Tuesday, 29 November 2016

My Baby at 10 Months

The last week has seen a transformation in my baby, she is becoming more and more like a toddler. She isn’t toddling yet, but she suddenly seems to understand a lot more about what is going on. She responds to my questions more and communicates more clearly when she wants something. We play games together and I am enjoying watching her play. She is also exploring more in play. It’s no longer just chewing on things and waving them around, she is now putting objects on top of each other and inside each other.

9 photographs of a baby girl aged 9 months includes eating, sitting in a pumpkin outfit, sitting in front of a mini piano, in a baby carrier and reclining on a white bed
Little aged 9 to 10 months

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Friday, 25 November 2016

How To Choose Childcare When You Return To Work

For most parents making a decision about childcare after maternity leave is inevitable. Having gone through the process twice now here is my advice on what is useful to think about when choosing the right childcare.
Text saying: Returning to Work? How to choose childcare www.countingtoten.co.uk over an image of an open notepad


Do you want to go back to work?

The decision about whether to return to work is both financial and emotional. With my eldest I knew I had no choice about going back as we needed the money. I was earning a good salary, but more importantly I wanted to go back because I really enjoyed my job. If you don't like your job (my experience this time round) or you can't bear to leave your baby/ babies you might be prepared to make greater financial sacrifices to stay at home.

Can you afford to go back?

The cost of full-time childcare is high. Add in the amount it costs to commute to work (living in Essex I have to pay for parking at the station as well as the tube journey) and you might find that you are losing money.

Is flexible working an option?

Your employer has to consider flexible working requests made due to childcare, but that doesn’t mean they have to approve them. There are some jobs which can be done part time, working from home or with different work patterns e.g. four longer days and 1 day off a week. Other jobs need you there at set times. Flexible working can allow you to save money on childcare and to have a better work life balance. Full time childcare is normally available from 8 to 6, but some nurseries offer 7.30 to 6.30.
A tube station at sunrise with a train in the station and people waiting on the platform

Is your child happy to be looked after by a variety of adults?

Nursery is a great option for many and your child will be allocated a key worker to monitor their development, however there will be a number of staff who look after your child. Depending on the size of the nursery there could be 3 or more staff members in their room each day. The long hours mean that no single member of staff will be there all day every day, add in bank staff to cover sickness and holidays and there might be around 10 different people who regularly look after your baby. Yes, they will all be trained and yes, they will all be lovely, but if your baby finds new people scary this might not be the best option for them. A nanny or childminder will mean they form a bond with a single person who looks after them each day. This can be beneficial for them, but how will it make you feel?


Does your child like a lot of activity?

My eldest was a non-stop-always-on-the-go type baby. She loved to be around other children and to play with them. Nursery was great for her as there was a large group of similar aged children and they had a lot of activities. Childminders are currently allowed to care for up to 6 children at one time, numbers vary depending on ages of the children and if there are siblings. However the children cared for by one childminder may be different ages so there will be less focus on the routine and needs of your baby as they will need to fit in with the other children (e.g. if the childminder does school drop offs/ pick ups as well). You might find your child spends several hours in the car a day. A nanny (or nanny share where you can split the cost with a friend) means your child gets much more one on one time, it will be quieter and the activities and routine will be based around your child. 

Do you have family who can help?

If you are lucky enough to have family nearby they may agree to look after your baby. Many Grandparents love this idea, but the reality of having to commit their time to running around after a toddler once or twice a week is hard work for most people. This means no spur of the moment holidays or lunches out (unless they are going somewhere child friendly). Most 60 somethings will struggle with this. The longer they have been retired, and the more used to having their independence, the bigger a shock it might be.

Do the places you like have spaces?

Nurseries and childminders are all different. You can check out their Ofsted ratings and reports online, but you really need to visit them to get a feel for what they are like. When I originally visited the local nurseries there was one I instantly liked; it just felt warm, friendly and nurturing. A year or two after my daughter started they received 'Outstanding' from Ofsted. They are the nursery most recommended by local mums and despite putting my youngest daughter's name down at 2 weeks old they wont have a place for her when she turns 1.

What is important to you?

Whether you stay at home with your baby for one month or twelve there will be particular ways you parent and you will want to find childcare which has as similar approach as possible to you (this can particularly be a conflict if family members are looking after your child). Things to think about include:
  • Do you want your child to nap, eat and drink to a routine or on demand?
  • Do you do baby led weaning or are you happy for your baby to be spoon fed. While they will encourage your child to feed themselves as early as possible they will often spoon feed foods like yoghurt initially for speed and convenience.
  • How do you want your child to be treated if they hurt themselves? Many of our accident forms stated treatment was a “cold compress and cuddles”.
  • How much physical contact are you happy with? I love that our nursery staff always gave my daughter hugs, it was the right supportive environment for her, but you might prefer somewhere more hands off. There are some nurseries which won’t even apply suncream to your child.
  • How do you want the staff to react if your child does something wrong? Or if another child does? Eg if someone bites your child or hits them around the head.
Make a list of what's important to you and ask the questions when you visit the nursery or care provider.


What is included?

Some nurseries and childminders will include nappies, food (including formula if you want it), suncream, calpol and bedding as part of their cost. Others will expect you to provide some of these things or pay extra. Particularly if there is a different dietary requirement you might be expected to supply food. If a nanny is looking after your baby in your home you will be providing all these items, but on the plus side it is normal for a nanny to take care of cleaning and washing related to your child.
Piles of money

How much can you afford?

Prices vary hugely by area and are particularly expensive in and around London. Nannies are the most expensive and you have to take into account you are their employer so there is National Insurance, Pension and holidays too. Nurseries are normally more expensive than childminders and obviously family is cheapest. Less than full time care doesn’t necessarily save you a lot of money e.g. at our nursery going 4 days a week is only 13 % cheaper than going 5 days. 
Full time care currently costs just under £14,000 a year at our nursery, or £55 a day. Nannies cost a minimum of £10 an hour so will be double the cost of nursery. More information on costs is available here: childcare costs. 
There are a number of free hours available when your child is 3 and they are introducing more free hours, but it is unlikely these will be available with most private childcare options as their isn’t the funding available. You need to choose what you can afford now and any discount in the future is a bonus.

Finding the right childcare for you is a balance between needs, costs, wants and availability. It can be a really tough decision and if you go back expect to have doubts about whether you have made the right choice. Leaving your child in the care of someone else does get easier and it's normally tougher on the parents than the child.
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Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Dear All The Bad Mummies

Dear all the Mummies out there,

Have you had that conversation yet? The one where you admit to some mum friends that you think you are a rubbish mum? If you haven't I really think you should.

Why?

Because all mums think they are rubbish at some point. If you are reading this and thinking "I've never thought that, I'm perfect" then please contact me, I would love a chat. I honestly think it is part of parenting to doubt yourself and to make mistakes. 
Canva image of an old fashioned type writer with text "dear all the bad mummies"
Whether you have just one child or a houseful being a mum means juggling a whole load of responsibilities. Yes women are great at multi tasking, but children can be very challenging. Add to the mix that you are probably chronically sleep deprived and chances of doing something stupid are high.

But hang on a minute. Aren't we meant to be perfect? We selflessly spend 9 months not touching alcohol, giving up some of our favourite foods (rare steak, yum) and eating only wholesome nutritious food harvested under a full moon by an elf in silk gloves. Then, post birth, we all nurse our babies without any problems learning how to latch or establishing a milk supply. Our babies barely cry as their every need is met instantly by our amazing mother's intuition. Oh and of course we get our babies sleeping independently and for long stretches before tiredness destroys half our brain cells.

Sorry, but back in the real world being a mum is a steep learning curve and whether we make mistakes through our innocence, through bad luck or just by being pulled in too many directions at once; we all make mistakes.
A baby and a kitten looking into an open washing machine
Why yes that is a wet paw print on the back of my daughter as she climbs in the washing machine
Like many bloggers I am happy to talk about myself and I'm pretty honest about what I've done wrong. Let's face it I've done a lot of stupid things. The number of daft errors has increased since having my second daughter. While many of them aren't parenting related (I keep going in the shower with my glasses on for instance), a lot do involve lapses of sense affecting my children. I accept a lot of these things as just part of the way I am. If there's no harm done I brush most things off, but I know others take their mistakes more to heart which is why I'm writing this post.

When talking to other people about their "bad mummy" moments I can tick most of them off on my own list. Those which I can't I can easily imagine doing in the future so I offer no judgement.
Spilling food on baby while eating? That's part of having a nursing newborn and the reason I ate cold food.
Accidentally bashing your baby/ child with a hard object? From walking into door frames while holding them, hitting them against the car seat while getting them in the car or knocking them with my camera swinging from my neck I can tick all of these off with my clumsiness.
Baby temporarily dunked under water in the bath or swimming pool? A split second is unlikely to cause harm as their instinct is to hold their breath. I always make sure they are breathing ok and haven't breathed in any water though. 
A whole list of objects have been retrieved from the mouths of both girls, a few of which I've had to google the toxicity of. So far no medical treatment has been necessary.
I went to start the car engine once only to hear M say "aren't you going to strap me in?" in a very sad voice. Forgetting to strap your child in the car seat? Check.
I've left knives and scissors in stupid places and caught little hands just in time.
I've taken them out in inappropriate clothes for the weather, let them stay in night clothes all day and left them in dirty clothes.
I've assessed the danger levels of the random item being chewed and left my baby if she was happy: cardboard boxes, bottles, chair legs.

Then there are little things a mummy should know better about like when you forget baby wipes and end up using a pair of socks to wipe a snotty nose. I've been known to check if a nappy needs changing by sticking a finger in it. Why? Why? Why? I ask myself as I have to go wash poo off my hand. Oh and there is the too frequent howls of my children when I've lost track of time when we are out and I haven't brought any snacks to help their little tummies last until we get proper food.
A baby reaching up to pull a bottle of wine our of a wine rack
Mmm wine
Of course I've made bigger mistakes too. 

There are a few times which have stayed with me:
The time I dropped my eldest on the floor when she was a baby. I was more upset than she was and there was no lasting damage.
The time I left my youngest on the sofa to go get something and she crawled off with a thud on the hardwood floor.
The time my baby crawled off and found the cat litter. This was a couple of days after finding cat litter in her nappy after my partner did the same.

But so far we have avoided major harm and my children are developing well.

Ok now are you all thinking "she's such a bad mum, I'm calling social services"? Or maybe you're thinking you aren't such a rubbish mum after all.

I hope it's the latter.
Best of Worst
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Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Review: Selfie Mic

My latest giveaway is the brilliant Selfie Mic. Selected as one of the top 12 toys for Christmas 2016 by the DreamToys selection committee I would have loved this when I was younger. I'll be honest I'm quite a big fan of it now. Add a smartphone and the Starmaker app (free download from Google Play or App Store) and you have a personal karaoke machine that will even record a music video.

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Sunday, 20 November 2016

Taking photographs in Autumn

I love the cold crisp days of Autumn as the leaves change shades of gold, red and amber. I love the soggy days when there are no leaves on the trees less. The days where big rain drops fall off the trees and manage to fall down the small gap between my coat collar and my neck, yep I’m not the biggest fan of those days either.

I live on the edge of Epping Forest which is beautiful all year round, but Autumn probably shows the woods at their best. This weekend is the tipping point where there are more leaves on the floor than on the trees. It’s easy to feel it is all downhill from here, but with only 5 weeks until Christmas I’m feeling the air of optimism still.

Too many presents have been bought for the girls (who already have too much) and I am at a loss what to buy for most of the rest of the family. I also don’t know what I want, which is just as well since I’ve already had a camera bought for me and I’m asking people to contribute to it. Lovely camera. It's a shame I am struggling to find the time or good enough light to take great pictures at the moment. Instead I am practising with low light photography, my tripod and different techniques. 

Yesterday I went out just before dusk to have a play with my camera, these are some of my captures from the forest and the road outside the car park.


Some orangey yellow leaves on a tree with sky behind
A close up of leaves on a tree
ISO 400, f/ 2.8,  1/25 sec

A path covered in leaves, the edge of a lake and trees all autumnal colours
The edge of a lake
ISO 400, f/ 2.8, 1/15 sec

A path covered in brown leaves, the edge of a lake and trees in different shades of yellow, orange and brown
The path out of the forest
ISO 400, f/11, 3.2 sec

A lake in the foreground and autumnal trees behind it
Across the lake
ISO 400, f/11, 1/10 sec

A road at dusk with lines across the photograph caused by cars and a fire engine driving past on a slow shutter speed. The lights are orange, red and blue
A fire engine and cars
ISO 125, f/4, 5.0 sec

A road with red lights caused by car tail lights taken on a slow shutter speed
Cars
ISO 125, f/ 5.6, 10.0

All the photographs were taken using a tripod and my Sony rx100 camera. I used Lightroom to crop and enhance them.

Linking up with the #MySundayPhoto Linky hosted by Photalife
Photalife
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Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Gifts of Gold for Christmas

A wise man once thought Gold made the perfect gift for Christmas so I have been searching for golden gifts for every type of person in your life. (Ok I recognise that the 3 wise men didn’t really come at Christmas bringing Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh because if they did visit newborn Jesus and his folks it wouldn’t have been Christmas, but I still think it's a good theme for a gift guide).
All images for this post combined into one collage with the text "Gifts of Gold for Christmas"
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Monday, 14 November 2016

My First Day Away From My Breastfed Baby

The Morning


There is a time in every parent’s life when they leave their baby for the first time. I'm not talking about a quick trip to the loo or popping out to the shops. I'm talking about when you leave them for hours, long enough for them to know you aren't there.

For the Dad this time comes soon after they are born. G had to head home from hospital a few hours after birth. After some paternity leave he returned to work. He goes to work every day. For him, being away from Little is part of his norm. It only really hits him when she is still asleep in the morning and he misses out on his normal early cuddles.

For me, this time round, my baby hasn't wanted me to leave her and I haven’t needed to for 9 months. The longest I've been away was to go out for dinner with some friends, but she was asleep the whole time.

Today, for the first time I'm spending a day away from her. It's for a very exciting reason and I'm looking forward to a great day, but as I sit on the train travelling to Blogfest I feel like part of me is missing. I want my baby snuggles.

People tell me she'll be ok, and I'm sure she will be, but whenever people have looked after her before she has reached a point where they won't do and she only wants her mummy. I know the main reason for that is her obsession with my chest: what was once her sole provision of nourishment is now primarily her comforter. Unfortunately I can't leave my boobs behind so I'm not only taking her mummy away for the day, but stealing her favourite comfort too.

She loves her Daddy and is happier with him than anyone else (except me), but his cleavage is lacking. I know that today she will cry. She will be crying lots and wondering why her normal comfort isn't available. She will be held, rocked, cuddled and loved while she cries. If she is screaming as loud as she can, distraught and confused, does being held really make a difference?

During The Day


I asked for regular updates about Little throughout the day. Her Dad managed to get her to have two (shortish) naps. One in the car and one in the pushchair and she has remained pretty happy. She hasn’t taken any milk from the sippy cup, but she  has had a reasonable amount of food including fruit which will keep her hydrated.

My boobs are getting progressively fuller and more painful. I tried to go to the toilet to hand express but as I forgot a muslin or a cup to express into it wasn’t very successful. I expressed a small amount into loo roll, but decided to go back to join everyone else. A toilet isn’t the best environment to get milk flowing quickly anyway. As the day goes on I get a little obsessed with my boobs, mentioning them to more and more people and fondle them a fair bit due to the discomfort. It’s just as well the event is mostly mums.


The Evening


I decided to leave slightly early as my boobs were very tender. Someone accidentally knocking into me resulted in a yelp of pain and I couldn’t cross my arms due to the increased mass. I sent G a message on the way home so he and Little were at the station ready to meet me. As soon as she saw me Little gave me a big smile. I enjoyed some cuddles while holding her on my hips as my chest was too sensitive. All too soon I had to put her back in the car, she didn’t appreciate being strapped back in, but the journey wasn’t very long and I reached into the back to hold her hand the whole way.

As soon as we got in I gave her some milk. I was worried that she would be sick due to the force of the milk so I covered the sofa up with a towel. She quickly wolfed down one side making me feel much more comfortable, I put her to the other side, but she only took a tiny bit. Over the next couple of hours I fed her a few times and felt almost normal.

Due to a late second nap we put Little to bed late, but she didn’t sleep long before waking up. After a few more attempts to get her to sleep I decided to go to bed with her and we had a good night with lots of cuddling and co-sleeping.

How I felt the next day


It was a lot tougher on me than my baby and I'm so glad that we have managed to get through our first day apart. My maternity leave ends in a couple of months so I now feel slightly more confident about going back to work. Next time I leave her I will make sure I have a way of expressing so I feel more comfortable. Having regularly messages about how my baby was doing helped me miss her less. She was fine without any milk for the day and she caught up when I was home so I don't need to worry about her taking a bottle. The water she had from a sippy cup plus juicy fruit was enough to keep her hydrated.
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Thursday, 10 November 2016

Review: Trutex School Uniform

We were recently offered the chance to review a school uniform from Trutex. This came at a great time because in just a few months at school M has really been putting her uniform though it’s paces. Her shoes are scuffed, a barely worn pinafore has a rip in it and I’ve had to bleach several t-shirts to remove tomato sauce stains and paint. The Reception playground has mud, a swing, a climbing frame and all sorts of equipment to test the best of school uniforms.

A young blonde girl sitting on the floor in Trutex school uniform


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Wednesday, 9 November 2016

DreamToys for Christmas 2016

This morning I went to the Dream Toys event for 2016. This exciting event showcases some of the best toys around and predicts what they expect the top sellers to be for Christmas. The list is decided by a panel of leading toy retailers in the UK.

The top 12 identified as Dream Toys for Christmas 2016 (in no particular order and with RRP) are:
Image of the top 12 toys selected for Christmas 2016
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Fighting for our country, has it changed?

Poppy Day, Armistice Day, Remembrance Sunday. What do these mean to you? The images in the media are often of ageing veterans of World Wars placing wreaths of poppies on stone memorials. This makes war seem far away and long ago, but there continue to be thousands of people serving all over the world. British men and women are currently risking their lives to protect and defend the UK and it’s allies and it’s important to remember them and their bravery too.

I want my daughters to know that there are people who have been fighting for their country, their way of life, for a long time. There is a lot of evil in the world, but there is good too. My eldest doesn’t understand war. Luckily she can’t imagine the suffering other children her age are facing as they flee from atrocities and I will keep her sheltered as long as I can from the horrific images which all too rarely make it into mainstream media. While I want to protect her, I also want her to know there are heroes who will protect her against bad people and that her Great Grandad (who she can only just remember) was one of those heroes.

A couple of years ago I interviewed two people who had seen active duty: my Grandad who served during and after World War 2 and a friend who served over 60 years later. Neither speak much of their service. I wanted to have more of an understanding about what it was like, and how much had changed over the decades. I originally published these interviews on a previous blog 2 years ago. My Grandad has since died and I wanted to revisit what was said.
A box of poppies

My Grandad


Why did you join the army? 

I was called up a week after I turned 18 because the war was on.

Have you seen active service?

I was in Italy and Austria during the war and Egypt and Palestine post war. Post war the fighting was between the Jews and Arabs and it was in many ways more dangerous as you didn't know what you were going into. 

How long were you in the army for? 

I was in the army for 4 1/2 years and away for all that time except for the first 9 months spent in training.

What did you miss most whilst serving?

It was so different to being at home that you put up with what you got. There were no comforts. Many nights you slept on the bonnet of the armoured truck. Post was received regularly so you had contact, but you couldn't telephone or anything like that (my Nana wrote a lot of letters to him throughout his time in the Army).

What were the good things about it?

At that age (18 to 22) the variety was good, you were doing things you had never done before and you were suddenly thrown into it without any choice.

How does the work of the army differ today from World War 2? 

There is still a risk of death etc if posted abroad so that hasn’t changed. When in barracks there is more drill now which we didn't really do even post war, you could always find an excuse to get out of it.

How important is the work of the Royal British Legion? 

It is very good if you need it and you are prepared to ask for it and have a necessity for it. They do good work and have some wonderful homes for old soldiers.

A black and white photograph of a 22 year old man in army uniform taken in 1947
My Grandad in 1947

My Friend


Why did you join the army?

I joined the Army for several reasons. Right from the start I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, where I could help make a real difference to people.   I valued the opportunity to be part of a highly effective and organised team entity, with the chance to make close friends and develop as a team player and as a leader.  I also wanted the chance to learn new skills, and see new places that I wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to do in my life.

Have you seen active service?  

I served in the Iraq War in 2006-07, for nearly 6 months, spending time in Basra and Baghdad.

What did you miss most whilst serving?

Operational conditions meant that many things or routines I was used to in normal life, and considered to be every day necessities or perhaps hadn’t even thought until I didn’t have them, were simply not available.

What were the good things about it?

I went out to do my part and serve in an operational environment, and that is what I did.  I have pride in doing my part as well as I could, and being an integral part of the team was always the best part for me.

How does the work of the army differ today to World War 2?

I have met Old Comrades from my Squadron who served in WW2 and landed on the D-Day beaches, or fought in other places to free Europe.  The work then and now is primarily the same, in the sense that soldiers still do the same fundamental job.  The way this is done is different in some ways in a different age, and some threats cannot be best met in the same ways.  Peacekeeping and asymmetric warfare have their own challenges, and the Army operates closely with other services and allies and multinational entities.

How important is the work of the Royal British Legion?

The Royal British Legion is an excellent charity doing amazing direct work to support beneficiaries, but also operates in ways that not all charities can, such as with regards to activities like comradeship and remembrance.  The Legion is not in itself the source of these good works, but is the custodian and facilitator of much of it, and helps ensure that the whole family of service and veteran charities can operate in a favourable environment. The Legion isn’t the only service charity, but all would be much weaker and find their jobs much harder to do without the Legion being around.


You can support the work on the Royal British Legion by buying a Poppy or donating on their website.

“Outside
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Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Giveaway: LEGO NEXO KNIGHT

Are you looking for stocking fillers for LEGO fans? Or do you just want to give your child a treat? My latest giveaway is this Ultimate LEGO NEXO KNIGHT set featuring chief spy Ultimate Lavaria. As well as the minifigure you can download the app to make her come to life in a digital game. Recommended for ages 7 to 14.

Entry via the Rafflecopter widget below. Giveaway closes Sunday 20th November. 2016 
Thank you to LEGO (R) NEXO KNIGHTS (TM) for providing this prize.




a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Thursday, 3 November 2016

Paw Patrol Hopscotch Playmats Review

My biggest girl is a huge Paw Patrol fan so when we were given the chance to review some Paw Patrol playmats I said "yes" before even asking her.

When they arrived M excitedly got them out of the box straight away. She decided to put them together to form a hopscotch and after assembling them she happily hopped and jumped along for a few minutes before deciding to get her Paw Patrol figures out and play on the mats.
Paw Patrol playmats being assembled into a Hopscotch by a young girl


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Tuesday, 1 November 2016

My Baby At 9 Months

Every month my little baby is getting bigger, more active, more inquisitive, more communicative and less my little baby. She is amazing and continues to make me smile. It’s not always easy, I am frequently exhausted, but her hugs, kisses and smiles help make it all easier.

A 9 month old baby sitting on the floor if the forest on brown leaves next to a log and in front of a tree
So excited to be 9 months old

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