Top 5 Family Friendly Activities in and around Cape Town, South Africa with a 2 year old

We enjoy a holiday in South Africa each year (travelling from Belgium) and last year (Dec 2017) was the first time that we really tried to find some family (toddler) friendly activities and venues to enjoy. Our daughter was just over 2 years old at the time and these were our top 5 favourites!

1. 2 Oceans Aquarium

Situated at the V&A waterfront, we spent at least 2hours wandering around through the aquarium enjoying the different tanks, interactive displays (including touch pools) and exhibits. As we arrived at the entrance, they also took our photo in front of a green screen and once we reached the last big tank, they had a pack of our photos ready for purchase (If I remember correctly, it was about R280 for 3 large photos (each with a different ocean based theme, 2 plastic keyrings and 3 keyring photos)). Animal feeding times vary (check their website for exact details), which we didn’t witness but we did manage to see divers in the big tank getting a turtle ready for her re-introduction to the ocean. The only part of the visit that our daughter did not enjoy was walking through the tunnel under the predator tank as the sharks swimming overhead clearly freaked her out.  It is stroller friendly, has nappy changing facilities and a café.


Opening hours: 09h30-18h00.
Prices: R165 per adult and free for children under the age of 4. (10% discount if you pre-book your tickets online)
http://www.aquarium.co.za

2. Duck parade at Vergenoegd Wine Estate in Stellenbosch

This vineyard does not use pesticides to rid their vines of bugs and snails, but rather relies on more than 1.000 Indian Runner ducks to eat them up! We arrived before their first duck parade to enjoy breakfast in their restaurant, a somewhat limited menu but everything was delicious and the weather was good enough that we could sit outside on their terrace facing the pond. The ducks (and a few geese) waddles across the lawn to the pond prior to starting work and after a social dip and gaggle, they were paraded across the grass (and main building) to the vineyards where they started their daily task (of eating). It is stroller friendly (although you probably don’t need it as it is a short walk from the parking area to the main house where the restaurant is)

Duck Parades: 10h30; 12h30 & 15h30 (Mon-Sun)
Prices: R10 entry fee per adult on entry and free for children under the age of 12. (This voucher can be redeemed against a purchase in their shop, restaurant or against one of their activities)
http://www.vergenoegd.co.za

3. Afternoon Tea at Rhodes Memorial Restaurant

Visiting Cape Town isn’t complete without a few gorgeous photographs and one of the perfect places to get some shots in, is at Rhodes Memorial, which is situated on the northern slope of Table Mountain with views across the Cape Flats to the Hottentots Holland Mountain range. There is a restaurant just next to the monument that serves up some of the best scones in Cape Town (not to mention tasty breakfast and lunch menu items). Plus they have a wonderfully maintained outdoor play area, which means that you can sit outside while your child enjoys some playtime!

Opening hours: 09h00-17h00 (Mon-Sun)
Reservations are essential on weekends and public holidays.

4. Picnic at Warwick Wine Estate in Stellenbosch

When the weather is perfect, book a picnic at this beautiful wine estate in Stellenbosch… especially if you can secure a place on the lawn. Not only do they have a splash fountain for children to enjoy, but there are also 2 climbing frame play areas on opposite sides of the picnic area and more than sufficient grassy area for children to play. Our daughter (along with the other toddlers in our group) spent most of the afternoon in their bathing costumes frolicking in the water. Be sure to book online well in advance.

Open 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Picnic Baskets: R550 for 2 people or R300 for a single person basket => includes seasonal salads, meat, bread, dips and dessert (no drinks). Children’s baskets cost R125 and contained similar items but in a more child friendly format.
http://www.warwick.com

5. Weltevreden Wine Estate in stellenbosch

Offering a large play area (called “Carnival” pictured below) including an on-site pizzeria; a fully stocked bar and a confectionary corner, there is more than enough to keep both parents and children occupied. A few steps away is their “proper” restaurant and a smaller play area with 2 plastic jungle gyms – which is where we enjoyed breakfast one sunny morning (but only because eating pizza for breakfast at a wine farm just didn’t feel right :)).

http://www.weltevredenestate.com

Our next trip back is planned for August this year and she will be almost 3years old then… if you have suggestions, then leave a comment below.

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It takes a village to raise a child

About a month ago, I read a FB post by a friend in the UK about “this stage of our life” which focused on the parenting role, along with the toll it takes on our lives (physically, emotionally & mentally) and the needs that we have as women. Those needs included asking for help, learning to accept the help offered; needing friends (and family), prioritizing quality time with your partner, embracing contentment, learning to say “no”; needing to pray, enjoying a glass of wine, etc.

And it rang so true that it has been on my mind for weeks and months. And was completely fitting with a blog post idea that I had last year about “how it takes a village” to raise a child. Even more so when you are an expat living thousands of kilometres (or on a different continent) from supportive family members. How your friendship base becomes your “new” family and how the smallest acts of kindness (sometimes even from strangers) can ease the load.

The Village concept is not just about “raising a child”, it is also about community spirit.

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Thank you for connecting. Sometimes a mom needs a girls night out, sometimes she needs a girls night in, sometimes she needs a glass of wine in the bath and an early night and sometimes she needs a date with her partner. Sometimes she has time to talk on the phone and sometimes she takes 2 days to respond to a message. Sometimes she can attend events alone and sometimes she can only attend with a child firmly attached to her hip. Sometimes she can’t attend at all but the best village is one where the invitations don’t dry up completely.

Thank you for giving parents a break. At a recent party, I watched as a 7month old baby was carefully passed from one lap to another in order to give the parents an opportunity to sit down and enjoy a drink, some food and uninterrupted conversation with the person next to them. Granted, the baby is one of the most adorable, sweetest and most content infants that I have ever encountered, but the fact that people were more than willing to “hold the baby” for a few moments (without being prompted), said more about them than it did about the young one. It made me proud to say that they were part of “my village”.

Thank you for helping hands. Not everyone is a fan of drooling, pooping, milky breath miniatures. But when a friend steps in to stay with your child for 40minutes while your husband needs to leave for work and you are rushing back from the airport after a business trip, they become a lifesaver. Same can be said for the friends who arrive at your front door with a ready-made meal and no intention of wanting to “visit”, knowing that your world is currently in absolute chaos and only wanting to ease the burden.

Thank you to fellow moms. You have become the lifesaving jacket on what sometimes feels like a sinking ship. Whatsapp conversations trading stories, advice or just providing a listening ear & support is the glue that helps me keep it together. Sharing fears & worries, but also rejoicing in the funny & joyous moments together. It doesn’t matter if we have differing parenting styles or opinions, there seems to be zero judgment, 100% support and the Village mentality is strong. Plus “moms night out” has become a monthly affair to keep our sanity in check.

Thank you to family members (near and in our case… very far). You may not be able to pop over to visit or step in to help at moments notice, but you are always there to listen and provide virtual hugs and support.

Last, but definitely not least… enormous gratitude to amazing partners. Providing physical, mental & emotional support to the mother of your child(ren) is what really makes this village tick. Hats off to single parents because without my amazing HIM, I would fall to pieces most days… so you ladies are truly super-heroes! And my HIM… well, he knows how much I appreciate everything he does!

A shout out to all of you for being a part of MY village! There are no words to describe how much your influence, presence and understanding is appreciated. I might not always be fully present but I am fully aware of the effort that YOU put in.

10 life lessons for my child(ren):

Life is hard. There are ups and downs, laughter and tears. You are not perfect and nor is anyone else. Friends will come and go. There is so much to do, see, taste and as parents, we only want the best for you. If I could wrap you in cotton wool to protect you from any discomfort, I would be tempted… but I also know that we learn from our mistakes, from the pain and from failure – so go out and do your best. That is all I ever ask… “YOUR” best, not anyone else’s. You don’t need to be first, but putting in effort and hard work will always pay off!

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I don’t claim to know everything, but I would like to share the following with you:

10 Life Lessons

  1. Love with all your heart. Show your loved ones how you feel in actions & words as much as you can. Putting yourself out there might get your heart broken in the future, but you will learn valuable lessons and be assured that you have given your all.
  2. Life experiences are better than material items. The latest smart phone will age, but memories (and the photos) will last so much longer. Try new things or foods. Travel and explore.
  3. Keep a nest egg. Save a little bit of money whenever you can and be prepared for rainy days (unexpected expenses pop up at the worst times!). Saving for a special item, occasion or travel adventure adds to the excitement of it all.
  4. Avoid debt. Almost impossible to buy property without incurring debt – but for everything else, save for it. A prized position or a travel experience will leave you with a longer feeling of happiness than when you need to return to a negative bank balance.
  5. Embrace education. Nobody can ever take knowledge away from you. A degree/diploma is “only” a piece of paper that says that you have the ability to learn, but it does provide a foot in the door. Accept every opportunity for growth & learning with open arms.
  6. Laugh. Laughter truly is the best medicine and is infectious… Make sure you giggle or belly laugh every single day. And smile… take every opportunity to smile at those around you, it doesn’t cost anything.
  7. Sharing is caring. Whether it is a moment of your time to listen to someone who is sad, a bite of your sandwich with your hungry best friend or a euro to the person begging at the street corner. If you can … make every opportunity to share the love in whatever form it is required. There is no greater reward than the feeling inside.
  8. Better to be kind, than to be right. An old saying – but so true. Kindness outweighs beauty, intelligence and humour every time. Which leads me to…
  9. Never fight dirty. Fighting is a normal cycle of life and no relationship is without its rocky roads. Avoid name calling or mud slinging – If the other person does, accept it and do not retaliate because anything said in the heat of the moment can not be taken back. You can glue a broken dish back together, but the cracks will always be visible.
  10. Learn to forgive & don’t be afraid to apologize. You are not perfect and nor is anyone else. Your actions and words will at some point hurt someone else & the same will be done to you. Sometimes you will be able to rectify the friendship with a genuine apology and sometimes you will need to learn to move on. Learn to let go of negative feelings and thoughts and rather hold onto happy memories. Every life cycle has good & bad turns, the truly positive aspects will always weather the storm and come out stronger.

Happy 2nd Birthday

Dearest Monkey,

Your 2nd birthday has arrived and I truly can’t believe how quickly another year has gone by and how much you have grown!

Since your 1st birthday, you have learnt to walk (and run and fall); grown a full mouth of teeth and are one of the most confident, independent little people that I know.  Papa and I think that you are absolutely perfect! (Except for the days when you throw a tantrum, refuse to eat or wont sleep….but we will omit those memories from this post)

You still aren’t speaking in a language that we fully understand, but there is a constant stream of sounds and singing coming out of you. Essentially, it is our “fault” for exposing you to three different languages. English with mama, Portuguese with papa & French at crèche. So, just as your walking was a bit late, I think your full conversations will take some time and this is ok, because you are pretty deft at indicating what you want and you mostly understand us. We did however laugh when we realised that your first official word was “du-du” (the French term for a pacifier/dummy) as you reached for it… From here, the rest of your vocabulary includes a few basics like “no”; “bonjour”; “au revoir”; “bye-bye”; “shoes”; “papa”; “baboon” (because he lives on her bedroom wall mural) and most recently “nonnie” (which includes the association to the iPad on which we skype her on).

From a food point of view, you are still not a fully fledged “foodie” – but preferring the “safe” route of Bolognese (because what child doesn’t love spag bol?); Papa’s rice salad; plain pasta; your Saturday morning croissant while I attempt to get our weekly shop done; scrambled eggs or an omelette; sausages & mash; fish fingers & oven chips and pretty much all fruit. And lets not forget cake & ice-cream (especially if it is cornetto cone held by either Papa or me!). All of these are kid friendly and absolute favourites. You may still resist exploring the taste portion of food, but you are 100% engaged in the preparation process, preferring to sit on the counter next to me while I chop, cook, bake etc… and at many times earning the title of “mommy’s little helper” as you eagerly dip your spoon/whisk into whatever dish I might be preparing.

“Energetic” should be your middle name. We joined a Little Gym class in Uccle for a weekly Saturday afternoon session this past year. Here, I quickly realised that trying to make you do what the rest of the class was doing was fruitless. Instead, we left you to explore the area independently, running, jumping and climbing over all the apparatus. Over time, you have (on your own accord) decided to participate in the “red mat” introductions and group activities and have found that your happy place is centre of the attention. You are an active & social little girl who thrives on exploration and independence. So I will do my best not to try to reign you in & tame you, but to rather let you blossom in the right environments!

I have now come to terms with the fact that I am unable to leave the room without you following me and no bathroom activity is without an audience. You use me as a climbing frame to get onto the couch or bed and I have learnt to do many things one handed as I carry you on my hip on the days that you need more “mommy body contact” time. One thing can be said… and that is that your hugs are the absolute best. I don’t know where you learnt it from, but when you embrace for a hug, you include a little pat on the person’s back as if to say “it’s ok; it’s alright” just before you disengage.

I am so proud to be your mama and I would never change a single thing about the last 2years (or even the 9months before that). There are days or times when my patience is put to the test… but in the famous words of my own mother: “I will ALWAYS love you… even if I sometimes don’t like you”. With that in mind, please know that my heart is so full of love for you and that I promise you that I will try to be the best mother that I can possibly be.
(and I know that Papa feels the same)

Hugs & kisses

xoxoxo

Pregnancy, Newborn and Family Photography: Bear and Dragon

The excitement of finding out that your family will grow and getting this momentous occasion captured in timeless pictures. Documenting the arrival of your very own miracle with a newborn photo shoot showcasing the awe & wonder of this new chapter. Seize the (family) day with memories of apple blossoms, bluebells or autumn leaves as you enjoy a family photo-shoot.

I am a firm believer in taking photographs and printing them out regularly! I used to make an annual photo album printed book for each year that I had lived in Europe and the adventures that I had experienced. My walls have always been covered with photo frames of memories and the photos inside these would change every couple of years.

One of the difficulties of being a parent is that you are rarely able to capture every single wonderful moment and rarely do you find yourself on the front side of the lens. If you do, it is probably unplanned, selfie or on your smart phone. (Please note – this is not me complaining, it is called “setting the scene/explaining”)

But, when I was pregnant in 2015 – I had the absolute pleasure of finding Nicole of Bear & Dragon Photography (via the website called The Village for pregnancy, birth & beyond in Belgium). Not only is she an absolutely wonderful, warm, fun & caring person but she takes such amazing photographs and makes you feel so relaxed and at home during the entire process! She is based just outside of Brussels (at the time, she was based IN Brussels) and offers indoor/outdoor sessions.

We signed up for the Seeds & Buds photoshoot => which allows for a 1hr pregnancy photo shoot followed up with a 3hr newborn photoshoot within 1-2weeks of their birth. 400€ & 30 images in total – but of course, you can select more images from the portfolio that you would like to have re-touched as well (at a cost of 10€ per image).

Our pregnancy session was full of love and Nicole would ask us to explain why we loved each other (helping to make our eyes shine with happiness) and also helped to relax us both. Considering that I had seriously swollen feet (and my fingers more so than usual) – I loved every image and it was difficult to only choose a few! It also allowed for us to get to know Nicole and for her to get to know us – meaning that it was essentially an ice-breaker for the newborn shoot.

The newborn shoot provided a very warm environment (to help monkey sleep and be comfortable half naked) and was more than long enough to allow for feeding, nappy changes, etc. She slept through most of it and Nicole had a tickle trunk of blankets, baskets, nappy covers, flowers, headbands etc – we didn’t need to worry about props at all! When the proofs were available for us to view – we struggled to choose – so we didn’t limit ourselves and purchased all the ones that we loved!

But the fun definitely doesn’t end there! With mini sessions offered during the course of the year – we knew that we would definitely be signing up for (at least) one each year. From Apple Blossoms to Bluebells to Harvest time to Sunflowers or Christmas trees – there is a season and an offering for everyone! 150€ for 30min and 10 images.

We signed up for the Bluebell session in the Hallerbos Forest, something that I had never yet been to see and I was in awe of the spectacular field of blue flowers. It was surreal… And 30minutes was a perfect amount of time to get a good selection of images. Monkey did not want to be held – she wanted to run & explore which is why some of these images are the perfect reflection of the independent, confident and outgoing gal that she is!

It might sound like a pricey investment but trust me, when I look back on these images (and the experiences along with it) – I am overwhelmed by the fact that these moments were captured!! And smile each time I open our front door as I have some of the newborn & bluebell images in photo frames right there! It has also made it easier to share beautiful printed images (gifts) with family abroad.

I highly recommend checking out the rest of the 2017 mini-sessions that Nicole is offering here or check out her website http://www.bearanddragonphotography.com

PS – I use the online photo service http://www.smartphoto.be to have the images printed out.

Why moms can’t have a social life..

Or they can if they have a good enough support base. Unfortunately for most expat parents, there is no grandparent or aunt/uncle that you can ask to help out at short notice. Of course there is the option of babysitters, but even that depends on availability and it doesn’t come free.

And of course they can if there is a bit of give/take in terms of what is and what isn’t possible… but the fact remains that life is now different… so here is my open letter to you, my friend to help you understand…

Dearest Friend,

I promised myself before I had a child that my life would not change that much when I was a parent. That I would still make time for my husband (date nights), my friends (girls nights) and quality time for myself. I would NOT be THAT parent who cites *routine* and *bedtime* as reasons for not going out to have fun. But sadly, I am exactly that parent. With a 21month old I realize that messing with a toddlers sleeping routine does not only affect that particular day/night but can leave you feeling like a zombie for days afterwards. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and we try really hard to be good spouses, good parents & good friends… but sometimes, something has to give. And more often than not, the priority & needs of the family exceeds the want of *me* & fun time. I am now responsible for raising a new generation and I believe that the early years are formative in their development (that means that I need to be there and be present in a day & age when I also have to work full time) – that requires time management juggling skills that rival some cirque du soleil acts!

Venue:

  • I invite you to our place because the thought of having to police every single move that the toddler makes while we are at your place is exhausting. I don’t want them to put their greasy dirty paws on your furniture or take an intensive interest in your decorative crystal figurines. They will want to explore the new surroundings, generally with some kind of food item in their hand, which means I can’t sit down on the couch and chat with you because I am concerned about what they might destroy if I don’t keep one eye on them at all times. Plus I place more value on your belongings than ours J
  • If we go to a café/bar/restaurant – it needs to be early enough that they don’t start bucking the high chair because they are tired, bored and want to explore. At some point, I will have to pick them up out of the high chair and attempt to restrain them in my lap while I continue to keep eye contact with you over their bouncy head. Because putting them down on the floor to explore will mean that I will need to leave the table to follow them and ensure that they don’t create a trail of destruction in their wake. Eventually citing *bedtime* I will need to make a hasty retreat before other diners get irritated with toddler noises coming from our neck of the woods. The moment we leave the venue, the monkey will calm down in their stroller and the walk home might be in silence. They might even nod off to sleep. The ultimate F*** you from them for changing the routine.
  • In their own surroundings, they are more likely to play with their own toys allowing us time to sip on wine and chat. They will also be more pliant when it is bedtime (between 7-7.30pm) as they are aware of the routine in their own home. This means that from 7.30pm onwards, I am ALL yours. Sure, it isn’t some hip happening joint, and it does require you travelling to us – but it would be 100% one-on-one time between us.

Planning:

  • Our situation is unique as HIM works Mon-Fri nights (6pm to 1am(ish)) and I work weekdays (8am to 5pm) – meaning that I don’t have many alternatives during the week and our weekends are often family quality time (balanced with all the household drudgery & chores of adulthood). Therefore planning in our household is paramount.
  • Having a mini-me around requires planning. We can no longer be spontaneous about going for a drink directly after work or changing agreed plans just a few days before a meet up. The list of *to do’s* increases exponentially as the family grows – with items like food preparation to packing an entire overnight bag just for a few hours for their little highness. It is tiring to say the least.
  • If we agreed to do something – please, lets keep the plans in place. Once babysitters are booked or spouses have agreed to handle the bath/bed routine – we are ready to go. We might not last very long, especially if we have been up multiple times the night before or if our daily wake up time is 5am (and by wake up – I mean “ripped from a deep slumber by the sound of a crying infant”) – but we are there. (Unless the plan changes because offspring are sick… this is unavoidable and we are most probably more disappointed than you are – trust me)
  • We require a certain amount of compromise & understanding from our friends – as a parent, we are no longer a priority in our own time management or even just life in general. We all know of the statement “You can’t pour from an empty vessel” – but most parents exist as zombies for years without ever having more than a moment of *me* quality time. I rarely have the opportunity to even pee in peace – so if we ask you to compromise plans/venue/ etc – it is because we are trying to find a solution to spend time with you because we want to see you.

Babysitters:

  • We use a babysitter once every 2 months. Either for a date night or if we are meeting friends for dinner. We try to ensure that Monkey is in bed before they start & that we are home at a decent enough hour to allow the babysitter the opportunity to still take public transport home. That means that we are essentially utilising her services for 3hours (from 7pm-10pm)… give or take an hour
  • The going rate in our area is 10€/hour… plus if it is closer to 11pm, we offer to pay the taxi (another 10€) – meaning that over and above a night out, we need to shell out a further 30-50€. For that amount, we can definitely host a great night in J
  • And finally – we have 2 contacts to look after our darling little one when we need it… two people that we trust in our home and with the life of our offspring. Your offer of a random stranger (who is not a stranger to you, but to us) is very sweet & thoughtful and we truly appreciate the effort. But entrusting the most precious thing in our life to an unknown in order to have a jolly doesn’t sit right in my gut. I am sorry to say, but I only take babysitter recommendations from people who have used that person to look after their own children. (i.e. I am not going to recommend a dentist for root canal to you, if they have never worked on my own teeth … )

I am sorry that my life is no longer in sync in with yours – and as much as I love spending time with you, I know that having to compromise to my lifestyle change is frustrating for you. You want quality girl time without interruptions. I want to be able to go to the bathroom without an audience. But the fact of the matter is that my life has an appendage now – something I can not (and will not) change. My #1 priority is my family. But I promise, as the tykes gets older, life will be easier for us to manage and we will get more time together again.

I still love you & value our friendship…. So please don’t give up on me yet.

Patience, compromise & wine…

xxxx

Top 5 : Travelling on a plane with a 21 months old

Monkey is now 21 months old – fully mobile and the thought of plane travel with her was daunting – especially after our disastrous long haul flight to South Africa when she was one years old and how she refused to sleep and refused to stay in her car seat – not to mention the screaming. Both HIM and I were scarred …

How was I going to keep her occupied for a 2.5hr flight between Brussels (Belgium) & Lisbon (Portugal)???

So I did what I do best… I google-boxed it. Most suggestions were for toddlers who are definitely more open to communication and/or older. Colouring in books, aquadoodle, etc… These suggestions were not going to help.

This is what we found worked best on our recent flights (keeping in mind that I did also pack some puffy large stickers; a sticker/colouring-in book, baby’s first colour pens, etc  and none of these were of any real interest to her)

Top 5 Entertainment items: Plane travel with a 21month old

  1. Buckle Toy Buddy Backpack: I ordered ours from amazon.co.uk and I can honestly say that during the niggly periods of take-off & landing, she was distracted with opening & closing each of the buckles. I could also add a few snacks and smaller items into the backpack portion and she was even happy to wear it for a while (probably because one of us was also wearing a backpack)
  2. Word Party : I downloaded a few episodes of Word Party from Netflix onto my iPad, which she loved (it is her favourite tv show and the only one that she will sit down for 10-13minutes to watch… which is as long as each episode). We had purchased a child pair of headphones which the sales lady was very reluctant to sell us as they were aged 3+ and she was concerned about safety & the wires. But in the end I didn’t even use the headphones, as the sound of the show was drowned out by the noise of plane engines and it wasn’t that distracting for other passengers. In terms of screen time, normally I am not a huge fan of extended periods of time, but this was a life saving distraction (for her, for us and for the other passengers) and I figure 3 episodes on a plane isn’t too bad (~30min total)
  3. Wind up toy: I got this silly little wind up monkey toy from Hema  which definitely provided about 5-10minutes of giggles as it walked from one side of the tray-table to the other and then she would grab it & pass it to one of us to wind up again.
  4. Wooden puzzle: I also purchased this item from Hema as it was small enough to pop into my backpack but something that provided sufficient distraction/entertainment for monkey. As it is still a new toy – she is only able to get the triangle pieces on/off the wooden base but I am sure that with time, the other 2 shapes will also provide fun.
  5. Snacks: this sounds like a silly addition but when children are munching away, time also seems to pass (which is probably why the airlines still offer food/drink!). On the way to Portugal, I packed a banana, some corn/rice cakes,some boudoir biscuits and a puree food sachet from Ella’s Kitchen (be careful when opening it on the flight as the air pressure might cause it already spill out),

Over and above this – I had the required baby bag with extra nappies, wet wipes, empty bottles, additional pacifier, change of clothes, jersey, etc which are the things that are permanently in her changing bag for whenever we leave the house.

Our next plane travel trip is next month between Israel & Belgium which is 4.5hr so I am already starting to think up new options… Do you have any other suggestions???

Strawberry Picking at Marie’s Garden in Overijse

The weather in Brussels has been HOT HOT HOT these last few weeks (>30degrees) and getting out of the house has only been enjoyable when the air conditioning has been on full blast in the car. But I had been itching to head out to Marie’s Garden in Overijse for ages (even prior to Monkey’s arrival)… and now I had a good enough excuse….

Strawberry picking!! They grow it – you pick it!

Monkey is 20months old, walking (running) and following instructions (sometimes), so I thought that taking her along would be ok.

About a 25minutes drive from our place in Brussels to the farm in Overijse and I was happy to see that there was sufficient parking. They opened at 10am and although it was only 10.30am, there more than a handful of cars & families with the same idea as us!

We parked the car, put on our hats, lathered up with sunscreen and walked towards the entrance, where we were greeted by staff members who explained the rules of picking =>

  • do not eat the fruits before they are weighed & paid for
  • do not discard fruits that have been picked and don’t look perfect
  • do not pick unripe fruit
  • stay in the designated “open to pick” areas
  • Ensure that children are not left unattended

Plastic containers were available which would take approx. 500g of strawberries. Cost per kg was 8€ which is somewhat more expensive then the local grocer, but the price was definitely worth the experience and the opportunity to select each strawberry yourself! There was also wheelbarrows available (as well as mini ones for children and little bikes for them to ride on). Not only this – but there is a small area at the entrance where you can sit down and enjoy the fruit of your picking labours.

We only spent half an hour actually picking strawberries and obviously going with a small toddler meant that a good portion of time was spent making sure that she didn’t walk in the plants, or eat the strawberries. I made sure that the adults did the picking and would then pass the individual strawberry to her so that she could then place it in the plastic container.

Confession time – she did take a bite of ONE strawberry, which we quickly confiscated and managed to distract her before a full blown meltdown occurred…

In total, we picked 5 containers worth of strawberries between 2 households (3 of which went home with us) that were :

a) washed and eaten as is (Monkey loved them… but I rationed her to 3 strawberries a day)
b) turned into a strawberry jam
c) tuned into strawberry panna cotta desserts (recipe soon to be posted on my food blog Why I am Not Skinny)

In general – I would say that this is a great family outing and something that I would recommend! Check out their website or FB page to double check on what is available and their opening times prior to heading out there!

Also – bring bottled water & other snacks with you if you are coming with small children. Although they do sell some bottle water there, there is no guarantee that they will always have. And also think about how you will be transporting these plastic containers home in your car… do you have a box or crate in the boot of your car?

I know that we are planning on heading back when the raspberries & blackberries are available for picking!! Will we see you there?

Other Mommy blogs that make me feel normal…

Social Media and any other portrayals of parenting showcase perfectly coiffed mom’s with pre-pregnancy figures doing it all – working, being a wife, mother and still having time to meet up with friends over coffee, etc. Not to mention, toddlers who look clean, happy and well behaved.

Where did I go wrong?

I have no clue and don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining…. (much) I am eternally grateful to be a mother and wife and an employee and and and… but sometimes I do my make up at work at my desk (as this is the first opportunity without a toddler hanging off me) or I eat cheesy toast with a glass (or two or three) of wine (and chocolate) for dinner after putting afore mentioned toddler to bed because I couldn’t be arsed to actually cook something nutritious for myself.

And the monkey… oh vie… I realize how inexperienced I am at parenting. For example: when I get her dressed for the day and then hand her a piece of nutella toast for breakfast – how did I not realize that after the first bite, the rest of the nutella would be smeared across her white t-shirt, matted in her hair and sticking to her little hands? And no, my child doesn’t sleep as well as others … it took more than a year for her to “sleep through” the night (which still means getting up at 5.30/6am); she throws monster-proportion tantrums in public and eating a meal has been an ongoing battle in our household.

But I wouldn’t swap her for anyone else children (or at least … not yet :))

What does make me smile is that there are some other mommy bloggers out there that make me feel normal… Whose blog posts have me smiling and nodding in agreement. Parenting isn’t easy, so it is great to read these stories… and feel like I could happily share a cup of coffee or BIG glass of wine with anyone of them while commiserating over similar stories!

Renegade Mothering

Written by Janelle, an American mom of 4 who is currently writing her first book and offers writing courses. Her tag line is “Join me in the fight against helpful parenting advice” – need I say more?  Her blog is honest, sarcastic (in a good way), full of swearing and she often voices the thoughts that are in my head but I am too scared to say out loud. http://www.renegademothering.com

Apples under my Bed

Heidi is a dietician and nutritionist, based in Melbourne in Australia who had her baby girl, Joan, about 2.5 months before our own Monkey entered the world. Her blog is a bit like a diary, filled with delicious looking food (those salad bowls!) and stories about their life and daily activities. She helped me understand the concept of BLW (Baby Led Weaning) through her own experiences with Joan, and highlighted the fact that each family needs to find their own balance regarding sleeping (co-sleeping, Cry-it-out methods, etc). An honest, wholesome, feel good kind of mommy blog. http://www.applesundermybed.com

Part-Time working mummy

UK based Rachaele who is engaged to policeman & avid bird watcher Josh and mom to 3 daughters & step mom to his 2 sons provides me with a good giggle at least once a week (I follow & read via her Facebook page).  She is also an amazing advocate for woman who are in need (domestic violence, etc) and often puts out a call for action request on FB to her PTWM crew to help out. Honest, funny, tongue in cheek candid online rants about their daily trials & tribulations.  http://www.parttimeworkingmummy.com

Like a queen

Australian mom of  3, Constance Hall has taken the world by storm with her book “Like a Queen” & its recent UK book tour.  She encourages woman to support each other with a hippy free-love-everyone kind of attitude and calls all us moms “Queens” . Her blog (and book) provide a very raw and honest account of her own personal struggles as a mother, wife (now separated) and queen. http://www.likeaqueen.com

Hurray for Gin

I prefer wine, but that is ok – because Katie, mom to two lively boys provides a humorous cartoon portrayal of real life parenting. Raising 2 toddlers isn’t a bed of roses, so having a good giggle over the same experiences is liberating, especially when they are drawn as stick men/women/children with speech bubbles. Did I mention funny? I read the book in one evening (part of which was while drinking wine in the bath tub) and can highly recommend it. PLUS her 2nd book is being released in October 2017.  www.hurrayforgin.com

Who else would you recommend?

We survived Chicken Pox

Almost 2months ago, we were “blessed” with the experience of having a small child sick with one of the so called “childhood illnesses”, which include mumps, measles, chicken pox, Rubella, scarlet fever, etc…

One particular Tuesday, I woke up at 6am to our 17month olds normal morning cries and went into her room to take her out of her pajama’s & sleeping bag and get her dressed for the day – when I noticed a small pink dot which was quite prominent on her chin… thinking “Surely, she is too young to get pimples??”, I didn’t really give it much more thought.

After I had showered and got dressed and was feeding her breakfast, I noticed that she had a few more spots appearing on her neck and arms, so HIM & I made the executive decision not to take her to crèche but to rather keep her at home & monitor her to see if anything further bumps developed. At this stage, she didn’t have a fever but she was a bit grumpy about eating (something that definitely isn’t new in our house).

Guess what… it went from about 2 spots at 6am to about 5 spots at 7am and around 30 spots by 10.30am, which is when we were sitting in the Doctors rooms. The Doc confirmed what I had guessed… “Chicken Pox”. Thankfully, both HIM and I had had chicken pox as children, so were essentially immune to catching it again.

We were lucky as Monkey only developed a fever later that day and it was a mild one at that. However that first night was pure hell – as she was SO uncomfortable that sleeping was almost impossible. I had done the normal bedtime routine of bath/bottle & bed around 7pm… she slept until 10.30pm (which incidentally was JUST when I had turned my own bedside lamp off) and was then inconsolable. She would only settle if she was in my arms being rocked and having her back lightly stroked. She eventually fell asleep (without being attached to me) at 1.30am until 3am. A short lived relief for us all. HIM, I and Monkey spent the Wednesday in a sleep deprived fog. Of our entire 17months with her – this was by far the worst evening of “no” sleep that I had encountered.

In terms of treatment: We used the *Diaseptyl” spray to start (a disinfectant spray used twice a day), and after the bumps starting to change and fill with fluid, we used *cytelium* spray to dry the spots out (again – only twice a day). Along with this, we were prescribed anti-histamine drops called *Fenistil* (10 drops 3 times a day) and to be honest, I do believe that these helped a lot! Plus paracetemol usage… Over and above this, one of our Mommy friends kindly dropped off *Calamine Lotion* which is what I remember having as a child. So we were definitely well-armed to handle this as best as we could.

There were ongoing debates about bathing – a fair number of articles that I had read indicated that warm baths could aid in the relief of itching, while one of my Mommy friends advised that this could prolong the process of drying any open blisters which could easily get infected (especially if drying with a towel was too “rough”). We opted for a combination – not our normal routine of a daily bath before bed – but rather each alternate day.

Another recommendation was putting socks on her hands while she slept – but this just made me laugh…and laugh…and laugh. The Monkey is unable to keep anything on her head for more than 2seconds… and I have tried winter gloves only once with her before realizing that she gets quite agitated and this is something I can live without.

We did keep her clothing loose and routinely checked the status of her bumps/lumps/scabs… but we were lucky! She was as happy as could be during the day and somewhat more unhappy than usual at night – but within a week, she was back at crèche with the last of the dots as dry mini scabs and her demeanor unchanged.

The upside of her getting this at the age of 17months old is that she should (?) now be immune to the same virus and not get chicken pox again, plus the younger they contract it, the easier it is for them (so they say!).