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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