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.