Friday, 14 August 2015

Skip the sippy cup

I have been doing a bit of cleaning out recently (delayed spring cleaning?!). One thing I was pleased to get rid of was the clutter of old baby bottles and beakers/sippy cups at the back of a cupboard. A couple of the cups had never even been used and the couple that had, were only ever used as a regular cup, not with their lids.

With all three of my children, I introduced the Bickiepegs Doidy Cup as soon as I introduced water with weaning/meals. I would begin by holding the cup for them (holding underneath so if and when they wanted to take the handles themselves, they could) and then let them hold it as soon as they wanted to. You can't put a lot of water in it anyway, because of the shape so any spillages were not a big deal.

I don't know about you but finding a cup/beaker that is non-spill for carrying out and about is not as easy as it sounds! I rarely bother taking drinks out with us. I either get a glass of tap water from a cafe or buy a bottle of water that all the children would share. With supervision, my 1-year old drinks from a regular unscrewed water bottle with no problems. When I remember, I will fill up and take out one of our stainless steel water bottles that the children share.

Starting off early with the Bickiepegs Doidy Cup meant that we could then move onto regular cups at home and my youngest handles a regular cup by herself, just needing help setting it back down on the table sometimes.

My advice to those of you with babies: save your money and cupboard space and skip the sippy cup! It also makes life a lot easier when you don't have to think about bringing a certain cup out with you, knowing your child can drink from a regular cup in a restaurant. If your child is the type to make a strong attachment to certain objects, you don't need to worry about them getting upset because you forgot/lost their beloved sippy cup!

What is your experience? Did you move your child onto regular cups quite early on or did you rely on a sippy cup for a while? Did you find a non-spill cup that you and baby both liked?
photo credit

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Cook together this summer!

The lovely Riverford, where our weekly veg box comes from, are running a great campaign at the moment that I felt compelled to share. Quite simply, they want parents and their children to cook together from scratch and have given the added incentive of some prizes on offer for those people who submit a photo or video of their children in action in the kitchen. You can read all the details on their website and the competition runs until the end of August.

Coincidentally, the day I first read about the campaign, was the day our veg box gets delivered. I decided to get stuck in immediately and with no plans for dinner that evening, had my 3-year old and 6-year old unpack some of our veg and started them washing, preparing and chopping. Between them they made a salad and my son topped and tailed an entire bag of green beans that we ate tossed in oil and vinegar with the rest of our meal. Whilst I gave them instructions, I didn't once help them or try to change the way they were doing something. They did it all themselves and were really proud of themselves for it! An added bonus for me, was that they were genuinely a big help and it meant I had less dinner making to do myself - win, win!

My son asked if they could help with dinner the next day. He ended up being too exhausted after his sports camp that day but my three year old daughter helped again and made these cheesy courgette and carrot balls that we ate with pasta that night. At the weekend, they helped make this tart, mostly by podding the broad beans and then podding again once cooked. 

I have always involved the children with baking and the odd thing here and there like podding beans and occasional chopping but now I hope we can keep up the participation with meal preparation a bit more regularly (when moods and time permits).

A few tips when working with young children in the kitchen:

Manage your expectations. There will likely be more mess, things won't necessarily get chopped or prepared the same way you do it but that's ok! 

Make it fun! If possible, have in mind a variety of tasks they can help with to keep their interest up. Nobody likes scrubbing/podding/peeling/chopping the same thing for a really long time so divide up longer tasks and give them something a bit more fun/creative to do after a more boring task.

Involve them in choosing a meal. If your children are old enough, ask them for suggestions of what your family could eat that day. If it is something they have chosen, they are more likely to be enthusiastic about helping prepare it. Alternatively, give them a choice of two meals that you know you have the ingredients and time to make and let them choose which one.

Be brave! Let them use sharp knives, just gently instruct and demonstrate first. You will be surprised that they can probably handle them better than you imagined. I don't think I ever let my son use a sharp knife at age 3 but I let my 3-year old daughter use one and so far, there have been no unpleasant incidents! If she is struggling to cut something, she will just ask her older brother or me to take over. Let them crack eggs, if you get shell in with it or if one drops on the floor, it is not the end of the world. They need to practise these kinds of things to get better at them.

The summer holidays offer the perfect opportunity to spend more time in the kitchen with your children and #cooktogether, so why not give it a go and get involved too? Do you already cook from scratch sometimes with your children? What kinds of tasks do they enjoy most and do you have any additional tips to add to my list?

This is not a sponsored post, I just really like Riverford's idea and wanted to spread the word!
You Baby Me Mummy

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A few of my favourite (vegetarian) things!

National Vegetarian Week has come around again, here in the UK. As a result, there are lots of delicious recipe ideas floating around online, which I am enjoying!

This time last year, I shared a recipe for rice bake and in previous years I have listed some of my favourite recipe books and online resources for vegetarian food and some simple salad ideas.

I don't know about you but I realise I tend to go through phases with cooking and meals. Dishes I might have cooked a year or more ago, I might rarely make nowadays. Perhaps because I like to try new recipes, we find new favourites and our stock repertoire of dishes in any given week therefore changes.

Something I have discovered very recently (since getting a copy of Leon: Fast Vegetarian) is scrambled tofu. I have never been much of a tofu eater, only occasionally throwing some in a stir fry or with this egg fried rice recipe but for whatever reason, I still tend to have a block in the fridge. The Leon recipe is in the breakfast section of the book but I have only ever made it for supper! I have followed their recipe but then also adapted it to use up the last odds and ends of veg I have lying around. The tofu takes on the flavours of the vegetables and also the chilli, turmeric and cumin, making it really tasty. The children like it too!

We have also started having 'taco night' (as my husband calls it!), in just the last month or so. Tacos have definitely become another new family favourite meal. See this post for what I tend to put in them.

For breakfast (or lunch) I now love to eat avocado on toast a couple of times a week. I literally just spread it onto the toast and season with salt and pepper and it is delicious!

I usually make a quinoa salad most weeks. In an ideal world I would have cooked a batch of quinoa at the weekend for the week ahead but in reality I most often turn to the conveniently ready cooked packs that are great to have on hand for speed.

So there you are, a few of my current favourite vegetarian things. I would love to hear about any of yours!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Cooking for baby and family

Three years ago I wrote a post about cooking for baby and the rest of the family, with six suggestions of family meals that can be mashed or finally chopped to suit a baby of around 9 months upwards. It is great when they get to the stage of being able to eat a wider variety of foods, can handle a bit of texture and you can cook for the entire family without having to prepare something different for the baby.

My youngest is one now so we have been at this stage for a little while and I was looking back over my old post recently and decided I had another six suggestions to give! 

Soup: anything goes with soup but you can add beans, pasta or grains to make it more substantial. You could also crumble in some cracker/rice cakes/bread into the baby's bowl.

Tacos: these have become a new favourite in the Mummy Zen household. We get the crispy corn taco shells and fill them usually with some kind of black or pinto bean mixture often with a bit of covert veg, finely diced or mashed avocado, sour cream and grated cheese. Baby gets the filling and you could break up bits of taco or give them some softer bread or rice with it.

Shepherds/cottage pie: as a vegetarian, my version of these is with lentil or aduki beans but whatever your main ingredient, the rest is finely chopped veg and mashed potato, so nice and easy for baby to eat or you can even mash it all up further if needed.

Jacket potatoes: popular with many children, simply scoop out the soft potato for baby and mix with your choose of toppings.

Savoury pancakes/fritters: potato pancakes, sweetcorn fritters, or grate carrot, courgette into a batter or anything else you fancy. Make smaller ones for baby to hold (or cut up larger ones), these are a great finger food.

You can see my previous six meal suggestions here.

What are some of your go-to meals to prepare for the family that can be easily adapted to baby?
photo credit
You Baby Me Mummy

Thursday, 23 April 2015

6 tips for a longer life!

I have been reading the book, A Short Guide to a Long Life by David B. Agus. The author is one of the world's leading cancer doctors and researchers, amongst other things. The book is a very easy read and compiled of short chapters, each one about a healthy habit he advises people to adopt, or something he thinks we should try to avoid.

As I have found it a really interesting read, I thought I would share a few of his suggestions of things we should all be doing, ones that I think are especially relevant to parents:

Have children: Obviously, not for everyone but the thought behind this one is that raising children keeps us active, both mentally and physically, which are both recommended for good health.

Grow a garden: Agus writes, "This should be a mandatory rule for anyone with children, especially young ones". He believes it is the best way of teaching children how food grows, what it looks like in all its stages and therefore encouraging healthy eating.

Speak strongly to the next generation: Whilst our children might not be very keen on listening to us tell them what is good for them and what is not, Agus believes it is a matter of finding the right words or images that can convey the message in a relevant way to them. He gives an example of showing his own children the Jamie Oliver video where he fills a school bus with the amount of sugar added into Los Angeles Unified School District's flavoured milk each week. It worked in keeping them off the chocolate milk!

Deal with sickness smartly: "Part of the art of dealing with sickness means sticking to our routines as much as possible". Agus advises against lying in bed all day with the curtains closed if we want a quick recovery because if our body is not moving around, the lymph system which helps fight infections will not be in action. This made me smile, as a busy mother to three young children, I never have the chance to lie in bed all day if I am ill and generally, I get over things pretty quickly. My husband on the other hand definitely follows the lying in bed in the dark route and doesn't get over things as quickly I would say...!

Practise good hygiene: Something we can pass along to our children is the importance of hand washing throughout the day. It will help you avoid germs that could make you ill, as well as prevent spreading germs to others.

Have a glass of wine with dinner: There is plenty of talk of wine o'clock amongst the parenting community so this point might interest you! One drink a day for a woman (two for a man) is considered a sensible amount to reap the benefits, particularly of red wine, in reducing your chances of heart disease. Binge drinking at the weekends is not however permitted!

Do you do all or some of the above already?

If you are interested in reading what else helps you lead a long and healthy life, as well as what is to be avoided, do get a copy of the book, A Short Guide to a Long Life. It is very readable and full of lots of fascinating facts too.
photo credit 
I am linking this post up to The List
You Baby Me Mummy

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Fear of abandonment

Recently our three and a half-year old daughter has been getting quite anxious, not wanting to be in a room without mummy or daddy during the day time, being a bit scared of the dark at bed time and wanting the bedroom door left wide open... This all sounded very familiar to me, as I remembered my son going through a similar fearful stage around this age. I looked back over the blog to see how old he was at the time, and he was just four. His big issue was waking at night time, scary dreams and thoughts.

Having gone through a similar phase with my son, I know (as with all these things) that it will pass with time. With my daughter however, it is a little more full-on for me as a parent, as she is mostly affected during the day and whilst awake. She is fine once in bed asleep. I literally can not leave her to play for a few minutes while I am cooking dinner or getting the baby ready for bed. Sometimes she is ok if her older brother is with her, but more often than not, only mummy will do.

I am trying to remain patient and understanding. It is a little wearing but I am aware that she needs reassurance and plenty of love and respect for her feelings while she is going through this stage. It is the flip side of a preschooler's independence, whilst happy to go off and do their own thing at times, they can then get worried that mum or dad will go off and leave them. If I tell my daughter I'm going to do something like change the baby's nappy, she'll say, "and then you'll come right back?". Of course, she will follow me anyway....

One day she might not want to come anywhere near me, or be in the same room as me! So for now, I'll try to enjoy the closeness and cuddles as much as I can.

Can you remember your preschooler going through a similar phase? Was there anything you think helped them get through it or was it just a matter of time and patience?
photo credit

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Back to business!

Somehow it has been almost a month since my last post! The Easter holidays kept us busy and we had a great couple of weeks off from school/nursery and the daily routine. I have always loved the holidays but I have also enjoyed the return to the routine and the structure that brings to our days. This time, I was more reluctant to get back to school and the routine than usual, although that feeling may change I suppose.

Spring is full swing now and with that, lots to do! I began my gradual spring cleaning a month or so ago but it is by no means finished and I need to get get back to it. The garden needs some more attention too and I am probably moving my tomato plants outside this week. We planted some potatoes and cucumber plants last week and my neighbour gave me a red pepper plant. The outdoor toys all need a good clean now that the weather is permitting their use once again.

Back to school for me therefore means lots of catching up! The fun and relaxed pace of the holidays definitely takes a toll on the jobs around the house so I guess it is a good thing they have come to an end! 

What about you? Are you glad to have the children back at school and do you also have lots of stuff to catch up on?
photo credit

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Easy edible things to grow with children

First, an update on our tomato seeds. It didn't take too long for green shoots to appear and then earlier this week my three year old came rushing over to me excitedly telling me to come and look at something in the kitchen. I couldn't make out what she was talking about and followed her, intrigued. She wanted to show me how big our green shoots were now! You can see what they look like currently from the photo. I removed the plastic bags we had covered them with about a week ago and so far we are off to a good start!

It was lovely seeing my daughter's excitement and that is one of the things I love about planting things with children. It is fun for them to plant and nurture something and watch it grow into something as a result. When you are growing something edible, they will without a doubt be keen to tuck in, even if it a vegetable they may previously not have been keen on. We grew runner beans last summer and the children loved them, having previously not been overly keen on them.

Even if you do not have much of a garden or none at all, there are lots of resources online for finding things to grow on a windowsill, small patio or whatever so don't be put off by a lack of space! 

I am not sure if tomatoes are not considered an 'easy' thing to grow, as they require quite a lot of specific care (consistent watering but not over-watering, regularly feeding, ideally pinching out the middle leaves once they get growing considerably, plenty of sun etc). Having said that, if I can grow them, you can too! I am not exactly green-fingered, but enjoy having a go!

Having spoken to friends and relatives who are keen gardeners, along with my own (limited experience) I have listed below a few easy edible things to grow that are well suited for trying out with children:

Herbs: ideal for those without a garden,  as you can grow them in small pots on a windowsill. Enjoy using them to make your own pesto (doesn't have to be basil!).

Rocket: we tried this great idea from Daisies and Pie last summer and grew rocket in our used Illy coffee tins. It worked a treat!

Runner beans: you can grow them in a pot, just get a bamboo cane to wind the stems around and secure the growing plant to keep it vertical. The more you pick, the more you get!

Courgettes/zucchini: I've been told these are easy to grow and tend a produce a lot, so get ready with a variety of courgette recipes to use them in! If you leave them, they will turn into marrows.

Cucumbers: we bought some seeds to try growing some this year and bought a small variety that is ideal for pots or grow-bags. You can also buy indoor growing varieties so have a look and see what suits your circumstances best.

Potatoes: we grew some last year in a half empty bag of compost, simply by planting actual potatoes deep down and topping up with compost as the shoots kept emerging and you could equally grow them in a pot. Whilst we didn't get a huge yield, we had enough for dinner for six and they were delicious!

There is a lovely little section on gardening with children in the Leon: Fast Vegetarian cookbook. A couple of their suggestions are really good, such as encouraging your children to 'graze on the plot' to help solidify the connection between growing and eating, and understanding where food comes from. They also advise letting your children have their own patch of soil or collection of pots that they can call their own, I love that idea!

If you have grown any fruit or vegetables in your garden with your children, it would be great to hear about it and any additions to my list above are most welcome.
Disclosure: We were sent a crate containing tomato seeds and the items described here, if we blog our progress Heinz will send us a hamper full of Heinz goodies as a reward.
Mums' Days

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Focusing more on my 5-a day

From weaning onwards, there is a lot of emphasis here in the UK on ensuring our children, and families as a whole, get their recommended 5 a day (five portions of fruit and vegetables). I read or heard somewhere not so long ago that we should really be aiming for more like seven and with a greater emphasis on the vegetables.

As a relatively healthy-eating vegetarian, you would think I easily hit my 5 a day but I probably spend more time watching my children's intake of fruit and vegetables than I do my own.

Looking at my lunch the other day, I recognised I had yet again fallen into a bit of a cheese sandwich rut for lunches. The thing is, I love cheese and my children love sandwiches so it's a bit of a default lunch. My older daughter's absolute favourite lunch is pitta bread with hummous and tomato (I usually put cucumber and sometimes avocado in there too).

Most days I ask my son what he had for school dinners and have noticed the distinct lack of vegetables! (The novelty for the sweet puddings seems to have worn off and he seems to choose the fruit over the dessert more days than not now). Then I look at his dinner plate and see one or two portions of vegetables and realise we could be doing better to achieve the recommended five a day.

Back in 2013, I started a photo log of my meals, as a kind of public food diary. I found it really helped me be aware of what I was eating and to go for healthier options at mealtimes. I did it for a while and then stopped. Last week, I decided to go back to it, as a way to encourage me to vary my lunches and increase my vegetable consumption. If you are interested in seeing what I am eating for lunch and dinner, have a look here!

I have only been photographing my meals again for the past week but already it has helped. Last night when our weekly veg box had not yet come and I was pretty much out of vegetables and short on time, I used up the remaining odds and ends to make a healthy meal, rather than going for a vegetable void meal like pasta and pesto. My son ate four big helpings of it too!

Do you feel like you and your family easily achieve your 5 a day? I suspect a lot of people's quota comes more from fruit than vegetables. Is that the case with you or are you good about being conscious of providing several vegetable portions each day?

Monday, 9 March 2015

Sowing seeds

Two years ago, we excitedly participated in the Heinz 'Grow Your Own' tomatoes, having just moved into a home with a garden and space for more adventurous gardening projects. We grew the tomatoes from seed and after months of nurturing had our own tomatoes to pick and enjoy! We have since grown potatoes, runner beans, rocket (arugula) and broad beans. I really like spending time out in the garden and the children have fun getting involved so growing our own is definitely something I am keen to continue.

This year I was invited again to participate in the Heinz 'Grow Your Own' initiative and gratefully accepted. We received our gardening kit comprising a wheelbarrow, two packets of tomato seeds, a watering can, a gardening themed activity book and a bottle of tomato ketchup, all enclosed in a wooden crate.

As the weather was so pleasant and spring-like at the weekend, we got straight to work and planted the seeds. Last time we did this, my daughter was too young to do anything and my son did all the planting but now aged three, she is the perfect age to get stuck in with her brother.

They each planted a pot of seeds, carefully covering them with a final layer of soil and watering them a little. The pots are enclosed in plastic bags and are inside now in a sunny spot. Over the coming weeks we will check them regularly, water them when needed and await green shoots!

Are you planting tomatoes or any other kind of fruit or vegetable this spring? Do you and your children enjoy a bit of gardening together too?
Disclosure: We were sent a crate containing the items described above, if we blog our progress Heinz will send us a hamper full of Heinz goodies as a reward.  Get involved too and head over to the Heinz Tomato Ketchup UK Facebook page where you have the chance to win free seeds.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

16 Sugar-free snacks

This Lent I have given up sugar again. I like to think I can have sweet treats in moderation but if I am honest, I struggle with the 'moderation' part! I therefore think it is quite good for me to spend periods of time avoiding it completely, maybe making my consumption a bit more moderate overall.

Sugar is in almost everything and you really need to check ingredient labels diligently. This is a useful list of other names sugar goes by so you can look out for it in all its forms! Even things you imagine would not contain sugar, like wholemeal bread, can have it in so beware. Thankfully, in the UK at least, there are brands that avoid it entirely.

If you would like to cut down on the amount of sugar you consume, even if not giving it up entirely, I have come up with the following list of 16 sugar-free snacks:
  1. Oatcakes (plain or with topping)
  2. Rice/corn/quinoa cakes (plain or with topping)
  3. Wholegrain breadsticks
  4. Cheese scone *
  5. Nuts
  6. Seeds
  7. Small portion of fruit
  8. Piece of cheese (nice with fruit)
  9. Natural yoghurt (add some seeds/nuts/fresh fruit if desired)
  10. A boiled egg
  11. Carrot/cucumber/celery/pepper sticks
  12. Hummous with veg or breadsticks
  13. Half a pitta bread with filling *
  14. Slice of wholemeal bread/toast with topping
  15. Hummous/lentil chips (a slightly healthier crisp and really tasty)
  16. Popcorn (make your own and eat plain or add a little salt or nutritional yeast)
*wholegrain / made with wholemeal flour

As a side note, nut butters tend to become your new best friend when going sugar-free. I recently started stirring a spoonful of almond butter into my porridge and it is delicious! My children love it too. Your favourite nut butter also makes the perfect topping for any of the things mentioned above. Again, check the ingredients and try to buy the pure nut butter, made only from the nut, with no added salt or sugar.

Do you have any other suggestions of sugar-free snacks to add to my list?
photo credit

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Cheesy carrot flapjack

Last week was a half-term holiday from school and nursery. One day, I gave the older two children three choices of what we could do that day: go to a nearby park and playground, go to a museum or stay at home and do some cooking and painting. To my surprise they chose the last option!

I didn't want to do the usual biscuits/cookies/cakes with them this time so when my son suggested they cook something for lunch, I thought that was a great idea. We decided on cheesy carrot flapjacks and got to work! It turned out to be the perfect recipe for two children to make together, as there was a good division of tasks and no fighting over who got to do the mixing/pouring or whatever!

The recipe is one I make quite often, that came from Riverford (our veg box people) and is great for a healthy snack or for lunch with some salad bits on the side.

Cheesy Carrot Flapjack

  •     150g rolled oats
  •     175g finely grated carrots
  •     175g grated cheese
  •     1 egg beaten
  •     pinch of mixed dried or fresh herbs, salt + pepper
  •     bit of butter

Preheat oven to 180C / 350F / gas mark 4.
Combine the oats, carrots, cheese, egg and herbs in a bowl and mix well.
Season and press into a 20cm square flapjack tin that you have base lined with baking parchment.
Dot the butter on top. Bake for 25 minutes until set and browned.

When it came to lunch time, I let them cut up their own cucumber and tomato to have with it, so they really did make lunch mostly themselves and really enjoyed it (the making and the eating!).

I am linking up this post with Kids in the Kitchen over at Raisie Bay and with #recipeoftheweek at A Mummy Too.
Link up your recipe of the week
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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Valentine's Day: heart-themed treats & a hunt!

It is February and that means Valentine's Day is coming up! More than anything it has become an excuse to do heart-themed baking/crafts/activities with my children than anything romantic with my husband!

Last year I was not organised enough to post anything in advance to share idea-wise with you. I saved up what we did do however and can offer it up as some inspiration this year....

Heart-shaped biscuits/cookies usually appear in one form or another at our house. Last year I branched out and tried a new (more chocolatey) recipe from The Crazy Kitchen, Chocolate chip shortbread hearts. Mine certainly don't look as pretty in the picture but they tasted delicious! I made the larger ones for my son to take to his teachers at school (we packaged them in a cute little bag, sealed with a heart sticker) and the smaller ones were enjoyed by us and some friends who came over that day. They are very simple to make and I would definitely make them again.

My son had a play date at our home on Valentine's Day last year and at the last minute, I decided to set up a little heart-themed hunt for them to do. I bought some small heart-shaped chocolates for them to find on the hunt. I cut out some pink paper hearts and wrote a very brief, easy description on each of where I had hidden a chocolate heart. It was a sneaky way to practise their reading/phonics, which at age five they were getting stuck into at school. So first they had to go around and find the pink paper hearts and then they had to read what was written on them to find the chocolate hearts. A hunt always goes down well with that age (4/5) and this one was definitely a success and a fun Valentine's activity.

I'll finish with a link for the grown-ups! I had every intention of making these Chilli chocolate truffles for my husband and I to enjoy but the weather was so atrocious last year, I could not face the trip to the supermarket to pick up the ingredients I needed. This year, I am definitely going to make them and still have plenty of time to get anything I need for them. I love the combination of chocolate and chilli!

Do you have any Valentine-themed activities or baking you like to do or that you have seen recently that sound fun?

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Less is more, third time around

Our youngest, the baby, is ten months old now. How the time has flown! I was just saying to a friend the other week that I suppose I should start taking her to some playgroups or something. The other two children and especially the eldest was taken along to various baby groups from around six weeks old.

I told my friend how I am a bit more reluctant to go to playgroups a third time round. For a first time mum they are a lifesaver, a great way to make friends with other mums, a reason to get out of the house and have some interaction with people and can help a child to become more sociable too. Yet, without wishing to sound smug in any way, I feel that I am past that stage now.

This time round, I have friends I see regularly, mostly my eldest's nursery and school friends mothers. I am always out and about on school and nursery runs, getting bits done while they are at school and nursery and quite honestly, enjoying a bit of calm with the baby while it is just the two of us! Going to a playgroup and watching the baby stuff germ-ridden toys into her mouth while I force myself to chat to some other mothers is not high on my priority list these days!

I tell myself that it is different with a third child. She is used to having her siblings around and friends of theirs over sometimes too. It is always a lively time and she seems to be a sociable baby around other people. We went to some friends for dinner recently and I left the baby in the playroom with the older children and she was perfectly happy. The older children (all girls apart from my son in this case) looked after her and gave her toys and she was happy to be joining in with the others. I don't think I could have ever left either of my older two when they were babies in another room, unattended. Don't worry, I did keep going in and checking on her!

Once the weather gets better, we will all be enjoying the outdoors more and a walk to the park will be as nice for me as it will be for the baby so we will get out more and she will be more mobile then too. There is a music class I took my older daughter to quite often that I think I will take the baby to soon but I don't think I will be filing up our precious mornings too much.

The routines of my older two children impose a structure on our days that never existed with my eldest when he was the only baby. That changes things, as so much of my day with the baby revolves around drop-offs, pick-ups and activities that the older children do. Consequently, I like to have more relaxed mornings with the baby. She has her nap and I get a few bits done around the house. She wakes up and we play and get lunch ready before picking up my older daughter from nursery. Our morning time together is brief as it is and I am all too aware of how fast the sweet baby stage flies by so I want to make the most of it.

For those of you with two or more children, did you do less of the playgroups and baby classes with your younger children? Do you think it's inevitable that we do less activities (for want of a better word) with subsequent children or am I just being lazy about not taking her to more groups?!
photo credit

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Round two of the threenager!

Back when my son was age three and demonstrating some pretty challenging behaviour, I wrote this post, 'The Trying Threes'. Now I am going through it all over again with my daughter. Reading back over my earlier post, I am at least reassured that this is normal and just another stage we have to get through. It is a good reminder to me about doing my best to stay calm when faced with defiance from my daughter and feeling utter despair at times.

Last week I read this article, '10 Signs you are living with a threenager'. It is both funny and true! I can tell the author is talking about her daughter, as there are some things on her list that are the case with our daughter too but that never occurred with our son. Number 1 (about how to cut her sandwiches) and 3 (wardrobe changes, although just regular clothes, not princess costumes in our case) definitely apply to our daughter. Neither of these things were ever an issue with our son.

So, round two and having been there before I am going to try to take a deep breath and tell myself I can do this! I keep trying to identify what it is that is different on the days when my daughter is behaving beautifully but I think it is just the usual stuff: she needs sleep, food and attention, like they all do. Unfortunately there are always going to be days when she doesn't get enough of one of those and I will know about it!

In the meantime, I will endeavour to follow my own advice (see, 'The Trying Threes'), remembering she is only three, trying to lead by example, focusing on something positive from the day and remembering she does love me really!

Are any of you also currently living with a 'threenager'? What are some of the challenges they throw at you and how do you deal with them?
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Monday, 12 January 2015

Something's gotta give!

Once we got back after our Christmas trip to the US, I was desperate to cook some proper food for my nine-month old. I had been relying on either ready-made baby food or doing quick, lazy things for her to eat while we were away. She is at the stage to introduce more lumpy textured foods and a time to expand her repertoire of tastes. I consulted a weaning recipe book I have and cooked up a few batches of things so I could freeze some portions too. I felt much better feeding her homemade meals and she tucked in to them!

To get some food cooked for the baby meant sacrificing the rest of the family's meals a little. I gave the older two the same food as the baby (stuff like risotto) or did something quick and easy like pasta for the rest of us. Thankfully the baby is almost at the stage where she can eat what the rest of the family eat, just mashed or chopped small so things should get easier on the cooking front.

Being a mother of three is all about the juggling and weighing up quickly what is most important at a particular time. I can not keep an impeccably clean house, cook wholesome healthy meals for the family, spend quality time with all three children, help with homework, take a few moments of quiet for myself, do the grocery shopping, and deal with everything else that life might throw at me that particular day or week. Something's gotta give!

I find my priorities chop and change. There will be a day when I really want to clean up the house but that means I have not started dinner by the time my son is home from school, which results in a bit of a rush and often a bit of stress in the kitchen! Or like today, I wanted to get a blog post written so I am sitting here typing, neither cleaning nor cooking. I should have time to do a bit of dinner prep too.... If I am playing with the children after school or helping my son with his homework then we are invariably late with dinner.

I accept that this is the way life goes at the moment with three young children and I am ok with it. The kinds of things that are important to me are cooking healthy meals for my family and spending some time with my children. I also really need to do a couple of things for myself each day to keep me sane! I need to have a shower and be moderately presentable in the morning to put me in the best mood to begin the day so I often don't have the time to clean up fully after breakfast before it's time to leave for the school run. I also need a few minutes of peace and quiet that I take when the younger two are napping and the eldest is at school. It is my time to recharge for the afternoon and evening ahead!

These choices I make mean I may not spontaneously invite you in for a cuppa after the school run (although occasionally I do have an efficient morning and get all cleared up!) and I am often reluctant to do things that mean the girls miss their naps. I really do like to keep a clean house but in reality it is a struggle for me to keep it as presentable as I would like.

However, I do my best and very occasionally I feel like supermum - meals are prepared/organised, the house is clean and tidy, I got a blog post written and had fun playing with the children, did piano practise with my son, got everyone to bed on time. Very. Occasionally. Most of the time though, I struggle to keep up with everything and accept that is the way things are for now!

What kinds of things do you find yourself sacrificing due to lack of time or energy? What do you try to prioritise each day or week or does it vary? Do you always feel like you are struggling to keep up and if so, how do you deal with that feeling?
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Monday, 5 January 2015

Taking the pressure out of new year's resolutions

Whether you like it or not, new year tends to mean plenty of mention of new year's resolutions. We had some friends over on new year's day who told us they each had made resolutions for the year. His was to be more spontaneous and hers to be less stressed. Of course, I didn't say anything to them but those kinds of vague, immeasurable aims are the hardest to keep!

My husband and I are not very serious about new year's resolutions but we do usually have a chat about some goals for the year in a bid to start off the new year with a bit of direction. We had a conversation this new year's eve about a couple of things we each hoped to achieve but rather than the pressure of keeping up with something for a whole year, we acknowledged that there were a couple of things we would try to do for just one month.

There is plenty of evidence out there that a month is the amount of time to make something a habit and that if you can do a month of something, you are more likely to be able to continue doing that thing longer term if you so wish. A month is a lot more manageable than a whole year and by focusing on a month initially, you are already making your goal more in your reach. Once you get to the end of the month, you will have the sense of success of having achieved your aim. Knowing you can do it for a month incentivises you to try continuing it for another month. If on the other hand, you do not wish to keep the action up, no pressure, you can leave it to the side with the knowledge you did it for a whole month and knowing you could do the same again at a later date if you feel you want to.

If you have not made any new year's resolutions but are still thinking about it, it's never too late! Starting on the first of January is not for everyone and you can start whenever feels like a good time for you. Maybe being back to the school routine is a better time to kick start a change in your daily life or maybe you want to wait until closer to spring.

In considering your possible resolutions for the year ahead, think about some of the different aspects of your life:
Physical - exercise is an obvious and common one but be specific about what kind of exercise, how long and how frequent, and be realistic! Walking more instead of always taking the car, taking the stairs instead of the lift at work are other simple changes you could choose to make.

Emotional - could be something to connect more or better with a member of your family, a weekly call to a friend, helping out a neighbour, writing a regular letter/email to someone you care about.

Spiritual - anything from going to church more, reading a spiritual text, to taking 5-10 mins a day to meditate.

Integrity - volunteer work, helping someone in need, giving some of your time to a local school/church/organisation

Intellectual - read x number of books during the year, read 5-10 mins of news each day, learn a new skill by attending a class or doing an online course

Parenting - is there something you can do differently/better with your children? You and your partner could take it in turns to do 1-1 outings/activities with the children or as a family you could introduce more regular family time in the form of short excursions/games nights or whatever

Work/career - update or add to an existing skill you have, connect with new people in your field, send out your CV to x number of recruiters/targeted companies....

Keep your resolutions simple, manageable and specific. As an example, I decided on a whim to do five minutes of Spanish every day. I had downloaded an app (Duolingo) where you can learn languages for free and can set yourself daily targets. As a busy mother to three, I do not have much spare time but five timed minutes is definitely doable. I do my five minutes, it is very quick, it is simple and yet I feel like I have accomplished something. I might not be fluent by the end of the year, but that is not my resolution!

It can definitely feel overwhelming to commit to something for a whole year. Take off the pressure by keeping goals small and measurable and initially aiming for one month. See where the month takes you and go from there!

Have you made any resolutions this year or are you still thinking about it?
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