Pregnancy: Hospital preparedness (What to pack in your hospital bag!)

What to pack in your hospital bag is a pretty big decision.
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You’re about to go in to labor – you’re going to spend two to four days, at probably the worst (and, if you’re in the USA, most expensive) hotel of your life.  The bed will be uncomfortable, it’s going to be bright, loud, and you’ll probably sleep very little.  You’ll also likely be in a gown the whole time, there will probably be blood, pain, occasionally stitches, people will be taking blood, urine, blood pressure and pulse information, you and baby will both be monitored, you may have an IV, catheter, or any number of other possible medical treatments while you’re in there – and that’s all the ‘foreseen’ stuff.
My first piece of advice is to have your bag ready to go around week 35.  We packed our bags literally the night before we ended up being induced – dumb luck.  Pack it a little earlier, be prepared.  And – leave it RIGHT beside the front door – complete with a list of ‘additions’ that you have to grab on your way out – phone, charger, etc.  Ignore people who say you’re too early – you may well be, but better to be ready, just in case, than to be caught on the hop and have to panic-shove stuff in a bag!
Secondly – ask your hospital for a very specific list of the supplies they provide for you, this will help you ensure that you pack the things you’ll need, whilst not packing way too much crap to lug back and forth from the house to car, car to hospital and back again.
Thirdly – pack light.  Here’s a list of everything I packed – based on polling I conducted among my friends and family, below that, you’ll find a list of what I used from what I packed.
What I packed:
Clothes
‘Yoga pants’ (high belly) x2
Pair pjs (yoga pant style, loose top)
Cami ‘Shelf tanks’
10x old undies (that you don’t mind getting destroyed)
Regular bra
Wash bag for dirty clothes for parents
Wash bag for dirty baby clothes
Fleece (or jumper, hoody, zippy)
Large black towel x2 (don’t mind getting them destroyed)
Slipper socks w/grippies x1
Slippers x1
Flip flops
Electrics
Phone charger
Tablet and charger
Kindle and charger
Extension cord (we discovered on our stay in the hospital, the phone doesn’t reach the bed from the socket!)
Camera and charger (and memory card!)
Toiletries
Conditioner
Body wash
Razor
Deodorant
Toothbrush + toothpaste
Lip balm
Deep moisturizer
Hair brush
Hair ties
Always infinity pads (recommended by THREE different people)
Nursing pads
Lanolin +
Witch hazel wipes
Other
Snacks + hard candy
Pillow
Notebook (to log visitors/guests etc)
Waterproof pad (for use in the car!)
What we packed for hubby:
2-3 outfits (old/ok to get potentially destroyed, including shoes!)
PJ’s x2
Pillow
Toothbrush
Deodorant Phone charger
Tablet + charger
Button down shirt (for skin to skin, in case mum couldn’t!)
Pain killers (common for the men-folk to get a headache)
Snacks + drinks
What we packed for baby:
Car seat
Premie outfit (Just in case he came out a little small for NB)
Newborn outfit
Outfit to come home in
Blanket (for the trip home)
Sleeping gown x2
Boppy
Dummy/Pacifier
Burp cloths x2
What I actually used:
Toothbrush/paste
Body wash
Deodorant
Yoga pants
Lip balm
Electronics (chargers, extension cables)
Witch hazel pads, pads and Dermoplast spray (provided by hospital)
Col and baby used most of what they brought – Col could have done with a second sweater on-hand, as the first one got dirty quite quickly, my room was pretty cold and he refused to leave our sides to go the three miles home and get a clean one!
I spent most of my time in the ridiculous gown that the hospital gives you upon admission.  I figured with the amount of monitors, bands, tests, epidural and hopefully breast feeding, that I didn’t care that my arse was hanging out, or that I was mostly naked the entire time.  Easy access was the plan!
The hospital provided me with most things that I (and baby) needed, all my post-labor care products, nappies, swaddle sheets, t-shirts for baby etc.  They even gave me sample tubes of lanolin and a Medela pumping kit for their hospital grade pump, so we were set, and realistically didn’t want for anything.
One thing I didn’t bring with me, was a change of clothes for me to go home in.  I had my yoga pants, but no clean shirt, so I left in the shirt I arrived in – pack yourself something clean and fresh to wear.  Don’t forget this one!
There wasn’t anything else that I think I should have brought, could have brought, or feel like I was DYING, or stupid for not bringing.  In actual fact, were I to do it all over again? I’d pack a very, VERY small bag – instead of the rather large bag we lugged in and barely opened!
What was the one thing you couldn’t have lived without during your birthing hospital stay?  Did you over-pack? Did you under pack? Was your hospital a great provider of ‘things’? Or did you have to provide everything yourself?

Pregnancy: Delivery. Birth plan, schmirth plan!

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For the squeamish among you, look away now – you’ve no real need to read this.  However, if you’re planning on having a baby – here’s my no holds barred account of my labor experience (as in, the medical fact account, the decisions we made and the very quick labor that brought our little bubs in to this world!)  It’s by no means a ‘typical’ experience, but it brought the most beautiful little boy in to our lives and I figure I should document it, to compare against his future brothers and sisters!

So, we were at 36 + 5 and had just dropped my best friend off at the airport, having had her turn up wholly unannounced for the weekend – talk about a shocker!  Let’s just say, I’m glad we had mani-Pedi’s done while she was here, at least I had pretty nails in labour!

We had finally gotten our to-do list down to a few things, sell Col’s car, get my old car serviced, hire a cleaner, sort and rehang the picture frames we’d taken down before Christmas for our transfer, get Col’s work shirts laundered, take some stuff to Goodwill, go to the post office to send my BFF’s baby gift before she went in to labor (she was at 38 +6) and give the house a general tidy (we started this room by room and were pretty much finished upstairs).

I had committed to an SSA coffee morning in Missouri City, Thursday morning (36+6), and, in spite of it being a high blood pressure day, I went off to coffee, determined that I wasn’t going to let this high blood pressure/threat of Preeclampsia take away my last few weeks of progress.

By lunch time, however, my numbers continued to climb, I called the nurse at my OB’s office, left a message and drove up to our mechanic’s garage to drop off the Saab and pick up Col and by the time I got to the garage, she’d called back to say, ‘come in for monitoring’.

In the car on the way home, I asked Col if we should stop by the house and grab an overnight bag – just in case, though changing car’s to the car that had the baby’s car seat and throwing our ‘hospital bags’ in the boot, just didn’t occur to either of us.  As far as we were concerned, we were going to be observed and sent home, like previous times we were called in to the hospital, having been told ‘just watch your blood pressures’.

I also didn’t stop somewhere to eat, again, cause we figured we’d get sent home and eat then.  So let’s note, I had 2 fish tacos and a cupcake at 11-ish and we were on our way to the hospital!

After a round of bloods, blood pressure and urine, the nurse announced we were being induced – that I was showing signs of preeclampsia and the only way to cure it, was to take the kiddo out.  Well.  Let’s just mention here, there was no discussion, no time to process, no option, it was ‘let’s get this kiddo out’ and that was that.  It was around 5pm.

The rest almost passed by in a hazy blur, I tried to keep some notes on my phone, so that I could blog (duh!) and remember exactly what happened.  The plan was ‘simple’, cervix softener (x2 around five hours apart if nothing was happening), Pitocin, break waters and labour.

At 8pm, I had my first cervix softener (which, apparently is a 1/4 of a baby aspirin, inserted in to your cervix), which was repeated at 1am – not the most pleasant of experience, but whatever.

At 3.17am I was only 2cm dilated and was given Pitocin (which I had no real time to think about, yet, was mildly concerned as I hadn’t done my research on the drug – thinking we had a few weeks to go – so was vaguely aware that this may be a bad idea).

At 3.35am there appears an OBGYN who was on the ward delivering another baby, it turns out my OBGYN had woken up to check on my progress, heard she was on the ward and sent her in to break my waters – essentially a chick with a crochet hook pops a water balloon in your va-j-j, you feel a gush and so starts the labor process!

The nurse suggested I take my epidural around 5.30am while the anesthesiologist was in our side of the building, considering that the contractions were strong and regular, it wasn’t a bad idea – I was around 4.5cm.

The epidural hurt going in, but I knew it would and I was prepared for it.  Between the needle and the contractions, I gripped the bed and thought of Hawaii.  Waves lapping the beach – calming, relaxing thoughts – the guy was sticking a needle in my spine after all.

At 5.30am, I was still around 4.5cm dilated and around 75% effaced, his head was down and ‘sunny side up’ (as in he was facing my front instead of my butt), but labor was going slowly – so they increased my dose of Pitocin.  It was shortly thereafter that my epidural broke down.  I started feeling isolated, and seriously strong contraction pains in my right hip, they were every few minutes and hurt like absolute crazy – because of the high dose of Pitocin to make the contractions stronger!

The nurse called another anesthesiologist, who said he’d have to take out the first epi (noooo!) and put in a second one (double no!!) but considering how agonizing my then 6cm contractions were, I didn’t hesitate.  However, that hour, was insufferable, trying to have an epidural put in between contractions – also, insufferable, at which point, my blood pressure, and baby’s heart rate dropped pretty low, so I was put on oxygen to try and chill us both out a little.

Epidural-ing, is probably a skill that very, VERY few people possess.  That’s why I’m perfectly fine with paying the drug-pushers the big bucks – he was playing around in my SPINE! Yes, I made up a word, I do that.  Also, once it was in, I still felt things, but it was much, much duller kind of way.  I wasn’t grunting through pain – the epidural took!

At this point, the nurse was starting to get concerned, she guessed he was going to top out around 8lbs and she was murmuring about the chances of a C-section, which concerned me slightly, because, section was not, at all, in my birth plan – I hadn’t read much about that either, and the unknown is pretty scary, so I was a little wigged.

The external monitors weren’t doing so well at keeping up with a wiggly baby, so, they put internal monitors on.  It turns out that a lot of my amniotic fluid was still pooled in there, so they had to clear it out – which hurt quite a bit, in spite of the epidural.

At 12.30pm, I was 6cms, baby still hadn’t turned around yet, so my nurse had me roll to one side and put the ‘top’ knee into a stirrup.  Shortly after flipping to my other side, I very classy-like, told my nurse that I felt an overwhelming need to poop, ‘Then bear down’ she said, not sure what that was, I guessed push – so I pushed.

A few minutes later, she was shrieking ‘stop! Stop pushing! Dr Diase isn’t here yet!”, I asked her what percentage of women, crowning in labor, can stop pushing when asked? She didn’t have an answer! LOL!

I think I pushed twice or three times, huge, long, deep pushes and baby arrived, no OBGYN in the room – delivered by Mendy our nurse, who had called for any back up she could get, and Col – who was holding my leg the whole time – due to a stirrup malfunction.

The cord was cut by daddy and our little bubble, was pronounced perfect – only 45 minutes later, at 1.15pm.

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The nurses (and our OBGYN) were incredulous, practically zero first time mothers have such an easy labor and delivery.  Pushing for so little time, baby turning so easily etc.  Our little guy practically delivered himself – even at three weeks early, he was ready and eager to be born and see his parents ;)

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Doting daddy rocked out with Lewis, while mummy was stitched up by Dr Diase, who arrived moments later, announcing she’d been waiting for this child all day and had missed his big entrance!

Things to note:

- In this country people think it’s abnormal if you don’t want your baby boy circumcised.  Everyone will ask you.  EVERYONE.  And they’ll make a weird face when you say ‘no’, EVERY time.

- If you have pre-Eclampsia, you very may well be put on a magnesium sulphate IV for 24 hours starting when the baby arrives, to prevent seizures.  For me, this meant a catheter and 24 hours in bed.  For Col, this meant that for the first 24 hours, baby was pretty much solely dependent on him, and any mummy interaction was after being ferried to and from his bed by daddy.

- No matter how well prepared you are, or you think you are – something unexpected could always happen.  We were prepared, we had all bags packed and ready to go – right next to the front door, car seat was installed – and we ended up with the ‘wrong’ car at the hospital!!

We planned for a ‘regular’ delivery at 40 weeks, but my health issues called for a 37 week induction.

We had so many plans and ideas on how we’d have liked things to go (I’m going to do a separate blog-post about breast feeding and other ‘issues’ I had), and you need to be somewhat flexible, don’t put pressure on yourself.  I opted for an epidural, because I have a low pain threshold, I’m a whiner, and I really had nothing to prove to anyone during my labor.  When it failed and I got a taste of ‘real, active labor’, it made me 100% sure I’d made the right decision.

- Be your own advocate.  Don’t be afraid to speak up, trust your gut/instinct – especially in the USA where you are, realistically, paying for a service.  My three-day stay in the hospital (not including once baby was born and started his own tab) was billed to the insurance company at $21.5k – that’s not a small bill.

Be very clear about your wishes, breast or bottle, pacifier or no, immediate skin-to-skin, circumcision etc – you are the only person who has your baby’s absolute best interests at heart, you are the only one who knows your plan – share it, stick to it and don’t feel like you have to defend it. Write it down, make copies and hand it out if you have to.  That way, the staff will know your intentions from the get-go and you’ll have as much control over the situation as you can possibly retain.

- No matter how hellish your journey may be, C-section or vaginal, drugs or no, breast or bottle – it will all be worth it in the instant you see your little one.

Our little Lewis was certainly worth the wait and work!

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Gluten Free Northern Irish traybakes part II…

It hasn’t been all that long since round I of our mostly-no-bake-tray-bake morning (round I can be found here), but with Jr on the way, we wanted to squeeze another morning in before he makes his grand appearance. You’ll quickly learn that pretty much ALL tray bakes in Northern Ireland are called ‘buns’, Malteser buns, cornflake buns, wee buns, big buns – they’re all buns.

I’ve already started to cobble together a bunch of ideas for the next round, but I think we’re getting towards the ‘bottom of the barrel’ with the no-bake stuff, so we may have to start branching out in to the baked-goods before long.

I love these mornings, you turn up with ingredients for one dish, go home with samples of four – hubby is happy, you’re happy, and you do 1/4 of the work to get the results – genius!

Alison was our host this time around and she made us some delicious homemade soup and wheaten bread to bring us home to our roots for lunch – it was delicious – and I’ve already requested the recipe so I can recreate it in my kitchen and further indulge in the taste of home.

Meanwhile, here are the recipes we used for our delicious no-bake or part-bake tray bakes this time around.

Cornflake buns

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This time we each picked a recipe to make and brought the ingredients for our specific recipe.  I chose to do a Cornflake tart (as it’s seemingly known online) but, for those of us who had it for school dinners in our youth, it’s affectionately known as a ‘cornflake bun’ (isn’t everything that has cornflakes in it?!) In school this was often served with custard, or, sometimes, just a wee glass bottle of ice cold milk. It’s easy to make – it doesn’t have a complicated recipe or a whole bunch of ingredients – and it’s pretty damn tasty if I do say so myself!

For the gluten free shortbread base, my friend Alison gave me a fool-proof recipe, and for the topping part, I used a recipe from a blog I found online called Pudbakes, but I made a gluten free version, and have some comments about quantities that y’all should hear.

Shortbread Recipe: 100g butter/margarine (room temp) 50g sugar 175g flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill GF flour)

Method Beat together butter and sugar, stir in flour and mix into a firm dough – I added a tbsp. of water to bind it together a little as it was all a bit dry and flaky at first.

Press into the base of a well-greased cake tin (8×8 or 9×9 would do for one batch of this dough). Bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 20-25mins until it turns a pale golden brown colour.

Filling recipe: 175g seedless raspberry jam 55g butter/margarine 55g caster sugar 25g golden syrup 175g cornflakes (I used gluten free cornflakes)

Please note:  I was NOT happy with these quantities, there was not enough ‘sauce’ to bind together the cornflakes.  In doing this recipe again, I would half the ‘sauce’ part of the recipe again and make 1.5-2 times the sauce, as the cornflakes are supposed to bind together well and not fall apart when you cut/touch them.

Method Spread the jam on top of the shortbread. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup. Mix in the cornflakes. Spread this mixture on top of the jam and leave to cool.

 Mars bar buns

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Ingredients

4 regular sized Mars bars
2 tbsps. of golden syrup
85g butter
3-4 cups rice krispies (enough to be coated in mix, but not too dry) These come in a GF version here too if you’re interested in making a GF recipe!
250g milk chocolate
Method
1. Melt together the Mars bars, golden syrup and butter in a double boiler/bowl over a pot of boiling water.
2. Mix in the rice krispies until well combined. Spread mix into an 8″ x 8″ baking tin and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Melt the chocolate. Spread over the krispie mix and leave it back in the fridge for 30 minutes until set.
4. Remove from the fridge and cut into squares
Please note:  I think the cutting in these recipes, should probably be done at room temp – we had quite a giggle trying to get the knife through the fridge-cold tray bakes!
Fifteens
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These things are a Northern Irish ‘delicacy’, they’re not an Irish thing, not a British thing, but are very specific to the North.  They sound very bizarre, and I’ve found a ‘variation’ on them that I want to try next time as I don’t like glacee cherries – but the husband loves these treats no end!
Ingredients
15 digestive biscuits/Schar gluten free HoneyGrams – crushed/blitzed into crumbs
15 marshmallows (at home they are ’pink and white’) – cut into 4 or 6 pieces each
15 glacee cherries – cut into 4
15 walnuts (optional) – roughly chopped
1 small can of condensed milk
Desiccated coconut (for rolling)
Method
Mix together all dry ingredients except the coconut.
Stir in enough condensed milk to bind everything together – without being too wet or sloppy.
Make ’dough’ in to a roll shape and roll in desiccated coconut to coat.
Place in fridge to set (around 30 mins) and cut in to slices.

Florentines

Florentines: bottom left!

Florentines: bottom left!

Florentines Base: 8oz digestive biscuits (crushed), 4oz margarine, 1oz brown sugar.

Topping: 4oz walnuts, 4oz cherries, 2oz almonds , small tin of condensed milk.

Melt margarine, add crushed biscuits and sugar. Press into a Swiss roll tin. Chop nuts and cherries and spread over the base. Pour tin of milk over the top and bake for 20 mins @ 180 oC.

When cold cut into squares.

 

Pregnancy: Preeclampsia, ‘The silent killer’

Alrighty, so, if you wake up one morning and your feet suddenly look like THIS:

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(Left picture is from Sunday morning, right is from Tuesday morning).  Whether you are pregnant or not, it’s not normal.  If you are pregnant however, and you’ve experienced ZERO swelling throughout your entire pregnancy (and you haven’t been overdosing in salt over recent days), take heed.

Preeclampsia is not a joke, it’s not a myth, it’s actually quite a serious ailment that could, in extreme cases, cause death.  So be educated, know what to look for and pay attention to your body and what it tells you.

The disease is sometimes referred to as a silent killer because most people can’t “feel” their blood pressure going up, or, for that matter, a number of the ‘issues’ going on in your body.  How would you know you have increased protein in your urine?

So, Sunday.  Right, I woke up with huge dinosaur feet, I’d gained 3.5lbs in a matter of days – and, after a quick Google search (yes, I know, self diagnosis is a total disaster!!) I discovered that these were common symptoms of Preeclampsia, the 3rd pillar of ‘self diagnosis’, being high blood pressure.  So off we went to Walmart, to use the self-check blood pressure machine, ‘best of three’ later, and I called my OB’s emergency line to ask for someone to dip my pee and test for protein, so we could rule out pre-e and stop me freaking.

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Me monitor and baby monitor!

The lovely folks at Methodist Hospital, had other ideas, blood tests, urine tests, two collapsed veins, 24-hour constant monitoring for both baby and I, 24-hour urine collection and an ultrasound made for an interesting overnight stay in the hospital – especially since I was having minor and irregular contractions to boot!

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Thankfully, all tests came back clear and all that came of my hospital stint, was that they wanted us to buy an in-home blood pressure monitor and check my blood pressure a few times a day – just in case.  Because pre-e can hit at any time and sometimes the swelling can happen a few weeks before any other symptoms present themselves.

In-home 24-hour urine collection kit!

In-home 24-hour urine collection kit!

After being admitted to the hospital for a rather scary 24 hours of testing and observation, I decided I needed to blog about this disease.  Perhaps you’re not familiar with it, like I wasn’t.  Perhaps you’ve heard about it, but never really paid attention.

Well, pay attention.  This shit is serious!

What is Preeclampsia?

Affecting at least 5-8% of all pregnancies, it is a rapidly progressive condition characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. Swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches, changes in vision and upper right quadrant pain are important symptoms; however, some women with rapidly advancing disease report few symptoms.

Typically, preeclampsia occurs after 20 weeks gestation (in the late 2nd or 3rd trimesters or middle to late pregnancy) and up to six weeks postpartum, though in rare cases it can occur earlier than 20 weeks. Proper prenatal care is essential to diagnose and manage preeclampsia.

Globally, preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death. By conservative estimates, these disorders are responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year.

The ONLY cure for Preeclampsia is delivery of your baby.  They will try and ‘get you’ to 37 weeks where possible, but, depending on the severity of your symptoms, how the baby is responding to the disease and how you react to things like blood pressure medications, they may opt to extract the little one early.

Here’s the trifecta of symptoms I had (that I could obviously see/experience myself and be aware of):

  • Severe and sudden swelling (see above dinosaur feet picture)
  • Severe and sudden weight gain (I had 3.5lbs between Thursday and Sunday – WAY out of the ordinary for me!)
  • High blood pressure (I went to Walmart – yay for self diagnosing, not! And my BP was elevated, my docs have since said anything over 140/90 and you should call your OB).
Other symptoms include:
  • Blurry or ’disturbed’ vision, one friend called it ’worms in your sight’
  • Headache – not a tension, hunger or ’regular’ headache, but a headache that won’t go away with Tylenol.
  • Pain under your right boob, where your liver is.
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
Tests they performed on me to confirm:
  • Blood pressure monitoring.  I was on a blood pressure monitor for almost 24 hours, the first 8-9hours I was ’hypertensive’ (peaking at around 106/96).
  • Test your reflexes. Reflexes are more ’violent’ when Preeclampsia is present.
  • Urine dip – to check the level of protein.  If this is negative, or inconclusive and you still have symptoms that suggest it’s possible, they may do a ‘24 hour urine collection’ which is what they did with me.  Essentially you pee in a tub for 24 hours and they run a total protein level over an extended period of time compared to the amount of pee you produce and compared also to your liver and kidney function (repeat blood test).
  • Blood test to check your liver function and platelet count.  They ran this twice with me, once when I was in the hospital being observed and once after I’d handed in my 24 hours of pee in a tub, this is to correlate the protein level in your urine, against your kidney and liver function numbers in your blood.

Potentially totally unrelated to the potential preeclampsia, I was having infrequent and minor contractions (I wasn’t really feeling them) and they found bacteria in the many liters of urine they took from me, so they ran a culture to check for a UTI – which, I didn’t know at first, but can often cause contractions.  This was also clear – turns out they didn’t process a culture at the hospital, so took more urine and the bacteria was gone – fluke? Hopefully!

Hubby is right, there’s not yet been a hospital test that I haven’t passed.  I’m hoping it stays that way!  I think we were both more freaked out by this hospital stay, then we were the last one.  They wouldn’t let me eat – just in case they had to take the baby out (cue panic!!) and instead of monitoring both baby and I every now and then throughout the night, the nurse essentially spent the entire night, *right there* next to me – which not only left me exhausted and not rested, but it also made me crap my pants thinking that this was a big bad that was going to kill me and our baby that we’d worked so hard to get.

A week later, and my OBGYN is back from vacation.  I chatted to her this morning and she was quite concerned, she said delivery is the only cure for my freakish knee-down swelling (and normally people discover that 2-3 weeks post-partum, their feet return to normal), that said, she said although it’s ‘common’, it’s not normal to be quite ‘this’ swollen from the moment you wake up in the morning (I always see her first thing) and get progressively worse as the day goes on – you should have SEEN her face when I showed her the Dino picture from Sunday morning!!

She reinforced the ‘rules’ from the hospital, lots of water, feet up, rest, rest and more rest (no multiple stores in one day, no long drives, no rodeo (!!!!!), no long walks), keep checking my BP and if it peaks at 140/90 again I’m to call her immediately.

Not a bad pic for a terrified Las!

Not a bad pic for a terrified Las!

We just need this kiddo to stay a-cooking’ til at least 37 weeks.  That’s all I need.

We can do that, right little one?

 

 

 

RIGHT?

A pleasantly surprising discovery – Beaumont, Texas.

When hubby announced to me last Wednesday that we were going away for the weekend for my birthday celebration, I was *almost* disappointed.  We can’t fly, can’t sail and can’t endure long car rides (especially since my chest pains arrived a couple weeks ago), so that leaves short-car trips.  One would assume San Antonio or Austin.

While I do enjoy both of these cities, (scrambling to sound less of an ungrateful mare) we favour trying somewhere new when we travel.  I should have had more faith in my wonderfully curious, explorer-husband, because he did in fact stick to our preference of trying out somewhere new, and his description of our weekend was, and I quote, ‘a gamble’.

Hmmm.  He told me the night before we left, where we were going, Beaumont, Texas – a city around an hour and forty minutes from us in Missouri City, so closer still than San Antonio or Austin (bonus points for a shorter-than-expected car journey!) and that we were going to take in a show, the Blue Man Group.  I can’t/won’t tell you too much about the show, mostly because I’m not sure that it’s something words do justice to, so, instead, I’ll tell you it’s musical, it’s visually stimulating, it’s hilarious and to go and see it, if you have the opportunity – you won’t regret it.  My mind was BLOWN.

Why bother with Beaumont?

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from Beaumont to be honest, I’d only ever considered it as a venue for concerts by people who didn’t make it to Houston - but had never considered it as being in our ’somewhere to go’ catalogue.

Beaumont is probably most famous as being an old oil ‘boomtown’, in 1900, the Lucas gusher blew, putting Beaumont on the map for being the home of the greatest oil well in history.  It’s success lasted around a decade, at the end of which, the oil well was drained dry, Gladys city was a ghost town of wooden shacks and all that was left, was the memory of the Lucas gusher.

First things first, this IS a manageable day-trip from the greater Houston area, that said, Beaumont, in whatever wacky wisdom they believe to work for their city, close a lot of the tourist attractions on the weekend – two days of the when, in my opinion, would be the most beneficial time to keep the places open for tourists.  That, or they open at odd hours, or request you book appointments in advance.  But, what do I know? I’m just a tourist, right?

What did we do?

We arrived on Friday afternoon, had lunch, did a spot of shopping (just in Target) and hit up the Blue Man Group in the Julie Rogers Theatre – a beautiful theatre, if you have a chance to see something here, do it.  Parking was free at the back of the theatre, it’s a great size, not too big, not too small, acoustics are good and the décor is absolutely beautiful!

Fire Museum of Texas

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Saturday morning we hit up the Fire Museum of Texas – and quickly discovered, that it was closed (BOOO!) But, thankfully, the worlds largest functioning fire hydrant wasn’t inside, so we had a walk around the grounds and took some fun pictures of the HUGE hydrant painted like a cow.

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Spindletop/Gladys City Boomtown Museum.

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Once we were done taking pictures in the sunshine, we headed out to the   A reconstruction of the old Gladys City from back in the days of the Lucas Gusher.  It was a very interesting museum, you move from building to building around the town, learning what life was like back in 1900, when the gusher blew and tens of thousands of oil-folk flocked to the city.

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Also you have model Spindle Tops, a gift shop, and, if you are so inclined, a function room that can hold up to 75 people – we spent just over an hour here at this museum and there was a lot of open space for kid-lets to run around and wear themselves out!

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This museum is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission at 4:20 p.m.) Sunday, 1-5 p.m. (last admission at 4:20 p.m.) Closed most Mondays, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Easter and Memorial Day. Information: 409-880-1750 or gladyscityinfo@gmail.com and parking is free.
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Being married to a guy who works in the oil and gas industry, a visit to the Texas Energy Museum was pretty much, unavoidable.  Full of interactive, educational exhibits on how oil is drilled for, processed and what it is used for, this place was quite fun.  That said, it wasn’t as extensive as I expected, and we probably were in and out in about an hour to an hour and a half.
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It still focuses a lot on the Lucas Gusher and the boom in Beaumont, but I feel they could have done a lot more to encompass the actual oil process.  It was definitely worth the entry fee and I think it would be particularly interesting for kids of people in the oil services industry, to learn what mum or dad’s company does.  Plus they’ll all enjoy pushing the buttons – right?! :)

Free parking adjacent to the Museum (always a bonus) and open Tuesday through Saturday 9am to 5pm and Sunday 1pm to 5pm.  Adults pay $5, children over 5yrs old and seniors pay $3.

Notable mention: Raos Bakery

We went here, under the false pretenses of lunch.  Trip advisor and Yelp said they did sandwiches, paninis and soup – as it turned out, they were all pre-packaged and didn’t look overly appetizing at all.

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That said, this place is a bakery, so the sweet counter got our attention in an instant.  As it was valentines weekend, they had a lot of both Valentine’s themed goodies, as well as some King’s Cakes on hand for the upcoming Mardi Gras celebrations.  We opted for the last Napoleon that was on the shelf.  Mostly because it looked like this:

IMG_8245Sweet Lord above we died and went to heaven.  Puff pastry, sweet cream and strawberries – simple, but so totally delicious (and very unladylike to eat!!) – and their chocolate dipped strawberries were fantastic too.

If you fancy a coffee and a treat, go here.  You won’t be disappointed!

Where did we stay?

Probably the newest (at the time I’m writing this, Feb 2014) hotel in the Beaumont area and one of the nicest ‘budget’ hotels I’ve been to in a loooooong time.  The Holiday Inn Express.  It came very highly rated on Yelp and Trip Advisor and hubby got a good deal on a room (around $85 a night).  For that, you get free internet (which worked pretty well for hotel internet), free breakfast (again, surprisingly good considering most hotel breakfasts – my favorite was the industrial pancake making machine and I left wanting Col to buy me one for Christmas!) free parking, close access to all of the attractions in Beaumont.

The room also had a fridge (which worked better than our own at home), a microwave (which was ace since hubby brought along some popcorn to pop – just in case!) and a decent sized bathroom.  The pool was an outside pool, which, normally wouldn’t bother us in February in Texas, but after our freakishly cold winter this year, the pool was left empty for the weekend, which was a shame.

I can’t recommend this hotel enough, we got great sleep (with a hot water bottle for a husband, a good AC unit is of paramount importance), it was quiet, we were able to watch the Winter Olympics on the flat screen and the staff were lovely and friendly.

What else can you do in Beaumont?

Here is a couple of places we couldn’t make work, due to timing, but would have interested us, had they been open over the weekend.

Places like the Beaumont Police Department Museum is free to visit, but is only open on weekdays and viewable by appointment only (call 409-880-3825).

The Fire Museum of Texas, was somewhere we were DYING to go see (we love going to see local fire museums), but, again, it’s not open on weekends (unless by special appointment).  Another free institution to go and visit (Beaumont is a really GREAT city for free museums!!) this museum is open Monday to Friday 8am to 4.30pm and ranks as the #1 attraction to visit in Beaumont.  We are sad to have missed out!

Thomas Edison plaza museum, is another free-to-visit place to drop in on your day/short trip visit to Beaumont, and, as of June 2013, they are open Tuesday through Friday 9am-2pm and Saturdays 10am-2pm and reviewers say to allow yourself an hour to an hour and a half to enjoy this small museum.

Clifton Steamboat museum, this museum (and accompanying tug-boat) doesn’t even appear on Trip Advisor’s list of things to do in the city of Beaumont – so I didn’t know about it’s existence until I got home – a little too late, right?  It is open by appointment only, costs $5 per adult, $4 per child and is free for children under 5 years old.

Northern Irish traybakes part I… ‘The Great Irish bake-off…with a wee cuppa tae!’

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Let me tell you a little about my home country.  We are all about a ‘wee cuppa tae’.  In actuality, however, it’s not a wee cup – it’s a mug, and it’s not a singular cup, it’s gallons.

Should you go to visit anyone in Northern Ireland, they will immediately put the kettle on (sometimes making a pot, sometimes going cup by cup), they will pull a plate out of the cupboard and pile it high with some biscuits (custard creams, bourbon creams, jammy dodgers), chocolate treats (penguins, wagon wheels, kit kats etc) and, if you’re very lucky some ‘tray bakes’.

A Northern Irish tray bake, isn’t always quite what comes to mind when you think of a typical tray-bake.  For one, it’s not always baked – in fact, lots are non-bake tray-bakes (15′s for example), or one layer of the tray is baked (caramel squares) – but that doesn’t mean that they are not mind blowing – they are!

Last week, myself and three of my fellow Irish Expat friends here in Houston, got together and made a few of these treats from home – and I have a feeling, it’s going to become a regular occurrence.  We all enjoyed the ‘craic’, the ‘baking’ all turned out exceptionally well - and the husbands, at least mine, hit that Tupperware box of goodies like the Tasmanian devil – and, two of the four recipes made, were even gluten free! Bonus!

We embarked on three main recipes this time (one was split into two ‘flavours’ – so we ended up with four individual ‘things’).  Aero buns, raspberry ruffle buns, coconut balls and caramel squares.

Mint Aero buns/Raspberry Ruffle buns

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Ingredients:
400g/16oz milk chocolate (preferably Cadbury’s dairy milk!)
200g/8oz unsalted butter
4 tbsp golden syrup (no, corn syrup isn’t a good substitute!)
250g/10oz digestive biscuits/graham crackers (there are gluten free versions available in stores)
175g/7oz of the bar you’re using (Aero/ruffle/Malteaser) roughly chopped into chunks
250g/10oz white chocolate
50g/2oz unsalted butter
1 tbsp golden syrup
75g/2.5oz of your chosen candy bar – crushed.
Method:
  • Blend, blitz (or beat to death with a can of something) the digestive biscuits.
  • Set up a double boiler, or a heat-proof bowl over a pot of boiling water (or, use the microwave if you’re confident in your skillz) and melt the milk chocolate together with the butter and 4tbsp golden syrup.
  • Mix in the digestives and the larger amount of your candy chunks – we left adding the Aero until the chocolate had cooled a little so it didn’t melt too much.
  • Spread out evenly, in a baking pan (ours was a 12 inch long baking pan) and compact the mixture a little.
  • Rinse double boiler, dry, and melt the white chocolate with remaining butter and golden syrup.
  • Pour the white chocolate on top and spread evenly.
  • Sprinkle over the remaining crushed candy, pushing it gently into the melted chocolate and put in the fridge for a few hours to let it set.
  • Slice and serve with a wee cuppa tae.

Coconut balls

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Ingredients:
100g/4oz cooking chocolate
50g/2oz margarine
10 digestive biscuits/graham crackers (there are gluten free versions available in stores)
1 can of condensed milk
1 packet of pink and white marshmallows (you can’t get those here in the USA, regular marshmallows will do)
Desiccated coconut – for rolling
Method:
  • Melt margarine, chocolate and condense milk.
  • Blend, blitz (or beat to death with a can of something) the digestive biscuits.
  • Mix biscuits into chocolate mix
  • Allow to cool
  • Taking small amounts of the mixture, (works best with wet/cold hands) flatten in the palm of your hand.  Place a marshmallow in the center and mold the chocolate mix into a ball around the marshmallow.
  • Roll in coconut and allow to set.
  • Serve with a wee cuppa tae.

Caramel Squares (aka Millionaires shortbread)

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Shortbread
Beat together 100g/4oz soft margarine, with 50g/2oz caster sugar, then stir in 175g/6oz plain flour and mix to a firm dough.  Press evenly to the base of a greased 7x11in shallow cake tin.  Bake in a preheated oven at 180C/350F for 20-25 mins until pale golden.  Cool.
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Place 30ml/2tbsp golden syrup, 175g/6oz condensed milk and 100g/4oz butter in a pan.  Heat gently until melted.  Bring to the boil – stirring all the time.  Boil for 5-10 mins until mixture is golden caramel and slightly thickened.  Cool for a few minutes, then pour over shortbread base.  Cool.
Spread 75g/3oz melted chocolate over cold caramel – leave to set.  Cut in to squares and serve with a wee cuppa tae!
We are already planning The Great Irish bake-off, round II for the near future.  For phase II, we are hoping to make Mars bar buns, cornflake tart, fifteen’s – and, if I can dig out some crunchies, crunchie buns may make the list too.
Do you have a favourite tray-bake? Would you like to share a recipe that we can try?

Pregnancy and Fertility: Fertility whilst pregnant.

I feel that I’m sufficiently deep enough into my pregnancy to remark on the aspect of fertility, whilst being pregnant.  It’s not something I gave much thought to beforehand, (other than contemplating my own fertility while others were pregnant) however, although I am eight (six when I started this) months pregnant, I spend my life continually aware of how I got here, our fertility journey, how long it took for us to finally see those two little lines appear on the stick – especially since I am surrounded by those who either are TTC, or are not trying to conceive, but who have suffered unimaginable losses.

Not that I want to forget my long, hard and educative journey, I’ve seen way too many people get pregnant and forget those who are still trying, suffering, or those who will never conceive.  I’ve tried not to be that person.

What I mean is, that I guess when my fertility was ‘solved’ – even temporarily, (I.E. I conceived bubble), that I expected world-infertility to be cured too.  Not consciously I mean, not *really* as I know that’s a scientific impossibility, I guess I just lived in hope, hope that my friends would all find their fix, because if I, after three years, could conceive this wriggly little boy, then surely everyone else’s journeys should finish soon, right? RIGHT?

But one friend has had six miscarriages (mixed terms), one friend’s sister has just had her second round of IVF, one friend has just had back to back early-term miscarriages.  That’s a lot of loss, especially for people actively trying to conceive, who have tried for a long time, or who are suffering from unexplained infertility.

For me, I’d love to say the worst part of the journey was the monthly disappointments when ‘Aunt Flo’ came to visit, it’s really not.  It’s, the hope.

My cycles, have always been irregular sometimes 14 days, sometimes 38 days, but that one month, that ONE month where it spanned to almost 60 days? That month was my hope.

That month, I dared to dream.

And then the cramping started.  And then the bleeding.  The worst bleeding I’ve had in my entire history of being an ‘adult’ female.

I suspected that it was an early miscarriage.  I talked to Col about it, and, actually, I didn’t grieve all that much.  Perhaps cause I didn’t expect to get pregnant naturally? Perhaps because I didn’t take a test to see? Perhaps because I was so used to having such irregular periods? Perhaps because, at best, I was four weeks? Perhaps because I have faith that my body would only expel a pregnancy for a really, REALLY good reason?

I talked to the fertility specialist about it when he asked for my history at my first appointment, I didn’t get any bloods done to confirm, and, in reality, there’s not much you can do but ‘let it pass’, but he agreed that it was very likely a miscarriage.  Which, ironically in the fertility world, is apparently a ‘good sign’, as it means that your body *can* get pregnant.  Which, while this was positive news for us, I can imagine that hearing that when you *knew* you were pregnant, must feel like a slap in the face.  Especially with unexplained miscarriage.

While I don’t feel like my experience, ‘entitles’ me to be a voice on the subject, I wanted to mention that even if it wasn’t a miscarriage, and it was just a long cycle followed by the worst period of my life, those who suffer from infertility and who haven’t even had any miscarriages at all, have still experienced loss.

Some people feel loss every month when their period arrives, whether it’s the loss of a baby that never was or it’s the loss of a little hope each month.

Loss is loss.

Somehow, you pick yourself up off the dirt and move on to the next month.  You have to.  You have to hold on to the faith and hope that some day, you’ll have the two lines appear on that stick that you desperately clutch on to each month.

You don’t let it beat you.

You can’t let it beat you.

What I never felt during even my darkest infertility moments, that I unfortunately feel now that I’m pregnant, was a sense of competition.  People never really tried to one-up my infertility, or never did huge comparisons of our situations.  Yes, we were all trying to have babies, and yes, we perhaps compared the aftermath of a procedure or medication, but, since having become pregnant, it’s a whole new minefield.  An exhausting one at that.

I find myself being pregnant at the same time as a number of people we know and I have discovered that I often find it difficult to open a conversation with them about something I’m going through, as easily as I thought I would be able to.  If I mention something, they’ll come back with a ‘well I have this’, or a ‘well mine’s worse’, kind of thing.  I doubt it’s on purpose, perhaps they, too, are looking for someone to talk to about something they are going through, but sometimes, it feels like a competition.

I’ve said on numerous occasions that my pregnancy is, comparatively, pretty easy, people always have horror stories they want to tell.  I don’t.  The worst I’ve had to complain about is the overwhelming exhaustion and nausea from my first trimester – which, is perfectly normal.

But, thankfully, I haven’t had to spend my pregnancy close to a toilet or anything, but sometimes, something happens that freaks me out, or makes me smile, that I’d like to truly share with someone who didn’t have a ‘well I…’ or ‘well my baby did this’ in immediate return.

Pregnancy is an apparently competitive business – who knew?!

Not only that, but getting pregnant – just isn’t enough for some people!

I was talking to a friend about this last night, I had previously thought it was just a Northern Ireland thing – a small country, small community, everyone knowing everyone’s business.

But, the older I get, the more I realise that it’s just a *people* thing.

When you meet a boy (or man if you’re not 12), it’s almost an instantaneous bombarding of questions.

  • When are you getting engaged? Then you maybe get engaged (not because they asked obviously – just go with me on this!)
  • When are you getting married? Then you maybe get married.
  • When are you having children? Then you maybe get pregnant.
  • Oh, you’re pregnant, is it a boy or a girl? Then you maybe have a gender scan.
  • Do you have any names picked out?

It’s like a reflex, people can’t help themselves, it’s like they *need* to know – worse, it’s like they feel entitled to know.  As soon as friends find out I’m pregnant it’s ‘What are you having?’, when I answer with ‘boy’  (very proudly might I add, because for the first twenty weeks it’s been ‘no idea’ and I’ve felt such pressure to find out the gender – which, we were doing anyway, but I can see why people just ‘go with it’ and find out) invariably the very next question is, ‘What are you going to call him?’ – I’ve known I’m having a boy for exactly a week, and I’m supposed to have a name already? HA!

We were lucky to have agreed on one single solitary name picked out for a girl, boys we don’t even have a short list for! And what if we are those people who want to SEE our baby first before landing him with a name, huh?  What if, we already have names and want to keep them between us?  What if, this poor child ends up with the *only* name we’ve agreed on (the girls one!!!!!) what about that, eh?

I bet bubble will be no more than six months old, before the question, ‘When are you planning on having another?’ will be asked.

I’ve taken solace, instead, in sharing my ‘silly pregnancy things’ or fears with friends who have children, but who aren’t pregnant.  That, and reading on the interwebz – which is often counter productive and compounds my fears more-so than alleviate them, but it’s educational all the same.

I do, however, hold out hope for my friends, for those that are dealing with such loss, who continue to deal with such loss.  I admire them and their strength, I also haven’t forgotten how hard it is – to live with pregnancy around you at every turn.

For those of you who are dealing with miscarriage, infertility – explained or otherwise, or who have suffered loss in your past and who need some support or information on what to do next, contact Resolve.  A wonderful infertility charity, who do great things for those suffering from infertility.

Keep the faith.  Hope really isn’t all bad to hold on to, and you really must cling on to at least a little – and remember that whether by conventional, or unconventional means, you have a lot of options open to you, to have the family you’d like, one way or the other – though the path may not be easy!

Pregnancy: Hospital registration

Have you ever seen that show? Dexter? Serial killing forensic dude? Well, the more I hear and see about labour and delivery, the more I keep hearing the theme tune from DEXTER in my freaking’ head! :-/

So, this week was the week where we *finally* registered with our hospital.  First things first – Methodist (Sugar Land), what, on God’s green earth is the point of having an online registration form, if it’s not worth the – ha! I was going to say ‘paper it’s printed on’.  Dang!

I filled in the online form and thought that was enough to register at the hospital – wrong.  It’s not.

I figured that after filling in all the patient registration forms in the labour and delivery ward last week during our brief scare – THAT – would be enough – wrong.  It’s not.

You have to physically fill in a *specific* pre-labour registration form and bring it to the front desk of Methodist S.L.  where they then hand you about 10 forms that all need signatures, printed name, and signed on behalf of ‘bump’.

I have no idea what would happen if you went in to labour, without having signed these bazillion forms for everyone, but it’s done.  We are officially registered with the hospital of our choice, which, after having priced it on my Health Insurance pricing tool thingy, turns out we’ve picked the most expensive L&D process that is local to us (though I’ve maxed my insurance, so it shouldn’t cost me anything – here’s hoping!)

While we were there, we opted to take a little tour around the L&D ward (Mostly cause Amber made me!) - in spite of the receptionist lady telling us we’d have a lengthy wait cause they were all busy - a nice Scottish lady took a time-out from whatever she was doing, to bring us around the floor.  We learned some interesting things, asked some important questions, and came away feeling much better about the whole L&D process (aside from the Dexter thing obviously!)

She told us a few things that we could bring with us if we wanted (pillows – which were already on our list after our visit last week, nothing with an open flame, but if we want to bring aromatherapy or Scentsy stuff, that’s fine.  Nothing valuable, no ‘good’ clothes and shoes that we aren’t ok getting covered in blood – which again, Amber had already prepared me for, clothes hangers, music for bubble to be born to and a soothing desert landscape dvd – if we are so inclined!)

We learned that you actually birth in one of 13 delivery rooms (complete with Jacuzzi tub) and are moved to one of 26 post partum rooms (no bath, but a shower with a removable shower head ‘so you can schoosh all the blood off you after he’s born’ – another Dexter moment!) Epidural can go in as early as 3-4cm or as late as 10cm, it’s my timetable, I cry ‘uncle’ and the epi goes in.

On weekends, the kitchen shuts at 2pm, not just for patients – but for staff also! :O ouch!! She said that often the nurses tend to ‘order in’, so to ask my nurse if they are bringing in lunch so we can piggy back, or request the folder of menus from places that deliver.  Again – this was something Amber had said, check the hours of the kitchen so you don’t go hungry, local places that deliver, as well as the fact that her mum brought her food-gift-cards post-Averie’s birth, so she could send Aaron out for food when the kitchen was closed.

Nurses are on a 7am-7pm twelve hour rotation, my concern was that I’d have to get to know a ton of nurses changing every few hours, and repeat my wishes/concerns/preferences to all of them, over and over.  Thankfully, that’s not the case! :)

Visiting hours are 9am – 9pm, though this is often flexible – as long as I give them permission ahead of time.  Col has unlimited access, and can come and go as he pleases, whenever he wants – all good!

They have VERY strict security, every baby has a ‘lojack’, this lojack corresponds to the bands that the parents wear.  If you go near a different baby in the nursery – an alarm will sound to tell EVERYONE that you’re at the wrong baby (totes embarrassing, right?!).  If someone tries to take a baby (aside from me stabbing them repeatedly in the eye with a blunt object), the entire hospital goes on lock-down, everyone has a station to go to, all doors to L&D are locked, including stairwell access and no one is allowed in or out.  All very reassuring measures to ensure it’s as difficult as possible to steal a baby from the floor.

She told me that all nurses are trained in breastfeeding, that it’s a pro-breastfeeding hospital and that many of the nurses are ex-midwives, with a wealth of experience in the area.  They have three lactation consultants, two on during the day shift and one that does the overnights.  This was a HUGE relief for me.  If the Dexter images of birthing a baby aren’t quite enough to scare the bejeezus out of me, the one major pothole that I was dreading being faced with, was breastfeeding.  I believe, I had even started to panic a little over the whole ordeal.

Thankfully she was able to put my mind at rest, that even if bubble is born in the middle of the night, there will be any number of people on-hand who can help me learn to feed him and get a rhythm down.  She also said that if we are categorically against formula, pacifiers, don’t want visitors etc, to make a list and talk through it with my nurse so that she can put my notes up on the board in the staff room so that everyone knows my preferences, and they can be followed to the letter.  She said it’s our choices, our baby, our way and they’d do whatever they can to help us achieve what we’d like to achieve.

I definitely felt reassured about the feeding thing, and, as a result, Col was more relaxed about it when we left too.  He felt better, because I felt better.

She also said that our only, ONLY job before arriving at the hospital (aside from grabbing our bags) is to call ahead.  To let my OB know I’m coming in, so she can rearrange her patients, or her private life to accommodate us.  I think that’s fair, no?

Advice

- Take the time out to do a hospital tour.  Our hospital information was online, and even though we didn’t arrive at a ‘designated’ tour-time, they made time for us.

- Ask questions.  Whatever is bothering you, whatever’s on your mind, or, a spur of the moment ‘oh what about…’ kind of question.  Ask them all.  No question is too stupid.  Col very thoughtfully asked which door to come to when I’m in labour - which, actually, was a very smart question, because they only have one door open 24-7!

- If you aren’t sure about the hospital, staff, procedures – don’t go there.  In Houston in particular, there are any number of hospitals.  Seriously, we have a bunch.  If you don’t like one, just go to another.  These people are in charge of your life and your baby’s life – you need to be happy with the facilities, the staff and the whole ‘vibe’ of the place.  Don’t compromise.

We came home and put together a quick ‘what’s left to do list’, including things I need to buy/get together for my hospital bag, Col’s hospital bag and bubble’s hospital bag, which I’ve worked through a little today (I’ll undoubtedly post a ‘what to bring to the hospital’ post in short order also!)

Pregnancy 31 weeks

On Friday, I’ll be 32 weeks pregnant.  Full term can be 5-8 weeks after that.  We still have no name and our ‘nursery’ has no decorations (we’re waiting to find out if we’re coming or going first!) but we seem to be talking more and more about bubble’s arrival (and how he’s getting here) because we are officially on the final stretch – and I dunno about you, but I can’t WAIT to meet him!!

Road Trip! Springfield, Illinois

Did you know that Chicago is NOT actually the State Capitol of Illinois? Well, as it turned out, our brief trip through Springfield, Illinois, was the most surprising and, in many ways, most enjoyable.  Being poly-sci geeks it wasn’t too difficult, this place is coming down with politics and history and is well worth the visit, even just for a day trip!

What to do in Springfield?

Well, it’s mostly a city paying homage to this dude…

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…honest Abe.  Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States.  And very worthy homage it is, he was a great man – a very interesting man – and this city, by extension, is a very interesting city.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

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Website: http://www.illinois.gov/alplm/Pages/default.aspx

Cost: $12

Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM DAILY

This is not my first presidential library, but by George, it was my favourite! It was moving, inspiring, educational and fun.  There wasn’t too much going on, it wasn’t heavy and boring and I feel like I got a real insight into this legendary president.

The exhibitions are thought provoking and much of what you see/read is still largely applicable to today.  There are 4 main exhibition ‘halls’ and they are all separate, yet intertwined at the same time.

Lincoln tomb and war memorial

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Website: www.lincolntomb.org/

Cost: Free

Hours: www.lincolntomb.org/tomb_directions.php

When my friend said ‘visit the tomb’, I thought she meant go to the grounds and have a walk around.  I had no idea that you could go inside, walk around, see sculptures, read about the legend, take pictures, see his actual tomb – it’s amazing, it’s awe-inspiring, it gave me goosebumps.

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It’s free, so that’s good, though there should be big collection boxes everywhere cause it’s awesome in the true sense of the word.  I told my hubby I wanted a tomb just like that when I die, he just laughed at me.  I’m serious, it’s epic.  GO!

Illinios State Capitol Building

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Website: http://www.ilstatehouse.com/

Cost: Free

I LOVED the IL state capitol, it was definitely one of my favourites!  There’s lots to look at, both inside and outside the building, lots of interesting statues, exhibitions, information – we spent a while here and took tonnes of pictures.  They have a cool map that lists all of the points of interest, inside the building and on the surrounding grounds -

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 Would you go back to Springfield, Illinois?

Had we more time, there was a never-ending list of places we’d have gone to visit, Lincoln’s home (national historic site), Old State Capitol building, Illinois State Museum, Illinois State Military museum, Camp Butler national cemetery, Shea’s Gas station museum and the Grand Army of the republic Memorial museum – were all on our ‘short list’ of places to try and squeeze in during our time there.

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Aside from politics, our short trip to Springfield included a quick blurt down a section of Route 66 (which neither of us expected and we both thought was pretty cool), but Springfield also has a lot to offer for those non-politics people out there.  From shopping and art galleries, to tours and outdoor fun, I’m confident that should you find yourself, for whatever reason, in Springfield Illinois, you’ll find something fun to keep you occupied!

Road Trip! Memphis, Tennessee.

Let’s rewind a little (LOT) here, I have been so appallingly bad at keeping my blog up to date and I have a heaving pile of blog-post drafts in the recesses of the WordPress dashboard.  It was a New Years promise to myself, to sit and finish some of them and post them, cause otherwise what’s the point? I’ve had about fifteen unfinished blog-posts, just sitting there, doing nothing, when they obviously could have been out there, saving the world from bad restaurant experiences and helping with epic travel-plans.

In October, we embarked on our longest, ever road-trip, we took on a number of states, spending more time in some, than others.  And boy did we have a blast (so much so, that we’re planning another major road-trip for the near future)!!

Let me tell you about our fave places to eat, fave things to do and where we stayed in each of the cities that we pit-stopped in.  Just in case you have some time on your hands and fancy a wee jaunt into some of the neighbouring states.

Overview – Was Memphis worth the drive?

Heck yes! What a culturally rich city.  I am SO glad that we chose to hit-up Memphis on this trip.  If you like music (of any kind really) and you are interested in Black history (I.E seeing where MLK Jr was shot and killed, Civil Rights museums etc) don’t hesitate.  I think something that people don’t tend to thoroughly consider, is the depth of what Memphis has to offer.  They think Elvis, Graceland and that’s it.  But that’s NOT it.  Memphis really has something for everyone – and I’m pretty sure, we barely scratched the surface on our trip.

What to do in Memphis?

Sun Studios

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Website: www.sunstudio.com

Cost: $12pp

Hours: 10am-6pm daily

Parking: Free but limited.  Free shuttle that ferries between Graceland/Rock and Soul museum.

You look at the to-do list for Memphis TN and you see 3 music museums (Sun, Stax and Rock and Soul) and you think to your self, is it really worth it? Is there really that much ‘music stuff’ to look at? And the answer is yes.  Go to each of them, they are each fabulous, each of them are worth the entrance fee and each of them has a whole different mojo.

This place really is old – and you can tell, it’s creaky, it’s musty, corridors and stairwells are narrow, but know what else it is? It’s HISTORY and you can *feel* it as soon as you walk in.  The tour was 40 minutes, (our tour-guide, Rae was great, she was knowledgeable, fun, funny and a great storyteller).  plus the waiting time for your tour to start during busy periods (35 mins for us)  Parking is limited and to get in to the parking lot there’s a VERY narrow side-street to maneuver down, or you have to circle round, which may be easier.

Stop outside for a moment for a photo-op, you’re standing next to a major piece of history – don’t waste the opportunity!  While we waited for our tour to start, we ordered some drinks, since they didn’t have any diet drinks, I had a surprisingly delicious strawberry milkshake and hubby had a great root-beer float, pricing was great and the server was chatty and interesting while we waited.

It felt surreal to me, to imagine that people like Elvis and Johnny Cash stood in that room, recording their hits? That is nothing short of EPIC.  You also get to have your picture taken with one of the original five microphones used in ‘The era’ of recording, how awesome is that?!

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I was thrilled and amazed to hear that 4-5 times a week, in the evenings, this recording studio still records for modern artists – this is excellent, and now I’m curious to find out who still records here!

Stax museum of American Soul Music

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Website: www.staxmuseum.com

Cost: $12pp

Hours: Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 1pm-5pm

Parking: Free and plentiful (they play music into the car park too)

This museum is one of the most interesting I have been to, a 20 minute short film about the history of Stax before you’re set loose in the main museum.  The movie is educational and moving, it also serves to help you realise that you’re a bigger fan of soul than you realise – cause you’re bopping away to songs you’ve known and loved for years.  I also never realised how racially integrated soul music was, call me ignorant, but I really learned a lot from both the film and the museum itself.  I found it all fascinating!

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It’s not in the best part of town, but, at the same time, it’s definitely worth the trip.  There’s a lot of loud exhibits, playing very close to one another, so the sound all kind of blurs together into, just, noise and it’s hard to separate, but it was nice to have a self guided tour and see everything as you like and take as much time on the exhibits as you’d like.

The disco ball spinning over a dance-floor with epic songs playing from re-runs of soul train? Dance.  You know you want to – plus, you can’t really help yourself, move your feet to the beat!

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The rotating Cadillac is fab, the fluffy extravagant exterior and the choons playing in that hall is pretty cool, I just wished I’d had something from Cee-Lo Green’s wardrobe on The Voice and I’d have felt right at home.  Excellent display – and hubby loves cars – so it was win-win!  Don’t ignore the gift shop, they have some cool things, I couldn’t justify the $60 on the throw, but I was so very tempted.  They also have a clearance table with good bargains!

This place is doing great things to preserve the history of soul music in the US, but also educating the future of soul music here too, with the academy next door.  You don’t need to love soul music to come here, just to love and appreciate music!

Rock and soul museum

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Website: www.memphisrocknsoul.org

Cost: $11pp

Hours: Daily 10am – 7pm

Parking: A couple blocks away and relatively inexpensive

I think this was my favourite museum of the trip – and probably ranks very highly in my list of all-time faves, we parked in the parking garage next to the Peabody Hotel and walked the block or two to get to the museum.  I loved the self guided headphone tour, it was easy to use, type in the 3 digit numbers that are posted on exhibits and hit the play button – user friendly, good sound and plenty of information about each exhibit.

There’s a 12 minute introductory film to the museum, you will probably find yourself singing along with both the film and other patrons – like the Stax museum, you can’t help yourself! (or at least I couldn’t!)  A blend of country, gospel and blues music – who’d have thought such a fab sound would come of it?! LOL!

I, personally, favoured all of the juke boxes, I loved hearing the info about the machines themselves, and rockin’ out to some of the mu-sac as I looked at the exhibits (I must have listened to ‘Soul Man’ about 10 times, boppin’ every time!) the music is fab and you really could just spend a few hours playing all of the songs in the juke boxes.

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Lots to look at, lots to learn and a variety of artists whose music you’ve probably heard but you don’t necessarily know their names.  The rich complexity of music of this era and the tapestries and stories woven within the music is amazing and awe-inspiring.  At a time where many people were angry and hurt and scared, the music remained hopeful and less racial than one might think.  Definitely progressive for its time.  What an education in this place!

Put this museum top of your Memphis to-do list!

Graceland

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Website: www.elvis.com/graceland

Cost: $40pp

Hours: www.elvis.com/graceland/tours/hours.aspx

Parking: $10

Disclaimer:  I appreciate his music and his achievements, but I’m not a pantie-throwing obsessive fan, so for me, this place was a must-see, but not a crying, screaming, worshiping kinda thing.

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As far as the recorded tour guide goes – with SO much information to remember about Elvis, I’m kinda glad it’s all recorded and you can listen at your own speed and it’s not on some poor tour guide to remember it all and recite to you.

The ticket price is high, but for my hubby and I, worth it.  We went off-peak (October) and still had to stand in a 30-45 minute line, and it was hot and sunny outside – I’ve no idea how people can do that in August, I imagine the top-price tickets are worth it for the front of the line pass alone!

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We went with mid-priced tickets, we got to see the main attractions plus the Lisa Marie airplane, Elvis’ car collection – this was one of my favourite exhibits!!!! As well as a smattering of other minor exhibits that we skipped as they didn’t really rope us in.

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I loved his house and grounds, modest, but at the time I imagine it was the one everyone wanted.  The decor is what you think would be iconically Elvis (esp the room with the waterfall in it).

Railroad and Trolley museum

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Website: www.mrtm.org

Cost: $3pp

Hours: 9am-5pm Friday and Saturday, Noon – 5pm Sun.

Parking: Street-side, free.

It’s worth the entry fee at twice the price, there’s so much to see, lots of interactive exhibits (SOS, lights, children’s display).  When this place expands out back, it’ll be even better.  Hubby and I spent ages here, the staff were both lovely and friendly, they were knowledgeable about trains and the locale, they gave us suggestions for food and places to visit in town.

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Time well spent!

Where to eat in Memphis?

We weren’t hugely overwhelmed by our culinary experiences in Memphis, the BBQ we had was disappointing and we ate in some nation-wide chains that weren’t worth remarking on, cause you can go to them at home.  This place, however? This place was worth mentioning to y’all!

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Brother Junipers: Hours: Tue-Fri 6:30 am – 1 pm, Sat 7 am – 12:30 pm, Sun 8 am – 1 pm Website: www.brotherjunipers.com

We were quoted a 40 minute wait, the waiting area was packed and most people were standing.  They were, however, selling coffee while we waited which made the wait go easier for many, and our wait time was actually 25 minutes.

This place is solely a breakfast place, so when I saw a gyro on the menu, I was immediately sold – I’m not a huge fan of breakfast food, especially here in the USA – I don’t tend to like their breakfast meat and that leaves eggs, which I seem to have an aversion to since I got pregnant.  I ordered the gyro with breakfast potatoes – and it was absolutely delicious.  The feta was strong, salty and tasty, they gave me slightly too much spinach and not enough meat, but the pita was delicious and the breakfast potatoes, in spite of the generous portion, just weren’t enough – I could have eaten those bad boys all day!!!

Delish!

Hubby had a more traditional (translation: boring) breakfast, mushroom, cheese and chorizo omlette with breakfast potatoes and he was extremely happy with his food too.

The atmosphere was buzzing, the staff were friendly, service was quick, food was hot and excellent and it was definitely worth the money and the wait – if you’re in the area, go visit this place.  The only downside is the difficulty of parking, otherwise this place is seriously a great find.