24 July 2013

Review: HypnoBirthing by Marie Mongan

I'm at an age where everyone I know seems to be having babies, so when we finally got pregnant there were plenty of people ready to offer advice. One thing that came up repeatedly was HypnoBirthing - my cousin and a friend both found it extremely helpful before their births. So when Souvenir Press Ltd offered to send me a copy of Marie Mongan's HypnoBirthing book for review, it seemed an obvious choice.
Marie Mongan is one of the leading voices in the HypnoBirthing movement. She has used her experience as a hypnotherapist to build on the Dick-Read birthing method to form her own HypnoBirthing philosophy. The general premise seems to be that by using self-hypnosis techniques you can remain calm and relaxed, easing your labour and distancing yourself from the pain.

I have to admit I was a bit dubious. To get the full benefits of HypnoBirthing you really need to take classes alongside the book and you need time to practice the recommended skills. With just six weeks to go, I doubted I could really put HypnoBirthing into practice.

I was also a bit worried that HypnoBirthing might be quite heavy reading, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it light and accessible. I really enjoyed the first 50 pages which covered the history of child birth and how our perceptions have been influenced. Mongan suggests that birth doesn't have to be the terribly painful experience we often see on film - instead with practice birth can be embraced as a positive empowering experience.
While I may not be able to use the HypnoBirthing skills described in the book, I still found sections useful. We've also been attending the hospital antenatal classes, and I've found Mongan's descriptions of labour much more helpful. Rather than focusing on cervix texture and centimetres of dilation, there are explanations of how the muscles are working together to open the cervix and how you can help them work efficiently to progress your labour.

HypnoBirthing has also made me consider the skills I already have. Many of the breathing and meditation techniques Mongan recommends help you to stay calm and relaxed, which in theory reduces the pain you feel. I noticed there were similarities between the HypnoBirthing techniques and my experiences in Quaker worship. Though not immediately obvious, I discovered skills I hope may give me more control over my birth experience.

I think that's one of the books strongest aspects - it suggests that we can take active control of our child's birth. It also places a lot of importance on the support of a birthing partner, which can help engage husbands and partners - making them an integral part of the birth process.

Definitely an interesting book, HypnoBirthing offers an alternate perspective that may encourage you to look at childbirth with new eyes - though we'll have to wait a few more weeks to see if it's helped me. I'd probably recommend reading HypnoBirthing early on in your pregnancy, so you have time to find a class if you decide if it's something you'd like to explore further.

Has anyone else given HypnoBirthing a try?

14 July 2013

I'm Kate, and I'm going to Blog On 2013!

Blogs Up North Blog On 2013
I spend an awful lot of time at home on my own, so when an opportunity come up to get out and meet people I'll jump at the chance. It's even better if I don't have to explain why I publish the personal details and minutia of my life on the internet. I was thrilled when I heard about Blogs Up North, here was an opportunity to meet loads of people with the same strange hobby.

Next weekend 70 northern bloggers are meeting to trade ideas, tips and laughs at Blog On 2013. Of course the challenge at these events is working out who everyone is, so we're having a bit of a who's who linky where everyone introduces themselves - I hate doing these things, but here goes.

I'm Kate, and I should be fairly easy to spot as I think there are only a handful of ladies with bumps attending. You'll probably find me crashed out in the nearest chair, but I promise I'm friendly and always happy to chat!

I'm in the middle of decorating our nursery, so if your interested in refurbishing furniture, Ikea hacks, crafting, real nappies or bargain shopping I'm sure we'll find plenty to talk about!

I can't wait to meet everyone on the day, but if you want to chat before hand you can also find me on:

8 July 2013

32 Weeks - Parenting Classes

Last week we started the hospital parenting classes. I'm not sure we really learned anything new at the first class, but it did offer a revelation.

The midwife has us go around the room and say what our biggest worries were. Most of the women were wary of the unknown and worried about the pain. The midwife said "Of course most women have only experienced tooth ache or menstrual cramps." The voice in my head just went "Really??"

I know I've been unlucky when it comes to health issues - just in the last two years I've had thyroid problems, the ectopic pregnancy rupture, a cancer scare, two cycles of IVF and the ever present Fibromyalgia -  but I don't think I'd realised that most people have had none of those experiences. I'd been unlucky, but I assumed most people would have faced their own problem. It suddenly put the anxiety I'd been feeling in a bit more perspective.

To be honest I'm not that worried about the pain. I'm not suggesting labour will be easy, but it's something you get through. I'm mostly worried about the doctors, midwives and nurses. I've spent a good portion of my time in hospitals, and I know that the difference between a good experience and a bad one is all down to who you see.

In virtually everything I've read people have been so worried about the pain, that I was starting to think I was missing something - but with this revelation, I suspect it's just that I have a different perspective.

Otherwise, my pregnancy is going surprisingly well. I've been a bit fatigued, which has made sitting at the sewing machine difficult, but it's not been too bad. I've also had some back pain, but I think that's just the kidney stones acting up again. It caused a bit of a blip on one of the midwife's tests, but apparently everything's fine.

As for Twitch, just after my last post he seemed to be feeling a bit cramped. His new trick was to stretch and push at both sides at once. At one point we could feel a small hard bump that was a tiny little foot pushing out. Since then he's turned and the kicks have reduced, but he either has daily hiccups or he's taken up drumming as a hobby!

Just 8 weeks to go!

30 June 2013

Warrington Foodbank

I've recently started volunteering at our local foodbank. Foodbanks have been opening up across the country to help bridge the gaps, supporting people in crisis situations. The Warrington Foodbank opened it's doors in December, and helped over 700 people in the just the first couple of months - and the demand is increasing.

The Warrington foodbank is part of the Trussell Trust, which offers support and guidance for groups looking to start their own foodbanks. Technically it is a Christian organisation, but that's not a requirement for volunteers or recipients. I'm very uncomfortable with charity that is offered with conditions, whether that be in the form of religious lectures or required beliefs - I can happily say that I've never seen anything to concern me at the Foodbank. The volunteers I've met simply try to offer help and kindness without judgement.
I've been volunteering at the Foodbank distribution centre, which is held at Friars Green Church. The Foodbank holds two hour sessions five days a week where people can come and collect their food parcels.

There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about how the Foodbank works. People can't just walk in off the street for a food parcel. Instead red vouchers are given out by places like Job Centres, Sure Start and CAB, to people they know to be in a crisis situation. These vouchers are intended to be a stop gap for people trapped in limbo while waiting for long term help. Though I obviously can't give you any specific examples, many people have been effected by the government abolishing crisis loans, the new benefit sanctions and the recent benefit changes.

When people arrive at the Foodbank they hand over their red voucher card to one of the volunteers and are invited to sit down at one of the tables. We offer them a drink and some biscuits and someone sits down to chat with them, while other volunteers assemble their food parcel.
Below is the room where volunteers pick the items for each food parcel. The red vouchers tell us how many people are in the family, which helps us select the right picking slip. Each parcel should provide three days of nutritionally balanced food for each person. Most of the food is donated by the public, which can make it a bit of a challenge.  We had a jar of Christmas mince pie filling hanging around for months before we found someone who could use it!
There's often two or three volunteers picking tickets at the same time, which makes this room a bit of a squeeze. The shelves are organised by type and follow the order of the picking ticket. We start behind the glass door and then work our way around the room.

Off the top of my head, a single person may get:
  • A small box of cereal
  • 2 cans soup
  • 2 cans baked beans
  • 2 cans of tomatoes or pasta sauce
  • 2 cans of meat (including things like cans of curry)
  • 1 can of fish
  • 2 small cans of vegetables
  • 2 small cans of fruit
  • 1 package of Jelly or Angel Delight
  • 1 pack of rice or pasta
  • 500g of Sugar
  • Tea or Coffee
  • 1 small pack of biscuits
  • 1 ltr milk
  • 1 ltr of juice
If we have some available, we may add instant cup-of-soups, extra baked beans, toiletries if needed and loo roll.
We aren't allowed to give out expired or damaged foods in the parcels, so items that expire before we can distribute them are placed on a table where the recipients are welcome to take them if they wish.
Personally I'm very angry that foodbanks are necessary in modern Britain - I'm even angrier that David Cameron will consider the foodbank an example of his "Big Society"! It's frustrating that the Tories will use the foodbanks as a reason to ignore the problems they are creating, hoping that they will simply disappear.

But I try to take comfort in that we ourselves and the Trussel Trust are acting as witnesses to these hardships. We hear people's stories and the Trussel Trust publishes statistics that will hopefully hold the government to account in the future.

24 June 2013

Step Down Nursery - Ebay

Step Down SundayI've found a new obsession - I've become a bit of an ebay fiend.

As part of our Step Down Nursery I've been trying to buy as many second hand items as I can. There is a theory that says that any second-hand items you buy have a carbon-free footprint, as the original owner was responsible for the items carbon costs.

Compared to charity shops, ebay offers a huge range of products and there's always the chance you'll snap up a bargain!
So far I've managed to pick up an over-the-bath Mothercare Supabath for £5
and a Fisher-Price Woodsy Friends Bouncer for £13.01
Unfortunately ebay's not without it's surprises. I managed to pick up a Stokke Tripp Trapp with the baby set and cushions for £36, but we were disappointed to find that there was a large crack in one of the legs. I don't think it's a structural problem, but it's still a concern, especially when using the baby bar.

In the end Mr Goldfish decided that we'd buy a second Tripp Trapp on ebay, and repair the first one to use as a spare for guests. We can use the baby bar and cushions from the first chair with our new one and I suspect that once our little one has out grown the baby set, I'll be able to sell that and the cushions for at least £36 - so it will all work out in the end.
We also managed to buy an Uppababy Vista for just £205! It came with a PiggyBack board for older children, a car seat and a couple of cup holders. What we weren't told was that it was a 2008 American import, which made it an older model than the description suggested. This has made it difficult to find the bassinet safety recommendations for sleeping.
We know that second-hand car seats aren't recommended, but it turns out that it wasn't even a possibility. Because the car seat we were sold was an American import, it is illegal to use in the EU. It also had been part of a recall at one point and had a sticker stating is shouldn't be used after five years! While it wasn't a key reason why we purchased the push chair, it was frustrating to be given something that had to go straight to the tip.
I have to admit that ebay doesn't always make sense. I was looking for some baskets for the Cosatto Hogarth changing table we got free on Preloved. The best baskets I could find were £25 from Babies-R-Us, which seemed awfully expensive.
I happened to spot similar baskets being sold locally on ebay with a changing table. In the end I managed to buy both the baskets & the changing table for £11.50 - cheaper than it was to buy the baskets new. I didn't really need another changing table, so I listed it on ebay again. Imagine my surprise when it sold for £16, so after the ebay fees I was £3 in profit!
I also managed to sell the vintage handles we had left over after refurbishing the nursery dresser. Only for £4.67 mind, but I was pleased to see them head off to a new home rather than dumped in a drawer or sent to the tip.
Ebay can be a bit hit and miss, but if you do your research you can find yourself a bargain - and of course you can always sell things on again when you're done with them!

19 June 2013

Shiny Somethings - June

For the last four months, thought of babies and nurseries have circled round my head, leaving little room for anything else. However a I've found a few Shiny Somethings along the way.

1.   Daisy Star Earrings

Last week I had to face the stress and indignity of an ATOS medical assessment as they are moving me from incapacity benefit to ESA. We have a good idea how the assessment will go - and it isn't good - so it was really just a hoop to jump through. Mr Goldfish was a bit concerned that the extra stress and anxiety weren't good for me or the baby, though there wasn't much we could do to avoid it. Afterwards he treated me to these pretty star earrings by Daisy. He figured my normal hoop earrings might be too easy for little fingers to grab.  It certainly brought a smile to an otherwise miserable day.

2.   Cath Kidston Strawberry Suitcase

One thing I am worried about with our nursery is not having enough storage space. So now that we've finished the dresser, I wanted to make use of the space beneath it. I spotted this Cath Kidston Child's Suitcase in the sales. It's a bit expensive for what it is, but I've struggled to find suitable baskets or boxes any cheaper - and I'd really like to add a splash of colour to the room.
I can't believe they are suggesting it's good for children though, as the body is just made from a type of cardboard. I can't imagine it would last long in little hands!

3.   Everything Has Changed - Taylor Swift & Ed Sheeran

This week I've also been quite taken by this music video for Everything Has Changed. I quite like how personal details like Taylor Swift's love of baking and Ed Sheeran's passion for tattoos are incorporated. Very cute!

4.  Mikki Matt Breaker

We have two cats. Mac the geriatric one who's been struggling since his stroke 18 months ago and Phouka (poo-ka) who's a few years younger. While it's no surprise that Mac isn't very good at grooming himself any more, it seems like Phouka has given up as well. Unfortunately Phouka isn't especially friendly, so we've really struggled to keep her matts under control. We have a Furminator and slicker brushes, but they weren't enough to tackle the problem. We spotted the Mikki Matt Breaker in Pets at Home and the £16.99 price tag nearly put us off - but it's fantastic! The tree like teeth are quite good at grabbing the loose hair and pulling it out before it matts and you can slowly tease at the edges of existing matts. We're nowhere close to getting all her matts out, but at least we're now making progress without upsetting her too much.

If you'd like to share your own Shiny Somethings, feel free to leave a link in the comments below!

17 June 2013

Step Down Nursery - Refurbished Dresser

Step Down Sunday Obviously the arrival of a new baby requires a lot of new purchases, but I wanted to use our low-carbon commitment to create a new challenge - a Step Down Nursery. So I'm trying to buy second-hand and make things myself when I can.

You may remember we bought this 1940s dresser for the nursery a few months ago. The cold spring meant we were slow to start, but in the end the early bank holiday in May was the first opportunity where we had warm weather and spare time.
The dresser is mostly solid wood, but the top and sides are made from a type of plywood. The first problem we noticed was that the top of the dresser wasn't well supported in the middle, turning it into a drum. Luckily this was easily solved by adding a wooden support across the middle.

We wanted to keep some of the dresser's natural wood finish, but the varnish showed signs of water damage at the bottom of each side. We eventually decided to go with a combination of paint and varnish for our project. First Mr Goldfish used varnish remover to strip down the surface.
We're lucky that our house has an odd conservatory added to the side. It's a bit of an awkward shape, so it's mostly used for storage, but it's perfect for refurbishing projects like this.

We decided to paint the dresser frame white and re-varnish the top and drawer fronts. As the other item in our nursery are a lighter wood, Mr Goldfish decided to try a beech varnish. Then we replaced the original handles with some white ceramic knobs. The fluted knobs add a lovely contrast to the straight lines of the dresser. So six weeks later our dresser looks like this!
The final touch was the drawer interiors. Unfortunately the bottom drawer had some black stains which didn't sand out easily, so we decided to paint the insides. Generally it's not recommended, as you can get a build up of paint fumes inside the dresser - so we made sure to choose a low-voc paint. We opted for a nice brown that matches the new fabric for our glider chair.
And check out the carpet! I couldn't bare to keep the horrible granny carpet that had been in the room, so we found a nice beige off-cut to replace it. Artex free and with a sensible carpet, this is now my favourite room in the house!

One project down - several yet to go!

12 June 2013

Groovebulb Upcycle Challenge

I have a huge weakness for cool packaging. My house is full of pretty boxes I'm convinced will be useful one day. I even studied design at university because I wanted to be a packaging designer. So when Groovebulb asked if I wanted to combine my love of packaging, crafting skills and our eco-friendly pledge in an upcycling project, how could I refuse?
Groovebulbs are a relatively new form of eco-friendly light-bulb. Unlike compact fluorescent light bulb which contain mercury, Groovebulbs use LED technology - which also makes them safer to dispose of. And compared to a traditional 40 watt incandescent bulb, the LED Groovebulb runs on just 6 watts and lasts an impressive 25 years!

I'll admit we tend to be quite picky about our light-bulbs. Years ago when we switched to low-energy light-bulbs, we found we had to use 100 watt equivalents to get a similar light to the traditional 60 watt bulbs. So when Groovebulb asked if we wanted a warm or a bright bulb, we opted for the bright just to be safe.

When it arrived we were really impressed with the quality of the light. The bulb really brightened the room, though as expected the light is quite cool. Plus there was no need to wait while the bulb warmed up! I think if we decide to buy more, we'd be quite happy with the warm Groovebulbs in most rooms.

As a bit of an eco-challenge, Groovebulb asked if I could come up with an upcycling project that used the nice, sturdy cardboard tube their bulbs come in.

Pretty Groovebulb Storage Pots

Upcycle Instructions

Supplies Used:

Clear parcel tape
15cm square piece of fabric
polyester fibre-fill
bit of ribbon
hot glue gun
spray glue
piece of spare cardboard
eco-friendly felt
embroidery floss

The first thing I wanted to do was protect the raw edge of the tube, so the edges wouldn't catch and tear. I ran a layer of clear parcel tape around the top top of the tube, so half of it hung over the edge. I then made cuts in the tape about every 3mm. I then folded each strip over the edge and stuck it to the inside.
Once I finished wrapping the tube, I then repeated the process on the lid. Wrapping both edges with tape also has the added advantage of making the lid slide on smoothly too.

Next to make the pin cushion top, I carefully pushed the cardboard centre out of the lid. I'm afraid the next step doesn't have photos as it's a bit all thumbs. I used a piece of fabric about 15cm square and pushed that through the lid from the inside. I then placed a small wad of polyester filling on top of the fabric and pushed the cardboard circle in to hold everything in place.
I then teased and twisted the fabric around the edges till the pin cushion top was smooth and even. Then I trimmed the fabric inside along the edge of the cardboard tube and glued the loose fabric down to the cardboard circle with a hot glue gun.
Then a cut another circle out of an old cardboard box and used the hot glue gun to stick it and neatly conceal the fabric. I also used the hot glue to add a bit of pretty ribbon around the edge to hide the text and Groovebulb logo.
When finished the cap should look something like this:
For the main body, I wanted to add a bit of decoration and some embroidery. So first I sketched a pattern out on paper. Then I traced the pattern onto come eco-fi felt (made from recycled plastic bottles) and cut it out.
I happen to have spray glue leftover from my last project, so I used that to stick the layers of felt together.
I decided to use bright yellow embroidery floss to add a bit of decorative detail. You may want to be careful with your stitches, I didn't tie any knots in my thread so you wouldn't feel any lumps beneath the felt.
Once I finished the decoration, I then used the spray glue to wrap the felt around the bottom of cardboard tube, leaving the section under the cap bare.
To get the strongest bond they suggest that you spray both the fabric and the surface you are sticking it to. I used a bit of masking tape to protect the top of the tube from the glue. And when it's all finished it looks like this.
And there you go! If I was to do it again I think I might cut the tube down so it was a bit shorter. You could create a whole range of little containers perfect for buttons, pins and other tidbits.
If you'd like to see the other projects in the Groovebulb Upcycle Challenge visit the Groovebulb Pinterest page or follow the Groovebulb Facebook page.

30 May 2013

27 Weeks

The last few weeks have flown by. I'm now 27 weeks pregnant, and the idea that I'm now entering the third trimester has come as a bit of a shock!

The second trimester passed pretty easily with only a few one off niggles, but the last week I've had some awful leg cramps. It's like I've been wearing high heels for a couple of days and I've suddenly switched back to flats. If I remember to do daily stretches on the steps it's not too bad, but I often forget - until my leg cramps again in the middle of the night!

My bump still isn't that noticeable, though it does depend how the baby's laying. Just before taking the photo the wriggly thing seemed to be trying to push it's way out my tummy adding a fair few inches to my waistline.

We've also been excited to welcome three new baby boys into the family. Our nephew was the first to arrive on the 15th of May, Mr Goldfish's cousin delivered a few days later, and my cousin's little boy arrived on the 26th!

We also have an exciting bit of news to share:

29 May 2013

Manchester Sea Life Centre & HomeSense

After being cooped up in the house the last few weeks, I was thrilled to be invited on a fab day out with Blogs Up North. After successfully navigating a train and a bus (and indulging in a plate of Starbucks luxury fruit bread) I joined Sim, Lisa, Pippa & Laura at HomeSense. 
Tomorrow they are opening a brand new store in the Manchester Arndale Centre, so they invited us along to  check it out. Do you ever watch those home renovation programs and wonder where they find their unusual statement pieces? HomeSense is full of unique decorative items that will add a personal touch to any room.
Aaron from HomeSense kindly gave us a £20 voucher and set us loose in the shop! As usual I couldn't help but be drawn to the kitchenware department.
I was tempted by a couple of Emma Bridgewater mugs I spotted, but in the end I decided to pick up a Kuhn Rikon Colori knife and a bamboo chopping board. Kuhn Rikon knives are brilliant for self-catered holidays - as  it never fails, where ever we go the knives are always blunt. But Kuhn Rikon Colori knives come with thier own protective sheath, so you can safely pack it in your luggage.
If you'd like to try it yourself, HomeSense is offering a free £10 gift voucher to the first 200 visitors at their Manchester Arndale grand-opening  tomorrow! (30th May, 2013) I hear even Antony Cotton from Coronation Street will be in attendance.

After being treated to lunch at Gourmet Burger Kitchen (courtesy of HomeSense - Thank-you!) We returned to Barton Square to explore the new Manchester Sea Life Centre. Opening on the 6th of June, the Sea Life Centre is a great day out for little ones.
There's plenty to see, but it's still a short enough tour for little legs and short attention spans.
The experience starts with a short educational show at 'Turtle Beach'. Through clever lighting and video they tell the story of the sea turtles as they lay their eggs, hatch and dash to the sea.
Most of the Aquarium was too dark for proper photos, but that means you get a brilliant view of the fish.
After speaking to some of the staff, it seems the Manchester Sea Life Centre specialises in the smaller and brighter exotic fish - rather than the big sharks and fish. We spotted clown fish, puffer fish, sting rays & sea horses, just to name a few.
One of my favourite tanks is pictured below. It's a lovely big window where you can watch the sharks, turtles and brightly coloured fish swimming past the dramatic scenery.
Perfect for little kids, there are plenty of hidey holes, tiny tunnels and low level viewing portals. I only wish my baby belly would have let me down far enough for a good look at the sea horses!
So if you fancy meeting critters like this fellow up close, pop over to the Manchester Sea Life Centre at Barton Square, Trafford Centre.