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    Blogs — Advice

    Go silly in Sicily

    Go silly in Sicily

    With our oldest starting reception in September we wanted to take advantage of going away during term time without having to take out a second mortgage.  Somehow, I managed to get tickets to Sicily for £200 for 2 adults and 2 kids (plus extra for a check in luggage).  The flight times were not ideal - arriving at 7pm local time and returning around 11pm but for £200 I booked it!

    See our previous blogs for ideas on how to make travelling with young children as smooth as possible

    Tip for evening arrivals: make sure you have enough food for your kids in case your flight is delayed.  We had planned to stop off at the supermarket on the way to the villa then cook a quick pasta for dinner but due to our delay I literally had 5 minutes to dash around the supermarket the size of gatwick to get some essentials.  My poor babies only had bread to fill their bellies before they passed out in the car and slept til the morning.  

    We flew into Catania on the eastern side and stayed half an hour south of the capital in Syracuse.  

    How good is your driving?

    Hiring a car is a must to get around the island easily and we hired a spacious citroen. Car hire is relatively inexpensive but don't forget to buy extra insurance to reduce the excess. Prepare yourself for Italian  driving.  It's definitely not for the faint-hearted.  In town the roads are narrow, so narrow they were barely wide enough for our car.  It made us wish we hired a fiat 500 instead.  We brought our own kids' car seats.  It's a bit of a mission between the car and airport but we use car seat holdalls that are huge.  The secret here is that you can stuff it full with things like towels, coats and jumpers that doesn't count towards your checked in luggage :)

    Bite me!

    Our villa host kindly aerated our apartment for us.  Unfortunately this invitation extended to the hungry mosquitoes outside.  Somehow it slipped my mind that Sicily would have mosquitos. Boy was this the worse slip ever!  After our first night I realised the mistake I made.  I was breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Let's just say I didn't look the prettiest of sights.  My face, arms and legs had swellings the size of mini tennis balls.  Do not start scratching once you've been bitten because once you start you just can't stop.  Easier said than done. I couldn't resist and my bites were the bain of the holiday. 

    Fortunately Sicily had plenty of pharmacies even in their small towns and they are well stocked with insect repellents.   

    Mount Etna

     Mount Etna - ice in the summer

    We took multiple day trips along the eastern coast of Sicily and one of them was to the beautiful active volcano of Mount Etna. The trip up to the base of the lift was wonderful.  The stop off points were so picturesque.  When we arrived There are several shops selling souvenirs at the base of the lift and a few restaurants with debateable food so we definitely recommend you to bring your own food and just sit outside and enjoy the view.  The cable car was quite expensive - around 35 euros per person but the ride was fun for the kids and the view was spectacular.  You have to get another ticket at the base if you want to reach the peak by coach and then a 4x4 which we didn't think was quite suitable for the boys.  I was yet again unprepared, honestly this is very unlike me :),   I didn't bring quite the right footwear for the trek and had quite flimsy canvas shoes for the walk at the top.  It was quite dusty and the ground slippery but I managed to wear my little one on my back as he was getting quite tired and needed a nap.  I did get quite a few looks with my attire and a 2 year old on my back walking around the top of a mountain.  Mums can do anything.  

    Tip: the top of Mount Etna can get a bit chilly so be prepared with layers and even a windproof jacket. 

    Go crazy for gelato

    How many gelatos can you have in a week? You just can't not have gelato when you're in Italy.  We managed it every single day! The kids had a field day. It was so useful to have gelato as a weapon when the kids were playing up.  I knew we'd have one anyway as I LOVE ice cream but I would blackmail them that they would not have any ice cream when they were misbehaving.  It worked. 

    Noto Noto....


    Noto is a small town in southeastern Sicily.  The roads are small so parking can be a bit hairy but the small town is a real treat.  The clean streets and baroque architecture were a great combination for the kids to roam around. The local restaurants served amazing food.  All very family friendly and Gusto Gourmet served the best gelato cone I've tasted so far.  

    Sand, sea and sun



    Sicily has a lot of beautiful beaches.  There are rocky, pebble and soft sandy beaches so there is something for everyone.  For the kids sandy beaches were what we were looking for but you do have to know where to look for them.   However sandy beaches are not on every corner so you have to search for them.  This link has a great list of sandy beaches.  

    Taormina and amphitheatre

    A chic hilltop town Taormina is known for the Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient Greco-­Roman theater that is still used today. The town is expensive and busy, full of tourists and people watchers.  The trip is worth it just for visiting for the amphitheatrea alone.  The view from the top is breathtaking. 

    Food glorious food

    I don't think you can ever have a bad meal in Sicily.  Everywhere we ate was either simple but delicious fresh pasta or seafood.  They seem to try to encorporate aubergine in their local cuisine but there's plenty of other dishes without if you're not a fan.  Here's a list of places that are worth a visit:

    Catania: A putia dell'Ostello - local eats (there's a natural cave in the restaurant) £

    Catania: Trattoria Giglio - local eats (fresh and delicious) £

    Catania: Comis Ice Cafè - ice cream £

    Catania: Trattoria del Cavaliere - local eats ££

    Bruculi: Stravento ristorante - fresh seafood ££seafood pasta in Bruculi

    Noto: Putia del Coppo - streetfood £

    Noto: Esperia Pizzeria - posh pizzeria ££

    Noto: Picnic - vegetarian and vegan (and fresh fruit) with a charming guitar playing and singing waiter £fresh fruit salad and pancakes at Picnic in Noto

    Noto: Trattoria La Carretteria- local eats ££ 

    Taormina: Rosso Peperoncino local eat ££Pizza in Taormina

    We only had a week here and I'm not one to go back to the same place twice but Sicily has so much more to discover.  I will definitely add that to one of my 'must return' list.  The beautiful weather, scenery, history and food and very child friendly 

    Give me 10 minutes

    Do you have Whirlwind-itus?

    Since having a baby I have developed a strange condition. It's not life threatening, thankfully, and I'm hoping its manageable. On talking to other parents I don't think I'm the only one struggling with it. I've looked up my symptoms online to try and identify it but my search has come up blank. So I'm self-diagnosing. People, I've got 'Whirlwind-itus'.

    It used to take me about a week to wash any of my clothes. I would check the weather on-line to try and plan a good time to do it. I would take the clothes out of the washing basket and move them incrementally closer to the washing machine at a rate of approximately two metres a day. When finally close enough, the washing would then go in the machine where I would promptly forget about it. I would then forget about it some more. The forgetting (or wilfully ignoring) stage would go on for a few days until I ran out of pants/tights/work appropriate clothing and actually turned the machine on. It would then go out to dry (after a another delay, obviously), dodging rain showers (the weather check earlier in the week now obsolete) taken in when still wet and sometimes, in low moments, dried with a hair-dryer so I had something clean to wear to work.

    Now, due to my new condition, when A is asleep, things get done. She fell asleep the other morning and in the space of fifteen minutes I had eaten breakfast, emptied the dishwasher, put a nappy wash on (There is always a nappy wash to do in my house), hung some clothes away, put away the drying up, replied to some texts and I'm pretty sure if she had slept any longer I could have taken a crack at brokering peace in the middle east.

    I whirlwind. The minute that little girl closes her eyes I'm off, Tasmanian Devil style around the house; eating, cooking, cleaning, carrying, building, welding, talking, painting – doing anything and everything in that small, unknown amount of time that she sleeps Some days I marvel at my efficiency. Turns out my mother was right all along – Imagine what I could do if I only applied myself! (Big up Martha) But more recently, it's left me feeling frustrated. In that small sliver of time, that miniscule window that I get to myself all day, I choose to, what? empty the dishwasher? That seems a bit sad to me.

    I get stuff has to get done; the older child has to be picked up from school, the fire that's just started in the corner probably needs to be put out. However, now when A sleeps, (sorry, I mean, If A sleeps, there are no guarantees in this house) I try to just stop. Breathe. Resist the urge to carry out major house renovations in forty-five minutes. Maybe just have a cup of tea. Read a book. Sit. I don't want to go off on a well-being tip (I'm sure there a millions of other much better written blogs dedicated to that), but there is definitely something about using this precious time as a parent, to do something for yourself, to not try and fit in a weeks worth of housework into half an hour. A wise man once said to me 'Its not about the length of time,  it's about the quality' (It was my neighbour Vince, he's lovely) and I really think he is right.

    It's tough, I admit. To sit and write this I had to stop myself doing another million things. A sleeps for random lengths of time of at random times of day. There is no pattern to it. But I am trying to enforce a pattern. A pattern of stopping before I whirlwind and asking myself if it is really what I want to do with that time.

    Ironically I better finish this and call the G.P's while she is asleep – I'm hoping they can give me some drugs for this condition at the very least.

    cloth nappies, nappy bin

    Do I have time for washable cloth nappies?

    We use washable nappies.  When I tell people this (or they notice, sly eyed across a baby massage class), I am met with a range of reactions; from bewilderment to amusement, intrigue to (mild) disgust.  The most common response however is 'I wish we could use washable nappies but...'.  I would like to take the 'but' (pun intended) out of this sentence. Sure, there are things to consider when making the move over to washables but in the year when disposable plastics are firmly in the spotlight, disposable nappies and their environmental impact (spoiler alert; they're  not great) are sure to take a hit.  So get ahead of the curve and jump on the washables train....

    You will wash them.  A lot.  But that's OK – you do heaps of washing anyway with a baby as one of their favourite pastimes seems to be being sick. We do a nappy wash every other day generally but this fluctuates and should get less as A gets older.  You will also need space to dry them.  Obviously when the weather is glorious, as it is now, everything in the house gets washed (Oh hi Christmas Jumper on the line) but when normal service is resumed (I live in Manchester, an area not known for its dry climate) you will be drying them in the house.  Invest in a new airer.

    They are expensive, but they are an investment.  Obviously I speak from a place of privilege here and totally accept that not everyone has £100 to drop on nappies; a £1 pack of nappies from Aldi is accessible and do-able for most  However there is a active second hand market so you can easily pick some up on the cheap (and sell them on when you are done with them) and they will do for more then one baby so the savings really add up in the long term.    But we are missing a key point here – people want to buy you stuff when you have a baby  – do you really need another baby grow they will wear for two weeks and then be sick on (see above)? When people ask what you want or need for the baby maybe you can ask for nappies or some pennies towards some – let Great Aunt Mabel* get you something actually useful, something you will use every day, that will grow with your baby, save you money and save the world (OK, maybe not the whole world, but your little corner of it). We bought our nappy set as we were very kindly given a voucher for Mothercare and they had an offer on.  We are suckers for a deal.

    But the main and possibly most important point that I would like to make is that, in my experience, washable nappies work.  They are far superior to disposables at containing whatever surprises your baby has in there for you which in turns leads to less ruined outfits due to leakage.   The last time I used disposable nappies I had to change A's outfit four times.  Four. When I complained to my friends about this they rolled their eyes, a pitying look given – Outfit changes seems to be the order of the day with disposables.  I accept that disposable nappies have a place in your repertoire– when you can't, for whatever reason, carry around dirty nappies or when you don't have access to regular washing facilities (on holiday or when travelling for example).  But why not use them for just that? The odd occasion when you need them for that convenience.  Because that's what disposable nappies and all one use plastics are; convenient.  But, as you all know, convenience is killing our planet. 

    Give washables a chance.  Lots of companies offer a try before you buy system.  If you are really lucky you may even have a nappy library in your hood. Let me know how you get on.  Maybe one day I'll be giving you a sly glance in baby massage checking out your baby's nappy.

    *You might want to help Great Aunt Mabel out and send her a link

    Are you going to try for another?

    Are you going to try for another?

    Some people go into parenthood with clear ideas on whether they’d prefer to raise a boy or a girl. In all the years we were together before having kids, I can honestly say that we never had a preference. Instead, we had really clear opinions on the number of children – a maximum of two. And we are lucky enough to have two healthy, happy girls.

    I remember telling our dry cleaner when I was about thirty weeks pregnant that we had a second girl on the way. He smiled, and tutted as he handed over our things. ‘Maybe next time you will get a boy’. Taken aback, I managed a nervous laugh, and walked out of the shop feeling both angry and sad. There was no malice behind what he said – in fact he’d meant it kindly and affectionately. But it made me bristle - why was a second baby girl less special than a baby boy? Why was there the assumption that I’d want to have another child, just to see if I could bear a son? Have times really not moved on at all? Much to my surprise, it wasn’t the last time I’d hear something similar.

    For those of you with two boys, perhaps you’ve had the same responses from people. Perhaps there’s this innate desire for balance that makes people assume everyone wants at least one of each gender. But that one comment was a sharp reminder that my daughters would likely have more gender-related obstacles to overcome in life than I’d hoped. And that part of my job, raising girls, would be to help them see, navigate and challenge those obstacles. No easy task!

    One year in and I can safely say that I adore being a mother to sisters. I love the friendship they already share. The way my eldest will insist on them wearing the same pyjamas for bed, or that they both wear dresses instead of trousers. The way they will sit together colouring, singing and talking in their own language. Or the way my youngest has started trying to brush her older sister’s hair (to varying levels of success). I know these same bonds exist between siblings of different genders, but for me it’s really special to see their interests evolving together while they also manage to remain steadfast individuals. And I do love the challenge of teaching them to be strong and kind, not pretty. To love cars as much as dolls, and football as much as ballet. To make mud pies outside, and bake cupcakes inside. It’s pushed me outside my own comfort zone, and made me explore some of the stereotypes I have about boys and girls.

    Sometimes when I see a new baby, I get nostalgic for the early days. The sleepy snuggles. The tiny fingers curling around mine. The first smiles and sounds. Watching those initial moments of love mingled with curiosity when siblings first meet. But then I remember how many firsts we have to come – the first day of school. The first love and first heartbreak. The first time they question themselves, and the first time they find pride in who they are and what they do. And with that realisation, I know that I am content with what I have, and that two little lives are enough for us.

    How do you plan a stress free family holiday?

    How do you plan a stress free family holiday?

    We all need a break, and family holidays can be the highlight of the year. But not knowing what to do and where to go when you have young children can really take the fun out of it all. It’s different for everyone, but here’s my guide to planning a fun and stress free, family holiday with young children. 

    Before children, my husband and I would plan these lovely city breaks where we would spend our evenings checking out the local food, drink and culture and our days meandering the streets whilst recovering from the night before. We’ve never really been beach-lazing or country-walking people. But when our first daughter arrived, we suddenly realised our night-owl holidays would need to change dramatically. But to what? 

    Some families manage these amazing long haul holidays, and their children magically fall into a new routine. Sadly, we are not that family, but we didn’t learn that until our first holiday together.

    We went to see my family in the states. We planned flights to correspond with sleeping times. (She was too excited to sleep). We were going to one of my best friends’ weddings. (And ended up leaving the evening of dancing and drinks far earlier than hoped, due to jet lag and a very unhappy baby). And planned a return to work the following week. (My husband had 24 hours in London before flying back out to the states for business). It was a disaster, and both of us finished the holiday more stressed and exhausted than before we went.


    Since then, we’ve been much less ambitious with how far we go and how much we plan and it’s worked out so much better for us. Once the girls are a bit older we’ll definitely plan some bigger adventures (I can’t wait to take them to Japan, for instance). But for now, here’s a snapshot of what works for us.

    1. Direct flights only, and under four hours away
    When we flew to see my family, we had a connecting flight in Chicago. On the long flight, our daughter was pretty amazing even though she’d been awake almost the entire time. But when we had to go through security a second time and board a second plane, she lost it. And then we lost it. There were tears on both sides. So now, we plan things so that the airplane ride is part of the fun, and the girls can crash once we reach our destination. Where possible, we also fly out of City Airport, as it’s so close to our home and SO easy!

    2. Book into an AirBnB or KidandCoe
    We had grand illusions of booking a suite in an amazing resort with a pool and restaurant. And then we realised we’d all be sleeping in the same room and we’d have to head to bed or hang out outside so not to risk waking the girls. Luckily, there are so many options nowadays that are set up for families travelling (high chairs, travel cots, children’s cutlery, toys, and a local guide to the neighbourhood) that it’s easy to find accommodation where the adults can hang out once the kids are asleep, and they have space to run around without bumping into other visitors. It’s so low-stress that it has completely transformed the way we travel and we’ve decided to save the boutique hotels as a special treat when it’s just the adults travelling.

    3. Find a destination with a good mix of outdoor and indoor activities
    The weather is not dependable, and we’ve always had terrible luck. In the past, I’ve joked that our friends should prepare for a heatwave in London whenever we go away, as often the weather is better back home than it is wherever we’re going. But we’ve found if we plan for a bit of everything, we won’t be disappointed or attempting to keep kids from going stir crazy if our sunshine holiday is a total washout.

    4. Look for family-friendly cities
    One of our favourite holidays to date was a short trip to Amsterdam. The city is AMAZING for kids of all ages with so many enormous parks and playgrounds to explore. The restaurants embrace children, and often have a toy box in the corner as well as a good kids menu. The museums are very family-friendly – often with activities for the kids and space where they can run around. And their science museum was so much fun that my husband and I happily spent the day there.

    5. Eat out for lunch, and home for dinner. 
    The girls hit a wall around 6pm and if we’re not ‘home’ for dinner, bath and bedtime it is not pretty. We’d once ordered food, only to ask for it to be boxed up so we could run out the door with a tantruming toddler. Lunchtime, however, is another story and it’s a nice excuse for us to sit down, people-watch, and rest a bit.

    6. Take familiar foods as back up
    I pack a snack bag and restock it at the local supermarket so that we always have something on hand that I know my girls will eat. It means I’m not stressed, and we can always put a swift end to a hunger-related tantrum. We’re also happy to encourage her to try local foods, without panicking that either girl will go hungry.

    7. Read travel blogs before you go
    There are so many families far more adventurous than ours, who travel all the time. I’ve found them an amazing resource for insider’s tips on where to go and what to do, depending on your children’s ages. A Cup of Joe and Somewhere Slower are two of my favourites, but a quick Google will give you loads of inspiration.

    8. Keep it simple
    Don’t over-pack or create a complicated agenda. We try to limit ourselves to one suitcase for everyone, and one carryon for each adult. As the kids get older, they’ll be allowed one carryon bag as well as long as we don’t end up carrying it too. We keep our days open and flexible, with a holiday-long hit list that we can tick off in any order and on any day. With low expectations, we’re always pleasantly surprised. 

    So there’s our current fail-safe guide to planning the perfect time away as a family. We’re thinking this summer that the Italian Lakes look like a nice mix of downtime, nature and culture but would love to hear where you’re planning too! And any tips you have, please do share in the comments below.