#JanuaryJoy: Get Organised

So often, ‘get organised’ New Year prompts are about diary management – something I’m always keen to improve… I must double book myself at least once a week. The thought of returning to work and having to plan not only where I am but where Bea is on a daily basis, frankly terrifies me and so I will be fascinated by todays post and all your comments. I’d love to hear how all of you (working mum or not,) balance your life and various commitments and any pointers you have! Over to Esme…


Have you read Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please? In it she talks about how motherhood changed her and some of the things she finds hard, and she suggests a mantra for mothers to use that I really like: “Good for you, not for me”. She calls us all out for saying things that, at first, sound supportive, but are actually us being judgemental over someone else’s choices or working patterns. She tells us that we should support each others decisions, even if it’s not what we would do. Taking this advice into account, it’s difficult for me to offer advice for how to regain balance in your family life, because maybe you want to make very different decisions from me. If that is the case then I hope that you will respect my choices, just as I would respect yours.

At the beginning of 2014 I decided to set myself up as self-employed in order to stay at home as much as I could with Freddie, while still bringing in some money. “It’ll be a really good balance,” I thought to myself and told everyone who would listen, “Once I’ve got a good set of clients and regular work coming in, Freddie will go to nursery for a couple of slots a week and I’ll work around him. I’ll have time for everything!”

Best laid plans, and all that. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t get enough work, or that Freddie didn’t settle into nursery, it was that after doing a temporary freelance full-time post in an office I realised that I wanted the structure of an office job again. I was very lucky to find a part-time job somewhere I wanted to work very quickly, and, suddenly, we had a very different routine to work out. Since I went back to working structured hours, I’ve been trying to work out the conundrum of being part of a family with two working parents. The only thing I can conclude is that there are not enough hours in the day to be able to do everything you would want or even need to do. Being a working mother and the ‘issues’ and the guilt that entails is part of the struggle (but not the subject of this post, so I won’t dwell on this), but really it’s about trying to find a way not to let anything slide. It is about finding a balance, a balance that works for your family.

When I became a mother I kept trying to work out whether I’d changed or not. Was I the same person as I was before? Had this new person coming into my life dramatically altered me? I came to the conclusion (and still think this now) that being a mother simply became another part of me, an addition to what was a whole person before. But if I used up all of my time being an employee, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a blogger and a woman, how could I possibly fit in another incredibly time consuming role?

We haven’t got it all worked out. I don’t have it all, not even by a long way. But we do have something that resembles a balance that we’re happy with. The key for me has been realising that I had to find a new way of working things out, making the things that were a priority for me an actual priority. I also had to let go of spending all day with my son if I wanted to work. I will never be able to see every milestone Freddie reaches, just as I can’t be there to hear about every achievement my husband has at work. I can’t be at work for every meeting because I don’t work on Mondays and I have to leave by 4.15. I have to balance the emotions about missing out with the knowledge that me working part-time is what is best for me right now, and – by association – best for my family.

Making an effort in my marriage is important to me, so we ask friends to babysit and have even had our parents take Freddie for a night or two on more than one occasion. Having time to myself is important as well, so I say yes to meetings friends for drinks in the evening and book in the odd Esme-only Saturday morning to go shopping or just read in bed. I admit that my friendships have taken a back seat over the past almost two years, and I have to hope that those people who are true friends will understand and will still be there when I emerge from this period of having young children.

I work hard when I’m at work (and have been rewarded for it already in a small promotion in my current role), but I endeavour to always leave on time. This is partly because Tom’s job has long hours and quite a lot of travelling and so, between us, we balance the responsibility of dropping off and collecting Freddie from nursery and being the ones who see him in the morning and in the evening. Sometimes it’s both of us, sometimes it’s me every evening for two weeks. The balance isn’t always perfect, but we try. And when something goes wrong we just scramble together a temporary solution. There is usually an ‘exceptional’ day at least once a week.

This is our regular weekly routine:

Monday: My day at home with Freddie, Tom normally travels on Mondays and often leaves very early and returns late. I try not to do too many jobs around the house and concentrate on having a fun Freddie-focused day.

Tuesday – Thursday:
7.30 I leave the house and travel to work, arriving at 8.30
8:15 Tom takes Freddie to nursery and goes to work
4:15 I finish work, run to the station and travel home
5:15 I collect Freddie
5.45 Everyone is home.

Friday: Every other week Tom has Friday off and has a daddy and Freddie day, the other week my in-laws travel to look after him and Tom works a shorter day. If I have to work late, I make sure it’s on Fridays.

This year I’m going to work on being more relaxed about the routine, about finding the perfect balance. I want to say no to spending too many weekends away from home, but yes to sometimes pushing the boundaries of nap times, taking all my holiday from work to have adventures and the occasional ‘personal day’ or day with friends. Having reflected on the balance of work/family/relaxation we currently have by writing this post, I have to say that I’m proud of what we’ve achieved. Ultimately, we have a happy and healthy son who is developing well, and that is what matters. Isn’t it?

Because I’m nosey, I really want to know: how do you feel about your balance right now? Are you trying to readdress it?

Love, Esme.

Find Esme on her blog Esme Wins or on Twitter @esmewwins

Family lifestyle: family-friendly eating out

Hello readers!

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to blog. To be perfectly honest, this ‘family lifestyle’ blogger is feeling like her lifestyle is work, run around after a toddler, cook, housework, crash in front of the TV, sleep, more work… And repeat. Daily. That’s not to say I don’t LOVE being a mum to a busy, energetic, happy toddler – I really, really do – it just doesn’t leave a lot of time for things like painting my nails, or catching-up with friends, or blogging. But I’ve missed it, so here I am, avoiding housework and writing!

One subject that I’ve been wanting to write about for an age is options for eating out with a little one in tow. It’s something we don’t do that often, and so when we do take Freddie out we like to know it’s going to be a success. Here are some of our favourite family-friendly restaurants and cafés.

Wagamama

We took Freddie to our local Wagamama on his first birthday after hearing good things about their kids menu, and we were not disappointed. Six months later, I’m yet to be as impressed by children’s menu offerings as I was at Wagamama – not only are the options a bit different from the normal sausages and pasta, it’s great value (all the main courses are less than £5) and it’s all healthy. I really liked that the elements of the dish were separated, with the sauce on the side, and Freddie had 3 vegetables to pick at – something I’ve never seen in any other restaurant. A huge plus also came from the way the waiter didn’t even bat an eyelid when he saw the pile of sweetcorn and rice on the floor. We’ll be back.

The Volunteer Tavern, Bristol

The best Sunday lunch we’ve had since Freddie was born was at the Volunteer Tavern in Bristol, which we visited with my best friend and her husband a few months ago. Despite being a pretty ‘hip’ place, the young staff instantly took a shining to our son who was bopping away to the reggae they had on and happily produced a toddler-sized portion of their chicken roast for about £4. Highly recommended. 

M&S café

In our town we are blessed with a multitude of excellent independent cafés, serving delicious coffee and homemade cake (our favourite will always be Corleone, if you’re visiting), but they are often too busy to find a space for us all or even get the pushchair in – never mind nab a highchair. If I’m meeting fellow mums for a drink and snack, both of us with little ones in tow, I always suggest the Marks and Spencer café. My husband always mocks me for this brand loyalty, but sometimes you just need to know that there will be highchairs in abundance, clean toilets with changing facilities nearby, toddler-friendly snack options (Freddie particularly likes the cheese scones) and space for two pushchairs. Plus there are usually a few friendly pensioners ready to coo over your well-behaved child (excuse me while I fall off my chair laughing…). I save the tiny, cute cafes with the free newspapers and coffee in easy-for-little-hands-to-grab cups for solo trips.

See also, John Lewis cafés.

Woody’s, Kingston-Upon-Thames

Walking around Kingston with friends on a particularly hot day this summer, we realised we’d forgotten to bring anything for Freddie and so grabbed a table outside Woody’s at about 11.45. After a quick look at the menu we realised we’d discovered a gem. A box of lego, a healthy carrot and dip starter, delicious main course and refreshing fresh melon for desert (all for around £6) later, we were hooked. The staff were busy, but friendly and welcoming and brought the bill instantly when Freddie decided he’d rather chase dogs than stick around.

My tips for a successful family meal out

  • Do your homework. Book ahead for the best tables at the busiest places and always have a back-up plan if you haven’t. Make sure the place has a toilet and a highchair available.
  • Go early and order the kids’ food straight away. I liked this line from this article: “the child prepared to patiently wait half an hour for a plate of chips hasn’t been born yet.” Very true.
  • Be confident and go with it, but be prepared to leave quickly if you need to. The few times we’ve gone out for lunch or an early dinner with a larger group and Freddie I’ll admit I’ve been anxious that he’ll ruin it for everyone and we’d have to leave not having eaten anything. But when I’ve given into him wanting to sit under the table and zoom his cars over the chairs we’ve all had a better time.
  • If all else fails, order a jacket potato with beans. Never fails.
I’d love to hear your favourite independent family eateries. As for chains, I’ve heard good things about Pizza Express and Giraffe for toddlers – anyone taken their little one?

Love, Esme.

Find Esme on her blog Esme Wins or on Twitter @Real_Married

Meet & Greet: Esme

This morning I’m re-introducing Esme, our Family Lifestyle contributor. I’m always interested in how mums make everything we do on a day to day basis work for them and their particular set of circumstances, so I’m looking forward to hearing more from Esme and her family in the coming months! Look out for her newest post tomorrow…

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I’m a busy working mum to an energetic, constantly hungry, car-obsessed toddler called Freddie and wife to Tom. I love reading on the train to work, eating good food and enjoying a glass of wine with friends. I like to consider myself organised, but I can’t deny I’m a worrier.

At the moment my life is about trying to find some balance, but toning down the being away every weekend/having friends over/exploring and discovering new restaurants and galleries that it used to be about and instead cherishing simple family time. I find that pretty exciting in itself.

What are you going to be writing about?

My posts are all about ‘family lifestyle’: what works for us as a family with a toddler, ideas for days out and my thoughts on making busy family lives a bit easier. I’m learning as I go and sharing everything I learn.

What is your weekday/weekend uniform?

During the week at work I stick to simple and smart-ish dresses, or a pretty top, navy ankle-length trousers and ballet pumps. At the weekend, I’m all about comfy, but flattering jersey dresses, jeans with a bright top and chunky necklaces and shoes I can run around the garden in. I’m not afraid to wear a proper waterproof for damp park sessions, but I also love any opportunity to wear red lipstick and heels.

Favourite Food?

Pasta, always. I often say to my husband that I it would take a long time for me to get sick of pasta at every meal.

Holiday destination recommendation?

Capri, Italy. We went on our honeymoon and whenever I need to think about my happy place, I imagine myself sitting by the pool with a glass of fresh lemon water and the perfect blue sky.

Can’t live without Beauty product?

I’m not one for expensive products, but I cannot live without Laura Mercier tinted moisturiser.

Last book I read…

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

What does your perfect weekend look like?

It would involve a lie-in, a good run, going out for lunch with all the friends we don’t see enough, a National Trust trip (with cake), an evening on the sofa with a new box set and my husband, and getting to the end of the To Do list. I would get to relax, laugh with Freddie and feel refreshed.

Love, Esme.

Find Esme on her blog Esme Wins or on Twitter @Real_Married

Family Lifestyle: Mum & Dad’s Date night

Before we became parents, we always said we wanted to be the kind of parents who prioritised their marriage. I’m not sure where I come down on the ‘put your marriage before your children’ line, but what I do know is that I love my son and husband a huge amount. Tom and I have been together a long time and, despite this(!) I still love spending time with him and neither of us wanted to forget why were married and raising a child in the first place.


Image credit

I’m not going to lie, making an effort with my husband was way down on the priorities list for a long time – behind eating, washing my face and getting more sleep – but when the new year came round we decided together to make a resolution to have a date once a month and, so far, have stuck to it. Finding the time, and a babysitter, has been difficult, but we both feel very strongly about how important this is now. And, actually, it’s been wonderful and definitely worth it.

Perhaps you think I sound a little callous saying that I like spending time away from my baby. The fact of the matter is that before I became Freddie’s mum, I married Tom and made a commitment to him as his wife. It should go without saying that we make sure Freddie is with someone he knows and would rush home if he needed us, but as long as he’s doing alright, we will continue to make time for ourselves on a regular basis. I think it’s really important to get this into our routine now, before our baby becomes a child.

Growing up my parents didn’t have a very strong marriage and they divorced when I was a teenager. While they never wavered in showing me affection, looking back I find it sad that I don’t remember them going out much at all and certainly never cuddling on the sofa or holding hands. Clearly they married the wrong person, which is a whole other story, but I’ve always known that that’s not the kind of marriage I want and I don’t believe we can keep it strong without putting constant effort. We’ve also made a rule that we kiss each other hello and goodbye first, and Freddie second. It doesn’t always happen, but it does make me feel special when Tom comes home after a stressful day and although Freddie is reaching out for him, I get the first acknowledgement. (This was instigated after me telling a story about a family I used to see coming off the train from work: the dad brought the son to the station to meet mummy and she would instantly gather him up and smother him in kisses. It wasn’t until they were getting into their car that she would off-handedly ask her husband how his day had been. It was a bittersweet moment that I saw everyday.)

So far we’ve had a couple of meals out and a night at the cinema, but next on my list is a daytime date. Having a leisurely lunch without grabbing hands sounds like my idea of heaven right now, and with Freddie loving his time with grandparents and my sister and his cousin, it’s going to get booked in soon. We’ve also booked a night away for our anniversary in August, which feels like a huge step at the moment, but I know it’s the right thing to do.

As much as I cringe at the phrase ‘date night’, I’m a true convert now I’m a mum. I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with my opinion on prioritising nights away from the kids. Could you do it? Or do you have any suggestions for keeping your marriage strong after you’ve had a baby?

Love, Esme.

Find Esme on her blog Esme Wins or @Real_Married

Family Lifestyle: Family Fraud

Today Esme is broaching a subject that is very near to my heart as a blogger, the reality behind the on-screen facade. It’s extremely hard as a blogger to bridge the gap between those who want pretty escapism and those who find a perpetually positive approach at best saccharine and at worst perpetuating the media factory of idealism that makes the average reader feel inadequate. I personally prefer positivity as I feel I really have little in life to complain about, but thats not to say that like all of you I don’t have the same daily trials and tribulations. Being a new Mum is difficult enough without holding yourself up to ‘blogger mums’ so I’m glad Esme is keeping it real today…

I’m a fraud. I think you should know that I’m not what you think I am. Perhaps I should explain…

Nearly all of us bloggers are guilty of presenting an image that is not a complete representation of our lives, but, of course, most of the time that’s fine and kind of the point of blogging: it’s escapism and offering something to aspire to. Ever since Rebecca started Florence Finds that’s what this blog has been for me, an opportunity to look at some pretty clothes, dream about perfecting my beauty routine and a bit of a break from the daily grind imagining that one day I too could be as stylish and organised as her. When Rebecca asked me to write a family column here, I jumped at the chance. But when she titled it ‘family lifestyle’, I have to admit I was a bit scared – there was no way my real life could live up to what she would want.

The fear of coming across as Rebecca’s boring mum friend soon went away as I realised I had lots to write about, but when I started thinking about my next columns I realised that I had inadvertently already begun to portray a side of my family that is not completely honest. Don’t get me wrong, we really did go to Belgium, we do love the National Trust and Freddie really is that cute, but the smiley, happy, loved-up family days such as the Welcome to the World party are not our everyday and I would never want any new or expectant (or hoping one day to be) mums to think I’m something I’m not.

I adore my life right now, but it is not all baby giggles and trips away. We are by no means a perfect family and I am not a perfect mum: money is tight, my husband works more than I’d like, my baby does sleep through the night, but can be a complete nightmare during the day if he wants to. I get very stressed sometimes, am generally found to be wearing my least dirty terribly fitting jeans with a baggy t-shirt to hide my 9 months post-baby tummy and find myself doing that mum cliche of collapsing on the sofa at the end of the day with a glass of wine more often than I’d like to admit. I am not stylish, back in my pre-pregnancy jeans or able to juggle looking after a baby full-time with being a housewife (not mentioning an actual wife) and keeping in touch with friends as often as I’d like. I definitely don’t ‘have it all’.

I know that when Freddie was first born and I was struggling very, very hard with breast feeding, reading something like this ‘New Years Resolutions’ post on the stylist Emily Henderson’s blog would have made me feel completely inadequate and feel like I was failing even more than I already felt I was. Now I’ve got a few months under my belt (and a few more than Emily Henderson, I might add), I can step back from that post and knowingly declare to the mums who may have read it that they are not to worry. And because the last thing I would want to do is write something that would make someone like the new mum I was feel bad, I wanted to write this post so you all know the truth.

So what is the truth? Am I worthy of writing a column titled ‘family lifestyle’? Of course I am, as long as I give you all something you can believe in – a bit of the ‘sunnier’ side of life as a three, along with the starker reality.

Is that alright with you?

Love, Esme

Have you ever found yourself feeling inadequate after reading a blog, and do you have any favourite blogs that ‘keep it real’?

Find Esme on her blog Esme Wins or @Real_Married

Christmas Gift Guide #2: For Mums (of all ages) by Esme

Today’s gift guide is from Esme, who is bringing us a list of pampering and spoiling suggestions for new mums and in fact, mums everywhere of all ages. Hint: Forward the link to your OH and thank Esme later 😉

Under £20

£20 – £30

Splash out

Can you add to this list readers – We’d both love to hear any suggestions you might have. It’s looking like the Joules pyjamas are pretty hot this year!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

Introducing Esme: Family Lifestyle

Good morning readers! Today I have another lovely lady joining the Florence Finds team. Esme is a smart cookie, great writer, and Mum to 7 month old Freddie. As I know so many of you are mothers, I want to include more family life here on Florence Finds. Esme is going to be our family lifestyle contributor, talking about all things family. This month, think Girl about Town, with a BabyBjorn 🙂


Hello lovely Florence Finds readers! I’m absolutely thrilled to be here writing for one of my favourite blogs, especially as I will be writing about one of my favourite topics: family. So, let’s get started, shall we?

Long before we welcomed our little boy Freddie into the world, my husband and I were big fans of the National Trust. We’ve been members since we were about 19 and were lucky enough to be given a joint lifetime membership as a wedding present, so we’ve been to our fair share of properties and gardens. But since we’ve become parents our love for this British institution has grown even more – National Trust places are ideal for family day trips.

Here are my top picks for family (and especially baby) friendly days out with the National Trust.


Aberaeron

Baddesley Clinton
A 15th century house with large gardens and, most importantly, a great restaurant that offers a selection of homemade hot and cold food options (along with tea and cake, of course). We visited Baddesley Clinton not long after Freddie had started on solid food and they didn’t even bat an eyelid when he threw his mashed swede around the highchair, one member of staff was happy to show me how to use the microwave available for baby and children’s food you’ve brought yourself and there was even a bottle warmer. Baby changing facilities are in the disabled loo, which is the usual, and everything was pushchair and wheelchair accessible.

We stopped off here halfway round a circular walk that started at Packwood House and takes around 2.5 hours in total. The route is beautiful, taking you along the Stratford-Upon-Avon canal passing plenty of canal-side pubs if you fancy Sunday lunch rather than tea and cake. Unfortunately it’s definitely not buggy-friendly, but there are plenty of things look at to keep slightly older children entertained.


Anglesey-Abbey

Knightshayes
We only discovered Knightshayes this year, but it’s so lovely we’ve been there twice already and it is certain to become our default place to stretch our legs when driving to the South West (it’s 7 miles off the M5, not far from Exeter). It’s got a beautiful kitchen garden (perfect for inquisitive little ones), acres of grass for letting off steam and a perfectly manicured garden with funny topiary.

The cafe has a larger-than-average selection of cakes and I can confirm the staff are definitely not anti-breastfeeding.


Snowshill-Manor

Brockhampton Estate
This is one we’re looking forward to exploring further next time we go to visit my mum as we literally drive past it on our way to Mid Wales, but have only managed to stop for a quick lunch and to give a grumpy baby a break from the car. This is one of the things we love about the National Trust: when you’re travelling and need to stop for anything other than petrol, you can’t beat them – the food is often homemade on the premises, you’re guaranteed to find something more interesting to look at than a service station car park and the toilets are always clean and have somewhere to change the baby.

Lanhydrock
We tend to spend most of our time outside or in the cafe when we visit somewhere National Trust owned, but one of the properties you have to take time to look around is Lanhydrock in Cornwall. I probably wouldn’t recommend taking your 4 month old baby if you really want to appreciate the 100 plus rooms (like we did), but if you do then rest assured that although you can’t take your pushchair around with you, there is somewhere to lock it up securely and they will lend you either a sling or a ‘hippy chick’ (a belt that clips around your hips/waist with a hard ledge that you can rest the baby on to give your arms and back a rest) and staff will coo over them in every room even if they are crying and/or grabbing at everything.


Lanhydrock

Also, the cream tea in the cafe comes with a proper pot of tea, a large pot of clotted cream and two scones (as is only proper in Cornwall, but is unfortunately not always the case).

I can’t wait to take Freddie to some of our other favourite National Trust places such as Anglesey Abbey, which is just outside of Cambridge and has one of the best selections of trees in the country, and Llanerchaeron, the 18th century Welsh estate with a home farm that will definitely be combined with a honey ice-cream and a stroll by the sea in nearby beautiful Aberaeron – my four year old niece’s favourite day trip. Oh, and Snowshill Manor  with its quirky model villages, but maybe that’s one for when Freddie is a bit older.

I hope I’ve inspired you to take a trip to your local National Trust property, garden or coastline or to revisit somewhere you used to visit as a child.

Love, Esme.

Find Esme on her blog Esme Wins or @Real_Married

** The National Trust have currently got a special offer on membership where if you pay by annual Direct Debit, you get 3 months free! A family membership with two adults (under 5s are free) is £75.72, an absolute bargain if you ask me **