Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Ten on Tuesday: Even Buzz Lightyear

1. I reckon I need to rename my children 'Cakeboy' and 'Cakebaby' this week...


2. Love this...

3. I'm considering dying my hair auburn, possibly as a consequence.

4. Wow wow wow. This is an amazing letter from a mum to her son.... 
"I roll all your shirts and stack them, one upon the other, like all the years, and know that this is just the beginning of the leavings. I bite my lip hard and try to be brave, like the day you were born. How could my mothering take so many u-turns and still get here so fast?
I remember when you were small enough to hold in my arms, warm against me, this sun bathed stone, us engraved into rock here. I hadn’t known how fast the wings would come and that you would fly into the dark, into the sun, and so soon. That when you became a man, I’d feel so empty – and so very fulfilled". 
Ann Voskamp

5. Westboy fell asleep at the table yesterday lunchtime, so I took the opportunity to cut his hair.  He totally freaks out at haircuts, so won't let a proper hairdresser near him. It feels like such a betrayal of trust to cut someone's hair while they're asleep though. I'm convinced it's the kind of thing that will give him 'issues' in the future. And I'm really really bad at cutting hair, so they're *bad* haircuts. Poor boy. I probably ought to put the money I'm saving on hairdressers into a fund for counselling when he's older.

6. This is brilliant, challenging stuff. It's far easier to blog about cupcakes and family days out than sleep problems, struggling to potty train a reluctant 3 1/2 year old, and speech therapy, but then that subtley slips into image-management rubbish. 
"It’s too easy for us women to get caught up in this comparison business.  I had Alpha Mother – there may be others in our sisterhood channelling their own “superwhatever”.  Let’s say “No More!” to this quiet conspiracy that keeps us all bound and chained.  Let’s resolve to love each other and celebrate our idiosyncrasies together.  What’s that you say? But you’re not a perfect parent? Guess what? Neither am I!"   

7. Yesterday i found myself saying "Even Buzz Lightyear has to sit on the naughty step sometimes".

(Blurry covert photo, ...ssshh!)
8. Blogger stats tells me that someone found this blog by Googling "owl ice cream". I like that.

9. It's good to see the positive aspects of introversion being noticed.

10. Thanks for all the lovely feedback on the Sleep post. I've changed some of the settings, so hopefully my blog will stop randomly deleting people's comments (sorry!).

The other ten-on-tuesday-ers are here: Sarah, Jo, Lucy, Hannah & Britgirl
If you've got a blog and a 'ten', feel free to join in!

Tagged: What's on your iPod?

Sarah at partyofseven tagged me to take part in this.  I have to 'shuffle' and see what the first five tracks are.... (It's not technically 'my' ipod, which is going to be my excuse if anything embarrassing comes up). 

Damien Rice - Cannonball

Counting Crows - Anna Begins

The Reindeer Section - Budapest 
(I couldn't see a video for this, so you get Cartwheels instead)

Denison Witmer - Are You A Dreamer?


Sigur Ros - Track 2
(Oh. Dear. This is what I walked down the aisle to. Track 3 is beautiful, serene, atmospheric gorgeousness. Track 2 is the sound of tapes being chewed up in a murky cave. Bit of a mix-up. Thankfully the marriage is going well, despite it).

Shuffle's obviously having a melancholy reflective day :-(

Friday, 27 January 2012


Instagram photos from the past couple of weeks...

  A sunny morning in Greenbank park

 Dusk at Otterspool Promenade 

 Our paper city (from www.madebyjoel.com)


Walking to nursery school

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Surviving long-term sleep deprivation

I love sleep. Sleep deprivation would not have been my choice at all. However, having had so many broken nights from two insomniac babies, I thought I'd write a bit about how I cope with it. A couple of people have asked me about it recently, and it might be helpful for anyone else going through similar things (Feel free not to read this if that isn't you. Other people's lack of sleep really isn't that interesting, is it?!). I really try not to write Facebook statuses about sleep, so it feels kind of self-indulgent to blog about it.

As a baby, Westboy fought sleep at bedtime & naptimes, took ages to get to sleep, never stayed asleep for more than 30 minutes during the day, woke every hour through the evening and at least every two hours throughout the night until he was almost 2. ...By then I was pregnant with Westbaby, who also wakes repeatedly through the evening and night at age 1, and rarely naps for longer than half an hour stretches during the day. Westboy still takes a long time to settle at bedtime and wakes during the night. It feels like everybody else's children sleep better than this (but it might just be that the parents of children like mine are quietly sobbing somewhere). 

I have notebooks documenting Westboy's sleep at various points, and for a while I was resettling him over 30 times a night. Yep, three-oh. And some of that 'resettling' took an hour or two. I actually have very little memory of this period of my life, which is probably a good thing.  I do remember getting back into bed at 6.55am on the day of my PhD graduation, knowing that my alarm would go off at 7am.  I was desperately hoping that noone would ask me what I'd studied for my thesis that day because I could barely remember my own name. I've had times of sitting at toddler groups, eyes glazed, struggling to chat with other mums through a fog of tiredness, and the months I spent working when Westboy was 8-13 months old were really tough.

We tried all kinds of strategies to improve Westboy's sleep. None worked particularly well, and most backfired. For example, introducing a dreamfeed to encourage him to sleep longer at night triggered a new waking time when the feed was due, with no longer stretch after it. Our reluctant attempts at controlled crying were met with several hours of hysterical screaming followed by him vomiting. When he was cleaned-up and eventually fell asleep exhausted he still woke an hour later. 

I felt as though my decisions to breastfeed and to not continue controlled crying disqualified me from complaining about the situation.  While they may have contributed, I actually feel that my boys (especially Westboy) simply don't need much sleep, have unusual sleep patterns, and struggle to relax enough to get to sleep (all very much like their Dad). ....But it's a difficult one to be objective about, so I could be very wrong!
I've decided to write down some of the survival strategies I've found. I hope that this might help other people, and be a reminder to myself.

Change your expectations 
What you think you're dealing with is broken sleep. Actually, probably the bigger issue is feeling that your baby's sleep doesn't match your expectations, or that he doesn't do what other people's babies do.  If you can tackle those expectations and comparisons, and accept that 'normal' covers a vast spectrum of baby behaviours including sleep, then you're well on the way to surviving the lack of sleep. As there's such huge variation between babies in terms of weight, temperament, and when they reach developmental milestones, it's probable that 'normal' sleep varies too. From those infants who sleep from bedtime until breakfast from the early weeks, to the duracell baby with infinite energy and no 'off' switch. (This is assuming that you've ruled out the major things that might affect your baby's sleep, e.g. too hot, too cold, too light, too dark, itchy, teething, ear infections, reflux, -so that it is 'normal' sleep, as far as you know).

(Try to) stop comparing
I found it much harder to cope with Westboy's night-waking than Westbaby's, despite having an older child to look after this time. I reckon that's partly because I have fewer friends with the same age babies to compare with Westbaby. Those comparisons make it many many times more difficult to deal with the sleep deprivation. Accepting that your baby is doing what's normal for him or her makes coping with lack of sleep much less emotionally-charged and complicated.

I'm not suggesting isolating yourself from friends with the same age babies, but I think it is necessary to be aware of the subtle competitions that go on, and protect yourself when that would be unhelpful. Rather than talking to everyone about sleep, find a couple of sympathetic people who 'get it', especially if they've been through it themselves. Repeating and rehearsing how disrupted my sleep had been didn't help me to feel better about it. I had to ask some people not to ask me about sleep, so that I didn't have to answer questions about it.

It will pass. Find ways to stay sane until it does.
1. Don't count or time night wakings. I have notebooks full of Westboy's waking times as a baby. They're fascinating to look at now, and the occasional night keeping a note of wakings is useful to track any progress. However, it's a habit that probably only reinforced how bad the situation was and how little sleep I was getting.

2. Keep your baby as near as possible. We put Westboy in his own room when he outgrew his moses basket, which meant properly getting up (and waking up) to settle him during the night. With Westbaby, we created space for the cot in our room. It's a squash, but it's so much better. We've also had times of co-sleeping and have found that helped at some stages too (there's advice on safe co-sleeping here).

3. Having an iPhone has made a massive difference to the experience of being awake in the night with Westbaby. I've done online supermarket shops, chatted on Facebook to my brother in Australia, researched all kinds of things from coats to reflux, emailed friends, read blogs, looked at photos from all over the world on Instagram, and written endless lists of what I'll do during the daytime.

4. Take naps if you get the chance to (less easy when you have older children jumping on your head). I found it easier to think of the night as a series of 1-2 hour naps than a repeatedly interrupted 8-hour stretch.

5. Look after your skin, drink plenty of water, and invest in good make-up so that you don't feel shocked at how tired you look every time you pass a mirror. For me, mascara, lip gloss, concealer and painted toenails make a massive difference to how I feel I'm coping. And the occasional disbelieving compliment that I still look human on very broken sleep goes a long long way. (I should probably add 'exercise', but I always felt that I needed to conserve every bit of energy I had, so it'd be hypocritical. Walks around the park were about as much as I could manage).

6. Find books that encourage you. Not necessarily books about sleep, but ones that you find supportive and affirming (My favourites are: 'What Mother's Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing' by Naomi Stadlen, 'Barefoot in the Kitchen' by Alie Stibbe, 'The No-Cry Sleep Solution' by Elizabeth Pantley, 'Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches' by Rachael Jankovic, and the Dr Sears 'Baby Book' and website).

7. Work as a team with your husband, and look after him so that he can support you (that probably means having sex even when you're way too tired).

8. Take lots of photos & write little notes down of stuff your baby does when you get a chance. When you're out of the fog you'll wish you could remember it. I tried to intentionally enjoy cuddling my babies in the night, as precious moments that I wouldn't have experienced if they'd slept through, rather than wishing the time away.

9. It can seriously affect your mood and emotions, and can look lots like clinical depression. This radio 4 interview with author Helen Walsh and Professor Jim Horne discusses the possible effects of sleep deprivation on mental health. If you feel yourself slipping in that direction, seek help. 

10. Caffeine. Sugar. Cake. More caffeine.

11. Know that you can survive it & it will get easier. One day. I'm still not great at coping with a really bad night, but it no longer scares me like it used to, because I've proven to myself that I can get through it.

12. Every parent will struggle with *something*. Whether it's when their child is a baby, toddler, preschooler, schoolage, teenager..... (It sounds a mean, but is sometimes a helpful perspective in emotional emergencies when someone's particularly smug about how well their baby sleeps).

13. Nod and smile at unwanted advice. Including this lot, if necessary.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Ten on Tuesday: Dragons & Popcorn

1. I'm starting writing my ten on Saturday this week, rather than waiting until Tuesday night and ending up with a late late night. I've been thinking about how to not just manage my time, but also my energy. I start Monday with patience and enthusiasm, and get to Friday with an over-reliance on caffeine & Beebies. 

2. I enjoyed the Chinese New Year parade in the city centre *SO* much. There are all these amazing things going on in this city, and I often think I should go to them but then don't, so it was great to be there. We managed to stand in just the right spot at just the right time to see dragons and firecrackers, which was fantastic. It reminded me of one of my favourite children's books: "Wow, City!" by Robert Neubecker, which has beautiful illustrations about a little girl's trip to New York with her Daddy.

3. Our favourite emergency pudding at the moment is popcorn with cinnamon sugar. Tom's warned me not to make it too often though, as it'll stop being a treat. As if there's such a thing as too much popcorn?!

4. Westbaby loves helping me with housework. Occasionally he is actually helpful, but mostly it's more of the clean-laundry-in-the-bath scenario. This week it was putting the dustpan & brush in the washing machine.

5. The boys have a new favourite game: carrying all the saucepans & lids to the opposite side of the kitchen and 'arranging' them. Westbaby is the instigator, his older brother assists. I think it may be an art installation (which Mummy keeps disrupting by tidying away...)

6. I made this heart banner. I think I've been reading too many American blogs and have started to think that decorating for Valentines day is normal here too... 

7. I feel like I've been doing a crash-course in speech therapy, while waiting for Westboy's referral to materialise. Urgh. It's very interesting, but I'd really rather not have to know about these things.

8. Laura Marling playing in my car this week. I especially like the times when I start the engine & hear birdsong.

9. I find going to our local library pretty stressful. It has automatic doors that open onto a busy road, and my boys seem to shoot off in opposite directions and start pulling books off the shelves as soon as we're there. As a result, our trips to the library tend to be very quick and purposeful, and my book selection is impulsive and often pretty random. This time we seem to have done well though. The favourite, which is being requested repeatedly, is "The Troll" by Julia Donaldson.

10. These Tupler technique exercises are amazing, I lost 3 inches from my waist in the first 3 weeks of doing them, but... erm... they only work if you actually do them. I injured my ribs in mid-December, but think I've recovered enough to start again. So this is a bit of blog-accountability to get me motivated.

The other ten-on-tuesday-ers are here: Sarah, Jo, Lucy, Hannah & Britgirl.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Ten on Tuesday

1. Westbaby keeps rearranging my piles of clean folded (but not yet put away) laundry. Usually into the dirty washing basket or the bath.

2. The combination of big changes to our routine (including Westboy stopping naps), coupled with important decisions has got me feeling anxious & overwhelmed.  This was a good reminder that I don't know what I'm doing, but that's ok, really. 

3. The loss of the nap also means that I have to be particularly 'high energy' and bouncy (which I so am not) in the afternoons to keep a whining Westboy awake until teatime. 

4. We're enjoying playing with this paper city from the fantastic Made by Joel blog.  I'm looking forward to making some toys from his new book too. 

5. I don't think I've ever bought slippers before. I'm much happier either being barefoot or wearing cosy socks around the house. (I knitted some slippers once, but that's kind of different). I found these for £3 in Asda though, & like them lots.

6. We visited Otterspool prom (surely one of the coldest places on earth?) with Heather and Dexter-dog. That cafe is so good... hot chocolate AND diggers??? Westboy feels obliged to rearrange the table numbers and takes ice cream orders off other customers however, which doesn't make it a very relaxing place to go. 

7. I had a mini-spending-splurge on CDs with Christmas money, so we now have Florence & the Machine, Snow Patrol, and Adele in the car (well, not literally).

8. Nobody say "isn't it nice that none of us are sick at the moment". Oops. Within hours of those words being spoken, Westbaby had vomited :(

9. I'm rediscovering fruit toast. It kept me going through the first year of Westboy's life.

10. I love it when people give me bits of ribbon. These were from my lovely sister & wonderful parents-in-law. I might've mentioned before (perhaps?!), I have an etsy shop

Linking up with Sarah, Jo, Lucy & Hannah.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Banana bread

Well, more of a loaf-shaped cake really.

Whenever bananas go past their best, I peel them and freeze them in a freezer bag.  They turn to mush as they defrost, so are perfect for lazy banana bread.  

I used to follow the recipe in 'How to be a Domestic Goddess', but this one's easier, and doesn't rely on having eggs in the house.  It's mostly from this vegan recipe book (I'm currently dairy-free & wanted some recipes that didn't demand ingredients that I can't eat), with Nigella's alcohol-soaked-sultanas added. 

It's more fudgy & substantial than other banana breads I've made, which is good. And if it hangs around too long you could always spread some butter on it and pretend it really is bread.

100g sultanas
75ml rum (or other liquid. I used Stones Green Ginger wine once, and fruit juice would work too)
1 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup oil
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup mashed banana (about 2 bananas)
1/3 cup milk (I use oat milk)

Put the sultanas and rum in a saucepan, heat until the liquid bubbles, then turn off the heat and leave to soak for at least ten minutes.
Preheat the oven to 175c/350f.  Grease & line a loaf pan.
Combine the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda & salt.
Measure the oil, brown sugar, bananas and milk into a jug and mix using a handheld stick blender (or just mash the banana first and mix it all together).
Mix the dry and wet ingredients together until just combined, then mix in the sultanas.
Spread the mixture in the loaf pan, and bake for 45 minutes, until the top is golden and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Ten on Tuesday

Back from Christmas, New Year and a lovely break in Devon, with a Ten on Tuesday...

1. We now have a lovely floor in our kitchen and hallway.  The hall floor was taken up over 3 years ago, and the kitchen was an attractive mix of bare concrete and black polythene for a couple of months. It's amazing what you get used to, and it still takes me by surprise when I catch sight of gleaming laminate each morning. The process of getting it fitted was mildly traumatic, involving keeping two small children away from the house from 9am till 6pm on a drizzly December Monday on 3 hours sleep with an injured ribcage.  Thankfully the results were worth it.

2. I had planned to make stained-glass-window biscuits for the lovely staff at Westboy's nursery (I have no idea what the etiquette is for Christmas presents for nursery school staff.  Any ideas anyone??). I set off to buy the ingredients for the biscuits, and discovered that boiled sweets are almost impossible to find. Even with suggestions from Facebook friends I drew a blank. I ended up using Asda's 'Rosey Apples', which I'd bought just-in-case I couldn't find anything better.  Fortunately they worked brilliantly, even giving an unintentionally Christmassy red and green colour scheme to the biscuits.  (The original plan had been to involve Westboy in the baking of the biscuits, but it ended up being a tokenistic sprinkling of sweets, as we were under time pressure and my perfectionist tendencies kicked-in. Sorry!)

3. My other Christmas present creation was biscotti. Mostly Almond & Cinnamon flavour, but a couple of batches of Ginger, and one Ginger & Dark Chocolate. MMmmmm. I kept some for myself too. I really hope that noone has broken any teeth on them though. That would not be such a good Christmas present.

4. Westboy took part in two nativity plays: one as a shepherd, one as Joseph (the benefits of a small church). It was heart-meltingly cute to see him up on a stage, with an element of breath-holding-danger, because he might've done pretty much anything while up there (thankfully he didn't).

5. Westboy took up birdwatching while we were staying with Granny & Gramps.  He was really hoping to see a woodpecker or an owl, apparently.

6. We didn't see any woodpeckers or owls, but saw some stunning beaches and rainbows while we were down there.

7. Westbaby had his first birthday while we were in Devon. It's been a wonderful year, but I'm really glad it's over. Reflux, recurrent mastitis, chicken pox, wisdom teeth removals, and a plethora of coughs, colds & tummy bugs make it one that I'd rather not repeat.

8. Both boys are turning into climbers. It's one of those sights that provokes both terror and pride. 

9. I really like this article, reminding me to savour the best moments of being a mum rather than expecting to 'enjoy every minute' of it, and this article on the importance of boring unglamorous callings (I think being a mum qualifies as that!). (Yep, I'm blatently just using my blog as a dumping ground to bookmark articles that I'd like to be able to find at a later date...).

10. Today I've been filling out my tax return while listening to this.

Linking up with Sarah, Jo, Lucy & Hannah.