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    Blogs — parenting

    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.

    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.