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Its that time of year (thankfully) when you feel like throwing open the windows giving the house a spring clean.  This year I am all about reducing my chemical load, both for environmental reasons and for the health of my family. Here are our top tips for a greener spring clean:

Swap your regular cleaning cloths and mops for micro fibre ones. Micro fibre cloths have an amazing ability to absorb dirt and grease with their unique electrostatic quality. They are able to pick up 99% of bacteria, compared to the usual 33% when using traditional cloths.  Micro fibre cloths reduce the need for chemicals as they work with just water.

Make your own natural all purpose cleaning remedies:

Vinegar:

  • White vinegar and salt mixed together make a good surface cleaner.
  • Pour a cup of white vinegar into your toilet once a month and allow it to settle for a few hours before flushing to keep unsightly water rings away.

Baking Soda:

  • Four tablespoon’s of baking soda and one litre of warm water makes a good floor cleaner.
  • Baking soda on a damp sponge will clean all kitchen and bathroom surfaces.

Together: To clean the drains, pour ½ a cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by a cup of vinegar. Let the mixture foam for a few minutes and finally flush with a cup of boiling water.

Lemon:

Lemon juice is another natural substance that can be used to clean your home. Lemon is a great substance to clean and shine brass and copper. Lemon juice can be mixed with vinegar and or baking soda to make cleaning pastes. Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle baking soda on the cut section. Use the lemon to scrub dishes, surfaces, and stains. Mix 1 cup olive oil with ½ cup lemon juice and you have a furniture polish for your hardwood furniture.

If you want to buy ready made products we recommend Nigel’s Eco Store for for the best range of green cleaning products.  The Award Winning Earth Friendly range is the one I have found the most effective.

Asking a child to apologise when they’ve done wrong can be a tricky thing.  You can’t force someone to do something they don’t want to do, otherwise you end up in a stand off.

“Say sorry to Tommy”

“No, I don’t want to”

“Right then, you will not be allowed any friends over to play for 2 weeks” (or any other punishments you can think of on the spot)

“Sorry, Tommy”.

Does this actually teach a child to say sorry and mean it?

It’s more likely that they’ll apologise because they know what you want to hear and because they want to avoid the punishment.

I’ve read different suggestions for tackling these situations and the one I liked best was trying to teach a child empathy.

Encourage your child to think about how the other person in the situation might be feeling, ask them how they would feel if someone did that to them, then ask what might make that person feel better (works really well if the other child is crying). They may respond by hugging or kissing the other person, or say sorry of their own accord. There is no expectation for them to say sorry, it’s a process and in time they’ll learn to say it and mean it.

Expecting a child under 2 to say sorry is a big ask. You may have more success explaining to them why their behaviour was wrong. This may also help break the cycle of the behaviour.

How often do you apologise when you’re in the wrong? Our children look to us to lead by example. It isn’t aways the easiest word to say, however, make a point of apologising to your children when you’re in the wrong. We all make mistakes, it helps a child to know they’re not the only ones who make mistakes and let’s face it, we’re all fallible.

Wear your baby safely

Big news stateside this week are safety concerns regarding slings after the deaths of 14 babies over two decades. The news reporting seems somewhat extreme and incredibly fear inducing. Don’t get me wrong the death of any baby is tragic and devastating to all involved, but as momlogic.com says “when a baby tragically dies in a crib, we don’t say “all cribs are dangerous” and stop using them”.

There are apparently two suffocation risks. One is due to weak musculature, babies are unable to control their heads in the initial few months of life, so there is a chance that the sling can press against the nose and mouth. The other is some slings may rest the baby in a curved C position, with the chin bending toward the chest, this can limit their air intake.

The CPSC haven’t singled out any specific baby slings, however, the slings thought to be of most concern are the bag style ones that go around the neck and cradle the baby below your chest or near your belly.

The CPSC recommends, “Parents and caregivers make sure the infant’s face is not covered and is visible at all times to the sling’s wearer”.

Babies under 4 months old seem to be most vulnerable. In one story I read the baby was a week old, that’s fresh out of the womb, why would you need to be carrying a baby in a sling at that point. I was under strict instructions by my midwife to not get out of bed for 2 weeks. Music to my ears frankly, when does anyone allow you to do that? It was great advice, we all stayed at home for 2 weeks.

There are many benefits to baby wearing, the closeness from the body contact is comforting and helps baby feel secure. All slings come with instructions as to what weight is appropriate and also age guidelines. Using a sling correctly is completely safe. Always read the instructions and comply with them fully, stay home and carry your baby in your arms for 2 weeks, you’ll never get this time back.

Be aware, but don’t be afraid of carrying your baby in a sling.

Read the full warning, complete with illustrations on how babies should and shouldn’t be positioned in the slings.

The weather finally feels like spring could be on the way and its about this time of year when many start wondering what they could be growing in the garden. With food prices continuing to go through the roof the pressure on the purse is also driving many to think harder about getting the most out of your garden.

There are many books for the novice gardener but like most things at the moment there are websites out there which give you the same information without the cost.

My favourites are the BBC Gardening site which lets you pick according to the veg you want to grow and igrowveg where you can download the following guides:

  1. Grouping Vegetable Types and Crop Rotation
  2. What Can I Grow?
  3. Drawing a Plan (you can do this online)
  4. Choose your seeds

The third point may not sound like biggie but we had our first growing season last year and planted everything in the wrong place and paid the price. If you are not convinced this is all worth the effort Which? have a great little tool which shows you exactly how much money you could be saving if you put your back into it.

Veg for kids: There’s no better way to ensure children eat healthily than to let them grow their own vegetables. Tomatoes are an obvious choice, especially cherry types, as children can pick and eat them straight off the plant.

Cucumbers are another candidate. The traditional type is too large, but look for newer varieties which are ready when they’re just 10cm long. Vegetables that produce something to eat quickly, such as radish, spring onion, baby carrot and baby salad leaf, are ideal. They should be ready in as little as six weeks in summer.

Calender: This is from Which? and is a very basic idea of what you could be doing when but gives you somewhere to start:

Feb/March: Prepare the veg plot. Dig it over and work in organic matter (a bucketful per square metre). Stand potatoes in a warm place to sprout. Buy seeds of beetroot, carrot, salads, beans and lettuce. Start veg in patio pots

April: Start potatoes and other veg in patio pots. Be prepared to cover if frost is predicted. Sow hardier veg such as carrots, beetroot and lettuce in a veg plot.

May: Buy in young plants of tender crops such as tomatoes and courgettes and plant outside when the weather is mild.

June: Harvest your first crop of salad, baby veg and new potatoes from the patio. As pots are harvested, start another batch for late summer. Pick courgettes regularly

July/Aug: Pick courgettes and beans regularly when they’re big enough. Keep weeds under control and water in long dry spells.

Sept/Oct: Tidy the veg plot and put crop debris on the compost heap. Empty patio pots and recycle the compost as a soil conditioner or save to use for ornamental plots next spring.

Are you having problems getting pregnant? Looking for natural treatments for fertility problems?  Fertility guru Zita West has just released her latest guide, Zita West’s Guide to Fertility and Assisted Conception in which she explains how to increase your chances of conceiving naturally and when to consider medical treatment.

Zita West, 50,has over 25 years’ experience as a midwife, nutritional advisor, acupuncturist, author and consultant in fertility and has treated some of the UK’s most famous mums, including Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett and Stella McCartney.  West believes there is lots of natural boxes to tick before going for IVF.   Check out her top tips here:

1. Have more sex

“Before any couple embarks on IVF, I always ask if they are having ‘regular’ sex. Some people think once a week is enough but I mean three times a week.

“There is a fertile period: five days before and one day after ovulation and you can use ovulation kits to pinpoint it.

“But the best thing to maximise your chances is to have regular sex. Sperm lives for up to five days, so having frequent sex will ensure there is enough sperm to fertilise the egg when it’s released.

“If nothing has happened within six months, you should look at the reasons why. It might take 12-18 months when you’re young, but in your 30s you need to be proactive so you don’t waste valuable fertility time.”

2. Create intimacy

“When couples are trying for a baby or have embarked on IVF, intimacy often goes out the window.

“I am surprised by the amount of young men who suffer performance anxiety and are not able to have sex at the fertile time because there is too much pressure on them. Getting texts at work telling them ‘Tonight’s the night’ can ruin their sex drive and they can’t get an erection. Try and keep sex spontaneous and fun, even if you are undergoing IVF.”

3. Try to relax

“Getting pregnant is an unconscious thing and women especially need to take a step back and stop thinking about why it isn’t happening. I believe that if you’re sending negative messages to your body then it’s harder to conceive. Try and switch off and have acupuncture or reflexology, which should help you to relax.

“I also advise acupuncture before and after embryo transfers – it calms you down and decreases inflammation in the pelvic region after egg retrieval.”

4. Examine your diet

“Couples mustn’t cut everything out of their life and moderation is key but they should eat a balanced diet that comprises a mix of complex carbohydrates (wholemeal bread, rice and pasta) along with low-fat protein like oily fish and chicken.

“Also, taking a conception multivitamin and Omega 3 can help. In the lead-up to IVF, I’d recommend doing a detox for 10 days – eating plenty of fruit and vegetables along with lots of protein and carbs. If a couple has had three rounds of IVF in a year, I’d advise that they have a break and enjoy life before embarking on another cycle.”

5. Re-evaluate your lifestyle

“For starters, smoking damages eggs and sperm, and all drugs like marijuana and cocaine are an absolute no-no.

“Drinking is not advisable either. The NICE guidelines say two units a week but the lower the number of units the better.

“Weight can affect a woman’s cycle and stop ovulation. I find it harder with underweight clients who might suffer from anorexia and bulimia as it can stop their periods.

Also if a woman is worried about her job or money on top of trying for a baby or having IVF, they should find ways of relaxing such as yoga, visualisation, meditation, hypnotherapy or acupuncture.”

6. Don’t leave it late

“Women should definitely be thinking about having babies earlier. In your 30s, your egg quality depletes and there is a fine line about how long you try naturally for. On average it takes 12 months to conceive, but it can take longer when you’re older, especially if there’s a male infertility problem too.

Credit: Daily Mirror

Dalziel Douglas from The Black Douglas introduces us to her amazing Black Currant and amaretto cheese cake

“Try this party piece that will knock your guests pants off!
.

You will need:

  • 1 x 9 inch cake tin
  • 1 x 250 grams dry amaretto biscuits from super market or deli
  • 1 x pack of frozen black currants or forest fruits
  • 125 grams unsalted butter
  • 6oz caster sugar
  • 250grams mascapone
  • 250 grams Greek yogurt
  • few drops of top quality vanilla essence

Instructions:

  • Defrost berries a room temperature 2.5 hours before.
  • Melt butter in a pan
  • Grease and line tin
  • Crush amaretto biscuits and mix with melted butter
  • Press biscuit mix into tin.
  • Mix yogurt, vanilla essence, mascapone and 3 oz sugar
  • Spread mascapone mix onto biscuit base.
  • Put berries onto mascapone mix
  • Shake remaining 3oz sugar onto berries.
  • Refrigerate for 2 hrs

This can be quite difficult to cut, so remove from tin onto plate first (leaving base of tin under cheesecake). Cut with a large kitchen knife and press blade through biscuit base slowly and carefully applying maximum, even pressure.

This goes very nicely with espresso and a cointreau or amaretto liqueur.”

I went through a really difficult patch with my eldest daughter recently. Tantrums, tears, defiance, lying are some of the things that have reared their head. Whatever I said she just tuned me out, we were completely disconnected and she felt out of reach. Frankly, I found it quite scary, she’s only just coming up for 4, imagine how it could be in another 10 years?

Whenever I have challenging periods with my kids I literally have to stop everything and look objectively at the situation. What I noticed was I was permanently attached to my laptop and phone or busy washing, cooking and cleaning. At one point she asked me to come and play cafes with her and then said “you can bring your computer with you”. I felt awful, I wasn’t putting in any quality time.

Around the same time I came across a post on Simple Kids, 6 Peaceful solutions for Hitting and Anger. Number 5 talked about Time In as opposed to time out as a reaction to negative behaviour. The idea is that the child sits with a grown-up for some cool down, snuggle, and talk time.

This really got me thinking. When kids act up is it because they’re naughty or because they’re trying to tell you something? I decided on the latter and resolved to create some time for Bella and I to ‘be’ together.

I’ve been doing this for 2 weeks now and the change is incredible. Emotional outbursts are fewer and don’t last as long and our connection is much stronger. She seems much happier and I’m happier to be with her.

Here’s my 5 ideas to quality ‘time in’

1. Spend quality time together once a week, away from the house and your other children if you have them. A trip to the library, down to the shops, the cafe, a museum, a show, the park whatever you feel you’ll both enjoy.

2. Give your quality time a name. As Bella is the oldest I say “Let’s have some big girls time together”. She loves that. Giving it a name enables your child to ask for this time when they need it.

3. Look them in the eyes when they’re talking to you to show you’re really listening.

4. Really involve them by asking their opinion or ideas on things while you’re out. This helps them feel important and that their thoughts matter.

5. Giving your full attention to your child for 10 mins a day goes along way to help them feel accepted and recognized.

What I struggle with most is being consistent. I start off well and then things fall by the way side, until the next episode.