This year, for the first time, I’ve been invited to a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner at my friend Audrey’s house. She and her husband are spending their first holiday season in Norway, and wanted to share a little piece of their home traditions with us, and we are really looking forward to it.
But it got me thinking generally about how much I have to be grateful for this year, perhaps more than ever before in my life. It’s easy to get caught feeling blue as the days get ever shorter and darker, with sunrise after nine a.m. and the daylight only lasting until a little after three in the afternoon. The first thing I think of when I see the last shreds of half-light disappear a couple of hours after lunch time: this year I am lucky enough to be escaping the dark. This year I’m spending my first Christmas at home with my family in seven years. Seven cold, dark Christmases in a row, and now I get to take my little girl home for a hot, sunny Christmas just like the ones I used to know… ♪ ♫ ♬
Which brings me to my daughter. How could I not be grateful for her? All parents are grateful for their children. But I feel she deserves special thanks for being almost freakishly well-behaved and easy-going. Who else has a two-year-old who asks if she can open a drawer to get a toy out, and then puts it back when she’s done playing with it? Who else has a two-year-old who says please and thank you mid-tantrum? I may be eating my words if and when the so-called terrible twos finally hit, but so far life with my toddler is impossibly sweet.
It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged here. Why? Because I’ve been writing everywhere else lately. Over the past year I have completed my first novel, come more than halfway through my second, written 9 short stories and started a writing blog. So you can understand how my little personal blog might get lost in the shuffle.
But that is not all. Though I recently signed with a literary agent, I had also been thinking for a while about taking further steps into the literary career track outside of merely writing. After discussing this with the person, now a good friend, who edited my first book, I discovered he had been in the process of setting up his own indie publishing house for literary fiction for some time. The woman who introduced us was already on board to run her own fantasy/sci-fi imprint under this house, and he would also run a further imprint for crime fiction. At the time I was considering self-publishing my own novel, if I didn’t have any success with agents. The trouble was, my book didn’t really fit into a specific genre that we could use an imprint for; it is a Young Adult novel, but I wasn’t interested in running a purely YA imprint. Partly because, to me, YA is a marketing demographic more than a genre, but also because I had a new idea. I wanted my imprint to cross marketing demographics and genre, and focus on that almost indefinable thing so many books I love have: darkness. Enter Tenebris Books.
Baby and me
How many times have you been told that the modern woman can “have it all”? I’m here to tell you, you can’t. Anyone who says you can is either kidding herself or has a very different definition of “all” than I do. You know what I’m talking about; it’s one of the most common dilemmas for women today: career vs children.
Feminism and the women’s liberation movement have given us so many options that I sometimes feel like it would be easier to go back to being oppressed. At least when women had so few rights, they didn’t have to put unrealistic expectations on themselves. In many cases, they simply accepted that their lot in life was to raise children and look after their husband and household. Sounds gleefully uncomplicated, doesn’t it? (Note: I didn’t say easy.)
I being facetious; I don’t actually want to be a post-war housewife. But I never expected to feel so conflicted about motherhood.
My pregnancy was unplanned and came as quite a shock, even though in the back of my mind I’d always believed I’d eventually find the right time to have children. And in retrospect, it was probably for the best that it happened of its own accord, because there never was a “right time”.
So, despite being unsure I was ready, I took a deep breath and stared into the face of impending motherhood. For the most part, I was excited and looked forward to life with our new family member, but there was a niggle in the back of my mind that I really wished wasn’t there: the one that told me I was “giving up” and turning my back on my career, which I worked hard to develop.
I started my new job on Monday last week, and by Friday I had somehow managed to volunteer to supply some sort of home-baked snack for my team at Monday’s team meeting. I thought about making my Victoria Sponge, but didn’t like the idea of trying to cover it with whipped cream on Monday morning with a toddler clinging to my leg. Not to mention trying to get it to work in one piece, given that it would have to ride under the pram. So instead I decided to make apricot muffins. I found a couple of recipes online and combined them to come up with what turned out to be a very tasty result. I did some in paper muffin cups and some with a silicone muffin tray. If you’re using a muffin tray, make sure the muffins are cooled before you attempt to pop them out. It’s a good idea to run a butter knife or rubber spatula around the edge to loosen them.
Rogan Josh with papadums
Here’s my recipe for the classic Indian lamb curry known as Rogan Josh. You can make it as spicy or mild as you like by adjusting the amount of chili powder you add. It’s really simple to make, and the preparation doesn’t take long. The cooking time is an hour and a half or more though, so make sure you get started early!
Zucchini Slice with bacon and corn
This is a recipe my mum always used to make when we were kids. Lately she’s been making it for my niece and nephew, who love it, and when she was over in Norway recently, she made it for Bubble’s first birthday party. It was very popular with the guests, several of whom have asked for the recipe, but most amusingly it was popular with the birthday girl. My tiny girl stuffed an entire piece into her mouth in one go, and somehow mushed it up enough to swallow, and then looked around for more. I then made it to take to her kindergarten summer party, where kids and parents alike tucked in with enthusiasm. It’s also a great way to get kids to eat vegetables (you can even use yellow zucchini to really hide the veggie content!).
Today, the 8th of March, is International Women’s Day. To celebrate, I’d like to share with you a selection of small tributes to some of the women in my life whom I most admire. I will use first names only, but I hope those of you mentioned below will recognise yourselves and know how special and important you are, to me and to everyone whose lives you touch.
A couple of weeks ago, something happened on Facebook that really pissed me off. Really. Like lying awake at night, grinding my teeth and thinking until my brain got sore kind of pissed off. It still makes my upper lip scrunch when I think about it, but I had to wait a couple of weeks before posting this rant about it so that I could get my thoughts clear and write rationally, albeit still passionately, on the subject of dumbasses who make judgmental comments when they know absolutely nothing about a situation.
The context to all of this is that we have been working closely with Bubble’s pediatric nurse and doctors at two different hospitals to try and work out why she is not gaining weight very well. She’s slipped from the 55th percentile down to between the 3rd and 10th, depending on which chart you’re referring to. Even though most people would tell you not to worry, of course as a parent you’re going to worry.
So after much agonizing (and I mean tears, guilt, self-blame etc., etc.) I gave in and started to supplement Bubble’s feedings with formula. Just once a day, but just to make sure she was getting enough food, and enough calories. Even though I have no judgment towards others who formula feed their babies, I had always expected to be able to exclusively breastfeed my baby, and felt awful that I had to compromise that. In many ways I would have felt better if the reason had been that I didn’t have enough milk to give her, but it felt truly terrible to know that I had milk for her, but she wouldn’t take it, only feeding for two or three minutes at a time.
Laksa is a spicy coconut noodle soup, and it is one of my favourite Asian soups. Unfortunately the paste that gives it its flavour and spice is a little hard to come by in many countries. I buy Hogans laksa paste from Australia (and always stock up when I’m home) but there are other brands that are fine to use as well. If you can’t find it anywhere (and make sure you ask at your local Asian supermarket) you can use green curry paste. The taste is not quite the same, but still works. Laksa comes from Malaysia and Singapore, with many different recipes depending on the region it comes from. I use chicken, but that’s because I don’t eat shellfish. You can replace the chicken with prawns or other shellfish if you wish.
If you can’t find laksa paste anywhere and don’t want to use green curry paste, here’s a different recipe that includes how to make your own laksa paste.
Bubble and her Wubbanub
When we went to the pre-birth seminar at the hospital, the midwives who ran the session warned against starting babies on a dummy (pacifier) too early because it could cause confusion with breastfeeding. We were a little surprised that people would be so keen to give their baby a dummy before they were a couple of weeks old anyway, so it wasn’t really a big deal to us. We waited the recommended four weeks to introduce Bubble to dummies, and despite her doing very well with both breast and bottle feeding, she was not interested in a dummy at all. In fact, she dry retched whenever I tried to give her one. So I figured it was no big deal; if she didn’t want one then that was one less thing to worry about weaning her off of later, right? Oh SO wrong!
At about five weeks, Bubble started to fuss for the first time. Up until then she’d been a very calm, placid baby who only cried when she was hungry or very tired. But suddenly I had a baby who desperately wanted to suck on something, but still HATED dummies. I tried silicone, latex, cherry shaped, orthodontic… you name it, she hated it. All but one made her dry retch, and that one confused her so much she’d burst into fits of frustrated, angry tears. In the end she settled for using me as a dummy, and wanted to suck long after she’d finished eating. At the time I had an overabundance of milk, so this frustrated her even further; she wanted non-nutritive sucking, and kept getting more food. At this point we even had to give up bottle feeding with expressed milk because the bottle nipple seemed to be just the size and shape of what she wanted to suck on, only the milk came out of that even faster than the breast, causing her to choke, splutter and again cry with frustration.
The one dummy Bubble would accept without gagging was a Tommee Tippee orthodontic latex one, but she seemed at a loss as to exactly how to suck on it. She’d roll it about in her mouth, chew on it, very occasionally suck on it, and then she’d fall asleep seemingly against her will with her face red from frustrated crying.