Are we there yet?

I’ve recently handed over my role as Editor of The Voice, quarterly magazine of the Cambridge branch of the NCT. I very much enjoyed volunteering for the charity in this way, but it was time to move on being as we no longer live in Cambridge and I would like to take on other things (mainly Sewn Down Purple Lane). During my time as Editor, I wrote quite a few articles, some of which I think are relevant beyond just Cambridge, so I thought I’d share some on this blog. First up is an article I wrote recently about our experience of long distance car travel with little ones. I hope you find it useful if you’re planning a long journey with young children soon.

The location of our boys’ grandparents’ (holiday) homes – Devon, West Midlands and Lake District – means that we’ve done our fair share of middle-to-long distance car journeys with them at various ages. Before kids, we used to catch the train down to Devon, but as the route means two (overground) trains as well as hopping on the tube across London, we haven’t fancied that with a baby, toddler, or baby and toddler, plus all the paraphernalia that travels with them for a week away. Cross-country (i.e. not through London) train services to the Midlands aren’t something we enjoyed even without kids. And for the Lakes, it’s handy to have our own car for getting around once we’re up there

Cumming car 1

Planning ahead

The first time we attempted the Midlands trip – which takes about 1 hour 45 minutes in good traffic – with each baby, they were 2-3 months old. As they were still quite unpredictable with feeding and sleeping, we couldn’t really tell when was the best time of day to travel from their point of view, so we just went for it and ended up stopping for a feeding break or two, even though we’d normally do this distance in one run.

For about the first 6 months or so, neither of them liked being in a car seat for very long awake, so we took it in turns to sit in the back and try to keep them calm and reassure them. Joel didn’t seem as distressed as Andrew did at the same age, probably because he had his big brother in the back with him too, pulling silly faces and chucking toys at him! If you have to drive alone with a rear-facing baby in the back, a mirror attached to the back seat’s headrest means they can see your face reflected in your rear-view mirror.

As they got older, we would usually time our journey for when they would normally nap or sleep (early afternoon or evening), since they both started to sleep well in the car, though Andrew is less likely to drop off now that he’s just turned 3. But neither of them have slept for the entire journey to Devon or the Lakes – about 6-7 hours with a couple of breaks in good traffic.

Entertainment central

Cumming car 2So what to do during awake time? As babies, toys attached to the car seat were handy, so when they inevitably got thrown out, whoever was sitting in the back could easily retrieve them. It’s also amazing how long games like ‘peekaboo’ and ‘pulling silly faces’ can entertain a bored baby in a car.

One of our best buys since having kids has been our in-car DVD player for long journeys from around the age of 1. It attaches to the back of the driver’s/front passenger’s headrest for back passengers to view, or on the back seat’s headrest if baby/toddler is still rear facing. I have also heard of iPads/tablets (which we don’t have) and a car headrest holder (available to buy online) serving the same purpose. The novelty of a new (to us) DVD or one not watched for a while has worked wonders at entertaining them in the car. Of course music CDs go down well too.

So far Andrew seems to be fine at reading on the go (something which makes me car sick), so a new magazine does the trick of amusing him for a good hour or so. We’ve also just got into playing the simple game of ‘spot the [insert colour] car [or other common/rare vehicle]’, particularly in slower moving traffic, and this encourages him to look out of the window and take in our surroundings. As much as we don’t like being stuck in traffic, watching out for emergency vehicles if there has been an accident is very exciting for a vehicle-obsessed toddler.

As they get older, I’m looking forward to playing more games, some of which we used to play as children on long car journeys, for example ‘I spy’ or making words with the letters on registration plates, and some of which I have discovered from friends or the book Are we there yet? by Jo Pink. One friend of my parents, who has two girls a few years older than Andrew, takes an Argos catalogue for each daughter on long car journeys: she sets the girls ‘tasks’ from the catalogue, for example they have to find the cheapest set of saucepans or the most expensive television, or they have to plan their dream bedroom or toy collection and add up how much it would all cost (if they were ever lucky enough to get it!) Apparently this keeps them amused for hours, and it’s totally free!

Expect the unexpected

Cumming car 3Apart from thinking about entertainment, it’s important to plan food, drink and other supplies when driving with little ones. We always take more than we think we’ll need, in case of hold ups, and a substantial packed lunch and other snacks mean we can eat and drink if stationary rather than having to wait to pull in at the next services. When travelling in winter we pack coats and sturdy shoes so they are easy to get at if we need to stop or were to break down. And in (warm) summer we take plenty of drinks. On that note, the potty is also handy to have close at hand

I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed every single moment of car journeys with the boys, but we’ve certainly learned how to make the most of them and try to avoid pitfalls.

3 year breastfeeding anniversary

It’s been a loooong time since I last wrote a post on breastfeeding. I’ve been meaning to for a while, but other posts and other things in life have pushed it down my priority list. When Andrew turned 3 a few weeks ago, his birthday marked our 3 year breastfeeding anniversary, and that, I thought, deserved a write up of my thoughts.

Breastfeeding has become so much part of our daily family life that I often don’t think about it, it’s just something we do day in, day out. Not that I want to belittle it, actually it means a lot to me, but it’s certainly not something I stress about like I did in the early weeks, and therefore it doesn’t take up much of my brain space day to day. It’s only when I deliberately reflect on how far we’ve come that I realise just what an achievement it is to be sitting here writing this.

If you haven’t read how our story started, you can find it here. At less than a week old, I was having to supplement Andrew with formula, and in my new-parent-world-just-been-turned-upside-down-with-a-newborn state I had no idea how long we’d be able to carry on breastfeeding. Just getting to 3 weeks seemed like an impossible task, let alone 3 years. But we were blessed with good info from knowledgeable people – Cambridge is a great place to have a baby in terms of volunteer support networks in the early weeks – and a supportive family, and week by week we survived and Andrew began to thrive.

I was particularly grateful to have been shown an SNS (supplemental nursing system) by a specialist midwife in the hospital, and to have been given a new one when we ruined the original in the microwave steriliser – it was a local La Leche League (LLL) leader who rallied around at the weekend to find an ex demo one with a retired midwife colleague of hers. Without this, especially in those crucial first weeks of trying to maximise my milk supply, I know we wouldn’t have carried on anywhere near this long.

Once the hardest struggles were over, by around 6 months into his life, I decided to let him wean when he wanted to, and to my surprise, he was keen to continue even when he was well and truly eating solid foods in the later half of his first year. By his first birthday he was usually breastfeeding twice a day – once first thing in the morning and once just before bed.

Just after Andrew turned 1, and we were celebrating a whole year of breastfeeding, I found out I was pregnant again. As my milk supply had never been great, I was convinced that he would self-wean with the inevitable dwindling of milk production in pregnancy. But again he surprised me, and wanted to still feed up until and beyond Joel’s birth.

Breastfeeding was generally much easier the second time around, because I knew what I was expecting and was fully prepared. Or so I thought, until Joel had jaundice and was a very sleepy baby who needed much more encouragement to feed in the early weeks. But at least I knew who to turn to straight away for useful info and help from personal experience. He soon grew out of the sleepiness and has continued to breastfeed until now, over 1 year into his life. Like Andrew at this age, he usually feeds once first thing and once just before bed each day.

So here I am, still breastfeeding a 3 year old and a 15 month old. Andrew now only has about a minute’s worth of sucking before bed, and to be honest I think it’s just another one of his bedtime stalling tactics, knowing he can get an extra few minutes up with me and out of his room. But I said he could self-wean, and that’s what he will do one day, whatever his reasons currently are for continuing to breastfeed. We have joked that Andrew will probably outrun Joel in his breastfeeding stint, mainly because Joel is going through a biting phase (something that Andrew never did), no doubt linked to teething, and some days I wonder if my yelps will put him off for good. Who knows how long the biting or the breastfeeding will go on, but it’s up to him, with some gentle teaching from me that biting really isn’t on.

BM keepsake

As we were approaching Andrew’s third birthday, I did something that I’ve been contemplating for a while: I bought a Breast Milk Keepsake. Claire, fellow mummy blogger with twin boys just a little younger than Andrew, has figured out a way to take pure breast milk and shape it into beads in various shapes then set them in resin to make pendants and other jewellery. All I had to do was provide 30ml of my milk and choose which design I wanted – I went for 2 stars to represent my boys, on a purple background in a 25mm silver pendant. This is the perfect way to represent the achievement that our breastfeeding journey has been, and I am so pleased with the result. I now have something tangible to remember our years of breastfeeding once they eventually wean, and a pretty piece of jewellery to wear that is also meaningful.

The keepsake arrived on the date that was exactly 3 years since we had to go back into hospital with Andrew and our future of breastfeeding looked bleak. As I held it in my hand and looked back to that day 3 years ago, I couldn’t quite believe how far we’d come and if you’d have said to me then that in 3 years time I’d be holding one of these, I would never have believed you.

Disclaimer: I received no incentive to write about Breast Milk Keepsakes, all opinions expressed are entirely my own and honest

The baby-to-toddler-wearing experience

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. I’ve even had some thoughts jotted down in my blog software for over a couple of months, but haven’t had time to sit down and write them into meaningful prose. Then recently a few friends have asked me about our slings, so I thought it was time I knuckled down and got this published!

I blogged about babywearing when Joel was still a baby, though he was showing ‘boddler’ tendencies at the time. I’d decided when pregnant, knowing that there was going to be just 21 months between Andrew and the baby, that I’d try baby wearing instead of going straight for a double buggy. I hadn’t known about ergonomic baby slings and wraps when Andrew was little, but as he got older, I came across the Sling Meet in Cambridge where I got to know more about the art of babywearing. I didn’t know how it would work out – I wasn’t convinced that I would be able to carry a larger baby and push a heavy toddler as they got older, but I was enthusiastic about giving it a go. And I’ve never looked back! Except to have a nosey at what the little one on my back is up to 😉

babywearing collage 1

We started off with a stretchy wrap – Moby was the brand I went for (amongst others available) because I loved the black and white lace design that I found when most stretchies on the market seemed to be plain. Looking back this was a fantastic way to get into babywearing. The first few times I tried to tie it were a little tricky, but I soon got the hang of it and could do it blindfolded whilst entertaining a toddler (well, maybe not quite, but you get the idea!) Whenever people commented on how hard it must be to wrap and how easy I made it look, my response would be along the lines of: “it’s like tying a shoelace – when you first learn as a kid it’s pretty hard, but once you repeat the task several times a day, it soon becomes automatic.” When wrapped around us both, it was comfortable and effortless to carry Joel. He would mostly fall asleep in it, and was most settled there compared to other places. I wished I’d known about these wraps when Andrew was a baby, but you can only do the best you can with the information you have at the time. Although it would have been handy, I guess it was even handier when I had two boys to look after – holding Joel handsfree was fundamental to our ability to get through the day with the three of us fed, watered and out in the fresh air. I honestly don’t know how mums cope with a second child and without a comfortable sling.

babywearing Collage 4

Once Joel hit 6 months, the stretchy wrap started to be less optimal. He was still comfy in it, but his increasing weight meant it stretched more and I would have to retie it more often to keep it snug. I’d been advised that stretchies don’t last much longer than 6 months (depending on baby’s weight/size), despite claims by the manufacturers. So I was on the look out for something to replace our faithful stretchy. Joel was (and still is!) tall for his age, so a front carry was becoming increasingly awkward when I also needed to push the buggy with Andrew in. He has always been an active little monkey, so by 6 months he was well on his way to crawling, and I found it increasingly difficult to wrap him quickly because he would wriggle all over the place. I thought it would be even harder to wrap him on my back whilst wriggling, and a stretchy wrap is no good for back carries anyway.

R&R Collage 2

I did lots of research online and chatted to other mums in Facebook baby wearing groups and in person at the sling meet. That’s when I came across the Rose and Rebellion (or R&R) soft structured carrier (SSC for short). Whereas a wrap is one long piece of fabric that you tie around you and baby/toddler, a SSC is shaped and has straps with buckles that you wear a bit like a rucksack on your front or back with baby inside. The slings that are available on the high street (the Baby Bjorn is probably the most well known) are in effect a SSC, but they are usually not ergonomic – they generally don’t keep baby’s hips supported in a healthy ‘frog-leg’ position, instead they allow them to dangle, and they offer little back support to the parent, making them uncomfy for carrying a baby heavier than a newborn – this is exactly what I had experienced with carrying Andrew. On the other hand, a good ergonomic SSC like the R&R keeps both baby and parent supported in the right places, plus it comes in all sorts of funky designs. I kept a look out for one on a Facebook group where you can buy and sell wraps and (ergonomic) slings, and within a couple of weeks I grabbed a bargain in a lovely flag design, nice and boyish, that had only been worn a few times but was cheaper than buying new. There are lots of other makes of SSC to choose from, but I went for the R&R at the time because it fitted us well, was reasonably priced for a good quality handmade product, and I loved the print on in.

R&R Collage

We used this all summer. It went everywhere with us, and both Tom and I wore Joel everyday, particularly because he would only settle to sleep when worn in the sling. I suspect this was because it’s all he’d ever known and was so at ease being carried close to us, more so than if we put him in a buggy or worse still his cot (he’s never napped in his cot!) We loved this SSC, and it was a sad day when we had to admit that he was getting too big for it. You see a sling that is structured (as opposed to a wrap that can be used to wear any size of baby/toddler), by its very nature must be a sized item that will only fit a baby/toddler within a certain range of weight/height. The straps that fit around the parent are adjustable, which is why the R&R fitted both Tom and I very well, plus it would go much larger and a bit smaller for other sized parents, but the width of the panel of fabric supporting Joel’s legs eventually got too narrow and it was no longer ‘knee to knee’ – the term used to describe a sling that goes from just under one knee to just under the other and keeps the hips in the healthy spread position.

KKD wrap conversion 2

At that point – Joel was around 10 months, but in 12-18 months clothes for height – I did some more looking online in the Facebook wrap and sling selling groups, to see what was available preloved in toddler sizes. There were some larger R&Rs that I liked, though not with a design as cool as the one we had. Then one day a very special sling came up for sale which grabbed my eye, and after sleeping on it overnight, I decided to buy. It’s another SSC, and it’s what is called a ‘wrap conversion full buckle’ – the ‘full buckle’ refers to the fact that the waist and shoulder straps have buckles rather than long ‘wrap-like’ straps that you would tie around your waist and shoulders (this would be called a ‘mai tei’ sling), and the ‘wrap conversion’ refers to the fact that the fabric of the SSC is a wrap that was once used to wear a baby but has been chopped up and sewn into a structured shape to make this new SSC. The lady who made it is a work at home mum (WAHM); many of the toddler-sized SSCs are made by small WAHM businesses – though all on sale in this country have to conform to British safety tests, just like the bigger brands.

KKD Collage

The wrap in my sling is from a German woven wrap company called KoKaDi, and the design is called ‘galaxy stars’. I love how comfortable this is on us – I think the wrap fabric really helps here, because it was designed to support a baby/toddler being worn. I hardly feel Joel’s weight on me and can wear him for hours perfectly comfortably. He loves being in there and still falls asleep most of the time when he’s being carried. I can even wear Andrew in this size of sling for short periods of time – again I don’t feel much of his weight when it’s evenly distributed in the sling, it’s a bit like a hands free piggy back. This sling is definitely here to stay for a while yet, until we need to get a preschooler size sling – which may be sooner rather than later at the rate that Joel is growing!

bw coat Collage

A little while after I bought the wrap conversion sling, I decided that another type of sling would be handy for us too. Although most of our daily trips out and about are on foot, so the sling on my back is perfect for these distances, we do sometimes use the car to get somewhere and of course then walk at our destination – for example to some shops or a group that’s too far away to walk to. I was finding that I’d carry Joel on my hip and Andrew would walk, but this was proving very difficult when Joel wanted to wriggle off me and I was carrying anything else like bags too. So I invested in a ring sling for carrying Joel on these short walks out from the car. This is a long(ish) piece of woven fabric, just like a long wrap, which has 2 metal rings threaded through that hold the fabric in place when carrying a baby/toddler on your hip. This now means that I can quickly nip Joel in the sling and have my hands free to carry bags and hold Andrew’s hand (or his reins) when walking. I’m really pleased with how easy this has made it to nip out in the car, and I love the design of it – I chose a wrap called Erna im Wunderland by KoKaDi because it has pink on it, one of my favourite colours, but the blue means it works well for carrying a boy too. Excuse the poor photography of the ring sling below – they were both taken at night, one with Joel wide awake, and the other when I’d swayed him back off to sleep in it when he was poorly.

ring sling Collage

It may seem a little extravagant to have bought 4 slings (though this is nothing compared to some of the mums I know in online groups who have declared themselves wrap/sling addicts!), but the great thing about good quality slings and wraps is that they retain their value and can be sold on in good condition for a fair amount of their retail price. The Moby and the R&R each cost me £15 when I calculate what I paid minus what I got back. I imagine it will be similar for the toddler sling and the ring sling.

So this is where we’re at in our baby-toddler-wearing journey. Some people ask how I can carry them now they are both pretty hefty, but actually it’s a lot easier to carry a toddler in a sling than in your arms, because the weight is more evenly distributed and you don’t feel the weight as much like this. Slings are more practical than buggies in many ways too, though that’s not to say that our buggy doesn’t have good use too with 2 toddlers to transport about. I’m planning on wearing both boys for as long as they would like – even at 3 Andrew loves the occasional ‘piggy back’ with the aid of the sling, and Joel is such a happy little boy on my back.

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed are my own, based on our positive experiences. I have received no incentive from any business that I have mentioned in this post.

The year that raced past!

It most definitely does not seem like a year has passed since Joel was born! I think it’s gone quicker than Andrew’s first year went, and I think that’s because I’m so busy running around after 2 very active boys that I don’t have much chance to stop, step back and reflect. Last week, halfway through which was his birthday, was a particularly crazy week with lots going on – some the usual, some special things. It’s only in the last few days that I’ve had chance to sit down and write about the year and the birthday celebrations.

He came into the world in a very speedy manner, even faster than Andrew had for a first baby. Apart from some jaundice in the early weeks that took some patience to shift and so to wake him up, he hasn’t had a bad start in life at all. We noticed within a few weeks that he is very chilled out in personality, and has always been happy to get on with his own thing and not complain when not the centre of my attention.

I wonder how much of this is just that he is a second child, but even so, he is clearly much less dramatic about things than his older brother. I also wonder how much it helped that I have worn Joel in a sling every day for substantial amounts of time, whereas I only wore Andrew occasionally in a couple of not very comfortable carriers that we had back then. Even at a year old, I can guarantee that he’ll calm down and fall asleep in our gorgeous toddler sling, as well as be happy to travel about in it when awake.

Joel is 1

Both my boys have been very active, and Joel started to move early – by 7 months he was crawling and only a few weeks later he was cruising. He took his first unaided steps at just over 11 months, though he is so fast at crawling that he still chooses to crawl a lot of the time now at 12 months, because it’s so much more efficient than his walking at the moment. This is different from Andrew, who was never much good at crawling and as soon as he could walk at the end of 11 months, he had more incentive to than Joel does. But it won’t be long before I have 2 walking (actually running!) boys to contend with. The wannabe toddler is finally a fully fledged toddler!

His ‘talking’ is starting to sound very speech-like. We are convinced that his first word is ‘Andrew’, because he keeps saying something like ‘a-da’ (with the correct stress pattern) in the right context. Nevermind ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’, let’s get our priorities right here! Of course it’s probably because he hears this word said a lot when we repeatedly call him (to do something / not do something), for which there was no equivalent when Andrew was this age. His favourite syllable to babble is ‘da’, so ‘dadadadadada’ with a lovely intonation and rhythm is what we hear him say most often.

joel and andrew

We’re using some baby sign language with him, just like we did with Andrew. We’re concentrating on some key words like Mummy, Daddy, milk, food, drink, nappy, as well as singing songs whilst signing, such as Old MacDonald with all the animals. He hasn’t started signing back yet, but I remember it being quite a while before Andrew did too, as they all pick it up and decide to use it themselves at different rates. In general he’s far more interested in moving than communicating anyway.

His hair is really starting to grow now, and it looks like he’s going to be quite fair, just like Daddy was as a toddler. It also has a bit of a curl to it at the back and on the top, and some days, depending on how it has dried after the bath and how he’s slept on it, the curls can be really quite robust. It won’t be too long before I’ll need to snip it, but for now it looks very cute.

Joel 11 months

The one thing that everyone seems to notice and comment on about Joel, from the moment he could do it at around 6 weeks, is his smile. It doesn’t take much to elicit a smile from him, and although like any baby/toddler he has tired or sad moments when tears abound, he’s more often than not got a smile on his face – a big wide smile, again just like Daddy. Everyone says that he is a mini Daddy, and I think the smile and face in general contribute to this impression.

To celebrate this first year of his life, we had a meal out with close family at the weekend. We picked a very family friendly pub with great home cooked food in Cambridge city centre (The Cambridge Brewhouse if you’re local and interested). After we’d eaten, we headed home and later had a cup of tea and slice of birthday cake. I love baking and decoration birthday cakes, as you may have noticed from Andrew’s first and second birthdays.

Cake

For Joel’s first birthday cake I chose a racing car with a number 1 on the bonnet. I had been given a car mould a while ago and had been waiting for a special occasion to use it. The cake itself was a simple vanilla sponge cake, and I used ready coloured royal icing to roll out and decorate it, having first spread jam all over the car to make the icing stick well. It seemed to go down well with everyone including the birthday boy. I found the very centre of the cake a little dense because it’s a big volume of mixture to cook through, so when I use the mould again I will try putting more raising agent in and a little less mixture, to try and get a lighter cake in the very centre.

As we race into the 2nd year of Joel’s life, I’m glad that I could take this time to reflect on how he is a very healthy and happy little boy with a lovely personality and a gorgeous smile. We are very blessed, and thank God for him.

Devon holiday – part 2: Fun on the beach

Last week I wrote about the fun we had at some National Trust properties when we were on holiday in Devon with both sets of the boys’ grandparents. This week I’ll tell the tales of our beach days on holiday.

Our first day at the beach was the Tuesday, and the destination was Looe in Cornwall. Of course we had all the inevitable jokes about needing the loo and so on, much to Tom’s annoyance! The sky was quite overcast, but it was fairly warm and there was no rain forecast, so we’d decided that a beach day was worth a try, and this location was good for the other family members that we were going to meet there.

Looe 1

It wasn’t too far a drive, and when we got there it wasn’t too busy, with plenty of space to find a good spot to put down all the paraphernalia that between us we’d lugged from the car park through the town and onto the beach. Andrew was keen to get playing straight away, and wanted to put his little swim/wet suit on, which was definitely worth having so that he could flit between the sea and the sand without getting his normal clothes wet or getting chilly from having just trunks on.

Looe 2

The first activity of choice was building sand castles with the substantial range of buckets and spades that Grandma and Pop have – some left over from the 1980s-90s and some more recent acquisitions. We even had little sandcastle flags to complete the works of art. Joel also joined in, though probably destroyed more castles than he helped make, and he loved the texture of the sand, playing with it in his hands and feet. It came as quite a shock to him that he couldn’t eat it!

Looe 4

After a little while, Andrew wanted to go in the sea, so down he headed with Pop and his little dinghy. Andrew absolutely loved the sea, which was good to see because last year he wasn’t so interested in it. He was happy to ride in the little boat and then get out and splash in the waves which were just the right height for him. There weren’t too many other people braving the sea, which wasn’t surprising given that it wasn’t amazingly sunny to dry off and warm up when they got out. Joel had a little dip too, and was more keen on it than Andrew had been in previous years.

Looe 3

Other activities that we got up to during the day included eating a picnic and playing frisbee. Andrew was quite skilled at throwing the frisbee….backwards behind him! That caused a few near-miss incidents with the people located near us – thank goodness for the Great British windbreak! At about 4pm we headed home and the two boys fell asleep almost instantly as we got on the road.

 

Nearer the end of our week away, on Friday, we had another beach day out. The weather forecast said overcast in the morning but brightening up later in the day, so we thought we’d believe it and head to the beach. This time we chose a more local beach called Mothecombe, just along the coast from Plymouth heading eastwards. The main reason we went there is that it’s perfect for little ones because it’s on the estuary of a river (The Erne) and is therefore very shallow and sandy. Even at high tide, you have to walk out quite a way before you can swim properly as an adult, so it’s just the right depth of water for little legs to paddle in or get a dinghy in.

MC 1

We arrived at about 11am, and the tide was coming in and almost at its highest. So there wasn’t much beach at that point, but we were the only ones there, so we picked a nice spot and put all our paraphernalia down. The same kinds of activities as at Looe were requested by Andrew and suggested by the adults. This time we’d also brought the body board, another throw back from yester-decade. The waves were just right for giving Andrew a bit of a go on it. At one point he got carried along by a bigger wave than he expected and he came off, but when he resurfaced he was laughing, which was good to see. Joel had a bit of a dip again, and enjoyed sitting in the dinghy, though not so much being sprayed with water by Andrew.

MC 2

Joel’s favourite activity was trying to eat the sand, and he got annoyed whenever a well-meaning adult, who was put in charge of watching him, stopped him! We all also enjoyed flying or looking at the kite, which again had stood the test of time from Daddy’s youth. I even had a dip in the sea, though had to walk out quite far before I could swim properly. I’m not a big fan of swimming in the sea, despite loving swimming in a pool, mainly because I don’t like to think about what’s in it – jellyfish are a particular worry.

MC 3

The tide started to go out from about lunchtime, and gradually the beach got much bigger. At the same time, the clouds started to part and the sun came out in force. We walked over the sand to where the river was much narrower than it had been – at low tide it’s actually possible to walk to the other side as the river is so shallow and narrow. There were some rock pools, and the grandfathers had managed to find a net in the beach shop when they went to get a coffee for everyone after lunch, so Andrew had a go at finding some treasures – a sea snail was his best find, and it lived in a bucket until we went home and it got put back in the sea.

MC 4

When the time came to head home because the tiredness signs were coming thick and fast from the boys, Andrew wasn’t impressed and screamed all the way back up the hill to the car that he wanted to go back down to the beach. We tried to convince him with various reasons why we were going home and that we’d come back another day, but in the end the promise of an ice cream from the grandparents as he’d been such a good boy all day won him over. Again they fell fast asleep almost instantly on the way home – the sign of a great day out!

MC 5

Linking up with the fab Country Kids, as always!
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Wriggly Rascals – mum-to-mum support for bump to baby and beyond

A little while ago I came across a new website when the mum who runs it, Shona, tweeted me. It’s called Wriggly Rascals, and the idea is to get mums together to share advice on pregnancy and early parenting using quick surveys that get the facts about what real mums do. I liked this concept because I’m not into reading parenting books, but rather my ideas on how to parent my boys come from my own instincts and talking to other parents, whom I respect and trust, about what they have done. I find the idea of a parenting book too general, and I don’t believe that authors who are ultimately out to make big money by promoting one way of parenting are necessarily the best people to listen to. I think that listening to various other ‘real’ parents in real life daily situations is a better bet, and then we can make a decision having considered which is best out of various options for us.

I’ve answered several Wriggly Rascals surveys as topics have come up that I’m interested in or feel like we’ve had a lot of experience of. These have ranged from pregnancy to newborn to toddler topics. The surveys really do just take a few minutes each, so it’s perfectly possible to get one or two done in those pockets of time that us mums have to grab when we can. For each survey you answer, you get points, and over time you can build up points, and then they can be spent on things you might like for you and/or your kid(s) in the shop on the website. I used to do some of those boring online market research surveys that get you Amazon vouchers, but I gave up because they got so long, complicated and had technical hitches. Instead with Wriggly Rascals I know that what I write could help another mum rather than some random market research company.

Most parts of the website are completely accessible for free with no strings attached – you can ask questions, answer surveys and be part of the community. For a small fee of a few pounds a month you can subscribe and get a couple more bonuses including access to detailed rather than summary survey results and to the affiliate programme so you can earn money if your friends join. You can find the details of this here.

When Shona later asked me if I’d like to be one of their bloggers and contribute blog posts to the website, I was happy to agree, because I like writing about some of the topics that come up anyway, and I’d like to support this idea. My first post for this will be coming up in September, and the topic is related to breastfeeding (no surprise there!) If you like the sound of this idea too, and can spare some time to help other mums, why not head over to the website and take a look for yourself. There’s a badge over there on the sidebar —>

And finally… I also love the name of the website, because it describes my active boys very well (see the photo below for an example!) – they are definitely wriggly, and ‘rascals’ suggests mischievous but cute. I’m looking forward to passing on more tips from my experience of my own wriggly rascals, both in the surveys and through blogging.

Wriggly rascals

Trip to Coombe Mill – #CountryKids

Ever since I came across the Coombe Mill blog through the Country Kids linky that Fiona runs every week, I thought that it would be lovely to visit one day, either by staying there or by popping in when we’re down that way. As we go on holiday to Tom’s parents every summer, I thought it would be a possibility to have a day trip there this year, as it’s only just over an hour’s drive in good traffic. I was so glad that we managed to make it, just before Fiona and family set off on their family holiday.

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We started off on the journey down into Cornwall and made good time, so arrived in the later part of the morning. The first thing that Andrew spotted as we drew up in the car was one of the play areas, so he insisted that we get him out right away and he ran across to it, climbing up on the ship-shaped climbing frame, steering with the wheel and playing with the canon. He also liked the look of the trampoline, so had a go with some adult supervision from the other side of the netting.

Meanwhile I went across to reception and introduced myself in person to Fiona – it’s so nice to meet people in real life having tweeted with them and read their blogs. She was busy sorting things out to go away, and I felt very privileged that she was so welcoming and willing to spend time with us even though it was a big deal to get things done in order to leave the family business and go away for a week. Whilst she finished off a few things, I went back over and joined the others; my parents and parents in law were looking after Andrew on the playground. Very kindly, Fiona then came back over and invited us to their house for a cup of tea and cake, which was lovely, and we chatted for a while whilst three of her children came to join us, mainly for the cake!

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Then it was time for a farm tour, courtesy of Felix and Clio. Our guides did a great job of showing us all the animals. We saw peacocks, chickens, pigs, donkeys, deer, goats and rabbits. Andrew was very impressed, and was keen to stroke and feed animals where appropriate, as shown by the older kids. Joel also liked looking at the furry moving things, though he was getting a bit whingey by that point, maybe teeth, maybe hunger, maybe tiredness, who knows! We were all particularly impressed by the deer, who did a run by in front of us as Clio ran into the field behind them.

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Once the farm tour was over, and we managed to prize Andrew away from the other play areas that he had seen on the way back to the start, we sat down and had a picnic on one of the benches dotted amongst the lodges. I knew that Joel would like some milk before a nap, so I slipped into the BBQ hut to feed him – this is a fantastic hut that seats 15 people with a barbecue in the middle and a chimney that lets the smoke out, or is perfect for feeding a very distractible 9 month old away from all the sights and sounds of a family day out.

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After some milk he soon went off for a nap, so I went and joined Andrew on the play area where he was playing with Granny and Grandma. Fiona came and joined us for a bit too, and Andrew found her son Jed playing with the swing ball so tried to join in.

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After a while we headed back to the toddler-specific play area, which is full of ride-on cars. trikes and tractors, so right up Andrew’s street. He also spotted the soft play hut, and had another go on there (apparently he’d already been in when I was feeding Joel). Not that it was raining that day, but having an indoor play area is perfect for the British weather, because even though we often get togged up and go out in the rain anyway, sometimes it’s nice to have a dry place for him to burn off some energy, so I can imagine that if we stay there it would prove invaluable.

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We would have loved to stay and see the miniature railway running at 5pm, but Andrew was flagging and it was clear that he would need his nap in the car on the way home sooner than that. So we started to make a move towards the car. Once we got going, it didn’t take long for both boys to drop off (Joel had woken up from his nap as we transferred him but went back off again), and by the time we had driven through the winding lanes and reached the main road, they were both sound asleep. A sign on a great day out!

The whole family was very impressed by what we saw at Coombe Mill, and we will certainly be recommending it to other families who might be looking to holiday down in Cornwall. There is so much for young children to see and do, including helping out on the farm for feed runs which we didn’t get to experience, and it’s a great spot to go off and explore Cornwall too, from beaches to hills to towns. All the accommodation is well equipped for families with babies and toddlers, so it feels like a home from home. We are blessed with this ourselves in Devon, and at the moment I expect we’ll continue to stay with Grandma and Pop, but when the boys are a bit older we would love to go and stay at Coombe Mill for a holiday. It would be a lovely place to go with another family or two with children a similar age to ours.

So for this week’s Country Kids linky, Andrew and Joel got to be country kids at the place where Country Kids was born, and they thoroughly enjoyed it.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

 

 

The wannabe toddler at 9 months

On Tuesday, Joel will be 40 weeks old. That means he’ll have been living outside of me for as long as he was living inside of me – he was born on his due date, so exactly 40 weeks of pregnancy. Time seems to have flown by quicker now that he’s here than when I was pregnant, probably because I didn’t enjoy pregnancy and I’m much preferring having a baby to look after, even if it is hard work sometimes.

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Time also seems to have flown by faster than it did with Andrew at this age. I went back to work when Andrew was pretty much exactly 9 months old, so that would be the equivalent of now if I was going back to work this time. The thought of going back to work right now seems crazy – if I was I don’t think I would be ready, but that could also be because I’ve known from the start that I’m not going back (for a few years anyway), so I haven’t prepared myself as there is no need. I’m loving the often challenging but highly rewarding role that I’m currently in but not being paid for 😉

Looking back at the past month or so, Joel has come on leaps and bounds in his development – literally! He is now crawling at a rate of knots everywhere and anywhere, and also cruising if there is furniture in the places where he wants to go. He’s trying to climb on things and getting stuck under chairs when I turn my back for just a minute. He loves the bouncer in the doorway and jumps really quite high in it for a little chap.

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As for food, he’s shovelling fistfuls into his mouth like there’s no tomorrow, and has an appetite to rival that of his hungry big brother – both of them seem to take after Daddy in that they eat a lot for their size but must burn it off in all the activity they do. Joel’s lack of teeth don’t seem to be hindering his progress on the eating front; the first one on the bottom left is just beginning to poke out now. Andrew was the same at this age, with no teeth until nearly 10 months, eating what we eat with little trouble, it just took him longer until he had teeth to help him out with chewier foods.

The amount of time that Joel breastfeeds for each day has reduced quite dramatically recently, and he only really wants much milk first thing in the morning when nobody else is up (5am usually) and last thing before bed. He’ll have a bit here and there in the daytime, but nothing to write home about. The amount of formula supplementation that he is taking is now very little compared to what he was taking at the peak of milk intake just before he started eating solid foods. I’m happy about this and it won’t be long before he ditches the formula all together and I’ll let him continue to breastfeed for as long as he would like. Some days it feels like that won’t be much longer the way he’s going, but I think Andrew was similar at this age and he is still going now, albeit just 5 minutes or so before bed. Neither of them have been remotely interested in feeding when there is stuff going on and when we’re out and about since they were about 4 months old!

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As I look back on what life has been like since we became a family of four, I realise that the first few months were in fact easier than I feel things are now. Of course the sleep deprivation was worse, but it was actually easier to look after one energetic toddler and one sleepy baby who would stay still if you put him down and generally didn’t complain much at all. Now I’m looking after two energetic kids – a fully fledged toddler and a wannabe toddler who still hasn’t figured out the cause and effect thing: if you let go of what you’re holding on to whilst standing and turn around, you will fall down! This is hard work for me.

It’s probably also got harder because Andrew is now wearing pants and we’re having mixed success with some days being mostly dry and others being a complete wet disaster. One saving grace in all the running around after two of them is that Joel is now having a good afternoon nap which he never used to, so I do get about an hour on my own when they are both napping in the afternoon and I can rest.

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It’s all good though, and I think their activity and interest in everything around them can only be good things in the long run. I knew having 2 children with a 21 month age gap would be challenging, and in many ways it is, but overall I wouldn’t change our situation for the world. My boys are now interacting with each other and it’s so cute watching them discover how they can brother the other one – mostly this involves smiles, giggles and hugs, with the odd disagreement of course.

Next stop – a first birthday!

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Water balloons – #CountryKids

As the hot weather has continued, I’ve been trying to think of ways to have fun outdoors and stay cool. In the mornings we’ve mainly been going to indoor places to stay out of the sun at the hottest part of the day, coming home for lunch and a nap, then going outdoors about 4pm onwards when the sun is less directly blazing down on us. Our garden (or the communal garden of our block of flats that nobody else ever uses) is perfect in the later afternoon because it’s mostly in the shade of the building. The temperature has been perfect for getting the paddling pool out there in the afternoon.

Apart from the activities I wrote about in last week’s Country Kids post (‘painting’ with water on paving stones, playing with bath toys in the paddling pool), I came up with another fun game involving water. I remember having water balloon ‘fights’ when I was little, and thought that Andrew would love it too. He finds it hilarious when balloons filled with air pop, so I knew he would find this just as fun if not more so because he loves playing with water too. And we all need to be sprayed with cool water in this heat!

Preparations
Preparations

So when we were in town this week, we popped into Poundland and bought a bumper pack of balloons for, of course, one whole pound. Whilst the boys were napping, I started to fill the balloons with water, enough of them to fill the washing up bowl in the kitchen sink. I put the opening of the balloon over the end of the tap and slowly turned the tap on just a little. As these were only cheap balloons, I didn’t want to drench the kitchen even though I wouldn’t complain about an early drenching myself!

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Once both boys were awake, I lowered the washing up bowl full of balloons out the window onto the grass (we live on the ground floor) and then we headed out into the garden ourselves.  Andrew then decided to transfer all the balloons very carefully into the paddling pool where I’d sat Joel down. We played with them there for a while before I picked one up and threw it. I was surprised that it hadn’t occurred to Andrew to do this yet, but once he’d seen me do it and witnessed the pop and splash moment, there was no stopping him. He absolutely loved it, and it was quite an effort to persuade him to leave a couple for when Daddy came home a bit later, as I was sure he would enjoy the cooling off too 😉

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Andrew decided he’d rather not have a nappy or pants on!

The balloons worked perfectly, just what I was hoping for, so I thought I’d share it on here and link up with Country Kids, the amazing outdoor fun linky by Fiona at Coombe Mill. Take a look, there are some great ideas! And just a note to say that I won’t be linking up next week as we’ll be away on the boys’ first trip abroad, to celebrate my (special) birthday. But I’ll be back the following week, no doubt with tales of our German adventures. See you then….

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Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

 

 

 

Baby books

As a child, I remember looking through the baby book that my parents had put together – a collection of photos and words from my early years, a kind of journal to remember things that we’d otherwise forget. I really enjoyed flicking through it, I was so interested in looking at what I was like as a baby.

When I was pregnant with Andrew, I knew that I wanted to do something similar, so that he could look back like I did. That was before I was blogging too, so the book would be the place where I would record facts and happenings from his first few years. We were kindly given a baby journal which had spaces to write specific things and stick pictures in. I was pretty good at remembering to fill it in when there was something interesting happening in his development, though I sometimes just noted it down and then later filled in a whole load of things in one go.

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Joel’s on the left, Andrew’s on the right

A little while ago, Andrew went through a phase of constantly picking his baby book off the shelf and looking through it at the photos. It took us a while to convince him that the baby in the pictures was him and not Joel – an interesting concept for a 2 year old looking at photos of his younger self.  Now he only does it occasionally, but I’m already glad that I started this book for him.

Then I had a second child, and we were given not one but two baby books. We gave the gender-neutral one to my niece who is 4 weeks older than Joel, and kept the blue one for him. The second time around has been different: on the one hand I’ve had less time to write in it and have only sat down a few times in 9 months to fill it in with words and photos, but on the other hand I’ve blogged about Joel’s early months which I didn’t with Andrew.

I like this family tree in pictures idea - I just need to cut out Grandma and Pop from a picture to complete their side of it.
I like this family tree in pictures idea – I just need to cut out Grandma and Pop from a picture to complete their side of it.

This week I’ve had a concerted effort to fill it in up to date. I got some photos printed and made time to write in it, which actually didn’t take too long in the end.

Have you done a baby book like this for your little one(s) if you have any?

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The page with hospital bands and the first ever picture of each of my boys 🙂