Poetry Monday (yes, alright, it is a bit late,) The Machine.

This was supposed to be posted on Monday. Let’s just say that the events of Monday were not conducive to writing about poetry, and instead I had a large glass of wine. I did, however, make a rather successful cake! (This deserves a mention because my successful cake to really-not-very-nice-cake ratio is a bit skewed in favour of ‘dry-ish sponge that sticks to the bottom of tins’ in recent times. This was an unusual, and therefore precious moment.)

cake!

CAKE!

It’s a Hugh-Fearnley-Thingamy (really, I cannot be expected to remember ALL of your names, double-barrelled people!) recipe I tried after tasting a (probably much more accomplished) version made by my friend’s mum. I tracked her down, extracted details of where I could find the recipe, and attempted it myself – it really was that good! A great way of using raspberries – not that you need an excuse. The raspberries were from none other than Grumpy’s Garden™ (Rich’s dad. He suggested the name Grumpy, I should add. It wasn’t just us being rude. He’s a great gardener.) The almonds were courtesy of my mum, as I was gripped with a sudden desire to make this fairly late on Sunday night, and no almond-stocking shops were open! In this moment of crisis, I did what any responsible grown up would do: called my parents and told them I would be arriving IMMINENTLY to relieve them of their almond supply. My mother rose to the occasion in magnificent style.”Do you want the good news or the bad news?  I’ve got almonds. A whole pack. The bad news? They were best before August 2009.” I took the risk. And on hearing the joyous news that ye ancient almonds had proved a success, she commented ‘you can’t beat a touch of maturity,’ which I think is a good lesson for us all.

If you want the recipe, it’s here. (Raspberry Almond Streusel Cake.) If you want some of my cake, tough nuts. The only drawback to successful baking: it vanishes.

Anyway, on with the poetry! This Monday (ahem!) I’ve chosen a bicycle-themed poem. This is because, throughout August, and perhaps a bit beyond, I will be writing a series called A Summer of Cycling, about how over the summer holidays, we’re trying  we’re trying to use our bikes much more as everyday transport. Cycling with children is an adventure in itself, but it’s something I am increasingly passionate about. To get you in the mood, this is a great poem about cycling. And harpsichords.

Machines.

Dearest, note how these two are alike:

This harpsichord pavane by Purcell

And the racer’s twelve-speed bike.

*

The machinery of grace is always simple.

This chrome trapezoid,one wheel connected

To another of concentric gears,

Which Ptolmy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,

Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers.

And in the playing, Purcells’ chords are played away.

*

So this talk, or touch if I were there,

Should work its effortless gadgetry of love,

Like Dante’s heaven, and melt into the air.

*

If it doesn’t, of course, I’ve fallen. So much is chance,

So much agility, desire, and feverish care,

As bicyclists and harpsichordists prove

*

Who only by moving can balance,

Only by balancing move.

Michael Donaghy (1954-2004.)

Advertisements

From Babies with Love

If I made a venn diagram of my favourite childrenswear brands (I do love a venn diagram. They are just so….pleasing, visually,)  then one circle would have ‘beautiful design’, one would have ‘ethically produced’ (minimal environmental impact, made by workers in a safe environment and who are paid a reasonable wage.) The middle section of this theoretical venn diagram  – it won’t be theoretical for long, I feel a Sunday night craft activity coming on , a nice bit of cut and stick and circle drawing – would be the few that combine the two aspects. From Babies with Love is one of the few that would sit in that hallowed middle bit.  from babies with love is a childrens’ clothing boutique like no other. They sell beautifully designed baby and childrenswear, in organic cotton, and all profits go to help orphaned and abandoned children around the world. This is no money-making capitalist venture – this is social enterprise in action, uncompromising on quality and design.

from babies 4

Green bonnets! Spotty or stripy!

from babies1

Bird print babygro: Raspberry

from babies 2

Shark-print babygro

From babies 3

Summer Berry dress set

These are just a few of the beautiful things you can buy  – with 100% of profits from the sale going to support children who have nothing.

Thanks to your custom we’re now supporting the 114 children that live in the SOS Children’s Village in Lilongwe, Malawi!   We’re supporting the village, and in particular the nursery school, which cares for babies and toddlers in the village as well as the surrounding community.

From babies with love sponsors SOS children: a charity providing homes and foster families for children who have been orphaned or abandoned.  One of the SOS Childrens’ Villages that they support is in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, which has 12 family houses that care for 114 children. There is a nursery, a primary and secondary school, a medical centre and a vocational training centre.

Malawi nursery, Feb 2013

Malawi nursery, Feb 2013

Crucial to the success of these Childrens’ Villages are the SOS mothers: foster mothers who care for the children in the villages when biological parents are no longer able to. They are vital to the development and wellbeing of the children that SOS supports: “SOS mothers are the dedicated women who work day-to-day for the benefit of their SOS children. They live with their children, care for their children, comfort their children and celebrate with their children.  They do all the normal things a mother would do. Many former SOS children keep in touch with their SOS mother well beyond their time in the SOS Children’s Village, showing that the same strong bond exists as between a natural mother and a child. Worldwide there are more than 5,250 SOS mothers who care for 62,000 children in 545 SOS Children’s Villages.”

SOS mothers (photo: sos.childre.org)

SOS mothers (photo: sos.childre.org)

I love the idea that you can buy beautiful childrenswear and donate money to such a great cause at the same time.  I have lined this website up as my first port of call when the next person I know has a baby.  What a lovely gift for a new baby! (Alas, my own children are far too huge for this stuff.)  If you too have a penchant for beautifully designed childrenswear and would like to give a little to children in need at the same time, I would advise you to add this to your own personal venn diagram of style/ethical shopping. I am, obviously, assuming that you also have a penchant for venn diagrams. OK?

venn-diagram

The girl with the nice hair had a baby!

That’s how the news was relayed to me, via my youngest daughter. Apologies to anyone who has read a million articles this week about the girl with the beautiful hair (no, not the one who goes out with Andy Murray!)  who married a prince and -OH! they had a baby. I am not much of a royalist, but Kate and William are so inoffensive and clearly such  sweet people that it’s really quite hard to muster much revolutionary zeal whilst the focus is on this post-racist, drives-itself-about, does-lots-of-charity-work kind of monarchy. That is quite clearly the idea behind brand Kate&Wills. They’re normal! They’re nice! They shop in Waitrose! Take our money! Take our land! etc. And I am very happy that they had a healthy baby boy. I will always be excited about babies being born. Particularly other peoples’ babies, whom I bear no responsibility for. It’s all the cute with none of the sleep deprivation/milk-vomit/actual birth. Win!

Kate, William, George.

Kate, William, George.

But there was something else playing on my mind, as I watched some of the (pretty unavoidable) media coverage and reaction. Society and the media, who judge women anyway, on a daily, inexorable basis, rarely judge them as much as they do just after giving birth. Kate, who has conformed to every perfection that the media could possibly have expected her to: beautiful but demure, sensible, polite, supportive of her husband, educated, from a “normal” background, so as to fit into the fairytale, was scrutinised throughout her pregnancy. What was she wearing? Eating? Avoiding? Saying?  Having now done the ultimate thing and produced a royal heir, she is now just at the beginning of her time of being mum-judged.

So far I have seen judgements on her choice of pram, car seat, post-baby dress choice, the name of her child. In this sense, apart from the fact that these judgements have been trending on Twitter, Kate’s experience is no different from being an ordinary mum. I have never been so judged as I have since I’ve been a mum. Even in the hyper-judgemental teen years, where your choice of music, brand of jeans, trainers, bag etc was ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL to your social status, I’m not sure it was that bad. (Perhaps I have blanked it out. Trauma.) I am a young mum – the judgements start there. But intriguingly, my friends who are ‘older mums’ also feel judged. A lady who knew my friend once asked her why she’d ‘left it so long. You must be so tired!’ (“I went home and cried! Stupid bitch. Of course I was tired. I had a two year old and a teething baby.  A 17 year old would have been knackered!”)  I felt for a long time that I had to do everything PERFECTLY, so as to prove I knew exactly what I was doing. Which of course I didn’t. It’s much nicer now I cheerfully admit I haven’t got a clue.

The issue of how much and how soon you lose the ‘baby weight’ is a big deal, as Kate’s experience has highlighted nicely. O.K magazine have already had to apologise after they ran an article about ‘How Kate will regain her figure!’ the day after she gave birth. And so they should. The last thing you want to think about after a gruelling 10 hour labour is losing weight. Sleeping might be a priority, and some decent pain relief. And the small matter of the LOVELY BABY you have just produced. Having a shower feels like heaven, tea tastes like champagne. You have created a new, tiny, beautiful person. Everything is magical – now how about that extra stone and a half? Skinny jeans anyone? And if the weight does disappear, which it well might, if you have another two children as well as a new baby, and are constantly on the go; well, that’s an issue too. “You are really quick to get rid of your baby weight, Alice. What have you been doing to lose it? Do you just, like really want to be thin?” I’m not kidding, someone actually said that.  I did lose a lot of weight after I had Tilly. It wasn’t intentional, I just never sat down! I ate really well, breastfed, and walked everywhere. It was fine, but I felt I had to constantly apologise for it. After a while I thought the best thing would have just been to eat donuts and stay in bed all day for a week.

But the judging doesn’t stop at the weight issue. Have you got the right buggy? changing bag? Do you use the correct nappies? Does your child have dummy? Suck their thumb? Eat fruit and vegetables? Are you breastfeeding? Do you let the baby sleep in your bed? Have you dressed your child well? Does your child know the alphabet, or are you just doing phonics? Do they do ballet, or tap? Are they learning an instrument? Do you do baby yoga? Having sweated pretty much all of this with my older two, I was too tired and busy to care so much about being judged the third time around.  I remember the joy of the first time I was able to admit ‘actually, she really doesn’t eat meals. She likes dry cereal and melon chunks, and left to her own devices, she will lick the butter off my toast. She’s a bit on the small side, but on balance seems happy enough – THAT’LL DO.’  And it is funny how you can be judged so differently. I gave up a complicated half-breastfeeding, half formula feeding regime with Polly, who was born with PKU, at about six weeks. It was exhausting and tricky. She went on to two different types of formula. We were both happier and slept better. I discovered that some people are completely militant about breastfeeding. ‘But breast is definitely best!’ they would trill (not to me, but certainly in the general vicinity.) One asked how the transition had gone: ‘I just think it must be so hard for them! I mean, a rubber teat and that… formula must be such a shock! And it’s such a bonding time for you, the feeding. ‘  Er, thanks. She seems to be fine…

He had a dummy for ages, she wouldn't eat...

He had a dummy for ages, she wouldn’t eat…

This one was not exclusively breastfed...

This one was not exclusively breastfed…

Conversely, I remember the silence that fell when I fed a 12 month old Tilly at a playgroup once, surrounded by bottle-feeding mums. ‘OH! You’re still….doing that!’ Well, yes. This one doesn’t really eat, so the milk is probably kind of essential. And it’s actually a lot less hassle than heating up/cooling down bottles of milk…

Oh, if only I had had the confidence to say that at the time. Or something wittier, and sharper.

But the thing is, I think, that we -and by we I mean mums, society, the media ; all of us – judge women at precisely the time when we should be supporting them. Post-birth, you are at pretty much your most vulnerable. Nobody in that emotional, physically drained, weak stage needs judgement of any kind. You need support, friendship, practical help and a lot of tea and toast. You need the space to say that you’re not sure what to do, or that you’re not sure if what you are doing is OK.  If you want to know why so much post-natal depression goes unnoticed or untreated, it’s because there is a massive desire amongst new mums (and not so new) to prove that we can do it, and do it BRILLIANTLY! That we will be the BEST mum ever, and we are having the GREATEST time doing it. It’s not easy to admit that you feel sad and tired and feel unattractive and boring. Especially when all the other mums seem to be beaming and immaculate all the time.

I hope Kate loves motherhood. I’m sure she will. But despite all of the help she will undoubtedly receive, she will be under extreme pressure to be a Good Mum. I hope that if she slips up at all in her perfect mother journey, that we are kind, forgiving, and non-judgemental . I know I will be. To be honest, I would be bloody grateful!

Poetry Monday: Tides

Tides. By Hugo Williams.

The evening advances, then withdraws again.
Leaving our cups and books like islands on the floor.
We are drifting, you and I,
As far from one another as the young heroes
Of these two novels we have just laid down.
For that is happiness: to wander alone
Surrounded by the same moon, whose tides remind us of ourselves,
Our distances, and what we leave behind.
The lamp left on, the curtains letting in the light.
These things were promises. No doubt we will come back to
them.

Love, Keep, Create.

This post is for anyone who, like me, has a stash of baby clothes in a bag/suitcase/picnic hamper (well, desperate times – I have had THREE babies,) in the loft that you really really can’t bear to part with. It’s partly that they’re so tiny. I sometimes struggle to remember when these lumping great kids that pogo about our house were so tiny and delicate they could fit into these titchy things! And obviously, they are all stuffed full of happy baby memories. For some reason, you never seem to pull out a babygro and remember the times you cried with frustration over the fact that its occupant just would NOT sleep ! It’s a good thing. Perhaps a survival instinct.)  I’ve given loads of baby clothes away; our kids wore loads of hand-me-downs and I loved the fact that loads of their stuff has been re-worn by other children. But some are just too precious to give away. The first babygros they wore, the outfits they were given by grandparents, cardigans handknitted especially for them. Just clothes that I loved, and sort of wish they could still fit into, in a weird way. But anyway, they are just sitting in the loft – and I had no idea what I was going to do with them. It seems a shame to keep things like that and then not be able to see them. I’ve loved the idea of memory quilts – patchwork quilts made from old baby clothes since I read about them in a book by Lois Lowry. A Summer to Die. Not the cheeriest of books, but very well written.

summer-to-die-image

“She stood up and laid it out on the kitchen table. There they were, all those orderly, geometric patterns of our past, Molly’s and mine. All those bright squares of colour; in the centre, the pale pink and yellows of our baby dresses, farther out, in carefully organised rows, the flowery prints and the bright plaids of the years when we were little girls, and at the edges; the more subdued denims and corduroys of our growing up.”

It’s a testament to the writing that at least 15 years since I last read that book, I remembered the phrase ‘at the edges; the more subdued denims and corduroys of our growing up,’ and was able to search online for the rest of the text.  I loved the idea of a memory quilt – how nice to have a quilt made from beautiful clothes to remember your childrens’ babyhood with? But having only moderate to fair sewing skills myself, and a total lack of time, not to mention THREE lots of baby clothes to quilt, I felt that this was far too ambitious a project. Luckily though, I discovered a Very Cool Website, through Twitter. (I bloody love Twitter. It’s moments like this where I can’t celebrate the power of social media enough.)

LoveKeepCreate was created to help people like me out, who have stashes of precious baby clothes and no good way of using them. The idea is that you send them some of your baby clothes stash, and they make them into something lovely for you/your child to keep. And, excitingly, it’s really reasonably priced! LoveKeepCreate do quilts – which are backed and edged with fleece and filled with nice thick wadding –

Memory Quilt

Memory Quilt

Memory quilts come in cot bed size (100x120cm, £45.00) and single bed size (140x180cm, £60.00).

They suggest that you send at least 10 clothing items for a cotbed quilt and at least 20 items for a single bed sized quilt.

They also do blankets, standard (65 x 85cm, £30.00) and large (100x120cm, £39.50), which are the edged and backed with fleece, but not stuffed, which come in two sizes. They suggest sending at least 6-8 clothing items for a standard sized blanket and at least 10 items for a large blanket:

memory-blanket-375x375

Memory Blanket

Monkey

Monkey Keepsake

In addition to these lovely bits, there are also keepsakes, which are animals made from old babygros that you send. You can choose from a duck, cat, a bunny, a giraffe, an elephant, a bear, a lion, a monkey and a dragon! (The dragon is my favourite!)

Another great idea they have come up with is making clothes for your child out of your old stuff! Here’s the Daddy Shirt, a shirt for your son made from one of Daddy’s old shirts:

Daddy Shirt

The Daddy Shirt

And the Daddy Dress, made from, that’s right, Daddy’s old shirt!

The Daddy Dress

The Daddy Dress

Isn’t that just brilliant?! They do other stuff too, have a look around their website.  And, as if you needed any further encouragement, they are currently offering the opportunity to add 50p to your order, which they will match, to donate to a childrens’ charity. Every three months, the money collected will be donated to a charity suggested by their customers on Twitter or Facebook.

At some point, I’d love to interview the mums who set up LoveKeepCreate here on the blog. (You can read more about them here in the meantime.) I think it’s an outstanding business idea, and the perfect example of an independent company working well in a niche market.  But right now, I am busy  sifting through piles of babygros, trying to narrow my selection down in order to send them off to be made into something lovely!

London!

With the summer holidays approaching, and weeks of hardcore child- entertainment looming (and I mean looming in a nice way. A bit.) I decided I needed a bit if me-time, to prepare. If I was a spa kind of person, I might have gone spa-ing, but it involves rather too much sitting still and being pampered for my liking. I am not averse to either, although still too close to the nappy stage of motherhood not to chortle slightly at the phrase ‘pampered’, but with time to myself in short supply at the mo, I decided to hang out in the Big Smoke for a day.
I love London. I love the busy, frenetic insanity of it. I love the fact that it feels like ideas and new stuff is just bubbling under the surface of everything, everywhere. I like its anonymity and its bigness. I met up with some lovely friends and had non-child-related conversations! I finished a drink in a café. I didn’t once have to evaluate the contents of a kids’ lunchbox deal. No one needed the loo at an irritating moment, necessitating an emergency exit. I read 50 pages of a novel on the train; there was no need to bring a sticker book. In short: a good day out!

And I went to the Moomin shop. Which was nice. And Covent Garden market, where, sandwiched between a string quartet (one quarter was actually a flute, but a quartet, anyway,) and a guy with a guitar singing U2 songs better than Bono, I found some Cool Stuff. Which always tops off a good London trip.

20130721-171023.jpg

Handmade dresses at Covent Garden Market.

20130721-185753.jpg

Reversible!

20130721-185820.jpg

Neal’s Yard.

20130721-190005.jpg

Regent’s Street, pedestrianised – MUCH nicer. Music, dance, fruit stalls replaced the traffic.

Sunscreen

Possibly the wisest advice ever given via the medium of a single. Just great. Obviously it was the weather to wear sunscreen, which made me think of this. Here are the lyrics for anyone else interested. It’s all VERY TRUE!

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.

The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience…I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth; oh nevermind; you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked….You’re not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing everyday that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults; if you succeed in doing this, tell me how. Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll have children,maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary…what ever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either – your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body, use it every way you can…don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own..

Dance…even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room. Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them. Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings; they are the best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. Understand that friends come and go,but for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel. Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old, and when you do you’ll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders. Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you have a wealthy spouse; but you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair, or by the time you’re 40, it will look 85. Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it.

Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth. But trust me on the sunscreen…

Baz Luhrmann