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I haven't done the Writing Workshop for ages, but one of this week's prompts was 'Tell us about something a little out of the ordinary that you did over the summer', and it seemed an excellent opportunity to get a post up about the Discworld Convention, which I'd wanted to post about but seemed to be fading away into the long list of Things I Meant To Blog About But Never Got Around To.  So, that's the out-of-the-ordinary thing we did over the summer – went to stay in a hotel with several hundred Pratchett fans dressing up in strange costumes and doing funny things to celebrate their passion for their favourite author.

The convention got off to an inauspicious start when I booked in at the hotel reception to find the receptionist looking blank at my mention of accommodations for the children.  No, she told me, we were only booked for a room for two adults, and no, they had no record of me asking for a family room that could accommodate two children as well, and no, there wouldn't be any spare cots in the hotel at the moment.  I had visions of having to dash out and buy campbeds, but fortunately my husband realised the original booking e-mail would have been downloaded onto the laptop that I never travel without.  He booted it up, found the search facility on my e-mail that I hadn't known I possessed, and, in less time than it took me to stammer "But I'm sure I asked for a room for the four of us but, um, I suppose I might have hit the wrong button somehow…" had found the original e-mail from the hotel assuring me I had successfully booked a room for two adults and two children.  That settled that – a room with a sofabed for two was promptly found for us.  We dragged the first lot of luggage up there, rang our friend Emms to arrange to meet her, and got on with enjoying the convention.

Which we did.  This was my fifth convention, and the second since having two children; the last one I remember as a blur of running after Jamie as he headed up and down in the lifts, carting Katie around in the sling.  I comforted myself at the time with the thought that at least next time would be better, but, as we got closer, I found myself doubting that – neither of the children is anywhere near the age of being able to be trusted to go off and play alone, and I found myself facing the prospect of trying to run after two of them instead of just one.  But, when it came to the point, we managed.  We traded off children in a kind of frenetic blur of working round the activities we most wanted to get to.  Emms pitched in and helped out to an extent that probably qualifies her for sainthood.  And we all managed to have a great time.  The children tried out the swimming pool, and played in the hotel corridors, and joined the games session that had been arranged on the Saturday, and, somehow, we managed to keep them both supervised and still have fun ourselves.  It was exhausting, made more so by sharing a room with the children – I don't think I got a full night's sleep while I was there for jerking awake at the slightest sound they made in case it was the start of a disturbance that would lead to one of them waking the other if not dealt with promptly – but it was still wonderful.

One problem we faced was how to deal with bedtime when both children were in the same room.  Experience has taught us that, no matter how much we might want to put them both to bed in the same room, it just doesn't work.  Put them to bed in separate rooms, and Jamie will fall asleep quickly while Katie will stay up and burble to herself for a while before eventually falling asleep – together, they spur each other on to new levels of excitement and keep each other up for hours.  I remember once going to investigate shouts from Jamie to find the light on, the floor coverered with toys, and Jamie telling me indignantly "Mummy, I'm trying to have eleven hours of sleep but Katie keeps making me have zero!"  My sympathy with this predicament was just a teeny bit hampered by the fact that Katie cannot in fact reach the light switch and, while I'm quite prepared to believe Jamie's story that he only turned the light on at her request, I do feel Jamie can't entirely be excused of culpability here.  However, the moral subtleties as to who was to blame for the whole staying-awake situation were somewhat lost on Jamie, and the reality of the situation was that expecting them to go to sleep at the same time in the same room was not an option.

(I'm getting further off topic here, but, since I'm on the whole subject of 'Anecdotes Involving Offspring Keeping Each Other Awake', I can't resist mentioning the time I sang Jamie the first line of 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' in response to his fascination with the game show of that name, and went back into their room later on to investigate the noise when they were meant to be sleeping to find that the two of them were lying side by side on the top bunk bawling out the lyrics of that one line with an enthusiasm that would have warmed Cole Porter's heart:

Sinatra Jamie: "Who wants to be a millionaire?"

Holm Katie: "I don't!"

and, having thus opened the category of 'Anecdotes Involving Jamie's Interest In "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire"', will digress completely and totally from the original topic to mention this exchange which took place on a slightly later occasion:

Jamie: "Who wants to be a millionaire?"

Katie: "I don't!"

Jamie: "So how much air do you want, then?

We now return you to our irregularly scheduled report on the Convention.)

Anyway, our current way of dealing with this problem – after much trial and error – is to put Katie to sleep in the cot in our room (where she still takes her daytime nap) and then move her once Jamie's sound asleep.  This works fine at home but, of course, wasn't an option when the two of them were sharing not only the same room but the same bed, so the only option was to divide forces and children.  On the first night I put Jamie to bed while Barry took Katie to the Bedtime Stories and the late-night rendition of 'Once More, With Feeling', which, after years of being unofficially sung by Convention members, has now moved to an official programme item (Katie apparently felt they should be singing 'Peppa Pig' instead); on the second night we switched over and Barry put Jamie to bed while I took Katie downstairs to check out the evening's events; and on the third night we gave Jamie a turn being the one to go downstairs with me while Barry put Katie to bed. 

Jamie wasn't too keen on the musical event we visited during these after-bedtime shenanigans on the Sunday evening – I think it was a bit loud for his taste, and he was happy to come upstairs when Barry texted me to say Katie was asleep – but Katie had a grand time on the Saturday evening.  We checked out the rooms where the musical members of the Convention were jamming together, and Katie was allowed a drum to bang on and a shaker to shake (though she really wanted to play the guitar as well, especially when she saw a ukelele that she was convinced was a Katie-size guitar), and we explored the hotel corridors, and then I took her to the Hedgehog Party that's always held late on Saturday night (which has nothing to do with hedgehogs, in case you were wondering – the title is a Pratchett reference the precise reasons of which are probably lost in the mists of time) and she played with all the balloons that were being blown up there while I caught up with a couple of people I hadn't seen for a while, sitting there chatting and relaxing and looking over at my beautiful little daughter playing a little way away from me.  It was one of those perfect moments, a moment of feeling utterly suffused with happiness and contentment at how well life is going.

And then it was time to go home.  All over for another two years.  I'm so looking forward to seeing what it'll be like with a seven-year-old and a four-year-old, how the children will enjoy the convention then, what they'll make of it when they're two years older.  What sort of people they'll be then, for that matter.  But at the same time there was real sadness in the end of this convention, in knowing that I'll never again be there with them at these ages, never again get to experience the Convention through the eyes of such young children.   It was hectic and it was exhausting, but, God, it was good.



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Just so we’re all clear…

There's been a recent kerfuffle on another blog about the blogger's comment policy.  I won't, for once, be going into details here about it1; I've left my thoughts on that post, and I think that about covers it.  But, because of that, I took another look at my comment policy and realised that I hadn't properly clarified that I believe it to be my right to delete comments that are offensive or insulting in tone.  I've never actually availed myself of that right in over five years of blogging, nor do I anticipate having to do so at any point in the imminent future.  And I repeat again that that right is one I will only apply to offensively-phrased comments, and that it will never be used simply to remove dissenting opinions.  However, it is a right I reserve for myself, so I have now rewritten my policy to make it quite clear that that is the case.  If anyone has enough of a problem with that that they feel the need to follow me over the internet telling the rest of the world what a fearful hypocrite I am, then, hell, bring it on.

1. That statement was merely intended to indicate that I didn't plan to write a post about it.  At the request of the person in question, I'll clarify that I've no objection at all to that person or any other posting their views about the matter/opening a discussion in the comments section here, if they so wish.


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To my sister, with love

At my wedding, my sister braved stage fright and laryngitis to stand up and surprise me with a beautiful speech, thanking me for what I'd done for her as a sister.  I always thought I'd return the compliment at her own wedding, but my sister and her new husband decided to limit the speeches to one each for the two of them plus one very brief welcome from my mother at the beginning of the meal.  I can't deny I was relieved not to have to write a speech and deliver it in public, but it does seem pretty obvious that my sister got the short end of the stick here; two weddings at which she gave a speech in which I was thanked and praised, none at which I did the same for her.  So this, instead, is my thank you to her.

Ruth, thank you for all the times you've fought my corner.  Thank you for all the times you've been there for me.  Thank you for being the strong-minded, caring, funny, determined, wonderful person you are, and thank you for being my sister.  It was a privilege and a joy to see your wedding day today and be a part of it, and I wish you and Neil every happiness for all the years to come.


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Quick opinion poll on breastfeeding promotion methods

Thanks to everybody who's commented on my last post – I really appreciate the trouble, and, for once in my life, I'm actually going to try to write a reply to comments.  If you haven't read it yet, do please do so and give me your thoughts.

Meanwhile, something that one of the commenters said made me think of an issue on which I'd like the opinions of others.  There has been debate and contention, in the past, over whether public health announcements on breastfeeding should frame the differences between breastfeeding and formula feeding in terms of 'benefits of breastfeeding' or 'harms of formula'.  (So, for example, do you tell people that breastfeeding helps to protect babies against ear infections, or that formula feeding increases the chances of babies getting ear infections?  Which way round do you put it?) 

I would really like to know what kind of reaction people have to each of those two ways of phrasing things, and whether one would make you more likely than the other to try to breastfeed and/or try to seek help from others to overcome breastfeeding problems and/or persevere in the face of difficulties.  I'm not looking for intellectual arguments as to why you feel one way of phrasing things is better than another, but visceral reactions on your part as to how it makes you feel, and honest impressions of how it might inspire you to act as a result.  For reasons I hope will be obvious, I'd really like to get as many opinions as possible from people who are in what you might call the 'wavering would-be breastfeeders' camp – people who like the general idea of trying to breastfeed but have doubts or concerns or have tried it and had problems with it.

Thanks in advance.


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You Don’t Have To Be Crunchy To Like Breastfeeding

Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers!  The topic for the March Carnival of Breastfeeding, in counterpoint to last month's tales of challenges and difficulties, is to write about the things we like about breastfeeding.  This post will be published on Monday, March 22nd, the day of the Carnival.  As is the custom with the Carnivals, each carnival participant will put a list of links to all the other carnival posts at the bottom of their own posts.  This means a certain amount of updating throughout the day, so, if you are reading this post on the 22nd, please do check back later to see whether any links to new carnival submissions have appeared at the bottom.

My first reaction to the topic choice this time around was "I've already written that!".  Back when I was still breastfeeding but facing the imminent end, I sat down and wrote my farewell to breastfeeding.  I wrote about what it was like and I wrote about why I found it awesome, and I don't think I'll ever say it better than I said it then.  I thought about just retrospectively declaring that post to be my blog submission for this month, and Angela agreed I could do so as long as I republished it to be at the top of my blog, but in the end I decided that putting an introduction from 2010 into a 2008 post would just make my archives too confusing and that I'd prefer to write a new post and put a link back to the original one in it.  So, consider this a two-for-the-price-of-one: here's a list of the reasons why I liked breastfeeding, and that link earlier in the paragraph will take you to my ode to how I felt about it at the time.

Those of you who were up really early (or really late, depending on your time zone) and read this post then may have noticed that I've changed the title at the last minute.  This is because I think breastfeeding is sometimes seen as the preserve of crunchy earth mother types – especially in a carnival like this, where the majority of the participants are going to be crunchy earth mother types – and I wanted to stress that that isn't the case.  I am about as crunchy as jelly and, in spite of all the problems I initially had with breastfeeding, I still found plenty of reasons to love it.

Things I Really Like About Breastfeeding

1. Breastfeeding, when it goes all right (which in the vast majority of cases it does if you can hang in there during the initial rocky patch), is one of the few times in life where the right thing to do is also the easy thing to do.  I'm all for avoiding hassle where possible, but so many times the trade-off is guilt – I feel guilty over the times I let the children watch TV because it's easier for me than thinking up things to do with them, over the times I throw together bread and cheese and lunch meat for them because it's easier than making a proper meal, over the times when I don't go the extra mile in the other areas of my life because I don't want the work but know that really I should do it.  But, when it came to feeding my baby, I got to avoid all the hassle of mixing formula and washing bottles at the just-want-to-flop end of the day stage and packing bottles every time I went out, while simultaneously feeling really good about what I was doing.  It's the equivalent of someone inventing chocolate that's good for you.

2. Ear infections and tummy bugs in babies are utterly miserable for all concerned.  I liked knowing I had less chance of having to deal with them.

3. I had a hand free while feeding (without having to mess around with baby-propping or with expensive Podee systems).  When I gave Katie bottles (which I unfortunately had to do on a regular basis in hopes of getting her used to them before I went back to work), I found it quite noticeable how much more my actions were restricted.

4. While getting up for night feeds will never be anything other than a pain, at least I could just scoop the baby up and unclip my bra rather than having to go down to a cold kitchen and wait impatiently for a bottle to warm up.  It also meant I had the option of simply pulling the baby into bed with me and falling straight back to sleep again while I nursed.  Having read a stack of research on the possible risks of this I did avoid doing this in Katie's early months as there seems to be slightly more of a SIDS risk then (in Jamie's case, I had so much trouble getting him to sleep I just went ahead and slept with him anyway, risk or no), and I do want to stress that this is not something you should do unless you have read and are following the right safety precautions because it really can be dangerous to the baby otherwise.  But, done with all appropriate risk-minimisation strategies, it was great for night feeds a few months down the line, when I was back at work and desperately needed my sleep.

5. Apart from the whole lousy tongue tie experience, I never had to worry about how much the baby was taking in at each feed.  I mention this one because it's so often mentioned as a disadvantage of breastfeeding rather than as an advantage; many people, it appears, prefer knowing how much the baby is taking in at each feed, and I frequently see this listed as an advantage of formula feeding, but I have never seen it that way.  Knowing how much the baby was taking at each feed would have done my head in.  I would have had to worry about whether it was too much or too little and what balance to draw between making up enough formula that I could be sure the baby was getting enough but not so much that I was wasting excessive amounts… good god, it would have driven me nuts.  I was glad to avoid all that.

6. I loved the idea of this whole extra ability my body had.  I once read a novel in which one of the characters, a young breastfeeding mother, muses on how amazing it is that her body can produce something that you'd buy in the supermarket.  Her body works, she thinks proudly.  That was how I felt.

7. It's a lovely snuggly enjoyable experience.  Do I think it helped me to bond with my babies better?  No.  Was it a fun thing to do that I'm glad I had the chance to do?  Yes.

And now – please check out the other Carnival submissions!

Breastfeeding is how I connect with my little one after work – Pat Grace (Life Of A Babywearing And Breastfeeding Mommy)

No need to count calories when breastfeeding – Lauren (Hobo Mama)

Poems About The Joys of Breastfeeding – Melodie (Breastfeeding Moms Unite)

Nursing My Little Person – Whozat (Lucy and Ethel Have A Baby Toddler)

A Joyful List – Maman A Droit

The Top Five Things I Love About Breastfeeding
– Jenny (Chronicles of a Nursing Mom)

Milk Songs – Dionna (Code Name Mama)

The Joys of Nursing To Sleep – Sheryl (Little Snowflakes)

Things I loved about breastfeeding my son – Tanya (The Motherwear blog)

Nursing Haikus – Mandy (Living Peacefully With Children)

What Makes Breastfeeding So Great – Elita (Blacktating)

The Joys of Breastfeeding a Toddler – Claire (Adventures of Lactating Girl)


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Big circus

In the latest Writing Workshop, one of the prompts is: Tell us about something, or show us something that you do
really, really well and are proud of.

What I do really, really well, it appears, is come up with good on-the-spot answers to questions like "What factors would you have to consider if the PCT asked us to set up a sexual health clinic as part of the practice?", "What have been the biggest changes in general practice in the past few years and what do you think the future of general practice will be?" and "Tell us about the pros and cons of big practices versus small practices."

Well, it is perhaps an exaggeration to say that I do that really, really well – I suspect, for instance, that there is probably a very long list of better answers to the second question than "I try to avoid thinking about the future of general practice as much as possible!"  However, it appears I did it better than anybody else called for interview for the new salaried GP post at the huge, smart, generally wonderful medical centre in our town.  Last Tuesday, I had a phone call telling me that, on condition that my references were all right, they would be pleased to offer me the job.

And thus it is that, after almost five years of trying to get something nearer to my home than my current forty-minute commute, I finally have the perfect job.  I'm working out three months' notice at my current job, which, as chance would have it, leaves me finishing that job the day before my fortieth birthday and starting the new one the day after; a wonderfully apropos before-and-after split.  I have loved my current job (apart from the commute) and will be sad to leave, but the new job is the best thing I could possibly have imagined.  The medical centre is superb, the location is perfect for me, and I'll get to take part in teaching the students and F2 doctors and doing some other interesting stuff – they want me to help with the community wards at the local hospital and to take over the medical care for one of their local nursing homes.  It'll be an upheaval, but one of the best upheavals ever.

Some years ago, my family were discussing books we'd hated in childhood and my mother told us about a book she'd read about a little boy who saved up all his money to go to the little circus when it came to town, then didn't have any left to go to the big circus when that came to town soon afterwards and was reduced to languishing outside while the other children enjoyed the show.  It's hard to know what in the world the take-home message was meant to be for the children who read the book – effectively, the story was advising them to pass up the bird in the hand just in case it caused them to miss out on the potential two in the bush, which is hardly the most pleasant or constructive of philosophies to live your life by -  but this incredibly depressing storyline became a family analogy.  Whenever we're in a situation of potential trade-off between a good thing and a possible (even hypothetical) subsequent better thing, we speculate on whether we may be settling for the little circus and missing the big circus.  Or, alternatively, we will reconcile ourselves to losses by philosophically commenting that no doubt that was just the little circus and the big circus will be along in due course.  That last is what's happened to me.  When job opportunities pop up as rarely as they have been doing in the area close to my home, it's hard not to get discouraged when, time after time, each of the handful of interviews you do manage to land is unsuccessful.  Those jobs, it turns out, were the little circuses.  This job is the perfect one for me, better than anything I could have hoped for, better than any of the others for which I interviewed.  In my mind, I can almost see the crowds cheering the acrobats on as they turn and leap.


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Barry and I have never pushed the boat out when it comes to celebrating our wedding anniversaries.  This is not due to any lack of romantic inclinations on our respective parts, but the result of having moved so quickly, after the wedding, on to both reproduction and relocation.  At the time of our first anniversary, I was seven months pregnant and we were due to move house in three days and frantically trying to get our far-too-large quantity of random junk packed in time.  You can see why a long, lingering, wine-soaked dinner out wasn't really on the cards.  Although subsequent anniversaries haven't been quite so close to house moves (the second was two months before a move, which was close enough to put something of a dampener on matters, but at that point we did finally manage to get settled into what we devoutly hope will be our final home and so that problem at least has not been an issue in subsequent years), we have, of course, had Jamie to look after, and now Katie, and we are sad so-and-sos who never did get round to finding available babysitters.  So, anniversary celebrations have all been low key. 

And yet, in spite of that, the day always manages to be special.  In the midst of nappies and chivvying and household tasks, there'll be that moment when we exchange cards and smiles and "I love you"s, and suddenly it's all there again, like the sun shining out through clouds – the knowledge of just how much we love each other, just how special each of us really is to the other.  There are the times we've made for ourselves after Jamie's gone to bed – rented DVDs, fancy ice cream, mini-oases in the daily grind, the two of us remembering what fun it can be to be together.

This year, our anniversary happened to coincide with the annual Tumbletots day at Legoland, so that was where we spent it.  Exactly five years after walking up the aisle to the strains of Handel's Trumpet Tune, I was sitting in a brick model of a circus tent with my husband and our two beautiful children, watching Captain Mack and Maisy Mouse dance around, and joining in with spirited renditions of hits such as 'The Wheels On The Bus' and 'Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear'.  Exactly five years after the photos, the canap├ęs, the mingling, the ham roulade and guinea fowl with vegetarian option…we were walking round checking out Lego constructions and exciting rides.  It was a cold and drizzly day, but we found shelter for our picnic and the rain had stopped by later in the day, giving us the benefit of rainy days (short queues for the attractions) without actually having to get wet.  Jamie got to go on the Dragon's Apprentice and the helicopter rides with Barry, and to look round the castle (climbing up the stairs and back down again was a particular hit), and to go on some climbing frames, including one of the best play areas ever (half an hour of chasing him through it left Barry completely exhausted).  Katie watched it all from her pushchair, fretting a little over the lack of naptime but taking it in her stride.  The four of us were all together.  And, in spite of the cold and the rain and the dashing hither and yon and the perennial tiredness, it was another wonderful anniversary.

And now I'm looking forward to seeing how we'll be celebrating it in another five years.  If my current and much-cherished plan for the date works out, it'll be by dumping the children on their grandmother for a long weekend while we take off to a hotel.


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Baby arrives!

Hello, Barry here for a change, Sarah is still in the birthing centre having given birth to a baby[1] girl, Katherine Abigail, at 3:22pm.

[1] Well, obviously a baby.


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For Shay

I never met Shay, or spoke to her.  Now I never will.

I’ve never met her mother, either, but I’ve known her for seven years now.  We met on an Internet newsgroup, one that was started up by some renegades from the Stephen King newsgroup to talk about non-King related stuff.  It was a place to chat, to vent, and to get to know each other.  Missy told us about her two teenage daughters, Shay and Cassie.  Shay had been diagnosed with leukaemia when she was four or five – I can’t remember exactly.  Missy posted a quiet little piece she’d written about the experience of first finding out Shay had leukaemia – I wish I could find it on-line to link to, because it was a damn good piece of writing.  When Missy first started posting to the group, Shay’s leukaemia was in long-term remission – an ever-present lurking background threat, shadowing their lives with regular clinic visits and blood counts, but not an acute danger.  Her chances were very good.

When Shay relapsed and the only chance was a bone marrow transplant, we heard about it on the group.  When Cassie was tested and turned out to be a perfect match, we rejoiced with Missy.  When Shay went for the transplant, Missy posted regularly to let us know what was happening, each nail-biting day, until the transplant was successful and Shay started making healthy blood cells again.  We were overjoyed.  The start of a happy-ever-after for the family.  When Missy posted pictures of Shay in her ball dress at her high school prom, it was a beautiful moment.  When she relapsed again and Missy had to face the fact that she would probably only have a few months left with her daughter, it was devastating news. 

We knew it couldn’t be long, but… Shay had seemed to be doing better.  Then she crashed completely on holiday, just a few days after her blood tests had been looking very encouraging, and went into severe septic shock that ate her body inside and out.  If she’d lived, she would have lost her right hand and probably both feet.  She died yesterday morning.  She was in her early twenties.

I never knew Shay, but I wish I had.  And, my god, my heart goes out to Missy and Cassie today.

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If you’ve just found this blog…

…then hello, welcome, and please do join me over at, which is where I blog these days. (However, if you want my archives from summer 2005 to early 2006, then you’re in the right place right here.)

(Quick addendum for anyone who finds me from the comments on Raising My Boychick – Sorry about using this blog as a link rather than my regular blog. For some reason, I can’t use the Typepad blog as a URL in comments on that particular blog. If anyone else has had that problem and come up with any solutions, I’m all ears and gratitude.)

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