10 things to do in Reddish with a baby or toddler

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I’ve lived in Reddish, Stockport, for nearly 5 years. I moved here when Tim and I got married, and was fairly happy with the area: it was a reasonable commute, close to the train station with a fast and cheap train into Manchester. I missed the bars and trendiness of my former residence, Chorlton, but Tim had a bigger house than I did, and a garden.

Fast forward 3 years to August 2012 when Ben was born. We were still living in Reddish, but now I was on maternity leave, complete with baby. Not to mention, without a car. In that year, and the following year, I discovered some of the treasures of Reddish.

So, without further ado, here are my Top Ten Things to do in Reddish with a Baby or Toddler.

1. Reddish Vale

We have spent many happy hours here feeding the ducks.

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There is also a lovely playgroup in the visitor centre on a Thursday morning, and if you happen to get caught in a downpour, you can wait it out inside. The staff will even give you a cup of tea and a biscuit.

2. Reddish Vale Farm

This deserves a separate entry, because it is an entirely separate event. We’ve been several times, and it is absolutely lovely for young children. Buy a bucket of carrots on entry for 50p, and you can feed the cows, llamas, alpacas, pigs, goats, donkeys and sheep. If you can reach high enough, you can also feed Kylie the shire horse. There’s also an area with rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks and birds, where staff will help you to hold the animals safely.

Around the corner in the barn is a soft play area – beware, the ball pool is deep! – and a concreted area with ride-along tractors and trucks. A current favourite for Ben is the climbing frame and slide, which is just the right height for him.

We’ve also been to a birthday party at the farm, which was excellent, although Ben really didn’t want to have a pony ride as part of it!

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3. Swimming at Levenshulme Baths

If, like me, you are car-less, there’s an excellent bus service to Levenshulme run by Manchester Community Transport. We relied on this bus quite a lot last year, as it went into Fallowfield and Withington.

In Levenshulme, there are the Victorian Swimming Baths. On a Thursday morning, they do baby and toddler swimming lessons, which are excellent. They get fairly busy, but never too over-crowded (the earlier and later sessions are quieter), and the instructor is excellent. We also go to the family swim sessions and casual swim sessions, as the baths are clean, warm and the people are friendly. The only downside is that the changing cubicles are pool-side, which can be tricky with a baby, but I have discovered that the ones in the corner are double-sized, so grab one if they’re free!

4. Debdale and North Reddish Parks

From around the time Ben was 8 months old, and the weather eventually started to warm up (the winter of 2012-13 was a long one), we started taking him to the park. First he loved the swings, and would shriek with laughter when we pushed him.

Considering how much he loved the swings, we have hardly any photos of him on them.

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He’s now big enough to climb up the ladder on the small climbing frame, crawl through the tunnel and slide down the slide.

Both Debdale Park (which is huge) and Reddish North Park have excellent children’s play equipment. As a bonus, the park is always free!

5. Levenshulme Market and Heaton Moor Market

Levenshulme Market is a fairly recent discovery, although I have been following them on twitter for ages. Ben and I toddled down there a couple of weeks ago, and it’s brilliant. A really vibrant, exciting community market, with handmade goods, vintage finds and amazing food. I tried some Spiced Bun Ice Cream from Ginger’s Comfort Emporium and was not disappointed.

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The day we went was absolutely beautiful – yes, the sun does shine in Manchester – and Ben was more than happy to spot the trains arriving at the station while I perused the stalls. The market has a fantastic array of food, craft and vintage stalls, which changes every week. I highly recommend it.

6. Manchester Gymnastics

Behind Gorton Tesco, off the A57, is a large, one-storey building. It always looks closed up, and the metal spikes around the roof are less than inviting. But get yourself buzzed through the door and you will discover a huge, clean, professional gymnasium. On one side is the proper equipment, and on the other side is a layout of crash mats, trampolines, beams, ramps, slides, bars and all sorts. You can even dive into the foam-filled pit if you choose. On weekday mornings (check the website for details), you can attend an ‘Under 4s’ session, where toddlers can run around and try out the equipment in complete safety. It’s a really excellent session, and, as it’s a bit low profile, usually very quiet. My only issue with this is that it’s quite pricey: £4.00 for a 45 minute session, plus a drink and biscuit afterwards. That’s a bit more than soft play, but I think it’s worth it – Ben is always exhausted when he’s finished!

7. Reddish North Children’s Centre

When I was on maternity leave, Ben and I did three courses at our local children’s centre. All were excellent, and I would highly recommend them.

The first was when Ben was around 3 months old, and was Baby Massage. Then, at around 6 months, we did Baby Moves, which was a sensory course. Then, at around 9 months, Little Explorers, another sensory course but with a focus on encouraging crawling and co-ordination.

All were free.

All courses gave me ideas for what to do with Ben, and connected me to other mums in the area.

8. Anchors Away

Soft play at Anchors Away is probably the reason most parents come to Reddish. I have to admit, for a toddler, it’s not the best – their little Under 4s area is quite limited, and often over-run by bigger children. But I did come here quite often when Ben was a baby. There’s space for the children to crawl around, and quite a wide range of Jumperoo-style toys for non-crawlers.

We’re giving it a bit of a break for a while, as Ben’s not big enough for the really good soft play section, but I’m sure we’ll be back at some point.

9. Trains at Reddish North

I don’t know what happens, but sometime before the age of 2, little boys seem to become obsessed with trains. For Ben, a visit to Reddish North Train Station is heaven. Trains go in, trains go out. If he gets to go on a train, that’s even better!

Catching the train from Reddish North into Manchester is easy and cheap. On the way back you’ll need someone to help you with the pushchair over the footbridge, but I’ve never had to do it on my own. Another good trip is to Marple, and then a wander along the canal.

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Ben looking for trains at the station!

10. Reddish Library

I’m a big fan of our local library, and it has an excellent children’s section. They have a very popular after-school homework club, and there are always reading programmes advertised in the school holidays.

Ben has been a member since he was about 3 months old – I’m an English teacher, it was a major priority – and we’ve made the most of the books. There’s also a good Sing and Rhyme session on a Monday morning.

I didn’t really appreciate living in Reddish until I had Ben. It’s been a great place to have a child, and I’ll be a bit sad to leave his first home.

But I’ll be more excited about moving on… More to come on that prospect!

 

 

 

Baby Falafel

I’d been meaning to make these baby-friendly falafel for a while. They are adapted from the River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook by Nicky Duffy. It’s a fairly good addition to my shelves, although the recipes only take up half of the actual book, which I feel is a bit of a cheat. Confusingly, in the book, these are actually called ‘Felafel.’

Ben loved these. I think it was the dried apricots, which gives the falafel a sweetness. He loved them as a finger food.

Ingredients (Makes 18-20)

  • 5 dried apricots
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tin chickpeas
  • 1 slice bread
  • Small bunch coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin

Method

  1. Soak the dried apricots in boiling water for a few minutes to soften them.
  2. Finely chop the onion and garlic and fry them gently in the olive oil for around 10 minutes, until soft.
  3. In a food processor, whizz up the bread into breadcrumbs. Add all the other ingredients and process a few times, so that you have a thick paste. It should be quite smooth, otherwise your falafel won’t hold together.
  4. Take teaspoonfuls of the mixture and roll them into sausage shapes – these are easier for babies to hold.
  5. At this stage, you can freeze the falafel if you like, on a baking sheet. When frozen, transfer to a freezer bag.
  6. If frozen, defrost the falafel. Preheat the oven to 190C. Drizzle the falafel with olive oil and bake for around 18 minutes, turning halfway through cooking.
  7. Allow to cool before serving them to your baby. We had them with pitta bread, greek yoghurt and cherry tomatoes.

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Reflections on Maternity Leave

It’s the last day of the school year. For the last 26 years of my life, this day has been a huge source of celebration and often, relief. Last year, it meant the start of a whole year away from work: my maternity leave.

As the term has drawn to a close and I’ve seen my teacher friends counting the remaining get-ups, I’ve been reflecting on this past year, and how I’ve spent it. I know I’m lucky and privileged to be able to spend a whole year on maternity leave; we did make some sacrifices to allow me to do that, and it helped that Ben was born during the summer holidays. Many people take 6 to 9 months. Some don’t go back to work at all. In the UK, we are particularly well-supported; many countries don’t offer any maternity leave.

Very few of us will get another opportunity to take months at a time off work, through choice. But while you’re looking after a new baby, and getting used to the concept of being a parent, do you get the chance to use that time wisely? And how would the concept of ‘wise’ change with the demands of parenting?

Maternity leave pre-baby

Personally, I knew I would really enjoy being at home – I am a bit of a homebody at heart, and find being at home refreshes me in a way other things don’t. The start of my maternity leave was shaped by our kitchen, or lack of it, as we were having an extension built and a new kitchen fitted. The work was running hugely behind schedule, and my visions of spending time sorting out the new kitchen, stocking up the cupboards and freezer, baking, and generally cleaning the layer of plaster dust that covered everything came to nothing. In the end, when Ben was born, we had no kitchen altogether, and it took until he was nearly 8 weeks old to get finished.

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38 weeks pregnant and a building site for a kitchen.

However, in some ways, this was good for me. I spent the last two weeks of my pregnancy pottering about, swimming, drinking frappuccinos at Starbucks and putting my newly-pedicured feet up. As someone who tends to keep myself very busy, it was probably helpful.

I have done a bit of research for this post, and here is what a selection of other new mums have said about ‘Pre-baby maternity leave:’

“My advice for people would be enjoy the weeks before the birth and rest up (the hospital bag does not need re packing 8 times!!) and to not worry about clearing up for visitors!”

“I had planned on doing a million jobs around the house before baby arrived. The reality was I lay on the sofa with as little on as possible watching tv or mumsnetting.”

“I second what everyone says about making the most of the prebaby maternity leave – I was so frustrated and spent all my time (three weeks in the end as I went two weeks over) grumping about and feeling hormonal. Boy, if I could have that time now!”

Looking back, I think the most useful things to do in those pre-baby days would be:

  • Stock up your freezer with meals, the cupboard with staples and learn how to do an internet grocery shop.
  • Clean through the house – many women report that they have a ‘nesting’ phase. If so, make the most of it!
  • Do all the things you won’t be able to do easily for a while: go out for a meal, have your hair done, buy a few birthday presents for birthdays coming up.
  • Rest as much as you can.

Maternity Leave: The Early Days

In some ways, this is the loveliest time of maternity leave. You can sit on the sofa most of the day (probably feeding) and watch television. You can get people to come to visit you. You can take the baby out and about and he or she will generally sleep the whole time.

It can also be the scariest time as you get used to having the baby around. It’s also exhausting, as you will be doing night-feeds. It can feel like the baby will never stop crying, and consulting Dr. Google at 3am is commonplace. If reflux or colic is a problem, you may feel like you are facing a huge uphill struggle, and an hour can feel as long as a month when you’re so exhausted.

In addition, you may still be healing after the birth, particularly if you’ve had a caesarean, and pregnancy, delivery and then breastfeeding all place huge demands on your body.

I found these few weeks really quite difficult. In hindsight, I think I was putting too much pressure on myself to establish what ‘normal life’ now looked like. I loved having the time to bond with Ben, and to find out about his moods, his likes and dislikes, but it wasn’t instantaneous, and I expected it to be. I also didn’t want to ‘fall into traps’ (as I saw it) of only letting him sleep on me, or never sleeping in his moses basket. Some days he would seem like a completely different baby to the previous day. It was only when I allowed myself to think that it was okay to watch tv, to cuddle the baby, to go for a walk just to get him to sleep and to give him a dummy at night that I started to relax and enjoy it.

This time is all about bonding with your baby and getting to know him or her. It’s also the time to get support, and to call in all those offers of help – meals, babysitting (get willing friends to take the baby for a walk for an hour while you do whatever you need to do), company. If you’re struggling with something, particularly feeding, get professional help from the NCT or similar.

This is the time to treat yourself gently, and not to start on those projects you daydreamed about when you were working. Your baby won’t have any set pattern or routine, and in some ways this can be frustrating, but it can also be liberating. You can take a tiny baby out and about without worrying if it will clash with nap times or meal times. Enjoy it if you can, but don’t feel pressure to enjoy – it’s difficult being a new parent.

I loved these words of wisdom from a friend:

“I didn’t realise that I would really want to spend time with my baby. That sounds silly – I knew I would adore him but I think he is an amazing human being and I find him funny and a pleasure to spend time with.”

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Established maternity leave

For me, I think I really started enjoying my maternity leave when Ben was around 4 months old, and then it kept getting better and better. Part of this was his routine – his naps got longer, which meant that I had some time to myself. Part of it was getting over those initial fears and adjustments, and realising that I could make it work.

From January (when Ben was 5 months old) I became quite structured in how I approached my ‘free’ (i.e. nap) time. I got fit again, training to run a 5km. I started a blog. I baked, cooked and slow cooked. I met up with friends frequently. I even started doing some planning for school.

I also started going regularly to some activities – swimming lessons, courses at the Sure Start centre, baby cafes and playgroups. Some were good for a little while, and then they clashed with his nap times. Some were only short courses. Some were much more informal. We had the additional challenge of being limited to buses on many days, and so some activities were just too hard to get to.

I found I really needed to do ‘something’ every day, and to get out of the house every day. Others felt the same:

“I never imagined the feelings of being trapped, unable to just go somewhere when I felt like it despite having the luxury of time!”

“I just get so BORED if we’re home alone for very long stretches!”

The sense of loneliness and isolation can be overwhelming at times, particularly if you don’t have many friends with babies:

“The worst bits were the lack of money and the isolation.”

Despite seeming to have a lot of time, it’s very difficult to get much done with a baby awake – especially one which is moving!

“I too manage to get far less done during the week than expected – but DH has majorly stepped up to the plate to cover that.”

“Mat leave was MUCH busier than I thought it would be and I totally underestimated the always-something-that-needs-doing feeling I had.”

I can completely relate to this final comment. I can count on one hand the number of times I have slept or even just sat down and read a book while Ben has been asleep during the day – there is always something that needs doing! But I do feel as though I have tried to make the most of it. I’ve made new friends, learned new skills, and, most importantly, established an incredibly precious relationship with my son. Ultimately, that is what maternity leave is for.

Interestingly, for me, it has reaffirmed that I want to go back to work. I’ve missed teaching, and I’ve missed being in a working environment. Although I’m only going back 3 days a week, I am sure that Ben will love nursery, and I’m looking forward to it. Before that, though, we’ve got the summer to enjoy!

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Maternity Leave Finances

I think one of the biggest worries for me before having Ben was the financial strain of taking a year’s maternity leave, having some months unpaid, and being on SMP for a lot of it.

We did make some big sacrifices, the biggest being to sell my car (sob!), and I would be lying if I said that it has been easy without a car. But it has made a massive difference to us. However, we’ve also been able to go on holiday 3 times throughout the year, and we haven’t exactly been living on lentils and baked beans.

The financial aspect of maternity leave cannot be ignored:

“The worst bit was the lack of money.”

“I didn’t follow my friend’s advice which was as soon as you find out you’re pregnant save as much as you can. Wish I had.’

But it’s not all doom and gloom:

“Actually though I didn’t find mat pay as crippling as I was expecting. My husband and I both expected to be straight into Asda value beans and unable to afford to go out for dinner more than once a month but its not like that at all.”

Saving does make sense, and having a baby is expensive; there’s no getting away from that. But we found that our lifestyle became less costly with a baby around – we don’t really go out for meals often now, because that means getting a babysitter; I don’t have to have a separate wardrobe for work, or petrol costs for commuting. I wonder if we’ll feel poorer when we have to pay for childcare, even though I’ll be back at work.

Making the most of Maternity Leave

Having been a teacher for almost all of my working life, I have loved the freedom of maternity leave. The joy of going on holiday during term time was great! I’ve been able to visit family without being limited to certain weeks or times, and I’ve definitely been able to enjoy the recent heat wave.

At times, though, I have felt limited – by meal times or Ben’s need for a nap, and I personally think that this is just something that comes with parenthood. I’m sure the feelings of being limited will change over the course of Ben’s life, and then when he heads off to University or work, we’ll enjoy the freedom again!

I know I’ll never have a year like this again, and I honestly do think it has been the best, most amazing year of my life. And the kitchen did finally get finished.

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Cloth Nappies Part 3: Our system

So, our system is simple. Ben wears the nappy. When it is wet or dirty (I try to change it every 2 hours or so to avoid him sitting in a wet nappy for too long), it goes into the nappy bin. Any poo gets flushed down the toilet now that he is on solids. When he was being fed purely milk, the nappy would go straight into the nappy bin. The nappy bin has a mesh bag. When the bag is full (usually around 3 days worth of nappies), I take the mesh bag out and tip all the nappies and the bag into the washing machine. The mucky Cheeky Wipes go in too.

I wash our nappies at 60C, and add Napisan to our normal washing powder. This kills any germs lingering, and also seems to cut through the nappy smell. The nappies dry on the line or on the airer if it is raining, and go back into the bag to be worn again.

I highly recommend cloth nappies, and like that we’re not adding to landfill as much as we otherwise would be. Ben seems to like them too.

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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 8 months

Ben has fallen into a fairly predictable routine at the moment, so I thought I’d try to record his routines each month. I hope that this will be a useful document for other mums, but also, it will be a good reference point for me.

All times are completely flexible; Ben can wake up in the morning any time between 6am and 8.30am, so I tend to adjust as necessary. 7am is a more normal wake-up time.

7am – Milk feed

8am – Breakfast

10am – Nap: Ben will normally nap for 1 1/2 hours approximately, but this can be longer or shorter.

12pm – Lunch

2.30pm – Milk feed

3pm – Nap: Ben will nap for around an hour; this might be longer if his morning nap has been shorter.

5pm – Dinner

6.15pm – Bath

6.30pm – Milk feed

7pm – Bed

One of the issues I’m having is when to go out and get involved with activities. He really needs his morning nap at home in his cot, so I like to stay at home in the morning. However, playgroups tend to be on in the morning. His afternoon nap tends to hit any activities in the afternoon – we went to a party on Saturday which started at 2.30pm, but he couldn’t really enjoy it as he was too tired. Activities which start at 1pm are good, but organised activities don’t often start at this time!

Have you noticed a similar pattern with your babies?

Weaning: The Second Steps

Ben broccoli

I’ve already written about starting weaning in Weaning: The First Steps. That post deals with straight fruit and vegetable purées. Once your baby is happily accepting a wide variety of fruit and vegetables in purée form, you can move on to introducing protein and carbohydrate into your baby’s diet.

I was very keen to get meat and carbs into baby Ben’s diet, as I had heard that this would help him sleep better. In fact, his sleep became worse after weaning, as it coincided with him becoming very distracted during breastfeeding. He stopped taking enough milk during the day and made up for it at night. This seems to be quite common at around 6 months.

One of the first protein forms I fed him was beef. I made a simple stew using the following recipe.

Beef, carrot and potato stew

2 tsp olive oil
1/2 an onion
80g stewing steak
2 carrots
1 large potato

1. Finely chop the onion and sauté it gently in the olive oil in a medium size saucepan.

2. Cut the beef into small chunks and add to the pan.

3. Peel the carrots and potato and cut into small chunks. Add to the pan.

4. Cover with water and bring to the boil.

5. Reduce to a simmer and cook for around 1 hour. You may need to add more water.

6. Allow to cool, then purée.

Other combinations that baby Ben enjoyed were chicken with sweet potato and peas, salmon with carrots and peas and lentils with carrots, leek and sweet potato.

Around this time, I also started introducing finger foods. To minimise waste, I’d suggest cooking 1 or 2 extra pieces of vegetables with your own dinner to offer the baby. Ben just sucked them and threw them on the floor to start with. Broccoli florets and carrot sticks were good, but he didn’t really get the hang of it until we introduced bread. Toast soldiers, strips of pitta bread and even pizza crusts were a massive hit. Rice cakes and bread sticks were sometimes more convenient when we were out and about.

Once we’d established protein and carbohydrates into his diet, Ben did start dropping his daytime feeds. I’ll report back on his sleep when it improves!