I hate pancake day!

Call me miserable but I really hate pancake day (almost as much as Valentine’s Day). It just feels like one of those overly commercial pointless celebrations that no one actually really knows why we do it. Traditionally it was something of a last feast before the start of lent but now it seems to be just another day for kids to get over enthused while mummy and daddy get irritated at sticky batter ruining their best frying pans.

Today I’ve had the grand total of zero pancakes, here’s why I really don’t see the need:

1 I don’t like them – am I possibly the only person in the world that doesn’t enjoy eating flat under baked Yorkshire puddings smothered in sugar??…

2. It’s another excuse for the kids to over eat junk food and get super hyper from all that sugar just before bed – fried batter with chocolate, ice cream, toffee sauce…. and they must have seven rounds so they can brag tomorrow at school about how much they ate, then go to bed on a sugar buzz feeling totally sick. Is there really a point to this??

3. The damn things always, ALWAYS stick to the pan!! – I guess I’m doing something wrong because the pancakes on the jif lemon ad never look like a pile of scrambled egg!

4. The kids love to “help” cook – the resulting mess is just something else and really not what I need on top of the usual post bedtime clean up.

5. The start of lent – which probably means  I should be giving up chocolate or wine or crisps or something that will do nothing but depress me for the next 40 days!!

Sod that, cheers everyone…

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Five things I miss about being pregnant

Those who knew me while I was pregnant probably will wonder how I can even think of one thing I’d miss about being pregnant never mind five!! I didn’t really enjoy being pregnant and I’m not too proud to admit it! I suffered from morning sickness (all day long) until about 18 weeks then a few weeks after that stopped I started to swell, and didn’t actual stop swelling until the day I gave birth. My feet were so swollen I split a pair of ugg boots two sizes bigger than my usual size, even my nose and lips swelled. I was so uncomfortable! At 31 weeks I had raised blood pressure which would eventually lead to pre-eclampsia and almost daily hospital visits in the last few weeks. I know compared to some people I had it pretty easy but going from a fairly active person who couldn’t sit still for more than five minutes I found the last two months of pregnancy a real struggle.

However on my commute into London to work this morning (a one of keep in touch day to ease me back into it all) it got me thinking how I last did this when I was 8 months pregnant and how different it was then. There are quite a few things I do in fact miss about being pregnant (not enough to do it again though…)

1. A seat on the train – pretty close to the top of my to do list when I found out I was pregnant was to apply for a London Underground Baby on Board badge. I’d watched pregnant women on the tube in the past and no one had given them a seat so I was determined to let the world know I had a right to the priority seat I was sitting in! Now, standing for the full hour long commute really is a bind, I long for my dirty, scratchy, uncomfortable pull down seat again!!

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2. Eating what I want – to be fair I quite often do this now anyway, I haven’t exactly made much effort to lose the baby weight yet (I better add that to the to do list really) but it was oh so different when I was pregnant. I could have that second chocolate bar without anyone batting an eyelid, I didn’t feel like a total food monster having a fourth plate of food at the Pizza Hut buffet and no one cared when I made my third breakfast of the morning. I could eat what I wanted without any of the guilt.

3. Comfy clothes – maternity clothes are quite possibly the most comfortable clothes you ever wil wear. No waist bands digging into your muffin top, knickers that don’t give you a wedgey every time you bend down, bras without underwires. Need I say more?

4. The excitement – there’s nothing quite like the anticipation and excitement you have for those nine months waiting to meet that tiny little person inside your tummy. Me and Mr H would, at least once a day, have a conversation about what we thought she would look like, would she have hair? What complexion would she have? Would she have Mummy’s big round face? (Sorry Millie darling, you did in fact inherit it!). We just couldn’t wait to meet her. Nine months of waiting and planning seemed a very long time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still exciting now watching her develop but not in the same sort of “anticipating the unknown” kind of way.

5. Those baby kicks – despite being a bit (lot) miserable in the last few months of pregnancy feeling my baby kicking inside of my tummy was the most incredible feeling ever. Millie regularly got hiccups and feeling her jump around inside all day long was really quite amazing. It is a constant daily reminder of the miracle that is growing inside of you and I don’t think there’s any feeling in the world that can beat it!

Looking back there really were some truly amazing moments being pregnant and I know how lucky I am to have been able to experience it all. I cherish every single day I have with my little girl and I know this time next year I’ll be looking back and writing a list of things I miss about having a tiny baby.

Maternity Leave To Do List

With precisely one month left of maternity leave before I return to work (albeit for reduced hours for the first two months) I thought I’d revisit the original maternity leave to do list I had planned to both execute fully and be on to at least my second, if not third list by now… Hey ho, no one can quite prepare you for the reality of having a (rather demanding) baby and realistically maybe only a quarter of the list has been ticked off!!

I thought I’d decide on a maternity leave top ten. In no particular order these are the things I really want to (but probably won’t) achieve in the next 31 days:

1. Clear out the garage – this one has been kicking around since way before Millie was even born and the reality is it is now filled with even more junk than before!

2. Create a memory box frame for Millie’s room – I saw a few really lovely memory picture ideas on Pinterest while I was pregnant and was determined to recreate these to make a beautiful memory picture to hang on Millies nursery wall. Fast forward almost a year and I have the newspaper from the day she was born, her hospital identity band and a few new born pictures all sorted ready to go but just haven’t found the time to make it into a frame yet! This is an idea I saw in Mamas and Papas and I love it

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3. Decide on a suitable home office space – I work part of my week at home and as a result need a full blown office set up somewhere in my house. Millie’s nursery used to be our home office but that obviously is no more so I now need to decide where I’d like my office space to be. Currently a toss up between a small desk on our landing which is quite large with lots of natural light from a big window on the stairway or in the garage which would involve some building work to add windows,flooring etc but I quite like the idea of a little project…

4. The garden – this is a huge one! We moved into our house exactly two years ago. It was brand new when we bought it and the garden is really bad! It’s on a steep slope and really needs levelling before it is even safe for Millie to play in. Along with paving that needs doing and additional fencing… I can see this may still be on the list this time next year!

5. Take Millie to The Nurture Barn – this is a highly recommended play centre about 30minutes drive from home. We have been to many different soft play and other stay and plays but not only does this one have excellent reviews for its play equipment both indoor and out, it also has an allergy specialist cafe. Anyone who has kids with allergies will understand why I want to go here. It can be so hard to find anywhere that caters for allergies especially both dairy and soya free but also that offers food suitable for baby led weaning.

6. Sell some stuff – we literally have boxes and boxes of baby stuff we no longer need. Also see point 1! A little while ago I decided I’d like to try chalk painting and that it would be a great idea to buy a load of junk, paint it, turn it shabby chic and sell it on. Said junk is now cluttering up the garage and Mr H is ready to take it all to the tip! Me, determined to prove a point, I’ve promised I will sell it AND make a profit!!

7. Get fit – ok realistically this isn’t going to happen in a month but my fitness is shot after 18 months of no exercise other than pushing a pram! I need to work on losing the baby weight too but that’s a whole other story….

8. Make my home Pinterest worthy – when we moved into our house it was a blank canvas, I envisaged spending the first couple of years getting it exactly how I wanted it but within five months of living here a baby bump started to take priority. I now feel like every room is half finished.

9. Take Millie to the beach – I grew up living very close to the coast and took it for granted until I moved to London 15 years ago. I now really really miss walks along the beach on a cold winters day or eating fish and chips with the smell of sea air. Our nearest beach is probably just over an hour away so it realistically is a day trip for us but something I’d really like to do before returning to work.

10. Make a return to work list – honestly this is the one I’m avoiding doing the most!!!

I will revisit this list as I return to work and will update on how I’ve got on….

Raising girls in a world of gender stereotypes

When I found out I was pregnant I never for one moment thought I would have a girl. I don’t know why but for some reason me and Mr H (and pretty much everyone else we know) were sure it was going to be a boy. So you can imagine our amazement when the sonographer announced he was a she!! Fast forward 9 months and the thought of another boy seems just a distant memory.

But the prospect of raising our precious little girl has really made me stop and think about both my own behaviour and ideologies and also those of the world around us. I think of myself as a fairly strong willed and independent woman yet I have learnt that it can be pretty tough for women out there. I would love Millie to grow up knowing she can do or be anything she wants to be in this world and be able to expose her to as many opportunities and experiences as I possibly can. I am by no means any kind of staunch feminist promoting equality for women but I have been asking myself if it is possible to raise my little girl without being bogged down by gender stereotyping  – quite frankly I can’t answer that question!

Last week I got invited to a networking event promoting women in business. Super idea I thought, I may even take the time out to attend. But something really got under my skin about the event – it had been called “Bubbles and Beauty”!! Now to me this seemed like a huge contradiction. Surely offering a free manicure and champagne was simply playing to the stereotype and even possibly saying “come on successful women out there let’s make ourselves a bit more glamorous so we can achieve even more”!! Don’t get me wrong the thought of a free manicure was tempting but I really had to resist the urge to reply to the invite with something along the lines of “thanks but no thanks, I’d rather network over a pie and a pint”.

This got me thinking, we really are surrounded by so many direct and indirect gender stereotypes and I have already fallen into the trap with my daughter! So here are my top four observations I’ve already stumbled across in the short 9 months I’ve spent raising my girl:

1. Clothes – Millie is a little adventurer and loves nothing more than climbing around and getting herself into mischief. She has been crawling since 5 months old and there’s been no stopping her since then. On a regular basis I am asked when will she start wearing pretty dresses. Well here’s the thing, if she wears a dress she can’t crawl, it gets trapped under her knees and she topples forward. I have no objection to beautiful clothes of any kind and do like lovely dresses but quite frankly they aren’t at all practical for an active baby and can in fact be a little bit dangerous. I’m not too concerned that people think she is a boy sometimes as long as she can get around and explore as she loves to do. I personally don’t think it’s necessary to dress her as perhaps some people out there think she should be as a girl, I dress her for comfort! I have noticed that quite a few of the big department stores are starting to stock unisex baby brands and I think this is great. It means active little girls can also wear comfy and durable clothes too!!

2. Toys – a few weeks ago I was chatting to a friend about our child’s development and the toys they enjoy playing with most. During the conversation she made the comment “I don’t mind my son playing with girls toys, it’s important not to stereotype at this young age”. Now is this comment not stereotyping in itself by classifying toys by gender?? I am already massively guilty (for want of a better word) of this. Millie has a dolly’s pram baby walker, pink cars and books titled “that’s not my princess” and “that’s not my dolly” but none about trains, tractors or cars!! On reflection I was probably drawn to these toys in the girls section of the toy shop! It has made me think I really should look at widening her toy collection beyond all things pink and dollies because a variety of toys helps broaden her development and will help promote a variety of interests. The campaign Let toys be toys makes a very interesting read around this idea.

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3. The things we say – when I was pregnant I read a really interesting article about things to be mindful of as a white mother raising a mixed race child. The key point of the article was a reminder to choose your words carefully! Although as parents we should be doing this anyway I do think the things we say to our girls can be a lot different to how we speak to boys. I regularly tell Millie how pretty she looks or how beautiful she is, but I don’t think I would do the same to a baby son. However I also ensure that I constantly remind her she is clever, she is funny, she is strong because I don’t want her from such a young age to become used to only hearing references to her looks and believe that is what defines her. I’m sure some people reading this will think I’m being a little OTT but I hope to raise a well rounded little person who has confidence in all of her abilities yet still knows she is the most beautiful girl in the world to her mummy.

4. Roles in the home – Mr H is a wonderful cook and equally he cleans the house with just as much (OK, probably more) precision than me. We have also taught Nic from a young age how to keep his room clean and given him his own chores to do, pack the dishwasher and match up the socks into pairs (this one he truly hates). He is also learning to iron in preparation for ironing his uniform for secondary school. Equality is a given in our home and this definitely applies to cooking and cleaning. No doubt before too long Millie will have her very own toy Hoover and dustpan and brush (she already is fascinated by the sweeping brush). But I’m proud that she will grow up seeing the first men in her life taking an active and equal part in taking care of our house and if one day Millie decides to move in with a man I hope that she can instil the same equality in her own home.

When I started doing some reading around gender stereotyping the classic nature versus nurture argument came up a lot. It did make me wonder that no matter how conscious we are to avoid categorising our children by gender is there actually a natural tendency for girls to be attracted to pretty pink dollies and for boys to climb trees and roll in mud??!! It is widely understood that boys and girls brains are wired differently and does that in turn make them more inclined towards certain aspects of play? Are girls naturally more empathetic and boys prefer systems and structures? I guess that’s beyond my own knowledge and understanding and Im sure someone somewhere has done some indepth study into it. But in the meantime I am going to continue finding what interests my little girl, encourage her to explore and be adventurous and not force her to confirm to what is expected!

You Baby Me Mummy

Quick and easy dairy-free snacks -3 super simple baby led weaning recipes

At just six weeks old Millie was diagnosed with cows milk protein and soya protein allergies. Despite her restrictive diet I was still determined to go down the baby led weaning (BLW) route which has at times been rather challenging and has made me rethink a lot of the meals we eat as a family.

The point of BLW is to allow your baby to eat what you’re eating and make their own choices about what they want to eat and how much. This has been a real nightmare for us with a very fussy ten year old and an equally fussy husband, our family meal repetoire is already somewhat limited. I have over the last few months trialed, tested and on some occasions binned many dairy free recipes in the hope of finding meals we can all eat as a family.

Lunch time snacks have proved to be the hardest meal for us to get any variety. Millie loves bread, and I mean REALLY loves it. She would have a dairy free cheese sandwich for every meal if she could. But I wanted to find some non-bread alternatives that fit the following criteria; quick and easy to make, high in calcium (it can be really hard to hit a baby’s calcium target on a dairy free diet), and finally they needed to be “portable” so they could be packed for lunch on the days we were out and about at baby classes.

Here are our top three favourites:

1. Pastry Pinwheels – these are so versatile and can be batch cooked and frozen.

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Using ready to roll puff pastry sheets cut into inch wide strips (Most puff pastry is dairy and soya free including shop own brands but we use Tesco’s own puff pastry sheets which can be found in the fridge next to the margarine and butter). Spread your choice of filling onto the strips of pastry and loosely roll into wheel shapes. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes at 180C until golden.

One of Millie’s favourite fillings is a pouch of Ella’s Kitchen purée (roast pork and apple sauce used in the picture above) and sprinkled with dairy free cheese. These turn out like really yummy baby (and mummy… Eek!) friendly pasties!

2. Fish Pate – great on rice cakes or toast.

At 9 months old Millie is yet to develop a liking of fish and she will simply spit it straight back out of it ever gets even close to her mouth. I was keen to find a way of adding fish to her diet in a way that wasn’t too “fishy”. This pate was perfect! It uses all dairy free alternative ingredients but can of course be made in exactly the same way with normal dairy products.

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Ingredients:

150g of cooked salmon or any other fish (I use cod)

150g of soft dairy free cheese

Juice from half a lemon

2tbsp of natural dairy free yoghurt (I use coconut milk yoghurt as we are also soya free)

Chuck all the ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth.

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I have also added this to cooked pasta with some veg to make an alternative pasta sauce.

3. Cheesy Egg Muffins – perfect for packed lunches

These egg muffins again can be adapted to include any other cooked ingredients you like. For these ones I just added some chopped tomatoes.

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Whisk two large eggs and a dash of milk in a bowl (we use Oatly oat milk). Add in 30g of grated dairy free cheese and any cooked ingredients such as chicken, other vegetables or fish. Split the mixture across 4 or 5 muffin tins and bake in the oven for 15 minutes on 180C.

These are so simple to make and can be eaten either hot or cold. They have become a particular favourite in the post swimming packed lunch box each week!

I have tested out quite a few other dairy and soya free meals including some family favourites which I will include in future posts. Making things from scratch is one of the most reliable ways of ensuring your childs meals only include “safe” foods. Despite being a little tricky at times, I am enjoying cooking fresh, nutritious, dairy free meals for Millie and love watching her devour them without any sign of a reaction!

When mummy gets sick – Five reasons why mummies can’t do poorly

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Last night we decided to go out for dinner, a total diet blow out for which I was excited about since waking up in the morning. Nothing fancy, just burger and chips and a load of fizzy pop! Half way through the meal I started to feel a bit iffy. After three weeks of eating reasonably healthy I started to gloat to Mr H that my body was now obviously so finely tuned from all the fruit and veg and low fat meals that it was rejecting the masses of greasy, fatty food I was consuming. So I continued to polish off the rest of my burger despite feeling sick as a dog but thought better of tackling the mountain of chips I still had on my plate.

Fast forward a couple of  hours and my finely tuned body was having a few “issues”. Head down the toilet feeling particularly sorry for myself I realise that actually I probably have a bug or something and my body the temple in fact was responding just as everyone else’s body does to fight off a virus. Mr H was already far away in dreamland as Millie started to stir then erupt into a full blown screaming cry (she has the start of a cold brewing). Ok now what? As I sat on the bathroom floor, head perched by the toilet. No hope of the husband waking, he sleeps through everything, so I made a mad dash to Millie’s room picked her up, crying stopped, then brought her to sit with me in the bathroom (it’s 2am!!). Poor baby just sat watching on in amazement as I continue to be unwell.

This got me thinking, us mums really don’t have time in our lives to get ill. A friend of mine told me of the time when her baby was only weeks old she had a particularly nasty tummy bug and she was sat all night on the toilet with a bucket in one hand and a breastfeeding baby in the other. Not ideal!

So here you go, my list of five reasons why mummies just can’t afford to get ill. By no means a man bashing post either, men and women are just wired differently, take man flu for example!

1. You can’t phone in sick to your job as mummy – life still has to go on, your kids still need you, no matter how good a job daddy is doing. Mr H suggested I lie in bed and get some rest for a bit this morning until I feel better. Actually how likely am going to feel better before I’m needed to prepare a meal or put the washer on or give in to Milie continually shouting “ma ma ma” (I know she’s not calling for me but makes me feel a bit better thinking she is!)

2. You are needed to find stuff – despite both me and the husband living in the same house for the same length of time I appear to be the only person who knows where the calpol or spare cartons of oat milk or new packets of baby wipes are kept. Or suddenly Nic appears to have lost every single pair of trousers he owns, err have you checked your wardrobe?!! So that time of getting some rest is generally interrupted approximately every three and a half minutes with a “where is the….” question!

3. Mums have a strict schedule to keep to – as I lay in bed getting my half hour of rest I begin to seriously freak out that if I don’t  get the washing on soon I’d fall so far behind. I’d have no hope of ever getting close to the bottom of the laundry basket for the rest of eternity! Then my mind moves on to the batch cooking of baby lead weaning meals I’d planned to sort out today and the  kitchen floor really needs cleaning before Millie gets down to play. Cue time to get up and get on with it, no hope of resting with all that on my mind.

4. Will the kids ever get fed? – I love my husband very much and he has abundant strengths as a daddy but timekeeping for feeding are not in his repertoire of strong points. It’s almost 10am and from my tomb of gloom (bed) I still haven’t heard Nicholas clattering his breakfast bowl or the kettle being boiled for Millie’s first bottle. I know the baby has had her breakfast as Mr H felt it was hugely important to wake me up and tell me so. Proud daddy moment of remembering to feed her perhaps…

5. There’s no one to take care of us so what’s the point? – when the kids get sick it’s mummy who takes care of them, when daddy gets sick mummy also looks after him too. When mummy gets sick, you guessed it, mummy again looks after herself.  Men can’t multitask, it’s as simple as that, it’s a scientifically proven fact so no point even trying to influence evolution. As Mr H is holding the fort and trying to maintain some level of normality downstairs I’m lying here in bed getting my “rest” and really need a drink. I know if I go down and get one and the family see me there will be no escape so I will just lie here with a mouth as dry as the Sahara, hoping that extra half hour of sleep will come very soon. I actually think my husband has forgotten I’m even upstairs!!

And there you have it, why us mums just can’t fit being poorly into our lives. Bored of this trying to rest lark I might as well get up and get on with it….

What did you do at school today? Encouraging a ten year old to talk!

By the time Nicholas moved into Year 4 I had become really bored of asking the same question every day to be met with the exact same response.  Post-school conversation goes as follows:

Me: How was school?

Nic: Good

Me:  What did you do?

Nic: Numeracy and literacy

Me: Anything else?

Nic: Can’t remember

And so this was repeated every week day for 38 weeks of the year. But how exactly do you get your kids to talk about their day?  One of the things I pride myself on and is crucial in my family home is that every evening we are all home together we all sit at the table and eat dinner as a family.  On our wedding day my husbands speech even included the line “the family that eats together stays together”. The dinner table is the perfect place to catch up with each other and report back on our day. All electrical devices are banned at the table, we actually sit and talk to each other, you know, like in the olden days!  Even Millie gets involved in the dinner time debates now, at almost 9 months she has started repeating words, last night it was potato and water… random, but a sure sign she is listening and taking in our conversation.

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A little while ago I decided it was time we took our dinner conversations up a level and encourage Nic to divulge a bit more about his day. Me and the husband have a habit, in our general day to day conversation, of ranking things. All time favourite film when trying to decide on a film to watch, top five songs when listening to a particular classic on the radio from back in the day (I still find it impossible to answer this one)…. So I started to introduce a similar theme to our dinner table chatter. Straightaway I managed to find out so much more about what Nic had been up to at school but also a bit about the things he is really interested in and what he struggles with.

So if you also have kids who are reluctant to chat and you’re struggling to get anything but a “good, thanks” from them, here is our list of dinner time conversation starters.

1. Best thing that’s happened to you today:  This one still generally gets a fairly standard response along the lines of “scored an awesome goal at lunchtime”. But at least it’s something to expand on, who was on your team? Did you play football all of your lunch break? Weren’t you tired from all that running around? And the husbands response “You made me a sandwich for lunch instead of a packet of custard creams”, but only on the days I’m feeling particularly domestic goddess like!

2. Worst part of your day: This is usually met with some moan or groan about a topic at school Nic didn’t enjoy or the fact he got moved to a table away from his friends (unjustly of course! Nothing is ever your fault at ten years old). Bingo! There you have it, there was in fact more to his day than numeracy and literacy!

3. What did you learn today? This is my favourite dinner time question but also the one that fills me with dread when it gets round to my turn to answer. What do you actually learn on maternity leave? How to change the nappy of a nine month old baby who has suddenly become as slippery as a bar of soap covered in Vaseline??!! How to rescue your little monster who has managed to  get stuck in the ball pool at soft play while maintaining some dignity climbing the rope bridge? Thank the Lord for Alexa and the “tell me a fact” function. A quick shout out to our new family friend before the boys get home and I’m armed with my “what did you learn today” response. It makes me so proud when Nic tells us a fact and it’s something both interesting and also something I didn’t already know. This week he has educated me to the fact that slaves lost their own identities and took on the surname of the owner of the plantation on which they worked. I probably should’ve known this already but I didn’t! And hearing the history behind it from a ten year made it all the more interesting.

Since we have started this little dinner time ritual I actually now get to know about my family’s day and the highs and lows of what they’ve been doing. It keeps conversation inclusive of everyone and it’s wonderful the days Nic is bursting to tell us his fact of the day.

One final comment… The conversations aren’t always like an idyllic scene from the  Waltons. Just last week Nic’s worst part of his day was worrying his friend had caught Ebola. When asked why, he replied “a classmate put a pencil in his underpants near his willy, then my friend touched it, that’s how you catch Ebola”… Swiftly moving on!

You Baby Me Mummy