We are back…

…and lots to catch up on. Coming up, I plan to write up recaps on:
Houston – Gymboree, the zoo, the Children’s Museum and the aquarium
San Antonio – the river walk, the Children’s Museum and the zoo (and Brackenridge Park)
Miami – the Seaquarium and the beach!
Until them, I’m working on getting a very awake one year old to sleep…dealing with jet lag is probably another post in and of itself.
Here’s a pic of Little Man enjoying his first shovel and bucket!

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One year old!

I can’t believe today is his first full day as a one-year-old. Officially no longer a baby, but a toddler! Time has flown by and it seems like he’s been in our lives forever. It is hard to remember what life was like before Little Man arrived and yet my life has never felt more complete.
I can’t believe he’s gone from this

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To this

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Happy birthday Little Man. I hope you had a wonderful day yesterday.
I love you very much.

One week…

In one week our little boy is going to be one. He’s grown from a tiny little lump into a big, energetic little toddler. We settled him into nursery this past week as my maternity leave ends soon and I head back to work. I look at the videos we made of him laying on the floor looking at the dolls hanging off his little mat gym and wonder how he could have ever just swatted at them when now, he’s grabbing the bars and pulling the dolls off. Interacting with them instead of just watching them swing.
Little Man has seen a lot of the world and he’s not finished. If we can keep travelling with him during his childhood I’ll be an excited mama. My parents showed me the world, and as an adult, I kept going and now I’ve seen even more with my husband. And we haven’t stopped exploring. I want to do the same for Little Man. He’s off to see the world and no one’s going to stop him.
Yesterday, we flew to the US (his fifth transatlantic flight this year!), and are going to Texas and Florida. Texas for my husband’s work, Florida for some well-deserved sun and warmth and sand!
We’re celebrating Little Man’s first birthday in San Antonio and I’m on a quest to get him a birthday cake. It’s proving extremely hard to find a bakery that makes completely sugar free cakes – no sugar, Splenda, molasses, honey, or agave syrup. Nothing. At home, we can make banana cakes sweetened with super ripe bananas and dates and applesauce, but bakeries just don’t do that sort of thing. I almost packed up all the measurements of the dry ingredients – a Ziplock bag of flour, baking soda and cinnamon – and cake tin and then get the bananas and applesauce, but figured the security wouldn’t appreciate an unmarked bag of white powder. By hook or by crook, though, he’s gonna get his own cake to smash and enjoy and get thoroughly messy for his first birthday.
This is my last trip as a full time mum before I go back to work and I’m really excited about it. In Houston and San Antonio, it’ll be me and Little Man exploring – this time we’ll head to the zoo and maybe a museum and probably a Gymboree class and then in Florida (we’re still deciding between Miami and the Keys), it will be the three of us exploring and, more importantly, relaxing as much as Little Man will allow.
I am also looking forward to using Little Man’s shiny, new, bright red lightweight stroller. It’s a Micralite Superlite. This trip, we experimented with taking it straight through to the gate at the airports too (results coming later…). We decided to get him a lightweight, collapsible stroller for the nursery runs when we’re not slinging him and also for travel. I’ve absolutely loved our other two strollers (Bugaboo and Mountain Buggy) this year travelling, but we’re at the stage where I think we needed a lightweight stroller and we’ll have less of a need for his bigger ones. Plus, the compactness and lightness of this new one is amazing (6.5kg/13 lbs). It folds with one hand, has adapters for the Maxi Cosi car seats, it’s got a great mesh seat, has big back wheels (unlike most lightweight umbrella strollers) and just looks cool. Little Man seems to like it too – he can swing his feet until his heart’s content and he sleeps really well in it. Here’s a pic of Little Man enjoying a nap in it on an amazingly sunny and warm day in London last week.

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Any suggestions of things to do with a one-year-old in Houston, San Antonio or southern Florida?

What do babies eat when you’re on the go and want to stay clean?

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When I’m out for the day and I know I’m going to be feeding Little Man, I look for the “clean” foods. Mind you, a lot of these travel well and live in our nappy bag and I’ll replenish or freshen up as needed.
Carrots – raw or cooked
Green beans – steamed
Broccoli
(Any kind of steamed green veg, mostly)
Grapes (juicy, but clear juice if going for green grapes)
Biscuits
Plain pasta
Peas
Rice (can be mixed with veg)
Cereal (shredded wheat or puffed rice are current favourites)
Homemade banana and oatmeal cookies
Dried fruits – prunes, apricots, raisins
Sliced chicken or turkey
Omelet – I take one egg, beat it and put it in a pan with a little oil until cooked through then cool it and slice in strips. Little Man loves this
Rice cakes
Pieces of chicken, turkey or salmon without sauce or gravy
Bread roll (or any kind of toast, baguette, etc)
Tomatoes (surprisingly, but if they’re deseeded, they don’t leave too much of a mess)
Freeze dried fruit (strawberries and blueberries are currently a favourite)
Crèpes or pancakes – pick a country’s version (homemade ones without salt or sugar in them)
Dried fruits (Little Man’s loving prunes and apricots) – we get the organic ones without potassium sulfate
Any puréed baby food in one of those brilliant Tetra packs – Ella’s, Plum Organics, Organix, HIPP Organic…I don’t even bother with those screw-on spoons, Little Man sucks straight from the pouch.

What are your favourite snacks or lunch foods when you’re on the go and you don’t want to leave a mess?

Mama say ludo-what?

Ludotèque? This definitely wasn’t a word I learned in AP French. A quick Google search (gotta love smart phones when on the go and curious…) told me that a ludotèque is French for “toy library”. How super cool!
I came across this through some Geneva-focused blogs here and here.
I was excited to hear about a toy library – what a brilliant idea! I’d never heard of it before but it makes absolute sense, especially when you live in a small apartment in a big city. When I got home, I did a bit more research and it turns out there are ludutèques all over the French speaking countries, and equivalent places in Germany. In the US, Canada and UK, there are a handful of toy libraries but they don’t seem as popular. Here in London, we have Children’s Centres where there are times for free play but you can’t take any toys home to use for a week or two. Being able to test out a toy before buying is brilliant. Or, if you know you’re only going to want a toy for a few weeks. Or better yet, you’re off to visit Grandma and Grandpa and want to travel light (if there is such a thing with infants). I bet that visit to the grandparents will be even more special if there’s a new set of toys every time.
In Geneva, there were a lot of things to do with Little Man – head to a ludutèque, go to an indoor playground called Yatouland, or even (had I thought about this beforehand) head to a Gymboree class, as we are enrolled in Gymboree here in London. There is also an outdoor animal park we could have even gone to in Geneva – La Bois la Batie. Even head to the Museum of Natural History. All of these are accessible via public transport or walking from the city centre.
This time in Geneva, I realised how easy it is to walk everywhere. Although if you want to go somewhere away from the lake, be prepared to walk up a few hills. If you do get tired or want to go away from the lake, visitors are able to get free travel on public transportation with a specific card from your hotel. Just make sure to carry your passport with you at all times, as you need it along with the card. I didn’t take the buses this time, but I did see mums with strollers so it looks like you can take them on without having to collapse them. Travelling outside of Geneva may require a car but there are also the trains, which are brilliant although some have a few steps from the platform.
So, what did we do when we were in Geneva? Enjoy the sun!
With lots to do with Little Man, it was a shame we were there for only two days. The first day, there were only a few hours just me and Little Man and we spent the time walking around the lake because it was such a glorious day with the sun shining. We also tried the Natural History Museum but they are closed on Mondays.
The second day, my husband had meetings for most of the day, so we started up at the Museum of Natural History. Afterwards, we went back to the hotel for a bit of relaxation and hang out with my husband while he was in between meetings, and then we found one of these ludotèques.
The museum was great. There weren’t any exhibitions specific for really little ones, but it was great to see lots of animals. Lots and lots of dioramas of stuffed animals in their habitats – the museum is divided into continents – and the scenes were filled with animals. There was a school group when I was there of a class around 6/7 year olds and they seemed to love the place. There is also have a section on the geologic history of the Geneva region (back to the glacial ages) and also a room on minerals and rocks. So lots of cool things for kids with different interests. There was even a special exhibit on the investigation of animal poo. This exhibition was made up of a few small rooms dedicated to how animals live with their poo – either as a calling card, or a means to get rid of waste, or as a way to spread seeds – along with a little crime scene that shows the science of animals who eat other animals and determining which animal actually killed a sheep. Yet it was done in a way that wasn’t gruesome but scientific.
I really enjoyed the museum. Little Man fell asleep soon after we arrived, so it’s tough to say if he enjoyed it or not (he currently finds the white noise of museums calming although this one was pretty empty when we were there). I’d allow about two hours for the whole thing. There’s a cafeteria/restaurant, so you can enjoy a snack in case you get hungry. Oh, and it’s free…except for some special exhibitions (the poo exhibit was free).
Now, onto these ludotèques…the Geneva city website has a section dedicated to them (warning: the site is in French). I found the one closest to our hotel and headed there for an hour. I had no idea what to expect, but it was great! We walked in, hung up our jackets and found the baby play area. There were a couple of staff members there making sure things were safe and also checking toys in and out for the families. You did need to enter with at least one child in tow, but the one we went to didn’t have a sign in or anything like that.
Walking in seemed a bit overwhelming at first. Not intimidating or scary, but overwhelming in the noise and frenzy that children often bring with them when playing.
There wasn’t a soft play area like some children’s centres but there was a corner of the big open room that was blocked off by a few benches with a rug and some blankets down so the non-mobile ones could play safely without being run over by the older kids. Little Man was definitely the youngest at 10 months and the oldest kids were around 7 or 8. The toddlers were pushing carts, buggies or cars around or playing in the little house scene and the bigger kids were playing board games or dressing up or just chasing each other around. The parents and nannies let the kids be kids and left them to it, which was wonderful to see.
Little Man spent the first ten minutes or so just absorbing everything. He found his little space – just on the outside of the “safe” area so he could watch all the kids running around – and he had his few toys he could chew on and throw and know no one would nick them.

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Would I go back to another one of these ludos? Absolutely! I can see how Little Man will love it even more next time as he will that much more mobile. Will he learn French? Maybe in a couple of years time…
I thoroughly enjoyed Geneva this time around. It was very different from most of the times I’ve been there as I wasn’t dashing across town to and from meetings but instead, wandering around and exploring. We were there this summer when Little Man was around 5 months, and I enjoyed it then but I think I was more adventurous this time around. I’m looking forward to exploring more of the city the next time I’m there. Hopefully it will be with Little Man in tow and I won’t be back to zipping around to business meetings.

What do you look to do with your little one when travelling? Do you opt for the museums or do you find play groups and soft play areas?

To carseat or not to carseat? That is the question

Taxis…they sometimes feel like a necessary evil as a city dweller, even without your precious cargo of a little baby. When travelling, one of the questions we always ask is “Do we travel with the carseat or not?” It’s a bigger question than you think because you’ll be dealing with transportation to and from the airport (or train station, or ferry, or…) and also inter-city travel.

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There are many car services that now provide car seats if that’s all you need it for, so a Google search for just that (airport taxi car seat, car service airport baby, etc) seems to work for the bigger cities. A language barrier also may be an issue. How do you say carseat in Turkish, for example? (Ok, I can Google that too…but still…).
The other thing to consider is what you’re going to do with your carseat at the airport and your final destination – be it a restaurant, museum, or park. I don’t particularly want to be toting around a carseat when Little Man is much more comfortable sitting in his specific stroller seat or if you prefer to sling, like we do a lot when we’re out and about. There are travel system strollers that provide attachments to clip your infant carseat right onto the stroller but once your little one is bigger than his seat or you don’t want to travel with your big, often bulky stroller, you’re back to carrying around the car seat separately.
And if he hates his carseat? We can tolerate it and deal with that when we are just the thereof us in a car, but to subject a very unhappy baby to another person just seems cruel.
Most cities don’t require carseats in licensed taxis. The UK law, where we live, states just that.
In November, I went to Philadelphia from New York on the train to visit Little Man’s Grandma, aka my mom, and she had a car service pick us up. I was very specific with her to find out if they had a car seat, which they said they did, but when we turned up, I found out the seat was a toddler seat, not something that was appropriate for an 8 month old. So fortunately, the trip was maybe five minutes long and just 15 blocks away. (Moral of story – always be specific with the age of your child when requesting a car seat).
There has only one place so far that my husband was adamant about us using a carseat or public transportation because of the safety records of the taxis – Moscow. We actually took public transportation everywhere, including to and from the airport, and it was brilliant. In fact, every time my husband had travelled to Moscow before this past trip, he always took cars to and from meetings and hated every minute (hour) because of the traffic and lousy driving. This time, we took the metro and he had nothing but wonderful things to say about it. Maybe except for the number of stairs and carrying Little Man up and down in his stroller. I’m sorry if I’ve offended any of you who are either from or are living in Moscow with a different view, but this is my husband’s view of the taxi situation there.
But…back to carseats and taxis…we take the risk. I know there will be many of you readers shaking your heads at our decision, but we rarely take taxis in London and when we do it is usually after a day out and we don’t have Little Man’s carseat in our back pocket. When we travel, we typically take public transportation to and from the airport, and so we are having to deal with the car seat as a separate unwieldy beast on the train, along with our suitcases and stroller bag.
It’s a constant debate. I know I should be saying that, no matter what, always buckle up your precious cargo in a car seat, whether it is in a taxi or your own car, but there are times when it you don’t have enough hands for everything.
There always is another option – hiring a car seat at your destination. I’ve found a few services in the US and the UK (some also servicing some of Continental Europe) where you can hire anything and everything about baby, including car seats. That looks like a good alternative if you know you’re going to be hiring a car (all car rental places offer infant and toddler seats too) or getting lots of rides with people and you need the car seat for those journeys.
How do you deal with travelling and car seats?

Last minute is possible with a 10 month old…

Around 2pm, we decided to go to Geneva. As in Geneva, Switzerland.
Sunday started like most other Sundays – relaxing and planning where to go out for the day. My husband knew he needed to be in Geneva tonight and while we were out, Little Man and I decided to join him on the trip.
So…we had to be quick. We had about 90 minutes at home to get packed and ready to go. Fortunately, travelling and air flight isn’t new for us so we already had a mental list ready and we split tasks. I was responsible for calling the airline to buy the tickets and also sort out iPods for music as well as get the wet bag ready. Once I sorted out the tickets and music, I’d help finish up the packing. My husband was in charge of packing the buggy (it’s supposed to be warm and sunny on Tuesday so I’m hoping to take a run along the lake with Little Man) and clothes.
The way we pack is probably a tightly choreographed dance, with the two of us reminding each other things – “Passports!” I’d call out, “Onesies!” he’d reply. “Pjs!” I’d say, “Chargers!” He’d call back. And so on.
Pretty soon, we called for a taxi – and off we went!
I think there were two things that we could have brought but aren’t crucial – the rain cover for the stroller and our cool new travel high chair. Well, a seat that clamps onto tables. It’s brilliant and Little Man loves it. He feels like he’s a part of the meal. We just have to make sure that anything we don’t want him to touch is within reach. But most places have high chairs or he can sit on our laps, so it wasn’t something that would ruin the trip.
Anyway, ninety minutes later and we were on our way to the airport. Fortunately, the airport we flew out of is 10 minutes away (we definitely wouldn’t have made it if we decided to fly from Heathrow). Two carry on bags, a nappy bag and a stroller bag. Not bad, I think, for a two day, three night trip. Including baby!
A note about the flight…there are a lot more things that a 10 month old is interested in on a plane than an 8 month old. Little Man had a great investigation on the magazines in the seat back compartment, the cup of water given to us (a little hand bath) and an empty plastic bottle. It’s amazing what you can find as distraction for a baby on a plane.
Now it’s way too late, we finally got Little Man to sleep and now it’s time for me to sleep.
Tomorrow…we’ll explore Geneva a bit with Daddy before relaxing the rest of the afternoon.
I’m leaving you with a photo of a very cool bag a little boy we saw had. Most kids have Trunkis, but not this one…

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Have you ever decided to travel last minute? For some people, it completely stresses them out, for us, it’s fun. What about you?