Sunday, 14 December 2014

A final post for the year

Finally a few spare moments to write a blog post! We have had a lot going on with unwell children, hospital stays and other events so all my ideas for December posts went out the window! As I now have lots to catch up on and Christmas travels on the horizon, I am making this my final post of the year.

So a few Christmas related things I wanted to mention. This year we have had a new kind of advent calendar, a fabric Christmas tree-shaped wall hanging with little pockets for each day of December. My mum and aunt bought it and purchased some little gifts to put inside and I have added a few of my own. I loved this idea for seasonal activities to do each day during the month of December so I have thrown in a few of those too. It has been fun for the children!

Every year I have the thought of making some food gifts for neighbours and friends, wrapping in cute bags with ribbon and the like. This year again, I did not get beyond the idea but I did see some recipes I thought would be perfect for the purpose. In case you have the time and fancy making something yummy to hand out, some of these Homemade Food Gifts sound good.

In an effort to be a little more eco-friendly with wrapping presents, I have been using the brown packing paper that comes in many Amazon parcels to wrap the items enclosed. It is perforated so there is no cutting to be done and a pretty ribbon or some Christmas stickers added make it look perfectly acceptable under the tree!

We are off to spend Christmas with the American side of the family this year. The children are excited about seeing their cousins over there and it should be a lively, fun time. What are your plans for Christmas?

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Operation Christmas Child

We spent some time this weekend packing up a couple of shoeboxes, for Operation Christmas Child. A mum at school had mentioned she and her son were going to do one and when I looked into it, I really liked the idea too. The charity, Samaritan's Purse, deliver gift-filled shoeboxes to needy children around the world.

As we approach the festive season, I think this is a really nice way to involve children in the act of giving. My two had a lot of fun packing their shoeboxes and thinking about what a little boy or girl might like to receive or find useful. We began by packing one shoebox but when it came to deciding on whether it should be for a boy or girl (as Samaritan's Purse ask you to decide), we could not agree! My daughter wanted it to be for a girl, my son wanted it to be for a boy so daddy suggested we do two, one for each.

There are lots of useful suggestions of what to pack inside your box on the Samaritan's Purse website. We included a combination of some fun stuff and some practical items and my children also both drew a picture and my son wrote a little note on his to include inside. It was really nice to see my children excitedly running around finding things and coming up with ideas of what we could include in the boxes.

You are asked to send a minimum £3 donation per box to cover shipping costs for your box and if you donate online, you can follow your box and find out which country it gets delivered to. We are going to donate that way, as my son really wants to know where the boxes will go.

Once you have packed your box, you need to drop it off at one of the collection points near to you. The deadline is 18 November, so those of you in the UK reading this who are interested in making up a box should just about have time! If you miss the deadline however, you can still create a shoebox online, and have items purchased and packed for you.

For those of you in the US, you can do it too! Have a look at the details and deadlines on their website.

Have you done something like this with your children in the past or do you have other types of activities you involve your children in, to encourage the spirit of giving to those less fortunate?

Thursday, 6 November 2014

School dinners, snacks and sugary treats

One day during the recent school half-term holiday, my son said that he thought he would like to try school dinners when he went back (he has been taking a packed lunch since he started school). I asked him again the day before he returned to school and as he had not changed his mind, school dinners began for him this week.

For any non-UK readers, the government here decided to provide free school dinners for all children in Reception, year 1 and year 2 (4-7 year olds), as part of their policy to 'giving all children a healthy start in life'. I have always given my son the choice of whether he takes a packed lunch or has school dinners and until now, he always wanted packed lunches.

Part of me was secretly pleased my son had opted for packed lunches for so long, as I get particularly annoyed by the sweet puddings/desserts that are on offer every day! Part of the idea of the free school meals is to try to discourage those people taking unhealthy packed lunches (containing crisps, cakes, chocolate etc) and to bring healthier food to more children. I fail to see how the sugary desserts can be part of the 'healthy' school lunches.

No surprise to me at all that this first week of his school dinners, my son has had a chocolatey/sugary dessert three days out of four. The one day he had fruit instead was because he knew he had a friend coming over after school and that I would be making something yummy for them! I am hoping the novelty will wear off after a few weeks but we will see.....

Also this week, I came across this article, Why I became a Snacktavist, by Audrey D. Brashich and I felt it really describes the way I feel about children and sugar and treats. The opening lines are:
"Dear everyone who interacts with my children anywhere at all:
Please stop feeding my kids sugar."
She goes on to explain how sugar has become part of nearly every event for children, from after-school clubs, to holidays (Christmas, Easter, Halloween), to birthdays and play dates. Part of her wants to remove some of the treats they might enjoy at home as a family, just to get some nutritional balance in her children's diets and yet, " I don’t want to have to give up the treats we enjoy together as a family just so my kids can eat their fill when they are everywhere but our house".

The article discusses snacks and how once they were simply something to keep hunger at bay between meals but now have become more of a 'treat' in themselves, with parents trying to outdo each other.
"Kids today are getting about 500 calories daily from snacking, and most of their snacks contain primarily refined white flour, salt, sugar and artificial additives, which is a dangerous combination given how childhood has changed, too. “There’s more inactivity and kids are eating more calories and artificial food dyes than at any time in history,
Do have a read of the article in full and let me know what you think.

As a parent to young children, I would like to be the one who decides when and how they consume sugary foods. I am happy for sweet treats to be offered to my children when they go to a friend's house to play and usually do the same here when my son has a friend over. I like to bake and have something a bit special on a Friday at the end of the week and perhaps make a nice dessert at least one evening over the weekend for the whole family to enjoy together. Every day at school as well? I am not so keen on that.

I do think school dinners can be a positive thing overall. Several parents have told me the good effect they have had on their fussy eaters, who start eating foods they previously refused and who surprise them by being more adventurous with their eating. Even my son on day one, chose a meal which had broccoli with it (which he detests) and ate it all!

What are your thoughts on school dinners, snacks and sugar treats?! Do you try to provide healthy snacks for your children to balance out some of the less healthy food they might consume at other times during the day or week? Does your child's school do a good job of providing plenty of healthy options for school dinners?
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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Party planning for toddlers

I have done a few birthday parties over recent years, for my son who is approaching age six and my daughter who just had her third birthday. If there is one thing I have learnt, it is that less is more!

For an enjoyable and successful birthday party for little ones, you often need less of everything than you would imagine; less food, less party guests and less activities.

Food - I learnt early on that it is easy to over-cater for birthday parties. Even though I have vastly reduced what I used to prepare, there is still always more than needed! Little ones really do not eat a lot and coupled with the excitement and the promise of cake, they are often too distracted to eat much at a party. Keep it simple too, prepare what you know your child and friends are likely to eat, rather than what looks fancy!

Party guests - for my daughter's third birthday party a couple of weeks ago, we invited just three other little girls. It was her choice. I suggested another couple of people but she said no, she really only wanted these particular three girls, so that is who we invited. I once read or heard somewhere that is is sensible to invite the same number of guests as the child's age. That is what unintentionally happened this time and it was very pleasant! The fewer guests there are, the less stress for the parents, the more time the guests spend with the birthday boy or girl and the more attention they receive.

Activities - whilst you definitely want to plan a few activities for the party, you also don't want to try to cram too much into the time. It can be good to allow some going with the flow too! For my daughter's recent party, we had a couple of small art and craft activities for the children to do on arrival (and something they could later take home with them), which is good for filling the time as you wait for people to get there. Then we played some traditional party games (pass the parcel, musical bumps etc), had lunch and the cake and then finished with a final party game and dance around! It was simple but worked really well.

I will leave you with some other children's birthday party posts you may be interested in reading:
A great party bag alternative
Children's birthday cakes
A winning winter birthday party for a 2-year old

What have you learnt from birthday parties you have had for your young children? What has worked and what hasn't? Any top tips to share?
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Monday, 27 October 2014

Time marches on

It has nearly been a month since my last post. I find life increasingly gets in the way of blogging but at least there is no hiding my priorities! We have had family visiting, followed by my eldest daughter's third birthday so there has been plenty going on and few spare moments for blogging.
Autumn arrived, the leaves have been turning and falling from the trees, the clocks have changed here in the UK but if I am honest, it is a little too warm for my liking! I am ready for a chill in the air and cosy wool jumpers... However, we are making the most of the nice weather and getting outside as much as we can, while it remains so pleasant.

This week is a half-term holiday. Both my eldest children were ready for a break after busy weeks at school and nursery and I am looking forward to extra time spent all together. We will be out to some parks collecting sticks, acorns, conkers and leaves, seeing some friends and Halloween at the end of the week will be fun as always. No doubt we will be doing some Halloween crafts and enjoying getting costumes ready to wear.

There may even be a blog post or two to come during the week, but I won't make any promises!

What do you look forward to doing at this time of year? Are your children also on holiday for the week and if so, what do you have planned?
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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?

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.
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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?
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photo credit

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Copycat

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?
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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
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Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Rice bake: a recipe for National Vegetarian Week

As this week is National Vegetarian Week, I am sharing a vegetarian recipe some of you might like to try; rice bake. It's a family favourite in our household, it's relatively quick to make and it's a great recipe for adapting to whatever vegetables you happen to have around. 

In a nutshell, you cook some rice, some veg and combine with a sauce. Top with cheese and breadcrumbs and bake in the oven. The veg can be of one type only (even frozen peas!) or a mix of whatever you have to hand. 

The sauce can be whatever you like too, I usually make a bechamel sauce and tweak it in some way (make it cheesy / add some tomato/pesto/mustard) but you could use any kind of homemade or ready made sauce, as you would for pasta for example. A tin of soup could even be used, something like a cream of mushroom soup would work well.
Most recently I made a rice bake with mushrooms, courgette, green pepper and asparagus with a cheese sauce. My children seem to like and eat courgette if it's grated (not when it's diced or sliced) so I grated it for the bake. They don't like asparagus so I made two separate bakes, one with asparagus for my husband and I, the other without for the children. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of the completed rice bake - we were in too much of a hurry to tuck in!
Rice and veg cooked, ready for sauce and topping to be added
You will notice that I have not specified quantities in the recipe below. Simply cook the amount you think your family will eat and enjoy - there's no risk of the recipe not turning out, I promise!

Rice bake 

Ingredients 
  • Rice
  • One or more vegetables, finely diced/sliced/grated
  • Fresh breadcrumbs
  • Cheddar cheese, grated
  • Sauce (see note above)

Method
  • Preheat oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6
  • Cook rice. 
  • Gently cook your vegetables if applicable (ie. steam/boil asparagus, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli etc, lightly fry courgette, pepper, aubergine, mushrooms etc).
  • Make your sauce unless you are using a pre-prepared sauce  / tin of soup.
  • Combine rice, vegetables and sauce in an ovenproof dish.
  • Top with breadcrumbs and cheese.
  • Bake for 15-20 mins until bubbling and golden on top.

Do you have a family favourite vegetarian recipe in your household?

I'm linking up with this week's #recipeoftheweek

Link up your recipe of the week

Friday, 9 May 2014

Baby makes three!

My baby girl is six weeks old already, how the time has flown! These first few weeks as a family of five have been busy, enjoyable and exhausting. Between family and friends helping out I have felt very well supported and my time managing all three children alone (while husband is at work) has been very limited so far. Lucky me!

Now for a few random musings on these first early weeks with three children:

The sleepless nights have not been so hard to deal with this time. Obviously I've felt very tired some days and wondered how I'll make it through the day on occasions but overall it's not been as horrendous as with the other two. Perhaps realistic expectations better prepared me this time!

The mornings are not a big rush as I'd imagined. One thing I was particularly dreading was getting myself and three children ready and out on time to get my son to school. Turns out when you're up around 5am with the baby, there's plenty of time! I've even managed a shower some days!

I was right about the worst time of the day! The dinner time, bed time witching hour is difficult, as I knew it would be. On the days I've had to put all three to bed by myself it has mostly been a struggle. I console myself with the reminder that it will only get easier. Right?!

It's not easy on the siblings. My 5-year old son who has dealt with a new baby sister once before has seemed pretty ok with the new addition. He was initially very excited, now he mostly ignores her and gets on with whatever he's doing. That's fine by me :-). My 2 1/2 year old daughter though has understandably been more affected. She's very loving towards the baby most of the time, very helpful with nappy changes etc but she herself has become clingy towards me and a bit more withdrawn around other people, which she wasn't at all before. It makes me a bit sad but all I can do is give her lots of love and be patient through this period of adjustment. 

I feel stretched! I felt stretched with two children, always wishing I could find or make more one-on-one time with each child. Now there's an extra child, one who currently demands a lot of me and spending quality time with the older two is tricky. I am doing what I can, trying to do something fun with my two-year old while the baby is napping, spending time with my eldest before he goes to bed when his sisters are already in bed (or sometimes whilst simultaneously rocking the baby to sleep in my arms!).

I feel very fortunate. I look at my three children and am filled with love for them all. The baby is a wonderful addition to our family and I'm so proud of my older two children and how for the most part, they are kind, loving, fun, well-behaved little people. I look at my husband and remember back when we didn't have any children and talked about both wanting three one day and here we are all of a sudden with all three!

For those of you with two or more children, what do you remember from the early weeks juggling everything? Can you relate to any of the above? What do you still find most difficult or most fun at whatever stage you are at now?
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Monday, 28 April 2014

This week: Beer bread

A couple of years ago my husband went through a phase of making regular loaves of beer bread. He found a recipe and we adapted it over time to our tastes (mostly by vastly reducing the sugar and butter). When my parents were visiting recently, he decided to dig out the recipe and make some for us all. It was delicious!

The bread can be made in about five minutes! It requires no kneading, no rising and as you will see below, the ingredients are minimal. It is so quick and easy that it is perfect to make with children. They love watching the bubbles appear when the beer is added! This week I decided to make some with my daughter as a little thank you for one of the mums who has been kind enough to help me out recently. I thought some of you might enjoy giving it a go too so here is the recipe:



Ingredients
  • 3 cups / 400g self-raising flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 can / bottle beer (approx 355 ml)
  • Butter
Method
Preheat oven to 190C / 375F
Combine flour and sugar, then stir in the beer.
Pour into a greased loaf tin.
Dot the top with butter.
Bake for 50 min.

Enjoy!
It's delicious warm from the oven, with nothing on it. Otherwise, a simple spread of butter or any topping of your choice will taste great. It keeps well for a few days in an airtight container.

Do let me know if you make it and what you think. Perhaps some of you have made beer bread before?

I'm linking up with this week's #recipeoftheweek
and Kids in the Kitchen

 
Link up your recipe of the week
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Thursday, 24 April 2014

Saying yes to some help

Our little baby girl is approaching four weeks old now. My husband's paternity leave came and went. My parents' visit  also came to an end after Easter. This week I have had my first taste of dealing with the three children on my own, without family around to help out.

My eldest has returned to school after the Easter holidays and on day one of doing the school run, I had a few of my mummy friends kindly offering to help out, whether it was having my two year old over for a few hours so I could rest at home when baby slept or offers to collect my son from school.

It feels like it goes against my natural instinct but I decided to say yes to some of these offers of help. So my daughter went to a friend's house to play with two of her little friends while the big ones were at school one morning this week and I took my friend's advice and lay down when baby slept. It was good for my daughter, as she had not played with any of her peers for a while. She got to do some painting, playing and had lunch there. I felt better for getting to lie down and just generally having a break from keeping my adorable but energetic two year old amused.

I have also had a couple of friends pick up my son from school, again very helpful as my youngest tends to be sleeping around that time and so I don't have to wake her and get both girls ready to rush out for the school run.

On the one hand, I feel a bit selfish accepting these favours. I have a new baby not a life-threatening disease! Surely I can get on with it and manage as best I can with my 5-year old, 2-year old and newborn. Then I try to put myself in the position of the person offering the help and if it was me, I would not make the offer if I did not mean it and was not happy to help. That makes me feel better about accepting it :-). I still feel in debt to the person and like I need to do something to make it up to them but hopefully one day I can return the favour in some way.

It affirms what lovely friends I am lucky enough to have and reminds me that being there for our friends is the greatest gift we can give. I'm not much use to anyone right now, but hopefully I have (and will have) my moments of being a good friend and helping out someone who could use a little break in whatever form that is.

Do you find it difficult saying yes to kind offers from people? Have you had similar experiences of friends helping you out when you needed it?
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photo credit

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Eat your greens soup!

I found myself with some odds and ends of green vegetables left in my fridge this week and not much else. With my husband at home on paternity leave and son on holiday from school, we've got through our weekly veg box faster than usual and this was all I had remaining. As it was a bit of a rainy, gloomy day, I decided to make a soup with what I had. The result was quite tasty and both children enjoyed it too, even though they usually are not so keen on the vegetables it contained!

I'm going to give rough quantities below but obviously the beauty of the recipe is that you can adapt it to whatever green veg you might happen to have lurking in your refrigerator. It is not a heavy, hearty soup so it works well as a meal for a cool spring day. If you wanted to make it richer, you could stir in a spoonful of creme fraiche, some double cream or some grated cheese.

Eat your greens soup!

Ingredients
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 large potato, peeled & diced
  • Green veg (I used 2/3 cauliflower and 1/4 cabbage but broccoli, kale or any green veg would do), cut into smallish pieces
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons pesto
  • Oil of your choice
Method
Pour a splash of oil into a large pan and gently fry the onion and celery until soft.
Add the potato, stir and cover for a couple mins. Then cover generously with water and crumble in your stock cube. Bring to the boil on a high heat, then turn down to low.
Add the green veg and cook gently for 10-15 mins until soft.
Using a hand (immersion) blender or a food processor, blend the soup until smooth, adding more water if necessary to achieve a good consistency.
Stir in the pesto over a gentle heat and season to taste.
Serve warm in bowls with crusty bread.

I'm linking up with this week's #recipe of the week
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Link up your recipe of the week

Friday, 4 April 2014

Pregnancy, pillows & sleeping

In this post, I am going to share what helped me get a fair amount of good nights' sleep whilst I was pregnant this third time round. The point comes sooner than you would think in a pregnancy when getting a good night's sleep becomes a challenge. You're supposed to lie on your side, you're getting bigger and heavier, hips start aching, you might be up for several bathroom trips during the night.... There are those that say, it's nature's way of starting to prepare you for the disturbed nights to come but if there is a way to sleep better, I am all for it! Especially moving on to baby number three, I really have no need for preparation for the nights of broken sleep I have got coming. Au contraire!!

I had been complaining about rough nights of sleep to a friend and she kindly dug out her old pregnancy sleeping pillow to lend me. She told me what a miracle it was to her during her pregnancies, how she would take it with her any time they were spending a night elsewhere because it was the only thing that helped her sleep well. I was excited to try it out and experience the blissful night's sleep she had prepared me for.

I'll be honest, the first night I wasn't quite sure which parts of the pillow should go where and just guessed. It didn't seem right though and although I had a decent night's sleep, I felt sure it could be better.  The next day, I searched online for this pillow and how to use it and that night, I tried again, with it in the correct position. I had a terrible night's sleep! I think I gave it one last shot another night but again, it didn't make for a good night's sleep so I returned it to my friend and went back to my own system of a pillow between my knees.

Shortly after that episode, I had started doing some ante-natal pilates. When doing some exercises lying on my side, my instructor would put a cushion in place to support my belly. It really made a difference to the way my weight was positioned on my side so I decided to try the same when sleeping at night.

In addition to my pillow between my knees, I added a small pillow under my bump. It really improved my comfort during the night and I began to sleep better and was waking up with less aches in my hips. So there's my simple tip for better sleeping whilst pregnant - two pillows!

What was your experience of sleeping whilst pregnant? Did you struggle to get comfortable? Did you use any special pregnancy pillow or find any other way to deal with any discomfort?
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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

My big secret!

I'll cut straight to the chase and tell you there's been a new addition to our family! As of a couple of days ago we became a family of five and have a new baby daughter!

You may be wondering why I kept it a big secret all this time. We had some scares and concerns earlier in the pregnancy, which made me a little reluctant to share the news initially and then I decided I prefered to wait for the safe arrival of the baby. She did arrive safely thankfully and is in good health. We are all very much enjoying the new member of our family!

I also did not want my blog to turn into a pregnancy/new baby focused blog. After all, most of those posts have been written already with my existing two children. Having said that, I have written a couple of such posts to appear in the immediate future when I may be otherwise engaged! If things go quiet on the blog in April, you'll know why!
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Friday, 28 March 2014

This week: a book, a film, a recipe

Here is what I have watched, been reading and a new recipe I tried this week:

My husband and I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives, a film which "examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.". It was certainly interesting and as lovers of dairy, it got us thinking about our somewhat heavy consumption of dairy and we have probably eaten a little less since watching the movie!

I made chapatis for the first ever time this week. I felt like having some with a potato and pea curry I had made one evening and when I saw how easy they were to make, wondered why I had never tried them before! The two-ingredient recipe I followed was from the BBC Food site. They are quick and easy, no dough to rise or advance preparation needed. Give them a try!

After reading the parenting book I recently blogged about, I decided to move on to something completely different. I started reading Handsome Brute: The True Story of a Ladykiller. A book about a murderer might not sound very appealing but I can assure you it is a rather riveting read of a once famous British murder case that unfolded during the post-war period.

Do you have a book, film or recipe recommendation to share from your week?

Friday, 21 March 2014

Squabbling siblings

If you have two or more children, chances are they spend their time together either getting along famously or at each other's throats! It's wonderful when they get along, either playing together or contentedly playing alongside one another. When they snatch, fight, scream at each other and one or both ends in tears, it can be stressful for the whole family.

My two children are aged two and five. It's a tricky stage. The five year old is pretty good at sharing and taking turns. He is for the most part patient and giving. The two year old is at the age where sharing is not yet really understood so if she wants something, she will take it and not give it back without a struggle. You can therefore imagine the kinds of scenes that unfold in our household!

Then there is the physical aspect to their squabbling. My daughter regularly tackles her big brother down to the floor in a fun, playful way so when she is not being playful, she is not afraid to push or worse! Until quite recently, our son would never push her back or inflict any physical actions towards her. He would probably just come and tell my husband and I what his sister had done to him. However, of late that has changed and he now will push her back or be a little too rough with her for my liking. Who can blame him on the one hand? On the other hand, he is a big five year old, she is still a little two year old.

I think back to my own childhood and remember quite regular physical fights with one of my brothers, even though there was a big age gap and I was the youngest! He was the same brother I was closest to growing up though, so I also remember many fond times together. Our physical fights were soon diffused and forgotten and never had any lasting impact.

So then I think, I should not worry too much about my own children getting into little fights. It's all part of growing up, asserting oneself in one's own individual way, learning how to manage one's behaviour in frustrating situations and essentially, learning how to deal with conflict. As much as I can, I try to stay out of my children's squabbles and if my son comes to complain about something that his sister has done, I try to encourage him to come up with a way to deal with it, rather than getting involved too much myself.

Currently, that does not work very well and the situation rarely gets resolved without tears or shouting but I am hoping that with some perseverance, over time, both children will find their own ways of handling their differences and disagreements.

What is your experience of squabbling siblings? Do you intervene much and try to manage their behaviour and reactions or do you step back and let them get on with it? Do your children go through phases of getting on better or worse with one another? I would be very interested to hear your experiences in the comments!
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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Calmer communication & cooperation

In my post at the beginning of this year, New year, new parenting goal, I mentioned I was starting to read the book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. I have now finished reading it (pretty good going for my slow reading pace these days!) and wanted to share a few bits of the advice I found particularly helpful.

I will start by saying, it is a very useful book for any parent to read. It has simple little exercises throughout so that you are forced to look at your own situation and parenting methods and reflect on how you might change them (if they need changing). The exercises are helpful because you get a real idea of how the advice can relate to you specifically. There are also lots of examples of different situations other parents have struggled with, case studies if you like, that illustrate how the suggested methods can bring about positive results in 'real life'.

At the same time, it is a lot to take in and is the kind of book you can refer back to, rather than aiming to remember and practise every single point it presents. It does give real perspective to the challenges that come with parenting and reminds us that the easy option does not always lead to the best outcome. Parenting, and parenting well, is hard work after all. Like anything else we want to invest ourselves in, it takes time and effort.

It is hard to select just a few points raised in the book but if these I have listed below sound of interest, I recommend you pick up a copy of the book!

Good listening. We might think we listen to our children but many of us are probably also guilty of firing questions (How was your day? Who did you play with? What did you do?...). If we focus more on listening with our full attention, the child is more likely to open up in their own way.

Problem-solving with your child. This is one thing I tested out with my 5-year old and to good effect. I had been getting annoyed with toothpaste smeared on or next to the bathroom sink each day after he brushed his teeth in the mornings. Following the advice in the book, I sat down one day with my son and talked through his possible difficulties, my feelings about seeing the mess and with paper in hand, asked for his suggestions on how we could remedy the situation. He came up with two ideas, which I wrote down. He then wanted to draw a picture of the toothpaste on the paper and we stuck it up above the sink for a few days. Immediately, the mess stopped! After a few days, I praised him for his continued good efforts and suggested we didn't need the note on view any more. He chose to stick it inside a cupboard door where he could still see it if he wanted to (rather than discarding it) but the clean sink remained!

Describe what you see when giving praise. The book suggests that meaningful praise gives the child an awareness of their own merits. So rather than relying on broad compliments like, 'It's great/fantastic/amazing....', describing what you see then helps the child recognise their strengths. For example, to a child who has got dressed by themselves for the first time, you could say something like, 'You put every bit of clothing on in exactly the right place and didn't even need to ask for help - I'm so impressed!', instead of saying, 'You did a great job!'.

The hardest section of the book for me, in terms of relating it to my own self and my own children was the chapter on 'Freeing children from playing roles'. It talks about how parents can be prone to labelling their children, 'She's bossy / he's stubborn / she's a trouble-maker / he's a picky eater etc....' and that by doing so, reinforces that behaviour/trait in the child. It gives various ways to free your child from those 'roles', which all seem very doable and make sense. My struggle was in identifying any labels that may have been applied to my own children - is that because I have done a good job of not labelling them? (obviously what I'd like to think!!) or is it (more likely) because I am oblivious to the labelling I have inadvertently applied? For now, that remains something for me to think about further....

Do you have any thoughts on what I have mentioned above?  Have you discovered your own techniques for calmer communication and cooperation with your children? Have you read the book yourself and if so, what did you think?

Thursday, 6 March 2014

This week: signs of Spring!

We have had a few consecutive spring-like days now and it's hard not to feel a bit excited at the sight and warmth of the sun! Spring flowers are everywhere, we have some daffodils in a vase on our kitchen table - a lovely burst of bright yellow and it has been warm enough to leave the winter coats behind. People are visibly more smiley and cheerful, the walks to and from school are more enjoyable and playing out in the garden or in local parks is much more appealing again.

I had a spontaneous lunch sat outside at a cafe with another mum and her child earlier this week. There have been walks and running around with my children in the fresh air and I have been out in our garden doing a bit of (overdue) tidying and pruning. Every time I go out there, I spot some new flowers coming out and the unsightly dead-looking state of the garden is beginning to slowly switch into something prettier again.

The thick wool jumpers have been staying in the drawers and whilst I am not planning on any hasty action with regards to packing away the heavier winter clothes, it has been nice to wear some lighter layers. Sunglasses have been worn most days and the days are visibly longer and lighter by now.

All these things make me feel uplifted and generally in brighter spirits overall. The everyday routine even becomes something I take more pleasure in and I love the ease of being able to spend more time outside.

Has spring sprung where you are too? What signs of spring do you most look forward to seeing and do you find your own mood or outlook changes with the season?
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Thursday, 27 February 2014

Fruit kebabs & Strawberry, apple and almond crumble!

Last week was half-term and therefore a week off school for my son. When I was offered a half-term SOS pack from Viva Strawberries, I gladly accepted and was keen to try their strawberries that are a variety akin to the British strawberry, grown in Spain and Morocco.

We received a lovely box of goodies, that in addition to the strawberries, included some grapes, a mango, an orange, some skewers, straws, a small bottle of wine and even a fun food-related game and some stickers for my children. We were most grateful!
With the fruit and the skewers, I decided fruit kebabs made the perfect excuse to let my five year-old practise some knife skills with one of my proper cutting knives. While he carefully cut off the ends of the strawberries and halved them, then diced the mango, my two year-old pulled off grapes from their stalks - great team work! They had fun putting the pieces of fruit onto the skewers and of course, even more fun getting to eat the fruit kebabs!

It goes without saying, these make a healthy, tasty snack or dessert and are something that can be made almost year round with whatever fruit is in season.

Strawberry, apple & almond crumble

I had saved some of the strawberries and was wondering what to make with them. Some of the typical desserts I might make with strawberries seemed too summery for February so I opted for a crumble. I found a Nigella Lawson recipe for strawberry and almond crumble that I adapted. I threw in some apples as we had plenty lying around. I reduced the sugar considerably, as I knew the fruit was quite sweet already and we prefer our crumbles less sweet than some. I also reduced the amount of flaked almonds in the topping. Here are my ingredients:

Filling:
500g strawberries & apple, sliced
25g ground almonds
4 tsp vanilla extract

Topping:
110g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
75g cold butter, diced
75g flaked almonds
75g demerara sugar

For the method and a pretty picture (as mine were not blog-worthy!), I will refer you to Nigella's recipe online.

Read more about Viva Stawberries and find lots of inspiring strawberry recipes to try from their website. 
Disclosure: We were sent a box containing the items described above, but with no obligation to blog about them.

I'm linking up our fruit kebabs with Kids in the Kitchen over at Raisie Bay.

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