What I Learned About Christmas Last Year

Why Christmas doesn't have to be about excess and expense.

The lights are on. Trees are glowing in windows. The chain coffee shops have rolled out their festive syrups, the shops are filled with red and white tat and Slade is blaring down the aisles.

Christmas season is well and truly upon us.

And this year I'm feeling it.

This year I'm feeling impatient for Matilda's first Christmas. Even though she's too young to care about reindeer or to sit through the panto or to covet expensive plastic toys and believe that Santa might bring them for her.

Christmas isn't about any of that. Not really.

Last year, my Christmas was extremely restrained. Not by choice but by circumstance. Pregnancy prevented me drinking, a broken aerial cancelled the TV specials and - most of all - pelvic girdle pain kept me from festive activities.

I was in pain. I was in so much pain I could barely walk across the flat, never mind hop a bus into town and prance around the craft fairs, skate around the ice rink or jostle around the shops. Sitting through the panto, a carol concert or any of the classic festive films (Die Hard, Gremlins, A Muppet Christmas Carol) at the cinema was out. I couldn't climb a ladder to hang decorations.

But, still, I felt the Christmas spirit.

Why I prefer a low key Christmas.

I made a Christmas tree out of cardboard; we invited a friend round and put thought into his stocking; we cleared all the crap off the dining table in preparation for Steve cooking us all a feast.

Our low key Christmas was as nice as could be.

We watched Father Ted, as per our friend's family tradition. We watched a video of a fireplace and howled every time the subtitles flashed up: CRACKLING. We played music and games and talked and talked and talked.

We talked a lot about creating traditions for the baby.

Not traditions centred around spending hundreds of pounds on fancy gifts; traditions which centre around spending time together, breathing in the crisp winter air, cosying up indoors, watching silly films and reading books and eating something special.

We want room in our Christmas for friends and family to spend time with us, on those years they want to.

Because if last year taught me anything it's that Christmas doesn't have to be about the spectacle or the build up or the drinks or the expense. It's about spending time in the company of people you care about, eating well and talking about the things which matter most.

Novelty jumpers optional.

Baby's First Artwork

Baby's First Artwork: Your baby can paint!

I've mentioned before that one of the things I was most looking forward to about having a child was doing arts and crafts. At six months old, Matilda isn't ready for anything particularly complicated but impatience got the better of me so I decided to find a way to let her do some painting.

Now, this isn't my idea (you'll find the inspiration on my "Activities for Babies" Pinterest board), but it was good fun so I thought I'd share it.

What you need:
Ziploc bags (I opted for double zipper ones as I knew they'd end up in Matilda's mouth; you might also want to tape them shut)
Squishy paint in various colours (there are baby safe paints available, if you're worried)

Baby's First Artwork: How to paint with a six month old baby

Pop a sheet of cardboard into a Ziploc bag. You're definitely better using cardboard rather than paper as it will be paint-sodden - the cardboard will most likely warp but paper would disintegrate!

Squirt some big blobs of paint into the bag.

Seal and hand it to your baby.

Prodding the paint around kept Matilda entertained for... oh... several minutes. I don't think she was particularly interested in the colours moving around and mixing but she did seem to like the squishing sensation and the slippery bag.

Baby's First Artwork: How to paint with a six month old baby

The painting won't look like much while it's still in the bag. Leave it to dry for a while (I'd suggest overnight) then cut down the sides of the bag to remove it. There's a good chance some of the paint will still be wet, particularly around the sides of the cardboard, so do this on a wipeable/disposable surface and be prepared to leave the painting to air dry for a little while longer.

And then: TA DA!!!! You have your baby's first beautifully colour-blended and textured artwork to proudly display on your fridge.

Baby's First Artwork: A six month old's... eh... masterpiece?

Time to set up an Etsy shop, no?

How to Play With a Six Month Old Baby

It's amazing the difference a month makes. Although Matilda still enjoys most of the activities she did at five months old, suddenly all of these new interests have popped up.

Here's how she's entertaining herself now:

How to play with a six month old baby


A lot of babies begin seriously trying to move around about now. Some start to crawl; Matilda is holding onto my hands and stomping around the flat at speed. She also likes pulling herself to standing, bouncing on the spot, being swung around in the air, being tickled, climbing parents and getting piggybacks.

Tipping Things Out Of Containers

She has a box of Hide 'n' Squeak Eggs and also a tub full of shaped blocks; both get upended onto the floor and the contents ferociously scattered. She can also carefully pick things out of her toy box but this is much less entertaining to her.

Washing Her Hands

As much fun as weaning is, I used to dread the clean up afterwards because every time we tried to clean Matilda's hands she would start to howl. One day, I put a bowl of warm water in front of her to see what she would do; she immediately dunked both hands in it, began cooing happily and splashed until she was clean. Sometimes she will even take a Cheeky Wipe and dab away the dirt. We now do this every time she eats and she still loves it.

Chewing on "Real" Things

Remote controls, phones, cameras, Kindles, the Roomba (the only "pet" which ever comes near her), wires - she wants to chew them all. Luckily, she is also happy to play with empty ice cream tubs, cushions, a soft bristle brush, the cats' scratching post, door stops and various other safer, less easily damaged items!

Trying to Pat the Cats

She is rarely successful. She still beams and makes happy noises whenever she sees one of them, though.

Reading Board Books

After months of me trying to show her books, suddenly something has clicked. She now understands how and why to lift the flaps and also (sometimes) enjoys playing with touch and feel books. She's currently trying to master turning pages by herself.

Watching Real Children and Cartoons Interact

For the longest time, Matilda wasn't interested in the TV (despite me using her existence to justify a Freesat installation). Now she loves anything which features animations and real children interacting - Waybuloo; the opening and closing sequences of Abadabas; bits of Show Me, Show Me. It must seem magical to her, pictures coming to life and playing with children. For some reason, she also likes Mr Tumble.

On Making Friends as a (Shy) New Parent

On making friends as a (shy) new parent

Normality is starting to creep back in.

Of my four mum friends, one has gone back to work part-time, one goes back full-time in the new year, a third won't be far behind and the fourth is leaving town. Come April, I have to make some decisions about my own life, too.

The cosy little new parent bubble of tea, cake and Twirlywoos is floating away, ready to pop on a baby's nose and make them jump with delight. There's less delight on my face, though.

Being a new mum has been a revelation to me. After spending my teens and twenties suspecting people were only hanging out with me as a favour to my boyfriend and my early thirties watching friends move overseas, suddenly making and having and keeping friends seemed easy.

When I found out I was pregnant, I found I wanted to be around people in the same situation. I wanted somebody to talk to about sweeps, leaky bits and hypnobirthing and I was pretty sure most other pregnant women would feel the same.

So I messaged some.

Three acquaintances I had met once or twice, befriended on Facebook and then not known how or whether to take things any further with (did they have enough friends? would I look weird for suggesting coffee? etc etc) were all due at around the same time as me; one local blogger was, too. I messaged them all and they all became friends.

It was that simple.

And so my pregnancy and the first seven months of parenthood have been unusually sociable. If Matilda and I are at a loose end and would rather not be, there's usually a mum friend and her baby up for a walk in the park.

But now they're going back to work and/or moving away; my Mondays and Tuesdays are looming empty.

At the same time, Matilda is growing out of all of the baby groups which have been giving our weeks their rhythm. I've yet to find any groups for slightly older babies which aren't expensive and don't require block booking (block booking and babies don't go together - half the classes will inevitably be missed because of naps or sniffles or visits from the grandparents).

So, I'm starting to wonder how we're going to fill our weeks.

Steve and I (and every other blogger I follow on Twitter) are currently halfway through season two of Catastrophe. We're still not sure whether or not we like it - it's really just one big, incredibly vicious fight - but the episode a couple of weeks ago in which Sharon was desperately trying to befriend the one cool mum in her baby group resonated.

I'm not buying books for virtual strangers or inviting them away on family holidays with us (largely because I can't afford either) but I find myself sitting in baby groups, eyeing up other mums with similar aged kids. Are these potential friends?

It's hard to tell. When none of them fit into their normal clothes and all we talk about is weaning, all I know about any of them is what they called their child and which of Matilda's strengths they choose to praise (baby group conversations are a weird muddle of bragging, praising and downplaying our own baby's abilities so other parents don't feel bad).

I assume a lot of them are eyeing me up, too; a lot of them will be keen for other parent friends.

But which ones? And how do you suggest a coffee to someone when every class ends with you all rushing your babies home for urgent naps and bottles?

For all my self-conscious agonies as an adolescent, life was much easier when I could just head to that one pub Aberdeen's alternative crowd hung out in and keep my fingers crossed that Aberdeen's alternative crowd didn't mind me being there.

If only there was a coffee shop Aberdeen's parents-at-a-loose-end gravitated towards. Soft play and a baby milk bar at one end; friendship speed dating and cake in the corner.

GIVEAWAY: Win a Gro-Light

Gro-Light in use

Long before I became pregnant, I had heard of the Gro Company. Knowledge of them had lodged itself in my brain along with the names of several big nappy brands, that squeaky giraffe and In the Night Garden.

It's hardly surprising - the Gro Company specialises in solving parents' problems so they get talked about a lot.

Hang around parenting forums for a while and you'll get the impression that Gro-bags (baby sleeping bags) are now the norm while an orange egg glows reassuringly beside many a moses basket.

I wrote yesterday about how much Steve and I like their chair harness*, too.

But one of the things which we found most useful when Matilda was tiny was the Gro-light (so much so that I've already mentioned it).

Now, honestly, before having Matilda we wouldn't have thought to buy a Gro-light for ourselves. When my sister gave us one, we had no idea just how beneficial it was going to be.

The Gro-light is a handy gadget which fits between your light fitting (pendant or lamp) and the bulb. When you switch the light on once, it emits a low, blue LED glow which is enough to breastfeed, bottle feed, check a nappy or pull your baby's arms back into the crib by; if you switch the light on a second time, you get the full bright glow of the bulb.

In the middle of the night, when you want to get the essentials done whilst keeping your baby drowsy, letting your partner sleep and allowing yourself to doze off again quickly, that really low light makes such a difference. I would recommend the Gro-light to any new parent.

And today I'm giving you the chance to win one!

All you need to do is comment on this post and fill in the Rafflecopter form. There are bonus points if you follow me on Twitter and/or tweet about the giveaway.

The giveaway will be open for one week. The prize will be sent out by the Gro Company and the winner will be able to stipulate screw in or bayonet fitting.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I'm running this giveaway as a treat for genuine bloggers and blog readers; please do not enter using Twitter accounts set up solely to enter competitions.

Learn, Play, GRO

Learn, Play, GRO - Using Gro Chair Harness

Having a baby means having a lot of free time on your hands.

It does.

It's free time which you schedule around feeds and naps and it's free time which is often spent cradling a sleeping baby and it's free time which doesn't always allow for the doing of an awful lot of housework. But, other than the occasional appointment with your baby's health visitor, there's nowhere that you're obliged to be; maternity leave is the perfect time to play at being a lady who lunches.

Except... well... what do you do with your baby while you're lunching? Little babies can't sit in buggies or high chairs; the chances of them sleeping in the pram right through coffee and cake are slim; and trying to drink a scalding hot mug of tea whilst holding a wriggling infant is an obviously bad idea.

So I was thrilled when Matilda was old enough and strong enough to sit up by herself. Finally I could meet people for a hot chocolate or a sandwich without having to take turn about jiggling her on our laps.

And then I tried to figure out restaurant high chairs.

They're a grubby Krypton Factor challenge, all dirty, dangling straps and elephant-sized leg holes. I spend ten minutes loosening and then tightening (which somehow loosens) fastenings, clutching my wriggling baby with one hand, flinging filthy ribbons around with the other, all the time aware of how immensely incompetent a parent I must (not really) look to all the other (oblivious) customers in the cafe.

So I was delighted when the Gro Company offered to send me one of their chair harnesses to review.

Learn, Play, GRO - Chair Harness

The stripy chair harnesses fold up into their own attached bag and weigh next to nothing so they're ideal for bunging in a changing bag when you're on the go. They adjust to fit almost any dining chair and clip in place with just two clicks - simple.

When our harness arrived, I tried it out on one of the dining chairs at home. Once I'd figured out which way round it goes (stripes outwards, widest end at the front) it was incredibly simple to fasten both to the chair and around Matilda.

The fabric is similar to that of an umbrella which initially felt a little flimsy - I was a bit hesitant to let go of Matilda! However, once I'd plucked up the nerve, I was completely reassured. She is one wriggly baby but there was no way she was going to bust her way out of the harness! At the same time, she seemed to feel joyously unrestrained - she looked ever so pleased with herself, sitting on a proper chair just like a grown up!

Feeling reassured, Steve and I took her out for coffee. Once again, we found the harness easy to adjust and attach and Matilda seemed content to be sat in it (not that she would smile for the camera...).

We wouldn't use the harness to take her out for a meal - she would need the extra height of a high chair or booster seat for that - but she was quite happy sitting in it, eating her baby biscuits and staring unblinkingly at strangers (most of whom started cooing to each other about the cute little baby peeking over the rim of the table).

Learn, Play, GRO - Using Gro Chair Harness

The chair harness is now one of the staple things we pop in the changing bag - it's so useful.

Of course, we would have expected no less from the Gro Company - they specialise in solving parents' problems and we already have a couple of their other products. Pop back over tomorrow when I'm going to be telling you all about one of my other favourites - and giving you the chance to win one, too.

The chair harness was provided by the Gro Company for review (thank you!); all opinions are my own.

What I've Been Reading Recently

What I've Been Reading Recently

Santa Monica Suicide Club by Jeremy C. Thomas*
British actor turned private investigator, Mandy, is called on to solve the murder of a rich young Mexican man. Along the way, he uncovers seedy sex scandals, several dead bodies and an extremely fishy fish farm. This is written very much in the style of classic detective fiction. It's a shame that that seems to mean a loser lead character who is inexplicably attractive to smart women, however if you can get past the scene where he considers beating up his tenant-with-benefits, the plot is cleverly twisted together and the mystery kept me guessing right up to the end.

Tiny Instruments by Mitchell Bogatz*
Timothy and his friends are all clones of successful scientists, living in a very strict school with no contact with the outside world. They have been taught that they are worth less than real humans but Timothy is starting to have his doubts. This was such an interesting concept I was really looking forward to reading it but, unfortunately, I found the (very much "tell not show") writing style too frustrating; I gave up about halfway through. I've had the same reaction to a lot of classic fantasy/sci-fi, though (hello, Raymond Feist), and could imagine a lot of my gamer geek friends ploughing through this quite happily.

Trust by Mike Bullen*
Two men go to a work conference. One cheats on his partner, one does not. Exploring love, boredom, grown ups acting out of character and, of course, the necessity of trust, this is a well plotted novel from the creator of Cold Feet (non-Brits: TV show about relationships). It was a little bit too well plotted for my liking, though - it felt a bit too carefully choreographed to be completely believable. Also, because the book is about the kind of men who would make slightly inappropriate jokes to try to impress people at the work Christmas do, some of the humour is... well... exactly that; there were moments when I winced and wanted to politely excuse myself. Over all I did enjoy it but I wasn't exactly racing towards the end.

*provided by publisher or agent for review

No Matter How Much You Wanted a Baby, Dirty Nappies Still Suck (or: The Secret Guilt of the New Parent)

No Matter How Much You Wanted a Baby, It's Okay to Hate the Dirty Nappies

Last week, in a blog post about National Fertility Week (did you know that one in six couples struggle to conceive?!), Louisa mentioned that she couldn't find any specific support for people who are pregnant following IVF. Now, I am lucky enough not to have needed IVF but I'm not lucky enough to have had an entirely straightforward time becoming a parent; some of what Louisa wrote was familiar to me.

And what it made me think about was the immense guilt that a lot of people seem to feel for not enjoying every single second of their life with their much-longed-for new baby.

I've seen forums full of new parents whispering to one another about how desperately they wanted their baby - having previously miscarried or having taken years to conceive or having been through round after round of IVF - only to discover that sometimes they don't really enjoy looking after it. They wonder whether that makes them a terrible parent and they wonder whether it makes them a terrible person. And there doesn't seem to be much professional support out there reassuring them otherwise.

When you know first hand how heartbreaking it is to lose a pregnancy or how devastating it is to face up to infertility, you know - you really know - that there are people out there who would give absolutely anything to be in your position, to be the parent of a newborn baby.

So why do you groan when the baby needs fed at 2am? Why do you hope that the dirty nappies will all happen while your partner's holding the baby? Why do you occasionally cry over your crying baby, convinced that you can't do this any more, that you've made a mistake, that you're not cut out to be a parent?

Why aren't you appreciating every single second of this baby's existence?

When you've spent night after night in floods of tears because you didn't have a baby, why are you now spending night after night in floods of tears because you do?

What sort of monstrous mother are you?

I've felt this guilt myself. Matilda was a very easygoing newborn and yet there were times when I didn't know how on earth I was going to cope with raising her; at those times, I would think about how devastated I had been by my miscarriage and how desperately I had wanted to have this baby and a part of me would wonder what was so very wrong with me that I sometimes wanted to run away to the nearest cheap hotel and revel in some uninterrupted sleep.

But the fact is: caring for a newborn is challenging. There's so much to learn and so little sleep to power you; you have this whole new tiny person to worry about and so many unexpected aspects of their life to be scared by.

Almost all parents will struggle from time to time.

But it absolutely does not mean that they don't deserve that baby.

Wanting a baby doesn't give you some extra, innate knowledge of how to care for one. Just because you struggled to conceive it doesn't mean you have to feel like a capable parent at all times. Those things are not linked.

And, when it's 2am and you haven't slept for more than an hour and a half for the past two months and your eight week old baby has done not just any poop but the highly infectious post-rotovirus-immunisation poop all over the wet nappy you were removing and the clean nappy you were putting on and herself and her brand new clothes and the changing mat and your hands and your pyjamas, it is not reasonable to expect yourself to smile. This is not fun. No matter how much you love that baby, the sane person's reaction is going to be this: bursting into tears and deciding to chuck everything but the baby into the bin.

Parenthood is amazing. Sleeping babies and smiling babies and cooing babies are incredible. Watching your child learn new skills all the time is better than you ever imagined it could be. The amount of love you feel for this tiny little person will blow your already frazzled mind.

But there is mess and there are tears (yours) and more tears (the baby's) and questions you don't know the answers to and questions you never ever learn the answers to. It is normal to question your own abilities and normal to resent the lack of sleep and even normal to be a little bit bored every now and then.

It doesn't mean you're ungrateful. It doesn't mean you don't appreciate your luck. It doesn't mean you're a bad parent.

In fact, I would argue that the very fact you're in agonies about what a terrible parent you may be is proof of just what a good parent you actually are. It's good parents who're scared of being a bad one.

Good (and Bad) Books for First Time Parents

Good books for first time parents

When I was pregnant, I was very clear that I did not want to read any instruction manuals masquerading as parenting books. I didn't want to get hung up on rules or timelines or timetables; I wanted to approach parenthood in a largely intuitive manner (yeah - my internet search history will tell you exactly how that went...).

However, I like books and I like reading up on the things which interest me and certain parenting tomes were purchased. Here are all of the parenting books I've read and what I made of each of them:

First-Time Parent by Lucy Atkin
When I Read This: December 2014 (24-25 weeks pregnant)
Why I Chose It: I didn't want any very rigid instructions about how to raise our child but I did want something other than Google to refer to in the middle of the night. Most of the reviews on Amazon said this would fit the bill.
Initial Reaction: Lived up to expectations. Covered all the basic areas I could think of (why the baby might be crying; what to feed babies; how to dress babies; what alarming things babies do which you don't need to freak out about etc) without ever coming across as strict or judgemental. It's not a new book so some of the information about parental rights and benefits is out of date but otherwise it was calm and reassuring.
Would I Recommend It Now?: Yes. Steve and I both referred to this time and time again during the first couple of months of Matilda's life. Good no-nonsense information.

How to be a Hip Mama Without Losing Your Cool by Jenny Scott
When I Read This: December 2014 (24-25 weeks pregnant)
Why I Chose It: I almost didn't. The mobile phone on the cover put me off. But I wanted a book which didn't assume I would turn into a completely different, stressy, frumpy person the moment the baby was born.
Initial Reaction: Like reading a parenting fanzine both in look and style. I enjoyed some of it; I was bored by some of it (it does go on a bit about how great running marathons is); I was intensely frustrated by all the typos. I didn't feel like I learned anything and I could have found essentially the same stories on parenting blogs but it was enjoyable.
Would I Recommend It Now?: It would make a good gift for expectant mums who like the lo-fi fanzine look but there's not a lot to it so I probably wouldn't recommend buying it for yourself.

The Madness of Modern Parenting by Zoe Williams
When I Read This: January 2015 (27-28 weeks pregnant)
Why I Chose It: I was getting frustrated by a lot of the very preachy parenting advice I was finding on the internet - this looked like it would be a good rant about parents' abilities to make up their own damn minds about most things.
Initial Reaction: Very short but full of facts, figures and feminist rhetoric about things like whether to bother avoiding certain foods and drinks during pregnancy, the practicality of breastfeeding and the intensity of our current education system. This is in no way - no way - a parenting book but it was interesting and irritated and exactly what I wanted to read at that point.
Would I Recommend It Now?: If you're feeling irritated (rather than scared) by all the terribly strict pregnancy advice, this is quite cathartic. So: yes.

BabyCalm by Sarah Ockwell-Smith
When I Read This: April 2015 (39-40 weeks pregnant)
Why I Chose It: The more I listened to friends with babies talk about the early months, the more I realised that for the most part people I consider calm had more positive experiences of parenting than people who tend to stress. As much as I like to consider myself a laidback person, I figured it couldn't hurt to read something about keeping a cool head.
Initial Reaction: This appealed to me a lot. The author is open about having her own preferences (babywearing, co-sleeping, baby led weaning etc) but encourages parents to trust their own instincts and figure out what works best for them and their child. I found the parenting advice reassuring; the section about coming to terms with a traumatic birth could have waited until after I'd been through my own labour, though! Eek!
Would I Recommend It Now?: Yes. The more I learn about parenting, the more firmly I believe that a calm approach leads to happier family members all round. This is such an important message that I've bought the follow up book, ToddlerCalm, too.

The Mindful Mother by Naomi Chunilal*
When I Read This: April 2015 (39-40 weeks pregnant)
Why I Chose It: Well, largely because I was offered a free review copy. I had already bought BabyCalm and probably wouldn't have bothered with a second book on the same topic right away. That said, with the baby due any moment, advice about coping with labour was appealing.
Initial Reaction: Oh, so negative! I liked that the author was upfront about parenting being tough but, unfortunately, that was all - I didn't feel that there was any useful advice for coping with that; I thought this was too basic for people with a knowledge of mindfulness and too vague for beginners; I found the author's general "it's all on Mum and everybody else in your life is a nuisance" attitude dated and unhelpful. Generally, I felt that the author came across as extremely unhappy and that's not what you want in a book aimed at supporting new mothers, is it?!
Would I Recommend It Now?: No.

Good books for new parents

The Wonder Weeks
When I Read This: June 2015 onward (8+ weeks old)
Why I Chose It: A friend with a slightly older baby recommended it. I was still sceptical about strict timelines so I bought the app (which was about £1 at the time) rather than the full book.
Initial Reaction: The Wonder Weeks claims to tell you when your baby will be grumpy/needy and what amazing skills she's developing which are making her so irritable. I found the timing off by a couple of weeks (even allowing for it going by the due date rather than birth date) but the information about Matilda's behaviour and new abilities seemed accurate.
Would I Recommend It Now? Yes. So often, I read about the skills Matilda's about to learn and think, "No! She's miles away from doing that yet!" only for all these new abilities to suddenly appear a week or two later - I find that fascinating. It's also reassuring to have something to blame her bad days on and to be told that the next very cheerful stage is not too far ahead.

Itsy Bitsy Yoga by Helen Garabedian
When I Read This: August 2015 (16+ weeks old)
Why I Chose It: A friend and I had been having a jokey conversation about babies doing yoga - a few days later, I came across this and it was too funny to pass up. Plus, it looked cute.
Initial Reaction: Kind of twee - lots of "poses" which are really just singing your baby's name or cuddling them. However I liked that the book had suggested routines for different stages (newborn, almost sitting, almost crawling etc) and, as Matilda was trying very hard to crawl at that stage, I figured we'd try a few of the strengthening poses.
Would I Recommend It Now?: Yes, I've recommended it to several friends. I've no idea whether or not it makes babies stronger but Matilda really enjoys most of the exercises - it's a fun thing to do together. The only problem I have with it is that Matilda generally falls into more than one stage (almost crawling and almost walking, for example) so I end up ignoring the suggested routines and muddling together my own - but I probably would have done that anyway.

The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting by Kate Blincoe*
When I Read This: September 2015 (20+ weeks old)
Why I Chose It: In the hopes of getting some good tips for more eco-friendly parenting.
Initial Reaction: It was more about getting kids out into nature than I had realised - I think it will be great inspiration when Matilda's a little bit older and able to understand projects. As for the environmentally friendly aspect, it's the only book I've read which mentions that baby milk cartons can't be recycled (the main reason we use the stuff which comes in a tin) but, otherwise, there was no new information here. I actually think this would be better as two books - one for new parents (aiming to be environmentally ethical) and one for parents of older kids (who want to get outdoors more) however I did like the author's "just do what you can and don't feel too guilty about it" attitude.
Would I Recommend It Now?: For parents of slightly older kids, yes, it's got some fun ideas.

Baby Play for Every Day
When I Read This: October 2015 (5-6 months old)
Why I Chose It: Because I knew Matilda was ready for more sophisticated play but I wasn't sure what (beyond these ideas).
Initial Reaction: There's a little padding to take it up to 365 ideas and it does refer to your baby as "he" all the way through, but I was reassured to see that I was already doing most of the things it suggests and I got a few good ideas from it, too.
Would I Recommend It Now?: Yes. I mean, there's always Pinterest, but if you like your inspiration in book format, too, you could do worse.

Are there any parenting books you would recommend?

*Provided by publisher or agent for review

Life in the Slow Lane: Why I Love Not Being a Driver

Why I Love Not Being a Driver: Orange shoes and lilac blossom

When Matilda was teeny, she loved going on buses. She was strapped in her carrier, eyes at our shoulder level, and she would swivel her head from side to side, staring out the windows at the world going by.

Now that she's bigger, I can't carry her any more. She's usually in the buggy, sat below window level, gazing at the other passengers (who either swoop in and coo at her or become increasingly uncomfortable under her unblinking stare). If we're only going a few stops, I leave her in there; if we're going further, I unstrap her and stand her on my knee, let her press her tiny hands to the window and watch as the city slides by.

She loves it.

I do, too.

Before I went on maternity leave, I had an hour commute to work and an hour commute home. It was thirty minutes by bus and thirty minutes on foot and, except when it was blowing a gale, I found it very relaxing. I was travelling through some of the nicer parts of town and I would watch the gardens change, week on week, and I would look for the three enormous cats who roamed a wild patch by a supermarket, and I would gaze at clouds and rainbows and reflections in puddles and spiderwebs and fallen leaves.

I didn't have to think about anything; I couldn't keep busy; there was nothing to do but gaze out the bus window or put one foot in front of the other, switch off my brain and move forward.

Those were the calmest parts of my day.

I've found, sometimes, when I tell people that I don't drive they cry, "Well done!" A lot of people see it as a difficult situation, living without a car; if they're environmentally minded, they admire my grit and "make do" attitude.

That's not how I see it at all.

Quite the opposite.

I would like to know how to drive. I think it's a useful skill to have in case of emergencies. I feel sad that I had to stop my driving lessons when the pelvic girdle pain hit.

About twice a year, I think it would be nice to drive to some pretty spot which isn't served by public transport or convenient to drive to a shop for something large. But the majority of the time, cars don't appeal.

I don't want to drive as standard.

I like this slow pace. I like planning half an hour of quiet public transport time into most excursions. I like watching the world go by. I like exploring the woodlands and parks in my local area instead of going further afield. I like that the postman knows me so well he greets me when I'm out and about. I like to be on foot.

And I don't buy that cars make life easier, not if you live in the city.

I listen to friends lamenting the cost of car parks and parking permits; I listen to them complain about all the time they waste circling the streets, searching for a space; I listen to them getting angry about traffic jams and diversions and other, sloppier drivers.

I hear about the cost of petrol and the cost of road tax and the cost of MOTs and tyres and car repairs. I hear about the strange clanking noise their car is making and the deliberations about how long they can ignore it for.

They talk about their cars like problem children, needing constant money and attention; all excursions are planned around parking; instead of walking ten minutes to a nice shop, they drive for ten minutes to an enormous supermarket with a petrol station and then spend more than intended on impulse buys.

Not everyone. Not all the time. I realise that.

But the general impression I get of life with cars is one of hassle and expense, of hurried convenience rather than a gentle pace, of always wanting a bigger, better car which doesn't make odd noises when they pause on a hill.

Aberdeen buses cost far too much, they do. I resent it. But I suspect that the £30 per month that I spend on public transport is less than it would cost me to run a car.

Buses get delayed by blizzards and roadworks and traffic jams, they do. It can be frustrating, waiting for a bus which hasn't shown up on time but, over all, I'd rather pay somebody else to think about diversions while I sit and gaze out the window. There's nothing I can do to speed that traffic along; I may as well sit and enjoy the ride.

Public transport doesn't always go door to door, that's true. But I'd rather spend five minutes on foot than five minutes coasting around a car park, searching for a space.

I want my journeys to be all about the world around me.

I've never strapped a toy to Matida's buggy. She doesn't need something to keep her occupied. Instead, she watches the world go by, letting her mind wander; observing; as she grows older, she'll start noticing the changing seasons and changing cityscape.

I want to do the same.

I don't have a dashboard to glance at or signs to be aware of. I don't read a book or plug music into my ears. I sit or I walk; I switch off; and I watch.

(This has been on my mind since reading this lovely post about slow living on Me and Orla)