Interview With A Mummy Blogger: Life With Baby Kicks

Friday, 14 April 2017

The internet is awash with inspirational mummy bloggers these days, many of whom are intent on doing away with the misconception that motherhood is a doddle, and imparting invaluable advice on 'real' parenting issues, from sleepless nights to baby poo. One such honest mum, who's always stood out amongst the rest for me, is Laura from Life With Baby Kicks. A fellow Doha expat, coming to terms with bringing up a young family far away from home in the desert, her blog posts are blunt and to the point...and will make you guffaw with laughter!

 Photo credit: Sophia Mattia

Recently, Laura agreed to let me in on a few of her secrets, including what she'd change if she could turn back the clocks and just when their family might start thinking about heading home to the UK...

1. Just like Baby Sunshine, your boys are expat babies through and through. How do you think living in the Middle Eastern sandpit is shaping their childhood?

Both of my boys have spent more time out of the UK than in the UK.  We often wonder how British they actually are, despite having their British passports (which are used frequently).  They know more about mosques than churches, climb palm trees instead of apple trees, they fit all 10 signs that they are being raised in the Middle East.

But being a third culture kid is more than that, it is living with so many other nationalities.  It is being exposed to so many different cultures.  It is a childhood like I have never known but my husband has.  I hope that this experience shapes them to want to see more of the world, to have a hunger and thirst for travel.  To want to experience everything they read in books, see in films. Most of all, I want their Middle Eastern sandpit experience to be happy.  I want them to look back and say - I had a happy childhood regardless of where in the world we are.

Photo credit: Sophia Mattia

Oh - and it’s made my eldest cold all the time.  Not sure how he’s going to cope in the UK summer this year!

2. What are your top three tips for surviving as parents so far away from home and your main family support network?

We lived far away from home in the UK so we were quite used to it.  We see my mum much more living here than we did when we lived in London for longer extended periods of time.

My first piece of advice would be to find a trusted babysitter, it’s fantastic being mummy and daddy but you need to remember that you are also husband and wife.

Secondly, Skype will become your best friend.  It is the portal to relationships with people who are so far away.

Thirdly, there will be good days and bad days.  Hold onto the good, forget the bad and remember people only post the shiny things on Facebook.

3. Your blog has become a great source of advice, information and giggles for women all around the world. But what inspired you to start writing in the first place?

Honestly?  My friend started a blog and I thought I can do that.  So I did.  The ironic thing is she gave hers up a long time ago and mine is still going, and going, and going.

It’s opened up a whole new world for me, one that I didn’t realise existed.  I’ve made friends through blogging that I may never have met otherwise, both in the UK and in Qatar.

I’ve even managed a whole new career from blogging.

The best thing I ever did was open up my laptop and google “how to start a blog”.

4. As a busy mum of two, how do you keep up with your rigid blogging schedule (plus all of the associated social media activity and correspondence which comes with running a blog)?


In truth?  I don’t. 

I no longer have a schedule and my posting is sporadic at best.  Some weeks I’ll post everyday, some weeks I’ll post once or twice.

My eldest is in school every morning so that makes things a little easier and my little one starts nursery next week.  We also have a wonderful helper who takes the little one for an hour of so each morning to give me chance to work.  I have to be organised and prioritise what is coming in and out of my inbox, as well as what makes it on my screen - I’ve started bullet journalling to a degree which has really helped me focus.

5. You recently wrote a really useful article on how to grow your Facebook page, but what are your tips for expanding your Twitter following? Is Twitter still a relevant platform for bloggers to use these days?

I think it depends where in the world you are.  I know that a lot of UK bloggers feel it is a completely relevant platform whereas out here in Qatar it isn’t something that people really use.

I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter, I’m a rambler and 140 characters isn’t enough for me, though I have met some wonderful people from Twitter who have gone on to become real friends.

To help with Twitter I use Social Oomph to schedule out blog posts for promotion, but the real joy in using Twitter is finding people chatting and jumping into conversations.  By scheduling out my posts it means when I am on Twitter in real life I can just chat away to people.

6. You often speak openly about tricky or controversial issues on your blog. Have you ever had to deal with any negative comments from readers on these posts? If so, how did you deal with them?

On my blog platform I haven’t received openly hateful comments, but if I did I wouldn’t give them the time or space on my own piece of internet.  I’ve had more on posts that I’ve written for the Huffington Post; where sometimes I read the comments and think have you even read what I’ve written?!  The cure for this is not to read any of the comments of course.

I think that because I tend to write in a “seeing both sides” kind of way I’m not a divisive blogger.  I don’t write to be controversial, I don’t write for click bait, I don’t write to judge and I like to think that comes across so even if people have opposite views they can still be respectful when writing about it.

7. What do you think are the main attributes of a successful parenting blog?

Writing from the heart.  I much prefer reading posts that are full of emotion than posts that tell me how to raise my children.  It feels more real, more connected and like there is a little piece of that person on the page to pick up and cuddle.

Photo credit: Sophia Mattia

8. What's your favourite post you've written to date and why?

Some of my favourite posts are my expat life posts.  I never wanted to be an expat, my husband got the job and I supported him never really thinking we’d actually move.  That somehow he’d turn down this dream job in Dubai.  It was the biggest life changing decision we’ve ever made, I became a full time stay at home mum, the expat wife, we expanded our family a lot quicker than we would have been able to at home, and now I am fully invested in being an expat and I’m nowhere near ready to head home yet.


9. If you could go back in time and change one thing you've done or decision you've made as a parent, what would it be and why?

I’d have an elective section with my second baby rather than trying for a VBAC.  After  19 long hours and getting nowhere even close to 10cm, being taken into theatre and discovering I had ruptured leading to a section anyway.  I wish I had just cut out the middle ground and gone straight for it.


10. What's next for Life With Baby Kicks?

The world is my oyster….

In truth, I don’t have a plan.  I will keep writing, keep Facebooking and Instagramming.  I’ll try and have a chat now and then on Twitter.  And above all I’ll have a document of our lives together.

You can read more about Laura's motherhood journey, as well as product reviews and lifestyle snippets over at www.lifewithbabykicks.com.

An Inspirational Stay at the Emirates Palace

Saturday, 1 April 2017

In the heart of Abu Dhabi, elevated on a hill at the edge of the Corniche and overlooking the city's sky scrapers, sits the luxury five star residence of the Emirates Palace.


We arrived a few days before Christmas, with the aim of soaking up some of the UAE's festive spirit before returning to Doha for the day itself, and left with even more than we could have hoped for.

I don't think there are many things that can get you into the mood for Christmas quite like a 40-foot Christmas tree in the cavernous lobby of the hotel, adorned with over 2,000 imported glass ornaments!


 
Father Christmas also made a visit to the lobby each evening, and while Sophia wasn't quite sure about this dodgy character with questionable facial hair to start with, she soon warmed to him and on our last night she even sat on his knee for long enough for us to take a quick family snap!


The hotel was originally built to showcase Arabian culture, and evidence of this can be seen throughout, in the intricate architecture, ornate furnishings and luxurious attention to detail.


With no less than 394 residences, 114 domes that reach to 80 metres, 9 restaurants, and set in 85 hectares of private gardens along 1.3 km of private beach, this is not a 'homely' or quaint hotel, it is one for the adventurous amongst us. It cries out to be explored.


Luxury hotels like this in the Middle East are often lacking in 'fun' things to keep all of the family entertained, but the Emirates Palace overflows with options. There is the resident camel on the beach, for example, if the kids fancy an early-morning ride before breakfast.


(Ours, unfortunately, didn't!).


There are two pools: an adventure-style pool for kids (and kids-at-heart), complete with slides, waterfalls and a lazy river...




And a quieter pool with a swim-up bar in a soothing setting on the other side of the grounds for those that would prefer to wile away the hours in peace and quiet.


When you factor in the beautiful grounds that you can use for your walking and picnic-ing pleasure, the pristine white beach and the award-winning luxury spa, this hotel becomes far more than just somewhere to lay your head at night. Whether it's entertainment, socialising or relaxation that you're after on your travels, it ticks every box.








We were particularly impressed by the food that we ate while we were there: the lavish spread at breakfast, in the prettiest of settings on the al fresco terrace of Le Vendome...


 And the Dim Sum afternoon tea taken overlooking the most stunning of views on the glamorous terrace at Hakkasan (just make sure you ask about options to add more dumplings to the selection that they serve...there aren't nearly enough!).


Of particular note are the Roast Duck Pumpkin Croquettes and the Jasmine Tea-Smoked Wagyu Beef Ribs.

Don't forget to sample the hotel's signature coffees at Le Café while you are staying there: the Camelccino is a Cappuccino made with rich, local camel's milk and the Palace Cappuccino is sprinkled with real, 24-carat gold flakes. It's little touches like this that sum up what this hotel is all about: little touches of Arabic-themed decadence, focused on giving the guest a truly authentic experience of Arabian culture and hospitality.


When I returned home, I was inspired to look up other traditionally-Arabic hotels in the region. While we live in the Middle East and continue to explore our neighbouring countries, from now on I would like to keep our stays as culturally-authentic as possible.

The Details:

Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi, West Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates | +971 2 690 9000

Our stay at the Emirates Palace was on a media rate.



Doha's Best International Brunch: Five Years Of Excellence

Thursday, 30 March 2017

It's been five years since the finest address in Qatar: the iconic St. Regis Doha opened its doors to the public, and the hotel's success has been unwavering ever since. With an impressive thirteen industry awards to its name in 2016 alone, it's undoubtedly a front-runner amongst the luxury, five-star hotels in the country and throughout the region.

There are numerous reasons behind the hotel's five years of excellence, and the food served in the twelve world class restaurants, lounges and bars have a large role to play in it (see my review on Gordon Ramsay). However, there is one St Regis culinary tradition that stands out amidst them all, and that is the Friday Grand Brunch.


One of the first questions I was asked by people when I moved to Doha back in 2013 was, "Have you been to brunch at the St Regis yet?" as if I couldn't quite be considered a real resident until I had. It wasn't until my first experience there one month later that I finally came to understand what all of the fuss was about.

Diners can choose between the comfortable yet refined space within the hotel's restaurant, Vine, or outside seating on the terrace, where the shaded tables overlook the azure blue of the Persian Gulf.


Upbeat, live music lilts through the crowds. This is a brunch for groups of friends to mingle in a chilled-out setting, with a relaxed, party vibe. It's the perfect place for a celebration.

 
These days, the brunch extends beyond the confines of the outdoor area next to Vine, covering 2,500 square metres of lavish offerings and live cooking stations led by the hotel's acclaimed chefs from Astor Grill, Opal by Gordon Ramsay and Vine.

The resulting array of cuisines on offer could be disconcerting to the inexperienced bruncher. This is a brunch that requires an extensive map with a key. There seems to be something for everyone, and yet surprisingly, there is no scrimping on quality.


It provided the perfect location for a catch-up with a friend recently over a glass or two of bubbly (and a plate or six of food) while Sophia chilled out to the live music and napped in the cool ocean breeze.


It's not simply the food or the atmosphere that makes this my favourite international brunch in Doha, but the overall experience. To date, I'm yet to find another brunch that comes close.


What's been your experience of the St Regis Doha in the five years since it opened?

The details:

The St Regis Doha, West Bay, Doha, 14435, Qatar | (+974) 4446 0000

Price: QAR 350 with soft beverages | QAR 450 with alcoholic beverages

 I was a guest of the St Regis Doha this time, but as always all views are my own.

To read about my top child-friendly brunch in Doha, head here.

What A Year! Letters to Our Daughter on Her First Birthday

Saturday, 18 March 2017



Dear Sophia,

My dearest, darling girl. It's been quite a year.

With every passing week for the past twelve months it seems, I have exclaimed at how quickly time is slipping away and how much you are changing. It's been bittersweet watching you turn from an adorable and helpless little baby into an equally adorable, bubbly, sociable, smart and courageous little girl. I've been in a constant state of internal conflict as I've mourned each passing phase in your development whilst simultaneously looking at you in awe as you show me yet another skill you've mastered and proclaiming that "this current stage is my favourite yet!".

I can't begin to describe how much joy you have brought to my life little one. Some people have always known that they want to be a parent one day, and I was definitely one of them. As a little girl not much bigger than you are now, I carried dolls around with me wherever I went - I would pretend to feed them and put them to bed, and told my friends that they came alive at night (was this precognition of the fact that you would also come alive at night I wonder?!). I day-dreamed about what you'd be like and look like many, many years before you arrived in our lives but I could never have imagined that you would be quite so wonderful as you are.

While you've been learning new things every day, you have also been teaching me so very much too. You taught me that attachment parenting and everything that comes with it is hard but the only option for me - breast feeding you on demand throughout the day or night actually came naturally despite the sleep deprivation and forgetfulness that ensued. You taught me that life achievements are so much more than doing well at work and reaching new milestones with my blog; there is now something much deeper and more rewarding that lifts my spirits every day. You taught me a brand new way of loving, that is eternal, limitless and unconditional.

It's strange to think that one year ago today, I wasn't really sure whether either of us would make it to see this day. I was losing a lot of blood and I have never seen a doctor look at me with such worry etched in their face. In surgery, hearing you cry out as they lifted you from me was just about the sweetest sound that I had ever heard. That gentle mew was enough to solidify our lifetime bond; I didn't need to see you to know that I already loved you more than anything or anyone I've loved before.

I thanked God over and over that night as I held your little pink body against me in that hospital bed.

It wasn't until that first night of your life that it really started to dawn on me what an enormous responsibility it was to bring a baby into the world. I started to worry about whether I could live up to everything I needed to be to keep you happy, safe and protected at all times. But slowly but surely, with the wisdom I have gained during your first year of life, I have come to realise that it's not my job to wrap you in cotton wool and keep all danger from your door. It's simply my job to help you to understand a few things that will lead to you making better judgements that will make your life easier.

To understand that family is the bedrock of your life; that even though we may drive you insane at times, your daddy and I would do absolutely anything for you. In turn, we will try not to embarrass you too much with our frumpy dancing at parties and to keep our terrible parent puns to a minimum.

To understand that as much as I wish you wouldn't, at certain points in your life you will be subjected to evil and you will experience sadness, but please hold onto the fact that on the whole the world is kind and good. Remember that in every patch of darkness, light can still be found.

To understand that your worth as a person isn't measured in how many kilos you weigh, how many people follow you on social media or how much money you earn. To understand that your worth as a woman is not measured in how many men dote on you, how many strangers ogle at your beauty or how many other women wish that they were you. Your worth is measured in how kind you are, how much you care about the world around you and how much happiness you bring to others.

To understand that this is the most important thing in life; that happiness is the only thing that you should prioritise above all else. If anything is threatening your happiness, challenge it. If anything is obstructing your happiness, break free from it. Life is short and it is not meant to be spent in the shadows.

To understand that you can do anything you want to if you put your mind to it. You're intelligent, you're strong, you're a go-getter. Don't believe the nay-sayers, take the plunge, follow your sunshine.

I followed mine, and it led me to you.

I love you so much my little girl.

Happy first birthday.

Love,
Mummy




Soph,

Happy 1st Birthday! I can’t believe we are here already. My little baby is soon to become a little lady! I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday. With mummy recovering from the operation, the nurse brought you out to see me in the corridor outside.
As she wheeled you over in your hospital cot, time seemed to stand still.

At last, our eyes met. Now some people don’t believe in love at first sight but for me it’s now happened twice. First with your mummy and then with you. You were beautiful. You were tiny! And you were perfect.

I remember looking down at you, my heart bursting, and telling you how happy I was to meet you and how much I loved you.

In that precise moment, I can tell you that my whole perspective on life completely changed. I suddenly saw the world with new eyes. You were finally here. Our family was complete.

Looking after you, playing with you and loving you has given my life a new sense of purpose. Coming home to your laughs and giggles can turn the worst day into the best one. I love our little chats over breakfast and our bath time splashes in the evening. I love our hugs before work and our kisses at bedtime.

They say that family is one of nature’s masterpieces. On the day of your first birthday, I want you to know how much I love you and how I will always be here for you. I am so proud to be your daddy. Just try not to grow up too quickly!

Dada x


Sophia Molly: 11 Month Update

Monday, 6 March 2017

We are less than two weeks away from my baby's first birthday. I've been through various stages of disbelief, denial and refusal to acknowledge this fact, but finally I've settled on reluctant acceptance. At the moment we're busy putting the finishing touches to her party arrangements and ticking off her present list, and I'm regularly scrolling through pictures and videos of her as a newborn and quietly crying into my cup of tea.


Yes, this first year has gone far too quickly, and just like every mummy as they reach this precious milestone, I couldn't feel luckier or prouder to have been blessed with twelve whole months with this little girl in my life.

This month Sophia has liked...


Heading home to visit all of her relatives in England, seeing her Uncle Joe marry the lovely Hannah, and experiencing her very first freezing temperatures!



Accompanying us to the Emir's Sword Festival for her first horse racing experience.


Going for rides on her smarTrike around The Pearl.


Reading, reading and reading some more - especially while dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz on World Book Day at Twyla Nursery (she particularly enjoyed dressing up as a rock chick too).


Playing with and talking to her toys, especially her furry animals and her plastic farm animals.


Attending her first birthday parties with her little friends, and meeting her brand new friend Ellie when she was just a few days old.


This month Sophia has disliked...


Having a constant cough and cold which seems to have lingered for weeks, and kept her all of us up at ungodly hours of the night.

Is it still OK for me to say that she actually hasn't liked sleeping in general for the 11th month in a row? Or is this just a part of her personality that I really should have come to accept by now and move on?

This month's firsts...


Sophia can now point to her hair when you ask her where it is, and point to your nose (but misses the mark a bit when you ask her to point to her own nose). She can also do the actions to the first part of head, shoulders, knees and toes!


I forgot to mention last month that Sophia had started blowing air kisses, accompanied by a big "MWAH" noise, especially when greeting or saying goodbye to people that she has particular affection for (making my heart melt and my eyes go a little watery pretty much every time). Well, this month she has started doing it to random strangers on the street too. Particularly men. This I'm not quite so sentimental about.

 
Sophia's favourite words this month are 'yum!', 'gak gak!' for a duck, 'baa baa!' (for every other animal - she seems to have forgotten the 'moo' that she learned last month), 'bah bah' for bye bye and 'baba' for baby. You'll notice that most of these words sound pretty much the same, but my trained mummy ear can tell the difference, honest!

This month I realised how affectionate my little girl is becoming to those that are smaller than herself. She's fascinated by younger babies and can't stop saying 'Ahhh, baba!' when she's around them. She loves her toy animals and I can already see her nurturing instinct coming out, something that is incredibly heartening to watch.


She is now standing for long periods of time without holding anything. She can also walk along just holding onto my little finger and I know that she can do it unaided, but right now crawling is much quicker and easier and therefore the preferred option. It's just a matter of time though!

The biggest development of all this month is the devilishly cheeky sense of humour she's developing. At nursery, she's learned to fling herself backwards off their little green armchair to create a reaction, while giggling uncontrollably. She thinks it's hilarious to hold out a toy or piece of food for you and then fling it away at the last minute, much to your dismay. Holding a towel or item of clothing up to her face and then suddenly pulling it away while shouting a sound a little bit like 'boo!' brings on lots of giggles, especially if you pretend to fall over backwards in shock.


She's a little girl with a big, big personality and almost twelve months on, I am certain that she's going to make a huge impact on the world around her.

Our Honeymoon: Positano's Hidden Gems

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

By the time we arrived at Positano on the Amalfi Coast, we were halfway through our month-long honeymoon and had really started to make the most of la dolce vita. We'd slept off the post-wedding exhaustion, felt full of energy and were ready to explore. Conveniently, the beautiful and iconic settlement of Positano was just the place to do it. Its winding cobbled lanes, stunning pastel houses, interesting shops selling handmade wares and breathtaking views provided plenty to get excited about.


However, despite its breathtaking beauty, like most bustling tourist destinations, Positano abounds with overpriced, average restaurants and mediocre, touristy sights. It took us a couple of days to dig beneath the surface, and we soon discovered the town's true hidden gems.

1. Restaurants


La Sponda


This Michelin-starred gem of a restaurant can be found in Le Sirenuse (review to follow in due course) and boasts one of the most famous and romantic views in the world. We had one of the most memorable restaurant experiences of our lives, as the service, food, wine, atmosphere and live music were all impeccable (and we even lucked out and visited on a night when a full fireworks display was taking place right behind the hotel - result!)


Don't miss: ordering the tasting menu so that you can maximise your time spent overlooking that view (as well as your enjoyment of the food!). Arrive early and watch the sun set over the cliffs, then enjoy the romance of the view by candlelight.


Restaurants that are accessible via boat


These include the quaint little restaurant, Il Pirata, partially-built into the cliffside in the little cove of Marina di Praia (find out more here), and the shabby-chic Da Adolfo on Laurito Beach. Both of these restaurants serve up fresh fish and authentic Amalfi dishes in relaxed and romantic settings, and are a 10-minute boat ride from Positano.


Don't miss: a sunny, post-lunch slumber on a lettino, or sunbed next to Da Adolfo (which will be needed after one too many shots of Limoncello too early in the day), or a breezy walk around the winding cliff path by Il Pirata, from Praiano to Saracen Tower.


Chez Black


Positano's most notorious family-run restaurant which sits right on the beach front at the Spiaggia Grande and boasts an interesting history, laced with rumours of illicit affairs and its use as a meeting-place for interesting characters, serves up some the freshest and most delicious fresh salads and seafood that we enjoyed on our honeymoon.


Don't miss: bagging yourself a water-front table for a prime people-watching position.


2. Shops and sights


Boutique shops


From the hand crafted, fully customisable sandals at Don Ciccillo, 6-8 Viale Pasitea to the locally-made pottery at Umberto Caro on Via Pasitea, there are quaint little boutique shops down every steep alleyway and around every winding corner.


Don't miss: a little snoop around Franco Senesi Fine Art, showcasing talented local painters and sculptors.


Beaches


From the VIP scene at Spiagga Grande to the quieter and more laid-back Fornillo Beach, a ten-minute walk from Positano towards the little village of Fornillo, Positano's beaches have something for everyone.


Don't miss: seeing and being seen as you strut your stuff along the seafront, and get an iconic photo looking back up at the pastel houses of Positano.



The Church of Santa Maria Assunta


This pretty pastel yellow Church with its colourful majolica tiled dome dates back to 18th Century and is one of Positano's most recognisable (and most photographed) symbols. It's definitely worth a quick view inside, just so long as you are modestly covered.


Don't miss: keeping an eye out for wedding shoots as couples travel from all over the world to have their photograph taken in front of this iconic building.



3. Bars


A lunchtime drink in the pretty courtyard of Ristaurante Al Palazzo


Take in the stunning architecture of the surrounding buildings and marvel and this little haven of peace just a hop, step and a jump away from the bustling, tourist-filled lanes just outside.


Don't miss: a little nosey around the historic Hotel Palazzo Murat while you're there.

An afternoon sip on the terrace at Hotel Poseidon


This hotel is perched on the hill above the town, and offers a completely different view of the pastel houses from an elevated perspective.


 Don't miss: ordering the best Gin & Tonic I have ever had in my life, laced with fresh juniper berries.

An evening tipple on the terrace at Il San Pietro Hotel


The views over Positano and the Mediterranean Sea from Il San Pietro are utterly sublime, and the romance of the setting is captivating. Block out a few hours to listen to the live guitar players and singers who will serenade you into the night.


Don't miss: the mind-blowing Espresso Martinis.

4. A visit to Praiano


The tiny hamlet of Praiano is a small but pretty fishing village which lies five minutes down the road from Positano, and is often overlooked in favour of its bigger, more tourist-friendly cousin. Yet it would be a shame to bypass this little settlement if you are staying nearby. Its many winding walkways, steep steps cut into the cliffs and authentic Italian 'vibe' make it a sight to behold.


Don't miss: watching the sun set from Praiano. Due to it's western-facing vantage point and sweeping views over Positano and Capri, locals say that this is the best place on the Amalfi Coast from which to watch the sun go down. My favourite place to do this is from the rooftop of the boutique hotel, Casa Angelina.


Once all of these hidden gems had been explored, I couldn't help but re-read the 1953 quote by John Steinbeck that I'd devoured while planning our honeymoon:

‘Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone’.

There's a reason why this town has embedded itself in the hearts of so many.


For more in my Italian honeymoon series, head here.


DESIGNED BY ECLAIR DESIGNS