Choose joy and then dance in the rain

April 29, 2013

During one of my random internet surfing sessions, I stumbled across an interview with Rick Warren, the author of the bestselling book The Purpose Driven Life.  It resonated with me because I used to think that life came in waves – hard times, then good times, then hard times, then good times again.  Battle and blessing, back and forth.

But, Rick says:

Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you’re just coming out of one, or you’re getting ready to go into another one.

This past year has been the greatest year of my life but also the toughest, with my wife, Kay, getting cancer.  I used to think that life was hills and valleys – you go through a dark time, then you go to the mountaintop, back and forth. I don’t believe that anymore.  Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it’s kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life.
 No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.

I suppose what he is also trying to say is this:  Choose joy.  Don’t wait for the storm to pass.  Learn to dance in the rain.

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What I have learned so far … Part 6

April 20, 2013

Best baby food book

Annabel Karmel’s ‘New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner’ is by far the best baby food book.  Trust me.  I have read them all and this is the most practical, engaging and comprehensive.  It is a one-stop-shop for all the recipes and food-related advice you will ever need.  Just buy this book and ignore the others.  From now on this is going to be my standard gift to anyone having a baby.

51P5YPh6TyL._SL210_There are over 200 recipes for babies and toddlers – dishes like My First Chicken Casserole, Pasta Shells with Veggie Sauce and Sweet Vegetable Medley.  Yum, yum, yum.  I’ve dried out of ideas for quick, healthy meals for Alastair and me (‘Julie, I beg of you, no more spaghetti bolognaise,’ he recently pleaded).  This book is targeted at kids but big people will also enjoy the non-pureed version of recipes such as Chicken and Butternut Tagine and Tasty Chicken and Potato Pie.

This book is packed with tips and interesting advice.  I’ve got new ideas for purees, such as mix bananas with avos, and who knew babies love blueberries together with banana?  The book also advises roasting rather than steaming sweet potato and squashes because it caramelizes natural sugars and makes them tastier.  This is good to know because I’ve been steaming everything for Megan.

Annabel Karmel, my new cooking guru, says one should never mash potato with a blender because it becomes a sticky sludge.  Potatoes also don’t freeze well.  I learned that the hard way when I peeled, chopped, steamed, blended and froze over 1 kg of organic potatoes.  The defrosted result tasted, looked and felt like glue.  It broke my heart throwing it all away, especially since it was organic and homemade with love.

Ella’s Kitchen

I think fresh is best and I am committed to cooking food from scratch as often as possible but Ella’s Kitchen is a wonderful back up.  Ella’s is healthy, organic baby food in resealable pouches.  When we went to Lake Como over the Easter weekend, I used Ella’s Kitchen.  Megan loved it.  Ella’s is perfect for travelling because the pouch is soft and one needn’t worry about shattering the traditional babyfood glass jar.  You can squeeze the food on to a spoon or the baby can suck directly from the pouch, as if it were a food-dispensing teat.  It’s no mess, no fuss and totally easy peasy.

Picture 8I was convinced Ella’s would be lip-smackingly divine before I even tasted it because the packaging is so bright and funky.  Everything about Ella’s looks edible.  I could eat the container too.  The food has names such as ‘Chick Chick Chicken Casserole with Rice’ and ‘Wonderfully Warming Beef Stew with Spuds’ and it makes me feel warm and happy. I am not sure who likes Ella’s more – Megan or me.

Ella’s Kitchen comes from the UK so when Alastair goes there on a business trip, I replenish my stash.  Recently I have been loading my cupboards like coals to a ship’s furnace.  One of my friends realized she should stop feeding her daughter Ella’s Kitchen because the little mite is now convinced that the only food worth eating is squeezed out a colourful pouch.

Travelling with a baby requires organization, good co-ords and a sense of humour

Our Lake Como trip over the Easter weekend was our first holiday with Megan.  It was fun, but different, and I learned many lessons.  When you are on holiday with a baby, your activities are driven by their appetite, moods and bowel movements and there is no way around this.  You need to be relaxed, flexible and organized.

images-28I find the constant disorder in Italy to be a challenge and it was especially so with a baby.  On our arrival in Como, the road to the lake was temporarily blocked for a Good Friday church service and, being laissez-faire about rules and order, the Italian authorities had not arranged diversions or detours.  During the two-hour gridlock, Megan wailed, Alastair fumed and I was absolutely desperate for a wee.

Public places in Italy do not cater for babies and if there happens to be a spot to change a nappy, it is filthy.  In most public toilets, I refused lay Megan on the germ-infested changing table so we did it in the car.  The back seat is slightly inclined so it was like changing Megan on a hill and everything, including her, slid downwards.

I’ve noticed that, Murphy’s Law, when I change nappies in an unusual place, say in a pram or the back seat of the car, Megan thoroughly enjoys the open air on her bottom and responds to it by gently urinating.  To avoid these circumstances, one must not dither.  I felt as if I was a surgeon doing an operation and Al was my assistant nurse.  Before we started, I laid out all the equipment and Al handed them over when prompted. ‘Nappy!  Wet Wipe!  Wet wipe!  Wet wipe!  Bum cream!  Bin bag!’  We’re a great team.

I also learned that everything you need during a long road trip should be easily accessible.  Don’t put something important at the bottom of a big suitcase in the boot.

Sleep is a puzzle

images-11I’ve noticed a trend.  When Megan naps for at least an hour in the morning and afternoon, she goes to sleep at around 18h30 without a fuss.  If she has had a busy day with shorter or disrupted naps, she struggles to fall asleep at night and is still rocking and rolling after 20h00.  It is strange that babies settle more easily when they are rested rather than when they are tired.  I thought it would be the other way round.  Funny that, isn’t it?


Hello Spring

April 15, 2013

Do you know there are two types of people?  There are those who wake up and say, ‘Good morning God!’ and there are those that wake up and say, ‘Good God, it’s morning.’  On Saturday, I hopped out of bed with the GOOD MORNING GOD kind of buoyancy because I sensed spring was in the air.

Spring began all of a sudden, as if God flicked a switch.  Friday was cold, iron-dull and cheerless but Saturday was different.  It was clear, bright and warm.   It was as if spring came sweeping in and shouted, ‘I’m here!  Cheer up everyone!  Sorry I’m late!’

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It has been a long winter.  Winter sports, such as skiing, make the cold, short days more bearable but I couldn’t try any of that this year with a little baby in tow.  I didn’t want to take Megan out in the cold for long stretches of time and anyway it was a challenge to keep her warm and comfortable in her hip brace.  Usually spring shows up around the end of March but this year, winter looked as if it would never leave.

This is a problem for someone like me.  I appear to have weather-dependent moods.  It turns out that there are many people like me.  In the depths of winter, one of my friends asked my opinion on Seasonal Adjustment Disorder (SAD) lamps as I had one in the UK.  She said she wanted a big one to ‘wave over the kids in the morning before they leave for school’.  She was hoping it would brighten and kick-start their day.

I’ve realised that it is not so much the cold that bothers me in winter but the light (or lack thereof).  I don’t need heat as much as I need light.  I assume other people feel the same and that is why they’ve invented SAD lamps not SAD heaters.

When we were in Tuscany in July 2009, we bumped into an American couple at a wine tasting.  They said they had never been to South Africa before but wanted to go there as they had heard that the light is amazing.  Alastair and I looked blankly at them for we didn’t know how to respond to what seemed like a daft comment.

Now I know what they meant.  I understood as soon I woke up on Saturday morning.  Something was different.  What changed?  It was the light.  The light told me it was spring.   It was brighter and this made everything around me appear clearer, crisper and more colourful.

I recently read a newspaper article about Provence in France.  It said this region has around 300 days of sunshine a year.  Apparently painters (such as Cezanne) and other artists love Provence because the light is so amazing.  It sounds like my kind of place.  I must go there.

DownloadedFile-9One of the things I love about living in a country with distinct seasons is that we really appreciate the summer.  This weekend, Alastair and I wandered around the neighbourhood and everyone waved and singsonged, ‘Bonjour!’ with more spirit and warmth than usual.  The French word for taking advantage of or appreciating something is ‘profiter’.  Everyone was using it this weekend.  Nous devons bien profiter de beau temps.  We must appreciate the good weather.  I like the word profiter so much.  I’m going to use it in English too – I will profit from spring.  It makes me think I have gold coins in my pocket.

The vines near our house were dry and brittle during winter but now they are showing signs of life.  Spring reminds me of hope, clean slates and new beginnings.  The plants weren’t dead even though they looked so.  They were simply resting and recharging their batteries.  I love it.

One of my favourite writers, Parker Palmer said,

Seasons is a wise metaphor for the movement of life.  It suggests that life is neither a battlefield nor a game of chance but something infinitely richer, more promising, more real.  The notion that our lives are like the eternal cycle of the seasons does not deny the struggle or the joy, the loss or the gain, the darkness or the light, but encourages us to embrace it all – and to find in all of it opportunities for growth.

If we lived close to nature in an agricultural society, the seasons as a metaphor and fact would continually frame our lives.  But the master metaphor of our era does not come from agriculture – it comes form manufacturing.  We do not believe that we “grow” our lives – we believe that we “make” them.  Just listen to how we use the word in everyday speech:  We make time, make friends, make meaning, make money, make a living, make love.

We need to challenge and reform these distortions of culture and ego – reform them towards ways of thinking and doing and being that are rooted in respect for the living ecology of life.  Unlike “raw material” on which we make all the demands, this ecology makes demands on us even as it sustains our lives.  We are here not only to transform the world but to be transformed.

I like the way he uses seasons as a metaphor for life.  We would all be so much more accepting of our winters if we realized that we ‘grow’ our lives, not ‘make’ them.  Sometimes we forget that after every winter, there is SPRING.  Hooray!!!!

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What I have learned so far … Part 5

April 2, 2013

Men don’t make good women

Alastair is a fabulous father.  However, I have noticed that he is not a very good mother.  I am much better than him.

DownloadedFile-2None of my friends openly bad-mouth their husbands but I sense some underlying frustration.  I think the source of this irritation is that generally men make useless women.  This is something new mothers forget.  Men are not like us.  They are wired differently.  What is instinct to a mom is often not instinct to a dad.  Sometimes men just don’t get it and for a woman who is blindsided by exhaustion and fogged by fatigue, this is bloody irritating.

To be fair to Alastair, he works a long day and spends less time with Megan than me.  Of course he doesn’t know her like I do.  Megan and I are with each other 24/7.  She’s an extension of my body.  She is entwined about me, like ivy.  I understand her like no one else does.  We’re tight, my Megan and me.

One of my friends recently had her first child and, before it was born, she and her husband decided he would take extended paternity leave.  The baby had colic and, at its worst, the dad sidled up to my friend and asked if he could return to work earlier than planned.  She understood his helplessness, but on the day of his return, she was annoyed by the time (6am) and exuberance with which he left the house.  As a more experienced mother, I explained the basics. ‘You see, men are from Mars and women are from Venus…’

images-20I have learned that men cannot cope with excessive emotion and random tears for extended periods.  A man’s instinct is to run away from a screaming baby but a woman’s instinct is to run towards it.  Men are Mr Fix-Its.  When faced with a problem, they search for a solution.  That is why teething is a nightmare.  It is a problem without a simple way out and this makes men feel helpless and anxious.  Alastair didn’t realize that just being there to comfort Megan is a solution too.

A midwife told me that men are also babies, but with different packaging.  They need lots of assurance and attention.   We mustn’t leave out the big baby when we get a little one.

I read somewhere that women are like teabags.  You never know how strong they are, until you put them in hot water.  A new baby can be hot water.  If it has colic, gas, an ear infection or is teething, the water is even hotter.  When Megan arrived, I discovered a strength I never knew I had and a vulnerability that I have never before seen in Alastair.  It is not a bad thing, just something we didn’t expect.

images-22Men seem to launch themselves into fatherhood in much the same way that a Labrador jumps into a swimming pool – with exactly that much preparation and foresight.  I read countless parenting books and Alastair read none.   When Megan arrived, he had no reservoir of knowledge to fall back on.

I have learned that men can be a bit clueless, but it is important not to make them feel stupid and useless.  In October, I attended a long meeting related to the end of my work contract.  Alastair took time off to look after Megan.  We discussed at length whether I should express milk and leave a bottle because, at that stage, Megan was not in a fixed and reliable feeding routine.  We risked it and agreed Alastair would babysit without back-up milk.

While I was putting on my shoes to leave the house, Alastair trotted towards me holding a bottle.  ‘Julie, change of plan.  I’ve decided I need milk in case Megan cries.  Please can you quickly express into this bottle.’

‘Al, are you kidding me?’  I said.  I reminded him that my boobs are not saturated sponges that I can squeeze for a minute and get over 120ml of milk.

images-12I have learned it is good for me to leave Megan and Alastair alone together so they can bond and he can build his confidence without always relying on me.  One Saturday, I left them for an hour while I got my hair cut.  I arrived home and walked into the lounge.  Megan was on her playmat, gurgling and flailing around like a tortoise on its back.  Alastair lay on the floor next to her in the foetal position with his eyes closed.

‘Is everything ok?’ I asked.

‘Yes, all good.  But I am so so exhausted.’

Even though men may feel inadequate, it is important that they look after the baby on their own so that they understand that when we women say we are tired, we are not being flippant – we are genuinely so so exhausted.

Some evenings I walk into Megan’s room and Al is bent over her cot to confirm she is breathing. I never need to worry whether Megan is alive, because Alastair has checked first.  He is the one who is most anxious that Megan’s hearing has been impacted by the nasty ear infection she had this week.  He is the one who is most concerned that Megan may push herself up and somersault out of her cot.

Picture 10I’ve been looking for new babygros for Megan and am struggling to find a plain one that doesn’t say, ‘I love Daddy’, ‘Daddy’s Princess’, ‘Daddy’s Angel’ or ‘Daddy’s Sweetheart’.  Why does all this clothing suck up to Daddies?

I have learned that, during this period when they are so rudderless, men need reminding that they are needed, wanted and loved.  I should buy Megan a babygro that says, ‘I love my Daddy’, because, in his funny man-way, he really really loves her too.