Thursday, 30 September 2010

Early baby days

You can't help but compare. I guess it's human nature and sometimes I feel terrible doing it, but really, there's no judgement involved in the comparisons I make and I try my best to let Cubling know about it. Cubling was a colicky baby, and her personality from the start was on the energetic side. It's joyful watching her now, she is such a forceful little girl, with so many ideas, so much energy, so much that amazes us every single day. As a baby, without the ability to communicate other than through crying, it was a hard road to be travelling on - for all of us.

Consider the scene of the first bath: with Cubling, we tried to entice her with dimmed lights, a warmed up living room, gas fire on, relaxing music in the background, everything at the ready, candles lit. And she screamed the house down. Not a single bathtime was enjoyed in those early days. Evenings from 5pm were filled with inconsolable crying (and we tried, oh lordy, we tried to console her). I felt guilty not for being a bad mum, but for causing her so much suffering by simply having had her.

Now look at Snowflake, a picture of bliss and curiosity as we gently lower her into the baby bath, which we've set up on the kitchen table so I don't have to bend down. We're not particularly organised, not everything goes smoothly, there is only dimmed lights, no other enticement. She's clearly enjoying it.

Snowflake also sleeps a lot. Cubling was good at keeping herself awake all day and evening, getting increasingly overtired and fretful. Snowflake sleeps. Mostly anyway (we do get overstimulation too on occasional days). She sleeps such long stretches that I worry, and that I wake her to give her a feed. I know I should just enjoy it while it lasts, but if you're used to a baby who sleeps for 30 mins max, and never goes more than 2 1/2 hours between feeds, a 4 or even 6 hour sleeping stretch is rather mindboggling.

Which neatly brings us onto the feeding. With Cubling, it was so bloody hard. I was sore beyond words, she fed forever and then again. She never seemed contented after a feed, didn't poo and generally didn't give me all those ticks to assure me that she was getting enough. She clusterfed every single evening, and I never ever saw milk. There was no posset, no vomit, no milk leaking out the side of her mouth. Now look at Snowflake - she feeds quickly, efficiently, goes sometimes for long stretches between feeds, but other times also clusterfeeds (not too often). When she does feed, she likes to feed a lot and often overdoes it, so there's a lot of milk making its way out. She comes off herself, looks contented, the last milk drop dripping out of her mouth. There are plenty of wet nappies, regular dirty ones. I don't monitor frequency or length of feeds, and above all, I don't worry. Did I mention that I'm not sore? The discovery of pain free breastfeeding, I never thought it did actually exist. To be fair, I was a little bit sore when on day 1, Snowflake initially was a reluctant feeder (due to c-section delivery and being mucusy) and I had to hand express - that did hurt. But as soon as she latched, all was fine.

It's not all roses though - Snowflake suffers from wind and often cries when awake. We have had 2 long clusterfeeding nights, and one whole day where she was fretful and couldn't get herself to sleep. And while she sleeps a lot, this will only happen if I carry her - put her into the pram and she'll be awake within 10 minutes.

But still, it's oh so good not to have to worry about milk supply or what the heck is wrong with an incessantly crying baby. There are those who say it's because we're more relaxed this time, all I can say is that personally I'm anything but relaxed, simply because there's two little ones now. It kind of relaxes me though that feeding is clearly going well. It feels like all the hard work last time is finally paying off, and breastfeeding is truly the easy option.

##Photo: Snowflake is sporting a lovely handknitted cardigan by J, and this is the most likely the one and only face on photo for the blog, so enjoy!.##

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Review and Giveaway: mamaRoo

A good while before Snowflake made an appearance, I was contacted by Emily at 4mumsonline whether I'd be interested in reviewing the mamaRoo, a new product to the UK market, a kind of crossover between a bouncy chair and a baby swing.

I was very happy to say yes to a review - with Cubling we'd struggled a lot getting her to the land of nod, she was overstimulated, colicky, cried inconsolably and was generally a spirited baby (aka colicky baby though I never quite believed it was just colic), so we've had our experience of really struggling to calm baby and get a rest from carrying baby non-stop. With Cubling, baby bouncers didn't work. The vibration that most have did nothing. Holding her or carrying her didn't work either; she needed lots of movement to be calmed. For her, eventually we invested in an electric swing, which was bulky but worked wonders.

So the mamaRoo looked rather attractive to me as it combines features of a swing and a bouncer, just the ticket for Snowflake, so in theory, it should please different baby personalities.

Now that we're 2 weeks down the line, I guess I can make initial comments on the product. One thing to bear in mind is that babies are all different. Snowflake is not colicky and not one searching for big movements. She is happiest tugged in - so she'll fall asleep if wrapped in a cosy blanket or worn in a sling (in fact, she's sleeping in the wrap right now). So far, the mamaRoo hasn't worked particularly well for her yet, but she's still tiny and transitioning from inside to outside and I'm sure this will change soon and she'll enjoy the movements and sounds of the mamaRoo. I can only suspect that it would have worked wonders for Cubling, but of course she's a bit big to try it out now!

Cubling and Mr Cartside had the honour of setting the mamaRoo up and it ticks every box for simple set up and ease of use. So easy that Cubling can operate it (in fact, she showed me how to do it all). It was ready in just 5 minutes. I love the way you can operate all the functions with your foot - no need to bend down, and also the baby is higher than on a bouncing chair - again good for my back.

What does it do?
Well, it's got 5 different motion settings, and advertises them as moving like you do. I'm not so sure if I move like any of these settings to be honest, but neither do I move like a swing or a vibrating bouncy chair so I have no problem with the actual motion settings being different to my movements. It is still an electric movement, even if the movements are based on how the parents would move with the baby.

It doesn't include a vibration setting which is a bit of a shame. While vibration wasn't useful when Cubling was a baby, I know lots of babies who love it and it would have been nice had it been included in the mamaRoo. Having said that, the motion settings it does have are reasonably varied, ranging from a sideways figure of 8 to a swing type motion. The speed of the motion is adaptable (5 speed settings) to suit your baby's preference.

Secondly, the mamaRoo has inbuilt white noise sounds to soothe baby to sleep, as well as volume control and a connection for your very own MP3 player so you can play your own music if you prefer.

It comes with a mobile with reversable balls with impressionistic images (black and white for the younger babies, colour for the older baby). I like the simple, functional and toddler proof construction - you can easily move it out of the way if not needed, and the balls are reversed quickly, it's also indestructable as far as I can see and I'm sure they'll be popular as chewy toys from 3 months (they are already popular with our 3 year old). However, I'm not a big fan of the black and white version of Van Gogh/impressionist designs which I don't think are particularly engaging for babies.That's a mere quibble though.

It works from the mains which is described as greener than using batteries. This means, together with the size and weight of the unit, that it's less moveable and compares to an electric swing in this respect. It's not made to be moved quickly and frequently between rooms, and while smaller than a swing, it's still bigger than a bouncy chair so that it doesn't fit into our kitchen for example. You could move it occasionally though - unlike a swing it wouldn't need to be dismantled to be moved. But if you're looking for something to carry about with you, the mamaRoo may a bit on the heavy side.

The mamaRoo is suitable from birth to approximately 6 months (or when baby can sit up by him/herself, with a weight limit of 11 kg) and the incline of the seat can be adapted to suit the age of the baby.

It's extremely stylish and will certainly be an eye catcher to any visitor or fit into a modern or style conscious household. It also features a practical zipped-on fabric is oh so easy to take off for a quick (machine) wash (and I appreciate the ease of taking it off a lot, rather than the struggle that we've had with both bouncing chair and swing fabrics).

The mamaRoo also has great safety features - again, useful if not essential if you have other little ones in the house. It will switch itself off if any part is moved or loosened that shouldn't be, and it resets easily.

The mamaRoo retails for £199 at Mothercare.

And here comes the exciting bit: 4mums are happy to give away one mamaRoo to one lucky reader of Mummydothat! To enter, please leave a comment.

For additional entries,  you can follow 4mums on twitter or on facebook (please don't post a comment on the wall) or sign up as 4moms Insider. And let me know in your comment that you have done so!

Conditions: you need to be a UK resident and your address can't be a PO box. Giveaway closes 6th October 2010 (a week from today). Good luck!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Things to sow in September - Urban Food Growing Tuesday

Unsurprisingly, my plans for growing food in my garden have not received the attention they deserve. I guess I'm growing someone much more important at the moment ;)

But but but, let that not be an excuse to share some of the fruits of my research which I ventured into while 9 months pregnant.

Not having done awfully well on the harvest side of food growing (garden is still filled with leaves, but with very few edible fruits), I was rather keen on finding out what can be grown from now to winter. It took a little while to pull all the suggestions together and for the benefit of anyone asking the same question, here's what you can sow and plant in September and October. Bear in mind the information may not be for exactly your climate - it should work in most parts of the UK unless we get another frosty winter (in which case some of these plants may not make it).

If you have any experience planting vegetables over the winter and have some top tips to share, please do! I'm really not an expert and don't know if all or just some of these work, or if there's anything that can help things along a bit.

For my part, I've sown rocket, basil and coriander in the conservatory (which is cold at night and on cloudy days but very warm as soon as the sun shines) and at least they've come up. I've planted spinach outdoors which doesn't grow much at present, and planning to do a few set garlic coz they're easy. I don't have a greenhouse or cloches, but may try some winter lettuce under empty water bottles which can be used as cloches (not pretty but functional).

Other than that I'm looking forward to catching up with my local vegetable growing friends tonight, with the hope of setting up a busy bee rota, where we help in each other's gardens and make things happen with a few more helping hands. A great idea which will make a massive difference to all our gardens big or small. I feel a bit guilty about that one, what with not being able to do much gardening in the next few weeks due to c-section recovery, and I don't like to take help without being able to return it. But maybe I need to leave my pride at home because the only way to my raspberry patch for next year will be with some help. And I will return the favour eventually of course!

So here's the list for your autumn sowing and planting:

- lettuce (ideally cover with cloches)
- spring cabbage
- spinach
- endive
- overwintering onions
- turnips

In October you can sow:
- rocket
- mibuna and mizuna (I don't know what they are either)
- early peas (under cloches)
- winter lettuce

and plant out:
- onion sets
- garlic sets
- broad beans (under cloches)
- rhubarb

It's also the season to plant out any fruit and soft fruit trees, but you can apparently do that in any month that has an "r" in its name. As ever, if you've been busy growing food, please add your bloggy goodness in the linky below.

And rather randomly (if you're still reading), here's a photo of my lovely acer (which was a birthday present last year) in all its autumn glory after the Great Rain the other day:

Monday, 27 September 2010

Nature connections with children

I'm two weeks late. I guess I have an excuse for it of sorts.
So, exactly two weeks ago marked the first out of a two day "course", or should I say experience, of Connecting with Nature. This course was set up by Glasgow's Bodhi Eco Project and run by Art of Mentoring for anyone who considers themselves and educator and it's all about how we can help children connect with nature in new and more engaging ways.

It was right down my lane, and I didn't care that it was scheduled to be 8 and 9 days after my due date, especially with a 42 week + pregnancy under my belt already. So I signed up. (And yes, the first day out in the woods was enough of activity in upright position, some jumping and other unusual physical activity inclusive to send me into labour the very night, so I never made it to day 2)

I don't want to go through all the amazing activities that we tried out ourselves because that would be boring - you really have to do it to experience it, that's the whole point of the course. What I can describe is more general - and with the contact details provided, if you want to experience a similar course near you, you can just get in touch with the facilitators and I promise you'll go home full of ideas, enthusiasm and maybe even give birth the following day.

First of all I liked the idea of the target audience, educators, with it being a very wide term. So who was there? Eco schools coordinators, forest kindergarten staff, home schoolers, parents and forest school teachers. I'm sure there were others (I didn't manage to find out about everyone with a full schedule and me only being there for one day), so it was a pretty diverse group of people.

Secondly, the approach was through doing it. Trying out the activities, becoming a child yourself for the day, or at least imagining yourself as a child version of yourself if that makes sense. On the topic of sense, that was part of the approach too, experiencing nature with all senses, not just our usual overbearing visual sense. So there were blindfolded exercises, movement, listening, feeling, touching, imagining, smelling. It was about rediscovering the variety of experience and senses that we all have but that have been neglected to a great extent.

My particular high point was meeting a tree (in true tree hugging style!), blindfolded, and trying to get a sense of this tree. I then set out to find it again, this time with vision, and it was incredibly easy. What was also incredibly easy was to find out what tree I had met, because for once I'd remembered all its features. My initial guess that it was a birch was wrong, it was in fact an alder and I'm pretty sure that I will forever be able to identify an alder after that very short meeting. Any information I will now gather about this tree will be easier to remember, because my experience of the tree was not just visual.

Other forms of experiencing of nature that day were through song, through lighting a fire, through trust exercises, games that heighten listening skills. There was so much in it, I felt that I needed time to take everything in, which of course didn't happen thanks to labour setting in that night. Thankfully I've since received a handout which reminded me of all the different activities - not sure what I would have done without it!

I can really see how the activities will work with a diverse group of children, different ages, but also how they can help children develop a sense of focus that they may struggle with in indoor environments. It will give all children equal opportunity to participate, rather than favour those better able to cope with a classroom setting. They're all fun, but develop a lot of skills at the same time, to name but a few these are listening, communication, team work, respect for other people and the natural world alike, woodcraft and probably lots more.

The course draws on a range of different sources, and uses a range of tools which include storytelling, creative arts, and lots of practical nature skills.

Needless to say, it's all outdoors, as it should be.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The end of babymoon

Two weeks of paternity leave are coming to an end, and this to me is the end of my babymoon. Thank goodness there is such a thing as paternity leave because otherwise I'd surely be bonkers by now. It's good for so many reasons, to give mum a chance to recover (crap though that c-section recovery takes a bit longer than 2 weeks, did anyone think about that?) and older siblings a chance to adjust to suddenly having another person in the house who seems to get all the attention.

So Cubling was showered in daddy attention, and oh I don't know how I can keep up with this.
Needless to say I'd love to, but there is this little one, needing fed, changed, carried, rocked.
And there's me, unable to lift things, unable to play rough and tumble (which is Cubling's favourite game, just being silly, playing chase and the like), having to watch she doesn't climb on top of my wound or simply run into me.
I have to resist not putting on the DVD player too often, but I already know it will be on a lot. At least she enjoys it as snuggle time, and isn't really into watching TV by herself.

Tomorrow, for the first time, and luckily only for one day to start with, I'll have to entertain two children while being anything but up to my usual strength (though to be fair I'm healing really well and I'm amazed how pain free I am, but that's part of the problem because the temptation to overdo it is constant), without being able to drive or walk any distance. It fills me with very real and deep anxiety, yet I know that the only way out of this worry is to just face the day and get on with it.

Sure I'm not the first to manage, and won't be the last. And what would be the worst case scenario? A temper tantrum, a day stuck at home, three frazzled girls by 6pm. So what? Who expects supermum (other than myself of course) or a roast dinner freshly prepared, after all we've been eating rubbish for the last week too. And on the good side, this baby sleeps and feeds at reasonable intervals, and is easily pleased by being worn. Yes she's a fusspot in the evenings but really, we've had much worse. However, back then it was only one and I did not walk about with a belly cut in half.

So, I'm just somehow not looking forward to tomorrow. It'll be a challenge I'm more than reluctant to take.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

An infant feeding research dilemma

Just after Snowflake's birth, we were asked if we'd be willing to take part in a piece of research on infant feeding. The research was explained to me and once both parents had consented, we embarked on a route of rather a lot of data gathering. Part of this is noting down every feed in the first 9 days, regular measurements and a poo and feeding record at certain intervals (my initial enthusiasm is a bit dampened because the whole thing is a pain in the bum, especially with a cluster feeding baby and a mummy who doesn't wear a watch).

Initially, my understanding of the research was that it attempted to increase knowledge of how breastmilk and formula affect the development of obesity and heart disease in the population. There seems to be some understanding that if an infant is breastfed exclusively for even just the first 10 days, this leads to a significant reduction of cases of obesity and heart disease compared to formula fed babies. What is not established is why exactly this is so. The research tries to compare three groups of babies - those breastfed exclusively for the first 10 days, those fed exclusively on a normal formula and those fed on a newly developed formula which mirrors breastmilk in that it contains less calories from fat (less than normal formula). So the idea is that the calories from fat content in formula milk in the early days may set up the body in a way that it will require more fat and carbohydrates in the future.

Breastfed babies who take part in this study (i.e. Snowflake) provide the base line against which negative effects in relation to obesity/heart disease of either formula are measured.

The background to the effort is that because so many mothers decide not to breastfeed, if a formula could be designed which was closer to breastmilk in that it had the same beneficial effect on preventing obesity and heart disease, this would significantly improve the nation's health.

So here is my dilemma: I'm taking part in a study which, in effect, may lead to the promotion of formula feeding. While I accept that some mothers can't breastfeed and some choose for very good reasons not to breast feed (and I'm supportive of this choice), I'm also dismayed at the low breastfeeding rates particularly in the so called "deprived" areas of Glasgow (and the country), the link between poverty and low rates of breast feeding cannot be denied and it contributes to creating health inequalities from the point a baby is born, arguably earlier. I've talked about the significance of promoting breastfeeding from a poverty and health equalities perspective before.

I accept that it is easier to change formula than it is to change culture. I'm not sure if it's the right way or if it will most likely lead to even more mothers not breastfeeding. My worry is also that the knowledge obtained through this study, which is supported by the NHS, funded by pharmaceutical companies, may eventually be used by formula manufacturers who don't have the same ethics that the current funders and researchers have. It's all good and well to assure me that breast milk will always be best for baby, but a formula that can be marketed as preventing obesity and heart disease just like breast milk must be extremely attractive for less ethically committed manufacturers.

For now I've done my research and all the background of the study is kosher, but once the knowledge is out, can there be control over how it's used? And another question, who am I to decide that the only way to improve the nation's health is to go the long way and change culture, would it not actually be better to change what we can as soon as we can? If this new, fat reduced formula is better for the infant's health than the formula currently available, and if particularly mothers living in deprived communities aren't going to breastfeed anyway, is the ethical thing to do not to support the development of an improved formula that will help reduce health inequalities?

I have no final answer to my questions, but would be interested to hear what you think about all of this.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Snowflakes birth story

While hubby is out wetting Snowflakes head, Cubling is in bed and HM Snowflake herself lying on my lap, asleep again, I've got nothing better to do but to update my blog and cover some of the gaps that come with long labour and longish hospital stay. Thank you so much everyone for all the well wishes, sorry I couldn't respond to them individually, as you can imagine we're still adjusting, but I was so happy to read every one of your comments!

As to the birth story to be honest, I don't remember much. I overdosed on gas and air (seriously, it didn't appeal to me last time but this time... OMG) and I really have labour memory loss. Mr Cartside had suggested to post the detailed birth story as a guest post and I panicked - I mean, I really don't know what happened and the thought of all my dear readers knowing more than I do is just not very attractive.

Well it went a bit like that - after a day outdoors at the Nature Connection Workshop (which was tiring on my legs, not being able to sit comfortably all day), I felt exhausted and very crampy. Lots of Braxton Hicks too. I went to bed early, 9am, but only slept a while later. At midnight, contractions started, and I couldn't sleep or even lie in bed, so after an hour I gave up and went downstairs onto chair and birth ball. Contractions were either intense and irregular or weak and regular and just after my in-laws arrived, they stopped. I went back to bed for exactly an hour and they started again. And so it went all day. On and off, off and on, irregular, strong, weak, never consistently beyond every 7 minutes. At 4pm I was getting worried that another sleepless night lay ahead of me. At 5pm the contractions picked up. At 6pm we left for the hospital who warned me that I may be sent home. I was 6-7cm dilated so bah. Talk to me again of Braxton Hicks.

The birth pool was filled, but unlike before, I didn't find it helped a lot. The gas and air did. Almost instantly I felt like bearing down, that feeling I never had with Cubling's birth. But nothing happened. We changed positions, and at maybe 9pm or 10pm I was definitely fully dilated, or something like it. I know I hit transition in the pool, I remember singing along to Coming Down and that felt good. Transition didn't and somehow I was on the bed on my side, later standing, and then for some reason that baby had moved up in the pelvis again, rather than down. Back to back labour all the way, she had turned sideways at least, but for all my pushing she didn't descend at all. I'd had enough at this point, and wanted at the very least an epidural. That wasn't given because the feeling was that it would make things worse with me not being able to help push with contractions. So we took it by the half hour. After some time I really had enough and considered 6 weeks of recovery versus another 30 mins of pushing and decided the former was preferable. Mr Cartside tells me that at no point it was clear that this was my view, I must have been talking to myself expecting mind reading from others.

Basically, midwife and consultant, in an attempt to keep to my birth plan, extended my suffering until really there was really no hope for any further progress. I pushed so much more than with Cubling, worked so much harder, and contractions were definitely harder to cope with, and yet it didn't yield any downward movement. Snowflake was doing fine though, and it was great that the consultant reassured me of this - we didn't have a baby in distress as was the case with Cubling.

So a c-section it was and I was totally ok with it. Shaking like a leaf, really scared I would bleed to death, but Mr Cartside told me stories and jokes to keep my mind off the knife, and Snowflake was born with a healthy cry, a healthy weight and a dimple that looks cunningly like a second poohole.

Snowflake breastfed within an hour of being born, I was so happy about this. She's been feeding great really, apart from day one when she was all mucusy and didn't really feed, but cried a lot with it. That also meant 3 consecutive nights with no sleep after which I started losing the plot, but I've since found it again. Snowflake sleeps lots and so far is an easy going baby, she feeds like a champ and above all she poos. I find this quite noteworthy because Cubling didn't. And if you're experience is of a baby who has one meconium poo in 4 days and then nothing for 10-12 days repeatedly, having 10 poos in 24 hours is a bit of a shock. Maybe that dimple is a second poo hole after all?

Cubling is absolutely delighted about being a big sister, she's so delighted that her enthusiasm knows no bounds, she hops, helps, and is hyper. She plays with her little sister but is also very intense in her own demands and all I can say is that it's great to have Mr Cartside around to ensure both kids are getting the attention they need.

Cue Snowflake is awake, looking for food and I'm looking for my bed.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

There's a new kid on the block!

Introducing Tiddler, who was late, 10 days to be precise, but who shall be known as baby girl Snowflake from now on (Cubling's name choice).
In utero, she persistently practising kicks outwards, making for a long back to back labour.
Only to decide at the end to ascend rather than descend, and spite hours of mummy's pushing effort. A bit of a mind of her own already.
So about 2 hours after I'd already given up on the idea of ever birthing this baby, finally the consultant in charge agreed and she was delivered, all 3820gr and 53cm of her at 1:01am Monday morning by emergency c-section, with a massive and instant cry.

She breastfed within an hour of being born and has already started putting on weight after the initial normal drop on day four. She's a hungry lady and she has already utterly enchanted me beyond rescue. Cubling is delighted to have a baby sister, though she was wondering why there was "noch ein Baby", another baby, in my tummy. Been wondering that too. My stay in the hospital was extended by one day because of the Pope's visit to Glasgow. No, he didn't visit us in a private audience but somehow he extends his influence beyond the expected in rather mysterious ways.

Above all, we are all well and I know how lucky I am. In a different time, a different world I would not be well and neither would Snowflake. In a different bed even, a less lucky turn of events.

So I'm off to count myself so lucky, lucky lucky, and gaze at and admire my beautiful girl now.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Book Review: The Help

About a couple of months ago, I was sent The Help by Kathryn Stockett, a bestseller in the US which has now been published in the UK in paperback. I love to read, and the description of the subject matter interested me enough to want to read it. As luck would have it, a friend had just finished reading it when I started and warmly recommended it.

Between work and being a mum, I don't get a lot of time reading, so with maternity leave, I really wanted to catch up on reading a few novels and was looking forward to this one. And a good read it was. It's one of those novels that are real page turners and where you hate to put it down. One of those where you actively make time to keep reading. It's the type of novel that I really want to read these days, something that keeps me engaged and flows easily, I simply don't have the time or inclination to read anything that is a struggle, whatever the literary value might be.

So from this perspective, The Help has my thumbs up. There was lots of empathising with the main characters, a literary journey to the south of the US which I've never visited in reality, and some enjoyable reading hours.

Just that two things bothered me about this novel, and while they didn't affect my enjoyment of the read, they are still significant. For one, it's a novel that I'm sure will only appeal to women. All three protagonists are women, and so are the minor characters. Men play an unbelievably minor role in this story which in itself would alienate a male reader. Yes, I realise that many of the books I read have male protagonists only and I still enjoy them as a female reader, and there's as such nothing wrong for a female author to do the opposite - and my criticism is tinged by literary convention (i.e. female readers are happy to read about men, while I make the assumption that men don't enjoy reading female themed novels). But it's more than just the characters: the setting, the subject matter, really everything is in a female domain, even the writing style and the way that the reader is made to empathise with the characters is just extremely female (and I accept that I'm riding on gender stereotyping here). I'd love to hear about men who've read it and be proven wrong, but I've got a feeling it won't be read or enjoyed by many men and that's a shame.

Secondly I felt uncomfortable that the novel attempts to portray the experiences of African American home helps in white households in 1960s Mississippi from the perspective of two black women (and one white woman) when the author is white. To be fair on Kathryn Stockett, she addresses this problem in her epilogue and acknowledges that she cannot lay claim on portraying feelings or experiences authentically because she herself has not lived through being a black help and that her novel is an attempt at bringing this world closer to a white audience. However, she did choose to narrate the novel from the perspective of three women, two of whom are Black, which implicitly lays claim to being able to understand and narrate such feelings and experiences. Now, I'm not saying it's impossible. There are two novels I absolutely love written by men who write from the perspective of a female character, and they got it oh so right. With Kathryn Stockett, I'm just not sure if she did. And how come it has to be the white character whose actions lead to some sort of emancipation of the black women? That to me is plain patronising.

So I finished the book with the satisfaction of a good read that entertained me, but that ultimately was a bit inconsequential. It didn't inspire me, it didn't tickle me, it wasn't outrageous. Maya Angelou, and particularly Toni Morrison are just two examples of African American women writers who actually have the authority to write from the perspective of African American women. I'm sure nobody really compares Kathryn Stockett to them (ha, I'm wrong, a quick google search has shown that the comparison has been made), but if you want to really get an inside into the female African American experience, they are the authors to read.

If, however, you're after a great and uncomplicated read, one which tackles life in its ups and downs but always keeps a positive outlook on things, The Help is definitely worth reading and highly enjoyable. And it's a good book to get a heated discussion going, because I'm sure many people will disagree with me on the points I've made.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

soft and fluffy bamboo

My knitting has been a little bit neglected, though I've been working on two projects, one for baby and one for Cubling and really they've been needing finishing touches only for the last few weeks. Thanks to about 10 litres of water retained in my extremeties, it's been hard going though. I don't quite get the physicalities of it, considering I can type without problems, do most things normally but as soon as I've got needles in my hand, my right hand goes numb with pins and needles, which is kind of ironic, don't you think?

Anyway, I struggled hard to find knitting patterns that are reasonably gender neutral, and this one was a great little knit. Funny how I like the simple knits these days, I mean I could go for something more complicated but I veer towards the traditional and simple patterns. The Garter Yoke Baby Cardigan is a free pattern on Ravelry, a simple garter stitch and stockinette stitch cardigan for a baby, all in one piece so with minimum finishing action (I love that, I'm a great fan of all in one piece knits because I'm lazy at heart and don't particularly like sewing up). Plus I was able to use the wonderful buttons that J. gave me a while back.

I got the yarn (Wendy Happy) from our local yarn shop, inspired by a displayed cardigan knit in a different colour scheme - I loved the look and feel of it. However it's not an easy yarn to knit with, it's so soft and delicate that I regularly lost stitches (which doesn't happen to me often). Of course, soft and delicate is just right for a baby, and the one skein was more than sufficient for the whole cardigan. It's a bamboo nylon mix and maybe knitting bamboo on bamboo needles is bound to be a slippery affair. It's been all worth it though, the softness is next to none, and it just falls into place without any pressing. I think it's meant to be a sock yarn - not sure about this, it's almost a bit too soft for socks...

Cubling's jumper is almost done too and if baby stays put, it'll be done this week even. Of course, I can't wait to put this cardigan on Tiddler, I'm sure it'll look better than on this hanger...

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

40 +5

Just in case any one is wondering (because phone and email are strangely quiet and all that), I'm still pregnant. Yesterday saw another antenatal appointment, and really, all is well and I feel so much better than I did last time around at this stage, when I was effectively housebound and anything but a happy camper. Depending on which EDD I go with, I'm somewhere between 41+2 and 40+2 weeks. I've decided to go for the middle one of the three officially.

I've entered a very strange place which does resemble how I felt in the last stages of pregnancy with Cubling (then, I went into labour at 42 weeks exactly). It feels lonely. People are either too busy in their own complicated lives or simply reluctant to contact me and bother me with the question of whether I've had the baby yet (although I've never ever felt that to be an annoying question though I know that many people do - so I understand why people don't phone), and I'm reluctant to contact friends because conversations will focus on the imminent arrival of Tiddler, when really I'd rather have an average chat about anything at all.

So the phone is quiet, the email is quiet. No visitors, no playdates (to be fair, Cubling is at nursery rather a lot so not exactly free for playdates), just me in the house, plodding on and waiting for those cramps and Braxton Hicks to become something more defined. The irony is that in this place, I could and should reach out and pick up that phone, but do I do it? Nope. I'm quite happy to hide myself in my little hole. I feel strangely and uncomfortably removed from the world, in this suspending state of waiting for labour to start, while around me people are working, travelling, planning their diaries weeks ahead, taking part in fun or not so fun events.

On the good side, baby is 2/5 engaged, which never happened with Cubling. I had a stretch and sweep yesterday and lots of cramping afterwards in the evening, but not a single proper contraction. On the bad side, baby engaged back to back in spite of all my efforts to get it to turn, and I'm worried senseless that my placenta will give up on it in the next few days (a worry which is totally ungrounded, and never even occurred to me last time around). The midwife asked me how I felt about induction, and to be honest, I'm not sure. I want this baby out healthy - it's not that I'm keen to end this pregnancy early or not be pregnant any more, it's more the thought that baby will be safer out than in. BUT, I loathe the idea of hormones being put into my bloodstream (got enough of them already) and the (perceived) lack of control that brings with it. "Perceived" because really there's pretty little control when it comes to pregnancy and giving birth anyway, but at least it feels like my own body is doing it rather than a drip. The midwife felt that artificial rupture of membranes would probably do the trick and I wouldn't need a drip. Yes, that's better, but boy do I remember how bad contractions got after my waters broke last time. I mean, I was labouring comfortably for 28 hours only to be swept off my feet into pure agony when my waters broke at 9cm. I'd rather have my membranes intact, thanks very much.

So for now, a second sweep is scheduled for next week, at 41 +4 and I guess an induction date will be set at that appointment. Unlike other hospitals, the Southern General is quite hands off and really leave the decision to the woman which is great, but it also leaves you with a sense of responsibility which sometimes can weigh a bit heavy. So I burst into tears at yesterday's appointment and didn't quite know why. The midwife alarm bells rang and I was bombarded with an ammunition of questions if everything was alright at home, if I was worried about anything and so on. No, no and no again, I'm just hormonal, emotional and built close to the waters anyway and that sweep hurt, and I may go into labour any time now and HAVE A BABY. Ok, I had 40 weeks to prepare, but somehow it's not real until you're almost there and you, the midwife, tell me that you've just touched my baby's head (which amazing, wonderful but I'm also unspeakably jealous that you touched its head and I haven't touched it yet). I'm really very ok, but if I'm allowed to burst into tears, I would hope that 40+5 would be a good time for that, considering how long we've tried for this baby, all the memories it brings back and the worries about what life will bring in general because I've lived long enough to know that life isn't ever a smooth ride.

Cubling in the meantime is the loveliest girl you can imagine. She is genuinely looking forward to the baby, who she wants to call Schneefloeckchen (little snowflake - her idea) for a girl or Jordy for a boy. There are kisses and hugs, "Baby komm raus!" calls, and she's also been telling me that it's been a long time that the baby's been in mummy's tummy. I don't tire of all the hugs and cuddles we're sharing, her coming into our bed some mornings, because I'm acutely aware that these one to one moments are precious and counted.

Amidst the worry there is so much love for my little girl, there are so many beautiful and special moments. I just hope that she'll manage to adjust as well as she lets out to do right now. The same hope goes for me really.

Enough navel gazing. Hopefully I'll have something to announce before too long.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Urban Food Growing Tuesday: Compost!

When we moved into our new home, I was pleased that it came with one of those black composting bins. I was eager to compost all our kitchen waste, grass cuttings and hedge trimmings.

Two years later, the bin was full of slimy and disgusting stuff. Composting looked like a big fail. I didn't even know what I'd done wrong.

Thankfully, I found out what the problem was: apparently, there's two groups of compost materials, a green group (vegetable peelings/fruit scraps, cut flowers/grass, teabags, coffee grounds) and a brown group (cardboard, eggshells, crunched up paper, shredded branches and twigs). While it's not essential to layer these groups, they have to be present in some sort of balance, ideally 50-50%, and mine had too little brown stuff. The solution was to turn the compost and add some brown material as I went along. I also learned that having your compost bin stand on a slab of stone is not conducive to good composting action. It's much better to have it stood on grass or bare soil. Waste Aware Scotland has some great resources on how to compost the right way, including a very handy sheet on how to compost at home. They also have a subsidised scheme of home composting bins (and I'm sure something similar will exist in other parts of the country).

Now, turning the compost didn't sound very appealing while I was suffering from Pelvic Girdle Pain and could barely move, nor does it sound appealing in your last weeks of pregnancy. However, I still decided to open the lid and see what I could do.

And magically, the compost had lost all sliminess, presenting itself odourless as it should be, with a rather nice consistency. Ready for sieving! So a sieve was bought, and this weekend, I set myself to work. At least half of the material in the bin was degraded sufficiently to be used as compost, lovely looking stuff, just the right mix of organic matter and ash. All the material that didn't sieve went back into the bin, as a good grounding for the next batch.

Somehow I managed to make compost without ever turning it and even not getting the mix right. It took much longer, but it still worked. Still, I'll make sure that this time, there'll be enough brown stuff just because I really don't fancy ever having to turn a slimy compost heap. There are limits to my enthusiasm.

For now, I've got plenty of compost ready for planting a winter crop, plus space in the compost bin for all my kitchen and garden waste. I'm rather pleased. And below is a rather unrelated photo of our tatties harvest from last week. The red ones clearly did better.

If you're growing your own food in urban areas, please do link your recent blog post in the linky tool below. It's open for a week from today and the idea is to share your tips, successes and learning. If you don't blog about growing your own, you can still leave a comment with anything you'd like to add.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Outdoor Monday: Urban Foraging and Making Jam

I love foraging. Ever since I've moved to Glasgow, the annual brambling season has been marked in my calendar. Usually, the brambles are made into a jam or some crumble cake, sometimes mixed with other fruit, sometimes as bramble jelly.

Bramble season is only about to start in Scotland so there's another week or two to wait but thanks to a kind friend I heard about damson trees in the middle of the Gorbals (which is almost right in the centre of Glasgow). Not having much time to lose, Cubling and I went foraging in the urban park. We found damson trees heavy with fruit, from top to bottom, so that there was enough to be picked on Cubling's height. As much as picking, she enjoyed just being in this slightly wild spot of land, sitting down, playing with her favourite teddy, my camera and generally directing where and what we should pick.

The park is small and situated between council and private housing, close to high rise buildings. It's not very big, but still manages to have a sense of reclusion. The fruit trees and the overgrown area around them meant we were in a small but separate world of our own, away from the dog walkers and lunch break smokers, closer to the birds and the thistles. The sun came out and we spent some time just sitting, chatting and being there.

Our pick was about 2.3kg of damsons, and 300 gr of redcurrants, which translates to two jam making sessions. So in the afternoon, I tried my hand at damson/redcurrant jam:

Damson jam:
1.5 kg of damsons (I had 1.3 kg of damson plus 300 gr of currants)
500 ml water
a knob of butter
1.5 kg of preserving sugar (plain sugar works too as damsons are high in pectin and don't need additional pectin)

method: Remove stalks from the fruit, place in large saucepan (I tend to use my largest one for jam making). Slow boil the damsons with water until the fruit falls apart. (This takes a while, enough time to wash and sterilise your jars - I usually sterilise by sticking them into the oven at 150 degrees for about 30 mins, but having a microwave steriliser for baby equipment, I used this: 3 mins with a bit of water sprinkled into the jars.)

Now, the stones should start making an appearance at the top of the broth. If not, try a potato mashing tool to help the fruit along. You'll find that the longer you cook the fruit, the easier it is to spot the stones and take them out (however, you don't want to overcook either), it's still fiddly and not the easiest jam to make together with your toddler. You can continue picking out stones while you cook and jam the fruit, even when pouring it into the jars. You will get better at spotting the stones as you go along, honest.

Once the fruit has disintegrated, take off the hob, add the sugar and butter and allow some time for the sugar to dissolve. Once dissolved, boil for 10 mins, test for setting point (I never do that and it still works) and once setting point is reached, take off the hob and fill into your sterilised jam jars. I use a funnel for this, and also top the jam with wax discs, but this is optional.

The recipe makes about 6-7 medium sized jars of jam.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Health and Safety gone too far? Endangered Secret Garden

As some readers may be aware of, Cubling attends a forest kindergarten, a nursery which takes place outdoors regardless of weather. In the morning, the kids meet at an indoor location, get ready and leave at 9am sharp for a full day in the woods, returning at 5pm. The tried and tested forest kindergarten is very popular in Scandinavian countries and in Germany and is proven to do heaps for social skills, resilience, confidence and creativity, to enable children to learn to assess risks and take them responsibly, while simply being great fun and enabling children to be outdoors a lot more than they are these days.

The first such nursery in Scotland is now under threat. In a strange twist of fate, while one government department is extremely supportive of all kinds of outdoor learning and actively encourages the development of forest nurseries, schools and including outdoor learning in the education curriculum where ever possible, another department is concerned that the kids may catch a bug because there aren't that many sinks with soap in the forest where they can wash their hands.

The Secret Garden nursery in Fife has been criticised by the Care Commission (following advice from Health Protection Scotland, for using wipes and antibacterial gel to clean the children's hands, which apparently is not sufficient. Rather, the staff should carry 10 litres of water into the woods and ensure that children wash their hands under running water, with soap:
- after toiletting and nappy changing;
- before and after eating anything;
- before drinking;
- after sneezing, coughing, or blowing their noses;
- whenever the hands are visibly dirty;
- before going home.

Now I don't get why it is more important in an outdoor setting to wash your hands everytime you cough or sneeze (if I did that, I'd probably do little else but stand at the sink), because I don't think that those rules are applied anywhere else in an indoor educational setting.

The bottom line is that it's impractical for the forest kindergarten to carry 10 litres of water into the woods (a 1.5 mile walk) and to go crazy on the hand washing to the extent required by the inspectors, which would effectively mean that about two staff are constantly washing hands of children.

Why are wipes and gel not enough? Am I stupid in thinking that it's more than sufficient? I'm happy to go with that solution, after all I don't carry running water with me when going for a picnic?

Children in Scotland has joined the calls of the nursery, the parents and many others to get real and not overboard with health and safety. It is mindboggling that our risk averse society is threatening to lead to closure of fabulous initiatives of which there are already far too few.

Please support the Secret Garden - you can do so by following them on twitter @secretgardeners for updates, read what blogger Caron's Musings has to say on the matter, or the TES reporting on this farce. Finally, The Guardian has a very enlightening article on exactly why outdoor education is such a great thing.

Friday, 3 September 2010

40 weeks

Hey, I've made it to 40 weeks, and to celebrate my EDD I had a wonderful day out with Cubling, more of which tomorrow. As much as it was a glorious day, it was also a very tiring day and my one and only thought right now is bed.

And blog a photo of a full term bump. Because there haven't been many bump piccies here. So the bets are open for a) how long I'll go over this time and b) whether it's going to be a boy or a girl. Cubling is convinced it'll be a girl and that she'll come out on Tuesday. She's also rather clingy and demands cuddles all day long, while she is happy to hug and kiss the baby (which she didn't do until a week ago) so I have a feeling that she's on an emotional rollercoaster ride.

I still can't quite fathom that we'll have a baby very soon, within the next two weeks or so. It's unreal. I should know better, and yet it feels so very strange, in spite of the hefty kicks and punches. Baby is back to back, doh, all my efforts to let gravity work have been in vain, I shall leave it be for now and hope it'll turn in time.

So here's bump, at 40 weeks (and I'm proud of those stretch marks):

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


::This is a sponsored post::

I've been given the opportunity to test the online department store Interestingly, I'd never heard about them before, and now I see their banner all over the place, but I guess that's only normal as I'm not one to look out specifically for online department stores. Let me qualify this a bit - I do a lot of my shopping online, but it tends to be with the same limited set of retailers. I'm also not someone who enjoys browsing through online catalogues. Usually I look for something specific (or semi-specific) and then search for it. I find browsing online catalogues a bit tedious and much prefer a paper copy and I was apprehensive about how the catalogue would work for me, but as they've offered me to spend up to £50 on products of my choice, I was more than happy to give it a good shot.

Initially I browsed without much direction and then decided to look a bit closer at the search options and also the sections of the catalogue and found it worked rather well. There are a lot of ways to limit your search and make results much more manageable, in spite of the full catalogues being rather big and ranging from clothes to furniture and toys. So I had to admit that there are online department stores that do work for me and where I can in fact find what I'm looking for. It was also an eye opener in the sense that very had many articles that were of interest to me which I'd never expected to find there - for example the range of children's / nursery furniture is quite impressive and also very good value for money.

As for my trial, I decided to go for clothes for Cubling - being pregnant didn't inspire me much to look for myself (who knows what size I'll be!). I found some very nice clothes for her - such as the Nordic Smock Top (pictured above) and some of the prairie range, such as the Prairie Trousers, a two pack of lovely Prairie Tops and the cute Prairie Embroidered Top. and a top bargain of two jeans. There is definitely a lot for any taste and I had no trouble finding lost of interesting items (in fact, decision time was rather difficult!). When the items arrived, I was pleasantly surprised - they actually looked better in real life than on the website!

I'd chosen size 4-5 because I have quite a lot in Cubling's current 3-4 size and she's tall for her age. The clothes are still big, but I can see that she'll probably be able to wear them within 6 months. So the sizing is definitely not on the small side (as you get with some brands) but spot on, and only one of the items appears to be rather on the large side (but is a style where this doesn't matter so much).

I was also pleased with the bright and unusual colours of the items I chose, and the quality of it looks good to me. There was some hickups with delivery but it was sorted very quickly through a reminder and the clothes were then delivered almost on a next day basis (and my experience with a separate order of furniture was that the delivery was quicker than the time scale given, with excellent communication from order to receipt of item).

The one negative comment I have is on a totally different line: The website markets a credit account which will give you a certain percentage off your purchase. However the APR is extortionate at just under 40% and with such an interest rate the only advise can be to drop it like a hot potato. Of course you don't have to take out the credit account, however I feel that the APR is unexcusably high and may trap a good few people who are looking to spread their costs.

The company trades under different brand names, which I assume may be targeted at different groups of people.



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