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    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

    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.