Wednesday, 1 October 2014

My no-sugar challenge

A couple of months ago I went to a nutrition workshop focusing on giving up sugar for a month. Sugar has been getting a lot of bad press recently and is thought to be linked to growing obesity rates and much worse. It is proven to be addictive and I felt I was very much addicted to it!

I had given up refined sugar for Lent, earlier in the year but instead of chocolate after dinner, my husband and I had gorged on dried apricots instead, which are still sugar and I had baked with agave syrup, honey etc. This time I wanted to do it properly and avoid any and all forms of sugar. The workshop I attended did not tell me much that I did not know but it did help remind me what I needed to be avoiding and gave suggestions for filling the sugar void.

I chose the month of September for my no-sugar challenge. I roped in my husband because as strong-willed as I know I can be, it is no fun watching someone else munch on biscuits/cookies when you can't touch them. We ate nothing containing sugar, no potatoes (very high in starch which turns to sugar in your body very quickly)  and no refined carbs (wholegrains were fine). We ate fresh fruit but only seasonal produce (those sun-soaked tropical fruits are much higher in sugar than fruit grown here in the UK) and only up to two pieces a day.

We quickly discovered our snacking tendencies! We munch on things before dinner and after dinner we do like a couple of squares of chocolate or a couple of biscuits with a tea. My husband who buys lunch during his work day found it very restricting and ate a lot of salads during the month!

As we do not eat a huge amount of sugar generally, it was not the horrendous upheaval in our diet as it could be for some but we did have to make changes to some of our snacks and our big weekend breakfasts. I made wholemeal flour tortillas one day because the shop-bought tortillas contain sugar. They are pretty easy to make but of course it was not as convenient as getting some out of a packet! Snacks largely consisted of nuts, seeds, oatcakes, rice/corn cakes.

Did it make any noticeable difference to us over the course of the month? Well I remarked to my husband that I felt my overall mood had been better, I had snapped and shouted less and generally felt more balanced. My husband thought he had been sleeping better. We also both lost a little weight, not intentional, not needed but not surprising.

Now the month is over and the no-sugar challenge complete, I am craving some roast potatoes and a rhubarb crumble! I will aim for moderation, avoiding sugar more days than not but allowing some maybe over the weekends. Will I be able to have just one biscuit (not several) and only one or two squares of chocolate or will I be quickly drawn back into my bad ways? We shall see....!

What is your typical sugar intake like? Are you careful with how much you eat or do you recognise that you probably consume more than you should? If you too have given up sugar at some stage, what was your experience?
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Friday, 19 September 2014

Settling into nursery

This week has been all about my middle child, as she started nursery (preschool). We have been talking about it for so long (always seeing her older brother go to school, she has been desperate to join in!) and now it is happening. The nursery she is attending is a different one to those my son went to, due to the fact we are living in a different area and she can not go to the nursery at my son's school until next September when she is already three.

Unfortunately I was a little disappointed in the nursery's handling of the settling in process this first week. I had arranged for my aunt to come and stay this week to look after the baby while I help my daughter settle in at nursery but I did not anticipate having to spend as much time there as I did! The first day I had to stay the whole session. That seems a little extreme to me, not even trying out leaving her for a few minutes. Whilst I understand she needs to feel comfortable in her new surroundings, I do think we need to be realistic from the beginning and help her understand this is a place for her to stay and mummy to leave!

I did get to leave on her second day but only after I suggested it, having been there over an hour. They allowed me out for an hour and then called me just as I was returning to say she was fine but had been asking about me and they thought I needed to be there again.

On day three (her last day for the week), I took matters into my own hands somewhat. I approached the staff  member my daughter had warmed to most and spoken about at home. I told her that I thought she would be a reassuring presence if my daughter got upset. I said I wanted to leave sooner rather than later to start getting her used to being dropped off and this lady told me that was all fine and she would come and sit with my daughter.

To cut a long story short, a couple of other members of staff had suggested I should not leave but I ignored them and left. My daughter did great, there were no phonecalls for me to return and I left her the whole time, returning just before the session finished. I was so proud of her and also glad I trusted my own instincts!

When I think back to my son starting nursery, he went to a lovely, very caring setting when he was the same age as my daughter is now. They naturally did not want any of the children to be upset during the settling in of the first week or so but nobody ever had to stay the whole session! If I remember correctly, we all sat in the classroom for a little while then if our child seemed happily engaged in an activity, we left and went for a coffee nearby in case they needed to call us to come back. I liked the way they handled things.

When he went to the nursery at his current primary school, aged three, we were told we could stay for the first ten minutes until they called them all over to sit on the carpet and then we had to leave. That was settling in! They dealt with any upset as they saw fit and whilst some children were clearly happier than others at first, it all went smoothly and there was never any child who was inconsolable.

Obviously, I recognise the nursery staff have every best intention and want to avoid any child being overly-distressed. However, part of their job is helping children feel at ease in the new environment and figuring out how best to do that, according to the individual child's personality.After this week, I also think listening to the parent is pretty important too! My daughter is different to my son who was always very comfortable at being left from day one at nursery. My daughter is more likely to get upset when I leave her but I know too that some attention and some distraction work wonders and she is soon happily engaged in various activities.

Leaving a child to stay at a nursery/preschool is a big deal and can be an overwhelming time for some children. They need lots of reassurance. They need to develop their own confidence in being left without mummy, knowing that she will be back. I have friends whose children have taken weeks, months even, to be comfortable being left at nursery. There have been hysterical tears as their parents say goodbye and leave but then they return to happy faces and to be told that their child soon settled down after they left. It is not easy for the parents either!

What has your experience been with settling your own children into nursery/preschool? What kind of approach do you like best?

Monday, 8 September 2014

Here we go again!

After a few weeks of an unannounced break on the blog, I am back! We had a lovely family holiday before school started up again and I was very much of the feeling that I wished the holidays were not over! I enjoyed spending extra time with my son who is usually at school and having a break from the daily routine. However, time marches on and here we go again with a new school year stretching ahead.

The summer holidays seem a distant memory already as we embark on week two of school for my son. Now in year one, there is less playing and more learning! As a parent it can be hard to balance the encouragement you want to give them to do well at things like their writing and maths, whilst also respecting the fact that they are only little five and six year olds, who should still be getting plenty of fun and playing in their lives too.

My eldest daughter will start nursery next week, which will add a new dimension to our daily routine. My son settled into nursery like a dream, there were never any tears or upset. I suspect things will be a little different with my daughter but we shall see... I was comforted last week when we went to her nursery for an open day, that after a few minutes she immersed herself into the various activities they had out and by the time we needed to leave, it was a struggle to get her to do so!

Not wanting to exclude the baby, she is approaching six months and so weaning is on the close horizon. I remember with my other two children, that I loved the stage around seven months when they are interacting and their personality is starting to emerge more. They are usually being rather smiley to people, sitting up but still not on the move, eating proper food and generally being quite cute all round!

There is something about the start of a new school year that feels a bit like a new calendar year. The shift from holidays back into more structured days, the season beginning to move from summer into autumn, the 'clean slate' that comes with a first day of school.... I like it! I feel ready for the changes and challenges to come, perhaps reinvigorated from the long summer days and happy family time. As much as I love summer, there is a comforting sense that autumn brings with the cosy nights as it gets darker earlier and as the leaves begin to change colour and fall from the trees. We still have the sunshine, I can see butterflies in the garden as I write this, and there is a feeling of energy and enthusiasm after the summer break.

How are you and your family feeling at this time of year? If you have school age children, are they enjoying being back or is there still a period of adjustment going on, as they get back into the swing of things after the holidays?
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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Toilet training with child number 2!

As soon as the summer holidays began, one of our priorities was to begin toilet training our two and a half-year old daughter. We had been talking about it a lot with her, went out shopping to choose and buy a child's toilet seat and underwear and had read over and over the book, Princess Polly's Potty.

Our daughter was enthusiastic about the challenge, it helps that she always wants to do what her older brother does, including practical things like this. I decided to get started on a Friday - what was I thinking with three children including a young baby to tend to, alongside toilet training all by myself?! It was a rough start and I felt very disconcerted and began questioning whether she was in fact ready to move out of nappies.

Lamenting of the difficulties I was facing, somebody said to me when they were training their child, although they felt  he was ready, he still needed to have lots of accidents as part of his own learning process. Having successfully gone through the toilet training, I can say with hindsight that her statement is probably true of many children.

The initial accidents really are what helps the child associate (a) with (b) and recognise what they need to do. After the first day, the accidents got fewer and by Monday when we had plans for a day out with friends, my daughter did brilliantly, going when she needed and keeping underwear dry!

My eldest being a boy, I was a bit nervous about being out in public toilets or indeed out in a park or wherever with my daughter. It is so easy for a boy to go out in the open, nicely concealed behind a tree! A friend with two daughters recommended I got a Potette Plus. It's a very compact, easily portable potty or toilet trainer seat and we have used ours lots already, definitely a good purchase.

As for how we went about the toilet training, we followed the same principle as we had done last time with our son. Lots of drinks during the first couple of days, lots of reminding the child to tell you when they need the toilet (rather than asking them if they need it) and lots of positivity! One thing I did differently was to abandon the sticker chart I did last time for my son. I read somewhere recently where a mother felt that the child should just be happy to be able to use the toilet and that in itself should be the reward, not bribing them through stickers, sweet treats, toys or whatever. I thought that was a good point and had kept it at the back of my mind. I did give my daughter stickers for the first few days but didn't make a big deal out of the stickers themselves and soon stopped them.

It has been nearly four weeks since we swapped nappies for knickers and our daughter is doing well. Very occasionally she will be too wrapped up in what she is doing to remember to tell me in time but fortunately I can usually tell when she does need to go, which helps.

Have you gone through the toilet training stage recently with any of your children? Those of you with boys and girls, I would be interested to hear if you had a better or worse experience with one or the other. What is your approach to toilet training and any advice or tips to share?
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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Cooking with courgettes (zucchini)

Last week, I was kindly given a large courgette or maybe it was a marrow from our neighbour's garden before they left on holiday. A couple of days later my veg box came with courgettes in it and the same day, a friend came over for dinner and brought (among other things) some courgettes from her father's allotment. So we had a lot of courgettes (zucchini) in the house!

My husband and I quite like courgettes but they are not our favourite vegetable. My children will eat them if they are grated but are not huge fans of them overall. It was time to get creative and think of some ways to use them up!

I regularly make these savoury muffins, courgette mozzarella muffins so I made a batch of those and froze half. My children enjoy them for lunch with some salad bits on the side. One evening I made a courgette risotto for the children (admittedly, only one of them liked it!) and for my husband and I, this wild fried rice dish using diced courgette.

After asking for suggestions on Twitter, someone told me to google, 'savoury marrow bake'. I did and found this recipe, which sounded a bit different so I gave it a try. We had some for lunch and it went down well with the children. Again, I froze half.

I know I can always use some in a rice bake, which the whole family really likes. I also plan on making a melanzane parmigiana, substituting the aubergines (eggplant) for courgettes. Sometimes I stuff them with a bit of cooked rice, finely chopped onion, red pepper, mushroom and topped with cheese. We love these cheesy courgette and carrot balls and I tried these courgette and feta fritters recently, which the adults liked!

In the event you too face a glut of courgettes, I hope this post gives you some ideas of what to do with them. What do you make with courgettes? It would be great to have some more ideas from you in the comments.
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Thursday, 7 August 2014

Savouring the summertime

We are into week three of the summer holidays and it has been an enjoyable time so far. So much so, I struggle to find time to blog, as regular readers may have noticed! I am loving the relaxed pace to our days, no rushing out to school in the mornings, no nagging at the children to remember x,y and z and to hurry up! Parks, picnics, playing outside in the garden and seeing friends is how we have spent most of our time so far.

We also took our first little holiday as a family of five. It was a long weekend in the countryside, lots of space for the older two children to run around in and beautiful scenery. We had a great time.

I have planned a few outings during the holidays but am finding the unplanned days just as much, if not more fun so am not keeping us too busy. Maybe it is also because there is a four month old baby in the mix now, I am a little more reluctant to do too much.

I ran into a mum I know who mentioned how much she was liking the holidays and how her two girls were both more relaxed and getting on much better with one another. I thought about my son and daughter and how wonderfully they too have been getting on, this week especially. It has been lovely to watch them playing beautifully together, sharing, holding hands as we are walking somewhere. There has definitely been a reduction in the amount of squabbling and screaming these past couple of weeks. I have been doing more positive reinforcement as a result.

As everyone's mood and attitude becomes more positive, it becomes easier to keep in the same positive frame of mind. Let's hope the good times continue over the remainder of the summer but I have a feeling they will!

How have you been spending your summer so far? Have you noticed any change in your own children's behaviour?
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Monday, 28 July 2014

Happier at Home

'Happier at Home' refers to the book by Gretchen Rubin. I think I had it on my Amazon wishlist from when it first came out in 2012 and then earlier this year my sister-in-law kindly lent me her copy and I finally read it last month! I enjoyed it and there were a couple of points in it that have stuck with me that I thought I would share with you.

First however, a quick summary of what the book is about. In a similar vein to her previous book, The Happiness Project, Rubin decides to take a school year of making monthly resolutions, focusing on improving her home life. That may sound a bit dull but 'home' in this book is everything from possessions to parenthood, marriage and time. The content is very relatable for most of us and the suggestions all very practical.

As I began the first chapter on possessions where Rubin tackles her clutter with the aim of removing "meaningless stuff" and going shelf by shelf, drawer by drawer, I found myself finally getting stuck into a couple of wardrobes where I knew there were clothes I no longer had any use for and kept meaning to take to the charity shop! I felt good for getting rid of them and thought I might continue with my own de-cluttering but as yet, it is still to be continued....

My favourite chapter was probably the one on parenthood. I am always interested to hear about other people's parenting styles, their challenges and ways of handling their children. One of Rubin's resolutions here was to 'underreact to a problem'. I think that is a great thing to try to do! I know I am often guilty of over-reacting to something that occurs with my own children and isn't it so much easier to overreact than underreact? I find it very difficult but if a particular situation arises with my children, I am trying to tell myself to underreact. It is definitely a work in progress but one I continue to think about and try to implement sometimes.

In the chapter on marriage, Rubin addresses her fear of driving by taking some lessons but also identifying that some of her fear came from unfamiliarity - of the symbols on the dashboard, putting petrol in the car, that kind of thing. I could really relate to what Rubin was experiencing here. We recently got a car and I felt quite nervous at the thought of driving it after not driving since before having children (and it has probably been 12-15 years!). I went out one evening and when I got in the car to come home, I realised I needed to switch on the car lights and didn't even know where they were and had to call my husband! As a result, I'm going to read the manual, just as Rubin forced herself to do! It is a good example of how fear can simply come from the unknown.

So, if you are looking for something to read this summer that might also inspire you to think about aspects of your day-to-day life, I would recommend Happier at Home. It is an easy read, interesting and thought-provoking.

Have any of you read the book or heard about it? What is on your summer reading list?