Monday, December 31, 2012

Nesting, for real

Having used the cot as storage furniture for the past few weeks, TLOML and I were finally consumed with an urge to do a little more to set up the nursery. Knowing that we were just a few short weeks off 'full term' gave us that nudge.

So in the week before Christmas we washed all the newborn clothes, toys, blankets and swaddle cloths we have acquired. Then I was overcome with a burning desire to organise them all into tidy little piles. Which involved a major overhaul of our linen drawers, a fair amount of rummaging around for cardboard boxes to store surplus sheets and towels, a lot of huffing and puffing and an immense sense of satisfaction.
Cleaned, categorised, piled up tidily. V satisfying.
I guess this is the thin end of the nesting wedge. So it seems I'm not immune, after all.

Christmas has been a great distraction. All that baking and cooking. The organising and wrapping and putting into logical piles of gifts. It's good displacement activity. Even so, on Boxing Day I did find myself frenziedly stitching little ribbon hooks onto tea towels 'so they would hang better'. I think this might be what nesting feels like.

Now the seasonal jollities are almost over I can get on with this nesting business in earnest. Hmm, I think that rocking chair would benefit from a quick going over with some Cif. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Onwards and upwards

Well, I relented. I couldn't ignore my inner child any longer. Besides, in a few years we'll have a child - maybe more than one - who deserve parents who can put together a good, solid, family Christmas. And that surely must include a basic level of competence at gingerbread house construction?

So I made the gingerbread building materials and TLOML and I decorated it. Like the two overgrown children we are.
It's a distinct improvement on last year's effort.

Likewise, although Fox Corner has its shortcomings, it is an improvement on the Rabbit Hutch we were living in this time last year. For what we lack in doormen, we make up for in outside space, a guest bedroom, and room for a dining table.

In 2013 we will build a gingerbread mansion - perhaps even a castle. And who knows, we might even be living in one. (I'd settle for a little 3 bed house for what it's worth).

Onwards and upwards!

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Sound of Christmas

Like mincepies, festive music doesn't cross the Atlantic quite so neatly.

Over the course of three 'Holiday' seasons in the US I grew to love the anthem to consumerism that is Silver Bells. You just don't hear it very often over here. Which is a shame because our traffic lights are an equally festive red and green as those in the States. And we might call them pavements, not sidewalks, but they still get jolly busy with shoppers.

Still, no small consolation for me this year is that it seems, here in the UK, we're still playing East 17's 1994 Christmas number one, Stay Another Day.
TLOML is a bit confused about why a song which repeats the line 'don't think I can stand the pain', and has not a single reference to Santa or snow is festive.

Maybe it's the bells donging away, festively, in the background. Maybe it's the fact that it gets played on the radio a lot this time of year. Whatever it is, it sounds like a slice of Christmas music pie to me.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Transatlantic Christmas Traditions

This is TLOML's first Christmas in London since he was about 9 years old. We're spending it together, just the two of us, at Fox Corner. Our first married Christmas and probably the only one we'll spend as just the two of us for the foreseeable future.

The pressure is on. It has to be brilliant. It also has to be, I think, recognisably British. During my Christmases in the US I happily sacrificed mince pies, Christmas pudding and parsnips in favour of gingerbread cookies, mashed potatoes and candied yams. But we're back in Blighty this year, so it's time to get back to my roots. Which includes eating mince pies and parsnips.

I know it's a cliche, and I'm sure he was half kidding, but TLOML has asked me several times if there is any beef mince in a mince pie. To be fair, he knows that tradition suggests the use of suet (raw beef fat, let's call a spade a spade here) in Christmas pudding.  So we can forgive him the confusion.

Parsnip confusion is less understandable. After all, parsnips are eaten in the US. But just not by TLOML. 'What are they?' he asked, recoiling in horror as I unpacked the shopping, 'They look like gigantic trolls' fingers.'
Honeyed gigantic troll fingers for lunch

As I write this it strikes me that not everyone has parsnips on Christmas day in Britain. Just as not everyone has mashed potatoes in the US. Christmas traditions aren't so much national, as hyper local. As in, derived from the very precise locality that is your family home.

Well, in my family's home, we eat parsnips and sprouts on Christmas day. And Christmas pudding and mince pies. The turkey is stuffed with sausagemeat at one end and bread stuffing at the other, and served all the usual fare including cranberry sauce and carrots. There is never a gingerbread house.

TLOML is not a huge fan of carrots, neither of us care much for cranberry sauce, and we both love a gingerbread house. So we will act accordingly.

I suppose this year we're creating a tailormade Transatlantic Christmas, and a set of Christmas traditions which will become those of our new family, over the years to come. (Gosh, I hope our unborn daughter doesn't wind up living with some foreigner and not coming home for Christmas, like me.)

Whatever your Christmas traditions, I hope they involve huge dollops of merriness and joy. Happy Christmas!

Thursday, December 13, 2012


A highlight of my Christmas last year was making the gingerbread house. It was a bit of palaver, but decorating it was so fun. And we ended creating something quite charming in the end, if a little rustic. It looked and smelt truly festive and also meant we spent days on a constant sugar high (grabbing a bit of roof or wall every time we passed it).
Last year's effort: my first gingerbread house. Stop laughing please.
I may have mentioned that we are grounded. Hopes of a festive trip to the Sunshine State have been cruelly dashed. So Christmas will be spent in London, and will probably be just the two of us and Jack, at Fox Corner.

Last year when I started the gingerbread house I was convinced I was establishing a tradition for our family for the rest of our lives. But I'm wondering now whether I might put that idea on ice for another year. By Christmas 2013 we'll really be a family, and can truly get into the creation of Christmas traditions. There'll be a gingerbread house, Christmas Eve pyjamas, the putting out of sherry and mincepies / milk and cookies* for Santa, and many more cutely festive, child-focussed happenings. Is there any need to rush into it? After all, once we start with all that, it's set for the next 20 years.

On reflection, I think really our first married Christmas, and our last without children, should be about grown-up, lazy fun.  A lot of long lie-ins, plenty of take outs, and absolutely no elaborate baking challenges.

But then again... the child inside me (I don't mean literally, as in my unborn child, I mean the 7 year old me who still operates parts of my brain) is already saying 'It's not Christmas without the gingerbread house!'.

I suspect if that seven year old me meets my nesting instinct I'll be back in the kitchen rolling out wall and roof panels before I know what's taken hold of me.

*The Transatlantic jury's still out on that one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Birthday Boozing Bonanza

We have been told repeatedly, and really quite insistently, that we must go out as much as possible before the baby comes. And we are trying to do as we are told. After all, our months in Manhattan proved that we are really quite good at that going out thing.

TLOML notched another year up on the totem pole of his life at the weekend. So we used that as the excuse for a grown up, glammed up, Saturday night out at the Proud bar in Camden. It’s part-hipster bar, part-old school cabaret club. We noshed on beef wellington and sipped martinis (well, he did anyway) while watching a steady steam of cabaret and burlesque acts. I enjoyed a whole glass of wine and some rather risqué bresaola. Living on the edge! The show was appropriately classy and fairly PG but still counts as our raciest night out since we moved into FoxCorner and got all ‘with child’. We were home by 11pm, mind you - no stopping off for a nightcap on the way home.

On Sunday we spent the afternoon drinking (water for me, beer for him) with friends in The Grafton, a new star on the already fairly stellar NW5 drinking scene. Being of the age we are, and living as we do in London where children are welcome in pubs, we were surrounded by the small children of our friends. I think at one point the kids actually outnumbered the grown ups. They brought our table’s average age down to somewhere in the early 20s. It was quite a different vibe to the New York social scene we enjoyed, and really very lovely.

Naturally, an afternoon in the pub lead to a spontaneous curry. At least, as spontaneous as such an inevitability can be. That makes two nights out on the trot, and with an afternoon of socialising in between them too. Still, we were home and watching Homeland by 10pm.

So, I guess that’s a strong indication that our days of random late night cocktails are over. Manhattan is uniquely well set up for that sort of behaviour. With so many great bars and all open late, on any evening walk home you’re always just a few steps away from a Perfect Manhattan.

London has its fair share of great bars, of course, but wandering through Camden on Saturday night I was really quite put off by the length of the queues to get in. And of course, once you get in you’ll have to wait ages, standing up, to be served. So unappealing! Especially when the alternative is a drop of single malt (for him), and a cup of chamomile tea (for me) in the comfort of your own home.

Oh, wait, is that 'middle age' talking? Shoot. Maybe it isn’t London after all.

I’ll blame pregnancy for now. And maybe the lack of great table service in London. And I promise we’ll do our best to go out at least a few more times before the baby arrives. Then we can blame her for our lack of appetite for late nights and fabulous bars.

Friday, December 7, 2012

What shall we do with our placenta?

I thought it was worth returning to the Active Birth Course. It merits more than just a mention in a post.

In summary, it was a brilliant course, with some great practical advice on managing pain and staying calm. I enjoyed saying ‘my baby fits my pelvis perfectly’ many times over, and watching videos of babies being born to blissed out Russian ladies in Black Sea rockpools.
 (Warning - this video shows actual babies being born. Do not watch if you are easily freaked out).

I was grateful for the experiences shared by Janet Balaskas, the coach, who pioneered the Active Birth Movement in the ‘70s, and the midwives there. Sayings like ‘first come the poops, then comes the baby’ are easy to retain and ensure at least I won’t be surprised if, well, that happens.

But there were some aspects which left me cold. I pretended I was into it, but when we were on all fours, roaring like lionesses, I was totally faking it. I didn’t feel like a lioness at all.

And the placenta chat, well, that horrified both of us. Who knew there were so many options? As a bare minimum, it was recommended that we take a moment to ‘recognise’ what the placenta has done for us and our baby. After all, it’s been her constant companion in the womb. Some people think it’s nice to take it home still attached to the baby. Apparently you can get these ‘lovely little bags’ to keep it in. How nice for the baby to have her constant companion tucked into her Moses basket next to her – and how lovely for everyone who comes to meet her, to also get to meet little miss placenta too. Once it is detached, you might want to bury it in your garden and plant a rose bush in it. Or have it freeze dried for your own consumption. Delicious.

While everyone else was writing down the name of the placenta drying service, TLOML and I were sniggering with disbelief.

Overall, though, it was a great course: the perfect mix of education and entertainment.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Active Birthing aka Pull Your Socks Up

TLOML and I attended an Active Birth Course at the weekend. Active birthing is the exact opposite of giving birth lying on your back. It involves moving around, saying mantras, and listening to plinky-plonky spa music whilst giving birth in a great big tub.

Active birth, hypnobirth, or just plain old fashioned ‘grit your teeth and bear it’ natural childbirth are fairly popular in the UK. Of the British babies I know, fully 75% of them were born without medical intervention and to women who had no pain relief other than a bit of gas and air. (The other 25% involved emergency C-sections or epidurals administered after hours of agony).

Those are British babies though. And I’m sure there are pockets of ladies in Venice Beach or Berkeley who give birth listening to dolphin music. But the vast majority of US births are managed less like a love-in, and more like a medical event. My US sample size is a lot smaller, but Mr Google backs me up in my instincts: twice as many US births involve an epidural, for example. Epidurals are a bit of a dirty word among the yummy mummies of North London. It’s up there with  admitting you had a MacDonald’s at the weekend.

TLOML and I mused about why this transatlantic difference exists. He has long held a theory that Brits are tougher than Americans. Brits are tough because we are used to putting up with awful weather and crummy service. But Americans will always win the day, because they refuse to put up with anything sub-par: they battle the climate with air-con, and don’t tolerate anything other than good, smiley service.

So it makes sense that most American women will not be conned into thinking that their painful contractions are, in fact, ‘surges of energy’. Nor will they miss a chance for pain relief, and the assistance of extra staff. Just as there are 20% more staff per customer in the average US restaurant, there are probably 20% more staff per birth in the average US maternity unit.

Having seen how Kourtney Kardashian gives birth* I understand the appeal. She lies, blissful and quiet (presumably doped up to her eyeballs), not looking remotely sweating or anxious, being told when to push. It looks very calm and lovely, the model of a medicalised birth.

Meanwhile, with our upper lips famously stiffened, we Brits just soldier on thinking hours of agonising pain is just all part of the process. ‘Pull your socks up, Samantha, plenty of women have pushed out breech babies!’ ‘Stop making such a fuss, Edith, it’s only been eight hours of pain!’.

I hope I’ll handle the birth stoically, if not joyfully... I will update you sometime in February about whether I stayed tough, or went all America and called for an epidural.

*Don’t judge me! It’s good telly. Also we like the shots of LA, Malibu and Calabasas. Sigh.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Nesting... or not?

I have landed safely on the shores of my third trimester. I understand there are some certainties in this land.

The first is heartburn. Check. Having hardly suffered at all I am now paralysed with acid reflux every time I bend at the waist, no matter what I’ve eaten. The good news is that since it doesn’t seem to be any better if I eat like a bird all day, I’m not bothering to eat like a bird at all, ever. Given that I’m going to suffer whether I eat pizza or salad, I’m eating pizza.

Speaking of birds, the second certainty is apparently nesting. Apparently I should be seized with a compulsive urge to dust the curtain rails, make a quilt, and clear out the cellar.

Sadly the only thing I feel a compulsion for is whisky, espresso and other banned (or severely limited) delights. Maybe all nesting really is displacement energy, distracting pregnant ladies from the stuff they really want to be doing – like sipping Perfect Manhattans - with boring household chores.

Well, the nesting instinct may not have struck but I’m not totally ignorant of the needs of my unborn child. I know she, and her parents, will need a lot of clobber. So TLOML and I did a big spree - mainly so we could avoid shopping in the Christmas or January Sales crush.

For a couple of weeks the clobber stayed piled up in a big mess in the corner. Which, despite my nesting-trimester status, did not bother me one little bit.
Then, this weekend we went on a birthing course and suddenly the reality hit us. We really are going to have a baby, a real live one of our own, and she could be here in just a few weeks.

So TLOML got all organised and built the cot – mainly to use as storage, admittedly. So our baby’s clobber is now all neatly tucked away in the corner of TLOML’s office. We’re planning to leave Fox Corner in the spring - because we just haven't moved house enough lately - so the baby isn’t going to get a room of her own until we move I’m afraid.

I still don’t think this counts as nesting. I mean, I couldn’t even be bothered to take stuff out of boxes or categorise it properly. (And you know how I like to categorise.).

Is there something wrong with me? Will I ever truly nest? Or is our child destined to enter a world where her monitor lives in a box, she shares her storage space with a printer, and she wears her John Lewis clothes with the tags still in?