Home Is Where Your Sunshine Is

Friday, 1 July 2016

Back in October 2013 when I was a sprightly twenty eight year old residing in London, I was getting ready to move home. Not down the road, or across town, or even to a new county. Nope, I was 'following my sunshine' half way around the world to the Middle East to be closer to the man I loved.


At this point in time, as I was saying goodbye to all that was comfortable and familiar to me, the concept of home and what it meant was really important - so much so that it inspired me to start this blog. The second post I ever wrote talked about the places and feelings that I associated with home and it was pretty clear to anyone reading that the only place I was willing to call home at that point in time was where Mr Sunshine was. I was so in love that I would probably have moved to anywhere in the world if it meant waking up with him by my side every day.

But over two and a half years as an expat, one marriage and a baby later, the way I think about home has become far more complex - and it's got me a little confused.

Home is where my friends are. London and Essex is where the oldest and closest of them live. They're the steadfast ones that I stayed up until the early hours with, snuggled in sleeping bags and chatting about boys; the ones that I snuck into clubs with underage using fake IDs and passports pinched from older siblings; the ones that I picked up the phone to first after Mr S got down on one knee. They have seen me at my very best, and have seen me at my godawful worst. Some were bridesmaids at my wedding and will be 'aunties' and godmothers to my children, and I miss them every day.


But not long after I moved I began to make new friendships in Qatar and these friends became my lifelines out here. They've celebrated some of life's biggest milestones with me. They have provided me with the support I've needed when I've felt far from home. They've baked, shopped and changed nappies for me. And they are at the centre of some of my most amusing and precious memories.



Home is where my family are. When I was new to Qatar, I missed my family terribly. I pined for all of the things that I associate with family time at home. Sunday roasts, chats over breakfast, watching films by a roaring fire, cuddles and Christmas and days out and debates. These days I still miss those things, but I miss my family for additional, and bigger reasons - for the little things they are missing out on as Sophia grows up, for the relationships that she is missing out on on a daily basis and for the support I am missing out on when I need it the most!


Now we have our own family, and Qatar is the only place we've called home. I know that when the time comes for us to leave, we will miss things associated with here too. The weather and food, days at the beach, walks around the marina. Nostalgia is the quickest way to forge a feeling of home.



Home is where I feel safe. England used to be that place for me, where everyone I met was polite, friendly and welcoming. Where neighbours were concerned with each others' welfare and whoever you were you were able to walk the streets safe from judgement or harm.


Then Sophia was born and it wasn't just about me any more. I had a mini human to keep safe. Politicians became embroiled in campaigns of hatred, Brexit happened and then we started to receive reports of racially-targetted attacks. All of a sudden, the muti-ethnic, accepting and largely crime-free society of Qatar felt a far more safe and homely place for us to raise a child.



Home is where I feel fulfilled. This has always been England for me. It has all of the things that make me feel alive. History, culture, greenery and countryside, excitement and entertainment, variety and life.


But there are of course, new things that make me feel fulfilled these days and Qatar provides them all. Having a job that challenges and excites me, and helps me to feel like I'm giving something back; being in a place which allows me to save money and to provide for our family; blogging, traveling and opening myself and my family up to opportunities that we could only have dreamed of before.



Basically I think I've come to the conclusion that home doesn't have to be just in one place, and nowhere on earth will tick all of your perfect home ideals, but instead there are opportunities to build a home wherever you are, and whatever your circumstances. Home is where your sunshine is. And even on the gloomiest of days it is possible to create your own sunshine!




When Things Are Not OK

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Earlier today I sat in the back of a taxi and cried. I haven't cried like this in a very long time, with tears flowing freely down my cheeks and deep chesty sobs wracking my entire body. The taxi driver must have thought I was mad, but thankfully he said nothing, and simply passed me a tissue box from the front seat, giving me a sympathetic smile in his rear view mirror. 

It had been a difficult afternoon: after recovering from a 24 hour sickness bug that had been doing the rounds I had decided it was probably about time I looked after my health and paid a visit to the ENT specialist that I see every now and again with periodic ear infections. He looked down his Otoscope with a grave face and told me that I should never leave it so long before coming to see him again - I had one of the worst infections he had seen in his 15 years as a doctor and I should be recovering in bed. I almost laughed - he thinks I can spend the day lounging in bed with a three month old to look after?! He obviously doesn't have children. 

With antibiotics, nasal spray and ear drops tucked under my arm, I struggled to detach Sophia's car seat from the base of her pram and get her into the waiting taxi. Still weak from sickness and lack of food, after weeks of continually telling myself I was fine, the doctor had allowed me to give in to the fact I had been ill for a long time, and I struggled to remember a time when I had felt worse. 

Still, there were two more stops I had to make before the inviting lure of home. Firstly the office where I work when I'm not on maternity leave. Since Sophia's birth, our immigration team had been trying in vain to issue a Residents Permit so that she can legally reside in this country under my sponsorship. Rejection after rejection had come through, as the Ministry of Interior requested further documents in some kind of bid to prove her (or our?!) eligibility to live in Qatar, and after eight or nine visits to the office to try to sort it out I'd finally been told we had been successful and that I could come to collect the RP. However, at the immigration desk, a stern-faced lady told me that I needed a copy of her birth certificate (which I had already provided but which they didn't seem to have on file) in order for her to issue the permit - something which they had neglected to tell me when we spoke on the phone. "It's ok, you can come back tomorrow with it!" she chirped with a smile. For the second time that day I was reminded that people who don't have babies have no idea how difficult simple daily tasks can actually be, and I gritted my teeth to prevent me from pointing out that my little RP trips to the office were verging on double figures. Crest fallen, we returned empty-handed to the waiting taxi. 

Our last stop was the supermarket.  I was dreading making this trip, because by this point Sophia was ready for a feed and fussing, but I knew that there was nothing in the fridge and if I didn't go now I wouldn't get out again until late in the afternoon and I would have to forego lunch for the third time already this week. Now shopping with a baby in a pram on the best of days is difficult, but today nothing seemed to go to plan. I forgot to pick up a basket and realised too late that they were outside the automatic one-way doors which had already closed behind me, I couldn't find anything I was looking for and my pram had suddenly decided to stop steering in a straight line. 

Weary and emotionally drained, I returned to my flat, plopped Sophia onto her playmat and collapsed on the sofa, where I spent the next five minutes lamenting my life - the list of things I had to do before I head back to England next week; the long hours that Mr Sunshine works during tournaments like the Euros and Wimbledon, leaving me to look after the baby on my own; the number of unfinished blog posts in my draft box that would never see the light of day; the number of blog and social media comments and emails waiting for me unanswered; The heaving stack of dishes by the sink and the growing pile of laundry on our dining room table and the lack of time I had to sort it out; the lack of time I had for ANYTHING come to think of it; the little sleep I'd had since Sophia came into the world; how ill and wretched I felt and how far away from the place I call home I really was.

But there was nothing else I could do other than to pick myself up and get on with things. So I sat down with Sophia and wrote this blog post. She's just finished a feed, and is smiling up at me from the crook of my arm, and I can already feel my anger, sadness and frustration melting away.
The sad fact of the matter is, a day like today isn't all that unusual when you're a new mum. As well as being the best thing in the whole wide world, parenthood can be really hard. That's why if you're a mummy, I applaud you. If you're a mummy and you live in another country to your main support network, I salute you. If you're a mummy, an expat, you're single (or without help from a significant other for any length of time), tired or ill AND you're managing to hold it all together, well then I think you deserve a goddam medal.

Follow Your Sunshine is a positive blog about positive things, but just for today I needed to get this out. And I already feel better. Business as usual will commence tomorrow!

Sophia Molly: Three Month Update

Saturday, 25 June 2016

It really is true what they say: the first three months of life with a new baby are the hardest. But with the last of those difficult, sleepless and frustrating months behind us now, Sophia has not only grown up in more ways than I could have imagined but has turned into the happiest and most contented baby I have ever known.



This month Sophia has liked: 


Swimming with mummy and daddy

Travelling in an aeroplane - she loved the gentle hum and vibrations and slept all the way to England!

Babbling away and making conversation with us, especially after a feed or when we sing to her

Chewing her hands...a lot

Falling asleep gripping onto her favourite toy - her Jellycat bunny called Rabbi.

This month Sophia has disliked:


Spitting up, which happens after nearly every feed at the moment

going for too long without a feed

Sleeping anywhere other than mummy and daddy's bed

This month's firsts:


First time meeting her grandpa when he came out to visit and first time meeting all of the Byles side of her family back home in Norfolk, as we returned to celebrate her Uncle James' wedding to Inger Johanne. I think it's safe to say that the whole family was pretty smitten!

First time rolling over from back to front in order to get closer to me and her toy bunny

First time she moved out of all of her newborn clothes and into 0-3 and some 3-6 month clothes

First time holding her head and chest up for more than a minute during tummy time

First real belly laughs

Sophia was an angel on the flight to and from England last week

She continues to change every day, and I can't wait to see how she grows and develops over the coming month. One thing is for sure, I am relieved to finally say with certainty that we are raising a very happy and bubbly little girl! While last month I felt like a bit of a failure as a mum at times, this month I have been nothing but proud of the job I'm doing. That's not to say that I haven't had my low moments! But that's one for another post...

Ramadan in Doha: My Pick of the Iftars 2016

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

I always look forward to Ramadan in Doha. For those that are celebrating the Holy Month, it means four long weeks of fasting during daylight hours, and for non-Muslims, out of respect, there is no eating or drinking in public during this time. However, come sunset, Qataris and expats alike pour into hotels and restaurants to break their fast together at 'Iftar'. With family, festivities and lots and lots of food on the agenda, there isn't much not to like.

Last year, I picked my very favourite Iftar, and my top two places to enjoy the nighttime / early morning meal of Sohour, but this year we have been to so many that I have found it impossible to narrow it down to just one or two. Instead, here is my pick of the Iftars for 2016, and the reasons why I think you should head along.

Best Authentically Qatari Experience 

Intercontinental Doha The City

As you enter the atmospheric Al Jawhara Pavilion, the sumptuous fabrics, rich colours and ornate decorations make you feel as though you are walking into a Sheikh's palace. The Arabic-inspired food at each of the stations which line the corridor outside are perfectly executed and authentic. The waiting staff give you a warm and typically Arab welcome, thoughtfully accommodating any requests you may have, and they help to give this Iftar the family-friendly feel which put us at ease from the moment we stepped in the door. Finally, with live entertainment, Shisha and Henna painting on offer, this Iftar adds much more into the mix than just good food.


Favourite Dish: the Chicken Mulukhiya or any of the Arabic Sweets
Iftar Buffet: QAR195
Sohour a la Carte: starting from QAR180

Tip: For an extra-special occasion, book a private Majilis for QAR 500 per person, or a social Majilis for a minimum spend of QAR 300 per person.

Best for the Whole Family

Cool de Sac

One of Medina Centrale on The Pearl's most exciting new openings, Cool de Sac is a restaurant and fun-filled entertainment centre for children of all ages. This Ramadan, Cool de Sac is offering something for the whole family, as a diverse Iftar menu is available, with different dishes for every night of the week, which can be enjoyed while your youngsters get involved in activities at any of the seven different play stations. From face painting to ball pits; computer games to lego, there really is something for every child. And for the adults, the food is surprisingly good!


Favourite Dish: the Meat Sambousek
Iftar a la Carte: QAR 150 per person

Tip: Arrive early so that the kids can take full advantage of the variety of interactive entertainment options available.

Best Variety

The Marsa Malaz Kempinski

I was delighted to discover that the food stations at the Marsa Malaz Iftar were just as varied as they were last year. This hotel's 'palatial' offering includes live sushi, wok, shawarma and pasta stations; plentiful salads and carvery meats; clay pot Arabic dishes and curries; Mezzes from Al Sufra; and a vast selection of sweets, including some of Cafe Murano's delectable specialities. Returning from the buffet at one point in the evening, my plate contained food from three different continents. The Marsa Malaz doesn't do anything by halves, and this Iftar is no exception. 


Favourite dish: Because the sushi and sashimi is assembled by the dedicated sushi chef as the night goes on, I challenge you to find a tastier and fresher offering at any other Iftar.
Iftar buffet: QAR 240
Sohour buffet: QAR 290

Tip: If you aren't fasting, skip lunch to leave enough space to try a bit of everything.

Best Deals

The Grand Hyatt Doha

The Grand Hyatt have scaled back on the decor of their Ramadanak Tent a little compared to last year, but they are still offering an extensive spread. However, the real appeal of this Iftar is the tremendous value of your meal if you take advantage of the various deals that are on offer. Not only is there a Buy One Get One Free offer in this month's deals on The Entertainer App, but if you book online you can book an Iftar or Suhour for five guests and only pay for four. However, this second offer is only valid until tomorrow so you'll have to hurry!


Favourite dish: Kadai Paneer
Iftar buffet: QAR 220
Sohour buffet: QAR 200

Tip: Order shisha following your meal; some claim it's the best in town!

Best for Cheap Eats

Remman Cafe

If you love Lebanese cuisine, but don't love paying the hefty price tags associated with some of the five star hotels' Iftars, then head to Remman Cafe to break your fast this Ramadan. Not only is there an extensive a la Carte menu featuring hot and cold mezze, soups, mixed pies, main courses and sweets, but you can eat your fill in bright and sociable surroundings without breaking the bank.


Favourite dish: All of the cold mezze. I haven't had Houmous, Mouttabal, Fattouch and Mohammara quite like that in a long time!
Iftar a la Carte: QAR 90
Sohour a la Carte: QAR 90

Tip: Save space to pop next door to Mokarabia coffee house after your meal: the art and decor is so Instagrammable, and the desserts are to die for.

Best Overall Experience

The St Regis Doha

The St Regis Ramadan Souq in the hotel's Grand Ballroom will quite literally stun you. This is not just an Iftar buffet, but a whole Ramadan experience, with food stalls and live cooking stations decked out to look like the market stalls of a traditional Souq. As you wander around these 'streets', many a delight awaits you, from local specialities to a broad range of contemporary cuisine from around the globe. World class entertainment, and a broad shisha menu brings the sights and sounds of the Souq alive, and you will find yourself wanting to linger for as long as you are able to soak up the atmosphere.


Favourite dish: Butter chicken
Iftar buffet: QAR 230
Suhour buffet: QAR 290

Tip: Want to keep up with the European Championship while you eat? Instead of enjoying your Suhour in the ballroom, head to the St Regis' other location at Al Gassar to take advantage of the plasma screens and 4K match signal.

____

Please note that despite visiting numerous Iftars this Holy Month, I am yet to try all of them, and therefore the above recommendations are based only on those I have been able to try. Some notable Iftars not included below, but which have received high praise from other Doha foodies include the Marriott Marquis, the Westin, the W Hotel and the Four Seasons. 

I was a guest of the Marsa Malaz Kempinski, the Grand Hyatt, the St Regis, Cool de Sac and Remman Cafe to sample their Iftars. All opinions are my own.


I am posting this as part of the monthly Qatar Link-Up. This month, head along to guest-host Kay's blog to link up your post.

The Whisbear: Our Baby Sleep Saviour

Monday, 13 June 2016

Regular readers will know that Sophia hasn't been a good sleeper from the get go. For the first month she wouldn't sleep anywhere but clutching onto me. During her second month she was plagued by colic which kept us up and pulling our hair out into the early hours. And now, in her third month, her fussiness has been replaced with reflux which often wakes her just minutes after she's been put down.

After almost ninety days of only four or five hours sleep per night, Mr Sunshine and I were feeling tired to our very core, and by bedtime each night I was almost ready to throw the towel in.

But then this little chap arrived on our doorstep.

 
The Whisbear is a soft toy containing smart technology backed up by science. At the press of a button, the bear emits a soft, white noise with a volume control which can be turned up or down to suit your baby, before switching itself off again after 40 minutes of gentle humming. Its aim is to soothe your baby to sleep, and I can't believe I'm saying this but it actually works!

Sophia, much like many other young babies,  didn't really want to leave her safe haven in the womb, and even today spends much of her time curled up in the foetal position, as close as she can to me so that she can feel my warmth and my beating heart. Playing a noise which mimics the swooshes and gurgles of that womb environment really helps her to feel safe, and lulls her into a dream-like state until she falls asleep gradually and peacefully.


The real clever bit is that if she wakes again and makes a noise in the proceeding three hours after the Whisbear has switched itself onto standby mode, the device turns itself back on again to soothe her back to sleep. This means that if she isn't in need of a feed or nappy change, she is gently soothed back to sleep without us having to get up (well, in an ideal world...let's face it, most of the time I sit bolt upright and alert again as soon as I hear the slightest whimper!).


My favourite feature of the Whisbear is the magnets in his four legs, which means he can 'grab on to' the side of our Chicco Next2Me for shushing at nap time and night time, and is easily transportable, sitting on the rail of Sophia's Bugaboo for shushing on the move.

 
I love that this little sleep saviour is soft, fun and easily grabbable by little hands. I know that he's going to be an important item to pack in our suitcases every time we travel from now on.

What are your top tips for dealing with restless babies? Does white noise work for you?

Pin for later:




Our Whisbear was provided for review.

Sophia's Nursery Reveal

Friday, 10 June 2016

This post, much like the nursery itself, has been a bit of a labour of love. For months before Sophia's arrival, Mr Sunshine and I were quite excited about furnishing and decorating this special room and as soon as we found out that we were having a girl, we rushed out to start buying the bits and pieces that we would need. Then almost as soon as I got home, I set about noting it all down.

Six months and one baby later, and we've only just gotten the room into a state that I would consider 'complete'. Of course, Sophia isn't sleeping in here yet, but we still use the room on a daily basis, for nappy changes, playtime and to start her bedtime routine before we put her down at night. And it's by far my favourite space in our home.



Hanging from the door handle is a cushion which reads 'Shhh! Baby is sleeping...' by Ralph Lauren. I'm sure we will use this for its intended purpose during nap times when the nursery is in full use, but for now it hangs permanently on the door to mark the entrance to Sophia's room.


There is an en suite bathroom to the left as you enter, which Rich and I currently use, and on the right is a pink IKEA Kallax shelving unit, filled with books, toys and other bits and pieces, with some IKEA toy boxes to the right of them. I wanted to make the room fairly feminine without drowning it in pink, so this is one of the key pieces of furniture which gives the room that girly accent.


On top of the unit, our Gro Egg is very useful for warning us when the room is getting too hot - something that's incredibly important to monitor, especially for babies in a country like Qatar. We like also like to keep fresh flowers here to keep the room feeling and smelling fresh (jug-style vase is also IKEA), and we are currently in the process of getting some professional baby photos printed to go in our Debenhams frame which a friend gave me as a gift at my baby shower.


Hanging above these shelves is a beautiful butterfly print from IKEA, which inspired my theme for the rest of the room. Without wanting to get too deep, I liked the idea of butterflies because to me they signify nature and freedom - two things I'd like Sophia to embrace as she grows up!


These pretty butterfly and dragonfly wall stickers by Koko Kids from Not On The High Street flit and float along the wall above the daybed, and around the corner to the window. In the middle, is a very on-brand 'You Are My Sunshine' sticker by Oakdene Designs (also Not On The High Street) in the same pastel shades as the butterflies. These stickers are the latest addition to the room, and I love how pretty and homely they make the space feel. Plus Sophia could stare and gurgle at them for hours on end!



From the moment we moved into this apartment, I really wanted a day bed for this room and I definitely haven't regretted shelling out for this one from IKEA. Sophia lies on it every day while we dress her, I occasionally feed her here, and best of all it doubles up as a spare bed when we have visitors. It's super comfy, and when pulled out fully, it's quite a large double bed. Sophia isn't the best of sleepers and I can see myself spending a few nights on here when she moves into her own room!



The throw and cushions that adorn the daybed are some of my favourite elements of the room. I love the patchwork of the Zara Home throw, and the 'thrown together' look of the mismatched pillows, which are from IKEA, Zara Home and Home Centre. The gorgeous rag doll was hand made by my very talented mummy!



Under the window lives our gorgeous Moses Basket and stand from Mamas & Papas, which sadly doesn't get too much use these days - she much prefers mummy's and daddy's bed!


On the other side of the window is the piece of furniture which currently gets the most use in this room - Sophia's nappy changing unit from Mamas & Papas. It was important for us to get something that was safe and sturdy, as well as one which had ample storage for all of our baby supplies. I wanted to keep these drawers super organised, so invested in some drawer dividers from IKEA which do the trick beautifully.



The changing mat itself is very practical - wipe clean and comfortable, and from Mothercare. The pink flowers add another hint of girlishness to the room.


Hanging above the changing unit is one of my favourite framed quotes by Old English Company (another Not On The High Street purchase), which sat on a table next to our wedding cake on our wedding day. Mr Sunshine and I love to travel, and we're planning on taking Sophia along with us on our travels from a very early age. Hopefully some of our wanderlust will rub off on her, and she'll be just as excited about exploring the world as we are some day! Hanging from this picture is one of my favourite cards we received when Sophia was born.


My nursing chair from IKEA is another of my favourite items in the room. It's firm but comfortable, and many an hour has been spent lounging in it with Sophia in the crook of my elbow, gazing out over the view of the marina beneath the window. I love the little touches that make this chair even more cozy and inviting: the IKEA faux fur throw; the Zara Home patchwork cushion; the Zara Home colourful rug and the Kartell coffee table for my tea, magazines and never-ending supply of biscuits.


Above the chair are some floating shelves, which hold some special items. Her personalised name bear from Babyblooms; her colour changing dog night light by Ulysses which we got from Amazon; a hand-sewn framed initial from Little Foundry; her latest Milestone Baby Card and some cute dangly ornaments that were gifts from friends.






Finally, we come to Sophia's cot, which is from Mamas & Papas. We chose the most expensive mattress, because you can't put a cost on your baby having a well-supported back or a good night's sleep (something I believe in now more than ever!). The bedding is also Mamas & Papas, and her gorgeous name banner which hangs above it is handmade by the awesome Patt Handcraft who is based out here in Qatar, and who makes some really beautiful things, including my very pretty breast feeding cover.



Along the wall next to the cot are several wardrobes full to the brim with travel cases, baby baths, muslins, blankets and her clothes (and maybe a few of mine!).

The complete look and feel of the nursery is exactly what I had hoped it would be...


Somewhere where we can all happily while away the hours, whether we're playing, washing or softly sleeping.


What are your must-have items in your child's nursery?
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