Saturday 31 December 2011

i enjoy being a (middle-aged) girl

There comes a point in a woman's life when you can no longer blame things on past pregnancies, particularly when your children are in high school or university. (True story. I have actually witnessed this logic.) For example, my youngest is now 2 1/2, which means this is now officially no longer Baby Weight. This has only become a recent revelation to me; there are a myriad of things I was blaming on pregnancy, when in fact, I think I'm just getting old. My theory is reinforced by the fact that every time I seek professional help for my medical woes, the answer is consistently: "Yes well, that just happens as we get older." It must be great to be a doctor with a patient who is over 40, because you can use this answer for pretty much anything without a lot of investigation. Increased and unexplained allergies? Ageing. Brittle hair? Ageing. Inability to see well in the dark? Ageing. Intense and irrational hatred of going to Tesco? Ageing.

I've come to the conclusion that the long list of health-related oddities I've been attributing to my post pregnancy body are more likely due to Becoming Older (or BO, as it shall now be known.) The foggy brain, inability to make decisions, oversensitivity, fatigue, and complete lack of short term memory hasn't stopped since my newborn became a toddler and her sleeping habits improved greatly. My periods are terrible not just because of the mood swings, but because every month for a week, I go through early pregnancy: heartburn, IBS, nausea, bloating, and insomnia. Because all of this has happened so gradually and time flies when you've got three kids, it's only now dawned on me. This isn't just BO, it's the beginning of The Change. From The Curse to The Change, all in the blink of the eye. Girls, enjoy your lives until age 11-16 because once you get your period, YOU ARE DOOOOOOMED.

I did a little online research, because why seek help from trained medical professionals when you can get instant Internt access to information available from hospitals, universities, and antisocial psychopaths who never leave the house? The data might not be accurate and every site leads you to believe you likely have cancer, but generally you can weed out the sensible articles from Wikipedia-esque. I learned that:

Women of all ages suffer from PMS, but it can be more of a problem at these times:
  • After childbirth
  • During your 30s and 40s
  • During times of stress
PMS is often worse at either end of a woman's reproductive life, around puberty and before the menopause. [source]

Well, that's me all over. The solution? Don't get fat, exercise, avoid coffee and alcohol, don't eat sugar or fat, and sleep more. Well, that's me screwed. On top of all this, it's very likely that I've entered perimenopause. That's the decade or so before you actually go through the menopause, because the menopause isn't fun and hilarious enough on its own. The Mayo Clinic tells us that "Women start perimenopause at different ages. In your 40s, or even as early as your 30s, you may start noticing the signs." These signs being everything I listed in paragraph 2. Fantastic.

So where do I go from here? There's no test (or no test that's terribly useful) to determine whether or not you're going through perimenopause, and no treatment that doesn't involve taking pills or completely removing your internal lady parts. I'm going to try eliminating wheat completely (not that I eat a lot of it, but I don't totally avoid it in things like soy sauce, HP sauce, etc.), avoid caffeine at certain times of the month, and getting some weight off by avoiding sugars and grains. Running is also in the plan, mostly for my mental health - I loved that few minutes of peace and fresh air when I went out for a jog/walk/waddle. Maybe a little yoga too, because being bendy surely must do some good.

I can't fight mother nature (she obviously has no sense of humour and must be pretty sadistic to have come up with this whole reproductive life cycle thing), but I'll try to find something that will keep her at bay.

Friday 30 December 2011

january, revisited

Hey look, it's that time of year again! Time to say to yourself, "Sweet merciful crap, back away from the Quality Street and mince pies before you implode." and make all sorts of plans for the new year. Judging by my Facebook feed, it looks like most of you have Get 2011 The Hell Over With as your main priority. I am genuinely sorry that it's been a tough year for a lot of my friends and family, and here's hoping that things get much, much better and easier.

So back in January, I made a list of things I wanted to work on for the year. My goals were:

  • Stop sweating the small stuff.
  • Get help (i.e. stop trying to do too much and accept help when offered.)
  • Prioritise.
  • Get back (i.e. do the things I used to do and love; make time for myself.)

I can't say that I've done remarkably well on any of these goals but hey, at least I made a nice list in tidy bulleted format. I still sweat the small stuff and I let insignificant things get me down. I think I've done a little better with the other three, specifically after giving up my day job back in April. While it's been weird to be "out of work" (don't even get me started on people's perceptions on what stay at home parents do with their time), it's been a huge relief not to worry about childcare and a pure joy to be able to attend a lot of school activities I missed out on before. Some days are really tough and I can actually feel my brain cells digging tiny tunnels to escape the insanity, but on the most part, it's been the best decision I've made. I still need to find my groove, though. And a hobby. (Preferably one that pays money.)

My goals for 2012 are:

  • Purge and organise. I started working on this recently and it's been incredibly liberating. There is still quite a way to go yet, and I still have yet to find a way to keep myself organised.
  • Make our home a sweet home. We aren't going to move for quite some time, so we need to sort out all the loose ends around here and make this a place we can really be happy with, at least for the next little while. Must. Get. Rid. Of. That. Floral. Wallpaper. In. The. Corridor. Gaaaaaah.
  • Focus on my health. I don't just mean losing weight (which has been the albatross around my neck for decades now), but finding solutions for the small yet annoying health niggles I've been enduring for the past couple of years.
  • Figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I might return to work, in some capacity, when Isla increases her hours at nursery in September. It might be tech writing again, or it might be something totally different. I don't know yet.
  • Be creative. My soul goes numb when I'm not doing something creative, whether it's delving into the cobwebby part of my brain that used to do graphic design, making something, or figuring out how to do a rugby ball cake (true.) 
  • Get "published". Doesn't have to be paid work (it likely won't be and will probably be an article online), but I need to write and it would be great to get a piece out there in the public domain. This is very much related to my last point.
  • Buy as much London Olympic tat as possible. (Not really. Well, maybe just a little tat.)

Happy new year, everyone!

Tuesday 29 November 2011

advent calendar

Are you on Pinterest? If you aren't, and you value your precious free time and already spend way too much time on the computer, then DON'T GO THERE. DO NOT ASK FOR AN INVITE. RUN. RUN LIKE THE WIND. Otherwise, go check it out because it's fantastic fun and very addictive. I've come across several clever ideas recently, and have shamelessly pinched quite a few of them for the holiday season. First, there were the reindeer cupcakes:
Stolen from With Sprinkles on Top, with my thanks!
Maybe it's middle age and maybe it's motherhood, but I had to find an excuse to make these. My inner Martha Stewart demanded that I put down the gin and tonic and fashion cute cupcakes. As a bonus, they kept Mia occupied and happy, as she was put in charge of noses.

The second Christmas crafty endeavour was inspired by Craftastica and her recycle bin advent calendar. Although ours isn't nearly as tidy as hers, the kids enjoyed putting it together (despite all the fighting about things like stickers, the number of envelopes decorated, and who got to use the coveted glue stick.) The envelopes are made from parcel paper (I had a roll of it around, thanks to many years of sending parcels home to Mom and Dad), the main board is the side of a box I got from Amazon recently, the board is covered in cheapie wrapping paper, and the decorations are from various stores.
I'd like to think of it as "folksy".
I've been meaning to make our own advent calendar for years now, mostly because I'm too cheap to buy one. I had the idea last year to make one out of felt (how hard could it be?), but never got around to actually purchasing any felt. What I liked about the homemade/unfilled calendars is that you can put whatever you want inside. Sure the kids love their chocolate calendars from Grandma, but I love the idea of filling each pocket with things other than sweets or toys. Again, this is probably middle age talking and I'm doing something akin to handing out apples at Halloween. But I digress.

This is the list of stuff that will be a part of this year's calendar. I think - I hope - that as the kids get older, they'll come up with some ideas for their calendars themselves. This isn't about being smug or all like "Look at my perfect family, aren't we clever? Not like you. YOU SUCK." With three kids under the age of 7, I need to find things to keep them happy and occupied, especially after school and during holidays. If that means subjecting myself to crafting and things involving glitter, I'll do it. Otherwise, they will drive me utterly batshit crazy. Also, on a more positive note, I really like Christmas and having kids is a great excuse to get extra excited about it. Anyway, here is the list so far:

  • Popcorn, hot chocolate, and movie night
  • Make teacher presents
  • Make a paper chain for the tree
  • Make a gingerbread house
  • Visit Frosts garden centre for Christmas fun
  • Choose toys to donate
  • Make a garland tree for the front door (another Pinterest idea!)
  • Make salt dough ornaments (yeah, ditto.)
  • Go out for supper
  • Write letters to Santa
  • Pancake breakfast (with Christmas cookie cutters)
  • Cut out snowflakes for the windows
  • Watch Santa videos
  • Read letters from Santa
  • Treasure hunt
  • Game night
  • Watch "Muppet Christmas Carol"
  • Sing a Christmas song/make a movie for Grandma and Grandpa
  • Buy a Christmas tree
  • Watch "Elf"
  • Read "The Stinky Sprout"
  • Make Santa's cookies
  • Read "The Night Before Christmas"
  • Erm...maybe stick a toy in the envelope. I'm running out of ideas here.

Thursday 22 September 2011

you're entitled to my opinion

If you're on Facebook, you're probably more than aware of the changes that took place over yesterday (and strangely, the changes were present for some users for the past few weeks although no one I know recalls signing up for beta testing. But I digress.) You've also probably had it up to HERE with people talking about it, so I apologise for this post in advance. The day started with a lot of "WTF Facebook?!" statuses in my feed, progressing to expressions of anger and/or general annoyance. By the end of the day, dozens of graphics about Facebook made the rounds, clearly dividing those who were fed up and those who were fed up with all the people who were fed up. 

I was on the side of "WTF Facebook?!" as I struggled to understand the new layout and features. I wasn't bothered by the concept of change, it's the fact that the change was unannounced, seemingly without any user input (or consultation with anyone in the UI design industry), unintuitive, lacking in documentation, and largely unconfigurable. It simply made little sense. 

Having used it for a day now, I think I'm familiar with all the new stuff and slightly less vexed by it. I just have to be more mindful about commenting on anything (I now check that the privacy setting is set to "Friends of x" to avoid spamming the feed more than necessary) and I've enjoyed being taunted in the live ticker, thanks to crafty friends who realised that comments they post on certain friends' walls would show up in the feed. I understand that comments on "Public" and "Friends of friends" statuses and photos were always visible on your wall (not in your feed, as far as I can remember), but you could hide this activity and it would never appear on your wall. Now these actions are displayed in the ticker, and you can't do squat about it. Furthermore, I cannot get my head around the incredibly vague and seemingly random classification of subscription updates - what are "most" and "only important" updates? What parameter are they using to determine these categories, and how are we supposed to know what they are? From what I can gather, you need to go to every friends' profile page and select "All updates" to see everything they post. Otherwise, you get a lucky dip assortment of statuses that some bit of code has deemed feedworthy. No, really. 

The only documentation I've seen regarding the new changes is this rather terse page here: that doesn't really tell you how to do anything terribly useful. A friend posted a link to this video, which is far more informative (and not produced by a Facebook employee): This morning I saw a link on Mashable about further, rather ominous sounding changes brewing ahead for today. Fabulous. Unleash more amusing graphics!

At the end of the day, after the ten millionth status complaining about the new Facebook, the statuses and images telling us to stop our bellyaching began to fill up everyone's feeds (or on a less angry level, many people simply didn't understand what the fuss was about.) For me, the fuss was about rolling out a UI that's confusing with a lot of important issues that users aren't aware of. Facebook is free to use, but we are still their customers and without us, they don't generate revenue. With hot competition from sites like Google+, it's in their best interest to keep their users happy and to actually listen to user feedback.

In the larger scheme of things, changes to Facebook aren't going to ruin my life. But I think there's no excuse for being arrogant and lazy in the business world, and this is what I've been vocal about. Usability is a fundamental part of any web site, regardless of whether or not your visitors are paying customers. Write some docs, add some tool tips and online help, and I'll be a little more forgiving, Facebook.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

lessons i need to learn from my kids

How To Make Your Life More Carefree and Enjoyable, by Jack, Mia, and Isla:
  • It's perfectly okay to dance around in your underwear and in fact, this should be done at least once every single day.
  • No matter how silly anyone else thinks it is, never let anything stop you from laughing. And laughter is best when done with mild hysteria whilst rolling about on the floor.
  • There is no taste combination that is too weird and not worth trying at least once.
  • Bubbles are really, really exciting. Look, bubbles! BUBBLES!!!!
  • All animals must be greeted with a hearty hello, even if you see them from your car.
  • Never let the lack of lyric knowledge prevent you from singing a song. Alternatively, just keep repeating whatever lyrics you do know.
  • Forget Michelin stars - things covered in chocolate, deep-fried, and/or covered in ketchup are where it's at.
  • If you're ever questioned about why you're doing something that someone else may not approve of, answer with: "Because I am." And say it like they're a total idiot for asking.
  • Whenever you're going down a hill in a car, shout out "WHEEEEEEEE!"
  • Cutlery is always optional.
  • It's okay to cry.

Tuesday 31 May 2011

we can be heroes

My children have the following superhero powers:
  • The ability to know when you're eating chocolate, even if you're behind a closed door in another part of the house.
  • Total clothing removal in less than 5 seconds, particularly in public places.
  • Constant and persistent "I'm screaming like my arms are being chewed off by lions/I'm perfectly happy now" oscillation.
  • Camel Stomach: the ability to drink 50 litres of liquid without having to go to the toilet once, and requesting more liquids every 3 minutes. And conversely...
  • The Tardis Bladder: the ability to expel incredible amounts of wee, despite just having been to the toilet and insisting that there is no further need to wee (i.e. during toilet training.)
  • The ability to start crying the moment a parent begins to eat/fall asleep, or more impressively, when the adult merely considers these concepts. (This power seems to be present in under 2s only.)
  • Stealthy Depositing and Spreading of Sticky Things
  • Complete Green Removal From Anything Edible AKA The Meticulous Search and Removal of Every Speck of Chopped Basil From Spaghetti Sauce
My children adhere to the following rules:
  • I'm not hungry, unless it's food on someone else's plate.
  • As soon as the adult steps out of the room, start beating the crap out of each other. Deny existence of conflict as soon as the adult returns.
  • When in doubt, blame the baby.
  • Alternatively, blame the dog. Or dinosaurs. (True story.)
  • There is always an excuse not to sleep. For example, "I can still hear [the baby] crying in my mind."
  • Everyone wants to see your bum/willy/belly. 
  • When eating dip, use your finger to scoop it up and lick it off. Repeat until an adult tells you the tub is all yours.

Thursday 26 May 2011

pop goes the cake: part deux

After my trial run this morning, I have come to quite a few conclusions about this cake pop business:
  • It's tricky to make them all the same size, or to even make them spherical. Mine look like meatballs. Meatballs that have been whacked with squash racquets by very uncoordinated people.
  • They keep falling off the stick when you dip them and tap off the excess. I suspect my cake crumble mix has too much icing in it. I've dipped the sticks in chocolate and popped the balls in the freezer before dipping (as suggested here:, to no avail. Which leads me to...
  • The chocolate coating has cracked. Apparently this is from either overheating the chocolate (which I don't think is the case) or keeping the balls in the freezer for too long.
  • When using candy melts, you've got to get your sprinkles on very quickly after dipping as it hardens fast.
  • If you don't have a styrofoam block and lollipop sticks (e.g. for testing purposes), you can use a colander and bamboo skewers cut to length. The pointy ends of the skewers don't work well though, as the balls slip off the ends more easily.
My rather sad attempt at cake pops.
 Cake pops are a cute idea and if you've got the knack for it, they'd be fun to make for parties. For me, they're far too fiddly and temperamental (especially with small children in the house who constantly need to be fed, watered, and pried away from breakable things). I'd happily make these in a small batch and do a little more practicing to fix all of the issues I mentioned, but I'm planning on doing something for roughly 70 people in just over 2 weeks, and I will lose the will to live if I carry on with the cake pops.

I do have an alternative plan (supplies pending) that may save me a lot of time and headaches that will hopefully still have that itty bitty cakey cuteness factor. In the meantime, I've got two little girls who are very eager to taste test the cake pops, cracks and all.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

pop goes the cake

I've embarked on yet another "That Looks Easy; I Bet I Could Do That" project this week: cake pops. For those not in the know, cake pops are little balls of cake that are put on to lollipop sticks, then dipped and decorated in some sort of creative manner. The plan is to do the pops for the kids attending Isla's naming ceremony, so this week the test kitchen is in full swing as I attempt to fashion something resembling tiny cakey cuteness. On a stick.

Now look, I know cake pops are the latest fad and even Starbucks have started peddling them to the public, but I don't care much about being behind the times. I still make meatloaf. With ketchup on it. I have no culinary shame. To further induce horror amongst the foody elite, most cake pop instructions call for the cake to be made from a mix with prepackaged icing to help bind it together (the argument being that they take so long to decorate, time shouldn't be wasted making a cake and icing from scratch.) I'm no food snob (witness my love of Kraft Dinner and Denny's), but despite having grown up on the stuff, I don't like the taste of cake mixes. For testing purposes though, I am using a mix to save on time and effort. And these things do take a lot of time, even before you get to the decorating.

After baking, the cake supposedly needs to cool overnight before you crumble it with the icing. Why? No clue - I can't imagine that a cake gets progressively cooler beyond a couple of hours out of the oven, but it may have something to do with needing to use slightly staler cake to help hold its shape. After cooling, the cake needs to be blitzed into crumbs then mixed with whatever icing or binding agent you want to use to form a truffle-like substance. This then needs to go in the fridge for another day or so to firm up, and THEN you're reading for dipping n' decorating.

So today, I'm merely at the baking and cooling stage. Mostly this involves explaining to your crying, screaming children why they can't eat the cake that's sitting there, tantalising them from the cooling rack. Tomorrow, I roll.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

pancakes: they're not just for breakfast

It's Shrove Tuesday (AKA Pancake Tuesday), which gives me an excuse to make pancakes in the middle of the week. And when I say "pancakes", I mean the fluffy kind of my childhood, possibly with a side of bacon. I've got nothing against the crepe-style ones traditionally served here (especially when smeared with Nutella), but they just aren't pancakes to me. We like to do everything in North America bigger and fatter because we're awfully good at it. I loved Shrove Tuesday. The idea of pancakes for supper was incredibly exciting, and I'm not sure who was most excited about it - me or my Dad. It was one of the first things I ever cooked on my own at around age 7.

I've been using the same pancake recipe for decades now, from a very worn and much-loved copy of "The Joy of Cooking". In fact, the pancake recipe page fell out of the book from overuse and is now in another recipe folder. This recipe makes around 10 teacup saucer-sized pancakes, or 6 of these utterly amazing Star Wars pancake molds from Williams Sonoma.You can make the batter ahead of time; I don't think it really matters and it doesn't seem to "improve" it (I have the same philosophy about Yorkshire pudding batter). You don't have to separate the eggs and whisk up the whites if you don't have time, but I find it does make the pancakes much fluffier. You can't get double action baking powder here, so just use regular baking powder if you don't have it. The double action variety does make the pancakes quite a lot lighter, but they'll still turn out fine with regular baking powder.

Now for my Canadian secret tip: knowing when the pan is the right temperature. Warm up your pan over medium heat, and when you think it's ready, flick some cold water onto the surface with your fingers. If the water sizzles and disappears immediately, the pan's too hot. If the water sits there and does nothing, it's too cold. If it forms into a plump bead that merrily sits there and sizzles a bit, it's just right. I use a nonstick pan or griddle, so I just put a little rapeseed/sunflower oil on a paper towel and grease the surface very lightly.

Big Fat American Pancakes
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 3/4 tsp double action baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
2 large eggs, separated
3 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1 cup milk

Into a large bowl, sift the flour and baking powder (you can then sift it again, if you like). Add the sugar and salt, and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they're dry, but not stiff.  In a large measuring jug, stir together the milk, melted butter, and egg yolks. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry, and whisk by hand until most or all of the lumps are gone. Carefully fold in the egg whites with a spatula until combined. The batter will be quite thick - like drop scone or crumpet batter - so don't be tempted to add more milk. I usually scrape the batter back into the large measuring jug and use it to pour the batter into the pan. 

Pour the batter into the hot pan in whatever shape or size you'd like - it will spread a little as it cooks. When the top is covered in bubbles and the sides start to look dry (or lift the pancake and check it to make sure it's not burning.), flip it over and cook for another 2 minutes or so.

Put a little butter on top, drown it in maple syrup, and watch your kids go nuts on the sugar rush. And enjoy.

Friday 25 February 2011

get out of the kitchen

Dramatic music swelling, the contestant burst into tears. "I've ruined everything because of an uncooked potato!" she wailed. John and Gregg stood motionless with what was probably supposed to be expressions of great concern, but ended up looking more like confusion with a hint of panic. John slung an arm around her shoulder, with a stiffness usually only seen when two men attempt to comfort each other while being incredibly conscious of not looking too gay. With a hearty clap on the arm, he said "It's just a bad day at the office, hey!" in that awkward way your dad tried to console you when you were a teenager and your first boyfriend dumped you. When the contestant was eventually told she hadn't made it through to the next round, the dramatic music returned as did the awkward shoulder manoeuvre when John attempted to console a deeply distraught Gregg - who almost seemed to jump at the shoulder clap, as if he'd forgotten this bit from rehearsal. So this is the new touchy feely Masterchef. Oh, help us.

Masterchef has evolved over the years, and it's always been one of my favourite programmes. From the first endearingly simple format when Lloyd "Guess Where My Accent's From?" Grossman presented to the updated version with John "Puh-sta" Torode and Gregg "Phwoar! I Could Smear That Pudding On My Naked Body" Wallace, I've watched every episode. There wasn't much wrong with it, apart from the fact that it followed precisely the same format each series: the invention test, the restaurant test, ingredients test, the "why I should be on Masterchef" speech, and cook-offs (with a few other tasks in the finals that were either repeated each series or were very similar.) Admittedly, I shouted at the television a few times and the editing was often rather creative and sometimes misleading, but it was still compelling. As was suggested by fans on the BBC food boards and elsewhere, the challenges needed a bit of tweaking, perhaps taking cues from the format of America's "Top Chef".

"Top Chef" is, in my expert opinion*, brilliant. The challenges are creative, fun, exciting, and interesting. The ubiquitous product placement is maddening and distracting, but the format is terrific. The judges do not hug, shoulder clap, cuddle, kiss, or give pep talks to the contestants. The incidental music is always the same in every episode, unlike the BBC's love of finding the most inappropriate song just because it happens to be on the musical director's playlist at the time. Sigur Ros when someone has just cut their finger on a mandolin while slicing fennel? Oh yes, please!

"Top Chef" does have its moments of drama in the form of in-fighting, bitching, and the occasional romance, but the presenters never seem to be acting. The basic format hasn't changed in 8 series, but the challenges are rarely the same - and this is what makes it wonderfully watchable. "Masterchef" didn't need to adapt the reality TV format, add drama where it's not needed, and force the presenters to behave unnaturally. It did need to revamp the challenges, and hopefully that will happen this series. But please, leave the Torode and Puddingface as they are. It just ain't natural.

*("Expert" meaning: "one who watches a ridiculous amount of cookery programmes and has an unnatural love of the Food Channel.")

Monday 21 February 2011

what has the nct ever done for us?

The Telegraph ran an article on Saturday about the stigma surrounding caesareans, with an interview with television presenter Kirstie Alsopp who has had two caesareans herself. The subtitle (unsurprisingly) doesn't really reflect what she said in the article and she didn't exactly "launch an attack on natural birth campaigners" via Twitter, but she is quite obviously upset about the lack of information parents receive antenatally about caesarean sections.

I've been there, done that. In fact, I was being there doing that six years ago tomorrow - almost to the minute as I write this. I responded to Ms Alsopp's tweets on the topic (whether or not they made it through the thousands of replies she must have received is another issue entirely), specifically, to her question about whether or not my NCT classes covered c-sections sufficiently. The article states:
Miss Allsopp, whose two sons were delivered by C-section, said many women were made to feel a "failure" after undergoing the procedure.
Although I never thought anyone else made me feel like a failure, I certainly thought that about myself. I felt duped; despite having read dozens of books about childbirth (including the fantastic Thinking Women's Guide to Better Birth by Henci Goer) I still just nodded mutely when the suggestion of an induction and then a c-section were presented to me. I've never been one to do what I'm told (apologies to my previous teachers, bosses, and parents), yet I didn't think to question what I was being told or ask for alternatives.The article continues:
She said more information should be provided by the National Childbirth Trust about C-sections in its antenatal classes.
In my case, I agree with this statement. To be fair, no one can expect a thorough explanation about every birth scenario in 8 evenings, but the coverage on this type of birth was very brief. Considering around a quarter of births are by c-section, it's a big one to gloss over. One of our evenings involved an overview of the surgery (including a "re-enactment" of who would be in theatre using Playmobil figures), and that was it. Out of 8, 4 of us ended up with unexpected caesarians. I knew nothing about it going into it, had no idea how difficult recovery could be, and had absolutely no information about breastfeeding after surgery (which is more a fault with the NHS, in my opinion.) The fact is, no matter what type of birth you'd like, preparation for other scenarios isn't a bad thing.

Belinda Phipps, the NCT's chief executive said:
If you've got a class of people who want home births then Caesareans aren't very interesting to them. Our teachers do a demonstration with Playmobil, but we don't force it on people. Our view on Caesareans is we would want to make sure women don't have a procedure if it could have been prevented.
This saddens me. My interpretation of this statement is that Phipps believes caesareans are simply not of any "interest" to some people and teaching about it would somehow be perceived as "forcing it on people". But how is the NCT teaching parents to avoid a procedure they may not need by not talking about it? Prevention, education, information - why isn't any of this covered? Those of us who did opt for home births most certainly didn't do so without any information about the alternatives. I wrote three birth plans: home VBAC, hospital VBAC, and a repeat section. Having experienced a section, I knew exactly what I did and didn't want if I needed another. When I had Jack, I didn't even know I could request anything or try to make the experience as "natural" as possible. It was only through experience that I could try and make the next birth better for me.

I am not anti-NCT or their classes and in fact, I've always told people how wonderful they are for making friends. Especially for us as first time parents, knowing others who were also having their first at around the same time was wonderful. Beyond that, I don't think I actually learned very much about pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.

As I mentioned before, there is only so much you can cover in a few hours, so I don't necessarily fault the course; it's far more informative than the one day Parentcraft classes offered by the NHS. I don't think we can put the entire blame on the NCT for not fully educating a small percentage of parents who opt to take (and pay for) their antenatal classes, but they can expand their material to cover more about caesarians. I did mention this to the instructor when she asked us for feedback about the class, so there's every possibility that the local course material has changed. On the flipside, there was no discussion about home births either. Although this could be because the instructor knew none of us were planning on having one at that time.

So essentially, Alsopp is right - the stigma surrounding caesarians needs to stop. No one's really talking about it, not just the NCT. Talking about it doesn't encourage anyone to opt for one unnecessarily or offend us mad hippy mothers. And while I'm here, can someone point me to the person who coined the phrase "too posh to push" so I can slap them?

Friday 18 February 2011

bits of stuff n' things

I have so many random yet lovely things in my head at the moment, I feel I must share with the online world, whether it's of any interest to anyone or not. Because that's what the online world is all about: sharing your deepest thoughts and/or abusing celebrities on Twitter. Or griping about your angst-filled life on Tumblr using the medium of song lyrics and photos. Or blogging.

So, yes, sharing time.
  • Helena Bonham-Carter's acceptance speech at the BAFTAs: Brilliantly random, rambling, funny, and as far away from a typical acceptance speech as you can get.  
  • Adele's performance at the Brits: Simply stunning.
  • The Best Chocolate Ice Cream in the World: My friend Annalisa posted this recipe recently and my children agree, this really is the best chocolate ice cream ever. I got an ice cream maker for Christmas, so now I can make ice cream with the kids, containing ingredients I can pronounce. Also check out her recipe for mint ice cream, which is utterly divine.
  • Shock Absorber sports bras: They are the only sports bras on this planet (or at least in the UK) that allow me to run without giving myself a black eye. You bounce, you don't move and you don't hurt.
  • Top Chef returning to British television sets: Forget Masterchef (which has done Very Bad Things to the format this series), tune into Top Chef on the Good Food channel. We're getting season 7 (Washington), and it's brilliant. The challenges are creative, entertaining, and the lovely Padma Lakshmi is a  marvellous presenter. I give her extra bonus points for still having a very distinct baby belly that she makes no effort to hide, despite being two months postpartum and appearing on American TV.
  • Kindle: Maybe I'm deluding myself, but I seem to devour books much more quickly on this device than I do in their original paper format. The screen is so easy to read, remarkably so similar to paper that I actually caught myself trying to "turn" the page when I first started using it. It's lightweight, I love how easy it is to download and organise books, and hopefully sites like Lendle will allow non-US Amazon accounts to share books in the near future. I never thought that anything could come close to a paper book, but I've been converted. (Although I still love the look and feel of a real book.)
  • Oscar films: For once, in many years, I have managed to see a few films that are nominated for Oscars. Normally, the only nominated film I would have seen would be something I saw with the kids or on an airplane. This year, I've managed to see "Black Swan", "Inception", and "King's Speech"...along with the kids' films, naturally. All three "grown up" films were fantastic, in completely different ways. 
  • Good customer service: And last, but certainly not least, kudos to Hotel du Vin for providing excellent customer service after I made a complaint. We went to the Cambridge bistro for a friend's birthday and while we enjoyed our evening and the food was excellent, service was disappointingly patchy. I sent an email to the general address on the site, and got a response a couple of hours later from the manager in Cambridge. Hugely apologetic and stressing that this is not what the "Hotel du Vin experience" should be like, she invited the four of us to come back and have a meal, free of charge. No arguments, no need to ask for anything - exactly how a complaint should be resolved.

Tuesday 11 January 2011


So, how are your resolutions/goals/thingies coming along? Judging by the crowd at the gym today, I'm guessing a lot of you are still sticking to the "move more" resolution. Which is great, but can you please avoid my pilates and body combat classes so they don't book up so quickly? Oh, and don't use the creche either. Just leave your kids in the car with the heat and radio on; they'll be fine. Thanks.

I'm glad that I wrote down my 2011 goals at the end of December, because I have actually referred to the post to remind myself of what I've set out to do. The worrying hasn't stopped, but I do catch myself and rein myself back in when it happens. I ask myself "Is that really worth getting anxious about?" and then I look around to make sure no one's listening because talking to yourself is all sorts of crazy. So that's a start. Paul has been a star at ensuring I follow the Get Help goal, by intervening when I get overwhelmed and jumping in to lend a hand. Similarly, I've been better about delegating and taking Paul up on his offers of help, rather than the usual "NO. I'M FINE." *stresstresstresstress* sort of thing I normally do. As for prioritising, I started to do that before Christmas when I realised that my brain was about to explode due to my massive mental To Do list. Even today I caught myself feeling guilty because I had some spare time on my hands. I could be filling that time with useful chores! Or a latte. (I opted for the latter. Oh, that's almost a pun. Hee.) How on earth I could think I was being lazy when I'd got myself and children ready this morning, packed for the gym, did the school run, went to a pilates class, ran a few errands, made lunch, did laundry and the washing up - all before 1pm. I am now taking an hour to eat lunch, finish my latte, write this post and waste time on Facebook before Isla wakes up. Then it's a matter of getting chilli into the slow cooker, more laundry, the school run, homework, feeding time at the zoo, bedtime, more laundry, more washing up. Lazy. Right.

Part of the Get Back goal is about being a bit "selfish" for a change - doing things for me (and for us as a couple, really) that make me happy. We managed to get out to the cinema (to see a children's film, yes I see the irony), and we have several nights out with just the grown-ups coming up this month and next. I've been devouring books on my Kindle and am looking forward to the films in our queue from Lovefilm. I'm back in the gym, back to eating properly, and have lost 2 1/2 kg in a week. Still haven't booked my haircut, though.

So, it's all going well and I'm happy. And latte hour is up, so back to work I go.