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?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

5 summer photography tips

As the summer holidays approach, and for some of you they have already begun, chances are you'll be wanting to take a fair few photos of your children enjoying themselves. Whether it's playing in the back garden or in your local park or if you're away somewhere on a family holiday, it's always nice to capture some fun, happy times with your camera.

I am fortunate to be able to share with you some advice on getting the most out of your summer photography from someone who knows more about photography than I do! Ian Savage, Head of Training at British photographic retailer, Jessops gives his five top tips for taking the perfect photo:

1. Child’s play
Kids rarely stay still long enough for you to take their picture, but instead of resorting to bribery to get them to sit down for a photo, start photographing them on the go. Either choose your camera’s sports mode or select shutter-priority and continuous AF. In both cases, your camera’s autofocus will keep your subject in focus, even when that’s a toddler wobbling around a playground on a bike with stabilisers. It really is child’s play to get a good shot!

2. Get together
Whether you’re enjoying a barbecue in the back garden or a walk in the park, it’s a great opportunity to get some photos of everyone together. And with just a bit of planning, you can get some lovely photo memories. Before you gather your group, scout out a good spot and think about your composition. All in one long line is boring, so consider arranging them in two lines; ask some to sit, or have the kids kneeling in front; or how about running towards you? Lines, by the way, don’t have to be horizontal; think vertically, too, and have fun!

3. Beautiful portraits
Taking portraits outdoors means you can work with lots of lovely daylight, and at this time of year you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to stunning natural backdrops. When you position your subject, make sure they won’t be squinting or pulling a face because the sun is in their eyes. Face them away from the sun – side lighting works well – and ask them to stand in a shaded area for a more flattering, less harsh light. Then all you need to do is turn the exposure mode dial to aperture-priority, focus on the eyes and take the shot!

4. Action shots
Feeling a bit more adventurous with your photography? Then try panning. This clever technique gives your photos a sense of movement. Pick the point you want to take the photo and face it, but then turn to the direction the subject will be coming from. Half press the shutter button, and without moving your feet, turn smoothly to follow the subject, fully press the shutter button at your chosen point to take the photo and continue to follow the subject out of shot.

5. Childproof!
Many cameras are waterproof, sand-proof, dust-proof and even drop-proof these days – so if you want to take great shots without worrying about the kids’ grubby hands, or damaging your new piece of kit, consider a camera that’s up to the challenge.

I really like the first tip about photographing children on the move and am definitely going to play around with our camera settings to see what I can achieve. Which is your favourite tip or do you have one of your own to add?

You might also like my post from a few years ago with 7 tips for taking, organising and sharing family photos.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Baby skin problems

A couple of weeks ago I went to the doctor about my baby daughter's terribly dry skin. As well as severe cradle cap her poor little body was red raw and dry as sandpaper. All the usual gentle oils and creams recommended for newborns hadn't done anything much to relieve her skin.

All three of my children had quite bad cradle cap and dry skin as babies. Luckily my older two grew out of it so I am really hoping it will be the case again this time. My husband has eczema so it is no surprise our babies get it too.

Coincidentally that same day I went to the doctor's, I received an email from natural skin care company Hannah and Hugh telling me about their baby products, one of which is ideal for baby's dry skin. I was sent their rosehip and calendula cream to try out.

The doctor had also given me a cream and told me to apply liberally to my daughter 4 times a day. I decided to use the Hannah and Hugh cream alongside, specifically on my daughter's face and on her feet.

The cream is a lovely consistency, not sticky or oily. It's light and absorbs easily. It smells really nice - I have received compliments on how nice my daughter smells when she has this cream on!

As for how well it works, it has definitely done as good a job on her skin as the cream the doctor prescribed. A couple of people on seeing just her face when she's been otherwise covered up in the pram or in my arms have commented that her skin has improved. It has. As a result, this is a product I would recommend and would buy myself in the future. Especially if your child has simply a bit of dry skin here and there, Hannah and Hugh's rosehip and calendula cream would I'm sure help clear it up.

This skincare range was inspired by Hannah and Hugh’s founder and product developer Pamela Orji, whose desire to find a solution to her own daughter’s eczema propelled her business.  Their mission is to educate people to make better choices when deciding on skincare products; especially for babies. Hannah and Hugh’s skincare formulations have been carefully chosen for their safe and beneficial qualities and are free from parabens, sodium lauryl sulphate, PEGS, mineral oils, synthetic fragrances or colours. Ingredients include natural butters such as Cocoa and Shea butter, and essential oils such as lavender and chamomile, all of which are sourced locally in the UK.

The regular application of the creams is keeping my daughter's skin in better condition. She still has 'baby eczema' but the harshness of it has definitely subsided.

Hopefully with time, the need to apply cream will reduce somewhat and as with her siblings, the eczema will gradually disappear or at least be more mild.

Have any of your children suffered with cradle cap, eczema or other skin conditions? What have been the best products you have used to improve them? Have you heard or or used anything from the Hannah and Hugh range?

Disclosure: I was sent one pot of Hannah and Hugh rosehip and calendula baby cream, but with no obligation to blog about it. 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Gardening, growing and zen!

Last summer was our first summer with our very own garden and I was keen to try growing a few things. I successfully grew some tomatoes from seed and also planted some broad beans and rocket. It was fun - I enjoyed looking after the plants and the children loved helping out with the planting, the watering and watching the plants produce things we could then all eat!

This year I still wanted to grow some veggies but was wary of being over-ambitious with a newborn to look after. I'm fortunate that our neighbour loves gardening and grows a lot of vegetables herself. I had a chat with her about what might be easy / fairly low maintenance things to grow this year and she kindly gave me some tomato plants she had grown from seed, as well as some green bean plants too. I also read somewhere that radishes are easy and quick to grow so bought some seeds and planted some of those too.
With a bit of help from the children, I got everything planted and in place. We have watered and watched as flowers have grown on the tomato plants, followed by tomatoes that are currently green and small but will hopefully grow and ripen before too long. The bean plants have flowers right now so hoping we will get some beans a bit later this summer.

In the same way that cooking is a way for me to switch off, relax and generally feel content, gardening has now become that too. I don't get a lot of time to do much out there but a few minutes here and there are fine if that's all I can get. Our garden is quite large and a little unruly and wild, in a good way, but that means there is always tidying and little bits of pruning to be done. I get a real sense of satisfaction from making even the smallest area look a bit neater!

As with cooking, when the children are out in the garden with me, they love to help or just to busy themselves with something outside. I'm having a good time, they're having a good time, we're all pretty relaxed - it's great!

Have you been growing anything this year? Do you and your children enjoy doing a bit of gardening? If you don't have a garden, do you grow any herbs in pots on a windowsill or have the odd house plant to nurture?

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Little lunch box notes

I never thought I would be one of those mums who writes cute little notes to pop into her child's lunch box. Yet in just the last couple of weeks I've started including the odd note with my son's lunch.

One day my son mentioned his friend's mum put notes in her son's lunch box. I asked what they said but he wasn't sure. I then asked the mum, who I am friends with and she said she wrote any kind of little thing with the hope of trying to get her son more interested in reading. She struggles in getting him to do his school reading at home. 

I am fortunate that I don't have any trouble encouraging my son to read. He loves to read anything in front of him; cereal boxes, signs, advertisements in magazines, anything really. However, I thought I detected a slight desire for the odd note in his own lunch box and had that at the back of my mind.

One day I was preparing his lunch and gave him pitta bread with something like cheese or houmous inside and then some sliced cucumber and tomato in a separate pot to add to the pitta when he was ready to eat it (not wanting to make the pitta soggy by putting it in myself). The thought occured to me to stick on a note to the cucumber and tomato pot reminding him to put those inside the pitta. So I wrote, 'put in pitta' followed by a smiley face and 'yum yum!'.

Another day, I was putting orange segments into a container for his lunch and carefully taking out any pips, as for some reason with oranges, my son doesn't enjoy eating them if they have pips in them. I then thought he might not even eat the orange if he thinks there might be pips in it so decided to stick a note on the container, saying, 'no pips!' and a smiley face again. He ate it all up!

I realised these little notes are indeed a good way to encourage his reading. They are also useful for me to communicate something about his lunch and a bit fun for my son to find them inside his lunch box too. I definitely don't include a note every day and I have not yet written a note that has not been functional (I am not one of those mums!). It seems little lunch box notes are not such a bad idea after all though....;-)

Do you or have you in the past included any kind of little note inside your child's lunch box and if so, what was the motive - an affectionate thought? to communicate something practical? to encourage their reading? something else?
photo credit

Tuesday, 10 June 2014


As early on as she could, my daughter would try to do whatever her big brother was doing. As she has got older, the copying has increased all the more. Everything from wanting to play with whatever he is playing with (often resulting in snatching & fighting over a toy!), pulling the same 'funny' faces, dressing up as a superhero when he does, to repeating something he is saying to us (like a little echo!), wanting to eat the same foods, to draw when he is drawing, to read when he is reading and so on....

On the one hand it is rather endearing. She looks up to him with admiration and awe, which is sweet for a parent to see. She wants to be with him and do whatever he is doing all the time. Again, this is lovely to see the closeness in their relationship, even if it is not always harmonious.

The copying is also beneficial to her own development. She speaks a lot better for her two and a half years than our first born did and sounds older than her years sometimes. Seeing her big brother getting himself dressed in the mornings has meant she has been eager to do the same and she has been very good at putting on her own socks and shoes for some time. It sparks a determination in her to try things that perhaps an only child might not be in such a hurry to master. All pretty positive stuff!

On the other hand however, there are some things she copies that are a little frustrating! Just recently for example, my son decided he no longer likes to eat avocado. My daughter then tells me she also does not like avocado and refuses to eat any. If she and I are eating at lunchtime when my son is at school though, she will happily eat the avocado! This has happened with a few different foods. Likewise, if my son says he doesn't want to go somewhere, she will say the same or if he behaves in an unbecoming way, she will follow his lead and behave similarly. No fun for the parent in these cases!!

I realise at some point there will likely be a switch in her behaviour and far from wanting to do the same, my daughter may well decide she wants to do the complete opposite to my son. Undoubtedly, that will bring with it a whole new set of parenting challenges!

For now, I suppose my aim is to encourage the positive aspects to my daughter's copying and accept that the less endearing side is simply part of children being children and growing up in their own way, as they develop their own personalities.

Do your younger children copy their older siblings and to what effect?
photo credit

Thursday, 5 June 2014

What a difference a day makes

I couldn't resist stealing the song title for my blog post.... ;-).

Finding myself mother to a newborn again, I am reminded of the stark contrast in days you typically face in any given week. One day, you're feeling on top of your game, baby is doing text book naps, smiling and generally being a pleasure. Another day, it's the reverse, baby's grizzly, lots of crying, they only want to be held and you're exhausted and wondering when you'll ever get to sit or lie down for a rest.

If you are a mother who likes routine with your children, the moment you think you are slipping into a nice routine with baby, they'll show you otherwise! Or just as you are getting some decent stretches of sleep, you'll have a shocker of a night that leaves you feeling unable to make it through the next day....

The good news is, it usually is just an odd day here and there. Unless your child is unwell or teething, you both might have a bad day but the next day tends to be much better and you can catch your breath again! I try to remind myself of that when I am experiencing a bad day.

Yesterday for me was a tough day. I had had a much more disturbed night's sleep than I have got used to of late so I was exhausted starting off the day. I had no time for a shower in the morning which always makes me feel less agreeable. Baby was not napping very much during the day and crying more than normal (probably as a consequence of the not napping!) and when I tried to sneak into bed for a quick lie-down when both girls were napping, my baby immediately woke up. So there was no nap for me! I was dead tired, it was a rainy day, everything was a bit of a struggle.

Today has so far been the opposite. A good night's sleep, a shower this morning, got some jobs done before taking my son to school, the sun is shining, baby has done great naps, I'm feeling cheery, proactive and like a completely different person to yesterday. Of course by writing those sentences I may have just jinxed the rest of the day ;-).

The same can be said of parenting older children too. You can have a great day followed by one you would rather forget. However with the lack of daily structure that comes with a young baby, the differences are more pronounced I find.

A new day really does make a difference. Make the most of the good days and however much a struggle you might be having on a not so good day, remind yourself that the next day will be different again, even if it still might not be as perfect as you would like!
"Every day may not be good, but there's something good in every day". ~Author Unknown
photo credit