Thursday, 28 March 2013

On enjoying Easter

A final Easter post before the long weekend begins tomorrow and a few tips for making the most of the holiday and time together as a family. I'm including some links to posts from my archives that relate to holiday time and also some additional suggestions for having a happy Easter:

- If you're getting together with extended family to celebrate Easter, have a read-through of Big Family Get-togethers: 8 Ways to Minimise Stress and Maximise Enjoyment

- For last-minute ideas for Easter in general, including simple, inexpensive ways to decorate, egg hunt inspiration and a recipe for Easter biscuits, see my post from a couple of years ago: Easter Ideas

-  Think about family traditions. Especially those of you with very young children, it can be a nice opportunity to start your own traditions that can be the source of many fond memories in years to come. I wrote a post about Christmas family traditions but it's as relevant to Easter or any other special occasion shared with the family.

- Easy on the chocolate! I am not going to tell you how many chocolate eggs you should let your children consume or when they should eat them but if you want to avoid hyper sugar rush / meltdowns etc, give it some thought. I think I'd opt for earlier in the day, with an outside running around opportunity to follow!

- Meal planning for ease and healthy balance. I'm not one to meal plan on a weekly basis, or really on any basis, but for times like a long Easter weekend, it can make sense. Enjoy some special meals and treats by all means, but try to balance those out with some healthier options too. That way, you won't come to the end of Easter feeling over-stuffed and over-indulged. Don't be too ambitious in your meals either, sometimes the simple things can be best for catering to everyone's tastes.

- Take time to relax. The temptation can be to fill the time with outings, events, activities, games and socialising, which are all lots of fun but are best accompanied by some down time too. Worn out children and/or parents only makes for trying times and those are definitely best avoided!

What do you have planned for the long Easter weekend? Do you have any family Easter traditions? Any other tips to add to mine?
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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

This week: Easter activities

Easter is nearly upon us and it seems only appropriate to write a post on what Easter-related activities we have been doing and have got planned for later this week. Pictured above are the Easter cards my four-year old son made last week. We used the wonderful potato printing idea from Nurture Store as a basis but then added our own embellishments too.

Today we are trying out these pretty fabric mâché eggs. We have the eggs and scraps of material all ready to go for when my son gets home from nursery. Hoping they turn out well!

Later this week we have planned to make some Easter biscuits and some classic Easter nest cakes, like these but we use shredded wheat.

We might also make a simple garland of easter eggs for decoration, cutting them out of card and then my son can either paint, colour them or stick coloured paper on them. As he is enjoying practising his letters and writing at the moment, he can write a letter on each to spell out, 'Happy Easter' and we'll attach them to string or ribbon and hang up.

Have you been doing some Easter activities with your little ones or got plans to do so, as we get closer to Easter day? Do you like to try new things each year or prefer to stick to tried and tested activities and recipes etc?

Friday, 22 March 2013

The beauty of time and perspective

The crisis of yesterday is the joke of tomorrow.” H.G. Wells.
I read this quote the other day and it struck me how well it relates to the trials and tribulations of parenting. It is so easy to get bogged down with the little frustrations, the things that go wrong and the tough aspects of parenting (sleepless nights, illnesses that drag on and on, shocking tantrums etc). Yet, given a bit of time, we tend to look back on those times with a smile or laugh. We've got passed them, we've recognised their relative insignificance to the grand scheme of things and sometimes they make a funny story to share!

As a very small example, we had our first poo in the bath the other weekend (yes, I can hardly believe I'm writing about poo either!). Our two children take a bath together and it was our youngest, our daughter, who did the poo. Our son was both horrified at what now shared the bath with them and devastated that his bath time had to come to an abrupt ending. Both children were crying and quite distressed and at the time, it was a moment of mild crisis. Of course, the next day we were telling the grandparents and having a good laugh about it!

Whilst mine is a slightly insignificant example, the intent is to show that with a bit of time and perspective, a lot of these things that were a challenge in the moment can prove to be quite trivial. With the benefit of hindsight you sometimes wonder why you expended so much energy stressing or worrying about whatever it was.

Not always easy, but next time you feel like you are faced with a bit of a crisis, try to think of the quote above. Your disaster of the day may turn out to be a source of amusement another day soon. The 'crises' are ultimately all good life experience and indeed enrich our life and memories in the long term.

Can you think of examples of when you've felt like things couldn't get much worse but at a later date, look back and smiled about it?

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

5 tips for fighting fatigue

The other day I felt incredibly lethargic, no energy to do anything, barely able to engage with my family and I couldn't really understand why. I hadn't been to bed particularly late, hadn't had a disturbed night and yet I felt utterly drained.

A little later in the afternoon, I finally had my first glass of water of the day and then we ate an early dinner with the children. Straight after, I felt so much better and the fatigue I'd been experiencing had completely disappeared. I realised I was probably dehydrated and hungry. We had had a big breakfast and so I hadn't eaten lunch and just had a couple of small snacks to keep me going. I could have felt much better earlier in the day, had I stopped to give it some thought.

With that in mind, here are 5 tips - things to try when you are next feeling drained of energy:

Drink a glass of water. Have two if the first one goes down fast and you're thirstier than you thought.

Eat something*. It needs to be moderately substantial and healthy, so more like a banana than a couple of biscuits or if it's close to a meal time, bring it forward and eat properly rather than just snacking.(*Don't eat for the sake of eating. Ask yourself if you are really hungry, as opposed to bored. Drink water first and any pangs of hunger may dissipate).

Get some fresh air. This could be as simple as a quick wander around your garden (if you have one) or a walk around the block or to a local park.

Put on some music. You'd be surprised how some upbeat music can make you feel more upbeat, almost instantly.

Have a brief lie down. If your children are napping or if someone else is at home to keep an eye on them, have a lie down for 20-30 mins. Even if you don't sleep, taking the weight off your feet and having some quiet time can work wonders.

I think the list above can be applied to children too. If they seem in a bit of a slump, it's a good idea to try some of these tips to perk them up.

Have you identified any particular triggers that result in major fatigue and if so, how do you address it to regain your energy?
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Friday, 15 March 2013

This week: a recipe from childhood

My parents have been visiting this week, a very welcome distraction for my son as he recovers from his chicken pox and lovely company for me too. Yesterday my mum made some 'energy balls' with my son. This is a recipe she made when I was younger and whilst I have given up refined sugar for Lent, I thought of these for a sweet treat and they are super-easy and quick to make.

As I later bit into one, it sent me back to my childhood and consequently, I enjoyed it all the more. It made me think of when my mum used to work in a wholefood shop and I sometimes would go there with her and play upstairs in the stock room, surrounded by packets of grains, dried fruits and such like. I loved it! It also made me reminisce of simple, happy, everyday family life when my older brothers were still at home and I felt adored and secure.

Back to the 'energy balls' themselves.... They could probably be called something more sophisticated like carob truffles, as in appearance they resemble dark chocolate truffles. To us, they've always been known as energy balls and we believe in their ability to give us an energy boost!! For those of you unfamiliar with carob, it's a sort of cocoa / chocolate substitute and comes from the pods of a carob tree.

My mother got the recipe from a friend many years ago. It's a simple combination of only four ingredients, with no cooking required and the energy balls are ready to eat as soon as you've made them. Here's the recipe:

Use any sized spoon, depending on quantity you want to make. With a tablespoon as I have suggested here, you get around 10-12 balls. If you wanted to try to see if you like them first, simply use a teaspoon for a small amount to sample.

1 tablespoon each of:
  • smooth peanut butter (I don't even like peanut butter but you can't taste it in the finished product. You could probably substitute with almond butter or similar if desired)
  • honey
  • tahini (ground sesame seed paste
  • carob powder (found in most health stores, Planet Organic, Whole Foods etc).

Combine the ingredients, adding the carob powder last. Mix well, until you have a smooth, even-coloured thick paste. Take a teaspoon and roll into a small ball shape and voila!

You could also add in raisins or chopped nuts.

Store in the refrigerator.
* * *

Is there a recipe from your childhood that you still enjoy now in adulthood and that brings back particular memories?

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The art of distraction

I won't bore you with my trials and tribulations over the past week or so. Suffice it to say, two children with chicken pox and tummy bugs has not been a joy but we're getting through it! Whilst at the peak of the illness, there is really nothing an unwell child wants to do, once they get past the worst, they can be kept happy enough if well distracted.

As I have been working hard on the art of distraction recently, I thought I would share some of the things I have been doing to keep my four-year old occupied so he doesn't think too much about (in this case) his bothersome chicken pox. Anything that works for even a few minutes is worth it in my opinion, some of these things can kill a lot of time, some depend on how much time and effort you can be bothered to make.

Television / DVDs - this is obviously the easy option. It can wile away a good bit of time, allow you to take a break or get something done. I am generally not a parent who relies on the TV (my son usually only watches his DVDs for a limited time once a week) but it has its benefits at certain times, can be relaxing for the child (and parent) and is nearly guaranteed to successfully distract!

Books / stories - more labour intensive for the parent but reading stories is good, especially when they are unwell and it can be combined with comforting hugs and snuggling up. An alternative is getting them cosy on the sofa and listening to a story CD.

A new game, toy or activity - I don't mean necessarily new, bought from a shop but bringing out a toy that's been put away that they haven't seen or played with in a long time is a great distraction. My son hadn't had playdough out at home for ages so when I suggested it, he was really happy and got stuck in. You could make up a game, find a household object they are not familiar with and allow them to use it or play with it, anything with novelty value will do the job.

Chat - little ones love to talk. If they are a bit unwell or out of sorts, they may not be as chatty as usual but will love hearing anything you have to say to them. Talking to your child about nice things they have to look forward to (maybe a holiday, birthday party, visit from someone etc), friends and family they enjoy spending time with, plans you may have for later that week, even something random like what you can see out the window will engage them.

Food or drink - not if they are ill in a way that affects what they can eat and drink but especially if it's distraction from tiredness or grumpiness, then very often an appealing snack or drink can fit the bill.

In addition to the above, it's good to remember our own attitude is important. If we tackle the day with cheer and optimism, they will feed off our positivity and it will make for a better day for everyone.

What have I missed? Do you have any tricks up your sleeve for those times when you need to distract your child from discomfort, grumpiness or the like?
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Thursday, 7 March 2013

This week: moral dilemma

My daughter came down with chicken pox this week. My older son has not yet had it so we're expecting (and now hoping for) an imminent outbreak, although the doctor told me it's not guaranteed and anyway there can be a two-week incubation period. Right now he's not showing any signs and so I wondered what I was supposed to do about sending him to nursery.

Generally I like to think I am of the view that you should treat others as you would like to be treated. If I'm honest, I wouldn't really like to know someone at school had sent their child in who had a sibling with chicken pox and was therefore likely to pass it on to fellow classmates. On the other hand, I know plenty of parents who wouldn't think twice about sending said child into nursery. Does that mean I should adopt the same attitude?

I decided to call the school and see what their policy or advice was on the matter. After being put on hold for a couple of minutes, I was told that I should continue to send my son to nursery until he has definite signs of chicken pox, when obviously I should then keep him at home and inform the school. The lady I spoke to continued to tell me that it's better they get it now while they are young and they are all going to get it at some point. True, of course.

As it happens, my son is unwell with a funny tummy so he's not going to nursery for that reason. I will take him when he's better (providing still no sign of chicken pox) and will aim to keep my daughter under disguise and at a good distance from the other children when dropping him off! At least one other mother knows about my daughter having chicken pox and I'm pretty sure she'll have mentioned it to at least one other mother. For that reason, I will feel like I'm getting some dirty looks from other mothers who see me drop off my son, knowing that he has a high likelihood of getting chicken pox soon and spreading it to others. Yet, at the same time I checked with the school and have been honest and open about it. It does seem a bit unfair to keep a healthy, happy child at home just as a precaution, especially as when he does get chicken pox, he'll end up missing out on a good few days of nursery.

What would you do? How would you feel about someone in your child's class having a sibling with chicken pox and therefore a higher chance of your own child catching it soon?
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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

World Book Day 2013

7 March is World Book Day so it seems only fitting that I write something book-related. My son's nursery suggest that the children go dressed that day as their favourite character from a book. This is new to me but appears to be typical of schools here in the UK. Naturally, that got me thinking about which character from a book might be my son's favourite and also what mine would have been as a child.

When I asked my son if he had any ideas of his favourite characters from books he likes, it was a bit of a hard concept for him to grasp, so we went with simply talking about some of his favourite books instead. He named The Gruffalo, The Great Piratical Rumbustification and Fantastic Mr Fox. The last two are slightly more advanced books we've read with him quite recently (ie. more text, fewer pictures, chapter books where we read a couple of chapters a night). He made some good choices there I think.

I struggled to think of characters from books I liked as a child, especially from the age of four. I was read to loads and loved books but I'm not good at remembering stuff like that. Same with films, I'm rubbish at remembering characters' names from movies, even those I've seen multiple times.

Instead, I'll share with you the last three books I have read. Currently, I'm reading  Stealing the Mystic Lamb, about Jan Van Eyck's painting, "Ghent Altarpiece", the world's most coveted and most frequently stolen art work. I really love books about art thefts! Before this one, I read, The Fry Chronicles and before that, We Had it So Good by Linda Grant.

What have you read recently and what are your child's current favourites? Will your children be doing anything at school or elsewhere for World Book Day?
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Friday, 1 March 2013

The funny fascinations of a four-year old

A light and somewhat frivolous post for a Friday.....on the funny fixations of little boys and girls. My four-year old is currently obsessed with the emergency services. I guess all young boys love seeing fire engines and we've done a couple of visits to fire stations. My son got to see real firemen up close, tried on a real fireman's helmet, sat in a real fire engine.... Then there's Fireman Sam, who has a lot to do with it too.

For Christmas my son received emergency services fancy dress costumes and they were a big hit. Most days he'll suddenly appear as a policeman, fireman or ambulance man. I have to suddenly pretend there's a fire in the kitchen / I've committed a crime (nothing too severe of course) / broken an arm. Whenever we are out somewhere, he immediately notices the extinguishers, hoses, alarms in whatever room or building we are in and points them all out to me. He likes us to tell him stories about naughty people who get caught by a policeman or stories that involve a fireman coming to save the day.

One of his friends at nursery comes dressed most days as Captain America. One of his female friends is obsessed with penguins, another with dressing up (mostly as some kind of princess). I suppose a lot of these fascinations come from TV and film characters, superheros and such like. It's fun to see their imaginations at play and it's something so removed from serious adult life, that I feel it has to be enjoyed to the full!

What is your child obsessed with or fascinated by? If you have older children, do you remember this stage and how long it lasted?
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