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    Blogs — Author: Anna-Hamill

    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! 

    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. 

    Good Mornings - How will I get the kids and myself ready for work on time?

    Good Mornings - How will I get the kids and myself ready for work on time?

    Fresh back into the working routine after a year of maternity leave, and I’m suddenly remembering just how difficult mornings are when you have little ones to wake, dress, feed and deliver to their childcare before heading into the office.Nights are another story all together (and probably another blog post, to be honest!) but there’s something about the start of the day that is especially tricky in our house. With our eldest daughter, it took about six months before we finally found a routine that worked for us. Hustling one little girl with a mind of her own out the door was hard; hustling two is already a lot harder. So here are some things we’re doing to try and make life a little easier.

    Set a wake-up time, and stick to it

    That extra twenty minutes in bed may feel good at the time, but every time we try to snag a bit of extra sleep, we pay for it dearly. A teeny, tiny lie-in almost guarantees that EVERYTHING will go wrong. Trust me; I’ve been a hot and sweaty mess running down the road with two babies and bags, attempting to catch a bus before it pulls away. It’s not worth hitting the snooze button.

    Plan breakfast ahead of time

    I’m still in the process of perfecting this, but I am trying out some new things over the next few weeks. If you’ve read my earlier post on parenting, you’ll know that I’m a feeder. Nothing makes me feel more guilty than sending my girls out of the house thinking they are hungry. They could be wearing totally mismatched outfits with ratty hair and runny noses, and it wouldn’t phase me (much). But empty tummies, and I will feel guilty for the rest of the day. Currently our go-to includes a selection of the following – fresh fruit, a handful of dried Cheerios, porridge, bagels, toast, Naked bars, yoghurt or fruit compote. I’m looking forward to trying these homemade blueberry and banana oat bars, porridge in the slow cooker, and overnight oats with coconut yoghurt (my youngest has a dairy allergy). The key is finding options that take two minutes or less to get on the table. If breakfast is easy to take along when you leave the house, even better. Especially if your kids are slow eaters, like mine.

    Pack the night before

    I used to laugh at my parents for doing this, but it honestly does make the mornings less stressful. We’ve even gone as far as putting bags, buggies and coats in the car before we go to bed. It’s the last thing I want to do after dinner, but I am shocked at how much it’s helped. I used to always feel I’d left something behind, but now am able to focus on just getting out the door.

    Agree a morning chore list

    The first time I went back to work after maternity leave, part of our stress came from not agreeing who was responsible for what before leaving the house. My husband and I were tripping over each other, replicating jobs, and leaving important stuff to last minute, assuming that the other person was about to do it. We now have a chore list for the house, and a morning routine list. Knowing exactly who is doing what has made things run a lot smoother. Of course, there’s flex. But we communicate every time we deviate from what we’ve agreed, and we both know that everything is covered, which helps loads.

    Keep a change of clothes downstairs

    I can’t count how many times I’ve had to take one of my girls back upstairs for a last minute change before leaving the house. Potty training accidents, breakfast,a short swim in the cat’s water bowl – they’ve all happened, and usually one minute before we need to leave the house. So now I’ve got an emergency kit for both girls stashed in one of our kitchen drawers, and another in the boot of the car.

    Set a ‘leave’ time that leaves you room for error

    During my maternity leave, we left the house every day by 830 to get my eldest daughter to nursery by 9. I knew that I could leave at 840 or even 845, but that extra ten minutes took away so much stress, and meant I could have a five minute conversation with my daughter on the way, instead of hurrying her along. I was happier. The girls were happier. It was a nicer start to the day for everyone.So now, instead of leaving everything to the wire, we are doing our best to get everyone out a bit before we actually need to be on our way.

    Slow down to speed up

    This is probably the hardest and most counter-intuitive, but is actually the one thing that has made the biggest difference. I find that when I’m barking orders or rushing, my little ones find it hard to keep up and are more likely to throw a tantrum. One morning, we were running late and I was trying to dress my eldest at record speed. She was resisting, and I was getting more and more short with her. A tantrum was brewing, which would have eaten up even more time, so I stopped, hugged her, apologised, changed my tone, took her clothes downstairs and let her get herself dressed while I pulled breakfast together. I often forget that things I take for granted - like buttoning a shirt or tying a shoe – those things are actually big challenges and accomplishments for the little ones. And taking those things away will only upset them. So if you really want to get out of the house quickly, sometimes slowing down is actually the best strategy.

    What are your morning routines like? Any time-saving tricks you’d like to share? Anything that you know absolutely does not work? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!

    I spy mince pies... What would you like for Christmas?

    I spy mince pies... What would you like for Christmas?

    I actually first saw mince pies in my local Co-op at the end of September, and almost cried. But I pulled myself together, clutched a box of Claudi and Fin ice lollies, and repeated the phrase ‘Indian summer’ to myself until I left the shop.

    Whether we like it or not, Christmas really is just around the corner. And, horror of horrors, we’ve actually uttered the following words to our three year old daughter.

    ‘What would you like for Christmas?’

    For a girl who suddenly really gets the concept of presents, this was like offering her a lifetime supply of Yo-Yos and Bear Paws. Her face lit up, and she danced around laughing, calling out various things. And ever since, every now and again when there’s something she wants that we don’t have, she will pause and state matter-of-factly, ‘Don’t worry mum, Santa will bring it’. And my heart stops a little because I can already see that we’ll have to start introducing some boundaries so that she knows what to expect and can enjoy the day. But, what are the right boundaries to introduce? And in what way?

    In the past, we’ve used Christmas as a way to replace things like pyjamas, socks and jumpers. We’ve also stocked up on new books, and art supplies, and started a few rituals to make the run up to the day special. It was about having something for our daughter to open, more than anything else.  What was inside didn’t really matter to her. I think that ship has sailed…

    Last year my husband and I decided to try out the ‘Four gift rule’ of buying each other something you ‘want, need, wear and read’. This worked perfectly for us, and we will be repeating it again this year. But when it comes to the girls, this feels a little over their heads. Especially our youngest, who will be just over one year.

    So I’m curious – for those of you who celebrate, what do you do? Do you focus on traditions? Do you use Christmas as an excuse to spoil your gorgeous little ones once a year? Do you moderate, and encourage them to think more about others than about themselves? Is it an opportunity to do a clear-out and toy donation? I’ve even heard of some families volunteering together in the run up to Christmas, to shift some of the focus away from presents. I think it’s a lovely idea, and one I’d like to introduce when the girls are a bit older. But in the meantime, how do I make this a holiday that is as much about the important stuff as it is about Santa? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!