You, Me and Teddy

Parenting adventures and activities in and around Neuchâtel, Switzerland.


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A Note on Common Sense

If you don’t know Douglas Adams I recommend you pick up the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy immediately and discover his take on the universe. His comedic philosophical writings are brilliant for all ages.

20140805-011844-4724445.jpg

Recently I was rereading the Salmon of Doubt, a book published posthumously of some of his writings found on his computer after his heart attack. One piece I came across was brilliant analysis of the concept of common sense. It was written for publication in the Independent on Sunday.

Adams starts off the article by explaining how as opposed to the old Soviet Union which was governed by rules in the West we have always highly valued common sense but we “forget that common sense is often just as arbitrary. You’ve got to know the rules. Especially if you travel.”

He uses the example of “a little run-in with the police” that he had while driving in London and overtook on the inside lane. “Not a piece of wild and reckless driving in the circumstances, honestly it was just the way the traffic was flowing” but enough to get him pulled over. “[A]gast” at the dangerous location the police officer had pulled him over in to berate him while his heavily pregnant wife remained in the car he gave up trying to argue with the officers who were busy stating that he “wasn’t in the universe [he] was in England”! He quickly admired all wrong and excused himself on the fact he had recently been in the US where, of course, American readers will say, it is “perfectly legal, perfectly normal, and, hence, perfectly safe.”

Adams then goes on to argue about the experience he had at the hands of a Californian law enforcement officer when he “parked in the only available space, which happened to be on other side of the [empty] street.” The fast acting officer explained that parking against the flow of traffic “that would be there […] if there was any traffic” is a dangerous crime in the states even if it is perfectly normal on busy English roads.

Lucky enough to get away with a only a ticket. Adams believed the officer would “rather have deported [him] before [his] subversive ideas brought chaos and anarchy to streets that normally had to cope with nothing more alarming than a few simple assault rifles. Which, as we know, in the States are perfectly legal” and, yet, a bizarre concept for Brits to grasp.

While the Europeans and the Americans have generally come to understand each others’ ways there are a few more extreme examples of cultural common sense gone awry. “In China, for instance, the poet James Fenton was once stopped for having a light on his bicycle. How would it be, the police officer asked him severely, if everybody did that?”

But Douglas Adams’ hammer in the coffin of common sense comes in the form of a Japanese example. He “tells of a court case in which a driver who was being prosecuted for driving up onto the pavement, crashing into a shop window and killing a couple of pedestrians was allowed to enter the fact that he was blind drunk at the time as a plea in mitigation.”

Sometimes we complain that our children have no common sense but maybe we should reevaluate this comment. Our children are just trying to learn all the unwritten rules of a complicated world.

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Introducing New Foods

I like offal: liver, kidney, sweetbreads. I am big on seafood as well including whelks and winkles. Scottish black pudding beats English black pudding hands down and Haggis is delicious.

I was brought up on “interesting” cuts of meat none of which I considered odd until I reached secondary school at 11 and people started eeeeeeeeeewing everything. Then I turned veggie for a while but that’s another story.

Unfortunately hubby is a little less adventurous than me. I mean he’ll try everything, which I applaud, but we have had a few, albeit rare, dashes to the bin for things he considers too revolting. There aren’t many things I haven’t been able to stomach in life; I can list them all on a couple fingers:

  • Jellyfish – It was just like eating rubber and I couldn’t figure out how to take a bite or even swallow it.
  • Tripe – I reckon I’ll try it again at some point but cooked in a clear broth was just too much texture for me on a first try.

I haven’t had to try many insects yet. I’ve eaten ants (in chocolate) but I don’t know how I would react to deep fried locust for example. I’d like to think I’d give them a go. I know a lot of it is mental and perception can definitely influence how we taste things but its hard to override your brain.

Fried crickets

Fried crickets

Now, I’m not saying you should like everything. I don’t really like onion, for example, and frogs legs can hop on. But its all about being open to new flavours. Did you know that children may need to be offered a new food as many as 10-15 times before they will eat it?

Probably, like a lots of things, there are tastes best acquired at a young age. One study showed that repeated taste exposure can increase liking for certain food products in young children.

This is why I am on a mission to introduce my kids to as many flavours as I can before they learn from their peers that somethings “shouldn’t” be eaten.

This week we had tongue. Ox tongue cooked in broth with carrots, celery, onions and boiled potatoes is one of my favorite childhood dishes. It is super easy to cook: Firstly you clean the tongue thoroughly and then you pop it in a large pot. Chop up 3 to 4 carrots in to batons, 3 sticks of celery into batons, one onion into chunks. Add all the veg to the pot with the celery leaves, 6 peppercorns and a bay leaf and then just cover all with some stock. Then you cook the tongue until the skin can be peeled off easily. This can take a few hours so I tend to pop it on at low temperature when I go out for the afternoon. While I am peeling the tongue I add my potatoes to cook in the stock. Then I slice the tongue and re add it to the broth to warm it before serving.

Tongue has an acquired texture but it has a great taste plus it is really easy for the kids to eat. I was determined that the kids would like it, and not snub it like their Dad, so I pulled out the big guns: the paint palate plates that I’ve shown you before. The trick is to make it as colourful as possible to make it more appealing!

tongue

Success! The plates were spotless and no complaints. M even had second servings of tongue.

What foods do you eat that others might consider odd? How adventurous are you with new flavours?

 


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Eureka!

I did it! I managed to create a decent substitute to Heinz baked beans!

baked beans and spud side
After promising baked beans and spuds for dinner panic stations hit when I realised I was totally out of supplies.

Now E is a pretty stubborn creature and, while she is a good eater, trying to get her to agree to a dinner which isn’t pasta based (her current absolute “favourite food in the whole wide world”) can be tricky sometimes. I was over the moon when she said she’d happily have baked potatoes without any argument.

There was no time to get to the shops. M was napping and besides the potatoes were already in the oven. Hmmm… I would have to improvise.

Looking in my cupboard I discovered I had: tinned tomatoes. Check. And, yes, tinned cannellini beans. Hoorah!

So here is my recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 10 sage leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic or 1/2 a teaspoon of dried garlic
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 50ml water
  • 800g drained and rinsed tinned cannellini beans (you could also cook dried beans)
  • 2 small tablespoons of low salt & sugar ketchup

Instructions

  • Heat the oil and fry the crushed garlic on a low to medium heat.
  • Add the tomatoes and sage.
  • Heat through and add the water.
  • Blitz the lot with a hand held blender (my absolute favourite kitchen gadget) and bring to a simmer.
  • Add beans and the ketchup (to give some of that authentic “Heinz” taste) and heat through.

beans in pan

It wasn’t the real deal but it was similar enough not to cause a fuss. You could probably get closer in taste by adding more ketchup but I think it was much tastier as it was, not to mention more nutritious!

It was so quick and simple to make and I will certainly be doing this in future rather than buying the beans ready prepared.

kiddie beans

Hope you are all well and having better weather than we are here.


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Pretty Puglia

I apologise for my long absence but it is holiday season and we have been rather jet set this past month visiting family and with the wedding season kicking off. It has been packed and pretty amazing but I am happy we are home again and settling back in for the summer.

It all started with a wedding of a dear school friend back at the end of June. She shipped us all off to Puglia in Italy for an amazing weekend. The wedding was beautiful thanks to the gorgeous setting they chose, some organisational wizardry and the extremely impressive creativity on their part. I won’t go on about it but I have never been to a wedding like it and it was probably made by the fact we got to go and visit a new place we were unfamiliar with. The bride and groom had left us with some suggestions of places to visit while we were in Puglia. Despite being limited by how far we could travel by the kids we managed to see some lovely places.

Our first day there we decided to go to a beautiful hilltop town called Ostuni. The whole of the old town is white-washed and gleams in the sunshine topped by a cathedral. Being mad Brits we were probably the only people out in the midday sun by the time we got there and soon we went in search of some shade for lunch. As we were in Italy I was keen to find a nice restaurant for lunch and saw there was one close by on my tripadvisor app. After arriving there and discovering the place was empty and looked pretty dingy with no view we left. Unfortunately in Italy it is rare to find someone serving lunch before 3pm and it was only 1pm. By this time the family were dying of heat and we ended up walking completely by chance into a small beer specialists called La Gilda which had a very basic looking snack menu but the man was so welcoming we decided to stay there for a while and have a quick bite before we continued. In fact, we ended up sharing a couple of mixed meat and cheese tagliere (platters) and having a beer each.  The meat and the cheese was so fresh and local, it was absolutely delicious, and was actually the perfect lunch. Looking it up on our return I was not surprised to see it is now the highest rated restaurant in Ostuni.

ostuni

On our way back to the car we came across an exhibition of beautiful classic cars in the street. They were stunning and we spent a good while inspecting them and posing in front of them pretending they were ours.

That evening we had a welcome drinks for the wedding party but it was not a late one as we knew the main party would be the Saturday night so the next morning we were very fresh when we headed out to Grottaglie. Grottaglie is a town known for its ceramics quarter. Just waking around we saw beautiful ceramic mosaics.

ceramic mosaic

Also as we arrived at the “wrong” time again we got to see the artists at work drying their wares out in the street.

grottaglie

Unfortunately much was closing for the siesta hours by the time we had wandered around but we did get to see a few shops including one where we could peer into the work room and watch one of the ladies busy painting.

workshop

That afternoon we explored the town we were staying in called Manduria. It always amazed me how many churches there are in Italy. Manduria seemed to have one on every corner. This was highlighted to us by the religious procession which went on that weekend linked with Midsummer: all the churches had their doors open and hundreds of people chanted and held up banners to represent their group from boy scouts, to those children dressed in white going for their communion, to the nuns from the local convent. It seemed disrespectful to photograph them but here are some pictures of some of the churches and cathedrals we visited.

churches

Manduria was actually a very pretty town with the traditional narrow streets you often find in Italian towns and that I remembered from my travels to Tuscany. I was tickled by the number of old fiats around the place. They are the Italian equivalent to a British mini and I love the old dears just as much.

towns

While walking around Manduria we came across the amazing Il Calvario (the Calvary). To those who were unaware as to what a Calvary is: it is set of religious edifices imitating Jerusalem. It functions as a sanctuary of the Passion of Christ where plays are held before Easter.

calvario

The Sunday was the final day for the wedding activities and we all headed to the beach for the afternoon. It was a lovely end to the weekend and especially enthralling for the kids who had never been to a sandy beach. We drank slush puppies, danced and swam until the sun started setting and it was time to take everyone home to bed.

beachIt takes a bit of a shift in rhythm to get used to Southern Italy with children but I would really recommend a trip. The people are so lovely to children and we never had a bad meal. We will definitely be back over the next few years.

 


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Goodbyes

A couple of weeks ago we kidnapped some tadpoles from the forest and took them home to try and teach the kids a little about growth and a frog’s lifecycle. This week we returned them home now frogs.

I remember clearly having tadpoles in my Preparatory class at school when I was about 4 years old and watching them grow into frogs. I don’t even know if it is allowed any more in schools. Someone told me something about health and safety a few years ago, I never checked the claim, however for me the experience was magical and when we came across the tadpoles in their hundreds in the pond I couldn’t resist borrowing a few for a little science experiment for the kids at home.

We started off by doing some research into how to give our froggy guests the best home we could. I knew that we needed a container but I didn’t know how big. My research suggested that you needed 1 litre of water for 5-10 tadpoles and we had 7. Unfortunately if you put too many in a confined space they start to eat each other (a bit like goldfish). The research also suggested giving them some sheltered space where they can hide, some plants like grass or weeds so that they can nibble the roots and something they can climb out on as once they are in the frog stages they need to come out the water or they will drown.

Initially I used a pyrex dish we found some pebbles, dug up some grass from the garden (which we rinsed), and used a stacking cup to give them some shelter. We could use the water directly from the tap but if you live in an area where they chlorinate the water you’ll need to either use bottled water or get some dechlorinating tablets from the pet shop. Our little tadpoles seemed relatively happy in there and we fed them on finely chopped over-boiled lettuce. I took care not to give them too much as I didn’t want the water getting dirty but, generally, they seemed to eat about a teaspoon a day.

tadpoles first home

As they started to grow their arms (and legs) I realised that we would probably need a container with higher walls so that our frogs didn’t escape. Luckily my hubby managed to borrow the work fish tank for us, as their goldfish had recently passed away, but you could just use a bucket.

new home for tadpoles

We loved watching the tadpoles develop. At 3 E is very close to the age I was when I was enchanted by the tadpoles but, to my surprise, M was too at only 15 months. Every time we would take any visitors to see our froggy enclosure he would point at them and quack (I think that M believes all pond creatures quack).

tadpole timeline

They did seem to develop at different rates but I guess they must have come from separate spawns. We had our first frog after about 2 weeks. While still young and having a black sheen, rather than the mottled green he later developed, he would attempt to scale the sides. I was very happy about having the fish tank as images of a frog infested house, and random croaks coming from the bathroom, kept springing to mind.

The other tadpoles developed at a similar rate (luckily as you need to decrease their food once they have legs as they ingest their own tails) and suddenly we had an “army” of young frogs – that does sounds very odd but the collective noun for frogs is “army” apparently… It was time to send our boys home.

We took them back up to the forest in jam jars trying not to shake them as much as possible. Frogs are very sensitive to movement. The forest is currently in”periode des naissances” (birthing season). All the young wild creatures are generally born between April 15th and June 30th and so we were greater with numerous warning and were extra careful to remind the children of the Rules of the Forest:

  • No Cars
  • Cyclists must stick to the paths
  • Try not to pick the flowers
  • Dogs should stay on leads to avoid scaring away wildlife
  • Dead wood is dangerous
  • The forest, while fun, can be dangerous
  • Take all litter away with you

tadpole swarm

Finally we reached the pond and saw that it was still full of frogspawn who were once again clustering in the same spot. We let our frogs go and said our good byes.

froggy goodbyes

M was seriously in awe of the whole experience, now being able to totter along and touch everything, rather than having to stay sat in his pushchair. His little finger was pointing and big “ooooohs” were fairly frequent as he wanted to make sure we saw every interesting thing he spotted. E is still unsure what to make of her increasingly mobile brother but she seemed happy enough and enjoyed feeding the ducks at the pond (an activity that M is less taken with for now).

little boy exploring

There will definitely be more trips back to the frog pond in the near future but we will not be disturbing them by taking them home again.

Hope you are all keeping well.


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Waste and Sustainability

dine below the line

A friend of mine is currently taking part in the Live Below the Line challenge. It is an admirable idea: you have to live on a £1 for groceries per day per person for 5 days and donate what you would usually have spent on your shopping to the cause while at the same time experiencing how those who live in poverty exist on a daily basis.

It got me thinking whether we should be taking part and what it would entail. Could we do it as a family? Would my children be able to live on that little food without becoming hungry rampaging monsters? For that matter: would my husband pack his bags for the week and ship out untIl it was over?

I sat down to chat with the Hubby and we discussed the matter. He was not totally against the idea: we decided that it was a good cause and that we should definitely sponsor this friend and continue giving to our usual charities but it would be a more effective exercise for when the children are a bit older. With older children they could actually understand why they were being deprived and we could discuss what help we could think of to give those in need as a family.

In the meanwhile I did a calculation as to what our budget would actually be for a day. It is not a simple matter of typing £1 into xe.com you have to take Purchasing power parity (PPP) into account. I found out that on the US site you were allocated $1.50 a day. As per The World Bank website $1.5 are needed to purchase $1 worth of good in Switzerland. $1.5 with the current exchange rate gives me 2CHF as my daily budget.

So I sat down to work out a weeks worth of meals on a 56CHF budget and quickly saw how much of a challenge it was going to be. I wanted to be as sustainable as possible. We can all live unhealthily for a week on junk and then go back to normal but you aren’t getting a true experience of someone in poverty’s daily struggle.

To remain healthy the kids needed a litre worth of milk to get their calcium requirements every day and we would need some too. Since we were packing in calories on our budget there would be no more skimmed milk and instead we would all go for the whole milk especially as it is higher in vitamins and minerals. We need 10.5 litres a week for the family which represented 27.5% of our budget.

Looking at breakfast the clear winner on cost was porridge. A kilo bag of oats was half the price of most packaged cereals and we could cut some of the milk with some water to cook it and make it go further. We could feast like kings on porridge in the mornings and cut back on the other meals during the day.

Next I looked at fruit and vegetables. The cheapest veg I could find were tinned tomatoes 800g were a mere 90 centimes so I got 3 tins. Carrots were the cheapest fresh vegetable I could find at 2.95CHF for a bag of 2.5kg, onions were the next cheapest at 3.50CHF for 2.5kg (unfortunately you also get a lot more waste on onions than carrots) and 3.80CHF for a bag for of 2.5kg apples. All the other fresh produce was totally out of budget and I was surprised at how expensive the frozen options were too. Finally for our greens I opted for an 800g bag of frozen spinach for 2.60CHF. There went another 27.5% of my budget.

With over half my budget gone I looked at my meal options. Was I going to go with rice, flour or potatoes as my filler for the week? I opted for flour as I could think of many more basic recipes I could adapt for my budget. With flour we could live on pizza, pasta, bread, biscuits and batter-based dishes which all fill you up on very few ingredients. The cheapest I could find flour was for 90 centimes a kilo and 3 kilos would do for my week’s meal plan.

I would need some oil or fat for cooking and I opted for Olive oil as a luxury I prefer the taste and sometimes we would be having pasta with oil and cheese so it had to be tasty.

The biggest luxury item was the sugar that I needed for baking bread. Since I had splashed out on it we would make some biscuits too as snacks for the kids but even so we used less than a quarter of the kilo bag so I guess that would be an extra for the following week giving us more to spend on meat if we were truly living on this budget every day.

As I couldn’t afford a big box of salt I bought a box of 6 vegetable stock cubes to flavour our food. A box came to 1.50CHF and maybe over a period I could save for a box of bouillon powder which could be stretched further but maybe we would prefer to spend the extra on meat.

Yes, I keep mentioning meat as protein was the toughest thing to squeeze into our budget. I opted for a large 800g block on mozzarella for 3.75CHF which would be carefully rationed, 20 eggs for 4.80CHF and a 400g bag of mixed mince for 3.80CHF. That was the best I could do and hoped that the extra protein in the milk would be enough for my growing kids. This all came to a mere 26g protein per person per day if divided equally (not including the low values you would find in the other food stuffs).

The CDC recommends the following to give you an idea on what we should be eating.

Recommended Dietary Allowance for Protein
Grams of protein
needed each day
Children ages 1 – 3 13
Children ages 4 – 8 19
Children ages 9 – 13 34
Girls ages 14 – 18 46
Boys ages 14 – 18 52
Women ages 19 – 70+ 46
Men ages 19 – 70+ 56

So let me give you our very basic but hopefully filling meal plan:

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast
Porridge Porridge Porridge Porridge Porridge Porridge Porridge
Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch
Tomato Soup Eggy Bread Onion Soup Tomato Soup Burger sandwich Carrot soup Onion Soup
1/2 loaf 1/2 loaf 1/2 loaf 1/2 loaf 1/2 loaf 1/2 loaf 1/2 loaf
Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner
Yorshire Pudding Pasta Pizza Pasta Pizza Pasta Pizza
Spinach Tomato Sauce Spinach & Egg Tomato Sauce (Margherita) Spinach white sauce Spinach
Snacks Snacks Snacks Snacks Snacks Snacks Snacks
apples apples apples apples apples apples apples
Carottes Carottes Carottes Carottes Carottes Carottes Carottes
Biscuit Biscuit Biscuit Biscuit Biscuit Biscuit Biscuit
Milk for kids Milk for kids Milk for kids Milk for kids Milk for kids Milk for kids Milk for kids

I stretched the meat and veggies as far as I could but I had to allow 20% of my vegetables to be waste (trimmings). Here are some example of the stretched recipes.

2 days worth of Tomato Soup

  • 800g tinned tomatoes
  • 150g carrots
  • 160 onions
  • 1 stock cube
  • water

Onion Soup

  • 600g onions
  • 30ml olive oil
  • 10g sugar
  • 1 stock cube
  • water

1 loaf of Bread

  • 225g flour
  • 10g fresh yeast
  • 5g sugar
  • 30ml olive oil
  • 150ml water

Yorkshire Pudding with mini meatballs

  • 200g mince
  • 200g carrots
  • 100g onions
  • 110g flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 290ml milk
  • 30ml oil

Biscuits

  • 360g oats
  • 240g flour
  • 160g sugar
  • 450g milk
  • 40g oil

Pasta

  • 200g flour
  • 3 eggs

Pizza base

  • 250g flour
  • 15g fresh yeast
  • 5g sugar
  • water

Tomato Sauce

  • 800g tinned tomatoes
  • 150g onions
  • 200g carrots
  • 30 ml olive oil
  • 1 cube vegetable stock
  • water

Despite the high calorie foods listed I think we would definitely start shedding the extra pounds fairly rapidly if we followed a 56CHF budget diet. The lack of wine, meat and cheese not to mention cups of tea would be very hard to adjust to. While we generally waste very little the exercise of planning for such a challenge has made me reevaluate what we consume.

I do spend a lot more than 56CHF a week but I buy locally and bypass supermarkets avoiding imported or non fair-trade products whenever possible which brings our costs up. I believe that in this way we are helping to support the social system and doing our bit. This was another stopping point for me as if I were to do the living below the line challenge I would want to do it sustainably and would have to compare with the local farmers’ direct prices.

What are your thoughts on this latest campaign? Is it creating the right sort of awareness? Does it encourage less waste or rather does it encourage people to spend on cheaper less sustainable products?

If you wish to donate to one of the charities associated with living below the line please do so here: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/uk/charity_donation


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Terrible Threes… Anyone?

As we approach the third birthday the tantrums are increasing. I am not sure if its the age or simply the fact she seems to have decided she no longer needs to sleep.

She has completely dropped the afternoon nap over the past few months. Fair enough. She’s about the right age but we are keeping “quiet time” during which she has to play quietly in her room for an hour or so after lunch. This, however, has also become a new battle ground… How destructive can one little girl be? No, actually I don’t want to know what more damage she can do to her newly decorated room.

Never having been a great sleeper we were overjoyed when E started, finally, sleeping every night through just before her first birthday. It seems that just before her third birthday she has decided that bedtime is for “babies” and she is now a “little girl”. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the falling asleep later and waking earlier is going to sort itself out once she gets used to the season change. I did, however, go and buy some homeopathic sleep aids yesterday and plenty of lavender oil to try and help her to fall asleep in the evenings. Every little helps.

Its not just the sleep though, but it does make her mood swings more violent and tantrums definitely become more frequent when she is tired, its the rather new advances in logic she has taken and the recent improvement in her memory that she is starting to test out.

Some of her recent musings that she has shared have included :

  • Daddy is going to be taking her to her swim classes on Saturdays now with the big children while Mummy will keep taking M to the baby ones so they must now be at the same time.
  • The sky is sad when it storms and then gets even sadder because it doesn’t like storms.
  • Mummy’s top is the same as hers because it has a label on it, despite the label being different, and the top a different cut and colour.

While some things seem a bit abstract other things are quite grounded. If, for example, M has decided to throw his food over me and I am upset she will remind me that it “doesn’t matter” and my clothes can be washed. Or if someone is not feeling well they need medicine or a plaster to get better. You can see that she is obviously thinking about things more and developing her own theories about the world.

She is unsurprisingly very stubborn (like both her parents) and likes to make sure she does things her way. If, for example, you want her to go and have her bath she will refuse to go immediately. However, if you say that she needs to go have her bath in one minute and set a timer she will go without a squeak. It is frustrating though if you are in a restaurant and have ordered her an apple juice and she refuses to drink it because she wants fizzy water like Mummy. Sometimes things get a bit lateral too like last night when I asked if she wanted her milk warm or cold and she refused to answer. Knowing if I did it wrong she wouldn’t touch it I pressed her until she finally replied, “blue”.

I think with all of it you just have to stay light-hearted. It will pass. She won’t be this testing the whole time and she definitely won’t still be having screaming tantrums on the floor when she is 20. Well I hope not…

In the meantime I will pick my battles and she can have blue milk if she wants.

blue milk