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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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Where life and home organisation ideas go to die. My collection of articles, research and attempts at self-improvement through reorganisation and renewal.

A birth plan for a second-time mother

When we had Arddun, I came to the hospital without a written birth plan. Partly because Arddun was early (she came in week 38), but mostly because I wanted to go with the flow as much as possible. It was my very first time, I had chosen not to educate myself on other birth stories for fear of setting up unrealistic expectations personally, and I’d rather scoffed at the idea of planning a birth. As if something as mysterious and miraculous as that could be wholly micro-managed. Pfft.

I’m rethinking my stance now with Boy Blob.

It’s not about micro-managing Boy Blob’s entrance to the world, and nor am I trying to tell my obstetrician and midwives how to do their jobs. But I do want to capitalise on the lessons learnt from Arddun’s birth. At the very least, articulating on paper how I’d like to try new things and what I found disempowering will help crystalise what is important to me and my family.

So here’s what I’ll be trying to cobble together in the next 24 hours as the clock ticks over to Week 39.

Document length: short and sharp
If I am to whip this out and wave it in front of staff in a tremendous hurry, I need it to be scannable and easy to digest. Enter Web Writing 101 – good headlines, chunk content, use dot points to break down large sentences or concepts. Preferably kept to one page length.

The introduction: a disclaimer
I read the following introductory paragraph in a birth plan, and like it enough to want to adapt it for my own. It sets the context for the document, assures everyone that I’m not a control-freak (or try not to be), and that I understand things can get fluid.

Mine might go something like this:

We’re hoping for a natural childbirth without unnecessary intervention or the use of drugs, although we are open to changing our minds on pain relief medication down the track if needed. We appreciate your support with our birth preferences.

This plan represents our preferences. However, we recognise that in the event of unforeseen difficulties it may need to be re-negotiated. In this eventuality, please discuss all procedure options with us. When possible, we also kindly ask for some privacy to discuss our decision(s) between ourselves before agreeing to any new procedures.

Backgrounder: How did the last birth go?
Chances are, my midwife will be someone I’ve never met before. Which means she is going to assume that my body will labour at a similar pace to other women’s. Except I know what party tricks my body whipped out the last time, and that knowledge will ultimately benefit her judgement, too. Things like

  • the fact that Arddun’s birth was mostly drug-free (does paracetamol count?)
  • how Arddun’s birth was augmented and I was on syntocinon
  • how, after contracting every 1 to 2 minutes for about 2½ hours, I had dilated a mere 2cm
  • how, after being told I probably had another 12 hours to go, promptly dilated 7cm in 30 minutes so my obstetrician had to abandon his lunch and run back
  • how my total length of active birth was 4 hours
  • how I used vocalisation as my primary pain management tool, especially when hooked up to a cocktail of drugs and confined to the bed. Read: if you are going to constrict my movements, be prepared to hear me bellow for 4 hours like a dying animal. And oh, I have a pretty fit, choir-trained diaphragm. I can project.

What I’d like to try out
Because my last birth was an augmentation and I had a monstrosity of tubes and such sticking out my right arm, I ended up delivering Arddun while flat on my back. I’m not saying the same won’t happen, but if I could, I’d like help to move around the room more, get into easier birthing positions, and get into that bath so I can pummel warm water down my back for pain relief. Assuming, of course, that baby isn’t in distress and nothing crazy is about to happen.

What I’d like to avoid
I also want to stress my right to speedy pain relief if I decide that’s what I need. I think I’m going to try and do it without drugs again because part of me wonders if Arddun’s birth had been quick because of that. But if this birth turns out to be the opposite of Arddun’s (i.e.: slow, start-stop) and I feel that I need to conserve energy for the final push later, I just might opt for an epidural. I am older now. I am also less fit than how I was when I had Arddun, and I’m getting less quality sleep every night. I understand my limitations, but I want the assurance that others will trust my instincts, too.

Also, the idea of forceps and episiotomies scare the living crap out of me — even more than a C-section. I’ll brave them if I have to, but I’d really rather not.

 

I’m open to hearing other birth preference ideas, if you have any. Even if this turns out a purely academic exercise and I don’t actually whip out a plan on the day.

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First-time Mum Lessons I hope to learn

As we get ready for Boy Blob, I’m already noticing the differences between our first time and the second. I feel a lot less prepared, for one thing – an offshoot of being so much more tired this time ’round, but also because experience has taught me that babies can throw you lots of curve balls. And I’m more okay with being uncertain. I think I’m learning to roll with the punches.

Which makes me wonder what else I’ve learnt after almost 3½ years with Arddun. Here’s a tentative list.

1. Have SOME sort of a birth plan this time

I hear of some first-time mums who were so determined to have THE most natural (read: non-intervention) childbirth they could possibly get in a hospital, that they prescribed everything. And then promptly freaked out when they had to go for an emergency C-section — or worse, endangered the lives of their babies because they could not imagine another way.

Determined not to fall into that mental cage, I had swanned into the hospital the last time with no birth plan.

I wouldn’t say it was a huge mistake… but this time, I think we’ll be a lot more assertive about getting the medical attention when we need it, and also telling them when to back off. Without getting into a bunch of hairy details, I had ended up with an augmented birth with Arddun, due largely to delays by the hospital. This meant a zero-to-hero experience for contractions (“No pain… still no pain… nuh uh… OMIFREAKINGLORDOWOWOWOWOWOWOW!”), and semi bed-riddance, thanks to the cocktail of drugs they had to hook me up to. Some midwives can also be quietly militant about their brand of Best Childbearing Protocol and push you along a path you may no longer want to take. And that is why I’m interested in learning how to articulate a birth plan upfront for this round.

2. Recognising the Bigger Evil

Totally convinced about the joys and benefits of breastfeeding exclusively, and sufficiently scared into secretly abhorring the “easy way out” formula route, I had completely not banked on the following happening:

  • Having a baby come early, so her liver wasn’t quite ready yet
  • My milk supply not kicking in that quickly (apparently very common among Chinese women)
  • The lethal combination of post-partum hormone surges and broken, scant sleep.

Arddun lost weight and turned orange in her early days in hospital. And this was after I had spent hours and hours sitting up in that hospital room in the middle of the night, alternately stroking her tiny cheek to keep her awake to drink, and silently screaming from the sheer agony of breastfeeding. Sometimes, there were tears streaming down my face in the dead of night from confusion and frustration and embarrassment at “already failing”. And my child was overtired and still underfed.

When the gentle suggestion to supplement her feeds with formula was broached – by the very champion of Breast is Best, a midwife — I finally lost it. It was the report card I had feared the most in those early days. FAILURE TO FEED. Failure to sustain my child in her first days of life outside my body.

It was the best thing we could have done for both Arddun and I. And I wished I hadn’t been so stubborn, or so scared. Supplementing her breastfeeds with formula gave Arddun some rest because it was easier for her to drink out of a rubber teat than to work her darndest on a set of boobs that was still clueless about their new role as milk buds. It gave me much-needed sleep, which then helped to establish that supply. It quickly gave her the fluids to flush out the bilirubin, and helped her put on weight so she got strong enough to breastfeed efficiently.

I ended up breastfeeding for 22 months — well after many women I knew who had breastfed exclusively. That doesn’t make me a better mother, any more than giving Arddun some formula in those early months made me a lousier, lazier one. And if Boy Blob comes early and I have trouble establishing supply again, I’m going to seriously consider formula. Because tough choices. Because priorities. Because big picture.

3. Not Accepting Help

There’s something I’ve learnt about myself over the years: when it comes to problem-solving, I need to imagine the worst-case scenario. Once I think I have a handle on that, I’m fine.

I had approached new motherhood with Arddun like a problem to be solved. There was a fierce, visceral need to Manage Everything Ourselves, and as a result I think I had ended up shutting others out in the very early days — especially my mother. (Huge regrets on that score. Tonnes.)

I don’t know that it was pride at work, so much as the self-sustenance borne out of being by ourselves in Canberra for 7 years… and the realisation that everyone will go back to ‘normal’ eventually, and it’d be Just Me and The Baby. And I had needed the certainty within myself, that confidence, that I was going to be okay when that day came. That I could be an adequate, competent mother without the village.

That was the internal mental and emotional dialogue. Outside, I must have looked territorial, closed to instruction and advice, and rather selfish.

This time, I want to make a conscious effort to let others in. Because the village wants in. And having the courage to depend on a village is something I want to work on.

4. Save my money on those parenting books

What a waste of time and braincells those turned out to be. The best support and advice I got turned out to be from those in the trenches with me (thank you Mother’s Group!), from remembering lessons from my childhood, from chatting with family members, and from observing older families around me. The trouble with self-proclaimed parenting experts is that there isn’t a single right way to parent. Ever. The more valuable exercise was growing my own intuition and confidence through prayer and practice. And mistakes. And forgiveness. And rinse and repeat.

5. Take care of myself

I was the first-time mum who spent every ounce of energy on Arddun. And I stopped wearing make up (or taking care of my skin), and I stopped wearing pretty shoes, and I didn’t take time out to do my nails, or cut my hair, or doll up for special occasions because we didn’t date anymore. I didn’t exercise much. I wore ill-fitting clothes.

I wasn’t a fat slob, and I was still clean and hygienic. But I wasn’t a lady. I was only, exclusively, a mother.

I don’t know that I will be any better this time around, and I can’t imagine being one of those mums that manages to clown-cake on make up before going anywhere… but some effort would be nice.

6. Take care of each other

Date nights. A lot more of them. Just Tony and I. Not vegging in front of the couch, but actually making an effort to go some place and remember what it was like to focus on each other exclusively. It’s only going to get harder to do with TWO little ones and still no family around us within quick babysitting distance, but I suspect a large part of our current reticence is because we’re quite attached to our routine.

7. Trust their ability to adapt

One of the things that has been unconsciously drilled into both Tony and I is how young children need their routine, and how they are creatures of habit. And that is largely true: routine is what enables Arddun to get enough sleep. It affects her ability to learn and eat, and therefore have the capacity and readiness to develop mentally, physically and emotionally. Routine is part of the framework that enables her to be a happy child.

But I also think we’ve been too afraid sometimes to mix things up a little. We have, perhaps, missed opportunities to build good memories because we’ve held the bedtime routine as sacrosanct. I’m also wondering if part of our motivation hasn’t stemmed from a form of laziness. Of avoiding the hassle of the next 36 hours that might be affected by one unorthodox evening.

And yet, what have Arddun’s early years taught me? We have travelled back and forth to Singapore many times with her, battled with jet lag, adapted to different social expectations (they tend to hoist their babies around till late in those parts), worked through different sleeping arrangements (she co-slept for the first time), and she had more than survived there – she had enjoyed herself. And despite months away, she still managed to adapt back to Canberra life when we returned. It was a process, but it got done.

So why are we so conservative when we are home? It’s something we keep slipping into, but I’d like to get more adventurous as we expand our family. It will take effort and planning, but magic only stays with children for such a sliver of time. It’s worth making Wonderful for.

Honey soy chicken with garlic butter pasta

It can be hard to motivate a toddler to eat dinner some nights, so here’s something I tried recently.

Honey soy chicken collage
Home-marinated grilled honey soy chicken, served on a bed of mini fusilli tossed with garlic butter and baby spinach leaves.

Ingredients

Marinade

  • 200g chicken breast
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • ½ tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • ½ tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp minced garlic

Cooking

  • knob of butter
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • mini fusilli (small spiral) pasta (I used half cup)
  • baby spinach leaves (half handful)
  • black pepper for seasoning
  • 1 tbsp honey for glazing

Instructions

  • First, you need to marinate the chicken. Overnight marination is great but for the example above, I’d marinated the chicken in the morning at 10am and was grilling the chicken at 6pm.
    • For more even cooking later on, use the flat part of your meat tenderiser to pound your chicken for a more even thickness throughout.
    • Mix all the marinade ingredients together and coat the chicken. Leave the marinade and the chicken in a small bowl with a lid on and refrigerate until ready to cook.
  • When ready to start cooking, get small saucepan of hot water going on stove. Cook mini fusilli.
  • While fusilli is cooking, heat grill pan on high. If your grill pan is not non-stick, lightly spray the pan with cooking oil.
  • When pan is ready, lay the chicken piece flat and cook on each side for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on thickness of meat. Glaze with honey as you go.
  • When chicken has got 2 minutes to go, drain fusilli.
  • Take out a small fry pan, melt butter with garlic
  • Pan fry drained fusilli with black pepper and spinach leaves.
  • When chicken is ready, remove from fire and slice into finger-length pieces
  • Arrange chicken on the bed of pan-fried fusilli and serve. Bon appetit!

Addressing my consumerism with distracting fun

I’ve spent way more than I meant to this month.

A couple of reasons…

  • I’ve discovered what glorious fun it is to find great online retail prices, and then slink into brick-and-mortar shops to coyly ask if they’d price-match my finds. (And they all did. All four retailers.)
  • This modern version of bargaining with shopkeepers coincided very neatly with the recent purchase of my DSLR camera, and with it all the accessories. New lens! Camera bag! Nappy Bag to fit New Camera Bag!
  • In a very inspired week, I went about decluttering my personal and business emails and ended up stumbling upon all the Pumpkin Patch sales I had previously assiduously avoided in the Promotions tab. Catastrophe, but the Boy Blob can now consider modeling as a career next Winter.
  • Andrea and Ben came for a week and when three Singaporeans are gathered, there will be good food if not shopping.

I’ve been trying to get back into the habit of tracking my superfluous spending through Toshl – so anything outside bills and groceries qualify. My coffee and babycinnos with Arddun, for instance. Entrance fees for indoor playgrounds, lunch out, takeaway dinner when I’m on my way to a Tupperware sales meeting, clothes and homeware shopping, that sort of thing. It started out as a way to track where the money primarily goes, but along the way I’ve tried to give myself a limited budget per month so I’d be pushed to weigh up my options more deliberately.

And then I came across an article on The Buy Nothing Year.

Okay – I am privately not a fan of the hippie lifestyle. I’ve seen and smelled human beings who have used homemade soaps and shampoos, and have decided I wouldn’t like a bar of it. (Geddit? Bar? Of soap? Boom boom.) I also kill plants remarkably well, so starting my own self-sufficient veggie garden is not going to sail. And I’m not going to walk or bus everywhere. Not with a toddler and a nappy bag and an already achy pregnant body. My time is already precious.

Also, I’m not altogether comfortable about stingeing on others. I get that splurging on myself is indulgent, but generosity and hospitality are values I esteem quite highly too.

Still, there is something to be said about how much those roommates saved, and the behavioural changes that came about from that project. Consumerism is, unfortunately, a large part of city living and I am a city girl at heart. (Actually, consumerism is a large part of First Worlds, period.) This past week, I feel like I’ve been reacquainted with that original spirit which inspired me to start using Toshl way back when.

And so, to add to the tracking of my daily spend, and the monthly budget I’ve set for myself, I’d like to start setting goals for what NOT to spend on.

Which means running out and downloading a bunch of free apps to try! Wheeee!

I’ve looked at habit tracking apps before, but this time I was looking for apps that had to do with goal setting and getting inspired by others. It also had to look heaps pretty but cost me nothing. And so after hunting around, I’ve come up with my shortlist.

New free apps I’ll be experimenting with these next few months

Some budgeting goals I’m refining at the moment

  • Limiting the number of indoor playground visits as the weather gets warmer for Arddun
  • No clothes, bags, cosmetics, bling, shoe-shopping for a month (this includes buying for Arddun as well, which is even harder to curb)
  • Limiting the number of café outings with Arddun (will make exception when we are with friends)

More about The Buy Nothing Project

The Middle

I have two posts jostling to be written today. One is supposed to be a snapshot of Arddun, aged 3 years and xx days. It’s a burst of adoration, a love letter, a scrapbook of scrappy descriptions that can only hope to sketch the lovely creature she was and is and is becoming.

The other is this post. It’s all about the distractions, and the art of decluttering the mind and heart to prepare for goodlier things.

I haven’t been very organised.

Part of it started from the sheer exhaustion one feels in the first trimester of baby-growing, when all you want to do at day’s end is crawl under the doona and fall into a deep sleep. Except I couldn’t bear to indulge myself this way, because I needed to do lots of other things. So we started packing and sorting for the eventual, inevitable house sale. Even before the papers (the stacks of papers!) got signed, Tony and I went and rented ourselves some storage space, and put away about 20-odd boxes before the bitter winter chills set in.

And then it felt too much like I hadn’t had enough Me time, so I started watching The Good Wife from the pilot. And because no one I know in Canberra watches TGW religiously, I wasn’t prepared for how utterly well-written and addictive the series is. Oh my word, it’s addictive.

I’ve finally caught up with the series, so now that there’s nothing left to fill my very late nights, I’ve turned back to decluttering my life. Also, I’ve stumbled upon The Fabulous – a rather pretty Android app that can be summarised as a Life Coach wearing lace. Or something.

I’m realising that my life pendulums from 20,000 boxes of discrete tasks that reek of chlorinated discipline, to wild, unstructured periods of floating and exploring and meh. Except ironically, my unstructured walks in la la land seldom provide inspiration to write or read. There is a mid point, before either extremes take over, where I feel free and disciplined enough to blog regularly.

Welcome once more to my middle.

Now that my energy levels are back to normal, I’ve awakened to a few new truths.

  1. My time with Just Arddun now has a rough end point.
  2. I need to work out a new weekly routine that involves fewer errands and that maximises whatever little free time I’m going to have with a new bub.
  3. I’ve been mentally run down, which usually results in some form of disengagement from social things – bad juju for extroverts like me. I need to lock in time to recharge batteries, find the discipline to follow through, and keep irrational guilt at bay. This includes sleeping before midnight, for a change.

So with that, I bid you a good evening. Sorry this is such a boring post for you, but writing literally helps me think better. Also, I haven’t blogged in ages – so I’m out of practice. So thanks for listening.

Quick hello

Just to let you know that

  • I’m still here
  • We’re down with a myriad of viral something-or-others because childcare is a cesspit of immunity-boosting germs, and toddlers who cough it in each others’ faces
  • I’ll blog as soon as I get enough energy between humouring a teething and sick 20-month-old while coughing up my own lung, and struggling through a deadline.

xx

Velle

12 Christmas traditions to try out

I’d spoken before about how having a child has totally changed how I see tradition. Suddenly, I want lots. Where there was just me and Tony previously and we were happy to play it by ear for each major holiday, I’ve now gone all “Let Fairy Lights Drip from our Rooftop!!!” when it comes to Christmas and Chinese New Year.

Well, 2 Christmases ago I tried to put together a gingerbread Tardis for Tony – and failed. It seemed a great idea at the time – you know, I get the practice now, I get better over the years and when Arddun is finally old enough to help out, we can Do It Together for Daddy. Gingerbread Tardis – it’d be our thang. Traditional, yet geeky. Perfect.

Completely overlooked the fact that I’ve never baked gingerbread ANYTHING before.

Bought lights for the tree in 2011. They overheated and popped. No lights last year.

Forgot to buy stocking fillers for anyone.

I am still unthwarted. Along with New Year Resolutions, I’m guessing that new Christmas and CNY traditions are also going to be my thing. Inventing them, carrying them out, refining them along the years. Throwing out the ones that make Tony sigh with resignation and long-suffering, keeping the ones that bring genuine joy and require very little cleaning up after.

We went to Melbourne after Christmas last year, which was the centrepiece of our Christmas-New Year holiday. But we also had a combined Christmas lunch with another family which was something we really enjoyed. This year, as Arddun starts to understand even more about the world she’s a part of, I’m compiling a list of traditions that we may or may not try out.

Googled and found the following great suggestions

  1. New pajamas on Christmas Eve
    It’s summer for us during Christmas time, so I’m not sure how this might pan out. Will probably NOT get flannel PJs, but maybe something cool and cotton might work.
  2. Christmas Lights drive by in pajamas. Ice chocolate after
    I have a thing about children (and adults) wearing their home clothes or their sleep clothes out of the house. Never liked it, absolutely will forbid Arddun from doing it, think it’s slightly indecent somehow. BUT along with the new jammies perhaps, we might enjoy a collectively silly session on Christmas Eve of trawling the neighbourhood Christmas lights displays while wearing spanking-new rubber ducky pajama pants. And Monty Python Killer Rabbit Slippers. Of which we already own TWO pairs.
  3. Nativity scene
    I used to be quite weirded out about celebrating Christmas as Jesus’s birthday, because I’ve always been conscious about how Christmas – as we know it – was basically a pagan holiday rebranded around the 4th century. That said, in the spirit of building our own family traditions, I think we can make Christmas anything we want it to be. And if that includes thanking God for sending his Son to us and celebrating such humble yet powerful beginnings, then why not. Some parents buy a nativity set and have their young children reenact the historical event. Others place the nativity scene under the Christmas tree and have the baby Jesus figurine come just a little closer to the manger every day. We haven’t decided what we’d do for Arddun yet, but teaching her about the birth of Christ (and that He wasn’t Anglo-Saxon, contrary to all the nativity scenes in shopping malls!) could be a part of what we do. All the hoopla about it not being the actual date that Jesus was born can come much later.
  4. Christmas tree up on 1 December
    Yeah, that one bombed last year. Better luck this year.
  5. Gingerbread house baking together
    See above regarding Tardis. Down, but perhaps not out yet.
  6. A Christmas Book a night for advent
    I like this one, as it turns a regular part of Arddun’s bedtime routine into something a little more special. I can’t remember where I first saw this suggestion, but Kate did one better and individually wrapped her 12 Christmas books so her children could enjoy the simple pleasure of ripping into a mini-gift each night before Christmas. Will be doing this one with Arddun when she gets older, methinks.
  7. Loose change for charity at the end of the year
    There are a few ideas buzzing around my head regarding our little family and the charities we support. One idea I’ve read recently was to keep a large jar somewhere central in the house where family members could empty loose change over the course of the year, and then have a family conference at the end to use the loose change to support a charity or an individual we know in need.
  8. Christmas Eve board games
    I looooove board games. I hope Arddun does too. Better yet, if we can have another child, then we’ll finally have the numbers for Mahjong. I’m just thinking aloud here.
  9. Christmas Eve movie
    Someone window-shopping at JB Hifi recently asked me if I could recommend a good Christmas movie. Apparently, it was tradition in her family to pick out a movie about Christmas and watch it on Christmas Eve. I suggested Joyeux Noel but they had already done that one.
  10. Christmas family photo
    Cheesy. But necessary. Especially if you’re going to dress up the kid.
  11. Service
    I’d like service for another to become an important part of our Christmas holidays, so apart from flinging money in the general direction of the needy (see No.7 above), I like the idea of bestowing the gift of time. Perhaps something like volunteering our skills to wrap Christmas presents at a shopping mall where proceeds go to a charity. (Because soup kitchens, as we found out, are actually getting difficult to volunteer for.) Still refining this one, but the basic idea is that Christmas should always be about giving, and it’s something we want to teach Arddun through practice.
  12. Scavenger Hunt
    I used to create GREAT scavenger hunts when I was in my teens and had waaay more energy to think up abstract clues in rhyme. Time to dust out this life skill in a few years’ time and get the scavenger hunt going on Christmas Day! This will, of course, involve quite a bit of plotting beforehand, and on-the-spot guidance on the day.

What Christmas traditions do you have? What did you do last year? Can I steal some more ideas?

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