19 June 2015

Food stuff : Toddlers, Bananas and Cakes

It's Friday! So why not write a post all about bananas? And cakes? Surely that's what's on everyone's minds, no?

I love the idea of bananas. They're fruit, right, so they're healthy (yes, yes, naturally occurring sugars. Whatever). They're convenient, they're self-contained, they're filling. The taste- well, I can take it or leave it, personally, but all toddlers love them, yes?


So here's how things go with bananas in our house:

1 : Offer toddler a banana broken into perfect toddler-bite-sized pieces

"No. The pieces are too small. I want the whole one!"

Mama, ever self-sacrificing, eats offending banana pieces, and...

2 : Offers toddler whole banana

"NO! That's too big! I can't fit it in my mouth!"

3 : Achieve some kind of elusive sweet-spot of banana-piece-size...

NO! That banana is DIRTY!

Give up on whole idea of toddler eating the banana and provide a bag of yoghurt raisins instead.

Don't bother attempting to provide banana again for fear of incurring toddler wrath and so end up with a bowl of spotty, squidgy, overripe bananas (you know, they go from green to mush in a day) that no human being would really want to consume, so...

4 : Make banana bread

Hurrah! Something that involves using overripe bananas but somehow does not taste of bananas. Still consider it healthy as despite the butter and sugar, it still has about five bananas in it. My favourite recipe (minus the nuts for nut-hating Husband) is Felicity Cloake's recipe.

(Mostly this has worked fine for me, other than the day it spewed like a volcano in the oven and, of course, today, when for the first time it wouldn't turn out onto the cooling rack so I now have a, erm, two-part banana bread. Pants.)

Then realise I actually had eight- yes, eight- inedible bananas, which leaves three in the bowl, so feel forced, to avoid food wastage, to make...

5 : Banana and white chocolate chip muffins

Still healthy, surely? Despite the sugar, butter, whole milk and my sneaky addition of white chocolate chunks. The recipe I use seems to have disappeared online, so, briefly:

: 125g butter or margarine
: 150g caster sugar (I've used half this with overripe bananas as it's very sweet)
: 1 egg, beaten
: 2-3 overripe bananas
: 190g self-raising flour
: 60ml milk
: a scattering of white chocolate chips

: Heat oven to 190c
: Melt sugar and butter together. Mash bananas and stir in.
: Add the egg, flour and milk and fold together.
: Fill 12 muffin cases in a muffin pan and bake for 15-20 minutes.

(bonus step 6 : Eat banana bread and banana muffins for lunch since I've spent so long making them I didn't get to the supermarket and can't be bothered to even make a cheese sandwich. Hurrah again!)

Bananas. One day I'll learn and stop buying the ruddy things.

04 June 2015

The Good, Bad and Ugly Stuff : May


This is going to be a tough one. Whilst May has definitely had it's highlights- friends and family, as fabulously always- it has also been utterly pants at times, dogged as I have been by...

The Bad

1 : Sciatica

Much like my attitude to labour before I actually experienced it, I had no idea sciatica could be so freaking painful. To anybody who might once have told me they suffered from it and I did a concerned oh-dear-how-awful face before changing the conversation (I'm not sure I was ever that heartless, mind), I am truly sorry. Managing a bad back, a horribly painful right leg, a sometimes tempestuous toddler and a breastfeeding (read: no strong painkillers for you, mama) baby who of course does not come close to sleeping through the night has been bloomin' hard, and I am eternally grateful for the support and assistance of my family and friends. Without whom I would have cried a lot more and eaten far more chocolate to survive. 

Still, it's starting to improve, which after two GP visits and having been massaged, acupunctured, acupressured, cupped and electrocuted (well, sort of) you'd hope so. Let's hope this doesn't feature next month. 

So, there. That's the Bad bit done, and we'll just shove that as number one on the list and call a spade a spade. Moving on. 

The Good

2 : Butterscotch Tart

Well, praise be! Having searched for a recipe pretty much since I left primary school (just a few years back), I finally stumbled across one courtesy of a friend of Facebook. And my mum did the hard bit and made it. Apart from a small texture issue (and the helpful instruction to bake the pastry 'bland' instead of blind, ha) it was SPOT ON and made me extremely happy. Now, mum. Just a wee bit more practise and we are COOKING ON GAS. I wonder how you send a tart from Fife to London by post, though. Research required, I think.

3 : Baby Giggles

Newborn babies are cute, yes, but they don't give a lot back in those first few weeks. Then comes the first sunny smile, like they have never been so pleased to see anyone as much as YOU. It's brilliant. And then, eventually, comes the first giggle, and Baby H managed that on a particularly tough painful day last week, and it was the best medicine. Cub was a particularly giggly baby so I'm hoping Baby H will follow suit- better than any painkiller. Mostly.

4 : Toddler Logic - Part One

Cub is on a roll with speech at the moment. The sentences tumble out, and there is nothing funnier than toddler logic (mostly- see below). Since Cub claims to know the answer to any question, I have been teasing her a little; the square root of nine has so far been 'a little bit spotty' or 'acorn', depending on the day. She has, before, declared herself to be 'a little bit spicy' (I think we have a confusion between hot- temperature- and spicy). Last month she claimed her right foot was called Lisa and her left foot Luther. It's a neverending supply of giggles.... until....

The Ugly

5 : Toddler Logic - Part Two

Ah. The downside. That the seemingly sensible logic of 'if you've done a poo then we should change the nappy' completely fails and leads to giganormous tantrums; that we can't eat dirty bananas (even if it's just a mark on the outside) and we certainly can't eat a piece of banana that is too small or too big (you try finding that elusive sweet spot in the middle). That one moment she loves Cheerios; three seconds later she doesn't. I know she's not alone here. I hope it passes soon, but I've a sneaking suspicion we've a way to go yet...

07 May 2015

The Good, Bad and Ugly stuff : April

So. I've decided to add another category of stuff to the blog. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (GBU) Stuff will be a monthly post about all the things from the previous month that are particularly noteworthy- the highlights and lowlights, if you like. I'm aiming mostly for the good, but allowing myself an occasional bad and/or ugly too. (I'm defining ugly as something which is both good and bad; a necessary evil. Why? Because I can.)

The Good...


Oh, spring. At last the days are longer and the nights lighter (I'd love to be enthusiastic about light mornings but I have children who think it's fair game to wake up with the sun. Bah.). And at last, some beautiful blue skies and warmer temperatures. So we unleashed the barbie and it was epic*, even more so as we shared it with friends we don't get to see often enough.

*apart from the bit where I was left alone with it for five minutes to 'watch the sausages' and they briefly caught fire. I DIDN'T TOUCH ANYTHING.

2 : A hundred pictures of cherry blossom

We have inherited a lovely garden and, in the year we've lived here, somehow we haven't destroyed it. I say 'we': this is entirely down to the hard work of Husband and absolutely no thanks to me. He maintains the garden, I document it (aka take photos). And let's be honest, who doesn't need hundreds of pictures of cherry blossom? You never know when you might need them.

(True story, though: I looked out of my front window one morning to the alarming sight of a unfamiliar toddler in a pushchair apparently abandoned on our drive. On opening the front door I discovered his mum in our front garden, standing in the flowerbed, taking photos of our cherry tree with her mobile phone. When she asked me if this was okay, I replied brightly that it was and retreated inside.

Erm, no. Not really. Please leave now, slightly crazy lady.)

3 : Toffee Fudge and Belgian Chocolate Hot Cross Buns

Thanks again, Marks and Spencers, for coming up with another irresistible treat that can singlehandedly set my healthy eating regime back a few thousand calories. These were a revelation for someone dried-fruit-phobic who never gets to eat these seasonal goodies. They were LUSH. Frankly the thought that I have to wait another whole year before tasting them again makes me want to cry. (Anticipating this I did 'buy some for the freezer'. They didn't remain frozen for very long.)

The Bad...

4 : Sciatica

Well, that's a self-diagnosis. Basically a really sore right leg which seizes up if I sit down for too long, and occasionally hurts like, erm, something really hurty if I do too much lifting/bending/crouching. Which is not very easy to avoid with a toddler and a baby. Ouch. Oouuuuch.

The Ugly...

5 : The dentist

I finally managed to get to the dentist to deal with a pesky fallen-out filling and a weird pregnancy-related lump on my gum which made me very shy about smiling ('You've got some food in your teeth! No? It's what? Oh, sorry'). Very uncomfortable, slightly painful, but at least it's done and I can smile unselfconsciously again. And good old Baby H managed to sleep through the whole thing. I'm slightly concerned that she seemed to find the noise of the drill comforting.

So what were your good, bad and uglies for April?

03 May 2015

Mum stuff : The Five Stages of Dressing a Toddler

Cub, demonstrating an outdoor version of
 'move away back over there' 

Inspired by this very funny post, these are my five stages of dressing Cub as according to Cub (or so I imagine, and since her capacity for non-stop commentary is rapidly increasing, my imagination doesn't need to be that good). I could make this list about 20 stages long but that would be against the principles of the blog, so here's a summary. 

(Kudos to Husband, who attempts the first three stages of this precipitous task almost every morning before he goes to work, occasionally in place of eating his breakfast.)

1 : Get dressed? Why on earth would I want to do that?! I've got stuff to do. Like washing my hands with 'soup' eight times and putting your socks on my giant Ikea toy dog's feet. Be away with your 'getting dressed'. Turn the tap off, you say? Sorry, I can't hear you. 

2 : I do NOT want the elephant nappies, thanks. Only the birdie ones. We don't have any? Well, that's your problem. And while we're at it, I don't like trousers, and I see no problem with wearing socks and tights at the same time. Don't foist your meaningless dressing conventions upon me. I'm running away from you now, and just to be sure you understand that, I will do it whilst shouting 'I'm running away from you!'

3 : Oh, all right. But only because you said I can watch five episodes of Peppa Pig after breakfast. And don't think for a moment that I'll forget that's what you promised. And don't even try to fob me off with that Noddy rubbish. 

4 : I can put my shoes on all by myself, thanks mum. And yes, I can do the zip on this ridiculous thick winter coat that you've insisted I wear for the freezing conditions outside (and which, for the record, I am not happy about- the lightweight cardigan would have sufficed). I'm perfectly capable. Your help is not required. Move away back over there.*

5 : For the love of God, mother, HELP ME. Do you really expect me to be able to do my shoes up by myself? And a ZIP?! I'm two, for goodness' sake, TWO. I'm going to need psychotherapy later in life to deal with your unreasonable expectations. Well, it's too late now. The damage is done. Now think about what you've done whilst I sit here in the hallway crying inconsolably. 

*she actually says this last bit, whilst pointing insistently to the other side of the room/ house/ universe. 

You Baby Me Mummy

24 April 2015

Music stuff : New tunes


So the blogging thing, it turns out, doesn't work so well unless you actually blog. Which I have not been doing. You might have noticed, except you probably haven't because I probably don't have any readers, which is what happens when you are an erratic a blogger as me.

I could blame the busy-ness that comes from managing two children and the rest of life's stuff-that-needs-doing, but that would be wrong. The fact is I just seem to have blogger's block; I just don't feel I have much of interest to write. Now maybe that's because I'm trying to blog about too many things (and therefore manage to write about none of them), or maybe because I am scared of boring some readers with constant mum stuff, despite that topic being foremost on my mind, most of the time.

I think I am having a blog identity crisis.

So whilst I ponder on where to go with this, I'll share some new tunes. I sometimes forget just how good listening to music can make me feel, especially through a GIANT pair of headphones that drown out all other sounds (you know, toddler whining, baby crying- I'm joking, of course. It's a strictly when-children-are-asleep luxury). So here goes.

1 : Lord Huron - Louisa

I think I spent most of 2011 listening to the first few songs released by these guys (We Went Wild, Mighty, The Stranger) but by the time the first album arrived in 2012 I'd lost a bit of interest. This is from their second album, just released. They know how to do lovely. Listen on Youtube

2 : Gaz Coombes - Detroit

Always loved Supergrass, right from the beginning, and Gaz Coombes's new album is fab. Great video, too, if you're a sucker for gorgeous landscapes like me. Watch on Youtube

3 : Belle and Sebastian - The Party Line

...whereas I was a late starter with B&S. I love that they can do a bit of disco (can I call this disco? No? Well I just did.). Watch on Youtube

4 : Jenny Lewis - Just One Of The Guys

Although I wouldn't call myself a fan, Jenny Lewis and Rilo Kiley, her band, have been responsible for a few favourite tracks. Very late noticing this one from last year, but there's nothing new there. Watch on Youtube

5 : Young Fathers - Nest

Apparently they won the Mercury Music Prize last year. I'm not jumping on any bandwagon, honest, mostly because I didn't know there was one.  I just like this. Listen on Youtube

22 March 2015

Book stuff : Five books I've read in 2015 (so far)

... aka, What I Do When Other People Sleep (Other Than Breastfeeding, That Is).

Well, there was me thinking that I'd have no time for reading with a newborn (now 5 week old) baby.


What a fool.

I'd clearly forgotten all those wonderful hours between sunset and sunrise when lazy people lie in their beds and sleep. Sleep! Who needs it? Surely a better way to while away those very same hours- other than by feeding a CONSTANTLY hungry baby of course- is browsing Facebook hang on playing solo games of Words with Friends I mean browsing shops online for things I can't afford and don't need no, wait, what was it?

Ah, yes. Reading.

So, here are five of the books I've managed to get through in those wee small hours in the last five weeks. There's nothing revolutionary; mostly they are culled from everyone else's best of 2014 lists.

That's me, always (at least) a year behind...

1 : Us - David Nicholls

I liked One Day, I didn't much like Starter for Ten (though to be fair I didn't actually finish it). But I really enjoyed Us. It's a book about parenting and how hard it is to get it right, and about a marriage breaking up; and yet despite the sombre themes it still manages to be funny. The image of the main character supergluing his son's Lego sets together because he got so irritated that his son refused to build them properly sticks in my head as something both hilarious and tragic (and frightening- do I see a bit of me in there?!)

2 : The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce

Somehow missed this when everyone else read it, but it's a lovely book. Another one about the perils of being a parent* it's a meandering, surprising, life-affirming sort of book, gentle and engaging. Really enjoyed it.

*Once upon a time I found that I accidentally read too many books about post-apocalyptic dystopian worlds filled with zombies/vampires/nasty people. Now I accidentally read books about failed parenting and estranged children. Oh, pants.

3 : The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton

Set in Amsterdam in the 17th century, I wasn't sure about this in the first couple of chapters; it seemed gloomy and a little slow. But it ended up being gripping and involving and very memorable. Still bloody gloomy, mind. And with a small caution for anyone about to embark on childbirth.

4 : The Bone Clocks - David Mitchell

I loved Cloud Atlas, and thoroughly enjoyed Number9dream and Ghostwritten. The Bone Clocks doesn't disappoint, but I'm not sure it quite matches my love of those novels. The characters are fabulous, the individual, apparently unrelated stories absorbing, but the sci-fi/ fantasy element didn't quite do it for me this time. I'd still rather read an average David Mitchell book than anyone else's best attempt though.

5 : Bryant & May and the Invisible Code - Christopher Fowler 

I'm a sucker for any books set in cities I love (hello, Ian Rankin), and particularly those that tap into the history and stories behind the place. The Bryant & May series, set in London, do exactly that. I get frustrated at the descriptions and backstories of the main characters being repeated in every single *yawn* book (I assume for the benefit of anyone reading them as one-offs), but the mysteries they investigate are always gripping. They begin with a crime that seems to defy any earthly explanation, then slowly unravel into something complex and clever but usually very much earthbound. (Ben Aaronovitch is another favourite in a similar- but definitely not entirely earthbound- vein, and I have just finished and enjoyed Foxglove Summer, the fifth in his Rivers of London series. It's not actually set in London, though...)

I've also read Jenny Offill's Dept of Speculation (interesting but ultimately not my cup of tea) and Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling's The Silkworm (very enjoyable). And I'm embarrassed to say I'm in the middle of one or two others that for various reasons I have temporarily abandoned. But five books on my list to read next are:

1 : H is for Hawk - Helen Macdonald

2 : The Colour of Magic - Terry Pratchett
(and the rest of the Discworld books- can't quite believe I only ever read Mort- and Good Omens, if that counts- and somehow never got round to the rest. Sorry, TP, and RIP)

3 : Station Eleven - Emily St John Mandel

4 : Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery - Henry Marsh

5 : The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters

Any other recommendations to add to the list?

27 February 2015

Mum stuff : How to have a newborn baby

NOTE: I first drafted this post way back in January, updated it in February at 40 weeks pregnant- and then faffed some more about actually publishing it. Was it a bit personal? A bit serious? Well, yes, a little bit- for me anyway. And so it languished in the not-very-good/ not-ready-to-publish folder (don't worry, it had plenty of company) until now. 

Now it has a different meaning, because now I'm on the other side, sitting here with a two-week-old baby. 

Things are a little calmer now but the first few days were a bit of a shock. I think we had forgotten what life with a teeny newborn is like: constant feeding (I've never been so keen to get off the sofa) and very little sleep. We may possibly have (unfairly) expected baby H to slip comfortably into our routine, and for breastfeeding to come naturally and easily, it being the second time round (aha! But it is only baby H's first time, as Husband reminds me).

So I read the post below back now and it's as though a different person wrote it. Some of it makes me smile, some of it I am trying hard to remember. A few things seems less relevant second time round; people don't tend to give second time mums much advice (because we know it all, right?) and with labour being much more straightforward this time the physical recovery was much quicker. But M&S mini flapjacks have been just as essential.

At 40 weeks pregnant- oh yes, this could happen at any time- and the size of a small house, you might predict that I am a raging hormonal torrent of emotions at the moment.

These go from excitement (we're having a baby!) via nervous anticipation (we're having a BABY?!) to sheer terror (but... wait... I have to get that baby OUT!!). Thoughts range from practical preparation (working out where the baby's going to sleep, washing clothes, buying nappies- all done, I might add) to fairly illogical preparation, which is why I spent half of today making a hot air balloon hanging mobile for the baby's room- in which she/he won't sleep for another 4-6 months- instead of having a desperately-needed nap. 

And whilst I still can't quite get my head around the fact that this giganormous bump is actually going to become a baby at some point very, very (please) soon, I am desperately trying to cast my mind back to what it's like to have a newborn. 

As I struggle with a very independent, slightly tempestuous toddler, I remember a giggly, easy-to-please, relatively undemanding delicate little bundle who spent a lot of time asleep and the rest of it gazing adoringly at me. 

But I'm pretty sure it either wasn't like that- or didn't feel like that- at the time. There was reflux, projectile poo, plenty of tears (real tears, which is apparently quite unusual for a newborn- I vaguely remember even our lovely midwife using the words 'drama queen' at about 5 days in), and lots and lots and LOTS of feeding, for hours at a time, day and night. That oats are good for milk production is the best excuse I've ever had for singlehandedly emptying whole tubs of M&S mini flapjacks in one afternoon.

It also makes me think of all the advice I was given back then, and what advice I would give to someone now. Actually I'd like to think I wouldn't try and give any- especially if it wasn't asked for- but it's so hard not to want to say, at the very least, it's okay. It will be okay. It's hard, it's exhausting, it's amazing. You'll manage, some days better than others. 

Would I have found that helpful? Probably not.

So here are five things people did say to me, some not very helpful but well-intentioned (and quite possibly true) and some which I will try desperately to remember this time around.

1 : Enjoy it! They're only little once!

Oh god. Enjoy it. Yeah. Sure.

When I've stopped worrying myself sick that I'm slowly destroying this tiny little being- that I have surely mistakenly been put in charge of- with my blistering incompetence, I'll sit down with my cuppa and do that. What fun!

I wanted to enjoy it, I did- I knew she wouldn't stay small for long- but it was also (in my experience) virtually impossible to achieve, what with the lack of sleep, the shock of labour, the physical recovery, the sudden realisation that yes, after nine months of mentally preparing, I actually have a real, proper, baby.

This time round I'm going to try very hard to enjoy my newest little person- who knows if there'll be another? I may not have as much time to enjoy them as I did with my firstborn, but maybe I'll have a greater mental capacity.

2 : It's a phase. It'll pass.

Those are truly magic words, and I still live by them. Even when I don't believe them. Even when the current 'phase', whatever it is, is so mindbendingly awful (it's not really, but let's face it, sometimes it feels that way) that it already feels like it's gone on for half a decade. The not sleeping, the reflux, the teething, the food strikes, the bath strikes (I have often wondered if instead of offering a playful splashabout with a squeaky octopus I might accidentally have threatened to pull Cub's arms out of her sockets, such was the screaming), and my current favourite, the tantrums triggered by putting milk in her cereal/ suggesting she wear a coat outside when it's 2 degrees/ offering to change a pooey nappy/ standing too close to her/ daring to speak.

But they are phases, and they pass. Eventually. Hopefully. Don't they?

3 : Get out every day.

There are things I didn't need telling:

- 'Forget about the housework!' 
No problemo. Not sure I ever really remembered it, TBH.

- 'The ironing can wait!' 
Well yes, it's waited about 6 years so can probably manage a little longer.

- 'Sleep when the baby sleeps!' 
Ah HA HA HA HA. Surely you mean IF the baby sleeps? And that's if you can persuade the baby to sleep anywhere but on you...

Two things that did make an endless-seeming day easier to manage: forcing myself into the shower before Husband went to work, and trying to leave the house every day, even just for a 10 minute walk, even if it involved nearly having a breakdown in the local chemist (damn it, why are people nice to you when they can quite clearly see you are on the edge? No, please don't hold the door open for me! And for the love of God, don't ask me if I'm okay). But I always felt better, less isolated and more connected to the world. Having a baby is wonderful in so many ways, and you are never alone; and yet somehow, sometimes, it can feel incredibly lonely.

4 : Be gentle with yourself.

All right. I get a bit honest and open here, but should anyone ever read this and actually expect to read something helpful instead of flippant/sarcastic comments, this bit is important (in my opinion).

Every woman's experience of birth is different. Instead of feeling a great big rush of love for Cub when she finally arrived, I mostly felt relief. I'm not sure I didn't regard her more with extreme awe than love, and I felt guilty about that. I spent the next few weeks in a haze- exhaustion, joy, shock, worry, discomfort (no need for details here but let's just say prune juice was a saviour).  

It took time to recover, and the only way I managed was by accepting that it would take time, that it was okay to feel how I was feeling, and that we were doing fine. I had fantastic support from Husband and my family and friends, and without it things might have been very different- and I realise it's not that way for everyone (which is why postnatal support is so important, and often seems to go by the wayside). It got easier, I physically recovered, the overwhelming-love-for-Cub thing happened, I still have a few marbles left 23 months later and OH GOOD GRIEF. I'm doing it all over again. Whose idea was this anyway?

5 : Advice is just that. Take it or leave it.

If you like the sound of it, take it. If you'd rather boil your own head than follow it, leave it. Most people give advice because they want to help; because they've been where you are and want to offer a solution that worked for them. It might not work for you but hey, you never know and if you're desperate enough you'll try anything. And they mean well. Mostly*.

*Apart from the smug, know-it-all types who miraculously sailed through all of this without a single problem. Console yourself with the fact that they're probably pretending. Or they've forgotten. Or they're just lying. And move on. 

And advice for those with toddlers? Someone shared this blog post with me a few weeks back, and it couldn't have been better timed. It's all going to be fine.