Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Full house

The countdown to Christmas has started. We have a full house as M, Little Planet and myself are hosting Christmas for both sides of the family this year. We have visitors staying over all next week and into the week after so it's all very busy chez Planethalder household. Normal posting will resume soon (hopefully before 2009).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Happy birthday Mr Planethalder!

I love you so much (and am very happy you are not working late tonight) XXX

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Empty nest


Our little cherub turned 6 months today. To mark this milestone, we moved her cot into the nursery. I was so terribly sad at her leaving. It's my first taste of the dreaded "empty nest" feeling. My sister-in-law pointed out that it's only a matter of time when she will leave home :-(

And yet it's so liberating having our room back to ourselves again at night :-)

M had to work from home this weekend and so we stayed local - walking in the park, visiting friends, cooking, baking bread, gardening and generally chilling out with Little Planet.

Happy birthday, baby!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Duvet days

  • On Saturday, with my mother-in-law looking after the baby for the weekend, M and I headed into town for lunch at Japanese restaurant Abeno, near the British Museum. We started with hiyayakko (chilled tofu topped with bonito flakes and grated ginger) and miso soup. I then ate om soba (fried noodles served wrapped in an omelette) with prawns, pork and squid. M ordered a spicy naniwa (pork and kimchi) okonomiyaki. He drank green tea and I drank calpico soda, which was very nice and tasted a little like lychee juice

  • The place was stuffy with academics. I used to be one myself (lecturing during my PhD) and sitting in Abeno listening to the conversations around me made me remember why I had left academia a few years ago

  • We chose a new flat screen HD TV, for our living room, in the Sony Centre on Tottenham Court Road

  • We viewed Jia Jia Wang's colourful toytown paintings at the Alexandre Pollazzon gallery near Goodge Street

  • Then cabbed it to Spruth Magers gallery off Bond Street to see Thomas Demand's latest solo exhibition Presidency featuring photographs of life-size, near-perfect paper models of the most powerful room in the world - the Oval Office (photo above)

  • Earlier this Summer, we bought from Postcard Teas a brass tea caddy to commemorate Little Planet's birth. Handmade in Kyoto, the metal will age as she ages and be a lovely keepsake to be passed down through the generations. On Saturday, we returned to the store to have its accompanying brass tea scoop engraved by a member of the family who had made the caddy. Little Planet's name has its Japanese equivalent and has a beautiful meaning, so her name in Japanese was carved into the metal

  • We also bought some ginger and clove loose tea

  • We browsed the new Dries Van Noten collection in Liberty and also shopped at Muji, Borders, Foyles and Space NK

  • I revisited the Dayanita Singh show at the Frith Street gallery. It was M's first visit to the show and he too enjoyed the haunting and luminous photos of India illuminated. He bought me an early Christmas gift of a boxed set of the photographer's travel journal work across India, Indian Diaries: Sent A Letter

  • Both the Nordic Bakery and Fernandez & Wells were packed so we high-tailed it in the rain to Mrs Marengo's on Lexington Street for strong coffees, sticky toffee pudding and a fruit and nut slice

  • The day ended and the night began with a friend's birthday party in St Albans

  • I spent most of Sunday vegging out in bed, snuggled deeply inside my duvet, while Little Planet played with my husband and her grandmother or napped. I had spent a sleepless Friday night, tossing and turning in bed for no reason and ended up sleeping on the couch downstairs (my mother-in-law was in the guest bedroom) for fear of waking M and Little Planet up. And then the Saturday night, of course, had been a late one at the party. I only surfaced to eat croissants for breakfast and bacon butties for lunch

  • I was feeling a little anti-social, I admit, longing only to read the papers, surf the net and doze all day; to not have to speak with people. We all have days like that, don't we. But in the evening we had dinner guests - one of whom is a vegetarian - and I certainly enjoyed eating M's roasted aubergine with pumpkin and feta cheese, white bean and barley salad with a beetroot and yoghurt dressing - both recipes from Silvena Rowe, followed by his puff pastry apple tart

  • The weekend marked a successful week of weaning Little Planet onto solids. Successful in the sense that she ate all the food we gave her (a tablespoon at a time of baby rice for breakfast and sweet potato for lunch). But she doesn't seem bothered whether we offer it or not; she has been nonplussed by the tastes and textures so far, opening her mouth excitedly only for water, which she loves. I think I will offer her broccoli this week - not sure how she will take this...

  • Little Planet has been rolling from her front to her back for a few weeks now, but on Sunday she rolled from her back to her front for the first time

  • She'll be 6 months old at the end of this week. Here she is wrapped up in her new snowsuit for a buggy ride in the cold weather...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

At work and at play

Although I am on maternity leave and so am not working at the moment, I still view Monday through Friday as a working week - working as a mother. I enjoy my time with my baby - more so now than the first three months, when I whined all the time about how boring motherhood is - and I frequently meet up with other local mothers and their young babies. But as regular readers of this blog know, I find one day much like any other - a feeling that is intensified when one is essentially alone for most of the day. My weekends, on the other hand, are filled with many different things to do; M is likely to be home; family are around; and I can also do things alone, without the baby. I feel more like the old and the new me on the weekend. I know I can do many things with Little Planet that I do on a weekend, but it is so much easier to have another person around to help out as she is still so very young. So, despite the fact that I do not go to work as such, I still get that excited Friday high and that sad Sunday night low.

Saturday began with strong, freshly-brewed Monmouth coffee along with sourdough bread and a selection of cheeses M had bought during the week from Neal's Yard Dairy in Covent Garden: robust Wensleydale and double Gloucester cheeses.

Then we took Little Planet to the British Library in King's Cross to view the interesting civil liberties exhibition, Taking Liberties - The Struggle For Britain's Freedoms And Rights. It wasn't compelling enough for Little Planet, though, as she fell fast asleep as we wandered around reading about the Magna Carta, the women's emancipation movement, and modern-day concepts of human rights.

Afterwards, we took her to one of my favourite Indian restaurants Ravi Shankar on Drummond Street, where M and I shared an aloo chaat then M had a masala dosa and I had my usual delicious and very filling spinach and panir dosa. With a baby, you get used to cutting your food into bite-sized pieces so you can eat with one hand (holding the baby with the other)!


Then M took Little Planet back home to feed and nap. We have 4 hour windows of opportunities with Little Planet to do things between feeds. She is such a fussy feeder and so easily distracted that feeding her outside is very difficult. She also naps for increasingly longer periods as the day goes on - 40 minutes around 9am at home, around an hour in the buggy when out and about, around 2 hours in the afternoon where I prefer to be home, and then bedtime at 7pm. So mornings are our best time to go out and about with her or socialise with other mothers and babies.

I stayed in town to pick up tea from my regular haunt Postcard Teas and buy toys, baby books and baby clothes from Baby Gap, Borders and John Lewis. As Little Planet approaches 6 months, we have to buy the next size up of clothes. I couldn't resist buying her some cute denim dungarees (above) and brown cords, as well as the usual collection of sleepsuits, body suits (above) and vests. I really like the German Phister & Philina and Katvig ranges John Lewis now stock. I used to love buying DVDs, CDs, books, gadgets and clothes for myself; now I get even more satisfaction buying things for my baby daughter. As I choose which toy and book to buy, my heart swells as I imagine her playing with these things. And, of course, I love dressing her up.

I also picked up some Gail's sourdough bread and fondant fancies from the basement Food Hall - strawberry, lemon and chocolate. Another treat - Elizabeth Arden's miraculous and legendary Eight Hour Cream, now in a small vintage jar. Perfect for my elbows and lips.



Saturday wasn't all about shopping though. I also managed to pop into the Frith Street Gallery on Golden Square to view Dayanita Singh's latest photographic work Dream Villa. I've enjoyed Singh's work for a while now - her largely black and white photos of upper middle class Indian families (first photo above), empty home (second photo above) and museum interiors, and Delhi eunuchs appeal to me. But these photos were a little different (third photo above). No less mysterious, yet colour-drenched. These were haunting artificially lit, urban night landscapes that captivated me as I walked around the cavernous and empty gallery. I will definitely return for a re-view.

In the evening, back at home, M fed Little Planet and had her in bed by 6.45pm. The night was then all ours. We dined on homemade wild boar ragu with pappardelle by candlelight. M also made a puff pastry apple tart. Then we watched Paul Schrader's exquisitely filmed movie about Japanese writer Yukio Mishima - Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters on DVD.

Sunday began with a lie in (until 8am) then a milk feed for Little Planet and fried eggs on sourdough bread with a liberal sprinkling of Tabasco sauce for us. We shopped locally for the week's meals. Back at home we had chicken soup for lunch and bread and cheese. Then we spent the rest of the day sorting through all our books - which to keep, which to recycle. So many difficult choices to make. My parents thought that I would be able to take all my books from their house now that I have more space of my own. Sorry Mum!

The weekend ended with roast chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, kale stir-fried with pancetta, and gooseberry and elderflower posset for dessert.

How was your weekend?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Winter fuel

Cold, dark nights require hot, heavy food for dinner. Tonight, we ate fried kimchi rice with beef - a quick and easy-to-make Korean dish made with leftover short-grain rice (from last night's tonkatsu meal), beef slices, soy sauce, garlic, spring onions, red chilli flakes, sesame oil, black sesame seeds and, of course, fiery hot kimchi. Delicious.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Weekend delights

  • My mother-in-law was visiting for a long weekend, so on Thursday, while M was at work, we took Little Planet to Giraffe in Islington where we both lunched on burgers and fries whilst Little P watched the lights, the balloons, the other babies and children and their mummies/nannies, and played with a paper napkin

  • M took Friday off work, so we left the baby with my mother-in-law and browsed Comme des Garcons' Dover Street Market in Piccadilly. I was particularly taken by the new Play childrens' range. Within a year - the smallest Play Kids size is still a little too large for her - Little Planet can wear clothes just like her mummy! I also bought some grey buttons from the Labour and Wait stall to replace the cream buttons on my trench coat, as I think the matt grey buttons will look more interesting against the creamy beige material

  • We lunched at American brasserie Automat across the road, where M had his favourite macaroni cheese with spinach and bacon and I ate a burger with ham, pineapple and cheese. We shared a dessert of Mississippi mud pie with pistachio ice cream and watched all the Mayfair hedge fund boys have their long Friday lunches

  • A collection of Stuart Luke Gatherer paintings caught our eye at the Albemarle Gallery. I liked his parodies of middle class and professional lives

  • We strolled around Green Park and St James' Park and enjoyed the crunch of autumnal leaves underfoot

  • We viewed Pieter Bruegel's masterly painting The Massacre Of The Innocents at The Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace. It was interesting to learn that the figures of babies and children being massacred were later overpainted by order of the Emperor Rudolph II, who owned it

  • Then onto the comprehensive Rennaissance Faces: Van Eyck To Titian exhibition at the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. As usual, I was too tired to take in all the analytical connections being made, but I enjoyed simply absorbing the works emotionally. M is far more intellectual than I and loves reading and assessing any art exhibition's curatorial interpretations

  • We refueled on restorative green teas at Mitsukoshi on Regent Street. I love the peace and quiet of their most private (but still quite popular) basement Japanese restaurant and tea room

  • We ate an early dinner of assorted tapas and charcuterie at Dehesa on Ganton Street (behind Carnaby Street) and then rushed onto the Jubilee Line to see...

  • ... the magisterial Leonard Cohen at The O2. Oh my goodness, what a performance. I have written elsewhere about my adoration of both the man and his music. I have loved this man - who is old enough to be my grandfather! - since I was a teenager. This old man writes the sexiest and most spiritual songs of love and lust that I have ever heard. His music is truly transcendent

  • We left during the encores and managed to get home just before midnight. Little Planet was fast asleep in her cot and we capped a wonderful evening with some delicious Suntory Hibiki

  • We slept in late on Saturday morning - well, until 8am, which constitutes a lie in with a 5 month old baby. I think I have mentioned before that Little Planet hardly ever cries because she's hungry and she's content to simply doze or play first thing in the morning. This Saturday morning she woke up at around 6.30am so we popped her into bed with us and she fell asleep. Hence the lie in!

  • After our usual leisurely weekend breakfast of croissants and strong, freshly ground coffee, we left Little Planet with her Grandmother again and M and I headed back into town to do some more Christmas and birthday shopping

  • From Arigato in Soho, we stocked up on a variety of Japanese condiments for my sister-in-law, including mirin, soy sauce, sushi rice, rice topping and nori sheets. From Waterstone's on Piccadilly we bought her a Japanese cookbook and from Muji we bought her wooden rice bowls, chopsticks, dipping bowls and a big cloth bag to put everything in. I love giving food gifts to people

  • From Zavvi on Piccadilly, we bought a variety of CDs for Little Planet, including yet another Baby Einstein classical compilation and Disney's Christmas carols!

  • We lunched on green curry fried rice with char-grilled chicken, chilli prawn fried rice with shitake mushrooms, and fish cakes with cucumber and peanut relish at Busaba Eathai in Soho. The service was as bad as ever but the food was as delicious as ever (albeit a touch too salty for my liking)

  • In the evening, I cooked a prawn and red pepper curry with coconut milk and also a sweet potato and spinach curry with Bengali five spices. And after dinner, around 9pm, I collapsed into bed while M and his Mum watched TV (Little Planet had been fast asleep since 6.30pm)

  • We managed another lie in this Sunday morning, then M fed Little P and took her downstairs to play while I stayed in bed until 10am. Such bliss

  • We went to my sister-in-law's house for a long Sunday lunch. She lives just a few minutes away from us, but now she is in a new relationship we hardly ever see her. She made us pizzas. She loved her birthday present of Japanese goodies

  • Poor Little Planet missed most of her daytime naps today due to the lie in and the extended lunch out so was very ratty as the day draw to a close. She simply catnapped in her buggy, which isn't restorative enough for her

  • After he has fed the baby and put her to sleep, M will made pork tonkatsu again with shredded cabbage and sushi rice for our dinner

  • Another lovely weekend nearly over. Boo hoo

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Notes from the week

  • On Tuesday, M returned from a work trip to New Orleans laden with gifts such as a New Orleans babygro, toy crocodile and delightfully funny picture book about gumbo (Gator Gumbo) for Little Planet, and assorted chilli sauces for me and him

  • M had most of the week off, which meant that I ate very, very well indeed. As he was home, he was able to cook such delights as spaghetti in puttanesca sauce, roast chicken with spring greens sauted with pancetta, wild boar stew (photo below) with brown rice, baked sea bass with roasted sweet potatoes and sage leaves, pork tonkatsu with shredded cabbage, and apple and blueberry crumble made with jumbo oats

  • Little Planet was taking a tablespoon and a half of baby rice in her first week of weaning, so we started her on a second meal of pureed carrot prepared in our new Beaba Baby Cook steamer and blender - she wasn't particularly enamoured by the taste but she did eat it all

  • On Thursday, we took her for a Turkish lunch of lahmacun, hummous, flat bread and baklava at one of the many Turkish restaurants on Green Lanes in Harringay. We ate and she watched the world and his mother pass by!

  • She slept through all the loud fireworks exploding around us for most of the week. Phew!

  • Her nursery was finally laid with carpet on Tuesday and is now a very warm and cosy space

  • On Friday, we took her to the Mark Rothko exhibition at the Tate Modern - her first visit ever to the Tate. Once again, she enjoyed looking at the colours and shapes and the throngs of people. Afterwards, she chilled out with us in the leather sofas in the 5th floor members' room while we ate cheesecake and drank ultra smooth illy coffee

  • Then we pushed her along the Southbank to a heaving Borough Market, where we picked up De Gustibus sourdough bread, Chegworth Valley farm apples, and smelly cheeses for her Mum and Dad's lunch. By this time, she had fallen asleep and it was time to go home

  • I went into the West End alone on Saturday afternoon to make a start on some Christmas shopping at Foyles, Paperchase, Liberty, M&S, Muji and Brooks Brothers. From Muji, I bought Little Planet her first ever Christmas stocking, made from thick dusky pink felt that should last many, many Christmases. Now we have a child of our own, Christmas is going to be very special for us from now on. And we will also have our first ever Christmas tree soon

  • Still a lot more Christmas gifts to buy, but there's always online too

  • In town, I also saw the stupendously brilliant (well, I thought so) and quick-witted movie Easy Virtue, based on a Noel Coward play and starring the equally sexy Colin Firth, Jessica Biel and Kristen Scott-Thomas

  • I read as many newspaper analyses of the Presidential election as possible and am now Obama'ed out (well, not quite)

  • We raked autumnal leaves from the lawn, but by the next day the leaves had returned. Our trees are not done shedding yet

  • We enjoyed watching Little Planet reach out and try and pull down the toys on her Happy Safari cot mobile - fortunately we never used the mobile to help her fall asleep as she certainly would never sleep with it on now. The mobile is strictly for stimulating daytime play

  • We popped her in a door bouncer for the first time and had a giggle as she didn't know quite what to do other than swirl round and round (photo above)

  • On Sunday, we took Little Planet to a buzzing Alexandra Palace farmers' market near Crouch End and filled the buggy basket with soda bread, more sourdough bread, soft goat's cheese, Portland crab, pears and leek and brie quiche

  • I began reading Lionel Shriver's intricate but a little too parochial The Post-birthday World, but soon tired of it and so started Carol Shields' Happenstance. Her books always engage me so I have high hopes of finishing this one

  • We celebrated as Little Planet turned 5 months this week. Happy birthday, little cherub!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The end and the beginning

What an historic day! The first black President. The highest voter turnout in 44 years. Vast numbers of young voters. The end of the conservative era.

Today is the day my Little Planet becomes a telly addict as I am glued to the BBC News 24 channel.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Hanging out with Mum

But Daddy's home tomorrow - yippeeee!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Typical day # 4

Little Planet will be 5 months old next week. And I've just realised that it's been a while since I did a "typical day" post (previous posts here: 1, 2 and 3). M is in the States again, so here's a typical day out of our weekend just gone with just Little Planet and her mum...

5am - Little Planet starts babbling and drifts in and out of sleep until...

6.30am - when she starts to cry a little and I bring her into our bed where she chills out looking at the patterns on the curtain, the digital clock and my face.

By 7.30am, she is getting grizzly so I feed her. During week days, M will feed her around 6.45am before he goes to work, while I have my shower. But this weekend, as it is just me on my own with her, I fancied more of a lie in! Interestingly, Little Planet rarely cries for food and doesn't have much of an appetite overall, but especially not first thing in the morning.

Feeding time is now a potential battle because she has recently developed mild reflux, so I begin by feeding her in my arms until she arches her back and cries and then I burp her, give her a break and then feed her flat on her back on the bed. Feeding used to take 15 minutes, now it takes 30.

8am - I pop her in the cot with her Happy Safari cot mobile on and have a shower and clean my teeth. Sometimes she cries with frustration and sometimes she babbles with contentment, but either way I need my 10 minutes in the bathroom or she will have a smelly mum.

By 8.15am, I am back and I pop her onto the bed, put the TV on to watch the BBC news and get dressed. She watches the news and she watches me... She particularly loves it when I blowdry my hair and put cream on my skin. And we chat a bit in our own languages.

8.30am and we are in the kitchen. I pop her in her reclining high chair and she watches me as I wash her bottles and prepare my breakfast. She particularly loves watching the water run and hearing the coffee grinder make its loud noise. We chat - I talk, she babbles back. Sometimes I will position her by the window so she can watch the trees in the garden. I will sing to her and dance (very badly) in front of her with the radio on, to which she will graciously humour me with a gummy smile.

9am and she may start crying a bit. Her eyes look heavy and she will rub them. It's time for her nap. She usually fights daytime naps but always sleeps after a few minutes. I take her upstairs to the nursery and return to the kitchen to check my emails, eat my breakfast, wash up, prepare her solids and put a load of laundry on. If she is crying, I try to ignore her if it only lasts a few minutes. This is hard, as even a minute of a baby crying feels like an hour.

9.40am - I can set my watch by her consistent 40 minute first-nap-of-the-day! She's up and so I feed her a few spoonfuls of baby rice as we have started weaning. We decided not to wait until she is the recommended 6 months old as, with our doctor's permission, we think and hope weaning will help her reflux.

She is now beginning to open her mouth when she sees the spoon heading her way and she is making chewing and swallowing motions. I try and make the experience as fun and as calm as possible - if she doesn't want it, I don't force, and I always try to have a smile on my face so she doesn't associate food with stress (smiling is hard when she is spraying me with food and it goes all over me!).

This morning, for the first time, she took a full tablespoon of the baby rice and pushed hardly any of the food out of her mouth, which is great. This week, when M returns, we will try her on something more flavourful - carrots, I think. We want to start her on vegetables before fruit so she doesn't develop a sweet tooth and reject the vegetables.

Then it's playtime again! She has a kick around on her activity mat, I sing with her and read her stories from large picture books whose pages she tries to turn. She has some tummy time - often in front of the Tweenies which I record each day - and I also prop her up into the seating position to get her used to it. She plays with her toys and cloth books - she is beginning to reach, grab and play with them now. I will show her colourful flashcards with pictures and the names of such things as cat, dog, mouse, rabbit, boat and star. She is content to play alone for some time, especially if I am within her sight so I will sit on the rug next to her and read the papers. It's only recently that she's begun to grizzle if I leave the room for more than a few minutes.

11am and it's time for her next formula feed. I dread each and every feed now that she has reflux but the Infant Gaviscon seems to have eased her pain somewhat though has had the uncomfortable effect of making her strain to do a poo. But it seems she also now has a psychological fear of the bottle - she seems to anticipate that feeding time will make her feel bad. I pray she has a sleepy feed (which she does usually at least three out of five daily feeds) as then she doesn't resist the bottle and tends to take most of her milk in one go.

By 11.45am, we are ready to go out in her buggy. Come rain or shine, I like to get her out in the fresh air every day. We stick to the local parks and streets, but when M is home we go further afield and into central London. Little Planet and I may meet up with other mothers and babies I know from my NCT antenatal classes, but most likely it will be just the two of us.

We have converted her buggy from pram mode to pushchair mode, and now that she is more upright and can see out properly, she cries far less. In pram mode, she used to cry alot when she was awake in it but couldn't see anything. She still cries a bit in the pushchair. I think she doesn't like being strapped in. Who would?! Pushchair rides are the few times we give her a dummy if she starts to scream - it quickly soothes her.

Though we are out for 1.5-2 hours at a time (I have become very fit), she will sleep from 30 minutes to 1 hour or more as I pound the streets and shop. I prefer if she sleeps no more than an hour so that she sleeps better later on in the day and I may gently wake her.

By 1.30pm, we are home and I let her stretch and kick out on a rug in the kitchen, surrounded by toys, as I prepare and eat my lunch and play with her and surf the net. Like most babies, Little Planet likes nothing more than people-watching and watches me closely as I go about my business in the kitchen. Us adults are far more entertaining to babies, as we go about our daily activities, than their toys.

2.30pm and it's time for her feed and her big nap of the day. By this time, she is usually quite tired and is in bed by 3pm and can sleep for us much as 2 hours in the afternoon. Surprisingly, this length of time doesn't affect her bedtime at 7pm. But we will wake her up by 5pm if she isn't already awake - just so she is sleepy again for bedtime.

She may cry intermittently - usually as she transitions from one sleep cycle to another - but early on we learned to leave her as then she quickly self-settled. This way she can sleep for long periods undisturbed by us. We have found that the more she sleeps during the day, the better she sleeps during the night - sleeps begets sleep.

Her long afternoon nap is usually the time I make a start on dinner (if I am cooking), do a few chores and then settle down with a novel or the papers. I am avidly following all the global financial and US election news.

She used to sleep for a long stretch in the mornings too, but dropped that in favour of two smaller naps. I am sure that at some point she will reduce her afternoon napping too. But for now, she needs her daytime sleep and gets very grumpy if deprived of it. Certainly she sleeps more during the day than the other antenatal class mothers' babies and she is the only one who is sleeping through the night. I do wonder sometimes whether she sleeps more because we don't rush to her every time she cries or stirs...

5pm and she's awake and we enter into a calm phase as we wind down for the night. I'll wash her then we'll listen to lullabies as she lays in her cot and swings in her rocker and stretches out on the rug. Calmness is key in the hour or so before bedtime. During the day too, I find that if I calm her down before her naps and feed her in a quiet place then she will nap better.

6.30pm - I will feed her and she is usually quite sleepy by now. I'll read her a story and then it's off to bed by 7pm. She used to cry for several minutes when we put her down for her night time sleep but now she rarely cries and drops off after 5 to 15 minutes of babbling, sighing and shuffling.

The rest of the night is now my own totally - to watch TV or a DVD, to eat dinner, to read, to surf the net. If M is in the country then he'll usually return home by 9pm and we catch up with each other.

As this is the weekend for fireworks in the run-up to Bonfire Night, I am on tenterhooks waiting for her to be woken up by the loud bangs. Our back neighbour starts letting off fireworks, some of which fall into our garden, and I think, Uh oh, surely she'll wake up now. On the digital monitor, I hear her shuffle around, but thankfully she remains asleep. There are fireworks tonight too, so I am still on tenterhooks!

I wake her up at our bedtime - 11pm - to give her her final feed of the day. Like the 7am feed, this is usually the feed M does as it's his opportunity to see her after a long day at work (he is never able to make it home for her 7pm bedtime). We will stop this feed when she is properly weaned onto solids, but for now we will wake her at this time to ensure she is getting enough food. She drops back to sleep after 15 minutes or so of babbling and another typical day ends.

Monday, October 27, 2008

On request...

... a cute photo of Little Planet!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Weekend list

Yesterday, my mother-in-law looked after Little Planet, so M and I went into central London and...
Back at home we...
  • Began treating Little Planet with infant Gaviscon as she now, at 4.5 months, and for the first time, has silent reflux
  • Gave her her first taste of solids - Organix wholegrain baby rice - it will take some time but we were pleased she didn't instantly refuse either the food or the spoon
This afternoon, my mother-in-law and I went into central London and...
  • Saw the sadly bitty and bland movie Brideshead Revisited at the Curzon Mayfair while...
  • M stayed at home, looked after Little Planet and, while she slept, cooked roast lamb, roasted pumpkin and cauliflower with caraway seeds for dinner on our return
  • He also baked an apple strudel which we will eat for our dessert. Thanks M!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Home and away

My husband M has stayed at home in London and looked after 4.5 month old Little Planet on Saturday, Sunday and today, while I am visiting my parents in East Anglia. He has taken her out shopping to the local fishmonger's, butcher's, baker's and to our local farmers' market. He has taken her out to the park. He has taken her to visit her auntie. He has generally enjoyed showing her off (she draws alot of comments from strangers when we're out and about and he is a proud daddy).

Meanwhile, I have spent the three days looking after my mother who is recovering from a knee operation. I have cooked her lamb and spinach curry with Bengali five spices, and a chorizo and chickpea stew. I have helped her out with some paperwork and shopping. But I have also lounged around alot, eating junk, reading magazines and the weekend papers from cover to cover, listening to music really loud, and sleeping in late each day until 9.30 or 10am. I feel like a teenager again!

I am missing M and Little Planet - our weekends a trois are treasured. But the break in routine is lovely. And of course, seeing my mum and dad.

I would have brought Little P with me, but she is going through a very fussy feeding stage at the moment making it difficult to feed her outside her known environment and without distractions. She may have mild reflux and/or may be ready for solids. We shall see how it goes this week and may have to give her infant Gaviscon and/or introduce some baby rice to her diet. I can't wait to introduce her to solids.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Choice pieces...

... from the past week.
  • Dancing to the Sugababes videos on TV with Little Planet in my arms
  • Eating M's risotto with rosemary and borlotti beans
  • Being riveted by the John Adams series on TV
  • Enjoying the return of Heroes
  • Dressing Little Planet in jeans, beanie hats and NYC sweats (photo below)
  • Lounging around reading the papers as Little Planet naps and it pours with rain outside
  • Playing David Bowie and Tom Waits CDs to Little Planet, exposing her to superlative classics such as Ziggy Stardust and Rain Dogs
  • Devouring beef stews and lamb curries on chilly nights
  • Getting our garden shed erected
  • Getting our kitchen spotlights fixed
  • Enduring Little Planet's extremely fussy feeding and hoping it's just a phase
  • Celebrating Little Planet's 4th month birthday
  • Cracking hazelnuts and almonds and walnuts
  • Taking Little Planet to her very first art show - Gerhard Richter's 4900 Colours: Version II at the Serpentine (photo above). She loved all the colours!
  • Taking her for a stroll around Hyde Park in the glorious sunshine
  • Taking her shopping with us at Whole Foods Market in Kensington
  • Finishing Ann Packer's engaging The Dive From Clausen's Pier and Jonathan Raban's disappointing Surveillance; beginning Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells
  • Relishing my time away from the baby - for example, a walk alone to the local shops, or watching the astounding and harrowing Il Y A Longtemps Que Je T'aime at the cinema in Covent Garden alone, or eating sushi alone at Tokyo Diner in Soho

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nuzzling and snuggling

Usually, when M is in the country, he gives Little Planet her first feed of the day around 7am, while I shower and get ready, and then he takes her down to the kitchen, sits her in her bouncy chair and has his breakfast. I then come down and he goes upstairs to get ready for work. After he has left, Little P is ready for her nap and our day moves on.

This week, M is away again and the baby and I have been doing things a little differently. We snooze for longer in the morning and I feed her at 7.30am instead, and then I put her in her cot surrounded by toys while I shower. I get back to the room within 10 minutes and then I put her in the centre of the bed, put on BBC News on our bedroom TV, surround her with some toys and then she watches me as I get dressed. She is particularly mesmerised by me brushing and blow-drying my hair and putting cream on my skin. Then I lie down next to her on the bed. She is now just in her nappy, as opposed to fully dressed when M is here and looking after her in the kitchen. I watch the news and nuzzle into her, and I stroke her skin - her chest, her neck, her legs, her feet - with my hands and her toys. She smiles at me and holds her toys and snuggles into me and we stay like this together, snuggling and nuzzling, for half an hour or so before my stomach growls and I have to dress her and take her down to the kitchen for my breakfast.

I am loving my early mornings with her, just the two of us.

Though I am still waiting impatiently for it to be just the three of us again, this Saturday...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Milestones

Little Planet has reached a number of milestones in the last week or so. She's grasping her toys and reaching out for them, she's doing tummy time at 90 degrees and often fully supporting herself on outstretched arms, she's bringing her hands together, she's holding her feet, she's reaching out to touch things, she's let out a couple of chuckles, and she's successfully moved from her Moses basket (bassinet) to her cot.

Here she is being propped up in her cot, which she really enjoys...

And she enjoys watching the Tweenies on her tummy!

And this weekend, Little Planet met some of our milestones. We took her shopping down Bond Street, then she joined us for coffee at our favourite cafe in Soho - Fernandez & Wells...

And then she enjoyed watching the pigeons, fountain and particularly the people strolling through Russell Square. The next milestone we want her to meet is to join us at a gallery.

M is away in the States again all this week and so it is just Little Planet and myself. He left this morning at the ungodly hour of 5am but I miss him already. I am enjoying spending time with Little Planet more and more now that she is becoming more interactive and expressive (I am enjoying her more at 3 months than at 1 and 2 months). And my love for her is growing each day too as I get to know her better (I admit that when she was a newborn I couldn't quite relate to this wriggling little thing who couldn't do much but was so needy and demanding of my time - I have never been a "baby person"). But I miss adult company and I miss someone sharing the parenting load with me. I am not cut out, temperamentally, to be a stay-at-home-mum (though I admire SAHMs immensely - looking after babies fulltime is a much tougher job than being a working professional) and I have always intended to return to work after my maternity leave finishes. My mother-in-law, mother and many of my friends are busy this week so it will be a lonely one for me. I just need to keep busy and pray the week goes by quickly.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunny days

M and I were out and about alot this weekend because my mother-in-law was here again with us and she looked after Little Planet for a couple of days. Our weekend activities this week included...
  • Lunching on spinach with sesame sauce and tempura of pumpkin, asparagus, green beans, sweet potato, carrot and mushroom at Toku restaurant in the Japan Centre on Piccadilly
  • Choosing a 100% wool carpet and soundproofing underlay for Little Planet's nursery
  • Watching the Tweenies on CBeebies with Little Planet as she lay on her stomach and babbled away at the characters Bella, Fizz, Jake and Milo
  • Viewing several art exhibitions: reinterpretations of Native American life as depicted in paintings by Kent Monkman at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, Suzanne Treister's transcriptions of newspaper headlines into alchemical drawings at the Annely Juda Fine Art, and Wyndham Lewis' portraits of friends such as T.S. Eliot, James Joyce and Ezra Pound at the National Portrait Gallery
  • Browsing babywear at Fenwick department store on Bond Street and buying two cute spotty sleepsuits from Baby Gap on Regent Street
  • Buying traditional sweets such as acid drops, rhubarb and custard sweets and dolly mixture from Fortnum & Mason
  • Watching the mildly engaging and very subtle Unrelated movie at the cinema
  • Buying cookware from John Lewis on Oxford Street and assorted cheeses and crackers and fish from the Food Hall
  • Strolling through Russell Square in the glorious sunshine
  • Buying magazines from Borders, and browsing gardening, parenting and cooking books from Foyles and Japanese photobooks in Claire de Rouen, all on Charing Cross Road
  • Viewing Dryden Goodwin's large black and white photos of strangers in London streets at the Photographers' Gallery in Covent Garden
  • Snacking on coffee and Portuguese custard tarts at Fernandez & Wells in Soho
  • Browsing menswear in Brooks Brothers, Gieves & Hawkes and Jil Sander - M eventually buying a deep charcoal wool suit from Nicole Farhi and a light grey jumper from John Smedley
  • Snacking on charcuterie and sipping red wine in the tapas bar Dehasa on Ganton Street
  • Dining at Korean restaurant Biwon near Holborn on kimchi, chilli chicken stew and bi bim bab - a stew of vegetables, beef and chilli paste on a bed of rice and a raw egg broken on top and served sizzling hot in a clay pot
  • Enjoying a barbecue in the garden
Wasn't it a gloriously sunny and warm weekend? This coming week, I have a visit from my parents to look forward to. The week after that, I am not looking forward to M being away again.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Weekend notes

  • Hanging white sheets up to dry on the line in the glorious sunshine
  • Viewing the throwaway but enjoyable The Women remake at the Apollo
  • Eating tofu salad and crab sushi rolls at Itsu
  • Viewing Mari Sunna's disturbingly beautiful Winter Pictures exhibition at The Approach
  • Buying tuna steaks from the John Lewis Food Hall and eating them lightly grilled with a rocket, avocado and pine nut salad
  • Buying goats cheese, sourdough bread, plums, apples and chocolate cake from the Alexandra Park farmers' market
  • Painting the nursery
  • Pruning the shrubs in the garden in a Japanese style
  • Lounging around reading trashy People and US magazines
  • Eating roasted chicken for Sunday dinner along with homemade pesto made with basil from our garden
  • Getting down on the floor with Little Planet during her tummy time sessions and taking a zillion photos and videos as she holds herself up at 90 degrees, attempts to reach out for her toys, makes crawling movements and rolls over from tummy to back
  • Changing her outfits a thousand times as she dribbles on them all due to teething (the teeth may not actually appear for a while though)
  • Getting frustrated because she is feeding less and in a fussy manner but this may be due to her gum discomfort or another developmental issue - will observe over next week or so
  • Laughing over the fact that she now shouts out loud and relentlessly when she wants our attention!
  • Little Planet has a new friend. It's no longer Mr Sunshine but Mr Dinosaur

Sunday, September 07, 2008

3 months old

This little cherub reached the almighty age of 3 months today. Happy birthday, Little Planet!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Eating well

I always look forward to M's return after time spent away for work, not least because I eat so much better. Here are just some of the dishes my husband has cooked since he's returned from the States and been on holiday for a week at home. This on top of decorating the nursery.

Lamb stew with pumpkin and pomegranate...

Numbing hot Sichuan chicken...

Roasted pork loin on a bed of red cabbage with cauliflower gratin...

I am so glad M loves to cook.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Chaos central

The gardeners are in sprucing up our garden and putting up a shed, and M's been stripping and re-wallpapering the nursery as we want to transition Little Planet into her own cot and room in a few weeks. So there are alot of loud men and loud noises clattering through our home. Little Planet is fussing more whilst feeding. And it's so noisy that all her daytime naps have been disrupted, so I have to wheel her around the neighbourhood to encourage her to sleep. Yesterday, I wheeled her for a total of four hours - two and a half hours in one go - and I can't stop moving otherwise she wakes up. The positive? She's less grouchy because she's napped reasonably well, and I get a shed load of exercise. Luckily her night time sleep is still good. She has been sleeping through from 6.30 through 7 for some time now and we only have to wake her for the 11pm feed. Until we can get more calories into her during the day, we will have to continue the 11pm feed, which is a shame as I'd rather we didn't have to wake her. Hopefully when she starts solids in a month or two...

Little Planet will be 3 months old in two days.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

New discoveries, reprise

And today, Little Planet made the connection between the spinning of the wooden red teddy on her BabyBjorn bouncing chair and her own hand. When she spun it, she looked at the teddy, looked at her hand, then looked at her arm. Then she kept repeating the process. It's wonderful when parents can be present to witness such discoveries, as The Normal Self can attest to.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

New discoveries

Little Planet discovered both her hands and her feet today. Not that she realises they are connected to her. I am sure she thinks they are simply interesting new toys.

I left her in her pram in the hallway as I ate my lunch after our morning walk today. I'd left her there simply because she seemed drowsy and content to lie there quietly. After twenty minutes or so I could hear her sighing and when I peeked in at her I saw her studying her left hand as she rotated it this way and that and wiggled her fingers.

Later on in the day, after her afternoon nap, we'd placed her in her bouncy chair in the kitchen and concentrated on preparing the dinner we would eat after she went to bed. When I looked over, she was looking down at her foot and rotating it this way and that. She refused to be distracted by us and continued to study the foot she was moving.

She doesn't need us to wave toys in front of her face or to sing endless songs to her to discover the world. She can do just as well discovering the world on her own.

Aren't babies amazing?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Home alone

My mother-in-law left this afternoon. She's been with staying with me for seven days. M has been away ten days already and will finally return from the States on Saturday. A total of just twelve days away from home and yet I've felt all the more lonely because I've felt more vulnerable being alone with the baby. But women do this all the time - look after their babies on their own night after night and day after day. And I know Little Planet is in safe hands. But it helps my sanity enormously knowing M will be back soon. In 36 hours, in fact. As M pointed out via text this evening. For he is also counting down the days. He knows his daughter has changed alot in the short time he has been away. He knows that she is holding small things in her hands for longer, communicating more with a wider range of sounds, observing things for longer periods of time, smiling and grinning more freely both at people and at her favourite toys and books. He can't wait to see her on Saturday.

It was wonderful having my mother-in-law here in my home helping me look after the baby. She raised three children of her own and has, down the years, looked after many more. I learned alot from her experience. I had been worrying about how to occupy Little Planet with endless rounds of entertainment and activities as she stays awake more during the day and my mother-in-law demonstrated daily that the best activity for Little Planet was to have her sit in the same room as us and simply watch us or engage with us - without books, without toys, without fancy activity mats. And I was amazed to see how long Little P could sit in her bouncy chair or on my lap or on the rug simply watching us go about our daily activities and interacting with us.

Having M's mother here also enabled me to take some time out and go into town alone and indulge in some me-time. During her stay I...
All the time I was out and about on my own, I didn't consciously think about Little Planet all the time, but I was constantly aware of her presence in my life - if that makes sense. And though she has been in my life for nearly three months now - twelve months if you count her days in my womb - I am still amazed that I am a mother. I visit art galleries, go out for meals, see interesting movies, browse museum collections... I am still the Planethalder of old, and yet I am also Little Planet's mother now.

Amazing.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Smiling angel

Our little angel enters her 12th week. Here she is with one of her grandmothers.

I would love some tips from other mothers on how you keep your young babies entertained when they won't sleep much during the day, when they've been fed, and when they have very short attention spans. I sing her nursery rhymes, take her out in the buggy, play peekaboo, put her under the activity mat, put her in the bouncy chair, dance in front of her and so on. Is it simply a matter of cycling through all these activities endlessly throughout the day? How do you cope with the monotony of it, or do you not see it as that?

She sleeps so well from 6pm onwards, so it's only the daytime to think about. For the first time, we've resorted to the dummy to calm her when she gets bored but won't sleep during the day (never at night). I would really appreciate some activities advice please; and bear in mind that for 90% of the time I am on my own with her as most of our friends do not have children so are still at work.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Still here...

... but just finding very little time to sit down at the computer. M is away on business for 10 days in the States and until yesterday I was home alone day and night with Little P. My mother-in-law is now with me taking on some of the baby caring load but as Little P enters her 12th week, she is awake far more during the day and needs to be entertained all the time. She is beginning to be able to sit by herself watching the world go by - me washing up or eating my lunch, or other babies and their mums during mother and baby coffee mornings, or her toys lined up in front of her, or the colourful Olympics on TV - but only for 5 minutes or so at a time. I thought that her being awake more would make it easier for me, but it's more exhausting and routine than ever. She seems to need to change activities every 5 or 10 minutes. I like to take her out in her buggy alot but she's beginning to cry more inside it. I think it's because she can't see out but until her back is stronger we can't put her in a more upright position. I am still finding motherhood difficult and, dare I admit this, a little boring.

Monday, August 18, 2008

10 weeks

We've really noticed several major changes in Little Planet as she passed through her 10th week last week. For example...
  • She can stay in her bouncy chair, rocker, under her activity mat or propped up on the bed for longer periods of time, playing with us or simply watching us as we go about our daily activities.
  • She can spend longer on her tummy without crying. It helps if we arrange toys around her to attract and hold her attention.
  • She's really enjoying watching people chat amongst themselves now and does not always need to be engaged with us. Sometimes up to 15 minutes or more.
  • She's communicating with us more with her babbling, cooing and gurgling, and for longer periods of time again.
  • She's much more interested in picture books - looking at the pages as we read from them.
  • She's fascinated by sounds and really hones in on them.
  • She's awake alot more, especially during the morning.
  • She's bringing up her own burps (unless she's very sleepy) when we hold her in a sit up position during feeds.
  • As she's more alert and inquisitive, she moans when we lie her down in her pram as she can't see the world around her. The trouble we have is that she's still a little too tiny to have placed in the pushchair in a more upright position without slumping down, but we will keep trying as we suspect being able to look around her will make her happier.
We generally use her room for daytime naps, our room for her long night sleep and the living room for playing in (in our library area at the back, photo above).

As for me, motherhood is still a little too routine for my liking, and I am still dreaming of returning to work, but it's getting less daunting as I get to know and then anticipate her needs and actions, and it's getting a little more interesting as she grows more alert and agile. The absolute worst part of motherhood is hearing her cry, but even then I am learning not to get too stressed about that as it's something babies simply do!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Psycho buildings and soft shell crabs

Saturday began with butter croissants and Monmouth coffee; feeding and playing with Little Planet; and a stroll through the park. Lunch was leftover potato salad that M had made to accompany Friday night's dinner of veal snitchel. And then I headed, alone, into town.

I viewed the disappointingly mediocre Psycho Buildings at the Hayward Gallery; picked up Japan's answer to Martha Stewart - haru-mi magazine from JP Books in the basement of Mitsukoshi off Piccadilly; replenished my stock of Frederic Fekkai shampoo and conditioner from Space NK in Soho; bought slippers, cucumber hand soap and frosted salad bowls from Muji; watched the disappointingly mediocre The X-Files: I Want To Believe movie at the Apollo; bought daikon, miso, chilli paste and wasabi from Arigato in Soho; was tempted by the dark chocolate with mint and dark chocolate with sesame seeds at Yauatcha; and snacked on sushi, tofu and sesame spinach at Kintaro off Chinatown.

Back at home, M made tempura (above) with soft shell crabs, prawns, aubergines and sweet potato, and served them with shredded daikon, cold soba noodles tossed with black and white sesame seeds, and umeboshi plums. Needless to say, it was delicious.

Sunday was much like any other: a lot of laundry - we do loads now we have a baby; menu planning for the week ahead (such as pumpkin curry and huevos rancheros) and buying the necessary provisions; waiting for and then sorting through our Ocado delivery; feeding, burping, changing, playing with and doing crazy dancing in front of a very bemused Little Planet; sorting through all our books and DVDs as we have so many now that I am stacking books on the floor (I must admit, the piles of books look quite attractive and usefully put to use as makeshift occasional tables); reading magazines (such as Dwell, Living ETC, Real Simple, US Weekly and The Economist) and the FT. For dinner, M made chicken filo cigars with sultanas and pine nuts (below) from Claudia Roden's Jewish cookbook and served it with char-grilled brocolli with toasted almonds and red chillies from the Ottelenghi cookbook. Dessert was fresh pineapple and pomegranate with freshly ground black pepper, in front of the excellent series 1 of Weeds on DVD.

Also this weekend, Little Planet reached 9 weeks. At two months, Little Planet is now...
  • Tossing her body from one side to the other whilst on her back
  • Punching the air with her fists and feet vigorously
  • Holding her head up unsupported whilst we hold her in a sitting position (we no longer have to support her head whilst we hold or lift her)
  • Following people avidly around the room with her head and eyes
  • Pushing herself backwards on her back and forwards on her tummy
  • Cooing, gurling and babbling to her toys and to us
  • Spending more time awake - usually in the mornings
  • Sleeping in longer chunks at night
  • Talking and sometimes crying or shouting out in her sleep - perhaps having good and bad dreams
  • Opening her hands out and spreading her fingers
  • Watching and listening to us intently as we chat with her, sing to her or read her a story
  • Smiling
  • Showing preference for bright colours over black and white
  • Looking at the pictures in books when I read from them
  • Beginning to drool (we keep her bib on alot now)
  • Sucking on her hands more and rubbing her nose and eyes as if she has just discovered they exist
  • Weighing in at 11lbs or 5kg - at the 50th percentile

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Happy birthday to her

Our little girl is two months old today! She celebrated by playing, sleeping, burping and pooing. Her dad and I will celebrate with a selection of homemade tapas for dinner.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Double take

Such a funny thing happened. I often hold Little Planet in front of the mirror and she is always nonplussed by what she sees there. But yesterday she did several double takes as she spotted my reflection then quickly looked up at me then back at the me in the mirror and then back at the real me, then back again. It was hilarious watching her confusion.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Happy birthday to me

This weekend was my birthday and M took Friday and Monday off work to spend time en famille. Just as last year's birthday was my first as a wife, this year's birthday was my first as a mother, so it was an extra special time.

My birthday weekend began on Friday with a lie in to, gasp, 8.30am as Little Planet went back to sleep after her 7am feed. She had already woken up around 3.30am for a feed. By 9am, she was up and wanting to play so M and I split our breakfasts so we could take it in turns to spend time with her. She spent some time rolling around on her activity gym, rocking in her rainforest cradle (above) and taking a tour of the house and garden with M.

By 10.30am, and after another feed, we popped her into her buggy and took her to Brindisa in Exmouth Market, where she drifted in and out of sleep as we stocked up on lomo, membrillo, Manchega cheese, wine, anchovies, capers, chicken pie, chickpea and chorizo salad and pasteis de nata. Then we pushed her into Islington to buy more all-in-one sleepsuits from Green Baby. Our baby lives day and night in these easy to put on and take off onesies. If we have another baby we will never again waste money on fancy separates as they simply cause little ones more distress than they are worth. Babies like to be dressed quickly and with minimal fuss - something you can do with button-through, all-in-one sleepsuits that do not go over the head.

Little Planet cried on the way home every time the bus stopped but fell asleep every time the bus moved! We were grateful there was minimal traffic. Though our buggy is very narrow, we struggled when another buggy entered onto the bus. I know that the poles in these disabled bays assist wheelchair users, but they sure do get in the way of getting more than one buggy into and out of these dedicated areas.

In the afternoon, M's mother arrived and she fed the baby and put her to bed while M worked a little and I napped. For dinner, M made a tortilla de patatas which we ate with a tomato and basil salad and barbecued chorizo and halloumi outside in the garden. We drank a lovely, complex New Zealand pinot noir and then toasted marshmallows on skewers on the BBQ until Little Planet's last feed of the day at 10.30pm. By which time, we were shattered with all the good food and fresh air. We still had to get up, half-comatose, at 4am to feed her.

Saturday marked Little Planet's 8th week on this earth. The day began with her 6am feed and then another lie in until her cries awoke us all from a very deep sleep at 9am. We then rushed around taking turns to shower, playing with the baby, eating croissants for breakfast in shifts and preparing her feeds for the day as M and I were going to go out while my mother-in-law looked after Little P. Usually I am on my own, so having two extra pair of hands in the morning was great. In India and some other parts of the world hired help is reasonably affordable, plus many mothers live in extended families. But in the UK, unless you have alot of money, a nanny or mother's help is very costly while a mother is still at home and not earning, and most mothers live in a small, nuclear family away from in-laws, parents and other relatives.

The three of us wheeled Little P through the park and then M and I said goodbye to her and her grandma. In town, our first port of call was the British Library where we viewed the small but perfectly formed From East To West: Traditional Asian And Contemporary European Printing exhibition. I was particularly impressed and soothed by contemporary Chinese woodblock artists Li Yitai (the tranquil By The Lake, above), Han Likun (the expressionistic Lotus Pond) and Wu Junfa (On Heavenly Mountain). Then we meandered through the lavish and intricately painted 17th century storyboards of the Ramayana epic also on show at the Library.

We lunched on steak and kidney pie, assorted salads and chocolate tarts at the Peyton and Byrne cafe at the Wellcome Institute. The cafe is one of the main reasons we always end up popping into the Institute to check out the exhibitions. This time, we perused the From Atoms To Patterns: Crystal Structure Designs From The 1951 Festival Of Britain exhibit demonstrating the influence of X-ray crystallography on contemporary 1950s design - from lace and carpets to wallpaper and plates (above).

From there, we took a cab to the British Museum to view the Objects In Focus: Reflecting On Modern Japan - Photobooks From The Post War Period collection, which featured the likes of Hosoe Eikoh's famous Kamaitachi photobook (above) and Takashi Homma's hard-to-find Tokyo Suburbia. The latter is one of my favourite contemporary Japanese photographers and we have a few of his photobooks at home. We also explored some of the Museum's newly acquired collection of 200 Japanese photobooks in their Japan rooms - some of which M and I already own (for example, by Takashi Homma, Rinko Kawauchi (below) and Motoko).


Then to Selfridges where M gifted me with an exquisitely elegant Burberry watch. We then checked out the sales at Browns, Martin Margiela and Albam where M bought a pair of Japanese denim jeans and I bought a limited edition rain jacket and chatted to the owner about the items' provenance.

We finally caught our breath at Postcard Teas, where we sat down and sampled some new green teas, chatted with the owner and his wife, and bought some fermented Pu Erh, first flush Darjeeling, green Sparrow's Tongue and garam Assam chai tea leaves. We also bought a brass tea caddy (above) to commemorate Little Planet's birth. It was handmade in Kyoto this year. The brass will age and turn colour as she ages. It's the commemorative equivalent of seeding a tree for a new baby, which we won't do as it's unlikely we will stay in our house all Little Planet's childhood. The caddy is engraved with the symbols for pine (everlasting), bamboo (flexible) and plum (hardy) and the owner will let us know when the makers visit London from Kyoto in November as they will engrave Little Planet's name with its Japanese equivalent (her Indian name has a Japanese equivalent, coincidentally).

By now I was hungry and we jumped in a cab to West Smithfield for cocktails - mojito and caipirinha - at Smithfield Bar & Grill. It was my first cocktail since before I fell pregnant so I savoured it. I stuck to just one cocktail though as I had a little baby to look after when I returned home! And then it was dinner time and we went next door to the Saki Bar & Food Emporium where M treated me to a sumptuous birthday meal - the specially prepared, entirely vegan Shojin ryori or Buddhist cuisine. Following a typical Japanese kaiseki order of starter, sashimi, simmered, fried, grilled and sushi course, we ate:
  • Starter of sesame tofu in a citron miso sauce
  • Sashimi of abalone mushroom, konnyaku root, radish and kombu-infused winter melon with a mustard miso (above)
  • Simmered tofu dumpling with ginkgo nut and winter melon
  • Fried tempura of shiso leaf, enoki mushroom, shitake mushroom and a yuba tofu roll with broad beans
  • Grilled lotus root with seaweed and grilled aubergine with red miso and black and white sesame seeds
  • Sushi of tonburi seeds, aubergine, cucumber and other assorted vegetables (below)
Dessert was a delicate green tea gelee with adzuki bean sauce, a molasses and prune ice cream (no milk), and assorted fresh fruit.

Despite being the vegan cuisine of monks, there was nothing delicate or insubstantial about any of the dishes we ate. All the flavours were incredibly refined and at the same time very robust. We were very full by the end. I will definitely return. Incidentally, they also do a more conventional, comprehensive, vegetarian and non-vegetarian Japanese menu.

A wonderful birthday day, even though my actual birthday was on Sunday. Thank you M - you created a very special day for me.

Sunday, my actual birthday, was a quieter affair. We chilled at home with Little Planet and my mother-in-law; we shopped locally for the week's provisions; we read magazines and books; we napped; we did many loads of laundry. The weather was damp and grey and it was lovely staying home, especially with the extra pair of hands to help look after the baby. I opened the rest of the presents M bought me: two photobooks - one by the celebrated Takashi Homma called Tokyo (below) and another by Hiroshi Taniguchi whose delicate photos of interior details are published by the excellent Foil.



The day ended with a home-cooked dinner of roast chicken served with roast potatoes and cabbage with caraway seeds and then a viewing of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Three Times movie on DVD - an evocative and engagingly shot Taiwanese movie we first saw at the ICA cinema last year featuring three forty-minute stories that take place in three separate time periods (1911, 1966 and 2005), each one featuring a pair of lovers played by the same actors.

But by this time, I was so tired and the movie was so beautifully soporific that I slept through most of the first segment of the movie before Little Planet's 10.30pm feed. I was partially revived in due course by several mouthfuls of Ben & Jerry's caramel chew chew ice cream before, once again, sleep beckoned and I joined Little Planet in the land of nod.