Friday, 31 May 2013

Being British - I don't always mean what I say

This really made me smile, it's just so true! We British, with our stiff upper lips and love of queueing, like to think of ourselves as being tactful and diplomatic. Yet, in our quest to avoid offence, it seems that we've developed a whole dictionary of phrases that really shouldn't be taken at face value.

I don't know about you, but I've used each and every one of these phrases. More than likely in a work situation where for some reason (probably to avoid being presented with a P45) we feel the need to be overly polite... through gritted teeth and after complaining privately to your most trusted colleagues!

So should we just say what we think, or are there some situations where we need to dance this merry dance? What do you think?

Thanks should be given to Funky Giraffe for posting this on their facebook feed.
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Monday, 20 May 2013

Making Mummy friends - my top tips

Help! I'm a first-time Mum and I don't know anyone else!

For many people (me definitely included) one of my biggest worries, aside from how on earth was I going to look after a baby having had no experience or training, was whether I was going to spend my maternity leave as a billy-no-mates, or whether I could find some new friends. Actually, I'll admit, this wasn't something that I spent ages worrying about. I had some blind hope and optimism that things would work themselves out. But I reckon that for a lot of people, this fear is up there among with the usual ones about coping with the lack of sleep and stink of endless dirty nappies.

I wanted to share my experiences about making mummy friends in the hope that someone else will benefit from my thoughts, tips and suggestions.

I thought I'd start with a few things that it's worth remembering...

1. Unless you and your best friend happened to get pregnant at the same time, most other mums are in the same boat and are also looking for a new social network.
2. For me, this is the biggest and most important thing - people are all different. You will not get on with everyone you meet.
3. You will have to put in some effort if you want to get the rewards.
4. Don't put all your eggs in one basket and don't give up at the first try.

These last three points are quite tough aren't they? And if you've never had to make new friends before, or you're shy, the whole thing can seem like a bit of a mountain to climb. Just keep the first point in mind - you are not alone.

So where to start? Here are a few places that I've found can be good for meeting potential new friends. I've listed what I think are the pros and cons of each place too.

NCT antenatal courses

I know a lot of people that have made new friends this way. In fact, I'd guess that for about 80% of people, they do an NCT antenatal course in the hope that it provides an instant social network.

Best bits
  •  It's a chance for both you and your partner to meet other couples in the same boat - most other social events after the baby arrives don't involve dad
  •  A very good friend of mine lives within walking distance of her entire group.
  • It's great to have a support network in place before the baby arrives - people sharing the waiting game with you and suffering from the same end-of-pregnancy aches and pains. 
  • The nature of the course - learning and discussing - provides ample opportunities for getting to know one another.
  • You'll be put together with up to 7 other couples - chances are, you'll find you have something in common with at least one couple, hopefully more!
Worst bits
  • The courses are not free (I paid over £160) and they get booked up quickly.
  • Your group is thrown together by chance - I don't live within walking distance of anyone from my course. Only 2 couples live in the same town. The other 6 are 25-45 minutes drive away, which just hasn't been practical for meeting up regularly.

Bumps and Babies group

My local children's centre runs this group on a weekly basis, I believe that such groups are fairly common across the UK.

Best bits
  • If you have time, try to attend the group before your baby arrives, it will take away the stress of going once you have your baby in tow - and you'll get to meet other pregnant ladies due at a similar time. Simple things like knowing where it is and what happens are one less thing to worry about in those first few weeks when just leaving the house is hard.
  • It's a great place to try breastfeeding in public for the first time.
  • It doesn't matter if your baby cries or has an exploding nappy, the entire room is on your side!
  • They're usually a drop-in, so you can arrive and leave when you like - so no stress about being late.
Worst bits
  • Most people (in my experience) at the group will have already had their babies. You might feel a bit like the odd one out if you're still pregnant. They're busy discussing sleep, nappies and feeding which are totally alien topics until you've had your baby.
  • They're not usually structured sessions, so you do need to join in and chat to the other mums and mums-to-be.
  • I've heard people complain that they can be cliquey. Personally I don't buy in to this. What I think can happen is that people that go regularly make friends and chat to their friends there. For new people, it can seem hard to break into existing friendships. Just remember though, these friendships are likely to still be very new, so it's never too late to join in!

Aquanatal and other prenatal classes

See whether your local leisure centre runs these classes, usually involving swimming or yoga.

Best bits
  • Another place to meet other pregnant ladies before your baby arrives.
  • Gentle exercise is great for preparing your body for labour.
  • Swimming in particular is great for the end of pregnancy, making you feel weightless and easing some of your aches and pains.
Worse bits
  • Class sizes can be quite large and intimidating.
  • The nature of these classes means that they don't usually involve any kind of ice breaker. So you might end up with that old British way of everyone just sitting in silence with no one willing to speak first!
  • You might not have time to attend these classes before your baby arrives.
  • The drop-in nature can also mean that you don't see the same faces each week, especially as due dates approach.

Baby massage, baby yoga, first-time-Mums & other groups

My local children's centre run these courses. In my area, they were free as well - bonus!

Best bits
  • Places are usually limited to less than 10 mums and babies, which I think is a manageable amount of people. Big enough to include lots of different personalities, but not so big that it can be overwhelming.
  • The skills and knowledge that you'll pick up will be invaluable.
  • Meeting on a weekly basis can be a great way to slowly build up friendships.
Worse bits
  • The first-time-mums type of groups are usually suitable with a newborn. Others such as massage and yoga are probably better when your little one is 3 months+, so not something you can go to immediately if you're ready to get out of the house straight away.
  • Fitting courses in around naptimes can be tricky. And if you're paying, you want to be sure that you can attend the whole course which isn't always possible if you've had a bad night or your baby is poorly.

Singing, signing and rhymetime groups 

Your local library probably runs a singing group, but singing classes and other singing groups might well operate where you live either on a fee basis or through your local children's centre.

Best bits
  • The groups are great from the very beginning. The only problems you might face with taking a newborn is the relentless feeding in the early weeks!
  • Singing is a great soothing tool for babies of all ages - it lulls newborns and distracts older babies.
  • Unless you've been working with young children recently, your repertoire of nursery rhymes and songs is probably quite limited at first - these are great places to refresh your memory!
 Worse bits
  • The format of the group doesn't usually allow for much mingling (in my experience anyway), especially if it's run in a library or another public space. But it can be a good place to bump into familiar faces from other groups, which can be a good ice breaker.
  • My local rhymetime only runs in school term time and is on every other week, leaving long empty stretches during the Easter, summer and Christmas holidays.

Buggy bootcamp and other postnatal fitness groups

Postnatal fitness groups can be found across the whole of the UK. Don't be put off by the word 'bootcamp' - they are not usually taught by Army instructors wearing camouflage! If you had a normal delivery, you are usually given the greenlight to start exercising again after your 6 week check with your GP. The cost per class probably varies, but mine cost £5 a session.

Best bits
  • Being able to start exercising again and not having to worry about what to do with your baby is perfect.
  • The classes are tailored to postnatal women and the exercises can be adapted according to how recently you gave birth, limiting the chance of damaging your still fragile body.
  • The endorphins released during exercise will give you a boost which can help compensate for being sleep deprived, or if you're just feeling a bit rubbish about any extra weight that you're still carrying.
Worst bits
  • I first went to one of these classes when Bobble was 8 weeks old. Although it is perfectly possible to exercise and breastfeed, I must admit that I didn't find it particularly comfortable. It was also tricky fitting the class in around feeds, especially during growth spurts.
  • If your baby needs feeding or settling, you will need to stop exercising and sort them out. On an off day, this could lead you to missing a lot of the class, which can be frustrating especially when you've paid.

Baby clinics and breastfeeding support groups

Most doctors surgeries run baby clinics at least twice a month giving you a place to drop in and get your baby weighed and chat through any concerns or questions you might have with the nurses and health visitors running the groups. Breastfeeding support groups might also be run by your surgery or another organisation such as La Leche League.

Best bits
  • Your health visitor will advise you to get your baby weighed fairly regularly during their first year, so you will find yourself attending these clinics at least once a month.
  • Breastfeeding support groups are a fantastic place to go if you're suffering from any kind of difficulty with breastfeeding, or if you simply want to check that you're doing it right.
  • If you're nervous about feeding in public, either of these places is the ideal places to start.
Worst bits
  • Personally, I didn't find that the clinics I attended provided much of an opportunity to sit and chat to other mums, but things might be different where you live.
  • With no fixed agenda and being of a drop-in nature, it might be difficult to get chatting.

Facebook groups

I didn't come across these until after Bobble was born, but where I live there are a couple of 'secret' Facebook groups for Mums and Mums-to-be.

Best bits
  • The groups are for asking for advice on everything from feeding to weaning, potty training and beyond - a complete fountain of knowledge to be tapped into at any hour of the day.
  • Once you get to grips with motherhood, you'll be able to share your own knowledge and advice with other mums.
  • Not all the discussions are baby related, you never know what you might learn about your local area!
Worst bits
  • The groups can be enormous, and because all the conversations are taking place online, discussions can become heated and personalities can clash. People do not always observe the same rules and manners online as they would do face to face.
  • Groups are not necessarily formed around making new friends, so there might not be much chance to make the jump from online to face to face.
  • You have to be invited to join 'secret' groups, so you'll need at least 1 friend who is in the know to begin with.

Other places to make new friends

The places that I've listed above is by no means an exhaustive list of all the places that you might be able to make new friends - it's just a list of the places that I've experienced. I'm sure that websites such as Mumsnet and Netmums can also provide opportunities for meeting people in your area, not to mention one of the many Internet forums for pregnancy and beyond.

Final word - will you be my friend?

So how do you go from chatting at a group to taking things to the next stage, eeeek! I think it's a lot like dating. It's been a long time since I dated (in fact, my dating experience pre-dates mobile phones...) but I think the same rules apply. Don't be shy, chances are, the other Mummy (or Mummy-to-be) wants the same thing! Just try asking one of these things:

1. Find out what other groups they go to, and arrange to meet up at one.
2. See if they fancy meeting up for a walk or a coffee.
3. Swap numbers and arrange to meet up at the park or for a play date.

Good luck! I hope you make lots of lovely new friends. If I've left anything out, or you have any more tips to share, feel free to leave a comment.
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Friday, 10 May 2013

Through the lens - St Ives

St Ives, Cornwall, is one of my most favourite places. I love it. I've only been twice but we have plans to go again this year and I can't wait to take Bobble there.

This picture was taken in the late afternoon and is of Porthmeor beach. I'm a bit of a wannabe surfer - I have the board but no skill whatsoever - body boarding is more within my abilities. Although it doesn't look like it, this was actually shot in colour, it's just that the sun has bleached everything.

Porthmeor Beach, St Ives, Cornwall, UK

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Thursday, 9 May 2013

Best ever chocolate cake

May is a busy month for us. We both celebrate our birthdays and sandwiched between them is our wedding anniversary. As well as lots of presents, this also means lots of cake!

My husband's birthday comes at the start of the month and, as always, he requested a chocolate cake. Always on the lookout for a new recipe, I thought I'd try something from my tried and trusted Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. It's always a little risky to try a new recipe for an important occasion, but I felt confident with the disaster of Bobble's birthday cake put behind me. So I settled upon the 'Brooklyn Blackout Cake'.

I'm pleased to report that I can confirm this that is a flipping brilliant recipe for chocolate cake. The cake is seriously chocolaty, light and moist.

The recipe 

(taken from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)
  • 100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 260g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 45g cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • a pinch of salt
  • 170g plain flour
  • 160 ml whole milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 170c (325 Degrees F) or Gas Mark 3.
  2. Put the butter and sugar in a free-standing electric mixer with a paddle attachment, or use a handheld electric whisk and cream until light and fluffy. 
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. 
  4. Turn the mixer down to slow speed and beat in the vanilla extract, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt until well mixed. 
  5. Add half the flour, then all the milk, and finish with the remaining flour. 
  6. Mix well until everything is well combined. 
  7. Pour the mixture into the two prepared cake tins and smooth over with a palette knife. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30mins. Leave the cakes to cool slightly in the tins before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
There is a second part to the recipe which involves creating a chocolate custard and crumb coating to finish the cake, but I didn't bother with this as I had other plans for the decoration!

Instead, I made a chocolate buttercream to completely cover and sandwich the cake together. I then stuck chocolate fingers to the outside of the cake (I used almost 3 boxes!) before finishing it off with a few malteasers and the all important birthday candles.
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