children under her belt) told her that didn't seem like an effective solution so plan A was abandoned. Plan B was to explain to her son when other kids pushed him, stole his toys or whatever, that he should say no and tell them not to do that. As he's barely saying any words just yet, this plan seems a little ambitious in my opinion but I do think communication is always a good idea.

This same mother told me she would rather have a child who did the pushing/grabbing and would worry less about him if he was more aggressive. I suggested that parents of those children were probably worried about their children hurting other children all the time and constantly having to keep a close eye on them.

The other conversation was with a dad whose son at age 19 months has recently started pushing other children around. His dad is very much against this sort of behaviour and can't understand why his son is acting this way. Yesterday in our local playground, he tried to push my son off a piece of play equipment that he wanted to go on. It was a very gentle push and my son didn't get upset but the dad told him to go and say sorry and to give my son a hug. His son completely ignored him and went to push another child instead! The dad persisted and told him that he would take him home if he didn't say sorry and give a hug. His son did nothing and the dad took him home!

On the one hand I admired this dad for his attitude, as I'm used to other parents not taking any notice at all when their child pushes mine. On the other hand, I felt a bit uncomfortable because it really didn't seem necessary to me to have this younger boy apologise and hug my son for something that had barely been noticed (it would be a different story if he'd hurt or upset my son but he hadn't). It felt a bit harsh to have taken him home. The way the dad saw it however, was that he was teaching his son a lesson that pushing other children is not acceptable and that after telling him three times and getting no response, he felt it important to follow through with his threat to take him home.

I think these types of behaviour are simply different manifestations of independence coming out and don't necessarily mean your child will end up being one way or the other. I'm glad that my son isn't aggressive with his peers but at times, I would like him to fight back and take back the toy that someone else snatched from him for example. Mothers I know whose children do grab toys off others are generally good at returning the toy back to the child and explaining to their son or daughter that someone else is playing with it and then distracting them with something else. That seems to me like a good way to deal with the situation. My guess is that this is just another stage in development and so I'm not too concerned about it. As they get older, these young children will learn different ways of reacting to people and circumstances. They'll pick up behaviour from what they see or get told at school, as well as at home.

What do you think? What were your children like around this age (15 months-2 years)? Did their behaviour change as they got older and if so, in what way?


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Wednesday, 6 October 2010

What are you doing on 10:10:10?

This coming Sunday is 10:10:10 (10 October 2010) and the people behind the 10:10 campaign have assigned it 'a'Global Day of Doing'. As regular readers will know, I'm signed up to the 10:10 movement and trying to do my bit to help cut carbon emissions by 10% in one year. If you haven't done anything yet, Sunday would be a great day to change that. People all around the world will be doing some sort of positive activity towards climate change.

From a low carbon lunch to making some small changes around your home or office, using public transport or bikes instead of your car, there are lots of helpful suggestions of steps you can take on the 10:10:10 site. They even have some tips specifically for families. If you decide to do something for 10:10 this Sunday (or any day), let your friends and family know and spread the word. The more people involved, the better.

Just so you know that I'm not all talk, no action, here are 5 things I've been doing this year to reduce my carbon footprint:

  1. Switching stuff off at night (kettle, toaster, anything that is on standby)

  2. Choosing train over plane for visiting my parents in France

  3. Using energy efficient lightbulbs

  4. Reducing our food waste at home

  5. Trying to waste less water (especially when washing-up)

These are 5 carbon-cutting things that I was already doing:

  1. Eating seasonal and local produce

  2. Being a vegetarian (food made from animal products causes a lot of emissions)

  3. Not owning a TV

  4. Not owning a car (we belong to a car club for those occasions when we need a car)

  5. Giving stuff away rather than throwing away (using sites such as Freecycle)

There's always more we can do! Here are 5 things I'm thinking of doing next:

  1. Turning off our hall radiator

  2. Turning our thermostat down

  3. Repairing things instead of buying new

  4. Getting a Hippo (reduces water wastage in toilet cisterms)

  5. Cutting down on our dairy intake

I hope these short lists give you some ideas and inspiration. I'd love to hear about any carbon-cutting steps you are taking or planning on taking. Do you have anything planned for 10:10:10 as part of a global day of doing?


Friday, 1 October 2010

A watchful eye

We live in a fairly quiet, residential part of London. Nice streets with attractive mansion blocks, a few local cafes, delis and shops, friendly faces and a couple of great green spaces to enjoy. It's a really good family area too. Whilst being in London and less than 20 minutes away from some of the major city sites, there's a nice relaxed atmosphere in our neighbourhood and you could easily forget you're living in one of the world's major capital cities. When you love living where you live, it's always a shock when you hear that something unpleasant happened there, as I did earlier this week.

We live less than a five minute walk from our local park so we go there most days, along with lots of other mums. It's a smallish park but has everything you need, a playground for the children, quiet gardens to sit in, a running track, football and tennis courts, a gym and a cafe (I know that makes it sound big, but really it's not - just well laid out).  It's the hub of the local community. It was a shock therefore to hear from a friend that there had been a kidnap attempt on a child there last week! Of course you hear about these sorts of incidents unfortunately fairly frequently in the news but you don't ever imagine something like that happening on your own doorstep.

I do not know the details of the incident, just that the child shouted out, which drew attention to what was going on and thankfully avoided the worst possible outcome. That leaves you presuming that the culprit is still around and might try the same thing again. As responsible parents, we all keep an eye on our children when out and about but at the same time, it's easy to take our eyes off them for a minute or two. Maybe you're walking along and your child is dragging behind you, looking at something or watching another child, or maybe you're just engrossed in a conversation with another mum and not looking at your child for a moment or two.  It's not bad parenting but those brief moments can be all it takes for someone nasty to step in and grab them.

It's easy to drive yourself crazy with worry and fear about what could happen to your child when you stop to think about it or ponder on instances that have been prevalent in the news, cases like Jamie Bulger or Madeleine McCann. That doesn't do anyone any good. There's a fine line with being protective and over-protective of your child and you don't want to let unnecessary concern constrain what you do with your children. The important thing to take from these upsetting occurrences is to always be vigilant of your own child, of those around you and also of the surroundings and other people nearby. Don't be embarrased or afraid to question something you see that seems unusual or strange, better to be wrong than risk ignoring something that could present a real danger.

Do you have any thoughts to add? Have any of you or your friends been affected by any scary incidents concerning children? I hope not!

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