Saturday, May 31, 2014

Intentional Play: May (the wrap up)

I am very quietly having a breakdown.

Because the socks that once puddled around my son's ankles now adorn his doll, Baby. Because my son could never have been this impossibly small. Because I remember this day, emerging into the sunlight for the first time in a week after we'd brought him home.

Now he is the one applying bandaids.

It has been an interesting month of play. With my new job and Dear Boy now in childcare four days a week rather than two, we've had fewer moments to be intentional and many more moments of the mundane let's-go-eat-this-put-this-on-take-this-off-sweet-dreams. It has been sweeter than ever when we take those moments together to play.

I put together a doctor's kit for him and he's been happily dispensing medicine to all and sundry these last few weeks. He's also thinking in larger terms about the kinds of things that might make him feel better, not just when he hurts his knees (oh god, the knee-scraping!) but when his little spirit is flagging. "I'm sad," he cries out to me. "I need some bandaids for my tears, Mummy". I think those are called cuddles, my Dear Boy.

We've also been doing some body focused craft, including tracing around Dear Boy's body and painting this strange child-sized person. Dear Boy insisted on nipples and Daddy hair (ahem, chest hair, which he drew in himself). He's also learned a few of the 'other' body parts that don't get mentioned as much in songs - elbows, bottoms, cheeks, ankles, wrists, etc. For some reason he is struggling with the concept of an armpit. "But this is my arm, Mummy."

We've been singing lots of songs. Amongst his regular repertoire of 'ABC', 'Dinosaur Roar', and 'Old McDonald', we been having fun with 'Miss Polly Had a Dolly' and 'No More Cheeky Monkeys Jumping on the Bed'. The best body song, though, has been 'Simon Says' (The Wiggles version) which has had us both choosing which bits to include and some wiggly dancing in the interludes.

Although we've included some discussions about it, I would have liked to have focused a little more on healthy habits like eating good food and doing more physical activities. I'm looking out for some more 'let's get moving' type songs where we can stay active inside over the coming winter. Part of the problem here is new work and less time together but the other is that I've let me own healthy habits slide too. I know I really need to get it back into gear, work out how to use the time I have for myself and for him to be a good model for that kind of healthy behaviour - that I take the time to keep myself healthy and strong. It's so easy to let that fall away in all the busy-busy nothingness of our days.

One of the best resources for ideas has been the Sesame Street website, which has tool kits for parents/carers on various themes, including 'Healthy Teeth, Happy Me' and 'Healthy Habits for Life'. Each kit has printouts with games and activities, songs, posters and charts on each theme - essentially road maps for folks who are interested in themed play or learning or are having trouble teaching their kids something in particular. Interestingly, there's also kits for military families, preparing for emergencies, recovering from emergencies, Arab culture, financial difficulties and saving money. I think I'll dip in again over the next few months where appropriate.

Next month we move into Winter and all things brrrrrr. I expect I probably should have saved this one for July or August as I'm keen to take Dear Boy to see some snow but we can always delay our special expedition. I was very tempted to arrange a dentist appointment for dear Boy as this month's outing but that seemed just a little cruel and much more like hard work for me. We've worked on brushing every day - that's enough for now.

Have you found any great resources for teaching or playing with your kids? How do you go with modelling healthy habits for your children?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Breast and bottles: When breastfeeding just happens

One of the most popular posts on this blog is this one, where I talk about my own experience with (attempting) breastfeeding and formula feeding Dear Boy. Quite a few of the ladies who find their way here seem to come via a search for a baby-feeding story that resonates with their own experience. With this Breasts and Bottles series, I'm keen to share some of those other stories. I've asked friends and family and strangers to send me the story of their own experience with feeding their babies. Because if a first-time pregnant lady asks me about my breastfeeding experience, I want to be able to offer something other than just my own rawness. I would have loved to know, back then, that there's no one right way to do this (I would have also liked to know that formula-feeding wasn't a bad choice, it's just a choice - although I deal with that in my own post). 

This week I have several stories from women who weren't sure they could be a part of this series. 'I didn't have any problems,' they emailed or messaged me. They breastfed their babies and it was easy. This series was never about being anti-feeding or anti-happy stories or anti-anything. It's my way of sharing that there are many ways people feed their babies. For quite a few women, breastfeeding happens without a hitch. Here are some of their stories:

Hi, I just wanted to share that I breastfed my two babies and never had any issues. I had both of them in a midwife-run birth centre and got a lot of support from them to breastfeed. With my oldest (now 5), I had more help with holds and positions and making sure the latch was good but with my youngest (now 2) I already knew what I was doing and took her home about 12 hours after she was born. I demand-fed the first time around, so it was sometimes every hour overnight (not fun), but I really liked the time we spent together. I had a bit more of a routine the second time because I had my oldest to look after as well. I really loved breastfeeding. (AM)
My breastfeeding story is pretty boring. I have one baby and she's been breastfed since day one. We haven't had any issues at all, apart from one case of mastitis when she was eight weeks old. I'm starting to think about weaning now that she's almost one but I think if she wants to keep going, I'll keep going for a bit longer. (NM)
I liked breastfeeding so much I started volunteering at the ABA [Australian Breastfeeding Association]. (T)
I don't want to sound like I'm bragging but I really had it so easy with my lot. I don't think it even occurred to me that I could have problems with breastfeeding. Like you said in your post, I just assumed it'd be easy and natural and that it'd work. I know it doesn't turn out that way for everyone, but it did for me. (BW

Thanks to everyone who has shared their stories with me. If you have your own story to tell about how you fed your babies, please email me at lilybett[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Science of Sleeping Warm (without raising your electricity bill)

The year we moved to Melbourne, I completely froze. No matter how many pairs of socks, no matter how many blankets, I just couldn't get warm when I went to bed. It was miserable. I've tried all kinds of strategies in the six years we've lived here but haven't really hit on any winners that didn't involve an electric blanket. Even using an electric blanket for just 10-15 minutes to take the edge off the chill can really make the numbers leap ever higher on the electricity bill. When Dear Boy came along and I was guilted by all the mama-literature into keeping his room at a constant 18 degrees, all winter long (and boy is it a long winter) - well the electricity company was happy, but I was less so with the bill.

Well, this winter, I'm aiming to keep the bills low and my toes toasty warm. And in that spirit have set out to investigate the science of sleeping warm. As always, this is part science, part in-depth research on the internets and part realisation of things that probably should have been common sense. I learned more about blankets and layering that I thought I ever would.

Here's our heating/temperature baseline so you understand where I'm coming from and adjust any advice you glean to your own circumstance:

  • we live in a 1940s brick house with nothing fancy added (think fridge in winter and oven in summer)
  • we have no central heating
  • we have gas heaters in the living areas - one of which is fantastic while the other is largely ornamental.
  • we've used an oil heater in Dear Boy's room because they're more kid safe than other types and don't blow dust around; they are, however, terribly costly to run. 
  • we have very high ceilings
  • we have single pane glass in the windows, supposedly 'thermal' blinds and then thick curtains.
  • we have gaps under the doors that are too high for conventional 'snakes'.

So it's cold okay.

I'm going to break down the ideas I found for keeping warm into two categories: the body (and things you can do before getting into bed) and then the bed and it's environment.

The Body

Okay - science first. Did you know your body loses heat in four different ways? These are conduction, convection, radiation and evaporative cooling.

Conduction means you transfer heat when touching something else. For example, if you lay on the ground, your warmer body transfers its heat to the colder floor. The same thing happens if your sheets are colder than your body. Convection means air circulates, moving heated away and replacing it with cooler air. For example, a breeze blowing over you steals a tiny little bit of your warmth and gives you cool air in return. Radiation is a bit freaky, but apparently our bodies are constantly emitting electromagnetic waves mostly from the head (yeah, that's the freaky part). This is/causes heat loss. And evaporative cooling - yep, that's your awesomely efficient body at work, releasing sweat which then evaporates, taking the heat with it. It's not just sweat though, anything wet has the same effect.

So, the idea is to prevent or minimise this happening and to boost the body's methods of producing and distributing heat. Your metabolism, for instance, is still hard at work, even after you stop eating and head to bed, chugging away to burn those calories. If you don't have enough calories on board, it's harder to produce heat - so extreme diets are out if you want to stay warm at night. Things like spicy foods and ginger can speed up the metabolism and help keep you toasty. So can a diet high in fats - but that's assuming that your metabolism is actually going to burn it, not just pad it straight onto your butt - so I'd avoid using a fatty diet as a method for staying warm unless you already have a high revving system on your side. Take it from me, a few *cough, cough* extra kilos do not help you sleep warm. In my experience, they can actually keep you up at night.

Another body trick to know is that when your core is warm, it sends more warmth to the extremities. If you suffer from cold hands or feet at night, think about adding another layer to your core (a singlet, for instance). I've tried this a few times now (very scientifically, of course with very many controls, and a full ethical clearance for human research - okay, not really) and it's now my go-to solution if my feet are cold - add an extra layer up top instead of another pair of socks. More than two pairs of socks just tends to cut off the circulation anyway (which of course, makes your feet feel colder, sigh).

Other pajama advice is, if layering, to wear animal fibres or cotton in the layer next to your skin. Pajamas/clothes made from these fabrics are more likely to keep in the heat and absorb moisture, moving it away from your skin so it doesn't evaporate on your skin and cool you down.

Still in the 'what to wear to bed' category, the jury is out on whether or not a hat (beanie) of some kind is a good idea. Yes, it'll keep you warm (keeping in all that crazy radiation after all), but the question is whether you should trap quite that much heat and run the risk of over-heating - bit of a delicate balance, really. From what I've read on the general science and camping/extreme hiking sites, hats should be reserved for bald folks or more extreme weather conditions (i.e. camping in snow). Those of us with a good head of hair are trapping some heat anyway.

Once PJ-glad, my general strategy for getting warm in the past has been to blast my electric blanket on its highest setting for 10 minutes, slide on into that toasty warm bed and defrosting enough to lose consciousness. Because I'm trying to keep that (and my electricity bill) to a minimum, I'm going to pull out my trusty old hot water bottles. I have never, ever been a fan of these after a friend had one burst in the night and scald her legs. I certainly wouldn't leave one with Dear Boy but I think they do a place for a good pre-warm session, taking the chill off the bed so you don't lose all your heat via conduction into the stony cold sheets and mattress.

Giving your body a quick jolt of heat before bed can also help keep you feeling warm once you're all tucked in. A quick shower, a few minutes basking in front of the heater, or drinking a hot herbal tea can all raise your core temperature by enough to warm your extremities and help you drift off to sleep. If you're showering before bed, though, do make sure you dry off really well and give yourself a blast with a hairdryer. Sleeping with wet hair or even slightly damp PJs can rev up your personal evaporative cooling system. Save that one for summer.

Lastly, make sure you pee before bed. Once you're in bed and toasty warm, there's no surer way to lose all that body/bed heat than having to emerge from your cocoon and use the bathroom (I swear our toilet seat is the coldest in the world).

Quick take-away tips for the body:

  • eat spicy foods/ginger generally to get the metabolism firing
  • add layers to your core for heat the extremities
  • wear animal fibres or cotton close to the skin
  • wear a beanie if you're bald or super cold
  • pre-warm the bed with hot water bottles or hand warmers
  • warm up the body with a quick shower or a hot herbal tea
  • dry off before bed
  • pee before bed

The bed and bedroom

Now for the environmental factors at play. Bed type and placement can be making your colder than your think. External walls are generally thicker and colder to the touch than internal ones so, where possible, it's better to line your bed against an internal wall so you're less likely to conduct heat to the colder wall. Having a bed directly on the floor can have the same effect. Better to have a bed raised off the ground (on a bedframe or ensemble box) so you're further away from the cold floor. Even when you're raised up, mattresses can still steal quite a lot of heat away from your body - adding a blanket or woolen underlay under the sheet can help to prevent some of that.

Now, to the top of the bed. Blankets. Layers. We know these things are good but how the hell do they work best?

The science? Air is a great insulator when it's relatively stationary. Even though it can cool you down by moving warmth and replacing it with cool (convection) and helps to evaporate sweat (evaporative cooling), when it's trapped between layers and not moving over the skin, it helps prevent heat loss.

Some bedding take advantage of this kind of insulation quite well already. Quilts, like the kind I made (excuse that shameless opportunity to relieve a sense of achievement), layer thin fabrics with batting and therefore create warm air pockets within the quilt. The same goes with feather or down doonas (duvets) where the spaces between the feathers or down create air pockets (apparently goose down is the warmest of all). The pockets of air in these blankets help to trap heat more effectively than thinner, denser blankets - essentially they don't conduct heat away as well.

But! There's a but! Denser blankets help to slow convection to the outside. I am assuming this is because of the density of the blanket make it more difficult for the air moving past it to take heat and replace it with cooler air. I'm still looking into that one, but the crux of it is, layering a denser blanket on the outside of your layers is better than having it closer to the skin. If you are using multiple layers, keep the fluffy ones like quilts or doonas closer to your body and then place denser blankets on top (like a shell).

But! There's another but! I know it seems completely counter-intuitive, but don't add too many layers or you'll squish the air pockets in your fluffy layers. By crushing all those lovely air pockets, you're losing all the benefits of using air as an insulator or killing the effectiveness of your lower layers at preventing heat loss.

One last trick - and it's still on the topic of air - is to minimise the amount of space around your body where air can move freely around, passing over your clothes and skin and cooling you down and just generally minimising the amount of air that needs heating. I'm a big fan of cocooning - or the burrito method - where I shuffe around so the blankets are lightly trapped on each side of my body or tuck the blankets in around my boy. It minimises those pesky gaps where cold air gets in. Another method (a trick from campers) is to fill the gaps with your spare clothes, again reducing the amount of air around you that also needs to be heated.

Quick take-away tips for the bed and bedroom

  • Line your bed up against an interior wall and raise it off the floor
  • Use a blanket or woolen underlay over the mattress
  • Layers are tops
  • Quilts and feather/down doonas have air pockets that are great insulators
  • Put fluffy/airy layers underneath and thinner, denser ones on top
  • Don't have too many layers or you lose the benefits of air as an insulator
  • Tuck yourself in or stuff the gaps around your body with spare clothes

Are you a cold-frog like me? How do you keep warm in winter? If you live somewhere particularly frigid, please share all of your worldly experience. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

New (Australian) Songs on a Sunday Afternoon: Impossible Odds

As part of my ongoing effort to increase the range of my cultural consumption, I undertook a challenge to listen to a metric crap-tonne of new songs. I hit that goal at the end of January, notching up a cool 1000 new songs. My favourites can be found here. But after all was said and done, I was feeling a little bereft without the project to work on. It was there, humming in the background of this blog for so long, that it felt like a friend had moved away. I noticed when I was going through my favourites list that there were quite a few Australians featured, so I thought I might make myself a new project, aiming to listen to more local artists and showcase some of the ones I included on my list. This week I am moving on to more of Impossible Odds.

I featured Impossible Odds at No, 583 of my list with this tune: 'Everything'.

This Brisbane hip hop crew of two (MC Fred Leone and DJ James Vincent) haven't put together any other film clips that I can find but there are a few live performances that really show the heart of their songs, their social justice imperatives (although not the recorder's prowess with audio equipment, clearly). The Australian voices, riffs, beats and -isms feel so foreign and familiar. How many songs you've heard work in things like Rugby League?

And then there's 'Talk About It', with more slick audio production and just the barest drops into an Australian accent. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Playing doctors for free (or encouraging universal healthcare)

This month’s intentional play theme is health, not just about maintaining a healthy body but about caring for sick people and treating illness and injury. I’ve already put my ranty-pants on this month in response to the announcement of our Federal budget and the introduction of a co-pay to see a healthcare provider, so I’ve been trying to find more positive ways to channel that fury. What better way than teaching the next generation to do better and be better – to be more caring to those in need and to make that care available for free.

So I’ve been playing bulk-billing GP with my sweet Dear Boy, helping him tend to his sick and injured babies. "Baby", wearing the tiny clothes that he once wore himself, has chronic sore knees that require bandaids and broken legs that require bandages. He also has dry skin, just like my Dear Boy, and needs to have cream rubbed in to help make it better. But we’re also all about the preventative medicine in this household and are doing regular check-ups to make sure all else is ship-shape in Baby’s life.

I had a look at the available toys for playing doctors and was sorely disappointed with the options. Hooray for the Doc McStuffins line amidst the sea of pink satin and lace in the dress-ups aisle, but I wasn’t particularly keen on purchasing a full outfit of tights and headband to get him a doctor’s coat and stethoscope. GPs don’t need lab coats anyways. So instead I put together a little doctor’s bag for Dear Boy, raiding our medicine cupboard and popping all the odds and ends into an unused bathroom bag.

Doctor's Kit, Toy Doctor, Medical Kit, Universal Healthcare

Here’s the list of what I had handy and that he uses on a daily basis to care for the sick and injured of the house:

  • Bandaids and fabric plasters that can be cut to size
  • Travel-size liquids bottles for ‘medicine’
  • Measuring cup
  • Thermometer
  • Syringes of various sizes (no needles, der)
  • Medical tape
  • Bandage (with clip – watch the sharp edges)
  • Medical gloves
  • Battery-operated candles (Carols by Candlelight remnants for a torch or ‘otoscope’)
  • Ear bud headphones for a ‘stethoscope’
  • Lip balm for ‘cream’ (not pictured)
He wasn’t sure what to make of it when he first saw the kit and his dolls in the green box I use for our monthly themed toys and books. He rifled through the bag a few times and wandered away, but then surprised me when, after his own dose of ‘medicine’ for a cold (olive leaf extract), he wanted to give Baby some to make him feel better too. Now I’m issued directives to give Baby a cuddle while he measures out the medicine or prepares the bandage or checks his eyes, ears, nose and throat. Of course nothing beats a good cuddle to help make the toys feel better, but hearing the phrase “pupils equal and reactive” coming out his mouth makes my heart sing just a little bit.

Now that we’ve borrowed a copy of Miffy Goes to Hospital from the library, I think we’ll be shifting to an emergency medicine specialty as a registrar before heading on over to dentistry.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Meatless Monday: Vegetarian Kibbeh

vegetarian kibbeh

I am a fan of Lebanese food – have noshed out on bucket loads of vine leaf rolls and hummus in my time (oooh, fighting words, I know – do you have an opinion on hummus origins or method?). I recently came across a vegetarian Kibbeh and was keen to try a variation on that theme at home. Kibbeh are traditionally made with a burghul and mince or meat paste 'shell' that is stuffed with more meat, onion and pine nuts, and shaped like a croquette - kind of like a scotch egg but without the eggy centre (how’s that for cross-cultural comparisons?)

My version keeps the burghul (cracked wheat) but replaces the meat with mashed potato. Pumpkin or another mashed vegetable might work as well. I made mine as a flat dish, like a traditional kibbeh b'sinneyeh, rather than individual croquettes or 'torpedos' because daycare days are not the time for faffing about with dinner. 

For the “shell” I used:

  • 1 cup of burghul (cracked wheat) – soaked in cold water for an hour and drained
  • 4  med potatoes – cooked and mashed
  • Parsley – chopped fine
  • Cumin, allspice, salt & pepper – to taste
Mix all these together, and layer ½ the mixture over a greased ovenproof dish or tin. On top of that layer I added the following mixture:

  • Two large brown onions, thinly sliced and slowly caramelised over about 15 minutes
  • Drizzle of balsamic vinegar, to help the onion along after 10 minutes
  • Roasted red peppers, chopped
  • Handfuls of baby spinach, chopped
  • Toasted pine nuts (or almonds or walnuts, chopped)
  • Squish of lemon juice
After smoothing this over my base layer, I added the rest of the potato/burghul mixture to the top. A quick drizzle of oil and then it’s into a 180-200 degree oven for 20-30mins. I wanted it extra crispy so went the full 30 minutes (but kept an eye on it so the edges didn’t burn).

I was losing my light so it's not the prettiest food picture I've ever taken, but served with a soft/crisp fattoush, this baby was delish. Even Lovely Husband approved. 

Are you a Lebanese food fan? We used to live on a road with so many Lebanese, Turkish and Greek restaurants and takeaways and the local supermarket sold the best baba ghannouj of all time. Living there was heaven and hell at the same time. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

"You see the new job's a hassle and the kids have the flu"

My new job's not at all a hassle, but it's been taking up quite a bit of my time and brain space this last week or two; combine that with a sick Lovely Husband and a borderline sick Dear Boy who's transitioning from two to four days a week in care and there's not a whole lot left over.

I wanted to write about all those new job things, when you not only take on a new environment and new people but also a new role. Everything feels new in this job at the same time that I'm doing all the same old things in my other jobs. I wanted to talk specifically about the weird little new job things, like figuring out:

  • who has the photocopier code
  • if you can get away with checking facebook on your lunch break
  • which is the best toilet in the bathroom 
  • if your colleague is being sarcastic when she says "hello, gorgeous!' when you come in in the morning
  • if these people are mug and food stealers
  • who is the actual person you need to go to to get shit done rather than the officially listed person
  • how long it'll be before you're not the newby anymore
  • what the hell you're meant to be doing.

I also wanted to write my own response to Australia's Federal Budget, which was handed down this week and stunned the crap out of most Australians. Fare thee well, universal health care - hello the start of an American co-pay system (cause we all know how swell that's been); see you later billions of funding to the states for education and health; oh hi, billions for a new road and not a cent for public transport; hello, millions in medical research and bye bye to support for education instiutions that produce (medical) researchers (forehead slap) and for lower income students who want a good education; see you later to financial and administrative help for just about every struggling group in the country; and hello marginal tax increase to the richest of the rich. It's just all too much and too little and difficult to know where to start. 

Last night, Lovely Husband graduated (again) and is now Dr Lovely Husband. We are a two PhD household and the sad state of affairs is that neither of us has permanent jobs; in fact, we both have multiple jobs to try to pull together an income that helps to support our little family. An even sadder state of affairs is that this is "well-off" and there are so many other families in our country who are going to suffer (in a very literal sense) because of this government's financial decisions. I am hoping the Senate knocks that shit right out of the house. Even though some fairly ridiculous people will hold the balance of power in the Senate come July, I am hope hope hoping they come through for the majority of Australians who are not well off, who will not be okay if these measures come into effect. Because making the bottom line look good is not more important than the people. Because the poor getting poorer and the sick getting sicker is not good fiscal management. Flipping Robin Hood had a more ethical financial policy than that.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Etiquette of Hand-me-downs

Dear Boy is the latest in a long run of boys in our family and we have been ever so lucky to inherit so many clothes and toys and books and furniture as he's grown. It has been both a boon and a bit of a minefield, sometimes learning the hard way that hand-me-downs aren't just clothes and toys and books and furniture; they can be memories and guilt trips and the opening salvo in a war between family members.

Where's that hand-knitted jumper I gave you?
Do you still have that precious onesie? I want to give it to my best friend.
Why did you let him touch that book? It wasn't meant for touching!
What do you mean you gave it away?

To avoid the family (and friendly) politics in the future, I'm tring to enact some protocols around hand-me-downs. Here's my new June Dally-Watkins rules for hand-me-downs:
  1. Ask if it needs to be returned - sounds so simple, right? Forget to do this and you could land yourself in some hot water with your friends or family if you pass something on that should have bounced right on back.
  2. Ask if it needs to be returned in a pristine condition - if yes, hand it right back or put it straight in a box, because... really... who can keep anything in a pristine condition with kids around?
  3. Be honest if it gets lost or broken - if something was meant to be returned or returned in a nice condition, make sure you are upfront when things go awry. Offer to replace things or an apology if it's irreplaceable. 
  4. Ask if it comes with associated costs or dangers - who knew that friends or family would pass on something to you without letting you know it needed replacement parts or would pinch your kid's fingers if used in a certain way. 
  5. Think about hidden costs or guilt trips - what will you have to give them in return? Are they going to lord it over you and extract all manner of favours? If the cost of accepting free things is too high, just don't. 
  6. Ask if they have a preference for how it's passed on - does it need to stay in the family? Can you give it to charity? Are you allowed to sell it? And if you are, do they want a share of the profits?
  7. Say thankyou - der. It's easy to forget this one in the fog of those newborn days but sometimes folks with older children have forgotten that baby brain is a thing and may get persnickety if you don't thank them or thank them quickly enough or thank them profusely enough.  
  8. Say no thankyou - if you don't need it or want it, it really is easier to say 'no, thanks' right off the bat than have to drag stuff out when they come to visit or make sure you take a photo of your child wearing it at least once before you stuff it back in a drawer.
Now my brother and sister in law are going to have a baby (squeeeeeeeeeeee! babies!), I'm looking at all of Dear Boy's things and thinking about what I can part with and what I can't, what I want back and what needs to stay in the family. So I'm thinking the reverse is also true when you switch from receiver to giver. Tell folks if and how you want things returned or passed on; don't expect everyone to love your stuff and don't get huffy if they say they don't want it; and don't attach strings. Things for babies should never come with strings.

Have hand-me-downs ever caused you big headaches? Do you have any rules about giving and receiving secondhand stuff?

*The original owner/giver of that semi truck/fire engine toy is not in any way implicated in this post. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Breasts and Bottles: Breastfeeding after Cancer

Last week I posted 10 ways to say a big ol' FU to cancer. And then the most magnificent email landed in my inbox, an email with a story of a cancer survivor. But more than that (like that's not enough), it was an email with a story of a cancer survivor who went on to feed her baby with the breast that cancer didn't take from her. She's volunteering for my Breasts and Bottles series to show there's an even bigger range of feeding experiences out there than I could have possibly imagined. Here's her story:
I have two kids, BC and AC - before cancer and after cancer. I breastfed the first one, my son, with no problems. We worked together really well from day dot and I fed him until he was 11 months old. When I got breast cancer he was five years old and I was 31. I had a mastectomy and completed treatment in 2006 and then gave birth to my little miracle girl, in 2009. It was definitely harder to breastfeed with just one breast. I don't know if I was more nervous or something but it did take a while to get a good latch with her and I went through some of those issues that the other women you've posted about had - the cracked nipples and mastitis and all that. But the hospital I was in gave me private lactation consultants every day while I was there and they helped after as well. It took ages to switch my brain over from what I used to do and what I needed to do but I kept going. The supply thing was really hard because there wasn't another breast to pop her on if she drained the other. and we ended up feeding more often that I did with my son because she wasn't really getting a full meal off the one. So we did some supplement feeding with formula and I pumped a bit at the start to make sure booby had a big enough supply. I fed her for three months and then really needed to stop to give myself a bit more space. I felt a bit bad about stopping but my doctor was really positive about it - she was happy that I tried it at all as she'd not had anyone else want to. Now I'm just really proud I did it. And I'm thinking about having another one but we'll see about that. 
Breastfeeding after a (single) mastectomy is possible. It's even encouraged with breastfeeding potentially giving the remaining breast the protective effect that it offers to women in general. However, it's not for everyone - perfectly understandable, really, when the stresses and effects of battling cancer can leave you with nothing left to give. Anyone interested in trying should only do so in consultation with and approval from their medical professionals as some medications can be transmitted through breastmilk and chemotherapy drugs have a 'cooling off' period before you're clear to breastfeed. It is not at all safe to breastfeed during active treatment.

If you'd also like to share your breastfeeding story, short or long, happy or sad, boring or weird, please email me at: lilybett[at]gmail[dot]com

Monday, May 5, 2014

Meatless Monday: Caramelised Onion and Pear Tarte Tartin

I celebrated my seventeenth birthday on the outskirts of Versailles. I had been in France for a few weeks on exchange and was captivated by Paris in the springtime, by France anytime, really. And then on my birthday, my host family put candles in an apple tarte tartin and sang me a joyeux anniversaire. It was my first tarte tartin and my last until now.

This savoury version is so much easier than the French classic. There is no faffing around with caramel sauce, just a gentle caramelisation of onions, which is more stirring than skill.

Here's how you do it:

1. Pick a good frypan that can be transferred to the oven, set it on a medium heat and add butter and olive oil.

2. When the butter is melted add thinly sliced onions and stir to coat them all in butter/oil mix. Turn down the heat and stir until soft and melty.

3. Add a sprinkle of sugar and a little dash of balsamic or red wine vinegar. Keep stirring.

4. Add sliced, peeled pear and a sprinkle of dried or fresh thyme. I used a hardish pear variety because I wanted the sliced to keep their shape. Stir gently, combining with the onion.

5. When the pears are softened but not mush, remove the pan from the heat. Let cool for a few minutes and pat down with the back of a spoon so the mixture is evenly spread around the pan. If you're super fussy or aesthetically minded with your food, you can carefully arrange the cooked pear sliced on the bottom of the pan then add the onion, so you have a nice pattern on top of the final dish.

6. Place a sheet of pastry over the onion and pear mixture, pressing into down over the lump and bumps and making sure the whole lot is covered. Don't worry about trimming the edges, just fold or smoosh them down around the pan. I used a sheet of ready-made puff pastry but other types or homemade will work as well. Layers of buttered filo would be delicious and light.

7. Put into the oven at a temperature appropriate for the pastry you're using (mine cooked well at around 180-200 celcius). Let cook until golden brown (mine was done in around 20 minutes).

8. Cut around the edges of the pastry to loosen from the pan if necessary then put a plate/board over the pastry and invert. You'll end up with the classic tarte tartin look - crisp pastry on the bottom and the onion and pear on the top.

I served this as a main with salad - Lovely Husband referred to it as a French fruit pizza - but it'd also be great as a side dish or sliced thinly for appetisers. You could also make individual portions in a shallow muffin tray.

Are you a fan of savoury fruit dishes? Have you ever tried to re-imagine a classic?

Linking up with Little Wolff's My Kitchen Monday

Saturday, May 3, 2014

New (Australian) Songs on a Saturday Morning: Little Red

As part of my ongoing effort to increase the range of my cultural consumption, I undertook a challenge to listen to a metric crap-tonne of new songs. I hit that goal at the end of January, notching up a cool 1000 new songs. My favourites can be found here. But after all was said and done, I was feeling a little bereft without the project to work on. It was there, humming in the background of this blog for so long, that it felt like a friend had moved away. I noticed when I was going through my favourites list that there were quite a few Australians featured, so I thought I might make myself a new project, aiming to listen to more local artists and showcase some of the ones I included on my list. This week I am moving on to more of Little Red.

I featured Little Red's 'Rock It' at No 100. Triple J gave it the No 2 slot in their 2010 Hottest 100. You'll probably recognise this one. This tune  makes me groove in my chair - a little embarrassing when the headphones are in and I have an audience. 

This Melbourne band were one of Triple J's Unearthed finds and a favourite of the festival scene for a while there. 'All Mine' is a little slice of sadness and a hint of the Melbourne skyline. 

Kick off those blues though and wrap yourself in this little bottle of sweetness - 'Coca Cola'. It's an early one and you can hear the rough edges of their style, but it feels like a the first stop on a great night out. 

Unfortunately the band are no more, announcing in 2012 that they were splitsville. Still, there's a few little pieces of awesome left to celebrate, including this one ('Slow Motion') which hit 79 of the 2010 Hottest 100 (two songs on the one Hottest 100 - fancy).

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ten ways to say 'f**k you' to cancer

Fuck cancer.

Sorry (not sorry) for the swears but there have been too many new cases and regrowth and deaths recently for me hold them in. How many is too many? Any. Any is too many.

My beautiful and brave friend, Karleigh, wrote yesterday about receiving the worst news and having to tell her daughter that her daddy may die, another eloquent and awful post on her husband's cancer. A family friend's cancer has returned after years of remission. Another friend is contemplating a prophylactic mastectomy after the death of her sister. A stranger with a headscarf and no eyebrows fell heavily into the chair next to me at the shopping centre today and wept with fatigue.

Fuck cancer.

It is so easy to feel helpless as those around me suffer through and live and die with this disease - yet another one of those things where you can easily throw your hands up and say - 'well there's nothing I can do'. But there always is.

On an individual level, a kind word, a shoulder to lean on or stocking a freezer with homemade meals is something. Making someone's life just a tiny bit easier is something.

At a less personal and more global level there are also plenty of things you can do. Here's my list of just 10 you could do today or tomorrow or next week to say 'fuck you, cancer' and play a role in preventing, treating or eradicating it.

1. Fundraise. Der. Give organisations like the Cancer Council your money. They have a list of ways you can fundraise so you don't have to wrack your brains for ideas, including things like Australia's Biggest Morning Tea, which has raised "over $110 million dollars since they first put the kettle on in 1994". That's not nothing.

2. Participate in an event or sponsor someone who is.  I spent last year's Mothers' Day in my joggers, raising money for cancer support and research. Have a look for a Relay for Life or a Mothers Day Classic running event near you. If you're not a runner, don't just hit delete when a friend sends round a link to their fundraising page. Even just a few dollars helps. That's not nothing.

3. Just give. Don't wait for an event, you can give any amount whenever you like right here. You can also think ahead and stipulate a gift in your will. It's easy - the Cancer Council's even done the wording for you. That's not nothing.

4. Volunteer. The Cancer Council and other organisations rely on volunteers in a range of positions to keep funds directed where they're needed. They need volunteers to help run events as well as their various offices and retail stores: admin, customer service, collating mailouts, etc. A few hours here or there, or regular hours each week: that's not nothing.

5. Don't let the government reduce research funding to universities. Reducing the budget for the ARC or the NHMRC (which specifically funds medical/clinical research) means there's less research being done, less variety of research, and fewer avenues of very complex diseases being investigated. Complain loudly to your local member or write to the current minister for educationChristopher Pyne (you can even tweet him about it). That's not nothing.

6. Don't let the government pick and choose how research funding should be spent. Politicians are not experts and have agendas or beliefs that mean any decision to veto or remove funding to individual projects is suspect. Under the previous Liberal government, Brendan Nelson had a bee in his bonnet about projects that included any hint of sexuality or homosexuality in the title. It's censorship, plain and simple. But it's also entirely unhelpful for producing innovative work - sometimes the answers, the cures, the treatments come from unexpected places. Again - complain loudly to your local member or write to the current minister for educationChristopher Pyne (you can even tweet him about it). That's not nothing.

7. Be a guinea pig. Researchers obviously need subjects to study and to volunteer for drug and treatment trials but even if you don't have cancer, you can still be useful for research. I'm currently signed up for Register4, which is essentially a database of Australians who are willing to volunteer for cancer-related studies. You sign up, give your personal details, medical history and preferences and they'll match you up to appropriate research around the country. You can choose exactly how much or how little you'd like to volunteer on a spectrum from anonymous online surveys through to giving samples or having biopsies done. People with family histories of cancer are especially useful for looking at genetic components of the disease but you can also volunteer as part of a control group in order to give a "normal" baseline for testing. Most universities have news sites or bulletin board ads asking for research participants or you can let an organisation like Register4 link you up to an appropriate study. That's not nothing.

8. Reduce your own risks. You know what you should be doing: quiting smoking, being sun smart, getting regular check-ups and tests. No-one loves getting a pap smear but they've come a long way to reducing the number of cervical cancer deaths thanks to early detection. That's not nothing.

9. Encourage your loved ones to reduce their risks. Men are more likely to get and die from cancer. Part of the reason for this is that they are less likely than women to have regular check-ups and tests. They're also less likely than women to speak up when they sense something might be wrong. Don't let them be stoic. Don't let them be 'manly'. Make the appointment for the prostate check for them and drag them there if you have to. That's not nothing.

10. Share your story. It is upsetting to hear about this happening to people you know; it's upsetting to hear about this happening to strangers. In that sharing, and that hurt and empathy, there is a call to action. If hearing your story reminds someone to check their breasts or book that test or nag someone to stop smoking, that's not nothing.

Don't feel helpless. Do something.

Fuck cancer.


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