The Winter Gardens (in Summer)

David Welch Winter Gardens - Duthie Park, Aberdeen. Fuchsia.

On Tuesday, Matilda and I met Steff at the David Welch Winter Gardens in Duthie Park. A reliably warm spot in the centre of an unpredictable city, this is a favourite place for... well... almost everyone I know.

That said, Matilda seemed underwhelmed:

Baby Rooftops sleeping.
David Welch Winter Gardens - Duthie Park, Aberdeen. 80s neon flowers.
David Welch Winter Gardens - Duthie Park, Aberdeen. Ferns.

The bright side of Matilda sleeping through yet another cultural experience was that I could go a bit camera crazy.

And I did.

Poor Steff was very patient as I paused to photograph almost every brightly coloured plant.

David Welch Winter Gardens - Duthie Park, Aberdeen. White hanging flowers.
David Welch Winter Gardens - Duthie Park, Aberdeen. Kelly's Cat.
David Welch Winter Gardens - Duthie Park, Aberdeen. Purple morning glories.
David Welch Winter Gardens - Duthie Park, Aberdeen. Orange flowers.

For all the beautiful plants, my favourite part of the Gardens has to be the terrapins. I can spend ages standing watching them gliding around their pond - although on Tuesday they were all clambering onto rocks and platforms to bask in the sun.

David Welch Winter Gardens - Duthie Park, Aberdeen. Terrapins.
Happy the man who covers his city with such poems and roses.
David Welch Winter Gardens - Duthie Park, Aberdeen. Orange flowers.
David Welch Winter Gardens - Duthie Park, Aberdeen. Pink leaves.
David Welch Winter Gardens - Duthie Park, Aberdeen. Sarah and Baby Rooftops.

It was a gorgeous day so once we were done meandering through the Gardens, we settled down for tea and scones at the outdoor cafe.

Alas, a seagull made off with my scone while I was feeding Matilda (every Aberdonian reading this will roll their eyes at the inevitability and wonder why I was foolish enough to leave food in plain sight. I blame the sleep deprivation) but the cafe staff took pity on me and replaced it free of charge.

David Welch Winter Gardens - Duthie Park, Aberdeen. Spiky plant.
Violets abound within the rigid fences of prohibited grounds.

Further Adventures in Bedtime Scheduling

Baby Rooftops's Further Adventures in Bedtime Scheduling

We got off to such a good start. For four weeks, we put Matilda to bed at 8pm every night and by quarter past she would be asleep.

And then it all went haywire.

Suddenly, she would start crying when we put her pyjamas on. She was taking a long time to settle and couldn't seem to sleep for more than an hour and a half. She was wired and wriggly after her night feeds and, during the day, she was springing awake ten minutes into her naps, wailing in frustration.

She was exhausted. We were exhausted. The cats were in a strop.

The only time she slept well was the one night I let her sleep on her front, on my chest, under the duvet, in her parents' bed. That's four broken rules right there. And my back was agony the following morning.

In part, we think Matilda was going through the so called "four month" sleep regression (it apparently occurs at the same time babies start rolling and throws their sleep pattern to pot for a while) but there were other factors: the heatwave made our bedroom too warm and bright; she outgrew her bottle teats and it took me a week to realise why she was so windy; and she had a growth spurt.

It was tough. There were tears of frustration (mine) and a lot of googling for possible solutions.

In my sleepy state, it was hard to keep perspective. I knew it was a phase and she would get through it eventually but the advice sites said it could take a few months. A few months?! How would we survive?

I found myself obsessing over the options. Should we persevere with her newly traumatic bedtime routine? Should we give in and give up our evenings, eating dinner one handed again and waiting and waiting and waiting for her to fall asleep of her own accord? Should we introduce very rigid feeding routines? Should we go with the flow? Would it help if she moved into her own bedroom? Or slept in some forbidden position? Or if I accepted a knackered back as a worthwhile trade off for some kip?

There is so much advice out there but a lot of it is contradictory and a lot of it goes against our own parenting instincts. We want her to have a regular bedtime (for her sake and for our own) but we don't want to force her into a rigid Gina Ford style schedule - we wanted her to settle into a pattern of her own.

Most of the official advice said it couldn't be done.

Most of the parenting forums said it could.

In the end, we held true to our instincts.

We let Matilda take the lead. For a little while, we let her fall asleep in our arms, in the living room, at a time which suited her. To our relief, within a couple of weeks she was naturally, reliably going to sleep at 9pm, fully waking up about 9am and spacing five feeds and three decent naps out across the day. Alas, she does still wake for feeds twice overnight but that's a battle for another month.

Over the last few days, we've moved from letting her drift off in the bright living room to letting her drift off in the darkened bedroom; we hope to have her drifting off in her crib fairly soon.

We would like her times to be an hour earlier but we figure that will right itself when the clocks go back - we're prepared to wait it out.

So, things are much easier.

We have a routine. For now.

But I'm not saying her sleep is perfect. She's still having a hard time staying asleep - she gets restless faster and more frequently than she used to and only really seems comfortable when she's sleeping on our bed. She's also getting too big for her crib so often bangs her arms and legs against the bars or ends up with her feet dangling out the sides. And then there are those two night feeds...

We're not against co-sleeping in principle; she ends up in with us most nights but it's hurting our backs and we're not convinced that our set up safe. Also, that's Polly's spot.

So the big question is: when do we brave the move to the big cot in her own bedroom...?

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Baby Rooftops fast asleep

Contrary to what that picture might suggest, it's been all go here the past fortnight.

Steve and his dad have slain the ivy which was threatening to pull down our garden walls. It took a full day of hacking and shredding and they discovered a mysterious black cable running through the middle of it (how do you find out what a mysterious black cable in your flowerbeds is?!) but it's a huge relief to have the job done.

Slaying the ivy
Matilda had her second set of vaccinations which left her very sleepy for a few days but which, thankfully, didn't seem to cause her any major discomfort. She was weighed and measured while she was at the surgery and is bang on where she should be.

Karen and I took the babies to see Song of the Sea which is the most beautiful Irish animated film and which Matilda happily sat and watched.

My mum came to visit for a few days which meant lots of attention (and presents) for Matilda and lots of cups of tea for me. My step-sister and her almost-four-year-old daughter paid us a flying visit one afternoon - it was so cute seeing the girl cousins together for the first time!

And this weekend was Steve's mum's birthday so there has been cake, chocolate infused wine and Granny gifts galore.

What I've Been Reading Recently

Kindle used as bookmark

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E Reichert*
Al is the critic whose harsh words are destroying Lou's restaurant - it's unfortunate, then, that they have met, decided not to tell each other what they do for a living, and started to fall in love. It's not a new twist but it can be done well. Sadly, this version of it left me underwhelmed - nothing about it surprised me other than Al's fetish for women dressed in brown. Reading a chapter about a cloudburst as a cloud burst outside my window was pleasingly dramatic but, alas, not guaranteed for every reader. I do see the irony of giving a mediocre review to a book about a bad review but I'm fairly sure I'm not unknowingly dating the author, so...

Chestnut Street by Maeve Binchy*
I've always thought of Maeve Binchy as being an author for the older generation (and, to be fair to me: when I formed this opinion - around 1989 - that was technically true). Then I found out that professional book lover, Sarah, is a big fan. Then I was offered a review copy of this book. It was time to reassess.

Chestnut Street is a collection of stories written over several decades, all centring around people living on - yes - Chestnut Street in Dublin. Certain themes come up again and again - absentee fathers; poorly chosen boyfriends; quietly concerned parents - which I did find a little repetitive but there are some lovely, unusual stories in there, too. I found the concept fascinating - what would be revealed if somebody wrote about all of my neighbours? - and I enjoyed the simple, natural style of writing. So: Maeve Binchy? Definitely for my generation, too.

Frank Derrick's Holiday of a Lifetime by J.B. Morrison*
Another book which I approached with some hesitation - when will I learn not to judge a book by its used-to-be-in-Carter-USM-so-probably-marketing-novel-on-back-of-musical-nostalgia author? This is the story of an 82 year old British man who spends all his money and loses his home so that he can visit his sick daughter and sardonic granddaughter in Los Angeles. And it is funny. The writing is dry and clever, the characters weary and familiar, the plot simple but engaging. My top recommendation of the month.

The Anatomy of Parks by Kat Gordon*
When the narrator calls in to work to say that there has been a family emergency, her boss doesn't believe her. Unfortunately, nor did I. The writing style didn't work for me and, for all the attempts at intrigue, nothing much seemed to happen. I gave up at 20%.

*Provided by the publisher or agent for review

Matilda at Twelve Weeks (or: Surviving the Fourth Trimester)

Baby Rooftops smiling

How has this happened? My tiny baby is twelve weeks old already!

Twelve weeks is one of those big milestones. When you're in the midst of newborn sleep deprivation, colic and self-doubt, people promise you that by twelve weeks it's all going to be okay - the difficult stuff will have largely passed, parenting will be making sense and the baby will be fun. They talk about the fourth trimester - about what a hard adjustment it is for the baby, coming from the safe, cosy womb into the great big real world. They tell you the first twelve weeks are about surviving and everything gets easier from there.

As it happens, most of my parent friends and I found eight weeks the suddenly-so-much-easier point. That's when our babies were smiley and interactive, we had done all the scary stuff (leaving the house! in the rain! having to feed the baby in a cafe! recognising when to move up a nappy size! trusting our instincts!) at least once and we felt much more in control.

Nevertheless: twelve weeks is the marker. And here we are.

It's hard to believe it's only been twelve weeks. It feels like Matilda has always been a part of our lives. It also seems implausible that the tiny newborn we brought home from the hospital has turned into a highly active, extremely alert baby in such a short space of time.

She really is an active baby. She's all about movement. When she's on her playmat, all four limbs are waving. She can roll from her front to her back already. She can roll from her back to her side and from her side to her front but hasn't yet figured out how to combine the two. She can - well, it's not exactly crawling but she can swim a couple of metres across the floor before getting tired and cranky and needing to be picked up.

She coos and gurgles and squeals and shouts. She says "hi" although so completely out of context that we can't really count it as a word. She loves to be sung to. She's fiercely independent but she finds new people exciting. She does the hugest smiles.

She's not that interested in toys or textures at the moment but she has some colourful plastic rings which she likes to cling onto. She sometimes looks at pictures in books. She likes to sit and stand (although she needs supported for both). She's fascinated by people eating.

I've always thought babies become more interesting the older and the more alert they are and every day that belief grows stronger. Every single day having Matilda in my life becomes more and more rewarding.

What We Really Needed for Our Newborn

When you're expecting a baby, the sheer amount of stuff required can seem overwhelming.

I read so many lists of "must have" items and spent a lot of time puzzling over cot bumpers, nappy bins and baby monitors online, wondering whether we actually needed them (no, no and that really depends on the size of your house but, in our case, no).

Even things which seemed like they should be straightforward turned out to be confusing. Sleepsuits, babygrows and rompers are all the same thing but it took a bit of research on parenting forums to convince me of this. And how many of the whatever-you-choose-to-call-thems was the baby actually going to require?

So, in the hopes of saving somebody else a lot of head scratching, here is my rundown of what you absolutely need and what it's really nice to have for your first few months with a newborn:

What we really needed for our newborn: hand knitted cardigans

You Will Need

These are the absolute find-money-in-your-budget essentials:

  • Somewhere for her to sleep (cot, crib, moses basket or co-sleeping). Bear in mind that she will need to sleep around the clock so you may want beds in a couple of rooms; alternatively, you can buy something portable like a moses basket but do be prepared for her to grow out of it quickly!
    Two sets of bedding (either sheets and a cellular/knitted blanket or a flat sheet and a grobag).
  • Somewhere to wash her (sink, appropriately sized plastic basin, baby bath or in the bath with you) and some small flannels (we use Cheeky Wipes as they're an ideal size for babies). Hooded baby towels are useful but you can use normal towels instead. Small babies don't need toiletries - water is enough.
  • Some means of transporting her (pram, baby carrier and/or sling). We find a carrier or sling useful for shopping as it leaves our hands free for other things; we find the pram useful for meeting friends as it's somewhere for Matilda to sleep while we drink dangerously hot cups of tea. The pram is also more convenient in bad weather. If you can afford both, I would recommend it.
    If your baby will be travelling by car, you must have a car seat
  • Something to carry nappies etc around in (almost any large bag with lots of pockets will do - a specialist changing bag is not essential).
  • Clothes (10-12 vests, 10-12 babygrows, a couple of hats plus a few cardigans, a pramsuit and/or a snowsuit, depending on the time of year). You don't need shoes or booties. If you want to use scratch mitts, buy babygrows which have them built in. You only need socks when you start dressing your baby in "proper" clothes which, personally, I wouldn't bother with for at least the first month. Clothes don't have to be expensive - the best clothes Matilda had were from Sainsbury's multipacks.
    Sizing is guesswork until the baby's born. We mostly bought 0-3 month clothes; they were comically large for the first couple of weeks but, as newborns don't crawl or walk, floppy clothes are not a problem!  
  • Nappies (plan to get through 10-12 per day in the first few months), lots of cotton wool pads to wipe/dry her with, baby wipes for cleaning up solids or for when you're out and about, and something for her to lie on while you change her (a changing mat or a muslin on a soft, flat, wipeable surface). Nappy sacks are optional but useful. You do not need a special changing unit - a table, chest of drawers or the floor will do.
  • A lot of muslins. These can be used to wipe up sick, as makeshift bibs, for her to lie on and about a billion other uses. You will need them. I bought twelve and we received at least twenty more as gifts - in the early weeks, we regularly got to the bottom of the pile.
  • If you are intending to bottle feed, 6-10 bottles with size one teats (the teats should be changed monthly as your baby grows) and a steriliser. Tubs of powdered first milk - we get through about one a week; there's not much difference between brands. Also, for getting out and about, you can buy little bottles of premixed milk or sterilise small tubs for transporting the powder in.
    If you are intending to breastfeed, it's useful to have a few bottles and a steriliser to hand in case things don't go to plan or in anticipation of expressing milk later on. You will also need nipple pads - either lots and lots of disposable ones or enough washable ones to tide you over between laundry days.
    Either way, get some nipple cream. If you're breastfeeding, it's great for its intended purpose; if you're bottle feeding, you'll be washing a lot of dishes and it's the only thing I've founded which sorts my chapped knuckles.
  • Somewhere for her to play and learn. This doesn't have to be a super-fancy playmat but you do need somewhere safe for her to lie down, waggle her limbs around and look at the world. Your baby won't show much interest in toys for the first couple of months but will like having high contrast items nearby to gaze at.
A note about planning ahead: It's a great idea to buy larger sized baby clothes in the sales but, in my experience, people tend to give new babies size 3-6 month clothes as gifts. Spend your own money on larger sizes.

What we really needed for our newborn: yellow and white muslins

Our Best Investments

Some things which are not absolutely essential but which have made our lives much easier:
  • A bouncer chair. It wasn't until Matilda was five weeks old that she could sit in this comfortably (and she'll have grown out of it soon) but it allows me to sit her down somewhere where she can see me when I need my hands free.
  • Tiny Love rocker-napper. We bought this as somewhere for Matilda to sleep during the day but it will convert into a seat when she's too big for her bouncer. 
  • Microwave steriliser bags. Pop a bottle in a bag and sterilise it quickly and easily - we bought a pack of five and each can be used twenty times. They're handy for visiting people or for when we just want to sterilise one dummy. Speaking of which:
  • Dummies. We were both opposed to dummies because, uh, they were considered The Root of All Evil when we were babies. Nowadays, the NHS recommends them. I'm not sure what made us try a dummy in the end but it made windy episodes bearable both for us and for Matilda.
  • Playmat. It's nice to have somewhere specifically for Matilda. Ours isn't fancy but it does have an arch which we can hang toys/interesting items from.
  • Gro-Light. This is so clever - you screw it into your ceiling light and it lets you choose whether you want a muted LED light or the full 100 watt glare of the normal bulb. Very helpful when you don't want the baby - or yourself - to fully wake up during night feeds.
  • A sunshade for the pram and a sun tent for the garden. Babies under six months need to be kept out of the sun but, if you have a spring or summer baby, it just isn't practical to stay indoors on every single sunny day. Shades rated at SPF 50 are a great investment.

Owl toy on 80s bouncer chair

Save Your Money

The things we didn't need:

  • Cot bumper. Apparently they're not very safe. But that's not why we didn't use it. We didn't use it because it didn't fit either the crib Matilda's sleeping in at the moment or her full size cot.
  • Bath stand. We bought a baby bath - it was a great purchase. We also bought a special stand for it - this has never been used. When I was too achey to kneel down, we put the bath on the dining table; now, we put it in the shower tray. No need for a stand.

Parents - is there anything you would add or argue with?

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Huge pink and white flower

After thinking about it for months, I finally got around to giving my blog a makeover. In the past, I've always done my own designs but this time I didn't have the energy or the inclination to google new coding tricks so I bought one from MangoBlogsShop on Etsy. I have fiddled around with it a bit but over all really liked the purchased design. I still need to rewrite my About page, sort a profile picture and give some thought to the sidebar (and I've decided I can't be bothered going back and sorting out the coding on all my book reviews) but, if you're reading this in a feed reader, click through and have a look.

Steve and Matilda at the cinema on Peanuts Movie standee

This has been a big week for Matilda.

Steve and I took her to the cinema for the first time along with Karen and Sorsha. We went to a very busy parent and baby showing of Minions which was a great first film (even if the babies did sleep right through it!). Afterwards, we headed to Starbucks for a coffee, a chat about parenthood and a chance for the girls to peer at one another (which is as close to friendship as babies get).

Matilda and Sorsha meet

I also took her to her first Bookbug session. Bookbug sessions are a half hour of nursery rhymes and storytelling; they take place in libraries all across Scotland.

Matilda was the youngest baby at our local session but only by a month or two. I wasn't sure what she would make of it as she's not really interested in books yet but she spent the half hour staring about her, mouth hanging open in awe. Later that day, she smiled at my singing for the first time so all the nursery rhymes must have made an impression!

And on Friday she rolled over from her front to her back for the first time. This was a huge achievement, particularly as ten weeks old is pretty early to be rolling, but she was cool about the whole thing and seemed baffled as to why I kept flipping her back onto her front - "I just got out of that position, Mum!"

Baby Rooftops Asleep

As for me, I went to Opera in the Park with Steff on Friday. Sadly, after several very hot days, the haar had rolled in. Even with winter clothes on, a blanket over our knees and a thermos of wine to keep us warm, we were freezing! After an hour and a half we retreated to the nice, warm Inn at the Park instead.

Steff and Sarah looking cold at BP Big Screens Opera in Duthie Park

For more photos from my life visit Two Days the Same and/or my Instagram.

Picture Perfect Parenting (or: Social Media for Mothers)

Sarah cuddling Baby Rooftops

I never used to understand people who said that social media made them feel bad. They would talk about the perfect lives their friends were portraying on Facebook or the beautiful coffee dates bloggers were sharing on Instagram and feel like they were failing in comparison.

I didn't get it.

My Facebook has never been full of glamour or bragging. My Facebook used to be full of people whinging about their work or their neighbours or the weather or the seagulls. Nowadays, my Facebook is full of George Takei and running updates (I am never going to be jealous of people's running updates). Most of the holidays my friends take are in rainy parts of the UK and very few of them can afford fancy new shoes. 

My Twitter is a bunch of people I've met through blogging chatting about roof repairs. You are all absolutely awesome but I've been through many, many home emergencies and I'm never going to envy you your leaky chimneys.

And as for Instagram, it used to be nothing but blurry snapshots of necklaces, coffee art and kittens - people were capturing brief, pretty moments in their lives but I wasn't so naive as to think that they were all swanning around, Disney princess style, with bluebirds in their hair and flowers springing up in their footprints. It didn't fool me into thinking they or their lives were perfect.

Sophie the Giraffe

But motherhood seems to have changed all that.

I got a little taste of this while I was pregnant. I had connected with several other bloggers whose babies were due around the same time as mine and I enjoyed comparing their pregnancy notes to my own.

But while I was more or less housebound they were out Instagramming blue and pink cupcakes at their baby showers, extravagant gifts at their leaving dos and pineapple curries on their "last" childfree dates with their partners. While I was having to ask other people to construct Matilda's crib they were tweeting about painting murals, installing new bathrooms and, you know, walking up and down the stairs unaided. I'll admit to feeling a little bit of envy. 

This was tempered by the knowledge that, while they struggled to work with morning sickness, swollen ankles and alarmingly high blood pressure, I was sitting at home reading, online shopping and eating a great deal of cake. 

I could see enough good in both situations to not convince myself that their lives were more perfect than mine. 

Sunlight through leafy tree canopy

It's harder now the babies are all here, though. 

So much of early parenthood is spent feeling overwhelmed, wondering how to do things, worrying that you're getting it wrong. Sometimes all it takes is one Instagrammed wine glass for me to forget that the other new mothers are all having their moments of self doubt and panic, too.

When I look at Instagram, I see other parents taking their babies on excursions (and forget that that's easy when you have a car); I see other parents eating fancy desserts (and forget that we also manage that when we buy them ready made); I see other parents with peacefully slumbering infants (and forget that Matilda spends huge amounts of her time sleeping cutely, too).

It's easy to assume that all the other parents have got it sussed - that they're all perfect earth mothers, drifting through sunny meadows with their babies held aloft, picking berries with which to cook complicated meals. 

Sleeping baby sprawled on lap

But they're not.

And nor am I.

We're all dealing with dirty nappies. 

And, yes, some of their babies will do some of the new tricks sooner than Matilda does (I say that but my child is a super-advanced genius who has so far hit every milestone two weeks earlier than average. Other than the sleeping through the night one, godammit!) but, then, some of their babies are not as calm or as sociable as Matilda. They're all different little kids; their parents all get different deals.

And it's easy to forget that I'm not Instagramming any of the tough stuff, either. My Instagram is all baby cuddles and sunshine through the treetops as we go for family walks. Life looks perfect in an online photo album.

And, actually, ten weeks into parenthood... well... I don't want to say "perfect" is entirely accurate (did I mention the lack of sleep?) but nowadays I know that I've got it pretty good.

Heart print top and tiny button

See also: One of the many times I got sick of Facebook, why I'm all for coffee art and kittens on Instagram and why we need to stop calling people "smug" when they're happy.

Why Matching Mugs Don't Make a House a Home

"This House is Filled With Love" framed print
Print from Freya Art
About ten years ago now, my then-boyfriend and I bought a flat together. We had been house hunting for twelve long months and had spent many, many evenings watching home decor shows and DIY shows and shows about climbing the property ladder so, by the time we finally had the keys to our own place, we had some very clear ideas about what we wanted it to look like.

To our credit, those ideas did include chunky, vintage furniture and homemade shelving and very personal pieces of art. But they also included rigid colour schemes.

Our living room was red and cream. Red sofas, red rug, red lamps, big red canvas on the wall; cream carpet, cream shelving, cream walls, big cream blankets on the sofas.

Our kitchen featured a lot of pale blue Nigella Lawson storage jars and we painted the cupboards and shelving to match. Most of our mugs came in pairs.

None of which was bad. But it wasn't very interesting. We were both creative people and, in hindsight, our choices could have - and should have - been much braver.

We split up a year later and (after a brief stint of sofa surfing) I moved into my own council flat. I had ended up with the bedroom furniture but had nothing else to my name; we had made almost no profit selling up and a series of questionable decisions had landed me on minimum wage. There was no option to buy colour coordinated designer kitchenware or matching faux pine side tables. My sofa was £15 from a charity shop; my armchair was the middle of a friend's mother's old sectional sofa; I picked up wooden chairs and a table from the side of the road; I painted the floorboards white because I couldn't afford to carpet.

That flat was sparse for a while but I loved it. It felt so much more mine. Everything had a story attached. Everything was in some way interesting.

Bright blue "HOME" doormat on yellow polka dot floor

When I bought my own flat, three years later, I carried those lessons over. When Steve and I bought our current place - two years ago today - we consciously took our time choosing the new bits of furniture and filling in the blanks. And I think we have the balance right - it looks simultaneously unplanned (because clearly these chairs don't match and there are ten different shades of wood in one room) and intentional (because the colours and the shapes are in harmony).

My original plan for this week had been to show you some before and afters of the flat but, as most of it is currently buried under dust bunnies and baby props, it's not at its most photogenic. That said, here are my tips and tricks for making your home more you without sacrificing style or your savings:

Bold & Broad Colour Schemes

Bird cage mirror; navy walls

Don't be afraid to use colour - I personally prefer the rooms which we use a lot to be light and bright (living room: pale jade; bedroom: cyan; Matilda's room: pale yellow) but the rooms which we spend less time in to be bold statement colours (kitchen: emerald green; dining room: navy blue). When it comes to furniture and accessories, forget strict red-and-cream colour schemes and opt for a broader palette instead. Look for a range of colours which either harmonise or which purposely clash rather than restricting yourself to anything too defined. For example, our pale jade living room is full of pale blues and greens, dark purples, dark woods and white accessories - we weren't strict about colours when purchasing things but kept this loose colour scheme in mind.

Complementary Shapes

Cat sleeping on telephone table in the sun

I had picked up an Ercol telephone chair in a charity shop a few years ago; when it came to buying an armchair to sit next to it, I knew that pale, chunky legs next to its spindly, dark ones would look really odd - I kept hunting until I found a chair with legs which matched. It's a tiny detail I doubt anybody else notices but it makes the pieces fit so much better next to each other.

Work With What You've Got

Jade fire surround with pom-pom garland
The pom poms were a gift from Elise which I strung together one Christmas.

This is one I very much learned in my council flat where I absolutely hated  the kitchen. It was 70s dark wood effect melamine with washed out blue walls and it was ugly. Until the day I was inspired to paint the walls yellow. Instantly, the room looked cheerful and the cupboards looked intentionally retro. Sometimes small tweaks make huge changes. In this flat, I turned a yucky fire surround into a statement by painting it jade; we moved shelves from one room to another and gave them a lick of paint; the kitchen cupboards we wouldn't have chosen looked a bit less blah for having their trim removed. If you can't afford a huge refit, get creative instead.

Follow Trends Sparingly

Photo wall - black picture frames

Take Pinterest as inspiration not instruction. My home decor board is full of pins I'm not going to copy but, by looking at them, I can get a better idea of what appeals to me. I don't want shelves made of ladders or a wall of hats or to frame our mug collection but, by seeing that I've pinned all of those things, I realise that I like open, interesting storage solutions. I notice I pin a lot of rooms with splashes of colour in strange places; I pin a lot of striped floors; I pin a lot of sparkly things - those are all things I bear in mind when I'm plotting what to do in my own home. I don't pin chevron walls, no matter how in fashion they may be, because they don't appeal to me but I do have a chunky letter S propped on the mantelpiece because that's one trend that I love.

Shared Homes Should Express Both/All Personalities

Heart shaped coasters
Coasters made by my cousin, Susan, who runs Shop Scotland.
But our decor isn't just about me. Would I choose to have skull shaped objects sitting around our living space? Not a chance. But I know they appeal to Steve and Steve owns half of this flat and Steve's personality should be visible, too. There's a certain amount of compromise when two (or more) people share a home - although, contrary to most people's assumptions, a lot of the dinosaurs are mine.

Cherish Stories

Framed family portrait; toy dinosaur; succulent
The family portrait was our new baby card from Laura.

Almost everything in this flat has a story attached - where we found it or why we bought it or which of our friends made it. Where possible, be patient. Wait to find something you love instead of plunking for a matching set of flatpack furniture. It's always more fun to say, "Our friend made this table from scaffolding board" than, "Oh, we bought it in Argos."

The Best and Worst Bits of Life With a Newborn

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me what the best and worst bits of life with a baby are. It took me several hours to reply to her text message (because I was feeding and then entertaining Matilda) and it has taken me several weeks to write the resulting blog post (because I was feeding and then entertaining Matilda) but here goes!

Baby Rooftops peeking over yellow hand knitted cardigan

Let's get the not-so-great bits out of the way first, shall we?

Incidentally, these are the best and the worst bits for me. I know, for example, that a lot of people would have "The crying! Oh my god, the crying!" at the top of this list but - so far - Matilda is not a very weepy baby; I can't really complain about her occasional grump. On the other hand, some people manage to cook fancy meals whilst looking after a newborn, whereas I can't seem to make myself a sandwich.

So. Here are the things which I do find challenging:

The Worst Bits of Life With a Newborn

Dirty Nappies

In particular: dirty nappies at 3am. Self explanatory, right?

The Mad Housework Dash

Although Matilda sleeps well at night, through the day she will only really nap in my arms. As a result, the mountains of laundry and the forest of dirty baby bottles get dealt with in the evening or at the weekend and I always feel a tiny bit stressed about potentially falling behind - I'm totally(-ish) fine with the flat being a little grottier than usual but the things which allow me to keep Matilda alive and healthy have to get done somehow.

The Steep Learning Curve

I'm used to feeling like a competent, capable person but suddenly I'm having to learn how to do everything. I don't just mean the baby-specific things like reading Matilda's body language, putting the ideal number of sheets on her bed and buying the correct size of nappies - I mean such simple, everyday things as catching a bus (with a pram!) or nipping to the corner shop (with a pram!) or going to a cafe (with a pram!). It's odd, not really knowing what I'm doing half the time.

The Exhaustion

I don't mean the sleep deprivation (that's tough but I'm pretty used to poor quality sleep); I mean twelve hours a day of caring for and attempting to entertain a baby. Things get a bit repetitive, waving the same toys around on the same playmat in the same flat, day after day. It's getting easier now Matilda and I are better able to get out and about (I'm stronger; she's calmer) but I still hit a wall about four o'clock most days and feel very, very ready for Steve to get home from work.

Sharing a Bedroom

Partly, this is because babies can be restless and noisy - the best description I saw on a parenting forum was, "It's like sharing a bedroom with a very noisy badger". Spot on. It's taken me a while to start sleeping through Matilda's non-urgent snuffling. There's also the question of what it is and is not appropriate for two grown ups to get up to with a baby sleeping two feet away...

Realising That I Have Nothing Else to Talk About

Not that any of my friends expect me to talk about anything else right now, but I still find myself worrying that I'm boring them and apologising for my single track mind.

But it's not all tricky stuff. In a lot of ways, the past nine weeks have been incredible.

The Best Bits of Life With a Newborn

The Slow Pace

I spend so much of my day sitting on the sofa, not-so-tiny baby curled against my chest. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I surf the net. Sometimes I just watch her sleep. Having to slow down and let my normal routine slide is rather lovely.

Her Ferocious Determination

Nine weeks ago, Matilda didn't exist - not really. That's incredible to me. And it's amazing how much she has learned since then. When she puts her mind to something, she tries and she tries and she tries and she shouts and she squeals and she thrashes all her limbs around madly until she finally succeeds.

Her Curiosity

For the first six weeks or so, Matilda found pretty much anything outside the flat overwhelming - if we took her anywhere new, she would bury her face into one of us and cling on tight. Suddenly, she's fascinated by the world. We take her out in her carrier and instead of falling asleep she gazes around her. I love watching her learn.

The Other Parent

My heart could burst watching Steve and Matilda interact. This has all been new to Steve, too, and it's incredible watching him find his confidence as a father; he has gone from not having a clue what to say to her to swooshing her around the room, singing nonsense songs and wittering on about dinosaurs. I'm so full of love for my tiny family.

Baby Clothes

So adorable.

Children's Books

As above.

The Smiles

There is nothing in the world - nothing at all - as beautiful as Matilda's smile. Especially when it's aimed right at me.