Nature Walking 101 (Preschool STEAM Activities)

Spring is back… and so am I, it seems!

Gosh, its been a while since I’ve blogged. And truth be told, I MISS IT.

So here I am, two children fast asleep, me upright on the sofa, trying not to think too much about what to write and just… writing!

I’ve never paid too much attention to Spring before. But isn’t life different with a three-year-old? They notice so much, especially the simplest things, and its hard not to follow their lead sometimes. Nature walking has been a big hit for us these past few weeks. And so it makes sense for me to come back to blogging with a “guide” to nature walking our way 🙂

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  • The first rule is… to have NO rules! Seriously. This is a free-moving, laa-dee-daa, type activity. It should be relaxing and spontaneous-ish. The very first walk we did wasn’t a success precisely because I kept trying to convince/encourage my daughter to pick things; “don’t you want this leaf?” “what about some sticks?”No. No was the answer throughout and I was pretty deflated when all she wanted was a few kumquats and to go back home. The next time, however, I let go completely and followed her lead, and look at the amazing things she picked:

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  • Ask your little person if they want to take something to collect their findings in (saves you inevitably holding everything too). My daughter likes to take something different each time. She has used a shoe box, a wicker fruit basket, a plastic box that some toys came in, a biscuit tin, a small crochet bag, and her toy stroller. I feel like picking out what to collect things in is also part of the fun for her.
  • Location? You can nature walk absolutely anywhere. But of course, parks are the best, especially in Spring. But this is also a great activity for days when you want to do something easy, and without too much planning. And so, even if you just walk around your neighbourhood, there is tons to see: trees of different sizes with different types of leaves, flowers in your neighbours’ gardens, puddles, stones, etc.
  • Try a themed walk. Sometimes, my daughter just wants to pick flowers (see the photo below). Or just leaves. Or just lemons in her great-grandmother’s garden! I very quickly noticed that if I suggested she pick something, she immediatley wasn’t interested in that very thing. So now, I just make lots of remarks about things I want her to consider instead: “wow, look at these teeny, tiny buds!” “ooh, these flowers are so pretty.” This usually piques her interest in something particular, without feeling overwhelmed.

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  • If the weather is nice and she’s happy outdoors, combine the walk with other activities. Sometimes, we time our walk around lunch or snack-time, and eat outside too. If we are at my grandmother’s home, I route the walk so that it ends by the trampoline there and she can jump her heart out. She also likes to ask for my phone to take photos of things outside! You can even throw in some very casual learning activities, like colour recognition (“I love this flower you picked, what colour is it?”) or numbers (how many trees are in that garden?”) Other ideas: take some chalk with you for some outdoor drawing on the ground; or try bug catching (I’m not quite ready for this yet *shudder*  eventhough she does have a bug catcher!)
  • After the walk: I try not to have a post-walk activity in mind, even though all our findings could be used for tons of crafts. But I know that if I have something in mind, I’ll inevitable focus on that rather than the walk itself. And so most of the time we don’t do anything with what we bring home, except show them to her dad! However, once I asked her if she wanted to make a collage, for which I just squirted glue in random patterns on a piece of card I had lying around, and she stuck everything down one by one. Another time, we had lots of grape leaves in different sizes and she made a “family” out of them (daddy leaf, mummy leaf, etc). But these were spontaneous rather than planned activities.

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So finally, if you’re still unconvinced, then may I bring you over the fence by throwing in that acronym that’s been trending in the parenting world in recent years: STEM!

Yes, this counts as a STEM activity, and an easy one at that. STEM, or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) education is being considered a must for young children, especially girls, to get them interested in and enjoying these subjects from a young age. The idea is to introduce them in a fun and real-world-applicable way, and then girls in particular might be more likely to excel in them when they are older; traditionally, these are male-dominated subjects!

Something as simple as a nature walk can incorporate more than one aspect of STEAM education: the act of observing and collecting things is part of scientific inquiry; learning about nature is a component of biology; using nature to count, or consider patterns is mathematical learning; and if you do a post-walk craft activity, that is definitely art!

If you use Instagram, I always post pictures from our walks and would love to connect with you there.

Thanks for reading!

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Autumn Leaf Activities for Toddlers

This year, we’re spending autumn (“fall” to my North American friends) in London, and everyday on our afternoon walks, I’ve looked at the falling leaves and wanted to do something with them with Khadija!

Khadija is now two years old (27 months) and able to enjoy sit-down, craft activities. Initially, I was quite nervous about this stage as I never considered myself “crafty” and to be honest, I hated art at school! So it’s been a surprise for me how much I enjoyed the activities I’m blogging about today too.

They are super easy to put together and involve minimal expenditure; most of the art supplies involved can be reused for other activities too!

1. Picking leaves

This in itself can be lots of fun. Toddlers love to run around (or run away from you!) so going to a park to pick leaves might be right up their alley. All you need is a carrier bag to collect them in, and some encouraging. I found asking Khadija to find certain colours got her interested.

She wasn’t into kicking around in the leaves too much, but I have seen videos by my friends of their toddlers doing that!

They’re also at that stage of development where they enjoy “tasks” such as putting things in their place. So hand them the leaves you pick and ask them to put it in the bag. Even that’s fun for them (maybe only for about 20 seconds but hey, I’ll take what I can get!)

2. Sensory bin

Take a box (or any other large-sized storage item) and add some sensory items to it. Cover with the leaves you picked, and ask your toddler to find the hidden items. Alternatively just put the box in front of them and see what they do.

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I didn’t want this to be too complicated an activity, so for the hidden sensory items I simply used some of Khadija’s small toys, such as plastic play food, a few foam bath letters, and small stuffed animals.

3. Playdough prints

Khadija LOVES playing with playdough; she rolls it out and uses mini cookie cutters to cut out different shapes. So we tried using leaves to make imprints on the rolled out dough. Her favourite part was peeling the leaves off!

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4. Painting with leaves

For this activity, I put a few loops of sellotape on the back of a leaf and stuck it onto a paper plate (you can use any other surface too, such as paper or cardboard). Then I simply let her paint the plate as she wants, with a few colours in front of her.

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I let the plate dry overnight (as we usually paint in the evening) and simply peeled off the leaf in the morning.

We’re still using washable paint at the moment, as Khadija gets it everywhere (including and especially her own face!) but I imagine the results would be even nicer with poster paint. Choose browns, reds, greens, etc to go with the overall autumnal feel!

5. Crayon leaf rubbings

This is the only one we haven’t tried (yet) and only because Khadija was super excited to scribble on her grandma’s walls as soon as I handed her a crayon *smh*

But, Google “crayon leaf rubbings” and you’ll see a ton of great photos showing you what an easy and pretty craft activity this is!

Simply pop a piece of paper over a leaf (or tape the leaf to the back of the paper) and let your toddler go crazy with the crayon over it. The shape and details of the leaf will start to “magically” appear!

Do you have any other leafy crafts to add to the list? I’d love to hear them in the comments below (or just from you generally!)

Have a lovely Autumn ❤

7 Things No-One Tells You About Having a C-Section

7 Things Noone Tells You About Having a Csection

Note: this post is being republished for the third time! At first, I wrote it and put it on a different blog I used to write with my friends. An editor at Baby Gizmo picked it up and published it there. Now, it’s time for it to come “home” to Eat, Write, Be 🙂

No-one talks about cesarean births in the way that they talk about natural births, do they? We hear in graphic detail about contractions, tearing, who took what pain relief, etc. I attended three antenatal classes and left feeling so well-prepared and positive about going into labour, but not once were cesareans discussed, even though according to the NCT approximately a quarter of births in the UK are by c-section. It may not sound like a lot, but to put this into context, the NHS Maternity Statistics covering 671,000 births for 2012–13 showed over 75,000 were by c-section. So we’re talking about a whopping 75,000 women that year that I would be willing to bet money felt as surprised at how little they knew about what they would subsequently go through, as did I.

But it’s not just the women that go through it that need to know; it’s everyone else they may interact with as well, because I have heard some real gems in the past few months. My favourite is this: on my way home from the hospital, I had walked to the car with great difficulty just four days post surgery, only to discover I had completely forgotten how to strap in Baby K’s car seat (and no one else knew either!). So there I was, clutching on the seat to keep it steady during the drive, in pain from walking a distance more than the ensuite bathroom and with high blood pressure, gritting my teeth every time we went over a speed bump, when a close friend called to say congratulations. She then told me I was lucky; at least I didn’t go through the pain of natural labour, and had the baby taken out for me with no fuss.

So, here are a few things I’d like to share with anyone else that might also think a cesarean is easy, and that I wish I had known too. Mostly, this post is for all those out there that have been through this too, as a sort of *virtual-high-five-sister* (please note some of it is pretty graphic, so if you’re pregnant, easily scared or simply don’t want to know, turn away now):

1. You feel everything:

Unless you are rushed to surgery in an extreme emergency, you will not be under general anaesthetic. You will most likely be given an epidural (an injection into the back that numbs the lower half of the body), and while that means you don’t feel any pain, you can feel everything else that happens during the operation. The sensation of being “unzipped” when they cut into you, the stretchy, pulling feeling when they open you up to take the baby out, and the feeling of the baby’s limbs travelling out of your body… everything.

You don’t just lie there as if you are on a massage table in a spa while all the “hard work” is done for you. The operation theatre is cold (I shivered throughout the operation. And I mean the teeth-violently-clattering type shivering), and not for one second do you switch off or forget that half of you is currently cut wide open.

2. You will need a LOT of pain killers:

Until the effects of the epidural wore off, I enjoyed some indescribable time with my baby. We stayed in a small recovery ward, skin-to-skin and it was the most precious and emotional time.

And then the epidural wore off.

Nothing, no blog post, could ever describe the pain. I still don’t know if it was the pain of post surgery or the uterus contractions every woman gets post partum (when your uterus begins “shrinking” back to its normal size) but I cried. I told my midwife I was going to pass out with pain. She gave me paracetamol and told me to try and relax. I did. It didn’t work, and I insisted they do something, anything, and eventually they gave me the maximum dose of morphine that they could, intravenously.

And a few hours later when the morphine wore off, I went through it all over again. I just couldn’t understand what was happening. The c-section was over, my baby was out. Why was I in even more pain than before? FYI, I had also gone through 16 hours of contractions before the operation. But this was something else.

BUT here’s the thing: if I had known that this might happen, or if I knew that there would be a lot of pain coming, I would have coped much better. I would have been mentally prepared, and as only you can know your own pain threshold, I would have asked for pain relief earlier or possibly even in advance. My pain threshold is so low and I just kept thinking, it’ll get better, but it just got worse. And if I had known that, I would have insisted on the morphine straight away.

3. You have layers of stitches:

Around eight days post-partum, I had my third home visit from my midwife. I asked her (rather naively, in retrospect) why I felt so much pressing pain in my wound. She put her hand on mine and told me it was time to know what exactly the operation had involved; it would be difficult to hear, but she assured me that I would feel much better being in the know afterwards. She was right.

Contrary to the idea that a c-section involves one horizontal cut, baby out, and you’re closed back up and that’s it, you’re actually cut and stitched up layer-by-layer. There is skin, tissue, and muscle before you even get to the uterus! I understand the number of layers can differ, but in my case (and in most) there were SEVEN layers of stitches!

As my kind midwife informed me, having a tumour or appendix removed would be less painful. A caesarean is major surgery. Again, had I understood its magnitude from day one, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself for still being in pain only eight days later!

4. Even laughter hurts:

Any activity that involves engaging your abdominal muscles is quite painful for a good few weeks. Mostly, this can be managed by minimising such things like getting up, walking, bending over, etc. But what always caught me off-guard was the pain I felt doing something so natural such as laughing! Similarly, how do you stop yourself from sneezing or coughing—both equally painful?

Later, I read somewhere that if you hold a pillow against your abdomen when sneezing, coughing, laughing, whatever, it hurts less. This means I should’ve kept a cushion/pillow handy at all times (maybe one that could double up as a baby feeding pillow), but once again, I just had no idea.

5. You still experience post-partum bleeding:

Despite not giving birth naturally, women that go through caesareans are often surprised to find they have to go through the same post-partum experiences as those that do. This includes post-partum bleeding and a noticeable need for pelvic floor exercises (no need to elaborate on either, I think!)

6. You might put on a lot of weight during your post-partum period:

I wrote “might” because I’m not sure if this is true for everyone, but was certainly true for me. I put on a lot of weight during recovery—more than I did throughout the entire pregnancy. The reason is simple: you need to eat a healthy diet of 1,800–2,000 calories whilst recovering from this major operation, and at the same time, you can just about walk to the bathroom and back (i.e. you’re eating more than ever and not burning any of it in away).

It wasn’t until I was three weeks post-surgery that I was able to manage slow and short walks of about 10–15 minutes. But, almost three months on, I still couldn’t imagine being able to do any type of exercise other than walking.

This is not to say I didn’t try… just two weeks post-partum I went to Westfield (shopping centre). And once I ran through my local supermarket in a rush. Both times, I suffered for days afterwards.

This point probably links the most with the next one.

7. You are more likely to experience the baby blues:

Everyone, to some extent, goes through a dip in emotions at some point post-partum. Looking back, however, I can now see and acknowledge that I went through more than a few dips and was most likely slightly depressed. In fact, research has shown that women who have a caesarean have a six-fold increased risk of developing postnatal depression. After nine months of waiting for your baby to arrive, and looking forward to being “yourself” again, you suddenly find yourself feeling worse than ever before.

For me, the moment I realised I wasn’t feeling quite right was when feelings of guilt kept creeping into my mind. Yes, guilt. Can you believe I found myself feeling guilty for not giving birth naturally? Of course, I knew that it was not my fault; the c-section likely saved both mine and my baby’s lives. But I could not help but feel like it made me less of a mother for not having given birth the way nature had intended. Though she was fine, thank God, I felt as though I had somehow failed my daughter.

Luckily, I was well aware of the signs and symptoms of post natal depression, having witnessed a friend go through it just a few months previously. I recognised pretty quickly that what I was feeling/thinking wasn’t true and kept telling myself it would pass (as did my husband) which is why I think I did not slip into it fully.

Emotional support is crucial. If you already know exactly what to expect and are fully prepared, but have no emotional support, you will struggle. On the other hand, even if you have no idea what to expect (like me) but have a good support network around you, you will be ok… eventually! So make sure you don’t hesitate to reach out to your loved ones, your partner, your friends, whoever you want; most likely they want to help but don’t know how! By turning to them yourself, they’ll be relieved that you’ve done so and will step up.

Finally, I want to say something every woman that has had a c-section told me, and whether or not I believe it, I have repeated it to myself like a mantra every single day: you will feel better, one day, you WILL feel better!

Update: as of April 2016, its been 21 months since my c-section and I feel MUCH better, both physically and emotionally! But I still think everything I wrote above is important to read and know. A few people commented on Baby Gizmo that I was “scaremongering.” But even more people told me they could 100% relate and were glad I wrote this! Of course, everyone’s experience is different, and this is just me sharing mine 🙂 Leave me a comment below with your thoughts!

Ladies, How About Less Judging and More Loving?

A couple of months ago, I woke up one morning and immediately sensed I was going to vomit. I hadn’t eaten anything unusual, and I definitely wasn’t pregnant, so what was going on? I put it down to one of life’s random curveballs and got on with the day, except an hour or so later, there I was hunched over the toilet, puking more than I ever had before. And the same kept happening throughout the day, till I could no longer stand and couldn’t even keep water down.

A trip to the doctor confirmed what my husband had suspected all along: I was exhausted, sleep-deprived and crashing.

“That doesn’t sound like anything to do with exhaustion though.”

“Are you sure its not food poisoning?”

“It must be something you ate.”

“What have you been doing that’s made you sooo exhausted?!”

Are you thinking any of the above right now? Don’t worry. Variations of those are the first things I heard from everyone, be it family or friends. This post isn’t about why I’m exhausted or what I did to recover, or even what I should have done to avoid it in the first place!

This is about attitudes towards women-related issues that have been irking me since I experienced this episode.

In the weeks that followed, I’ve noticed more and more things that I’d perhaps never paid attention to before, and truth be told, the perpetrators of most of these attitude-crimes are women themselves. This is what has saddened me and prompted me to write this post.

People, other women, seemed genuinely perplexed about why I was ill, and I kind of get it; objectively, my life is not your textbook example of exhausting. I have a lot of help with household chores—both paid, and unpaid in the form of family; I only have one child to take care of; I don’t work anymore, etc. So I get why someone might ask, why am I exhausted then? And the answer to that came from a pretty unlikely source:

My husband. A man.

He was the first person not surprised and not judgemental about my “diagnosis.” Complete lack of sleep from pregnancy to toddlerhood, an unusually long recovery post-ceasarian, and not being able to find time to do “me stuff” like exercise or eating well were just some of his points. He made a convincing case.

And he told me to stop being so hard on myself: the very message I hope that this post carries to the women reading it. Can we please stop being so hard on each other???

Image from Huffington Post

But wait. Apparently, we should be quiet about our “issues” more. I recently saw a TV commercial for sanitary pads, and a woman in my company was aghast; why did we need to see such a blatant, shameful subject all over our screens, in the company of men no less?!

Ah yes. Shame. That old thing.

Another subject it seems to rear its head over is childbirth. Yes, yes, we know its a wonderful miracle of nature, a blessing, a truly ecstatic time for parents, blah blah blah. But why do women need to talk about it once its done? The baby is here now; why do they need to revisit the subject again and again?!

Let’s just check the dictionary definition of “shame” for a second:

A feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong. (Merriam-Webster)

A feeling as a result of doing something wrong. WRONG. When you make a woman feel like talking about her traumatic labour, or her crippling period pain is shameful, you’re telling her what she’s going through is wrong.

A recent trend that’s popped up on social media a few times is birth photography: basically, couples hire professional photographers to capture the moment their child is born. Not surprisingly, the photos are very different from any other professional photos you’ve seen: they are raw, shocking, strangely enticing and overall just amazing.

Let me clear one thing up: I would never choose to have the birth of my child photographed, for my own reasons (my religious teachings wouldn’t allow it, for one). But for the women that do make that choice, I say good for you! If it makes you happy, if you’re comfortable with that, then Good. For. You.

When we hold each other under microscopes and shake our heads over what we see, here’s what happens: misogyny thrives. Sexism is very real; it does not need our help to flourish! Lets just STOP with judging and berating each other, when there is a whole world out there already doing so.

Peace and love, with a cup of tea… anyone?

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Cuddle Fairy

Protein-Packed Rice Meal for Toddlers

Khichri: Rice, Lentils and Chicken Cooked in Broth!

This rice, lentil and chicken recipe is a really great way to pack lots of protein into your child’s meal in one go. People of South-Asian origin will be familiar with this; we call rice and lentils cooked this way “khichri”, and every familiy has their own version of how they cook it. Some use certain lentils only, and others use a mix; some people add tomatoes, others don’t, etc!

This is my version for my soon-to-be 20 months old daughter Khadija. I cook the rice in chicken stock, and shred some of the chicken used to make the stock, and add that too for an extra protein punch! I add more liquid than I would if I was making this for adults, so the rice gets extra soft. I also portion this out and freeze in mini ziplock bags, so its a great one for when you’re doing batch cooking!

Ingredients

For the chicken stock:
1-2 bone-in pieces of chicken (such as leg and thigh)
½ a small onion, peeled
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 inch piece of ginger peeled
1 small carrot, peeled and halved
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp each of peppercorns and cloves
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 cardamom pods

For the rice:
1 cup of basmati rice
3 tbsp moong lentils (the de-husked, yellow version)
2 tbsp masoor lentils (red)
1 tbsp butter
½ an onion, sliced
ÂĽ tsp each of peppercorns and cloves
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp minced garlic
A pinch of turmeric powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup shredded chicken*

*See recipe below

To make the stock:

Simply put all of the ingredients in a medium-sized pot, and generously cover with water. Cook on a high flame until the water comes to a rolling boil, then cover and cook on a low flame for approximately one hour.

Strain the liquid, putting aside the chicken pieces and discarding the other ingredients. You will need two cups of stock for this recipe. If you have any more leftover, you can simply freeze it for another day.

Shred the chicken and set aside 1/4 cup to use in this recipe. You can add more if you like, but I wanted the lentils to be the star of the show here, not the chicken, so I felt that 1/4 cup was enough!

To make the rice:

Start by putting the rice and lentils in a bowl. Then cover them with cold water, and set aside to soak for 30 minutes (no more, no less!)

Then, heat the butter with a splash of oil in a medium-sized pot, and add the onions. Give them a good stir and make sure there is enough “grease” for the onions, then cook until they turn a golden colour. You’ll have to keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn. If you notice they’re browning unevenly and too quickly, add a splash of hot water from your kettle.

Add the peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon and garlic once the onions are nicely brown, and stir some more. Then throw in the shredded chicken, turmeric powder and salt. Give it all a good mix, then add the stock and let it come to a boil.

By now, 30 minutes should have passed, so drain the rice and lentils and add them to the boiling liquid. Wait until everything comes to a boil once more, then cover with a tight-fitting lid and lower the heat to as low as it can possibly go. Leave untouched for 15 minutes.

Fluff up the rice with a fork when ready!

Khichri: Rice, Lentils and Chicken Cooked in Broth!