Banana Bread? Yes, Please

Baking. It’s all anybody seems to be planning to do, isn’t it? Judging by the lack of flour on the shelves, at any rate. But what, exactly, to bake? We’ve made gazillions of cupcakes throughout the last few years (and still, believe it or not, I suck at them). We’ve done sponge. We made brownies the other day. What’s guaranteed to be eaten, and tasty?

Well, banana bread, of course. Filling, simple, with one of your five a day – what’s not to love? I found a recipe on Pinterest using 4 very ripe bananas (my kids never want bananas when we have tons of them… strange little beings) and changed it a bit to suit us.

We used

  • 4 ripe bananas (we like them browning for cooking)
  • 45g melted butter
  • 100g sugar
  • 1 egg, pre beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • Generous dash of salt
  • 200g plain flour
  • Generous handful chopped Brazil nuts
  • 3 rows of Dairy Milk (from the sharing size bar)

We used the Aga, and I slightly miscalculated the heat of the ovens – next time, I’ll use the bottom one, but for standard ovens, 180 is recommended. Preheat it before you start – not something I had to worry about!

I got the girls to mash the bananas and the melted butter together, then we added all the dry ingredients, flour last, then the nuts and chocolate chips (some may have escaped – into tiny mouths or large ones? Who knows… shush). It’s really that simple – then just pour into a bread pan, cook for 45-60 mins (until a skewer comes out clear) and Bob’s your Uncle.

We decided to use our daily exercise allowance to take the banana bread on a picnic in the field next to the house – with some Dairy Milk spread, too, of course!

What to do in Quarantine

Since both the U.K. and South Africa are in, essentially, full ‘lockdown’ now (movement restricted, shops and businesses closed), I’ve decided to dedicate a few posts as promised to what it is we, as a family, are doing to stay sane during this extended quarantine.

First things first, we have to acknowledge how incredibly lucky we are right now. As I said in my last post, my in-laws’s home is not a bad place to be quarantined – second only to being at home. I know most people probably won’t have easy access to the space that we have, and I can’t claim it as my own so this is in no way a smug post. What I can do is share ideas which have worked for us, and which can, hopefully, work in smaller spaces, too.

My mother-in-law, since she moved to this house 20 years ago, has become a keen gardener. She’s had the girls helping her with doing the borders – if you have a balcony, terrace, or even a big, sunny windowsill, this is definitely possible.

She’s given me a tutorial in the best things to plant for little kids – they can get their hands dirty AND make the place look lovely! Kids love knowing they’ve been involved with something they can see; they love feeling proud.

Firstly, please, don’t be put off if you only have a sunny window. Secondly, you may think that, in quarantine, you can’t find seeds etc, but most can be found either at your local supermarket or on Amazon. Finally, these are super purse friendly, even after all the corona virus nightmares. If you don’t have a plant pot, find a decent size, deep bowl – make sure to gently drain it the evening after you’ve watered, to make sure you don’t get stagnant water in the bottom.

The best flowers to start with for kids, and ones that yield pretty flowers, are probably sunflowers (seeds available at every supermarket with your fortnightly big shop, on Amazon for less than £3 or Takealot where you can get an entire 2kg for R149) or Nasturtiums (Amazon for £5 or Takealot – R99 for a bulk pack, also including sunflowers!).

Both can be planted in a small-ish pot, either on a windowsill, on a balcony/terrace or in your garden. Make sure to keep the seeds far enough apart, treat them lovingly, and watch them grow! If you have access to a bird table, or space for birds to land, then, once your sunflower has lived its beautiful life you can pop the spent head on the table and watch all the birds flock to nibble on the seeds in the middle. Nasturtiums are, as I’m sure you know, the edible flowers you see on cakes and cheese boards. Plant them now (before the end of April) and they’ll flower all through summer. They’re a no-brainer for kids – they look pretty and they can eat them afterwards!

Other easily bought options are herbs (you can buy them already planted in small pots at most supermarkets), which you can pop on a kitchen window and eat straight from the pot. Rocket seeds are easy to get hold of, and can be grown in 3 weeks (plus, it’s a year-round herb). It can be eaten straight from the pot, and occasional ‘thinning’ (i.e. eating and tasting, so nobody can see) only helps it grow better. French beans and carrots are also easy to grow, and start in small pots – and Sweet Peas are great fun if you want another cute little flower – plant them now, and they’ll flower from May until October.

I understand gardening might not be for everyone, but it’s a fun way to keep kids entertained and concentrating. Another, really easy way to amuse them, especially the younger kids, is to feed the birds. You might think that sounds overly simple, but why not mix it up a bit? Fat balls and suet-based feed (available at bigger supermarkets, on Amazon and Takealot) last for ages. You can make a bird-feeder out of old wire coat hangers, or buy from the same places. My girls love watching the birds (and squirrels, ahem) eating the food they’ve put out for them, but they also really like dividing the food out, too.

It can be difficult trying to keep children occupied when they’re not allowed out of your property (even in the U.K., we can only go out once a day for exercise purposes) – and trying to do things other than screen time can be trying. Much as we’re resigned, for now, to letting the girls watch more telly than usual, we’ve still started saving ideas to do over time. Tomorrow, we’ll be making banana bread. Watch this space!

Oh, Corona…

I know, I know. You must be so very sick of hearing about the damn Corona Virus strain, Covid-19, by now.

Did you know that coronaviruses have been around for decades? Approximately 30% of common colds are caused by a strain of coronavirus. It is not new – SARS was also a separate strain. This strain is Covid-19, and, so far, it’s turning out to be a little bit more severe than people originally thought.

As I’m sure you’ve realised, we’re still stuck in the U.K. With CV19 causing countries, including South Africa, to close their borders, we’re fully expecting to still be here until at least May. Part of the worry about schooling has been taken away, as there are no longer schools in operation anywhere we want to be, but that now leaves us wondering how, exactly, to keep two kids entertained for the next few weeks without museums or soft play centres!

Thankfully, we’ve become almost dab hands at the homeschooling game. I’ll write a whole different post on our favourite activities for children. We’ve found quite a few things we enjoy doing. This post is just about one.

We have fallen in love with country walks. I know, that sounds weird – we’ve always been big walkers. Our dogs get walked daily, when we’re home, and I take them on at least one big trek per week.

Since we’ve been here, however, Stevie has decided her favourite place is out in nature. This is fantastic for all of us – well, apart from Elia, who is decidedly more of an indoor type of person. And we are incredibly lucky: short of being home, my in-laws’ house is definitely the best place to be quarantined. We are surrounded by vast acres of Yorkshire countryside and national park glory. I’m sure it’ll get stifling, eventually, but for now we’re fully enjoying our surroundings. Stay safe, everyone!

Back to Work!

I never intended on going straight back to work after I had Elia. To be honest, I was still reeling from the 26+kg I put on with Stevie, resulting in a further 9 months of maternity leave after she was born, that I was assuming, due to being healthier this time, I could go back to work when Elia is 6 months or so.

But here’s the thing – I’ve lost my weight already. I’m back in my 26in jeans, and, much as I’m not in my favourite, model ‘shape,’ I’m not looking too bad. And with that, comes work.

So, this weekend, leaving behind a hard-worked for 3 litres (yes, really) of breastmilk in the freezer, I boarded a flight to Cape Town, to work with the lovely James Harvest crew. 3 days of work, 3 nights from my babies. Never had I dreamt I’d be doing this again with a 3-and-a-half-month-old baby.

And it was fine. My mum sent me a message on the Sunday, after spending part of the weekend with Pete and the girls, to tell me how proud she is of him for being such a good parent (well, duh, Mama) and how proud she is of me for going away. That was lovely, and so reassuring. Of course, I really missed the girls and Pete. Mostly in the nights, when I’d wake up to express milk, and have to go back to sleep in a cold, empty bed. And, much as I love FaceTime, when Stevie fell and hurt herself mid-conversation, it pained my heart to know I couldn’t be there to comfort her.

But we all came through it. I was very, very spoiled with my first trip back. Not a high shot count, amazing locations and food, well-organised and nice people: I felt like I was working 10 years ago! Such a lovely shoot to slowly get back into the swing of things.

I can honestly say, I’m still pushing for July to be when I make my first, official foray back into work. But if jobs like this come up in between now and then, I definitely won’t be turning them down. It’s a nice way to dip my feet back in the working waters. Pus, I got to eat a hot breakfast with both hands, which is always a bonus!

PS – the nicest part of the whole thing, of course, was coming home. Those two little faces lit up when they realised Mummy was back, and Stevie’s been telling every person she sees today. It’s worth going away just for that!

A Perfect Tuesday Morning

We’ve had a bit of a manic week and weekend. Most of it good – we had plenty of nice parties and events to go to at the weekend, plus my sister (Auntie Georgia, cheetah sister) and her man were in town, so we had lots of family time. But Cleo, our big dog, got a haematoma in her ear which has now become infected, and Stevie and Elia both decided to shout at me on Saturday – all morning – so it’s been just a bit much.

So, this morning, I woke up with the sudden realization that we have to hurry up with Elia’s passport paperwork (thank god we called to sort that out yesterday) – and this made me realise just how close I am to going back to work. Back to travelling and being away from my family.

I decided I’d get up and do the morning again this morning, to have some quality time with the two of them – and this happened…

What a way to start a Tuesday morning! We read books and watched Paw Patrol and snuggled until school time. It really cheered me up, so I thought I’d share it. Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Boredom and After School Activities

A piece of writing went viral last week on the problem with organising your toddler’s day after they’ve finished school.

Stevie’s preferred after-school activity.

And it made me think.

Right now, with Elia so small and needy, it’s easy to organise every last aspect of Stevie’s life, to keep her occupied whilst I’m busy with Elia. But what if I’m giving her too much to do? A few days ago, Pete and I were busy and she brought her Duplo brick through to the lounge and happily played with them for hours. On other days, she’ll ask to paint or play with her Play-Doh. And, yes, at times she’ll want all of my attention, and sometimes have a breakdown if she doesn’t get it – but, surely, that’s a really important part of life for her to learn?

Oh hi, Rome!

I used to think I was doing her a favour when I organised things for her to do. But, having watched her deal with her own boredom by requesting to go in the pool, or play hide and seek, or help Daddy around the house, I can see that by letting her decide what she wants to do, I’m giving her a really important responsibility to control her own fun. In effect, she’s teaching herself a valuable resource for later life. So, from now on, she can decide what she wants to do on an afternoon, if possible (but not Tuesdays – horse riding is her one requested hobby, so that’s staying). Let’s see how it goes…

On Tandem Nursing and Adjusting to a Little Sister…

Elia is 3 weeks old today. 3 whole weeks! Time has flown by so quickly. I knew it would – it seems like yesterday Stevie was this small. And I’m literally pinching myself every day, trying to remember every single moment, because I know that, in the blink of an eye, it’ll be June and I’ll be going back to work, missing my now-chaotic little household.

But I will be completely honest – adjusting to having two children, and also tandem feeding and letting Stevie adjust, hasn’t been the easiest – and I didn’t expect it to be.

Right now, Stevie is about 90% in love with her little sister (maybe more like 95%, actually – her love grows day g day and it’s wonderful!) but 5-10% jealous and trying to get used to not being the centre of our attention all the time. Thank god for tandem nursing!

Baby bums!

Tandem nursing has been our saving grace, but also my biggest adjustment. Stevie loves sharing her booby with her baby sister, but I’ve been trying to limit Stevie’s intake still. Which may turn out to have been a silly idea – from tomorrow, I’m going to let my girls have a lot more control over their routines. The hardest thing for me has been adjusting to having two creatures demanding not just my time, but my body. But then I sit and think how small they both still are (even though Stevie now feels giant) and I just melt. I love feeding both my girls, so I’m going to do it as they want it. Besides, Elia’s already put on 700g (900g if you count from her lowest weight) so I’m obviously doing something right!

Sorry for my slightly ranting, verbal vomit post, but I like to keep people informed. I know tandem feeding is a controversial subject, but I see nothing controversial about it for my family.

Tandem Feeding Info

Then There Were Four

Guys, I had another baby! And my heart is so full – I have two beautiful little girls. I am so happy, that amazing, peaceful, contented kind of happy.

If you don’t like birth stories, look away now. I promise to try not to make it too graphic.

On Wednesday morning, we visited the midwife for a check up, and ended up having a Stretch and Sweep. For 3 weeks now, the fundus (basically my baby-carrying sack) hadn’t grown, and Karen was worried that baby was running out of room. So, stretch and sweep time (and let’s-move-baby’s-arm-from-its-head-internally time – that was comfortable!).

We went home for the rest of the day to wait for (hopefully) labour to kick in. Poor Pete – he was so impatient to meet his child, he couldn’t sit still. In hindsight, I should’ve sent him to the pub.

My mum also came straight back from my sister’s on hearing about the ‘sweep’ – I really needed this baby to come today, otherwise everyone’s hopes would be up high for nothing!

Thankfully, like clockwork, my labour started as I fed Stevie her bedtime booby (nipple stimulation, especially towards the end, I known for releasing oxytocin – the labour hormone. Interestingly, oxytocin is released 3 times naturally in a woman – during orgasm, during labour, and during breastfeeding. The human body is fascinating – it’s all connected to making babies!). Quarter past 8, I was feeling intense pressure and let Karen know.

Luckily for me, my doula was Karen’s daughter-in-law, Bianca – I have a history of short labour, and this meant they could get to me, together, nice and quickly.

And of course, my history of fast labour repeated itself. Karen and Bianca got to the house (and assisted Pete with the birthing pool) just in time for my contractions to start with a real bang – I was told the day after, that on my first check after arrival I was between 5 and 6cm dilated already.

When watching period dramas involving labour, I always wondered about the towels and pots of boiling water that they ask the husband for every time – it turns out, keeping a birthing pool hot is hard work! I don’t think Pete has boiled so much water in his life – because of course the geyser ran out after a while!

Anyway – the pool was run in perfect time and in I hopped (I did not hop anywhere, of course – hopping whilst 39 weeks pregnant and in labour is not an option). Water birth was the best decision I ever made. I went from 5-6cm to the full 10cm in about 40 minutes, so I have very intense labours and the water really helped with supporting me. It was still bloody sore, but I didn’t worry so much about finding the perfect position, as the water balanced my body.

Active labour started at round about 9pm. Karen kept me informed all the way through that my waters still hadn’t broken, and that she was reluctant to break them for me while I was progressing nicely – which I was thankful for. En caul births are rare – so of course I wanted one!

In the end, my water sack actually broke shortly after contact with the water. I got to feel it though, which was different. It felt like a very rough, papery water balloon. Then came the head, and a strange, primal moment where I tuned out everybody in the room and pushed – Karen said she even saw the change. My body, knowing what to do from last time, took over of its own accord. I tilted my pelvis, let out some kind of weird noise and the biggest push I have ever known had her out, pretty much in one fluid movement.

Looking down into the pool and seeing this little, tiny creature floating in the water will go down as one of the most surreal, and amazing, moments of my life.

But wait – what I haven’t even mentioned yet is that Stevie was in the room for half of the process, and got to physically see her little sister being born! My mum brought her through and talked her through the entire thing, and she thought it was fascinating. As I lifted our new baby onto my chest, Karen called Stevie over and asked her to to be the first to see what sex her new sibling was. It was such a special moment.

I know, I my new-mum, baby-brain muddle I will have missed something out of this birth story – probably something really vital, like how Pete was with me in the pool the whole time, or how important perineal massage is. But this is just how I remember it now, 3 days after the event. Birth is beautiful, and painful, and overwhelming, and the best thing I have ever done now – twice! Even if there was a small moment on the last contraction before her head crowned where I wondered why I’d ever put myself through this again.

Home birth isn’t for everyone – as stated, I have a history of quick labour, I had a textbook, complication-free pregnancy, and I don’t like hospitals, so home birth with a midwife was ideal for me. If you feel as though this sounds like you, and something you’d like to do, then I highly recommend it. I got to labour and birth in the comfort of my own home – I got to use my own towels, tandem feed my kids for the first time in my own bed, and wash off in my own bathtub. Plus, I now know how to clean off a murder scene – always handy, no?

My midwife was Karen van der Merwe, who also works as a private midwife at Genesis Clinic in Rosebank, if the whole home birth thing seems a bit much. To contact her re a home birth: karenvdm61@gmail.com

0823357731

My doula was Bianca van der Merwe. A doula is a birth assistant, who can be hired for both natural and assisted births, and also c-section. Bianca also offers pregnancy massage and reflexology.

https://www.facebook.com/SimplyBinx/

binxycastle@gmail.com

0615467020

Writer’s Block

This past couple of weeks have gone so fast. Somehow, I’m 39 weeks pregnant today, and I’ve had the world’s worst writer’s block.

I also can’t read, or concentrate on anything. I remember this stage from being pregnant with Stevie – hopefully it means the end is near!

All I’m concentrating on, right now, is waiting for this baby to arrive. My sister has a book going – r20 per person to guess a day, winner takes the whole pot. Stevie lost out yesterday, Pete’s guessed today and I’ve got a loose bet (no money) on tomorrow. But of course, really, it’ll probably come on Xmas day.

Goodbye, toes

So we’re here trying to look forward to Christmas, without thinking too much about the baby. It’ll come when it comes, and there’s actually nothing I can do about it.

My friend Alésia bought me this from Cotton On – will baby get to wear it?

Hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas! See you all on the flip side (hopefully with a brand new baby).

Baby’s room is ready – wall decals from Kikki and Franki

A Mum and Dad Love Story

Yesterday, we were with friends when someone asked me “What were you doing, this time 8 years ago?”

I answered, tongue-in-cheek, “Trying to get in my best friend’s pants.” This friend, who we know very well, just said, “Well, how did that go?”

I pointed at my best friend, and said, “I think it went pretty well, eventually.” My mum piped up, “Well, she did marry him…”

It got me wondering – very few of us share the stories around how we actually met our other halves, or how we came to be together. It’s the sort of subject that’s only really brought up on a drunken night around a fire. So, in the sharing spirit, here’s ours.

Babies!

In May, 2009, I was cast, last minute, in Wrangler denim’s lookbook/catalogue/campaign. All I was told was that it would be shooting in Las Vegas, where I’d been 6 months prior to shoot, and that there would be a male model. I was told his name, and asked a couple of male model friends whether they knew him – I sussed out he was Northern, like me, and a ‘nice guy.’ So far, so good – and nothing new. I saw a picture of him at a different casting, and I really didn’t think he’d be my type.

This is the picture I saw – he looked nothing really like this!

Fast forward to Heathrow T3, a few days later. I knew we’d most likely be flying together to Vegas, and lo and behold, at the gate, earphones on and waiting to board, was the guy I was working with. He was so engrossed in what he was doing, I left him to it, deciding to catch him after the flight.

But fate intervened. A few hours in, as I was waiting for the loo, as the toilet flushes, out comes this incredibly handsome young man. That picture definitely did not do him justice – he had huge, aqua-coloured eyes, cheekbones to die for and dimples like you’ve never seen. Plus, his hair kept falling across his face, which was pretty adorable.

We started chatting, and he let someone else in the queue before me so we didn’t have to stop. Sadly for me, he mentioned his girlfriend straight away – but he was such a nice guy, and we got along pretty well. We didn’t see each other for the next couple of hours, but once we got to Vegas we were inseparable.

Funny interject, here – Pete told me, about 5 years into our relationship, after we were married, that he’d actually let the person in the loo before me because he’d just *ahem* done a number 2 and was terrified of me judging him if I went in after him. That still makes me giggle, now.

Meanwhile, we are in Vegas, and had both recently turned 21, so that evening we shared a couple of beers by our hotel. The job was great fun, and we got on like a house on fire – Pete was from Leeds, close to my hometown of Manchester, and there were 6 months between us. He’d been with his girlfriend a few years (booooooo) and she was a student. On the last night, we went into the casinos and got very drunk – very good fun. On landing in London, we exchanged numbers and promised to stay friends.

Terrible quality Blackberry photo of one night in Vegas

This story is in danger of rambling, so I’ll try to rush it along. Fast forward to Paris, in July 2009 – I was on stay for a couple of weeks with two friends, and it coincidentally mens’ fashion week. So we met up, a big group of us, and went out drinking and dancing. Two nights in a row. And, my goodness, this man got stuck in my head. I fancied the pants off him – and he had a girlfriend! So not fair – so I snagged his friend. Childish, I know.

On return to London, we decided we’d had such fun in Paris, as a big group, that the nights out partying and dancing until the early hours continued. At the time, my sister, Hollie, worked as a promoter for various high-end London nightclubs, and because we’re models, we got in for free. We went out probably 6 nights a week – and Pete and I became very close. We’d spend time outside the nightclubs in the daytime, watching movies or having coffee in town. I never once lost my feelings for him, but he became one of my best friends. I dated other guys (partially to try to make him jealous) but nothing ever came of it. My mum, upon meeting Pete, was determined he was the man I would marry (well done, Mama).

Round about Xmas, 2009

Unfortunately, by the time Pete’s girlfriend was due to come back to London to stay for a while, my feelings had grown pretty strong. To this day, he denies ever knowing how deep my feelings were for him, until I told him I couldn’t see him or be around him anymore. I never gave him an ultimatum or asked him to leave his girlfriend – I would never have known how he really felt if he’d been pushed one way or the other. We didn’t see each other for over two weeks (which was a lot, for us) until he sent me a message whilst I was working in Germany, telling me he’d broken up with her. I was so elated, I vomited. I know – I’m a closet romantic.

Our first Hallowe’en together

The rest is kind of history – we actually took things fairly slow. I don’t think I referred to Pete as ‘my boyfriend’ for a good 4 months, and we didn’t say the ‘L’ word for about 6-7 months. We felt no need to rush. We lived in NYC for the majority of the start of our relationship, and saw each other probably for 2 days a week as we were so busy travelling with work. We got engaged in August, 2012, and married a week before Xmas in 2013 – 3 and a half years after becoming ‘a couple.’ Then Stevie followed, and now the other is on the way!

Share your stories with me – how did you meet your other halves? I love these tales – I really am a romantic!