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See posts about: // Isabelle // Parenting // Family //

Saturday, 30 August 2014

3 ways I'm freeing up my free time

In case you missed my latest 'big thing', I have just started back to work after 17.5 months of being at home. To say it's a shock to the system is an understatement, but so far, so good. For 16.5 of those 17.5 months at home, obviously I have been with Isabelle, and to go from being with her 24/7 to being WITHOUT her for most of the day, 5 days a week, is also a bit of a shock to the system.

I've been interested to find out that, during the day, I don't actually miss her. I know she is having fun, I'm busy, and so I don't have reason to worry, or time to miss her. But when I pick her up from my parents in the afternoon, I am struck with just how much I've missed of her day, and that I am going to be missing those hours every weekday from now until (potentially) Christmas.

That means the time we do spend together is extra special, and I haven't even minded forfeiting my lie in when both Simon and I are home to get up and spend those extra hours with her if she wakes earlier than we normally would. So, it goes without saying that I want to spend ALL my free time with her, and before I went back to work, I tried to think of some ways which I could relieve the burden of daily life, freeing up my time to be solely dedicated to her.

Here are the 3 main ways I have changed our normal lives to make sure that my free time isn't spent doing mundane chores, and I am able to spend it with Isabelle.

1// Order our shopping online:
Isabelle doesn't mind going to the supermarket, and I don't mind it either. But it does take the guts of an hour to get there, get round, get home and unpack. I would rather spend that hour playing at home, going to the park, or whatever. So, we've decided to start ordering our shopping online and placed our first order at the weekend. I have to say, it was a lot easier than I had imagined, and because we buy the same 'base' food every week, it will get quicker as things are stored in our history. I think it was cheaper than normal too - even with the delivery charge - as I wasn't tempted by little bits and bobs we don't need. A win win!

2// Hire a cleaner:
There are some people who don't mind cleaning, and some who even enjoy it. I am in neither camp - I really hate it. So hiring a cleaner was one way to lighten that burden, and free up a load of my time at the weekend. I found a local company, and saw they were recommended by an acquaintance, so decided to go for them. The girl came out to the house for a chat, and I was really happy with her, so we decided she would come every Friday morning.
I was interested to see the house after the first session, and I have to say I wasn't disappointed. It was absolutely sparkling! Things that I would never clean had been taken care of, and every piece of furniture was moved for a hoover and mop underneath it. It was so great to know that the house was clean on Friday evening, so I didn't have to even think of starting to do anything on Saturday morning - I could just enjoy my time with Isabelle.
I was also really surprised when I started looking and asking around at just how many people I know who have cleaners. I think it's seen as a snobby thing to have one, and I was told I was lazy for getting one, but if someone else is willing to do it for you - why not? There is certainly no great prize for cleaning your house yourself!

3// Use a slow cooker:
My hatred for cooking is well known, and Simon does almost all of it. When we are both getting home at 4.30pm/5pm it means someone has to start into dinner straight away. Using a slow cooker means that we get home and dinner done and dusted - all we have to do is sit down and eat! It also means we are eating 'different' things than we normally would, simply because of the style of cooking. I'm also surprised at just how many things you can cook in a slow cooker - and I'm sorry I haven't looked into one before now! It isn't used every day, but by using it a few times a week we have made life just a little bit more simple.

So there you have it. Nothing earth shattering at all, just 3 little things we have done to take the burden of every day life off us, to ensure that we can spend every free moment possible with Isabelle. At the end of the day, my thought is always there is no point in having a little person if you never get to see them, and so I am all for anything which maximises our time together! (Plus I hate cooking and cleaning!!)

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

I went against my beliefs and...

...bought a stroller.

Sorry, that's pretty anticlimactic.

But, you see, the things is....I DESPISE strollers*. I just cannot stand them. I think they are one of the ugliest types of buggy, and the whole thing just gives me the creeps. I have always thought people who spend ages picking a pram/travel system and then buy a stroller a few months down the line are a bit bonkers. I think they all look cheap (even though some cost well in excess of £100), the wheels look awful and have no give, so poor children get shaken to the core if travelling over anything except smooth tarmac, and they face away from the parent which is something I just cannot abide. I have never had any desire to own one - in fact quite the opposite, I've always been sure I never would.

So, what insanity came over me to send me off to Mothercare to buy one, since I hate them so much?

I'm still not quite sure, to be honest. We have a pram which is fabulous. It really is great, and I love it. But it isn't perfect - what pram is? (You can read my previous pram ranting, and all about my first pram here) One of the issues with it is that it's a two part fold and, because it is a 3 wheeler travel system, when it folds down it's pretty bulky. We actually both have big cars, so it fits fine, but it is a bit of a pain to take somewhere like a shopping centre. While it's sturdiness and awesome wheels are great for it's everyday use (walking the dogs), in crowded places it is BIG.

Now, to be honest, I don't use the pram a lot at all. Mostly, I use a sling for Isabelle - either a ring sling for quick trips, or my mei tai on my back for longer trips. As I mentioned recently, however, she is getting to the stage where she wants to be down exploring, and constantly getting her in and out of the mei tai is a pain, and sometimes we are still going too far for just the ring sling!

I've thought a few times lately while we've been out that if we had a smaller buggy, it might help solve a few of our issues. So, despite every part of my brain telling me I'm an idiot and that those aren't really valid reasons....yesterday we went to Mothercare and purchased a stroller.

This is the first 'big' purchase for Isabelle that I have made without researching like crazy. We decided we would get one, walked into Mothercare looking for one I didn't hate the look of, wasn't insanely expensive, and we walked out with this:

Hardly earth shattering - but it's a big deal for me. I still hate the concept of strollers and, apart from the rather pretty design on it, this one is no exception. I hate having her face away from me, passively watching the world go by instead of interacting. I could count on my fingers the number of times she has forward faced in a pram in her 16.5 months (and all in other people's prams with no other option) and it just isn't something I like. I hate the ridiculously small and plastic wheels...I just don't like strollers!

But, for £50 we thought we would get it and give it a whirl if we do go somewhere busy that may not be as suitable for our all terrain beast. We tried it out as soon as we bought it and it all went just fine. She seemed happy enough and we used the shopping basket to full effect (not something we have the pleasure of on our other pram). 

I think we definitely will get use out of it, but it just doesn't sit comfortably with me. I feel like a total traitor to myself! And yes, I's a buggy, no biggy. But owning one of these contraptions is just not something I ever thought I would do, and it is definitely requiring an adjustment period. 

Have you gone against your 'beliefs' and bought any baby products? How have you found them?

*Please do not take offence if you own a stroller!!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Sensory Play: Water Beads

I have read lots of blog posts and website posts about using water beads in sensory play, but it always seemed a little complicated and fussy (essentially, I am extremely lazy), and so I hadn't gotten round to buying any. Just before going back to work, I decided to buy a few things for play activities during the time I will be at home with Isabelle, and finally decided to get some water beads. I'm so glad I did as it's not complicated at all!

Water beads are actually meant to be used in vases of flowers, as a decoration. They are little beads, which come in packets and looks like tiny seeds. You soak them in water for a few hours and they expand into amazing little balls of a weird consistency. The best way I can describe them is like a hard jelly. They are shiny, feel damp, are slippery, a little slimy, squishable, clear (once they are water filled) bouncy and generally pretty fun. They are almost like squishy marbles.

I decided to use 3 packs of the 7 I bought, but after soaking them for an hour, decided I would add the rest in too, and I'm glad I did as it gave us the perfect amount to fill our tray and play with. I soaked all 7 packs in 1 litre of water for around 6 hours. I then decided to drain the excess water off, but you could leave them floating in water for a different take on the activity.

As with all our first attempts with an activity, I kept it very simple. The water beads were in our tray (which yes, is a cat litter tray. Never used!), and I gave Isabelle some things to scoop with, some bits to pour the beads through and into, and a tin which she really likes.

I had assumed she would be hesitant about their texture, as it is a little strange, and she usually goes slowly with new textures (like our moon sand). I was totally wrong though, and she got stuck straight in with both hands. She enjoyed lifting the beads up, feeling them, 'splashing' her hands in them, scooping them on the spoons, and making them jump around by shaking her hands in the tray.

Most of all, she enjoyed moving the beads from one container to another, and she did that for 45 minutes. She would use her hands or one of her scoops, and fill up the big scoop, her tin, and some mouse shaped chocolate moulds. As the beads are tricky to pick up (even Simon commented on that when he arrived home), Isabelle had to really concentrate to pick them up and move them about. As they are so slippery, it was great practise for her pincer grip, and dropping them onto her spoons, into her scoops and down the tubes was a great work out for her fine motor skills.

After dinner, we played with them some more, and I encouraged her to step into the tray in her bare feet for a different way to experience the beads, and she seemed to really enjoy that too, swooshing her feet about, before sitting down on top of them all!

It goes without saying that, although these beads are non-toxic, this is an activity which should be watched very closely, especially with younger toddlers. The beads are so brightly coloured and inviting, and the perfect size for popping into a mouth.

I am so pleased that this activity was simple to set up, and so much fun to do. Isabelle played with the beads for well over an hour and a half, and it was great to see her working with such a different feeling material. The beads haven't dried out yet, but apparently they are totally reusable, so I am interested to see how well they will dry and rehydrate next time round. The next thing I want to do is add them into mounds of shaving foam.........stay tuned for that!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Back to porridge...the lie ins are over

The lie ins are over. 
The long lazy days with nothing to do but have fun with Isabelle are over. 
The days of laying about in our PJs until whatever time we decide to get dressed are over.
My social life is over.

Ok, so maybe I am exaggerating slightly, but not a whole lot! You see, tomorrow, I head back to work. For the first time since Isabelle arrived, I will no longer be her primary carer. In fact, I'm actually kind of far down the list now, after my parents and Simon. 

I will be working 5 days at week, which I haven't done in 17 months...that is a long time. I did work some days here and there last (school) year, but the longest period I did was 3 consecutive days...and this week alone I will do more than that.

5 days a week. Every week from now until...well, I'm not quite sure of that one. Until at least the end of October, maybe more, but not quite sure. 

That's at least 11 weeks. 55 days away from Isabelle. Not being the one to put her down for naps, or get her up, or feed her lunch, or take her to the park...the list goes on.

I'm not even remotely worried about how she will find this - she is going to have a BALL. Her time will be split between my dad (2.5 days a week), my mum (1.5 days a week) and Simon (1 day a week). One of those days, she will have her two cousins at my parents to play with as well, and she is going to love it. She'll be begging me to go at weekends as well! 

No, I'm not worried about her. I am very worried about me though. Early mornings, long school days, new kids, new colleagues, new everything. It sounds quite unpalatable, really. When I worked last year, I remember wondering how on earth full time, working mothers are able to juggle everything. And I am scared that I am going to end up missing out on important things with Isabelle, and not giving my all to my work as I try to find that work/life balance we always hear is so important.

That said, I am looking forward to it. I have always loved my job, and I will be teaching a lot of new subjects which I think is going to be great (if not damn hard work!), and I am looking forward to putting my brain back to work too. Not that having tea parties and colouring in our Aquadoodle isn't extremely mentally stimulating, of course...

The one thing I am most sad to lose is my social life. Being free to meet people and go to groups any day of the week has been amazing. I am going to miss my friends, their little people, and out get togethers so much. Of course, we have weekends and I will definitely see them then, but I will miss the routine of weekly get togethers. I'll miss the day to day goings on with their little people, the little changes I see each week. I will miss them all terribly.

Simon and I will also get very little time together from now on. As he will look after Isabelle on a Tuesday, he has to work every Saturday, so the only day we will have as a family is Sunday. We've tried to make the most of the last few weeks by going to our holiday home for the last two weekends to spend some 'quality time' together. But it all passed very quickly, and that quality time from now on is drastically limited.

But, hopefully, the 10 weeks+ will pass quickly, and I will come out the other side better off in lots of ways - as will Isabelle from spending time with her grandparents and daddy. 

Then, we can forget all about this work malarkey and go back to lazing round in our PJs instead...

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Raising a bookworm

I have always been a huge fan of reading, and I blogged a while ago about how I wanted to find more time for reading, and showed you the pile of books I had to get through. I'm pretty sad to say that since then, the pile has grown, and I haven't actually read a single one of them! That doesn't mean I haven't read anything - I re-read 3 of the Harry Potter series, and have just finished a book my sister-in-law bought me for my birthday. But still. Shame on me!

My love of reading started when I was very tiny, and my mum said I would sit by myself for hours with my books, happy as anything. I love reading so much that it is something I love to share with Isabelle, and it's something I hope she enjoys as she grows up too.

I think it's fairly normal for parents to read with their little people, and we are no exception. I love to read with Isabelle and, despite his own lack of interest in reading, Simon does too. Both sets of parents, and even aunts and uncles, are always eager to pick up a book, and I think it is wonderful that Isabelle - and her cousins - are surrounded by books every day.

In one of our downstairs bookshelves, Isabelle has her own little shelf of stories, with some more up in her room. It's not a huge collection, but there is plenty there to keep us going, and we have a bit of everything. I always say that books are the one gift you can never receive too many of, so I know that with every special occasion to come in the future, the pile of books will grow and grow. Noisy books, touchy/feely books, picture books, short stories, long stories, poems, nursery rhymes...we have a few of them all. She has her favourites of course, and some of the books aren't quite appropriate for her just yet, but there is always plenty for her to choose from. We have some 'bedtime' stories in our room which she reads while she gets changed for bed - they are 3 Bookstart stories which I got free from our health visitor, and which we have been reading for months to her. We don't actually read them anymore, she takes them herself and leafs through. One in particular is her current fave -  a lift-the-flap book, which she adores as she knows the name of everything hiding under the flaps, and loves lifting the flap to say "cup/car/duck/teddy/baby". It's incredible to see her 'reading' on her own, and enjoying it so much. One of the other Bookstart books is fantastic as she can say the word at the end of every rhyming couplet (nose, toes, while, smile, bubbles, cuddles, bed, head), and she has started parroting those off as we read the verses. Watching her engage so readily with her books, and at such a young age, is amazing.

Isabelle's favourite books is one which came to us in a Nonabox. At first, I was not convinced and thought the whole thing was a bit silly - but now it is a firm favourite. The very last section reads:

"I may be small, but I can see, 
the biggest thing to you is

It's such a sweet ending to a story, and is another one which she engages with, by yelling "ME!' at the very end, and since that is also the name of the book, she has learnt to ask for that particular story by saying "Me" as she points to the bookcase.

I think it's probably also fairly normal for parents to want to read to their children the stories they had as a child, and so many of the books we have for Isabelle are stories we had as children - either the very same book, or a new version.

Simon loves to read "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" with her, as it was one of his favourite books as a child, and it's the copy he had when he and his sister were little.

One of my favourite books as a child was "Owl at Home", which is about a silly owl and the things he gets up to - like making Tear-Water Tea, or trying to be upstairs and downstairs at the same time. It's also the copy I had when I was little.

My sister bought Isabelle The Jolly Postman book for Christmas, as it was one of our favourites when we were little - she isn't quite allowed to touch it yet, as it has lots of little pull out bits which her crazy mummy doesn't want her to ruin! When I saw the Enid Blyton Magic Faraway Tree collection on sale at a garden centre, I had to buy them for Isabelle as I remember reading them over and over again as a child and adoring them. They are too old for her for now, but I can't wait for us to share them together.

Reading is so important to me, even though I haven't managed to find much time for it recently, and I hope that by reading lots with Isabelle while she is tiny, she will develop the same love for books and be a life long reader. It opens up a whole world to little people - and bigger people - and allows their imaginations to grow and explore places they may otherwise never reach. Hopefully, I am raising a little bookworm, who will keep some of her books to share with her own babies in the future.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Using her imagination

When Isabelle arrived, my parents became aware that most of the toys they had bought for Jacob were starting to look a little worn, and many of them centred around interests he had, and may not be as suitable for Isabelle. They went through a little spree of wanting to buy her some of her own, little girl, toys to play with - which was incredibly thoughtful of them.

That's how we ended up with Isabelle's first little tea set and kitchen set - they bought it for a special 'Isabelle toy' to keep at our holiday home (although, of course, the toys are for everyone!). Since then, we've actually seen a lot of little tea sets and she seems to adore them, and I have been amazed at how well Isabelle has taken to this type of imaginary play.

I suppose I still think of her as such a baby, but at 16 months she is well in to toddler territory, and proving to me every day that she is growing up. Imaginary play is just the latest way in which she is telling me 'Hey, I'm a big kid now!'.

It's so sweet to see her take part in 'pretend play'. She loves sitting in her little tent, with all her tea party things, and 'making tea', and feeding it to her babies, or to anyone who is with her. It actually makes me laugh that she spoon feeds her babies - she was never spoon fed as we followed baby led weaning, so we assume she learnt this from watching her auntie feed her little cousin. She'd obviously been watching us all a lot more closely than we think!

She mixes, scoops, feeds babies, pours tea, drinks tea, feeds us, gives us tea to drink...the list goes on. She knows that it isn't real - if I offer her the little spoon to 'eat' from, she does it with a big smile that says 'Oh mummy! This is funny!'. We didn't have a tea set for her for our house, but after watching her play this last week, we ordered this beautiful set for her, and I can't wait for it to arrive!

And it's not just tea sets either - at our local science/discovery centre last week, Isabelle spent ages in the play shop pretending to pour the contents of bottles into a tin, and make goodness only knows what with it! She had a tuna tin, a bottle of HP sauce, a bottle of Listerine and some washing up liquid going in there - so I'm not 100% sure what she was making, but whatever it was she was having a great time. She picked the bottles up, took them to the tin and 'poured', then put them back. And repeat. I actually had to manhandle her away to go and have our lunch!

I truly think it's amazing that such a small child can understand how to pretend something is there, and that she is doing something. I know it doesn't seem like much - especially to those of you with older kids who are well acquainted with imaginary play - but it just seems like it's such a big kid thing to do.

Don't let it slip, but Isabelle is getting a play kitchen for Christmas (it's in the loft already), and I know she is going to have so much fun making food and feeding it to us.

I know that as she gets bigger, her imagination will develop and her games will become more elaborate. But for now, there is nothing I think is sweeter than seeing my baby feed her babies with food she has lovingly prepared herself.

* Joining up with The Ordinary Moments linky over at Mummy Daddy Me*

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Sensory Play: Scented Moon Sand

I'm sure almost everyone out there has heard of moon sand, and it's a really simple and fun sensory activity for little people of pretty much any age. I hadn't actually made any for Isabelle before, and now I am so sorry I didn't as it was easy to set up and we had so much fun playing with it.

If you haven't heard of moon sand, or don't know much about it, it's quite difficult describe. It's texture it a little bit like breadcrumbs, so it's crumbly and flaky, but it's also really mouldable, and you can use it to make any sort of shape, then crumble it down again. It seems to be almost two entirely different things which is what makes it such a wonderful sensory material for little people. It gives them so much to explore, and can be handled and used in lots of different ways.

So, how do you make moon sand? It's so simple, and you probably even have the ingredients in the house already. All you need is:

* 8 cups plain flour
* 1 cup baby oil

And mix! It takes less than 2 minutes to make, and older children will enjoy making it as much as playing with it.

I decided to make scented moon sand, as I quite often think that the sense of smell is overlooked in sensory play activities. So, I added 2 drops of essential oil (Lemon and Tea Tree) into the mixture as well. I did try to colour it pink too, but the only colouring I had was a gel, and although I added it in it didn't do anything - liquid food colouring or powdered paint would work much better for next time.

I used the water/sand tray which Isabelle got for her birthday as our play area. I was just about to set it up outside when the heavens opened, so we did it in the kitchen instead. Lots of mess on the floor, and I would much prefer to do it outside, but I put a bin liner down to try and limit the carnage! The tray worked well as it had quite high sides, and she was able to stand at it and potter round it.

Isabelle was slow to warm up to this activity - while I dived in gleefully - but once she did she seemed to really enjoy poking at the sand, and crushing anything we built up for her. She liked crumbling the sand between her fingers, and I encouraged her to give it a sniff a few times which she seemed to like! She liked to scoop it up in the bowl and watch it tumble out, and generally bash about! She also enjoyed scooping it out and onto the floor, which wasn't a highlight for me....

Overall, lots of messy fun was had, and at the end I packed the moon sand away into a ziplock bag, ready to whip out again at a moment's notice.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Interpreting Toddler-ese

Isabelle has always been a chatty girl. Since she was very tiny she has babbled and cooed away, and experimented with all her different sounds.

Lately though, she has been on a whole other level of chatty. The child never stops talking! She opens her eyes first thing in the morning, smiles and within a second her daily chatter starts. "Mummy! Eyes, toes, nose, tummy, flies. Daddy!" 

Now that she has so many words (upwards of 40, and learning them at a scary rate - yesterday she learnt 3 new words - chair, tractor and sheep) she seems to like to practise them a lot. Maybe she is worried she will forget how to use them otherwise, because she makes excellent use of all those words. All. Day. Long.

In fact, it's not just all day long...she talks at night too. She talks in her sleep, which I suppose is no real surprise as I do as well. But it's just so funny to hear this tiny little human babbling to herself as she sleeps.

But, as well as she is doing with her proper words, most of Isabelle's chatter at the minute is still total jibberish. She wanders round the house chittering away about goodness only knows what, and will call "Mummy! Mummy!" followed by a string of totally unknown words. To me. Because she seems to know exactly what she is chatting about, and will often repeat the same things over and over again. Sometimes she is even telling a little joke, as she will use a string of her 'words' and then laugh....then repeat and laugh again! She finds herself very funny - something else she has inherited from me!

She particularly loves 'talking on the phone' - she will take our mobile, or the house phone (or the remote, or her bus magnet!) and chat away for 5 or 10 minutes! She even leaves pauses so the imaginary person on the other end can answer her back. It's great to see such a wonderful understanding of how conversation works from such a mini human. Here she is on the phone recently...

So I spend most of my day listening to this tiny person talking away, and I have no idea what on earth she is talking about. I usually just answer with "Wow! Really? That is some story! What happened next?" Obviously, these are not always the correct response as I get a few funny looks, but what else can I do?

The only way to get silence is to stick something else in her mouth...
I have discovered though, that if a sound is being repeated, and I listen carefully and watch what she is doing, I can actually figure out what she is saying. At the minute, Isabelle can't make a K or hard C sound - she replaces them with a T or a D sound. So 'clap clap' is 'dap dap' and 'cuddle' is 'tuddle'. I have to listen very closely, but when I figure out what she is saying, it's easy to know the next time she repeats the sound what she means.

That's OK for me, because I am with her all day, but for other people they have a much more limited understanding of her chat - even Simon. For example, if she is holding something and says 'Ta ta', it's because she is offering it to you (and you will say ta ta when you take it), but everyone always assumes she is saying 'dada' - which is not something she has ever said, she just says daddy. 

It must be pretty frustrating for these little people to be chatting away, and have so little of it understood.  Like being in a foreign country where you only speak part of the language. One thing I wish I had done more with Isabelle is sign language. She has 3 signs - plane, butterfly and bird - and she uses them all the time, and it makes it so much easier to communicate with her when she can convey so easily what is on her mind. We did go to Sing and Sign classes, and learnt signs at our Baby Sensory classes, but I was a bit lazy in continuing this at home, and wish I had tried a bit harder as it takes the guess work out of interpreting, and relieves her frustration when she can communicate easily.

As Isabelle wanders round chattering away all day, I am becoming better at interpreting her 'toddler-ese' and figuring out what she is saying. The only one I haven't quite gotten yet is when she hears dogs barking and she shouts 'Wise wise! Shhh! Wise!' I have no idea what the 'wise' bit is supposed to be, despite spending a lot of time trying to figure it out!

I'm just waiting to find out she's actually telling me about the solutions to all sorts of global issues...

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