Friday, 29 March 2013

Top tip - Shopping for a highchair

When it came to shopping for baby things before Bobble was born, I spent a serious amount of time doing research. Anyone who has set out on this journey of what-on-earth-do-I-need-to-buy-for-my-forthcoming-baby will know that the world of baby shopping is a scary place. There are so many things out there to potentially buy. Talk about a crowded market place, it's like 6am at a Boxing Day sale at Next!

A lot of the stuff preys on every parent's insecurities and fears. Baby monitor with motion sensor mat? Special bin to mask the smell of stinky nappies? The best thing I saw was something called a Pee Pee Teepee. It's a little 'tent' made especially for using with little boys to catch any little accidents while you change their nappy. Love it. I personally enjoyed the Russian roulette game that came with changing Bobble's nappy. Yes he peed on his own head on more than one occasion - I called it a 'golden arch' - but you're likely to endure must worse incidents! Save yourself a tenner and buy something else less pointless!

As I've said before, I love spreadsheets and I'm notorious for creating them. I have a baby purchases spreadsheet that I created for that initial pre-birth shop. I've shared it with several pregnant friends and plan to share it on here very soon.

But today's tip is a quick one about highchairs. I'd like someone to benefit from my mistake. I bought a beautiful wooden highchair. I read plenty of online reviews before I bought it, but I didn't want something large, hideous and plastic in my kitchen, so I decided to ignore negative remarks about the straps and how easy it was to use. It was a nightmare to use. You couldn't lower the tray once the baby was in the seat, and when the tray was lowered it was hard to see what you were doing with the straps. There was no crotch bar and Bobble nearly slipped out on several occasions. I dreaded mealtimes as it was stressful getting him in and out safely. And food and crumbs managed to find their way into all the cracks and crevices.

After 2 months I sold it on ebay and bought the highchair I'd heard such good things about before, but had chosen to ignore. The Ikea Antilop highchair is the bees knees. Here's why:
  • First up price. It's £12, or £16 if you add the tray. Bargain. Of. The. Century.
  • It's an absolute doddle to clean. The seat is made of one solid piece of plastic. This makes is super easy to clean. And there's nowhere for food to hide.
  • Your baby cannot fall out. There's a lap strap for extra security, but the bar that goes between their crotch means they can't go anywhere.
  • It's not ugly. It's definitely not as pretty as the wooden one I had before, but it's simple and neat looking.
  • It's transportable. I've never done this as we have a booster seat, but there's no reason why you can't pop the legs off and take it away with you.
You will see this highchair in so many cafes, for all the reasons above it appeals to the hospitality industry too.

I. Love. It. And I will recommend it to anyone shopping for a highchair.

Shop for the Ikea Antilop highchair

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Thursday, 28 March 2013

Getting rid of stains

The collective noun for Mums is often described as an Army. They are said to wield huge amounts of power and influence. A force to be reckoned with! Challenging, competing, running the world, whilst simultaneously staying on top of the dirty washing pile and wiping bolognaise-stained faces.

Until I became a Mum, I didn’t know how true this image, stereotype even, was. Having now crossed over to the other side of the fence, I can confirm that there is a lot of truth in these rumours! It’s a massive cliché, but you really do become a member of a special club. And that membership has some fantastic benefits. I’ve learnt so much from other Mums, and it’s my intention to pass on a few of these tips right here.

First up is a good one for saving clothes from an otherwise certain trip to the recycling bank. Many stains can be removed simply by leaving them out in the sun. I can’t explain the science behind it, but I can confirm that it does work. Just leave your stained item outside (or on a windowsill in winter, but be warned that the magic takes a lot longer) on a sunny day and after a few hours, or longer if it’s a tough one, it will simply fade to nothing. Bingo. I haven’t tested a full range of stains like they do in the washing powder adverts (Daz doorstep challenge anyone?) but it definitely works on vests attacked by a leaky nappy!
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Making memories - a must do activity with your newborn

As all parents will acknowledge, the transition from newborn to chubby baby to intrepid toddler goes very quickly. In those early weeks and months, it felt like each time Bobble woke up he looked different. It's only when you look back through some of the hundreds thousands of photos taken of your precious little bundle do you realise how much they have grown and changed in such a short space of time.

There are plenty of ways of preserving the memory of how tiny your baby once was. I've come across so many lovely ideas - everything from making a memory blanket of your favourite sleepsuits to casting their hand and footprints in silver and putting them on a piece of jewellery. My must do activity is simple and easy, and I would almost guarantee that you can do this without needing to go further than 10 miles from your house.

Customising a piece of pottery with your baby's hand or footprints

Pottery painting cafes and ceramic studios have popped up everywhere in the UK over the last few years. I must admit that the first time I saw one, I doubted whether it would get enough custom to stay open. Seems I was wrong! If you've never been to one before, you're missing out. Even if you haven't so much as lifted a paintbrush since school, as soon as you've selected your piece of pottery, your inner creativity, and child, will come out.

When Bobble was 13 weeks old I took him to my local studio and I customised a plate with his hand and footprints. I went with a friend and in spite of both babies crying (they were hungry, it wasn't the painting that bothered them) we both surprised ourselves with how much fun it was. The plate hangs on the wall in his nursery and I look at it every day - mainly because it's in my eye line when I sit in the rocking chair. I love how tiny his hand and feet were and I love the fact that it looks just like something I (home) made.

Why I think this is a must do activity
  • It doesn't cost much - depending on the prices at your local studio, you'll pay around £20 if you go for a plate as I did.
  • The finished piece is something timeless that you can keep forever.
  • You can indulge your creative side and produce something completely unique. 
  • Getting the foot or hand prints is easy - the studio will have done this hundreds of times before and have a special way of getting those teeny fingers and toes spread out! 
We went back to Crafty Monkey a few months later to customise Christmas decorations, it was just as much fun in spite of the babies being slightly less compliant this time!

Why not look up your local pottery cafe and get together with some Mummy friends?

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Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Through the lens - Namibia

I've been lucky enough to visit and live in some amazing and beautiful places. I'm a bit of a junky when it comes to taking photos. This is the digital age, why take 1 or 2 when you can take 5 or 10! I live in constant hope that somewhere amongst all the clicks, there will be The One. And sometimes there is. So from time to time, I'll be sharing a few of my most favourite pictures.

This time it's one from our honeymoon in Namibia. To be fair, this particular place was so stunning that it was hard to take a bad photo.

Dead Vlei: Sossusvlei National Park, Namibia

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Days out - Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo

Eye spy
We recently enjoyed a lovely, if rather chilly week in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. Arctic winds seemed determined to blast us for most of the week, but at the end we had a good couple of days where you started to believe that spring might actually happen at some point before July!

We made the most of less freezing weather and on one day visited the Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo. We had planned to take Bobble to a zoo to celebrate his first birthday, but once again the weather wasn't on our side. So this was his first experience of wildlife at close quarters. He's not a particularly loud baby, and (like all babies) has a healthy nosiness, so looking at butterflies seemed like the perfect thing for him. The other thing that appealed to be as an obsessive photo-taker, was the opportunity for getting lots of snaps.
The butterflies were beautiful and just went about their business as we snapped away. But best of all, the zoo was heated to a lovely and very balmy 26c, enabling us all to have a good defrost!

At the same site, there is also a fab maze and a 12 hold mini golf course.

Read what other visitors think about Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo on tripadvisor
Why not pay a visit to your local butterfly zoo?
Butterfly zoos are generally cheaper than regular zoos, plus they're indoors (good news for our rubbish English climate) and they're usually open all year round, making them the ideal day out for any time of year.

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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Sunday roast leftovers - the ultimate sandwich

When I worked in London, one of the greatest lunchtime treats was a trip to Fuzzy's Grub. What Fuzzy's offered was what I consider to be the ultimate sandwich. Picture this:
  • your choice of roast meat (beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey)
  • + all of your usual Sunday roast accompaniments (roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, stuffing, carrots, peas etc.)
  • + gravy
  • in a sandwich!
I'll be the first to admit that before my first visit, I was a skeptic. Gravy in a sandwich, you're kidding right? But I was persuaded to give it a try, as I can't resist a Yorkshire pudding! It was, in one word, DIVINE.

Times change. Our local Fuzzy's closed down. I left London. But I wasn't prepared to leave those good memories behind. So we started creating the ultimate roast dinner sandwich at home. It's so simple, just throw in a few extra veg when you're preparing your roast dinner, buy a joint big enough for leftovers, make sure you have plenty of gravy and you can create the magic at home on a Monday night!

How to create the ultimate roast dinner sandwich
  • Fill a pan with your leftover gravy and add your leftover meat, warm gently until the meat is heated throughly.
  • Reheat your veg, stuffing and Yorkshire puddings in the microwave or the oven, ensuring that everything is warmed through thoroughly. If you want to include peas, it's best to cook these from fresh, as they will probably shrivel up and dry out if you leave them as leftovers.
  • Build your sandwich, adding as much gravy as you like, or dare!

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Helping your baby become a better sleeper

Imagine starting a new job. In the middle of the night after several weeks of broken sleep. After going through a physical challenge that is what you imagine being hit like a bus feels like. A job for which you have no qualifications. When your hormones are riding a big dipper rollercoaster. Where you know that a slip-up could put someone’s life in jeopardy. For a lot of women, I think this sums up what it feels like to become a Mum for the first time. Those few days with a newborn are likely to be the most difficult/stressful/tiring/amazing/frustrating/challenging/wonderful that you’ve ever had to deal with before.

Before Bobble arrived, I read books, signed up to and read most of the baby related email newsletters, spoke to other friends with children, I’d even done a spell of looking after my baby niece when she was 10 months old. It was information overload. And that is what I think makes looking after a new baby so hard. While their needs are simple – milk, filling nappies, sleep and feeling loved are their simple desires – trying to work out what they want feels like a game of roulette. Your head is full of all of the information that you absorbed before they arrived, but your brain feels as if you know nothing. Rolling a dice labelled with food/nappy change/sleep/cuddles would probably be just as successful as a sleep deprived new Mum trying to find her feet! The learning curve of those first few days is almost vertically steep, but one of the benefits of being awake virtually day and night is that you’re learning all the time. It’s amazing how quickly you become an expert. Your baby might be less only 4 days old but you will find yourself saying “Oh, he really likes being held like this” or “Sing this song, it always helps to calm him down”. I loved becoming that expert on my baby as we got to know one another.

One thing that I struggled to learn, and which I really wanted to share is about a baby’s sleep patterns. In my pre-baby swotting, I must have read tonnes about this, but for some reason when it came to the practical exam, I failed. Babies like sleep. They may not like to go to sleep, in fact, chances are they will fight it to the very end, but they need to sleep.

In those early 2 or 3 weeks after birth, babies can barely stay awake. Once this passes, and they see how exciting the world is, they want to keep looking at it, in case they miss out on something. The problem is that for new parents, it’s also exciting when their new bundle of joy actually starts to open their eyes and interact with them a bit more. I think I fell into this trap. How exciting it was for Bobble to be awake and sitting in his chair, or just looking up at us as he lay in our arms! While it’s true that as they get older, they are capable of staying away for longer spells, all babies, whether newborn or approaching toddler-hood, need regular sleep.

A baby that isn’t well rested becomes over tired. And that is where your troubles begin. An over tired baby as well as being very noisy doesn’t feed well, doesn’t enjoy interaction and struggles to fall asleep. The more tired they are, the harder sleep becomes – not logical is it?! Until he was 9 weeks old, it used to take me 2 hours to put Bobble down for the night. It was a marathon of crying, on and off feeding, rocking, despair and stress that usually only ended with a 20 minute blast from an app that played a shushing sound at a high volume!

Then I happened to read an article which described how (for some babies) sleep breeds sleep. The more sleep a baby has during the day, the better he sleeps at night. For adults, this doesn’t make sense. If I nap for too long or too late in the day, I always struggle to drop off at bedtime. But for a lot of babies, the opposite happens. So I gave it a try. I put Bobble down for regular naps and made sure he went to sleep. It wasn’t easy, as he was a sleep fighter, but a push in the pram usually worked (and the fresh air always did more the world of good), as did feeding him to sleep or just wearing him in the sling. The results were instant. Bedtimes were transformed and within 2 weeks he was sleeping through from 10pm to 5 or 6am, which I count as ‘going through the night’. That wasn’t actually my intention, but the new routine obviously worked for him as much as it did for me. It was so simple. All I had to do was keep an eye on the clock and not let him stay awake for more than the recommended number of hours for his age. I still do it now, and he remains a good sleeper at night time, but daytime naps are still a bit of a battle! Can’t win ‘em all!

My top tips for making your baby a better sleeper
  • Make sure they have regular naps.
  • The window from tired, to over tired is short - don't miss it!  
  • Clock watch and keep track of how much your baby has slept that day.
  • Get them in a good routine for going to bed - babies love the familiarity of a pattern of behaviour.
  • Some days you will need to help your baby nap - go for a walk.
  • If it's raining, rock them to sleep in your pram in the house.
More help...
I recently came across this sleep chart, it’s the ‘wake time’ line that I think is most important. And remember to look at your baby’s pattern over 24 hours – keep a sleep diary if you struggle to remember all of their awake and sleeping times.

As ever, I’m not making any big promises that this will work for you and your baby, but this worked for mine.

Update - September 2016
I'm adding what I hope you will find to be a very useful link. Jenny and Marten Areskoug have set up a website called On here they share the knowledge that Jenny has gained throughout her career as a GP. Running a weekly children's clinic Dr Areskoug has seen her fair share of common problems, sleep being one of the most popular! On their website, they have developed an interactive sleep chart, based on scientific research. You simply select the age of your child, and it shows you how much total sleep (night time and naps) your baby should have based on their age.

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Monday, 25 March 2013

Top tip – Keeping Mummy’s (and Daddy’s) hands warm in winter

Given that we’re still experiencing winter with no clear sign of spring on the horizon, I decided that it wasn’t too late to share this baby best buy.

Mummy Mitts are a brilliant invention. They are one-size-fits-all mittens that attach to the handle bar, or handles of your pushchair. What this means is that you no longer have to worry about losing your gloves when you take them off to open your purse/answer your phone/put your baby’s hat back on etc. You simply slip your hands out of the gloves and they stay attached to the buggy. They’re lovely and warm and the generous size means that Daddy can use them too.

They’re a graduate of Dragon’s Den but I can’t claim to have discovered them myself, they were bought for me as a present.

Why I love Mummy Mitts
  • No more lost gloves. Or worse, cold hands if you forget your gloves. 
  • They are completely universal and fit all pushchairs and all hand sizes.
  • Attach them to your buggy in October and leave them on until spring arrives; that's 6 months of usage! 
  • Simply stylish in black, they're bound to match your buggy. Or if you're looking for a splash of colour go for the Yummy Mummy version in red with polka dots.
Read more about Mummy Mitts and their other products on their website. I think I’m going to have to invest in a pair of Bubby Mitts to keep Bobble’s hands warm next winter!
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Sunday, 24 March 2013

The ultimate Easter egg?

When I read that a £5 Easter egg only available in Tesco had pipped 193 other eggs to the post to be crowned Good Housekeeping Easter Egg of the year, I had to buy one! It apparently beat off competition which included a £70 egg produced by Hotel Chocolat... wow!

The only question that now remains on my lips, is can I hold off from opening the egg for a whole 7 days. Tough call. I'll report back on whether the crown was deserved.

The Chokablok American Dreamcake egg is available to buy from Tesco.
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Saturday, 23 March 2013

Best ever brownies

Everyone who likes cooking or baking has something that they cook which is Their Thing, right? I’ve always loved baking. I have fond memories of helping my Mum make cakes in her Kenwood Chef and making apple pie with my Grandma. The pleasure of sharing a homemade cake with friends gives me almost as much pleasure as eating the cake itself! My Thing is chocolate brownies. I’ve been making them for years. I actually sent my husband off with a tin of brownies when he went on his stag. One of his friends said that after eating one, he could understand why he wanted to marry me!

I’ve experimented with a few different recipes, but I always come back to the same one. It’s a Good Housekeeping recipe that I’ve adapted slightly. The original recipe included walnuts, but I’ve removed these and added extra flour as I found that with a smaller amount the brownies were too gooey. They should still be gooey, but you shouldn’t need to eat them with a spoon!

Chocolate brownies recipe

Makes: 24
Preparation: 20 minutes, plus cooling
Cooking time: 40-45 minutes

575g (1 ¼ 1b) plain chocolate
225g (8oz) butter
3 eggs
2 tbsp freshly made strong black coffee
225g (8oz) caster sugar
75g (6oz) self-raising flour
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla essence

  1. Grease and line a baking tin measuring 19 x 27cm across the base (or use a tin with similar dimensions).
  2. Using a sharp knife, roughly chop 225g (8oz) of the chocolate and set aside. Melt the remaining chocolate and butter in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Let cool slightly.
  3. Mix the eggs, coffee and sugar together in a large bowl until smooth, then gradually beat in the melted chocolate. Fold in the flour, salt, walnuts. Vanilla essence and chopped chocolate.
  4. Pour into the prepared tin and bake at 190C (375F) for 40-45 minutes or until just firm to the touch in the centre.
  5. Leave to cool in the tin, then turn out. Trim off the crusty edges and cut into squares. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Photo credit: elana's pantry / / CC BY-NC-ND
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Friday, 22 March 2013

Successful hospital bag packing

When it came to packing my bag for hospital in those last few weeks before Bobble arrived, I sought a lot of advice from Mummy friends as well as online about what to take. There are loads of lists out there, as your good friend Google will reveal.

I’ve included my big list below, but I wanted to offer some wisdom about the actual packing. Hang on a minute, how hard can it be to pack a bag? Bear with me on this one. For me, these tips really saved time and avoided adding extra stress to a situation that frankly is already stressful enough! Here are my top 5 tips for getting organised for that life-changing trip to hospital.

Mine and yours.

1. This you’ll hear a lot. Have one bag for the baby’s things, and one bag for your own things. And make sure your partner knows which one is which!

Divide and conquer. 

2. Split the contents of your own bag into things you’ll need in labour, and things you’ll need afterwards. It will save your partner wasting time by having to search through nursing bras and maternity pads when all you want is a cereal bar or a pair of socks!

Categorically speaking.

3. Use packing cubes to separate out everything, and pack together similar things. For example, pack together in one cube your lip balm, massage oil and hair bands for you to use during labour.

Show and tell.

4.  Make sure your partner knows where you’ve stored everything in your nursery. If you end up having to stay in for a few days and he needs to bring in extra nappies or clothes from home, chances are you organised everything and he hasn’t got the foggiest idea where you’ve put anything!

Lost without a list!

5.  I can’t remember where I read this, but this is my biggest tip. Write down a very precise list of what is in every bag and packing cube. For example, “small grey bag contains hairbands, lip balm, facial spray”. The reason I found this so helpful was because you might, like me, pack your bags at 35 weeks, but not give birth until almost 6 weeks later. In the meantime you’ve forgotten what you put where. So in that post-birth haze when you ask your partner to dress your baby in that particularly cute sleepsuit that you picked out, you can tell him to check the list so that he knows exactly where to find it. Just remember to take the list with you!

The big list

This is what was on my list. It’s not the be all and end all, but you might find it a good starting point.

Your stuff
  • dressing gown
  • slippers
  • socks (some people get cold feet in labour)
  • t shirt for labour (something old that you don't mind throwing away afterwards)
  • massage oil
  • lip balm (some people find gas and air really dries their lips)
  • cereal bars
  • biscuits
  • crisps
  • juice
  • energy sweets
  • ipad/iphone
  • hairband
  • pillow (nice to have something that smells like home)
  • toiletries bag
  • something to wear home - loose and comfy
  • breastfeeding bras
  • breastpads
  • nipple cream - use it straightaway
  • maternity pads x 10
  • nightie (with buttons for b'feeding) to wear afterwards, or pjs with easy access!
  • towels (dark)
  • cheap pack of knickers (1 size bigger) x 5
  • ear plugs
  • sleeping mask
  • change for car park
  • maternity notes
  • birth plan
  • camera
  • magazines
  • water spray for face
  • flannel
  • water bottle
  • flipflops (to wear in shower)
  • makeup
  • glasses/contacts
  • facial wipes
  • bikini for in the pool
  • dirty washing bag
  • tissues
  • phone charger

For baby
  • car seat
  • going home outfit
  • blanket
  • nappies x 10
  • sleepsuits x 5 (newborn size)
  • hat
  • pramsuit to wear home (newborn)
  • muslins x 5
  • vests x 5 (newborn)
  • cotton wool (you're advised not to use wipes on newborns)
  • nappy bags
  • scratch mits
  • antibacterial gel
  • baby nail scissors/clippers

  • change of clothes
  • toothbrush
  • deodorant
  • swimming shorts (in case he wants to get in the pool)
  • snacks
  • book/magazine
Photo credit: rubyblossom. / / CC BY-NC
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Thursday, 21 March 2013

Making an entrance

So… first blog post. I wondered whether there should be a drum roll, but that promises a ta-dah moment, and I’m not sure there will be one! Not just yet anyway. I’ll settle instead for a soft, a-hem, let’s be English and slightly reserved about it, shall we?

I’ve been thinking about blogging for a long time, but it’s taken until now to figure out what I can offer. In all the years that I’ve been reading blogs, I have taken so much advice and reassurance, without really giving anything back in return. So this is my attempt to return the favour. As they say, one good turn deserves another.

I’ve made a conscious decision not to blog about my personal life. Frankly, it’s just not that interesting or exciting! But I do want to help the online community, in any little way that I can. So my focus is going to be about sharing my own personal tips and experiences. While I have recently become a Mum, I don’t want to limit myself to just Mummy things. I will also blog about the other things that float my boat, which might be travel and days out, or digital marketing (my working life), or something else that grabs my interest. I love a good list, so I hope to write plenty of these too.

I hope you’ll find my posts helpful. If you do, then I know that I’ve achieved what I set out to do, which is worthy of a drum roll. Just a small one mind, let’s not get carried away. Follow my blog with Bloglovin
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