Babies: Apps

I know we live in a world that is largely over-dependant on smart phones, but they do come in handy. I’ve played around with quite a few apps since Clem was born for various different things and I thought I’d share the ones I’ve found most useful.

Baby Tracker (free or AU$6.49 | iPhone only)
For tracking feeds, nappy changes & sleeps. You can use it for free or you can pay a one off fee to keep using the graphs, which I really like because they’re a good visual summary and can help to identify patterns. I tried a lot of different tracking apps and I like this one best because it’s reliable, easy to use, and isn’t crowded with a lot of other features I don’t want to use.

23 Snaps (free | iPhone & Android)
A private way to share photos and videos with family and close friends, saving your Facebook feed from baby photo overload. The people you share with don’t need to have the app or even an account – all they need is an email address to receive updates, which is great if you have any non-tech-savvy family members! If they do sign up, they can post comments and likes like any other social network.

The Wonder Weeks (AU$1.99-2.28 | iPhone & Android)
Accompanies the book of the same name, which I’d also recommend. I’ve tried to avoid information overload from reading too many baby books but I like the Wonder Weeks because it explains why your baby might suddenly become clingy or start crying a lot and what big developments you can look forward to once s/he’s gotten through the fussy period. The app doesn’t replace the book but it gives you summaries from it and a little chart of when your baby’s wonder weeks will most likely happen.

My Baby Today (free | iPhone & Android)
Daily articles about what progress you could see in your baby. It’s from the Australian version of the Baby Center website but the info is not quite as good as the Raising Children Network, it’s just I don’t think RC has an app.

Sound Sleeper (free or AU$3.99 | iPhone only)
White noise app for helping babies sleep including noises like shhhh, a mother’s heartbeat, vacuum cleaner, rain, etc. You can even record your own noises. You can pay an upgrade for extra features such as longer play and a sleep tracking thing if you want to.

Spotify (free or AU$11.99/month | iPhone & Android)
I’ve used Spotify to play instrumental lullaby versions of pop songs, which Clem seems to like and it’s a bit more interesting for us than traditional lullabies. ;) Some of the artists I’ve found for this are Rockaby Baby!, Sweet Little Band, Nico Infante, Rockaby Lullaby and Twinkle Twinkle Little Rock Star. I ended up paying for a monthly subscription because I found the ads a bit jarring if she was drifting off to sleep.

Feed Safe (free | iPhone only)
A timer made by the Australian Breastfeeding Association that calculates when your breastmilk will be free from alcohol. It also contains a useful (and not too overbearing) FAQ about drinking and breastfeeding.

Mind the Bump (free | iPhone & Android)
Meditation/awareness app developed in association with Beyond Blue for use throughout pregnancy and after birth to promote bonding with your baby and partner and to help avoid baby-related depression.

As a general thing, I also found that while I was breastfeeding I tended to mindlessly go over and over my Facebook feed, refreshing it even when there was no new content, just as something to do. I’ve felt much better since I turned off all social media notifications and started using the Kindle or iBooks apps to read to pass the time instead. That way I feel like I’m nuturing my brain rather than letting it slowly rot! Podcasts are also good for passing the time when your hands are occupied with feeding a bub.

Babies: Antenatal Classes

We ended up going to quite a few antenatal classes. We signed up for the hospital one early on because we didn’t have time to research alternatives before it got booked out but the other classes we went to in between booking and attending the hospital one were the most helpful. We were also very lucky that one of my aunts happens to be a midwife and she flew down from Brisbane to Melbourne specially to give us a private session of her own class!

We didn’t set out to do quite so many classes but I liked it because it gave us refreshers on things we’d forgotten, the opportunity to ask questions that hadn’t occurred to us earlier, and different perspectives on various aspects which enabled us to form a well rounded picture. I also preferred classes over reading books: I think hearing the information is more helpful than reading it because the tone with which it’s delivered makes a difference and it’s really great being able to discuss questions live.

birthwell birthright Lamaze: Weekend Intensive Course

This was our main labour & birthing class. Apparently Lamaze used to be a big thing in the US and was all about a particular type of breathing, but it’s moved on since then. I found it really helpful because it was the first time I’d really heard about the different stages of labour (especially reassuring to find out the worst part is the shortest!) and it gave us practical things to do when the time came, from taking our mind off it in the early stages to hands-on physical strategies for when things got serious. After the class I felt like I was much more mentally prepared for what was to come. It wasn’t heavy on any candles/music/visualisation stuff, which just didn’t appeal very much to me personally.

Other options are Rhea Dempsey’s Embracing the Intensity workshop which I’ve heard a lot of good things about, Calmbirth and HypnoBirthing. I recommend finding out what is available in your area and reading up on their approach to see what appeals the most to you.

Parent Prep: Full Parenting Preparation Group Class (Intensive)

This is a fantastic class! It’s all very well going to classes to help you through the day or two of labour, but this class focuses on the first 3 months of you newborn’s life. We learnt lots of different settling techniques, practised swaddling and bathing, and discussed all different kinds of baby stuff. We got to try on different wraps and carriers and look at different brands of nappies and bottles, as well as all sorts of other things. Doing this class meant I never had that feeling of coming home from the hospital and wondering, “Ummm, so what happens now?” Highly recommended!

Royal Women’s Hospital: Fundamental Childbirth Education (Group Sessions)

The hospital class was split into two parts which kind of summarised the two areas above: labour/birth and early parenting. It was okay as a refresher of what we’d already covered in other classes but fairly rushed and it didn’t feel like they covered things in enough detail. If we’d only done the hospital classes I don’t think I would have been filled with the same level of confidence we got from the others. What was good was just casually chatting with the midwives that led our sessions about their experiences, finding out the hospital’s policy on things that we’d heard about during the other classes and taking a tour of the hospital’s birthing suites and maternity wards.

Disclaimer: I’m not any kind of birthing/parenting expert, these are just my opinions based on personal experience and research. It’s all Melbourne-centric too, since that’s where I live!

Babies: Stuff

Nearly one year since my last post and I now have a 3 month old bundle of joy in my life! In the spirit of my travel-related posts I wanted to share some of the things we’ve found useful just in case anyone else finds them helpful too. I’m certainly no kind of parenting expert at all, and goodness knows you get bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information and (often conflicting) advice when you’re about to or have just become a parent, but if you do find any of this useful, fantastic! If not, that’s totally fine too.

This post is about… STUFF.

Maternity Clothes:

They are expensive. For the most part you can get away with buying larger sizes of normal clothes, but there are certain things – namely pants – that you will want to get a maternity version of for your own comfort.

Side note: maternity jeans are the comfiest jeans ever. You will wish all jeans could be like maternity jeans.*

You can get significantly cheaper maternity clothes at H&M and large Kmart stores, but I’d recommend getting bras from somewhere you can be professionally fitted (eg Myer). If you need some fancy maternity clothes for a special event (eg wedding) try the Pea In A Pod factory outlet in Collingwood. (Still more expensive than normal clothes, but they have a much bigger range than H&M or Kmart.)

*Top tip for post-baby pants: Katies denim! Probably the closest thing you can get to maternity pants that aren’t actually maternity pants.

Baby Clothes:

Basically, don’t buy heaps of newborn (0000) and 0-3 month (000) sized clothes. They’re ridiculously cute and tempting but your bub will most likely grow out of them before each outfit gets even one wear. You will need some though – babies can go through several changes of clothes a day. Oh, and unless you’re due in winter, you’re unlikely to need any socks until they’re at least 3 months old. Target and Kmart have quite decent and very affordable babies clothes. Cotton On have some very cute stuff too.

In a similar vein, don’t stockpile too many newborn size nappies or you could end up with heaps of unusable leftovers.

Transport:

Car seat/capsule, carrier and pram/stroller will probably be your biggest investments. Having said that, you don’t need to spend a fortune to get good ones. I recommend signing up for an online Choice membership, which you can always cancel after 3 months if you don’t need it any more. They have a detailed section on kids stuff and their tests often reveal that cheap models can be just as good as, if not better than, expensive ones.

Important considerations:

  • Car seat – They can take up a LOT of room. If you have a small car ask about models that won’t leave the front seat passenger with their knees folded up around their ears. You don’t need excessive padding either. It looks good, but in our experience it just leads to a screaming, overheated bub. If you’re the least bit unsure about how to install it get it professionally fitted. We got a Britax Safe-N-Sound Compaq AHR which suited our Toyota Corolla, but removed all the strap padding because it’s too hot and choke-y in summer.
  • Soft structured carrier – Not all babies like being in carriers but we’ve found ours very convenient for our life in the inner city and it gets more use than our stroller. Carriers that allow your bub’s legs to sit in a froggy “M” position are best for hip development. We were tossing up between an Ergo and a Manduca – we went for the Manduca in the end because it was cheaper and didn’t require an additional padded insert for the early months. We’ve also found a borrowed Hugabub wrap invaluable for surviving the witching hour in the early days.
  • Pram/stroller – Visit a physical store to do some test driving. Make sure it’s easy to manoeuvre, fold, lift and load into the boot of your car. Then you can buy the model you like online where it’s probably cheaper. We skipped the pram and went straight for a Maclaren Quest Elite stroller: it lies back so it’s suitable from birth, turns on a dime, folds up in seconds and is super light.

Be aware that sometimes models go out of stock across the board and it can take a couple of months until they’re back in, so you might want to get big items sorted a couple of months before your due date. If you’ve only got enough brain power and energy to sort one thing, make the car seat since you need that to get home from the hospital.

Practise using all of these before the baby arrives. Especially the car seat!

Sleep:

I always thought we’d put our bub straight into a cot, but we wanted to have her in our room for at least the first few months and a cot was not going to fit, so we used a moses basket and stand. She was wee when she was born and grew out of it in only 2 months, but for us it was better than a traditional bassinet because it was easy to transport up and down our stairs and we could even pop it in the car to take on visits to family and friends’ houses. We got our cot and change table from Ikea.

Practise your swaddling skills before your little one arrives. If you want to make things easier on yourself try to snag some second hand Love to Dream Swaddle Ups on eBay. They’re usually in good condition because they aren’t used for very long and they’re just too expensive new ($40!). They’re brilliant and as a fun added bonus they make your bub look like a starfish. Or a caterpillar. :)

Kindle Paperwhite vs Keyboard

I bought a new Kindle. I have a perfectly good Kindle Keyboard but about two weeks ago I bought a brand new Kindle Paperwhite (2013 model) on a whim. It was quite an indulgence to upgrade when there was nothing wrong with the old model, but I’ve been pretty pleased with the new one!

Kindle Keyboard and Paperwhite

If you’re considering a similar upgrade you might be wondering whether it’s worth it. Here’s what I’ve found:

Pros:

  • The backlight! This of course is the biggest advantage the Paperwhite has over the Keyboard. Brilliant, even coverage which is easy on the eyes, and you can turn it off completely if you don’t need it. It’s quite powerful too – I’ve haven’t needed to turn it up any more than 50% so far.
  • The touch screen is quick and intuitive.
  • Navigation, page turns and functions (eg dictionary look up) are much faster and more responsive.
  •  It’s really nice being able to browse your books by cover.
  • It’s smaller and lighter than the Keyboard, but the screen is bigger.
  • The type is darker and clearer. (I read in a forum that some people had compared demo model Paperwhites to their Keyboards and found the type to be blocky and inferior, but I think the demos must have just gone a bit wrong from being handled too much and too roughly in store.)
  • You can get cases that work like iPad covers – open it and the Kindle wakes up without having to press any buttons!
  • It can roughly calculate how much time it will take you to finish the current chapter, as well as the rest of the book.
  • I thought I’d miss the page turn buttons from the Keyboard but you get used to turning pages by touch pretty easily. Sometimes it’s even better than the buttons, eg if you’re eating a sandwich and only have a spare knuckle.
  • You can look at multiple word phrases in the dictionary much more easily now.
  • Collections now appear in alphabetical order rather than recently accessed.
  • Authors are now sorted alphabetically by last name, instead of first name. (Although this could have had something to do with me cleaning up a lot of my collection’s metadata.)
  • The Page Flip feature isn’t quite as seamless as thumbing through a few pages in a real book, but it could come in handy.
  • I haven’t really used it yet but the Vocab Builder sounds like a nifty extra.
  • I scored mine $20 cheaper at Target than Big W (AU$159 vs AU$178 for the Wifi model). :)

Cons:

  • I had to upgrade my firmware to 5.4.2 to get my Mac to recognise the Paperwhite without resetting it every time. I don’t like the way collections are now somehow synced but luckily I haven’t had the grey ghosting issue other people have complained of.
  • The Kindle Collections plugin for Calibre doesn’t work with the Paperwhite so when I was setting it up with my content I had to file everything manually (but you only have to do that once and then you’re good to go).
  • The battery life does seem to be a bit shorter thank the Keyboard, but still superior to iPads.

Top 10 Parks and Gardens in London

Oh dear! It’s nearly a year since I started this series and I’m afraid I haven’t made much progress in that time. It’s difficult to maintain a blog while travelling but it turns out it’s even more difficult during the every day routine of “normal” life! Time to smash the rest of this thing out before our time living in London is an all-too-distant memory!

London can at times feel like an overwhelmingly large jungle of grey buildings and grey weather but it’s actually “the greenest city of its size in the world”(ref) with parks, gardens and other green spaces covering almost 40% of greater London. Before we moved there we’d heard that when the sun comes out and the temperature rises above 24ºC Londoners flock to those green spaces and strip off to sunbathe. I never really believed it until I finally witnessed it for myself, and I think it’s great. I love the fact that they embrace sunny weather so enthusiastically and it fills the parks with a fun and cheerful atmosphere. A good spring in London, when you get that first relief from the cold, dark grip of winter, is is wonderful thing to experience. Here are some great places to do it!

1. Hampstead Heath
Our old local! Duck ponds, bathing areas, grassy hills, tree-lined paths and terrific picnic spots. Kenwood and Kenwood House are just to the north of the Heath too.

Hampstead Heath

2. Golders Hill Park
The park itself is not the most picturesque in London but it does have a kind of free open air mini zoo with deer, rhea, lemurs, mara, birds and butterflies which is great for the kids.

Deer, Golders Hill

3. Richmond Park
E-nor-mous! Great for cycling. Not as verdant as some other parks, more of a dry, yellowy colour. Wild deer roam around the place. When you’re finished you can get a cracking cup of tea at The Dysart Arms on the western edge.

Wild deer, Richmond Park

4. Regent’s Park
Beautiful green park just north of central London (near Lord’s Cricket Ground) with a boating lake, Queen Mary’s Gardens and the London Zoo. I found it funny that it’s fine to drink alcohol in the Gardens but you might get reprimanded by a bobby if they catch you kicking a ball around, since it’s more likely to be the opposite in Melbourne. ;)

Regent's Park

5. Primrose Hill
Just north of Regent’s Park and offers a spectacular view of the London skyline, particularly at dusk.

Primrose Hill

6. Kensington Gardens
One of London’s most famous gardens, and I think more picturesque than Hyde Park which is just to the east past a body of water called the Serpentine. Kensington features a Palace, memorial statues and a modern art gallery.

Kensington Gardens

7. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
There’s an entrance fee to visit Kew Gardens but it’s worth going to see its beautiful old iconic greenhouses – I particularly liked the ones with giant waterlilies. It also features lots of different types of garden styles from all over the world.

Palm House, Kew Gardens

8. Parkland Walk
A wonderful escape from the hustle and bustle of London – even though it’s still quite central you’ll feel like you’re following a trail in the countryside. The walk follows an old disused railway line – my favourite route is from Finsbury Park to Highgate. Once in Highgate, you have to visit the beautiful old cemetery.

Parkland Walk

9. Crystal Palace
Probably not in the nicest part of town but I have a soft spot for it because of the bizarre collection of dinosaur sculptures. Made in the 1850s, they were the first dinosaur sculptures in the world and based on research pre-dating Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and are interestingly inaccurate by today’s standards.

Iguanodon, Crystal Palace

10. Little Venice
Not a park per se but a beautifully picturesque area nonetheless. I spent many of my lunch hours wandering along the canals past longboats. (Specifically, laughing along to Ricky Gervais’ podcast and old XFM show, so the two are somehow intrinsically linked in my mind. :)

Little Venice

Of course there are many others – St James’ Park, Greenwich Park, Victoria Park, Holland Park, London Fields… which is your favourite?

More Top 10 in London:

Crochet caterpillar

What’s this? A resurfacing and temporary change of topic! I’ve been absent for a couple of months, busy with daily life in Melbourne. One of the things I’ve been getting back into is knitting and crochet. And today I’m posting my first ever crochet pattern!

First, some back story.

My parents’ dachshund Lucy has a beloved toy caterpillar that she uses for stress relief: whenever she feels sad or overwhelmed (for example, when she doesn’t get quite as many snacks as she’d like, or the latest visitor has stopped patting her) she pulls out the caterpillar, climbs on top and starts chewing its face. When she’s done she falls asleep on top of it.

Lucy Lucy's caterpillar

She’s destroyed several of these caterpillars by now but the shop Mum and Dad used to buy them from doesn’t stock them anymore. They’ve tried buying other caterpillars but they’re too big or not quite right, and Lucy still goes back to her favourite which is starting to look rather worse for wear. So I decided to crochet her a replacement!

Caterpillar side

Here is the pattern if you would like to make your own. (It assumes you already know how to crochet in the round.) Please let me know if you spot any errors so I can fix them!

click for the pattern »

Top 10 Markets and Shops to Browse in London

Two of London’s most popular shopping streets are Oxford Street and Regent Street but they’re far too crowded for my liking and simply to be avoided at all costs around Christmas. If you want to do some good solid “high street” shopping visit Westfield first thing on a Saturday – it will be much less congested and you won’t have to queue as long for change rooms.

For something a bit more unique or independent I would recommend checking out the following. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything these markets and shops offer fantastic window shopping opportunities!

1. Camden Lock
There are actually several markets in Camden. If you exit the Camden Town tube station and head north along the high street you’ll see lots of alternative fashion shops, Camden Market (good for funny/band tees), Camden Lock Village (places to eat and cute little shops), Camden Lock Market (hand made gifts) and then you can descend into the bowels of the sprawling Camden Stables Market with oodles of vintage and second hand shops (books, clothing and knick knacks) along with eateries (which probably aren’t amazing but they are atmospheric).

Camden Lock Market Camden Stables Market Knick knacks at Camden Stables Market

2. Spitalfields Market
One of my favourites. It’s big with lots of variety and stalls can feature anything from tshirts and leather-bound notebooks to handmade jewellery and nifty upcycled items. The market is also surrounded by permanent shops and restaurants which are worth a look.

3. Sunday UpMarket
Since this one’s only a short walk from Spitalfields you can hit two markets in one day. There’s even more of a focus on handmade items at the UpMarket and there are lots of great international food stalls as well. I’m a sucker for the sweet treats at Kooky Bakes!

4. Borough Market
Borough Market is London’s famous foodie market. Grab a Monmouth coffee and go for a wander admiring bountiful tables of baked goods, giant cheeses and shining vegetables; shelves of fancy beers; butchers selling specialty meats and shops offering gourmet European food stuffs.

Borough Market F. Cooke, Broadway Market

5. Broadway Market
A smaller market than some of the others on this list but no less worthy or interesting. Stalls line the street and feature lots of different delicious foods, from cheeses and pastries to exciting international dishes. Or if you prefer, you can go ultra British with a visit to F Cooke for eel, pie and mash.

6. Greenwich Market
Half the fun of visiting Greenwich Market is the journey there! While you can do it by tube and DLR the more scenic option is to ride a Thames Clipper down the river – you don’t get a tourist cruise commentary but it’s a much cheaper way of enjoying the same view. The market itself is half delicious food stalls and half crafty/independent traders. It’s not huge, but once you’ve finished having a look around you can grab some food to take up to Greenwich Park to enjoy.

Greenwich Market Liberty

7. Liberty
Liberty is a gorgeous Tudor-style half-timbered building housing a luxury department store. My favourite two sections are those for stationary and yarn. It’s a wonderful place to browse lovely things while soaking up the atmosphere of a beautiful old wooden building, complete with creaky stairs.

8. Design shops at Southbank
There are a couple of clusters of contemporary design shops along Southbank that are full of great gift ideas and interesting items to browse. Some, such as Jianhui‘s jewellery store, can be found at Gabriel’s Wharf, and if memory serves I think the others are along the first floor of the OXO Tower.

9. Columbia Road Flower Market
Visiting the Columbia Road Flower Market is almost like stepping back in time to a bygone era of London’s past. It can be incredibly crowded, which I don’t like, but it’s worth visiting once to see it in action (and/or if you like flowers!).

Columbia Road Flower Market Icecream sundae, Harrods

10. Harrods
I find it difficult to believe that anyone actually buys anything at Harrods. Not only is it amusingly expensive but it’s usually crammed with tourists that are clearly just there to window shop. Which is fine! I recommend doing it, at least once: it’s a surreal experience. My favourite room was full of fossils and geodes with price tags featuring lots of zeros. Plus you have to go to the Ice Cream Parlour for a giant sundae!

If you can’t get enough of markets there’s also Covent Garden and Portobello Road, which are nice, they just don’t make my top 10. Leadenhall Market is worth visiting to admire its history and architecture but I don’t find the shops particularly interesting. I was quite keen to go on the guided tour of Smithfield Meat Market but never worked up enough nerve to brave the 7am starting time! If window shopping exclusive stores is more up your alley Fortnum & Mason is beautiful, in a look-but-don’t-touch kind of way (especially the produce section).

Tins at Portobello Road Market Leadenhall Market

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