Friday, 23 September 2011

Friday Frolics

Friday is the day when I get to spend most of the day alone with my youngest. We have a short swimming lesson in the morning, then it's mum and daughter funtime until the 3 o'clock school pickup. Here are some snapshots of our manic rush to do everything we'd like to do! Today we were rather heavy on the cooking, so now my kitchen looks like a baker's shop. Which is awesome.

Mr Plasticine Man

We don't use washing powder any more. :-) I am a recent convert to soapnuts. We are trying them here for the first time, and the washing comes out very clean and very soft, and they're safe for little hands to help with.

Minnie 'helps' make some cakes. Or does this count as washing-up? 

Having made too much chocolate glaze, I thought I'd try dipping grapes. It turns out they look a lot like acorns. If you simply melted milk chocolate, rather than making a runny glaze as I did, I bet they'd look great. 

In our family we love the dining table, but we don't always sit at it. 

Having picked Dawn up, it's time for homework. I can't believe she's reached that age. My plan is to always do it with her, and never to force the issue if she doesn't want to. As you can see, once again Minnie is helping. Dawn appears to be asleep. That's fine, too.

Phew! Having got the homework out the way, it's time for more cooking. This time it's flapjacks. I provide the oats and the syrup, and the girls chuck in whatever they fancy. Dawn chooses raisins and coconut (neither of which she likes, but she hasn't learnt yet!) and Minnie chooses raisins and dried strawberries.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Staycation, The Sequel: Indoor Camping

A while back, a crafty friend of mine made these beautiful gifts for my daughters. They're Camping Books, and she instructed me to save them 'for their purpose'. Well, owing to all that rain and the car problems and so on, we haven't been camping yet, and now the season's almost over and we're not going to get another chance to camp this year, in the conventional style, so I thought it was time to try something unconventional.
A clothes horse, a dining chair and a large sheet took care of the tent requirement, and only consumed half the living-room, leaving the other half free for the fire (rolled up corrugated cardboard selotaped into log-shapes) and the activities. As Dawn struggled with building the fire, my dad got stuck into the role play and assured Dawn that it would settle down into a better shape once it was lit. Dawn looked horrified and explained to him with her Serious Face that we were not really going to set light to it, it was just pretend.
The first activity was a treasure-hunt. This was completely non-competitive, with the girls sharing a list (words and pictures, to cater for both the early-reader and the pre-reader) of things to hunt for around the 'camp-site'. There were conkers (which later became 'chestnuts' to 'roast' on the 'fire'), coins (for the Camping-Book games), corn-dollies (seasonal), toy ponies (no reason - they were just convenient and appealing), and individually wrapped cakes. All the treasure was pooled by the 'fire', and the cakes and coins were distributed evenly. Next came tea and, yes, you've guessed it, cake.
After the snacks, the girls got stuck into their Camping Books. Page 1 contains a space to draw your tent. Page 2 contains a space to draw any creatures you find. (The toy ponies made an appearance there, along with a spider, followed by various things Dawn could remember from real camping. My dad, whose house I live in, asked them please to not record the dust-mites.) Next are several coloured pages for free-drawing and writing, and then miniature board-games (using coins for counters and dice), and finally some camping-related sticker pages, full of beautiful drawings by my friend.
Whilst the girls were busy with this, I whipped up our traditional camping meal of sausages in buns, which we ate sitting around the camp-fire, along with some runner beans which we had 'foraged' from 'the woods' (our garden). We also had blackberry and apple pancakes, which was nothing to do with camping, it was just a result of the vast amount of fruit pouring into my kitchen at the moment.
Next came stories and songs around the 'camp-fire'. It was getting dark by now, so I drew the curtains and lit some candles to see by. The girls snuggled down in their sleeping-bags in the 'tent' and played with torches, making shadows and so on, while they listened to the stories.
Sadly, as we don't have much space in our house and we wanted our living-room back, the girls then had to drag themselves off to their real bed, but I'm pretty sure they'd had a good time while it lasted, and I know the adults certainly did. The best thing is, it was hardly any effort to clear up again afterwards!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Minnie's birth

I was determined to have a natural birth and particularly to avoid an induction so I borrowed enough money to hire an independent midwife. Fiona (very experienced - really knows her stuff) and her assistant, Kerry (relatively new, very friendly, and someone I clicked with on a personal level) visited me for all of my ante-natal checks, each one lasting about an hour, so I felt very comfortable with them by the time I was full term.
This time there was no pressure on me to consider an induction. Fiona gave me the facts, and let me make my own decision. She recommended a homebirth website, which gave me a lot of confidence.
When I was forty-two weeks and one day pregnant, I sat up one night reading about birthing-pools. I was so taken by the idea that I decided, if I hadn’t gone into labour by the morning, to order one for myself.
As I turned my computer off and went to bed, I began to get contractions. I didn’t tell my husband, Alastair, as I hardly dared believe it was true. I slept for two hours before waking up and finding they’d got stronger. The first couple were OK, but then one came that was hard to deal with. I started doing the breathing and visualisation techniques from the Hypnobirthing book. It worked. For the next five hours, every ten minutes or so I’d have a contraction, but I didn’t want to call the midwife in the middle of the night unless something major was happening, so I just lay there, relaxed, and breathed through them.
Unlike the time before, I knew the sex and name of my baby, and it really felt like we were working together. When one visualisation stopped working, I’d make up a new one, and it was good. I imagined my belly as a hill, with all the strength and energy of the Earth, and I would breathe in, making the hill as big as I could, then blow the contractions over the hill and far away, on the wind. I made up a song, which I sang in my head to Minnie; it was a chant, to help us work her closer to the opening.
Finally morning came, and I woke Alastair up and told him to call his work to say he wasn’t coming in. Then I called Fiona, who was satisfied that I could do without her for a while. I packed Dawn off to playgroup with Alastair.
I wanted to cook some food for later, so that we’d all have something to eat when things got tiring (a bonus of homebirths). I found I had an ingredient missing, so I sent Alastair to the shop. A few minutes later, I discovered that my tomatoes were mouldy. Alastair didn’t have a mobile phone, so I set out to meet him. We met, and walked along the street together. When contractions came, I found that I could walk through them, but stopping was agony. Thankfully I managed a sort of Moses-act on the sea of traffic, and then paced up and down outside the shop while Alastair bought the tomatoes.
Back at home, I discovered that I couldn’t even chop a cucumber in between contractions, I was so distracted. It took me about two hours to make a salad. When contractions came, I would put my head on the counter and sway my hips till they went. By mid-morning, they were getting painful, so I got in the bath. That was nice for a bit, but my movement was so limited that I soon found I had to get out.
Fiona rang Alastair periodically, and at 2:00 she and Kerry came over. They brought their knitting, made themselves tea, and sat and chatted. It was good fun. I found that when I wanted a break, I could sit on my exercise ball and rock, and that slowed things down. I ate some lunch, and then got up to move around again.
Shortly before 3:00, Fiona suggested that Alastair and I go out for a walk. We went around the block, but this time walking was very uncomfortable, not to mention the embarrassment of stopping to have a contraction in full view of the neighbours.
When I got back, it took me a while to find a way of getting comfortable. I tried various positions on the ball, then clung to the banister, before settling in a doorway. I held the doorframe, swinging my hips in a wide figure of eight and blowing out through loose horsy-lips.
A little after 4:00, I felt the now-familiar, slightly sick, ‘I can’t do this’ feeling, and was sure I was in transition. Fiona offered to go and get the gas-and-air, but I asked her to examine me first to see how far along I was. She did, and told me I was only four cm dilated. I was devastated! I got up from the sofa, and instantly my waters flooded out, all over the floor.
Kerry dashed about cleaning it up, while Fiona stayed with me. Straight away I felt the urge to push, so I knelt down and leaned on Alastair’s lap as he sat in an armchair. I felt sick, and my perineum was burning, but half an hour later, with an unused sick bowl next to me and Fiona behind me to catch the baby, Minnie arrived, leaving only the tiniest tear that needed no treatment and caused me no pain once it had happened.
Fiona handed Minnie to me through my legs, which was difficult because my brain was elsewhere, the cord was short, and Minnie was so slippery. Then I sat back on the sofa to breastfeed Minnie while Fiona and Kerry performed the clean-up operation, hunted out towels and blankets, made notes, and delivered the placenta naturally, which took ten minutes. Fiona waited until the cord had stopped pulsating before helping Alastair to cut it.
I won’t go into all the advantages of homebirth here, because there are too many, but one I have only just discovered is that when you wish, three years afterwards, to write out the story, the midwife has already done most of it for you. Fiona presented me with a bound copy of all my notes from pregnancy, the birth, and the weeks afterwards, where she had thoroughly chronicled all our meetings and telephone conversations, with her own observations and some amusing anecdotes, as well as all the usual medical jargon.

 Me in labour. About 2 hours to go.

My newest baby.

Dawn's new little sister.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Dawn's Birth

I was forty-two weeks pregnant, and had tried every trick in the book to get the baby to come, but I’d had absolutely no sign of imminent birth. The midwives told me I’d need to have an induction. I was extremely unhappy about this, as I had read about the cascade of interventions and was desperate to have as natural a birth as possible.
I called my midwife, and at her suggestion went to the hospital to discuss my feelings. I asked if they could somehow monitor the baby and me for safety, but let me go longer, and she told me that was not an option.
So I went back to the hospital at 10:00pm and had the prostin gel pessary. My husband didn’t stay long, as it usually takes many hours for the gel to take effect, and I went to bed. However, after about an hour the contractions had become strong enough that I couldn’t sleep, so I was moved to a labour-room and my husband was called in, along with my birthing-partner, Grace.
At first I was excited and confident, breathing through each contraction, rocking for a bit on the birthing ball, and privately congratulating myself for managing labour so expertly.
Before long though, the contractions became very intense and the techniques I’d been trying were clearly not going to work any more, so I lay down on the bed on my side and began asking for some pain-relief.
This was a particularly busy night at the hospital, with most of the midwives occupied by emergency caesareans, so the remaining midwives’ attention was spread very thin. Having asked for a tens machine, I had a long and painful wait until one came. Alastair sat with me and tried to be encouraging while Grace disappeared to muster some strength for the time ahead.
I had no joy with the tens machine – maybe because I didn’t really believe it would work, maybe because the student-midwife who applied it had not been certain how to attach it to me or how to use it, or maybe because it was simply too late in the labour.
None of the midwives believed that my labour was progressing. At no time was I offered an internal examination, and I was not confident enough to ask for one. Around 3:00am I found that making a sort of deep, abdominal groan helped a lot with the pain – it was like an internal massage. A stern midwife came to see why I was making so much noise, and told me that I would ‘have at least another twelve hours of this,’ and that it would get much worse. That same midwife suspected gestational diabetes, from the sweet smell of my breath, and I didn’t dare admit to her that my breath actually smelt of the orange-juice that Alastair and Grace had smuggled to me because I was so exhausted.
At some point the midwives decided it would be a good idea to speed things up a bit, so they asked it I would like them to break my waters. I was in so much pain that I no longer cared what they did, as long as it got the baby out quicker, so I agreed to that.
Several times Grace asked if I could have gas and air, but because the midwives were so overstretched, it took hours to arrive. By the time it did, I must have been arriving at the transition stage. This was not the ideal time to learn a new technique, so I don’t think I was breathing deeply enough, and the only effect of the gas and air was a great deal of vomiting, during which Grace stalwartly passed kidney-bowls back and forth and comforted me while Alastair retreated in horror.
I remember confessing with shame that I thought I may have soiled the bed. The midwives lived up to their fantastic reputation though, and kept everything clean without so much as blinking.
After this, I became adamant that I couldn’t go any further without drugs, regardless of my previous intentions. It was now 8:00am, and the night-shift midwives went home. The day-shift midwife arrived, examined me to see what she was dealing with, and swiftly informed me that I was having a baby. Now.
My memory of this time is very hazy. I know that, at some point they became concerned because of the baby’s dropping heart-rate, and some meconium in the waters, so the midwives were keen to get the baby out quickly. A doctor was called in to help. I was on my back with my legs in stirrups.
I commented that I was scared of tearing, which the midwife picked up on, and amazingly I managed to find the clarity of mind and assertiveness to say loudly, ‘but I don’t want to be cut!’
With a bit of tugging, Dawn came out, facing backwards, at 8:23am. The midwife handed her to me to tell the sex, and I wasn’t sure! ‘Is it a girl?’ I asked, uncertainly, and the midwife confirmed I was right.
Alastair cut the cord, which delighted him. I held Dawn at my breast and attempted to breastfeed, which wasn’t very successful, mostly because she was so sleepy. But she stayed there inside my nighty with a blanket over us and a hat on. I delivered the placenta without an injection, after only two more contractions. After the pain of the birth, this felt surprisingly warm and soft and soothing. Then I had to have my tears stitched up, which took a long time and did hurt, but I was told I could use the gas and air, and this time I made it work for me!
Finally Dawn was taken to be cleaned and weighed and so on, and I had some tea and toast before going back to the ward.
An afterthought - I have since found out that they can monitor you and the baby as an outpatient for as long as you wish to go. They can't make you do anything, and loads of people have 10 month babies safely.

Plums, Plums, Plums

On Saturday night I stayed at an old friend's house about 20 minutes drive away, in a beautiful corner of the Sussex countryside. She has a proper good old fashioned cottage garden, with breathtaking views of fields, hills, and a small pond - no houses, no roads, no people. And, despite both my friend and her partner having full-time, very demanding jobs, they have managed to get a huge harvest from their garden, and found time to use the produce, working hard in the kitchen to find ways of preserving the fruit and veg.

The night I stayed, I was served a bowl of heavenly fruit pie - it had plums and rhubarb and something else which I forget from my friend's garden, and apples from her neighbour's garden. She then casually mentioned plum leather. 'What's that?' I asked. I then got to try some - fantastic! I was a huge fan of Fruit Winders, and had believed that giving up refined sugar meant saying a sad goodbye to them, but apparently not!

On Sunday, Dawn and Minnie came home from a morning of church and visiting, with their grandparents, each clutching a 2lb bag of plums which they had picked from someone's garden (with permission)! This, I thought, was fate saying to me, 'Fine, you admire that cottage garden? You want to be a homesteader? You like plum leather? Here you go, do something with it!' So we ate a couple of the plums, then I got straight into making a plum pie. And a fine plum pie it was too.

Finally, next day, after much internet research and discussion with friends, I managed to make the fruit roll-ups you see above. Here's how I did it:

I took the stones out and stewed down 2lb of plums with about 1/4 cup of water (though less would have done, they were very juicy. After about 20 minutes of stewing, I put them in the blender and pureed. Next I added 1/4 cup of agave nectar (normal sugar will do, but I'm avoiding the refined stuff) until I thought it tasted sweet enough. How much you need depends on the fruit and your taste. Then I lined two baking trays with baking paper and poured in the gloop, spreading it out with a spatula.
It has to dry, rather than cook, and this could be done in any hot place (covered by a muslin or something I should think, because of flies) but as our weather has turned decidedly wintry, I put them in the oven on the lowest setting (about 70 or 80C) for four hours. I then left them to cool and dry more overnight. In the evening they wouldn't come off the paper without water and difficulty, but by the morning they were peeling beautifully, so I cut them into strips, rolled them up, and enjoyed. My daughter loves them too!

Monday, 5 September 2011

The (not so) new babies

The NCT Bumps and Babies group that I volunteer at has a scrapbook for birth stories. I sat down yesterday to write mine out, but since it has been longer than three years since I had a baby, and six years since I had my first, I found that I've forgotten so much! I'm glad I've got it all down now, before any more gets lost. I'll post the two stories here in due course, but with one warning - if any pregnant women read the first story, they should go straight on and read the second as soon as possible, as an antidote.