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Whitby, water fights and Wharfedale Grange

This weekend, we well and truly kicked off our Summer wish list. It started with a trip to Whitby, the coastal town on the East coast of North Yorkshire. As a child, I often visited Whitby with my family and I have the most wonderful memories of counting the 199 steps and looking in the shops which sold Whitby Jet. Every time we visited, my mum would delight in telling me about the fossilised Monkey Puzzle tree that makes the stone. To this day, Jet is one of my favourite gem stones, although i’m not completely sure that it is a gem.  My husband hadn’t been to Whitby in over 20 years so it was wonderful to experience it with him. We had a lovely walk around the town and enjoyed fish and chips in the famous Magpie Cafe. After dinner we hit the beach and after some beach combing and paddling in the water, we indulged in delicious Yorkshire dales ice-cream. Holly had a wonderful day and after all of the excitement she fell asleep in the car on the way home. We were a little ill prepared so her Daddy’s spare T-shirt was used as makeshift nightie.

The last Kipper smoking house

The last Kipper smoking house

Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey

Ice cream on the beach

Ice cream on the beach

Pirate ship

Pirate ship

Sleeping Holly Dolly

Sleeping Holly Dolly

After such a busy and exciting day, we were looking forward to something a little more relaxing on Saturday. Holly had suggested fruit picking as one of her wishes and as the soft fruit season was coming to a close, it was now or never. We had been given some suggestions as to where to go. However, as Yorkshire and the rest of the UK has seen pretty severe Summer floods since 2007, it became apparent that many farms had closed down. We finally found ourselves at Wharfedale Grange PYO farm near to Harewood House. Funnily enough, this is where my mum used to bring us when we were little. It was pretty hard going with most of the best fruit gone. Having said that, Holly absolutely loved it! She was so excited and ever so proud to show her dad and I when she had found a beautifully ripe raspberry. Hot and bothered, we headed home for a BBQ, and a cosy night on the deck watching a film in front of the chiminea with hot chocolate with extra marshmallows (not before a watertight with Daddy!).

Getting in the spirit

Getting in the spirit

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Hidden treasure

Hidden treasure

Yummy!

Yummy!

Bit of wildlife

Bit of wildlife

Raspberries and Champagne

Raspberries and Champagne

Cosy evening

Cosy evening

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Lego movie “everything is awesome”

After a late evening, we had a very relaxing and lazy Sunday. However, it didn’t stop us from completing more wishes on Holly’s list. We have some very special and close people in our lives who are going through a difficult time at the moment so Holly took the opportunity to paint some rainbows to help raise their spirits. She concentrated beautifully and was so proud of her herself. Her hard work was rewarded with a picnic in the garden. As a working mummy, I can easily feel torn splitting myself between my profession and my home life. This weekend really did help remind me that it’s the quality of time rather than the quantity of time spent with children that really matters. We all had the most amazing time over the last three days and it will lift me and push me onwards whenever I doubt myself. Raising children is so challenging, I hope that i’m sending a strong message to my daughter that women can have a career, with professional aspirations but also be there first and foremost as a mummy. I’m so looking forward to our next weekend together and sharing some very special memories.

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Head rush!

Head rush!

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Tuesday (the new friday)

I must admit, this MSc has been far more challenging than I could have ever imagined (hence the lack of blog posts!). Working, studying, running a home, being a mummy and a wife really does pull on every resource I have. I constantly feel that I’m doing half a job in many areas of my life and maternal guilt mounts on a daily basis.

I usually find Tuesdays quite stressful. After a day at work and a week of studying facing me, I often feel deflated. We often eat out on a Tuesday, however this week I had a different idea. Holly and I love to cook together and I think it’s how we managed to get her to enjoy a varied diet. I asked Holly if she would like to have a restaurant at our house; she loved the idea!

I must admit that on Tuesday evening, feeling pretty exhausted, I felt a little daunted. Having said this, when I collected Holly from nursery and she said “Mummy, we’re cooking for Daddy tonight” she helped me to feel very motivated for the night ahead. We had so much fun! We made chicken breasts stuffed with mozzarella and wrapped in smokey bacon, a winter salad and bulgar wheat bruschetta. Holly listened so intently to my instructions (every so often she gave me a cuddle and said “I love this Mummy”) and she was so proud to present her Daddy with the food she had made him. Wearing her chef hat and apron, with a tea towel over her arm she said “Excuse me sir, are you ready for your starter?”

I felt relaxed and so happy that I’d spent some quality time with my princess. I think it goes to show, it’s not the quantity of time but the quality of time that you spend with your children that really matters. I truly respect all of the students on my course that are juggling jobs, children, homes, family but most of all, those who are doing it alone. You are all absolutely amazing xxx

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Academic ambition

This week something really special happened; I finally attained one of my ambitions. I reached a mark of 80% in one of my MSc assessments. This might not seem a huge deal to many of you. However, if you glance over my posts The Kindle and Finally an answer: dyslexia you’ll see why it’s so important to me. This is another fantastic reason to put another champagne cork in the fish bowl!

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Finally an answer: dyslexia

Today was intense. I had an assessment with an educational psychologist who gave me an answer to a long-standing question. Why do I seem to find it so much harder than other people to learn? Today I was diagnosed with dyslexia.

Now I know some people wouldn’t believe this. I’ve had some wonderful comments since I’ve started my MSc. Some of my very kind peers have said, “I’m surprised you’re struggling, out of everyone I thought you’d fly through this course”, “I bet you get top marks!” ” I think you’re a really conscientious student.” The problem is, I really struggle to articulate in the written word what comes out of my mouth!

Reading and writing has always been a struggle. It takes me forever. The diagnosis today helps make sense of the “kindle” post.

If I’m honest, somehow I was shocked. I burst into tears. How could I manage to get onto a MSc degree with this? Why has it taken till I’m 30 years old to be diagnosed with this, why have I struggled for so long, why have I only had 5 nights off from study in the last 9 weeks? This didn’t last long, it gave me the answer, this is why I’ve struggled.

There’s nothing wrong with my noodle, some of the most creative people in the world are or have been dyslexic and to be honest, I’m proud. I’m ever determined to meet my goals and get there in the end (thank goodness my computer has a spell check LOL!!).

It didn’t take long for my silly husband to start with jokes about spelling etc, I quickly reminded him who had the most qualifications ;0)

“Here’s to the crazy ones”

I’m not sure how you felt, but it was a sad day in our home to hear that Steve Jobs former CEO of Apple had passed away.

Steve Jobs and MacWorld magazine had been a normal part of my childhood. I remember very clearly when our “Macintosh classic” arrived in the early 90’s. I was very proud but isolated at school to announce that we had an “apple” at home. The other kids looked at me as if I was from another planet.

The computer was so different. You didn’t need a manual or instructions, it did it for you. So easy to use. As I grew up so did apple. The iMac was my next computer. “What’s your flavor?” Our’s was Bondi blue (my sister corrects me, we actually had limited edition graphite “we were never that mainstream!”). It was beautiful and got me through my A levels!

Over the years our collection has developed. We have iPhones, a MacBool Pro and an Apple TV. We are the Apple generation and proud of it. Proud to be a little different.

Are you feeling the pinch?

With the government reigning in spending and increasing taxes which reduces our free cash, we certainly are feeling the pinch. I’m now working part-time following the birth of our daughter, plus I’m a public sector worker so I’ll be having a pay freeze for the next two years. Our outgoings have also increased as Holly arrived. So this is what we did about it;

Firstly and most importantly we talked. We discussed what was worrying us, and what we wanted our finances to look like. This took about an hour, with all of our financial information in front of us. Then we came up with a plan.

Next was to create a budget; look at what we have coming in and what we have going out – actually seeing where your money goes (and how much things cost) really makes you think about what you’re spending. We thought about groceries, petrol / travel to work for budgeted costs that need to be accounted for, but also meals out and family days out.  This then helped us assess our free cash and what we could save (or use to pay off debts as the case might be).

Monthly budget talks; this gives us an opportunity at the end of each month to plan and see what is happening in the coming month eg, birthdays, other special occasions and agree on what we’re going to spend. Is there an irregular cost e.g. MOT, car tax, new pair of shoes, new coat etc.? Will something need replacing that can’t be repaired or isn’t worth being repaired? Then budget for it. We also ask the question can it wait any longer?

Keep track; We keep receipts so we know what money has been spent on and keep a check against the budget. The more you watch it, the more keenly you will try to stick to it.

Goals. We’ve set ourselves goals and when we meet them we will reward ourselves.  It is not going to be easy always sticking to our plan so we want to incentivize ourselves to meet our goals. This could be a little black dress and a night out, or a holiday – you decide! Don’t make it, I’ve stuck to the budget this month so I can go wild next month (unless its budgeted for of course ;0)

The final thing we’ve done is cut back. We’ve looked hard at where our money is going and decided where we can make savings. Can you bulk buy – spend a bit more in one month but it goes further. Ask yourself the question, do you really need a new bag each month or is it just that you want one? We’ve found that when you’re striving for a healthy bank balance, needs and wants have to be seriously justified. We’ve cancelled Sky. A big move for us but, we couldn’t honestly say we got value for money for the use we got out of it. We had the full works too (not 3D!) so this was a big thing for us, but it will save us over £850 in one year. When you see those monthly DD’s as a lump sum, then things can seem quite expensive quite easily. Yes we might buy a few extra DVD’s but we’ll still be in pocket. How many people have a gym membership that they don’t use (or could probably just run from home instead)? Look at your outgoings and think, over a year, is it worth it?

Help! Sometimes it’s hard to stick to budgets, particularly for shopping where you have multiple transactions in a month and so it can be hard to know where you are all the time. Answer – cash. We draw out our grocery budget in cash at the start of the month and pay for all groceries in cash. This also gives you a visual stimulus as to how much is left and I believe you are more aware of what you spend when you physically hand it over, compared to tapping in 4 digits on a key pad. This has also encouraged us to shop around for groceries, plan better and waste less. You might consider not doing your weekly shop at a premium supermarket or to even look locally for fresh fruit and vegetables. We buy much of our fresh produce from our local market and find that the quality and price are outstanding. However, don’t get caught out by a false economy at the supermarket. If the offer says “asparagus £1.50 each or 2 for £2.00” don’t buy two if you know that you’ll end up throwing one away, otherwise you’ve just spent an extra 50p!

Another trick is move money around different bank accounts.  Say you want to budget for clothes shopping but only actually shop for them every three months. It’s better to set money aside on a monthly basis rather than your bank account taking a big hit the month you decide to go clothes shopping. The concept of budgeting, should help avoid the use of credit cards which are the most expensive ways of borrowing money.

By using this approach, we are getting the most out of our money. We have a healthy savings plan, and we don’t have to worry about our finances. By following the above points, the money takes care of itself. This isn’t about cutting everything out of your life. It’s very important to treat yourself and have fun. However, this is so much easier when you can spend money, without the worry that you might be overspending.

 

The Bloke’s Perspective, part 2 – D Day

D Day came, eventually.  It arrived nearly 2 weeks late.  Despite trying just about every old wives tale, it seemed like it would never arrive.  Vicky had even been booked in to be induced, she was that far over-due.

The evening before D Day we’d had a visit from the midwife to help things along, we’d gone for a 2 mile walk (or, I walked and Vicky waddled), been out to eat a spicy Mexican and Vicky even had a glass of red wine.  As a result of all this it was midnight before we settled down to bed.

Vicky woke me at 2am and calmly said, “I think my waters have broken”, I jumped up straight away and felt alert immediately.  I was nervously excited.  At this point the ‘training’ kicked in.  Now, if you read part 1 of The Bloke’s Perspective, you will see we went to the NCT antenatal classes.  This is where I got my ‘training’.  I paid attention to the labour part, as it was the bit I knew least about and the bit I thought that I needed to know most about.   This was in order to try and maintain an element of control and not let things run off from the birth plan.

First task was to establish if the waters had actually gone.  This took a call to the hospital who said to come in and get checked.  We were meant to be going to the Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) but they were closed so we had to go to St James’s instead.  I knew Vicky wasn’t going to be happy with this.  Vicky started feeling contractions before we’d got into the car.

We were told in the NCT class that it was only in the movies where waters went first.  Well, apparently we were going to have a “Hollywood” birth.  We were given the option of staying and having some drugs to move things along but Vicky dismissed this, as the plan was to be as natural as possible.  We wanted to relax at home for a bit (expecting to wait a good few hours at home as we were told that the on average the first labour would be a good 6 to 8 hours before you would need to go to hospital, when you were having around 3 contractions in 10 minutes).  I was quite happy with this decision at that point in time given that contractions didn’t seem too bad or too frequent.

However, within minutes I’d started to change my mind. The short walk of around 100m from door to car was punctuated with about 4 stops to allow increasingly painful contractions to pass.  To me, this was a lot and did raise concerns for me.  But I knew Vicky didn’t want the baby at St James’s and felt I just needed to support her in her decisions, to the extent she wasn’t going to harm herself or the baby – which she wasn’t going to do by going home now.

We got back home at about 5:30am.  Vicky had struggled to sit in the car all the way home, once we got in, I ran around trying to get painkillers together.  This is where the NCT came into its own for us, using the pain reliving techniques we’d learned.  It was also the start of the end for my wrist.  If I wasn’t driving at any point over the next 7 hours I was probably rubbing the bottom of Vicky’s back.  By the end of the day my wrist was knackered.  I know in the grand scheme of a birth a bit of a sore wrist for the dad isn’t much, but hell it hurt!  If I leaned on my wrist for any length of time over the next 2-3 months, it hurt.

By 6:00 I was back on the phone to the hospital, luckily the LGI was open again. I didn’t like watching Vicky in such pain and it was a relief to be able to take her to be more comfortable.  Although Vicky could barely sit in the car again, it was fun driving on the motorway to hospital! Small things please small minds!

After being assessed on the delivery suite, which seemed to take ages, they said Vicky wasn’t far enough progressed to stay and we had to go down to the antenatal ward.  Once there, I felt that basically they couldn’t care less how much pain Vicky was in.  They offered paracetamol – wow.  I needed paracetamol, Vicky needed something a tad stronger. So she had a bath.

In all fairness, this was what we had planned to do at home and it did work, not perfect, but it worked.  But we could have done this at home.  It’s not a massive comfort to see somebody in pain, knowing you were so near, but yet so far, from being able to make them comfortable.  It’s almost a tease being in the hospital and not getting pain relief.

After the bath, Vicky was at her bed on the ward and she was clearly in a lot of pain.  I couldn’t get hold of a midwife, partly because Vicky wouldn’t let me stop rubbing her back (I don’t blame her for this at all) and also because it was ward round time and the midwives were going round with the doctors (ignoring patients in my view).  After what seemed another age, the registrar, who had heard Vicky and her little whimpers, popped her head through the curtain and said “I think it’s time you went to delivery suite sweetness” without the need to physically examine her.  I felt like this was one person with a clear understanding of what Vicky was going through in a sea of incompetence displayed by the midwives.

Following this, the midwives insisted on checking progress.  We moved to a side room for an exam, they laid Vicky on her back on an examination table and made her wait half an hour.  I was furious, Vicky was in so much pain she was becoming distressed which made me distressed too.  Finally the midwife came in and did her stuff.  She caused Vicky so much pain it hurt me to watch.  It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done, to not intervene and stop her hurting my wife.  In just about ay other scenario, I would not let anybody cause such pain to somebody else, let alone my wife.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an issue with midwives.  My mum was a midwife for donkeys years (Bex will get that one!) and our community midwife was excellent, particularly once we got home with Holly.  It just seems the midwives on the antenatal ward at the LGI were intent on making women go through labour without any substantial pain relief.  There maybe reasons for this, such as it still being in ‘early’ labour and not wanting to halt progress etc.  I think it is more because they have become numb to seeing women in pain, it’s become normal for them and they are unsympathetic to it.  To the detriment of the patient at times, and yes I do think you are a patient when you are in labour, natural though it is.

We got back up to delivery suite at 11:30am.   I’d ended up chasing Vicky up there like a pack horse carrying about 4 bags whilst she was being wheeled up telling them to hurry! Delivery suite couldn’t offer us enough pain relief, a complete contrast from the antenatal ward!  Vicky didn’t want pethidine due to its effect on the baby’s ability to breast feed, but epidural – have a bit of that.  This wasn’t what we had planned but, I felt we were still in control of how things were going and this was the right thing to do.

Gas and air was flowing whilst waiting for the anaesthetist, labour tourettes kicked in, which was one of the highlights of the day for me, barring getting a new baby of course.  A mixture of swear words followed by immediate regret and apologising to the midwife is quite funny.  I was still rubbing Vicky’s back at this point, the anaesthetist got the epidural in at about 3pm.  The midwife immediately checked Vicky and said “oh, you’re at 10cm! We’ll let you have a bit of a rest for a couple of hours before we do the pushing”.  I think we were both relieved at this; my wrist could finally get a rest too! I felt a massive sense of relief that, after about 6 hours of constant intense pain, Vicky was finally getting some relief.

I needed a toilet break and I also had to pay for our new gas fire that had been installed earlier in the year.  Obviously without internet at the hospital, I had to call a friend to get him to pay for it for me!  The rest time was good, I got to update family on progress, I’d not been able to do this since Vicky was in the bath.

My ‘training’ was in full use for the next bit.  A foetal heart monitor had been put on the baby earlier so we could see the heart rate better, as the normal straps weren’t working too well.  I spent a lot of time watching that little heart beat.  As Vicky was pushing, the baby’s heart rate was dropping quite significantly. I’m no expert, but I knew that the midwife wasn’t going to let that happen for long or too often.  After the third push she went for the obstetrician.  The doctor watched another push and quickly said we need to get the baby out.  I was in complete agreement, having seen the heart monitor.

After watching the effort going into those pushes, I will never accept a whimpering wife saying “can you open this jar” or “I can’t do it!”.  She could’ve moved a mountain, I felt very proud of the effort from Vicky, but the baby just wasn’t coming out.  I will spare the gory details, but I thought the doctor and the midwife did a great job.  However, at one point I was concerned that a trip to theatre would be imminent.

We didn’t know what the sex of the baby was going to be and I’m not ashamed to say I was tearful with happiness when the surprisingly hot little lump was plopped onto Vicky’s chest and the midwife asked what we had.  Following a kick to the throat for Vicky, we looked at each other and said “we’ve got a girl”.

After waiting 40 weeks (despite being 2 weeks over, I didn’t know she was pregnant for 2 weeks either), I was ecstatic to finally be able to hold my little baby, I know this will sound cliché – but I must have been the proudest happiest dad in the world.  She was born at 5:06pm, which for a first time mum, was pretty quick.

In the end, the whole day was nothing like I had expected and nowhere near our birth plan.  We’d been led to believe that the contractions, and pain, would be gradual, but as Vicky’s waters went first, the contractions were intense right from the off.  As a result of this, as a birth partner, my role was more about knowing plan ‘B’ and trying to direct the situation to stick to our principals and support and advise Vicky.

Our birth plan had been for a water birth.  But, there were enough things that conspired against us that a) it wasn’t offered; b) it was only available on delivery suite; and c) we didn’t ask.  I think, in retrospect, a water birth would have been very good for Vicky especially as she did very well in the bath.

The antenatal ward experience has not soured my view of the birth.  It was still a magical day.  It was long for us (especially having only had 2 hours sleep the previous night) but quick for a first birth.  It was energising but draining. Exciting but scary.  I cannot really put into words how proud I am of Vicky in all aspects of what she went through on that day.  I don’t think I can begin to grasp the pain she went through.  I’m not going to get into the debate about pain relief now and ‘natural’ birth, but I’ll give you my view.  Putting yourself through unbearable pain needlessly is just plain daft.  If you get some reward for it, or it makes you a better mother, brilliant, but it doesn’t and you don’t.  I’ll happily take peoples comments on this.