Wednesday, 27 February 2013

This week: Twitter

As the title of this post suggests, Mummy Zen has joined Twitter! Most other blogging mums have been on there since the beginning of their blogs so why has it taken me nearly four years to sign up?

Well, I have to say that I never really saw the point of Twitter, nor understood the interest and the appeal. Then my husband, who is completely anti all types of social media, joined Twitter. He became fixated on it, and spends many a spare hour scrolling through tweets, reading articles people have shared, occasionally laughing out loud and I began looking inquistively over his shoulder to see what all the fuss was about.

I began to understand. It's a bit like networking. Similarly minded people follow each other and share relevant, interesting, fun stuff. A couple of fellow bloggers had suggested to me previously that Twitter might be a good idea for me and now I could see why.

Since setting up my account yesterday, I'm really rather enjoying it. There's simply not enough time in the day to read all the things on there that grab my attention. We will see if the novelty wears off but for now, I'm exploring and liking the world of Twitter.

If you're on Twitter, I'd love it if you would follow me - @MummyZen. Also if you have any recommendations of people I should consider following or indeed any Twitter related tips to impart, please do let me know.
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Monday, 25 February 2013

Snap happy

Most of you, like me, probably take numerous photographs of your little ones. If you like taking photographs, it's easy to get carried away and can involve a conscious decision as to whether to be in the moment or to capture it as an image. At the end of last year, I read an interesting article that discussed how iPhone photos impact our experience and memories. As someone who takes a lot of photos on my iPhone of my two children, it resonated with me and I could relate to a lot of what the author said.
 "Sorting through the glut of images, I notice that the ones that seem valuable change with time. What seems like the best shot of the group a day later is often different than what seems most beautiful, or moving, a year or more later. Perusing these images you become a detective looking for patterns that you did not know to look for at the time."
Thomas Beller, the author of the article, mentions a couple of specific memories he has of his children of which there is no photographic evidence. He questions if the vivid details he has of the memories are indeed the result of not having photographs to show for it. He proposes "a weekly ritual of twenty-four hours of undocumented life". I'm not so extreme in my photography that I need to impose such a ritual in my life but I like the thinking behind it. 
Social media and aps like Instagram can make taking and sharing photos quite addictive in a way. There's a balance in taking enough photos for posterity and taking enough time camera-free to engage with family, friends and your surroundings. When we go on holiday, we often leave our phones and cameras behind and just enjoy the day and activities in themselves. We will take them out just for a morning or afternoon on some days to get a few holiday snaps.

Speaking of holidays and as summer is getting a little less distant on the horizon, I'll leave you with a link to three tips for taking photos outdoors, dealing with light and bright sunlight (scroll down to end of the post for the tips).

What are your photo-taking habits? Do you take photos of some kind every day or mostly just on holidays and special occasions?
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Thursday, 21 February 2013

This week: sugar-free baking

I've been experimenting a little with some sugar-free baking this week. I've given up refined sugar for Lent and yet with a couple of half-term play dates, still wanted to bake something that I could eat with our guests too! My first experiment was a recipe for some fairly plain biscuits, the kind that are good for dunking in a cup of tea. They don't have tons of sugar in them anyway, but I omitted all sugar and instead added some agave syrup. They turned out ok but with no hint of sweetness at all. I should have added more agave.

Next I tried some apple and banana cakes and was pretty happy with the outcome. The two fruits add their own sweetness and again, I added some agave syrup (you could even leave it out though). The fruit keeps the texture moist and they taste really rather nice. They are quick and easy to make and children can help out with the mashing of the banana, mixing etc. Here's the recipe for anyone who fancies trying them:

Apple & Banana Cakes 
Makes 12 small cakes
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 50g butter
  • 1 level tablespoon agave syrup (optional)
  • 2 medium bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 apple, peeled & grated
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pre-heat oven to 190C.
Line your cake/muffin tin with cake cases.
Beat butter, egg and agave syrup together until smooth.
Add in the mashed banana and grated apple.
Sift in the flour and cinnamon and combine everything.
Divide cake mixture into cake cases and bake for 12-15 mins.

I spotted this recipe for Honey Almond Biscotti, which I may try next.... Do you have any sugar-free recipes you like to make for a healthier sweet treat?

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

"Mummy tummy"

Diastasis recti, otherwise known as separated abdominal muscles is something that can occur to pregnant or post-partum women. It's when the left and right abdominal muscles get separated, often due to the growing uterus during pregnancy and stretching of the muscles. It can and often does persist long after giving birth. It can mean you're left with a bit of a protruding tummy and depending on how large the separation is, you may suffer from bad back pain and can be more prone to developing a hernia.

I was told I had this after my second pregnancy but initially wasn't given a lot of information on what I could do to try to encourage the muscles back together. Fifteen months later, nothing has changed and I still have a separation. Since starting some pilates classes, I've been given some suggested exercises to do that should help. In extreme cases, especially where back problems are involved, a tummy tuck operation to stitch the muscles back together is the only solution.

I've never been very good at doing exercises every day. I rarely remembered to do my pelvic floor exercises that pregnant women are advised to do many times daily. Yet, as a generally slim female, I hate the little tummy bulge I still have and don't like the idea of having separated muscles. I'm trying to keep that in mind and use it as motivation to do the recommended exercises on a daily basis.

When I read around on a few forums and such like, there aren't many mentions of people successfully getting their muscles back together, but maybe it's only the worse case scenarios that people think are worth sharing. I'll keep at the exercises and hope they work to good effect.

Have you or anyone you know had separated abdominal muscles? Did they eventually go back together?
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Thursday, 14 February 2013

Children's bedtimes

Most of us have a pretty good idea of when our children need to be in bed but I am always surprised by how different bedtimes can be amongst the same age children. For example, I have Spanish friends who put their three and four olds to bed around 9pm, more in line with the Mediterranean lifestyle.That's nearly two hours later than our four-year old goes to bed.On the odd night we have done a later bedtime for my son for whatever reason, he hasn't slept the same amount of time - he's woken at the same time as he would with his regular bedtime.

Earlier this week, I read with interest, 'When should your children go to bed?' in the Guardian. It gives a useful breakdown of different ages from one to eighteen and how much sleep a child typically needs. I was quite surprised to read that apparently a six-year old needs the same 12 hours of sleep that a three-year old does.

We've been lucky to have two great sleepers who have never really fought going to bed. My son will even sometimes tell me that he's ready to go to bed! I have always been consistent about bedtimes and bedtime routines and in our case, it has paid off.

Do your children have the amount of sleep that is indicated in the article for their age group? Are they good about going to bed?
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Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Lunch and dinner: my public food diary

A while ago I wrote about being stuck in a sandwich rut for lunches and offered some suggestions for non-sandwich lunches. I managed to break away from the sandwich repetition for a while but have recently slipped back into it.

The other week I read something in a magazine where someone compared bread to chocolate and said that just as we wouldn't eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so too we shouldn't with bread. Whilst I almost never eat bread at all meal times, I do like bread and what I read has stuck with me since reading it. I probably do eat more bread than I should or need to on some days. It got me thinking back to those sandwich alternatives and how I must make more of an effort to eat non-bread based lunches.

As a result of these thoughts mulling around in my head, I had the idea of starting a sort of public food diary where I would post photos of my lunch and dinner each day. It would several purposes.... It would keep me more aware of what I am eating, encourage more variety in my meals and would make me more likely to go for healthier options. So I started lunch and dinner.

Lunch and dinner is a record for me of what I'm eating at those mealtimes. It's not meant to be a venture in fancy food photography and the photos are just quick snaps on my phone, always taken on my kitchen table. It's got to be super-simple for me to have any chance of keeping it up. Have a look if you're interested in what I've been eating the past week or so (there are two pages on there for now).

Even if it's only my mum looking at it, that's ok :-). There's still something about it being public that I think will encourage me to keep a moderately healthy and varied diet. Today is Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as pancake day so you can expect to see some pancakes on there for dinner a little later!

I'm always interested in what other people eat so what's on the menu for lunch and dinner in your house today?
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Friday, 8 February 2013

This week: Chinese New Year

Sunday is Chinese New Year and the start of the year of the snake. I had to tried to explain Chinese new year to my son a little bit earlier this week and we made some paper lanterns. They are very easy, perfect for a child who likes cutting (as my son does) and fun to make. We drew snakes on ours.

Today at my son's nursery they were going to be talking about it so I'll be interested to here about what they did and if he learnt anything! My son has a Chinese friend in his nursery class and his mum told me she was going to give me some dumplings at pick up later this afternoon. I'm excited. I hope there are some vegetarian ones in there for me to try!

There'll be a big colourful procession in central London on Sunday. If we weren't all still shaking off the last of our colds and flu, I would think about taking at least my son to see some of the action.

Are there any celebrations for Chinese New Year where you live? Have your children done any special activities at their pre-school/schools for Chinese New Year? Have you done anything or spoken to them about it at home?
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Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Rules for raising a child

A while ago I came across, How to Raise a Child: 10 Rules from Susan Sontag. I really liked reading her ten rules and felt each one was good and true advice for any parent to follow. I thought it sounded like she had struck a nice balance between encouraging some structure, good behaviour and standards, whilst at the same time nurturing the innocence of childhood and a child's natural sensibilities. Here are her rules:
  1. Be consistent.
  2. Don’t speak about him to others (e.g., tell funny things) in his presence. (Don’t make him self-conscious.)
  3. Don’t praise him for something I wouldn’t always accept as good.
  4. Don’t reprimand him harshly for something he’s been allowed to do.
  5. Daily routine: eating, homework, bath, teeth, room, story, bed.
  6. Don’t allow him to monopolize me when I am with other people.
  7. Always speak well of his pop. (No faces, sighs, impatience, etc.)
  8. Do not discourage childish fantasies.
  9. Make him aware that there is a grown-up world that’s none of his business.
  10. Don’t assume that what I don’t like to do (bath, hairwash) he won’t like either.
Do you particularly agree or disagree with any of these? Any other rules you would add to your own list?

Head over to Brain Pickings for a bit of background to the list....

Friday, 1 February 2013

This week: fighting germs

We've had a week of coughs and colds, high temperatures and lots of general discomfort. My son has been off from nursery nearly all week. One day he seemed well enough to go back, just a bit tired after a couple of tough days unwell and he got through the afternoon there ok. However, five minutes after we were back home, he promptly fell asleep on his bedroom floor! We may have misjudged his condition after all.

My daughter was also unwell, although less severely and she managed to keep being her normal happy self for the most part. Yesterday I woke up with a sore throat and runny nose, inevitably the germs spread around the family.

One thing I have noticed with my son this week is the difference in dealing with him now that he's a four-year old and can really explain his symptoms and even recognise the benefit of going to have a nap during the day. It's a lot easier than dealing with a young baby who can't communicate their ailments and may fight going down for naps, instead prefering to be held lots more than normal. The latter is of course a lot more exhausting for the parent to deal with!

I looked back on a post I wrote nearly three years ago, When Your Child is Unwell: 10 Tips. It's definitely as relevant now as it was then and I have been following a lot of the suggestions listed. It's never fun fighting off the germs and the cycle of illness that tends to occur in the family is always dreaded and can feel never-ending.

It's been a long week but I'm staying positive. We had a good stretch of not catching colds or other bugs that have been going around. We even escaped head lice and chicken pox that had been present before Christmas amongst some children at the nursery my son attends. For that, I am very thankful!

Has your family suffered much from colds or other more severe illnesses this winter? What do you find the most challenging when your family is unwell?
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