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.


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.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Bathtime beauty

Our little angel is 8 weeks old.