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The Power of Good Conversation

With the ever increasing popularity of smart phones, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and whatever other social media we’re using to communicate with each other now, It’s easy to feel like we’re constantly conversing with each other. My phone beeps all day long with messages from my three WhatsApp groups – nearly all of the women on them are other mums, most of them work outside the home, some are in Paris, some in the U.K. I read along, getting news about their days in real-time, sending pictures of my day, Arthur, whatever I’m cooking or doing in that moment. It’s fast, it’s efficient and it’s easy.

I looked up yesterday and realised that I hadn’t had an actual, in person conversation with any of my friends in over a week. So absorbed with my day-to-day of raising a toddler, housework, keeping on top of our admin and just generally keeping afloat, I realised that I’d barely had a conversation with my husband, let alone any of my friends. I had had LOTS of toddler conversations, but since these are mostly about poo or cars, I am not counting them!

So, in a fit of horror (my poor husband bore the brunt of this!) I set about remedying this lamentable state of affairs.

  • I told my husband that we’re going on a technology detox (he was thrilled!) When we have an evening together, which is about twice or three times a week – no phones!
  • I accepted an invitation to breakfast on the other side of the city with a friend
  • I organised FaceTime conversations with my beloved U.K based friends
  • I invited a new friend over for coffee

Face-to-face conversations are so important to our mental health. I know this because the instant my husband put his phone down and started listening to how I was feeling at that moment I felt listened to, I felt respected and that my needs were important. I came away from breakfast with my friend feeling lighter, appreciated and loved. I turned off FaceTime, knowing deeply that I had roots, connections in the U.K that aren’t going anywhere – my friend lifting up her baby to the camera to show me his teeth was INFINITELY better than glimpsing a photo on WhatsApp during a hectic day of back and forth sharing of news. 

Will I be keeping my WhatsApp groups? Of COURSE. But I will also be scheduling in ALOT more face-to-face time with my friends, I will be putting my phone in a drawer more often, I will not be answering messages straight away, I will be playing more card games with my husband, I will be watching Arthur more through my eyes and less through my camera lens. 

I will be more present. That’s my promise to myself.

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Toddler Life: Encouraging Quiet Play & a Simple Play Doh Recipe

As it’s getting darker earlier and earlier over here we have less time to spend outdoors. We’re starting to look inwards, spending more time reading, drawing, crafting and playing and much more time turning the living room furniture into a soft obstacle course to jump on. When cabin fever hits during a long winter in a tiny apartment with small people, the best idea is to wrap up and get outside – whatever the weather. 

Sometimes though, this just isn’t possible. Paris can be truly truly awful during winter, something about long boulevards with icy cold wind rushing down them just isn’t appealing. Encouraging a quiet play time during your daily rhythm, especially straight after school or crèche, can really help little ones unwind all year round, but it becomes especially important in autumn and winter when we’re all shut up inside together. 

how to encourage independent quiet play

  • Light a candle. As it’s getting dark earlier, we’ve been lighting candles (keeping them well out of the reach of little hands!) and maybe lighting only one other lamp. Keeping soft light in dark seasons helps us all unwind and relax and encourages a quiet atmosphere. 
  • Create a play-list. I use Spotify to find soft, relaxing music for this time of day. We love the Spotify Autumn Acoustic playlist and the Slow Mornings instrumental playlist by mamawatters of the blog Homesong
  • Have baskets of activities prepared in advance. Arthur loves counting conkers at the moment, so we have a pot of conkers ready to go, which he counts in and out of the pots from his play kitchen. Have the play doh to hand with a bag of accessories etc.
  • Have a space near you where they can play. One of our biggest challenges with encouraging independent play was that Arthur just wanted to be with us, not separated in his bedroom. When we got a toddler sized table & chairs for the kitchen, it was like a revelation. He’s totally happy to sit there engrossed in whatever he’s doing while I cook now. 

play doh

One of the best quiet time activities is Play Doh. Arthur’s at the right age now where he can spend a good hour intensely playing with it. It’s also brilliant because it’s open ended – with some imagination it can really become anything. Arthur makes “food” with it, uses it with his trucks and diggers, makes shapes with it, makes it into “petit poissons” swimming through the sea. It’s nice to see his imagination doing some work and him so engrossed in a game. I like to make our play doh. I find it lasts longer, I can make the colours I want and I can also add essential oils to it, lavender in particular to encourage calm, quiet play. 

recipe

  • 1 cup table salt
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 table spoon cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups warm water
  • food colouring
  • essential oils of choice (make sure they are safe for children)

Mix all of your ingredients together over a medium heat until it’s no longer sticky. Tip it out onto your work surface and knead it with your hands quickly to make sure it’s not sticking to your hands. Divide it up and knead the food colouring and essential oils into each part (this bit is a bit messy). Leave to cool for five minutes and store in an air-tight container. 

It’s so quick and easy to make and from ingredients you can find in your kitchen cupboard, so worth making!

What do you do for indoor toddler activities? Do you have a set time for quiet play in your house? I’d love to hear what you do!

 

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Self-Care for Selfish Mums

You can’t pour from an empty cup – as every mum ever has been told. How true! What a lovely sentiment! Of course we can’t care for everyone around us until we’ve taken care of ourselves! If only it were that easy. Quite honestly once my day is over, self-care is the thing furthest from my mind. 

The problem is that many mums feel the same way. Taking care of yourself feels like another task on top of all the tasks that already need to be completed. 

Why?

Why do mums in particular need to enter into the craze of self care? Well the simple answer is that it benefits us. Because our work does not end. Ever. How many times after the kids are in bed and you’re lying in yours trying to sleep have you found yourself thinking about their health, their happiness, their school, their activities, their appointments, schedules, night-time routines, the upcoming birthday, Christmas, whether everyone in your family is eating healthily enough? The mental load of mothers by Jami Ingledue, details this wonderfully and is well worth a read. 

Secondly we need self care because it benefits our children. When we have first taken care of our needs, we are more equipped for dealing with the needs of others. We are more present, more enthusiastic and more loving parents. Our children benefit from seeing us like this, and we benefit from having our needs continuously met. 

The joy of taking care of ourselves is that it will look different for every one of us but taking the time to do it will benefit you mentally and physically as well as your relationships with your partner and children. I’ve detailed some ways below in which you can start incorporating self-care into your daily life in ways that won’t feel like an extra task or pressure. Starting small and growing a practice where you know what works for you is ideal. 

Nourish

  • Drink more water, hydrated people are happy people! Start carrying a re-useable water bottle with you and make sure it’s empty at the end of the day. 
  • Incorporate energy filled foods into your day. You’ll feel more full and satisfied after a big bowl of roasted veggies than half a ham and cheese sandwich that your toddler didn’t eat. 
  • Make sure that you’re remembering to eat and drink regularly. Sit down for your meal at a table, take your time – enjoy your food. 

Escape

  • Take every possible opportunity to walk everywhere. It does take longer, but you’ll be getting exercise, clearing your mind and be spending some time outside. All three can give an instant mood re-set. 
  • Take that class/do that sport. Organise a time every week to do something you love. My mum played netball twice a week when we were growing up & I think it probably kept her sane!
  • Organise to see people. There is nothing NOTHING worse than facing a week in winter at home with a baby with no plans to see anybody. 

Rest & Replenish

  • Give your child a busy activity or take advantage of nap-time and sit down with a book, your knitting, a magazine and a cup of tea. Breathe. 
  • I know this just isn’t an option for everybody but; take a day off. Send the kids to grandparents, organise a babysitter and just stay in bed for the day. Sleep, relax and unwind. 
  • Go on a date with your partner. Nourishing your relationship is important! Spend the day walking hand in hand, get some lunch together, leave the smartphones at home. 

Organise

  • Last but not least! Organising my week on a Sunday afternoon means that I spend less time on annoying tasks during the week. I write out our schedules, plan our meals, write the grocery list, fill out any forms that need to be sent off and make any appointments that need to be made (Doctolib for you Paris based readers, allows you to make all your Dr’s appointments on the app.)
  • Stop multitasking. I know it’s our mum super-power but lots of studies have shown that we’re more productive when we focus on one task at a time. I certainly know that this is true for me – so step away from your smart phone! (More on balancing family and tech soon!)

Self Care Sunday

How do I practice what I’m preaching? Self care Sunday. Every Sunday evening, once my son is in bed (with the bedtime routine hopefully completed by my husband!) I roll out my yoga mat & get in a half hour to an hour practice – generally more like half an hour now I’m pretty pregnant. I shower, shave, paint my toe-nails and give myself a facial. I put on fresh, clean pyjamas and settle myself down on the sofa with my diary and plan for the week ahead. Sometimes we watch some Netflix, sometimes we read. I spray my pillow with NEOM Organics tranquility pillow spray & light their tranquility candle an hour before bed and then I go to bed really early. I’m talking 9pm. It feels amazing. 

Hopefully there are some ideas here that you can slip into your life easily. 

I’d love to hear if you’ve given any of them a go.

xx

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Our Tiny Home: Bathing

Sharing a bathroom with boys has always been normal for me. Growing up I shared with my two brothers, at one point while I was at uni I shared my Halls bathroom with seven 18-21 year old boys (surprisingly much cleaner than when I shared with girls!) and now I share with my husband, toddler and soon, newborn. 

Like all of our spaces, the bathroom has to be multifunctional. Four different people with four very different needs means that space is at a premium and we can’t afford to keep things we don’t use. Unfortunately this mostly affects me as the most likely person to keep un-used, impulse bought cosmetics and beauty products lying around! Luckily, our bathroom is pretty fantastically designed (not by us!) and boasts two cupboards! Our last apartment’s bathroom had precisely zero – not uncommon here. We also have this fantastic changing table drawer that has saved our lives since we’ve lived here and, from what I can see, is fairly easy to construct yourself. 

  Changing table drawer
Changing table drawer

Tiny Bathroom Storage

  • Wire baskets are great for cosmetics storage, everything is visible and they’re easy to keep neat. Each member of the family has their own wire basket for their own products (eliminates people constantly asking me where their things are too!) 
  • We have this metal bucket on the side for items that we use without fail every single day: makeup, hairbrushes, face wash, toothbrushes & paste etc. This eliminates clutter (although never totally!) on the work surface making everything easier to clean and the space feel bigger. 
  • A small dish for the jewellery I wear frequently keeps things organised easy to access in the mornings. 
  • As always – evaluate what you actually need. We keep one spare set of towels for each of us and one spare bathmat, plus one set of guest towels. We don’t need anymore than that. They’re washed and switched frequently and I’ve never had a sudden, burning need for towels. 

The Zero Waste R’s

I find these rules really helpful for de-cluttering and living in a tiny space.

  • REFUSE: Those samples of perfume/cream/nail polish at Sephora? You. Don’t. Need. Them. I know it’s so hard to say no – they’re free! Honestly they will sit in a drawer and clutter it up until you suddenly have no more room in that drawer and you look up and realise that you’re drowning under samples! 
  • RE-USE: Those Aesop bottles in my photos? Not Aesop products inside. I mean they once held Aesop products (They’re an absolute staple on every birthday and Christmas list!) but once those big bottles of shampoo, conditioner and hand soap are empty, I head to our local bulk store and re-fill them with generic natural soaps. I like how this keeps my tiny space looking uniform, they match my decor and it re-uses a bottle that would otherwise be put unceremoniously into a land-fill. I still use actual Aesop skin care products though!

 

 

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Minimalist Me: Minimalism for Toddlers

So I feel like I need to start this post with a disclaimer because the title is quite…heavy. Minimalism for toddlers, I mean it sounds a bit intense – like I make my two year old sleep on a mat in an empty white room and play with sticks. 

“Minimalism isn’t about getting rid of your stuff. It’s about focussing your family on what really matters in life.” Why kids need minimalism, Denaye Barahona.

As always, I am coming from the position of having very little living space and minimalism looks different for everyone. We have stuff, we have toys, we have knick-knacks, we have THAT drawer that is stuffed full of stuff that doesn’t go anywhere else, it’s just proportionate to our living space. However, one area where we really really make a conscious effort to be at our most minimalist is when it comes to kid’s stuff. Here’s why:

When I was pregnant with Arthur I got excited about buying ALL the baby things for him. Cute clothes, every gadget under the sun, the beautiful baby carriers, the bottles and sterilisers and cribs and baby swings, play mats, toys…the list just goes on. There is a never ending market for baby things because the people selling them KNOW that expectant parents are excitable creatures and very likely to fork out for every gadget going. In fact parents in general are an “easy sell”. Parenting is hard work, we want whatever we can get our hands on to make it easier on ourselves and I understand this impulse, I really do. However, what we really end up doing when we start the endless buying cycle, is making things harder on ourselves. How?

  • Kids have so many toys that they can’t actually find what they want to play with which leads to far less non-parent led play, constant fighting between siblings, stress and anxiety in kids. It also generally leads to more screen time and less time outdoors. Whiny aggravated stressed kids.
  • Parents feel trapped into constantly buying their child the next thing, because they are bored with what they have. Stressed, in debt parents.
  • Parents are constantly trying to find space and/or storage solutions for the endless toys, games, sports kit, craft supplies that their kids begged for – but have now cast aside. Less space at home.

Why choose minimalism?

Joshua Becker has written a great article on the subject “Why Fewer Toys Will Benefit Your Kids” but here are some of the best reasons he lists from our family’s perspective:

  • Kids learn to be more creative. 
    Not just in terms of what we think of as creativity – arts and crafts, music, painting etc. but creative and imaginative in their play. I think the best toy we’ve bought has been Arthur’s play kitchen – he will happily spend a couple of hours cooking us meals, cleaning it, feeding his bear and bunny “coffee” and pretending it’s a shop. A good toy will act as a sort of leap board, which encourages and is a catalyst for imaginative play which mans that…
  • Kids become more resourceful.
    Which is important for later education: “Fewer toys causes children to become resourceful by solving problems with only the materials at hand. And resourcefulness is a gift with unlimited potential.” (Joshua Becker)
  • A tidier and clutter-free home.
    One of the biggest advantages of less toys and THINGS in general is that we have a tidier, clutter free home. It takes 10 minutes to tidy Arthur’s room and he has space in there to get his toys out and play with them (which is great because there’ll soon be two boys in there!) We’ve set his room up so he can reach almost everything himself and tidy it away himself too using baskets and low cupboards and shelves. Because it’s so easy for him to tidy, he’s learning how to keep his space clean too. Yes he still does have more stuff than I’d like (especially cuddly toys!) but it’s a work in progress, like everything we do – it’s all about learning what works best for us. 

How to start

As I’ve said, this really doesn’t have to be a question of heading straight to your children’s rooms armed with bin liners and steely determination. It doesn’t actually mean you need to get rid of anything straight away if that seems too daunting. 

  • Start with looking at your child’s room. How many toys do they actually have? Can you see the floor? Take everything off the shelves and make a pile of what you know they absolutely LOVE and use every day, favourite dolls, the play kitchen etc. Make a second pile of things they use once a week or so, dressing up clothes, craft supplies, sports gear. Put everything else in a box. When you’re putting everything back, make sure that the things they use every day are the most accessible. Put the box in a cupboard somewhere, if they don’t ask for something in that box for a week – donate the box to your local charity shop. 
  • Resist the urge to buy. For Christmas and birthdays we’ve started to buy gifts using the idea “Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.” This Christmas that will include Father Christmas presents – so four (small) presents in total and one from each set of grandparents. When it comes to grandparents, we send a very specific list a month before Christmas or birthday to them and ask them to choose something from the list. This might seem high maintenance but we don’t have the space in our home for excessive or large gifts. 
    The rest we buy on a needs must basis; clothes, a bucket & spade set for the beach for example, a fun umbrella for la rentrée and arts and crafts supplies throughout the year. 
  • Use your purchase power! Shopping like this throughout the year for your kids should mean that you have a little more money to spend when you do buy on quality toys or in local or independent shops. Quality products will last longer and your kids will take better care of them knowing that they are special and won’t be replaced the moment they break. 

As I said, minimalism looks different for every family. For us, it helps our family function the way we need it to, in a way that contributes to our values and lifestyle. It’s certainly not for everyone, but there are definitely some benefits for both parents and kids in the idea. 

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Paris Kitchen: Week Night dinners

Time is just flying by around here at the moment. I can’t believe we’re already half way through September. Time definitely ran away with me last week, resulting in zero posts (sorry!) but I’m back with a vengeance this week with some kitchen focussed posts (can you tell I’m missing work already?!) and next week some thoughts on blooming where you’re planted. 

For tonight I’m writing about week night dinners. I am the proud owner of a two year old. As any other mother of any other two year old will tell you, meal times can be…interesting. Week night dinners in particular for most families tend to be somewhere in between mayhem and bedlam. Between getting in from work and school, getting housework and homework done, getting ready for the following day and everyone in to bed at a decent hour – we can all agree that quick week night dinners are the way forward. 

Unfortunately quick doesn’t always equate to healthy, filling meals but with a little bit of research & meal planning – it definitely can. With that, I give you my list of healthy week night dinners that can be cooked within 45 minutes and enjoyed by everyone, including picky toddlers and husbands.

  • Fishcakes are a huge favourite. We make them ahead for the week on a Sunday and pop them straight from the freezer into the oven. With a side of whatever veg you have on hand, they are usually demolished pretty quickly.
  • Baked breaded chicken strips and sweet potatoes. This recipe is from the amazing book “Lizzie loves healthy family food.” by Lizzie King and is totally gluten free, but you can bread your chicken using whatever kind of coating you have to hand. 
  • Tuscan baked beans on toast. This is another Lizzie King recipe that we’ve adapted slightly. We make a tomato sauce packed with veggies, mix in white beans and serve it on toast. It’s baked beans on toast….without all the sugar and guilt. And it’s bloody delicious. Who says dinner has to be fancy? 
  • Pasta pesto will forever be our go-to pasta dish. Quick & easy, pesto is fantastic to make ahead of time, roll up like a sausage and pop in the freezer. The great thing about this dish is how easy it is to chop up masses of green veg and “hide” it in the already deliciously green pesto. Camouflage veg is always a good idea! 
  • Left over stir fry or curry. When you’re a family of three, you always end up buying a bit too much veg. Generally at the end of the week I have a look to see what’s left; half a butternut squash, a sweet potato, some sugar snap peas, green beans and a couple of tomatoes..maybe some already grated carrot. Depending on what we have in our cupboards it all gets thrown into either a stir fry (with garlic, ginger, soy sauce and buckwheat noodles) or a quick curry (spices, garlic, coconut milk/tomato sauce and basmati rice) Sometimes a risotto can be scraped together from trailing veg and parmesan too! 

Often there’s so much worry associated with family meals and meal times. It’s totally reasonable to crack out store bought pizza sometimes or serve scrambled eggs on toast twice in a week for dinner because you just can’t. be. bothered. to cook again. Most of the mums I talk to just want reasonably priced, quick to make meal ideas that their kids will eat and that will be good for them. 

If you’re looking for great resources for healthy family eating, I absolutely love Jamie Oliver’s book “Superfood Family Classics” – it’s the most battered and stained book in my kitchen and Lizzie King’s book “Lizzie loves healthy family food.” is fantastic – every single recipe I’ve made from it has been a hit. 

None of my five meal suggestions above are groundbreaking or even very exciting (and it’s nowhere near my full list, but rather my crisis meals that I know get eaten every time!) but sometimes we need to look at other people’s go-to meals to get inspired for our own. Share some of yours with me? 

 More fishcakes...
More fishcakes…
 Lizzie King's Tuscan baked beans. SO comforting. 
Lizzie King’s Tuscan baked beans. SO comforting. 
 Baked chicken and sweet potatoes
Baked chicken and sweet potatoes
“Fish & Chips” 
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Toddler Life: Stress Free Routines

It’s la rentrée! For most of my mum friends here in Paris this probably means that they’ve spent the last few days running around the shops like headless chickens trying to locate everything on the insanely specific stationery lists given out by schools here. In the U.K you’ve probably sewn on countless name labels to brand new school uniforms and spent far more time in Clarke’s than you ever thought possible. 

However much you love or hate these final tasks, all your hard work its about to be paid off – they’re going back to school! As I’ve previously mentioned, I love this time of year but it really doesn’t change the fact that we’re now in the lead up to winter. The mornings and evenings are darker – the sun sets at around 17h here in the winter – it’s colder, wetter and it’s just generally harder to get out of bed. 

As school and crèche start pretty early in the morning here, strong evening and morning routines have been absolute necessities for us since Arthur started at the crèche when he was around a year old. 

Mornings:

  • 6h: I wake up. Sometimes I do some yoga, sometimes I just make coffee and read for an hour
  • 7h: Arthur wakes up
  • 7h15: Breakfast. In autumn and winter I try to do warm breakfasts as often as possible
  • 7h45: Get dressed & brush teeth
  • 8h: Out the front door!

Evenings:

  • 17h: Crèche pick up and quiet playtime while I cook dinner (10 minute tidy before dinner)
  • 18h: Arthur and I eat dinner together most nights during the week
  • 18h30: Shower time & and I clean down the kitchen, close the curtains & blinds in his room & put some lavender oil on his diffuser
  • 18h45: Pyjamas on and teeth brushed before a bedtime story (only one!)
  • 19h: Bedtime! 
  • After Arthur’s in bed I take half an hour to get organised for the morning. I finish whatever housework is left to do (usually laundry), lay out clothes for both of us for the morning, pack my lunchbox if I need one and lay out whatever else we need. 

All of this seems pretty intense sometimes but when I feel like I just can’t be bothered with the routines I remind myself of how stressful our mornings would be without them! With a new baby joining us soon and a husband who works nights and needs to sleep in the morning I want to make sure that we have the least stress possible in our time together in the mornings and evenings and I also want to make sure that Arthur can do some stuff without help from us. 

I found these great Montessori routine cards here and we’ve been using them to show Arthur where we are in the routines and what comes next. He’s been excited to use them, asking to brush his teeth and trying to get himself dressed. They also come with a load of other stories to tell, like building a tower or baking a cake – so I’m looking forward to using those too!

The only problem with routines is, of course that they become routine! I’ve practically eliminated weekend lie-ins for myself but I think I’ve made a fair trade for calmer school mornings and more me-time in the evenings. What do you do to make those school runs and autumn evenings easier?

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Toddler Life: La Rentrée

Each August every year, Paris suddenly empties. School has been over for a month already, the streets are quiet, restaurants close and most of the residents of Paris pack up and head for the sea. In fact, the whole country seems to take a collective holiday – a big deep breath of relaxation and release.

In previous years, if I’m honest, this concept of shutting down a whole country for a month seemed laughable and at the very least, irritating. If you have administrative tasks or banking to do, doctors visits, house renovations or even need to find a plumber during August – forget about it. It’s not happening. Frustrating to say the least, no? 

Well this year…no. For the first time since living here we have really embraced this enforced month of national relaxation and three nights ago we returned home from three glorious weeks of holiday to…La Rentrée, my absolute favourite time of year. Despite never having been a fan of the August holiday, I am a die-hard rentrée fan. La Rentrée literally translates as The Return and really is when everyone comes back from their long holiday but it’s so much more than that…

It’s shiny new school shoes

It’s brand new stationery

It’s the beginning of a new year, a fresh start, a clean slate

It’s resolutions and goals set

It’s late summer days turning into chilly evenings, crunchy leaves on the floor, knitting projects picked up again

As we’ve got a toddler heading back to créche, I’m at work three days a week and my husband works full time, I’m reminded of how important strong routines are for us as a family. It’s time to put back into place things that make us stronger, good bedtime and morning routines for all of us, healthy meal plans and more creative outlets. 

I’m currently working on a list of resolutions that I’ll share with you when finished. I always find that this time of year comes with a huge surge of energy and productiveness and I’ve found myself with several exciting projects in the pipelines, perhaps at totally the wrong time considering I’m nearly six months pregnant…or totally the right time!