Find the dinosaurs, look at the sparkles

In The Child’s first year of life, I part-filled a few empty plastic drink bottles with rice, pasta, dried beans, and beads so she could shake them around and be delighted by them. Now she’s older they’ve been neglected a bit, so I thought I might try something else, as per this family’s much more organised and crafty I-Spy bottles.

Sensory bottles... ish

I found three miniature dinosaurs in a charity shop (The Child currently quite likes dinosaurs, wait till she’s old enough to understand that birds and dinosaurs are related — that’s going to blow her mind) and got some shaped sequins from a discount bookshop. As I could barely wait once we got home, I immediately set about refreshing her ‘sensory’ bottles.

The Internet said children would spend ages looking at the bottles. It would help calm them down, it said. The Child was pretty fascinated for about ten minutes, then went back to trying to throw herself off our chairs and poke holes in the pears (and as a bonus, that rhymes).

I’ll take whatever few minutes I get, though. She found them somewhat interesting the next day while strapped into a car seat, and I’m going to make a beach-themed one next since the Internet’s promised me that one will really chill children out.

‘Real nappies’, or how a new shopping addiction begins

Until I looked into buying cloth nappies for The Child (while she was still The Foetus), I had no idea so many types existed. The wonders of modern materials and manufacturing, I suppose. And sewing machines. Wow, the number of work at home mum nappy brands is quite mind-boggling. In the end I chose a two-part system, buying a set of Flips with stay-dry (fleece-topped microfibre) inserts.

What no one tells you is that buying cloth nappies can become a bit of an addiction, which I think I have controlled fairly well, having only gone on to purchase a small number of fitted bamboo and a few pocket nappies. While I could go crazy and try even more, The Child will probably start toilet-training in the next year to 18 months, so that would be a foolish purchase. Plus it means I can start buying training pants!

Fitted nappies are good but there’s something about them I just haven’t taken to.

Pocket nappies are easy to use but if you have a slim kid, they leak around the thighs, thus rendering them inconvenient.

Something I did not discover until recently was that in order to wash microfibre inserts effectively in a front-loading machine, you need to rinse them over and over again (not just a couple of times). The only reason I expect our inserts haven’t failed is because they’ve been rinsed just enough to retain absorbency, but in truth, they needed a good strip wash. So we did that, but to maintain the insert at the desired standard, I’d need to rinse for a full day, which uses far more water than I’m happy to.

I was tempted to go out and buy some (frankly not inexpensive) organic cotton prefold inserts, but did a ‘stay up till 2am’ research session and decided to go old school: we are nappying with cotton muslins. I fold the muslin into the same shape as a Flip insert (using a ‘Jo fold’*), and pop a paper liner on top. The Child’s nappy is checked and / or changed every two to three hours and it seems to be working, with no catastrophic leaks yet. Except virus-laden diarrhoea. But nothing will stop that from exploding.

The best thing about nappying this way is muslins are so incredibly cheap compared to purpose-made inserts, and a booster can always be added if needed. If you still use muslins for wiping up anything else (like your kid’s face), just buy some in a different colour.

Yes, in some ways using disposables would be easier, but our bin would be so full. And smell even worse than it already does. So yes, we’re a bit crunchy. I do a bit more laundry and throw out a bit less.

* Fold the corners in like a kite or diamond, then fold it into a rectangular pad.

Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on cloth nappies. I base what I’ve written on my experience with cloth-bumming one small person. The Child is not a heavy wetter, i.e. she doesn’t pee a hell of a lot, so your mileage may vary.

Hypothesis: fun and tiring activities early on will mean an early nap

Pre-experiment observations:
I was taking The Child to one of her favourite activities, but at a new time — and this time is usually spelled N-A-P. I surmised that if I tired her out quite thoroughly three hours beforehand, she would nap a couple of hours earlier than usual and be cheerful and full of beans, right on schedule.

Method:
A local baby and toddler group runs a morning session, and it takes place in a small soft play within a shopping mall. The Child likes it so much she bangs on the gate every time we walk by in said shopping mall, hoping to be let in. So I took her to the group and let her climb up the frame, run along to the slide, jump on the slide with her, land in the ball pit, and encourage her to climb out of the ball pit while she asks for “Slide? Slide?”. And repeat. And repeat. For an hour.

Sleeping child
At least she can sleep anywhere

Results:
Initial outcome is encouraging, with a snooze happening within ten minutes of snack time (actually, she fell asleep eating a piece of cheese).

Further experimentation required:
As this is to be a weekly term-time event, The Child may wise up to my dastardly scheme and either refuse to sleep so she is totally knackered and even worse than grumpy, or sleep so long that I have to wake her and she becomes grumpy.

Weighing in on the post-baby body

Some people lose weight easily and find it a struggle to gain. I am one of those people. Some may consider this very lucky, but after I had three emergency surgeries for an undetected ovarian ectopic pregnancy, I found it really difficult to regain the weight I’d lost while being unable / unwilling to eat much and puking my guts up in hospital.

post-surgery hand
Becoming way too thin is not attractive

On the other hand, I happily put on 14 kilogrammes when I was pregnant with The Child, and she only weighed a little over two when she was born. The reality is you will have that tummy flap for quite a while after delivery — your abdominal skin has stretched and it needs time to regain its elasticity.

It ended up taking me about five months to go back to my pre-pregnancy weight. I didn’t go on a diet, I didn’t start an exercise regime. While I’m ‘lucky’ to have skinny genes, I think a few things really made a difference in how my body changed during and after pregnancy.

  • Your baby benefits when you breastfeed, and so do you. My body works hard to make milk (and has been doing so for the last 20 months), so The Child feeding at least a couple of times a night and quite a few times during the day is the main reason why I am bloody starving all the time. Sometimes I just need calories, so I eat pretty much anything I can get my hands on.
  • Use your buggy or baby carrier and walk everywhere (within reason, of course). The Child gets lots of fresh air — which helps her get sleepy — and so do I. Be brisk, but there’s no need to go nuts. If you have a jogger (one of those three-wheeled numbers), I expect you already know you can go running with them*. I briefly joined a community gym that let The Child hang out during a circuits class; I even used her (as a weight) in the workout sometimes, but her changing social calendar soon put an end to that.
  • If you get a chance to take your toddler to a soft play (i.e. an indoor playground with lots of foam protecting all hard edges), don’t just sit and chat with your friends. Chase your kid around within the play area. You’ll be the ‘fun parent’ for a while and get some cardiovascular exercise at the same time.

*As an aside, I plan to join in my local Parkrun as soon as my schedule allows. I signed up while we were still living in Scotland, i.e. pre-2011, and I’ve never turned up for one yet. One can always hope.

Cook: ‘fried’ rice

fried rice
This iteration includes chicken, carrots, onion, and courgette

This is a doddle. And a major cheat, which makes it ‘inauthentic’. I’d say pretty much all fried rice recipes call for leftover or precooked and chilled rice as it keeps the rice grains nice and dry, but I don’t like to take too many risks too often with rice (the bacteria Bacillus cereus can live in rice and high temperatures in reheating won’t kill it).

You’ll need:

Vegetables, chopped (how finely is up to you, if you’re baby-led weaning, keep them chunky)
Garlic, finely chopped or sliced
Chicken or your preferred protein, small dice
1 or 2 eggs, beaten, optional
1 tbsp vegetable oil, plus a little more to lubricate your pan / wok
A paper towel (seriously)

For the sauce:
A splash of light soy sauce
A splash of Shaoxing wine
2 tsp oyster sauce, optional
1 tsp chilli bean paste, optional
A splash of dark soy sauce, optional
A splash of fish sauce, optional

Prepare the pan: dribble a little oil into the pan and wipe it around with a paper towel, making sure it’s all slightly oily. This will help keep the ingredients from sticking to your pan.

Cook the rice: use a rice cooker and follow the instructions. They’re cheap to buy and easy to use. And if it cooks and switches to the keep warm setting for a while, it’ll dry the rice out quite well.

Cook the protein and vegetables: heat the oil in your pan or wok, swirl it around. Throw in the garlic, followed about 30 seconds later by the vegetables. Once they are mostly cooked to your liking, make a space in the middle and throw in your protein. Give it a minute or two, then stir it around. If you’re adding eggs, wait until the protein is mostly cooked, make another space in the middle, and add your eggs. Wait a minute, then stir it all around until it’s all cooked. Turn the heat right down, then stir through your sauce mixture (aside from the kind of mandatory light soy and Shaoxing wine, use whatever you think would be nice).

The very lazy part: check that your rice is cooked, then tip all your stir-fry into the rice cooker and mix well (credit goes to The Husband for doing this the first time, and the habit’s stuck). Done.

I can usually get this on the table within about half an hour after The Husband gets home (he keeps The Child entertained) — which is pretty good, I reckon!