Getting the blogging juices going – inspiring activities for creativity

One of the hardest things about committing to write a regular blog is when the creative juices run dry. There are several reasons you can get writer’s block, but the most soul-destroying probably has to be complete failure to think of a topic. One of the very worst things you can do is navel-gaze in front of your computer whilst metaphorically banging your head on the desk, so here is my patented list of inspirational day to day activities that will not only inspire and fit neatly into your life, but may even improve your standard of living…if you can be arsed.

1 – prep food. There’s something about mindless and repetitive activity that leaves your brain free to wander and preparing food is excellent, hey – it needs to be done anyway, right? So peel some veg, stir a risotto, grate that cheese. If nothing else, you can write about how delicious your dinner was.

2 – Go for a walk. Fresh air is soothing and invigorating in equal measure, especially at this time of year. Green vistas are scientifically proven to be good for the brain and your mood, as is the increase of blood flow if you can work up to a decent pace (not always possible if you’re dragging the smalls with you). A change of scenery will head off frustration and may lead to kernels of inspiration spiralling through your frontal cortex. You’ll have material for photographs, can muse on the changing of seasons, time, weather (as a Brit this is practically obligatory from time to time) and may exchange greetings with  someone interesting. It also saves you from being cocooned in the house with bored, irritable and irritating children. Take them with and wear them out, leave them behind and get some peace – both good options!

3 – Read some other blogs. Yes, it may infuriate and depress you that these bloggers are all merrily writing away and you’re, well, not, but often you’ll happen upon a nugget of something you can enlarge into a post of your own. My post on co-sleeping evolved that way if memory serves me correctly.

4 – Go get a hug from someone. Read a book, eat a chocolate. Whatever it takes to get the happy juices flowing. Don’t get drunk, unless you want to drunk-blog. Which can be amusing for readers, but not always the best idea for the blogger!

5 – Go watch a sad film, read old diaries, contemplate lost loves. Do whatever it takes to get really really, country-music blue and see what rises to the surface. Again, don’t mix with alcohol unless you want to be embarrassingly open or, possibly, completely incoherent.

6 – Get involved. Go find a committee meeting, a volunteer group, charity, special interests group, academic social group – anything where you’ll be pushed out of your comfort zone, forced to think about new stuff and talk to new people. It’ll make you a more rounded person, even if you don’t get any blogging material out of it.

7 – Set yourself a challenge. Whether it’s a physical challenge like C25k, a mental challenge like completing an adult learning course, a lifestyle challenge like taking a photograph every week or cooking a new recipe every week using the same ingredient – whatever rocks your boat really. Write about why you’re doing it, write about your progress, write about what you learned – that’s three posts right there, and maybe even more if you get inspired.

8 – Join a blog hop. Especially if you can find one on a topic close to your heart. Sometimes narrowing the field can actually help – when you have an enormous blank page of *anything* to write about it can be overwhelming and you just shut down. I got so much written during National Breastfeeding Week when I was set a series of topics on the subject of breastfeeding and only had to choose how to approach each one. I’d highly recommend this approach.

 

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The lazy person’s guide to a quick & easy Christmas wreath

I love getting ready for Christmas, not so much the presents and gifts side of things, but the food, crafts, decorations and generally making everything pretty and festive.  Part of that, for me, is making a lovely leafy wreath for our front door, but I have far too little time to mess around with the whole spagnum moss malarkey, too little money to buy ready-made and too much middle class snobbery taste to want anything plastic.

IMG_7346.jpgYears ago I bought this plastic ivy wreath from Ikea, I think it was intended as a table decoration, but I use it as a quick and dirty jumping off point for my front door wreath.

IMG_7347.jpgYesterday the smalls and I went for a foraging walk with a pair of secateurs and I stocked the buggy basket with anything that looked useful – Ivy strands, holly sprigs, clusters of rosehips, unidentified red and yellow berries (possibly Rowan?), black ivy berries and elegant sprays of eucalyptus.  I made sure to get lots of red, because I love how they pop against our dark blue door and I also grabbed some of these lovely fluffy clematis seedheads as a contrast to the spiky holly.

Well I tucked the loose sprays and clusters through the plastic ivy, secured with a length of green gardeners wire where necessary, then tied on a couple of ribbons – I love the trailing gold tails mingling with the ivy sprays. Ta dah!

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And with the leftover greenery I made this dinky little Christmas bouquet.

Christmas bouquet

What to put in a reusable Christmas advent calendar

Many moons ago, before I had children (and therefore no time to sew, boo hoo) I made The Man this beautiful patchwork advent calendar. It took me a long time and I honoured its promise by filling it with expensive sweets for him. Now we have children and I object to just stuffing them full of chocolate or toys so we needed to come up with something special to put in the pockets in the countdown to the 25th.IMG_7338 (2)

Had we been religious we would have put a little figurine of each of the characters in the nativity so The Boy could, over the days, construct the full scene – shepherds and donkey and all. In an effort to avoid too much hypocrisy we chose not to do that this year, so what to do instead? Something meaningful, something special, something relevant…

Well, we couldn’t quite get away from the chocolate element – we have a bag of coins and (having learnt from the great advent calendar raid of 2014) we will only be filling each pocket the night before, but we’re adding a little something extra: a Christmas thought.

These are little slips of paper I wrote something on. Some are instructions, some are thoughts, some are treats or challenges. If you care to see them I’ll do a transcript below. Remember these are aimed at a 3 (nearly 4) year old so you might need to adjust up or down if you want to borrow the idea. If you do then please let me know what you include. I’m going to need to do this again next year, after all.

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-Time for a Christmas disco – play Christmas music and dance with Mummy & Daddy
– Work extra hard on your listening today
– Sing a song to someone who needs cheering up
– Christmas treat! Cake & hot chocolate at a cafe with Mummy
– Christmas scavenger hunt: go for a walk and see how many Christmas things you can find
– Remember, when you feel angry, jump up and down and tell a grown up
– Look for something beautiful and tell Mummy & Daddy about it
– Tidy up without being asked
– This is a ticket for a Christmas story – give it to a grown up and they’ll read it to you
– Make something beautiful today for someone you love
– Learn a Christmas song to sing
– Find someone at preschool who you don’t know very well and ask them to sit with you at lunch or story time
– Find someone who’s sad and try to make them smile
– Voucher for a Christmas song – give this to a grown-up and they will sing to you
– Draw a lovely picture for someone you love
– Learn a joke to tell at dinner time
– Help Mummy with the housework today – ask her what you can do
– Say something nice to everyone you talk to today
– Ask Mummy to put the popcorn on – it’s Christmas movie afternoon today!
– Read or tell your little sister a story (ask for help if you need to)
– Daddy will take you shopping to buy Mummy’s gift
– Ask a child you don’t know very well to play with you
– Wrap it up – time to get your presents looking pretty
– Christmas tomorrow – make sure you go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep!

 

5 fab gift ideas for subsequent children

5 fab gift ideas for subsequent children

5 fab gift ideas for subsequent childrenYou may have seen my posts on gender neutral gifts to buy a three year old (and more gender neutral gifts to buy a three year old).  I had a lot of positive feedback on those, but one comment asked me to please please write a list of gifts to buy subsequent children and I’ve been mulling the topic over since. What do you get for a younger sibling when their brother or sister has already been given the standard ‘new baby’ gifts?

It’s a tricky issue because once you have one child you have pretty much everything you need for the following children.  You might get a few easy gifts if the child is a different sex to its predecessor, but even then the majority of items required will already be taking up space in the house.  So I put together a few ideas but, as my friends continue to procreate, I would appreciate any suggestions of things I haven’t thought of, so do add comments! Luckily, as the kids get older they will hopefully develop individual interests and hobbies you can cater to, but for the early stages here are some ideas…

1 – Dribble bibs/bandanas – yes, they may (probably do) have some of these already, but it’s one of those items where you can never have too many. Plus it’s nice to have different colours to match to different outfits. The Girl can saturate as many as four or five in a day (eww). Especially useful to have new ones as, once smalls start to wean, they will inevitably get unpleasant food stains on them. I really love the ones I have from Tu at Sainsburys, especially for the price, but the design of the ones from Dribble Ons are the absolute best for getting right under their chin and catching the drool. There is a great choice of colours etc too.  ‘Normal’ bibs are good too – some shops sell them with sleeves which are fabulous!

2 – Books – you can never have too many books in a house and they handily take up very little storage space.  Choose a book you enjoy or, for that personal touch, one you used to enjoy when you were a child. If the mother is anything like me she will ‘encourage’ (ie – insist) that you read the book to the little recipient of the gift so make sure it’s something you can manage (we recently got give one about a ‘Dinosaurarumpus‘ which is great fun to read except for the very long and complex dinosaur names which are impossible for me to pronounce).

3 – Personalised items – no matter how huge the collection of things child no.1 possesses there is one thing you can guarantee they won’t have: anything with Child no.2’s name on! So here is a list of things you can get personalised and a couple of suggestions of places to do it. If cost is an issue and the child has a long, complicated name, then initials can work too in most cases!
– A doorplate or letters for their bedroom door
– A personalised book where your child becomes the character. I haven’t ordered one of these so have no recommendation to make, just Google for it.
– A framed print of their initial. Lots of local artists will do this to order so have a look in your area.
– A travel bag for their things with their initials embroidered on
– Hairbrush
– Ex Libris bookplates “This book belongs to….”
– Crockery or a cup
Blanket
– Placemat
– Pendant/cufflinks (yes this is thinking a little far in advance, but it’s less likely they’ll already have one…)
– Egg cup

4 – Vouchers. As mums we rarely get a chance to buy new things for our little ones, especially subsequent babies – they just get hand-me-downs. A voucher for Next, H&M, Jojo Maman et Bebe, John Lewis or Mothercare (other shops also available) will make a lovely present for mum and baby alike as they get to have fun shopping and buy something the baby really needs or will wear a lot.

5 – A set of crockery and/or cutlery is a perfect gift, even un-personalised.  With an additional person to feed comes the need for additional child-proof tableware, especially as the little buggers bring friends round, too! I like melamine sets like this lovely 7-piece dinosaur one.

So there you go – a few suggestions that might help you buy something that won’t end up being re-gifted three weeks later!

How to set your AEG Competence oven to come on automatically

So occasionally, when out and about, I like to pretend that I’m more organised than I really am, or even that I’m in two places at the same time (hey, every mum has a superwoman complex really). At times like these it’s handy to be able to set the delayed start function on my oven (an AEG Competence) so that my food can be cooking whilst I’m away from the house and ready when we get back. Despite consulting the manual it still wasn’t clear and easy to figure out the settings, so I created a little video in case anybody else needed to do this.

In short, though, set the length of cooking time using the duration setting, then work out when you want your meal to finish cooking. Hey presto, no need for the apparently missing start function!

Was this helpful? Hope so!

5 things not to do or say to your co-parent (unless you want a slap)

5thingsnottodoorsayIn the game of parenting there are two sides – parents versus kids. In this situation it is vital that you keep your game face on and work as a team to overcome the relentless onslaught brought by the other side.  The last you thing you need is to turn on each other – parents need to work together!  In aid of that happy harmony which will enable you to march to victory, I present a few of the key things to avoid saying or doing to your co-parent, lest you wind up locked in the playpen with the toddler (at best).

  1. I’m sooooo tired today
    Now, I’m an equal-opportunities exhaustion kinda gal, so I’m going to try and see this from both sides, but as a breastfeeding (ie- the only one who can do night feeds) mother, I am sorta more on their side generally. Just a little disclaimer.

    So yeah, never say to a mother who went through labour – one of humankind’s most exhausting physical ordeals – has been single-handedly keeping a baby alive with the produce of her body (breastfeeding is literally draining) and spends all day getting screamed at and all night getting woken for food, cuddles, calpol administration etc that you are tired. You don’t know the meaning of it.

    But working fathers and mothers, well, you have to look vaguely presentable, stay on your game, commute to and from work and hell! No naps for you despite the fact you could hear the wailing too  through your snoring. huh.! Nobody at baby group will judge a parent sitting in the corner rocking wearing three-day-old clothes and food in their hair. Nobody expects them to say anything intelligent. Unlike you…

    I think we can probably agree that there are no winners here, so just don’t say it. Ever. Either of you. Although working mothers who also breastfeed… I think you might have the upper hand in the game of “I’m more tired than you”. Hats off Sista.

  2. Sing any kind of CBeebies theme tune, ‘Let it go’ or any other irritating kiddie ear worm
    It’s not funny. It’s not clever. It’ll really piss off the other parent who spends all day muttering nonsensical lyrics to themselves in a perky american accent.
    Or do what The Man and I do and turn it into a kind of ninja sneak attack, see if you can slip in just enough of a phrase to ordinary everyday conversation that you can’t be accused of doing it, but manage to plant an earworm anyway!
  3. “But you do [insert disgusting, time consuming, fiddly or otherwise unappealing chore here] so much better, that’s why I left it for you…”
    This is not a compliment. This is you evading your duties. Pull your finger out you lazy so and so and do your bit. You’ll never get good at it if you don’t practice.

These final two, admittedly, are specifically from the parent who has not been stuck at home with the children to the parent who has.  Say either of these to a stay at home parent and you won’t just get slapped, you’ll get eviscerated

4 – I  just need some time to myself
Seriously? You get to commute by yourself. You get to pee by yourself. If you choose to skulk away from your desk you can probably even eat by yourself.  How much more time do you need? Huh? huh? HUH?!

5 – What have you done all day?
Now, there are ways and ways of saying this. Asked in an enthusiastic, interested tone, mostly directed towards the three year old then this is just showing interest in your day. Fine. What you never ever ever ever never do is cast your eye around the house and exclaim it in a tone of disbelief. You think this is bad, buddy? You shoulda seen it without all the tidying up I did. Plus, Stay at home parent, not stay at home housekeeper.

I am so tempted to round this list up to 6, as my erstwhile husband has just told the three year old that I will watch a Thomas DVD with him knowing full well that modern Thomas cartoons are my absolute pet hate, but I’ve already made the artwork and can’t be bothered to do a new one for ‘6 things not to….’ so Man – be warned. I do not appreciate your sneaky tactics and I will get my own back.

Ten steps to washing up effectively

washingupNow I don’t know if there is much writing on this matter. It’s actually something I was taught by my food tech teacher when I started secondary school oh so many moons ago, but I feel that knowing how to wash up properly is one of those useful life skills that everybody should know, but that very few actually do know.  So if you’ve spent all your life using a dishwasher, or perhaps you know a teenager who’s had Mummy do it all and they’re just about to head off to uni, perhaps you could pass this handy guide to them to ignore make use of.

My credentials are won over years of experience as, except for 18 months of dishwasher bliss in one flat, I have been having to handwash everything since I left my parents’ house fourteen years ago. So trust me – this is how to do a really good job!

1 – Make sure your sink is clean.
I’d like to think this is so obvious it doesn’t need saying, but I have been in close contact with someone (who shall remain nameless) who runs a sinkful of hot soapy water into a sink that’s rimmed around with orange grease from previously washing up bolognaise plates and pans. Yuck. Goes without saying that if your sink is dirty and greasy, so will your washing up be.

2 – Wear rubber gloves
Yes, they look absurd, but their use is two fold. Firstly – they protect your hands from the rigours of washing up and will hopefully prevent (or at least lessen) uncomfortable and unsightly conditions like contact dermatitis. This is less important when you do the odd pan here and there, far more important when you’re in that sink two or three times a day doing all crockery, cutlery and cookware.  Secondly – they enable you to follow rule number 3…

3 – Have the water as hot as you can
Hence the rubber gloves. You’re trying to kill germs here, not just remove food residue, so you want the water as hot as possible: ideally this is hotter than a bare hand can reasonably stand without rubber gloves. If your taps dont run that hot (personally, our boiler is set to somewhere about molten lava…) then boil up a kettle to supplement it and pour it in.

4 – Less is more
You do *not* need gallons of washing up liquid to clean things satisfactorily. Half a tablespoon is more than adequate for the majority of washing up loads.  More than this and you’ll have to rinse every blessed thing less it taste of detergent, plus you’ll have bubbles to the ceiling!

5 – Establish a hierarchy!
No, this is not a family hierarchy whereby the lowest rank gets stuck with the washing up, but a logical order in which to wash up so you can get everything properly cleaned without running endless sinkfuls of fresh water. This is roughly it:
Glasses
Cups/mugs
Cutlery
Plates
Cookware
Obviously there is some wriggle room where you should use your common sense, but if you just chuck everything in together then you end up with everything greasy and glasses that are all smeary and grubby looking.

6 – Rinse rinse rinse before
Scrape off the debris into the food recycling, then rinse everything either into the side sink if you have it, or use a washing-up bowl and rinse into the sink down the side of it. I wish this, also, was obvious, but again I have first-hand experience of someone chucking plates still encrusted with baked beans and fried egg into the sink with glasses and everything else.  If it’s too dried on then soak it a bit first.  This goes double for things like casserole dishes where the food has baked on.

7 – Use the right tools
A sponge, a brush or a cloth are the best tools for the basic washing up. A scourer or wire wool is useful for dealing with baked-on food. Do not use a scourer for the standard washing up. You will wreck the dishes and leave bits of food adhered between the scoured-off bits. Trust me. Pick your tools wisely.

8 – Rinse rinse rinse after
Not everything, certainly, but if you give glasses and cutlery a good swish under some more really hot water then they’ll dry quickly and smear-free which makes them look so much more appealing when you come to using them again

9 – Use your brain to drain
If you leave bowls or glasses upturned not only will they not dry, they will collect drips (and possibly unseen debris) from things draining on top of them.  If you haven’t got a draining board a tea towel laid flat makes a reasonable substitute. Leaving to drain is more hygienic than using a tea towel generally, but if you have to dry immediately then use a clean towel and don’t mix it up with a hand towel. Ick.

10 – Clean that sink
This is especially important when flat-sharing or living in halls, or basically if someone else is going to have to have to use that sink other than you. Remove all large food debris, rinse away scum, if there’s any grease then use some detergent and wipe it down. Even if it’s just you who’ll use it next think how nice it’ll be to look at a clean sink in the interim and have it all ready to use.

So there you go – ten steps to effective washing up. If any of this is unfamiliar to you then I suggest you implement it and see the difference it makes!

10 really excellent gifts to buy a new mum

10 excellent gifts to buy a new mumAs you may have seen I was recently inspired to do a post on a Top 10 gifts to buy a new baby. Now, although this is super handy when going to visit this hypothetical infant, I do have to make the point that the gifts suggested there are in no way gifts for the mother (with the possible exception of Ewan the sleep sheep, if he works as he ought). So here are ten really excellent gifts you can buy a new mum to make her feel special, treated, looked after and not merely the battered incubator & milk bar for a new human.

1- Monkey mama twiddle necklace and teething ring
Now I do have to make a wee disclaimer – if your intended recipient is more yummy mummy than lentil-weaving hippy mama like me then this gift is no good.  For breastfeeding and/or babywearing afficianados, though, I would go so far as to call this (or similar) a ‘must have’.  The Boy was an inveterate biter – even before he had teeth he liked to give his stony-hard little gums a good work out on my poor, tender nipples.  I bought myself a wooden teething necklace and necklacewhen he got bitey pulled him off and handed him the ring – miraculously he would give his wee gums a good chomp on the ring, then latch back on peacefully.  The Girl is a tiny monkey and likes to have a handful of ‘fur’ when she feeds or is carried. Before I thought to get my necklace back out this was (preferably) a handful of T-shirt but (usually) a painful grip on the loose skin of my breast or a handful of hair, generally with kitten-sharp fingernails digging in or the strands becoming ever more twisted about her tiny, clammy fingers!

They come in pretty colours and different designs and, when you can’t wear much jewellery for fear of it being grabbed, it’s nice to have something to accessorise with.

2- L’Occitane almond shower oil
oilAfter both of my pregnancies I have developed very dry skin and this seems to be common amongst most of the mums I’ve spoken to. A lovely lovely friend of mine bought me this luscious shower oil after I had The Girl and I’m obsessed with it. It saves two steps in the showering ritual – so useful when you have limited time to shower – as it moisturises, washes and makes the best shaving lubrication I’ve ever used. Plus it smells absolutely divine, but is a very light, subtle fragrance so you don’t have to worry about it overwhelming your baby or obliterating your own mummy-smell for them.  A top gift for any new mum.  I can also recommend their lavender hand sanitiser as a handy out-and-about hand cleanser for post-nappy-changes. Smells 100x better than any other sanitiser I’ve used!

3- Paperwhite Kindle
Chances are the baby will be keeping her up at night, so an e-book reader with built-in lighting is ideal for entertainment during those long night feeds. The light won’t wake the baby or the erstwhile snoring husband and an e-book reader is so much easier to manage one-handed than a ‘proper’ book, lovely though they are.  Just check she doesn’t have one already, but this would be an ideal ‘group’ gift, say, from an office to a mum about to go on mat leave. If you need any more persuading, why not read my post on 9 reasons why a mum needs an e-reader?!

4- Photobox vouchers and/or a photo frame
One thing there will be a surfeit of that first year is photos – photos of the baby, of mummy with baby, daddy with baby, Great Auntie Joan with baby etc. Why not buy some vouchers for an online photo printing site so they can immortalise those memories in a photo book, album or on a wall.

5- Jewellery (esp personalised to the baby – fingerprints/birthstone etc)rings
This might be one for the baby’s co-parent to purchase as it’s likely to be a bit more expensive.  The (lovely) Man has bought me two rings, one for each baby with their birth stone in and they nest together. I adore them probably more than my engagement ring because they symbolise my darling babas.  There are all sorts of options for meaningful jewellery – Not on the highstreet has some great ideas for fingerprint jewellery, but there are usually local jewellers who will do this for you which makes life easier in terms of getting the baby’s fingerprints!

If you want something engraved with a name then I adore Dino Daisy who does quirky little pendants and bangles stamped with the letters and images of your choice and for a very reasonable price. Although delivery is a little slow (due to being made to order) her customer service is great and she does her best for you.

6- Photo shoot
Again a great idea for a ‘group’ present, a photo shoot, or series of photo shoots, makes a lovely present for the whole family so they can immortalise their new addition and the new shape of their family.

7- Massage
After nine months of pregnancy and then giving birth and a possible hospital stay followed by sitting in funny positions to feed and constant carrying, bending and lifting trust me a massage would be a welcome gift. Try and find a masseur who’ll come to the house to minimise stress for the new mum and make sure you offer to be there for baby jiggling purposes so she can really relax!

8- DVD boxsets/subscription to a streaming service
My baby was born just a few days before my birthday and my lovely sister bought me a NowTV box and subscription to Sky Entertainment for 3 months – it was bliss. I watched so much crap. If something like this is beyond your budget, why not try one of these boxsets I recommended – she’ll be grateful of the TV on demand!

9 – A cleaner
No new mum should have to be worrying about cleaning – even tidying is too much sometimes and nothing makes as much mess as being post-partum and having a baby. Buy her a few hours with a good cleaner for the first couple of months and she’ll love you forever!

10 – Food!
See my post ‘How to support a new mum‘ – she’ll either be ravenous, or have no appetite but in great need of nutritious food (and cake). Look after her properly and come bearing food and you won’t be turned away!

How to support a new mum

5stupidquestionsMy credentials on this are multifold – I have two children and one of them was born less than four months ago, so I’ve just done the ‘new mum’ thing all over again very recently. I have a number of friends ditto, plus I volunteer with a breastfeeding support group where I speak to a lot of new mums. I’m also a member of two lovely online ante/post-natal support groups so I’m in regular and intimate contact with more than 90 other mothers, and boy do we share!

There are so many ways to support a new mother. First and foremost I would suggest food. Don’t offer it, just supply it.  Especially here in the UK we’re programmed to humbly decline offers of help, so if you want to be really useful then just turn up with a pasta bake, a casserole, a tray of brownies or a big fat cake.  Here’s crucial point number two – make something that requires very little prep or input and supply it in a container that does not need to be returned.  A kind friend made an absolutely delicious pasta bake for us that we were so grateful for, but I spent the next month feeling guilty that I hadn’t returned her casserole dish.  Either use an old icecream tub or buy some of those handy-dandy foil containers with paper lids so they can just stick it straight in the oven – and try and make a  one-dish meal so they don’t have to worry about accompaniments.

If you don’t live locally then why not do as my lovely friend, Bev, did and order some chocolate by post? Hotel Chocolat (um – hell yes! Thanks Bevster) do deliveries, as do Thorntons.  If you want to supply proper food from a distance then there are great companies like Cook who could help, or get some really good quality supermarket ready-meals delivered – but make sure they’ll know to be home.

If you want to visit then that’s fine, but be sensitive. If you get the feeling she’s not keen then back off quickly.  If a visit is agreed then suggest a time limit and either avoid mealtimes, or turn up with a dish as above.  Again, don’t ask if there’s anything useful you can do, just try and use your brain. Peg a wash out, run the hoover around, get her a cup of tea – anything except sitting there like a royal visitor expecting cuddles with the baby whilst her or her partner run around after you.

If there’s an older child, especially one under about six, then make a big fuss of them. Bring them a present, even if it’s just a bag of chocolate buttons. Ask if you can see ‘their’ baby (small children get very possessive of new siblings, as if they’re a new and very precious toy). Read a story with them or take them out to the playground if they’re the kind of child who would enjoy this rather than scream the house down to be removed from their loving parents (The Boy couldn’t get away from us quick enough when anyone offered but I know some kids are more sensitive!)

Find something nice to say about the baby, even (especially) if it looks like an angry, red potato. Even if it’s a not-quite compliment like the handy list I’ll provide below, just sound very enthusiastic and smitten, smiles lots and it’ll come across well.  The mother will find it far easier to believe than compliments about her, though you should try a couple of those, too.
“Oh isn’t s/he sweet?!”
“Just look at those eyes/dimples/hands/that nose/smile/tummy!!”
“What a lot of hair!”
“Ahh, he looks just like his daddy/granddad/brother!” (make sure the relative in question isn’t noticeably deformed or the compliment will fall a little flat)
“Oh what a pudding/dumpling/little sausage!”
“What a little charmer!”

Finally, and this one is critical, if the mum had a tough time and wants to talk about her birth then let her and do NOT offer any meaningless platitudes like “at least you have a healthy baby.” a) she knows that, don’t act like it’s not something she’s considered. b) it discounts her wellbeing entirely and will shut down her freedom to talk. If in doubt then just say “I’m so sorry you had such a tough time”. It’ll make her feel heard.

Sure there are other things you can do and say, but come bearing food, don’t stay too long, do something useful, say something nice and let her talk and you’ll be a very welcome guest.

7 unexpected uses for a big, floaty scarf

I love my floaty scarves. Not only have they been a fashion staple for me for many years, they also act as a sort of grown-up comfort blankie (as my real one, an old white muslin with a yellow trim, has mostly disintegrated and is now kept in a hallowed and secret place to be tenderly stroked in times of great crisis).  Plus, teamed with a pair of sunnies you, too, can look like a celeb wannabe.

Bearing in mind the extensive and punishing use I subject my scarves to, though, I would recommend stocking up on a wide selection and not spending very much money on them. Market stalls, Primark and supermarkets are the ideal scarf-purchasing venues. Happy shopping!

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1 – Hides unfortunate stains. Yup, as a mama I quite often have to spend the day with food and sick stains on me (and am usually grateful it’s not worse, to be honest). In fact, if you look at this post you’ll realise that I even leave the house wearing them, rather than just acquiring them over the course of a day.  If, like me, you haven’t the time or capacity (whether mental or washing machine) to do something about this then a lovely big floaty scarf is definitely the answer. (here are some tips from the very attractive Wendy, I especially like the Waterfall for cover-ups purposes!)

2 – Sun protection.  I’m not a big fan of slathering suncream all over tiny babies. Heck, I even try to avoid doing it to my big boy or myself where possible. As compensation for this I have to work harder with covering up, instead.  Hats are both obvious and essential but, especially when you’re a sling mama like me, there are often bits of baby exposed to the sunlight that you’d like to keep shaded without having them in long sleeves, trousers and socks in the heat.  Tucking a floaty scarf into a sling over their legs, draping it over them when feeding outdoors or, even in a buggy, if the hood or umbrella doesn’t quite keep them in the shade. Large muslins and sarongs are also good for this.

3 – Modesty. I’m not a huge exponent of the ‘cover yourself when breastfeeding’ philosophy. If anything I tend more towards the #ostentatiousbreastfeeding club and feed whenever (and wherever) my baby needs it. However, I do find it a little uncomfortable when I’m wearing something that requires pulling down, under the breast, as this leaves an awful lot of bare chest exposed above the baby’s head which can feel rather exposed. For situations and outfits like this a lovely drapey scarf is ideal for just making you feel a little less vulnerable, and a scarf is rather prettier and less ‘breastfeeding-y’ than a muslin. Right?

4 – You can fashion impromptu clothes out of it.  This sounds a little weird, but bear with me. More than once we have had a series of nappy and/or food and drink incidents in a row (or, eh-hem, may have forgotten to pack a change of clothes. Oops) leaving my child with no clean clothes to wear.  Once I even had to pop a bottom-half-nudey boy on his bike seat and tuck his jacket around him to protect his modesty on the way home.  If you have a lovely big scarf then it’s no drama to create a quick sarong skirt, dress, or even some MC Hammer style droopy trousers if you’re feeling really creative.  It’s better than having to walk home with a wet, cold or naked child!  Could also be used as emergency turban type arrangement for hot days when you get caught without a sun hat.

5 – You can fashion impromptu nappies out of it. You thought the clothes thing sounded bad? That’s nothing darlin’.  My little girl had only been here 8 weeks before she managed to have a day where she blasted through all the nappies I had with me (perhaps it was 2nd time parent over-confidence that meant I hadn;t packed enough, who knows. She waited till I changed her into her last clean nappy before having the poo blow out to end all poos. Marvellous).

Luckily, as a cloth nappy user, I had a spare wrap (the waterproof bit) with me but no absorbent inserts. I didn’t even have a muslin which I have been known to use in a pinch before. Quick as a flash I grabbed my emergency floaty scarf, folded it into a neat pad and tucked it inside the wrap. Had I been sans wrap it still would have made a decent temporary nappy held together with knots and happy thoughts, although not as waterproof it would have stopped a total flood.  Naturally I hotfooted it home once the temporary solution was in place and even made it back before she did anything on the scarf.

6 – Emergency muslin. Yup. My darling husband subjected one of my scarves to this when The Girl executed a spectacular display of digestive pyrotechnics in the backseat of the car. He grabbed the nearest ‘muslin’ to hand which turned out to be a floaty white scarf of mine.  I think he was grateful for the extra coverage such a large piece of fabric provided as the sick just kept coming.  I was in no position to quibble bearing in mind the use I had put this poor scarf to just a few days previously (see item 5). Oh well. It all washed out!

7 – As mentioned in a previous post, Slutty Mummy – ten ways to save some precious time in your day but still look respectable, scarves are also a handy way to dress up an outfit to look completely different.  Take the same t-shirt and jeans, but wear a different colour scarf with it and you could easily make it last several days before it smelt so bad you had flies buzzing around you.