Tuesday, 18 December 2012

This week: last 2012 post

Tomorrow we fly out to family in the US so it's been a busy time trying to get Christmas shopping done and parcels posted off to my side of the family, as well as getting organised for our trip. I had all these plans for blog posts that unfortunately never materialised. I wanted to share this fun idea for a homemade Christmas gift, maybe one for next year. I liked this paper wreath too.

This will be my last post for 2012, as I take some time to enjoy the Christmas holidays, take stock on the year that has almost passed and begin thinking of the year to come. Mummy Zen will resume in the new year but until then I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!
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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Christmas giving and receiving

There's always lots of talk around this time about the cost of Christmas to families, the pressure on parents to buy the latest toys, the power of advertising on both children and adults and such like. I read an interesting article, Christmas, Materialism and Toys that had some good advice for parents. It's slightly lengthy so I've selected a few bits from the article that I particularly liked:

Help develop their imagination:
"Simpler toys like dolls, construction kits, train sets and cars, ‘house’ items like kitchen sets provide the richest experience for children because they can use their own imagination more".
We have bought our son some Lego for Christmas, just the basic building bricks, so I was especially pleased to read this next bit. He has been given special sets where you follow instructions and I hadn't thought about it before but indeed, the scope with those is so much more limited:
"There has even been a change in Lego from simple bricks which allow the child to create and problem solve to sets with specific dedicated pieces and instructions which dictate what should be made. If children get spoon fed everything, even in play, their imaginations close down, they don’t develop the ability to pursue sustained thought and they get bored easily... "
The concern of over-indulgence: My son had his fourth birthday yesterday and had so many (arguably too many) presents, mostly due to all the friends who came to his birthday party. It was really too much for him to take in, appreciate and value so I can definitely relate to the following:
"Many parents are concerned about falling into the trap of over-indulging their children, fearing that their children will grow up to be overly acquisitive and never satisfied, unable to appreciate the true cost of things or differentiate between their needs and their wants."
Children learn by example - we always need to remember to practise what we preach! If we want to encourage all things in moderation, then as parents we need to be moderate in our gift-giving and think quality over quantity. Likewise, to teach our children about giving to others, we need to show them it in action, not just in words.

Encourage your child to enjoy the act of giving. The article offers some good tips for engaging your child in giving at Christmas time, such as thinking of non-material gifts (homemade cookies, a story or picture they've created etc), giving to those less fortunate in your local community, having them help select a gift for a particular person and talking through the process (what the person likes, cost etc).

Some of the advice sounds obvious perhaps, but if nothing else it's a good reminder of what our responsibilities are as parents to help instill the kind of values that are important in our own family. Have a read and let me know your thoughts in the comments.
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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Cheap and cheerful Christmas gift ideas

We are into December and probably a lot of you are in Christmas mode, shopping and planning for the festive season. I always like discovering ideas for more creative presents, whether it's something homemade or something a bit unique that I haven't thought about before.

This week I read 50 Festive Fivers, a list of gifts that all cost a fiver or less. There are some great ideas in there, have a read for yourself. Most require a bit of your own effort and creativity but nothing too challenging! Some of my favourites are:
  • Hidden compartment book - a link is provided for an online tutorial to cut into a book and create a hidden compartment within (I think my son would love one)
  • Memory jar - as it sounds, a jar full of memories for someone you love
  • Kids' homemade movies - making a video compilation using various snippets of footage of your children to give to grandparents
  • Homemade recipe book - a former work colleague made me one of these as a leaving gift and I loved it. I still use it regularly and I think of her each time I make one of the recipes she included.
Let me know which of the 50 Festive Fivers you especially like!
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Monday, 3 December 2012

The frustration of fussy eaters

Most children go through the odd fussy eating stage every now and then, even those who for the most part are not fussy eaters generally. For the parent, it's frustrating when a meal is cooked and the child won't eat it. Even more so when you know it's a meal they've eaten and enjoyed many times previously!

I've been experiencing some of this fussy eating frustration myself lately. Now having two children and two palates to please makes it even harder sometimes. My daughter is teething and quite miserable with it so she is understandably a bit off her food. My son is usually a good eater but is going through a phase of turning his nose up at almost everything I put before him. If I can just get him to take a couple of bites, it's usually ok and he'll eat most or all of it, realising that lo and behold, his mother has cooked him something he likes!

A couple of friends have been lamenting of their mealtime challenges recently too. One friend was saying she wonders why she bothers cooking for her children when they would be happier if she served up oven chips and tinned spaghetti every night! Someone pointed out that her child ate everything until she started nursery and discovered that other children ate 'kid food'. She then demanded 'kid food'  but her mother stood her ground and won her over eventually.

As if it is not hard enough deciding what to cook each night to accommodate everyone's tastes and nutritional needs, it's then additionally difficult having to negotiate getting the meal eaten without making an issue of it. Usually I like to provide some tips for readers, but to be honest I struggle with this myself.

I long for the days I can cook a meal, put it on the table and have everyone eat it and enjoy it without any hesitation. I know those days will come but in the meantime, I will have to deal with the frustration and keep cooking. I'm certainly not going to resort to chips and tinned spaghetti!

Have you been through a fussy eating phase lately with your child? How do you deal with it? If you have older children, when did mealtimes start getting consistently easier for you?
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Thursday, 29 November 2012

This week: gingerbread men

It's been quite a busy week with birthday party organising and getting some Christmas shopping done and posted off to our far away family members. However, this morning my son and I made gingerbread men. I was given a gingerbread man cutter last Christmas and am ashamed to say, this was my first time to use it!

Of course they are easy and fun to make. I used a Mary Berry recipe but reduced the amount of sugar and substituted golden syrup for agave. They turned out well. We didn't ice them or make them look more like men but ate them as they were. The thought occured that they would make a cute little Christmas gift from your children, if they were decorated, put into a clear cellophane bag and tied with some pretty ribbon.

Short and sweet today but hopefully my next post will be more substantial!
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Friday, 23 November 2012

This week: Thanksgiving

As I am married to an American, Thanksgiving is something we celebrate each year. Yesterday I was busy in the kitchen making a big meal for us all to enjoy together. Turkey is traditional and my husband cooked some and then I made a couple of extra vegetable dishes for me, as the vegetarian in the family.

I cooked our sweet potatoes a bit differently to usual and tried this recipe for pecan crusted sweet potato - it was really good. I also made this quick and easy warming onion and white bean bake. For dessert, I made my husband's favourite pumpkin pie and then I also made a pecan pie for the first time. We had another part-American family come over and join us for dessert, we weren't just being gluttonous!

This was the first year when our son could tell us what he was thankful for (something you typically do at the dinner table) and it made it all the more special. He said some sweet things about his mummy, daddy and baby sister, mentioned his nursery and friends and a final addition to his list of things he was thankful for was....dancing!

If you celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday, I hope you had a lovely time and do share any noteworthy dishes you cooked or particularly enjoyable moments from the day in the comments.
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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Healthy family eating on the cheap

Articles like this one in the Guardian depress me with reports of the nation's bad eating habits due to suffering family finances. Apparently, fruit and vegetable consumption has decreased, most significantly amongst poorest consumers while "consumption of high-fat and processed foods such as instant noodles, coated chicken, meat balls, tinned pies, baked beans, pizza and fried food has grown among households with an income of less than £25,000 a year".

I'll be honest, I do spend quite a lot of money on food and am fortunate and thankful that we have the funds to allow me to buy good quality produce for our family. However, a lot of the meals I cook are very inexpensive and being vegetarian, are based around vegetables. I can see the attraction of grabbing something ready-made when it's there on the shelf with it's cheap price tag or maybe on special offer but it's definitely a false economy when you consider the impact it will have on your family's health.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for healthy family eating on the cheap:

Eat seasonal fruit and veg - it will be cheaper than out-of-season produce that has been shipped in.
If you're after convenience, buy frozen veg - it is usually fast-frozen in a fresh state to conserve nutrients.
Keep in some tinned pulses - these are ideal for adding into any number of meals to bulk them out with something nutritious.
Meal plan - taking some time to plan your meals for the week ahead will reduce your likelihood for impulse food purchases during the week.

Some quick healthy meal ideas:

Soup - use up any vegetables you have lying around with a quick soup. Serve over a baked potato or just with some bread for a warming supper.
Stews - similar to the soup but more substantial. Add barley, beans, rice etc and keep your veg chunky.
Pies - not with pastry but with mashed potato toppings, like shepherds pie or cottage pie are an easy one dish meal to make and filling to eat. As a vegetarian, I make mine with whatever veg is in season and add some lentils.
Pasta bakes - you could do a macaroni cheese with some vegetables added in (mushrooms, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach all work well) or a tomato based sauce with aubergines, courgettes, peppers baked in the oven with cheese and breadcrumbs on top
Rice dishes - stir frys work with lots of different vegetables and are very quick to throw together. A hearty meat or bean chilli is another tasty, low-cost option.

It really doesn't need to be expensive to eat healthily. I haven't mentioned fruit but of course that too is an inexpensive way to have tasty snacks and puddings, or added in with a bowl of breakfast cereal or porridge.

Neither does it need to be time-consuming to put together a healthy family meal. The convenience of a shop-bought ready meal is not worth the sacrifice in ingredients. Sure, it's fine on the odd occasion but they shouldn't form a significant part of your regular meals. Even if you don't like cooking, there's no skill needed in chopping some veg and putting it in a pan to cook as the basis for a soup, casserole or whatever.

What would you add to the lists above, either ways to eat on the cheap or recipe ideas for economical family meals?

Friday, 16 November 2012

This week: party politics

I'm talking birthday party invitation etiquette today. My son has his fourth birthday party coming up in a couple of weeks so I have been organising it a bit ahead of time to try and minimise the chaos nearer the date!

I got his invitations written and taken to nursery to be handed out to the children we have invited. I was a bit unsure about how to deal with the invites at nursery. I know some people invite the whole class but for two reasons we didn't want to do that. One is for the practical reason that we decided to do the party at home and don't have the space to comfortably accommodate 24 children. The second reason is that my son simply isn't 'friends' with everyone in the class and I would even go so far as to say there are a couple of children he's not especially fond of and so why would we invite everyone just to be polite?

We had been invited to another boy's party from nursery a month or so ago and I knew his mother had not invited the whole class either. She and I were chatting about it one day walking to nursery and both of us had had an awkward situation as a result! She had a mum come up to her (whose child had not been invited) and ask about the party, claiming her invite had been mislaid. I had a slightly embarassing situaton where a mum and her daughter came up to my son and I and very publicly thanked us for the party invitation. Meanwhile, right behind her watching and listening was a mum and daughter who had not been invited! I felt a bit uncomfortable!

Later talking with my husband, he reminded me that at my son's previous nursery a mum had told me she was arranging her son's party on the day of my son's birthday, offering me the chance to reschedule! I had no reason to do my son's birthday celebration on any other day, as his birthday last year fell conveniently on a Saturday. I wasn't concerned about other children from my son's class not being able to attend as at that stage, he had a nice circle of local friends. Whilst a little ruffled at the way this mum had presented the matter to me, I certainly didn't hold it against her!

Back to this year's birthday party and my son has chosen a few friends from his class. We invited a few more people than our ideal number, assuming a couple wouldn't be able to make it but it's looking like they are all coming! My son's excited and is definitely more involved in the planning this year than ever before, which makes it fun for me.

What is your general policy on birthday party invites? Do you invite the whole class if they are at nursery/school? Do you select just a few close friends?
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Monday, 12 November 2012

Rainy day rocket

We had a rainy Saturday morning this past weekend and not much going on. I'd been thinking about making a rocket with an empty kitchen roll I'd put aside and my son was keen on the idea too. It's a very easy creation to put together, using the following:
  • 1 kitchen roll tube
  • red crepe paper (a streamer roll is ideal)
  • 1 sheet of A4 paper in any colour
  • stapler
  • glue
  • paints
  • string
 Your child paints the kitchen roll tube in whatever colours and patterns they like. If you wanted to avoid paint in the house, you could cut up coloured paper for them to stick around instead, then decorate with stickers or drawings. Leave to dry if painted.

Meanwhile, help your child to cut strips of red crepe paper which will form the whooshing fire coming out the bottom of the rocket.

Take your A4 sheet of coloured paper and wrap from the edges to form a cone shape. Leave a tiny hole in the pointy peak. Staple in place and trim off the edge. Take a piece of string and push through the tiny gap you left and stick inside the cone with tape. This will form the top pointy bit to your rocket and the string will allow the rocket to be flown around by your child.

Once the tube is dry, staple in the strips of crepe paper around the inside edge of the bottom of the tube. Glue around the top edge of the tube and push on your paper cone. Hold firmly in place for a few minutes (ideally a couple of hours) to allow the cone and tube to stick together properly.

That's it, your rocket is ready for lift-off!

Friday, 9 November 2012

This week: chocolate beetroot brownies

I've shared the beetroot cake recipe I like to make with you before but as more beetroot came in our weekly organic vegetable box this past week, I took the opportunity to try something different. I'd had my eye on this chocolate beetroot brownie recipe for some time and with a friend coming over one day, I felt  this was the week to give it a go.

They turned out great! This is definitely my new favourite way to use up the beetroot, although aside from the beetroot, it's a completely unhealthy recipe with chocolate, sugar and butter galore! The making of them was enjoyable, especially pouring the pretty pink pureed beetroot mixture into the chocolate and combining the two together.

As brownies are never healthy anyway, if you feel like making some one day and happen to have some beetroot around, I'd definitely recommend you making these. I meant to take a photo of mine but somehow they got cut into slices and sampled before I got a chance!
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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The fickle world of toddler friendships

It's rather sweet when your toddler starts taking an interest in friends and friendship. Suddenly the little people you've been having them play around begin to matter and to get seen in a new light. If my memory serves me right, it was when my son turned three that the concept of friends first made an appearance and as he gets close to his fourth birthday, it has really gained in significance for him.

Early on, when my son was getting to grips with the idea of friendship, he would talk about it in a broad sense so as we were getting ready to go to the park, my son would say, "I hope we see some friends there". Sometimes he would talk to random children in the park who we didn't know and later when recounting our outing to daddy, those children would be referred to as 'friends'.

Many months later, we've entered 'best friend' territory. I've generally noticed that little girls (and from a younger age) are really into 'best friends' but boys are too apparently. BFs can change from day to day, hour to hour even. Usually said person is "my best friend in the whole world".

As a parent, it's both touching and humourous to observe a toddler's foray into friendship. Last week for example, a little girl in my son's nursery class came over to play. These two play together at nursery a fair bit and we've taken them to playgroups where they have played really nicely together too. Before she came over, my son told me, "Mary's* my best friend in the whole world. It's so exciting she's coming to our house".

Well it didn't take long before his poor world was shattered. Mary* was not in good form. She didn't want to play with him, she pushed him, knocked over his drink and it all ended in tears! Needless to say, the play date was not the joy my son had forseen and best friends they were no more.

As adults we have the experience to know that sometimes friends do disappoint us or fail to live up to our expectations. Thankfully the high drama has phased out and we tend not to take things so personally. I think it's safe to say the friendships dramas will be few and far between with a son. Boys seem to just get on with it. Girls on the other hand....!

Watching my son develop a sense of friendship, identifying people he likes to spend time with and wants to invite to his birthday party, I feel a sense of pride that he's grasping a new social side to his being. I also recognise that it's a sign of him growing up and increasing his independence - one of those bittersweet parenting moments.

How does your toddler interact with their little friends? Is there anything you notice in particular about their choice of friendships or behaviour towards their friends?

*name has been changed
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Thursday, 1 November 2012

How do you ration sweet treats?

If you went trick or treating last night with your children, you probably have a stash of sweet treats at home now. My son was over the moon at the bucket full of goodies he got given and is excited to get to devour them. My husband and I had a brief chat about how we would spread them out and I thought it would be interesting to hear how you do it in your families too.

We decided our son should get to have a few in the immediate couple of days after Halloween while the excitement and memories are still fresh. After that, we will leave it a few days in-between. We don't give him chocolate and sweets on a regular basis so this is a lot of sugar for him. We want a balance between letting him enjoy the sweet treats and not overloading him or getting him too used to having them so often.

As a side note, we had a great time trick or treating for the first time. My son loved being out after dinner, in the dark. He thought it was great knocking on doors and shouting out 'trick or treat', or 'Happy Halloween!'. Back home he got to greet trick or treaters who came to our house and hold out our bowl of treats.

Back to the sweet treats, how do you do it with your children? Do you ration them or let them get stuck in and eat them all up? Do you use them as a bribe for good behaviour?
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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

This week: Halloween

Tomorrow is Halloween and we have been thinking and preparing for it on and off for the past couple of weeks. Now my son is almost four, it's a bit more exciting for him and us! This year we will be taking him trick or treating for the first time. We are going with a few others in our new neighbourhood so it should be fun.

We've carved a couple of pumpkins at home and even branched out this year with a bat shape on one. Continuing the bat theme, we made this simple but effective egg box bat bunting (we just did bats, not ghosts). While we left the paint to dry on the bats, we took a walk in our local woods to look for bats or bat boxes which they apparently have up in some of the trees. We didn't see any but we enjoyed ourselves nevertheless playing in the leaves, throwing piles of them in the air which made my one-year old giggle and my son also collected big sticks to make a 'bonfire'.

Do you have plans with your children this Halloween? What will they be getting dressed up as?
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Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Number two is one!

Baby number two will be one later this week! My little baby daughter has brought unimaginable joy to my life. She's also given me a new perspective on my son who has really proved to be the perfect big brother and continued to make my husband and I so proud of how well-behaved, kind and caring he is.

It has been an interesting year watching my daughter grow and develop, going through all the first steps, remembering how exciting the smallest things are when a baby is doing them for the first time. She has similarities to my son but also many differences and I often wonder if they are a result of being a second child or of being a girl. I guess I will never really know for sure!

When my son turned one, I wrote a post about what I had learnt during my first year of motherhood. For my first year as a mother of two, I will share some general observations from my experience of  two children:

The older sibling is adored by the younger one. They can do no ill in the eyes of their younger sister or brother and it is a lovely sight to see their faces light up around them or to watch them follow them and try to copy their every move.

The younger child gets less attention. Everything you hear is true, you don't have the time to take them to all the playgroups and activities you did with your first born. They pretty much have to fit in around the older child's schedule. Maybe this is less the case with a closer age gap than my two...

Parenting two (or more) children is bit like juggling. Sometimes all the balls fall to the floor, sometimes you keep them all up in the air. Balancing the needs of each child is not always easy and some days you do a better job of it than others.

Your time feels very stretched. I often wish I could spend more quality time with each child but between mealtimes, naps, nursery, play dates and household chores, it's a real challenge setting aside that individual time.

Illnesses stick around a lot longer. The older child picks something up from nursery and it's usually impossible to prevent the younger one getting it. Then sometimes the parents get it. Sometimes the recovered older child picks something else up and at times it feels like you're never going to escape the chain of illness. Having an extra person in the family adds to the 'recovery time' for the whole family.

It's hard to remember what it was like with only one child. Maybe that sounds silly but it's amazing how quickly your bigger family feels like it was always that way.

Your expectations can change for the older child. Sometimes I realise I'm expecting a bit much from my son now he's the big brother and have to remind myself he's still only very little himself. You want to make them feel mature on the one hand but you also want them to feel comfortable being a bit helpless and vulnerable at times, as all children are.

The hard work is more than worth it. Despite the days when I am tearing out my hair and counting down the minutes to the children's bedtimes, I am happy to report those days are few and far between overall. Not a day goes by when I don't think about how lucky I am to have these two beautiful, loving children who make me laugh, make me feel proud and bring genuine happiness to my life.
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Thursday, 18 October 2012

6 things to try before reaching for the chocolate

These past few weeks, I've been struggling to get through some days without something sweet - chocolate, biscuits, cake.... I know something has to be done when it gets to the point of feeling like I need it to get through the day. It's a matter of getting out of the habit, re-programming and actively adopting / resuming healthy eating, exercise and a healthy lifestyle in general.

Often our desire for something sweet comes from tiredness, debydration, boredom or inactivity and it's therefore easy to take steps to rectify the source of our sweet cravings. Here are 6 things to try before reaching for the chocolate / cake / biscuits:
  1. Drink some water. Have a big glass right on the spot. I was reading recently we should ideally sip water throughout the day rather than drinking a big glass here or there. If we're not drinking water regularly though, chances are we are dehydrated and need a big glass or two at that moment. 
  2. Exercise. Go for a brisk walk around the block or if you are tied to the house with a sleeping baby or whatever, then run up and down the stairs a few times, do some jogging on the spot, some star jumps  / jumping jacks. It will invigorate you.
  3. Do a task. Tell yourself you need to do something to 'earn' your treat. Busy yourself with something active like a cleaning job, hoovering, a bit of gardening.
  4. Distract yourself. Make a phonecall, write an email or a letter, tidy up a pile of paperwork, update your calendar, start preparing a meal, invite a friend over, do a niggling task you've been procrastinating on like working on a photo album, clearing out some stuff.
  5. Eat something healthy. Rather than going for the biscuit, chocolate or whatever, first eat something healthy. Try a handful of nuts and seeds, a piece of fresh fruit or a slice of wholegrain toast spread with something savoury.
  6.  Have an early night. This clearly is not something to try at the moment you are reaching for the chocolate but I felt it needed to be included! If we're tired, our energy levels and our willpower are affected during the day. Getting enough sleep is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle. If it's not easy to make yourself go to bed early, schedule it in at the beginning of the week. Choose one or two evenings in the week ahead when you must be in bed by 9pm (or whatever time you feel works for you) and stick to it! 
In an ideal world, trying some or all of the above will help you resist the urge for the chocolate / cake / biscuits and the more you resist, the weaker the cravings will become. By incorporating healthy habits like drinking enough water, getting enough sleep and actively making healthy food choices on a regular basis, you won't need the sweet fix to get you through the day.
What is your sweet vice and how do you deal with it if you ever feel like it's getting the better of you? Can you add to the tips above?
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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

This week: appreciating autumn

The arrival of autumn is a time of year I love. There's a novelty about the cooler temperatures that makes me enjoy getting cosy, cooking warming soups and dressing in big jumpers.

The falling leaves with their changing colours and crisp texture under foot never cease to delight me. Our nearest green space since moving house is now a woodland area and seeing all the trees amidst a new carpet of orange/tan leaves is a beautiful sight to behold. I can only imagine how much more enchanting it will look later this month as the pace of falling leaves picks up.

October is the month of pumpkins, Halloween and also a new birthday to celebrate in our family, as my daughter will be one next week! It's definitely an enjoyable time of the year for me. How about you - are you embracing the arrival of autumn or for you is it just the beginning of the long cold dark months ahead?

I'll leave you with a couple of previous autumn-related posts from Mummy Zen that you might like to re-read:
3 easy autumn crafts for toddlers
10 indoor activities for toddlers
Embracing the seasons
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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

My go-to baby balm for soft smooth skin

I'm not one to write about any kind of product and let me start off by saying, I'm not receiving any freebies or perks for the recommendation I am about to write. However, I felt compelled to share something that has really worked wonders on my baby daughter. I didn't know about it or use it four years ago with my son but now it has become my go-to magic potion for any kind of skin issues!

Both my children suffered from cradle cap as young babies and my daughter had quite a severe case. I tried a few products, always trying to stick to the most natural to avoid subjecting her delicate scalp to any harsh chemicals. I was online shopping at Content one day and decided to pick up a tube of Suvana Paw Paw and Honey Balm.

I used some on my daughter's cradle cap and it proved to be very effective in softening and loosening the flaky skin and leaving the underneath skin smooth and soft. Maybe it was coincidence and she was growing out of the cradle cap anyway, but it quickly cleared up. However, every now and then she will get a little bit of cradle cap reappear. I only have to apply a bit of the paw paw and honey balm at bedtime and in the morning her head is clear of it.

I've since tried it on nappy rash and again found it to be very quick in relieving the sore red area. I will also apply it to random dry patches of skin. As we get into colder weather, I think it will be especially useful to have on hand.

I will say it is very sticky stuff. It has honey in the title and is a bit like applying honey! I therefore tend to apply it at night time to any visible areas so that it has a long spell to soak in. By morning there is no sticky residue.

Suvana paw paw and honey balm is made from 100% natural and organic ingredients. It's good value, with only a small amount needed for any application. It's quite a small tube but lasts a long time and is also a handy size for carrying around or travel. If you struggle with treating cradle cap, dry skin, nappy rash or any other skin issue with your child (or yourself of course), I would urge you to give the paw paw and honey balm a try.

What is your go-to product for keeping your child's skin in tip-top condition?

Monday, 8 October 2012

Note to self: practise what I preach!

How often do you think to yourself that you should really know better? I've been thinking that lately in regard to a few things. It feels even worse to me when I know I've written a blog post about it, as I should definitely practise what I preach!

I'd barely been drinking any water lately and I remembered my post on the simple way to drink enough water each day. I've since made an effort and almost immediately felt better for getting more water in my body. A recent bout of colds with both children reminded me of heeding my own advice in When your child is unwell: 10 tips. I had a brief lie-down one day when my son was at nursery and my daughter was sleeping and even though I didn't sleep, just taking a moment to rest really recharged me.

Then there are the days when I know I need to calm down, step back and breathe! Sometimes I could do with following the suggestions in my Quick-fix Calming Techniques. I find that deep breaths and distracting myself with something completely different really helps.

I am sure I could think of other examples of where I really know better but I allow laziness or some other reason or excuse to take over.

Are there any recent situations when you have thought to yourself that you ought to know better and practise what you preach?
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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Children's birthday cakes

Now we are into chilly autumn, it's time for me to start thinking about birthdays for my two children. My daughter will be one later this month and my son will be four in early December. My daughter's birthday celebration will be a very simple, very small gathering of friends at home so not much to think about except for the cake. I do enjoy the fun and challenge of making a nice birthday cake.

For my son's three previous birthdays I made a teddy bear, a train and animal mini-cupcakes. We have yet to decide on what his will be this year but he has mentioned a pirate ship and also pointed out a very complicated looking Noah's ark!

I have used the Kids' Birthday Cakes (Australian Women's Weekly Essential) book and then recently bought 50 Easy Party Cakes. Both have a good range of types of cakes for boys and girls and easy to follow instructions for more amateur bakers like me! My only slight gripe with the Australian Women's Weekly book is that a lot of the decoration of the cakes depends on Australian sweets that can't be found over here. You can usually get by or improvise so it's not a big deal.

My mother always made lovely cakes for my birthdays. A hedgehog and a merry-go-round specifically stick out in my memory. She is my other source for ideas ;-). I do like having the books for inspiration even if I don't always follow their design exactly. It's also nice to look through them with my son and for him to point out cakes he likes the look of to help me decide on what to make for his birthday.

Do you make birthday cakes for your children or do you prefer to not have the stress of making it yourself?! Any favourite cakes from your childhood or that your own children have had for their birthdays? Any other books you would recommend?

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Baby and toddler sharing a room

We moved our daughter into our son's bedroom when she was around five months old. At the time we were living in a two bedroom flat and that was the only option once we felt comfortable moving her out of our bedroom. We since moved to a three-bedroom house but have kept them sharing a room. Having spoken to a few people who have been fearful to move their children into the same room for various reasons, I thought it would be helpful to share our experience.

From the people I have spoken to, the main concern seems to be of one child disrupting the sleep of their sibling. This might be one waking the other up in the night or it might mean one waking before the other in the morning or one going to sleep later than the other. With a baby, there's the concern of night time wakings due to teething. With a toddler, there might be toilet trips and occasional nightmares. Both of course can be disturbed during the night when ill too.

I will preface by saying that both our children are good sleepers. They both settle down quickly once in their cot or bed and sleep until around 7am generally.

I wanted to wait on writing this post until I felt like we had gone through a few testing times so I could have a wider view of how the sharing a room was working out and to explain how we have dealt with some of the scenarios mentioned above:

Different bedtimes: Due to the age gap, our children don't yet share a bedtime. Our daughter goes to sleep around 6.30-7pm and our son around 7.30/45pm. We do bedtime stories with our son on the sofa in the living room and once he is all ready for bed, we sneak into his room so as not to disturb his sister and he creeps into bed and falls asleep. There's never been a time when his sister has been woken up when he's been getting into bed.

Night time wakings: This was the main issue I wanted to have experienced in a few different ways before writing. We have now had situations where both have woken in the night crying (loudly) with illness, upset from a bad dream or random who knows why and in each case, the other child has slept through it. Sometimes our daughter has been slightly woken and we have heard her soothing herself back to sleep but she has never been awoken and not gone straight back to sleep. My son will often go to the bathroom in the night but this doesn't wake his sister either.

Morning wake-up: One person is always going to wake before the other and sleep tends to be lighter by morning time so I will say this is the one time when one child might wake the other. However, providing both children naturally sleep to a decent hour this shouldn't be a major issue. It's not always so smooth though and my son is always the one to wake first and sometimes it's earlier than I would like. On those occasions, he comes out of his room and quietly closes his door and our daughter will usually go back to sleep for another 30-60 mins.

I myself never shared a room with a sibling but I've always thought it would be a nice thing for two children. They are company for each other and once both are talking they can chat to one another before falling asleep or on waking in the morning and it seems like a good way for siblings to bond and have a certain closeness.

We imagine that our children are the light sleepers some of us grow up to be, disturbed by the slightest noise but in reality most children generally sleep through anything! If you have contemplated the idea of your two children sharing a room but been worried about one or both of them having their sleep (and therefore your sleep!) disrupted, I hope I have put you at ease. It's worth giving it a go if you like the idea and in the event it doesn't work out, you don't have to stick with it.

Do your children share a room? Did you share a room with a sibling as a child? I'd love to hear any of your experiences or memories in the comments.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

What every mum needs in her bag

If you're a mum to a young child, you probably carry around a fairly big bag. It most likely contains some of the following: nappies, wipes, spare underwear, spare clothes, lotion / suncream, plasters, toddler snacks, emergency tools of distraction (ie. stickers, crayons).... I for one, hate having to carry so much stuff around.

Pre-children, I would always have small handbags, coordinating with my outfits, carrying the bare minimum and now those bags get an outing once a year if I'm lucky. These days, I rarely switch my bag. I was alternating between two until one of those broke recently so now it really is just the same one, day in, day out. It's big. It has multiple sections. It can hang over both handles of the buggy.

Between my son and daughter being born, there was a brief spell of being back with my smaller bags and not having to really carry things around for my son but then of course when my daughter was born, it was back to carrying more stuff again. I had somehow forgotten until very recently that one good way to organise the contents of your handbag is to keep the baby/toddler stuff in its own bag, in your handbag.

There are several benefits to the bag within a bag:
  • It avoids a mass search in your bag for the clean nappy, the spare socks or whatever.
  • It keeps the child-related items all together and separate from the other contents of your bag.
  • You can take out the smaller bag and keep it in the bottom of your buggy and then carry a smaller handbag.
  • If your child is at the age when they like to pull out the contents of your handbag, your bag within your bag will look a lot nicer to strangers than them pulling out a nappy for example. 
  • It somehow makes you feel more organised!
The bag you use for your baby/toddler paraphernalia can be as plain or as pretty as you like. I bought a hot pink one recently for the simple reason it is easy to spot and contrasts with the dark brown of the big bag I carry. A roomy toiletry/make-up bag is the sort of size you're after.

For some or maybe most of you, this post will not be groundbreaking reading but in the event you too had forgotten as I had, I wanted to remind you that what every mum needs in her bag is.....another bag!

Do you already keep your child-related items in a separate bag in your handbag? Do you have any other handbag organisational tips to share?
photo credit

Friday, 21 September 2012

This week: baking

I've done more baking this week than I have done for a while. A friend came to visit one day so I made some chocolate chip cookies to have with tea. I have started experimenting with agave syrup in my baking and really love the subtle sweetness and flavour it gives. I halved the amount of sugar the recipe called for and substituted the golden syrup with a bit of agave. The cookies turned out really nice, even though I do say so myself.

A couple of days later, I had invited my neighbour over for coffee. I had a new recipe via our weekly veg box for raspberry and cinnamon muffins and as raspberries are currently in season and we had some at home, I decided to give these a go. The raspberries made the muffins quite moist and a little messy to eat but they were tasty!

Finally, I am entering a cake competition this weekend that a local cookshop is running. I'm submitting this beetroot cake and will make a pink icing to dribble over the top using a couple of spoonfuls of the water that the beetroot is cooked in, togther with icing sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. I'm not in it for the winning, although that would be fantastic, more it's a fun excuse to bake a cake (the competition is free to enter).

Have you done any baking recently? Do you have any favourite recipes you turn to when you feel like baking something?
photo credit

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

6 places to pick up mummy friends

When I was pregnant with my first child, I didn't have any friends with babies. We moved a month before my son was born to a more family friendly area of London but I didn't know anybody there.

I joined the local mums' group (which I later went on to co-run) and went along to a coffee morning meetup for mums and babies. Maybe unusually, my main circle of mummy friends were all met at that coffee morning. It was a weekly gathering and then as we got to know each other we would meet up elsewhere and our babies grew up together.

Some of those mums moved away but we have kept in touch and still visit every now and then. Our families have grown and it's fun to get all the children together and for the adults to catch up. I still consider some of those people amongst my closest mummy friends.

Now I am the one that moved away and am starting over with finding mummy friends in my new local area. Everyone always says it's easier to meet people when you have children and yes it is, because you know where to find other parents, and children easily provide conversation starters. However, effort is still very much needed and I have been trying to get about to places where I might strike up conversation with some other mums.

Here are 6 places I've come up with to pick up mummy friends:
  1. A park or playground
  2. Local library: they might have a separate children's library and may run weekly sessions for children and parents
  3. Your road: look out for families with similarly aged children , introduce yourself to your neighbours
  4. School: as your children get older I guess this becomes your main source of new friends, as your child takes an interest in other children, you invite them over to play and get to know their parents. Also there's always the PTA to get involved in.
  5. Children's classes / activities: local music/dance/art/drama classes can be a good way to meet mums and children with similar interests to you and your child
  6.  Mums' group: if there is a group for mums in your area, it can certainly be a great way to make mummy friends. They will likely have meetups and events for you to go along to where you can meet others.
What have I missed? Where did you end up meeting most of your mummy friends?
photo credit

Friday, 14 September 2012

A dad's advice on raising boys

Something light for the weekend....a friend recently shared this article Raising Boys (A Dad's Advice for Moms) written by Tom Matlack. If you have a son, I think you will enjoy it and relate to the points listed. I really like to read a male perspective on parenting. It's often quite humourous but also perceptive and highlights things that us mums might miss or even dismiss.

My favourites from the advice given are:

Watch his body and not his mouth - I agree completely that a boy reveals his emotional state through body language. This sounds so much like my son: "Jumping up and down with six-inch vertical leaps is the natural state of being and is good".

Crowds, not so much - I was surprised to read that this is considered the case for all boys and whilst I'm not convinced it applies to every boy, it certainly is true of my son. Like Matlack says, I too try to protect my son from such situations where I know he will feel uncomfortable. As my daughter gets older, I will be interested to compare how she reacts among crowds. Currently it doesn't appear to bother her....

Bedtime is sacred - "The best time of day is the ten minutes before they go to sleep". That end of the day time together really is rather special. You have their attention, if you're lucky they might cuddle up to you a bit while you read their bedtime stories. They try to prolong the day by chattering away and coming out with all kind of sweet, funny lines. However bad the day might have been, it's a moment to be treasured.

Have a read of the article and let me know what you think and which bits resonated best with your experience of raising boys.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Summer summary

Summer 2012 was an eventful one for people living in London. The Queen's Jubilee celebrations followed by the Olympics made for much merriment and vivacity in the capital. There were fears by some that these events would make day to day life for Londoners a real struggle, as extra people would cause a strain on public transportation and generally getting around but this was not the case. I would go so far as to say it was a real pleasure to be in London at such a time, feeling a part of the celebrations and sharing a sense of national pride.

On a more personal level, our summer was very enjoyable too. A family holiday on a farm followed by several weeks keeping occupied through museum visits, fun with friends, picnics and playing outside, some arts and crafts and cooking. At the end of the summer holidays we moved house and in fact today is my son's last day of his long summer holiday as he starts at his new nursery school tomorrow.

I wrote not so long ago about how I like the school holidays and take advantage of the extra time with my son to do fun things together. I am happy to report that after his nearly three month summer holiday, I can still say the same! After moving house a couple of weeks ago, I was eager to sort out his nursery and somewhat eager for him to start so we could establish a new routine in our new surroundings but equally, it's been a lovely opportunity for us to spend some time exploring the area together before he starts.

Today I feel a mixture of sadness and excitement with his start back to nusery tomorrow. Sadness is a bit strong really and let's face it, he'll only be gone for three hours a day! Having got used to having him around all day though, it will feel a bit funny to have him go off but I know he will enjoy the stimulation, the opportunities for development, for making new friends and getting to do lots of fun activities.

I am certainly thankful for the lovely summer we enjoyed together and the memories we will hold from it. How was your summer? Are there any particular events, activities or moments that stand out?
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Sunday, 9 September 2012

This week: new home & back online

We have been in our new home for just over a week and are enjoying the extra space, big garden and new surroundings. The move itself went well and our two children adapted easily to the changes. The sun has been shining in London all week and that always makes things easier.

There are still hurdles to jump: my husband's commute is significantly longer and less convenient than it was and we are yet to find the most efficient route from home to his office. My son has a nursery place at a nice school very close by and we are wondering how he will do at a new nursery, having loved his previous one so much (he will start next week). I have moved from an area of London where I was strongly connected to the local community of mums and now find myself in an unfamiliar place and not knowing anyone.

These things are all part of adapting to a new home of course and in reality, the challenges often provide the most rewarding part of it. We will tackle them head on and follow the paths along which we are led with enthusiasm and positivity!

Finally, now we are online in our new home regular posts will resume :-).
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Thursday, 30 August 2012

This week: moving boxes

As you read this, we are most likely loading up or unloading our many moving boxes as we move into our new home. The last few weeks have been a steady stream of packing, clearing out, filling more boxes, trying to get more empty boxes to pack.....

It's a busy time as you can imagine but there is one great thing about the moving boxes. Children love a box. Both my 10-month old and my 3 1/2 year old have had loads of fun playing with the boxes and I expect they will do so again at the other end as we unpack them in our new home.

Just an empty box is exciting enough but then putting things in to be tipped or taken out is always popular or getting inside the box when it's a really big one is even better! I haven't had any time to do anything creative with them but of course the options are endless when it comes to cardboard box crafts.

Is there anything in particular you like to do with an empty box for playtime fun with your little ones?
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Monday, 27 August 2012

Children's books about moving house

My son has always enjoyed and seemed to benefit from books that talk about experiences he is about to go through - moving into a big bed, potty training, starting nursery, becoming a big brother.... Part of it is because he really loves being read to and maybe as a result, the medium of a story helps him to take in the situation and better understand it.

So, I naturally looked for some books on moving house to help prepare him for our forthcoming move. I chose two that had good reviews and they are pretty good. He has been asking for us to read them over and over, which I take to mean he is enjoying them and that's the main thing.

If I had to fault the books I bought it would be on the same two points. They both talk about the two children in the story having their own rooms instead of sharing a room when they move. My son and daughter will continue to share a room in our new house and so my husband and I skip over that bit when reading it. They also both conclude with the family's new neighbours bringing round cake and other such welcoming treats, which lovely an end to the story as it is, I'm not so sure it's very realistic. I have baked brownies and taken to new neighbours once but we had a mutual friend so it was a slightly special case. I've never once received a welcoming anything when we've moved into a new home.

Anyway, the books are fun and do a good job of bringing up some of the usual concerns a young child might have when moving - like what'll happen to all their toys, will they make new friends?... Additionally both books have stickers which is always a bonus for toddlers!

Have you moved house since having children and do you have any other moving house book recommendations for young children?

Thursday, 23 August 2012

This week: Treasure baskets

This is probably old news for most of you but I have only just discovered treasure baskets for babies. I had heard of them but didn't really know what they were. Earlier this week we were at a local playgroup where they had a treasure basket out in the area for babies and my daughter loved it. They had put all kinds of random objects with different textures inside a basket and she was fascinated by them.

I am now inspired to create my own at home. A quick search online has given me lots of ideas of items to put insde a basket and of course these random objects can be easily found around the home or outside.

Here are a couple of blog posts with photos and suggestions of treasure basket contents in case you too fancy making one for your baby:

The Imagination Tree - Baby Treasure Basket - 12 months
NurtureStore - Treasure Baskets for Babies

Have you made a treasure basket for any of your children when they were babies? Were there any particular objects that you found they enjoyed more than others?

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A vegetable victory

I made cauliflower pakoras the other week and to my delight they were gobbled up with glee by my son who ordinarily refuses any cauliflower dish. I don't count them as hiding vegetables because if you bite into one, you can see the white cauliflower floret. Just out of interest and to test whether my son had come around to cauliflower, I made a cauliflower cheese this week. My son did not like it!

So, I will be making the pakoras again and in case you want to try them, I am sharing the recipe from River Cottage Veg Every Day! by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall:

  • 1 medium cauliflower - cut into small florets, discarding nearly all the stalk.
  • Sunflower oil for frying
For the batter:
  • 150g gram flour (chickpea flour)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsps ground cumin
  • 2 tsps ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • A good shake of cayenne pepper
Make the batter by whisking all the ingredients together, getting rid of any lumps. Slowly whisk in 175ml cold water or a little more if needed until you have a batter the consistency of double cream.

Add the cauliflower florets, turning them in the batter to coat thoroughly.

Heat about 1cm depth of oil in a heavy-based pan over a medium-high heat. Place spoonfuls of the battered cauliflower in the pan, not crowding the pan.

Cook for about 2 mins until crisp and golden on the base and then turn over for another minute or two.
Drain the pakoras on kitchen paper and serve.

Hugh accompanies the recipe with a tamarind raita, which sounds lovely but I skipped it. We ate these as they were but I might dip them in natural yoghurt too.
What vegetable victories have you had with your children, where you have found a way to cook a disliked vegetable in a way your child enjoys it?
photo credit

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Making tidy up time fast and fun

It's the end of the day, your little one is getting tired and possibly a bit fractious but the living room looks like a bomb site...it's tidy up time! If your child is anything like mine, the mention of tidying up might elicit moaning and groaning and it can be a real challenge to get them stuck in to picking up and putting away their toys. Even if you get them to pick up one toy to put away, the whole job can take way too long and everyone is fed up during the process!

In just the past week, since the news of our impending move, my husband and I have been doing a lot of extra clearing up and cleaning, as we sort stuff out to pack or get rid of. We are also keeping our flat in a more presentable condition than normal in case we get a call that someone wants to come and view it. Interestingly, I've noticed that our three-year old son has in turn been tidying up a lot more often throughout the day and being pro-active in putting things away when I ask him to.

With that in mind, I started thinking more about tidy up time and how to make it more fun and less of a battle, to get the job done quickly and easily. Here are some suggestions:

- Lead by example. As demonstrated by my son, it helps if they see you regularly tidying up. Children always enjoy imitating adult behaviour and activities.

- Sing a tidy up song. My son used to go a music class where they finished with a tidy up song, whilst tidying up the instruments etc. He was taught another one at nursery so we have a couple to choose from. If you don't know one, make one up! It lightens the mood and helps keep parent and child more relaxed.

- Make it a race or a game. Especially when we have something like lots of Lego pieces to put back in a box, I often make it a challenge to see who can pick up the most and most quickly. When my son sees me hurriedly grabbing handfuls and putting them into the box, he does the same and the job is soon done.

- Talk about what you'll do after you've tidied up. My son loves his bedtime stories and really looks forward to them. Reminding him that we can start the stories as soon as he's tidied up really helps encourage him get it done quickly.

- Give praise where it's due. Remember to give the recognition owed when they do tidy up without any fuss and it will help encourage them to adopt a good attitude towards it all the more. Be enthusiastic about their good efforts, give big hugs and kind words and they will feel rightly pleased with themselves :-)

How does tidy up time happen in your home? Do you have any tricks or tips you employ to get your children clearing up effectively and happily?
photo credit

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

This week: busy!!

In a somewhat sudden turn of events we are moving house at the end of the month. With just over two weeks to pack, organise, clean and clear-out, my blogging time is severely limited! Hopefully I can share some tips on managing a move with two little ones once we get through this but in the meantime, my posts may be a little sporadic.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Jam jar lantern

Here is another super-simple craft to do with your toddler. Materials needed are very few:

1 clean empty jam jar
some scrap paper (plain or patterned)
2 pipe cleaners
random bits for decoration (small coloured paper shapes, stickers etc....)* optional

Cut your scrap paper to a suitable height and length to wrap around jam jar.
Your child can draw on it first if they'd like, instead of later adding decorations.
They glue the back of the paper, stick it around the jam jar and if adding additional decorations, stick those on.
Attach one pipe cleaner to the other to form a handle and then wrap the other around the rim of the jar. Tie to secure.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Easy peasy paper plate spider

I enjoy looking at and admiring craft blogs. I'm not especially artistic but I've always liked art and craft stuff and thought I'd be the kind of mum to do such things with my children. And I do, but not as often as I'd imagined. I have all these good intentions of preparing materials the night before, ready to do a fun craft project with my son the next day but it never happens!

While on summer holidays I decided we needed to do a few simple art activities at home on our quieter days when we're not out and about or having play dates with friends. I ordered a couple of crafty items and have been saving empty egg boxes and the like with the hope of transforming them into something creative.

I plan to feature a few of the things we make on here, just to show you that with very limited adult ability and basic materials, you can create something decent! I think it's important to remember that it's the making that is most of the fun in these types of activities and a young child will probably not be too fussed on how 'perfect' the end result looks! Experiment, have fun, expect to improvise and don't worry about the mess, you may just find you enjoy it too!

Onto our 'easy peasy paper plate spider'....We made it with the following:

1 paper plate
Black paper / black paint
White crayon
3 black Pipe Cleaners 

I cut the outer edge off the paper plate and set aside.
Rather than get paint out, I opted for cutting out black paper to cover the paper plate. My son drew around the paper plate on the black paper while I held it down.
I cut out the circle of paper and he glued it onto the plate.
(Alternatively, your child could simply paint the plate black and leave to dry)
Using the discarded edge of the paper plate, my son drew two circles for eyes and stuck these onto the spider.
With a white crayon, he drew a big smile.
My son cut the three pipe cleaners in half and cut pieces of tape (obviously all with my supervision) so we could stick the pipe cleaners to the back of the plate, making three legs each side.
That's it! We also cut a piece of string and stuck to the back at the top so he could dangle the spider and run around with it more easily.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Tea for two: cooking for baby and toddler

Since my baby daughter moved into stage two of weaning, it's made mealtimes a lot easier to plan and coordinate with what the rest of the family is eating. I've called this post 'cooking for baby and toddler' but really it's cooking for baby and the rest of the family, as we all eat the same generally.

However, I wanted to talk a little about our eating routine for baby and toddler, as sometimes mealtimes can be a challenging part of the day and especially dinnertime, when everyone is getting tired. I will also give some meal suggestions that are easily adapted to something a baby from around seven months could eat.

My daughter (she's 9 months old now) had been eating her dinner at 5pm and my son would eat his at 6pm, when I would often be feeding my daughter the last bottle of milk for the day. Then just this week I decided to move my daughter's dinner time half an hour later and my son's half an hour earlier so they can eat dinner together. It's made such a pleasant difference!

My son loves eating dinner at the same time as his little sister and I'm sure she enjoys getting to watch her big brother eat while she does too. For me, it makes that time of day calmer and while my daughter is happily eating, it's easier for my son and I to chat.

Stage two of weaning is when you start to introduce texture into baby's food and a great way to do this is by incorporating grains with pureed or mashed vegetables, beans, lentils etc. Here are some family meals that you can easily adapt for baby:

Risotto - I made butternut squash risotto recently. I chopped and roasted small chunks of the squash to add to the arborio rice once it was nearly cooked. For my daughter, I steamed and pureed some of the squash and stired it into the cooked rice.

Quinoa / couscous with roasted veg - again, simply mash or puree the vegetables for baby and stir into the quinoa / couscous.

Dips  - this is a lunch favourite for us at the moment. We all eat the same dip (this week's was a butter bean and tomato dip) so it makes life very easy. My son and I will dip in things like carrot, cucumber, pitta bread or toast. My daughter will have the same but without the crunchy carrot and I'll give her the inner part of the cucumber with no skin.

Omelette - neither of my children liked scrambled eggs when I first tried them and at a guess I'd say the texture is a bit odd compared to the other foods they are used to eating early on. My son loves them now of course and no doubt my daughter will in time. So, I choose to make omelette instead as a way to eat eggs and it goes down well. I grated carrot, courgette and cheese into one I made this week and served with new potatoes.

Pasta -  a perennial favourite amongst children, pasta is another quick easy meal to prepare for the whole family. Make a sauce of your choice, maybe take some aside and blend for baby and then cook smaller pasta shapes for baby too.

Rice and lentils - you could make a lightly spiced dahl or just a simple lentil mixture with finely diced onion, carrot, celery, some chopped tomatoes and herbs. Blend the lentils for baby and combine with the rice.

What family meals do you like to make that are easy to adapt for baby too?
photo credit

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

This week: healthy-ish blueberry muffins

I like my breakfasts. For me, it really is the most important meal of the day. During the week we tend to have cereal or toast. However,  I get bored by cereal every day and with toast, I find I'm starving by mid-morning. So occasionally I branch out with a bagel and cream cheese or I bake muffins sometimes.

As blueberries are in season at the moment and I had some in the fridge, I decided to make some blueberry muffins for us to have in the morning. As they don't contain sugar and are vegan, I thought I would share the recipe with you in case you fancy trying them out for breakfast one day too. The recipe is adapted from one in the Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook I have.

I should add that these muffins don't look especially pretty when they come out of the oven, they don't rise and fluff up like regular muffins but don't let their appearance deceive you - they taste good! As with most muffin recipes, they are quick to throw together and depending on your morning schedule you could even get the wet and dry ingredients all ready the night before and then combine and add blueberries in the morning to enjoy them freshly baked!
  • 110g spelt flour (obviously you can substitute with regular plain flour)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 60ml vegetable oil
  • 60ml milk
  • 60ml maple syrup
  • 1 generous tablespoon of runny honey
  • A splash of water
  • 150g blueberries
Makes 6-8 muffins.

Preheat oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Prepare your muffin tin - lightly grease or use paper cases.
Combine dry ingredients together and in a separate bowl, the wet ingredients. Stir wet and dry together and finally fold in the blueberries. Pour or spoon into your muffin tin (mixture will be quite loose). Bake for 25-30 mins until lightly browned and a skewer comes out clean. Bon appetit!

What is your typical weekday breakfast? What might you make for an occasional change, as I have done with these muffins?
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Friday, 27 July 2012

Counting fun through active play

We were in a park recently where some children were playing, 'What's the time Mr Wolf?'. My son liked the look of it and asked me if we could play so we did. I hadn't played it since I was a child and as we were playing, I realised it was also a fun way for toddlers to practice counting.

That made me think about other games to play that involve counting so your child gets to practise their numbers without even noticing. Hide and seek is a good one and happens to be one of my three-year old's favourite games to play these days. We usually count to 15 before going to find the person hiding.

Generally incorporating counting during play wherever you can is a great way to encourage them to familiarise themselves with numbers while enjoying active play so it doesn't feel like they are under any pressure! My son was jumping on a trampoline with a friend the other day and they decided to take it in turns having the trampoline to themselves rather than jump on it together. We decided to count to 20 and then they would swap. They loved it and were counting and clapping and having a lot of fun.

What other active games can you think of that involve some counting?
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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Summer smoothies

We are having a rare hot few days in London, which certainly makes a nice change. Today we had to walk to the shops to get a few bits for a picnic with friends tomorrow and my three-year old was complaining about how hot he was. I suggested we buy something cold at the supermarket to cool us down and he suggested ice-cream.

There are of course always people eating ice-creams or ice-lollies on hot days. Just yesterday my son was transfixed on an older girl who was tucking into a bright blue ice-cream in the park. I don't however think just because it's hot, you should have an ice-cream, I think they should be consumed in moderation as a treat rather than being a given on warm days. I do know a mother who bribes her son with an ice-cream to get him to stay in the park so even on a cold and rainy day he has one....but I digress.

I didn't say no to the ice-cream but I suggested we could get some berries and go home to make a cold smoothie. My son loved that idea, especially as they had made smoothies at nursery school not so long ago, which he had really enjoyed. We got some strawberries, raspberries and a couple of bananas along with our other shopping and headed home to make the smoothie.

My son had a great time, as I let him do most of the making. He chopped up all the fruit, put some spoonfuls of yoghurt into the blender with the fruit and voila! It came out a lovely pink/red colour and was yummy and refreshing - just what we needed on this hot afternoon. There was a glass poured for daddy ready for when he came home from work and I think we are going to make some more for our friends coming over for a picnic tomorrow too!

Super-easy to make, ideal for a toddler to do almost solely, healthy and delicious, smoothies are also a great way to make the most of local, seasonal fruit. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how to make them but for the record, we just threw into the blender the washed berries (big strawberries chopped up), with thickly sliced banana, a couple of tablespoons of natural yoghurt (you can substitute with milk) and a splash of water or a couple of ice cubes.

Our smoothie-making turned out to be a fun summertime activity as well as producing a tasty, cooling drink so I'd recommend you give it a go if this weather holds out. Do let me know in the comments if you have any smoothie recipes you'd like to share!
photo credit

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The joy of down time

We spent last week staying on a farm in rural Devon. Green fields surrounded us, there was no phone reception and no wifi in our cottage (hence all quiet on the Mummy Zen front). After putting the children to bed I would sometimes think I heard one of them crying but on closer listening it was bleating sheep! Peace and quiet, fresh air, the invigoration of being in nature all made for a very relaxing and enjoyable week.

Not having phone or internet connection was particularly restful. My husband and I read loads, something we rarely do in long stints these days at home. We chatted more too. We went to bed earlier and slept soundly.

There was plenty of simple family fun too - walks around the farm, running around in the garden, generally enjoying being outside come rain or shine. Of course a working farm was quite the excitement for our 3-year old son who got to collect eggs from the chicken coop, get up close to a real tractor, see sheep, cows and horses and developed a sweet attachment to the farm dog Rosie.

Back to the big city and feeling refreshed, trying not to slip back into all the bad habits. My regular blog posts will be back but I'll also be making more time for the reading I so enjoyed and hopefully getting into bed earlier more often.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Teachers' Gifts

My son's nursery school finishes for the summer at the end of this week and I've been having a big (probably unnecessary) dilemma about what to give his teachers as an end of term and end of year thank-you.

At Christmas time, one of the mums kindly organised a collection from all the other mums in the class and then got gift vouchers for each of the teachers. She even suggested how much we should donate. It was great, as I had no idea how these things work and she has an older child and was completely au fait with such matters. She has since left the country and this time there has been no discussion amongst the mums of end of term gifts. Some people have gone off on holiday already and so there are less mums around too.

I asked some of my friends for ideas and gift vouchers/cards seem the overiding choice. One friend who herself is a teacher said that vouchers are always nice to receive. A couple of friends had some lovely creative gift suggestions that they had done recently for their child's teachers. One is the apple pictured, wrapped in a clear bag and with a small glass jar containing caramel dipping sauce and walnuts. I've definitely left it too late to do anything like that....

What do you do when it comes to a gift for your child's teacher? Do you tend to give something individually or do you get a collection together with the other mums? What do you typically give?