Baby number two

This year has been an expensive one. Really expensive.

A few days after bringing home baby number two from the hospital we found out that our dog had cancer. This dog had ALWAYS been insured. That is, until we moved countries and just never got around to it. One expensive vet bill later and he is, thankfully, still with us.

Then in November the baby needed surgery. We knew it was going to be a tough time for the whole family so we called in support and flew in my brother from the UK at short notice. Those flights don’t come cheap!

We also expected all the usual baby expenses. But thanks to the kindness of friends and neighbours we haven’t had to buy much at all (and no, we haven’t gone this far!)

That’s why I’m making a point of passing on all the baby stuff we have. We already have a bag full of clothes and diapers to a colleague and he was very appreciative.

There are also great organisations like this one in the UK who will take your no longer needed items and give them to a family who really needs them.

 

 

 

 

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Sparking joy – with a pre-Christmas clear out

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Giving to others less fortunate is big on my list of family must-dos. This time of year it also gives us chance to make room before the festivities.

Today we persuaded our little one to send some toys to the church. It’s still not an easy conversation or an easy thing for him to do. Since last year he’s also learned to ask why to everything, and argues back with reason. (“If those boys and girls don’t have any toys why don’t they write to Santa and ask for some?” Erm, good question little guy!)

In the end he decided to donate a big bag full of toys to help ‘the children who don’t have any toys’. To make room for some new things from the man in red.

To help him part with his beloved firetruck (one of three) racing cars, (two of many), puzzles, games and dressing up items, the adults in the house also donated. This year I read the New York Times best-selling Marie Kondo book – she suggests getting rid of anything that doesn’t ‘spark joy’. It’s a great idea but if I followed her advice I’d be getting rid of the vacuum, ironing board and plenty more. (I would also be saying thank you to my handbags and folding rather than balling my socks to give them ‘a rest’!)

It did help me get rid of a lot of clothes though… Those jeans I’ll get back into ‘one day’ are not sparking any joy, neither are the distress purchase tops which still have their tags on.

So 5 bags to the church and a coat to the coat drive later and we’re all feeling good. There’s also space in the closets for the first time in a while.

Do you do a pre-Christmas clear out? How do you persuade children to take part? I’d love to hear your tips!

 

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Fifty non-toy gifts that are kind to everyone

12222-NO7LXCIn our household we’re in full gift buying mode right now. With a tiny apartment and a leaning towards minimalism I’m really trying hard to keep toys down to a minimum.

I can’t help thinking about the amount of toys in landfill… We’re certainly not doing our kids any favours by buying them mountains of plastic-battery-operated, light-up gifts.

So here are fifty ideas for non-toy gifts that are suitable for most ages. It’s a kindness gesture for our world and for future generations. We’ve already ticked off a few for our 3 year old and one or two for the 3 month old.

1. Tickets to something. Experiences always win out over gifts in our house. This Christmas my three and a half year old will be getting tickets on the Big Apple Circus, and I can’t wait!
2. A library card. It doesn’t cost a thing but gives so much. It also supports your local library. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it! Add a book bag of you want to add a ‘paid for’ element.
3. A CD player. Our iPad loving 3 year old surprised us this year by asking for one of these (they have one at school and use it to sing along, dance and listen to stories.) He already has a playlist on Spotify plus audio books – all of which we play through the iPad, but we are always in charge of it. The freedom of his own CD player and “story records” is the appeal I think!
4. Books – I’m a firm believer that kids can’t have too many books. Whether you make a special gift of buying them your favourite childhood book (anything by Roald Dahl) or choose something you know they’ll love, it will be a treasured gift.
5. Puzzles – I don’t really class these as a toy toy. They are educational, keep them quietly occupied and can last forever (my son still plays with puzzles that used to belong my my friend’s son – who is now 18!)
6. Passes to a class – whether it’s baby massage (for the newborns), mommy and me yoga or a season of soccer, a class pass is a great gift.
7. A homemade CD (if they have a CD player – see above) whether it’s a mix CD of their favourite songs or a recording of you reading a special story.
8. A photo album or photo book
9. A photo print or canvas for their wall
10. A watch – and a few lessons on how to tell the time.
11. An apron and kitchen utensils – a whisk, a bowl and the ingredients for their favourite cookie maybe?
12. A cook book. When my husband was 7, he received the best Christmas gift ever – a family cookbook. Upon opening he gave it to his mum and said: “I think I opened yours by mistake”. The mistake was his of course, and every week for the following few years he ‘cooked’ a family meal. Some were better than others, but 30 years later he’s a great cook. So everyone wins. You can either buy a special kids’ one, get an adult one (like my mother-in-law did) or create your own with a bunch of family recipes.
13. A musical instrument (if you are feeling brave and/or the children you’re buying for do not live with you!). My eldest LOVES his bongos!
14. Christmas PJs
15. A cute robe and slippers
16. A flashlight and something to make a reading den
17. Play silks or a play parachute
18. A globe or world map
19. A magazine or part works subscription – there are loads of kids options, including Little Passports for young minds, or how about National Geographic?
20. A sleeping bag
21. Sponsoring a child – we did this last year and it was a huge success.
22. Adopting an animal – a whale, a monkey, a snow leopard. The choice is yours.
23. The gift of time. With kids going from school to class to… bed, spending time with mum or dad can be a really special gift. Make gift cards with ‘mummy or daddy time’ which they can spend how they wish (within reason).
24. A dinner date at a favorite restaurant. When I was 13 my dad took me on a real life date to restaurant. It is one of my favorite childhood memories.
25. A day trip – a nearby city, the beach, a forest/country park – whatever you think would tickle their fancy.
26. A great getaway. Yes it’s a little more expensive, but if you were thinking of taking your kids to Disney (or Centre Parcs) anyway, why not make it into a gift? You can always get creative by wrapping up their own (or a new) suitcase.
27. Membership to something – a museum, zoo, aquarium… As long as it’s something you’ll visit often it will be worth it.
28. Gardening equipment and some seeds. Get them growing – vegetables, flowers, a tree.
29. A worm farm… Or ant farm. Yes they come with LIVE creatures. Yes it’s kinda gross. But kids will love it.
30. A plant. I know a seven year old who’s favourite gift was a Venus Flytrap. Yes really. Kids surprise us sometimes!
31. Their very own chair – arm chair, dining chair, desk chair, rocking chair… If it’s their very own, they’ll love it. (Bonus points if you personalise it).
32. Stickers and something to decorate!
33. A special knife and fork set like this one.
34. A plate and bowl set
35. Dressing up clothes/costumes – whether you go for the real thing like this, or raid a thrift store for random items, this is a gift that will really fire their imagination.
36. A backpack/lunch bag
37. A thermos
38. Sports equipment (roller blades, a football, a skipping rope)
39. Playing cards
40. Some good quality paints, brushes and paper or canvas.
41. Knitting needles and wool, plus a lesson on how to knit.
42. A camera
43. A sewing machine
44. A bird feeder and a book on birds
45. Some real binoculars
46. A nightlight (maybe even something like this which helps you get a little more sleep)
47. A tent (and a chance to camp out with you)
48. A clock – cuckoo, alarm, Thomas the Tank… Whatever they’d like.
49. The gift of giving. This is a radical one, but worthy none the less. Children understand more than we realize and explaining to them that there are other children who don’t have clothes or toys can really make them think. Get your kid(s) to pick a favorite, local (or national/international) charity and make a donation in their name.
50. Their dream come true (my kiddo really, really wants Mickey Mouse to come and play at our house, so I’m looking into getting a children’s entertainer to come and visit). Maybe the child in your life wants to ride a horse, be a zoo keeper (for a day) or ride around in a sports car. Be creative. They’ll love it, and the memory will last a lot longer than a piece of plastic.*

* Or maybe not. Those plastic toys in landfills are bound to take a few thousand years to decompose.

 

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A few things you should do once a year

Every January we all make New Year Resolutions. Get fit. Lose weight. Be more organised. Whatever it is, if you’re anything like me, by day three you’ve indulged in a big piece of cake and not made it to one gym class! That’s why I really loved this post via a Cup of Jo. ThoughtCatalog has but together 26 Things Every Person Should Do For Themselves At Least Once A Year.

There are some great ideas – like listening to a cd from your past. (Yes, I indulged in a bit of Oasis’ Definitely Maybe) and evaluating your life every year on your birthday (instead of Jan 1st.) Here are a couple more:

Go on a trip where the travel portion is just as crucial as the event or destination. It can be a long drive, car ride, train, flight, cross country road trip – whatever. Go have a blast along the way, make it insane. 

Take yourself out to dinner. Eating alone is, by contrast, often very calming (if you can get past the cultural notion that you should always eat with somebody, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t!) But eat dinner by yourself, at a restaurant, at least once. You’ll see what I mean.

But my personal favourite was this one:

Do something surprising and unbelievably kind for someone who will not expect it (send flowers to a random friend, Paypal someone $100 for a massage, buy someone you love a really nice, special dinner). Something that is so generous you couldn’t possibly do it regularly, but that would make somebody else’s year complete, to know that somebody cared enough about them to do something at that level.

These posts are usually the ones you read, share on Facebook or pin to your ‘must dos’ and then forget all about. So today I jumped right in. I paid for someone else’s parking ticket. Some almost-tears almost fell. It felt good. So one down 25 to go.

Any thoughts? What kind of things do you do once a year to help yourself or others (or both?). And what would you add to the list? I’d suggest getting a really, really good haircut (it’s the one thing you wear every day so totally worth the investment).

 

Small gifts, big impact

Note: this post was written yesterday but remained unpublished due to a much-needed meeting with the margarita mommies! Whoops!

Today I heard a kindness story that moved me to action. Our babysitter is training to be a teacher. As part of her training she works with ten-year-olds in a school in Spanish Harlem. At the end of last semester she bought the kids tiny gifts – pencils, erasers, things they could use in class. She had done this so many times before with other schools and always got a good reaction. However, to her surprise, this time a lot of the kids started crying.

They were just so grateful for the tiniest gift.

Unbeknownst to our babysitter, a lot of the children were living in a shelter nearby. It was so normal for the school that it wasn’t even part of the briefing process for new recruits. She realised later that most of the kids had the same backpack – given to them by the shelter.

She didn’t think anything of taking a few small presents into school on the last day. But these tiny gifts, a small but kind gesture, became something much, much bigger to the children.

This evening I’ll be searching for the shelter and adding those kids to my Christmas list. If you’re thinking of doing something similar here’s a quick list of the things they need:

Personal care items such as:

soap

deodorant

toothpaste

Stationery and school supplies including:

backpacks

pens

pencils

crayons

erasers

pencil cases

Plus small toys such as colouring books, playing cards, games and books.

Donate/give whatever you can. The smallest gift really does make a big difference.

 

 

A little kindness goes a long way

image.jpegToday was of those days. We had tantrums and tears before the front door had even closed on our way to school. It was pouring. We had to take the baby with us. I was hot and flustered and generally not having a great start to the day. Then, in the school corridor a few little words changed all that…

A mum I hardly know looked at me and smiled. Then she told me I was doing “a great job”.

“You’re doing a great job.” It reminded me of a lovely post from a Cup of Jo, and made me feel tons better. Because you know what, motherhood is HARD, working is HARD. Even just getting up and getting through the day is hard sometimes. So let’s give ourselves a break, tell ourselves we’re doing a good job (because we are)*, and spread a little kindness while we are at it.

I passed on this random act of kindness later when I told another mum of two walking down the street that her kids were very well behaved and she should be very proud. “You’re doing a good job” I said.

If you get chance today, or tomorrow, or any day, tell someone they are doing a good job. I guarantee they will appreciate it.

*This reminds me of this great piece of wisdom which got me through a lot of ‘those days’ with my first child:

Much better if you can get to the end of each day, put your feet up with a glass of wine or a G&T, and say cheerfully to each other, ‘What the hell… They’re all still alive so we must have got something right.’

(Rule 1 from the Rules of Parenting by Richard Templar).

Taxi!

I really ummed and aahhed about doing this again this year. I have a temperamental three-and-a-half year old and a three-month-old baby who’s just had kidney surgery – so my hands are pretty full at the moment. Plus I was worried that last year’s adventofgoodthings came across a bit preachy (which was definitely not the intention). I was swaying towards not doing it to be honest but then today I saw something that made me change my mind.

It was raining, we were outside Wholefoods and there was a rush on taxis. A woman with her child was running late to pick up her other kid from pre-school and an elderly couple let her jump in the can they had just hailed. So simple, so small, but to the woman – and her child who didn’t get left at school – so huge. So this year I’ll be looking for those small acts of random kindness that happen every day and celebrating them. Because right now, in this crazy, messy world, we really need them.

So if you see any acts, please celebrate them, thank them and let me know about them. And feel free to pass it on.

If you feel like doing something yourself, today is giving Tuesday so choose your favourite cause and give away. This year I chose the New York Public Library.