Thursday, 31 October 2013

Feeding tops- a half-assed tutorial

This week has been terrible. I don't know why, but just terrible. Walking has become a monsterous challenge as Kick's head grinds and pushes on my pelvic floor (and it feels exactly as pleasant as it sounds) and my 'third trimester tiredness' I thought I was experiencing before now makes me laugh with derision. I had a doctor's appointment on Tuesday* and when my lovely doc asked me how I was, I did that trembly lip thing as I tried to be stoic about how things were, y'know, fine except for the pain and the swollen claw hands and the frequent night time waking and accompanying exhaustion and she was very sympathetic and told me it was, indeed, crap and it'd be over soon. Sadly she is too ethical to say 'we'll just induce you at 37 weeks and it'll all be over' and instead politely and with a great deal of care and concern told me to (wo)man up. I'm trying to drag myself out of this week's funk by focusing on the positives and staying busy-ish, especially as I keep reminding myself that I am SO lucky to be in this position.

So this week I made feeding tops to take to the hospital and for the first few weeks, as a couple of people have told me their biggest regret was not having enough. The thing with these tops is that they are super expensive in the shops for what is essentially a super cheap camisole, and given that I've mentioned my overwhelming cheapness and over-confidence in my own abilities a few times, you can bet this time was going to be no different.

The Half-Assed Feeding Top Tutorial

The Quick Summary
Time Taken- about half an hour each
Cups of Tea consumed- one per t-shirt
Total cost- $2.20-ish each
Skill level- absolutely none whatsoever
Baby Shower gift potential- em, probably not. Might be handy for someone you know well though!

Materials needed
A Camisole (or strappy vest top if you live in the UK...) I got mine in Forever 21 for $1.80 each on sale
Small Sew on Snaps or poppers** (from any sewing shop- I bought 36 for $3)
A needle, pair of sharp scissors and thread that matches the camisoles.
Something to watch on TV (this is not the most exciting or involved crafty make ever. I watched an episode of Poirot and 2 episodes of Masters of Sex on demand whilst I did mine...)

So instead of hundreds of steps and tons of information like the other tutorials I have done so far, this one will be short and sweet. 

Matching thread is your hero here. The pink one is just an example.

1- Cut the straps down really close to the bit where they meet the rest of the shirt at the front***
2- Sew a loop over the top of the frayed end, then keep sewing them until you reach the end, creating a nice smooth bit where you cut. This works best when the thread is the same colour and you can't see it.
3- Stitch your sew on snaps to either end of the strap, making sure that you remember to sew them on the right side of the strap.
4- There is no 4, you are done already.

Seriously, that's it. You now have some camisoles with straps that unfasten. Basically I plan to use these in much the same way as I use my super long H&M tanks now, for layering under my normal T-shirts. It means I can pull the normal t-shirt up, pop the strap on the one side of the vest top and have easy access without showing too much skin. I will be able to fill you in on the effectiveness of them in approximately 4 weeks time...

*I now have to go every.damn. week. This is too often. Honestly.
** I tried to use hook and eye and the half-swimsuit closings that you get on those multi-way bras, but ultimately I liked the little metal poppers best as I can open them with one fingernail and they felt more sturdy than the others. There were a TON of tutorials on making the ones with little loops to hang over your nursing bra instead of straps but I only have sports style nursing bras, so not very useful.
***The first shirt I made, I cut about an inch from the join and it just didn't work as well. Learn from my mistakes!

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Pregnancy Essentials edition

I went and bought a nursing bra at the weekend. It was the third best thing I have ever done* and I am absolutely kicking myself that I didn't do it WEEKS ago as I am now comfortable and have normal looking boobs again. It got me thinking that whilst I have read lots of blog posts about stuff for the baby you definitely need/don't need/why do all these things contradict each other?! I didn't see many about pregnancy. So here is my very personal list of 'essentials'** with a rough idea of when I needed them.

At the start-
'What to expect when you are expecting' (or equivalent)- Apparently this book is awful and really negative about pregnancy and birth (I didn't notice...) but in the first trimester I LOVED pouring over a pregnancy book. It seemed like a really sensible way to channel my nervous excitement, and didn't have a comments section. It also had lots of answers to questions I had that didn't involve Google, which I have tried to avoid at all possible costs- ESPECIALLY anything that involved a comments section (have I mentioned that you should avoid the comments section enough yet?). I know NHS Choices is also really good for that, but there were things I didn't know I'd need to know which is why I liked reading the chapter of the book. (My friend recommended the Mayo Clinic book instead, which is meant to be much better but I haven't actually read it so can't confirm or deny.) Incidentally, I have not so much as glanced at that book since about week 20, so if you can you should get it from the library...

About week 15-
Maternity jeans/shorts/trousers of some description- I could have totally survived in my own clothes another few weeks but OH MY WORD the difference was incredible. I was so much more comfortable in them. I only bought one pair of jeans, a pair of denim shorts (the LA equivalent of more jeans, I think) and then a load of dresses, which I basically lived in. I also ordered some lazing-around-the-house cotton shorts from ASOS but they stopped fitting pretty early. I think I'll use them once the baby is here, before I'm ready to return to my old shorts, but I'm not sure I would buy them again.

A body pillow- So I looked at these big fancy maternity pillows that seem to be available everywhere (queue the account of Just Me's Big White Vagina Pillow) but we have a plain old double bed, that once both of us, the cat and the duvet (that ends up in the middle of the bed every damn night) are safely in, has NO SPACE for Vagina pillows- enormous or otherwise. Then I found a normal, straight and skinny body pillow in Target for $9.99 and the world sleep has been better ever since. Ikea sell them as well, I think. Basically I just needed something to lean on, as a very sad and disgruntled front-sleeper. It's not fancy, it has next to no actual support in it, but it works and if you can't afford to spend fifty quid on a pillow, I highly recommend it. I SHOULD have bought it about 4 weeks before I actually did. Also, get some pillow cases for it. I did this a LONG time after I had the (patterned) pillow by which time it was caked in drool, leaking colostrum and cat hair. Staggeringly gross.

I bought a few maternity T-Shirts. They lasted about 8 weeks, I think, and I'm really glad I bought them in Ross for five bucks each (a sort of TK Maxx equivalent- I highly recommend buying Maternity clothes in there!) I probably wouldn't bother doing that again. I found the H&M Mama basic tank tops so much better, and just put normal t-shirts and tops over them. My biggest regret is that I didn't by more of them. Layering worked so much better for me, and I'm sure I had heard other people mention this but didn't listen to them. 

About week 25-
I'm putting this at week 25 even though I bought it at week 30, as yet again it was insane that I held off that long, but an exercise ball is the kindest thing you can do for yourself. I'll use it as a birth ball when I'm in labour (sorry Mummy, it'll be in the back of the car with you and the Car Seat base...) But at the moment I use it as a seat for when I am sore and uncomfortable. Kick has always enjoyed hanging out nice and low on my bladder and cervix, which is as comfortable as it sounds. Before she flipped over to a head down position she would really go to town down there when I sat up at the dining table. The magic exercise ball saved my life. I can sit up and be comfortable. I head towards it any time she is squashing my bladder or I have a sore lower back, and within minutes I feel better. I got mine in Ross (again) for $8.99, but I think they were $20 on Amazon and I would have paid a million pounds for one.***

Epsom Salts- This was another recommendation from Just Me, who I think got it from her midwives, but after a day of sitting on the sofa mild exercise like walking or trying to plug my phone charger back in to the socket under the bed, I was so stiff and achey and ready to cry. I went out and spent $20 on bubble bath, but she said the Epsom Salts were better and she was totally right. They seem to soothe my muscles and make me so sleepy that I am usually get a good night's sleep after the bath too. I only got them about 3 weeks ago, but I should have been using them for months and months. Worth it despite husband telling me I smelled like an old lady. (My cat also smells like an old lady as she fell IN the bath last night after I got out. Serves her right for lying on the edge like a creep the whole time I'm...)

About week 32-
So I mentioned the nursing bra of wonder at the start of this post, but I just wanted to reiterate how amazing it is. The place I went and got measured etc recommends going at your eighth month, and they are wise. I had gone from wearing normal bras (a size up from my regular ones) to living in un-supportive, decidedly unflattering sports bras. When I did finally get measured, I had gone from a 32 to a 36 (the lady fitting me looked at my quite strangely when I seemed surprised at this- 'hadn't you noticed your ribs were expanding?!' well, eh, yes. The acceptable time to take my bra off had dropped to somewhere around mid-afternoon and I complained about it ALL DAY (to the cat) apart from that. I tried on a stack of about 10 before I was happy, and so was the fitting lady who had exceptionally high standards. They only had one colour in stock in my size, so I shall order another one after payday this week, but honestly- don't wait. Be kind to your boobs- they are about to face a long and arduous task.

So will I be buying anything else? HELLS NO. I am so over shopping for crap that I need.  I want to do enjoyable shopping only. Yesterday afternoon, husband and I went and sat in Barnes and Noble for about 3 hours reading and choosing baby books. We decided on four- 2 each. Mostly because they entertained us, which is kind of the most important thing since Kick won't even understand them for ages and eventually we're going to have to read them 50,000 times per day. We cleared the booze shelf of our bookcase and moved it elsewhere to start a little collection of books for Kick. This felt Very Grown-Up and Important, almost on a par with the day we realised we had a booze shelf and didn't just finish everything the day we got it... 

So that's my list. Feel free to add to it/tell me I'm wrong/think it's the most boring thing anyone has ever posted. I won't take it personally. Much.

*Best thing- going home with a boy after a night out. I'm married to him now... Second best thing- quitting my insurance job to go back to Uni to be a nurse. THAT is how much I love this bra.
**Absolutely nothing in life is Essential except for air, water and food, and warmth. Everything else is an absolute extra. Important to remember in life, but particularly pregnancy, where people are always trying to make you buy shit.
***I have a surprisingly long history with these exercise balls- they used them in the classrooms of the School I did an exchange with in Germany in 1996. Our lovely host families sent us home with one, so I sat on it to do my homework for my entire high school career. They are awesome.

Monday, 21 October 2013

The (Absolute Beginners) Burp-cloth tutorial

Before I started volunteering at Baby2Baby I had literally never heard of a burp-cloth, but the name is pretty self explanatory, and I've decided to embrace some of the US traditions as well as sticking to my own British ones. Basically, they use Burp-Cloths instead of Muslins for mopping up baby sick (or 'posset' as the official nursing name for it) so they are just shoulder sized/shaped bits of fabric. They seem to be much more absorbent than Muslins so if you have a reflux-y or just plain sicky baby they are probably better, but only really fulfil one function rather than the magic 'it does everything!' talents Muslins seem to have. With that in mind, I made myself a bundle of five to go along side the Muslin stash I am hoping people will send me (seriously, please send me some.)

I made some as gifts a few months ago, and used this really good Dana Made It tutorial, which she starts with 'There are a million burp-cloth tutorials out there in blogland' but I didn't really find that to be the case, so I'm adding my own. I've adapted it a bit to make it (if you can believe it) clearer for someone who doesn't know anything about sewing* since I think she presumes a fair amount of prior knowledge, but I definitely recommend reading her tutorial as well, since she makes it 6 easy-to-follow single word instructions, whereas I have written an essay with lots of overly obvious information. Also, totally use her tips to make them in to a fancy hand-made gift for a baby shower, since that seems to be something Brits are doing now.

A Quick Summary- 
Time Taken- Each one takes me about 45 minutes start to finish 
Cups of Tea Consumed- A rather poor 2.
Total Cost- I would say probably about $3-4 each, but if you have fabric lying around, maybe $2
Skill level- Beginner sewing. If you can sew a semi-straight line, you can make these.
Baby Shower gift potential- High. They are pretty easy and cheap, you can make them awesomely gender neutral and they are actually useful.

Things you need-
Pre-fold nappies/diapers- That's what I used, other people have made them with chenile or towelling. Something absorbant, basically. I used the really cheap Gerber ones, which cost me $20 for 10.
Fabric- so Dana Made It had the dimensions of 10"x18", but I found that my scrap fabric was all smaller than that, so I think most of mine ended up being about 9"x14" If you are going to make some and don't have a stash of fabric, I would recommend getting a fat quarter bundle from somewhere like John Lewis- it's the least threatening introduction to buying fabric. I just used what I had, so it didn't cost me anything.
Sewing supplies- thread, needle/sewing machine**, scissors, rotary cutter if you have it.

Not needed: Cat to 'help' you. Up side- proof burp cloths are very soft...
So, first of all cut your fabric. I had three fat quarters (bought from John Lewis as a birthday gift from my amazing Granny) which I halved and a couple of large-ish rectangles (about 9" x 14") left over from making other things. I just trimmed those down to make the edges straight. Once I'd cut the fabric (all just cotton) I laid each one on top of a prefold diaper and cut round it. (Each one was a slightly different size.) 

Next, place the fabric right side down onto the cut prefold and pin all round the edges, leaving a gap of about 6 inches (for you to turn it inside out once it's stitched.) One of the other things I've learnt nearly breaking my sewing machine over time is to leave the pins sticking quite far out from the fabric- it's much easier to sew over them with your machine than if the balls at the end are pushed flush to the fabric. 

Forgive my terrible photography. And editing. And explanations.
Once it's pinned, start at the end of the opening and sewing all the way around a 1/4" from the edge to the other side of the opening. (I'm saying this because I didn't do it the first time and it is much easier to do it in one go. It's probably really obvious to everyone else and I'm just an idiot...) I found the kind of gauzy material of the prefolds got caught in the sewing machine, so I had to stitch it with that facing up to stop it getting stuck.

Once you've stitched round it, leaving the 6" gap, then it's time to clip the corners (basically cut at a 45 degree angle) which helps them sit flat once you turn them through. Again, this might sound obvious but make sure you don't actually cut through the thread at the corners, which causes it to unravel. I would never do that, obviously (ahem.) 

Turn the whole thing inside out, so your awesome pattern is now on the outside. Yay! It looks like it might actually be something you can use now! This stage makes my spirits soar. Now you want to pin the opening shut. Fold the rough edges down and pin it as you go. This actually happens a lot more naturally than you might think, as the edges on either side are stitched in already. It now needs a top stitch, which makes it look marvellously professional. Basically you just need to sew all the way round the rectangle, making a sort of seam. If you do this slightly less than 1/4" from the end, you'll catch the rough open edges in and it will be perfectly sealed****. 

Matching thread is MUCH more forgiving. I've just done this one in a dark colour so you can see it.
Finally, fold it into thirds or quarters, depending on your inclination, and sew down these lines. It makes them sit better on your shoulder, helps you fold them more easily and honest to goodness takes thirty seconds. Tie off all your ends*****, trim them down and marvel at your awesome sewing skills. 
Completed stack of burp cloths, looking fancy

In a drawer, looking even fancier...
*Without wanting to junk up the tutorial any more with ridiculous non-important information, I add that I essentially learnt to sew from the internet. Blogs have 'taught' me everything I know that I didn't remember from Home Economics in high school, which I only did age 12-13. This should serve as a massive encouragement if you want to learn to sew but haven't the time/inclination to go to a class (community classes at a local high school in the UK are a good bet if you do) but also a warning that I don't have a clue what I'm talking about...
**I think you could do this without a sewing machine, just using a really simple straight stitch. It definitely goes quicker if you have a machine, but they are a pretty good first project if you just want to have a shot sewing but have never done it before.
***If you are planning on doing any more sewing than this at all, get a self healing mat, ruler and rotary cutter. I think I got a Fiskers set on Amazon for $15, and it was money well spent. I resisted for ages but I really does make cutting way less painful- it was always the most stressful bit of sewing, but now I don't really think about it. 
****A word of warning here, I accidentally bought extra thick prefolds this time, and they were so thick that when I went to do my topstitch, they actually broke the needle on my sewing machine. Ideally, I would buy the thinner ones next time (the ones I used the first time) but if you use the super thick ones, just make sure your topstitch falls underneath the inner fold (this will make sense when you feel it)
***** 'What to do with the ends' is something I really struggled to find out on the internet, for mine I just use a needle to bring both threads on to the one side, then tie them together a few times, then cut them as short as the knot will allow. I have no idea if this is right. If it's not, will someone tell me a better way to do it?!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Booby Traps, Cracked bases and Officer Brown

Yesterday was a pretty appointment-intensive one. The things I we had signed up for were completely optional, and in the days before husband got this miraculous government-shutdown inspired extension on his grant application, so he could probably have done without two trips out of the office, but I figured I'd give you the run down in case anyone is debating whether to take extra classes on top of the usual child-birth prep. 

I mentioned our child-birth preparation classes briefly before, but overall I'd say they were completely worth the money. We loved the instructor, who was a big ole hippy, but a marvellously non-judgemental one, who clearly had opinions but knew that they were just that- her opinions. This meant that when she spoke about a subject, she spoke with conviction but never made any negative comments about anyone else's decisions or choices. She was so lovingly supportive of the parents of twins who went from 'probably' having a normal delivery to 'definitely' having a planned section over the 4 weeks, even though you could tell she wasn't 100% happy with the Doctor's reasoning. The parents were though, so she was a brilliant cheerleader about how awesome the experience would be for them. She completely won over husband, which is really saying something as he is so anti-hippy it's quite hilarious. We went to the classes at UCLA Santa Monica, in case you happen to be googling child-birth classes in West LA and have stumbled upon this (sorry if it is not particularly informative!) I would say that if I was dead set on a medication-free delivery then there is probably better classes out there for you. This was a nice over view for those of us who want an epidural but want to get to active labour first, or don't really know and are just going to see what happens once it all starts. There was lots of focus on breathing and relaxation, but I'm not sure it was enough to get you through to the end.

Anyway, back to yesterday. First thing was our car-seat check by the lovely officers at West LA traffic division. There are big billboards up in the mall that say that 90% of car seats are incorrectly fitted. Seriously, 90%. I knew this statistic already thanks to my mum's friend Sheila, who is a SoCO (Scene of Crime Officer, or CSI to my American friends) and had told me horror stories of finding babies half way down the road having been ejected through the front windscreen after a crash. It seems easier at home where Halfords run checking clinics, but as this is America there are hardly any organisations that will do it for fear of liability issues. This awesome blog post by Girls Gone Child (my main source of LA information, in all honestly) helped me get my ass in gear to make an appointment, since I had time to wait and did not have money to pay a lady to come to the house and do it.

So we arrived a bit late, with a flustered husband who hadn't had any coffee yet. I've discovered through this whole pregnancy process that booking the first appointment of the day for anything is a good idea, since they are less likely to be running late which gives me less excuse to be. This applied to the police as much as the various doctors' offices we've been to. Very lovely Officer Brown greeted us, got me a chair since I was obviously far too pregnant to stand up* and two other officers squeezed in to the back seat of our car- no mean feat considering we drive a 3-door sports model Ford Focus... Husband and I were convinced that someone's gun was going to get caught in the seat belt strap and shoot them in the foot. The fact we both had this thought separately really shows you how British we are about firearms, even in the hands of professionals.

It turns out the base was fitted wrong. We are the 90%. Husband and I had both read the instructions on our car and the car seat, and tried to muddle through on our tiny back seat, but basically the LATCH system (Isofix equivalent for the UK people) wasn't going to work in the middle space- the angle the straps were at would put too much pressure on the  narrow base (we specifically chose a narrow one since our car is so small) in a crash, even a slow one, and it would crack down the middle. An hour later, after many repeated demonstrations, the car seat was in, we knew how to do absolutely every adjustment and tweak to it and we were both a bit in love with Officer Brown. The best free service ever, especially since NOTHING baby related in LA is free. The wait list for an appointment was about 4 weeks, but I would recommend it to anyone and can guarantee we will be taking back our next car seat too.

Fast forward 6 hours and it was time for our Breastfeeding class. I had spoken to my brother in the afternoon who had said 'What on earth are you doing that for?' and I didn't really have a good answer for him. The instructor then introduced the class by asking how many of us (about 75 first time parents. A LOT of bumps...) had spend any time with mums breastfeeding a newborn. 4 of us raised our hands. She then asked us how many of us had discussed breastfeeding at any length with these mums. Three of us kept our hands up- 2 were NICU nurses and I'm a paediatric nurse. She explained it was like being raised in captivity- as modern women, we just didn't have the experience of it to do it easily. I was instantly happier about being there.

The first hour was her extolling the virtues of breastfeeding. I found this kind of irritating. Everyone in the room had paid to come to a class about breastfeeding, and the majority had dragged reluctant husbands/partners along with them. We were not really the target audience for a public health lecture. I knew all of it, and some of the science was a bit questionable.** That being said, once she started talking about the process behind how breastmilk improves immunity and the science of the nutritive qualities, I could see husband was developing a crush sold. She had an audience of very intelligent people, and spoke to us as such. For the second half, she was much more practical. This is really what I had come for. I knew the theory of a good latch, I wanted her to show me how to do it. Which she did, multiple times. Then she showed a video clip that showed even more. She explained what it should feel like, sound like, look like. She showed us different positions to do it in so you can check twitter eat avoid your section scar if you need to.  

She explained very sensible timelines for introducing dummies and bottles and how and when to pump and when it's ok to let Dad do one of the night feeds. She gave good recommendations on Nipple Creams and pumps and slow-flow bottles and other things we might want to try, but made it clear they were all extras. The most important thing for me was that she explained that we were probably not going to have problems. I have many, many friends who have had a really hard time breast feeding. Whilst on placements I spent a lot of time talking to women who were struggling. I have a skewed view of it. The reality is, as with everything in life, those who have no issues don't talk about it, meaning the loudest voices are those who have had a hard time. I was so well informed about how hard and awful it was that I had no concept of how it would be if it worked. It seemed this lingering negativity would be my 'booby trap'- the thing that would make inclined to give up at the first bump. I'd still say I'm not a 'formula is direct from the devil' convert, but I'm a bit more confident about it, especially when she showed a video of about 20 newborns just doing it, with no problems at all.

It was immensely reassuring for me, and husband really knew nothing about it at all, so he definitely found it useful. The class was run by The Pump Station, which is kind of hard to explain to those who live somewhere normal because it is so cripplingly LA, but basically it is a boutique baby store which sells baby gear but focuses on everything you could ever possibly need for breastfeeding. They run classes and expensive Mommy and Me groups as well as their main function, which is a team of Lactation Consultants you can call or make appointments with. It's all private, i.e. quite expensive, but the class definitely helped husband and I come to the conclusion that if it's not going well we will call them straight away. They do offer a lot of free services normally performed by the NHS at home, such as calling to check if medications will interfere with breastfeeding and milk supply (eg Sudafed is not contra-indicated for breastfeeding, but will dry up your milk supply along with your snotty sinuses, so is best avoided) and having professional scales in store if you feel the need to check the baby's weight. 

Apparently if you book the class at The Pump Station directly instead of via the hospital, like we did, they provide beer for the dads. Husband scowled at me when he discovered this, but I didn't know and suspect the price for the class would have been much more if it had included booze. We didn't have a ton of money for classes, so had to prioritise. Husband just had to make do with half a twix during the class (provided by me) and a PBR out the fridge when we got home. 

We are now officially done with all our classes. We are as prepared as we will ever be***. The last thing we have to do is a rescheduled hospital tour, which we were meant to do the morning after we moved house but ended up cancelling as we were were unable to lift our arms higher than our waists. That's in a few weeks time, but having been on Labour and Delivery at the other UCLA-run hospital we are both a bit more comfortable with it already. So there you have it. My reviews of the things we have attended. The only other thing we want to do is a Pump Station drop-in session about baby carriers. I've been talking about wanting an Ergo, but basically once Kick is here we can go along and they will help you try all the carriers they stock and see what works best for you. This really appealed to husband as for some reason spending $150 on a carrier is freaking him out, even though he bought a $60 poster of vaguely racist animals for the nursery wall that I really wanted without so much as an eyebrow being raised****. Go figure...

*This is one of my favourite things about being pregnant. I hate standing up.
** So there is a ton of evidence about breastfeeding reducing breast and ovarian cancer rates in mothers, however she also mentioned that mothers who breastfeed are less likely to have Type II Diabetes and Hypertension- which is a shakier causal link to me. Mothers who invest time and energy in breastfeeding are more likely to invest time and energy in healthy living generally, and there is a pretty big social class link as well (at least in Scotland) which makes that one seem sketchy to me. Medical Scientist husband also did not approve of this particular example.
*** not at all
**** pictures to follow, I promise

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

My Dearest, Darling Girl...

My dearest, darling girl,

It's getting near the time where we get to meet you. This is really exciting and really scary at the same time. Not because you are scary, but because we cannot believe we actually have to get to be your parents. To be honest, the idea of being anyone's parents is scary to Daddy and me because we don't feel nearly old enough or grown up enough, but you are particularly special, since we grew you by ourselves. Please be patient with us. We don't really know what we are doing and we will all have to learn together.

I am desperately hoping you get your daddy's brains. He is rather brilliant, but I'm hoping you don't notice because he's too busy chasing you with the cat or teaching you how to score left-footed. He is also much better at being by himself, still and quiet, than I am, and I'm hoping you learn that too. I do want you to be able to sing like me though- we definitely don't need another singer like daddy in the house...

I hope that you are confident and brave and love to be around people. Being shy is fine, but there is always a danger that you will miss out if you don't speak to anyone and everyone. I hope you love to eat sushi and go to the cinema, because I don't like either of those things and it will mean daddy will harass me less about it.

You are so lucky, my little one. You are the centre of a big fat onion of people who love you. Daddy and I, and Joan the cat, who loves to curl around you and feel you kick. Please be kind to the cat, because she bites and it'll be a sore lesson to learn later. Then 4 grandparents who are so excited for you to arrive. They will teach you the stories Jesus told, how to bake and what the things in the garden are called and take you on exciting day trips and to the beach to eat 99 Ice Creams, even when it is cold and wet. You also are extra lucky because you will have a GG too, who cannot wait to meet you and talks about it all the time. She is very, very silly and very, very wise. She loves everyone with a fiery passion and grit determination, and sometimes love needs both. She will always be your number 1 ally, no matter what you do.

Then you have your brilliant, beautiful Aunties and your very silly Uncles. You are so lucky because they all have interesting things to teach you (although you should probably ignore everything Uncle Andy says. He's almost certainly winding you up.) You also get 2 marvellous big cousins that will definitely lead you astray in a multitude of ways.

The outer layer of your secure little onion has so many Great Aunties and Uncles, 2nd, 3rd and even 4th cousins in it. These people are hilarious and the most fun. You'll learn to be competitive at pub quizzes, sing songs from musicals, and never to take life, or yourself, too seriously. Finally, to ensure you are always protected, daddy and I have the family we chose for ourselves- our friends. They are busy producing more playmates for you all over the world. They are smart, funny, usually quite ridiculous and generally good people. You are so well-loved already my girl.

I can't wait to take you to the beach, and to watch the Dodgers, to make Halloween costumes and to explore new places. I want you to read. Read everything you can possibly get your hands on. It's so desperately important because the world is a big place and people have such diverse experiences- reading helps open that world up to you. Reading makes sure you are never lonely and helps you to understand the challenges and joys in the lives of others. I cannot wait to take you on adventures with Harry, Ron and Hermione. Daddy will take to you Middle Earth, because I find it insufferably boring. I know this because I tried, and you should try everything once. 

I hope that when you are a grown-up and filling out forms, that writing 'Place of Birth- Santa Monica, California' makes you smile. It should, because it is a magical place that Daddy and I have adored. The sunshine permeates everything here, and whenever I think of being pregnant with you I will imagine the sun that glowed gold all the time, helping you grow. You will always be my sunshine girl, which is funny really because that's what my grandad called me when I was a little girl. 

We're ready for you to come any time. But you should take your time. Never be in too much of a hurry for anything. Unless I tell you its time to go, in which case you should move your butt, because we're going to be late. Life is full of contradictions, my little one. This is just the first.

All my love, 

mummy x

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Short stories of a mini-heatwave

So this was written over two weeks. This weekend has been grey and cool, rather than hot and sticky. We've had a really low key week of watching Modern Family and a very ill husband. Forgive the disjointed nature of it all!

It's hot again in LA. This is directly attributable to something called 'The Santa Ana's' which are basically winds that bring hot, dry desert air in. The temperature over the weekend really tested my limits (but mostly my patience.) I was grumpy, uncomfortable and a downright nightmare to be around. Thankfully our house is a perfect 71F all the time (21C) so I didn't really notice when I was inside. Outside, I was heavily reliant on our car's air conditioning system. At least it was just one weekend. This upcoming week is scheduled to be much more pleasant. Thank goodness.

As interesting as the weather is, it's merely to serve a background to the other small things that have happened the last week or so. If we're friends on Twitter or Facebook, you'll know I spent Tuesday morning on the Labo(u)r and Delivery ward of the hospital I volunteer in. A lovely lady drove in to the back of our car (whilst using her phone, of course) at, optimistically for LA traffic, 15mph. Neither of us were hurt or anything (I actually thought the car had stalled...) but I told my colleagues at the hospital, who then ratted me out to my favourite surgeon. He insisted I go and see the OBs on the fifth floor ('It's one elevator ride. You'll be out in 20 minutes") I called our own on-call doctor, who said 'Go if you want, you sound fine to me though' which is exactly why I picked this doctor's office. Everyone else (including my antsy husband) wanted me to go, so I took the elevator up, and everything was fine. Which I knew. More than fine, really. Kick made it pretty obvious to everyone that she was VERY healthy by refusing to stay still long enough to get a decent trace on the monitor, sounding alarms at the nurses station continually.

Of course I ended up being there significantly longer than 20 minutes, and by the time I got home I was exhausted and grumpy. To cheer me up, husband bought me some lovely happy sunflowers. It's sunflower season here in SoCal, so they are EVERYWHERE. I love them. They make everyone happy. Especially my cat. Joan knocked the vase on to the floor from the breakfast bar in the kitchen, decapitating half the heads and flooding the carpet. Since these things only ever happen when I've run out of kitchen roll, I was left trying to mop it up with dirty tea towels and multiple profanities. The remaining flowers have now moved to a new home, on the bathroom floor. I'm calling them 'toilet flowers' since I can see them from there, which sounds ridiculous but honestly is the place I spend the most waking-time in our house...

Joan 'helping' me sew. It's just as well she's adorable...
Yesterday, husband spent a good half hour playing with winding up the cat, then went out. Of course she then went and knocked the remaining flowers over, completely destroying them. Cannot help but feel this is indicative of husband's parenting style, but trying not to get too far ahead of myself...

We went to one of the swanky baby shops in Santa Monica to try and find a couple of very specific things we want (basically anything from the Skip Hop website) and some toys to attach to my activity gym, and while we were walking around, admiring the seriously expensive (but very beautiful) baby gear we noticed a baby rocker sitting in the corner. We spent a few minutes talking about it and how nice it was until we realised it was one we have already bought. It's sitting on the nursery floor. It's nice to know we have such good taste, and that something that we bought pretty cheap on Amazon is in stock in a swanky shop that prides itself on 'only selling the best', but we still felt pretty stupid. Is baby brain contagious?

You know where we finally found baby toys we liked? Target. They were dirt cheap. I should really learn to trust my (cheap-ass) instincts. After two long weeks of sewing for hours a day, I finally have an activity gym. This is it.

Joan is convinced everything in this house is hers to play with. Poor Kick.
Yeah, I bought it in Target for $50. I tried EVERYTHING to make my DIY effort work. The poles just weren't strong enough to stand up to even a moderate amount of cat-battery, so I figured it would never cope with a baby AND a cat pulling on it. Thankfully, the main basis for my own one was a quilt which is 100% salvagable as a proper quilt. It is beautiful, it matches my obnoxious lime green pram/car seat combo (which I also love, by the way) and it was a pretty enjoyable thing to make, so the last few weeks haven't been for nothing. And I really like the Target-bought one. The colours are awesome, it matches all the other toys we bought (from the Infantino 'Go GaGa' collection) and husband really, really likes it, so everyone wins. Except my blistered sewing fingers.

Activity gym Quilt for keeping baby 'warm' in LA...
Yesterday we finished all our baby shopping. This little lady has everything she needs if she decided to make an appearance tomorrow. Nappies, cotton wool (I was always taught at Nursing School that you should never use wipes on a new born. Am I really old fashioned?!) a changing pad, some bottles and a steriliser, towels and washcloths (again, no soap til they are a few months old), more sheets for the crib (which she won't need for months anyway) a low bassinet to sit next to my low bed, a rocker to vibrate and bounce in and a bundle of clothes to get her through a few weeks at least. All I need is my Ergo, some socks and a few hats, just in case it is cool. I'm saving these things for shopping with my mum when she arrives (5 and a half weeks!) 

33 weeks pregnant with almost 5lb of baby inside me.
I've mentioned before that I've not put on a whole lot of weight, and I'm generally a pretty small pregnant lady. Everyone (docs, nurses, strangers on the street) was telling us that she was going to be a pretty small baby. Well, I had a scan at the beginning of last week and she weighed 4lb7oz. That's not particularly small. In fact, if she was born now she'd be too big for preemie clothes (which finish at 5lb) If she gains the rule of thumb 'half-pound per week' they expect babies to for the last trimester, she will be an 8lb baby at birth. That's pretty big. And renders all the 'newborn' size clothes I bought totally useless. I'm focusing on the 'waste of clothes' aspect so I don't get too caught up in the 'pushing out an 8lb baby' side of things. 

It's a bit strange being so far away from our friends and family for all this. A friend from home is due 10 days before me, and yesterday her family threw her a baby shower. I had a small stab of jealousy. Not for the actual shower part, but at the thought of everyone rallying round her to make sure she had everything she needed. We've no idea if we'll get any presents from anyone. I'm not lonely here, but I do only have a few friends. It's expensive for anyone to post things over and I'd never expect it, plus there's always a small element of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. We've bought absolutely everything ourselves (with notable exceptions of nursery furniture from husband's parents and pram/car seat from mine.) I certainly don't mean to complain about ANY of this, we chose to move to out here, chose to have a baby out here, chose this life. I love living out here. I just sometimes wonder how different things would be if I was having a baby at home.

And so now we wait. This week involves a car seat fitting, a breastfeeding class and a doctor's appointment, so it's pretty busy in baby-land. After last week with a sick husband trying to work under multiple deadlines I think I'm ready for a bit more excitement...

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The multi-coloured mobile tutorial...

So I make a lot of stuff. I've always loved craft and stationary supplies. Now, given a butt-ton of free time and a baby on the way, it makes sense that I've gotten more into it these days. 

My BIG project has been making my own activity gym for the baby, since I couldn't find one I wanted to pay $80 for. Most baby gear is just hideous. Not that there is anything wrong with 'Under the Sea' or 'Jungle' themed stuff, but I'm the one that has to look at it, all the baby cares about is bright colours, so I figured I'd just make my own. Easy. It has turned out to be not quite as easy I thought (No Shit, says everyone else in the world) but it's also not quite as hard as people told me it might be, so all things considered I'm glad I'm tackling it. I'm hoping to get it finished at the weekend, since husband will be working like crazy (grant application is due next week, providing the US government re-opens) and when I finish I will post lots of pics with a half-assed tutorial since I am completely making it up as I go along.

In the mean time, I spent Monday making a mobile to hang over the cot/crib. This all stemmed from a conversation with Just Me over a lunch and cake, where she described one she'd ordered on Etsy, and I figured I could make it myself*.

So after all that rambling, I present the MULTI-COLOURED MOBILE TUTORIAL (imagine trumpets and confetti or something...)

I started by looking at other people's tutorials, just to get a rough idea of the supplies they used/any hints and tricks I needed to know. This one and this one were the most useful, I'd say. So I dragged my poor husband to Michaels (Hobbycraft equivalent for my UK friends) on Sunday evening about 10 minutes before church started, knowing it would make me be decisive.

A Quick Summary-
Time taken- about 10 hours all together (could be far shorter with stamp)
Cups of tea consumed- 7-ish (mostly decaf)
Total cost- $24 (including sales tax)
Skill level- Infant school- cutting circles, sticking tape. Bit finicky at the end with knot tying
Baby Shower gift potential- seriously high. Looks super impressive, can make it very personal, doesn't require (any) natural skill/talent.

Things you need- 
paper/cardstock in a few different colours (I ended up buying a small pad of patterned paper for $20)
double sided tape (I bought photo-safe stuff from the Scrapbooking aisle, but only cause it's right next to the front door of the shop. I think any decent quality one would work fine, cost about $2)
embroidery hoops (I bought a pack of 3 for $10- 8", 6" and 4")
thread or fishing wire (I decided against the clear fishing wire in the end because I couldn't find it in the shop remembered how bloody awkward it is to tie a tight knot in. I just used bog standard white thread)
sharp scissors (the tutorials I looked at all used those stamps that cut you a ready-made shape. These people are much more sensible than me, but I was being cheap. If you use scissors, make sure they are SUPER sharp. I ended up using my easy-to-resharpen sewing scissors since I blunted every other pair in the house)

First things first- I painted the three inner parts of the embroidery hoops with some long-hardened water-colours I found in a box whilst unpacking.** I was aiming for a red/purple type colour, but they dried sort of pink, so that's what I had to use. I threw the outer parts (with the metal tightener on them) in the bin, because honestly, what will I ever use them for.

Next, I started the long, drawn out process of drawing circles and cutting them out. I drew round the roll of double sided tape since it was roughly the right size (about 2-3 inches) and would stick to the card a bit because it was slightly sticky. This made it way easier to draw round. I just kept going and going until I had cut out 144 circles. (There is no scientific reason for this number at all, except that I chose to use all 6 patterns featured in the pad in 4 of the colours available. With 2 sheets of each pattern, and being able to fit 6 circles on each page, this equalled 144 circles. I think. 

This is what I ended up with. It took me about 4 hours. If you are even slightly less cheap than I am, buy the damn stamper.

Next up, I started to create the strips of circles. I found that being fairly 'production line' about it helped give me a greater (faster) sense of achievement. I cut all my thread and all the one-inch strips of double sided tape first, so that once I started assembling the strips I could just keep going. I had decided that on the biggest (outer) circle I would have 8 strips of 6 circles. The middle would have 6 strips of 8 circles and the smallest inner circle would have 4 strips of 10 circles. 

Once I actually started making the middle ones, I realised this wouldn't really work and the length-difference between them all would be far too big. With that in mind, I revised the middle strips down to 7 circles and the inner ones down to 8. I'm SO thankful I realised this before I started them. Basically I put the circles in a straight line, trying to make a mix of colours and patterns on each strip. Once they were lined up, I placed the thread in the middle of the circle, then attached one side of the double sided tape to each of the circles, basically using it like normal sellotape. I then pulled off the backing and stuck the other side of the circle on the top***.

You can just about see the thread...
This stage probably took me about 2 hours or so, but mostly because the backing to the double sided tape was so bloody static-y that they stuck to my fingers every single damn time. I was pretty rage filled by the time it was done, but I had lots of strips of lovely patterned circles and it was starting to look like I imagined it would.

Strips all attached together

Next came the task of tying the threads on to the embroidery hoop. The easiest way I found to do this was to bunch all the circles together and hold them together with a hair grip paperclip, then leave the side of the embroidery hoop I wanted to tie it onto hanging off the edge of the table. This stopped the circles getting all tangled together and gave me better leverage to do some tying. I tried to keep them relatively evenly spaced, but it turned out once there was more than 4 strips on the hoop it didn't really matter. I just wrapped the thread round and tied it at the top about 4 or 5 times, added a couple of extra knots at the end for stability and clipped the loose ends.

If the cropping on these pics looks weird, it's because my bump was in them ALL
Finally, it was time to simultaneously make dinner and tie the hoops together.**** This was pretty hard, and I still don't think I got it perfect but honestly, the baby doesn't care. I tried to keep the thread completely taut on all sides as I went round tying the hoops together using basically the same technique as I did with tying the strips on, but it was slightly squint in places. I decided to leave this as a reminder that it is home made, therefore love and blood add more character to it, but I suppose you could tie some, see how it looks then adjust as you need to. I provisionally hung it up to take photos see how it looks as I was torn between attaching it to the ceiling using ribbon like the other tutorials or using more thread to make it look like it was hanging invisibly.

I'm glad I waited to put it up properly since my mum has informed me she has actually bought me a mobile that attaches to the crib from 'The World of Beatrix Potter' in the Lake District, so I'm going to move mine above the old chest of drawers changing table instead. Success all round, I'd say. So worth it to have something I really love, in exactly the colours I want hanging up for Kick to stare at.

Other tutorials to follow- bandana bibs, burp clothes, the activity gym and a cheaters baby quilt. Hopefully they'll all be as concise and informative as this one...

*I often wonder about this blind faith I have in my own abilities. Seems insane to make bold pronouncements like 'Yes, I know that lady is charging $60 for that finely made product, but I can totally do it my dining room with the "help" of the cat for half that price' but here I am. I did it and it cost me $24...
** Apparently I shipped water-colours from the UK to the US with me. I am a total knobber.
***The reason I used two circles for each disc was to make it sturdier and also to make it look neater. The back of my card was plain white, so it was totally necessary, but even if the back of yours is the same colour as the front, I would still double side them. It gives it all a bit more gravitas weight.
****Not compulsory, in fact doing it all in one day is a terrible idea unless you have a cat that thinks all dangling things are there for her amusement. Innuendo completely deliberate.