Are you a Black woman, or from another Minority Group, and trying to break into romance writing?

Hi, I’m a double USA-today bestselling romance writer with 35 published books under two pen names, and over a dozen number-one bestsellers in category. I’m not JK Rowling (yet), but I have tons of experience with writing and publishing, and I want to help you.

Romance writing is a very white community at the moment. Let’s change that. If you need someone to proofread before you self-publish, or you need advice or help with publishing on KDP or putting together a marketing plan, I will help 100 people with these things pro bono.

I will not tell you whether your book idea is saleable, but I will point you toward resources so you can make your own decisions. In order to make use of this offer, you must have a completed romance manuscript, that has already been self-edited to the best of your ability (don’t worry if this isn’t your strong point). There are plenty of free resources available to help you write a book, and not enough to help you figure out what to do with it once you’ve written it. I will also mentor you and act as a sounding board with getting your book in front of people.

I am especially enthusiastic about sweet and clean romance as this is the area I now work in, but I have written steamier stuff in the past and have tons of advice and experience to share, as well as contacts.

I will also provide a written character reference for anyone I work with, if you need to get a job, housing, education application etc, regardless of your history.

You can get in touch with me through my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/mamaadventurez/ or comment on this post.

 

Vegan Meaty Stuffed Bell Pepper Tacos

I love stuffed peppers! They’re such an easy way to get more vegetables into your diet and this recipe is super-healthy. This was an experiment in changing things up, because I usually make stuffed peppers with rice, but today I wanted something different, so I filled my peppers with a taco-style filling of soy mince (TVP), sweetcorn and salsa, and topped with my vegan no-blend guacamole but you could also add grated vegan cheese if that’s your thing (or if you have any… I don’t, because my local Sainsbury’s has mysteriously stopped selling all vegan cheese since the lockdown began). This recipe is also perfect for when you are craving tacos but don’t have any taco shells.

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And finally, top with my easy no-blend avocado:

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Ingredients:

  • 2 bell peppers
  • Half a cup of dried TVP (soy mince)
  • Half a cup of sweetcorn
  • A pinch of cilantro (leaf coriander)
  • A pinch (or three) of garlic
  • A big dollop of salsa (you can substitute this for some chopped tomatoes and a teaspoon or two of Piri Piri sauce or a teaspoon of any other hot sauce if you don’t have salsa)
  • A teaspoon of Vegemite (or another yeast extract)

 

Method:

  1. Cut the bell peppers in half and remove the seeds.
  2. Reconstitute the TVP with boiling water and add the Vegemite, garlic and cilantro. Mix thoroughly to avoid any Vegemite lumps and leave the mixture to sit for 10 minutes to absorb the hot water fully.
  3. Drain off the excess water from the TVP and mix with the sweetcorn.
  4. Put the TVP and sweetcorn mixture into the halves of the bell peppers, taking care not to knock them over. If you have peppers that won’t lie very well in the oven, balance them carefully against each other for support.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes in a fan oven at 180 degrees/gas mark 6.
  6. Serve with chilled guacamole and salsa.

What’s your favourite thing to put in stuffed peppers? Let me know in the comments!

 

Vegan Homemade No-Blend Guacamole

Serves 2 as a dip or 1 as a big dip. Scale for the number of people you’re feeding.

I looked through some fancy recipes for guacamole but they all needed ingredients I didn’t have, namely, fresh avocado, fresh cilantro and lime juice. So I’ve come up with this recipe to work with the ingredients I actually have, because I’m not the sort of person to keep limes in my house unless I want to specifically make something unusual with them.

I wanted guacamole to top off my vegan meaty bell pepper tacos, because I can’t get vegan cheese right now and tacos without cheese OR guacamole is just crazy talk. Of course, I only thought about guacamole after the bell pepper tacos were already in the oven, so this recipe is quick and easy.

The bell peppers for the taco recipe take 15 minutes and this guacamole recipe took the time after the peppers were in the oven, minus the time it’s taken to write this article. I can’t put the blender on right now, because the baby is asleep and my Ninja sounds like a Harrier Jet when it’s running, plus I really can’t be bothered to clean the thing, so this is a no-blend recipe, too.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Avocado or about 1/2 a mug of frozen avocado (I did this because lockdown).
  • 3 fresh cherry tomatoes. You could substitute this with a tablespoon of tinned chopped tomatoes if you needed to, but it will lose the texture of the fresh tomato skins.
  • A sprinkle of cilantro (aka leaf coriander), I used dried because lockdown but fresh will give a more fragrant result.
  • A teaspoon of lemon juice.

 

  1. Defrost the frozen avocado in a mug. I used the defrost setting on the microwave for 2 minutes, stand for 1 minute, microwave on defrost for 1 more minute, and then I drained the excess water out of the bottom of the cup.
    If using fresh avocado, cut around its long equator, twist, and separate the two halves. Dig out the stone with a dessert spoon. Chop into medium-sized chunks.
  2. Chop the cherry tomatoes into fine pieces. The seeds will come out as you do it. Scrape the seeds, juice and pieces into the cup.
  3. Add the cilantro and lemon juice to the cup.
  4. Mix everything with a fork, mashing the avocado and making sure it’s well-mixed.
  5. Chill in the fridge until you are ready to use it. It should be chilled when served, so make it at least an hour before you want it.
  6. If you’re like me, you didn’t make it an hour before you wanted it. So instead of the fridge, put it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to bring the temperature down, especially if you used a microwave to defrost the avocado. Don’t forget about it or you’ll need to defrost it again. Maybe write a note or something.

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DIY upcycled book caddy from a wine carrier

So I really wanted one of those gorgeous Ikea spice racks that Americans are transforming into book holders for children, but sadly, UK Ikea don’t sell the same spice racks. The ones in the US go for $6.99 and the nearest UK equivalent is £18.

That’s a pretty huge difference, when you consider that a British £1 is worth more than $1 USD. Like, they get the same thing for about £5 that we would have to pay £18 for.

Nope.

So I bought this wooden wine carrier from Hobbycraft. It was unfinished and I measured it. It’s the perfect size for the Gruffalo but about half a centimetre too small to fit any of the Charlie and Lola books in (boo). If Hobbycraft ever make these half a centimetre bigger, I’ll get another one and paint that instead.

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I painted the ends green and the middle red, using cheap acrylic paint from The Works (£2.99 for 6 different tubes of coloured paint) and cheap brushes, also from The Works.

They deliver.

I copied the frog picture from Jellyfish’s favourite bath sponge, a frog we have dubbed Mr. Ribbit. If you’re wondering, the frog sponge is here in a 2 pack.

It took two days to do the whole thing and I feel really proud because I am not very good at painting.

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I can see the frog could have been painted better (by someone other than me, with a steadier hand and better drawing ability) but overall I’m happy with how this turned out. The first thing Jellyfish did when he saw it was try to put it in his mouth so he definitely thinks it looks like his frog sponge.

I can’t wait to put books in it!

Have you made anything this week? Let me know in the comments.

How I avoided stretch marks with pregnancy and got rid of old stretch marks too!

I always thought this was a myth, and that it was impossible to avoid stretch marks or to get rid of stretch marks. My back is actually covered in stretch marks from when I used to be a professional ice skater, and my legs were, too, from all the stretching. But my tummy? No stretch marks. And I managed to diminish the ones on my legs, too! I’ve had those since I was 12! Okay, full disclosure, there’s the tiniest little scattering to the left of my belly button but check out the pics below to compare my belly to the stretch marks on my back, I am still shocked by how well this worked. I am 9 months postpartum.

Here’s how I did it. As they say, prevention is the best cure. It’s important to know that buying products won’t solve the problem by itself, you need to know how to use them, and you need to actually do it daily. When I was pregnant my skin got very sensitive so I had to be very careful what products I used. I all but stopped doing my facial skincare routine and had to completely avoid products containing retinol or hyaluronic acid, which are usually skincare staples for me, so pregnancy was a challenge to completely re-think my skincare routines and make them more natural. Links to products are further down.

 

  1. From about the second trimester, I tried to avoid exercising my stomach muscles. I cut my usual workout down to just gentle “granny yoga” or “chair yoga” every day. The goal was to stay in shape but to make sure my body prioritised growing a healthy baby not growing my muscles! I still did a bit of walking every day, and in my third trimester, I did a bit more, to prepare my body for labour (I had a C-section in the end but I really, really wanted to try for a v-birth).
  2. During the third trimester, I followed the brilliant active birth “hip wiggle” workout produced by Ulster Hospital (where I gave birth) available here on Youtube. This got the skin moving in all the right ways, opening up the hips and gently stretching which helped me avoid stretch marks. I did 15-30 minutes per day from 34 weeks pregnant.
  3. During every shower, I used a sponge and shower gel and massaged in gentle circles all over my body. This breaks up cellulite and scar tissue and increases cell turnover which promotes skin healing and renewal.
  4. After every shower, I gently massaged my growing stomach. Most days I used body lotion and Innisfree soybean essence. Once or twice a week I used either the Therapy? massage bar from Lush or grapeseed oil. I used this time to connect with my baby and tell them they were loved, wanted, and that we were looking forward to their arrival when they were ready.
  5. I took my prenatal vitamins every single day after the first trimester (I was too sick to take tablets in the first trimester but I’d been taking them daily for 6 months beforehand in preparation for this). These are especially formulated to give you the extra boost you need to grow the healthiest baby possible. They are also good for your skin, hair and nails.
  6. I tried to get at least 50g of protein everyday. Because I am dairy free, this came from peanut butter, nuts, pumpkin seeds, Silk soy milk, Silk almond milk (the UK equivalent to Silk soy milk is probably Alpro soya growing up milk but read the label to check the protein), textured vegetable protein (aka soy mince or TVP) and tofu. I also used vegan protein powder to add to my smoothies. The recommendation is 75g of protein per day but, living in a foreign country where food wasn’t as easy to source as it is in the west, I generally averaged about 55g (and this required a lot of effort, dairy free homemade lattes and peanut butter on everything).
  7. I drank a lot of fruit juice and worked hard to eat as many different types of fruit and vegetables as possible.
  8. I took lots of baths (with no bath bubbles). Usually I kept these at 37-38 degrees Celsius (just below 100F), although when I was in Japan I used the hot baths because there’s no scientific evidence that this is problematic for babies.
  9. I didn’t wear any kind of support band or compression band either during or after pregnancy. I tried about three different ones but I found they stopped my body’s natural movements and made me feel squashed, and I didn’t like that.
  10. I didn’t wear a bra until 7 months pregnant because I couldn’t get a maternity bra in China that fitted over my bump, so I eventually picked one up from Mothercare in Ireland and I highly recommend a shaped maternity bra.
  11. I didn’t wear anything at all with a waistline after I was about 6 weeks pregnant. No hose, no leggings, no trousers, no skirts… I stuck to dresses and flat sandals, and if I was cold, socks. This was on the advice of my ob-gyn in China, and I’ve heard this is also what they advise you in Japan and South Korea. My goal was to let my body grow and stretch in its most natural way possible, without being forced into a certain position or shape by clothing. They tell you to do this to protect the growing baby, and ensure blood flow to the womb, and I 100% get behind this. I don’t know if it’s why I had no pregnancy issues this time but seriously it was so comfortable. I met pregnant women in Ireland who were barely standing up at 7 months pregnant and I was still able to walk easily, clean my new house and carry furniture until about 4 days before the baby came, when a disastrous membrane sweep seemed to have moved the baby into an oblique lie. People can say I’m crazy, but I think our “maternity fashion” has a lot to answer for in the west and at the end of the day, I have the lack of stretch marks to prove it.
  12. After I had the baby, I continued using grapeseed oil and the Therapy? massage bar, as well as using a sponge to massage my skin in the shower.

The interesting thing about all this is, it actually helped heal stretch marks I’ve had on my legs since I was about 12 from doing excessive amounts of stretching for sport reasons (but the ones on my back are still vivid). I didn’t work on the ones on my back at all with any kind of skincare products (silly me) and they really stand out. I am now 9 months post partum so I don’t think those stretch marks on my legs are coming back, either.

Products I recommend to avoid stretch marks and get rid of them:

  1. A good prenatal vitamin. Pregnacare is the absolute best (US link). You can get it in loads of places in the UK but it’s here on UK Amazon If you are in the US, check the ingredients of anything labelled as a “prenatal vitamin” CAREFULLY. I bought my first set of prenatals from the US in September 2018 and I was shocked by how many of them contain vitamin A, which pregnant women should absolutely avoid for the safety of the baby. I was generally horrified by how unregulated the supplement industry is in the US and I only recommend Pregnacare. I had another brand which I got from Walmart and I had to throw them away because they were really bad.
  2. Grapeseed oil. This is the only oil that is able to penetrate deep enough into the skin layer to actually make a difference to scarring and stretch marks, and it’s a LOT cheaper than the expensive named-brand oil that claims to do the same thing (I have tried that other oil and found it to be useless). I used Now Solutions Grapeseed Oil which is reasonably priced in the US. In the UK, I’d go for this one next time because it’s a LOT cheaper and certified vegan and cruelty free.
  3. The Therapy? body massage bar by Lush, if you can source it. I had to import mine into China because there’s no Lush over there. It contains Shea Butter which is one of my fave ingredients because it’s so moisturizing.
  4. Innisfree soybean essence. This Korean stuff is amazing for a range of issues and is made from fermented soybeans. I’ve put this in a spray bottle to make a DIY K-beauty facial spritz and I spray it all over my body, too.
  5. A basic bath sponge and gentle shower gel. Literally any cheap sponge from Dollar Tree/Poundland will be fine.
  6. Vegan protein powder. This chocolate one is delicious! Collagen comes from protein so you need lots of protein to grow your skin and heal it during and after pregnancy. Protein is also important for the baby.

Things to avoid:

  1. Sunbathing. Pregnant skin is more sensitive than normal skin and you will burn. A sunburn is a sign of deep tissue damage which causes premature ageing of the skin, and collagen damage, which makes you more prone to stretch marks because age lines are a sign that your skin isn’t stretching as well as it used to. Cover up, even on that coveted babymoon. I travelled extensively while pregnant, in China, Malaysia, Japan and Ireland, and I 100% recommend you avoid the sun even though it’s tempting at times. If you need to go out in the sun, it should be SPF 50 PA+++ all the way!
  2. Anything that constricts your belly or claims to compress or “support” it, unless you need it for medical reasons.
  3. Excessive stomach exercise e.g. leg lifts or sit-ups.

Here’s some pictures of me postpartum (I’m standing in front of the shower curtain and my boobs are weird atm because I’m still breastfeeding and one boob is much bigger than the other, so no bras fit properly). As you can see I only got one tiny patch of stretch marks that are very, very faint on the lower right side of my belly button. This first pic shows my C-section scar to prove I’ve actually had a baby. I’ve also included a pic of the stretch marks on my back from years of exercise, to prove I’m not genetically immune to stretch marks or something (my next task is clearly to work on those ones on my back haha):

 

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That’s my how-to. Now what I really want to know is how to get rid of that brown line that goes north to south down my belly. I think it’s where the muscles separated ready for giving birth (my entire belly button disappeared and turned dark brown because it stretched so much due to past surgery preventing it from popping out, and it hasn’t completely gone back to normal yet) but they’ve never quite gone back. I’ve been doing so many stomach exercises but maybe it will just take time.

PS I’m not a doctor so legally I have to say, please consult a doctor before taking supplements and if you have any concerns about your health during pregnancy. This article contains affiliate links to Amazon where appropriate, but doesn’t affect the price you pay for anything.

DIY your own baby vest extenders

My baby is huuuuge. He was born in the 98th percentile for length and has stayed there for the past 8 months. Vests… do not fit for very long. If this is your problem, you can either buy the next size up (which won’t fit around the tummy) or extend the ones you currently have. You can buy vest extenders but why buy what you can make?

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So here’s the quick and easy way to make your own vest extenders:

  1. Get a vest that you don’t mind cutting up. I chose a plain white one from a 6-9-month multi-pack and I want to extend 9-12 month vests.
  2. Check the poppers on the donor vest will work with at least most of the other vests you have. I had one vest from the US store Carter’s that didn’t have the same poppers as all my other vests so that one couldn’t be cut up to make a vest extender.
  3. Cut across the fabric in a straight line.
  4. Check you have both sides facing opposite directions (mine in the picture below is wrong although this will still fasten).
  5. Sew together using a good stitch such as blanket stitch or use a sewing machine.

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Simple! Have you any tips for tall babies?

A photo a week challenge: Just for Fun

This photography challenge comes from Nancy Merrill Photography. The challenge was something fun. My contribution is a photo of Hogwarts castle, from Harry Potter, which I took in 2019 at Universal Studios, Japan while I was pregnant last Spring.

Japan was so much fun. I think Japan and South Korea were my two favourite countries to visit in Asia. I would definitely like to spend more time there one day.

 

French Programmes for Kids on Netflix

So after my last post I was asked by someone how I found French programmes in Netflix for our home language immersion for Jellyfish. Here is a list of all the ones I’ve found.

You can set up a new profile and change the language settings to French instead of English for that one profile. Otherwise, you can go into “audio and subtitles” from any show and change the audio or subtitle language, but many shows are not available in French.

You can do this with other languages, too, but I’ve noticed 90% of shows on Netflix are available in Spanish, a lot are in Portuguese and Polish, and quite a few are available in Arabic and German, but very few are in French so it took a bit of trawling but I’ve saved all of these to a list. I’ve listed their English names here where I recognize them, so you know what they are, and there’s a separate, smaller list below for teens:

TV shows for kids in French:

Octonauts

Word Party (la fête des mots)

Alvinnnnnn! and the Chipmunks (Alvinnnnn! et les chipmunks)

Les peregrinations d’Archibald (not sure what this is in English but it has a bee)

The adventures of Puss in Boots (Les aventures du chat potté)

Rabbids Invasion (Les lapins crétins)

Morphle

Cory Carson (Tut tut Cory Bolides)

Talia: Les temps des chansons (not sure what this is in English but it’s French-language nursery rhymes set to modern beats, a bit like Little Baby Bum)

Charlie’s Colorform City (Charlie au pays des Autocollants)

A series of unfortunate events (Les désastreuses aventures des orphelins Beaudelaire)

Glitter Force

King Julien (Roi Julien)

Peppa Pig

Yu-Gi-Oh

 

Films for kids in French:

Ponyo (Ponyo sur la falaise)

Howl’s Moving Castle (Le château ambulant)

Laputa: Castle in the Sky

My neighbour Totoro (mon voisin Totoro)

Princess Mononoke (Princesse Mononoké)

Spirited Away (le voyage de Chihiro)

Pup Academy: L’ecole secrete (not sure what this is called in English. Pup Academy: Secret school is the direct translation but I’ve never heard of it)

Duck, Duck, Goose (destination pékin)

White fang (croc blanc)

Tintin

Peter Rabbit

Madagascar

Pokémon: Mewtwo (Pokemon Mewtwo: contre attaque)

 

Movies and shows suitable for teens in French:

Easy A (Called Easy Girl in French)

Clueless

Gilmore Girls

The Crown

The Seven Deadly Sins

 

Hopefully that’s given you a good starting point and let me know in the comments if you have any others!

DIY No-Sew Montessori Toy

We’re starting a bit of Montessori right now, particularly in the way of getting Jellyfish to play with toys that show him how to sort, organize, or how things work. If you’ve looked into implementing Montessori in your playroom (or in our case, the square metre of floorspace in the living room where Jellyfish can play safely), you will know already that those toys are expensive. They are also not very versatile. So I am planning to make him some toys, and this is the first one I did.

I came across the idea of a posting toy, where it’s basically a cardboard box with a slot that kids can put objects in. Jellyfish isn’t really at that level, yet. So I flipped it around. Instead of posting things, he can pull them out. He loves opening things or taking them apart and he especially loves pulling all the tissues out of boxes if they’re left in his reach.

I originally thought play scarves could go into the box, but all the ones I’ve seen on Amazon are unreasonably expensive for what amounts to a few flimsy strips of fabric, and delivery is like end of June, by which time Jellyfish will be into something new, I’m sure. So I got an empty tissue box and some old baby vests that a) don’t fit him and b) have no other use. I can’t give these vests away because they are stained and no one wants stained second hand anything, and anyway the whole world is on lockdown so it’s hard to buy/sell/exchange preloved items.

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I cut the baby vests into squares. Pinking shears would have made a neater edge but we don’t have that luxury right now. Then I folded them into the tissue box so they would come back out again without him having to make much effort. It took like 5 minutes to make this toy so parenting effort = zero.

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I have placed all the “tissues” inside the box and left it on his play mat. I can’t wait to see him playing with this in the morning! So they aren’t that filmy, flimsy scarf fabric that looks so shiny in all the baby sensory pics. I don’t know that he will care as long as he has a box full of things he can take apart. And in terms of sustainability, it has saved a tissue box and three stained baby vests from landfill. I am parenting like a boss tomorrow.

Full disclosure: Today was actually a total washout as Jellyfish has 5 teeth coming in and he is in a lot of pain and crying. Today was a TV day and I justified it by putting on Octonauts in French dub because that’s then educational, right? Yeah, you can change the language on Netflix via the subtitle menu and it alleviates my guilt. But tomorrow will be epic. And if not, there is wine. Which is also French and therefore educational.

What random things keep your baby entertained?

Alternatives to screen time

I don’t know what it’s like in your house right now but in mine, I’ve found myself resorting to putting the TV on a LOT lately. I’ve handed my baby my phone several times to teethe on because he likes the fact it lights up when his face gets close to it.

I am trying to work and look after the baby, and so is my husband. I cannot tell you how many times we have re-watched Ready, Steady, Wiggle or all the versions of Little Baby Bum we have found on Amazon Prime and Netflix. Jellyfish likes when the TV lights up and sings to him just as much as when his toy jellyfish night light plays “twinkle, twinkle, little star”. I suppose conceptually they’re basically the same when you’re 8 months old but as he gets more mobile and aware of the world around him, I worry that we are setting a very bad precedent.

So I’ve decided to limit the singing nursery rhyme box to 2 hours max per day. Weaning my husband off using the TV as a way to calm the baby down is going to be just as hard as weaning the baby away from staring at the black box and grizzling until someone makes it light up and play music to him.

I read a thing on a really good Montessori website about how babies under 1 need 14-17 hours of sleep. That means there’s 7-10 hours when they’re awake that needs filling with things to do. Every single day. I don’t think it’s feasible for anyone to sit shaking a rattle at a baby for 10 hours a day until the baby magically learns to play alone.

So this is a list for me to check back to (and you, of course, if you want it) of things we can do instead of putting the TV on:

  1. A tissue box full of scarves for him to pull out. I made one with instructions here.
  2. Water play. This keeps coming up but I don’t know how to facilitate it in our tiny house where there’s no room for spills with a crawling baby.
  3. A sensory play mat made out of the packets of wet wipes (if they have the clip tops) so they can lift the flaps and practice opening and closing things, then discover things under the flaps.
  4. A discovery basket he can empty and play with, that includes new things he hasn’t played with yet, such as toilet roll tubes, kitchen utensils etc.
  5. Peekaboo
  6. Make a stacking toy out of recycled yoghurt pots or similar
  7. Making a posting toy out of a recycled box or similar
  8. Spaghetti play: cook up some spaghetti, split the pot in half, add red food colouring to one half and blue to the other. Put the different colours in two different containers and give the child a third container to play with it with.
  9. Toilet roll tubes stuck to a wall with coloured tape for the baby to pull off.
  10. A cushion from the sofa put on the floor for the baby to climb on.

I also covered the TV with a very cunning disguise so the baby would stop waiting for the magical black box to light up and make noises. That worked really well, actually. I just threw a blanket over the screen and Jellyfish looked at it a few times, then decided it wasn’t the TV and started playing.

Still, without the TV to back me up, I was definitely very relieved when I put the baby to bed. I’m going to make some of the things on my list and see how long we can go without just putting the TV on. Life was so much easier when we had lots of baby classes to go to. Many of them have moved online and do livestreaming in Facebook groups but it’s just more screen time, now, isn’t it? Especially because some places are doing one livestreamed class when they used to do separate classes for babies and toddlers, and now all the activities are at toddler-level so Jellyfish just doesn’t understand or really get anything out of it. It’s probably great if you have a two-year-old or bigger.