Friday 15 May 2020

Pack hacks

Ever the optimist, I'm dreaming of a 2020 summer holiday. Here are a few things I have learnt about hacking a holiday pack...

I know it goes without saying, but some may not, so: I'm not anticipating many 2020 holidays (or 2021 or any other year) until the COVID-19 risks are made 'safe'. 

I moved abroad a few years ago and fully expected to fit everything I needed into check-in luggage, which it did, except for the weight limit. Pity was taken on me and two of my small check-in bags became additional carry-on. I've always checked-in everything but the necessities. My unexpected carry-on was an annoyance during my flights and stopovers (two long hauls, two stopovers and a short haul to finish). I needed to re-think my pack-list.

For my next trip I stripped it back. But as I'd packed conditioner and no shampoo I had to beg shampoo from some Aussie girls I met in Ă‡anakkale, Turkey, (I had long hair and I really needed to clean it). They produced a plastic film canister filled with shampoo and my pack hack obsession was born.


hair soap
I switched from liquid 18 months ago and I haven't looked back (I had long hair then, short hair now)! Hair soap bars are smaller than regular body soaps so they add little real luggage weight or volume and will last you many months (even for a family of five). I use my veggie peeler to peel single-serve soap shavings for solo trips; the no-faff, family-sized compromise is to pack an already well used bar. 

body soap
As with hair soap, peel off single-serve soap shavings (solo trips); cut a new bar in half or take a well used soap bar as lower-faff alternatives.


Around the same time I ditched liquid soap, I also ditched plastic-packaged deodorant. Now mine comes as a paste in a small glass jar, making it super easy to siphon travel portions into, for example, a lip balm pot. For those who've not yet discovered this plastic-free proposition, you'll need roughly a pea-sized blob per pit, per application. Easy.


Aside from a sleeping toy each (a'comfort from home') I mostly only pack toys that we can all use together. I've a little, fluffy pencil case filled with small, light-weight dinosaurs - this sometimes makes the cut given it's both a treasure trove of excitement and a snuggle toy for Younger Master. On account of my carrying them in my purse, I also have balloons. Zero eco-credentials but an easy airport distraction and energy drainer during boarding gate waits.

"I'm bored"
I'm usually travelling with Miss and both Masters. As many folks know, bored Misses and Masters make terrible travelling companions. Miss favours STEM and Older Master prefers wordsearches and so I tear pages from those cheap puzzle books and 11+ type school support books. Younger Master is an early reader so sticker books with a handful of words are excellent. All completed sheets are photographed (for evidence) and 'filed' (in a recycle bin)I'm a bit old-school as screen time makes mine crazy, however, I'm entertaining children and lightening my load as I go... 


'house' clothes
I find occasions for 'house clothes' during every holiday. For this I pack well-loved items (the ones not good enough for charity). This keeps my 'day' and 'dinner' clothes fresher for longer (less stink in my case) and there's less stuff to pack, unpack and wash when I get home. 

Unless you have good reason to do otherwise, pack your old, falling-apart-at-the-seams PJs (or t-shirt etc) and toss them before you return home - I'm always pleased to have one less dirty item in my bag to unpack and wash at home.

If there's a possibility of requiring layers for warmth, it won't surprise you to know I pack not-good-enough-for-charity under layers. You've probably guessed by now who's job it is in our house to do the packing, unpacking (at home and away), and laundry?

socks & jocks
Same rules as with clothes... If I'm flying, my flying socks are binned before I leave the destination airport and for both, I save the unfit for-future-wear ones for the final days of a trip to minimise the volume of packing, unpacking and washing at home.

kids' clothes
Miss and both Masters wear a lot of hand-me-down clothes; we box up and hand down loads as well. There comes a point, however, in every short or trouser waist band's life that it starts breaking away. These are exactly the shorts and trouser we take on swimming holidays - they are worn to and from the beach/pool, and tossed before departure. 

my clothes
I also pack good clothes (that I don't toss), which include some light weight, quick drying fabrics that I wash these as I go to enable some mixing and matching.

Everything else

microfibre cloths
Full size cloths cut into four squares make great, light-weight serviettes on the run, and are easily washed and dried. 

Anything that mustn't absolutely be in paper isn't. Copies of passports, insurances, licenses, and itineraries and bookings - everything - are either attached to a diary entry and/or saved in the cloud.

pens and passports
Always travel with a pen - you'll need it. I keep two in our passport wallet - which is actually a clear plastic pencil case large enough to also carry boarding passes (see here for more detail on this). 

My carry-on always includes a UK socket, surge-protected powerboard, and it's not the antithesis you might think. My single international plug adapter charges every gadget I travel with, at once, safely.

It has many aliases and servers many purposes. I've a scarf that keeps me warm in cool weather, shaded in sunny weather, is an impromptu picnic blanket or beach towel, and a makeshift bag to carry essentials. It's even helped carry the weight of a young Younger Master as I climbed to the Parthenon in 40degC heat (and to cool us down, it was dipped in the drinking fountain overflow, under the tree at the South Eastern corner). It's also grey: it can be washed with every colour wash load.

Wednesday 3 May 2017

Invaders in my home!

Miss surely wondered what on earth was going on; it was well after bedtime and there were five adults in Mama and Papa's bedroom. And a little person laying in her Mama's arms. Here are a few things I have learnt about bring a new baby into the house...

Firstly, with SPD-related reduced mobility for most of her life, my toddler Miss was well within reason to be a bit cross. I was not able to lift, play physically or get out the house much with Miss. And then she is woken in the middle of the night (literally, it was midnight) with a expectation of midwives and a persistence of parents, all fawning over a new Master. You could say I had extra motivation to ensure the welcome of Miss' brotherly intruder was a happy one for all the family.

Feel the love Babies want for little in the early weeks (mind-numbingly numerous feeds, burping, changing, settling to sleep (perhaps); repeat). Toddlers, however, require a great deal of engaged attention. I talked with Miss about anything (literally, housework, garden birds...) and made sure to engage her in 'looking after Master' activities that gave her importance and a focus. My favourite, given my SPD, was for Miss to help me gather nappy change necessities because I always forgot one thing or another.

Share the love ...of a good book. Two facts: Babies need regular feeding (see above); toddlers love a good book reading. To capitalise on these I combined them. With Master latched and Miss sitting in front of me I read stories over Miss' shoulder while she turned the pages. Master was happy (read: eating). Miss was happy (read: multitudes of books readings). Mama was happy (read: our home was calm).

Love me, love my brother Having to step away from the toddler at a moments notice (because I never was good a keeping an infant schedule) can make a first-born quite displeased with their fortune. Every time this happened I asked Miss' 'permission' to help Master so that Master would be happy and we could continue a particular activity (I rotated a list of her favourites). Perhaps cheeky, even bribery, but when one wants the right answer one must ask the right question...

If you love something (or someone), set it free It stabbed at my heart to hear my suspicions confirmed, but I pointedly asked Miss (then 5) and Master (then 3) to freely express what they liked and did not like about the impending arrival of a new Master or Miss invader to our home. A similar conversation was had after little Master arrived and we have since enjoyed Papa-Miss/big Master and Mama-Miss/big Master dates to help balance the attention books. Today, Miss and big Master quite freely air their complaints and compliments - I count this as one of a handful of success stories from my Mama-journey thus far!

Love is patient Substitute "Mama", when Miss is fed up with playing second fiddle and imitates Master by crying for attention. Alas, patience is a virtue and I missed that queue when I was born. To use another quote: Love always wins. As Mama love Miss, and Miss loves Mama, surely did patience win the day.

Love is kind but does not always arrive at an optimum outcome...

This Mama certainly does not have all the answers and (naturally) suffers Mama guilt for putting big Master through 38 weeks of morning sickness and a little Master invader, and for putting Miss through these twice. What Miss and big Master have learnt, I think, is that love does not always result in the optimum outcome, but the intent is good towards those we love. And that is the most important ingredient: Love.

* although some quotes are altered for purpose, credit to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Corinthians 13:4-7 and the unknown authors of the remaining quotes

Tuesday 25 April 2017


With my back flattened onto the compacted snow, half-way down the easier part of the run with my snowboard still strapped on, I knew I had done myself a mischief. What sort of mischief was not immediately clear. Here are a few things I have learnt about being busted...

My M.O. for big falls is to visibly move body parts so my riding buddies know I am a) alive, and b) conscious. I could feel & move my legs & toes, arms & fingers which told me no broken limbs. Both arms worked, albeit one more painfully than the other, so no shoulder dislocation. After a handful of arm waves I zeroed in on the nature of my mischief. I did not know the French for 'clavicle' (it's "la clavicule") so between gloves, movement-induced pain and zero (useful) language skills I could not specify my mischief spot. So I lay still while I was packaged up, dragged down the mountain and ferried off to hospital.

It is hard to imagine, pre-fracture, just how and to what extent a fracture impedes the most simple and/or essential of tasks. Each fracture has its own, very special blessings. Boy does a busted clavicle have some blessings.

To operate or not to operate? That is the question. While my fractures were the non-displaced type I was left with the impression that avoiding surgery was both feasible and acceptable. Yay, (I thought), because surely surgery would hurt more and take longer to heal, right? Who knows, I don't. Because two days after my snowy demise I took a hit from a falling metal object - smack-bang to my busted clavicle. I swore (loudly). Muscles vigorously objected and spasmed. The previously non-displaced fracture became displaced. If I knew then what I know now, I'd have admitted myself for surgery the second I took that hit. Alas, I waited until I was stable enough to fly, brave enough to drive to the GP, and clever enough to see a consultant. Minutes after exiting recovery and for the first time since the mischief making, I moved my arm independently!

Clothes I don't do fashion. I AM busted-clavicle fashion. I have a limited wardrobe (I detest shopping, I cannot keep up with what's 'in' and what's 'out' and have trouble finding clothes that look or feel right for my size and shape). Much like with pregnancy, my range of able-to-wear clothes was slim. The only tolerable clothes were those that went 'up', could be worn off the shoulder (think: vest tops) or were light-weight enough to hook over my busted side (think: trusty cardy). 

The Armpit Where there is injury, let me sow pardon for my Armpit Of Doom. I stole that name from a fellow fracture patient but since it perfectly describes the matter why reinvent the wheel? Every parent knows that baby wipes clean anything; as a Mama, I carry them everyday, everywhere. So it was with a little smugness that, thanks to baby wipes, my Armpit Of Doom was less 'doom' and more 'decent'. That and I developed a dangling arm technique for showering. Delightful!

Sleeping arrangements Sleep is the best meditation when different sleeping positions are not restricted to different leg positions. Much like when made this mischief, flat on my back was my only sleeping position. I mixed this up with straight legs, one bent, both bent, that sort of thing. Post surgery it was possible to turn to the unbusted side and soon I could rest the busted side on a pillow. I (day)dreamed of one day being able to sleep on my favoured side again - the busted side. (Pleased to report that at almost one month post surgery I can do this!) 

Food/drink Eating words has never given me indigestion; neither has eating with an immobilisation sling. Parents know how to eat one-handed and how to cut up food into bite-sized chunks; but we usually do the latter with two hands and the former every-so-often. Eating and drinking with a busted clavicle, I found, is a series of impossible equations: I could toast bread but not butter it; I could cut pasta but not cook it; I could brew tea but not boil water; I could serve and eat cereal but not open milk. You may have noticed that I like to share solutions, things I have learnt, so here it is: I could press the espresso button on my coffee machine and I could drink it. So I did.

This is not the only bone I have busted. Ironically, while it has been the most painful and difficult to negotiate every day tasks, the post-surgery recovery has been the quickest! Still, I may consider a switch to skiing.

*credit to William Shakespeare, Coco Chanel, St Francis of Assisi, Dalai Lama, Winston Churchill (in this order) for their words of wisdom, which I have debased.

** for the record (and I know I have said this before)... I am not medically trained. At all. Please do not think this as a medically-informed recommendation!

Thursday 13 August 2015

9 to-do's before baby arrives

An ex-colleague of mine had a spate of amazing, off-the-beaten-track holidays during our time working together. He and his wife had been married some years and I guess I missed the 'about to start a family' vibes (at the time I was happily single and had never been married). With five parenthood years and two-point-five pregnancies of hindsight, here are 9 things I have learnt are best enjoyed before wee ones arrive...

  1. Date night - the sort without a babysitter curfew.
  2. Babymoon - possibly a modern, fashionable thing, but since Papa and I missed not only the babymoon but the honeymoon also (work followed our wedding and the pregnancy came shortly afterwards) I recommend that others learn from our oversight. Our "honeymoon" included a very young Miss.
  3. Take a 'day' - spa day, golf day, fishing day - whatever sort of day suits you. Thanks to a dear friend (who clearly knew better than me about such things) I indulged in one delightful spa day after Miss and before Master - absolute bliss.
  4. Lie-in - as often and as much as you can enjoy. You may not have such opportunities again for a long, long time.
  5. Live music/theatre - I am yet to see a live performance all the way through without a "Mama, I need a wee..".
  6. Travel - most especially to intrepid locations. It will be far easier without all the baby stuff (even with children, I travel light, very light) and without worrying about any dangers to wee ones.
  7. Snowboard/Ski - Miss and Master cannot join ski school until age three and a babysitter would be needed for apres ski activities (see "Date night" per curfew).
  8. Movies - catch a latest release on the big screen, at nighttime. Kiddie movies and "baby screenings" are always during the daytime.
  9. Study - while not out of the question as a parent (many of us do it), things are far easier without juggling study with morning sickness or family life.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Cruising: packing and prep'ing

I had always thought that cruises were for 'old' people (maybe I am one of them...). But it turns out that cruises are fabulous for families and I have just enjoyed one of my best holidays ever - on a cruise ship! I have packed for many types of travels and Papa always ribs me for my minimalist packing style, but packing for a cruise is something else. Here are a few things I have learnt about packing and prep'ing for cruises.

Lanyard - for your all important 'cruise card'. All on-board transactions are conducted via the cruise card - no cash, no cards, no cheques. Your cruise card serves as your identification, cabin key, restaurant key, spa pass, meal ticket, bar tab, credit card and more. It is needed when you swim, sunbathe, eat, drink, sleep, shop and relax. You will use it more than your mobile (well, I did). You need it nearby, always. I purchased a lanyard (with my cruise card) and it really was the most convenient way to ferry and flash it about.

Chiffon-fabric type outfits - and 'male' equivalents. If it is light to pack, hard to crease, easy to wash and quick to dry then it is a winner. Evening dress code is formal and day dress code is casual - so a stash of light-weight, wash & wear, dress up or down items is essential.

Sun dress - the sort that suits for over-swimwear pool-side wear and daytime-casual restaurant wear.

Drinking bottle/receptacle - pinterest gifted me this tip and I dutifully packed three (Miss, Master, myself), plus my Victoria's Promise travel mug for tea. These were a massive over-pack. Our package deal included all the drinks we would otherwise pay for (large bottles of water/soft drink etc). If you do not arrange a such a package deal then, yes, pack your drinking receptacles because complimentary drinks are available at designated points in small cups (and if you like to enjoy your drinks pool-side or in-cabin then you will be purchasing them - with your cruise card).

Beach/Day bag - big enough to hold your 'stuff', but small enough to not be a burden. I recommend a bag with compartments or one that holds one of those handbag organisers as it makes searching for cruise cards (if no lanyard) and small items much less hassle (first world problem, yes, but then cruises are for relaxing, yes?). Items for your bag might include: cruise card, sunglasses, hats, mobile/walkie talkie, suncream, pool towels (provided on board), reading material, music device(s), ipad (etc).

Spa treatments - do your research at least a week before you leave home and book all your treatments upon embarkation. My package afforded me one treatment every day (bliss, I assure you) and it cost me the same, if not less than similar treatments at my local estate house spa (Hampshire, UK).

Food/drink packages - booking our cruise included purchasing an "all you can eat/drink" package. Food was available 24 hours of every day, as were drinks, and included in-cabin breakfasts (necessary to combat morning sickness). All cruise providers offer packages of this genre (and varieties beyond) and I recommend these as a serious consideration!

Paperwork - you will probably find a pen in your cabin but a highlighter (my Mama status means I always carry crayons which work just as well) quickly identifies activities and information of interest on your daily cruise schedule. As we also had Miss and Master's "Kiddie Klub" schedule to take track of I used my mobile to photograph such paperwork rather than filling my day bag with them.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

Tiny Tip : 9

Red wine spill? 4 tried and tested clean up solutions

1. Soda water
At the reception for my own wedding a glass of red wine was spilled down the back of my wedding gown. One quick visit to the catering tent plus one bottle of soda water poured down my gown and I returned to the party, red wine free.

2. White wine
Particularly raucous friday night drinks at a friend's house on night resulted in a full glass of red wine being spilled over the carpet, cream settee and a white wall. One cheap bottle of white poured over everything and the red wine disappeared (and Friday drinks continued).

3. Salt
Many years ago when my sister and I shared a flat we were partial to take-away food "carpet picnics" with red wine and of course, the inevitable spills bedecked on our cream-coloured flooring. We would mop up in the usual fashion and then pour salt (the cheap stuff) over the affected areas. Once the salt was saturated with wine and dried it was hoovered up. Depending upon the volume of wine spilled we would sometimes need to repeat the process.

4. All of the above
I went to a house warming the other night and half a glass of red wine was spilled on the (days old) tiled floor. We removed it using two methods (it was not our house and wanted to hedge our bets); white wine poured over the affected grout and baking soda gently rubbed in using a toothbrush (or grout cleaning brush, if you have one). The new home owners were unable to see any red wine in their grout.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Tiny Tip : 8

Peeling bananas - for children (and monkeys)

Have you ever watched a monkey peel a banana? If so, you will know this tip already. For the rest of us that sometimes need to resort to Superman-esk strength or reach for knife, here is how to peel a banana like a monkey (eg the easy way):

Hold onto the banana by the stem (the bit where it once connected to the bunch). Pinch or squeeze (depending upon the size of your hand/fingers) the small dark section at the base of the banana (the non-stem end) and as it breaks away from the banana, peel back the banana skin in the usual way.

It is so much easier to peel a banana using this method that even Miss and Master can do it.