My 2012

So that’s it then. Farewell, 2012. What a lovely year you were, too. When we look back at you as time goes by, we’ll think of Union Jack bunting and soggy cucumber sandwiches, gold medals and yellow jerseys. You promised so much and, to all our surprise, delivered. A perfect Victoria sponge of a year.

The country at large had a good one and the Pramstead household did too. If our year could be summed up in a word, it would be ‘change’. A new baby, a new job and a house move all featured large. We’re ending the year in a different home in a different city and with an extra – albeit very small – person at the dinner table.

It’s been busy but somehow I’ve found time to blog occasionally too. Here’s a round-up of what inspired me to put fingers to keyboard in 2012:

In January I pondered how we’re meant to juggle home and work, and contemplated advertising for half a wife. I wrote a little about one of my favourite places, Dunwich beach in Suffolk, and became increasingly cross about all the stupid things people were saying to me as a pregnant woman. With babies on the brain, I also wrote about my experience of hypnobirthing.

In February I was excited to discover at the 20 week scan that I was having a girl, and was convinced that I wouldn’t be dressing her from head to toe in pink. I joined in a February getting-to-know-you meme and celebrated Desert Island Discs’ 70th anniversary by choosing my own island soundtrack.

In March I swotted up on my pre-birth reading and shared my favourite pregnancy-to-toddler paperbacks. I also added my tuppence to the great Gina Ford debate (no prizes for guessing which camp I fall into. Routine? What routine?).

In April I laid bare the truth about life with a toddler. Warning: if you don’t already have children, steer clear of this post as it may put you off forever. I also let you into my secret Hampstead star-spotting hang-outs.

By May I was heavily pregnant and thought it was a good time to share my tips for a healthier pregnancy. I pondered the pitfalls of choosing a baby’s name and became increasingly irate about not being offered a seat on the train. I also contemplated how different my little boy’s life will be in My 21st Century Boy.

In June I wrote about the lies I tell to my son to make life easier, which I should really update as I’ve been embellishing the truth wildly since the baby was born.On the pregnancy front,I played the baby waiting game and pondered what to pack (or not) in my hospital bag. I went into labour on my due date and my lovely baby girl was born the next day.

In July I was in a world of non-stop breastfeeding so I compiled my breastfeeding essentials. I also had potty training on the mind, and put together a list of my top tips.

I had a mini sabbatical from blogging during the summer, preoccupied as I was with moving house and remembering what to do with a newborn. I re-emerged in September, writing from our new home and still working out how to juggle life with two children.

In October the nights started drawing in and I started gathering my hibernation essentials. I contemplated the much-ignored ‘fourth trimester’ and how to survive it. Wall-to-wall media coverage of a horrible tragedy had me holding the children’s hands a little tighter and made me more paranoid than ever. Lastly I marveled at my newly discovered ability to drive and wondered when Little Boy would finally consider me an acceptable chauffeur.

In November I started weaning the baby and wondered, briefly, if I should encourage her to be meat-free. Driving the boy to nursery made me feel very grown-up and mum-like, and I thought about some of the ways that being a mum has changed me. I also signed up to a university study during which the baby will record everything she hears in our house for two days. And then regretted it.

December brought a glut of festive posts including tips for a thrifty Christmas, a round-up of our homemade efforts and excitement at the prospect of our first proper family Christmas. Sadly Father Christmas failed to bring what was at the top of my list: a decent night’s sleep. I’ll beckon in another year muttering my favourite mantra: it’s just a phase, it’s just a phase, it’s just a phase…

I hope you’ve had a fun and fulfilling 2012, and wish you all the best for a happy and healthy 2013.  

Posted in Lifestyle/other, Parenthood, Pregnancy | Tagged 2012, babies, parenting, round-up, toddlers, top tips | 2 Comments

Christmas Our Way

Merry ChristmasChristmas this year is going to be a little bit different. Ever since H and I got serious about each other the best part of a decade ago, Christmas has been a bit of a compromise. With four sets of parents between us, thanks to divorces on both sides, our Christmases have required much advance planning, diplomacy, and knowledge of the least bad service stations. We’d set off from London on Christmas Eve with a car full of gifts and, between then and the New Year, dip into four very different celebrations.

Although we enjoyed certain aspects of our four Christmases, it was getting increasingly difficult to manage. The car was full enough when we just had Little Boy in tow, but with Baby E on the scene there’s no space for a net of chocolate coins, let alone presents for the family and clothes for a week. While it was okay for us to be living out of suitcases for a week when we were just a couple, it doesn’t really seem fair for the children. This year Little Boy is really aware of and excited about Christmas for the first time and I think it’s important that we’re in our own home for it, establishing our own traditions and making memories.

It’s interesting how many variations there are on the traditional English Christmas. The elements are fairly standard – big meal, gifts, booze, family – but even within my own family there are very different ideas about the ‘right’ way to go about things: huge Nordic pine v no tree at all, boozy indulgent festive breakfast v bowl of muesli, beautifully v hastily wrapped gifts, big meal at lunch time v big meal at tea time. Thankfully the excruciating tradition of opening one present an hour is long gone, and I don’t intend to revive it.

This year I’m excited to be waking up on Christmas morning in my own house with my own little family. We’ll be creating our own version of Christmas rather than just piggy-backing everyone else’s. We’ll decide what to eat on Christmas morning, when to open presents, what to wear and what to watch. We’ll do things our way. H is fairly relaxed about Christmas and happy to let me take the lead in deciding how we’ll celebrate, which is lucky as I’ve got some pretty strict rules for our festive happiness. Here are just a few:

  • The tree must be real. Fake trees are very practical but just don’t do it for me at all.
  • Start thinking about Christmas early, but not too early. Mid-November is about right for me. I enjoy the lead-up to the big day as much as the day itself, which is over in a flash.
  • Mince pies must be eaten warm.
  • The usual alcohol rules don’t apply; it’s never too early in the day for mulled wine or champagne.
  • Always Roses, never Quality Street.
  • Always The Radio Times never The TV Times.
  • Gifts must be thoughtful but needn’t be beautifully wrapped. We’re all a bit busy to be faffing about with endless reels of ribbon.
  • Joke gifts to be kept to a minimum – we’ve had our fair share of Cliff Richard calendars over the years and it’s not that funny.
  • A Christmas walk might be talked about but we won’t berate ourselves if it doesn’t happen (as it probably won’t).
  • Better to over-cater than risk running out of wine or food – a cardinal sin.
  • Boxing Day is for family, not shopping.
  • No scrooge-like behaviour is permitted. It’s a time for joy and kindness and counting your blessings.

Whatever you’re doing and however you celebrate, have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2013! Thanks for reading x

Posted in Lifestyle/other, Parenthood, Uncategorized | Tagged babies, children, christmas, divorce, parents, rules, traditions, tree | 9 Comments

A Homemade Christmas

I suspect that Santa’s elves would be pretty impressed by how industrious the boy and I have been in the run-up to Christmas. We’ve filled the gloomy winter days with crafts of various kinds, cheering ourselves up with sprinkles of glitter and the smell of freshly baked biscuits. The freezer is full of the goodies we’ve made, ready and waiting for hungry visitors. And our house is peppered with homemade decorations of all varieties, from baubles to wreaths and paper chains.   I’d planned for us to make tree decorations as gifts for the grandparents but Little Boy refuses to be parted from them, so our tree is now groaning under the weight of our felt creations.

Tasteful it’s not, I’m afraid. Much as I enjoy browsing the ordered show-home Christmases in the likes of The White Company catalogue, it’s not something I could (or would) replicate myself. I prefer things with a little less order and a lot more charm.

It’s been lovely turning our house into a festive home, although there have been moments when I’ve wished I’d just gone to a shop and thrown money at the problem. Wrestling with greaseproof paper to try to double-line the Christmas cake tin was one. How does Nigella make it look so effortless? And every time I spot glitter glinting at me from the baby’s scalp, I wonder if it’s worth the effort. On balance, though, I’m sure has been.

I like to think that some of the things we’ve made will last the course and make an annual appearance. Christmas is about nothing if not tradition. My Grannie, who I loved immensely, gave me an ornament each year for the tree. They’re hanging up now, beside the rough-around-the-edges felt decorations that the boy and I have made. She never met her great-grandson so it’s lovely to see them hanging there together. I’d like to borrow her tradition and change it a bit, maybe making a decoration each year with the children. One day they can hang them on their own trees with their own families.

Here are a few of our creations.

Our fairyLittle owlNorwegian cinnamon biscuitsDecorationsNigella's didn't look like thisWreathRobins kissingAs I said, not chic but charming. Merry Christmas!

Posted in Lifestyle/other, Parenthood | Tagged christmas, craft, decorations, homemade, wreath | 3 Comments

Happy Birthday, Lovely Boy!


Dear beautiful boy,

A very happy birthday to you! I can hardly believe that you’re three already. You’ll no doubt get bored with me saying it each year, but it seems like only yesterday that you came into our lives to the sound of Nina Simone, snow falling outside the window.

Now look at you. You’re not a toddler any more but a big boy, as you love to tell me. When I came in to kiss you goodnight the day I brought your baby sister home from hospital, I was struck by the size of my first baby. In the twelve hours between me leaving in labour and coming back, you seemed to have doubled. It was as though you knew that you were the big sibling now, with new responsibilities, and that you had to stand taller.

I needn’t have worried about how you’d react to having a little sister. As far as I could tell, it was love at first sight. You’ve been incredibly patient with her and so helpful to me. You haven’t complained that I’ve been distracted and had less time to play with you, and you seem to really relish your new role as a big brother. You show her how to do things, read books to her and make her laugh much more than the rest of us can. You share your things with her and think about how she’s feeling. If she seems a bit grumpy, you get your ukulele and sing to her; if she looks bored, you drag the playmat through from the other room for her. The way she looks at you, I know that she adores you too.

This year has been one of huge change for all of us, and I couldn’t be more impressed with how you’ve coped. As well as welcoming a new baby, we packed up and left the only home you’ve ever known and moved 200 miles north. You left behind your nursery and your friends and trusted us when we assured you that it was for the best.

You’ve settled into your new life really well. You love that we live so close to the park and can hardly believe that your grandparents are a ten-minute drive away. After a shy start at your new nursery, you’re really enjoying it. Although we can’t go to London Zoo all the time any more, you seem happy with the National Railway Museum as a replacement. We can hear the steam trains from our kitchen. What could be better than that for a boy who loves vehicles?

This year you’re really aware of your birthday for the first time and can’t wait to see your cake with a number three on it. You said you’d like to go to the seaside for the day, but have now accepted it might be a bit cold so we’ll go next year when the weather is good. Don’t worry, we still have a fun day planned for you.

You’re really excited about Christmas, too, and are full of questions about Santa Claus. This morning you asked why he doesn’t use the front door instead of the chimney, and I agree that that would be much more sensible. You’ve helped to decorate the tree, draw in the Christmas cards and buy a present for your sister. We’ve made biscuits galore, watched the Christmas Peppa Pig DVD more than is advisable and sung Jingle Bells endlessly.

Lovely boy, I hope this year brings you even more joy and happiness than the last. You make us very happy and incredibly proud, and we love you very much.

All my love,

Mummy xxx

Posted in Parenthood | Tagged Birthday, happy birthday, moving house, nursery, sister, three years old | 4 Comments

Silent Sunday

Feeling festive

Image | Posted on by Primrose Hill | Tagged Silent Sunday | 1 Comment

The Cookbook Collector – and a giveaway!

A fragment

Packing my life into boxes earlier this year ahead of our house move was quite a revelation. I stumbled across all sorts of things I’d forgotten, like a tin full of congratulations cards from our wedding, the journal I wrote for Little Boy during his first year and a lovely handbag that’s in retirement as it won’t fit a nappy or packet of baby wipes. As I emptied out cupboards and drawers, I made a mental note that we need never buy any more of the following: batteries, light bulbs, French phrase books, Calpol, nappy sacks, socks, washing up sponges, iPhone chargers, plasters, paracetamol, international adaptor plugs or mosquito repellent, such is the stockpile that we’ve accumulated. By the time I’d filled several boxes with books with titles like A Scandinavian Christmas, Dough, and Eat Your Veg, I also realised that I’ve amassed rather a lot of cookery books.

Instead of doing something more useful like defrosting the freezer, I totted up my stash. It turns out that I have over a hundred volumes of varying size, shape, style and speciality. Whether I want to knock up a fragrant curry, learn how to create a wow-worthy birthday cake, construct a stunning summer salad, spend an afternoon making chutney or jam, cater for large numbers, concoct an indulgent pudding for date night, cook something for Little Boy that’s delicious and disguises the veg or plan campfire suppers for our holiday, somewhere on my buckling bookshelves I’ll find the answer.

I guess my collection is no surprise when I consider that I’ve been cooking for over two decades. I started slowly, using the simple books my mum gave me as a child, like the Peter Rabbit cookery book (lovely fresh lemonade, easy shortbread biscuits) and recipes from the Blue Peter annual (biscuits again – peanut butter ones this time). Later, during my student years, I had plenty of time to hone my skills. Ah, the joy of an arts degree! Mum wanted to make sure I ate properly away from home – at least occasionally – so she secreted a copy of Delia’s Complete Cookery Course into one of my many suitcases. I was too busy having fun in my first year to make my own pasta sauce, but by second year I’d moved from halls into a nice flat with a decent kitchen and spent more time at home. While my flatmates contemplated penne and pesto for the sixth night in a row, I’d put together a veggie lasagne from scratch or make large pots of soup. On special occasions I made stacks of cream-filled, chocolate covered profiteroles. I loved seeing other people take pleasure from what I’d made and I’ve been cooking ever since.

Just as my mum cooked for me (and often still does, I’m happy to say), I now cook for my own little family. Provided that the baby isn’t crying for attention and the boy is happy playing, I like pottering in the kitchen. H will occasionally offer to cook but I’d actually rather do it myself. In theory it’s time for me to have a bit of peace and quiet, but of course it doesn’t always work out like that. I’m now adept at stirring and chopping with a baby on one hip. Although I love to try out new recipes and authors, I have a number of trusty books that I turn to often if I want something delicious and reliable. These are some of my favourites:

For my fussy boy: The River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook

For the boy If I have random veg that I can’t think of a use for: Riverford Farm Cook Book Random vegFor festive delights: Nigella Christmas

NigellaFor brilliant store cupboard standbys: River Cottage Veg Everyday!

Veg Everyday For fantastic bread: Richard Bertinet’s Dough DoughFor brilliant cakes and biscuits: Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet Sticker not includedDon’t get me wrong – I’m no Nigella. I’m an enthusiastic home cook, more rustic than Roux. On the whole I enjoy making and eating healthy vegetarian food (though I’m not averse to the odd pie, and I do love a pudding). Tonight, for example, we had an Ottolenghi root vegetable tagine and Little Boy had a cauliflower and broccoli gratin from the River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook. All very nice, but I’m unlikely to be meeting John Torode or Gregg Wallace any time soon.

No, the real star cook in my family is my brother. When my mum decided to teach us all the kitchen basics so that we could fend for ourselves once we left home, I doubt she anticipated that Sam would go on to publish several cookery books and have them translated throughout the world. He started writing recipes at the tender age of fourteen and is now onto his sixth book – Virgin to Veteran: How to Get Cooking With Confidence. He’s travelled the world to promote the books, been on Blue Peter and hasn’t even graduated yet. If I didn’t love him so much, I’m sure I’d be well within my rights to hate him.

As it is, I’m not a competitive sibling and I couldn’t be more pleased for him. Each of the books is fantastic. I use his vegetarian one, Eat Vegetarian, all the time. The recipes are simple, generally pretty healthy and use ingredients that I have in as standard, so I don’t need to shop for them specially. If I’m trying to cut back on the food bills, I’ve been known to use his Student Cookbook a lot too. At the moment I’m trying out recipes from Virgin to Veteran. The caponata and polenta dish is absolutely delicious, and the egg banjo (a fried egg sandwich by any other name) has become a Sunday morning favourite in our household. I know, having had the pleasure of taking part in some of the testing sessions, that all the recipes work because they’ve all been tested to within an inch of their lives. I’m delighted to have all of Sam’s books take pride of place in my ever-growing cookbook collection.

A giveaway!

The prize

Sam has kindly signed one copy of Virgin to Veteran for me to give away. If you would like to enter (UK residents only, I’m afraid), please leave a comment below (together with a means of contacting you) telling me what your favourite Christmas food is. I will choose a winner at random at midnight on Sunday 16th December.

*This isn’t a sponsored post, but if Sam would like to cook me something lovely over Christmas, I won’t say no.*

Posted in Lifestyle/other, Parenthood | Tagged collections, cookbook, kitchen, moving house, nigella, recipes, river cottage, sam stern | 5 Comments

Just a Phase

Over the last few weeks I’ve woken up most mornings to find myself starring in a scene reminiscent of Charlie’s house in ‘…and the Chocolate Factory‘ fame. Like Charlie and his grandparents, the four of us are crammed into one bed, vying for space. The baby is in the crook of my left arm (which is tingling from being in an unnatural baby-guarding position all night); the toddler is splayed out to my right, in a position designed to ensure maximum mattress coverage. One Toy Story-slippered foot digs into my rib cage, the other is AWOL. H, meanwhile, teeters on the other edge of the bed, uncomfortable but somehow snoring. Living the dream this is not.

It started a month or so ago. For some unfathomable reason, Baby E – previously a sleeper extraordinaire – simply forgot how to sleep through the night. It was bad enough to be back to feeding her every two hours, but she wouldn’t even settle in the evenings. On many occasions she ended up downstairs with us, still grinning and gurgling at 10pm and showing no signs of fatigue. It’s fair to say that it slightly spoilt the tension of Homeland, and for once I was grateful for The Killing’s subtitles.

Losing the evenings like that is no fun. I can just about handle full-on parenting from 7am until 7pm – give or take – as long as I get a bit of an evening. Clearly the children missed that particular memo. It’s not that I do anything particularly interesting post-baby bedtime, but having a chunk of time when I’m not holding/changing/feeding/soothing/negotiating/supervising is a sanity-saver. Spending endless evenings trying to get the baby to sleep was pretty tedious, and a few times I surrendered and put us both to bed long before the watershed.

Unfortunately her incessant feeding and general refusal to sleep at the right times was accompanied by an aversion to sleeping in her cot. Only our bed would do, apparently. And while I started every night with a steely resolve to only let her sleep in her own bed, in the middle of the night I’d inevitably crumble, desperate for a few minutes of peace.

To make matters worse, at around the same time Little Boy decided that he also preferred our bed to his own. He’d go down to sleep fine in his own bed at the usual time, but at some point during the night would either shout for us to come and get him or just creep into our bed unannounced, tunneling under the duvet like a marine in training. Attempts to get him back into his own bed were futile and, to be honest, half-hearted. I suspect he thought there was a party going on that he didn’t want to miss, and there was no negotiating with him.

For the first couple of nights it was annoying but manageable. A week on and it was still happening, so I started googling for answers: a growth spurt for the baby perhaps? Or did she need to move into the big cot? Would a bigger bed make Little Boy more inclined to stay put? As broken night followed broken night, we pondered the possible reasons and made a few changes: beds were shifted about, mattresses ordered, duvet covers purchased, a new structure of bribes devised.

In hindsight I’m kind of surprised we managed not to completely lose the plot: as all parents know, a month is a long time to be totally sleep deprived. But the other thing parents know is that these things are usually just a phase. With Baby E, I’m more aware of that than ever and am much more relaxed as a result. It’s my mantra, and it generally holds true.

First time around, I had no idea just how short-lived most of the boy’s fads would be. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have worried so much. There was the sleeping in our bed phase, the only eating breadsticks phase, the refusal to wear gloves in deepest winter phase, the slapping at nursery phase (eek), the shy phase, the tongue sticking out phase and the shouty phase, among many others. Mercifully all have been and gone. The ‘refusal to sit down in the bath’ phase outstayed its welcome, lasting just over a year. And we’re still in the bizarre ‘removal of all footwear in restaurants and cafes’ phase. But as for the sleeping, I’m pleased to say that both the baby and her brother seem to have settled down and are happy in their own beds. I’ve got my evenings back and I couldn’t be happier if I’d found the golden ticket.

Posted in Parenthood | Tagged Baby, bed, children, fads, homeland, just a phase, mattress, parenthood, sleep, the killing, toddler | 5 Comments