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    Blogs — Advice

    Tate Modern

    Happy New Year - What are your new year's resolutions?

    Happy New Year! Another year is here. The last few months of 2017 were a bit of a blur. I went back to work full-time, and we settled our youngest into the same nursery as our eldest. As we transitioned from having me at home to having me back in an office five days a week, we did our best to plan ahead but definitely went into survival mode after about a month. So as we settle into a new year, there are a few things I’d like to do differently. You could call them resolutions, but they are a bit different to my usual ‘Be better with money’ and ‘Exercise more’.

    Make the Most of Weekends
    With both of us working full time, our weekends are pretty precious. It’s a chance to regroup, but also spend some quality time with both the girls. The last few months, we’ve not wanted to schedule much knowing that we would need the two days to recover and plan. But now that we’re into our new routine, I want to find a way to introduce some regular activities alongside some downtime. That might be our eldest starting ballet on a Saturday morning. It might be that one day a month we take a road trip, or go see some friends who live outside of London. Or head into the city to be tourists for the day. With our youngest still needing a long midday nap, the options are a bit limited but a little planning and perfectly-timed car journey will help us get around that.

    Slow Down
    When it comes to ‘down time’, I’m terrible. I always feel there’s something I should be doing. But I want the girls to grow up valuing quiet time as much as they value being busy, so am going to do my best to lead by example and hill out (a bit).

    Serve the girls one new meal a month
    I’m an okay cook, but I definitely fall into food ruts. Especially when it comes to what I serve the girls for dinner. Luckily my eldest appears to be easing out of her picky phase and my youngest still seems to be eating most things, so I want to try and start branching out of our current chicken, veg and carbs rotation. I’ve ordered myself two new cookbooks (Smitten Kitchen Every Day and Basics to Brilliance) to add to the two I’ve relied on over the last year (Dinner a Love Story and Feeding a Family, if you’re interested – both are brill), and will let you know how it goes.

    Find a Babysitter
    For over three years, we’ve relied on family to look after the girls if they’re not in nursery and we have somewhere we need to be. But we’ve decided it’s time to bulk up our local support network a bit. Especially as my family lives in the US and my husband’s family are a good five hours away! We are starting to really crave adult time that isn’t just on the sofa, and hopefully even involves seeing some of our friends over a cocktail instead of a pub lunch with loads of kids underfoot. Ideally we would find someone the girls would come to know really well, but I know that process takes time so just need to start with someone that we like, and go from there.

    Frame and hang family photos and our favourite bits of art
    We have an entire hard drive of family photos and a drawer full of art that I want to keep, but at the moment it’s just locked away where no one can enjoy any of it. For Christmas, we ordered my husband’s parents a picture poster from LALALAB and it turned out amazing. So amazing, that we decided we want a few for the house. So now I just need to find the time to pick the photos, place our order and have a few other things framed. And then hang it all. It’s a process, but I know once it’s finished it will make me really happy, and make our house feel even more like a home.

    Does anyone else do resolutions for the family? If so, are they serious or silly? Have you managed to stick to them? Let me know in the comments below! 

    Is Istanbul an ideal family city break?

    Is Istanbul an ideal family city break?

    When planning a trip for the new year, I tend to book a trip for February as it’s something to look forward to after the Christmas/New Year festivities. However this year, was a special year for my hubby - his 40th birthday so I surprised him with a family birthday getaway in early January to Istanbul - a city that sits in between Europe and Asia across the Bosphorous strait. The flight is 3.5 hours so in terms of flight times, it’s a good city destination to head to with children. If you are anything like me (and I would imagine most families), travelling with young children, it’s always better to plan ahead or have some ideas of what to do, places to eat and travel checks beforehand. Here are some of my tips on what to do and how to handle a city break with 2 young boys in the beautiful Turkish city. 

    Getting there hassle free

    We always seem to take early morning flights on our holidays and our boys seem to cope well with them.  I think the tip here is to try to sleep as early as possible so that you can get maximum sleep as even if your kids manage to nap here and there during the day, it’s unlikely you will be able to close your eyes until your head falls on that pillow at the end of the day. Being sleep deprived for 4 years (that’s for another blog!), I usually have no problems falling asleep at any given chance. 

    Try to pack as much as possible a few days before you travel so that there's little or nothing to do the night before travel - giving you more chance to relax and get into holiday mode.  Perhaps write a packing list ahead of your holiday of what needs packing, some things you can pack early and others, you may only be able to pack at the last minute so having this on a checklist is very handy. 



    Hands free

    We checked our luggage in and this time our buggy too.  Little one (1.5years old) likes to walk and can walk independently for longer so we felt a bit more free not pushing a buggy around with us - I am sure you can understand how much quicker it is to walk up some stairs or going on escalators rather than diverting a mile to locate the lifts, only to wait until the 5th lift arrives, before you can go in. I kept the baby carrier on me so that if he did want to be carried or got a bit tired I could carry him and still keep my hands free.

    I usually pack a spare set of clothes for the kids in case of accidents – luckily I did as the eldest one had a small accident when he couldn’t use the bathroom during take off.  

    Hunger pangs

    There was a time when you could always rely on British Airways to serve a rather bland, overly mayo’d sandwich and yoghurt but even British Airways albeit short haul economy didn’t serve food or drinks onboard so we tend to buy our food and drink before boarding. Like anywhere you go, when travelling with kids and in particularly when being constrained to your seat, thousands of miles up in the sky, it’s very important to have snacks, snacks and more snacks. For our kids food always calms so we make sure we have plenty at all times!  

    We've arrived

    Don't forget you need a Turkish visa to enter Turkey.  They cost $20 and can be purchased online before you fly or at the airport when you arrive.  It's both cheaper and quicker to do it before hand.  Be warned that you cannot change any details on the visa once you submit it online so make sure you get it right.  I made a mistake on mine and had to pay for it twice. It was painful.  

    Hidden gem

    Our first dinner in Istanbul was at a local family restaurant called Yakup 2. We would have passed it walking down the street had it not been recommended by our trusted host.  It is a very traditional place serving delicious Turkish appetisers and the portions are good.  Their seafood is really good.  We ordered seconds of the anchovy and calamari.    Service very quick and efficient, so order as you eat so you don’t over order.  The waiters were polite and considerate. We even tried the local tipple.  Yeni Raki as well as the turnip juice.  Both an acquired taste. 

    Is it nutty?

    What we didn’t realise is walnuts are popular in Turkish cuisine. Some of you may know (from reading my early weaning blogs) my eldest has a severe allergy to peanuts and walnuts.  After his first mouthful he commented his tongue was itching.  I carry his medicines – adrenaline pens and antihistamines everywhere so gave him some anti-histamine and luckily that stopped any reaction.  So do check before ordering what ingredients are in the local dishes.

    Lazy morning

    We had a lazy next morning and didn’t leave our apartment for breakfast until 11am. I blame the jet lag, despite only a 3 hour time difference. However it might have been more to do with the long day and that Yeni Raki we had the previous evening! Kids being kids, cannot wait until lunchtime for their breakfast so luckily I had packed some cereal which they had when they woke.  This is something I tend to do on trips now as it gives you that extra bit of time in your room, rather than having to dash out early morning to feel the kids. We eventually ventured into town – don’t follow google maps. It doesn’t recognise many of the small roads and will send you on a tour of the town instead of a direct route.  Best to ask for directions before you head off as well as using googlemaps


    We slowly made our way to the quaint little gem of a restaurant called Privato Cafe.  It’s hidden away in the Galata area, just around the corner from the Galata Tower which was our first ’tourist’ sightseeing spot.  They were super friendly and very accommodating with our dietary requirements, although you will need to explain to them exactly what vegan is.  They definitely tried but the vegan concept is still very new.  My husbands’ twin is vegan and our host helped me source a vegan birthday cake.  He and I must have contacted around 8-10 bakeries and cafes to make a nut free vegan cake.  We had to specify exactly what we didn’t want in it.  The result was a delicious fruity tart.  You couldn't taste it didn't contain eggs or butter at all. Back to breakfast, the village breakfast was a delight, Homemade jams, local cheeses, hot and cold plates to try – this was a large breakfast so take your time.  We also tried the mezze platter which was a hit.  The vegetable soup was probably their weakest dish but still edible.  By the time we finished eating, it was past midday so we felt it was justifiable to finish the meal with some local quince desserts. 2 portions to be exact.  It was definitely very heavy (and sweet) but worth a try. Our stomachs were full and we were ready to hit the Galata Tower.

    Istanbul is hilly. Very hilly.  So expect to walk up and down hills – a lightweight buggy will help if you still have young ones who like to rest.  Romanesque in style  Galata Tower was the tallest building when it was built.  For 25TL (£5) there is a restaurant and café on the upper floors as well as an observation tower that gives you a magnificent view of Istanbul and Bosphorus.  There is a lift that takes you to the upper floors or the stairwell - do note, buggies have to be left as soon as you exit the lifts so remember that baby carrier although the observation tower is very tight and it was a squeeze with the baby on my back to get past people who stopped to take in the view. 

    Snack attack

    Our favourite snack in Istanbul was a bagel/pretzel mix equivalent called Simit that is covered with sesame seeds. It was a bargain at 1.50TL equivalent to about 30p.  They are sold all over the city in mobile carts.  They were a hit with the boys and adults alike.  Definitely saved us when we were hungry in between meals.

    Must see



    The only thing I knew I wanted to see whilst in Istanbul was the Blue Mosque.  It lived up to my expectations.  The handmade ceramic blue tiles and stained glass window emitting natural light was simply beautiful.  The chanting in the background just set the atmosphere perfectly.  The extended family stayed home to rest and both kids were napping by the time we visited the mosque so hubby didn’t get a chance to go in to enjoy the mosque because buggies aren’t allowed in.  The great thing is that it’s free to visit with scarves and skirts to borrow if you are not dressed appropriately.

    The Topkapi Palace was a lovely visit too.  It is now a grand museum to carefully displayed items in spacious surroundings.  The entrance fee was 40TL (£8) and if you expect to visit a few palaces and museums go for the museum pass 85TL which will also save you time queuing to buy tickets and entrance.

    Unfortunately we ran out of time and didn’t get a chance to visit Hagia Sophia which is supposedly more beautiful than Topaki Palace.  Oh well – we’ll just have to come back and visit again 😊

    Let’s shop

    I’d heard of the grand bazaar. I’d heard that it’s the equivalent of Westfield for markets.  But I didn’t realise how big it actually is.   It’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops.  We were there for over 5 hours and probably only visited about 10 shops.  We loved chatting to the shop owners and being shown their goods and told how they’re made and how to use them.  We were on the hunt for dried figs for my mum and spices for hubby.  We left with over a kilo of spices, 5kg of figs and 10 boxes of Turkish delights as well as 2 copper coffee pans and coffee glasses.The faint hearted can find it overwhelming especially with the 250-400,000 daily visitors.  Just go and expect to be offered everything you don’t need at a price you’re expected to haggle at.  Have fun!

    Getting around

    Taxis are very reasonable in Istanbul and very convenient but be careful when you’re travelling at peak hours as a 20 minute journey can easily be over an hour or even 2. The great thing is uber works here too!  The metro and trams are also very handy and easy to use.  We took the metro to our apartment and it only took us 50 minutes door to door (with 2 kids and a hobbling father in law in tow).

    Sleep Sleep Sleep

    We stayed in a beautifully restored apartment hosted by the ultra friendly, very helpful and kind Daoud. Literally a few minutes walk from the metro and situated in the cool part of town, a short walk to funky restaurants, shops and Galata Tower.  The apartment was super clean and fully equipped with everything you might need. Small touches like fresh fruit and bread, milk and water was provided.  The amenities that you’d expect in a 5 star hotel, such as luxurious towels, slippers, comfy beds and the view was stunning.  If you have older children, I would recommend the duplex apartment - the terrace will give you amazing views of the Golden Horn and the fantastic barbeque was calling for us to be used.  

    For next time

    We underestimated how little time we would get to do everything we wanted with such a large party so we didn't get a chance to visit a ham, which was definitely on my list to do.  We were recommended this beautiful place called Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami.  Definitely a treat but definitely worth the extra.  There are many more local cheaper options but not as luxurious.  

    Over and out

    I can't rate Istanbul enough.  It was absolutely charming.  Beautiful architecture, friendly people, weather was sunny and dry, all topped off with an amazing host. Thank you for an unforgettable trip.

    Rainy Days - What can I do with the kids?

    Rainy Days - What can I do with the kids?

    Eight of my last fourteen days have been spent at home, with the girls in quarantine. We were invaded by a nasty run of chest infections, followed by hand foot and mouth disease a week later. When the chest infections first hit, we embraced the sick day. We stayed in our pyjamas until lunchtime, dawdled over breakfast, made a nest of blankets, and cuddled up in front of the tv watching the classic Winnie the Pooh and Olympic gymnastics on YouTube (my daughter is obsessed with ‘the flips’).

    But by the end of the first morning, the novelty started to wear thin. And by the end of the second day, after I’d used every ‘rainy day’ trick in the book to keep my girls happily occupied indoors, we were officially stir crazy. It made me realise just how much I depend on being out of the house, letting the girls run free in a park. So with winter here, and weekends where the weather may not be best for venturing out, I’ve put together a bucket list of things we can do when we have to stay in.

    • Wardrobe Clear-out: Both girls love throwing all their clothes out of the drawers, and it tends to mean I can take a quick look at what fits, what has too many holes, and make a list of what we need. Plus, my toddler can practice getting dressed and put together funny outfits.
    • Egg Painting: A classic Easter activity that works year round, and brings a new dimension to the usual paint and paper activity. Boil some eggs and let them cool, then let your little ones loose decorating them. They make a good snack or backup meal afterwards.
    • Mopping: I’m not joking here – my eldest LOVES to help mop and hoover, and it will occupy her for a good thirty minutes. Just don’t expect the final result to be perfect.
    • Mask-making: Find a template online and copy it onto a blank piece of paper. Let them decorate and follow up with some imaginary play.
    • Yoga: My eldest saw me doing a quick twenty minute YouTube session, and asked to get involved. Since then, she’s actively asked to do yoga with me, which I love. There are loads of uploaded sessions on YouTube (just search for Toddler Yoga). It tends to work best late in the afternoon when we all need some calm time.
    • Photo sort: My parents recently brought over a massive box of childhood photos, which my daughters love to look at. My next task is to go through them with her and get them into a book. But just looking at the pictures can easily occupy an hour.
    • Races: As my youngest (she’s one) gets more mobile, I’m trying to find ways to encourage the girls to play together. One of the activities that I think will work is setting up an obstacle course, where my eldest can do a lot of the ‘thinking’ and my youngest can follow along. Simple things like ‘Push Margot in the trolley’ means both are involved.
    • Scavenger Hunt: Hide objects around the house and set the little ones on a hunt to find them. Once they’ve found everything, get them to do the hiding.
    • Rice Drawing: Put a layer of uncooked rice into a square baking pan (edges are important, or else you’ll end up with rice everywhere!) and let your little ones draw in the rice with their fingers. The noise seems to delight them, and it’s been a good way for my eldest to practice writing letters.
    • Dance Party: When all else fails we do tend to put some music on, turn the lights out, and have a little disco in our kitchen. It’s easy, low maintenance, and guaranteed to get everyone in a better mood.

    So there’s my bucket list – would love to hear how you’re making the most of the long winter days! Drop your suggestions in the comments below. 

    The nursery drop off blues - How do you feel when your baby starts nursery?

    The nursery drop off blues - How do you feel when your baby starts nursery?

    I have once again started preparing my two and a half year old son for time without Mummy, Daddy or Grandma and Grandpa. Recently he moved from a class of small, mostly mute, doe-eyed one to two year olds into the more mature and progressive in potty training three year old nursery class where words are spoken in broken sentences and teaching staff are less about cuddles and more about beginning the development of toddler maturity that will see a once crying infant leave the nursery doors as a young child ready to make its way through the education system. The move has not been a good one and in fact, I am again faced with the traumatising dramatics that is the nursery school 'drop off'. We battled this at the start of the nursery initiation for a prolonged period and here we are again. The look of utter distress when he realises that I am leaving him with these people, again! The sudden tightening of his small hand in mine and the scream that seems to come from the depths of his very being. Separation anxiety has once again reared its ugly head.

    As soon as I strap my two babes into their car seats and begin the journey to school, I deliver a commentary that mostly consists of primary and nursery school positives. Focusing on the latter, I talk of the scrumptious breakfast cereals (cornflakes and weetabix) the other two to three year olds who are desperately waiting to hold his hand and do painting, colouring and reading and the teachers who simply cannot wait to help him with a multitude of fun-filled activities. This carefully delivered verbal massage is my way of preparing the youngest for his new nursery class – same nursery, but new class.  The move up a year has revived his feelings of fear and abandonment, it is noticeable as soon we step up to the nursery front door.

    My first son seemed to ease into the these transitions with such carefree nonchalance, that I recall wondering at the time if he had any sort of feelings for me at all. Just my luck to have two children on the opposite ends of the attachment spectrum.

    My prep work fails miserably every time and nevertheless, I walk away from the nursery feeling a little put out, but to be honest, not greatly distressed. Do I shed a tear as I head off? I don't think so. My boy is in safe hands, he gets to interact with other children of his own age and more importantly, I get to be a person in my own right. I work three days a week and I am determined to take these recent episodes of obvious stress with a pinch of salt. The fact is and remains that even with the tears and sadness I must remain focused on the prize that is my own mental, spiritual and financial emotional stability and this comes with having the best of both - a career and two wonderful children to nurture and develop. Both of my roles are part-time, mother and employee, and at times child and career must pay the price for neither receive my full and undivided attention. There are challenges for parents and guardians across the spectrum of care arrangements. You can never really ‘win’ but I do know that my current set up is the healthiest option for me. My little one may scream at the drop off, but our time together is precious and purposeful, need I say more.

    Reflection on maternity leave

    Reflection on maternity leave

    So at the start it's all batch cooking, house cleaning and lunch with friends - then the baby arrives! 

    After the initial few weeks the visitors decline and you're left with a special few- your real support, your real friends and your valued family. 

    Some 'friends' won't even show an interest- will never send a card or see your baby; even friends that you really helped and supported through their maternity leave. 

    Then you'll find some friends are angels - texts just when you need it, offers of a meet up with cakes and cuddles. These friends are often not the ones you expect it from - but really appreciate. 

    And of course there's your new 'mummy friends' - the ones you can compare with; night wake ups, nappies, weaning, funny stories - people you didn't know before but now have the most wonderful thing in common with. These mummy friends are amazing - your lifeline in the middle of the night- the most amazing find. 

    You will think it's all naps, cake with friends and baby cuddles but it's really not the 'holiday' your other half teases about. Each day involves several loads of washing, lots of changes of clothing for you and baby ( a reflux baby doubles this), stinky nappies, episodes or crying for no apparent reason (both you and baby!) and desperately chasing your tail trying to keep the house clean! 

    You will do things you say you wouldn't - you'll co-sleep occasionally due to exhaustion, let your baby watch tv (just to grab a cup of tea), drop your regular workouts, stop eating salad and not respond to texts and calls for a week or so! 

    The leisurely coffee and cake with friends - it'll happen more at the start but then you'll realise (a) coffee and cake is expensive - especially as your maternity pay dwindles and dwindles; (b) making a catch up longer than an hour is impossible with an irritable baby or your friends active toddler; (c) finding a diary date is hard between yours and your friends baby groups, other appointments and returns to work. 

    Tiredness is extreme but it gets so mental that your 'normal' is just tired zombie! You will wash your hair once a week with the support of dry shampoo, you won't remember the last time you shaved your legs and will never paint your toenails! I thought I'd always paint my nails (something I can't do when at work as I'm a nurse) but nine months later and I have not done it once. 

    Your baby will have everything and you'll forget yourself (and others sometimes). You won't mind the self neglect but will often feel bad for the lack of attention your partner and the dog gets. 

    You will return to your pre-baby weight and size. I did after three months but the consistency will never be the same; a strange wrinkly belly, inside out belly button and wonky boobs (from breastfeeding). You both won't care and will care massively about this dependant on how you're feeling that day! This week, I've decided I need to make an effort with skincare and makeup but still don't even brush my hair much! 

    I'm sorry if I've made it all sound negative, it's not. I have the most wonderful little thing in my life! She's always happy to see me in the morning (and the middle of the night), always accepts a cuddle, is happy to tag along on a shopping trip, accepts any food I make with excitement, listens intently to everything I say or sing. We have the most wonderful days together (if somewhat monotonous), have taken in a full range of baby groups, spent days snuggling, sunny carrier walks, special family day trips and a number of family holidays. 

    To be honest I'm both dreading and looking forward to my return to work. Being a mummy is the most rewarding but tiring thing and a day at work means I can be me - feel like a have a brain and feel valued. However, I will never have this time again - never get so much time to see her change and grow hour to hour, day to day- I will miss new skills and milestones - and I hate that. 

    See you maternity leave- you've been amazing!