The Future’s Bright…?

28 Apr

When you are married to the military, events such as Anzac Day suddenly hold much more significance than they once did. When you become a mother, especially to a son, they become more poignant still.

Examining one of dad's medals

Examining one of Dad’s medals

I admit, before moving to Australia I knew little of Anzac Day and the horrors of Gallipoli, but  you cannot but feel moved at the thought of those thousands of young men, boys, who ran head on into a dawn bloodbath, some, no older than fourteen, many never to see their home again; most, never stood a chance.

Anzac Biscuits

Homemade Anzac Biscuits

You can read a little more of what Anzac Day commemorates here. It was the first year that I have not attended a dawn service or watched the parade in the city but with sleep a precious commodity right now, I decided against waking a sleeping a baby at 4am to venture out on a chilly Autumn morning.

This year I found myself not just sparing a thought for the dead and the atrocities of the past, but of the world we live in now, wondering if despite the nature of war having changed, whether we have learnt anything from the sacrifices of our ancestors. I found myself asking what sort of world I have brought a child into: where battles still rage, where people still need to flee for their lives, where people still need to escape the daily threat of bombings, beatings, rape, torture; where people still live in fear for their existence. And it is not just in war-torn Gaza or Afghanistan, it is not just in Syria or Iraq; it is everywhere to a greater or lesser extent. It is in a New York skyscraper, a London bus, a Pakistani school, an African village, a Parisian office, a Sydney cafe…

And for those who do flee and seek a better life for themselves and their own children, are they welcomed across borders and embraced by their fellow humans or are they challenged each step of the way, punished for the sheer misfortune of birthplace and geography, then locked away for ‘processing’ until bureaucracy catches up on its agenda?

My sleep-deprived and baby-addled brain cannot eloquently express my point but really it is nothing more than a mother looking at the world and wondering what my son will make of it and whether this new generation can bring about any changes and learn to live with a greater tolerance and compassion. When you hear of children younger than ten being groomed to continue certain fights in the name of religion, I fear, to use the word again, that in some cases, it is already too late.

Cheeky smiles

Cheeky smiles

I write this as I scratch a remnant of pear puree from my ear lobe, which a seven-month old has splattered with his spoon and I am reminded of his little round face, smeared with sweet potato, and the impish look he gave me just before scuttling off to explore new territory in an undiscovered corner of the room, and I look at him now, curled up asleep, oblivious to all that I have just mentioned, and the world does not seem such a dark place after all.

Times to smile about

Times to smile about

Leaping and Bounding

3 Mar

“Well, hello Mr Sparkles!”

It’s a nice way for your health nurse to address your 5 month old son, and at the time, pretty apt as the little person on the floor began demonstrating his latest new moves; the sort of downward dog, one leg in the air type manoeuvre that would make the most dedicated pilates practitioner proud. Back down on his knees and shuffling along, he looked up and gave her a winning smile before moving into the plank position and then dragging himself around to do a 180. It is quite exhausting just watching him and in those two minutes of action, you catch a snapshot of my day with my baby son. Baby going on acrobatic action man.

The past month has without doubt been the most challenging and that is even compared to when he was a newborn. Toby has been going through huge developmental leaps and changes, now almost properly crawling and up on his hands and feet, moving on to tasting solids, and sitting on his own for a few minutes at a time. Coupled with minor teething, he has been waking a little more at night and been giving me a few screaming protests when it comes to settling in the cot in the day. The result? One already tired mum finding herself unable to “sleep when baby sleeps” because I’ve been having to pound the pavements to get the little man to have a nap in the day.

Enjoying some apple

Enjoying some apple

If you know anything of Wonder Weeks, all this occurred around the notoriously challenging period of ‘leap 4‘. These leaps are linked to a baby’s mental development and the various milestones and skills they  are achieving. It also coincided with a visit from one set of grandparents and so they experienced a slightly more unsettled Toby to normal. It is amazing how quickly these things change. At just before three months, we seemed to hit a magic moment where he naturally found his routine, slept well in the cot in the day and was only waking once in the night. Hello three to four months and hello to an extra wake up (or two) at night, a sudden hatred of the car seat and massive protests at going down for a nap in the cot too.

His timing as ever was impeccable. The car seat issue reared its head on the afternoon we set off on a 1000km road trip down to Melbourne and when we had gone less than 5km and had had to stop three times to get out and settle him, due to a screaming fit in the back, we began seriously contemplating heading home and looking at flight options. Luckily by 10km, he had worn himself out and slept the rest of the way to our first overnight stop.

Pit stop en route to Melbourne

Pit stop en route to Melbourne

These little things become pretty big things when your day revolves around this one person and without playing the ‘single mum’ card too often, having no respite at all, becomes very draining, especially when I am now trying to find time to steam, mash and puree (and hence why I am inclined to offer more finger foods!) The low point came when I was making dinner one evening and realised that not only was I too tired to prepare anything but a bowl of salad, but it was the first meal I had eaten all day. I think it was around that time that I was thinking he had better be able to hold a trilingual conversation at the end of this particular leap for this to be worth it.

After weeks of little sleep, feeling the exhaustion creep in and with a small concern over his tummy, I went to the GP and I think it was as much for my own benefit as Toby’s. I am sure he is accustomed to sleep deprived, anxious new mums, at least, he was very supportive and luckily very happy with how Toby is doing. He has grown very long and is now above the 90th percentile for length but his weight has dropped off a little, probably because of all his daily acrobatics!

Support has come not only in the form of the health centre and doctor but mostly in the form of good friends and the new mum mates I have made over the past few months. Weekly catch-ups are a therapeutic way to let off steam, discuss the latest concerns and applaud the new milestones only fellow mums can get excited about. “He can now burp/settle/feed himself!”

Enjoying a day out in the park

Enjoying a day out in the park

I must add that aside from the above issues, Toby is generally a very happy and smiley little baby. It is a good thing; being on my own with him for such long periods of time, all the hardships melt away with one big gummy grin. I feel very lucky to spend my days with him, especially as his personality becomes more apparent and as I get to know the things he likes and finds funny. Admittedly, his current likes list extends to raspberries on the stomach, games of peepo and Humpty Dumpty and pretending to fly.

Happy Chap

Recently, I can add to the list: swimming (and avocado)! He absolutely loves it. I started taking him to lessons, something which living in a country obsessed with water and in a city surrounded by it, seemed fairly important. Three lessons in and he is already learning to stretch out horizontally to kick, hold on to the side by himself and has now been submerged as well, as he has learnt to close his eyes and mouth when going under. He came up still smiling afterwards so our little man is definitely growing into a little water baby.

Swimming with Daddy

Swimming with Daddy

A dip in the pool

A dip in the pool

Ready to jump

Ready to jump

I am also pleased to say, the past week seems to have been a bit of a turning point. Suddenly the past few weeks of adapting the bedtime routine, steeling myself not to pick him up at each cry and soothing him in other ways really seems to have paid off. He settles himself after just a few minutes in the cot and is now having two-hour naps in the day. These are the small accomplishments that only another mum can probably appreciate!

We have come through and survived leap four, we are now mid leap five but he has been taking regular day naps in the cot again, which means not only can I occasionally have a nap too, but can actually do laundry, clean the house, make some food, and tend to various admin such as passport applications for a soon to be world travelling baby.

He is definitely coming on in leaps and bounds and I am sure when James next sees his son, he will be amazed at how he has changed. Two and a half months is a huge time span at this age. In fact, it’s almost half his life.

Happy Days

Lying and chilling

Sitting up

Crawling

On the move

He will be reunited with a baby who will be crawling, sitting, eating food and grabbing everything in sight and the small things which change over time, will probably have much more impact. He now sits in a seat, not the pram bassinet; he sits up in the bath; he engages with you; he smiles at himself in the mirror; he knows his name when you call it; he has a high chair; he can play in the pool. Basically from four to six months there has been a monumental change. It has certainly taken its toll on my sleep state at times but I am seeing him grow into a very loving, happy little boy, and that makes it all worthwhile.

And then there were three

19 Dec

The hiatus in blogging is hopefully understandable. Two days after our last entry, our son, Toby was born. In fact, I’m pretty sure my contractions were underway as I hit publish on the post, as I was in the midst of getting everything ready and doing last minute jobs. Going into labour, for me anyway, is one sure fire way of finishing anything I’ve been procrastinating on.

Thirty-six hours later and two days before his due date, Toby entered the world, weighing a bang on average 7lbs 8oz (not the 9llb plus I was fearing) and measuring a little longer than average 52cm.

Two days old

Two days old

So where did the last three months go? To summarise the time in one post is almost impossible (unless feeding, crying, sleeping, pooing will suffice) and there are too many pictures and moments already to recap in detail. Toby is now almost 14 weeks old and those first few days and weeks are already a bit of a distant memory. My newborn has been replaced with an energetic and active three-month old little boy. Newborn clothes have been long consigned to the back of the wardrobe and the days of him doing nothing but eat and sleep are also behind us. Still, I won’t go into too much detail about a day in the life of Toby as it pretty much involves eating, sleeping, playing, sucking on fists, crying a little, being shushed, patted, rocked and wheeled around in the pram.

My day involves much of the same, perhaps with a little less drool and I tend to be the one doing the patting and rocking, although could probably do with being on the receiving end some days! Who knew smelling of baby sick and analysing nappy contents could bring so much pleasure?

They say babies change and grow so fast but until you live with one 24/7  I’m not sure you can really appreciate just how much and just how fast. It happens right under my nose but it’s gone in a  flash. Each day he seems to do something new. There have been first smiles, first giggles, first rolls, first grabbing of toys and babbling conversations.

10 weeks old

10 weeks old

With James having been away a great deal, the separation has been a lot harder for both of us this time round and even more so for James, who feels he has missed out on a lot of those initial changes. I keep him up to date with daily photos but of course, this is not the same and no compensation for missing out on bath time and cuddles.

I am waiting patiently for him to come home for Christmas and have a few weeks of respite. I absolutely adore being a mum to Toby, but the days are long when there is no one else just to share the load for a little while. (And that load is getting longer and heavier by the day!)

Twice a week I manage to meet up with other mums, now friends, from my mums group and antenatal class. There is great relief in hearing how another mum is coping with a particular feeding issue, or worrying about that weird coloured poo and there is mutual sympathy for the sleep deprived mess you may arrive as, and those non too glamorous moments where your baby decides to release the contents of his bowels over him and you while out and about with nowhere to change, or you realise your bra has been casually exposed all afternoon after you’ve forgotten to do it back up.

Along with the support of these ladies, I also had the luxury of my parents visiting and my mum staying out for the first six weeks, which was a huge help, especially during the first few nights after he developed reflux. Ah, those nights spent holding him upright while he cried and cried… Fortunately another (fingers crossed, touch wood etc) distant memory. With her help I also felt able to get out and about and it was important for me to start doing this early on so as not to become confined to the home. Toby’s first lunch date was at four days old. In his short life so far, he has already visited the Botanical Gardens, Sydney Harbour, the Opera House, travelled on a ferry, had walks along Bondi and Manly beaches and had many a lunch and brunch outing. He is oblivious to it all of course, but we will show him the pictures one day.

First visit to the Opera House

First visit to the Opera House

Luckily these are the moments, which keep me sane, as do the smiles, especially the smiles, which are an utter joy, but needed when you’re surviving on less than six hours sleep from time to time. Six broken and not always settled hours at that. We have had breakthroughs where he has slept through until 5am but we still get the odd night where he wakes a couple of times as well. But on that note, I would like to know where the phrase “sleeping like a baby” comes from because if someone told me they had slept like a baby, I would now imagine they had been snoring, grunting and sighing all night. Things seem to have quietened down recently but why does no one tell you that newborns sound like miniature steam trains and as if they’re always about to take their last gasp of air? Why too, are you not warned about the periodic breathing, that they occasionally breathe really fast and then stop for a few seconds, to resume normally again. “It’s all completely normal” is a comforting phrase and one that became familiar throughout pregnancy as well, but it can be pretty alarming at the time.

Night feeds

Night feeds

Just hanging out being cute

Just hanging out being cute

It’s amazing how these precious little bundles, so small and cute can be actually quite daunting and cause all kinds of anxiety. A friend described it well when she told me “he scares me because I love him so much.” Only in the last few weeks have I started to feel less worried than those first nights, lying awake, checking that he wasn’t too hot, too cold, breathing, sleeping… And as he grows, there will be more concerns than basic survival to add to the list.

With Toby asleep, I have managed to grab a few spare minutes to write this finally, as we have got our day naps in the cot sorted. Yes, these are the things in which only a mother can feel achievement. Of course I’ll be dashing away periodically to check on him as he has taken to lying on his tummy. This is the latest new thing; he has learnt to roll from his back to his tummy so gone are the days of lying him down and knowing he’ll be in the same position a minute later. Sleeping now takes place on the stomach, whether I like it or not, so to add to any other worries I might have, the “is he breathing?” one has just ramped up a notch.

Having to look after him on my own has helped me to grow in confidence with him; knowing you are solely responsible means you get on with it and do what is needed and muddle through somehow, but having to take care of yourself and the house at the same time means there are probably moments when I coddle him less than perhaps I would have otherwise. He is already learning that sometimes Mummy has to put him down so she can have a shower, get dressed, do the laundry, take the rubbish out, make some dinner…! But we do have lots of cuddles in between and I have been blessed with a happy, smiling and tolerant little baby.

Smiling for the camera

Smiling for the camera

He loves his milk, likes looking at books (I like to think) and the pram and car have the bonus effect of sending him to sleep. So if I were to do a day in the life of Toby in pictures, it might look a little like this:

Milk Drunk

Milk Drunk

Enjoying Noddy

Enjoying Noddy

Loving my car seat

Loving my car seat

Me like milk

Me like milk

Daddy comes home very soon and we have our first Christmas to look forward to, together for the first time as a family of three.

Family selfie

Family selfie

 

 

 

 

 

New horizons

12 Sep

It has been a very long time since I last contributed to this blog of ours, it might have even been this time last year. Louise does such a good job of keeping up with our comings and goings, I sometimes feel that what I can say will be of any interest. Besides I am a much more passive communicator; listening and reading are more my comfort zones!

Talking of comfort zones this is a year for us to be well and truly tested with a baby on the way.   The due date in the middle of September is fast approaching, having seemed for so long to be have been a point far on the horizon. I am incredibly excited, but daunted at the same time. I know that our lives will never be the same again in a matter of days. Louise, as ever, has been extremely organised and we have been busy shopping for baby ‘essentials’, she even managed to bring me along to a baby expo in Sydney a couple of months ago. I will be honest, it was not my idea of fun as I don’t have the best patience for shopping at the best of times, but it was a useful trip and we came home with a pram!

Ardent 2 on the uniform

Ardent 2 on the uniform

Along with fatherhood, 2014 has also seen me taking command of a warship for the first time in my career. I joined my crew, called ‘Ardent Two’ in Darwin at the end of May and we embarked in HMAS Wollongong, an Arimdale Class Patrol Boat (ACPB). The patrol boat community in the RAN is unconventionally manned, with more crews than hulls, and a rotation system of 8 weeks ‘on’ and 4 weeks ‘off’. This means that each crew goes back to a different Ship each time, odd, but it almost works. Anyway, Wollongong was my first and I have since been back briefly to Sydney and am now back for a longer duration, until the birth and hopefully, for a few weeks after it as well. I have immensely enjoyed the first four months in command, have quickly come to realise that all my time in the Navy to date has prepared me for this one job. Each day on board I seem to find myself remembering instances when something similar occurred under different commanding officers and how I reacted then and now. It surprises me how lessons were imparted to me in all manner of situations.

July also saw me reach the halfway point of my Masters of Business programme, which I am being funded to complete by the RAN. It is a pleasing milestone, but the end still seems some way of, particularly as I have taken a break for the first six months in command whilst I get myself settled into the job at sea.

After my first stint in patrol, I had to find myself a place to liven Cairns (well, Louise did, and I just inspected on my arrival in Cairns!) I managed to secure an apartment in the city, which gives me a base up there  and somewhere for Louise and the baby to visit occasionally as well.

The new Cairns pad

The new Cairns pad

Winter sun at Bondi

Winter sun at Bondi

Physically I have also embarked on a press-up (push-up) challenge. I saw this being talked about on Facebook at the end of last year and it intrigued me. The challenge is simply one press-up on Jan 1st, two on Jan 2nd continuing in this vein until Dec 31st! Today I have had to complete 256 press-ups, not in all in one go thankfully, but it is a physical and psychological test that I am determined to complete. In total I will have knocked out over 66,000 over the course of the year.

Doing the push-ups in front of the Ship

Doing the push-ups in front of the Ship

By the end of this year I will have taken on a hugely responsible role in two regards, both in my personal and professional life. They are both responsibilities I feel ready for, although something tells me a tiny newborn may prove more testing than a crew of grown men. Either way, Louise and I are about to find out very soon.

 

 

T minus four weeks

19 Aug

It’s less than a month before our little one is due to enter the world and whereas many mums seem to be feeling over it at this point, I am looking at my lists of things to do and hoping I can get it all done in time! Add to that, this baby is under strict instructions to make no attempt at an early arrival before his or her dad is back! I am hopeful that is less than a week away now.

The countdown really is on. The last antenatal class has been attended, the last scan done (all looking good), the things to buy list is dramatically reduced and I am in the stages of tying up loose ends with work and handing over the workload in the coming weeks.

Before the big day however, I have a friend arriving from the UK for ten days and I think my nesting urges are kicking in. I’ve started stocking up my freezer with meals, washing baby clothes, seeing dust in every nook and cranny and suddenly have a desire to clean grouting. Luckily I’m not in too much pain or waddling like a penguin yet, so it’s easy to forget at times that I need to put my feet up!

Tiny little clothes

Tiny little clothes

Nesting instinct

Nesting instinct

The Good…

In fact, the latter half of my pregnancy has been much more smooth sailing than the first. Ironically, it was during those first few paranoid weeks and months, when my body was sent into a spin with soaring hormones and all kinds of unfamiliar changes, when I was left to my own devices to ponder the, “Is this normal?” “What is going on here?” questions. It is only towards the end when the diary suddenly explodes with appointments. Having said that, I seemed to have my fair share of initial check-ups, scans and tests, which eventually eliminated any potential problems, and coupled with the recent antenatal classes, obstetrician and midwife appointments and last minute scans, the drive to the hospital has become pretty familiar.

But after having a fairly turbulent first half of pregnancy, it has actually made me extremely grateful for this relatively easier second half. There are certain things I have come to appreciate, dare I say even enjoy, and certain things I am sure I will miss.

For a start, feeling a little person wiggling around inside you is pretty amazing. There have been a few occasions when a little kick under the ribs has sent me reeling but for the most part, I have got away lightly on that front. I am currently experiencing, what I think must be a little hand, tickling behind my hip.

I can still wear non maternity clothes, for that I am also grateful, although admittedly the clothes had to have been pretty big on me beforehand, or just very stretchy!

I have been forced to go out and buy some new clothes – shame. I’m sure the football under the jumper look will catch on!

I have been forced to go shopping for… well, everything! Babies don’t need much but  it’s still amazing just how much you still need to buy. Suddenly, after years of browsing the baby stores, buying cute outfits and little things for friends and their babies, I get to do it for my own. That’s exciting.

My nails: wow! I love my nails. They have never looked better or stronger, and seem to grow overnight.

I have made new friends and seen current friends really come through and support me. This has been particularly noticeable with James away and yes, perhaps they wouldn’t have been so attentive had he been around, but it has been wonderful knowing how much I can rely on them if needed.

The Bad…

As well as hospital time, the past few months have seen me spend too much time online, researching; whether that’s dos and don’ts, baby products and items, or just those weird symptoms that you soon discover are quite ‘normal’. I’ve definitely got better at leaving the internet alone when it comes to self-diagnosing myself with some awful condition and at the same time, have felt a little more reassured when numerous other pregnant ladies have been whinging about a similar complaint!

But there are certain things, which I have discovered can be pretty annoying when it comes to pregnancy and I mean aside from the usual discomfort, aches and pains. I mean, not only are you sharing your body with another little being, but it seems the rest of joe public feels they have a right to ‘share’ in it as well. A pregnant bump seems to give people carte blanche to comment, advise, pat, rub, stroke… When it’s a close friend, I don’t really have a problem and I have been lucky not to experience the stranger on the street coming up to rub my belly (I have heard of this happening) but equally I have realised how freely people seem to think they can remark on my size, indeed anything to do with my lifestyle. I think it’s something every pregnant woman has to endure, and for the most part people are well-intentioned and tend not to make derogatory comments but if you were feeling at all paranoid (and who doesn’t from time to time when carrying a baby), comments on size are never going to go down too well.

“Well, you’ve grown since I saw you two weeks a go!” has been a common phrase. What do they expect? I am not growing a stunted dwarf and the father is 6’3″. This baby is not suddenly going to cease growing (however convenient that might be) at 30 weeks.

There has been the one occasion when shopping for a dinner party, when I bought soft cheese and wine for the guests. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many judgemental glances in my shopping basket at the checkout before. I could tell there was one lady in particular fighting an urge to ask what I thought I was doing. Next time I’ll add in some sushi, swordfish steaks and a kilo of liver for good measure.

… And The Funny

Well, no pregnancy is without its ups and downs, but then that can include a few amusing moments as well. I mean there’s that whole, impressive arm levering manoeuvre I’ve discovered pregnant women have to adopt just to haul themselves out of bed.

I could write an entire page of, “You know you’re pregnant when…” type lists.

They would include the moment I got trapped in my own car because I’d parked too close to a pillar, forgetting I can no longer squeeze out of a space that small and the time we ended up taking our posh Italian meal home in a doggy bag because I was suddenly overcome by nausea (the most expensive takeaway we’ve ever had.) There was the embarrassing moment I was stretchered out of a shopping centre after fainting in the middle of a supermarket, or had to lie down tramp style on a bench in a bus stop  while a dizzy spell passed.

There are the times I’ve arrived at someone’s house only to have to skip the pleasantries and barge straight past them to use their bathroom and how I have slowly edged James to the edge of the bed as the pillows have taken over. It will be interesting to see if he can fit when he’s back.

Oh, and of course, there’s the fact I can start crying at losing my keys, a sad song on the radio, or you know, puppies. There are days I might be going crazy, but then there are days I actually have the evidence to prove it such as leaving the house wide open when heading off for the shops or toasting the bread twice because I’ve forgotten it’s already popped.

Yep, pregnancy has certainly been eventful at times, but I am fully aware the biggest, or at least perhaps most daunting, part of pregnancy is yet to come. Right now I’m feeling quite calm about the whole birth thing – perhaps ask me in two weeks. I am also aware that the real journey is going to come after that. Just four weeks away now – better get on scrubbing that grouting!

Moons and Showers

3 Aug The Three Sisters

Stick the word baby in front of ‘moon’ and ‘shower’ and you have two events, which have become almost rights of passage for women these days prior to having a baby.  Depending on where you live, the nature of each varies, but in Australia, a baby shower seems to be as common and as expected as in the US. The baby moon, previously the time after the birth, is now known as the short holiday before the baby is born.

I have to say I was not planning on doing or having either, but with James back for such a short time before leaving again, I was keen that we did go away, just for a couple of nights. I never thought of it as a ‘babymoon’, but if you are going to adopt the newly-used definiteion, then yes, it was a short break, where we could get away, enjoy some time as just the two of us and try to make the most of that, knowing in a few short weeks, things will change. Time as a couple is becoming precious and now James has gone again, I really have no idea how much more time we will actually have together before we are a family of three.

I booked us into a hotel in the Blue Mountains – a little luxury for a couple of days, to relax, go for walks, indulge in a nice meal and uninterrupted, adult conversations! In many ways it was an early anniversary gift to each other as well.

Lilianfels hotel

Lilianfels hotel

View from hotel gardens

View from hotel gardens

Hotel gardens

Hotel gardens

Admittedly, the walks were a little shorter than they might have been eight months a go but enjoyable all the same and as much as I dislike feeling as if I’m less capable now, there was nothing nicer than getting back, having a warm bath and curling up in the hotel lounge in front of one of the two big fireplaces. It was the first time we got a taste of winter, for it has been fairly warm in Sydney this year, apart from a couple of cold snaps lasting just a few days. Warm jumpers, hats and cosy log fires were just what we were after.

The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters

Blue Mountains views

Blue Mountains views

Blue Mountains walking trail

Blue Mountains walking trail

Admiring the views

Admiring the views

Walking the trail

Walking the trail

Mountain trail

Mountain trail

Post walk drink

Post walk drink

Evening by the fire

Evening by the fire

We couldn’t resist the high tea, offered by the hotel but felt we had earned it after our walk! Well, I am eating for two now… Right?

Post walk high tea!

Post walk high tea!

Relaxing in the lounge

Relaxing in the lounge

Warming up with a hot chocolate

Warming up with a hot chocolate

Sunset from the hotel

Sunset from the hotel

It was just a couple of days after James left again that I had my baby shower. A couple of friends asked if they could throw one for me, which was very touching, and of course, I was delighted, although specified I was not after anything extravagant and was not going down the route of a gift registry, which many people do. The word ‘shower’, implying I would be showered with gifts, actually makes me feel a little uncomfortable.

Initially I was hoping to have a joint party with James for a modern-day twist; less baby shower, more a bit of fun with our friends before the baby arrives. However, dates were limited and eventually we settled on a low-key, girls-only, tea party at our apartment. I have to admit I did enjoy making a cake and putting together some home-made thank you gifts and tags, which involved baking several trays of macarons… Patience and lots of willing later, I think they actually turned out ok!

Macaron thank you gifts

Macaron thank you gifts

To be honest, I could not have asked for anything more and I was completely blown away by the generosity shown by our friends and the efforts they had gone to, to create a fantastic party. Beautiful decorations, flowers, food, activities and gifts; a room full of women, love and general support; a lovely occasion, which given the timing, was a good way to enjoy myself during my first weekend with James away again.

Clouds and feathers

Baby shower decorations

Baby shower decorations

Party details

Cake what I made

Cake what I made

Baby bunting

Baby bunting

Baby clothes

Stringing up the clothes

Fantastic friends & Party Planners

Fantastic friends & Party Planners

Baby shower friends

Baby shower friends

Showing the nursery

Showing the nursery

Everybody who came brought flowers, a tray of food and gifts. I admit I even shed a few tears when they played a short video montage compiled of clips from a few friends and my sister back in the UK, wishing me well. Saying that, I can cry at the drop of a hat these days… I blame the hormones.

Food and Flowers

Food and Flowers

Quilt made by talented friend

Homemade baby quilt

Special gifts

Baby shower present

Friends

Shan & Sophie

Generous friends

Generous friends

34-week bump

34-week bump

End of the day

End of the day

With so many lovely things, the ‘nursery’ (read corner of our bedroom for now) is now pretty much set up. One of James’ jobs the past fortnight was to build the cot. We have a mini one, which expands to a full size cot when required, and I love it. Now I just need to start washing a few more little clothes and should probably think about that hospital bag!

Just need a baby now

Just need a baby now

The Kindness of Strangers

13 Jul

As a military wife, you get used to periods on your own and getting on with the day to day. A lack of companionship aside, you soon establish your routines and develop strategies to get through the weeks and months solo; arranging social get togethers, scheduling catch-ups and making lists of things you need to get done and coming up with little projects you can do on evenings or weekends.

But there occasionally comes a time when that question, “Can I call your husband?” is necessary and that’s when being on your own can prove more difficult.

As ‘deployments’ go, eight weeks is not a long time but admittedly I was a little anxious beforehand this time round because being pregnant adds a layer of vulnerability, and inevitably, the further along you get, the fewer tasks you feel up to doing.

I’ve had my weekly yoga classes, antenatal classes and catch-ups with friends. Periodic check-ups have meant trips to the hospital and GP, which do mean there has been some reassurance on a regular basis as well.

In fact, everything had been going pretty well for a few weeks and I’d only been told to come into the hospital for monitoring and a scan once after questioning how much I’d been feeling the baby move. Of course, as soon as I arrived, it was kicking up a storm again and all was fine.

Then came 28 weeks and my midwife checkup at the hospital. All looked normal and I set off on the drive home, but decided to call into the supermarket en route to pick up a few bits and pieces. It was nearly lunchtime so, being sensible (it happens sometimes), I stopped and had a bowl of soup before braving the crowds in a large supermarket in the middle of a bustling shopping centre.

That’s when I started feeling hot. I began fanning myself, thinking I was having some sort of odd, pregnancy-induced hot flush. Maybe this is one of the joys of the third trimester… But the fanning was futile and I was just becoming hotter and perspiring and started feeling really sick. I looked down the mall to the toilets, thinking I needed cold water on my face but at that point I didn’t think I was going to make it through the throngs to get there. I needed to cool down and so my next thought was the supermarket opposite because supermarkets have fridges and freezers and so that’s where I headed.

It all happened very quickly. I think I had just gone past the Asian dipping sauces and was somewhere between the crisps and the line of cashiers when my hearing went. At that point I knew I was going down and in that split second I just put myself on the floor. I didn’t think there would ever come a time in my life when the cold, hard, tiled floor of Coles would look appealing but in that moment, it won over falling.

It wasn’t long before a few people had rushed over, asking me if I was ok. At that point I was too hot and dizzy to point out that if I was ok, I would not be choosing to lie there… I would have clearly chosen the ice cream section. I think I murmured something about being pregnant and heard another voice say, “Call triple zero.” I was pretty sure I didn’t need an ambulance but I was equally a little concerned that this might be affecting the baby. I had no idea, I was just aware of a girl, feeling my head, pulling an elastic from round my wrist and tying back my hair.

“Has someone called a ambulance?”

“Yes, they’re on their way.”

A bottle of water was shoved under my nose and I managed to half sit, slumped against a checkout booth and sip water. This is when the reality of the situation sank in and I became aware of several pairs of concerned eyes coming into focus and the ogling faces, pretending they were just stopping to stock up on hot chilli sauce, which had never been more popular.

In the minutes that followed I think I explained the same story of what had happened to at least four or five different people. There was the man, I assume was the floor manager, who suddenly had a legitimate reason to start using the walkie talkie strapped to his belt, there was the shopping centre security manager, who had been called and had come with first aid box in hand, the girl at the checkout who went to fetch me a chair and there were the two girls who had stopped and stayed by my side until they knew I was going to be ok.

One girl, the one who had tied back my hair, had managed to get through to an emergency service I hadn’t even known existed; a local volunteer service, who act as a first response and bridge of medical care before a main NSW Ambulance can arrive on the scene. It meant that within no more than five minutes, someone was there, an oxygen mask was clamped to my face, my blood pressure was being checked, my pulse monitored and my finger pricked to check my glucose levels.

It was around this time that the floor manager returned and cordoned off the area, so I felt more like the victim in an episode of Crime Scene in the Crisp Aisle  than a pregnant lady with low blood pressure.

However, amid all the attention and drama, I was incredibly touched by the solicitude shown by the people around me. As both the medical guy and the centre manager got all my details, the girl by my side was asking who she should call.

“Can I call your partner?”

I shook my head. “He’s away.”

“Ok, what about any family, are they local?”

I probably could have cried at this point but just shook my head. ‘In England.”

I told her I didn’t think I needed to call anyone but when the ‘Ambos’ arrived (you will find Australians abbreviate everything and stick an ‘o’ on the end) and informed me they thought it best I went to hospital to get checked over, I realised I probably should tell someone. I ran through the list of friends, most of whom I knew would be at work and settled on the wife of a Navy friend. The message was passed and I was told she would call to check on me.

The ambulance crew seemed concerned that I was on my own and would be going back home alone and with my blood pressure still “too low” for their liking, they got ready to take me to hospital.

The security manager assured me that they would look after my car and I needn’t worry about leaving it and to come back when I was ready. Just before the ambos decided to cart me away, the girl who had waited all this time, made sure I had all my bags and took my number, saying she would call to check if I was ok and if I needed anything, she lived near by.

If the whole incident of collapsing on the floor in the middle of a supermarket wasn’t embarrassing enough, being wheeled out on a stretcher and into the crowds of shoppers in a packed Westfield was definitely mortifying. I stared at the ceiling and tried to avoid any eye contact.

The ambulance guys were brilliant, although they kind of reminded me a bit of a young Chuckle Brothers (a not-that-funny-comedy duo to the non-English residents). I could almost imagine them saying, “to me, to you,” as they parked me in the ambulance. However, the guy in the back of the ambulance was lovely and explained that his wife was also expecting their first child.

Although still very shaky I was feeling a lot better and I started to realise how lucky I was that I had been in a public place, despite the obvious embarrassment factor! I was also incredibly touched by the number of strangers who had shown so much care and concern: from the girl in the shop, to the supermarket staff, the security manager, the initial emergency response team and the ambulance crew themselves.

I felt completely safe and in good hands and shortly after arriving in hospital (I should have just stayed after my morning check up), my friend and her husband both arrived to see how I was doing and insisted that I come home with them.

So it was that I ended up spending the next couple of days at their house, with their four children, being fed wonderful, home-cooked, family dinners and being able to curl up in front of the TV with their Labrador.

I did call the girl and let her know I was ok and in fact we went out for a coffee a few days later so I could say thank you in person, with a bunch of flowers. I also left with a few more tips about becoming a mum and good shopping advice, as it turned out she has a nine-month old.

It can definitely be hard at times when you are on your own and your husband is somewhere in the middle of the ocean but if I needed my faith restored in humanity, that day was probably it. Now just two more days to go before James is back, but you will be glad to know I have set up online supermarket delivery for the future.

 

Making our way down the produce aisle

18 Jun

So as of yesterday, our unborn child is the size of a cauliflower (a pretty large one if the measurements from my last ultrasound are to go by). He or she has grown, however, from being a red cabbage last week and the length of a cucumber the week before. It’s quite amusing to do the weekly shop and think you are holding the fruit or vegetable, which corresponds to baby’s weight or size. We have graduated from the little peanut to the runner bean and continued to blossom from fig to avocado to grapefruit to well… the slightly less glamorous cauliflower.

These small increments are helping me tick off the milestones as I reach them. Finally, I have hit the third trimester and that is one big hurdle to have crossed. It started with just wanting to reach the ‘safe’ twelve-week mark, to then making it another couple of weeks into the second trimester. Then came the 20-week milestone and waiting for the “all clear” from the morphology scan. After this I breathed a little easier and allowed myself our first purchase of one babygro! (Or bodysuit depending on where you are.) Then the parameters were pushed further to just wanting to reach 25 weeks, the next ‘safe’ mark when in theory, a baby can survive outside the womb (with a lot of medical assistance) and now I’ve made it to almost 28 weeks, I’m already looking to the next big one: 35, when I’ll have my next scan.

Profile of baby at 20 weeks

Profile of baby at 20 weeks

This pregnancy has definitely been one of stages: the nausea stage, the worrying stage, the itching phase, the “I think everything’s ok now” stage, the baby brain stage (not sure I’ve quite got through that one yet) and I’ve almost got to the ‘home-stretch’ stage. By the time James is back I’ll be past 31 weeks and when he leaves again, I’ll be nearly 35. Then we just have to hope that baby decides to stay in there until at least 38 weeks when James will finally return for a few weeks, and at least until after the birth.

I’d like to say it’s been a completely smooth ride and in hindsight, there has never been anything wrong; the ‘womb child’ as my meditation CD likes to call it, has been measuring correct for dates, growing consistently and has shown no signs of problems. But after the relief of subsiding nausea from week 15, I started getting the abdominal pains. They weren’t too severe but enough for the GP to recommend an abdominal scan (probably to check for any gall bladder issues.)

I got the call that evening with his first line being, “Well, the baby is fine.”

After that I almost didn’t listen to the next bit. The baby was fine, that was all that mattered.

“But they did find a small mass on your liver.”

“Right.”

“But we don’t think it is sinister.”

OK. That doesn’t sound so great but still, the baby was fine. I hung up.

It was only lying in bed that night that I played through the conversation and suddenly “mass” became “tumour” and “don’t think it is sinister,” translated to, “it could be.”

Now try telling a first time pregnant lady (or indeed any pregnant lady) that she has a growth, which they can’t properly diagnose because of the limited procedures possible during pregnancy, and expect her not to worry. Try telling her it will be ok when one possible diagnosis is a hormone-related growth, which could continue to enlarge and even rupture and requires constant monitoring and then ask her not to go to bed worrying that something terrible is going to happen while she sleeps while those lovely hormone levels continue to rise.

I managed to put it to the back of my mind until the itching started. I’m not talking the odd itchy moment, or the normal skin stretching type of itching as your belly expands, I’m talking all-over body, drive-you-nuts itching that wakes you up every hour of the night and is only temporarily soothed with an ice block, kept by the side of the bed. I bought out the local chemist’s supply of calamine lotion and oatmeal moisturisers, even took tepid baths with oatmeal, which made the bathroom smell of porridge. I would like to say I stepped away from Doctor Google but during my frantic scratching sessions, I found some reassurance that itchy skin is quite common… Oh, hang on, unless it’s the condition linked to your liver function, which is actually potentially very harmful.

Back to the GP. Liver panel test immediately ordered and results: normal. Itching continues. More googling. Apparently it is the bile acid levels that should be tested. Back to the GP. Bile acid tests done. Ten days of waiting. Results: normal.

A week later a third liver scan reveals no change and the likely diagnosis is a completely benign hemangioma. By this point I am more reassured, even though I had already been referred to the obstetrician for a second opinion and was told, with a roll of the eyes, that there was, “no need to worry.”

Finally, I can relax (with the help of the womb child meditation CD, lent to me by a friend.)

I am pleased to say that so far since then, all has been going well. I have been going to prenatal yoga, which has been amazing, and taught by one of the midwives at the hospital. It is great to stretch but not always so great when one of the other ladies informs us that one particular move is meant to bring on labour. We were assured, the move was entirely different. I seem to have a fan inside me too judging by the jabs in my stomach as I touch my toes. (I can still do this… perhaps it’s being squashed.) Mind you, the jabs are fairly frequent and have been pretty strong for several weeks. He or she seems to perform a Hakka inside me every night, which does not always make for a comfortable sleep, and I am fairly used to my stomach pulsing away as I sit down for my nightly dose of Masterchef.

In fact my only issue has been with me, and my brain, or lack of. Quite how I went from being completely able to hold a normal conversation one day to forgetting half of my vocabulary the next is beyond me. I have at times driven the wrong way home from the hospital, which has become quite a frequent trip of late, spent fifteen minutes looking for the car I’ve ‘lost’ in the car park, burnt toast because I’ve put it down in the toaster twice, and even left the hob on for hours after cooking. Worse still, was returning home from the shops to the unlocked front door, the lights on and the balcony doors wide open. After tentatively opening doors, thinking a burglar was hiding somewhere, I realised that in fact, it was just me, who had left the house completely wide open. Try telling me that ‘baby brain’ is all in my imagination.

The bump is growing (although have been frequently told it is “very compact”.) During a maternity jeans purchase the other week, the sales assistant said he hadn’t realised I was pregnant and had been about to point out that I was buying maternity jeans. When I informed him I was six months pregnant, you could have prised his jaw from the floor. More disconcerting was the lady at the swimming pool who said she thought I must be “just a few weeks along” when I’m stood there in a wet costume, clinging to what is most definitely a round bump – holding a cauliflower no less (or I think it might have been a cabbage at that point.)

I guess now I should actually start to buy things. Thanks to my mum he or she will at least have a couple of things to wear. This arrived in the post the other week to much excitement!

Baby outfit

Baby outfit

 

However, the poor child as yet has nowhere to sleep, nothing to ride home in from hospital, will be wearing one of a total of three newborn vests and certainly has no blankets, nappies or anywhere to be changed. I have a good few weeks left to go but would rather have finished the shopping before I get to elephantine proportions where a trip to the shops is more of a breathless waddle interspersed by dashes to the toilet. By that point the baby will have gone through the pineapple stage to more of a watermelon, but at least that’s a little more exotic than a cauliflower.

 

The long farewell

26 May

It’s been a long time in coming. Since February, James has been on course to ready himself to become Commanding Officer of a ship but it has been on the cards since July last year when he was on the signal to take command. In fact for James himself, you could argue it has been something he has aspired to for the past 17 years of his Naval career. Well, the time has now come and we have said our farewells. In eight weeks when he returns for the first time, we’ll be able to tell you whether all that preparation has been adequate!

The period of James’ sending off parties seemed to reflect the length of time he has waited for this job. I’m not saying he likes to milk these things but…

It started a few weeks a go when I held a surprise party for him at a bar in Sydney. After scouring his contacts list and asking a few people to pass the word on to Navy friends, more than thirty people were already gathered when we arrived to give him a big cheer. It was a really wonderful evening with so many friends offering a lot of good wishes and congratulations. I had been planning a special gift for him to say ‘well done and good luck’ for a while. It is a naval tradition that only the captain of a ship can write in red ink and so decided it was a good occasion to present him with a Mont Blanc pen complete with red ink cartridges. It went down pretty well!

The following weeks involved drinks with friends, being taken out for dinner, more brunches and evening drinks and finally a lovely Sunday lunch with some good friends.

We have tried to make the most of these last couple of weeks together, particularly as when he returns I will be significantly larger and probably less up for traipsing about or going on long walks. We have stayed local but spent time down at the beach or in the park.

Walking in the Botanical Gardens

Walking in the Botanical Gardens

Autumn in Centennial Park

Autumn in Centennial Park

Bondi days

Bondi days

Drinks at Balmoral Beach

Drinks at Balmoral Beach

We had not been to Cockatoo Island before and decided to take the ferry there to see the biennale  – the art festival held only every two years. Although there were a lot of obscure video installations such as the one involving a man with a bag over his head and people wailing in German, there were also a few interesting and interactive exhibits, including the gym installation and the giant waterfall at the end of one of the buildings.

Harbourside buildings

Harbourside buildings

Working Out the Art

Working Out the Art

Cockatoo Island is a perfect location for an art festival. The once busy boat building hub and former convict prison is now an almost deserted island of old warehouses, sheds and prison cells. There is an eerie sense of abandonment in some of the old work sheds where the day’s tea order is still scribbled on to a blackboard, machinery remains suspended, the pulley systems rusted and decaying and the clock halted at the point when no one returned to repair it. Art installations aside, it is a pretty interesting place to visit and the view from the wine bar at the top of the island is pretty good too!

Arriving on Cockatoo Island

Arriving on Cockatoo Island

Old machinery

Old machinery

Turning to rust

Turning to rust

Climbing to the top of Cockatoo Island

Climbing to the top of Cockatoo Island

Abandoned and empty

Abandoned and empty

View from Cockatoo Island

View from Cockatoo Island

As you can see we have been enjoying some incredible weather over the past couple of weeks. Autumn has graced us with summer warm days and crisp evenings. It is really a beautiful time of year here.

Heading home

Heading home

When James and I next see each other it will be mid winter and it won’t just be the season that will have changed. I am sure James will have a fair few stories and experiences after his first stint in command and well, I just probably won’t fit in any of the clothes he last saw me wearing!

The Bump!

The Bump!

Sapphires and poppies

8 May

There are many things we’ve got used to after two and a half years in Australia and one of those is the fact a six or seven-hour drive is no longer considered that long or even unusual. When planning a trip away over the long Easter weekend, we decided to venture south to an area we had not yet visited together: the Sapphire Coast. A mere six plus hours in the car, still in the same state and only broken up a few more times than usual to let a pregnant woman stretch her legs and back!

Stopover in Kiama

Stopover in Kiama

The drive was actually worth it for the scenery alone for once you have hit the Southern Highlands, you are accompanied by rolling green hills, dramatic, sweeping coastline, sun-dappled forests and picturesque dairy farm land.

Rolling hills of the South Coast

Rolling hills of the South Coast

 

After a few wrong turns bouncing along dirt tracks, which would end abruptly at a river or some dense woodland, we got back to the road with the Sat Nav insisting we should, “U-turn when possible” and had our first night with James’ step uncle and his wife, who have a property near Wyndham.

It was lovely to visit them, after last seeing them both nearly three years a go at a party, where, to be honest, I met so many of James’ extended family, that I still struggle to remember who is related to who! Their home is set in several acres of land, which we walked around the following morning. It was distinctly cooler being that little bit further south and it was the first time we had to sit round an open fire in the evening.

The house near Wyndham

The house near Wyndham

Grahame, Andy and James

Grahame, Andy and James

The following days we stayed in a B&B near Tathra and explored the beaches and countryside around the Sapphire coast. It really is a stunning area, more remote than the South Coast closer to Sydney, fringed by long stretches of beach or smaller, bays, bordered by bush and forest. The water, unsurprisingly was a clear sapphire blue and in the middle of the day it was still warm enough to take a dip.

Tathra Beach

Tathra Beach

Bega Kiss Lagoon

Bega Kiss Lagoon

Forests along Sapphire Coast

Forests along Sapphire Coast

One of our favourite spots was Nelsons Beach, accessed by another dirt track with ocean one side and a beautiful lagoon on the other, which was perfect for swimming.

Nelsons Beach

Nelsons Beach

Walking along Nelsons Beach

Walking along Nelsons Beach

Lagoon at Nelsons Beach

Lagoon at Nelsons Beach

We treated ourselves to dinner at Mimosa Wines one night and seeing as we didn’t get to see it in daylight, stopped there again on the drive back up to Sydney. Artisan workshops, galleries and foodie joints seem to be springing up along the tourist drive, which winds along the coast and through national park.

Walks near Tathra

Walks near Tathra

Mimosa Wines

Mimosa Wines

Coffee with a view: Mimosa Wines

Coffee with a view: Mimosa Wines

Quaint shops of Central Tilba

Quaint shops of Central Tilba

It was definitely the breather we both needed and possibly our last chance for a long weekend away even before the baby comes along with James going away a few times before the due date.

It was a big holiday week in Australia that week, with Easter falling late in the year and coinciding with the same week of Anzac Day.

Anzac Day 2014

Anzac Day 2014

For the third year in a row, James got to march in an Anzac parade, this year in Sydney again, and a friend and I went to watch and support on what was a fairly wet and dreary start to the day. Luckily, by the time the rain really came down, James had finished his march and we were safely esconced in the officers’ pub of choice on Anzac Day, The Forbes.

Rain fails to dampen Anzac crowds

Rain fails to dampen Anzac crowds

Marie Bashir, Governor General NSW, applaudes marchers

Marie Bashir, Governor General NSW, applaudes marchers

James on parade

James on parade

Navy on parade: Anzac 2014

Navy on parade: Anzac 2014

Remembering the fallen

Remembering the fallen

After a few drinks there, James was clearly up for some stick, as we headed to the bar where some of his Marine friends were meeting up but ‘Jack’ was welcomed in with just a few derogatory comments!

Comrades!

Comrades!

The Anzac parade is always a spectacle seeing the hundreds of men and women marching together in uniform. It is certainly a moment to feel proud of those who serve and an event that equally shows them, the gratitude and support from the public. Every year since living in Sydney I have been moved at how many people, young and old, turn out for the parade, even in miserable weather. Perhaps a glimmer of the Anzac spirit being demonstrated in honour of those who fell.

A taste of Summer

8 Apr

Well Summer is well and truly over. Although it officially ended a month a go, we managed to grab on to a few warm and sunny days into March before the storms hit – and boy, have we had some storms. Living up high gives us a pretty spectacular view of the lightning shows and storm fronts, courtesy of Mother Nature.

Storm front over Sydney

Storm clouds build over Sydney

Luckily we had a pretty good Summer, although the oppressive humidity was not always welcome when battling morning sickness!

Now I am back on my feet, I can finally post some of the pictures from our third Summer in Australia. It is incredible how quickly the time has gone. Our third Summer of beach trips and barbecues and our third Australia Day, which fortunately was not as eventful as last year’s camping trip! In fact it involved a picnic overlooking the harbour at Manly – and a few flags just to show willing!

Australia Day celebrations

Australia Day celebrations

Australia Day picnic

Australia Day picnic

Manly for Australia Day

Manly for Australia Day

With James on course, it has meant we have been able to spend a lot of time together before he heads away next month. His routine has been a little more relaxed, which was useful when he had to come home and cook, but he has discovered some new culinary skills, in particular, sausage rolls, which he proudly showed off with the help of our friends’ daughter at their house.

One man and his sausage rolls

One man and his sausage rolls

We also managed a trip down the coast to Kiama and into the Southern Highlands, one of our favourite areas.

Beaching in Kiama

Beaching in Kiama

Lookout point across the Southern Highlands

Lookout point across the Southern Highlands

So, as we start to ‘rug up’ for Autumn, which over here involves wearing a cardigan over a T-shirt, and suffer the temperatures dipping to the low 20s, I will leave you with an image of our local beach where we have spent a few very pleasant Summer afternoons going for  swim.

Shark Beach, Sydney

Shark Beach, Sydney

Can I breathe yet?

20 Mar

When we started this blog, we titled it Upside Down because not only were we making the move ‘down under’ to Australia, but we were changing our jobs, home and entire lifestyle. We were turning our lives “upside down.”

Well, if we haven’t already, in about six months, we are going to understand the true meaning of that phrase because James and I are expecting our first baby in September.

Hopefully, this news explains the recent hiatus in blogging. Shortly after landing back in Australia from the UK the nausea hit and after several days of feeling less than wonderful and wondering why a walk down to the beach and back (uphill) had take it out of me, I began to assume something was up. Turns out it was, and by the time we had the first dating scan, I was already nine weeks pregnant.

Before then, the little person growing inside me had already been well and truly making their presence felt. The fatigue was one thing but it seems I was a text book case in every way: from the strange tastes in my mouth, the food aversions, and the nausea to the more weird symptoms of constant sneezing and odd aversions to certain smells. In fact I think I suffered the full gamut of early pregnancy symptoms.

What I hadn’t realized was how debilitating that lovely misnomer, “morning” sickness can be. There were days when I could not leave the sofa and any position other than horizontal had me running to the bathroom. On the plus side (there had to be one) it was mainly nausea rather than sickness, but a day when I felt well enough to make it out into the fresh air and even do something normal such as pop to the shops became a lovely novelty.

Food was fun as well. Carrs probably saw their profit margin double during January and February as I munched my way through packets of water biscuits. The things I usually don’t care about, my body seemed to crave, and the things I used to love became the food of the devil. I still can’t look at a pepper, worse still if it’s roasted.

Luckily, if only on a nutritional level, I can face broccoli again and my penchant for salt and vinegar crisps has died down to maybe just one bag a week!

James had to put up with the brunt of it; for a start, he was often left to fend for himself in the kitchen, although he got his revenge by cooking some stinking concoction, which meant I had to spend a good half hour out on the balcony while the smell dispersed.

My newly developed bloodhound sense of smell meant I couldn’t (and at times still can’t) abide the smell of his shower gel or deodorant. As he steps out the shower, thinking he’s clean and fresh, he is greeted with me retching in the bedroom and ordering him out the room. It got to a point where I had to buy different soap for the bathrooms because the scent, which I usually love, was turning me green.

If that wasn’t bad enough, he had to be on bathroom cleaning duty as well until I changed to the eco-friendly, less potent products. (I should have done that a while a go to be honest).

On the subject of eco-friendly, the things you are advised to buy and not buy nowadays when you’re pregnant can be a little like navigating a minefield.  I have to say if I envy mothers-to-be of the pre-digital age, it is because of one thing: they didn’t have Google.

Google can be at once a question-answering God send and a panic-inducing scaremonger. Sadly when it comes to pregnancy it is quite frequently the latter.

Type in the phrase: “Is (insert food/product) safe when pregnant?” into Google and inevitably some website will tell you explicitly: No.

We’re not just talking soft cheese, raw fish and alcohol, but over the past few weeks I have seen warnings about eating rhubarb, pineapple, mango, basil and parsley to name a few. I think some people seem to think we plan on munching on handfuls of poisonous rhubarb leaves, drinking mugs of essential basil oil or eating ten pineapples in one sitting (which I admit, could cause a few problems).

It’s not just what you put in your body, but on your body as well. I am all in favour of eliminating toxic chemicals from your life but I am starting to wonder how so many healthy babies have been born in the last decades when their mothers washed their hair with shampoo, put moisturizer in their bodies and maybe even did their makeup once in a while. If you were to take heed of every warning out there you would spend hours searching for products that not only did not contain sodium laureth sulfate, parabens and other ‘nasties’ but are also organic and have no essential oils, which can be “harmful”.

In fact, I was reading a blog by a lady discussing her pregnancy who said she avoided anything with citric acid in during the first trimester because she had heard too much vitamin C could be dangerous.

If you add this to some advice out there such as avoiding new cars (chemicals used to clean interiors) and not getting your hair cut (fumes from the salon), and you can begin to understand why I might be wondering if it safe to breath.

By some miracle I have survived the first trimester and I even managed to keep clean and not starve in the process. Now we feel able to tell our friends and family, it has been very reassuring to see how many friends out here have come forward offering any help they can, whether it be from accompanying me to appointments if James is away to simply coming over and having a chat if I am worried about anything. One of our good friends even sent James home with a lamb casserole for us to heat up one evening because she knew I was struggling to get out to do food shopping and cooking.

Already saluting and getting ready to meet "dad"

Already saluting and getting ready to meet “dad”

Luckily the symptoms have started to ease and although our plans for a romantic meal out after our 12-week scan did not go quite as planned after I started feeling so sick after ordering that we ended up taking the meal home in a doggy bag, I am feeling a lot better.

I do sometimes look down at my stomach and think, “(insert expletive) when did that appear?” but judging by the fact people aren’t leaping up out of their seats to offer them to me on the bus, I am not actually showing very much… yet!

I look forward to that day, because as much as everyone tells me, “the time will fly by”, right now I am looking ahead at six months and I feel as if there is a very long way to go!

Friends and family reunited

13 Jan

I found an old jumper at the back of the wardrobe a few weeks ago. I tried it on again; it felt a little odd at first, cold and misshapen, but after a while the fibres stretched and relaxed and it was comfortable and cosy again. Coming back to England felt a little bit the same.

It was always going to happen., it was just a matter of when and for how long. We were both curious as to how it would feel; would that walk along the river still seem familiar? Would stepping back into the house I grew up in still feel like home? It is amazing how much and yet, at the same time, how little  can change in just two years.

Babies have been born, dogs have been bought, walls have been knocked down, rooms have been redecorated, barns have been renovated, but the weather is still wet, the Underground still heaving and the conversations are still the same (apart from when now interrupted by an 18-month old.)

Despite our reservations about how hectic our trip would be, we had a proper break and thanks to so many friends and family who put us up, fed us and basically made the effort to come out on cold, wet and windy days to see us, we had a a fantastic time. It was the people we had come to see and they are what made the holiday, but we surprised ourselves at how much we enjoyed being back in England itself. There was something strangely comforting about a howling gale and lashing rain and there is nothing so good as coming in to a log fire or a glass of mulled wine, which just aren’t appropriate at Christmas in Sydney! In fact, if there is one thing England does well, it is a cosy Christmas.

Our trip took us from London down to the south west, back across to Chichester and Portsmouth, up to Stamford via St.Albans and Bedford, over to Staffordshire, into Wales, down to Bridgnorth en route to London, and ended up full circle, back in Somerset for the last few days.

Although we knew we had missed our friends and family and admittedly, a traditional English pub, we had also missed green, rolling hills; historic towns and churches; and yes, perhaps even the cold! We were lucky to visit some of the picture postcard, quaint English towns and villages, experience London in all its illuminated, Christmas glory and see nearly everyone we wanted to while they were off work and enjoying the holidays.

Sloane Square at Christmas

Sloane Square at Christmas

 

Eccleshall Church

Eccleshall Church

 

View from Bridgnorth

View from Bridgnorth

Stormy Lyme Regis

Stormy Lyme Regis

As we headed back to the airport for the final leg of our trip, we had to remind ourselves that we had come at a very special time, that the things that frustrated us two and a half years a go still existed and that ordinarily we would not be seeing ninety of our friends and family in three short weeks. Even the thought of heading back to summer did not appeal that day; we were leaving again and the only thing that made it a little easier to say goodbye was driving back in the grey, the Christmas lights extinguished, the trucks towing away the town Christmas trees and seeing the resigned faces of those returning to work for the first Monday back after New Year.

For our friends and family who read this, thank you for your hospitality and for looking after us so well!

Friends Reunited

Grandad

Family walk

New Year friends

Father and son

Edmondsons_photo

Despite having established a new life in a new country with new jobs and friends, when coming back it really felt as if we had never been away and just like an old jumper, England was cosy, comfortable and it was really good to be reunited.

Mulled cider

LA LA land

12 Jan

“Do you carry guns in Australia?”

“No, do you carry one?”

“Nah, I leave that to everyone else, but it’s good to know they’re out there, to keep you safe, you know.”

We look at each other but seeing as this guy has us in the back of his car, taking us through rush hour downtown LA, we don’t want to aggravate him too much.

“Do you have many blacks in Australia? What about Muslims?”

We are tired, we have just got off a flight after two nights Vegas promoting a new business, following a 13 hour flight from Australia three days earlier and the exhaustion is kicking in. We don’t want to start debating gun laws and immigration with a Ukrainian taxi driver who appears to forget that he too, is actually an immigrant.

It seems America has swallowed him up, as it can, as it does.

He seems to know all there is to know, which amounts to very little and we are grateful when he finally drops us off at our accommodation in Los Feliz, which was an area of LA recommended to us as it is one area you can walk around and, importantly get a really decent coffee!

I guess there are certain things you have to do when you’re only in California a couple of days, one of them is not necessarily to to hire a Ford Mustang. There must be something quite exhilarating about driving a Mustang, engine giving that satisfying roar, pedal to the metal, Santa Monica palm trees slipping by the window. That is until you realise you’re stuck in the middle of the sprawling car park that is LA and a glamourous drive down Sunset Boulevard rarely gets above 30mph. We hadn’t intended to go for the Mustang but when the little compact was unavailable and the rental guy offered us the Mustang for just $10 extra, well, why not, and to be fair, it was quite fun, driving up into the hills and then down to Sorrento for a quick spin down the Pacific Highway.

Mustang Sally

Hollywood Hills

They call it La La land and that is perhaps because the city of dreams and promises leaves many with their head in the clouds, or just being pumped full of botox. There is an energy on the streets but a slumber in the traffic queues, a neatly polished facade to the Beverly Hills houses yet an air of despair in parts of run down Hollywood. The palm trees grow high, like everything else in LA, perhaps they just want to be seen above the crowds, but the glamour of Hollywood comes by looking down, at the names of the famous movie and music stars beneath your feet, a distraction from the tobacco stores and cheap lingerie shops lining the pavement.

Santa Monica sunset

Walk of Fame

We enjoyed walking around Santa Monica and we loved meeting up with my friend, and her boyfriend for dinner. She had been on a photo shoot that day and just signed to an agent. She is taking a course in music production and doing voice overs for a company in Sweden. It was refreshing when she told us she loves watching Monty Don!

And so it was, we left Los Angeles for London but this time we were heading to some very familiar sights and some very familiar faces and really, that was the main reason we wanted that flight out of LAX.

 

Vegas: The magic and the tragic

13 Dec

You know when you’ve walked into a Las Vegas casino because your nose begins to prickle and fills with the highly scented air pumping out of the ventilation ducts. Of course, if you are not first assaulted by the smell, you are by the sight of the rows upon rows of machines trying to seduce you with their constant winking lights and promises of lucrative jackpots.

The casinos are vast, cavernous halls of hundreds of slot machines, which lead you into more spaces of craps and black jack tables and all the while some catchy pop song is being piped around the building to keep you pumped up and a waitress with more flesh on show than a butcher’s shop is teetering around with a tray of ‘complimentary’ drinks and a glass stuffed full of notes.

For many, Vegas has the marmite factor. You love it or hate it. James fell very much into the latter category, whereas I, as with marmite, could take take it or leave it. I wasn’t repelled but I would not rush back. I appreciated the experience and it is one you won’t forget in a  hurry. It certainly leaves an impression, whether it be from the overwhelming size of some of the most opulent hotel lobbies imaginable to the memory of a solitary figure at the slot machine at 10am with a can of beer already opened and the glazed appearance of one overcome by the machine’s hypnotic lights and sounds.

The hotels are like miniature towns in themselves, servicing every need from food and drink to hair dressing, clothes shopping and of course; banking. You can never run out of money; if you allow yourself to succumb, you might never leave. If you do manage to escape the hotel clutches, a trip down the strip is certainly a feast for the eyes. One giant road flanked by numerous sky-scraping hotels of unfathomable proportions. The Vegas lights are a sight to behold.

Some of the most impressive in terms of sheer size include Aria, The Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace and the one we called home for a couple of nights, The MGM Grand – all 30 floors of it with at least 500 rooms per floor. If you are not put off by the ‘tackiness’ of some of the faux scenery or replica facades, then you cannot help but be impressed by the attention to detail, the luxury, the ostentation.

At night, the Bellagio fountains are beautiful, the lights of Paris’ Eiffel Tower, magical, the New York New York skyline, remarkable and the showgirls in their feather headdresses, resplendent. By day, the glitz fades and you notice the street magician telling every passerby that his “amazing” show is about to start in thirty seconds, you see three tired and overweight Elvises giving a half-hearted “uh huh” to see if that can tempt you to give a tip and  a freezing Vegas showgirl stands like a half plucked chicken coaxing you to have a photo with her. You are accosted by ticket touts every few metres, offering “great discounts” on the latest name in lights and a bleached-blonde, walking down the street in tight jeans and cheap heels gets told, “you’re gonna make a lotta money in Vegas, baby.”

The Bellagio Fountain

The Bellagio Fountain

We went to Vegas and never once sat at a slot machine, although that was more to do with the fact we were there for a bitcoin conference. That, alone was an interesting experience and with the app now available in the app store, we were ready to promote it, show it off and meet some of the people we have been in touch with over the past few months.

My ‘media’ head returned and I was not shy in grabbing a potential interview or making a connection. We learned a lot, made a lot of valuable contacts, put business cards in a few of the right hands and were delighted at the response our app received from those who downloaded it or got to see it in action.

Talking to Bobby Lee, BTC China

Talking to Bobby Lee, BTC China

We shall see what the next month or so brings with regards BitScan but there is potentially exciting news on the horizon with some partnerships and affiliations.

We left Vegas in the dark with the city’s lights looking quite beautiful as we looked down from several thousand feet. It is a magical place but if you look closely, you also see what they hide when all the gloss and sparkle fade away.

(Pictures to follow when we have more reliable wifi!)

 

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