Amelie at eighteen months old

 Couldn't resist putting this one in even though it's blurry. That smile!

Couldn't resist putting this one in even though it's blurry. That smile!

Amelie turned eighteen months last week! A picture of her holding her six month sign came up in my Facebook memories and I just can't believe a whole year has gone by since then. Everyone says time flies, but to be honest that wasn't my experience at all when I was on maternity leave. Ever since I went back to work though time has indeed just somehow dissipated, and now somehow I am the mother to a full-blown toddler.

 Determined Amelie.

Determined Amelie.

 Making art at the art gallery.

Making art at the art gallery.

Amelie is possibly the most strong-willed person on the planet. She has very firm ideas about what she wants and doesn't want, and isn't afraid to yell at the top of her lungs if we get it wrong (or it's just something she's not allowed). The flip side of that is that she is just so thrilled with herself for communicating successfully if we do get it right. 

Being able to 'talk' to us is one of Amelie's biggest joys. She's incredibly verbal but we don't always understand, and I think this is a source of much frustration for her. She has a few words that are totally clear – Mama, Daddy, Cuper, bubble, ball, blower (as in leaf blower – she can see the street cleaners using it from her daycare windows and it's amazing to her); some that require us to interpret for her – Alex (one of her good friends), more, please, grandma, granddad; and some where we have no idea. Her catch-all is deedoo. We don't know what it means, but it gets used a lot, for a whole variety of things. It is to Amelie what prego is to Italians.

 Watching the lawnmower man at the country house.

Watching the lawnmower man at the country house.

Amelie's favourite things are her Duplo, her pull-along toys, her Opie, her bike helmet, and my handbag. Oh, and also everything she's not allowed, especially if it's incredibly dangerous. She's never still, unless she's in a new environment, which I'm pretty sure is only because she's planning how to cause the most destruction in the smallest amount of time. My standard warning to anyone else looking after her is that she can run faster, climb higher and move further than you'd think she should be able to. 

 Playing with the toys at the Volvo Ocean Race.

Playing with the toys at the Volvo Ocean Race.

Amelie loves to give us big hugs, which are so very lovely while they last (a couple of seconds usually). She gives us kisses as well, but much prefers us to kiss her. She cuddles into us to read books, and those are some of my favourite times (hers too I think). She gives us enormous smiles when we get her up in the morning and when we put her down to sleep, and no matter which one of us she's with she's asking about the other one. H1 and I really do split the parenting load 50/50 (and honestly, recently it's been more like 60/40 due to a crazy schedule for me these days). I think that comes through in how much she loves both of us. 

She is, obviously, the best child in the world and I'm so happy she is who she is. 

 Taking a break to have a snack.

Taking a break to have a snack.

The recipe for a perfect weekend (with children!) in Central Auckland

A few years back I declared that I had discovered the recipe for the perfect weekend, and you know what? It holds up! Even with the addition of children. Here's why the weekend just been was so good...and how you can do it for yourselves with some of the awesome activities Central Auckland has to offer.

 Amelie playing in the Art Gallery

Amelie playing in the Art Gallery

Saturday morning: Exercise

We started Saturday by cycling down to our club to play tennis and then enjoy a short spa. Amelie painted in the crèche. Even without a membership to a tennis club you can do this – Auckland has a number of free tennis courts, like Nicholson Park and Maungawhau. If your children are a bit older you could get them playing a game also, and if they're too small it might mean skipping straight to the water part and swimming at a public pool, such as Parnell Baths.

Saturday lunchtime: Read and relax

May Amelie keep napping for a loooong time yet. We embrace having to stay in for a few hours by putting our feet up on the patio and getting some reading in. I'm reading a good, but rather involved, book at the moment and am balancing that with magazines. I'm such a big magazine fan but can't handle the piles of paper they generate, so I only subscribe to my favourites and read others through RB Digital on my iPad (free for Auckland Libraries members!)

Saturday afternoon: Get some culture, and some chips

 H1 and Amelie doing their part to obliterate a room.

H1 and Amelie doing their part to obliterate a room.

We caught the bus into town and went to take part in The Obliteration Room at Auckland Art Gallery. Turns out Amelie is the perfect age to love this – she kept coming back to H1 to ask for 'mo' (more stickers) and was very careful and particular about where she was placing them. It's still on for a couple more weeks and I promise, it's worth it.

We followed it up with a drink at The Box, a lovely spot to sit outside and people watch in Aotea Square. My only complaint was they didn't do chips (and I really wanted some chips!), so we grabbed some from Double Dutch Fries in Elliott Street before heading home. This place is so good – very very close to the amazing chips in Amsterdam – but because it never seems okay to just randomly eat chips, I pretty much never have them. Elliott Street has a number of good food places along it, so no matter what you feel like you can't just randomly eat, it's likely to be there (bao! Dumplings! Hong Kong egg waffles and ice-cream!)

Saturday evening: Eat something yummy

We were relaxing at home and made falafel, but if I was heading out around Central Auckland for a casual Saturday night it would almost certainly be to Orphan's Kitchen, Pasta e Cuore, Venosa, Ortolana or Gemmayze Street. Can't go wrong with any of them, and while they're all lovely, they're also super-chill. 

Sunday morning: Food and fun

Amelie and I took ourselves off to the playground while H1 went cycling, but not before a stop at Grey Lynn Farmer's Market. We can walk to this one from our house, but another favourite in Central Auckland is La Cigale, in Parnell – or if you really want to stick in the city centre, there's a version at Britomart that's small but cute, and close to good playgrounds at Silo Park and Myers Park.

 Amelie helping me carry my farmer's market flowers.

Amelie helping me carry my farmer's market flowers.

Sunday lunchtime: Organise

I rearranged and tidied our bookshelves, which also involved moving some art, photos and plants around. Then I tidied a few more things and gave the place a vacuum, arranged the flowers I'd bought in the morning, and then I relaxed and enjoyed it. It makes such a difference to my happiness levels – and it's happiness that keeps on giving (I can see my bookshelves right now and sure enough – they are making me happy). I actually have a list of things I want to declutter, and any time I need to perk myself up or I'm feeling at a loose end I hit up that list. I don't want to tell you to use your precious downtime to organise and clean, but I can tell you it makes me feel good.

Sunday afternoon/evening: Picnic with friends in nature

Back to the park! We celebrated our friend's birthday with fish and chips and a couple of beers in the park. It would also be so lovely with some yummy snack foods (Farro is just around the corner!) Hanging out with friends is one of my favourite ways to end Sunday – it staves off those Sunday night blues nicely, and leaves me feeling like I've really soaked every drop of weekend up. And being outside while the weather is still nice enough is also a big win for the soul. 

What does your perfect weekend look like? What have I left off?

City escape

How to spend 17 hours in Auckland City

Over the weekend it was H1's birthday! We had a fantastic morning on Saturday, with a family walk over to one of favourites, Ripe Deli, for coffee, Spanish eggs and berry-coconut slice. We got it to go and ate it in Grey Lynn Park so Amelie could play on the playground. This playground is one of my favourites – it's easy to get to on foot, there are good coffee options close by (important) and it feels really safe and fun for a toddler Amelie's age – lots of playgrounds seem mostly designed for bigger kids, but this one is pretty relaxing (inasmuch as you can ever relax with a toddler).

 On the playground.

On the playground.

 Crossing the bridge – she walks everywhere else but this bridge is apparently a crawling situation.

Crossing the bridge – she walks everywhere else but this bridge is apparently a crawling situation.

 Hi!

Hi!

We got home just as my parents were arriving, and conveniently H1 took off for a ride just before Amelie's nap, so I could get everything ready. Because unbeknownst to H1, we were taking off that afternoon...

...to a hotel a ten minute drive away.

Hotel DeBrett is this totally gorgeous design-led boutique hotel in the centre of the city, and the perfect place to celebrate H1's birthday, as well as enjoy our first night ever away from Amelie. We arrived about 3.30pm, and after checking in we headed out to Pilkingtons, just up the road, for a drink and snack. We then went shopping around Britomart and High Street, before heading back to the hotel to relax and get ready for dinner.

 Kicking things off at Pilkingtons.

Kicking things off at Pilkingtons.

 Image:  Hotel DeBrett
 On our way to dinner.

On our way to dinner.

For dinner, we ate at Euro, which is a total Auckland institution. Neither of us had ever been there before, and it was a great experience. The food was delicious, the waiter was hilarious (not actually in a good way, but thankfully he was so ridiculous as to be farcical, and we enjoyed that rather) and it's a great spot to watch Aucklanders head out and about for the night (as I noted to H1, shorts are very short this season).

The next day, we slept in until an unprecedented 7.41am, then had a relaxing breakfast before heading home to a happy, tired Amelie and her happy, surprisingly un-tired grandparents.

I'm so pleased with how the weekend came together! H1 was surprised, just as I was hoping, and very happy (also just as I was hoping). Amelie coped absolutely fine with us being away, and we coped really well too – we didn't worry about her at all. And now that first is checked off! Having children seems to be a never-ending parade of firsts, and this particular one is kind of bittersweet but also awesome. It's so important to be more than parents some of the time.

 Hanging out on Sunday afternoon.

Hanging out on Sunday afternoon.

If you're looking for a fun birthday surprise I can thoroughly recommend planning a short surprise trip somewhere – even if it's only ten minutes down the road just doing something different is a brilliant way to mark an occasion. I might have to start looking into options for the next one...

 

Seven ways to make a busy life easier

 Family time...I'll do whatever it takes to get more of this.

Family time...I'll do whatever it takes to get more of this.

I don't love the word busy. These days I feel like most people have quite a bit going on, and we're all just trying to do the best we can in a demanding world. Saying one is busy is a rather boring thing to say, to be frank. 

That said, since having Amelie, H1 and I have found that our lives are quite a bit – well, shall we say 'fuller' than they used to be, and also more complex. In the past, if we didn't manage to organise ourselves to have fresh groceries for dinner, or we forgot to pick up paper towels at the supermarket, it was no big deal. Now, however, we have to feed Amelie dinner as well, and I prefer not to just give her toast if I can help it, and if we ran out of nappies it would be terrible for everyone involved. 

On the upside, after well over a year of practice now, I've worked out a bunch of little things that make our lives so much easier. Here are my top seven for you, if you're interested...

Order My Food Bag

Absolutely my top tip. It might not be called My Food Bag where you are – you might have Blue Apron, or Hello Fresh – but odds are there's a meal delivery service in your area. Having the decision-making removed from cooking dinner is such a luxury on weeknights – and that's said by someone who enjoys cooking. I can only imagine how much simpler it must make life for people who aren't as fond of cooking as I am. Plus, it's fast, you'll waste less food, you'll probably buy less takeout, and if you're like us and upsize your plan, you'll have enough for lunches too.

Get a cleaner

I love having a cleaner and it's one of the things I'd give up last if we had to cut back. Not having to take a chunk of family time away from the weekend is just the best. We still have to clean, of course – I pull the vacuum out most days, after Amelie is in bed because she's scared of it – but all the big stuff, like bathrooms, is taken care of on a Friday so we can enjoy a pristine house over the weekend (well, until 9pm Friday night, usually – by then the shine has worn off and we usually have bits of Amelie's dinner on the floor again).

Keep an assortment of kid-friendly food in the freezer

I don't exactly feel like Supermummy when I give Amelie frozen veggies and cheese for dinner, but at least she's getting some vegetables into her (and she loves this meal, to be honest).

Unashamedly cook the easy meals

We only do My Food Bag once a fortnight, and the other week we enjoy such delicacies as lazy chicken tacos (lazy because the chicken is frozen tenderloins and we just throw it in the oven with some taco spice mix), dumplings (also from the freezer section) with broccoli and beans, and tomato salad with feta, basil pesto and some sourdough. Would I serve it to guests? Hell no. Is is tasty food that serves its purpose for us, and means we're not cooking all night? You bet it is.

Give yourself lots of different ways to get around

In Auckland at least, if you only ever use a car you're going to spend a lot of time sitting in traffic. We have a car, but we also walk, cycle, bus or train frequently. If the traffic is horrendous (as it often is) and H1 has the car, he often wouldn't make it to pick Amelie up in time – but because we're happy to be flexible and we have other options, this doesn't happen. It's often seen as hard but trust me, for us it's so much easier than dealing with traffic all the time.  

Live closer to where you want or need to be

This is a biggie! Because most people can't just drop everything and move. However, you can move other stuff, like daycare, schools, errands, the gym...do people in every city drive all over the show to get to everyday places, or is this a weird Auckland thing? We get so much more time together because our everyday life things are close together. There are sacrifices of course – our apartment is not exactly a grand sweeping space – but the trade-off is totally worth it. I know it's not possible for everyone, but even moving just one thing – like having your children go to a school that's walkable instead of having to drive them there, or changing your drycleaner to one by the office so you can drop clothes off and pick them up on the way to work – could make such a difference.

Be prepared to drop an errand

This is something I learnt quickly when I was at home with Amelie, and trying to fit life around her nap and feeding schedule! I have a tendency to try to do too much, get overwhelmed and stressed, and end up in tears. Now, I counteract that by expecting there will be one thing too many on my list, and I won't get to do that thing that day. If I get everything done it's a bonus and I feel awesome, and if I don't I've already dealt with that. This also means I always do the most important thing first...never a bad way to live.

 

Do your children eat dinner with you?

 Eating an early dinner in Takapuna one evening.

Eating an early dinner in Takapuna one evening.

I was brought up almost always eating dinner with my whole family, and without thinking it through too much I always imagined Amelie would do the same. Right now, however, her bedtime is between 6.30-7pm and by the time we're all home, unpacked and ready for the next day, there usually isn't time to eat together and still get Amelie in bed on time.

Thankfully, this doesn't mean it's always impossible. Occasionally we cook an extra meal over the weekend and have it for dinner on a weeknight; sometimes we have leftovers, and there are always weekends of course. On these nights, H1 and I eat earlier than we'd prefer, but it's worth it to get the time to eat with Amelie. I want her to learn that eating together is the norm, and that it's a lovely way to spend time with people you care about. I also find that she eats a lot better when she's eating with us – she's less likely to play with her food or throw it everywhere, and apparently our meals are consistently more appetising than hers (even when it's the exact same food). It's not unknown that we pretend to take spoonfuls from our own plates to give her so she'll eat it.

I also think it's best for her to eat the same range of foods as we do, and not to restrict types of food from her (as long as it's reasonably healthy). This has resulted in a couple of interesting situations – some tears over chorizo, when she realised she didn't like it as much as she thought she would when she demanded it; olives all down the front in a similar situation – and some surprising ones (like the time she decided she loved the saffron yoghurt in this recipe!) We try to trust her to work out for herself what works and what doesn't for her. This part's not too hard, fortunately – we save a small amount of our dinner so she can eat it the next night; we go out to eat a reasonable amount and ignore the kid's menu; and, of course, we try to get that time to eat together fairly regularly. It's really nice for all of us (in fact, it was one of the things I listed as needing more of in 2018 to keep me happy) and I'm grateful that it works well for us now.

How about you? Do you eat as a family, or do the children eat separately? Are weekends treated differently from weekends? Is it important enough to you that you compromise on things like your preferred dinner time to make it happen, or would you rather wait until your children are older and have a later bedtime?