Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas table place names

The arguments about who would sit next to who at Christmas dinner began on the 23rd.

Always keen to turn an argument into an opportunity, I set the children to work creating place names for the Christmas dinner table.

I cut out 8 small folded pieces of green card and wrote out every bodies' names for the 6 year old to copy. I then laid out a range of foam stickers, colouring pens and pencils, a page from a Christmas catalogue, some scissors, glue and glitter and left the three children (6, 3 and 17 months) to get creative.

Here are the results:

Now to resolve the issue of who is sitting where!

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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Dried orange Christmas garland

I'm not blessed with a talent for craft.

In fact, I'm often tempted to pass my attempts at creativity off as something the children made.

But when I saw how easy these dried orange Christmas garlands are to make, I thought I'd give them a try.

You need:
3 oranges
Dried cinnamon (optional)
Needle and thread (I used embroidery thread)

I started off by slicing three oranges crossways into slim slices. I them arranged them onto a wire rack, sprinkled on some dry cinnamon and popped them in the oven at a low heat.

Around 4 hours later, they were finally dry.

I then threaded a big sewing needle with embroidery thread and attached the slices, stitching round each slice to secure the slices in place. I also made a loop at the end of the skein for ease of hanging.

I had a couple of slices left over, which I made into a tree decoration, using a thinner cotton thread.

In future, I would probably try and space the slices a little more evenly. And I'd probably opt for a more festive red or green thread, rather than pink! But I'm pretty impressed with my efforts.

Have you made a similar creation? I'd love to hear about your efforts.
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Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Guide to childbirth - an open letter to my dearest friends

A couple of my dearest friends are due to give birth in the next few weeks.

A while ago, I wrote this letter to another of my best friends. Maybe you will find it helpful too.

I'm so excited for you. You're about to embark on the most amazing journey. One that will change your life, but will also enhance and enrich it so much.

All this is taken from personal experience and so, because it's personal experience, lots of it might not be relevant to you. But I want to share it with you anyway, because you're about to do the most incredible thing in your life.

If this sounds preachy in any way - it's not intended to be. I just wanted to share what has happened to me because maybe just one or two bits might be helpful to you. Feel free to take from it what you will and I won't be offended if you choose to ignore it all. Every woman is different, every pregnancy is different and certainly, every labour and childbirth is completely different.

So - now that the caveats are out of the way - here is my guide to childbirth - I hope at least some of it is useful or it might help in just preparing you with a positive mindset for the birth of your first child.

1) Relax and be open-minded about all the options. You have no idea how you'll cope and what labour will throw at you. So prepare for all eventualities and be open minded about all the outcomes. My first birthplan said: 'If I ask for pain relief, give me all the drugs you've got.'

2) Believe in your body. Women are built for childbearing. Listen to what your body says and go with the flow. Don't fight it. You may end up making noises you never even knew you could make - but if that's what helps deal with the pain, then do it.

3) When it comes to pushing - it really does feel like you need a poo. With my first, I was so frightened of pooing on the bed that I kept clenching up. It took 20 minutes and midwives questioning why I wasn't pushing before they stated the obvious - 'it's supposed to feel like that'. After that, I relaxed and then he was born. I've read lots of birth stories and watched lots of births on TV (I'm a bit obsessed) and it's the ones where women have fought against what their bodies are trying to do and that's when lots of the problems start.

4) You don't have to give birth lying on your back. Again, listen to your body. I instinctively go on all fours when I give birth. I'm not even sure I could give birth on my back. Having read a bit about giving birth - all fours is actually a very natural position to be in. It's just not that favourable for the medical people to monitor the baby (they can still do it, just not as easily), so that's why they're often not so keen.

5) In early labour - be as active and upright as you can. That way, gravity does most of the legwork and your body doesn't have to work so hard for baby's head to sink down into the birth canal. Sometimes, it can also make things go a bit quicker. It is also helpful if you go overdue. When I have been overdue, I have spent the day on a birth ball (well, an exercise ball) just bouncing up and down or gone for a log walk. I'm sure that these things helped me go into labour because I was probably pushing baby down onto my cervix. Also - before birth, if you are upright or doing stuff on your hands and knees, it helps get baby in the optimum position for giving birth. Lots of long hard labours are because baby is back to back - being on your hands and knees reduces the chance that baby will be back to back because gravity will pull its spine forwards.

6) Have a bath. When you're getting quite a few twinges. Jump in the bath. It will make you do one of two things. You'll either slow up (in which case, the pains will go and your body will wait until it's really, truly ready to go) or you'll go into full blown labour and it will speed things up. Whichever way, it relaxes you and helps you concentrate on your body and taking control of what it's about to do. Water is also a great pain reliever.

7) Dealing with the contractions - can be fairly easy if you get in the right zone. If you get a chance to listen to a hypnobirthing CD or read a hypnobirthing book (or even go on a hypnobirthing course), do it! There is somewhere in your mind, a place you can go to where you can minimise and deal with the pains. Above all - and this is what gets me through - remember that the pain will be over in a maximum of 90 seconds (that's how long the contractions are in full blown labour). Every contraction I get I just think to myself, it'll be over in a minute and I'll get a rest and then that's one less contraction until the baby is out. If the pain does start getting too much and you feel yourself not being able to cope or you start to panic - then get the epidural in straight away. You'll need to ask as soon as you think you'll need it because it can take time to administer - but if your labouring for a long time then it is an absolute godsend. The epidural will give you a chance to rest and the energy to push baby out. Sometimes, that rest will stop you being too knackered to push - which might end up in more intervention like forceps, ventouse or even a c-section. But remember it is possible to do it on your own if you are able to find the right mindset (and are lucky enough to have a quick labour). If my labours had been much longer I would definitely have taken all the drugs I could get.

8) Try to avoid too much early intervention. Because there is something called 'intervention cascade' which means that if you have one 'intervention' you are far more likely to have another. The example being that if they decide to break your waters manually instead of waiting for them to go naturally, you are more likely to require pain relief (because the contractions are more intense) and are then more likely to need help with delivery. The reason they'll give to break your waters is to speed things up - which is fine. As long as you weigh up whether you'd prefer intense pain but a quicker labour or you'd prefer to leave things to go naturally and potentially have a slower build up and longer labour. It's totally up to you. I just get concerned when I watch all those programmes (especially the American ones) that some women don't realise the implications that some of the interventions (which are in my opinion unnecessary) will have on their labours.

9) Cutting the cord and a natural third stage - umm, lots of debate on this. I always ask that the cord is not cut until it stops pulsating as I have read that this ensures all the nutrients from the placenta are passed to the baby. However, there are times, if perhaps baby is in distress, when the cord needs to be cut straight away. Just something to think about maybe? Also - I ask for a natural third stage - why have an injection to speed up delivery of the placenta when it can sometimes be delivered within ten minutes anyway? The reason given for the injection is that it can prevent the placenta being retained and helps ensure the whole placenta comes away in tact - again - lots of pros and cons - you decide.

10) Breastfeeding - is not always as easy as it looks but is so worth it. Not just for the health benefits for you and baby but also for the special bond it gives and it also means you don't have to faff with sterilisers etc. Again - every experience is different and it's not for some - but I would definitely recommend it. And if it’s not quite right, be vociferous in getting someone to help. Ask for someone to check your latch and positioning. And be patient. Learning to breastfeed is like learning to dance with a partner, it takes time to learn how you both work together.
11) When baby is born, get as much skin to skin as you can. It regulates baby’s breathing and temperature and it encourages bonding (and milk production). Babies have an instinct to crawl up mum to find the breast (although if you’ve had pain relief baby might be a bit slower). It’s called biological nurturing and it is truly amazing. This video shows it in action: 

12) Lastly - whatever happens. Don’t feel guilty if it wasn’t how you imagined. Life always throws surprises at you - don’t wish it was another way - embrace the challenge!

OK - I'll stop now. I've been on my soap box quite a lot. I'm quite passionate about this. I think, if I wasn’t so squeamish, I might have trained as a midwife. Anyway - take the bits that are useful and ignore the rest.
Good luck with it all - I'm so excited that you're going to have this experience. The first birth is such a special time. Although the second and third are also pretty good too!

What advice about childbirth would you give your close friends?

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Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Stocking fillers for kids - 25 practical ideas

My children do very well out of Christmas and get plenty of toys, not just from Santa, but from friends and family as well.

So, I try and steer clear of buying too many toys for their stockings as well. Partly, because it can get expensive. I laugh in the face of adverts for stocking filler toys that cost £15 or less - I aim to spend £15 on the entire contents of the stocking, not just one measly toy! And partly because they get enough small trinkets in the party bags they bring back from all their friends' birthdays.

Instead, I like to think of Christmas stockings as the perfect way of 'stocking' up on essentials as well as showing that the big man in red has a sense of humour.

So, here are my top 25 ideas for kids' stockings - some that might actually be useful and some that are traditional or just for fun.

1. Satsuma / tangerine / clementine - after all, it's just not Christmas without one in the toe of the stocking and at least you might get some vitamin c in them after all the junk they get too.
2. Chocolate coins (see above re junk)
3. Bubble bath
4. Soap
5. Shampoo
6. Toothbrush
7. Toothpaste
8. Sponge or flannel
9. Crayons
10. Notepad
11. Colouring book
12. Craft card / paper
13. Glue (for crafting, not sniffing)
14. Book - bought from the local charity shop. I picked up three books for just £2.40.
15. CD or DVD - also bought from local charity shop.
16. Pants
17. Socks
18. Vests
19. Packet of seeds (such as cress or basil etc)
20. Small box of raisins
21. Bouncy ball
22. Lip balm (yes, even boys get chapped lips)
23. Bubbles
24. Balloons
25. Magazine 

What do you put in your children's Christmas stockings? 

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Monday, 9 December 2013

Gingerbread biscuits

Last week, at the supermarket, my 3 year old daughter picked up a ready mix bag of bake your own cookies.

Of course, as a mother striving for perfection, I said no. Personally, I don't see the point of buying a ready mix bag of cookie mixture when we have the ingredients to make them from scratch at home. So instead, following the meltdown because I dared to say no in a supermarket, I promised that we would make our own at home and we picked up some chocolate beans for decorating the biscuits we would make.

Yesterday, we got busy in the kitchen.

As it's nearly Christmas, I decided to make gingerbread. Partly because if the cookery session was a success, we can make more next weekend and use them as gifts for their teachers and childminders, and also as tree decorations.

I started by preparing all the ingredients we would need:
- 350g / 12oz plain flour (plus extra for rolling out)
- 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2tsp ground ginger
- 1tsp ground cinnamon. 
- 125g / 4 1/2oz butter
- 175g / 6oz light brown sugar
- 1 free range egg
- 4tbsp golden syrup

All the children wanted to get involved so I tried to adapt different tasks to their skill level. I asked the 6 year old to help me measure out the ingredients, using his number skills to let me know how much we would need by using the scales.

We started by sifting together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon into a big mixing bowl. The 3 year old used her spoon to vigorously push the ingredients through the sieve into the bowl and also onto the table and floor.  I then added the softened butter and all three children enjoyed rubbing the ingredients through their fingers to make the mixture into a breadcrumb consistency.

Meanwhile I beat the egg and golden syrup in a separate bowl before adding it to the mixture and stirring it into a dough. We wrapped the dough in cling film and popped it in the fridge for 15 minutes.

While the dough was firming up, we lined three baking trays with grease proof paper and washed up the bowl and spoons.

I then set the 3 year old the task of sprinkling a generous amount of flour onto a big wooden board so we could roll the dough out. We then took turns to cut shapes out of the dough and pop them on the baking trays. Even the 17 month old enjoyed making the shapes after watching his big brother and sister show him how to do it.

The trays were placed in the oven for 15 minutes and then the biscuits were cooled on a wire rack.

Now for the fun bit. Decorating the biscuits. I melted some cooking chocolate and then let each of the children spoon and spread some on their biscuits. We then added chocolate beans (not the type that rhyme with parties due to my ongoing boycott of their manufacturer - more to come on that in a post later this week).

Once the chocolate had cooled, I armed the older two with some small writing icing pens and set them loose to decorate however they liked.

I don't normally make a habit of cooking with the children. It's on the list of things I would like to do more often, but that I don't generally have the patience for.  At the end of a busy day, the kitchen is often my sanctuary where I can focus on the task at hand. But after making the biscuits, I think I'll try and involve them more often. It's rare to find an activity that all three (aged 6, 3 and 17 months) can enjoy at the same time. It certainly helped to give them individual responsibilities - and their own trays. 

But, yes, we'll be making more next weekend and I suspect some will be made as gifts. Because, thankfully, they definitely passed the taste test.

And if you do receive one - I'll make sure I remember to get them to wash their hands first - next time.

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Monday, 2 December 2013

Lessons from a six year old - what to say when someone dies

When someone dies, it can be hard to know what to say to the grief-stricken friends and relatives.

Last week, the father of a family friend died. Although he was elderly, his death was sudden and came as something of a shock.

I had only met the father a couple of times, but the family friend is well-known in the local community.

I bought a sympathy card and while I was mulling over what I should write - the common complaint that "I just didn't know what to say"at the forefront of my mind - my six year old son wandered over and asked what I was doing.

I explained that our friend's father had died and that I was writing a card to let him know that we were thinking of him.

My son then asked if he could also write a note. So, after painstakingly writing something myself. A message composed after nearly an hour's thought. Something I hoped would provide comfort. I passed my son the pen.

Without hesitating to think about what he would write, my son wrote two sentences that summed up exactly what a condolence message should be. He wrote:

"It is sad that yore (sic) dad's died. I hope he will have a nice time in heaven."

It struck me, as I read his message, that sometimes we agonise too much about what to say and what not to say when tragedy hits. And often our agonising turns into paralysis. And we end up alienating our friends through fear of saying the wrong thing when they need our support the most.

In my son's short note he acknowledged the grief our friend feels and offered a glimmer of hope. Our friend is a very spiritual man and the message about heaven will offer him comfort and positivity.

After reading my son's message, I felt humbled. Here is a six year old, whose simplistic and honest view of life and death put the clumsy words I had spent ages constructing into sharp contrast. In his two sentences he had very easily expressed everything I had tried to say in my very rambling paragraph.

So why is it, that sometimes, in difficult situations, children find the right words when grown ups struggle to convey what they mean.

Perhaps we should all stop struggling about what to say and worrying about ambiguity. We should revisit the innocence of children and state the truth. At least that way we'll be there for our friends no matter how difficult the circumstances.

Above all, instead of agonising over what we should say, we should take the time just to listen to those who need us.

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Friday, 29 November 2013

Forget Black Friday, let's support Small Business Saturday

Today is Black Friday.

No, I had no idea what that meant either. Other than that a lot of big stores are holding one-day sales to encourage consumers to get started on their Christmas shopping. As with many fads being adopted here in the UK, such as Hallowe'en, Black Friday originates from America. Some believe it was the day when shops finally made it into the black. But it's a big day in the US as retailers lure in shoppers after the Thanksgiving celebrations.

The UK is now getting in on the act with many stores offering huge discounts to kick start the pre-Christmas spending spree.

But I'm trying to hold on to my principles and instead of being tempted by the huge offers around today, I'm keeping my purse closed tight, until tomorrow when I'll be embracing the UK's first Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday, held on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, aims to encourage people to support local, independent, small businesses across the UK and celebrate the contribution they make to our economy and local communities.

I'm really trying to shop as locally as possible this Christmas. Not always an easy task when the 6 year old and 3 year old are so attached to the Argos catalogue. But at least I know that most of the toys they have their eye on are also stocked in a local, independent toy shop.

I have started well and managed to score a couple of gifts at a local craft fair last Saturday. I am lucky to live in a town where we have a fairly wide range of independent traders, although Costa has recently, and slightly controversially, set up shop.

So tomorrow, I will start the day with a shopping date with my mum at Exeter's Westpoint Arena for the Exeter Christmas Shopping Fayre.

I then plan to head back into Teignmouth to visit some of the town's lovely gift shops, such as Turn of the Tide, Gallery 8, Poppadums Healthfoods, Shabby Chic Lane, and     The Fountain For Health. There is also a wide range of charity shops where I love to buy stocking filler books and toys for the children.

Of course, one of the biggest issues about Christmas shopping when you have small people in tow, is that it can be very difficult to buy what you see when they are with you. So I have no doubt I will resort to some online forays with the more established retailers at some point. After all, some offers are just to juicy for my thrifty self to resist.

But, oh, I will so try to be good this year and buy as locally as I can.

How will you support Small Business Saturday?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

What's your Christmas Tree Theme?

Decorating the Christmas Tree is one of the first traditions of the festive season as we prepare for the big day.

Recently, I discovered that instead of the chuck the decorations on and hope it balances out approach our family tends to take, many choose a theme or colour scheme. 

Well, that's if you believe the articles in home magazines where apparently your tree should match your decor.

I'd been quite cynical about this approach until I visited Roman Walk in Exeter's Princesshay. This year, Exeter has launched its first Christmas Tree Festival, which aims to raise awareness and funds for local charities. 

Each tree has a different look to represent the charity that has decorated it. Participating charities include the WESC Foundation, St Loye's Foundation, Dream-A-Way, Hospiscare, Force, Mind, British Heart Foundation, Action For Children, Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education and Devon Air Ambulance.

The trees are amazing with individual interpretations of each charity's work. Many use the colours of the decorations to reflect their organisation's branding. 

Which got me thinking: should I rethink my family's slapdash approach to tree decorating and do something that makes a statement about who we are?

And then I realised: our tree is who we are. The bottom heavy adornments reflect the height of the children. The decorations we use are not colour themed and bought specifically for this year, but are dragged down from the attic, bringing memories of past Christmases. The home-made decorations are a true representation of what each member of the family contributes to our life and remind us of the valuable part they play in our lives.

So, while a stage-managed Christmas Tree might look good on the pages of a magazine, my own, messy, thrown together, slightly shabby theme is one that shows a loving, devoted family that muddles through life together.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Autumn leaf art

One of the best things about autumn is the beautiful colours as the trees prepare to shed their foliage for a winter of hibernation.

I really wanted to share the joy of nature's very own firework display with my two youngest. 

So we set off to collect some of our favourite coloured leaves on a walk.

When we got home, we had a simple sticking session, using glue sticks and some black card, to make our striking autumn leaf pictures.

What do you think? What autumn crafts do you do with your pre-schoolers?

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Breastfeeding vouchers - an unlikely ceasefire in the breastfeeding battle.

Finally, breastfeeding and formula-feeding mothers appear to be united in their opinion of today's news about a scheme to offer financial rewards for breastfeeding for six months.

The NPRI-funded Nourishing Start for Health (NOSH) scheme is being piloted in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire in an attempt to increase the number of mothers breastfeeding and to lengthen the time they breastfeed for towards the World Health Organisation's (WHO) recommended six months of exclusive breastfeeding.

Usually, news and diktats about breastfeeding spark a hostile debate between the breastfeeding and formula camps, with those who mix feed increasingly confused as they play piggy in the middle. But this time, it's different.

Formula feeding mothers feel that this is yet another unfair penalty against them. While breastfeeding mothers feel aggrieved and patronised that they will receive money that might be better spent elsewhere, just for doing something they were doing anyway.

There are a myriad of reasons, including the financial incentive that breastfeeding is free and formula costs money, that impact on they way women feed their babies. It seems that this scheme will further  add to the guilt and distress already felt by many formula feeding mothers by addressing a symptom rather than a cause for low breastfeeding rates.

And how will the scheme's organisers check whether a mother really is still breastfeeding at 6-8 weeks and 6 months? Midwives and healthcare practitioners are already overstretched without physically checking that babies are still (exclusively?) breastfeeding. Would guilty mothers lie to get the money and skew the data?

So, women are finally united in their contempt for a scheme that bribes women to breastfeed. The money would surely be better spent addressing the numerous reasons why women don't or feel they can't breastfeed.

What about investing in an education campaign among mis-informed health care professionals who often sabotage breastfeeding in the early days by suggesting formula top ups or failing to diagnose tongue tie or thrush or mastitis? What about investing in more training for peer supporters? What about spending money on specialist lactation consultants? What about more breastfeeding-friendly businesses that can help normalise feeding in public? What about bringing UK law in line with the UNICEF/WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and clamping down on the unethical promotional practices of formula manufacturers who undermine women's breastfeeding? What about addressing the fact that formula-feeding permeates our culture, with anything relating to babies symbolised by a bottle? What about breastfeeding-friendly policies that help women breastfeed as they return to work - or even a longer paid maternity break to help women continue to breastfeed?

There are so many ways the UK can start to tackle the causes of low breastfeeding rates without resorting to a financial sticking plaster.

One good thing has come of this scheme - it has finally shown that no matter how women feed their infants, formula or breast, there is common ground in what is often a contentious issue. And the scheme has also done wonders to highlight the UK's poor breastfeeding rates and promote the need for more support to all mothers.

Would it be too much to hope for that this unified response could be harnessed to create a more supportive network of women that help each other and understand the challenges we all face, rather than vilify women who do not or cannot breastfeed?

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

What do you get a 90-year old for her birthday?

On Sunday my husband's grandmother celebrated her 90th birthday.

I was in charge of buying her birthday present.

Now, I find buying gifts for the older generation something of a nightmare. They already have everything they need (and more). In fact, every time we visit, we are laden down with unwanted wares as they try to declutter. It is often more difficult for them to get out and about. Hobbies are pared down due to failing eyesight and difficulty with movement.

Plus, with a big, milestone birthday, you want to get something that's a bit extra special.

My first option was to get a framed print of all the big things that happened in 1923 along with a coin from that year. These are made by a lovely lady in Teignmouth who runs a business called Beadazzled. She has a store on eBay and also sells at local fairs and in a shop in Teignmouth called Gallery 8 (43 Teign Street TQ14 8EA). If you give her enough notice, she can personalise the print with the name of the recipient.

However, I was too late to order it in time. So I had to do a last minute dash to the shops.

Luckily, I work in Exeter, which has an array of amazing shops. I had a limited time in my lunchtime to get the perfect gift. And I struck gold in the first shop: Neal's Yard Remedies.

Now all women, no matter what their age, enjoy a good pampering session. Plus, Neal's Yard products are made with natural products, so are suitable for even quite sensitive, more mature skin. Their Pure Indulgence Organic Spa Collection gift, which costs £37 was perfect.

Nanna no longer takes a bath as, after two replacement hips (on each side), she finds it too difficult to get in and out. But the Aromatic Foaming Bath can also be used as a shower gel. The set also includes the bestselling, radiance boosting organic Wild Rose Beauty Balm, which boosts even the most tired skin. This is complemented by a Rose Body Cream. There is also a muslin cloth and a gorgeous smelling Organic Aromatherapy Candle, to really set the scene for some luxurious relaxation.

For me, the perfect gift is something you'd love to receive yourself. All I can say, is please don't wait for my 90th if you plan to get me the same!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

How to replace the waistband elastic in re-usable nappies

I've been using reusable nappies for nearly six years. Around half my stash was bought pre-loved and they are on their third child now. So, as you can imagine, some of them are beginning to show a little wear and tear now! And one of the biggest issues is that the elastic in the waistbands and legs is no longer, well, particularly elastic.

A big reason for me using reusable nappies, apart from the money-saving aspect, was because I wanted to be kinder to the environment. So, I just can't chuck the old ones away. Instead, I decided to embrace the make-do-and-mend philosophy and have a go at repairing them.

I'm no seamstress, so this was a big challenge. But, I'm pleased to say, it turned out to be a lot easier.

This post describes how I repaired the waist elastic in a pocket nappy (I've done a Green Kids and a Happy Heiny). My next challenge is to have a go at leg elastic, which I'll blog about in the near future.

Resources: needle, thread, 5mm elastic

1. Firstly, turn the nappy inside out so you can easily access the waistband elastic.
2. Unpick the stitching at the end of the waistband so you can get to the elastic. The elastic in both nappies was actually stitched through the end of the waistband, so I just cut the elastic as close to the end as I could and then removed the spent elastic.
3. Measur the fresh elastic along the old elastic and cut it to size.
4. Unpick the stitching along the entire waistband. I tried to insert the fresh elastic through the waistband using a small safety pin, but the safety pin was too big, so the shortcut I had hoped for never materialised.
5. Sew the end of the fresh elastic onto the end of the waistband using a lot of stitches - this needs to hold well!
6. Then stitch the other end of the elastic to the other side of the nappy.
7. Restitch the waistband together again. I used a blanket stitch, but you could probably even use a sewing machine. One of the biggest issues, was trying to ensure the waistband is evenly gathered, otherwise you could end up with some bunching.
8. Turn the nappy back the right way out. And, hey presto - a re-elasticated waist and your re-usable nappies can be re-used again.

Have you repaired any of your real nappies? Any tips and hints? Next job is the important leg elastic, to prevent unwanted spills and stains.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Overcoming nursing aversion

Nursing is all about warmth, contentment, being at one with your child. And if you're into your second year of breastfeeding, you would imagine you would be well past any major problems. So I was shocked and horrified when my previously very easy breastfeeding journey suddenly became irritating and horrid.

Nursing aversion or breastfeeding agitation can range from a general unease or unhappiness about nursing through a skin-crawling feeling to a very extreme, almost overpowering, wish to get the nursling off you. It can strike anyone nursing an older child, and is particularly common if you are breastfeeding and pregnant or tandem feeding.

I was lucky enough to sail through pregnancy with my third with barely any aversion to nursing my second. However, once my youngest was born and my daughter increased her nursing with a vengeance to take advantage of the rich, creamy, new milk, I began to occasionally resent her constant demands - particularly when she was waking in the night more frequently than the new baby. We overcame this particular issue, by night weaning. And it seemed the issue was solved. I began to enjoy nursing her again. Setting a limitation at night had sorted us out in the day. And I was less exhausted.

It was with some surprise that I recently began to experience agitation again! Thankfully, not all the time, but enough to upset me. It can be particularly painful when a three year relationship begins to sour. I have always wanted her to self-wean, so stopping her from nursing at all has never been an option. So I set about figuring out what was triggering this new onset of aversion. And I came up with a couple of flashpoints:

1. Tiredness. I enjoy nursing her when I am not exhausted. Being knackered means the requests for 'mummy's milk' suddenly feel like demands. And the hands down my t-shirt become an invasion.
2. Mood. If my daughter has been testing boundaries with challenging behaviour and tantrums, I can't feed her. Which puts paid to the boast by some that sustained breastfeeding is great for soothing tantrums. Not so in my house where mummy's milk becomes a bargaining tool and a battle for power and control. So, I have now learnt to delay so nursing is not associated with tantrums and so I have the time to take a few deep breaths, calm down, de-stress and relax. Introducing a few boundaries - simple rules about when we can and can't nurse has also helped my daughter because she understands there is consistency in when I say yes and when I say no.
3. Hormones. Much as nursing aversion can strike during pregnancy, probably due to changes in hormones, I suspect my body is gearing up to become fertile again. This means I may be coping with more hormones floating around re-starting my ovaries and waking up my uterus from the breastfeeding induced hibernation it has been enjoying since my youngest was born.

Even though I can't do anything to overcome some of the trigger points, just knowing what they are has helped me overcome the nursing aversion.

One suggestion has been to implement a clear and consistent 'time-table' of when nursing can take place, for example, set times such as after our morning snack, after lunch and before teeth at bedtime. The idea is that through both of us knowing that these are 'nursing times' aversion caused by constant demands will be diminished. However, I have been reluctant to implement such a rigid structure, partly because I want her self-weaning journey to be truly 'self-led' and partly because my own aversion is not bad enough at the moment to warrant such drastic action. Plus, it's helpful to always know that I still have the option of nursing if she hurts herself or needs something more than a quick cuddle.

Today we nursed several times and we both enjoyed it. I'm under no illusions that there won't be times when I don't want her to touch me as she nurses, but I feel better prepared. And I'm happy that I can support her as she continues to nurse - whether that journey lasts only a few more months or a couple of years.

For further information about nursing aversion visit La Leche League: http://www.llli.org/llleaderweb/lv/lvaugsep03p90.html
The book, Adventures in Tandem Nursing by Hillary Flowers is also an amazing resource.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Living Coasts Birthday Party

My son loves going to the zoo.
We have annual membership of Paignton Zoo and Living Coasts (Torquay) and we make it well worth the money by going as often as we can.
So, when we discovered that they offer a party package, he decided that this was a perfect way to celebrate his sixth birthday.
We opted for Living Coasts because it is smaller, so I thought there was less chance of me losing a child. Plus, it is slightly cheaper, and it is closer to where we live.

Getting information about the birthday parties was not particularly easy. I was sure I'd once seen a leaflet, but none were on display when we visited either zoo during the summer. However, I did an online search and found the basic details I needed and a booking form.
As time was getting short, I decided to take the booking form in person so I could pick up the invitations included in the party package rather than wait for them to be sent. Unfortunately, the staff at the gate were unable to help and I ended up having to ring up and book by phone. Nevertheless, the invitations arrived in the post two days later and I had already texted most of the parents to alert them that an invite would be imminent.
We decided that around 8-10 children would be enough to make a decent celebration without it getting too expensive. I would have preferred 8 but if you had 10 children, you got 2 free adult entries. However, I allowed Elliot to invite 10 children (bearing in mind I also had my son and daughter to pay for), in the expectation that a few children might not be able to make it. And so, with only one decline, we ended up with 11.
Luckily, a few parents decided to join us on the day, so I wasn't overwhelmed by too many children. However, they had to pay for themselves, which can be a bit awkward when you invite their child to a party but they have to pay extra to come too.
The Living Coasts party allows you to spend as much time as you like at the zoo with a party buffet served at 12.30. So you could either start early and finish up with the party food. Or you could come later and start with the buffet and spend the afternoon looking at the animals. We opted for an early start. Now, normally when we visit Living Coasts it takes us a good 2 hours to get round, which is what Living Coasts suggest is the time it takes to look at everything. So, we all met at 10.15, with a view to starting the party at 10.30. What I hadn't considered was that not all children have the same attention spans. We seemed to race through all the exhibits, despite being in time for the penguin feeding, and after an hour we were through, with still another 60 minutes until we were due to be served our party food. Someone suggested we just go up to the cafe and wait. But I decided to make them all go round again. And, after our second tour, we were bang on 12.30 and in time for our food.
The buffet was very good and included generous servings: jugs of squash, cheese or ham sandwiches, pizza, cheese and pineapple, sausages, carrots and dip, potato wedges and crisps. The service was brilliant too. And, while the children may not have appreciated the amazing views, the parents certainly did.
We finished up with party bags, which are provided with the package as an optional extra. I thought they were well worth the money. They contained a couple of toys from the Living Coasts shop and provided each child with a souvenir of the day.
In future, I would limit the numbers to between 6 and 8 children. I think it would be the perfect party for slightly older ones of around 8-10 years as they would appreciate the exhibits a bit more. A couple of my son's friends were more interested in whether there was a play area than looking at the animals.
However, my son had a fantastic time.
Once we were booked, Living Coasts were very helpful. I particularly appreciated the parking permit included in the package for the hosts. But it would have been helpful if more had been available to help parents. Maybe a discount for accompanying parents on their entry fee or a complimentary tea of coffee for the accompanying adults while the children enjoyed their party food.
I have a sneaking suspicion my son may be angling for an upgrade to a Paignton Zoo party next year. Thankfully, he hasn't yet clocked the 'Be A Keeper For A Day' leaflets yet!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Cotswolds with kids

Stow-on-the-Wold is not the first place I would think of when engineering a long weekend away with seven children. It's a place I imagine more for coach trips of pensioners admiring the picture postcard scenery. Perhaps it's something to do with the town being home to the regular Sunday newspapers supplement free catalogue for Scotts of Stow.

So it was with some trepidation that I embarked on our latest weekend away with the four cousins, two aunties and a grandma in tow. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of attractions on offer.

For our annual extended family trip away, we stay in a Youth Hostel in a different part of the country. Stow Youth Hostel is perfectly situated in the middle of the town square. We arrived late on the Friday morning and managed to check in just before it closed at midday.

Once we'd made up our beds and dumped our bags, we enjoyed lunch in the Old Stocks Hotel next door to the hostel. Having sated our appetites we then explored our new surroundings on the Stow-on-the-Wold Town Trail, which cost 50p. While the historical facts were beyond the younger members of our group, they all enjoyed a turn in the town stocks and the older ones enjoyed looking out for the next building on the trail and learning a little bit about Stow's history.

The highlight of our trip was a visit to Countryfile star, Adam Henson's Costwold Farm Park. There is plenty to amuse all ages, the children thoroughly enjoyed feeding the animals, including bottle feeding the young goats and sheep. There were plenty of play areas with an amazing bouncing pillow that even our 1 year old enjoyed, a tractor driving school and ride-on play tractors. Older members of the party also enjoyed an informative tractor safari around the grounds and a milking demonstration.

On our last day, we visited the nearby Bourton-on-the-Water Model Village at the Old New Inn. This one ninth replica of Bourton-on-the-Water fascinated the whole family, although at times it was difficult to keep the toddlers on the path. I was very glad to have put my 1-year old in the sling as the village is definitely not buggy friendly.

While we did see plenty of silver surfers on their coaches, the Cotswolds definitely caters for all generations. If you are planning a family stay-cation, the Cotswolds certainly delivers a wealth of attractions to suit all ages.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Kids Camp

I've wanted to go on a family camping trip for years. Through my pre-children, rose-tinted spectacles, I imagined a wholesome, ging gang goolie, sunshine-filled event, full of laughter and happy memories. And then, after E was born, I imagined bug infested, sodden affairs and decided to wait until the children were a bit older.

However, after W was born last year, and having heard positive stories from friends with small children, I decided it was time to live the dream (the happy version anyway!).

So, I put in my order before my birthday for a big, family-sized tent as our tiny, pre-children, 2-man tent would by no means make for 5 happy campers. We then visited Go Outdoors and came away with an 8-Man Hi Gear Kalihari tent.

As an insurance policy, we decided to do our first camping trip with friends who have already camped with their small children. That way, I knew that if we forgot anything of vital importance, they would probably have remembered it.

We also chose a camp site with plenty of facilities. Stowford Farm Meadows in North Devon fitted the bill perfectly. Plus, it was close enough to home to ensure that if everything went horrifically wrong, we would only have an hour and a half drive to get to the safety of home.

We opted for a long weekend, which sounded great, but in reality meant that I would have to put up the tent on my own before hubby arrived after work. And that I would have to take the tent down on the Monday morning because hubby planned to head home on the Sunday night so he would be fresh for work on the Monday. A disaster in the making? It should have been, but it wasn't.

Bearing in mind I'd not even done a practice run with the tent, it was actually really easy to put up and I managed it without swearing (at all!).

Best of all, I managed to get the tent back down and in its bag without even breaking into a sweat. And it went in the bag first time. The key to my success? Probably that I took it nice and slowly. The good weather probably helped too.

Stowford Farm Meadows was an excellent choice for a campsite. It was clean, there was plenty of room between pitches and there was plenty to suit everyone including an indoor swimming pool, soft play in the bar, a restaurant and a fish and chip shop. In fact, it was the fish and chip shop that saved my bacon on the first night. In my packing wisdom, I'd put the camping stove in my husband's car, which meant I couldn't fix up the dinner until he arrived from work, which was very late. So we opted for a takeaway on the first night, which probably eased any potential frayed tempers given that it was well past the children's bedtime.

As well as the on-site activities, including a reptile show on the Saturday morning, there is plenty to see and do in nearby Combe Martin. We visited the Dinosaur and Wildlife Park and spent all day admiring the lions, seals, otters, alpacas, penguins and other livestock as well as pretending to be frightened by the model dinosaurs. Perhaps the best part of the park is the little train, which takes you to a mining village 100 years ago to relive a very wet earthquake.

My top tips for a camping trip with children:
1. Chill out and relax. I switched off my phone and didn't look at a watch or a clock for three days and I  felt completely liberated. The children went to bed when they were tired, not because it was 'bedtime'.
2. Take a dustpan and brush - it was the one thing we remembered that our friends forgot and because it was so dry when we put the tent down, it means we didn't have to air it and shake it out when we got home.
3. Invest in an electricity power point cable. The type that connects up to the mains points on each pitch. We didn't buy one on this trip, but it's the next thing we're going to buy. It means we will be able take a little fridge with us to keep the milk and cheese cold.

I can definitely say our first 'family' camping trip was a complete success. My oldest son said he wished we could live on a campsite and my daughter said she wanted to go camping again tomorrow.

Our next trip is to a Youth Hostel in the Cotswolds. I'll update you on that next week. After that, we're off on another camping trip to France. But this time, the tent will already be up for us and it will have all the mod cons.