Monday, 13 October 2014

From a smaller perspective

I take a lot of photos.  A.  Lot.  But other than the occasional selfie, they're pretty much all of other people.  My hubby's pretty good though, when I hand him the camera, he takes great photos for me.  Earlier this year, at Isaac's birthday party, I did just that but boy was I not pleased with the results.  Don't get me wrong, Andy took some lovely shots that captured the day and all the things we got up to.  It was that cuddly mummy I saw wearing my clothes.  I knew that I'd put on weight after my babies; I managed to lose some of it after Anna and then put it back on again once she was breast-feeding less often, and then some more when I was pregnant with Sam.  Something about those photos really brought home to me how much I didn't look like myself and this time, I was going to do something about it.  I was determined that I would take Isaac to school and meet all his new classmates at a weight that felt like me.  Plus, I've always hoped for four children and there was no way I was accumulating more weight with another pregnancy.  I struggled more with Samuel than with the others and I knew that I wouldn't manage all my reponsibilities during a fourth pregnancy without getting healthier.
I started off with an exercise routine that a few of my friends were doing but to be honest, I was in denial about the main cause of my weight; our diet.  A friend had recently posted some amazing photos of her weight loss through Slimming World and I was inspired.   I knew she had a busy family life and worked as well so I thought this might be the way for me.  I do really well when I've got a structure to follow and some accountability.  I've been a member of Weight Watchers in the past and I knew that their point-counting plan wouldn't work with our family routines and meals.

I joined a great group nearby on a Tuesday morning and stood on the scales that first day to find out that I was the largest I have ever been.  I had just been out to buy some size 16 trousers because I had nothing that would fit me.  I dutifully took my measurements and wrote it all down.  I had a dream weight; a number that has always been in my head, that I've never thought I could get back to, based on a photograph when my arms and my face are skinny.

Fast forward 17 weeks and I've done it.  I've hit that target weight and I feel fantastic.  I've been shopping and bought everything in a size 10, knowing that it would fit me when I tried it on.  I own skinny jeans, elegant boat-neck jumpers and clingy t-shirts.  I feel like myself again.  It is awesome.
I can't pretend it's been easy but it hasn't been amazingly hard either.  I just followed the Slimming World plan; loads of fruit and vegetables, lean protein and starchy carbs with enough treats to keep me sane.  I didn't eat white bread for 3 months.  I stopped adding oil to food.  I grill instead of frying.  I bought fun size Milky Ways and sugar free squash.  I rediscovered yoghurt.  The nice thing about the plan for me is that I can see the sound nutritional principles behind it and that it's flexible enough to deal sensibly with breast-feeding (increasing your calcium-rich dairy foods).  I'm trying to find a new balance now, where I can maintain this healthy weight as I adapt to feeding Sam less often and eventually stopping.

I'm so proud of myself for sticking with it and for achieving my goal.  And now, when I hand Andy the camera, I get photos I like looking at!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

In ten minutes flat

Everyone has those days where you look around your house and want to scream.  There's always something else that needs doing.  I'm fighting a battle with the clutter and the dust and I'm losing!  (Everyone feels like that, right?  Please tell me I'm not the only one!)
I have this little trick for those times when I think I will actually scream if something doesn't get done, sharpish!  I put the kettle on to boil to make a cup of coffee (it's an instant caramel latte actually, but I won't judge if you want to make tea instead) then I look around for the most visually impactful jobs.  The things that jump straight out at me, accusingly.  Usually it's putting away the washing up or taking the recycling out to the bin.  (We pile our recycling on the counter after it's been rinsed or just inside the front door if it's coming down from upstairs.)  I spend the time it takes for the water to boil and then cool enough to be ready for coffee blitzing the things that jump out at me.  Usually I end up thinking 'just one more thing' and getting a few more bits done too.  After I'm finished, I haven't usually spent more than five minutes cleaning or tidying and there's always more things to do but there's something about doing those little bitty jobs that get glossed over again and again.  I think it's because I see them all over the place, nagging at me.  Getting them done seems so freeing and helps me relax.  Occasionally it even gives me the energy and motivation to move on to something more significant.  Mostly I just take my coffee and go find something more fun to do.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

From Granny and Grandpa, with love

My parents have given each of our children their first teddy bear.  They started the tradition with Isaac; actually, he got two bears, a traditional brown bear and a modern Kaloo bear, now referred to as crocodile bear.  They came to stay with us the day after Isaac was born and drove into town especially to buy his first bear.  So it was just natural that they'd bring a teddy for Anna and Samuel when they arrived.

Isaac's teddy wears a fireman outfit these days and has recently been to school because they're looking at bears this term.  Anna's teddy is supposed to wear a jaunty little necktie but you're more likely to find it around Isaac's neck than teddy's.  Samuel's teddy sits in the corner of his cot and gets chewed on regularly.
I still have my first teddy bear; he's a bit thread-bare now but he sits on the top of my bed and gets mauled occasionally by well-meaning children.  He sat on a bookshelf above my bunkbed at home then moved to university with me.  He has no name but he's so precious to me.  He has always had a place in our bedroom and I think he always will.
I'm glad that my children have their own family heirlooms and I'm looking forward to hearing them tell their stories to their own children one day.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

At the start

I feel like this day should be more momentous. Tomorrow you start school; for the next 13 years, God willing, you will be a schoolchild. This is our last day together without a time limit hanging over us. There'll be holidays, of course, but our normal will be school, five days a week.
I hope we've chosen well. Your school seems like an environment where you'll thrive. Your EYFS teacher is exactly what I'd choose if I got to design her just for you. This is the start of a long relationship; unless we move, Anna and Samuel will go through this school too. It's reassuring that the other parents are all so positive about their experience of the school.
If I'm honest, I'm worried about how it will go. I know you're excited and you're looking forward to it. I know you'll walk into the room confidently and enjoy your first days with your class. But you're a 4 year old boy and you're impatient, energetic and impulsive. I want other people to see the kind, clever, independent boy I love so much.

I hope we've loved you enough in the last four years to help you stand firm in the sea you're about to enter. The waves of culture and peer pressure are strong ones and there are hidden currents that can knock you off your feet.

Until now, I've stood between you and the world but tomorrow you're starting a journey of your own. I will be a cheerleader and a coach but it's your life to live. I've said it before, parenthood is a journey in the direction of apart. My main purpose is to enable you to live a life that's more and more independent from my own. I can't fight your battles for you, I just have to trust the One who's always watching over you.

And isn't that what we've always been doing? God gave you to us to be our firstborn, much beloved son. For all the love and care we offer, there's always been a gap we can't fill. My mum repeats an old saying; "you do your best and God does the rest".

Every now and again I catch glimpses of the man you might become. He's strong and independent, kind and loving, funny and sweet. I love you so much, my baby boy. You made me a mother and you make me a better person day-by-day. I'm more patient, more forgiving, more joyful because I have you. I know you're going to have fun tomorrow, I know you're going to fly. It seems like an age since you were my baby, it seems like no time at all.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, 7 August 2014

In the albums

I haven't blogged about project life for more than a year and I've had a bit of a change of approach in that time.  I'm still completing a single side for each week, highlighting small moments and events from our daily lives.  I subscribed to the Studio Calico Project Life kits for about six months but they didn't quite fit with my style.  More recently, I've been getting the Gossamer Blue Life Pages monthly kits and they're great.  I love that I don't have to search my stash for ages to put co-ordinating supplies together.  The kits have tended to go quite well with each other; there's always something I can carry over to the next month's pages.  Changing up my supplies every 4 or 5 weeks keeps things interesting as well.

These are my pages from May, made with the May Gossamer Blue kit.  I love the bright colours and the little stickers.  One of the things I like most about the kits is that they also come with a free co-ordinating printable, full of small icons, labels and journalling blocks.

A lovely weekend at my parents' home, celebrating my Dad's 60th birthday.  For special occasions such as this, I usually include an insert for extra photos and stories.  This combination of single sided weeks and occasional inserts works really well for me, capturing the memories I don't want to forget without producing mountains of albums every year.
Another insert to capture our first overnight camping trip with the children and our new (inflatable) tent!

I'm storing all my regular pages alongside my project life spreads in one set of albums for each year.  I just add the regular pages in roughly the right places chronologically.  It's a nice way to highlight special photos or add some more details for holidays or events that have multiple pictures.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

For the love of giving

I got my first blanket commission a couple of months ago; a friend asked me to make a blanket like Samuel's to co-ordinate with her friends' nursery.  They chose the Snoozie Safari collection from Mothercare so after a quick reccie, I selected these colours of Stylecraft Special DK;
I used the dark green in the end, it just seemed to go better when I went to Mothercare to check out the collection in real life.  I tend to make these squares in stages; all the middles first, then the second round, then the third and finally the white outside rounds.  It's easier to ensure I'm getting a mix and balance of colours in the squares.
I completed twenty-five squares and joined them into a blanket using Little Tin Bird's technique.  I'm not a fan of square blankets, they seem to be less useful to me so I added another two rows (or ten squares) to oblong it out a bit.  Joining these squares is quite a quick process and very satisfying.
After joining, I added a round of white double crochet and then three rounds in half double crochet in saffron, meadow and lipstick.  It looks lovely and feels so squishy now it's all done.  And here it is all parcelled up, ready to go to its new home.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

In the three month bubble

My brain is finally starting to come out of its postpartum fog.  The first clue was when I started thinking about next week's meal plan while still planning this week's.  It's difficult to understand the psychological and cognitive changes that happen after having a baby.  Almost everyone is familiar with the physical and emotional consequences of such a massive, life-changing event but the effects on your mind and thinking aren't quite as obvious.  It's easy to think that you ought to be able to get back to a normal level of functioning relatively quickly but after having three babies, I've realised that it takes me about three months to start to rejoin the world.

Initially following the arrival of a new baby, I feel like I've crawled into a little hole.  It's a cosy, comfy little hole, full of cushions and knitted blankets.  I can watch the world passing by up above but I don't quite feel part of it, a sort of dream-like quality.  Getting to know the new arrival and remolding our life around them takes a lot of time and energy.  Not to mention the tiredness that comes from sleep-deprivation and recovering from the physical exertion of delivery (however you deliver, it's still a massive undertaking; a Caesarean is a major abdominal operation).  Your hormones are raging, causing all sorts of emotional upset.  Plus your life has changed indescribably, whether it's your first baby or your third (I can't talk from personal experience past three, but I can imagine).  Add to that the change in your relationship with your partner, who's also trying to adjust to the baby, and helping any other children to integrate and accept the new addition, and you can start to understand the emotional toll.  Is it any wonder that your plate feels full by this point?!

After the first three months, I start to become comfortable psychologically venturing out of the house.  You might have seen my physical being out and about but I wouldn't want to guarantee that my brain was present too!  The cognitive difficulties still persist though.  This is just selection of the issues that I'm still encountering, more than six months after the birth of my third child;

  • Vocabulary - I just cannot find the words these days.  When I was going back to work after Isaac, I was really concerned that I wouldn't be able to remember the word in an emergency.  As it happened, I didn't struggle at all.  I couldn't remember the word for the "cold cupboard" in the kitchen but I never had that problem at work, go figure!
  • Names - I think this might be a side effect of having so many children but I can't keep them straight anymore.  I owe my mum an apology for all the times I complained about being called by the cat's name growing up!
  • Forward planning - seeing to the end of the week is getting easier, starting to plan for next week... well that's another matter.
  • Complex thinking - actually formulating something with more than one stage in my head?  Yeah right!  Give me twice as long to think about it!!
  • Distractions - I'm starting to think about getting my hearing checked because if there's more than one conversation going on at once around me, I just can't concentrate.  I can't multi-task, I have to focus solely on what I'm doing, so don't you dare ask me a question while I'm trying to put a vest on a wriggling baby!
  • Slow change - you want to move on in our conversation?  Change the subject to something else?  Give me another couple of minutes, announce the change, give it another couple of minutes and then I might be ready to talk about something else.

Things do get better; like I said, I'm moving out of the fog these days.  I have a few ideas of ways to cope and keep functioning during this time.

  • First, and this is the hardest step I think, take it easy.  Be kind to yourself.  Recognise that you've been through a lot (pregnancy is no picnic, let alone labour and delivery) and are still going through a lot.  Think about what you would tell a friend in these same circumstances and then tell yourself the same.  Far too often we look around us at how everyone else is managing their perfect lives with their perfect children and feel inferior.  The answer seems to be to just try harder, work harder, be more when actually there are seasons in life that require rest and recuperation.  Enjoy the first months with a new baby, you'll never get them back.  I promise you that the only person judging you is you, everyone else is too busy cooing at the baby!
  • Write it down, don't expect your brain to be able to hold on to all the important things whizzing round in there these days.  So lists and calendars are your friend, with the added bonus that you can buy a pretty notebook to keep those lists in!
  • Don't underestimate the importance of routines.  When you do something in the same way on a regular basis, you develop a sort of muscle memory and you don't need to engage the thinking bit of your brain in quite the same way.  Think of it as a rest for your brain.  It's like driving or playing an instrument; when you first start, you have to think about every individual action (mirror, signal, manoeuvre) but as time goes on, they get grouped together into action sets (turn the corner) and require less thought.  Doing the same thing at the same time each week, e.g. every Monday I go grocery shopping, reduces the decision-making element of the action, making it less of a challenge.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help from those around you.  And if someone offers to do something, at least think about it before you automatically say no.  Maybe an hour off while someone else walks your older children to the park and back will be the difference between sanity and the other thing.
  • Decide what's important to you and stop trying to do it all.  I do not clean.  Literally, I've said this before, I vacuum when my carpet is crunchy, I clean my mirrors when I can't see myself in them anymore.  It just doesn't bother me that much, I have better things to do with my time.  It is impossible to do everything you need to, everything you think you ought to and everything you want to in every day.  You'll only exhaust yourself trying.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

In my scrapbook

I have three scrapbook pages to share with you guys today, all made with Amy Tangerine's Cut and Paste collection plus some extra little bits and bobs.
The first is a page inspired by a semi-recent discussion on the Paperclipping Roundtable podcase about the importance of documenting collections.  These two small figurines were the first presents I bought for my mum, on consecutive Christmases.  I used my own money and we went to this lovely, random shop called Turtles in Croydon.  Sadly it's shut now but it was a DIY-garden-craft-type store and seemed like a treasure trove to a young child.
I've been thinking about making this page for ages and it's one of my 'must-scrap' topics.  I love to knit and crochet in front of the tv in the evenings.  I quite often give my creations away as gifts for new babies; there's something wonderful about giving a handmade blanket or hat as a welcome present.  Each of my children has a handmade blanket but I never managed to make a hat for the older two.  You'd think it would be easy but apparently not!  I was inspired by Leanne's colour choices for her younger son's hospital blanket and she used the leftover yarn to make a simple stripey hat too.  I used Little Tin Bird's Peacock Blue blanket square and the Magic Coffee hat pattern.  I also made Samuel a puerperium cardigan and a Milo vest and you can find details on both on my ravelry page.
And this page is a 'capture now and celebrate cute pictures' page.  There's no important story to tell but sometimes the little everyday moments are the easiest to forget and the sweetest to recall.  Samuel in a box, cos that's Andy's sense of humour.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

For the love of family food

While I am a qualified children's doctor, I'm only relating my experiences with my children on this blog. The NHS has plenty of information available for mums and dads in the UK about weaning and other children's health issues.

I'll be honest right off the bat and say that this isn't Sam's first tastes of food. He started with cucumber ten days ago or so and we've just returned from a big family holiday where my mum and my siblings delighted in offering him bits off their plates.  Whenever I recommend baby-led weaning to anyone, their first question is always "what sort of foods do you give him/her?" My answer, whatever we're having, doesn't seem specific enough so I guess this post is me fleshing that out a bit.
When I say 'whatever we're having', I do mean it literally. That did require some changes to what I was cooking at first (more fruit & veg, less salt) but with two children already eating with us four days a week, our family meals are pretty baby-ready these days.

We've literally just got back from a week-long holiday in the Lakes so there's pretty much nothing in our fridge and I had no plan for dinner. That usually means oven-ready food or pasta and sure enough I scavenged up the ingredients for tuna pasta bake. Since the replacements straps and padded insert for the highchair arrived while we were away, there was no reason Sam couldn't join us.
I started off with some pasta and 'bits' in a bowl but he's not quite tall enough to see into it yet so we quickly moved on to using just the tray.
This is a new experience for Sam; it's only the second or third time he's been in a highchair so he has no idea what to expect. He's fed-up! I hand him a single pasta twirl and he takes it to his mouth to suck.
He struggles to pick up the pasta initially and gets frustrated so I pass him pieces of pasta. I also put smallish bits of tuna and sauce on my fingers and offer them to him. He takes the food eagerly and moves it round his mouth. I'm not sure he's swallowed anything yet but he's very happy just 'playing' with the food.
After a little while, maybe 10 minutes, he's getting frustrated with the pasta so I slice a nectarine into quarters and offer him one. Again, he doesn't know what it is or what it's for, so I gently wipe it across his lips. He licks the juice and realises this is good. And then he's off. Nectarine is a winner!  He struggles occasionally to pick up the slippery fruit but for the most part he's doing this all himself.
After finishing most of the nectarine, he goes back to the pasta. Random food combinations are a big feature of BLW; strawberry petit filous and king prawns, anyone?! He's getting the hang of it now and quite confidently brings pasta to his mouth for a suck and a chew. I'm sure I've heard him swallow at some point but I guess we'll know for sure with tomorrow's nappies!
This is all going on during a family meal. We're talking about our favourite parts of our holiday with the children and discussing our upcoming house project. All four of us, the children are great at this, are positive and encouraging to Sam. Lots of smiles and praise for what he's doing. We've also introduced the signs for 'more' and 'finished'; these are the two I found most useful with Isaac at this age. It'll take a while before Sam joins in but the repetition is key to getting it to stick.
A note about the floor; weaning is a messy business. No, sorry, children are a messy business. And never more so than when they eat. Isaac knocked his cup over, spilling his squash. Anna doesn't wear a top whenever we have tomato-based sauces. We have tile flooring that wipes clean beautifully. Usually anything that hits the floor comes straight back into the bowl to be played with/eaten again. But like I said, we've just got home from a week away, leaving the cats in the house and I haven't cleaned the floor yet. Plus tuna and pasta are a pretty good cat-attraction device!
On clean-up; start at the top and work your way down. I wear rubber gloves and remove the food first. I wipe the tray, knocking leftover bits onto the floor mostly. Then I wipe the child and remove bibs or dirty clothing. As it happens, hubby is running a bath so I offloaded Sam to him but if I'm on my own, I get the baby something to do before I carry on. Quite a lot of meals are easier to clean up once they're dry anyway. Then I wipe the highchair from top to bottom, not forgetting the rails on the floor. And finally the floor. I don't generally use disinfectant unless there's some stuck-on mess or it's really gross. Hot soapy water on an e-cloth is enough for me; wearing gloves means I can use really hot dish washing water.
And highchairs? I love our East Coast folding wooden chair. I bought it for Isaac along with a traditional, padded PVC one, which was a nightmare to get clean and went mouldy in storage. I've just ordered a new insert (from Argos but look online for the best price) and new straps (from east coast) and it looks great. The tray lifts over the top so you can sit them right up at the table too. But if I were buying again today, I'd get the ikea highchair. I can almost guarantee you've seen it out & about. A white plastic seat with a removable tray (both dishwasher safe!!) and long grey legs. It's so easy to clean, light and it's only £12 (£16 with the tray)!!

Monday, 30 June 2014

On knitting for baby

Milo Vest in Rico Essentials Merino DK in Khaki | This was such a quick and lovely knit.  I actually cast it on just before I had Samuel and finished it in the first couple of weeks afterwards.  It's my first attempt at cable knitting and it was a lovely introduction piece.  You can choose your cable pattern and since it's such a small section with plenty of plain stocking stitch in between, it's not too taxing for the brain.

Samuel's Blanket in Rico Soft Merino Aran, Various (Natural, Fuchsia, Mandarine, Jeans, Eucalyptus, Grey, Pistachio) | I've made a blanket for each of my babies, though I still haven't finished sewing the ends on Isaac's.  This yarn was recommended by a friend and it's lovely and squishy.  I chose a neutral colour palette because we didn't find out the baby's sex before he arrived.  The granny square is from Little Tin Bird.  I finished the squares and the cream border but ran out of the eucalyptus with about 6 inches left to do.  The colour has been discontinued but I found a ball at The Homemakery, I can really recommend this store, the service is excellent.

Puerperium in Sirdar Snuggly Smiley Stripes, Bambini Blue | I finished this little cardie just before Samuel arrived but didn't manage buttons for a few weeks afterwards.  I did it in newborn size, which fit for about a month but then I do breed decent-sized babies.

Magic Coffee Hat in Rico Soft Merino Aran, various | I didn't manage to make hats for Isaac or Anna but I used the odd ends of my blanket yarn to make a simple striped hat for Samuel.  This was while I was waiting for the extra teal to edge the blanket, which is why it doesn't appear in the hat.

Friday, 27 June 2014

On a little knitty fun

I still haven't scrapped these photos and I really must!  I bought some lovely lovely yarn, which was so soft and squishy in a gorgeous colour and decided to make a cardigan for Anna.  The pattern is called Granny's Favorite and I found it on Ravelry.  It was the first time I've ever tried any lacework in a project and I ended up starting it about four times before I finally got the hang of it!

It took quite a while and I had to go back to the shop for another ball of yarn to finish the sleeves.  God bless local yarn shops who will check their shelves to see if they still have the dye lot in stock and put some aside for you!  It took me ages to get around to attaching buttons so Anna could wear it but I'm really pleased with the finished result.

And she looks so cute in it!