Thursday, 31 May 2012

What happened to community spirit?

Myself and another mum run a local mums group, which is quite prolific and active. We have around 800 members (some are mums who have left the area but still like to stay in touch). We send out a weekly e-newsletter with details of our own meetups, events that families may be interested in that are happening nearby and various offers and interesting notices. We have a website with tons of local information, everything from classes for mums and babies to mobile beauty therapists. We also have a Facebook page where mums post all kinds of random questions and also as a place to list stuff for sale or recommend a nanny or babysitter.

It's a great resource and network for mums (I can say that because I didn't set up the group myself!). We usually have a few annual events like a summer picnic, a Halloween and a Christmas party and so we have relationships with local businesses who sometimes support those events or offer raffle prizes for our fundraising raffle for the neo-natal ward at our local hospital.

All this to say, the group is a fantastic example of community spirit. We moved to this area of London a month before my first child was born. I didn't know anyone and certainly no mums here so was keen to start making some friends close by. I stumbled across the group and went along to one of their weekly coffee meetups for mums and new babies. I met several lovely ladies there and nearly four years later I still see most of them regularly and my son plays with their children. When my son was around 6 months old and one of the mums who was heavily involved with the group was moving away, I decided to take her place and give a little back to a group that had given so much to me.

I have enjoyed keeping the group going, helping other new mums make friends in the way I did, planning fun events for families in the area to get together but after a good three years of voluntary work for the group, it's time to pass on the role to someone else. We've put a call out for volunteers to help organise this year's summer picnic and also for someone to act as contact for a weekly meetup in the local park and the response rate has been....0! Very disappointing. We repeated the call in the next newsletter and still no joy.

It makes me a little sad that all these mums with young babies who I see using our Facebook group regularly and some of whom attend one of our weekly meetups have no interest in supporting a community group that has obviously been beneficial to them. Is it so much to ask a little of someone's time to keep a great network going? All it takes is a couple of people who have an interest in helping others in a similar situation to themselves. Any mum can tell you the value of other mums to have around, to spend time with, to discuss all the child rearing scenarios they experience and such like.

I fear community spirit is dwindling in our modern world and I think it's a great shame. What do you say? Is there a strong sense of community where you live?
photo credit

Monday, 28 May 2012

Small sacrifices

Sometimes those five quiet minutes to myelf sat out in the garden matter more than doing some housework.

Sometimes the housework can't wait though and blog writing or reading must be foresaken.

Sometimes elaborate dinner plans have to be abandoned to enjoy time kicking a ball around with my son in the garden.

Sometimes the best intentions for a constructive day have to go out the window to take up unexpected company or excursions.

Sometimes declining an invitation is worth it for a quiet day after a busy spell.

Sometimes the silly guilt of feeding a ready-prepared baby food saves my sanity when preparing something from scratch in an unrealistic time-frame does nothing but stress me out.

What are some small sacrifices you make from time to time?

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

This week: National Vegetarian Week

As a vegetarian, it seems only right that I remind you or inform you that we are in the middle of National Vegetarian Week. Here's what's on the menu this week in my home and below are three quick summer salad ideas:
  • Monday: Veggie lasagne (included courgette, spinach, peppers)
  • Tuesday: Rice salad (with mixed beans, chickpeas, sweetcorn, tomato, cheese)
  • Wednesday: Broccoli and sweetcorn quiche with sautéed potatoes
  • Thursday: Butternut squash risotto
  • Friday: Stuffed peppers with new potatoes & green salad
Three simple summer salads

Roasted butternut squash, puy lentil and feta cheese - having roasted cubed squash, cooked and cooled your puy lentils, combine with cubed feta and a basic oilve oil vinegrette.

Celery and apple - chop both into very small chunks and mix together with a spoonful of mayonaise.

Carrot and beetroot - I don't like beetroot but I like this salad. Grate both finely, (best to use a grater on a food mixer for speed and ease) combine and stir in some honey mustard vinegrette.

Do you eat vegetarian meals much at home? Are there any vegetarian dishes you particularly enjoy?
photo credit

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Flower power

I bought a lovely bunch of yellow tulips last week. I don't buy myself flowers very often but who doesn't like to have flowers around? I love yellow flowers in the springtime, perhaps because they are like the burst of sunshine I am waiting for!

Maybe it was the recent wet spring in London that called for something cheering or maybe it was the nice clean space in our dining room I'd created that was the perfect blank canvas for a simple bunch of flowers, whatever the reason they lift my spirits and I like seeing them each day. Then I read some tips on clearing the clutter in your home and buying flowers was one of them!

"As organic elements, flowers strengthen the bones and contribute to the breath of your apartment through humidifying and cleansing the air. Through their colour, shape, and smell they contribute a living beauty that enlivens the senses and invigorates our vision".
 Flowers don't have to be expensive and are a lovely way to decorate the home, brighten your mood and bring a bit of calming nature into your surroundings. Do you buy flowers very often? Is there a type you particularly like or do you buy whatever is in season at the time?
photo credit

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Is it easier second time round?

I'm referring of course to a second baby. It's a question I hear a lot and I think I probably asked other mums with two or more children before our second was born. Now that our baby girl is approaching seven months, I feel in a position to share my thoughts on the question.

Firstly, what does that question mean? Well, I think it means parenting and looking after a newborn with all the sleepless nights, the crying, the naps, feeding, getting into a routine (if you're that kind of parent) and dealing with the initial lovely, but tiring, start to having a new family member.

The one thing I hear time and time again is that as a parent, you are so much more relaxed with a second (or any subsequent) child. You don't panic at every little thing, you don't worry as much, you don't check they are still breathing as many times as you did with your first child. It's true. You do know what you're doing more second time round. That's the big difference I think. It's not that the baby and the looking after it is easier, it's that as a parent you perhaps have a better experience because it's no longer the unfamiliar, unknown territory it was with your first child.

You might not remember the details from your first baby's early weeks and months of their life, but you remember enough to reassure yourself that everything is a stage and any challenging aspect will soon pass. You just get on with it because you have to! There's not the luxury of time you have with a first child, the one-on-one moments are fewer and they have to fit in around their older sibling's routine.

The hardest thing I have so far found with an additional child is illnesses. My oldest child will invariably pick up something from nursery, the baby gets it a few days later and more often than I'd like, my husband and I will get it too. The more people in the family, the more time it takes to be rid of the cold, bug or whatever. It can be a good month or more before we are all fighting fit again and then there's always the fear that something else will strike.

In conclusion, it's still hard work dealing with a newborn; the feeding, the lack of sleep and such like. Added to which, there's a lively toddler who needs life to be kept as 'normal' as possible. It's not easy finding quality time for both children and keeping both of them happy most of the time but somehow getting on with life and doing the things that first time round seemed such a big challenge (like taking a shower, getting out of the house) is much easier.

I remember in the first couple of months after all the family visitors had left, thinking there was no way I could manage by myself with the two children. Now, I can laugh at myself for having that thought! It was difficult at times but also easier sometimes than I had imagined. Whatever happens, you muddle through it and do the best you can!

If you're a parent of two or more children, I'd love to hear your perspective on the first six months or year of having two / three children and the things you found easier or struggled with. What is your answer to the question: is it easier second time round?
photo credit

Monday, 14 May 2012

Dinner with Mummy Zen

I've really been enjoying the 'Dinner with....' series on the Babyccino Kids blog, where various mums share their typical dinnertime routine. Here's the most recent one as an example, Dinner with Jordan from O Happy Day. For whatever reason I find it really interesting to read how other mums manage dinnertimes, who does the cooking in the family, whether they are organised with lots of dinner prep at weekends for the week ahead and what are favourite meals in their household.

As Babyccino Kids are unlikely to ask me to contribute, I thought I would write my version on my own blog and hope some of you will share your dinnertime stories in the comments too.....

I am lucky to be a stay-at-home mum and I also love to cook so mealtimes are all me. My husband (probably as a result of being American) makes a great breakfast and often is in charge of weekend breakfasts for the family, serving the likes of breakfast tacos, American pancakes, French toast...

Anyway, back to dinnertime! I'm a vegetarian (my husband is not) and I always cook vegetarian food at home. We get an organic vegetable box delivered every week and so I cook seasonally too. My children are aged 3 years and 6 months. Dinnertime for my son is 6pm.

It is getting easier but the early evening is still a bit of a challenge with my 6-month old as hunger and tiredness culminate so elaborate meals are not usually an option. She sometimes has a quick nap around 4.30pm so I use that time to start throwing a meal together. Usually it will be a meal for all of us but I will wait to eat later with my husband, around 8pm. I don't generally do any meal prep earlier in the day unless we're eating something like lasagne or veggie chilli which take some time to cook. Just like my own mother, I often don't decide what we're going to eat until the moment I need to start cooking it!

Pre-dinner time is often quite chaotic and stressful but the moment we sit at the table, everything is calm again. Even though I don't eat with my son, I always sit with him, often feeding my daughter and will sometimes have a little snack to hold me over til my later dinnertime. We don't play at the table but we chat about the day and it's a nice sociable time together.

My son is a pretty good eater on the whole. He's not wild about his green vegetables but persistence pays off as he now likes broccoli, which he previously refused. Even if it is something he turns his nose up at, I insist he tries one bite before making his decision and happily, more often than not he tells me how nice it is! Both my husband and I like to try new foods and he seems to have adopted that same trait from us.

Favourite meals include most pasta dishes, veggie chilli, bean burgers, quinoa salads (this one is a favourite).... Dessert, or pudding as we call it, is often just some fruit or sometimes yoghurt.

On a Friday or Saturday night of undefeatable fatigue, I will whip out a Little Dish meal from the freezer for my son and my husband and I will later order a take away (pizza, Indian or Thai).

You can have a read through all the 'Dinner with....' posts on Babyccino Kids here. Do let me know about your dinner times in the comments!
photo credit

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

This week: starting solids

This post was initially entitled, 'weaning' but then I discovered that in the US weaning means giving up breastfeeding and has nothing to do with introducing solids. For those readers from the US, I will be using 'weaning' in this post in the British sense: introducing solids :-).

I am about 4 weeks into weaning with my daughter and thought I would share a few thoughts and observations with you. Second time round you expect everything to come easily and naturally but I was surprised how I'd forgotten things and felt like it was new territory all over again.

Things I'd forgotten about weaning:
The mess! Having a three old who eats very nicely and rarely makes much of a mess at mealtimes, it had completely slipped my mind how food gets everywhere when you're feeding a baby. My daughter, surrounding areas and my clothes are frequently splattered with some kind of puree these days!

What time of day to introduce solids. This doesn't really matter of course but I found myself wondering when I should first introduce a 'meal'. Consulting a book or two, advice was along the lines of when they are hungry but not too hungry, when they are not too tired and overall, late morning seemed a popular recommendation. As it turns out, I ended up ignoring the advice and going with early afternoon when my daughter always seemed particularly hungry.

How quickly or not to progress. Again, I consulted a couple of books/websites to remind me and found conflicting information. One said to leave it three days after introducing one food and before starting another in case of any allergic reactions, but others said that was not necessary and to try new foods as and when. I took it slowly for the first couple of weeks but then increased the meals per day and new foods steadily onwards.

General thoughts on weaning:
Go with the flow. No two babies are alike so regardless of what you read or what is recommended you really need to follow your own baby's reactions and your own intuition. If your baby seems hesitant and you are wondering if you started weaning a bit early, consider taking a break and resuming after a week or just taking it very gradually. Alternatively, if your baby really takes to everything you give him/her and seems to enjoy 'eating' and you feel confident trying new foods or increasing the amount, do just that.

Your own confidence plays a big part in the process. Take baby led weaning for example, I know mums who have given a finger of food to their child but as they seemed to 'choke' (more likely the commonly referred to 'gag') they felt a little scared of the method and decided to go back to purees. Those who embace the baby led weaning way, clearly have every confidence in their child self-feeding and for them that's simply the way they are going to do it. I confess, I don't have the time or inclination to read up on baby led weaning and although I do think it sounds great and makes sense as a way to feed a baby, I'm sticking with the puree route that I feel more comfortable with.

Be flexible. Whilst I'm aiming for three meals a day with my daughter, it will sometimes be only two. I know if she is overtired she won't eat and I'm not going to keep her up for a mealtime that has disaster written all over it! At this early stage babies are still getting their main sustinence and calories from milk so a missed mini meal isn't going to make an impact. Likewise, it helps to be relaxed about meal times and if feeding a little earlier or later than your usual time seems sensible, then trust your instinct. Routines and meal times get easier and more regular as your child grows but when no two days are the same, it makes sense to be flexible.

Keep milk and mealtimes separate. I read in a few places that you shouldn't try giving solids to a child who is really hungry and better to take the edge off their appetite with some milk first. I disagree. Feeding a baby milk and either giving them less than usual or taking the bottle away from them before it's finished is not going to go down well with a hungry baby. Also, how much milk takes the edge off their appetite without filling them up? Such things are hard to measure. Ultimately, mealtimes will be substantial and will be providing all the calories, nutrients and dietary requirements your child needs. I therefore think there's nothing wrong with serving solids at a time your child might be hungry as it gets them used to satisfying their appetite in other ways. You can still fit in the same amount of milk feeds until such time as you need to reduce the amount of milk they consume.

Obviously, I am no expert in weaning and the above is simply my own thoughts on the subject. As with all parenting responsibilities, it's about finding out what works for you and your child. I welcome any of your own observations or experiences in the comments!
photo credit

Monday, 7 May 2012

Allison's 'yes' campaign

Allison Evans was my HypnoBirthing teacher when I was pregnant with my son. She later moved to Japan but we have kept in touch over the years and I have been very grateful for a couple of guest posts she kindly wrote for this blog. A while back she started her own blog, which I enjoy reading.

A recent post of hers, 'Saying Yes' really resonated with me and I wanted to share it with you. I think many of you will find it a good read. She talks about the approach she took with her 7-year old son to deal with a stream of battles over simple day-to-day things. I'll let you read the full story in her blog post but in it she talks about how something that seems so easy to do can in fact be very hard.

There are several things Allison mentions that I can definitely relate to.....

My sweet, adorable, infuriating son resists everything these days!. I just remarked to my husband this week that our son thankfully seems to have got past the stage he was at a few weeks ago. He really is such a calm, sweet-natured, well-behaved little boy but he was going through quite a challenging phase for me, not too dissimilar to that which Allison mentions. Constant battles over the little things, being way more defiant and difficult with everything than he usually is and it was no fun to deal with. You never really know what to put these things down to, so I didn't know if it was a response to having a younger sibbling now or him getting older and more independent.....

Dropping the struggle is for me the more powerful position. Allison is right about this I think. It's not a natural response and therefore isn't the easiest to do but when you make yourself step back and respond in a different or more positive way to your child, it can be surprisingly effective.

I had been looking forward to tidying up the kitchen and starting dinner. Yes! I look forward to these mundane things too. It can be a hard balance, spending quality time with my son versus getting something done for me. As Allison states in her example, we need to get things in perspective and recognise that life isn't going to fall apart if you wait to do something a little bit later for the sake of enjoying a particular moment with your child.

Allison is definitely someone I look up to and have a lot of respect for so dare I say it, there's a certain reassurance in learning it's not always easy for her too. On the other hand, reading that she has encountered these kinds of experiences with her 7-year old makes me realise that there'll be no plain sailing for quite a few years to come! Our little ones certainly keep us on our toes and offer many an occasion for revisiting our attitudes and parenting approach!

Do let me know what you think of Allison's post and if there are any points in particular that strike a chord with you.
photo credit

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Travelling light with children (what not to pack)

Some of you might think the above title an oxymoron but travel with children need not mean baggage overload. We recently made our first trip with the two children and suddenly the logistics of transporting two children plus baggage presented a slight connundrum. Two adults each have two hands with which to carry stuff but if one person is pushing a buggy they don't have any free hands to carry bags. Or if one person is carrying a baby in a baby carrier/sling of some sort, then carrying a rucksack or even holding/pulling a heavy suitcase can be difficult. As a consequence, the only solution we could see was to pack light.

We are generally the types to pack light anyway but an extra person in the family who also is the most likely family member to need additional changes of clothes in a day certainly adds to the load. Rather then tell you exactly what we might pack to go on holiday, maybe it's easier to tell you what we don't pack:

- Nappies, wipes, formula, baby food, etc. Of course we take what we need for the journey to our destination and a couple of spares but then we buy these items when we get there. You can get a lot of brands universally but if it's not exactly the same as what we buy back home, that's ok! A few days using something different isn't going to do any harm.

- Clothes for every day. We mix and match, plan on re-wearing or washing a few bits wherever we are.

- Toys. We take things like books, sticker books, and a few small toys for our son, mostly to keep him entertained on the journey but these are all small and light. We don't take anything else for him to play with once we get there and experience has shown this is the way to go. There are always more exciting things to see and play with. Those few travel toys usually don't get played with once we are on holiday.

-Bulky electronics. We don't take a laptop, a portable dvd player, a hairdryer or anything else along those lines.  I like to take time out from computers and technology when I'm on holiday and things like hairdryers are often provided or can be borrowed at your destination.

If you want to pack even lighter than I've suggested, have a read of this zenhabits post, Teaching Kids to Pack Ultralight. Unfortunately the vain side of me desires at least a little variation in the clothing for the sake of our holiday photos so I'm not quite ready for 'ultralight' ;-).

What is your approach for holiday packing? Are you a pretty good judge of what to pack or do you end up over-packing just in case?
photo credit

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Big Bra Hunt

This is old news due to my 'blogging break' but worth writing about nonetheless. Oxfam are running what I think is a great campaign, encouraging women to donate their unwanted bras. They will send most of them to Senegal where they will be sold to local market traders via their social enterprise called Frip Ethique, run mostly by women who are able to earn a decent living by sorting and selling donated clothes.

Mums are ideal candidates for donating bras. Our bra size changes with pregnancy, breastfeeding and post-breastfeeding so we are very likely to have a good deal of unwanted bras lurking in our underwear drawer. Somewhat unfortunately, I had just been re-measured and thrown out a bunch of unsuitable bras before I received news of this campaign but I did still have some in my drawer that I knew wouldn't be worn, that have since been donated to my local Oxfam.

Even if you haven't been through fluctuating sizes lately, take a moment to sort through your bras. I'm sure there will be some that, if you're honest, won't get worn for whatever reason. Dig them out, take them along to your local Oxfam! It's such an easy way to do something to help others less fortunate and you'll be doing a bit of de-cluttering for youself too.

Find out more on Oxfam's 'Join the Big Bra Hunt'.
photo credit (who'd have thought it would be so hard to find a bra photo to use!)