The End

This blog is now closed. The story continues over on Flip Flops and Flying Carpets.

Thank you for reading.

Dear Emily (Six Months of You)

Dear Emily,

You're six months old today. No matter how many times I repeat that to myself, I can barely believe it: Just six short months ago I was meeting you for the first time, a face I'd longed to lay eyes on for what felt like a lifetime. Your lifetime.

Six months ago I carried you easily in one arm. You weighed 3 kilos and were barely as long as my forearm. Now you're quite a bit bigger, seemingly taller every day and nearing 8 kilos!

Back then, we slept with the lights on, scared to disturb your sacred sleep with the turning on and off of lights as you lay snuggled in the Moses basket beside our bed. Now you're in your big bed and in your own room, loving the space, arms stretched out as would your legs be, I know, if they weren't confined to your sleeping bag.

For weeks after you were born your Daddy felt like a taxi driver - I sat in the backseat with you. You hated the carseat and wailed whenever you were put into it. Slowly you adjusted (assisted by my realisation that it was the newborn head support that you hated!) and began to love car rides, only to come full circle - you currently don't fancy car rides again and this time, there's no headrest to remove! (But now I sit up front near Daddy.)


Back then we timed our outings to fit between your feeds. We aimed to avoid feeding you out of the house as much as possible as we weren't sure we'd remembered to take everything with us. Your Nappy Bag has now become streamlined to perfection. There's a backup for everything in there, it's hard to go wrong.

We know you like the colour lilac and things that light up. You're ticklish almost everywhere - but especially your neck! - and you're developing a brilliant sense of humour. You squish your nose up to smile, just like I sometimes do, and your eyebrows are always on the move, wiggling about, full of expression. Your beautiful grey eyes take in everything, your little fingers explore whatever they can grasp, tongue trying to taste anything that gets close enough. You gaze up at us in awe, hands reached out feeling our faces and stroking different textures: skin, hair, clothes. Then I nuzzle your neck and you giggle, eyes begging for more.

I will never stop being thankful for you, my happy-go-lucky, beautiful little bundle of joy. I could not have asked for more.

Mummy x



Dear Self,
Well done. You've survived six months.
Me

Naa

I knew, when I got pregnant, there would be lots of baby shopping to be done. I knew that once Emily was around, I would magically find myself in the baby section in every shop that has one, whether or not I went in meaning to end up there. And I knew I'd need to hold myself back from buying everything. Often.

And I do well. I've been very practical so far. I only buy clothing that I know I am comfortable having her in. I try and ensure she doesn't have a gazillion pairs of trousers that she'll never wear simply because they're cute. And when there's something I truly can't resist but I know that her current wardrobe is not missing anything, then I buy a size up (or in one case, because it was very much a summer item, I ended up getting it in a size 18 months...)

But there has been one thing that I have found myself losing my practicality brain cell over.

Blankets.

There is something, just something, about blankets, that I love. It may be the fact that Emily can never actually grow out of them, although there are some that a 20 year old may, perhaps, not be able to get away with. It might be a spin-off from my airline blanket kleptomania. It may just be a whimsical, nonsensical thing. But blankets are my weakness (and no, I don't steal them).

Cotton blankets, fluffy blankets, plain, patterned, even cellular blankets. Pink, cream, and even blue blankets. It makes no difference. They can't escape me.


Some of my current favourites:
Meadow Blanket - No Added Sugar
Starry Night Velour and Jersey Pram Blanket - Babies R Us
Baby K Knitted Blanket - Mothercare
Made With Love Woven Blanket - Mamas & Papas
Cotton Baby Blanket - Not on the High Street
Blossom Jersey Blanket - John Lewis


(The title of this post, Naa, is the name of the blanket that belonged to one of my little sisters. It was that blanket that she took everywhere, used winter and stifling hot summer, and wouldn't allow into the washing machine. She called it Naa because it was her way of saying "Nice", and her blanket certainly was that - in her eyes, anyway.)

Baby Equipment Reviews - Part 3 - Travel Edition

This post lists a few items used during our trip to Malta and our long weekend to the Isle of Wight in April, and my opinion of their usefulness and functionality.

Samsonite Pop-Up Travel Cot
Knowing that I am somewhat incapable of travelling light, I didn't want a cot that added another 7kg or so to my luggage. This cot is a pop-up cot (you just need to push 4 rods into the seams, very easily) and the entire thing, in it's bag, weighs just 2.17kg.

It's a nifty little thing, and takes up far less space than the traditional travel cot. However it is at ground level, so you may want to keep that in mind if you have back problems.

The mattress is included but is in my opinion too thin. What we did was fold a blanket underneath it for extra padding and Emily happily slept in it for over a week in Malta. There is an inflatable mattress you can buy but it is expensive and adds weight and I have not read a single good review, so I opted out!

As for the cot itself however, I highly recommend it. It comes in 4 colours: Cafe Creme, Lemon&Lime, Aubergine, and Baby Pink. Insect nets are in-built and the cot is basically a little insect-proof bubble, thanks to the zipped "door" on the front.


Oasis Disposable Sterilizer Bags
It is things like these that make me thankful I am no longer sterilising bottles. Don't get me wrong, they're very handy bags to have when going on holiday. They're made of tough plastic with a drawstring and a sterilising tablet ready inside the bags. All you need to do is add water and bottles/dummies and they are sterilised in 30 minutes. What's even better is that you can keep using the same bag for 24 hours, then just start a new one.

However, needless to say, when full of water, the bag is HEAVY. There is no way I'd happily hang it off a door handle as it suggests. Also, being a plastic bag and therefore not solid, makes the whole thing involve a bit more faff. Water can splash out easily and you can't expect more than a couple bottles to fit into the bag at the same time (although I do use Dr Brown's bottles which are larger than most).

Having said all that, there really is no easier alternative. It's certainly lighter than carrying a steriliser (steam or cold) about with you. They work - and they work well - but just be ready to need some patience when using these bags!

[While I'm at it - should anyone be interested in buying these, I'm selling some here.]


Infantino Twist and Fold Activity Gym
This isn't really specifically a travel mat, but while we were away, we wanted to have something for Emily as entertainment (other than just random toys). She loves lying on her playmat but there was no way we could take our Rainforest one (which is also brilliant and she loves the lights on that one!). A friend had bought this Infantino mat for her son and when I saw how easily it folded up, and how much Emily enjoyed it, we got this as a second playmat and then also took it with us to Malta.

Sure, it still took up a lot of space in her suitcase, but the point is it DID fit in the suitcase, along with everything else I needed to take along for her. I would recommend it as a travel mat, as well as a space-efficient option! It's so easy to hide away when not in use, and then so easy to open up again - even with just one hand.

The downside is that the toys aren't very interactive but you can always add some more to the spare loops. However, even with this in mind, Emily really loves the toys that came with the mat. I guess the detailed patterns on the materials used intrigue her. It's also very pretty to look at :-)


Mothercare Spin Travel System (further review)
I've already reviewed the Spin and had some very good things to say about it. I do not retract any of the comments I have previously made.

However...

When it comes to travelling, Travel Systems are not ideal. Especially if, as in the case of the Spin (and most other travel systems around, admittedly), the chassis and the seat come apart in order to fold the pushchair down. Airlines will (perhaps somewhat begrudgingly) provide you with two tags to attach to the separate parts of the pushchair, however it is always going to be easier, come time to fold it up FAST with a queue of people waiting behind you, if the pushchair simply folds into one compact thing to be handed over to luggage handlers.

Instead, you have two rather bulky items. Luggage handlers always assume pushchairs come in one piece, it seems (we were made to wait while they looked for the second part of ours on the plane upon our return).

Also consider public transport when travelling. Are you going to need to collapse the pushchair when getting onto buses/metro/etc? How easy is it going to be? In the case of the Spin, near impossible.

Another negative point to the Spin that has come to light recently is that, in pushchair mode, the seat reclines fully but does not sit entirely upright. Emily is a very alert baby, loves sitting straight up, but is unable to in the Spin and gets very frustrated - pushing against the harness in protest! - as a result of this.

We have since purchased a more compact stroller, review will eventually follow!

The Discovery of Taste

Weaning age guidelines are a little bit confusing at the moment. 3 months, 4 months, 6 months... you hear different versions. I held off on giving Emily any traditional puréed foods, even when she reached 4 months. By then I'd read up on Baby Led Weaning (BLW) and was entirely sold on the idea. When I first heard about it, all I could imagine was mess. And yes, mess is most certainly a feature. However, there are also so many benefits to letting a baby guide the way to the introduction of food. So I waited.

Emily has been chewing on toys and her hands for a few months now. One day in Malta, we handed her a raw carrot (washed, sliced in half lengthwise) as a teething aid. I figured it was hard and cold and might help. She grabbed onto it and sucked on it like her life depended on it.

I hadn't given it to her as "food", but her reaction got me wondering whether she might be ready (despite the fact that David and I are not - preparing for BLW has made us realise the huge amount of junk that we eat on a daily basis and we are desperately trying to change that, but it's far from being an overnight process!)

I still wanted to wait until she was 6 months or older so I didn't try again. But later on that same day, as she sat on my lap while I ate (tried to eat) a piece of Maltese bread, she lunged at it, mouth wide open and arms outstretched. I was slightly taken aback at her enthusiasm.

I handed her the crust. Within minutes, it was reduced to mush and she was looking for more.

For several days, this didn't happen again so - especially as she'd only just turned 5 months - I didn't push it. But this week, I've begun offering vegetables and other items off my plate at lunchtime (when she happens to be awake for it!), simply placing them on her highchair tray and letting her get on with it if she wants to.

So far, she's tried some banana, parsnip, green bean, courgette, more carrot, plain spaghetti, tomato, and is already beginning to show preference (probably based on colour!). Her interest is not consistent but I am certain it will increase as she gets older.

It's an exciting time and watching her face register new tastes is magical. I am looking forward to the journey beginning in earnest.


Should anyone be interested in learning more about BLW (I know after mentioning it on twitter that it is not common knowledge to the extent I thought it would be), this is a book that has really helped: Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food.

I've also found these blog posts helpful and inspiring and I genuinely urge you to have a read:
- The Nursery Nurse on BLW: Getting Started and Tips for First Foods
- Dawnie Brown on BLW: Our Experience
- Mummykins on Starting BLW and several other posts
- Suburban Mummy on BLW & Self-Weaning and Dinner-Time

Eleven Days, Part 4

We'd initially booked an 8-day holiday. But when that was almost up, we decided we were having too much fun relaxing and since Emily had taken so well to the heat and the holiday in general, we should extend by a few days. So we did.

Return

And then all too soon, it was time to go home. And I had to pack. I hate packing. And when in Malta, we somehow end up with far more to take back up with us than we came down with (there's always the "oh yes, I meant to take that up with me five years ago" item...).

On the way down, we somehow managed to keep to our weight limit. Entirely unexpectedly, of course - I was sure we were a good 10kg overweight. But in the end, we stood at the check-in desk feeling like naughty teenagers, the numbers being added up, and we were at 50kg. Exactly our allowance: not a kilo more or a kilo less. We wouldn't have managed it better had we tried.

Considering, we were only 3 or 4kg overweight on the way back and the very kind check-in clerk let it go.

Also, note that Malta International Airport doesn't seem to have any restrictions on baby food. I didn't even need to taste the water in my flask this time round. (When one member of the security team pointed the flask out to her superviser, she got a pat on the back for spotting it on the x-ray machine and we were simply waved through.)

Air Malta, however, have no policy allowing families with children to board first, which is a little bit annoying when your baby is FAST ASLEEP and you know that having to board with the crowds will wake her up. This is something we intend to follow up on, however, as even Ryanair and Easyjet enforce this policy when flying out of Malta. Why not Air Malta?! A letter will be written!

Having said that, we were somewhat relieved to see that the policy is enforced for wheelchair users. We couldn't quite work out how that would otherwise work, not to mention it being entirely unfair.

So she woke up. Thus began the exhausting mental challenge of trying to (quietly) keep a 5-month old entertained while sitting down in a very tight space on an aircraft. It worked for all of four minutes.

Then I tried to give her some water for take-off and got screamed at (by her) as it was not milk. As previously mentioned, her feeds are somewhat predictable but this was completely unexpected. She'd drunk 7oz just 2 hours before! So we quickly threw together another feed and then she was happy.

Dinnertime on the plane involved David eating with two dinners on his tray while I entertained. He then held Emily high up over the trays while I quickly transferred the dinners onto my tray and he continued the entertainment while I ate.

We changed her nappy on our two open trays, with the small of her back over the gap.

I know we could have changed her in the loo, but there was something more fun about our way. Besides, I am the nappy changing queen. I can change a nappy quicker than you can say "she might pee everywhere" (she didn't), and I'm sure no one actually noticed.

And then, right on cue at her bedtime, she fell asleep in my arms, in a seat that was probably the only seat on the entire aircraft that was faulty and couldn't recline *shakes fist*.

An hour later, we landed and got off the plane and she woke up as the pushchair was unloaded and handed to us. And then there were the pretty ceiling lights again and she stared at them and at us with this huge silly grin on her face all the way to passport control.

We weren't worried, we knew she'd fall asleep in the car - and she did.

The next day, she was very obviously thrilled to be home. She seemed to be re-familiarising herself with every toy/piece of furniture/wall in the house with a huge amount of concentration all day.

We did very little else. She needed to catch up on sleep, I needed to catch up on laundry. It worked for us both.

I've got me a great baby.

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Eleven Days, Part 3

We have learnt, in the 24 weeks since Emily joined us, that there is only an extent to which you can control life with a baby. Routine is important, but cannot be the be all and end all. Some fluidity is important too. When we tried to keep to a rigid routine, all that happened was that life became hell.

Routine

So instead we have a "pattern" which we keep in mind and attempt to keep to, for Emily's sake. We know that at the moment she naps approximately 3 times a day, one short nap in the morning, a good 2-hour (ish) one in the early afternoon, and sometimes another short one late afternoon. They ebb and flow, but the general pattern is always there. Her feeds are also somewhat predictable. Her bedtime is what we keep to with more determination. She bathes at about 6:30pm, and is asleep by 7pm. When this is not the case, it often results in a meltdown on her part which has her up and screaming until 11pm (something that we wish we'd recognised when she was 2 months old).

So while in Malta, we kept this in mind. Her naps did suffer slightly until she got accustomed to sleeping in her pushchair since we were out most of the day (she usually naps in her cot), but her bedtime remained sacred. More often than not, she was so exhausted from the bit of "swimming" she'd done, that had we wanted to keep her awake we'd not have been able to anyway!

She was asleep by 7pm every night. And on some nights, we transferred her from cot to pushchair (having seen how very deeply she sleeps at night!) and went out for a walk along the promenade with our parents, and there was ice cream to be had in that sweet summer, waterside breeze.

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There were a few nights she even slept through. Again, I put it down to the huge amount of stimulation and activity she suddenly had added to her days. And she was loving it!

Eleven Days, Part 2

Our 11 days in Malta (our longest visit since we left 5 years ago!), was a hugely successful holiday. Our trips back usually involve us darting from one lunch date to another, followed by a couple dinner dates, allowing us very little swim or chill time, resulting in us needing a holiday once the "holiday" is over.

This time we were determined it would be different. Now that Emily is here, trips to Malta need to be mainly about her spending time with family and some very close friends. We did organise a generic "Meet Emily" party which was a huge success, but after that, our individual time was dedicated to family.

Swimming

We were lucky enough to have access to a private pool this time round, which also helped a huge deal. We were able to relax and enjoy the cool water in the hot sun while also enjoying family.

It was also to be Emily's first swimming experience. We weren't too sure what to expect as she has never quite been a fan of cool water. Her baths are nothing close to the recommended temperature... much, much warmer. I'd even go as far as to say hot.

So I wasn't too sure how well cold water would go down. But we were determined. She is Maltese after all, she can't not swim?! So we excitedly got her all dressed up in her full-body swimsuit, chuckled at how ridiculous and yet cute she looked, lathered her in sunblock, blew up her Zoggs ring, and pink fluffy towel in hand, headed towards the water.

Toes in. Face unsure. Splashed some water onto her legs. Face very unsure. Lowered her into the water some more. Face entirely unamused, frown growing by the second. But she wasn't crying so we brought the ring in and tried to get her into it. She was even less amused by that, especially when it turned out that despite saying it's for age 3-12 months, it was entirely too big for her and therefore completely useless. Zoggs ring was put to the side and not used again.

Back in our arms, she still hated the water. That day, her "swim" didn't last very long.

The next day, we tried again, this time armed with several of my niece's old sand and sea toys, but especially a bright red swimming lobster which she loved to bits. The bright colours kept her distracted while we lowered her further and further into the water until she was in up to her neck and not complaining.

She realised what we were up to a short while later and made it known that she was in no way amused and we were forced to take her back out.

Day three, I decided, on a whim, to use a regular swimsuit (ie not a full-body one). I am not sure whether that had anything to do with it, but that day, toys weren't even necessary. She was in, splashing and kicking away, loving it, for almost an hour!

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Although the lobster was never very far away...

There was no turning back after that. We all swam every day, and she loved it every day. Our little water baby in the making!

Eleven Days, Part 1

At the end of June, we ventured abroad for the first time with Emily for what would be her first visit to the "Homeland", Malta. Everyone was excited to meet her, expectations were high. I was just glad the flight was a short 3-hour one, and not any longer. My expectations didn't really exist past that flight. I just wanted to get through it sane and preferably not hated by every other passenger on the plane. Having been those people who begged God and anyone else who'd bother to listen to ensure we were not seated next to a baby on a flight, we were about to be The Parents of Infant on Flight... the same people the old us shot poisonous thoughts at. (I might be exaggerating a little.)

In the end, it wasn't so bad. And it turns out many people are far more patient than I expected them to be.

Getting There

We chose to drive to Heathrow to be able to use our own carseat for Emily. The baby equipment used on this trip was planned with military precision. David's parents managed to get their hands on not one, but TWO, carseats Malta-side for Emily so we only needed to take our own pushchair (and had we wanted, we had one of those in Malta too, we just chose to take our own for comfort's sake).

Now let me make one thing clear. Travel Systems are the very antithesis of travel systems. They make travel harder and do not, in the slightest way, deserve the name. We've come back from Malta researching strollers, but that's another story.

Our flights completely clashed with Emily's usual bedtime. We did as much as we could to keep to her routine and left the rest to chance. Come 7pm, of course, she wouldn't sleep. There was far too much going on in the exciting, lit-up ceilinged airport to want to sleep. So we got onto the flight at 9.15pm with a wide-eyed, grinning baby being cooed at by everyone who passed.

Then she realised she was overtired and disaster struck. All the cooers ate their words and turned to the heavens for divine intervention for a quiet flight. The stupid air hostess came over to me and asked me if she could do something to help with the baby. I passed a snarky comment which she completely didn't get. What did she expect to do? Knock Emily over the head with a lifejacket to make her sleep?

She did sleep eventually, about 10 minutes which felt like a lifetime later, as soon as the engines turned on (yes, that's right - we hadn't actually left yet!). And then she slept for the entire flight on David's deader-by-the-minute arm.

She slept through the idiots idiotic applauding when the pilot DID HIS JOB by landing the plane safely. She slept through the loud Mediterranean journey off the plane. Through passport control near the Italian desperately looking for his lost sunglasses (how could an Italian survive without sunglasses?!). Through the conveyor belt's loud beeping to let us know our suitcases were on the way. Through the two moustached security guards' calling Gary Neville (he was on our flight) across the terminal to ask if they could get a (very early mobile phone camera) picture with him. Through the family welcome and obligatory terminal catch-up at 1am. Through the battle with the carseat (we are somewhat spoiled with our Isofix here in the UK and had no idea how to secure the seat using just a seatbelt... yeah).

She eventually stirred when we got to the flat in Sliema and I transferred her to David, who gave her a quick bottle while I set up the travel cot, we laid her down and that was that. She got up at 7am the next morning.

All in all, I'd say it was a very good first experience!

Notes: I was very confused about how to take her feeds onto the plane, and was hugely reluctant to waste anything. I decided against taking cartons of ready made milk, instead taking a flask of boiled, cooled water, and powder in a dispenser. I'd heard so many "horror" stories about getting feeds past security, and official advice seems to change by the week. I only needed to take a small sip out of the flask and we were through.

However, should push come to shove, and you need to use shop-bought mineral water air-side, just try and ensure that the sodium (Na) level is less than 200 milligrams (mg) per litre, and the sulphate (SO or SO4) content is not higher than 250mg per litre. (more here)

The Malta Bus

Yesterday was an important day in Maltese history. It was the day the traditional Maltese bus stepped down, replaced by its modern Arriva counterpart.

Loved and hated in equal parts, the orange buses - some of which dated back to the 1950s, if not earlier - were an integral part of Maltese roads (read into that as you wish). There would always be one close by, ready to hoot it's obnoxious horn at anyone who dared get in the way. Having one close by, however, did not necessarily mean that you were guaranteed a lift if you were waiting at a bus stop. Sometimes, drivers would simply choose to keep driving.

The buses were driver-owned, which - amongst other things - meant that they could decorate the vehicles according to their personal (usually, religious) preference. Song lyrics also often adorned their huge windscreens. "No woman, no cry" for whatever quizzical reason being a favourite.

They were also, however, dirt cheap. I remember a time when a basic ride cost 11c (26 EUR cents/24 GBP pence). Prices did increase since the last time I used a bus on the island (I'm not entirely sure when exactly that was!) but fares were never what you could call expensive.

The new Arriva system has been greeted with mixed reactions. Some resent the inevitable fare increase, others look forward to a somewhat efficient public transport system on the island - even if just to relieve the country of some congestion on its roads (in 2010, there were almost as many cars on the island as there are people), the bus drivers themselves are none too pleased to have their beloved buses taken away from them. Others just look on and mock.

While it's high time for an efficient service to be introduced to the island, it is sad to see the big orange hulks go. They were a tourist attraction in their own right - for many, a visit to Malta may never be the same again.


[Read: The Final Journey]

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