Poppy at 18 months

P1040811Poppy is 18 months old tomorrow and it has been a while since my last Poppy update! Plus it gives me the opportunity to share some recent photo’s that the family might not have seen already.

Personal, Social and Emotional
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This is such a lovely age as their little personalities really start to show and Poppy is becoming a very sociable little girl. Everywhere we go she waves at people and announces that she is leaving with a big “Bye bye!” to anyone who is listening. When we see friends she loves holding their hands and giving big cuddles, although often she takes them by surprise and knocks them over. We are learning boundaries slowly when it comes to emotions and the dog in particular is not enjoying this lesson. She is figuring out what to do with those big emotions, whether it is anger, excitement or just exhaustion, and it usually involves grabbing Oscar or hitting Mummy and Daddy in the face. I lose track of the amount of times I play name the feeling during one day…”I see you are sad” or “I hear you are feeling angry”. But it is quite sweet that the only one she can actually say herself is “Happy” and she repeats it over and over again in a chirpy voice (might have something to do with family sing along’s to Pharell Williams).
IMG_0906Poppy loves caring for her teddies and dolly; getting them dressed, holding their hands and asking them “Walk?” or “Park?” She especially likes getting them into outdoor clothes (hats, gloves, shoes and wellies of course!) because she just loves being outside so much! It is a little bit heartbreaking when she stands at the door with her teddy all ready to go in the buggy, her own wellies and hat on and I have to tell her we are not going out right now. She doesn’t like that one little bit!

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It is lovely to see her own independence grow as she tries out the role of grown up when playing with her toys. She copies our tone of voice and expression as she ‘reads’ them stories, takes them to the potty and feeds them dinner. And at the same time she is getting to know herself and her capabilities and growing in confidence as she plays at being all grown up. In fact, since she has had her own toy buggy to play with she has actually refused to go in her own buggy at all.

We try to offer her as many opportunities as possible to practise this independence and the way her little face looks when she does something for herself, it is so worth the extra five minutes we have to wait patiently! She tries putting her knickers and trousers on and is slowly getting the hang of it, she blows her nose (not very effectively mind you!), wipes herself after going for a wee (!), she gives Oscar his breakfast and dinner, pours her own drinks, helps me with the washing, carries her little rucksack everywhere she goes and when I am cooking the tea she pushes a chair from the dining room and examines the veggies, naming them and washing them before adding them to the pan and doing lots of mixing. Afterwards she takes a wooden spoon and finds something she can use as a bowl and sits pretending to cook. I could watch her for hours!
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It is also so nice to finally feel that she doesn’t need my constant attention. Suddenly she is playing on her own, even if just for 5 minutes, it gives me a welcome break. The other day I told her I was tired and reading my book, and she happily stopped shouting at me and went off on her own for a while until she decided I had rested long enough.

Physical

This girl has no fear when it comes to physical challenges! We have been trying a few new parks out recently and she always heads for the big kids stuff! I always want to let her try but sometimes I have had to say no (I am laid back and child led but I really don’t want any broken bones just yet!) The other day she wanted to go down a pretty big slide but I was on my own and, probably irrationally, worried that if I helped her to the top and didn’t run around to the bottom in time she might just fall over the edge of the slide. So the next day we all went together, with a parent either end! She absolutely loved it and made me realise that she would have been fine in the first place. I took photo’s because I thought she looked so tiny next to that big slide! I can’t wait to take her to a theme park when she gets older! Maybe she will turn out to be a right adrenalin junkie.

I also love seeing how she works things out so quickly, and after a twenty minute trip to the park has found a new way of doing something that she couldn’t do before. In a soft play centre the other day I was helping her up these big inflatable steps that were too far apart for her to reach with her little legs. Then I was busy chatting when she wanted to go up and next thing she had done it without me. She figured out her own unique way of doing it and then perfected it until she was flying up! I just love their patience and determination! We could learn a thing or two from kids, that’s for sure!

Sometimes trusting their physical capabilities and respecting their need for independence leaves you open to criticism, or at least disapproving looks, from people who assume you are just irresponsible. It happens to us all the time at the park, but yesterday it was in Waitrose when Poppy was unstacking and restacking the shelves. At first it was just soup tins, but then she found the glass jam jars and I thought this woman was going to have an actual heart attack there and then. She grimaced as she told Poppy not to drop it and then waited for me to rush in and take it off of her. When I told her it was fine, she carries glass all the time at home, I was met with a very amusing expression. A part of me was worried that Poppy would in fact drop it and prove the lady right, but thankfully she carried it back to where it came from perfectly as if in a trance, before looking up and smiling at the lady who was still grimacing (I think maybe the wind changed).

Language and communication

I wrote down all of the words that Poppy can say clearly and I was surprised that it was almost 70 words! I wish I had recorded them earlier because now her baby book has a section for first words, under which I put ‘Hiya’ and ‘Go’ and then words at 18 months with too many to fit in! I knew she was learning new words quickly but didn’t expect it to be that many. And she is gradually starting to put a couple of words together, like “Bye duckies!” and “Down Oscar!” and “Daddy work”.
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She is also loving her songs at the moment. I started singing Tiny Tim the Turtle and she did all the signs just before I had said the next line, so she knows what comes next. She now does this with a few songs, and says a couple of the simple lines herself, like “Bubble, bubble, bubble, pop!” and “Pull, pull, pull” in wind the bobbin up, and “Hop, hop, hop” in sleeping bunnies and, of course, “Happy, happy, happy, happy” in Pharell’s hit! If I ask her if she wants to sing she thinks, saying “Ummmmm” and then offers her suggestion through actions! Or else I suggest something and she definitively says “No!” and chooses something else. I can’t wait to get her dancing at the festivals this summer!

Sensitive periods

Some other things I have noticed lately have really interested me because they are things I learnt about during my Montessori training. Montessori believed children go through ‘sensitive periods’ where they are particularly focused upon certain areas, and during this time they develop certain skills better than any other time, learning easily and at an intense rate. For example during a child’s sensitive period to movement the child easily learns how to crawl or walk. At Poppy’s age children are going through the sensitive periods to language and movement, which are self-explanatory and obvious to see, but more mysterious are their sensitive periods to order and small things. Poppy has just entered the sensitive period to order and she has completely reaffirmed my faith in Montessori’s work! Before we get out something new Poppy often holds up what she is playing with and says, “Way!” as in, away, and proceeds to go and put it where it came from. The superior sensitivity is seen when we take whatever it is and put it where it doesn’t belong, only for Poppy to protest until it has been put back in the right place! So can children really be naturally inclined to put everything back in the right place, tidy up their toys, not leave your living room in a mess? Surely not! But it is true, children of this age have an urge for everything to put in it’s rightful place, to organise their mind and establish internal order from the external order. It is important to keep their environment tidy to enable them to do this, but we must also consider their routine, consistency and ground rules. The dreaded terrible two’s are often due to some sort of disorder or change in routine.
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The sensitive period to small things is just lovely to see, and I am sure every parent has experienced those baffling moments when their child comes up to them with the teeniest piece of fluff in their hand to give to them, or points something out in a book that you failed to ever notice. Children can become completely fixated on tiny objects as they figure out that all of these little things make up the world, before they can understand the bigger picture. It is like they are deconstructing the information before putting it back together. Of course they are also developing their fine motor skills and hand eye coordination. I often notice it when I put Poppy in her high chair for lunch and instead of eating the big bowl of yumminess in front of her she picks a microscopic crumb that has been left from breakfast and examines it before eating that instead! She also stops regularly on our walks to collect bits of dirt and dust or tiny piece of stone and gravel. It can be frustrating for grown up’s but when we appreciate the development that is taking place it is beautiful to just relax and enjoy the moment.

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We are looking forward to lots more family adventures now that our weekends are more free. This weekend we have seen some of Tim’s family and are seeing my sister, Mum and Nan tomorrow, followed by Mother’s Day lunch with my gorgeous girl and lovely man. Can’t get much better than that! I hope everyone has a lovely Mother’s Day!

Good night from Poppy!
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The Children’s and Teen Health Summit

I am so excited! My friend sent me a link to some free presentations around children and teen health and parenting issues, although many of the topics would be of interest to non-parents too! There are new presentations available every day for a week and we are currently on day 3. Each talk is available to watch for 24 hours but there is also the option to purchase all 30 presentations. I started listening to a couple yesterday and just had to share. I feel that parents can be so easily convinced to do things a certain way to make sure they are seen to be doing a good job and bringing up well-behaved children, or simply because they lack the confidence to follow their own judgement, but really, we need to look deeper within ourselves and question what is really best. We must be responsible for our own lives and health and be aware of the impact our choices have on our precious children which means questioning the brainwashing information that is all around us that we often blindly accept. Many of the talks discuss hot parenting topics such as unconditional love, our expectations of our children, learning and education, relating to our children, attachment, family life, diet, pregnancy and health and well-being. Yesterday I listened to Naomi Aldort, author of “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves” and found very much in line with my existing attitudes. It talks about how to change our behaviour as parents in order to change our children’s behaviour. However, she points out that this is not about manipulation but about allowing the child’s natural unfolding of the mind through nurturing, which results in natural co-operation without the need to control. Parents who say their children are behaving “badly” are more likely to behaving in a way that is provoking this “bad” behaviour due to their own experiences as a child or their idea of what it means to be a parent. When we address this our children will show dramatic shifts in behaviour and life is more harmonious all round! She also touched upon the topic of household chores, which I found quite amusing being subject to a rota of chores myself as a child! Could you stop telling your child to do chores completely? This morning I listened to another discussion, “The Fearless Parent” with Louise Kuo Habakus. This particular talk touches on plenty of health issues including illness, homotoxicology and vaccinations, but the theme is that as parents we should be making informed choices and educating ourselves on ours and our children’s health. It is about putting you in the driving seat and making confident choices without fear. One topic which really interested me was wifi. I have known for a while now that EMF radiation can be damaging but it really hit home just how damaging it could be and how much more vigilant we need to be with reducing our exposure. Children absorb up to 10 x radiation than adults due to immature skulls that facilitate absorption. There have been links to leukemia, brain tumors, infertility and neurological problems. Other countries in Europe are starting to ban wifi in schools whilst we are ignoring the warnings and exposing our children to more and more of this radiation, through mobile phones, tablets, wifi and more. It baffles me why a toddler needs to play on a smartphone anyway but sadly I see it all the time. If I told you that EMF radiation from these devices has been classified as a group 2b possible carcinogen (cancer causing) and that this classification is the same level as exhaust fumes, lead and DDT pesticide, would you think about taking steps to reduce your child’s exposure? You can switch off the wifi in your house, turn off your mobile phone and set limits on their own time on these devices and you WILL be making a positive change and reducing their exposure levels. Yes it is all around us, but we can take measures to reduce their direct exposure. Just like you wouldn’t want them standing behind a car exhaust breathing in all the fumes 24/7 but you would probably be happy for them to walk around a busy town with lots of cars…the closer they are to to point of radiation the more effect it will have, so start in their home environment.

Having a look at the schedule it looks like there are loads of interesting topics coming up that I am desperate to hear. Day 4 there will be a whole talk regarding the EMF radiation I have discussed. To access the presentations click here. If any of the talks resonate with you I would love to hear your thoughts!

Clarity.

As you will have noticed, I have been on a bit of a blogging break. And, like any good break, I have come back with a clear mind and having learnt a few things about myself. As this blog acts as a sort of diary on this journey of self-discovery that is parenthood, I thought it was necessary to write it all down. It might seem a little over-analysed to you, but that is because it was, and that’s OK.

I recently went to visit a couple of Montessori nurseries, with the view of completing my dreaded 420 hours work experience in order to gain my full diploma that I have been working so hard towards for what feels like forever. I had been putting this off knowing in my heart that I didn’t want to leave Poppy, but with the 2016 deadline for completion on the horizon I thought I had better face reality if I wanted to reach graduation day. I decided that maybe it was a good thing to do something for myself now that Poppy is getting that bit older. The idea was that she would attend the same nursery I worked at (in a different room) and seeing as I am passionate about Montessori I started to tell myself that perhaps this environment would help her to thrive even more. I convinced myself that I was excited about the extra work I would be subjecting myself to. I started to imagine how much Poppy would love it and that maybe by the end it would be hard to leave the wonderful place we had grown to love.

Montessori is a method of education, but I believe it is so much more than this. It is respect for the children, love of nature, trust in the human mind and body and it’s natural ability and overwhelming urge to learn and a focus on hands on experiences to satisfy those innate driving forces. Parents and teachers alike can adopt all of these principals, and much of Montessori’s philosophy fits so perfectly into our home environment, even though we are planning on going down the ‘unschooling’ route of home education. So I felt hopeful, despite our choice to stay away from school and our ‘alternative’ approach to parenting, that a Montessori environment might just be the only place I would be happy to leave Poppy. Perhaps all of my worries about how often she still breastfeeds, how accustomed she is to having me near her every minute, every day, how well I know her better than anyone else could and how when she isn’t with me I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that something is missing…perhaps all of those worries would just fade away when we walk through the doors of that beautiful, idyllic, understanding and gentle Montessori environment. Of course they didn’t.

I was open-minded. At least I tried to be. But it dawned on me pretty quickly that a classroom, Montessori or not, was still a classroom, and a teacher, loving, caring and gentle or not, was still not Poppy’s mummy. The picture in my head of the perfect Montessori setting quickly disappeared when I noticed some fundamental ‘rules’ being broken. The baby rooms full of plastic, a teacher reprimanding a child in front of the whole class, the shelves cluttered and verbal praise being thrown around left, right and centre. To the untrained eye this might seem like no biggie, it happens all the time in regular nurseries and schools, but it goes against the most basic of Montessori principals. Being so passionate about Maria Montessori’s work – her methods and the reasons behind them – I hated to see it not being implemented in these well-regarded schools. I started to feel disheartened; my own efforts at creating a Montessori home environment weren’t looking too bad at all! But I tried to remain open-minded and told myself that it was unrealistic to expect everything to be perfect.

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Poppy playing in her Montessori inspired bedroom

As I spoke to the teachers showing me around I tried to gauge how similar their views were to my own, whether or not our alternative parenting style would fit together with the way they ran their nursery. I didn’t really care about where I did my teaching placement, but if it wasn’t right for Poppy, it wasn’t going to happen. I smiled and nodded when they said things that I didn’t agree with. I tried not to recoil in horror when I looked at their menu and saw junk food and a lack of wholesome nutrition (unfortunately true for many settings these days it seems). They answered my questions about things that they knew I felt strongly about, and their friendly voices and sympathetic eyes almost made me feel like they really did know best and I was living in cloud cuckoo land. After voicing some of my concerns over leaving Poppy, one of the teachers introduced me to the staff as somebody who was ‘very precious about her daughter, and her daughter is probably very precious about her’. Wait a minute, aren’t all Mum’s precious about their children? She said it in the nicest possible way but I have worked in childcare; she didn’t realise I knew that it was code for ‘This woman is an over-protective psycho and is going to make our lives very difficult’. The thing is I remember telling anxious parents the same thing once upon a time, that their very attached child who cries every time they leave them will be just fine, as soon as you are gone they won’t even remember why they were sad. I believed it, and sure, it may have appeared to be true. But how do we know how they are really feeling inside? Especially when we hardly know the child. Don’t get me wrong, Poppy is confident and increasingly independent and very sociable. She would be fine. And the comfort she would have gotten from a member of staff would be fine. And the reduced milk feeds would be fine. And the way that people would have spoken to her, in a tone that I wasn’t quite comfortable with, would be fine. And the fact that she would have had a biscuit as a snack everyday instead of her usual green smoothie, would be fine. It would all be fine. I suppose. But what if ‘fine’ just isn’t good enough?

I came home from the second nursery almost feeling convinced that I was being an over-the-top, paranoid, too-hard-to-please, obsessive mother who absolutely had to relax if I wanted us to fit in and be classed as almost normal. But then I realised that spending just one hour in an environment that was so far from what we now consider our normal, I was being sucked in and questioning myself where I never had before. I am so happy with our parenting choices, our life is amazing and Poppy is thriving; why should I change that to fit in somewhere we don’t even belong? The fact is, being in a nursery even for just four hours without me is most definitely not the best possible situation for Poppy right now. I knew it I just couldn’t quite acknowledge that my reasoning’s were important enough to ignore the influence of others. I had to speak to someone who would tell me I wasn’t crazy before I started to believe I was. I messaged one of my lovely friends who I know completely ‘get’s’ me when others might not. And after I had spoken to my wise friend everything was clear again. No matter how many nurseries I visit, I will never find the right one, because as she put it, Poppy and I are still one. No one can ever love and care for her like I do, understand her needs entirely, or accept and work through her overwhelming frustration and tears when her sock is just ever so slightly bunched up by her toes which means she feels it every time she steps down on that foot (this happens everyday). Most Mum’s will relate to that, and yet we are constantly given the message that we need to break away from our children, give them the opportunity to be independent or they will never learn how to be; stop holding them back, smothering them, spoiling them, molly-coddling them and learn to let go. Stop being so ‘precious’. But this isn’t a natural way to teach independence. Why is attachment so feared in our society? Since when was it so terrible to love your child so much that it hurts to think of leaving them with someone who won’t do it as well as you can. As my friend pointed out, it is human nature to protect and nurture our young, and that protection covers all manner of things, including the emotional stress of separation and all of the things in the world that you, as a parent, decide might be harmful, in any capacity, to your child, their development or well-being. Yes I go above and beyond to make sure I am doing this at all times, from the diet I feed her, to the medicines I choose to use, from the techniques I use to teach her to the way in which I communicate with her. And I will avoid anything that I believe could be detrimental to these efforts, to the most important years of her life and to our strong, secure relationship. If this means that I come across as an obsessive weirdo at times, then so be it. These little details, and the niggling issues I had with the nurseries, may be small and seemingly insignificant to others but to me they make up the beginning of my child’s life, and that is huge.

And so it was decided. I am completing my exams to be awarded a certificate but I won’t be graduating and gaining the full diploma. It was difficult for me to accept that this is not failure but another turning on our journey. I have learnt so much, and will continue to do so, and it will enrich Poppy’s childhood for sure. But for now, I need to focus on family, and just be a Mummy to Poppy…because I am the only person who can be.

As I am sure you can tell, this post isn’t just about deciding not to send Poppy to nursery. It is about the realisation that it I do not have to compromise in any area of my parenting. The truth is, I often feel awkward or embarrassed when voicing yet another opinion, or explaining to family why we don’t do things this way, or requesting that they try to do things that way. I spoke to my Dad recently about why we don’t use verbal praise like ‘good girl’ in the same way we don’t use punishment or any other conditioning techniques (I will write a post about this soon). I found myself feeling a mix of guilt and defensiveness before the words even came out. I don’t want people to feel like I am criticizing them; especially people who I know love Poppy so much. Incidentally, my Dad was, and has been with many things, very understanding and open-minded, which made me realise that I didn’t necessarily need to feel so worried. I am no longer going to protect other people’s feelings or indeed my own feelings of being judged as over-reacting, if it compromises Poppy’s chance to the best possible start in life. I have taken on that label of being a bit whacky or weird because we do things differently, but in reality I am simply passionate, dedicated and motivated to do the best I can. There is nothing wrong with that. I need to realise that so that other people can too. This post is about realising that you are perfectly entitled to be unconventional, you are allowed to want complete control over how your child is raised and you have the right to say no. This post isn’t about anybody else’s choices; it is about me not apologising for mine.
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Thank you to my friends who are there when I need that clarity, who give me the confidence to write things like this, who I would be lost without. You know who you are.

Breastfeeding to sleep: creating bad habits?

P1040506I am feeling really proud of Poppy right now. For the third night in a row she has just fallen asleep all by herself, after her milk, rather than during, and with me just lying next to her. I know people whose babies did this at 12 weeks old, but at 13 months this is a big achievement and significant milestone for us.

Up until now I have breastfed Poppy to sleep every single night, and never considered doing it any other way. At times I might have wondered if I was really doing the best thing, but these thoughts were very fleeting and I didn’t take any notice of them. Breastmilk is designed to make a baby sleepy, in fact it changes during the day so that the night time milk contains a much higher concentration of the sleepy stuff, and our bedtime feed is a lovely, peaceful time where me and Poppy get to reconnect after even the most manic of days. Luckily for me no one has really questioned this decision and told me I was making a rod for my own back, but I know that many mum’s are told exactly that, and perhaps pressured into teaching a baby to ‘self-soothe’. Although I wasn’t worried about our bedtime feed, I did once try to reduce her middle of the night feeds, which I wrote about here and here, so I understand this idea about self-soothing and worrying that your baby will take forever to do so if you don’t actively encourage it. But although Poppy did start going back to sleep on her own, the whole process was far too emotional (despite us taking a ‘gentle’ approach) and more exhausting for us so we gave up after 3 weeks and welcomed our old ‘habits’ with open arms.

I let go of all of any doubts and just went with it. I find that we have ups and downs and sometimes, yes, I wish she slept through the night, but that is usually when we have other stresses in our life and I am emotionally tired rather than physically. The majority of the time, the night time wakings are more than bearable, sometimes I even enjoy them. Sometimes. At 13 months I would say she is waking on average 5 times a night (between 6pm and 6am roughly), a few weeks ago she only woke twice, a few days later she woke every half an hour.

So how is this all relevant to tonight’s events? Because as Poppy lay in the dark chatting to herself and kicking her legs I got a little impatient that she wasn’t falling asleep quick enough. I picked her back up and tried to offer her more milk, in the hope it would relax her some more and speed things up. She arched her back and made such a fuss; she refused milkies! She got herself back onto the bed, snuggled up beside me and was asleep within 10 minutes. It was as if she was saying “I can do this on my own!” And she did just that. I feel hugely proud of this step towards independence, as well as a little emotional (everyone always tells you how you will miss the little things when they are gone!) It honestly feels as significant to me as her first steps, because I know that she has got there on her own, without any expectation from us, and this is her natural progression towards independence so should be celebrated just like all the other big firsts. As well as that it has proved that letting your baby fall asleep on the boob every night does not mean they will never self-soothe. It may have taken 13 months but this feeling is amazing. It has given me hope that her night time feeds might reduce as she learns that she can get herself back to sleep when she wakes, she doesn’t need me, but I am there if she wants me. That light at the end of the tunnel is enough for me to keep feeding her during the night for as long as she wants, as much as she wants. And I know when the day finally comes that I close my eyes at 11pm and open them at 7am (yeah right, more like 5.30am!) I will feel so much pride for my precious girl, it will all be worth it.

So keep feeding mama’s! All the way to dreamland!

VegFest London 2014

P1040599At the end of September a friend and I went to VegFest in London (with the babies!) It was busier than I expected, which was difficult with the babies, but I am not suprised because the event had a lot to offer. Whether you are interested in vegetarianism, veganism, you are dairy-free or just interested in healthier eating or greener living, it was a great place for information, tasters and discussions. In fact the less you know about veganism the more you will gain from the event! I will definitely go again next year, when I can hopefully leave Poppy behind! Because there were so many talks, demonstrations and workshops we would have loved to stay for, but the babies were getting restless. We managed to pick up loads of leaflets though, all reaffirming my reasons for going (mostly) vegan and motivating me to try harder! As for the dairy debate, all I can say is that I am so glad we no longer consume that junk, and I can’t believe how brain washed people are into believing it is good for them! I will put some links at the end of this post if you want to educate yourself further on this matter.
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For those of you who haven’t got a clue what vegan’s eat then take a look at the photo’s below and know that it is not just slop or lettuce leaves! Granted, the doughnuts are not going to be the healthiest choice, but my point is that you don’t HAVE to be health obsessed to make positive changes to your diet, and you can still have a treat when the mood strikes. On the other hand, healthy choices can be delicious too! We had a wrap filled with all sorts of healthy goodies for lunch. I was completely stuffed and yet could probably have devoured another it was beyond delicious. The choice of food was amazing, from chocolate to cheesecake, burgers to burritos. If you think veganism is restrictive, think again!
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There were also stalls with beauty products, clothing, petitions and more. The children’s area looked like good fun with cooking classes and other activities, and there was a cinema area that was showing informative films. And it wasn’t limited to vegetables! There were also discussions on raw food diets, lots of information about healthy and not so healthy fats, sugar, juicing and even green products such as cloth maternity pads! Overall it was well organised, despite the queue to get in and the broken lift fiasco, and I would have loved to have spent more time there. However, I don’t think I would want to take kids again as it was too busy to focus on everything and them! For the price of the tickets it was well worth a trip, although be warned, you could easily spend a fortune on all the tempting stalls.
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Some of the posters and flyers were eye-opening. I initially chose to cut down on meat for health reasons but I can’t deny that the facts on farming make me feel pretty sick and they do make me think twice if I ever get a meaty craving. It is too easy for us to detach ourselves from the reality, when we buy our meat all neatly packaged up in the supermarket with pictures of happy animals on the front. We are allowing outrageous torture to animals and damaging our environment at the same time. If you do eat meat, at least know exactly where it comes from and how the animals are treated. But even organic doesn’t always mean cruelty free due to the very fact that farming is a business and therefore certain procedures have to take place in order to meet demand, and don’t be fooled by the words ‘free-range’ either.
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There is loads of information out there on the health benefits of vegetarianism, veganism and going dairy-free AND it is better for the environment. It makes me laugh when people think that vegan’s don’t get enough nutrients. Sure, there will be unhealthy vegan’s out there, but if you are following a plant based diet with plenty of variety, some raw foods, good fats and natural sources of protein…you are bound to be getting exactly what you need. People often wonder if Poppy will be bought up as a vegan, as if they are worried that she won’t grow properly or have lifelong problems because I am so irresponsible I am depriving her of protein! But I am not worried in the slightest because I know that everything she needs is available in the fresh, wholesome foods we eat. Most of the information we are given about dietary requirements are inaccurate and even worrying. The popular eat well plate for example has a small section suggesting that we need some foods high in sugar and fats (with photo’s of fizzy drinks and biscuits). No one in the world NEEDS these sorts of processed foods, ESPECIALLY not a baby! Of course you can enjoy them in moderation if you choose, but this information is given out in schools which I find irresponsible and misleading for parents who don’t know any better. I have taken Poppy’s health into my own hands so that I can be absolutely sure she only gets the best.
P1040537 They weren’t as energetic on the journey home!

For more info take a look at the following links:

http://www.viva.org.uk
http://www.milkmyths.org.uk
http://www.vegansociety.com/try-vegan/why-go-vegan
http://www.grownathomewithlove.wordpress.com/tag/food-intolerances/
http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/cows/dairy-industry/
http://www.vegsoc.org/
http://www.govegan.org.uk/
http://www.london.vegfest.co.uk/

Why we won’t be wasting our holiday money on sun cream

SL270745I have always loved sun bathing, I could literally lie in the sun all day long. Luckily I rarely burn, but having Poppy has, once again, made me swot up on my knowledge, in this case with regards to sun exposure and what our safest and healthiest options are.

I already knew that I wouldn’t want to be using a regular high street brand sun cream on Poppy, due to the endless chemicals they were bound to contain. But for those of you who are unfamiliar with these chemicals I urge you to go and check the labels, and make better choices. That is, if you decide to use sun creams at all; I will explain why we will be using very little sun cream during our holiday to Italy and why we have only used it once or twice during the hot English weather we have been so lucky to have had recently.

What is the problem with regular sun creams?

Where do I start? Increasing research is indicating that rather than protect against skin cancers, sun creams can actually increase your chances of getting cancer. There is more than one reason for this.

IMG_0597First of all it is simply the chemicals that are used in sun creams, many of which have been found to form formaldehyde and other cancer causing substances when mixed with other ingredients. I am not going to list ingredients here or reference studies, but there is loads of info out there, so if you don’t believe me go and have a look yourself. Some ingredients in your sun creams may be linked to cancer and others produce free radicals when exposed to sunlight, which I am guessing is highly likely if you are applying SUN cream?! Vitamin A is in many sun creams, look out for retinyl palmitate and retinol, and when exposed to sunlight this speeds up the development of skin tumours and lesions. On top of this, considering the skin absorbs 60% of what is put on it, I don’t like the idea that sun cream contains parabens, which are not only suspected carcinogens but also disrupt hormones, increasing your risk of breast cancer and altering male sperm count. Artificial scents added to sun creams also contain hormone disruptors which can accumulate in breast milk! No thanks! All of the nasty ingredients in sun creams can be absorbed into the blood, as well as potentially causing allergic reactions and skin irritations.

Some creams are worse than others, and the next paragraph may surprise you. Hands up if you use higher SPF’s if you are going to hotter places? Or if you know you will be in the sun for a long period of time? I used to! Research shows that first of all a lot of these high SPF’s didn’t actually live up to their claims during testing, and offered much lower protection than they advertised. But, more interestingly, the SPF number is not a good indication of the UVA protection. To understand what this means you need to understand the science of the sun a bit better.

There are two types of rays which we are interested in; UVA and UVB. Both are capable of causing damage but we know less about the dangers of UVA rays. What we do know is that they penetrate much more deeply than UVB, and as I will talk about in a minute, UVB can actually be incredibly beneficial to us in that it is the best source of Vitamin D we can get. In fact until recently sun creams only offered protection against UVB rays, so we were blocking the good stuff (Vit D) and letting in the bad. Sounds pretty scary to me! So back to these high factor sun creams which we all assume offer higher protection. They actually still allow many UVA rays through, because these are very difficult to block. However, in order to increase the protection against UVB these creams must contain larger amounts of chemicals. So ultimately the increase in chemicals could increase your risk of skin cancer, and seeing as there is absolutely no evidence that high SPF’s reduce your chances of cancer at all compared to lower ones, surely you are better off choosing a lower concentration of chemicals to smother all over your skin, aka lower SPF creams. Better still, opt for a more natural sun cream, or only use one if you absolutely cannot avoid staying out in the sun without covering up. If you can avoid it, there are much better options.

Better protection against harmful rays:

Covering up with loose clothing provides very good protection against the suns harmful rays. We are planning on taking plenty of light clothing that we can cover Poppy up with whilst we are away, for the times that we feel she has either had enough sun or when we know we will be out in it for a long time. Of course there will definitely be a sun hat on that list too. As well as that, the most sensible thing to do is to seek shade when you feel you have had enough sun, which I admit is something I never used to see as an option. I wanted the best possible tan, but was unknowingly putting my health at risk because I felt safe with my high factor sun cream on. In fact, research suggests that people who use sun cream the most are more likely to develop skin cancer, perhaps because of this false sense of security. SPF 50 does NOT provide double the protection of SPF 25. Please don’t be tempted to stay exposed for twice as long, you are only letting more harmful UVA rays through and are more likely to burn because of your trust in the product that just can’t live up to expectation. Even if you don’t burn, do not assume that no damage has been done! You may find that your children will naturally seek shade and allowing your eyes to measure the strength of the sun accurately, i.e. without sunglasses may help you and your family instinctively know when it is time to get under the umbrella or go inside. For the time when we really cannot control sun exposure we do have a more natural sun cream, which we will apply to our faces and anything that cannot be covered up. However, this is the last resort rather than our number one essential. There are plenty of alternatives to sun cream, which I have not had the chance to research properly. Oils that have naturally high SPF’s, for example raspberry seed oil, can be an excellent, 100% safe alternative that I will definitely switch to in the future.

Having said that, there is another method of sun protection that can be very effective in preventing the damaging effects of the sun. A sun tan! So do not lose all hope, you can still come back from your holiday with a healthy, sun kissed glow. A sun tan is our bodies natural mechanism to protect its cells from UV radiation. But the way in which you get this sun tan is key. You must build it up gradually, which we have been doing ever since the sun decided to shine down on us this Spring. As soon as you are exposed to the sun, you produce melanin, the pigment that makes you darker, which collects on the sun-facing side of the cells, acting as efficient little umbrellas and protecting the cells against UV rays; in other words preventing mutations that could cause skin cancer. It makes perfect sense to me. Our bodies are amazing machines, and surely we are able to cope with being out in the sun, we used to be hunters and gatherers! Interestingly, people who work outdoors have a decreased risk of melanoma, compared to those who work inside and are exposed to sun rays through glass, which absorbs UVB and lets most UVA pass through. It is true that once you have a sun tan it is less likely that you will burn, at least that is certainly the case for me. But because we have less exposure to sun these days, it is important that you do not go from no sun at all to an exotic holiday where you stay out in it all day before your body has built up it’s protection. Even with a tan you must still be careful. The sun is stronger than ever and whilst there are many benefits to sun exposure, you must treat it with respect.

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Major benefits of sun exposure: 

As I have already mentioned, UVB rays are the best form of Vitamin D available to us. Unfortunately many people are severely lacking in Vitamin D, and Vitamin D deficiency is often found in sick children and associated with the worst outcomes. Vitamin D is good for balancing hormones, boosting your immune system, fighting disease and loosing weight. That’s right, loosing weight! Have you even noticed how you just don’t feel as hungry when you have been in the sun, like when you are on holiday? That is because Vitamin D regulates the hormone that is responsible for appetite control. By applying sun cream BEFORE we go out in the sun we are preventing ourselves from getting any of the amazing benefits of Vitamin D that we all so desperately need. In fact, we are making our bodies far less able to fight the very cancers that we are all so wary of getting in the first place. Higher levels of Vitamin D have been linked to better survival chances amongst cancer patients. For this reason, we have decided that we will expose Poppy, and indeed ourselves, to direct sunlight with no protection whatsoever for a certain amount of time at every opportunity. Now, the amount of Vitamin D you are able to produce will vary according to the time of day, where you live and your own body, so I cannot tell you how long you should stay in the sun unprotected. The best thing to do is cover up or seek shade as soon as you notice even the slightest hint of pink on your skin. This could be 5 minutes or it could be 45; everyone is different. After this point your body will not be able to produce any more Vitamin D. It is worth noting though, from what I have read, that it may be unwise to avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm as we are so often told to do, as this may mean you miss the window for optimum Vitamin D production.

Other benefits of sun exposure are probably more familiar to you. A release of endorphins, which may be particularly welcome if you suffer from SAD, an increase in energy and effective treatment of skin diseases (my eczema always clears up on holiday), amongst many other things. It seems backwards to me to believe that something that can make us all feel so healthy on so many levels is going to kill us. So whilst I will be much more careful than I was before, I will never stop worshipping the sun completely!

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Treasure Baskets for Babies

ImageThe Montessori assignment I am currently working on is all about play, and part of it focuses on play in young babies. I always knew the importance of sensory play, but this reminded me of how to get the most out of a treasure basket and inspired me to make a new one for Poppy. Before now she has had the same few sensory items in a small basket, which no doubt she was getting bored of.

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When babies reach the stage where they can sit up unaided but not yet crawl about, you may notice that they begin to show signs of boredom, although sometimes these are mistaken for teething or being clingy as they sit and fuss. In fact even very young babies show an instinctive need to play; it is a vital factor in their healthy development. A treasure basket offers a rich variety of stimulus, that the baby explores with all five of their senses. They grasp, shake, kick, lick, chew, watch, feel, listen, bang, laugh, squeal and are learning every second. It does not contain toys, the purposes of which are of little interest to babies of this age who usually just put everything in their mouth! You may find yourself showing your baby the ‘correct’ way to hold a rattle, or stack blocks on top of one another, but really this is for the satisfaction of the adult as the baby has not yet reached the ‘What can I do with this?’ stage and is much more interested in ‘What is this?’

ImageYou might be pleased to hear that the items in the treasure basket, which will provide your baby with a lot more learning opportunities than conventional toys, are usually very cheap, if not free, as they can be found around the house! It is important to use natural materials such as wood, metal and fabrics, which provide more interesting sensory experiences than the cold hard plastic that many modern day toys are made from. Of course you need to consider the size of the items; make sure that they do not present a choking hazard but are small enough for your baby to grip and manipulate themselves. Another important consideration is the quality of the items, for example I have found the cheaper wooden items may be more likely to splinter, and anything that is made up of small parts should be sturdy (such as screws on a nutcracker or beads on string). I have listed a few ideas below to get you started, but the possibilities are endless!

The amazing thing about treasure baskets is the way in which they develop a deep concentration in the baby, fundamental to later cognitive development. It is not uncommon for babies to sit and play happily for an hour or longer (the nutcracker alone kept Poppy busy for ages!) However, you must not think that your baby will be happy to sit alone and explore the basket whilst you see to the dinner or catch up on your favourite soap. Like any new experience at this age, your baby will feel comfort in the fact that you are close by, reassuring them that it is safe to continue in their new discoveries. To give them this confidence you do not need to do much more than just be there, within their sight, their safe base. By not interfering with what your baby is doing (although obviously if they interact with you then you should not ignore them!) you are allowing them to take control of their own learning, developing the ability to make decisions as they pick and choose the objects rather than being offered objects by an adult.

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Lastly, and probably the most important thing to remember, is that your baby will become bored if they never find anything new in the basket. Have a look for interesting new items on a regular basis and make sure that the treasure basket is constantly evolving. I have already started to collect a few bits ready to have a change around in a few days, and it is actually a really fun project to do! Grannie Sally has even put one together for Poppy when she visits, and she said she loved putting it all together!

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As your baby gets more mobile their play needs change, and they enjoy transferring objects from one place to another. Providing them with plenty of receptacles for doing this will help them to continue their development of deep concentration and satisfy their natural inclinations.

Idea’s for Treasure Basket:

(The basket should be strong, shallow (roughly 4-5 inch in height) and large. It can be round, square or rectangle but should be at least 14 inches in diameter and width.)

  • Wooden spoonImage
  • Wooden egg timer
  • Wooden lemon squeezer
  • Nutcracker
  • Avocado pip
  • Large feather (peacock)
  • Large pine cone
  • Natural sponge
  • Make up brush made with natural materials
  • Loofah
  • Flannel
  • Whistle
  • Pebble
  • Pumice stone
  • Tea strainerImage
  • Bells
  • Bottle brush
  • Leather ball
  • Metal eggcup
  • Wooden nail brush
  • Silk scarf
  • Cotton scarf
  • Ribbon
  • Beads on a string or leather shoelace
  • Small tin
  • Metal teaspoon
  • Mini metal whisk
  • Pastry brush
  • Paint brush
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  • Velvet
  • Shells
  • Ball of string
  • Beanbag
  • Small containers filled with rice
  • Keys
  • Small muslin bags
  • Corks
  • Fruit (Apple, orange, lemon)
  • Pegs
  • Curtain rings
  • Chain
  • Large buttons
  • Wooden napkin rings
  • Drawer fragrance cushion

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If you have some great ideas Poppy would love to know about them!

 

 

Christening the high chair

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Poppy is very happy with her new high chair. It is a Hauck Beta, a cheaper alternative to the Tripp Trapp, and it ‘grows’ with the child. It was pretty easy to assemble and I love that it is wooden, it feels really sturdy. At first I thought maybe we wouldn’t really need a high chair, she could just sit on my lap. But actually this means that when it is just me and Poppy I can’t interact with her as much as I would like to, and she also tends to just grab my plate and send it flying.

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The first foods we tried out in the Hauck were pear, nice a clean, and brown rice with kale pesto and beetroot, not so clean! I have been struggling a little bit to think of what to give Poppy aside from fruit and veg. I wanted to just give her whatever we are having but have realised that even our healthy meals often contain something that I am not ready to give Poppy. Yesterday we had home made quiche and salad, but I don’t want to give Poppy egg yet and pastry isn’t really the most nutritious of things. She liked the lettuce but it doesn’t mush up in her mouth so she didn’t really do anything with it and I must admit I panicked a little when it was just sitting at the back of her mouth. Other regular meals I make have stock cubes in them and I don’t know if this would be too much salt? Our favourite curry would be too spicy for her. And I wasn’t sure about introducing meat for a little while either? Even my everyday breakfast of organic porridge oats made with almond milk and dates, I am worried that the dates contain too much sugar and she shouldn’t have nut milk until she is at least 1. Maybe I am worrying too much but it is early days so I want to keep things simple. So I had a bit of a challenge in coming up with a lunch we could both enjoy together and using the little amount of food we have left in our fridge! The rice with kale pesto and beetroot was a success, it was very simple, yummy and filling for me, healthy and fairly easy for Poppy to scoop into her mouth. I have posted the recipe below. I gave Poppy a preloaded spoon, but she preferred sucking the other end. She did put quite a bit in her mouth compared to other foods we have tried, and even swallowed a couple of bits, but most ended up on the floor, high chair cushion, Oscar’s tummy and somehow even on the inside of Poppy’s nappy?! I must remember the naked baby tip! 

We had lots of fun though, especially when Poppy realised that the lovely bowl with the suction bottom that Auntie Ashley got her, wasn’t as suction-y as we had hoped! I love the subtle changes in the photos….first no bib, then bib, sleeves rolled down, sleeves rolled up, spoon available to Poppy, spoon disappeared, bowl on high chair, given up on bowl…..and Oscar is left picking up the pieces…

(Click an image for slideshow)

Brown Rice with Kale Pesto and Beetroot Recipe:

Blitz a large handful of organic kale with sundried tomatoes (I used just 1 in Poppy’s pesto as they are quite strong and salty. I added a few more for my pesto) Add a little rapeseed oil if needed (we didn’t as the sundried tomatoes were in oil already). Add this mixture to cooked brown rice along with grated beetroot. That is it! It was really lovely and I think it is going to be a new favourite baby food in our house. Kale and beetroot are super healthy and the texture is great for exploring. As your baby gets used to this you could try adding more flavours and vegetables.

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