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    Blogs — Author: Anna-Hamill

    Second life - What to do with all the baby stuff?

    Second life - What to do with all the baby stuff?

    We are well and truly leaving baby-dom behind for the last time. As we do that, we are suddenly finding ourselves with a lot of stuff that either needs to find a new home, or a new purpose in our home. With such a focus on sustainability at the moment, I’m trying to do my bit to cut down on waste and be resourceful with what we have as opposed to always buying new things.

    While I believe a lot of our baby gear will get passed on to other friends and family, there are also a lot of items that feel too used to pass on, but still have a lot of miles left in them. Those are the things I’ve focussed on, and would love to hear your ideas too!

    Muslins make fabulous tea towels in the kitchen.

    Passing on the squares you’ve used for over a year to wipe up sick and every other spill imaginable feels a bit wrong. But the fabric is amazing, and deserves to be used until it’s worn out. Seriously absorbent and quick drying, I started using them in the kitchen a few months ago, and will now be using all our muslins until they develop holes. They are resilient, really easy to clean, and do a better job than most kitchen towels I’ve invested in because they don’t leave random fluff behind. They may not be as pretty to look at, but then neither are the nice tea towels after they’ve been used a few times!

    Tommy Tippee Pop Up Freezer Pots are perfect for freezing homemade stock

    We are definitely out of the puree phase, but suddenly I’m left with all these tiny freezer-friendly containers that are too small to be good for much. One day, after we’d roasted a chicken, I got ambitious and decided to make a stock too but had no way to save it all. I ended up using the pots, and they were so brilliant they’ve become my go-to way to set some stock aside without taking up too much room in our tiny freezer. They are exactly the right size for adding a hit of flavour to casseroles or rice dishes. Once they’re frozen, you can pop the cubes out into a bigger freezer bag, or just leave until you’re ready to go. I have a feeling they’d be great for freezing chutneys and other pastes as well – I just haven’t tried it yet.

    Stained vests make great cleaning rags.

    Those gorgeous onesies that start life pristine and white always feel too used and stained to pass onto other people by the time my children have grown out of them. But it feels a waste to recycle them or throw them in the bin. Instead, I’ve started cutting them into squares and keeping them around for cleaning. The cotton is soft, washes really well and with two toddlers around, there’s always a spill to mop up.

    Fitted waterproof sheets are incredibly useful when a tummy bug hits.  

    We’ve potty trained my eldest, and moved my youngest out of her baby cot into a slightly bigger one. Which leaves us with a lot of waterproof sheets that only fit a tiny mattress we no longer use. The other week, when a tummy bug hit our house, I ended up grabbing one of the fitted sheets and ripping the large rectangle of waterproof fabric from the fitted cotton bit. I then laid the waterproof square of fabric under the twin sheets on the top half of my daughter’s bed. If she was ill, at least it wouldn’t soak into the mattress. It definitely saved us a few times.

    Baby towels are very helpful travel companions.

    What do you do with those tiny hooded towels that lose their purpose after one year? We have a few stashed in the boot of our car, and have even packed one or two away when we’ve gone on a road trip. They are incredibly helpful when it comes to wiping down muddy feet, towelling off after an unexpected rainstorm, or even cleaning down little ones who fall victim to car-sickness. Because they’re small, they don’t take much room, but they definitely come in handy in an emergency.

    So those are my little attempts at finding a new use for old things. Any tips or tricks you’ve picked up along the way? I’d love to hear!

    How to keep your home adult friendly

    How to keep your home adult friendly

    When it comes to creating a family home, it can be difficult to strike the right balance between a space that is kid-friendly and adult-friendly too. If you’re a person who loves interiors and design, it can be even more difficult. Here Anna shares some thoughts on how to create a happy, lived-in home for everyone.

    For the last few years, in addition to my day job, I also wrote a blog about home interiors and styling. It was a lot of fun, but I had a crisis of confidence after my daughter was born. Suddenly, our home didn’t feel child-friendly and I really had to ask myself whether I was making a home for our blog, or for our family.

    Fast forward a few years, and I think (hope!) I’ve gotten the balance right, and created a space where we can truly live, but without sacrificing some of the design aesthetic my husband and I love. I thought I’d share some of those tricks with you.

    1.Invest in inexpensive blankets

    With a cat and two children, our furniture gets a lot of abuse. No matter how much I try and limit food to the kitchen, I still find crumbs on the sofa. Greasy hands, shoes, cat claws and snotty noses are not kind to fabrics. When we were looking at new furniture, we discussed buying things we knew we’d replace in a few years time when the girls were older, but that just felt wasteful. Instead, we picked sturdy mid-range options with high wearing fabrics like tweed and leather. For extra protection, we cover a lot of our nicer pieces of furniture with blankets we’ve picked up from Ikea and West Elm. Inexpensive, stylish, hard wearing, and most importantly – washable. They’ve even rescued us from a few late night red wine spills.

    2.Create kid-friendly zones in the rooms where you also spend time

    Over the last three years, we’ve tried many different options when it comes to creating spaces for the girls to play. They are still young, so at the moment they love to be where we are and are more interested in playing with us than with toys. I’ve noticed the only time they will act up is if they’re bored, so we’ve gone out of our way to create little spaces to play in our reception room and our kitchen. Things that can easily spread out, and be packed away at the end of the day. Books, a table and chairs, a play tent, colours, an easel and a bin of toys they can easily get out and put back themselves. We even have a few bean bags scattered around that can be pulled out for games on the floor. We try to encourage tidying up before they move to their next activity, but some days (especially rainy ones!) the toys do take over until bedtime. But everything has a home, and it starts and ends the day in its rightful place.  

    3.Find sensible toy storage, and rotate or donate your toys

    I live in fear of toys taking over every square inch of our home, and so try to stay on top of what we have. We live near a TK Maxx, and recently picked up a few nicely patterned cloth toy bins for less than ten pounds. We have one in the girls’ room, and another in our reception room. When the bins get to a point where I can’t remember what’s in the bottom anymore, we tip everything out and go through it. What the girls have grown out of, we donate or store away for friends. What they’ve forgotten about, we put on the top of the pile for a few days. If it finds it’s way back to the bottom of the bin, we tend to donate it next time around.

    We also are quite careful about buying too many toys. At the moment, the girls seem to gravitate towards arts and crafts supplies, the play kitchen, anything they can do outside, puzzles, and books. Where possible, we try to not to buy plastic, and instead focus more on wooden toys with multiple purposes that will grow with the girls, and last. Our most successful long-term purchases have been a play tent, an easel, a dolls house, and a really great kitchen we picked up at ASDA. When they get bored of them, we try swapping around where they live in the house, which seems to do the trick. For instance, the play kitchen recently moved from our kitchen to the girls’ bedroom, and they’ve gone from running past it to playing with it nightly after bathtime.

    4.Invest in good cleaning supplies

    It doesn’t matter how well-behaved your children are, or how eagled eyed you are. They’re kids – they’re going to make a mess. We’ve got a fully stocked cleaning cupboard with white vinegar, Method multi-purpose cleaner, stain remover, and sugar soap. If one of those four things doesn’t solve a problem, nothing will.

    5.Hold off replacing anything until they’re older

    We have accepted that there are certain things we’ll wait to buy until the girls are a bit older. For instance, our coffee table is a bit lower than our new sofa, and not quite the right shape for the space. But it’s the perfect height for the girls, and it’s old so I’m not precious about them colouring on it, sitting on it, or using it for games. We’ve also put a lot of our breakable items away so that they’re not a temptation or source of stress. As a result, most of the rooms in our house are ‘child-proof’, which makes being home together a lot more relaxed. They can roam around freely, and we don’t need to have an eye on both of them every second of the day.

    6.Involve your children in how the room is arranged

    My eldest daughter recently declared she wanted to change her room. She’s only three and a half, but she had a very clear point of view on how she wanted things set up – basically so that she had lots of space in the middle for playing! One rainy afternoon, we spent an hour together talking about the changes she wanted to make, and then moving the furniture to accommodate her wishes. She absolutely loved being listened to, and now will take herself off to play there much more than she used to. She also takes pride in tidying everything away at the end of the day.

    So that’s it – a few easy things that we’ve embraced that help us all live happily together. I know it will evolve and change as the children grow, but for now it’s helped us create a place we’re all proud to call home.

    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.