Thursday, 12 March 2015

Baby blues

Just a warning, in case you couldn't tell from the title... this is not going to be the joy-filled post I had expected I would write upon the birth of our child.

In the spirit of #keepingitreal, I want to talk honestly about what these first weeks have been like.

These early days of motherhood have been nothing like I expected.  From about Day 5 until just last weekend I cried endless tears, so many, without even being sure why and feeling terrified that I would never stop.  As the visiting midwife suggested a few days after we had arrived home, "Everything is wrong and nothing is wrong all at the same time, isn't it?".  I could only nod helplessly through the floods of tears.

Of course it's normal and it's to be expected, and it will get easier.

Nothing, nothing, prepares you for the transition to motherhood.  I know many women take to it joyfully and naturally but for me it has been a huge adjustment.  Accepting that life has changed forever, and that's ok.  Accepting that our old easy life is gone for good, and it's ok to mourn that life.  Trusting that it will get easier.

Blair has been incredible to both me and Joan - the tears well up again as I type that.  He is just the father I imagined he would be, and so much more too: gentle and strong and at ease with tiny Joan.  I have leaned hard on him these past weeks and he has held me up and steadied me and kept me going.

Late one night when I tearfully (yup, more tears) squeaked out my thanks for his support, he just took my hand and squeezed it and matter-of-factly said, "Sweetie, we're in this together".  Whatever other joys we get out of being parents, the experience has brought us so close.  It's a cliché but it truly has added another dimension to our relationship.  I just adore that man.

I think our girl is beautiful and she has actually been such an easygoing little thing, but the bald truth is that I did not bond with her straight away.  Perhaps it was the Caesarian delivery, who knows, but for many days I went through the motions, feeding and cuddling and rocking her, without feeling any strong emotional attachment to my tiny daughter.

It's not an easy thing to admit, but it's the truth and I want to be honest.  I think a big part of my distress over the lack of attachment is the myth that everyone falls in love with their baby straight away.  Plenty of women don't and if I make just one other person feel better by reading this, then it's worth it.

On that note, the support and warmth that I have received from friends, from all quarters, has been overwhelming.  No judgement, just love and so much kindness.  Sometimes it helps just to hear that other people have been through the same thing.  And that this will pass.

All I felt for ages was fear, the crushing responsibility of looking after her, and horror at the thought that I might never experience that unconditional mother's love that is supposed to blossom instantly upon meeting your child.  What if I had made a huge mistake?

Of course, the bond has slowly started to form.  It's going to strengthen as the weeks and months pass.  She can't even interact with me yet, is only just starting to look - really look - at me and turn towards my voice.

The first time I realised that I was developing an attachment to her was walking into her room last week to get her up from a nap.  She had her little arms thrown over her head, just so tiny and vulnerable.  I felt that clench of love in my heart and I realised that everything will be ok.

I will stop crying, perhaps not just yet, but soon.  I can already start to feel my old self returning.  It won't be this hard forever.  It will get easier, but there are still some really hard times ahead to.  And that's as it should be.

She is going to grow up so fast, I need to soak in and be grateful for every moment because soon enough I'll be looking back at these hazy days wondering where my newborn has gone.

Our beautiful girl is already teaching me so much about life and about love, in ways I never could have imagined.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Introducing Joan...

It's been nearly two weeks now since we brought our little girl into the world, a tiny (6lb 7oz!) vernix-covered bundle who arrived in the hot sunny afternoon of 23 February 2015.

World, meet Joan Katharine Cowley.

Everyone comments on how pretty she is, and I have to agree.  I also choose to believe that they don't say that to every new mother!

She has fed well right from the start, and sleeps deeply and peacefully… during the day anyway!  We're still teaching her the difference between day and night.

I can't believe how little she is, and how life has changed forever.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Baby room

I'm currently cocooned at home getting to know our new baby.  Things might be a bit quiet around here as we settle into life as a family of three.  In the meantime you can keep up with daily goings-on on Instagram (@prudenceclaire).

The long-awaited baby room reveal!  Actually I don't know if it is long-awaited, but we'll pretend it is for now.

Ikea dresser and cot
I LOVE how the room turned out.  Not knowing the sex of our baby meant that it was important to keep a neutral colour palette, although I was never going to go mad with the pink or blue even if we did know what we were having.

Wooden toys from Etsy, Sophie the Giraffe teether (left); and books gifted by our friends (right)
Lauren Merrick print, Ikea chair and trolley

You can see my original "inspiration" post here, and I think we've remained pretty true to that vision.  I love the fact that there are so many gifted and handmade touches in the room.

Rug and quilt made by me (left); mobile gifted by a friend (top right); basket crocheted by me, Target lamp, soft toys gifted by friends (bottom right)

I can't say that I would have chosen to have a big flat screen TV in the baby's room, and it may never be turned on, but it's a legacy from when this room was our gym and there wasn't much point uninstalling it.  Plus, it could turn out to be a blessing for me during those long sleepless nights!

My only real disappointment with the room is an extremely frustrating experience I've had with an Etsy seller.  I ordered a custom mobile from her back in November (you can see it in the nursery inspo post I linked to above), and it still hasn't arrived.  Needless to say I'm pursuing a claim to get my money back, but I'd still rather have the mobile I ordered.

The good news is that the mobile you see in the photos above was a gift included with some items I bought off eBay.  The seller of those items turned out to be a fellow blogger and Instagram friend, which I only realised when I saw her name in the checkout.  Small world!

I'm sure the room will change and evolve as we figure out what works for us, and as our baby grows, but no matter what I adore the calm and peaceful space we've created for our little one.

Monday, 23 February 2015

The last weeks

By the time you read this I will be in the hospital; exhausted, sore, blissed out, getting to know our new baby.  Things might be a bit quiet around here as we settle into life as a family of three.  In the meantime you can keep up with daily goings-on on Instagram (@prudenceclaire).

If I was only allowed one word to describe these last few weeks of pregnancy, it would be DISCOMFORT.

I can't wait to:
  • put my rings back on
  • pick up the cat's bowl off the floor without effortful grunting
  • get off the couch/bed without having to roll onto my side
  • sleep comfortably
  • eat chocolate without reflux
  • see my ankle bones again
  • crochet
I'm feeling a mix of relief that soon the discomforts will be behind me, and trying really hard to appreciate the experience right to the last moment.  I don't take being pregnant for granted, and am very aware that you never know if it will happen again.  I don't want to look back and wish that I'd relished the experience more, especially at this end when the impatience and anticipation are taking over.

Although it is heavy, swollen and somewhat achey, I have kind of loved my pregnant body.  I'm so glad I persisted with taking regular photos to document the changes.  Look how skinny I was!  That feels like a LONG time ago.

Looking back, pregnancy has gone neither quickly nor slowly for me.  Except for right now of course when it is going VERY SLOWLY.

Thanks for all the comments and support over the past months.  My pregnancy posts have been far and away the most popular stuff I've written which is kind of cool.  It's nice to know that the experience that's been consuming me has been interesting for you guys as well.  I'm very excited for the next chapter to start.  I'm sure I'll be over-sharing throughout the whole early motherhood experience too.

You can find all my other pregnancy-related posts here.  Also keep an eye out for the baby room tour which is scheduled to publish automatically in the next week or so.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

How to get started with crochet

With my puffy and painful pregnancy hands, I sadly can't crochet at the moment.  The frustration level is high.

Over the past several months I've had quite a few enquiries from friends who want to take up crochet, looking for advice on how and where to start.

Considering that my hooks are gathering dust until the pregnancy puff goes down, I thought I'd take the opportunity to compile my top tips for getting started with crochet.  This is just what has worked for me.

I'm pretty sure that certain skills "click" for certain people, in the same way that some of us are good at maths and some are good at art.  Let's not forget that although I picked up crochet relatively quickly and easily, I spent many hours struggling with knitting before turning to crochet, and I have sewed for most of my life without ever getting very good at it.  So if crochet never clicks for you, it might just be that it's not the craft for you.  Keep trying different things until something does click.

So without further ado, here are my Top Ten Tips to Learn Crochet.

1.  Don't go nuts with expensive yarn/hooks while you're still learning.

Although it's tempting to spend big on supplies when you're all fired up with enthusiasm, you really don't need to spend much at all when you're starting out.  When I first decided to try crochet I bought a cheap bamboo hook and a ball of acrylic yarn from Big W.  Total outlay?  About $10.  And that's all you need to get started.  I'd recommend a 5mm hook and 8 ply yarn.

If your crochet takes off, by all means lay in some decent supplies.  I quickly found that the bamboo hook caught on the yarn, and my hand got fatigued from its narrow width.  Metal hooks slide easily over the yarn and a bulked-up handle is much easier to hold for long periods.

2.  Just start!

I read something when I first started which said that you must master perfect even chains (the foundation for most crochet projects - think of it like casting on when knitting) before moving on.  So I wasted many frustrating hours creating chain after wobbly chain, ripping out and starting again, thinking I couldn't move on until I had that perfect.  Talk about discouraging.

The thing is, who cares if your early efforts are wonky and hilarious?  You may as well dive in and have a go.  Your technique will improve with practice.

3.  Practise good form from the beginning.

Now, while I do advocate just jumping in and getting started, that advice comes with one caveat.  It's really important to ensure that you're holding your hook and your yarn correctly from the beginning.

What feels comfortable to a beginner is not necessarily what's going to work for you as you gain confidence and speed.  The grasp of your hook will have a big impact on how quickly your hand tires and starts to ache.  The path of the yarn through your fingers will either make it very easy or very difficult to control the tension, which is what's going to make your work neat and even or wobbly and amateurish.  It's far easier to start slowly and struggle with the correct technique, than to race away with poor form and then have to correct it later.

4.  Watch lots of Youtube videos.

I don't know about you, but I learn the best by watching and copying than by any other method.  As an example, these are instructions on how to chain stitch, the most basic stitch:
  1. Hold crochet hook in right hand and make a slip knot on hook.  Bring yarn over hook from back to front and grab it with hook.  Draw hooked yarn through slip knot and onto hook.  This makes one chain stitch.  Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until you have the desired number of stitches. One loop will remain on hook.

Even diagrams are hard to follow when you don't know what you're doing:

I can confidently say that I would never have learned to crochet without the many Youtube videos I watched.  Entire afternoons were spent on a cycle of play… pause… rewind… play… pause… rewind until I had it figured out.  I still refer to Youtube to learn how to do stitches I haven't attempted before, or to remind myself how to do something (how do you start a magic ring again?).

5.  Pip's lessons.

Speaking of Youtube, with so many videos available a great place to start is with Pip's lessons on how to make a granny square (that's the holey blanket so beloved of grannies everywhere).  This post gathers together all the links to all the lessons in one convenient place.  It was only once I stumbled across these videos that things really started to come together for me.  She doesn't narrate the videos but I found that by watching closely and carefully, and with a few rounds of play… pause… rewind, I would gradually start to understand what we were doing.

6.  Learn to read patterns, and start with something easy.

Granny squares are a great place to start with crochet as they not only work up quickly, but you're straight away making something fun.  Once you get used to the sequence of stitches there's no pattern to follow so you're off and away.

However if you ever want to make anything more complex, you're going to have to learn to read patterns and the sooner you start trying, the better.

The first time I read a crochet pattern it looked like a five year old's typing efforts: a jumbled and incomprehensible mess.  Of course, as time passed and I saw the same abbreviations over and over again, I began to understand what I was reading.  The first pattern I actually attempted was a very simple one which just consisted of blocks of half-double crochet joined together.  I couldn't really believe it when I finished and realised I had actually created a little jacket for my sister's baby.

Choosing an easy pattern helped to build my confidence because not only could I now follow instructions that had looked like alphabet soup just weeks prior, but I actually made something that I was proud to give away, even if there was nothing sophisticated in its construction.

7.  Make stuff you actually want to finish.

Per above, although the jacket I made was very simple, I was excited and motivated to make it because it was a gift for my sister's baby.

Your crochet can be as daggy or as rad as you make it.  A granny square blanket can be drab and dull in muddy colours, or it can be awesome and on trend in, I don't know, fluorescents!  Chevron is so hot right now, and a chevron-striped blanket is so easy to make!

I happen to be pregnant at the moment which has been the source of a lot of inspiration for my projects (all depressingly on hold until my hands stop looking like inflated rubber gloves): baby clothes, tiny hats, adorable soft toys.

It's simple really: what stuff do YOU want? Ok, now go make it.

8.  Set up a Ravelry account.

Hands-down the best source for excellent patterns for pretty much anything you can dream of, is Ravelry.  Tons of the patterns are free.  You can keep track of your projects, save patterns for future projects, even keep inventory of your yarn stash.

I find it especially useful to note the yarn, hook and pattern of various projects I've worked on, so that I can refer back later and know with some confidence what kind of tension I achieve with various hook/yarn combinations.

9.  Patience, grasshopper.

Like anything, it's going to take time.  I don't know about you, but I can't remember the last time I learned a new skill.  Probably it was 10+ years ago.  Be patient, stick at it and keep persevering.  All those old biddies who can knit or crochet at lightning speed without even looking at their hands have been doing it for decades.

10.  Keep your early efforts, no matter how awful.

I'm a thrower-outter and by some chance I have actually kept my first granny squares, my first block of single crochet and some other pretty awful practice efforts.  It's good to look at them as I rummage through my yarn stash and remember that I have actually come a long way.


I just thought of this when I was about to hit publish but I don't want to leave it out.

No matter how pointless and time wasting it seems, always ALWAYS make a gauge swatch before starting any pattern. I'm yet to find a pattern where my gauge (the stitch size, basically) exactly matches that of the pattern-writer's. Making a swatch and adjusting the pattern/hook size accordingly can mean the difference between a cardigan for your baby niece, and a cardigan that doesn't even fit your baby niece's dolly. For all the hours you'll spend on the project, half an hour to check the gauge is time well spent.

Above all, crochet is meant to be fun.  It's relaxing and meditative.  It takes time to create something from your own hands, which is what makes it so rewarding.  I hope to continue crocheting until I'm one of those old biddies who can chat, watch TV, and drink a glass of wine all while whipping up something amazing on my hook.

Hopefully these tips have given you some direction if you're looking to start crochet.  And if you have no interest in crochet whatsoever, well, congratulations on reading to the end.  There's ten minutes of your life you'll never get back.

If you have any questions, or if you think I've left anything out, please just ask :)

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Through rose-tinted glasses

We held our baby shower/my birthday party this weekend.  It was HOT.

I had an excellent day, looking around and realising that I may only have a small group of friends here in Perth but they are all people I respect, relate to, and who are nice enough to laugh at my jokes.  Perhaps that all sounds a bit manifestly obvious (these are, after all, my friends), but so often it happens that our friendships are formed of convenience or habit, not out of genuine regard for each other.

Anyway I had such a great afternoon I totally forgot to get my camera out so you'll just have to take my word for it that it was a great day.

In lieu, here are the latest photos off the camera which all seem to have a rosy theme - completely unplanned, just serendipitous.

It's been relentlessly hot in Perth for the past few weeks, so rather than my usual Vegemite toast I've been enjoying cool yoghurt with fruit for breakfast.

I've really settled into the routine of not going to work, and with the heat keeping me indoors in the air conditioning I'm well across the daytime TV schedule.  I watch Donna Hay as I eat my lunch.  The other day she cooked what looked like the world's easiest cake so I had to give it a run, even though it meant turning on the oven.  Not only was it extremely easy, it was super delicious.

I urge you to give it a try: Apple & Blueberry Cake.  That link takes you to the video, but you can find the recipe in writing here.  In typical Donna Hay fashion she chose two fruits that are not in season at the same time, so I replaced the apple with strawberries with great results.  

Incidentally, why is Donna Hay's voice so annoying?  Is it just me?  I can't put my finger on what it is but there is something about her that really grates on my nerves.

Luckily she can write a good cake recipe.  This one takes so little time to make.  It's light and yet moist at the same time, and would be so versatile.

There is a clear fruit theme here but what else goes down so well in 35+ temperatures?  Icy watermelon from the fridge is hard to beat.

Last week we had a fantastic tropical break in the weather.  It stayed hot but it poured with rain on and off for three or four days.  You could just about hear the garden sighing in relief, along with me.  The poor cat hated life the whole time, creeping around with his belly to the floor and hiding under the bed clothes during the worst of the thunder.  But I loved it.  Not to mention the stunning sunsets.

Check out that beautiful pink light!  And those happy, dripping plants.  I firmly believe that while plants will survive with watering from the hose, it's rain that really revives them.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Still pregnant...

Yes, I'm STILL pregnant.

I think it's testament to how much I've enjoyed the experience that I have now put a photo on the internet of my 7+ months pregnant self in a bikini.  Obviously, despite it mostly being a very smooth and enjoyable ride, there have been some niggles and aches and pains.

This is what's been going on…

At around 31 weeks reflux arrived (oddly, it coincided with the time I was stuffing Pixie Caramels in my gob on the daily).  These days I have to eat dinner at least a couple of hours before bed, and avoid chocolate after dinner, unless I want to wake up with it halfway up my throat at midnight.  It hasn't been painful, thank goodness, just GROSS.  A daily bottle of Yakult has settled it down, and is of course very good for my system otherwise.

The other thing I've been suffering with is joint pain in my hands, which has put a real kibosh on all my crochet plans - on a bad day I can barely hold the hook.  I have had carpal tunnel syndrome ever since I used to hang supermarket price tickets years ago, and it has certainly flared up in recent weeks.  But additional to that has been a stiff soreness in my knuckles and finger joints that I can only describe as what I would imagine arthritis feels like.  Apparently it's related to fluid retention so I've been trying to drink lots and lots of water which does seem to help a bit.

I think I've forgotten to mention in previous posts that I finally felt the baby kick?  After feeling nothing whatsoever, in about Week 24 I woke early one morning to some little kicks, which I could even see from outside.  Nowadays there is a very predictable wake/sleep pattern and it's obvious that things are getting a little cramped in there.  Sometimes I put my hand on my stomach and can feel the outline of… something.  A head?  A shoulder, a knee?  It boggles my mind and I think I'll quite miss it when the baby arrives.  I can't imagine ever getting tired of it.

Speaking of tired, man, have I been tired.  It turns out that my iron levels were exceedingly low, so am now on supplementary iron tablets.  Since early in my pregnancy I had gone right off red meat (especially having to have it well done - yuck) which hasn't helped the iron levels.  It's nice to now have an explanation for the fact that I can't get past lunchtime without needing about three naps.  Plus Blair can no longer roll his eyes at my laziness.  I have a medical condition, Blair!

The baby room is practically done!  The whole time we were away I was ITCHING to get it all set up (nesting, much?) and once we got home I couldn't even wait for Blair to start assembling the furniture.  Having promised him I would wait, I did it all myself within a couple of - very hot - days while he was at work.  It's not quite ready for the big reveal yet, but that urge to have everything sorted out and put away has been sated somewhat.

We're having a combined baby shower/birthday party barbecue this Saturday as it's my birthday this week so it made sense to combine the two.  Plus I never wanted a traditional "women only" baby shower so am pleased we can involve Blair and all his friends too.  The barbecue is exactly four weeks from my due date - eek!

We did our antenatal class last Saturday (we opted for the one-day express class as we didn't know what Blair's work schedule would be).  We had our antenatal interview with the hospital this morning.  

At this stage I feel VERY READY.  But at the same time, not ready at all.

For as long as they've been able to see the baby it's remained stubbornly in a breech position, so we are assuming delivery will probably be via Caesarean section.  

That means we could be holding our tiny bundle before the month is out!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Life lately

Before Christmas we harvested the first ear of corn (above) which as you can see Blair ate raw straight off the plant.  Sadly once we got home from our holidays we discovered that the rest of the crop hadn't ripened successfully - too hot?  Not enough water?  Who knows.  I'm not a big fan of corn so wasn't especially bothered but poor Blair was very disappointed.

The zucchini plants go on and on AND ON.  I can only hope they finish soon - at this stage I'm just giving the zucchini away, and if no one wants them I'm feeding them to our worms.  There are probably more out there as I type this.

Something that I'm feeling far more enthused about is the fact that the passionfruit are FINALLY starting to ripen.  I say "finally", but the plants are only about 18 months old - the exact age that they are supposed to start bearing fruit.  When we arrived home from New Zealand there was already one passionfruit ready for eating, and it was sweet and pulpy and delicious.

Not to be unbelievably fussy or anything… but it was almost too sweet.  I like my passionfruit to be tart.  Does anyone know how to make your passionfruit tart instead of syrupy sweet?

Since we've been home and blissfully free of work commitments (until, that is, Blair had to go back this week), we've been going down to the beach in the mornings for a swim.

If I only swim in our pool I never feel that I'm missing out on anything.  However one dip in the ocean is all it takes to remind me that the pool can never really compare.  The ocean is where it's at.

Early on the weekday mornings the beach is empty except for some very cheerful old people (and who can blame them for being so cheerful when this is how they start their days?).  The water is cool and clear and refreshing.

As everyone told me, there is no better feeling for me at the moment than floating weightlessly.  Blair always has to suggest that it's time to go, I could happily stay there all day.

Afterwards, there is a coffee van in the car park where I get my morning latte.

Mostly I feel I've sunk very comfortably into this whole "not working" thing, however the one transition that I've struggled with is the vast difference between the coffee I was getting in the city, and the coffee available near my house.  Before my pregnancy craving demanded that I have a coffee every day I never knew the difference.  Nowadays I realise I've become one of those insufferable coffee snobs.  I had no idea there was so much bad coffee around.

The coffee van at the beach is run by a European couple so needless to say the coffee is excellent, but nearer home the options are far more dire.  I'm considering buying a coffee machine for home - any recommendations?  Although they're terribly convenient I'd rather not get a pod machine due to the waste factor.  Plus I quite enjoy the morning ritual of going out to get a coffee - even if it is an extravagance on my new limited budget.

One of the great things about all this time off work has been the amount of time I can devote to reading.  I had forgotten home much I love getting lost in a book, and I've been devouring them.  I, for one, am always looking for recommendations, so thought I would share with you my top three summer reads.
  1. A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg.  I read this because I read her second book Delancey first (confused?).  Molly writes the blog Orangette.  Her books follow a charming theme of using her favourite recipes to tell her story.  A Homemade Life is a gentle read and had me hooked until the end, when I wished there was more.  It also made me itch to try out some of her recipes.  I recommend reading this first, followed by Delancey.
  2. Wild by Cheryl Strayed.  Another memoir (can you tell I'm right into non-fiction at the moment?) but quite a different one from A Homemade Life.  It took me a while to warm to Cheryl and I nearly abandoned this book in the early stages.  I'm so glad I didn't.  Read the book before the movie comes out.
  3. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.  And lastly, a bit of fiction for variety.  I have to admit I've only just started this but am already having to force myself to put it down to do other things.  It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and I can see why.  Do yourself a favour and pick it up RIGHT NOW.
After "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves", I've got "Yes Please" by Amy Poehler to try.

Other books I have recently loved…
  • The Feel-Good Hit of the Year by Liam Pieper
  • Things I Didn't Expect by Monica Dux
  • The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
  • 127 Hours by Aron Ralston
  • Touching the Void by Joe Simpson
  • Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
  • Paris Letters by Janice Macleod
Books that I have started but not loved…
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  • Out to Lunch by Stacey Ballis
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  • Never Make the Same Mistake Twice by Nene Leakes
  • Lost & Found by Brooke Davis
  • Room by Emma Donoghue
  • The Fault in our Stars by John Green
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Looking at these lists makes me so grateful for my Kindle.  There's no way I could afford to buy so many hard copy books, not to mention the fact that all of these I have obtained without ever leaving the comfort of my chair.

Got any truly excellent books that you want to recommend to me?