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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.

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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

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!

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!

T minus 10 days

6 Dec

At the risk of sounding like my mother, where has the time gone? It seems hardly any time ago that we were talking about coming to the UK for Christmas “next year” and now it is ten days until we actually land back in the Mother country! It will have been almost two and a half years since we have seen some of our friends and family so we are, undeniably excited. However, ten days before we arrive means only three short days before we actually fly and that means a sudden panic about what I need to pack, buy, sort, post and finish before we head off.

With our birthdays both happening this past week, a huge amount to do for the new business, especially prior to leaving, and trying to arrange seeing people before Christmas and buying Christmas presents in time, the past few weeks have been hectic and at times, stressful.

With so much else going on, we kept our birthdays simple and organised a picnic with just a few friends on the beach last weekend. It was a lovely day and probably the first time we have purposefully gone to the beach for the day this Spring/Summer, as well as hung out with some of our friends for a while. Having Shan’s baby there kept everyone entertained as well!

Birthday picnic

Birthday picnic

Picnic in the park

Picnic in the park

James and Ash

James and Ash

On the days themselves, we went out to one of our favourite restaurants for dinner for my birthday, followed by ice cream at our favourite gelateria (both have coincidentally just opened up shop a short walk from us near Bondi – dangerous for the wallet and the hips!)

On James’ birthday I surprised him with some cake at the beach after work but these days it’s about as exciting as it gets!

The really exciting news is that Apple have approved the app and as soon as we give the green light, it will be available for sale in the App store… I have yet to break open the bubbles because the website and back-end functionality all needs to be smooth and fully operational before we do this and there are a few adjustments that need making. To add to the drama, a few weeks a go we learnt about the Inside Bitcoin Conference, taking place in Las Vegas and decided the timing was perfect to coincide with the app being in the store and for us to start promoting. So, we are now heading to Vegas for a few days before returning to LA and jetting off to London as originally planned.

Work aside, and it has been busy for both of us, it had almost escaped our attention that it is in fact nearly Christmas. It struck me as I walked into the Westfield mall the other week and heard ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ cheerily jingle out against the other sound of the slip-slap of flip flops walking along the ground. The wreaths, however beautiful, jarr against the stark white, sunlit walls as does the juxtaposition of the Polar Bear, pointing his way toward Santa’s grotto, while all around his frosty podium the shop windows display summery brights and neon prints. I never thought I would say we are looking forward to the cold and dark but at this time of year, it just seems right!

Having said that, once night falls and the lights come on, Sydney still puts on  a good effort and we went to see the Martin Place Christmas tree in all its glory when we met up with a couple of friends for a drink last week – as you can tell from the picture, the tree was perhaps not that interesting!

 

Martin Place Christmas Tree

Martin Place Christmas Tree

The traditional arcades, such as The Strand arcade also look lovely at Christmas and if it wasn’t for the 27-degree sunshine, you might almost believe there was a quaint English town outside.
Strand Arcade

Strand Arcade

 

As I mentioned, we have been trying to fit in seeing people before we fly off, and so last weekend we drove up to see James’ dad’s cousin out in Windsor. Ibby moved a year a go and has done a huge amount of work to the house and garden, which, looks out across the flood plains of the Hawkesbury River. We also managed to catch up with her daughter, Liona who popped in for tea as well. We were particularly impressed by Ibby’s sunflowers!

The 10ft sunflower

The 10ft sunflower

Liona, Ibby and James

Liona, Ibby and James

 

I expect this will be the last post before we land arrive in England and this has been a bit of a rushed summary of everything that has happened over the past month. One thing I should mention, as you have probably noticed, James is sporting a little more facial hair than normal, which was his ‘Movember’ effort, seeing as they can’t have moustaches in the Navy. He reckons he is keeping it. I gave him a really nice shaving set for his birthday…

 

Finishing Lines

8 Nov Credit: BitScan Pty Ltd

There are two kinds of lines where meeting one automatically means meeting the other, but the reverse is not trrue. I’m talking deadlines and finishing lines. Meet your deadline and you’ve crossed the finishing line, pass the finishing line but the deadline may well have past long a go. With most projects, deadlines seem to act as a vague guideline because invariably they keep getting pushed back. Construction projects and house building seem to be a prime example. How often do Kevin McCloud or Peter Maddison revisit a build to see months have slipped by and they are still awaiting planning permission for a crucial feature wall? Well, it seems building an app is no different.

The past few months have involved dozens of meetings, where we have asked the question: How long now, two weeks? Do you think we’ll be ready by September.. Make that October? Mid October? Oh…

 

There is never one person or company to blame; as with all things technical, issues arise, things breakdown, pieces of code don’t work, updates are always available; as with all things human, people fall sick, people do make mistakes and people underestimate how long a ‘relatively small job’ will take.

However, the months, weeks, days and hours of talking, researching, planning, designing and head-scratching is coming to a close and we can now talk about the launch of our new app in matters of days. It is exciting. It’s exciting because we are, currently, first to market with anything of this kind, and because we are actually pretty pleased with the result.

Without attempting the bitcoin explainer again (see previous posts), the app has been designed as an interface for all and any users of bitcoin. It is packed full of features and we hope offers a sleek, user-friendly and fully functional application whether you want to trade, invest, analyse, inform, sell, promote or spend. It is, as we like to say: The World of Bitcoin in the Palm of Your Hand. For details about what it does and all its features, if you are interested, you can read more here. What might encourage you is that bitcoin is growing in value steadily again. Over the past few weeks it has grown in a fairly sustained, measured way and the price is now at an all-time high of around $300 a bitcoin. It has proven resilient to the Silk Road bust and resistant to attempts by the FBI to crack its code seeing as even they cannot access the almost 489,000 bitcoins it seized as a result, safely stashed in an encrypted wallet. With China now entering the picture, it is unlikely that bitcoin is going to disappear for a while. It seems a prime time to be launching the app. The finishing line is in sight.

Credit: BitScan Pty Ltd

The new BitScan app

I happened to cross another finishing line a couple of week’s ago. That of the Sydney’s Rebel Run half marathon at the Olympic Park. It was not an easy run and for whatever reason that day, I really struggled. I tend to be able to pace myself quite well and have enough in reserve for a bit of a spurt at the end, but not this time. Training had not been easy due to the searing temperatures we had been having. 30-degree plus days in October are not what I’m used to and the atmosphere for a few weeks has been hazy at the best of times with the smoke from the bushfires blowing over. Most mornings I felt I could have been training for the Sahara desert run! I had done a few long runs in preparation and had managed a sub 1hour 50minutes in training.

The weekend in question, our friend Will came to visit from Melbourne, which was brilliant and great to catch up with him. When the sun’s out and there are beers to be had (it was the Sydney Craft Beer Festival that week) Will and James were keen to head out. I joined them for a hog roast on the Saturday afternoon, although no alcohol, plenty of fluids, and plenty of pasta that night was order of the day for me!

As with all race mornings, I felt a little nervous with the anticipation of the 21.1 km ahead of me. A little tired as well, but only to be expected when you have to get up at 5am to make the 6.30am gun. I set off well, but possibly a little fast. After 11 km, the distance markers disappeared because we were running along track by the river and through parkland. I do not own a Garmin watch, and wasn’t running with my Nike Plus, so was having to estimate how far I had gone, but by what must have been about 16 km, I was starting to flag. The day was already warming up and a grey, smoky haze suddenly wafted over, which is never helpful when you’re relying on oxygen! Apart from once when training too late in the day and it was nearing 26 degrees, I have never had that urge come over me to stop like I did then. Of course, I couldn’t. If I stopped or walked, I knew I’d never get going again. I felt as if I was staggering along, forcing one foot in front of the other, not feeling breathless, just lethargic. My energy was completely sapped. Despite my little jelly bean stash for a glucose hit as I went round, my blood sugar must have taken a serious dip because at one point double vision set in. Dreams of making it anywhere in near 1 hour 45 vanished, I knew 1 hour 50 was going to be highly unlikely and I had to hope I could still finish in under 2 hours. I just kept telling myself to keep going. My muscles, which never usually suffer from lactic acid build up, were suddenly screaming, and my head was screaming at me in a different way. I have never had such a mental, let a lone physical, struggle during a run.

When the stewards in the sidelines yelled, “3km to go” I think I deflated even more. In the grand scheme of things, it was a short distance and this was usually when I would have started to increase the pace slightly if I had anything left. I didn’t. In fact, one man, running by, must have seen me wilting and said, “We’re nearly there, come on.” I had no intention of stopping but I think the feeling of disappointment that my goal times were a distant memory was an extra burden I was dragging along!

The last stretch along to the Olympic stadium felt never ending but even in the state I was in, there was something about running through the tunnel and into the stadium that meant the struggle was forgotten for a brief few seconds. Any fantasy of sprinting over the finish line with my hands in the air remained just that. As soon as the line was crossed I staggered to one side, collapsed in a corner and did not stand up again for a good five minutes.

Finishing the Rebel Run half marathon

Finishing the Rebel Run half marathon

Amazingly by the time I was home half an hour later, I felt fine. No aches, no pains, just ready for a nap! There was no stiffness over the following days either but the thought of running anything over 10km didn’t appeal so much!

Oh, and you’re probably wondering how I did… Well I crossed the finish line in 1 hour 52 minutes, which given everything, absolutely amazed me. Not my finest hour (or two) but it’s one finishing line I don’t have to worry about again.

Bracing for summer: Bushfire season comes early

18 Oct

Well, long time no blog, and despite best intentions to update several times over the past few weeks, other things, primarily work, has got me sidetracked and taken priority. I have been spending the last few days going through a huge database of thousands of businesses, ready for our new app. The launch date is now hopefully just three weeks away and so it is all hands t the pump.

I expected to update, when I could, about the Royal Australian Navy International Fleet Review, which took place a couple of week’s a go here in Sydney and was a true spectacle. At some point, I will blog about this and post all the pictures, but today I had to write about what we are experiencing right now.

Nearly every day, we feel so very lucky to live here, waking up to blue skies and looking across the harbour and appreciating that we live in a very beautiful city. The contrast to our view yesterday was quite startling.

Yesterday, after heading back from a work meeting in North Sydney, I looked out the train window and had to do a double take. There was no sky. There was a large, yellow, grey mass, crawling across it, obliterating the blue and turning Sydney an eerie shade of sepia.

Smoke cloud starts to engulf Sydney

Smoke cloud starts to engulf Sydney

Sydney smoke cloud from the train

Sydney smoke cloud from the train

It had been a scorching 32 degrees with a fiercely hot wind gusting through and it was only when I got home that I realised the seriousness of the situation just kilometres away, as close as Northwest Sydney and stretching up and down the coast. Bushfires had ignited everywhere from down in the Southern Highlands, up to the Central Coast and out to the Blue Mountains. After the hottest September on record and barely any rain, the flames had spread quickly and ferociously, ripping through neighbourhoods and rapidly burning out of control.

It is always hard to hear of those situations when you are relatively safe in your apartment and feeling very removed from it all. This time it felt much more real, as the fires made their presence known even in central Sydney. The smoke cloud hung, suspended over the skyline all afternoon, streaked with orange and we went to bed smelling burning in the air. This morning the haze remains, as does the smell of smoke, which catches in your throat.

It is an indication of how bad these particular fires are, with the smell and smoke reaching the CBD.  The reports state these have been some of the most ferocious fires people have seen due to the constantly changing conditions and how rapidly they have spread. The high temperatures and strong winds we have been experiencing have meant the fire services have been preparing for and expecting a bad bushfire season but it has started early this year and people are now dreading what is ahead this summer.

Sydney smoke cloud near Bondi

Sydney smoke cloud near Bondi

Smoke cloud obliterates the sky

Smoke cloud obliterates the sky

Smoke cloud hangs over Sydney harbour

Smoke cloud hangs over Sydney harbour

Smoke cloud shrouds the Sydney skyline

Smoke cloud shrouds the Sydney skyline

Due to how quickly the fires started and spread, there was little time to prepare and save much at all. People hearing about the fires were rushing back from work, trying to salvage what they could, search for animals and rescue treasured possessions.  Others were not so fortunate, they had to be told to move on and get to safety as the intensity of the fires increased and it proved too dangerous to return. Some people have lost everything.

Tragically, one 63-year-old man died, after trying to defend his home. His neighbours said he didn’t have much but he felt rich with his friends.

Watching the families on the news, going back to the blackened shells of their properties, picking through the wreckage, telling of lost photographs, treasured items, and missing pets is heartbreaking.

The heartbreak has been felt not just by the victims, but by those involved with fighting the fires as well. Particularly poignant was the press conference given by NSW RFS Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, who had to fight back tears when asked about the pride he felt in the firefighters who are risking their lives. “We have the best firefighters in the world, they are second to none,” he said before having to stop to swallow back tears in front of the cameras.

I am always in awe at how some people cope with these tragedies and how they retain their sense of humour. A prime example was the woman who walked through the charred remains of her home, burnt fully to the ground, pointing out the trampoline “with not much bounce in it” and the fact they still have the kitchen sink.

There are still nearly 100 fires burning and it is going to take weeks, not days, to tackle all the blazes. More than 200 homes have been destroyed and it is feared more will be lost today as fast moving fires continue to spread in certain areas.

In one town on the Central Coast, forty homes have been lost in one street and in another, a historic, heritage home, dating back to 1887 and in the same family for generations, has been completely gutted.

Some of the most beautiful areas are currently ablaze, clouded in thick, black smoke and forming large scars on the countryside. This morning, there was some welcome relief as temperatures cooled to the low 20s but no one is becoming complacent because as the day heats up, the fires are gathering pace again and flaring up in other spots. The initial reaction was to protect life and property and as days go on, firefighters will be able to work more on containing the fires. They know they will not be able to extinguish all the blazes by the weekend and on Sunday, temperatures are expected to soar again, causing more problems.

Our thoughts go out to everyone affected and to the exhausted firefighters and volunteers working round the clock to tackle the emergency. Australia is prone to natural disaster but when it strikes it still hurts. The stoic Australian spirit shines through in these situations and so whatever happens over the coming months, I am sure there will not just be more stories of tragedy, but also of communities pulling together and facing such adversity as only people living with this constant threat can.

The Salvation Army have launched an appeal to help those affected: http://salvos.org.au

Raro Time

6 Sep

From the moment we stepped off the plane, the Cook Islands welcomed us. It was the sound of the man in the straw hat and tropical shirt (who we now know is called Jake) strumming away on his guitar with island tunes while we waited in the tiny arrivals area for our bags to appear on the one luggage carousel. It was the sign saying ‘Welcome Louise & James’ when we headed to the desk for our transfer and it was our driver, Gna, offering us a glass of champagne in the back of the car before taking us to our accommodation. We had arrived in Rarotonga and from now on, everything was going to happen in ‘Raro time.’

The brief introduction to Rarotonga as we sat in the taxi, watching the dark shapes of palm trees and low-rise buildings slide past (the speed limit is a maximum 50kph on the whole island), informed us that tourists make up a higher percentage of the population than locals, the entire island is only 35km around and one of the best places to watch sunset is at the end of the runway.

It was 1.30 am and the owners at our accommodation had long gone home but Gna walked in, found the keys and showed us to our villa. Anywhere else, it might have seemed odd, but this was Rarotonga, a tiny speck in the middle of the Pacific, as far from anywhere as you can pretty much get and right then, Sydney, the city, work and daily routine felt very very far away.

Just before heading to bed, with the sound of the waves enticingly close, we had to walk down to the beach and less than twenty metres from our front door, we were on the sand and looking out over the lagoon, which surrounds the island. It was dark of course but feeling the sand between our toes and hearing nothing but water lapping the shore and a sweet, balmy breeze, we were on holiday.

Mii greeted us on our first morning and offered to take us to the supermarket to stock up on a few provisions. We weren’t planning on doing much self-catering, but a few bits for breakfast and lunch were all we needed. In the daylight, we saw our first glimpse of the inland lushness of the island; mountains reared up in the centre, covered in a vivid green carpet and all along the roadside were lawns, palm trees and bright flowers punctuating the dense foliage.

On the other side of the road, white sand sloped down to the lagoon, crystal clear and bright turquoise. I might be describing your typical tropical island paradise, but then, that is exactly where we were.

Rarotonga from the lagoon

Rarotonga from the lagoon

Rarotonga - main road

Rarotonga – main road

Titikaveka Beach

Titikaveka Beach

We hopped out of Mii’s car. The windows were left down, the doors left unlocked and every other person waved, smiled and hugged Mii as we walked in.

This is the kind of island, unsurprisingly, where everyone knows everyone. It is the kind if island where “going up town” refers to heading to the one settlement with more than two roads, on the north side. It is the kind of island where there are only two buses: clockwise and anti-clockwise and where, if you are waiting for a bus to take you home from ‘town’ at night and the police drive by, they tell you to “hop in” and give you a ride back to your villa.

Our villa was one of just ten, all facing the water, set back a few metres from one of the best beaches on the island for snorkeling and swimming. With a coral reef, protecting the island, there was plenty of coral to snorkel around and tropical fish occasionally jumping up near where we were lying on the beach. We did a lot of that. Lying. Lying and reading, lying and sunbathing, lying and sleeping and maybe occasionally rolling over, you know, if we were getting too much sun on one side… I think we occasionally mumbled something to each other but basically, the holiday, which was booked as a much needed rest and recharge, was just that.

Lazy days

There were several restaurants within walking distance and a few, which we went to by bus. Most were small, on the beach, serving Polynesian food, which is essentially a lot of fish, rice and typical sides like papaya salad. The American influence was still apparent: key lime pie and New York cheesecake were a common feature on the dessert menu!

Beach bar

Beach bar

The resort, where we stayed hosted a couple of communal events each week, to get guests mingling and talking. The first of these was a morning tea by the pool, with hokey pokey muffins (honeycomb for the Brits.) We got chatting to another young, American couple, who were honeymooning on the island, and a few of the other guests, mainly Kiwis. The second event, fell on our last night: the Petanque Championship. The stress was on ‘fun’ not ‘competition’ but if you’re going to stick a ball in James’ hand and mention the word ‘Championship’ to either of us, we aren’t going to take it lying down (perhaps we’d had too much of that during the rest of the holiday.)

Competitive spirits aroused, the other guests were not going to get their sedate game of petanque whether they wanted it or not. We won. Of course. Petanque champions of the week. We could leave, satisfied.

Petanque Champions

Petanque Champions

Our final meal that night was as local as you could get. The American couple had befriended a woman, who lived across the road and who had offered to cook them dinner. They invited us to join them and that evening, Mama Nicky came to their villa with dishes of home-cooked food: fish in coconut cream, chicken curry, raw fish in lime juice and a home-baked banana bread. It was delicious and a good way to say goodbye to the island.

Mama Nicky and crew

Mama Nicky and crew

We never got to see a sunset from the end of the runway, but we’re sure, the ones we did see, were not too bad.

Sunset from Titikaveka

Sunset from Titikaveka

 

City2Surf 2013

14 Aug

Last year I waited anxiously on the Saturday evening before my first City2Surf as the wind howled around the house and rain battered the windows. I was hoping the following morning would at least stay dry. It did, thankfully, and I completed my first City2Surf run in a fairly respectable time of 73 minutes. What a difference a year makes. Clear blue skies and temperatures well into the double figures greeted us for City2Surf 2013 and it was not just me running but James and five other friends as well.

I have now run this event twice and feel qualified to say, I love this race. There is a real buzz and sense of fun that you do not always get with more competitive, accredited races. With a previous qualifying time, I was in a different start group to my friends and just after 8am, my gun went off, followed by James’ 20 minutes later. The nerves may not have been as bad as last year but the pressure was on. Last year, it was about finishing and experiencing the atmosphere that you can only get in amongst 85,000 runners, pounding the streets of Sydney all the way to Bondi Beach. This year I had different expectations and a time to beat. I had not put in as much training and I knew heartbreak hill was going to prove more of a struggle than I wanted but I thought a 70-minute race might just be possible if I didn’t let the muscle burn get the better of me.

I started well but it was hard to tell how I was going (I do not have a Garmin or timing device) and in amongst faster runners, I was very much ‘one of the pack’. If anything was going to spur me on, it was knowing James was going to be on my back, and although starting well behind me, I admit there was a little competition going on between us, as well as with myself!

©Louise Edmondson

©Louise Edmondson

©Louise Edmondson

©Louise Edmondson

There are not many timed running events where you can high-five children lining the street, pass a man running in a policeman’s helmet or dressed as a smurf, get sprayed by water pistols by onlookers and feel the mutual sense of pain as you all dig deep to get up that hill. The urge to pat people on the back and just say, “keep going, you can do it,” was quite strong!

Once heartbreak hill is conquered, it is not, as some people like to believe, “all down hill from then on” in fact there are a couple of pretty sneaky but nasty ascents along Military Road before Bondi comes into view. The approach to Bondi is always the hardest part. You are so close and the finish is in sight yet the course, parallel to the beach, seems to go on forever and then you have to double back on yourself to the finish line. I saw a friend among the spectating crowds and gave a yell and a wave as I ran past and then it was the final stretch to the end.

It’s a tough course, no doubt. Need to see the faces on people as they finish?

Finishing relief!

I did not feel too bad after crossing the line. There was the sense of achievement at having finished and kept running and there was the knowing I had raised over $400 for my chosen charity, The Butterfly Foundation.  I had no idea of my overall time but I knew it would be close whether I had cracked my sub-70 goal.  Fortunately, James and I managed to meet up and walked home (up another hill), feeling a little tired but proud to have completed the, let’s say, ‘undulating’ course! A sunny Bond is not a bad place to end:

James_medal

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Once home, as much as the temptation was to have a soak and fall asleep, we had a party to prepare for. We had decided it would be a good afternoon to have our belated housewarming party so there was no time to sit and relax. There was food to get ready, barbecues to light and a house to clean. We were so lucky with the weather: sunny, cloudless skies and 22 degrees, perfect for taking advantage of the views and getting use out of the balcony. This became not just a sun trap but a tourist viewing platform, with everyone getting out phones and cameras to take pictures!

Our View!

Our race times came in by text. James, 76 minutes – very impressive considering just a year a go he was hobbling about after a knee operation and myself…. 71 minutes, a minute over my target so a little disappointing but at least a bit quicker than last year. When I thought about how I could have shaved off the minute, I started blaming that brief stop at the water point, the zig-zagging between people at the beginning, the seconds spent waving to my friend in the crowd… At the end of the day, I just needed to run faster!

Next year, there is always next year… But first, there is the Sydney Half Marathon in just over one month’s time.

A very Blue evening

22 Jul

If you are an Aussie, and particularly if you are an Aussie guy, (at the risk of stereotyping) you will probably have been watching a game last Wednesday night. That is, the game: State of Origin. The Blues (NSW) vs. the Maroons (QLD) and it was a crucial decider in the Rugby League competition too. As a non-Aussie and female, I, (at the risk of a backlash) was not watching it and was not too bothered about it. I might have tuned in if I had been home that night, but as it was, I had my cocktail dress on and had a date with another blue of sorts, Blue Ridge. Blue Ridge is an US Navy ship that was berthed in Sydney as part of a joint forces exercise between the US and Australian Navies. Talisman Saber is the biggest of its kind in the world, and the reason James happens to be over in San Diego.

As luck (or non-luck in James’ case) would have it, the Admiral on board, VADM Swift, knows James and had invited us both for a cocktail party. In James’ place, I took along my friend, Katie, who is also a Naval widow, in that her fiancé happens to be on deployment right now. There have to be some perks to this ‘Navy wife’ lark I suppose. The Ship was enormous and the dress and heels were not the easiest attire for climbing up a steep gangway, nor to make any sort of seamless entrance without tripping up ship’s ladders. Anyway, we made our less-than-elegant arrival just in time for the ceremonial aspect at sunset, the speeches and the cake cutting. Despite the thrust of the speeches being about the importance of building on the US-Australian relationship, the stunning location did not go ignored, especially with Sydney’s skyline in full illuminated glory from the deck.

Blue Ridge cake

Cutting the cake

 

I then made my way over to battle the crowd to speak to Admiral Swift. I was there really to show face on James’ behalf and I was not quite sure what to expect. I had never met Admiral Swift myself so envisaged a quick introduction, make James’ apologies, a quick drink, and then be off.

There were plenty of people milling around and a large crowd surrounded the Admiral as people went to introduce themselves and have a chat (and if they were lucky, a photo!) As it turned out, I did not have to wait too long to speak to him and as soon as I told him who I was and mentioned James’ name, his face lit up. Whatever James had done to impress this guy in the past, it had worked. I was handed a coin souvenir from the ship, Katie and I had a few pictures with the Admiral, taken by the official photographer, and during the evening, he came across several times to talk to us. He made us feel extremely welcome and despite not having our Navy partners, Katie and I had a great time, speaking non-Navy and chatting to the officers who came over to see us.

Louise and the VADM

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There was a fantastic spread of hot and cold food and a huge cake and chocolate chip cookies, even more impressive by the fact it was all cooked and baked on board in the galley. We had not got round to having any when the time came to leave but Admiral Swift ensured we both went away laden down with a goodie-box full of cake and cookies! He then also invited us to see his quarters and both had photos inside his cabin. Basically, we were very well looked after and the night totally exceeded my expectations. I might have been mixing with a bunch of guys in blue uniforms but I have to admit, it was more fun than watching the other guys in blue getting beaten by the Maroons that night.

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