Friday, 31 January 2014

eating our last meal

Have you seen the series of photographs by artist, Henry Hargreaves entitled No Seconds?  You'll find it here.  In it he documents not only the last meals ordered by inmates of various Death Rows, but also the names, ages, locations, and the crimes that the people who ordered them were convicted of.  Sometimes he even notes where the convictions have since been questioned.

I can't put any of Henry's images on this post, but you can see them on his website.

I thought that the death penalty was wrong before I saw Henry's pictures.  Now I'm sure of it.  Sometimes it might seem like the only sensible solution, like a person is so maladapted they cannot turn around, but maybe that's just because we've not worked out how to help them yet.

Anyhow, most of the meals that get ordered as last meals for people on death row, don't actually get eaten.  There's something about knowing you're going to get killed in the morning that diminishes a person's appetite.  Also, quite often, people order way too much food.  And who would begrudge them that?

Well, actually, the state of Texas.

spanokopita by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
You'll find his recipe here
Not all American states have the death penalty, and of those that do, some are much happier to use it than others.  Texas has used the death penalty about five times as much as anywhere else, and they now only use lethal injection (which has lots of issues, as they're having trouble getting the stuff they inject, so using other things, which are slower to work).  Texas got fed up of people ordering lots of food and not eating it, so they now just provide whatever the prison meal for the last day is, no
Recipe for this baby is from The Crazy Kitchen
special requests.

I am hoping that my last meal is mushed up and fed to me by a kindly carer, but if I should happen to end up on death row (through some horrible miscarriage of justice naturally), and I wasn't in Texas, then what would I want?

I'm thinking spanokopita with a really nice fresh salad (no tomatoes), and a millionaires cheesecake for desert.  I'd like caffeine free diet coke on the side of that please.

What would you have?

This post is inspired by Fat Mum Slim's post on 50 things to blog about.  The full list of posts inspired by the list can be found here.  Here are some other posts you might like:

Thursday, 30 January 2014

finding treasure

When I was a kid we used to go to stay with our grandparents in the holidays.

My Grandparents lived in Lancashire, and had proper Lancashire accents.  They said the oo in words like book as oo, rather than u.  My Granny once cracked us up by saying lOOk at that cOOkery bOOk.  They also said graidly for good, and they called the play park the rec'.
My grandparent's road, in Longridge.
Pic from here

My grandparents had lived their whole married lives on the same road in a small town called Longridge.  They seemed to know everybody, and everybody seemed to know them.  If I was sent to the butchers for some meat, my Granny would tell me that I was to tell the butcher it was for her, so he wouldn't give me any rubbish.

When we got bored at the Grandparents house, my brother and I would head off to play at the rec'.  We went across the road, and along a path to get there.  We were supposed to go straight there, and not play under the abandoned railway bridge, or hang out near the bus stop, where naughty boys played.

One day, I was investigating a hole in the wall by the bus stop, where we weren't allowed to play, when I found a bit of green cloth inside the wall.  My brother and I scrabbled at it to see what it was, and gradually dug it out of the wall.  It was a small green purse.  We opened it up, and found in it a funny looking bus ticket (more like an old cinema ticket - it was on thin, coloured paper), and some coins.

The purse looked like this,
except a lot less classy!
Pic from here
We were very excited about the coins, because they were proper old money - shillings and pence (no pounds) - the sort that must have been a nightmare to learn to add up, and probably rendered the British mathematical geniuses.

We took the purse back to show the Grandparents.  They insisted we needed to take it to the police, and so we did.  It turned out that the purse had been stolen a long time ago, and must have been shoved inside the wall while it was being built.  No-one was quite sure why it still had money in it!  We did get a ticking off for playing by the bus stop, but finding the treasure more than made up for it.

What treasures have you found?  And did you keep them or return them to their owner?

This post is inspired by Fat Mum Slim's post on 50 things to blog about.  The full list of posts inspired by the list can be found here.  Here are some other posts you might like:

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

at the real red wedding

Have you read George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series?  Or watched Game of Thrones?  If so, you'll be familiar with horrifying twists in the tales.  I LOVE The Song of Ice and Fire series, and Game of Thrones too.  I am generally a fan of big fantasy and it doesn't get bigger than this.  

I am also a fan of history, and there's a fair few things in the Song of Ice and Fire series which bring to mind historical events.   I'm trying to avoid spoilers here for anyone who hasn't read or watched it, and assuming that you'll know something about the Red Wedding already, but please tread with care.

The Lannisters remind me of The Borgias.  The relationship between Cersei and Jaime, echoing that between Lucrezia and Cesare.  Tywin aloof and blind to it all.  Ensuring his blinkers are intact.  And yet nowhere near stupid.  Joffrey shares a name with a younger brother of Lucrezia and Cesare; one who was married to a high born woman, to cement an alliance, while Cesare, and possibly another brother took the wife as a mistress.

Martin and has said that he loosely based his Red Wedding scene on the Black Dinner - a tale from C15 Scottish History.

King James II of Scotland
James II became a child King of Scotland in 1437, after his father had been murdered by a rival branch of the Stewart clan.  He was seven.  Rival factions were trying to control hiim, and he was rightly paranoid, but also hot-headed.  To avenge his father's death, his mother, Queen Joan, arranged the murder of the Stewarts responsible, but that was not the end.

James and his counsellors were particularly worried about the Lords of the Isles (in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland), and the Douglas clan (in the Borders to the South).  In 1440 the King, and his counsellors met with the Douglases for a dinner at Edinburgh castle.  At the end of the meal a black bull's head, signifying death, was brought in, and the Douglas chiefs were given a mock trial and then beheaded, before the ten year old king.  This was the Black Dinner.

Hostilities did not end there though.  The Douglas clan were still powerful, and the Black Dinner was echoed nine years later when King James II, now ruling in his own right, invited the then Earl of Douglas, William to dine at Stirling Castle.  William was rich, powerful, handsome, and charismatic.  He really, really annoyed James.  Add to that that William had recently made a friendship pact (a bit like friending on facebook now) with the Lord of the Isles.

For some reason, William didn't fancy going to dinner with the King.  The King sent him a letter, guaranteeing his safety, so William agreed to go.  Both men were edgy, and drinking commenced early.  Late in the day the King demanded that William end his alliance with the Lord of the Isles.  When William refused James attacked him with a knife.  His courtiers joined in.  After his body was found, dumped out of a window, it was found to have 26 stab wounds, and his head had been split open with an axe.  This was terrible, not just because of the murder, which there were plenty of, but because The King abandoned his honour to do this.  The Douglases fled to England, and King James took their territories, and their wealth.

James II died when he was 29.  Blowing himself up with a faulty gun when he attempted to fire a salute to his Queen.  His son, James III, followed his father in becoming a child king.

For more on this story, have a look here.

Other stories you might like:

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

coping with pain

I was listening to a podcast the other day, about how to deal with bad things in our lives...  It suggested writing every day for four days for 15 minutes about something that is on our minds.  Doing this helps to process it, and to get it in perspective.

What's on my mind?  That would be pain.

I try to be positive in this blog, so I've avoided talking about the pain much, although it has crept in, like it's crept in to the rest of my life.  However, I did this exercise of writing every day (except for one day when I was in too much pain) for four days.  I thought I'd cobble it into a blog post here.  Why?  Well, because it's been really helpful for me to see how other people experience and cope with pain.  I'm not sure I am coping, but I'm still here, so hopefully someone might find this useful.

Nothing to do with the post whatsoever.

Four days of writing

About nine years ago I had really bad sinus pain, which would come and go, but mainly come.  I went to see the dentist, and the doctor.  I got medication to stop migraines, but it didn't help.  I had a tooth removed, but it didn't help.  I got referred to ENT specialists who stuck a camera up my nose, said my sinuses were too narrow, and diagnosed seasonal rhinitis (despite it happening for nine months).  I got a steroid spray, and got sent home.  I think the steroid spray did help a bit, but I still had massive pain which would wake me up, would disturb my working day, and just took over my life.  Then one night I had pain so bad I thought I might die, and after that, it went away.

It didn't come back again until this winter.  It started off with sinus pain on one side, but not too bad.  I went to the dentist and had some work done, but we couldn't find anything else.  I went to the doctor, and got antibiotics and steroid spray, and that seemed to help, until it didn't.  

For the last few weeks, I have mild pain a lot, and excrutiating pain from time to time, for a few hours each time.  I am taking paracetamol and ibuprofen on a daily basis.  Sometimes it even works.  Sometimes it doesn't.

The pain is incredibly strong, it's constant, and it's sharp.  It feels like the best thing to do would be to crack open my cheek bone and have done.  I pace the floor, I crawl around.  I moan, I scream.  I scare my children silly, and I can't give them any attention, even though they really need my reassurance.  It lasts for anything up to 3 or more hours.  Yesterday it lasted for five hours.  It doesn't feel like it's ever going to stop.  I feel utterly useless, and hopeless, and terrified.  I don't feel like I can beat this pain.  I don't feel like I can bear it.

I called the doctor to ask for more pain relief.  He prescribed Tramadol.  They didn't even touch the pain, just made me feel even more woozy.

I want to feel strong and capable, but I don't.  I'm not capable.  I am scared.  I don't know when it's going to come back, I don't know when, or if, it's ever going to go, and I don't know what's making it happen.

I'm tired out, and exhausted.  I have no mental room for anything but the pain.  I'm letting everyone down, and I'm scared.  What if there's something really horrible going on?  What if this isn't going to stop?

My family keep on asking me what's wrong, and it infuriates me.  What's wrong?  I'm in pain.  It's always in the same place.  In my cheek-bone sinus, unless the pain has ebbed, and then I have a normal headache, and aching jaw and teeth, but still only on one side.

Kenny says it will pass.  That we know that because it has passed before.  But what if it doesn't?  I want it to stop.  I've had big attacks after wine and after chocolate, so I'm not having either, just in case, but I really want some!

I had a day on Saturday with hardly any pain.  Only one attack, and that was mild.  It was glorious.

I keep going back to the doctor and trying new things.  We decided that even though the pain didn't quite fit the diagnosis, we'd assume it was cluster headaches and treat it as such.  I don't want this to be cluster headaches.  I just want it to be a weird thing that happened.  AND NEVER HAPPENED AGAIN.

I tried Sumatriptan tablets.  I took it three times.  It did seem to put a lid on the pain - to stop it at awful, rather than excrutiating, although that wasn't quite the results I was after.  I did wonder if that was just a placebo effect, or if those headaches were just not as bad.  The doctor wondered that too, so he tried me on Rizatriptan which were supposed to act faster.  I tried those yesterday, for the extreme pain which lasted 5 hours.  Today we're abandoning the cluster headaches theory and trying medication for neuralgia.

The pain is really scary, because it's like this big pain monster comes and takes over your body and there is nothing you can do about it.  Like that giant blue thing off Sesame Street.  You don't know when it's coming, you don't know how long it's staying, and you don't know what can stop it.  I need to find something to stop it.

When I'm in pain I can't think straight at all.  I don't really trust my judgement.  I can't think straight with the pain, and I get so befuddled.  What's true?  What's placebo?  What's actually hurting?  Why is it hurting?  I feel like I'm letting everyone down, like I'm letting me down.  Like I can't do my job of mothering, or anything else, and I really need looking after and why can't someone just do that?  WHERE IS THE BLEEPING MAGIC WAND?  I'm crying so much at the moment.  I can't help being scared, but what if that stress is actually causing the pain? 

Yesterday was the first day that the pain didn't let up at all for school pickup.  I should have got other people to pick up the kids for me, but I couldn't think who, and I couldn't bear the idea of all those phone calls.  Before school pickup I spent an hour screaming and crying, and breathing, and trying to calm down, and staring at my duaghter in the hopes that oxytocin could fix this.  When I went to get the children I couldn't stop the tears streaming down my face.  My friends were so kind.  My children are being so good.  I am really grateful for the people in my life.  I am so lucky.

I'm so fed up of this.  I need it to get fixed now.  I am so tired of this pain, and I don't know where the boundaries lie in what is real pain and what I'm creating because of my stress about it.  My nerves are jangling and I don't know where the edges of the pain are any more.  I don't know when I take medicines if they work, or not.  Perhaps it's placebo, perhaps I am so convinced they won't work, in some part of me, that I'm causing an anti placebo?  

People can get so stressed that they create phantom pregnancies, that they create phantom deafness, do you get phantom pain too?  Am I doing this to myself?  Sometimes when the pain is low level I wonder if it's really pain or just echoes of pain.  I despair that I don't trust my own narration any more.

Being debilitated, for four weeks now with this pain has shown me what's really important to me.  It's not what I thought it was.  My main thing, that I sob for not being able to do is this.  I want to be a proper Mummy.  I want to help my kids with their homework.  To cuddle them.  To listen to their stories, so that they know I will always listen to them.  I wish I could do that properly right now.  

I was referred to ENT a few weeks ago.  The doctor is chasing it again this morning.  He says it takes too long.  I'm going into my fifth week of debilitating pain, and I just don't feel like I can take it much longer.

Other posts you might like:

Sunday, 26 January 2014

poking the genome

Did you know that when you're pregnant, copies of your foetus's genome are floating about in your blood?

It's possible that in the future, alongside the other regular blood tests we have now, we could have a look at our baby's genome - perhaps even tweak it.

By doing this we could eradicate some devastating genetic illnesses, like cystic fibrosis perhaps.

We could maybe eradicate debilitating conditions, like asthma and excema.

Perhaps one day we could find some genes that make people more likely to be obese, and tweak them, so we wouldn't need to worry about our children being fat any more.

Perhaps we could tweak the hair a little, so it's not so frizzy, or so lank, or whatever it is we don't like about ourselves.

There are difficult questions to consider about all of this, but do you think you'd take the test, if it were available?  And if you'd take it, would you tweak?

With asthma running in my family I would definitely take the test, and tweak it out if possible.  I'd be tempted to tweak out obesity while we were at it, if that were possible, although, I'd be worried about the slippery slope that might mean we're on.

I've written lots of posts on stuff to do with babies.  You'll find links to them here.  Other posts you might like:

good at maths

How's your maths? Do you love it? Loathe it? Do you use it much?

It's acceptable in our country to say that you're no good at maths, but that is just nonsense. We use maths every day, at the shops it's pretty straight forward, but if you're looking for a new contract for your phone it gets more complicated pretty fast. A lot of people who say they're no good at maths can manage to get by quite well. Even better if someone can explain it in a straightforward way.

And yet still, in our culture, it seems to be OK to say you're no good at maths. Especially if you're female, which goes hand in hand with the idea that boys are better at maths than girls.  Let me just blow that out of the water for you. They are not. In cultures that don't see maths as hard, people do better at it. Those countries are at the forefront of technologies we use every day.

Think about how people talk about maths.  It wouldn't be so acceptable to say you couldn't read would it?

Research in America took two groups of students with equal maths ability.  One group was told that boys were better than girls at maths, whereas the other group was told that despite what they may have heard, boys and girls were just as capable.  They then sat a maths test.  The results showed that the girls did just as well as the boys, unless they were told they weren't as good.

We believe the stories we're told about our abilities, and the stories in turn limit our horizons. In Sociology this is called labelling theory, it works like this:  If you tell a child who is behaving badly that they are a bad person, two bad things happen. Firstly, you start expecting that child to behave badly, and understanding their behaviours as bad, rather than tired, or excited, etc - you limit your expectations of the child. Secondly, the child learns that they are bad, so there is no hope of being good, so they play the role they have been given. They give up on themselves.  With regard to maths, if people are told that maths is boring and hard, and something that other people can do instead, then they're going to give up.  But do you know what?  Maths isn't boring, it isn't hard, and everyone needs to be able to do it.  

This is what learning maths looks like
So let's not limit our aspirations or our horizons.  Instead of writing off maths, and saying you're no good at it, just say you're having trouble with this bit - you might need some support to get it.  Adults need to show children that maths is good, and fun, and useful. And by children I mean boys AND girls.  As I write this two of my children are on the other computer playing on Sumdog, a very user-friendly kids website which helps you learn maths while playing games.  It is fantastic.  Do you know of any other good sites?

Areas of employment that particularly use maths - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths itself, are all well paid, and all have under-representation of women.  Let's not let that happen to the next generation.

Other posts you might like:

Saturday, 25 January 2014

visiting Paisley museum (lego exhibition)

I wrote this post in my car today while my husband and elder daughter went shopping, and I babysat a sleeping little girl, and a grumpy boy.  Is this an 8 year old thing?  It's bloomin' hard work!  So as to ignore the things that he was whining about I wrote this post, about the really good day out we'd just had...

Today we went to Paisley museum to visit the lego exhibition.  It was my first visit, and if you've never been you're in for a treat.

There are some interesting and also kind of gross taxidermy exhibits, a really good one on shawls and the Paisley textiles industry, which has interactive stuff to get stuck in to, and of course the lego exhibition.

Great work, big girl!
The little girl creating a creation
There were lots of stations for the kids to make lego buildings, cars, and even to write their names. They all had fun, and it was great to see all the ready made scenes by Warren Elsmore (who builds lego for a living) from around the world which were set up in the gallery. We were especially impressed with the Olympic Park and the Paisley pattern, and the girls were totally inspired by a Parisian street scene, with a café and shop. The boys just loved building the lego. There was some great team work going on.

The boy and his friend showing what can be
done with teamwork.  Not sure what it is, but
it's stylish.
Paisley museum is a lovely building, in a slightly run down area.  Parking is a bit tricky, but do-able. Sadly there is no café in the museum, and they could have really done with something for the parents in the last room of lego creating. We didn't spot anywhere family friendly nearby, so we took the kids to McDonald's in Linwood, just ten minutes drive away, for a treat.

The lego exhibition runs until 2nd March and tickets are £3 concessions, £4 adults, or £12 for a family ticket. Tickets can be used three times and are transferable. If you live near me and want a family ticket let me know.

Have you been?  What did you think?

Other posts you might like:

Friday, 24 January 2014

a... what?

When I was a kid I was quite clear about what I wanted to be when I grew up.  How about you?  What did you want to be?

I was definitely going to be a teacher, for a while...

Yes, Prime Minister, Televisual genius
I was certainly going to be a solicitor, for a bit...

I fancied being an astrologer, for a mad moment...

And I really liked the idea of being a Civil Servant.

I definitely did not want to be a care assistant.

But then I grew up, and became a care assistant to finance my way through University.  I discovered that being a care assistant was a pretty good job, although they could certainly get paid more.  

After University, I realised that no one wanted an inexperienced graduate, so I got an admin job in a big law firm.  Turned out a solicitor was definitely not something I wanted to be, so I left that job and ended up working in sociological research.  

I liked it.  It was interesting, and I was good at it.  I was good enough to get a job doing it for the Civil Service.  All my dreams had come true...

Except, I wasn't quite Sir Humphrey.  The minister wasn't at all interested in my research - wanting to know what people thought of the policies, rather than whether the policies were doing any good.  The long working hours culture was frankly boring, and clearly didn't fit with parenting, which had become the new thing I wanted to do when I grew up.

So I left, and became a full time Mummy.  I love being a full time Mummy, but I'm beginning to get a little bit of space in my life for something more.  So what would I like to be when I grow up now?

I could work here... or not.

If I had an ounce of religiosity in me, I would love to be a minister.  But I don't.

I would really really love to be a writer.  But I don't know if this is going to be my last ever dream.  We'll see.  I can say that for now, I dream of being a published writer, and I'm working on it... as hard as I can just now.

And I might love to be an MSP too.  I really might.  I'm thinking of joining a political party and everything.

What about you?  What would you love to do now?

This post is inspired by Fat Mum Slim's post on 50 things to blog about.  The full list of posts inspired by the list can be found here.  Here are some other posts you might like:

Sunday, 19 January 2014

living it Largs

I don't tend to mention on the blog where it is we actually live, preferring to refer to rainy town or seaside town, but I think a lot of people reading know that when I say seaside town I mean Largs, on the West Coast of Scotland.

Largs from the ferry

Largs is a lovely seaside town in a beautiful location, with hills and moorland to the back of the town, the front looks out across the waters of the Clyde to the islands of Cumbrae and Bute.  

A ferry industriously putters back and forth from the town to Cumbrae (and it's not far up the coast to the glorious train/ferry station at Wemyss Bay, to get the ferry to Bute).  You can get here by road, or by rail from Glasgow.

The town offers lots of things to do.  There's plenty of shops on the high street, a monthly farmer's market at the Marina, and lots of pubs and cafe's should you want for refreshment.

A special mention here of course for the marvellous Nardini's restaurant and ice cream shop.  You can't book, but they seem to be unflappable (even if you turn up with 15 - we've tried it!), and the ice cream is fabulous.  People buy it to take out all year 'round, but I love to get it in the summer, and eat it on the grass across the road, while watching the boats go by.

So, what else to do in Largs?  If it's your thing I'm told that the sailing at Largs is some of the best there is.  There are lots of things to do at the Marina.  There are walks around the town too, ambling along the beach, or even heading up the hills at the back of the town, to Greeto Falls, where you're advised not to swim... although many do.

If you're staying longer there are some fantastic leisure facilities in Largs.  I should first of all mention Vikingar!  It has a swimming pool, a soft play, and a Viking Experience which should not be missed (although small children might not be keen on the axe work).  It's also home to a theatre, and it's the new home of the Roller Coasters - a roller skating group for amateur adults.  A few of my friends are roller coasters and I hugely admire them.

Largs is the home of the Inverclyde Centre for Sports Scotland.  An amazing gymnastics resource which helps to explain why the best gymnasts in Scotland are from Largs.  I've written a whole post on it here.

There is also a bowling alley in one of the town's amusement arcades, and to top it all off, there's the best sunsets.

All these things, great schools, and family nearby, are what make me happy to be living in Largs.  But lots of you have been here.  What do you like about Largs?

This post is inspired by Fat Mum Slim's post on 50 things to blog about.  The full list of posts inspired by the list can be found here.  Here are some other posts you might like:

making pitta pizzas

Have you got a go-to recipe when you need a quick tea that people are going to like?  What is it?  I need more for my arsenal!

My kids are big fans of scrambled eggs on toast, and of pitta pocket pizzas.

I'm thinking you probably know how to make scrambled eggs on toast, and in about five seconds you're also going to know how to make pitta pocket pizzas.  There's even a demo video.  We aim to please.

Pitta Pocket Pizzas


Pitta pockets (or tortillas - but then it's tortilla pizzas)
Pasta sauce
Tomato puree
Cheese (Mozarella is great, but cheddar/red leicester etc is fine)
Any toppings you want


1.  Preheat oven to about 180C
2.  Whizz up half a cup of pasta sauce, with a tablespoon of tomato puree
3.  Lay out the pitta pockets on a baking tray.
4.  Use a spoon to spread the sauce on top of the pittas (you can skip this stage if you, like me, have a child who doesn't eat red things).
5.  Sprinkle grated cheese on top.
6.  Add the toppings of your choice (the little girl chooses pepparoni).
7.  Whack them in the oven until the cheese is golden.
8.  Eat them up.

If you've got leftover pittas, you can freeze them, or cut them up and dunk them in hummus :-)

Here's the little girl making some for lunch the other day.  Auto-awesomed by Google.  Making you feel woozy yet?

Other posts you might like:

Saturday, 18 January 2014

living in our bodies

Photographer Elinor Carucci has recorded her motherhood in visceral photos.  You can see some of them on her website here.  

Judging by her photographs, Elinor is a lot more comfortable in her skin than I have ever been, as are her family.  Her pictures are beautiful, and somehow real beyond real.  My Dad worries that I share too much on this blog, but she shares so very much.  I think she is very brave.

Elinor's latest book.  The picture
is entitled The Woman That I Still
Am, and it's perfect.

I heard Elinor interviewed on Woman's Hour a while ago with Ana Casas Broda.  They, and a group of other photographers, were exhibiting their work on Motherhood in London.  

Elinor said that her body after birth was not the body that she knew, and her old body has not come back, but that's ok.  She said it took a while to readjust, but she really seems to be someone who lives through her body.  If that makes any sense!  She describes the physicality of mothering, and the refocus she felt of her sensuality from her partner to her children for a while, saying "Maybe [you do] not need some of your sexuality for a while because you're so physically fulfilled with your children." She stressed that this is beautiful, and good for children.

Ana Casas Broda also takes visceral photographs documenting her motherhood.  Ana has had a difficult relationship with her body throughout her life, particularly around weight control and also fertility.  She says the story of life is written on the body - gaining and losing weight as well as having babies.

I've mentioned these photographers because so many of us take lots of photos, and yet paint ourselves out of our own lives because our bodies have lived them, and they don't fit how we feel they should look.

My children are all still in the wonderful stage wherein they are confident of their gorgeousness.  They are told they are beautiful, because they are, and they see that they are.  But...

The boy with a wish jar.  I wish we didn't have
to go through this.
My son is eight now, and he's starting to worry about what others think about him, especially his long hair.  He's started censoring his behaviour (although I'm happy to say he's got not intention of cutting his hair - though it's his hair and it's up to him), not wanting to be singled out, even for praise, for fear of giving the wagging tongues a chance to judge.  I'm horrified.  I know it happens, but it had such a huge affect on me, and I still don't think I'm over it.

I may walk tall, and talk the talk, but I still paint myself out of my life.  I don't want that for any of my children.  I don't want that for me.  My life is written large on my body, and I want to be grateful that it mainly works, and not worry about whether people are thinking I'm fat, or that my hair is not right.

I'm drawing inspiration from Shane Koyczan's beautiful poem, To This Day, which you'll find below.  He says that to kids the very definition of the word 'beauty' starts with 'Mom', "and if you can't find the beauty in yourself, then find a better mirror."

I want to look at my body as one that has been through a lot, and still works.  I don't want to paint myself out of my life any more.

How about you?  How's your body holding up?  Are you painting yourself out of your life too?

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Tuesday, 14 January 2014

saying thank you for painkillers

We're not even half way through the first month yet, but so far, for me, 2014 has been a year of pain.

I got a nasty wee sinus infection on new year's eve, from which I'm still recovering, and I've also been spending some quality time with the dentist. I've been to the doctor, and things are getting better. The pain has reduced from constant, excruciating to frequent, nagging. I can now accept the possibility that it might stop. One day.

But it's made me think about people who suffer from pain all the time.

Henry VIII.
A little bit grumpy.
Did you know that Henry VIII had really bad abscesses in his jaw? And also a wound on his leg which wouldn't heal.  It must have been excruciating. It's hardly a surprise that he was 'ahem' a bit grumpy.

For me, pain closes down my world. I don't want to talk, I don't want to touch anyone, I don't want people around me. I snap at my children for running around and being noisy. It's pretty miserable being me, and it's pretty miserable being around me.

I cannot imagine how people manage when there's no end in sight.

Happily, within the pain there are windows of near normality, which allow me to live with other people. From whence do these windows come? The magical wonder of painkillers.

To the terribly clever people who invented aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen, ibuprofen lysine (which is mine, by the way, if you were thinking of touching it), co-codamol, glorious diclofenac, and all the other painkillers I have not yet met.


Who were these people? I've Googled it, so you don't have to.

Aspirin was first made by the German, Felix Hoffman in 1897, although it's active ingredient, salicylic acid was already in use before that.  Danke Felix.

Paracetamol was first made by the American, Harmon Northrop Morse in 1877. But it was not thought safe for patients until 1949. It started being sold in the UK in 1956. Paracetamol is very dangerous even with low overdoses, but it's better for children, people with stomach complaints, and asthmatics than aspirin.  Thank you kindly Harmon.

Ibuprofen was discovered by a team of researchers at Boots the Chemist, UK, in 1960, and patented in 1961.  It has been available in the UK (by prescription only at first) since 1969.  You can now also get Ibuprofen Lysine, which is the same thing but more soluble, making it work faster (and also the thing that you'd use intravenously).  You can also get Ibuprofen gels for sore areas.  Did you know that in Japan Ibuprofen gel is used to treat spots?  Apparently it helps because of the anti-inflammatory properties.

Laudanum from Leeds :-D
Co-codamol is a mixture of paracetamol and codeine, and should never be taken if you're breastfeeding.  I've told you about Paracetamol above.  Codeine is an opiate, from the opium poppy (although most of it is now synthesised from morphine).  Opium has been used for ages as a painkiller, and just for fun.  It's the active ingredient in laudanum.  Codeine was first isolated by Pierre Robiquet, of France.  Merci Pierre.

Diclofenac was developed by Ciba-Geigy (now Novartis - a major pharmaceutical company based in Switzerland) in 1973, and first became available in the UK in 1979.

There are lots of other painkillers, more being invented by big pharma all the time - they suit narrower niches, and they may cost a lot more.  I bet nearly everyone has some painkillers in a cupboard somewhere.  What's your favourite one?

This post is inspired by Fat Mum Slim's post on 50 things to blog about.  The full list of posts inspired by the list can be found here.  Here are some other posts you might like:

Monday, 13 January 2014

sleeping: 8 things I know now about babies and sleep.

Ages ago I promised a post on sleep as part of my series on all things baby-related.  You haven't bugged me about it, for which I'm grateful, but it has been bugging me.

You see, when I promise to do a post I make a draft post, and then it sits there, bugging me, reminding me to get it written, so today I've finally cracked.

Why was I holding off?

Because my youngest is three, and she is only just starting to sleep in her own bed.  Who am I to advise you on sleep?  Well, I guess I've got loads of experience.  So here goes.

Eight things I know now about babies sleeping

1.  Some babies sleep all night in their own beds pretty much from the get go.  

These were not my babies, but apparently, some babies do.  It seems to happen more for bottle fed babies, and after saying that it's difficult to say anything else without it sounding like a value judgement.  I used to work in breastfeeding research and I know that 'breast is best' is not just a saying.  Breastfeeding your baby is the best thing you can do for your child, and for you too.  There are so many reasons why, that I shan't bother with going into them all here.  However, you'll probably get more time away from your baby if you bottle feed.  I don't know.  I've never done it.

2.  Babies make freaky noises and like to terrify their parents while sleeping.

Favourite pastimes seem to include going deathly pale, stopping breathing for short periods, making choking sounds, and just generally sounding very odd.  It's not easy to sleep with a baby.  Who knew that such small people could make so much noise?

3.  Babies like to sleep on the move.  

It reminds them of being in the womb, especially if they're strapped to you in a sling - a baby in a good sling is a very happy baby.  Apart from when they're not.  Failing a sling, babies like being pushed in buggies (preferably where they can see you), or taken for drives.  I used to take my youngest out for a lap of the field by my house every day after lunch, and leave her in the buggy to snooze after that.  Of course some babies refuse to stay asleep when you stop moving.  If you've got one of those I am very sorry.

4.  Babies like to sleep close to you.  

With my first child I spent many a sleepless night trying to get him to sleep in his cot.  I did everything the books tell you to do, and I ended up spending too much time with the health visitor, exhausted, and with a child with enduring sleep problems.  A baby is still working out that it's a separate person.  At night the child doesn't want a teddy - they want you.  

With my girls I did not bother attempting to make them sleep in a cot.  My top priority was sleep, so I co-slept (meaning I slept with the baby in bed with me), which worked fine for me, but was not so great for my poor husband.  

Co-sleeping is a great thing to do, but only if you're breastfeeding, you don't smoke, and you haven't taken any alcohol or drugs.  If you do smoke, the chemicals in your body will come out in your breath, reducing baby's ability to take in oxygen.  We like oxygen.  

You might notice that babies are particularly restive of an evening.  This often gets pathologised into colic, and sometimes it is, but most babies just want to snooze with their mummies right there.  Just get comfy, feed on demand, don't mind about being used as a dummy, it doesn't do any harm, and it is actually beneficial (it releases relaxing hormones, and also helps oral development).  Get a book, the remote, and the TV and make sure you're sitting comfortably.  Don't worry - you're not setting a prescedent.  The baby will grow out of this stage.

5.  A lot of 'sleep problems' are just natural stages.

This is actually true, I'm afraid.  You can do things about them, but really, they're just rain dances for the most part, because most problems with sleep are really just normal behaviour.  There's a good article about it here.  That said, there are some good things you can do to overcome some problems, and I'm going to outline some of them below.

6.  Not going to sleep

A lot of children get more and more hyper as they get tired.  They can seem anything but tired, and it's hard to convince them it's bedtime.  A bedtime routine is really useful for getting them in the headspace for sleeping.  Washing/bathing, brushing teeth, changing into PJs, then having a story, and we do a bedtime song/lullabye, before walking away.  

Success!  Three sleeping children.
If children have separation anxiety, which they will get from time to time, then it's good to prove you're still there by returning at intervals (we like to do increasing intervals), until they're confident enough to fall asleep.

For babies a lot of the books advise against breastfeeding to sleep, but actually, breastfeeding makes baby feel content, and dozy, and to wake them up after a feed so they can fall asleep by themselves is just daft.

For children who still nap, it can be hard to get to sleep at night if a nap was too late.  Once they've dropped down to one nap a day, they shouldn't really sleep after around 3pm if you're wanting bed at 7pm.  Of course, sometimes it cannot be helped.

6.  Night waking

There are lots of reasons why children wake at night.  To be honest, we all wake at night.  Babies wake around every 45 minutes, and adults cycles are longer - which is why babies are such hard work.  When we wake, we check all is well, and then go back to sleep again.  

For babies, they'll probably want to check that Mummy is there, and then will go back to sleep (having ascertained she won't go away).  For toddlers, if they've gone to sleep very tired then they may have unresolved big feelings which come out when they wake in the night.  This can lead to screaming fits where they seem inconsolable.  It's very stressful, but there really isn't a lot you can do.  If they'll tolerate being touched then do that.  If not, just be present.  You can try singing, but they just need to get over the feeling, then they can go back to sleep.

With my son, I tried too hard to soothe him back to sleep when he woke, and got into a situation wherein he would fully wake in the middle of the night, every night, and I'd spend two hours with him before he fell back to sleep.  We got help from our health visitor to break out of this bad habit.  It wasn't pretty.  What we did was basically Ferberising (leaving the child for increasing intervals, in between assuring them that you were there, but it's time for sleep).  It was hard work, but it wasn't as hard as continuing with too little sleep.  That boy now sleeps in the dark with his door shut.

7.  Naps are good

Not only do naps in the daytime allow parents a chance to get something done, but they also encourage good sleep at night.  To quote one of my health visitors: "The more they sleep, the more they sleep."  Forcing a child to drop a nap will not encourage better night time sleeping, but rather make them over tired.  They'll drop it eventually, some later than others.

Naps are good for tired parents too, and if you're sleep-deprived you should definitely try to sleep when the child sleeps.

8.  Parent's nights are shorter than other people's

As far as I'm concerned, 6.30am is a reasonable time to wake up.  I didn't have these parameters before I had an early rising son, but I do now.  And believe me, 6.30am is a whole lot better than 5am.  If your child wakes up really early, you can get clocks that can help them understand day and night.  We found these helpful for the boy and utterly useless for the girls.  We pushed my son a little later over several weeks, until we hit 6.30am.  We can't get it later than that just now, but we will.  There's going to come a point when we're prising him out of bed at midday.

As for our family, my son has recently started sleeping in the dark, proving to me that all sleep oddities are a phase.  My youngest is sometimes staying in her bed all night, but still often comes through to sleep with me, and so long as she doesn't kick me in the head, I don't mind.

For more information about babies sleeping check out this great page by Kellymom.

If you have children, how is their sleep now?  What have I forgotten?  Did you co-sleep?  Do you still?

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