New Babies

It took me a long time to feel broody after I had my twin sons. But then being pregnant for 18 months with a three month gap would, in my humble opinion, kill the desire to procreate for a century or so.

But I’ve been surprised that I’ve started to feel it again, not really for me to actually do (I’m not insane) but just that urge to cradle, gaze at and smell a baby is becoming more appealing as I get older. And the great news is, I know a few ladies now expecting, so roll on next spring I’d say.

I do love a newborn, a baby, a toddler, a pre-schooler, a little one. Super-cute when they’re as small as dolls, delightful when they can be shocked out of a tantrum just by acting a little bit weird. Ultimate entertainment when you ask them about their family and how much wine their mothers drink. Ya know, the really entertaining stuff.

They can be excellent value, those friend’s and relative’s kids. If I’m honest, I’m happy not to spend so much time with them as teens, only because I found it irritating enough trying to glean conversation out of my own children and I’d rather wait until they get a bit older, more interesting and the attitude isn’t at volume number 11 anymore. But hey, that’s just me. (I’m not sure anyone has ever accused me of tolerance).

My best mate and I go to a rather nice hotel in central London a couple of times a year and we always spend our Sunday afternoons sitting and chatting and drinking tea and eating biscuits and reading the papers in the rather nice lounge. Generally speaking we are joined by a group of anything between 8 and 20 women celebrating a Baby Shower.

Bearing in mind that my best mate and I met within a few weeks of our first borns being ummm born and that we have six children between us, we can happily say that we have been there and we have done most things maternity wise. But having a Baby Shower isn’t one of them. They simply didn’t seem to exist when we were busy bringing up babies and I feel like we missed out, because they seem such sweet, supportive and joyous affairs. Mothers and mothers-in-law always seem to be in attendance, another few women in stretched jersey over football tummies waddle about for fun and everyone seems to be eating cake with gay abandon.

And I think one of the nicest things about them is that it gets the whole ‘come celebrate with me’ out of the way. You get to give gifts and be special and celebrate the start of a new life before the actual baby arrives. Because when your baby arrives, there are only certain people that you’d be glad to see and, quite frankly, most people won’t make the cut for the first few months.

I remember my uncle turning up out of the blue to see our first born when she was under a fortnight old and I resented every second of him drinking the tea I’d made whilst my baby slept and I didn’t.

And he wasn’t the only one. In hindsight, I should have sent a ‘round robin’ style note out that read something like this:

Come around to see us if I know you so well that I won’t even have to explain why there’s a cabbage leaf stuffed inside my bra and that I’m crying because I still can’t see my ankles. Pop in if you’re in the mood to do some washing up/ironing/cooking/cleaning of floors without us actually having to talk to you. Enter if you think I’d feel comfortable enough to have you sit there holding my baby whilst I change the dressing on my episiotomy and promptly fall asleep with a boob hanging out. If you want to bring flowers, expect a tight-lipped thank you, and be prepared to silently return in a week to throw them out.

And if you think that a nice 30 minute snuggle with a sleeping baby whilst you talk about how your boss is pissing you off to a semi-comatose woman with bruised eyes and bleeding nipples is your idea of fun, then you need to look at yourself in the mirror and try to work out what kind of human being you actually are.

And so, before I truly get into the groove about the unwitting idiocy of the visitors that we received with our daughter and then with our twins, I’ll get back to why I think baby showers are so awesome.

Because when you’re heavily, but not too uncomfortably pregnant, you can spend a couple of hours surrounded by friends and nearest and dearest celebrating with cake and sandwiches and tea. And then you get gifts that are useful, thoughtful and returnable whilst baby is still conveniently inside. And that’s it in a nutshell.

So, although I’m really looking forward to meeting new humans next spring and showing off my keeping babies alive skills, I think I’m also just as excited that I might be invited to a baby shower. I’ve got the best ever gifts to take. One will be our Award Winning Birthday Yearbook (it really is a frickin’ awesome gift for new babies).

The other gift will be the promise that I’ll not visit for the first two months.

 

If you’d like to give more than just the promise of your absence or the promise of your help, do check out our Birthday Yearbook here.

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The Birthday Yearbook cover

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yes, that is actually me with my firstborn

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The Birthday Yearbook

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Skiing and the first set of IOU Vouchers for Very Lovely Children

Off we were skiing for Christmas.  Ok, off we were to the French Alps because I had promised myself that I would have a snowball fight with my children on Christmas day at least once in my life.  The skiing part was a ruse to convince my husband it was an excellent idea.

It was my first time.  I thought I’d give it a try.  I gave it a try.  I didn’t like it.  I don’t see the point in putting slippery things on your feet, only to stand on a slippery surface.  Don’t want to sound all sensible and boring, but seriously? Give me a couple of tennis rackets to strap to my boots.  Talking of boots, what sadist came up with modern day ski-boots, or as I affectionately called them, the painful coffins of claustrophobic hell attached to my feet.  No no no and a thousand times no.

Being new to the whole going to somewhere colder than here was a brave new world and I couldn’t believe how much stuff was required for a standard family of 5.  Ski jackets alone seemed to take up an entire bag.  Being the utter psychotic control freak that I fondly refer to myself as, I was preparing the packing in November (and I mean more firework night than dark at 3pm November).

The bedroom floor started to resemble an exclusive jumble sale run by a woman with OCD and being someone who is pretty damned good at spacial judgement, I looked at the suitcases and I looked at the bedroom floor and I realised that we could have a problem.

Much pondering and possibly some sucking in of breath in an ‘it’ll cost ya’ kinda way ensued.  The actual clothes were put away first.  I had been told by the seasoned ski season friends that the beauty of chalet living was to dispense with normal clothes and to lounge in thermals.  I, naturally, matched my pale grey thermals with my oversized pair of cream cashmere cable knit socks.  You know, so I looked all hygge.  But this was in 2007.  Suck it guys.  I’ve always been way ahead of my time ;).

Next to go were the imaginary gifts I had planned on buying for the children. Father Christmas might be able to pop over to fill some stockings, but he aint gonna be dropping off anything that mum is going to seriously consider leaving behind because she’s tired and can’t be arsed to try and fit it back in to a bag that is now full of smelly thermals. No way.

And so, as is my way. I came up with something that took me bloody ages to work out, sort, create and then execute.  I created a pack of  ‘IOU Vouchers for my Very Lovely Children’.  I pulled a favour from my lovely printer and had him print up three copies. And I packed them.  All together, they took up less room than my cashmere cable knit socks (man, I miss those socks – moths).

My vouchers for my children

So a pack of cards, each one promising a treat.  If memory serves, it was just over one treat a month and they included: a midnight feast; an ice cream after school; a packet of crisps (don’t judge me…); a trip to a photo booth; a trip to the craft store where they could go nuts and buy stuff (veto on glitter).  And yeah, I was stupid to date them.  I mean, really stupid.

I remember the tour of London on top of a bus had to be cancelled because one of them had thrown up the night before.  I remember it rained on the ice-cream after school day (like 7 and 8 year old kids give a shit what the weather is like – it’s ice-cream!) and the day of dressing up really smart so we can go to the local posh restaurant was a really bad hair day for me – still it ended up being a lovely evening.  As for the price of the theatre tickets… Seriously.  I could have bought a second hand car for the price of 5 tickets to The Lion King that I bought 6 months in advance and weren’t ‘best’ seats.  Ten years on and I’m still incredulous.  Just thinking about how many notebooks I have to sell to get close to buying a single ticket is eye watering….

And so the idea for the IOUs – Versatile Vouchers for Very Lovely Children was born and I was sensible enough to brief an up and coming graphic designer called Ian to do his magic on the design and, they have, I am told, done an excellent job as reward cards over the years.  Whichever way you choose to use them, they were, as is usual with the stuff at 2littleboys, created as a result of needing them for myself… not that I’m selfish or anything.

I SO won the snowball fight on Christmas Day 2007.

Do pop over to the MotherShip site if you’d like to buy a set of your very own IOU Vouchers.

Reward cards for Children

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My versatile coconut curry (and it’s REALLY easy)

I’m not really known for my cooking.  As in,  I’ve spent most of my adult life as a ‘won’t cook’ as opposed to a ‘can’t cook’.  I’m a firm believer that if you can read, you can cook – you don’t need much more than that to bang out a perfectly edible meal.  We’re not born with an innate ability to produce stunning dishes from our kitchen; I’m guessing it’s practise, but what do I know? When I can be arsed to cook,  I tend to bung a load of stuff together and watch with either horror or satisfaction when it all doesn’t work or it all comes together.

I’ve been getting back into it this year.  And I’m enjoying the cathartic side of chopping, stirring and feeding.  I’m also finally starting to use the freezer properly. It’s no longer just an expensive to run transition stage between my fridge and the bin.  But then, I don’t think I’m the only one to fill their freezer because of this thought:  “Uggh, the meat and fish in the fridge are about to go out of date but I can’t face throwing it all away, let’s put it all in the freezer to defrost and eat another day but I know I’m never actually going to get around to doing”.

I’ve revisited a recipe that I used to use many years ago when the children were younger and I’d forgotten how easy it was.  I thought I’d share.  It’s not exact science (which is probably why I like it so much!).  It’s also really really versatile.  To keep it simple to read, I’ll just write the recipe here and then add notes at the bottom for exactly why it’s so versatile.

This feeds 5 of us with spare.

2 large shallots or 1 large onion (finely chopped)

2 cloves of garlic

1 Blue Dragon Thai Red Curry paste

1 teaspoon palm sugar

A splash of soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 or 2 cans coconut milk (you can get lower fat version)

vegetables chopped up into pieces that usually take about 8 minutes to cook (I use anything/everything I haven’t got around to using in the week… green beans, an aubergine that’s a bit squidgy, broccoli, red peppers…)

3 or 4 salmon fillets

200 ml of basmati rice

fish coconut curry

How to cook:

Fry the onions on a low/medium heat until they’re soft but not brown.  Add garlic and stir for a minute or two.  Turn the heat up a bit, then add the paste, giving it a good stir around – I like chasing it around the bottom of the pan as it melts.  Add the palm sugar, then the fish sauce and soy sauce.  Give it a good stir, then add the coconut milk followed by the veggies – if there are so many vegetables that over half of them aren’t under the milk, add another can of milk.  Bring the pot up to the boil.

Put the Basmati rice onto a medium/hot heat*.

Cover the curry, turn heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes (just check the vegetables to see if they’re cooking nicely).

When they’re nearly cooked, line the salmon fillets, skin side up in the pan and push them into the sauce so that they’re covered.  Cook for about 5 minutes. I usually peel the skin off whilst they’re floating on the top of the milk (fussy like that). Peek at the inside of one of the fillets to check the salmon is cooked through.

Then serve it up with the rice.

*Basmati rice is really really easy to do.  Grab a measuring jug and fill it with the rice to 200 ml.  Packets say to rinse it at this point – I never do!  Pop the rice into a small saucepan then measure out 400ml of water and pop that in the saucepan.  Don’t do anything else to it until you think all of the water is gone, then give it a stir to check.  When the water has gone, the rice should be cooked.

 

So…. versatility tips.

You can swap out the salmon for diced chicken (1-2 inch squares) – just pop them in so that they’re covered by the coconut milk and cook for about 15 minutes.  Take one one of the bigger cubes out and cut inside to check it’s white.

Salmon fillets only take an hour or so to defrost, so if you remember to take them out at breakfast, you can cook for lunch at the weekend. (Obviously same goes if you take them out at lunchtime…. you can have for supper).

You don’t need the fish sauce, palm sugar or soy sauce.  But as they all keep for ages, nice to have in the cupboard.

You don’t even need the salmon – which I think would make this a fully vegan option (if you leave out the fish sauce too).  It also makes it a very cheap option – teach your kids for future meals they have to pay for ;).

You can add some lime juice; it’s really nice and weirdly makes it more summery.

You can use any red curry paste.  I don’t have shares in blue dragon, but the little handy pots are about 80p and can be kept in the cupboard.  It’s also not a ‘catch at the back of the throat’ curry paste.  So younger teens can eat this curry without having to run to the fridge for a glass of milk.

Blue Dragon red curry paste

Enjoy.

My coconut curry

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Capturing the randomness of a child’s mind

I like to think that my thought processes can be pretty random.  I remember very clearly at the age of 13 my english teacher asking the class to write a ‘stream of consciousness’ right there and then. I can only assume that we were studying Catcher in the Rye at the time.  That particular english teacher was one of those 1980’s cool teachers who wore dangly earrings, had mad mad mad almost mad hatter hair that she was constantly trying to control with her whole hand and a weird, contortion of long leg folding to sit on top of the desk rather than a chair.  You see, streams of consciousness; I like the randomness of them and if you’ve read this or any other paragraph of my writing, you can see I’ve run with it…

But however random I get, it is nothing to the near lunacy of little ones. The nano-second it can take them from ‘I want  a balloon’ to ‘ooh, that’s a corner of a table I’m not actually thinking about whilst searching for a twinkly thing I saw 2 seconds ago, but why does that woman have a… no she’s gone’.  You get what I mean.  And during these weird 10 second trains of thought, we, as parents can only look at them as their faces change; from excited, scared, perplexed and then through all of the expressions possible that will usually lead to a gormless stillness that will leave you, as the parent, wondering if they’ll ever be able to read, or write, or even remember their own name.

Creating the ‘This is my…’ range of books was really an answer to my need to capture that randomness.  To keep hold of memories that come directly from them, those gormless, chubby faces with personalities forming and vehement opinions that can change and be just as forcefully argued in the opposite only minutes later.

And so the “This is my” books were created. Originally accompanied by a 35mm camera, the resultant photos were priceless.  They were simple cameras, a little square window for a child to look through and a button to press to take the photo, followed by a pass to mum to wind on.  My children would often not bother with the looking into the little square and the resultant images were perfect.  A photo of his twin brother’s cheek and a bit of an eye; an image of a foot in a padder, now long gone; an unidentifiable mass of matter on a plastic plate.  And that doesn’t even touch on the number of photos of my bum – what an eye opener that was! (I mean, because that’s all they got to see most of the day!).

The book would guide them through which photos to take – and would have questions for them to answer.  And this is where the randomness would come to the fore.  In their first books, I would have to do the writing, so I would ask them the questions.  And they would answer with that honesty, integrity, seriousness and thoughtfulness that only a three year old can muster when asked ‘what did you like the most about your bed on holiday’.

And there I would sit, keeping a straight face to match theirs as they answered questions in their books.  “What did you like about the bed” – answers would include “It was colourful” (and the photograph to accompany that answer shows the most migraine inducing swirl of psychedelia that I’m surprised I didn’t remember it). The proximity of the bed to a television would also be another excellent reason.

Their ‘favourite bit about the journey’ were invariably the ‘snack’ and the photograph of something that they really “like to eat on holiday” was often the breakfast pastry.  And I love that.

Other questions in other books would induce brutally honest answers – no sensibilities when it came to naming favourite gifts at Christmas or on their birthdays.  It was often the piece of plastic tat bought for them by a childless friend (the piece of plastic tat that I had already earmarked to be sent to the charity shop as soon as their backs were turned).

I love every photo and every answer and I have them all because I got to record it all in the books that I had created for just that purpose.  Their photos were brilliant, their answers completely and utterly random and slightly insane, their funny spelling of words and their awkward less than perfect handwriting when they took over the filling out for themselves.  Because keeping childhood memories alive and doing so effortlessly and with laughter is what they always meant to be.  And I’m rather proud of how well they worked out.

I still look back on them, and those books are here with me, just waiting to be handed around on wedding days….

which will teach them for not consistently name checking my gift as their favourite each year.

 

All of the ‘This is my….’ memory books (including Day as a Bridesmaid, Day as Pageboy and other wedding titles as well as ‘This is my Baby Brother and This is my Baby Sister’ versions for siblings) will soon be available here on memorybooks.co.uk, but until then, they are readily available on our MotherShip site: 2littleboys.co.uk.

This is my Holiday Memory Book for kids

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Children, Patterns and Looking Up

My first ever ‘proper’ camera was for my 18th birthday.  (At this point, I can hear my teenage offspring pipe in with ‘they had CAMERAS when you were 18.’  Still…. moving swiftly on). My 18th birthday present was an SLR camera, it was black, it was heavy and I thought it was an utterly pointless 18th birthday present.

Yes, I have been and still can be an ungrateful bitch.

So on my 18th birthday, I snapped away until the button could no longer be pressed and took the film to Underwoods the Chemist in Victoria. Using a bewitching form of alchemy, they turned the metal canister of film into actual photographs that they then presented to me in a green and yellow envelope, in the process, they charged an exorbitant amount of money (photographs/process… see what I did there?… no… ok).  And so, from henceforth, the camera came out only on special occasions and gathered dust for the rest of the year.

Snap forward, if you will, a few years and I started to go on holidays.  I took photographs of hills, mountains, the sea, rivers, friends and the odd flower or two.  Oh, and my boyfriend; the ubiquitous selfie with camera balancing precariously on a rock, a table stacked with books, magazines, glasses cases to get to the right height or the car roof with a judicious use of the timer.

I’d then have Boots process the film (Underwoods closed down; I just wanted to show off my age and memory for triviality here) and on visits back to my parents’, I’d show them the holiday snaps and my father would flick through very very quickly and declare that there were not nearly enough photos of people.  “Why do I want to see pictures of mountains and lakes, it looks like every other mountain and lake. Take pictures of people”.  He sort of, kind of, had a point.  But still, I stopped showing him the holiday snaps.

And then I had children. And I took photo after photo after photo.  They were the most photogenic babies you’ve ever seen.  Actually, if I’m honest, my newborn daughter had an interesting look going on first thing.  After an extraordinarily difficult labour, I thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.  Then when the photos came back, I realised that, my God she’d looked Fugly).  Still… her head popped back into ummm, a head shape and she, quite simply, gets more beautiful every day, every week, every month… you get the point.

And I’m managing, once again, to get away from my point.

So, the kids grew older, they stopped spending their days in a thankfully vain attempt to damage themselves beyond repair and they eventually worked out that mum was constantly taking photos of them and that they weren’t too sure that they liked it that much.  But the bug had bitten me. I loved taking photos. Husband bought me a better camera and a zoom lens and I was off.

I took photographs of doorknobs, I took photographs of patterns made by mesh, by doors, by window frames, buildings, paving stones, mosaics, pillars, columns, clouds, flowers.  When you’ve got three kids to keep entertained, it’s important to find order in chaos and I suspect that this was what I was doing.  And I think I was doing it pretty damned well.

And then we found little cameras for the children and we would go on ‘mummy adventures’, grabbing a cab into London and becoming tourists and they would snap away. Because you can never see all of London and you can never capture it all on camera. Columbia Market, Borough Market, Houses of Parliament, Smithfields, SouthBank, Soho, Covent Garden, St Catherine’s Dock, Seven Dials, Hyde Park, Regents Park, St James’ Park, Green Park, Barbican, Tower Bridge, Hungerford Bridge and all between.  I’d tire us all out and there wouldn’t be moment of complaint of sore feet and we’d stop for a frozen yoghurt or a hot chocolate (seasonal choices, but way more random than that if I’m honest).  A Pizza Express pizza, or for a special treat, some dim sum in Soho where you can eat the fluffiest cloud bun ever (also known as a char sui bu).  And after lunch we’d keep going.

I taught them to look for beauty in buildings, and patterns in the everyday.  I told them to look above the gaudy shop fronts, to see their London through the ages – the old shop signs left long after the shop had left the building. The intricate details of stone-carving. Warehouse buildings now cafes and boutique shops.  And how moving your own body to different angles, you can get to see things from different angles that then, in turn photograph interesting angles. And they listened and they would stop in a street and look around and take a photo of something that you hadn’t noticed before and suddenly you’ll see an intricate chimney pot, or a detail on a window sill that could only have been created by a highly skilled craftsman many many years ago.

memories of looking up

These 9 images in a box are just some of the many photographs we took on our adventure days into town.  (Although I think top right is from our weekend away to Manchester). And I know that at least 7 of them were taken by my children when they were about this age….

2littleboystaking photographs

So, if you’re looking for a day out, just grab any old cameras or phones, take the kids and get them to look up…. just so long as they’re not standing in the middle of a road. Because then we’re back to that whole “attempting to damage themselves beyond repair.” and you should be past that stage by the time they’re into this sort of thing.

Or, you can always leave them at home, and take a wander around your home town and get to know it just a little bit better.  You’ll be surprised at what you’ve missed.

 

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and here are links to our 2 websites.  Memory Books for our award winning Yearbooks and 2littleboys for our award winning everything else 🙂

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Being Ahead of our Time!

I’m just going through some of our product images and found this one – I wrote the copy, the lovely Lenalisa designed it and it was published in 2006.  2006! 

For those who would like a gorgeous notebook/sketchbook to capture their moments, just click on the image to be taken to the MotherShip site.  I still use mine and I do love looking back.  Here’s what it says on the back of the book:

“Moments, we all have them.  The first time you hear “I love you”, your baby’s first steps, an amazing gig, a profound comment, a silly joke that made your stomach hurt, a truly awesome view.

Write them here, keep them for inspiration, for fun, for life.”

Actually, I think that’s rather nice.  #keepingmemories

moments-01