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!

Stuck in a Cold, Intermittently Snowy Rut

I know, I know. I restarted my blog with a single post in December, then vanished off the face of the earth.

We travelled to England for our every-other-year (what do we call that? Is it biannual? Biennial? Answers on a postcard/in the comments pretty please) Christmas holiday, and I decided to leave my blog until we returned – hopefully, with a lovely, full list of things to blog about.

Well, things never seem to go how you want them to, do they. Oh, sure, I’ve got a fantastical long list of blog subjects (which I will post in the upcoming weeks, I assure you), but I haven’t been able to sit on my sofa and talk about them, just yet. Why, you may ask?

Well, because we’re still stuck here. Without going into too much detail, we’re playing a waiting game with South African home affairs, and we can’t go home just yet. We don’t even know when we will be able to – nobody can tell us.

My mother in law (retired primary school teacher) is homeschooling Stevie. We are trying to keep them outside, playing, for the rest of the day, but it’s very difficult. They constantly want to return home, as do we. We miss our dogs! Stevie asks at least once a day, when she can go to big school (she’s supposed to have started Crawford 3 weeks ago).

This is not a post to moan or complain – just an information post, for those who may have assumed I’d vanished. We’re still here; we’re still just about hanging on. Our sanity is just about still intact. But, my word, I have never known homesickness like this!

Toddler on the Beach

I love the beach. I always have done – I’m not saying for a second that I’ll turn down a day relaxing by the pool, but I will JUMP at the chance to go to the beach.

When we were planning this trip to Florida, Pete and I spoke about trying to cram in a day on Clearwater beach. Stevie could run around and go crazy in the sand, Mummy would get to relax for a bit and Daddy could be ‘cool dad’ in the sea. However, since we’re with family, they decided that the two-hour drive was too long for a day, and FIL very kindly booked us all in for a night at our regular hotel, the Sheraton. Pete and I had our ‘babymoon’ here (when I was pregnant with Monks, funnily enough) and we love it.

So off we trotted. For anyone who doesn’t know, Clearwater is a barrier island with 4km (told you the beach was big) of white, sandy beach. They’ve regularly been voted as one of the top beaches in the US, and with good reason. The waters are warm and clear, and dolphins and stingrays are common (we even saw a couple of fins on our first day – not shark fins, but dolphins coming up for air!).

We unpacked and had the entire afternoon, from 11.30am until about 3pm, relaxing in the sand. The usual Florida wind and rain picked up then, so we retreated to the pool area and spent the next hour and a half there. The Sheraton is amazing for kids – they have private beach rental and wifi on the beach for hotel guests, a golf cart to take people the 300m to and from the sea, and the pool is directly on the beach itself. There is one huge main pool, with pool floats and noodles, a kids pool 30cm deep, and a hot tub. There’s also a naughty little tiki bar – of course this time I only had the mocktails, but I can speak from past experience that the piña coladas are out of this world.

For dinner, we trekked across to the mainland (Clearwater, as opposed to Clearwater Beach) to the Island Way Grill. Pete and I have eaten here every time we’ve visited, and I have never had a bad meal. They have a full kiddies’ menu and bring pencils and colouring paper to the table, which is always a bonus! Stevie had what was probably her fourth fillet steak (medium rare) in a row and was satisfied.

We had a beach morning again the next morning, then headed back to Orlando. I wish our beach trip could’ve been longer – but then I always do! But for anyone wondering or worrying about a decent holiday with a toddler – try not to overthink it, and book a simple room or Airbnb on a nice, wide beach (we have lots in SA) and let the beach entertain the family.

The Clearwater Tourist Board has lots of information about the best places to stay and be entertained in the area.

We always stay at the Sheraton Sand Key on Clearwater Beach, where a standard room is available from $267 per night at current rates.

Sick toddlers

We got back to Joburg today, after spending all of yesterday and last night in Parys (with my mum and my youngest sister, Georgia – otherwise known as ‘Wildlife Sister.’)

But lo and behold, of course Stevie decides to get poorly. A 24-hour bug, falling directly over those 24 hours we’re away from home.

Call me a bad mum, call me what you want, but she didn’t eat and she was vomitting water and cattargh (sorry for those with sensitive stomachs). Pete had a couple of things to keep an eye on at home, so it fell to myself and Hollie (‘Yoga Sister’) to drive the 1.5 hours with a vomitting baby. And of course, the thought of leaving her at home did cross my mind, but I didn’t. She was so looking forward to seeing Nana Berny (or Nana Burby, in toddler-speak) and ‘Georda’ and My-Chew (Michael) that I couldn’t say no. And besides, she had a cold – a bit of excitement should take her mind off it, right?

She dozed uncomfortably the whole way there, waking up periodically for water. And she was extremely excited to see Nana Burby. But the excitement lasted all of about 10 minutes, until she realised Nana Burby was holding her instead of Mummy. And so began the rest of the day…

We went to see some cheetahs – usually Stevie’s favourite pastime ever – and she got bored within 20 mins. She giggled a bit when they hissed at her, but all too soon the tiredness set in and we went back to Nana’s.

Auntie Lollipop (Yoga Sister) didn’t get a look in. We got the wrong flavour Panado, so I had some sport trying to get it down her throat. She hurled up her Zinplex and sent (yes, she sent them) Nana and Yoga Sister to the shop to get her crisps and rusks.

She perked up a bit in the evening, but of course woke up every 3 hours or so annoyed because she couldn’t breathe through her nose. Mummy was very tired. Typical, 24-hour-bug hits when we go away.

This morning we left Parys at 9.30am. And of course, after a lie-in (by her standards) Stevie wakes up happy as Larry, ready to “go home and see Daddy and Cleo and Spoo.”

Little s**t. Of course, she’s fine today…

The ‘Mumming’ Part

This is going to be a longer post than usual. Forgive me if it sounds like a vent, but I assure you it's not.

Recently, more so than usual, I have seen mums, and mums-to-be, judged and questioned for their parenting choices. People, whether they are parents, grandparents or just well-meaning non-parents, seem to want to share their opinion on how you conduct yourself during pregnancy, and how you conduct yourself and your baby during their first, well, 18 years.

Constance Hall, who has long been one of my favourite 'mum-bloggers,' has often spoken of the need for the much-spoken-of 'village' when raising children. And, for the most part, I agree with her. However, when does the village stop being helpful, and become just unhelpful, judgmental, unsolicited advice?

Every woman can read every pregnancy and parenting book under the sun, but she must decide what advice to take, what advice to throw away and what advice, quite simply, doesn't suit her. But why is it deemed okay for other people to insist on their own advice being accepted and blindly taken? I'm on a lot of Facebook mum's groups, and the people giving that advice get incredibly offended when people don't blindly take it.

But, here is my issue. I'm a self-confessed research junkie. I like to know why I'm doing things, before I do them. So why, even though you may tell me that "my kids were fine" doing such and such, must I take that advice blindly, even though it goes against every motherly grain I have?

Without this post going too much off into a tangent, I'll come to the point quicker.

Each parent or parent-to-be knows what type of person they are. No parent deliberately sets out to harm their child (well, apparently some do, but thankfully I've yet to meet that person). We do everything in our power to guide and aid our children into becoming well-rounded, pleasurable adults in the way we know possible.

Somebody, this week, voiced worry that I would be 'that' judgmental mummy, because of my own parenting styles with my own child. But why would I? I know, because trust me when I say I have had plenty of opinions on my parenting, how horrible it is to hear your own ways and decisions questioned. As long as your child is in no danger, I have no views I'm willing to share on how you raise them.

So you breastfed for 2 weeks and didn't enjoy it? Well no problem, at least you tried.
So you gave purées at 4 months? I'm sure your child has a great appetite.
So you let your child cry it out in the hope they'd sleep better? That must've been really hard for you, but I'm sure you feel better for the sleep, now.
So you are blue cheese all the way through your pregnancy? Good for you and I hope you enjoyed it, and I'm super jealous as I haven't! Please have some for me!

These are just 4 examples of parenting styles that differ from my own, but your children are not mine, and I don't know your household to comment.

I wish people, any people, would be respectful of the time, effort and overall guilt that goes into raising a child and offer just their support and well-wishes. It does take a village, but not the sometimes cruel village that seems to be occurring more and more these days.


Parenting is not a competition, and one parent's philosophy is not necessarily any better than the other's. We all need to be more aware of the trouble we are each going through, accept it and embrace each other as parents. No comparisons, no competition. Take that, Sanctimommies!

Leaving your child with your Nanna

On Wednesday, I was called down to London to do an amaaaaazing shoot with the lovely Elizabeth Gibson (link to her site at the end). This was excellent – we haven’t shot together for about 12 years and I’ve been dying to get some new editorial.
However.

I’m currently on holiday in the U.K. seeing family. And right now, until next Wednesday, Pete is still in South Africa. What to do with Monkey?


Nanna’s Babysitting Service, of course! My 83-year-old Nan (so Stevie’s great-Nanna) loves looking after her great grandchildren, and has never looked after Stevie before. So she saw it as a huge treat!

I dropped Stevie off at 7.30am, slightly apprehensive, with a Frozen backpack full of books, nappies and spare clothes, and was waved off happily from the window… typical, and there I was feeling nervous.

I then proceeded to get stuck in traffic on the Mancunian Way, run the last 1km to the gate and make it with two minutes to spare, to be told my train was cancelled and all my running was for nothing.


But, as is always the case, I eventually got to work, and it was incredible. I’ll publish the pics here when I get them. And I even managed to get an earlier train home! Bonus.

I walked into the house to find Stevie sitting with my Auntie Jacqui and my cousin, Jodie, snuggling watching Peppa Pig. We had a bit of a catch up and then, since it was already 10pm, we both went to bed. What a busy, amazing day!

Elizabeth’s website is http://www.elizabethgibson.co.uk

Her Instagram can be found at @elizabethcgibson