Monday, 22 June 2015

A harsh reality check

I've sat here today, feeling frustrated about the house I live in.  It's a nice house, we've made it our own and renovated it inside a lot over the last year (mostly before Squidge was born). We have a sunny south facing conservatory, and live in a quiet sleepy neighbourhood.  Sounds good right?

While I'm ever grateful that we have a roof over our head, running water, electricity and that we're all healthy (seriously, these are things many people don't have), this house is also holding us back... we're effectively trapped here.  For the first few years of owning this house, we were in negative equity and have only just recovered into profit.

We've always said we'd like 2 children.  After having Squidge, I could even stretch that to 3, but for us to grow our family further, we'd have to move, there's no two ways about it. There's physically nowhere a cot could fit in the house, it's a tiny 2 bedroom terraced starter home. Our bedroom just has enough space to walk around the bed, and the nursery is a box room.  My biological clock is ticking (I'm 36) so I don't have many baby-making years left, not safe ones at least.  The way our house is situated, there's no room to add an extension either. 

But in reality, today I've come to realise we may never have a second child, a realisation that has caused many tears today.  For us to get a new mortgage, we'd need to pay off the massive unsecured loan that came with buying this house (yep, we had a sub-prime mortgage).  And, according to the mortgage calculators I've tried today, we'd get a good 20k less as we're now a family of 3 (why?). Then take into consideration I'm having to go back to work part-time, so on a reduced wage, that leaves us with less than 100k in a mortgage, not enough to buy anything bigger than what we already have, even going right out of Cardiff... 

That means the only hope we have of leaving this house, and growing our family, is something along the lines of a lottery win... I'd never even really considered not being able to have a baby #2, but now I just don't see any way we can possibly do that :(

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Bathtime Essentials

Now that Squidge has out-grown his Shnuggle Bath, we've moved him into the big bath, with varying success!  We had a bit of an 'incident' the first time we put him in it - we had no bath mat, put him in there (I was stood there and hubby was kneeled down by the bath with him), Squidge lunged forwards and went flat on his face in the bath - he was only there 1/2 seconds as hubby immediately picked him up of course, but it frightened Squidge so much we couldn't calm him down.

Next bath, Daddy got in the bath first and then we put Squidge in, he had a tiny cry and then was fine. By this time I'd bought a bath mat for him too.  He's now had loads of successful baths and really enjoys bathing with Daddy :)  Daddy keeps him steady, and after a bit of a play with some bathtime toys, I give him a wash and I cuddle him dry - it's a lovely experience :)

In readiness for switching to the big bath, I had a bit of a splurge and bought a few bits and bobs, all of which really are essentials, or at least, variants of them.

A bath mat
While this one is colourful and fab, it actually isn't that grippy - so I'd really recommend having a bath mat to help grip them (obviously your baby needs to be able to competently sit up unaided to be able to do this).  There are other options like little seats (whether upright or lying back) but I'm yet to try one of them.

Bath grippy mat

Toys & somewhere to put them
Having a tidy for your toys is a must! We opted for the Munchkin one, it's colourful (in the picture on Amazon it looks navy blue, but the one that turned up was a bright aqua blue), sticks to the tiles in the corner above the bath, out of the way.  So far (touch wood!) it hasn't fallen down.

I also bought a range of toys for him, I bought a little submarine (it's fab, you fill it with water and when you hold it up, water pours out of it like a shower), some stackable toys that have moving parts inside when filled with water, and a selection of rubber toys that can be chewed and squirt water.

Baby bath toy tidy

Skincare/Bathing products
Squidge has suffered with a little eczema since he was born - at the moment it's at it's best which is almost non-existent, but to keep him like that we only bath him twice a week otherwise his skin dries out too much.  He's still got a little cradle cap - I think it's more that it's left over from when he had it, but as his hair is longer it's not coming away, plus I love the gentle scent of the Dentinox Cradle Cap shampoo.  Up until I moved him to the big bath I had been using the Oilatum bath wash too, but I've not used it since (trying to work out if he still needs it) - it does leave a greasy residue in the bath which is dangerous for mummy and daddy (it's hard to get rid of).  I've started washing him in the Johnson's baby bedtime wash too, again this leaves him with a lovely soft gentle scent :)

Baby skincare

Kneeling pad for mummy/daddy
One for the grown ups! I bought this so we had a soft cushion for our knees as we have a wooden floor in the bathroom.  I really liked this one as it's really colourful and fits in with his other bathtime toys, but a gardening one would also work if you had one handy.  Or, if you don't want to buy one of these, a couple of folded up towels would work too, but might be a bit slippery.

Koo-di kneeling pad

Bath thermometer
When he was in his Shnuggle bath, I used to fill it up from the shower, we'd keep the shower on the same number for all of us, so once I knew what the perfect temp was for him (he likes it quite warm!), I didn't need the thermometer (I'd obviously test it with my hand, but it'd always be the same).  But now he's in the big bath I really need this - I have to fill the bath up with hot water first to warm the bath, then add cold to bring it down to temp.  The first bath I did for him in the big tub I filled it from the shower as I always did, but the water went cold really quickly, I'd forgotten that you need to warm the actual bath first!

Baby bath thermometer

Do you have any other bathtime essentials?  Obviously we have towels too, and we do sometimes use some baby oil afterwards if his skin feels a little dry.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

From Garden to Plate

From garden to plate at the Newbridge on Usk
Nestled in spectacular views with the river Usk meandering around, The Newbridge on Usk is a restaurant with a difference.  Owned by the Celtic Manor 5* resort you really are set up to expect quality food and excellent service.

The Celtic Manor run a range of cookery demonstrations and live cooking experiences, but this was the first at the Newbridge.  It was run by the head chef Adam Whittle, a local chap who really has the passion for food you'd hope for in a head chef - he's always looking for ways to reduce food miles and keep food as local as possible.  The Newbridge also have their own kitchen garden run by head gardener Anthony Maw which we were lucky enough to not only walk around, but sample some food from.  Adam's ethos is to keep the food 'from nature to plate' as much as possible, which even includes some foraging. 

The kitchen garden
The kitchen garden

The day kicked off at 11:30 with coffee and tea in the bar, and an introduction by the general manager Ronan Hunter.  From there we moved onto their new patio, I'm not sure you'll find an outside area in a restaurant with better views here in South Wales - on the tips of our toes was a bend in the river Usk, home to a small family of swans and their babies, and the view in the picture at the top of the page (taken from the patio).

It was here Adam began the demonstration with his soux chef, Rob Maw.  Adam prepared two different types of meringue (Italian and French) to show us their take on the eton mess (which we were lucky enough to have a taste of - delicious!).

Adam creating meringues
Adam making the meringues

While Adam was finishing off creating the meringues, Rob started preparing some scallops.  He showed us how to get them out of the shell without damaging the meat, and then seared them in a hot pan (I didn't have a taste of these as I'm vegetarian, they did smell great though) and served them with a little burnt aubergine purée.  The scallops they use in the restaurant are pretty much the best you can buy, their hand-dived off the coast of Carmarthen, and brought straight down to Cardiff.  That was actually Adam's pro-tip with scallops - to go as expensive as you can, as the quality becomes so much better as you pay more - so if you can afford hand-dived, that's the best (the price averages £2-5 per scallop if you opt for this yourself).

Rob preparing scallops
Rob preparing the hand-dived scallops

After all the food was prepared we were invited to come and take a closer look and a taste.  I obviously made a bee line for the eton mess, which was served with a strawberry soup and edible flowers (grown in their kitchen garden), it was so pretty and tasted amazing, so many different but lovely flavours.

Eton Mess
The Eton Mess with some rosewater meringues (as well as normal)

When the demonstration was over, we were given a cocktail each - an apple and blackberry mohito made using a local blackberry bramble sirop which was exquisite!

Apple and blackcurrant mohito's
Apple and Blackberry mohito's

After that we moved to the upstairs restaurant.  I was sat on a round table with 4 other couples/pairs. It was lovely to get out of my comfort zone and get talking to other people, all who were passionate about food and cooking (in case you didn't know, I love to cook, especially bake).

I'm afraid, here's where my details get sketchy, by this point the cocktail I'd had was making me feel a little fuzzy (I'm so not used to drinking in the day, or at all now that we have a baby).  They'd created a special vegetarian meal for me which wasn't on the menu card, so I can't quite remember what I'd had... they did serve up a glass of white wine (pinot grigio) to accompany the starter, and a glass of red wine (I think it was cabernet sauvingnon) to go with the main course - I didn't drink either as I was going to be looking after my baby very shortly after that and wanted a clear head, so I stuck to the water.

My starter included a cucumber sorbet (which was amazing!) and I'm not sure what the main feature of the dish was, I know, I should have written it down! It tasted like a goats cheese souffle, or something like that, either way, it was gorgeous.  The presentation was fantastic too.

My starter
My starter

After that it was on to my main course which was a (I think...) spinach and ricotta roulade (pasta) - it tasted amazing.  It was served with new potatoes, roasted carrots and some seared asparagus.

My main course
My main course

I had to dash off before the dessert of fresh strawberries was brought out as I had a prior commitment, but I must say,  of all the restaurants we've been to, and all the time we've spent in this neck of the woods, I've never dined with such a spectacular view, a view I'd never tire of.  The food was excellent and not your run-of-the-mill cuisine.  The cucumber sorbet was probably my favourite, it was delicately sweet and so refreshing, as cucumber is.  And as you'd expect from any establishment linked to the Celtic Manor, the service was excellent too.

If you'd like to find out more about the different live cooking demonstrations and masterclasses the Celtic Manor run, you can check out the events here (the afternoon tea masterclass sounds fantastic!). This particular live cooking demonstration (with lunch) was £45, which all things considered, I think is a very fair price.

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*Attendance was complimentary, views are my own
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