A Make-Do-And-Mend Peg Bag

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Baby + cloth nappies x 2 adults = more laundry. More laundry = more pegs.

The above equation is probably some of the closest I get to doing algebra these days. In short, I needed a peg bag. The plastic basket which came with my last set of pegs just wasn’t cutting it.

I had recently been passed some lovely baby clothes from a church friend. In the set was a particular stripy vest, which I presumed had got mixed up with the set – it was 3-6 months, the rest of the clothes were 9-12 months. It was a bit too small for Ben.

However, it made a perfectly sized peg bag. I sewed across the middle (where I wanted the bottom of the bag to be) cut the bottom off and hung it on a hanger. Once filled with pegs, it worked perfectly.

I just hope the original owner doesn’t mind too much.

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Essentials for a Newborn

One of my friends is expecting a baby in July. At the weekend, we went round and saw some of the things they’ve got ready for the arrival of the baby, and it got me thinking. I found it difficult to choose things before Ben was born. I didn’t want to get too much set up, just in case (we also had building work going on at the time, and I didn’t want to get everything dusty). At times, even thinking about what to buy made me anxious.

However, since having the baby, I can look back on that process with a bit of perspective. We did some things right (for example, I didn’t buy any breastfeeding ‘kit’ before the birth because I didn’t know if I would be able to breastfeed), and I would do some things differently (we had a second hand pram; I wish we’d spent a bit extra on a new one of my choice).

I’m going to attempt to put together a list of the essentials and desirables for the first few months. I know many such lists exist, but hopefully this will be helpful for you, as well as for me, should we have another baby. I’ll also try to put links to examples where I can. Ben was a very sicky baby, so I had to do a lot of washing etc. Many babies aren’t like this, but some are, so the quantities of clothing are on the generous side!

Clothes

We chose to dress Ben in coloured or patterned clothes during the day and white at night to help him to distinguish night from day.

  • Vests – 10 x Newborn, 10 x 0-3 months. I would have 5 x white (for night time) and 5 x coloured/patterned (for day time) in each size. You might like to have some long-sleeved vests as well for colder days.
  • Babygros – 10 x Newborn, 10 x 0-3 months. You will probably be given lots of these, but it’s nice to buy some yourself. Again, I would have half white (for night time) and half coloured/patterned. Make sure you get the ones with scratch mitts built in.
  • 1 or 2 ‘outfits‘ – bearing in mind a baby spends a lot of time lying down, make sure these are comfortable.
  • 2-3 hats – you need some for the hospital, but you will also need a hat for when the baby is outside, and a sun hat for summer babies.
  • Snowsuit – Ben wore his snowsuit from October to March. Summer babies will still need a coat of some kind.
  • 3-4 cardigans – These are hard to find without hoods, especially for boys! I found Gap was the best for jumpers and cardigans for Ben. Cardigans are easiest to start with, as they can be unbuttoned rather than pulled over the head.
  • Bibs – I was given 12 bibs at my baby shower and they were the most useful gift I received.
  • Muslin cloths – so, so useful. Plain white is fine (and can be washed hot), but coloured ones make a nice gift.

Bedding

For Moses Basket or Crib:

When the baby moves into a cot, most people choose to use sleeping bags.

For cot:

  • Fitted sheets x 4
  • Sleeping bags x 2 – 2.5 tog for winter; 1 tog for summer
  • Cellular blankets x 2 – I often had to tuck a blanket over Ben in the winter as he was cold

Furniture and Toys

Out and About

  • Pram or Travel System. This is a huge decision to make, but I’ve heard very good things about this one. It’s also much better value than some.
  • Car Seat – if you get one that is compatible with your car seat, you won’t regret it. Then you can transfer the baby straight to the ‘wheels’ without any disturbance. Now Ben is in a forward-facing car seat and a pushchair, I miss this!
  • Isofix Base – this allows you to clip the car seat in and out of the car quickly and easily.
  • Change bag – I have a Cath Kidston one, and am really happy with it, but I think this depends on your style – after all, it’s pretty much your handbag once the baby is born.

One thing I’ve learned is that babies go through clothes incredibly fast. If you see something you like on offer, don’t be afraid to buy it in a bigger size – he or she will grow in to it! I also take advantage of 25% off offers and sales all the time. Shopping for children is so easy, it’s hard to know when to stop!

What do you think I’ve missed? Let me know!

Baby’s routine at 9 months

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The 9th month of Ben’s life has been full of big events: his first tooth, clapping, waving, starting to crawl… and early morning waking. Joy.

Ben often wakes once or twice during the night, usually if his eczema is bothering him. He still goes to sleep happily at 7pm, and does sleep through, probably only once or twice a week though.

During the day, his routine seems to be very established, and I’m happy with that. It gives me a structure to work around, and it means that leaving him with others is easy, for example, when I’ve been in work for a day or so.

The early morning waking isn’t too bad if it’s after 6am. It’s the 5.30am wake-ups that I’m not happy with. Speaking to others with similar age children, I think this is a common phase. At the moment, I’m going with it, and hoping that he’ll work his way out of it.

So, our days look something like this:

  • 6am(ish) – Wake up
  • 6.30am – Bottle
  • 7.00am – Breakfast
  • 9.00am – Nap (usually 1 1/2 hours)
  • 12.00pm – Lunch
  • 2.00pm – Nap (usually 1 hour)
  • 3.00pm – Bottle
  • 5.00pm – Dinner
  • 6.30pm – Bath followed by Bottle
  • 7.00pm – Bed

This gives us a bit more time during the day – he has around a 3 hour ‘awake’ window at the moment. Going out for lunch is a very popular activity (for us all), but the 9-10.30 nap does affect playgroups and things. I’ve found that he really needs the morning nap. He can cope if the afternoon nap is in the car or buggy, but if the morning nap is disrupted, he really struggles to cope.

I’m guessing that at some point he’ll move to 1 nap, but I’m not sure how that’ll happen (and I quite like 2 naps at the moment!).

The Foodies Festival

Last week, we had a family day out to The Foodies Festival at Tatton Park. As you may expect, it’s a food and drink festival. It ran Friday-Sunday, and we attended on the Friday (the joys of maternity leave). I love events like this, and the Foodies Festival didn’t disappoint.

The highlights for us were the demonstrations and talks. Bizarrely, even though it was very quiet on the day we attended, you had to get a ticket to attend each demonstration. I suppose for some of the events this was more important than others – at the cake decorating demonstration I attended, the marquee was only a third full. At the beer tasting, it was packed out.

The beer tasting was an excellent event, and I learned a lot about beer. To be honest, I don’t drink much beer – the odd bitter shandy is about as far as I’ll go – but Tim does like beer. What I love about tastings is that you get to try things that you wouldn’t try normally. We both really enjoyed some of the dark ales, including one aged in bourbon barrels, but would never have purchased them in a pub. The tasting was run by Melissa Cole, and her website is here.

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In the afternoon, I had a blissful hour as Tim took Ben to wander around the stalls while I watched a demonstration by The Creative Cookie Company on cake decorating. A lot of it was aimed at selling their products – stencils and patterned rolling pins – but I did learn a lot about working with sugar paste, which I don’t have much experience with. The cupcakes in particular looked amazing, and I have got my eye on their Damask Rose stencil.

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I know it’s all part of the show, but the stencils do look really easy to use. I have to admit I was slightly fascinated by the ‘kit.’

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The Foodies Festival is on over the summer at various locations across the country. I highly recommend it.

Classic French: Macarons

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I learned many things while baking these French treats. The first, and possibly most important, is that they are spelt ‘macaron,’ rather than ‘macaroon.’ They are, according to Wikipedia, different things. These are macarons.

I pinned this recipe months and months ago, but had really been putting off trying it – it looked fiddly, there was meringue, it involved piping – but the Classic French challenge spurred me on. This month’s challenge is the macaron.

Classic French is a baking challenge originated by Blue Kitchen Bakes. This month it is hosted by A Kick At The Pantry Door.

The original recipe by Felicity Cloake can be found here. I filled mine simply with whipped cream, because I wanted a colour contrast between the filling and shell.

I followed the instructions to the letter – I even opened the oven door half way through cooking time to let out the steam – and I thought they worked really well. I couldn’t tell you if it makes a difference to grind the almonds first, but Felicity thought so. The piping was much easier than I thought it would be – in fact, the hardest thing about macarons is keeping them in the fridge for 24 hours. I can confirm however, that it does make a difference.

Ingredients

  • 65g ground almonds
  • 85g icing sugar
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 75g egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 100ml whipping cream

Method

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment, preferably one with circles drawn onto the other side to aid your piping.
  2. Put the almonds in a food processor or spice grinder and blitz for a couple of minutes to make them finer. Add the icing sugar and cocoa and repeat.
  3. Sift the almond mixture into a bowl.
  4. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt. When it is holding together, add the caster sugar. Continue to whisk until stiff.
  5. Fold in the dry ingredients, and then beat the mixture vigorously until it’s of a consistency which falls off the spatula.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the piping bag and carefully pipe on to the  using a 1cm nozzle. Pick the baking tray up and drop it on to the work surface a couple of times, then leave to rest for about 30 minutes until the macarons feel dry to the touch: they should not be sticky. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  7. Bake the macarons for 17 minutes until firm, opening the oven door briefly a couple of times during cooking to let off any steam. Once you’re sure they’re cooked, slide the baking parchment off the tray immediately to stop the macarons cooking.
  8. Cool completely on the paper, then carefully peel off: if they’re cooked, they should come away easily.
  9. When cool, whip the cream. Match up equally-sized macarons, and then, using a small palette knife or spoon, sandwich them together with whipped cream. Refrigerate for 24 hours, then serve at room temperature.

Basic Brownies

Brownies

I love brownies. For years, I’ve made Nigella’s Chocolate brownies from How to be a Domestic Goddess. But in these austere times, I’ve found the quantities and ingredients rather lavish, and, needless to say, expensive. 375g of best-quality chocolate could easily cost over £7.00, and that’s more than I really want to spend on home-made brownies.

So I’ve done a little bit of tweaking – well, quite a lot actually. So much so that the recipe below bears little resemblance to the original, except in the basic ingredients used. I’ve substituted cheaper alternatives, like margarine, but feel free to use butter. I now don’t feel quite so extravagant in making these. However, they are still expensive in terms of calories, so I probably shouldn’t make them that often.

Ingredients

  • 200g margarine
  • 100g dark chocolate (cooking quality is fine)
  • 3 eggs
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • Any additions – I added 100g of mini eggs for Easter.

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C and line a brownie pan – mine is 20cm x 30cm.
  2. In a large saucepan, melt together the margarine and chocolate. When it is melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and mix in the sugar and vanilla extract.
  4. Beat the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and mix well.
  5. Stir through any additions you want to add.
  6. Pour into the brownie pan and bake for 18 minutes.
  7. Leave in the tin to cool for at least 15 minutes before turning onto a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before cutting into small squares. I made 28 brownies from this mixture.

Book Review: French Children Don’t Throw Food

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This book was published in January 2013, and its title echoes the previously popular ‘French Women Don’t Get Fat.’ The premise is the same: the way the French seem to do things is so much better than the way the British or Americans (generalised with the term ‘Anglophone’) do it.

The author, an American journalist, lived in Paris while her children were small, and observed how Parisian women raise their children. She then turned these observations into the book.

There’s actually a lot of sensible advice in this book. I particularly liked the chapters on food, on childcare and on sleep. The general premise of it is: be calm, observe, remember that you are in control, but also that you are teaching your child to become independent. I loved the sense of ‘let children be children;’ let them discover the world, rather than hovering about anxiously monitoring whether they have reached the expected milestone by the expected date.

The chapters on feeding and food were interesting. Some particularly sensible advice, which in hindsight supports my own experience, was along the lines of feed on demand for the first three months, then ease them into feeding every three hours. Then move onto 4 hours as you introduce solid foods and gradually decrease milk feeds. Now, that sounds so simple and obvious. But a health visitor will never say anything so obvious to you. And for a sleep-deprived, anxious, new-mother, obvious rationality doesn’t come easily.

Yes, it does acknowledge that many Parisian women don’t breastfeed for long, if at all (they are more interested in regaining their figures, it seems). But we all know the benefits of breastfeeding, and in my experience, most women would if they could successfully. I will keep my thoughts on breastfeeding for another post. And possibly another blog altogether.

Some of the cultural observations were interesting. Her observations from the planning meeting for a nursery menu were amazing – the chefs spent hours discussing the different vegetables on offer to the babies. One dish should not be repeated from one month to the next. This led to the very sensible advice that children should be encouraged to try everything, even if they don’t like it.

Another observation which made me laugh was the description of parents describing everything that their child does – to the child! “You’re climbing up the steps, up you go. Now you’re at the top. Are you going down the slide? There you go, down the slide, weeee!” I’ve seen something similar myself, and have to stop myself from doing it.

Personally, I think the French thing is a gimmick. There are plenty of wise and astute anglophone parents doing exactly the same thing. But at the moment, parenting advice either seems to be strict Gina Ford-esque rulebooks or the complete opposite: respond immediately to your baby’s every demand until they are at least 5 years old. Neither of these will lead to happy parents, or happy children. This book strikes a happy balance between the two. Love your children, nurture them, encourage them, but don’t smother them with your attention or let them rule the roost.

I got my copy from the local library; I probably would have purchased it if they didn’t have it, so it’s worth checking.