Craft · Parenting

Matching beach bags

It’s sad I know but I’ve been so excited about making C and I matching things. I know it’s ridiculous but I also know that there will only be a small window of time where she will actually let me have a say in what she wears or has. And I plan on taking full advantage of that window of time. Earlier this week I made myself a beach bag from some beach fat quarters I had for ages and wanted to use up (if I use up fabrics from my stash that means that I can buy more fabrics right?) So after washing and ironing the fabrics the other week (always an essential part of sewing preparation) I started to come up with a basic patchwork design. I cut out 4 inch squares and pieced them together until I had something which I liked the look of and seemed the right kind of size (very technical) which ended up being 5 squares by 4 squares and then sewed them together. I then added wadding and a plain blue backing for each side and the sewed them together incorporating some simple cotton handles that I happened to have left over (goodness knows from where). 



Not very exciting I know but perfect for keeping in the caravan to take on holiday and take to the beach or for a walk in the town. It will wash as well which makes it perfect for a casual holiday bag. Now when I brought it into the house from the cabin for the requisit praise from the hubby, C saw it and immediately wanted one. I hadn’t planned on making her one but jumped at the chance to create another matching item. I tried to get her involved in the process (as much as you can with an almost three year old) and so once I had cut out the squares I got her to arrange them. She loved helping to “design” her bag. I went for a 3×3 design for hers and had to make straps out of fabric as I didn’t have anymore to hand. I’ve attached her straps to the inside rather than having them in the seam as I feel I may need to change them at some point, either totally or adjusting the length so it’s easier if they are accessible. And the result….


…she loves it! And I do as well, they are similar with the same fabric and process but different enough so that they’re not to twee. Hopefully. Or at least I think so. What does everyone else think about matching parents and children?

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Life in the Countryside · Parenting

The pink phase

So our toddler is going through a girly phase. A very girly phase. Everything needs to be pink. She will only wear dresses (referred to as Cinderella dresses) and prefers party type dresses (i.e. the most impractical ones for everyday life, especially when you live in the countryside). I can very occasionally persuade her to wear leggings but it is a battle and generally involves some kind of bribery. So we do have a fairly sizeable collection of non-dressy clothes (barely worn) which she is rapidly growing out of which is a bit of a pain. Every time there is any kind of option she goes for the pink one; the pink colouring pencils, the pink socks, the pink pants, the pink playmobil princess (even though she preferred the purple one, it wasn’t pink). As a result, pretty much all of Jessie’s toys are pink, her collar is pink, C’s shoes are pink. Now I have no idea where this phase has come from, it just seemed to appear from nowhere. I’ve not tried to make her girly on purpose; she has a good number of very unisex toys, she spends lots of time outside in wellies getting dirty, in fact both J and I imagined she would end up being quite tomboyish. But recently I’ve noticed her doing more playing with figures and trying to do dress up (with things that aren’t really dress up things but never mind). I’ve kept wondering whether I’ve done something to encourage her and worrying that she’s becoming too girly. There does seem to be a feeling out there (I’ve noticed a few stories in the media about it recently) that it is wrong to gender stereotype children, that all toys should be gender neutral, clothes for girls shouldn’t be too girly etc. 

Then I had a bit of a moment. When I remembered that there is nothing wrong with my daughter being girly, she is a girl after all. That I shouldn’t be worried about what someone else thinks I should and shouldn’t do with bringing up my daughter. That I’m not a bad parent for letting my girl be girly. That I’m just a parent letting their child be themselves. And how that ever be a bad thing? And whilst I agree that we should encourage our children to be anything they want to be, there is something to be said for biology. Is it wrong that my girl wants to be a bit girly? According to my parents, I went through a very girly phase when I was younger too. It hasn’t made me obsessed with makeup and wearing pretty dresses for life (in fact when not at work I rarely wear makeup except for special occasions). Just because she likes wearing dresses and is obsessed with princesses (she refers to herself as C Scampy Pants B Princess) doesn’t mean she won’t grow up to be a doctor or a scientist. It just means she likes wearing dresses. So I for one have decided to embrace her just being a toddler and stop worrying about what everyone else thinks as long as she’s happy!

Parenting

Preparing to go back to work

So I work in a school and so am lucky enough to have the school holidays off with C which is amazing. But it’s now the end of the glorious six weeks off for summer and time to get back into our term time routine. C is currently with a childminder when I’m at work and has been since I first when back when she was just shy of a year old (she’s now nearly three, where has that time gone). I remember being very nervous before I first went back as I’d felt fairly on top of things whilst at the end of maternity (well as on top of things as you can be with a child). J was working in London at the time during the week so I only had his help on weekends and was likely to be working away for the whole academic year (I worked in a school). I was normally managing to vaguely keep on top of the washing and cook for us all from scratch every day and get C out of the house as well. I felt as though I had just about got us a routine that worked. But going back to work meant that the wonderful time to get things done in the house whilst she napped (she was still napping twice a day then for about an hour and a half at a time at that point, oh how I miss naps). 

Anyway, so I managed to vaguely get myself into a routine for the past two years, which as is always the case with children had to constantly change, but I’m moving schools in September and we now have the dog so we will have to find a new routine again.  I’m generally considered fairly organised amongst my friends (although I would beg to differ) and I thought I would jot down some of the things which I do to help me juggle the balance of being a working mum. 

  • Batch cook, lots. I love my freezer (I have a couple) and often take time to try and fill it. I use my slow cooker a lot for this – a huge batch of bolognese or chilli or a casserole is very easy to cook in there (just chuck the ingredients in there and leave it). I use old butter tubs to store portions in the freezer (I’ll often wait until its frozen and then pop it out and wrap in cling film and label if I’m running low on tubs). That way for the time and effort of cooking bolognese once we can enjoy several meals which are very quick to reheat after a day at work. I’ll mainly do batch cooking on weekends or holidays and tend to try and add to my freezer stock once a week. 
  • Keep leftovers. Most weeks I’ll do a roast dinner on Sunday and purposely cook a bit extra of the veggies and we tend to have leftover from our roasting meat anyway. Then I can portion up a couple of dinners for C from leftovers to keep in either the fridge or freezer. Or sometimes I’ll cook a dinner for J and I one evening and C will have it as leftovers the next day, I have the least time to cook for C once I get home from work (as she tends to east at 5:30pm) so anything that is easy to heat up is great. 
  • All three of us need packed lunches and I try to prepare as much as a can ahead of time. I portion up as much as possible at the weekend into little tupperwares. Things such as crackers, breadsticks, raisins, blueberries and other soft fruit, popcorn, cucumber, carrot sticks, hummus, sweetcorn, peppers, cherry tomatoes, cut grapes all do well being prepared on Sunday for the week ahead. So it’s then fairly easy the night before to make up a sandwich or wrap fresh and add the Tupperwares to the lunch boxes. I also often use dinner leftovers for lunch the following day or cook an extra chicken breast, for example, to go into wraps. 
  • I always pack C’s bag the evening before and have our clothes set out ready for the following day and used to, when J was working away and I had to do bedtimes by myself, prepare Monday to Friday’s clothes for C ready laid out in her drawers. Even though it may only save me a minute or two in the morning (or longer now C likes to try and choose her own clothes) when you are working to a strict time scale trying to get out he door then every minute helps. 
  • Online food shopping has been a lifesaver for me. I tested it out first when I was pregnant and now I would never go back to having to do a weekly shop in a supermarket (especially dragging a child along with me). That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the odd potter about in a supermarket but having to try and fit that into my working week would just be a pain for me and so time consuming. We get our shop from Tesco as we’ve always found our local one very reliable. So easy to just book an hours slot that fits in with your routine and then adjust items in your basket as required and then forget about it. Also as baby brain has made me very forgetful I love being able to have the app on my phone to just add things the minute they ran out. 
  • Meal planning, which kind of goes with a lot of the above. Gone are the days when I could come home, see what I felt like for dinner and just pop out for any stray ingredients. Once I have worked out what we are having on what day it makes it easier to make sure I’ve ordered the correct food on my shop, taken out what I need from the freezer and know exactly what I need to do for dinner when I get home from work rather than flapping (which I’m rather prone to). If we have also planned together what we are doing for dinners for the week then we are more likely to stick to it and can both step in and help with dinner/childcare as required in the evening. 
  • Working together is a huge part of what we do. Both J and I know our daughter’s routine very well and either of us could do dinner and bedtime by themselves if needed. We’re good at keeping each other informed about the week ahead and are lucky to have J’s dad nearby to lend a helping hand if necessary. In the evenings J tends to arrive home normally after C has had her dinner or when we’ve just gone upstairs. Between the two of us we tend to juggle, bath, story, milk and bed with tidying up C’s room and putting away washing, laying out clothes for the next day and any other upstairs chores that need doing. 
  • I’m better in the mornings than J so I tend to take control of looking after myself and our daughter then and J just has responsibility for himself (and now the puppy). We try to help ourselves out by having breakfast things laid out ready and even go so far as having tea bags and sweeteners etc in mugs ready. Again they may only save you a minute in the morning but it’s one less thing to do in the morning panic, especially if your child is anything like mine and has days where she refuses to get dressed and so you have to spend extra time battling so she doesn’t go out naked with just her wellies on (this happens way too frequently).
  • I always make sure I’m up, washed, dressed and make up done before my daughter wakes up at seven but I have gotten in the habit of getting up even earlier than I need to. Why, I hear you ask? So I can have time to have a latte from our trusty coffee machine and spend half an hour either reading the news or browsing Facebook on my iPad or watching a bit of TV or reading a magazine. I find that just having half an hour of calm me time in the morning really sets me up for the day (I’ll admit that the caffeine probably helps too). Then whatever stresses the morning or the rest of the day brings, at least I’ve had half an hour of me time, half an hour of not being a mum or a wife or a worker. It’s amazing what that little time to yourself can do for your morale – I definitely recommend it. 

So those are the things which I do to help get the balance of being a working mum, does anyone else do anything similar? Any inspiring ways to help with the evening madness? Let me know your suggestions, I’m always looking for ways to be more organised.

I have no inspiring pictures to go with this post so I thought I’d just share some I liked!



Parenting · Recipes

Baking with a toddler – chocolate chip cupcakes

As you make have gathered from my some of my previous posts I love all types of cooking but especially baking. I have fond memories of baking with my mum when I was younger and this is something I’ve been keen to share with C. In fact when she was only a few weeks old C had her first taste of baking when she helped to stir the Christmas pudding mix on stir up Sunday. I would share the photo but it shows me living on about an hours sleep and is not a pretty sight! Anyway, since she has been able to I’ve really tried to get C involved in cooking at home and she is particularly fond of baking. So today as it was a slightly grey day where the weather really couldn’t decide what to do, we decided to do some baking. Now I know some people can get a bit nervous about the idea of baking with a toddler (C will be three in October) but it is such a lovely learning and bonding experience and has tasty results. In fact cooking in general with a child is teaching them a vital life skill and it’s something I’m really passionate about especially having seen teenagers leaving school without any basic skills in the kitchen at all which is frightening. So today C and I baked cupcakes, we probably bake once every three weeks or so but we do other cooking a lot more frequently. In fact C can probably recite a basic cake recipe (although she doesn’t know numbers big enough for the quantities yet). So today I thought I would not only share our recipe, but also some tips and hints to help encourage the nervous amongst you to try baking with your little one. I’ve put the simple, de-toddlerfied version first before my step by step guide with toddler tips included.

The basic recipe (18-20 cupcakes depending on tray size):

Ingredients

  • 175g butter/margarine
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 100g chocolate chips

Method

  • Turn the oven on to 180 degrees Celsius and put cupcake cases in your tray ready.
  • Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl except the chocolate chips and mix (I use an electric hand mixer but a spoon would suffice but I can just never get as much air in the mixture then) until pale. 
  • Then add the chocolate chips and stir in with a spoon. 
  • Spoon mixture into cases and bake for 12-15 minutes until the top bounces back immediately when pressed and they are light golden in colour (my oven takes exactly 13 minutes for these but it can vary depending on your oven. 
  • Allow to cool on a wire rack and enjoy.

The toddler version

First step is to make sure that all hands are clean and I always have out all my equipment and ingredients ready. For a toddler baking version I have two bowls, one small to measure in and one large to mix in. 


Now the first job your toddler can help with is to put the cupcake cases in the tin. This is a great fine motor activity as it can actually be quite hard to separate out the individual cases. When I first started doing caking with C she would use an entire 50 pack of cases to fill one 12 hole tray but now she manages to separate them all out individually.


Next up we start the mixing process. I measure the ingredients out (as C gets older she can help more with this) and C empties them into the mixing bowl. 


She has a spoon to mix the ingredients whilst I measure the next ones (and wipe any spillages up).

Cracking eggs is a great skills to learn. As we have chickens we tend to get a fair bit of practice with eggs and C can crack an egg and almost open and empty it completely by herself. My suggestion is to let your toddler have a go and just prepare yourself for the mess (I’ve had a teatowel under the bowl before to catch spillages and always have cleaning equipment nearby for an immediate clear up). I get C to crack the eggs into our measuring bowl and then transfer them into the mixing bowl. It’s also useful to have a bowl to put the empty shells in nearby. You’ll notice C steadies the bowl herself when cracking the eggs now which is another useful tip.

 

Then the toddler can do some more mixing with the spoon whilst you put away the ingredients and make sure the hand mixer is plugged in and ready. As we have a rather small kitchen (an understatement really) with limited plug points we have to move to another part of the kitchen to be next to power. Now C has had it explained to her very clearly that when we use the mixer she has to have one hand on the handle (which she must share with me) and one on the outside of the bowl. Now be really really firm about this as it is such a safety hazard if they mess about. Use whatever warning system you need to make this clear to them (I even early in our baking career together when C kept trying to put her hand in the bowl despite clear warnings cut our baking short which resulted in lots of crying but she has behaved immaculately ever since and it’s better to have a battle and a cry now than a trip to A and E later). 



Then once fully mixed I normally allow C to lick the beaters whilst I get everything ready to fill the cases and put away the mixer. Then the “cleaned” beaters go straight in the dishwasher and we add the chocolate chips and stir in.


Now comes the fun part trying to fill the cases without getting mixture everywhere. I use a two spoon method myself but C tends to just use one spoon and shake the mixture off. She only tends to fill a couple before deciding the spoon has to go in her mouth instead so I tend to end up filling most of them myself, and hers tend to need topping up a bit too. 



Then whilst they’re in the oven C can lick the spoons and I can put the bowl in the dishwasher and tidy away and wipe down anything else that needs doing. Then once the well licked spoons are in the dishwasher it’s just a waiting game. Now I’ve gone for two different strategies before depending on what kind of mood C is in. Either we move to another room and start a different activity and I discretely slip back into the kitchen when the timer is up to take the cakes out of the oven and put them on the cooling rack and then take her back into the kitchen when they are cooled so we can try one. I employed this a lot when she was younger as she struggled to stay far enough away from the oven and couldn’t quite get (or didn’t want to) that the cakes were too hot to eat immediately and that she couldn’t help me put them onto the rack. Or I involve her in the whole process (which I am increasingly doing now) and we do a final count down from 10 seconds on the timer (see how I even managed to link a bit of numeracy in there) and then she watches as I open the oven and unload the tray and we set another timer for when they’ll be cool. 



Now I like this recipe because it is simple and relatively quick and hassle free even with a toddler sous chef, it doesn’t require any icing or anything doing to it after baking they can be enjoyed as is. You can even substitute the chocolate chips for raisins or other dried fruit if you want to be a bit healthier but I personally don’t think the odd couple of chocolate chips now and then are too bad for you. 

Oh and for reference, a toddler sized portion is one cupcake and an adult sized portion is definitely at least two. Does anyone else cook much with their little ones? What are your favourite recipes? Any other hints and tips for fellow parents?

Parenting

Flying with a toddler

So last week I headed up north for a week at Bamburgh seeing friends and family. By myself. With a toddler. On a plane. Now last time I went on a plane with C she was about 10 months old, in nappies, and I could breastfeed her to sleep. Now she is two and a half, in pants and long past breastfeeding. The plus side is that she gets her own seat this time and her own handbaggage. The flight from Bristol to Newcastle takes just less than an hour, providing everything goes fine. Now I had tried to plan the day well; our flight was just after 1pm so time to have lunch at the airport and no major disruption to day to day routine. We had a bag in the hold and a cabin bag each so with that and a toddler to keep track of I was always going to have my hands full. J’s dad was supposed to come over at 10am with an aim to have a cup of tea and leave by 10:30. I’d had a busy week but had C’s trunki already packed and all the washing was done and ready to put in my case. But still it was going to be a fair rush in the morning to finish packing and get C ready, breakfasted and all tidied up ready to leave by then. 

Of course you can guess what happened, J’s dad showed up at 9:15. Not only that but he was quite keen to rush us out early as he was heading off to holiday after he dropped us off and so C and I ended up rather more stressed than I’d hoped. However, we got to the airport and I loaded myself up to go and drop the bag off; wheeling our case behind us, my backpack on my back, C’s trunki slung over my shoulder with C holding onto my other hand. C of course was holding her Cath Kidston handbag and her naked Cinderella doll. First stop was the bag drop which went well, we had checked in online and although the airport was quite busy being the first day of the holidays it went remarkably quickly. After that we had to make our way through security. Again I was impressed by how quickly the line moved. Typically I was randomly selected for a whole body scan. Not something I’ve experienced before but the staff were amazing given I had a clingy toddler. The security lady was wonderful – she got C to walk through the scanner first and then picked her and held her whilst I was standing having my scan (which took less than 10 seconds) and then gave her a sticker. Such a small thing but it really helped to prevent a toddler meltdown and the sticker was a point of great pride for C. 


We then headed to WHSmith to buy a new book. I had already packed a couple of books for our holiday but wanted C to have the excitement of picking a new book out as it gave us something to occupy our time and a new book would occupy her on the flight. In the end they had books on 3 for 2 so I ended up getting three; Sharing a Shell by Julia Donaldson, The Slightly Annoying Elephant by David Walliams and Jack and the Flumflum Tree also by Julia Donaldson. We then went for lunch which ended up being a bit more rushed at the end than I would have liked as we had to get to our gate. We did manage to fit in a quick toilet stop before going to the gate though (I had visions of C wanting to go when the seat belt sign was on and having a disaster). Typical of Bristol airport we had to get a bus from our gate to the plane, just another obstacle to overcome but C again behaved impeccably. There was another mum there flying solo but she had a toddler and a baby and seemed quite stressed, so I felt for her a bit. 

As soon as we started climbing up the stairs to board C started to get very excited. We got to our seats easily enough and as soon as we got sat down (thankfully there was plenty of space for our handbaggage above and below the seats) C started to say blast off. We had great fun reading the safety card and practiced the brace position and talked about the plane landing on water and going down the slide (I don’t think a safety card is ever normally so well digested by passengers). We finally set off slightly late (there were a couple of large stag parties on board and they had taken a while to get settled into their seats) and C did her count down from ten and a blast off. I had a snack to hand in case she had a problem with her ears but she didn’t seem bothered at all. As it is such a short flight, we just about had time to read one of her new books (twice through back to back) and do some colouring (Crayola colour wonder for mess free colouring) before it was time to descend. After having read the safety leaflet extensively it took a while to convince C that we were going to landing on land and not on the sea, I think she was quite disappointed not to get a chance to go down the inflatable slide. 


After landing, disembarking was relatively easy and although the bag took a while to come out the whole process was relatively stress-free. So my top tips for successful travelling with a toddler are:

  • Get to the airport early, very early. This gives you plenty of time so that if there is a delay you still have plenty of time and don’t need to get stressed. You can also take things slow as you go through the processes leading up to departure so your little one can take everything in.
  • Give your little one a chance to pick out a treat at the airport shop. Most airports have a bookshop so a new book or colouring book to occupy you on the flight will be a great treat. It makes the trip extra special and you can also use it as a reward for good behaviour up until that point. 
  • Where possible choose a flight which will enable your little one to stick their routine as much as possible, be it nap time, wake up time or bedtime children love routine and a disruption to this in addition to the disruption of a flight is likely to equal a meltdown.
  • Factor in times for food and toilet in your timings and bring snacks with you for distractions when needed. Remember you can’t bring water through security so you may have to buy water when you get through this.
  • Don’t stress out. As hard as it may sound, especially if things go wrong, if you stress out then your toddler will pick up on this and is more likely to stress out and act out as a result. A calm mummy equals a calm toddler. 

Above all remember that even if your toddler is acting like a terror, most people will know what you’re going through so don’t worry what others think, just focus on you and your family. And before you ask, yes the stag parties were greatly amused by Cinderella riding bareback on C’s trunki!