Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Mumtopia Recommends : The Pourty

I have to tell you about this new discovery: the pourty.

This is a fantastic product which makes potty-training that bit easier by eliminating the dribbles and mess that go with emptying a standard potty. Its brilliant design means the potty is easy to empty and clean, and carry to the loo. My little boy likes the cat on the front and finds it comfortable to sit on. The high splash guard is a bonus too. It works so well yet is quite simple - British design at its best.

With a RRP of just £9.99 it is worth spending those extra pennies (pardon the pun) for a truly innovative solution to a common problem. My son asked me to send a thank you letter to the lady who made his Pourty! I thoroughly recommend it for anyone beginning (or in the middle of) pottytraining - we need all the help we can get!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Gardening with Kids #4

Rain needn’t necessarily stop play. If children are wrapped up warm and in waterproof clothing, getting outside to splash in puddles can be a happy escape from that cooped-up feeling. Using the garden space as much as possible, even when the weather isn’t particularly clement, means that children will be less inclined to think that being outside only means sunbathing. Often they will be so busy and engaged in their own world outdoors, they will hardly notice the grey clouds. It is worth stressing that gardening time will be more successful if there is more than one adult and more than one child. The adults can take it in turns to look after the children (and it is important to clarify who is doing what, when, before a toddler suddenly works out how to unlatch the garden gate), and the children can play together.

 Safety reminders
• Replace loose paving slabs, put away hosepipes left unravelled and think about which areas are slippery or uneven – help children to avoid tripping. Where possible, use surfaces that provide a good grip underfoot. • Teach children to stay away from water features and, if they're too young to realise the danger, cordon off the area or cover the pond with a steel mesh. • Keep the shed locked. Do not leave sharp tools lying around. Even if weedkillers and insecticides are labelled 'organic' or 'bio', they are still not safe for children to touch. • Teach children never to taste unknown plants or berries. Consider removing highly toxic plants such as foxgloves, rhubarb, oleander and mistletoe altogether.

Make the gardening sessions short, and be prepared to keep switching tasks, if the children are lending a hand. Take a flask or bottle of juice, so you don’t get muddy wellies traipsing through the kitchen, and have picnic breaks if you want to stay outside for more than an hour, or have a break from gardening. Keep some old cushions and blankets for this purpose – no-one can fall off the ground! However, don’t overestimate the amount of progress you’ll make when gardening with children. The main thing is that everyone enjoys being outside and gets fresh air, and, if they are lucky, a pod of tiny fresh peas, or a couple of the first strawberries; a taste of the garden they will always remember.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Make your own First Aid Kit

Inspired by the day on which Secundus tripped over a kerb, fell headlong onto his face, teeth first, and I didn't even have a pack of baby-wipes to mop him up, I decided to take a leaf from my Very Competent Mum Friend's (a.k.a Mrs Forward) book and make my own portable first aid kit.

A first aid kit is just the kind of thing that you only need if you haven't got one. Since stowing mine in my cavernous handbag, I have very rarely had to use its contents. But it's great to know that I am a little bit like Forward and I have the things I need in case of minor accident or ailment. Like listening to local radio on snowy days to find out about school closures, carrying a first aid kid is a Proper Mum thing to do: here's what 's in mine:
  • For bruises: Nelsons Arnica cream or cooling gel. Nelsons arnica cooling gel combines the natural healing properties of arnica with refreshing grapefruit oil and menthol to cool and soothe the skin; just right for red knees. Bashed elbows, chins and knees are a daily occurence with my kids and it's good to feel you can actually do something to soothe a bad knock. You can also use the gel to ease achy muscles after being on your feet all day.
  • For relief of fever and pain: Junior Paracetamol Suspension in sachets and a medicine spoon. Or the equivalent Ibufprofen.
  • As a nasal decongestant or to clear painful sinuses : Olbas oil
  • To kill germs without water or towels: a small bottle of hand sanitizer
  • Pack of plasters and wipes to treat minor stings, cuts and grazes, from the chemist.
  • As a natural antiseptic: Nelsons Tea tree cream. I have used this for a variety of scrapes and grazes, but also for spots and blemishes, as I have problem skin. It is gentle but effective, rubs in well, and a little goes a long way. The tea tree smell is quite strong (unavoiadable, really, given that it is made with the finest, purest tea tree oil from Australia), but not unpleasant, and at least it is a natural, rather than synthetic, fragrance.
  • A pencil case or small toilet bag to keep everything in.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Gardening with Kids #3

• Children who like watching BBC’s “In the Night Garden” will have many opportunities to bring their favourite characters to life; a bush can be the Tombliboos’ home or bedding plants can be Upsy Daisy’s flower patch. Or think Waybuloo.
 • Some moss, a few stones, leaves and petals can become a fairy garden.
 • Planks, a low wall, and a couple of bricks can become an assault course.
 • Build a miniature greenhouse using some 12cm pots and the same number of 2 litre soft drink bottles
 • Build a den, or treehouse
• Catch different insects (kits are available for this) and observe them
• Collect stones and paint them, or let your kids paint on the wall, slabs or shed (it washes off)
• Press flowers to make pictures.
• Make animals out of vegetables
• Sow flowers to reveal your initial
• Set slug traps using an empty margarine container and some beer (preferably the dregs in the bottom of the bottle otherwise it seems an awful waste).
• Make plant labels for rows of vegetables 
 • For a Thomas the Tank Engine fan, chalk a railway line, complete with station, shed and turntable and use some blocks of wood as trains

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Gardening with Kids #2

The earlier you start involving children in garden-related tasks and activities, like emptying the kitchen caddy into the compost bin, or watering the tubs, the more they will accept it as part of everyday life. Even simply hanging out the washing can be a good excuse to get everyone outside. Be patient and remember that children are individuals and we are all motivated by different things. Some may love getting muddy and collecting worms for the wormery. Others may delight in the first delicate snowdrop blooms. Or the end result - fresh new potatoes, basil, baby plum tomatoes – might be what keeps you digging!

Try to include children in the decision-making about what fruit, vegetables or flowers they would like to grow so they feel involved from the start. To avoid disappointment, it may be a good idea to steer overly-ambitious children away from pineapples, pomegranates and papaya, and towards some of the fruit and vegetables suggested by the Royal Horticultural Society, many of which can be harvested three months from sowing:
The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

• Beetroots
• Carrots
• Courgettes
• Lettuces
• Onions
• Potatoes
• Radishes
• Runner beans
• Spinach
• Strawberries

Monday, 22 March 2010

Gardening with Kids #1

Like young children, gardens are hard work, time-consuming and frequently damp, but (mostly) worth all the effort. Many parents like me feel they don’t have time to smell the roses, let alone grow any. 21st Century families rarely have the time or the space to garden together. Homes with sizeable gardens are out of the question for a good deal of first time buyers. This means families with young children miss out in several ways: they don’t get the freedom of playing outside, close to home and within safe boundaries; they lack first-hand knowledge of how and why things grow; the seasons don’t matter so much; and to the question “Where does food come from?” their answer will usually be “the supermarket".

If you are desperate to get outside and start thinning your peaches or pruning your weigela, but you have children to look after, there needn’t be a conflict of interests. Why not combine the two? Just like coaxing a plant to thrive; start sowing the seeds of interest early, tread gently and read the signs that you are over-doing it! Soon you may have the benefit of a small troop of weeders or waterers following you around the garden, sometimes quite willingly!

Encouragement is key to developing green fingers. Certainly, it can be difficult to motivate children to get outdoors into the fresh air or stop playing on their Wii. Much depends on the child’s age: a toddler will quite happily follow mummy or grandpa out into the garden and enjoy messing about in the dirt, or helping to plant, but older children usually need a bit more encouragement or persuasion. It's important not to insist on perfection or undying enthusiasm; just getting them out of the back door and keeping them outdoors is an achievement!

Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth
It is a good idea to start with simple projects such as the old favourite of growing cress in eggshells on a window-sill, as this has a high success-rate and a speedy result. Or your child can adopt a houseplant, learning how to tell when it needs watering by feeling the compost, deadheading to keep it looking tidy, being encouraged to look out for insects and disease invaders (a magnifying glass, plus a book with some gory pictures of diseases and pests makes this much more interesting), and learning about the conditions preferred by most houseplants in terms of sunlight and temperature. 

Familiarity with an indoor plant may encourage an interest in what’s growing outside. A hyacinth, crocus or miniature daffodils would be ideal, as these can be planted outside later. Several suppliers have seed ranges aimed at children, but the real inspiration will come from you, the gardener.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Talk to the hand

We've all caught ourselves sounding just like our mothers, haven't we? ("I'm going to count to three: one, two, TWO-AND-A-HALF..." "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all..." ..."because that's how it IS" etc etc). And perhaps quite a few of us have caught a glimpse of our reflection in a shop window, pushing a buggy laden with shopping bags and a clanking potty and suddenly recognised that patient look, that frown, that posture; the sheer motherhood of it all passed from generation to generation. But have you noticed that apart from sharing your mother's repertoire of nursery rhymes, her disdain for Scooby Doo and her enthusiasm for Nice Fresh Air, you now also have her hands?

Monday, 15 March 2010

The perils of imagination

Do you remember singing a song in school assembly which went:
Think of a world without any flowers,think of a wood without any trees,
think of a sky without any sunshine,
think of the air without any breeze:...?

Bleak. It got worse; it went on to there being no people or houses; "no-one to love and nobody to care". As an over-imaginative child of five, this hymn was guaranteed to fill my head with worries which loomed particularly large once my bedtime story was over and my quasi-bunnikins lamp was switched off.

A vivid imagination is seen by many parents as a wonderful thing - such great ideas for stories and games, so expressive, so much to say - but to the child it can be a burden. Imagination is not switched off when Music And Movement ends or the last line of the poem is finished. Imagination takes the child wherever it wants: anything is possible. (Imagine if you got kidnapped. Could you breathe with a gag on? Hold your breath and make sure...What if there's somebody under the bed? What if they grabbed your feet? etc etc)

If your child's imagination is working over time, you will find things become very real to her. "It's only a story!" just does not work. Children with this level of sensitivity can empathise very strongly with characters in books, for example, and feel like they are going through the plot of the book themselves.

Watching a Disney film and getting frightened by the baddies; over-imaginative children know rationally that it isn't actually real, but it feels real. So a brush-off comment such as: "Don't be silly, no witches are going to come and get you!" rejects the over-imaginative child's strong feelings of fear. Instead the child will now feel misunderstood, belittled and still afraid of the witches.

If an over-imaginative child cannot trust her carers to take her worries seriously (and you will need to work out whether she is stalling for time or is really bothered about something), then she will have to face her fears on her own. This can result in high levels of anxiety.

One way of approaching a punishingly overactive imagination is to take steps to train it. Take the imagination in another direction instead of one which keeps your child awake and worrying. The technique of creative visualisation can help here, but you really do need to go into detail, guiding your child to imagine things which will comfort and relax her. It is not enough to say "Don't worry; think of something nice instead, like Christmas".

To meditatively guide your child's imagination, enabling her to visualise a sanctuary, a safe place, a magic pool etc., may not be something that will come easily to you, so I recommend you look into one of the many guided meditation CDs which are available. Your library should be able to find you some which are suitable for youngsters to listen to (some may be too complex or demanding).

A CD which I have just tried with my daughter is called "The Seashore", by Rachel and Charles Vald, and I highly recommend it. "The Seashore" can be thought of as very gentle guided meditation aiding a better night's sleep. Prima and I listened to it together whilst lying next to each other on her bed, after bath-time. 

The CD, which is available from Hypnosis Healthcare LLP begins with simple relaxation exercises, then - the best bit - the guided story begins; building sand castles, riding on a boat, playing with dolphins and much more. It is recommended for children aged 4-11, but I think it would be a good idea to listen together with your child if she is fairly young. I had to explain what "life jackets" are used for, for example, and I think my being there helped to ensure that my daughter carried on listening.

"This is really helping," Prima whispered part-way through. "I can really imagine it. Tell the man I like the story," she added, drowsily. To stop the child waking up at the end of the CD they are told to use their imagination to create their own adventures with the characters they have met in the story, which allows them to drift off into a lovely dream and a better night's sleep with the gentle sound of ocean waves. Prima was still awake at the end of the guided imagery but wanted to "keep the waves on", and seemed very relaxed and happy.

We can't stop our children from being imaginative and sensitive, but there are drawbacks to these gifts which we need to acknowledge and attend to. It is up to us to help children with active imaginations to harness, benefit from, and enjoy their special talent.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Time to Get the Rest you Deserve

"A good night's WHAT? SLEEP? What's THAT?" I hear mums up and down the country shouting.

There is nothing like sleep deprivation to make you feel utterly hellish. Even just one rotten night can make you feel disoriented and snappy, and we all know what it's like after weeks or months of getting up in the night.

This post isn't actually about controlled crying, lullabies, bedtime routines or fairy tales; this is about you. Lying awake in bed, looking at the clock and panicking that you can't drop off to sleep. Knowing that you're tired, knowing you've got to be up in five hours, knowing you desperately need to rest.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

How to be a lifeline

In the UK, one in four women is suffering in an abusive relationship. Domestic abuse can be violent or psychological, and anyone, in any type of relationship may become a victim.
There is no obvious way to spot whether someone is experiencing domestic violence, but a pattern of abuse could include:
  • Changes in personality (e.g. an outgoing woman becomes withdrawn)
  • Absence from work, othr commitments or social occasions
  • References to their partner's temper or anger
  • Repeated unexplained (or unconvincingly explained) injuries
Sometimes we feel awkward about taking sides, or we feel we should we stay neutral. Maybe we think we don't know the whole picture or try to stay out of it, saying "it's not really any of my business". We might want to help but not really know what to do. But ignoring it is no help at all.

Being a lifeline for a friend experiecing domestic violence may be one of the most important things you'll ever do. You could literally be saving her life, and that of her children. So what can we do to support ourselves and other women?
  • Stay in contact with friends and family, and talk about your relationships. Discussion and feedback from others can help you get perspective on what is happening, and feel clearer that it's not "all in your head".
  • Talk to children and young people about negative attitudes to women and girls, and help them to identify positive images and role models. See Object for inspiration.
  • Keep yourself and other women informed about support groups and agencies that can help. Things like International Women's Day or Women's World Day of Prayer can be good starting points.
  • It is important to maintain and develop your confidence and self-esteem in ways that don't rely on your relationship. Try to make time for your own development, e.g. courses, hobbies, reading, activities, exercise.
  • If you think a friend or loved on is being abused, try telling her that your concerned. Say what's worrying you and ask if she wants to talk to you about it. Let her know you want to help. You don't have to have all the answers. Breaking the isolation is the important thing.
  • Find out information about her rights and the services available, such as Refuge and Women's Aid, who can provide practical and emotional support.
  • For more information, try Citizens' Advice or The Home Office

Saturday, 6 March 2010

You got a friend in me.

Before I had my two children, I didn't really like women.

No, I haven't gone through some sudden bisexual transformation (although I do believe that everyone is bisexual to some extent). What I mean is that I shunned girls' nights out. And girls' nights in. At university, I hung around with men, mainly Labour supporters. Earnest, clever types who treated me as an equal. I was keen to get on in a man's world, and to do that, it seemed, I would have to abandon my girlishness. Edgy and angry, I kept my hair short and strived for a boyish look that said "don't mess with me."

So it was obvious I wouldn't have a hen night. I've only been on one hen night, and it was dire; at the time it all felt so silly and giggly, when I wanted more than pediures and pink champagne.

Nearly a decade down the line and I've grown up. Finally, I've learned not to put all my eggs in one basket my mum's wise words) and expect everything I need in life from one person, namely my husband. Having read Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus: How to Get What You Want in Your Relationships and agreed with a great deal of it, I am starting to accept I'll never be fully understood by one individual.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

It's in here somewhere...

Remember clubbing? When you would manage a whole night out for about £10, kept in a teenytiny purse along with a lipstick (Black Cherry by Rimmel, if I recall), and a housekey.

As the years have gone by and children have appeared, my trusty denim platforms have been consigned to the back of the wardrobe, and, along with my dress size, my handbags have changed somewhat.

No longer do I carry round a cute heart-shaped satin coin purse, or a heavily customised mini rucksack. For where would I store a pack of drying-out wipes, various broken wax crayons, and my son's second favourite dinosaur? 

My current handbag is beige cordruoy with a ditzy floral lining. It has to be hardwearing and messenger bag-style - I rarely have enough hands as it is without having to carry a tote. Fairly secure, a little bit cool, especially since my friend customised it with one of her famous and fabulous brooches, but not The Perfect Bag. I fear I will never find said bag, not when it has to accomodate:
Image - Accessorize
  • enough keys for a gaoler
  • a squashed pack of blackcurrant and glycerine pastilles.
  • three biros
  • tube of handcream
  • sequinned bag of "women's things"
  • diary
  • plastic pocket full of money-off coupons 
  • my free business cards from Moo
  • supermarket receipts
  • a penknife for cutting up fruit in an emergency
  • three lipsticks
  • three lipbalms
  • two lipglosses
  • two packets of The Snowman paper hankies
  • a mobile phone
  • a wallet
 Yes, I had a clear-out before writing the above list. No wonder I can never find anything.

Bing! The answer is...the Fizpouch Handbag Organiser! Mine arrived this morning and I think it's going to be a winner. Fitting neatly inside your handbag, with pockets for make-up, purse, mobile, coins etc., the Fizpouch enables you to move the contents of your handbag easily from bag to bag, without losing or forgetting anything in between. So you can move from Glum Mum to Glam Mum of an evening, without leaving your mobile or purse in your day bag by mistake.

Echoing this season's trend for all things safari, it comes in a zebra print, or you can choose from fuschia or turquoise faux snakeskin (probably didn't need the faux there) or a polkadot print. It's 22 x 14cm, so fits neatly inside a typical handbag, and has a magnetic fastener to keep everything secure. The dimensions of the Fizpouch have been carefully calculated to maximise capacity whilst being compact and practical, and the lining of my zebra version (the Lulu) is bright pink which makes it easier to see its contents.

Tipping my handbag upside down on the car bonnet to find my keys? Not anymore. It's £17.95. Maybe drop hints for Mother's Day?
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