Monday, 28 September 2015

Sunday Sunshine

We had such a beautifully sunny weekend here, where the warmth felt like Summer was still lingering, but the colours of Autumn were everywhere. I loved spotting the way the sun lit up spider's webs and the wings of the hover flies surrounding flowers. Simple but stunning beauty.





Sunday, 27 September 2015

The 52 Project: 39/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
This week, you received your first ever bike, thanks to your generous Uncle Andrew. It only seemed fitting that this week's portrait would feature you with your balance bike. You love it. The only point of contention is that you would quite like to ride it all through the house, and we, being the mean parents that we are, have said that you need to ride it outside. So unfair, I know. You are fantastic at remembering that you need to wear your helmet ('Hulmo') whenever you ride your bike and it has been a joy to watch you master a new skill this week. 
All my love,
Mummy 

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

2015 sewing goal update


Do you remember way back in April when I wrote about creative goals and how I need to have deadlines, or at least be accountable in order to get things finished? In that post, I said that my sewing goal for the year was to make three quilts by the end of the year. As of today, I have completed two, so only have one more to go. I also talked about the value of finishing things, and how this can be a struggle for me when I spend all my days at home, and while there is always work to be done at home, that work is also constantly being undone. Washing, cooking, cleaning. All of these things will always have to be done and re-done from now until the end of time. I read a quote at the weekend which really resonated with the thoughts I have had this year about the need to do creative things, but is articulated so much better than I could manage:

'Perhaps some days unpredictability and variety overshadow the responsibility of motherhood. You can hardly imagine what you do in a day that stays done. That is one reason to get involved in a hobby or project or class. In such things, you can see and feel progress or permanence. Unlike the laundry or the dishes or the cooking, they stay done.” 

Permanence. That is exactly it. I value the permanence of things I have made (except for cakes). 

Quilting is so much about stages, and always keeping the end goal in mind: A beautiful quilt that will be used and loved for decades. It can be easy to feel disillusioned in the early stages where there is so much cutting to do. This quilt is made up of 160 triangles. That is a lot of cutting of lots of pieces of fabric. But I always find that once the cutting is done, it only takes a few hours of sewing for the quilt top to be completed.

My least favourite part of the process is making and attaching the binding. It's fiddly and I can never get it to look as neat as I would like to. My lack of love for binding is the sole reason these two quilts have sat ready and waiting for their binding for the last two months. At the weekend, I saw a friend's photo on Instagram of a beautiful selection of fabrics she had just bought from my favourite online fabric shop - M is for Make. I gave myself the incentive of buying some new fabrics as a treat for completing these two, as a way to try and motivate me to just get through the last stage of sewing to complete them. Well, my resolve to wait did not last, and I ended up buying the new fabrics before I had even started the binding! But I did finish them, so there's always that...

Monday, 21 September 2015

The 52 Project: 38/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
Last week was rather characterised by lots of running, jumping and streaming noses. We have borrowed a running buggy from one of our friends, so I can go running and you can come with me. All I can say is, I wish we had started this tradition a long time ago. You also love to run when you are not in the buggy. You stand still, then take a couple of steps back while counting, 'two, fweee, two, fweee, deddy, steady....nun!' Then off you go, running until you feel it's time to stop and repeat the counting and walking backwards process. I love you and your ways.
Jumping is turning out to be a long standing love of yours, so I try and make as many opportunities as I can for you to jump on the trampolines at the park and our friend's houses. Even when there isn't a trampoline is sight, you will quite happily jump around the house. I love your energy. Keep jumping, little one, I love seeing the delight on your face.
All my love,
Mummy xxx

Friday, 18 September 2015

Autumn is coming, but my baby isn't

As August drew to a close, I pulled back the curtains one morning to see a fresh layer of condensation on the window and smell that cool, fresh scent that comes with a drop in temperature as the seasons start to shift. My immediate thought was, 'Autumn is coming, but my baby isn't.' I hadn't been thinking about the baby that we lost a few months ago, but the loss was still there, simmering just below the surface. I had thought that this Autumn would be characterised by nesting, third trimester growth, and preparing meals to fill our freezer to help us through the Winter months with a newborn. With the first signs of cool temperatures and condensation, I was reminded that Autumn will look completely different to what I was anticipating. There won't be a big baby bump, but it will still be beautiful.

************

In April this year, we found out that we were expecting another baby, due to be born on 29th December 2015. At the start of June, when I was nine weeks pregnant, I lost the baby. In the weeks that followed, I experienced the loving kindness of the precious women in my life who have sadly experienced the loss of a baby too. These women, they know what to say in a way that others do not, because their hearts have walked this path before.

At the first sign of miscarriage, I did not panic. I read about my symptoms and found it entirely unhelpful that they could occur in a completely healthy pregnancy, but they could also be indicative of miscarriage. How could it be that the losing of a life could look so similar to a healthy pregnancy?
After speaking with a fantastic GP, I decided to go for an early scan to determine what was happening. In England, if you suspect you are experiencing a miscarriage before 13 weeks, you have to go to an Early Pregnancy drop in clinic, take a number and wait your turn for a scan. The experience was slightly surreal, so to cope with it, I did what I needed to do - write it out:

'I walked into this room full of women. Some with partners, some without. I got there early in the hope that I would be one of the first to be seen and I am slightly taken aback by the heat in the room and how many women there are already here. Is it that I just want to be the first to be seen so my worries can be affirmed or allayed? Or is it that I don't want to sit in a room full of women waiting to hear whether or not the tiny heart in their womb is still beating? The TV is on, talking about coffee and if we really need it to help us wake up. A woman shares how she started drinking coffee when she was eleven and has thirty cups a day. 'Wow. Ironic', I think, 'we are all here because we might have lost our babies, and excessive caffeine consumption in pregnancy can increase the likelihood of miscarriage.'
The couple next to me are doing a crossword. I'm not sure I have the focus to think about word clues when I'm wondering if I am losing my baby. But everyone copes differently, and perhaps this is their coping strategy. 

Two hours passed and as I lay on the bed while the sonographer scanned my womb, I turned my head so I could see her screen. ‘It’s not like the room where you go when all is ok. They make it easy for you to see your baby there’, I thought to myself. ‘They don’t want you to see what you already know to be true. That your womb is going to be empty soon.’ She turned the screen so that I could no longer try and decipher what was happening inside of me with the help of the sonogram. I was at the mercy of her words. Just as the doctor had warned me, the sonographer tried to offer false hope. ‘I can’t see the heartbeat, but we’d like you to come back next week. We might be able to see it then…’ I pushed her to talk frankly with me. I didn’t want false hope. I wanted to know if I was losing my baby. She could not confirm, but I knew. 

They asked me to wait in the corridor. I had no idea what I was waiting for. All I knew is that I was losing my baby, even though she wouldn’t say those words to me. I wanted to walk out of the hospital right there and then. I knew that if I sat for more than a minute with these thoughts, the tears would come. I wanted to feel the weight of sadness, but not here. Not right next to another woman who was worried about her baby, frantically texting goodness knows who. I wanted to breathe fresh air and hold my daughter. I didn’t want to cry into her muslin in the hospital corridor. But that is what I did, because I couldn’t hold back my tears. And all I could hear was the sonographer and the nurse talking about their boyfriends and what they were doing that weekend. ‘There is nothing sombre about their conversation, and yet they are spending their days confirming or allaying women’s fears. Has this kind of news become normal to them? This has to be someone’s job, and they are the ones that have chosen to do this.’

They gave me the slip with an appointment for my follow up scan the next week, along with a dose of false hope that all would be ok, but all I wanted was to have my yellow book back – the one that would tell the story of my pregnancy, labour and birth. I didn’t want this to be the end of the story in that yellow book. I wanted to carry it with me to all of my midwife appointments. But I knew that I wouldn’t be seeing that yellow book again. Not for this baby.

*****************

Even though I knew that I would lose this baby, I was completely in the dark as to what to expect. I don't know that this is necessarily the normal experience for other women who experience a miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy, but I have realised that a lot of people are in the dark when it comes to knowing about and talking about miscarriage. It just added to the horror of the experience to go through the physical loss of the baby not knowing what to expect.

When I was pregnant with Ruby, one of the things I marvelled at time and again, was that my womb was the safest place for her to be for the first fourty weeks of her life. It felt like a privilege that I got to carry this baby, and entirely miraculous that my body gave her everything she needed until she was ready to come and join us. So to be pregnant and know that for some reason, your baby is not ok and there is nothing you can do to protect it – that even your womb is not enough on this occasion – is the ultimate lesson in knowing that we are not in control.

I didn't want them to leave. The tiny baby that had taken up residence in my womb did not stay put for long enough for us to get to know them.When someone dies, there is a great grief over the loss of a heart that was known and deeply loved. When a baby is conceived but does not survive, there is still a grief attached, but for me, it felt more like loss than grief. We lost the opportunity of ever getting to know who that little person was. I lost the opportunity to feed and nurture them; to snuggle my baby and listen to their tiny short breaths that are so, so precious. They were there, and then they were gone.

The experience of labouring and not delivering a baby at the end of it is deeply saddening. The labour pains really did correlate with the emotional loss of knowing that we wouldn’t get to meet this baby. But this story would not be complete if I didn't share how aware I was throughout the process of losing our baby of God's peace and presence. In the thick of the contractions, I knew His peace in a tangible way. One of the Bible verses that I have known off by heart for many years, speaks of God's peace:

'Do not be anxious about anything. But in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.' (Philippians 4 v 6.)

Even though I knew these words, it wasn't until I experienced losing a baby that I really knew what they meant in an experiential way; here I was going through one of the most traumatic physical experiences of my life, and yet, I knew peace. It makes no rational sense that peace would be tangible in trauma, and that is exactly why it is the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding. God's kindness and grace, and the prayers of friends, have made a huge difference to how I might have otherwise coped with the sadness of losing a baby.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Tomorrow's food, today

If you have spent longer than a few minutes reading my blog, you probably know that I love to bake. I never struggle to think of something sweet to make, but when it comes to savoury food, I am often stumped.  There have definitely been seasons of my life where I have really enjoyed cooking savoury food - like at university where I cooked with my housemates and discovered the delights of using wine and cream in cooking. So much deliciousness with those two ingredients in so many dishes. But then, I ended up marrying someone who loves cooking, and is far better at it than me. I feel ever so fortunate that most nights, my husband cooks up something really delicious for us to eat.

However...I still have to cook for Ruby most days. The way meal times work for us at the moment is that Ruby tends to be just finishing her dinner when John arrives home. Once Ruby is in bed, John cooks for us. I am certain that over time, this pattern of eating will change. As much as anything, it feels a bit unnatural for me to sit with Ruby while she eats, and I don't have anything. Also, on the nights where there aren't any leftovers for Ruby to eat, it seems like a waste of time for both John and I to cook. If I'm going to be cooking for one, I might as well be cooking for all three of us. 
Courgettes chopped by Ruby. She often helps with vegetable prep using her crinkle cutter.

If you were a fly on the wall in my kitchen between the hours of 4.30pm, you would more often than not find me wracking my brains for ideas of what to cook for Ruby, and doing a lot of procrastinating, just to avoid actually getting on and trying to make something tasty. We have tried meal planning, which worked to a certain extent, but once we reached the end of our three month meal plan, I was a little bored of some of the meals. Except for homemade pizza, which we make most weeks. I never get bored of that. 
If I am not procrastinating, I tend to go completely the other way, and get way too productive for my own good. This happened last night, and I found myself simultaneously cooking pasta & pesto for Ruby's dinner, potato salad for our lunches, cottage pie for a dinner later in the week, and defrosting curry for dinner. One way or another, I always seem to find myself thinking, 'I just need to be a bit more organised to avoid these situations.' Perhaps I just need to do this more often - cook meals for all our tomorrows ahead of time. 
So there you have it. A little insight into my chaotic cooking. Please feel free to share your favourite meals in the comments below - I would love some fresh inspiration! 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

pear and apple crumble

Some kind friends of ours gave us a bag of pears from their pear tree, so I made a dessert that feels completely fitting with the change of seasons that is upon us: Crumble. This is such a classic British dessert, and I love its simplicity and versatility. You can't go too far wrong. I like my crumble topping with plenty of oats for added flavour. How do you like yours?

ingredients
350g pears, peeled & chopped
350g dessert apples, peeled & chopped
125g unsalted butter
50g light brown sugar (caster sugar is also fine)
140g rolled oats
100g plain flour (I used wholemeal as it is healthier and I love the texture it adds)
100g unsalted butter
100g light muscovado sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

method
1) Pre-heat oven to 190C / 170C fan / gas mark 5
2) Melt 25g butter in a large saucepan and add the chopped pears and apples to the pan, along with the sugar. Cook over a gentle heat until the fruit softens. (This will probably take around 15 mins.) Transfer the cooked fruit to an oven proof dish.
3) For the topping, weigh the oats, flour and cinnamon into a bowl and stir together.
4) Cut the butter into small chunks then add to the bowl and rub together between your fingers until no lumps of butter remain. (Alternatively, you can do this in a food processor. If so, I would recommend pulsing the butter with the flour & cinammon, then stirring in the oats by hand, so you don't chop the oats up.)
5) Stir in the sugar. Sprinkle the topping over the cooked fruit and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 mins until the juices from the fruit start to bubble.
6) Cool slightly before serving with cream, custard, ice cream, or by itself!

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The 52 Project // 37/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby, 
This week was pretty momentous for a couple of reasons: 
1) Daddy came back home after two weeks in Taiwan.
2) We celebrated Wren's first birthday.

You were pretty excited about both events, although I think you were mildly alarmed when Daddy came to pick you up in the dark and you hadn't seen him for two weeks. 
Shoes have recently piqued your interest, and if ever there is a pair lying around, you pop them on, and do an impressive job of shuffling around in them without falling over. Bonus points for finding shoes to put on when you already have your sandals on! I must apologise that most of the clothes you are wearing these days are a little on the small size. You have grown a lot over the Summer, and now need a whole new wardrobe of clothes for Autumn and Winter. Keep growing, little one, you are doing fantastically. 

All my love,
Mummy

P.S. One other change this week is that you suddenly started calling me 'Mummy' instead of 'Mama'. I think you sound a little bit French when you say, 'Mummy'. 

Monday, 7 September 2015

Photo Books // The Pregnancy & Portrait Series

If you have been reading this blog for more than just a few days, you will have most likely noticed that every Sunday, I post a portrait of my daughter. I started this in January of 2013, when Ruby was just a few weeks old. The idea came from Jodi who writes at Practising Simplicity. Jodi founded The 52 Project a few years back as a way of documenting her children throughout the year, and this seemed like the perfect way of having a simple structure to help me document Ruby's first year. Jodi suggests just writing one sentence to go alongside the portrait each week, but I decided to write short letters to Ruby each week instead. This would also serve to be a diary of sorts to help me remember what we had filled our weeks with. During pregnancy, I had started writing letters to Ruby (which you can read if you click on the 'Pregnancy' tab in the sidebar on the right of your screen), and it made sense to me to continue writing in this medium once she was born.
I always knew that I would want to turn these portraits into a photo book at the end of the year, and I also knew that I wanted to incorporate the self portraits I took during pregnancy, along with the blog posts I wrote while pregnant. Thus, The Pregnancy and Portrait Series was born. Once 2014 had come to a close, I started to think about the format I would use for printing my photo book. It was also around this time that Artifact Uprising kept popping up in my Instagram feed and on my favourite blogs, and their aesthetic was exactly what I wanted in a photo book.
When it came to assembling the photo book using Artifact Uprising's software, I encountered my first  (and only) major challenge. I had hoped to be able to simply copy and paste the text from my blog posts into the A.U software, ensuring all of the pages were set to the same font, then insert the portraits alongside these. However, I found that because each blog post included a different amount of text, this process was not straightforward. I couldn't get the alignment right, and I couldn't work out from the software what size font would look best in print. It was also proving problematic to just copy and paste the text from Blogger into Artifact Uprising, perhaps because of the html formatting of Blogger, but I can't say for sure.
Thankfully, one of my favourite bloggers came to the rescue. There is a wonderfully gifted photographer and memory keeper called Ronnie, who writes over at Life Captured Inc.
I loved the family photo books that she shared on her blog. Her fresh, clean style is timeless, and I loved this about her. Much to my delight, Ronnie created some templates to use with Artifact Uprising's photo books. Suddenly, the task of putting together a photo book with a new-to-me software in a new-to-me format, became achievable.
I purchased one of Ronnie's story book templates through Life Captured Inc's website, downloaded the Adobe InDesign software through the free 30 day trial that they offer, and set about creating my book. Ronnie also offers a template specific to The 52 Project, as she has also taken part in the weekly portraits, but the style of the 'Documenting Family Holidays' template worked best with what I had in mind for my book. The storybook template files come with very clear instructions as to how to use them within Adobe InDesign, so if you like the idea of making this kind of storybook, but feel daunted by using complex graphic design software, I can assure you that Ronnie makes it as simple as it can possibly be. All of the fonts are pre-set within the template, so there was absolutely no faffing around with sizing and changing fonts, which was great. Although I had a few teething problems when it came to using the software, Ronnie was incredibly helpful via email, and once I knew what I was doing, the process was very straight forward.
Once I had completed the book design in Adobe InDesign, it was a very quick process of uploading the completed book to Artifact Uprising. I purchased one of their soft cover books measuring 8.25 " x 11". One of the features that first appealed to me about Artifact Uprising's photobooks is that they use Mohawk superfine eggshell paper, which has a beautiful texture, and the interior pages of the books are made from 100% post consumer waste material. I love the recycled element, and I much prefer eggshell textured paper to glossy photo pages. The only downside to Artifact Uprising is that they are based in America, which means shipping to England adds a huge amount of airmiles to your books, and the cost of shipping is pretty significant. The cost of the books themselves is very reasonable, but shipping really does bump up the price. If you wanted to make a similar book but without the high shipping prices, you could make a Blurb book using their standard portrait book option and choose pro-line paper, which is more expensive than the regular gloss pages, but has a beautiful texture to it. (This is the paper I print my Instagram 7"x7" photo books on). I am absolutely thrilled with the finished book, which is 140 pages long. It's thick, sturdy and beautiful, in my humble opinion. 

Saturday, 5 September 2015

The 52 Project: 36/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015'

Dear Ruby,
My precious daughter, this week has been tinged with some heartache that I can't shake - most of which has passed you by. Daddy flew to Taiwan on Monday for a couple of weeks' work, and you notice that he is not here, but thankfully, we have been able to see him and talk to him every day on FaceTime. We miss him, but we know that he will be back in just a few days, which makes the missing more bearable.
The main source of heartache has been the plight of Syrian refugees that are having to flee their homes and countries, and are desperately seeking safety in countries across Europe. You are only young, and cannot yet understand all that is going on, but I know that you understand what 'home' means, and who your family are - every child knows this from such an early age because these things are so intrinsic to our lives and well being. I sincerely, wholeheartedly hope and pray that by the time you are old enough to read these words, the mess and war and tyranny will be over, and that Syrians won't have to risk losing their lives as they cross oceans in need of finding safety. We are unbelievably fortunate to live in a country where we are safe and have a home, and safe parks where we can go and you can run and play without fearing for your life, and I wish that we could give all of the children in Syria the same safety that you are so blessed with. Home and family are so very precious, and it is a privilege to have you in our family.
All my love,
Mama xxx

Friday, 4 September 2015

#lifecapturedproject // recall the last conversation you had with a stranger.

The last conversation I had with a stranger was yesterday morning. While my daughter was napping, there was a sound at my door, like someone was flapping the letterbox, but in a way that made me know it was not the postman or someone delivering the local newspaper. I opened the door to find an elderly gentleman standing there - he looked as old as 90 - perhaps even older than that. He politely asked if he could help himself to the brass pipe that was attached to our old hot water tank, that was sitting on our drive, waiting to be taken to the dump. I was intrigued and impressed that he had thought to knock on the door to ask if he could have some of our rubbish. I smiled and said, 'yes, of course! Please feel free to help yourself - we're just going to throw it away.' It's very true that one man's rubbish is another man's treasure. He said thank you, I closed the door and left him to it.

Twenty minutes or so passed, and I opened the front door to put something in our car. Much to my surprise, the elderly gentleman was still there, trying to remove the brass pipe. I don't think it was as straightforward as he had hoped, and I don't think he actually managed to get the pipe that he had hoped. I wish I had offered him some assistance in the form of a tool that might have helped him. So there we go, a slightly random and short conversation with a stranger. I wonder if I will see him again.

Prior to that, the last conversation I had with a stranger was in the laundry detergent aisle in Costco. She was swooning over her favourite scent of fabric softener, so I couldn't help but spark up a conversation with her about my favourite fragrances, since she was clearly a fellow lover of all good laundry scents. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

a breath of fresh air

Every month, my in-laws come to stay for a couple of days so that I can hold a pop up bakery day for my business, Milk & Honey Bakes. I am so thankful to them for making it possible for me to run a small business, and for the time Ruby gets to spend with them each month. They came to stay this week, and I took the opportunity to go for a walk by myself, once all of my baking deliveries were complete. It felt like such a simple indulgence to be able to walk around in the sunshine with nothing to carry except for my camera. I absolutely love spending my days with my daughter, but as I am sure most parents will tell you, having a moment of uninterrupted time takes on a truly beautiful meaning once children fill your days.

On my walk, the air was cool and the shadows cast by the sun through trees were long - a sure sign that Winter is on its way. I really enjoy this change of seasons from Summer to Autumn, and so I took a stroll through some leafy pathways, looking out for leaves that are changing colour, heralding the new season.
Fresh air. Bright blue skies. Colourful leaves. Light and shadows. These things are tonic to my soul.