Thursday, January 31, 2013

Blessed With Peace

All the walls painted a blueish shade of white, desperate to appear homey instead of clinical, swelled inward around her, as if trying to subtly choke her without the midwives noticing. Visions and beliefs, once so clear, blurred and spilled over her eyelids in suffocating silence, something akin to grief.

She had plans for this baby; she was going to shape this baby's soul and nature with these plans. All she had imagined for eight endless months was birthing her precious child in love and tranquillity in the peace of her own darkened home, in a pool of warm calming water. She was going to have a baby associated with that element, a gentle, flowing water-child, soft and peaceful and able to love.

She was new to babies and birth but had done all she could to be ready for this moment. Well, not this moment, but the moment of her dreams and plans. This moment engulfed her, frightened her, grieved her. She was being told that there was no chance for a natural birth, let alone a homebirth or a waterbirth, and the section would be booked for 39 weeks gestation.

Hours later, she gathered the blankets around her body up to her neck in the late afternoon, pulled-curtains semi-darkness, and allowed the sadness to slowly and warmly trickle over her. She spoke quietly but audibly to her unborn baby, telling her all plans she had for her, apologising to her for what would have to take place, and blessing the child who could live thanks to the very technology and science that so frightened her. She prayed her baby could still be born into the serenity she imagined would mark the child's life, though her entry into the world would be far from serene.

The day was booked - 2nd of February, Groundhog Day. But instead, four days earlier, her body once again resisted her intentions and bled its warning. She was brave but only briefly. Bravery turned to concern which turned to anxiety as doctors waited, stoic experts. Tears once again, this baby more acquainted with fear now instead of peace. Finally, she was wheeled into the room, more blueish-white walls, more homelike-attempts, and she greeted the moment she would meet this child who had consumed her every thought. Please, God, let there be calm. Though this baby will not flow into the world as she should have, bless this baby with the gift of sweet peacefulness.

******

The girl born into blood-soaked hands in a room of bright lights and irrelevant chatter was indeed blessed with sweet peacefulness. Her mother's wishes were granted, not in the way she had wished them, but granted nonetheless. Her daughter flows through life with cheerfulness, joy, kindness and gentleness, along with comical clumsiness, like green water tripping over a stony, crooked brook, squirrels and bluebirds giggling nearby. She is indeed her mother's water-baby, pure and bright and deserving of her name: "white, fair" Fifi.

Happy sixth birthday.





Monday, January 28, 2013

Time 2 Jam

I don't care if I sound like a broken record; this chore schedule app is rocking my world. My house is in a state of manageability at nearly all times. Granted, last week, when we were all hit with a sickness virus, the house somehow turned to disaster - though considering we were all in bed for 24 hours straight, I have no idea how it got so messy - I'm beginning to wonder if Gremlins actually do exist - but in general, I've been able to keep on top of things. And this is liberating.

For instance, my bathroom sink gets cleaned nearly every day. I go to bed most nights with clean kitchen counters and an empty sink. Dishes are not piling up. Laundry is not piling up. I am probably jinxing myself by saying this, but my house feels happy.

This leaves me time to do other things that I don't normally have the chance to do, things lower on the priority list. Yesterday afternoon, Lolly and I cleared out my wardrobe. Completely. I ditched my hanging shelves and put everything on hangers. Then? I colour-coordinated them.

Today, I had Lolly's best friend Eden over and a few other girls from their nursery to celebrate Eden's birthday. It didn't take long to get the house ready for guests at all. (With Eden's mum's help) I just had to put away a few breakfast dishes, wipe down the bathroom, and hoover. That left me plenty of time to ice a cake, feed a Jaguar and have a cup of tea with my friend. Incredible!

(Let me also interject that if it weren't for my clean house last night, making this checkerboard cake would have been twice as stressful. But since I didn't have the house to worry about, I was free to concern myself only with the fact that I didn't make enough batter to make three equal sized layers and that though the recipe said bake for 30-35 minutes, it only needed 15 and therefore one of the layers was rather... crispy.)

After the party (thanks to the mums who helped me put all the toys back away), my house was clean again, and it left me with spare time (!!), something I am unaccustomed to... at least guilt-free spare time. So I made jam.

I haven't made jam in a long time; it's not something that is a high priority, and it takes a lot of time, patience and attention. But with everything clean and up to date, I could actually envision myself standing over a boiling pot of fruit with a stirring spoon. So, I made jam.

My favourite jam is apricot, and it is so easy to make. I didn't have enough apricots to make the full recipe, so I made half. For the purpose of this post though, I'll give you the ingredients for a full batch. (Does jam get measured in batches?)

Apricot Jam
1 kg fresh ripe apricots, quartered and pitted (leave skins on)
juice of 1 lemon
250ml water
1 kg caster sugar (I'm sure granulated would work just fine too)
1 spoonful of butter

Stir together the apricots, lemon juice and water in a large saucepan and slowly heat, stirring occasionally. Once at a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the fruit is soft.


Meanwhile, wash jars and sterilise by putting them in the oven for, oh, I don't know how long. I just put them in at the start of the process and take them out at the end.


Once the fruit has simmered and softened, remove from heat. You don't have to, but I like to mash it all up here with a potato masher to make the fruit bits smaller. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the spoonful of butter and return to heat, stirring until butter is melted.


Bring jam to a boil and allow it to boil rapidly for 15 minutes or so to set it. To check if it is set, you're supposed to chill a plate, spoon some jam onto it, wait a couple of minutes and then push it with your finger. If the surface wrinkles, it is set. Saying that, in all my jam-making years, I've never managed to achieve this wrinkly surface thing, so either I never let it boil long enough, or I am testing it wrong. Anyway, that's the theory.


Last, spoon jam into your warm, clean jars and close the lids tightly. To seal the jars, place the lidded jars into a saucepan of deep water (not covering the jars though) and bring to a boil. I don't know the magic number of minutes to leave boiling, I just boil for a wee while, 5-10 minutes, and then turn heat off. If you are using lids with the safety seal button, you should be able to push the button in after they have cooled a bit, and then you know they are sealed.


And voila, the yummiest apricot jam that will last for months, if left sealed. This jam won me (well, technically the Gaelic nursery) first prize at the Port Glasgow Bulb Show a few years ago. Either it's *that* good, or there were very few entries.

Either way, it's jam good on toast!

*Special tip - this jam is even awesomerly amazinger if you use both apricots AND peaches. I just didn't have any peaches. However, I can't remember if the peach skins need to be removed, it's been a long time since I made it that way. But I'm talking freaking YUM.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lori's Essential Life List Rules and Theories

1. Everyone has an Uncle John.

2. You either like John Travolta or you like George Clooney. Maybe neither. But never both.

3. Ladies: If your dad or equivalent had facial hair, you'll be attracted to men with facial hair. Gentlemen: To a lesser extent, if your mother or equivalent had long hair, you'll be attracted to long hair.

4. Deciding between 'who' and 'whom' is easy. Just take your sentence, replace the who/whom with the word 'him'. If it sounds right with 'him', it is 'whom'. If it sounds wrong, it is 'who'. I call it the 'M' rule. (Sometimes the sentence will need to be restructured to make it work, but if restructured correctly, the 'M' rule will still work.)

5. Likewise, if you are going to say something about somebody else, first replace their name with yours. If it sounds right with your name, it is okay. If it sounds wrong, it is not.

6. Cake recipes can be made slightly less fattening by replacing the oil with applesauce.

7. In relationships, there is no such person as 'The One'. There are only 'The Not Ones'.

8. If you pee with the door open, your children will learn to use the toilet faster. (This theory is still in the beta testing phase.)

9. Make your bed every day, and your room will always appear cleaner.

10. It's just hair. It will grow.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Six Months!

The following post was written two weeks ago but never published. Since I've got the opportunity to go to bed early tonight (having accomplished so far goals 1 and 2 for the weekend), I'll just leave you with this wee post for today. Good night.

*******

11 January 2013

My goal this month has been to blog something every day, and when possible, blog something fairly interesting.

But how do I blog something interesting after having just folded five baskets of laundry?

(Truth. I only folded three. The other two are still waiting.)

So tonight I leave you with a little 'taster' (ha) of the baby led weaning returning to the McFarlane household after four years.

Baby Jaguar be's six months old!

(How? And I mean, when? Where? I just don't know. I honestly thought he was just in my tummy a minute ago.)



Friday, January 25, 2013

Great Chieftain O the Puddin'-Race

Eight Robert Burns' Days I have lived in Scotland and never have I celebrated with an official Burns Supper. How is it that I have never told this story on this blog?

(Well, I told it briefly back in 2004 when it actually happened... you can read about it here.)

I guess, actually, that gives you the gist of what went down but not in all it's gory glorious details. So commence the retelling.

******

I was 22 years old, engaged to my Scotsman, and in the process of filling out my visa application forms to move to Scotland to live with him forever. I was still at University, finishing my English major, and I had a crazy professor, Dr MacRae, who was a major Scotophile (Celtophile? Caledophile?). She told me about a Burns Supper organised by the Fayetteville League of American-Scottish Bastards, or whatever their official title was, and invited me to join her.

I (apparently, according to the above-linked story) paid $22 for my ticket and looked forward to my first experience as a fellow American Scottish-wannabe.

I admit, I had no idea how to dress for the occasion. I now believe this to have been my primary mistake. I couldn't get in touch with Scott that evening due to the time difference, as I tried to decide what to wear, so I opted for semi-casual - a nice pair of jeans with a pretty green jumper, and stylish shoes.

When I arrived at the hotel (and it was just a normal Comfort Inn, we aren't talking the Hilton here), I was escorted to a meeting room decked out in green tartan and thistle centrepieces. I handed over my ticket and scanned the room nervously for Dr MacRae; no where to be seen. I plucked up some nerve, and approached a half-empty table and asked if I could have a seat. A shriveled, faux-riche woman in a velvet evening gown (and no Scottish accent, mind you) informed me that all the seats at her table were taken. So I went to the next half-empty table. An overweight jerk in full Highland regalia and a monocle (okay, I might be imagining the monocle) told me the same (with no Scottish accent, either *cough*). Table to table, I was given the same line by kilted and evening-gowned men and women with lots of money, an obsession with Scotland and a superiority complex due to some ancient ancestor who may or may not have been a sheep rustler somewhere in Leith four centuries ago. No one let me sit at their table. Finally, I just stood by the door, embarrassed and under-dressed, waiting for Dr MacRae to arrive, gazing longingly at the still-empty chairs at nearly every table.

Then, the bagpipes started, and a man brought out the haggis, and I was still standing at the back with nowhere to sit and no one to sit with. Fighting back angry tears, I quietly slipped out the door and headed back through the lobby, out the glass doors, and back into my car.

I was raging. And humiliated. Perhaps a few of those people had been genuine Scottish ex-pats, but I felt I had just as much right to be there as the rest of them, as one who was immigrating to Scotland in only a few short months. Not to mention one who had paid for a ticket! The next day, my professor asked me where I'd been, apologising for being fifteen minutes late. She was horrified when I told her my story. (I did, somehow, win a raffle prize though, which she had kindly accepted for me.)

******

So here we are today, nine years later, on Robert Burns Night again. Last week, Scott bought us a haggis to prepare for the glorious occasion, but I never got around to buying the neeps (turnips) or tatties (potatoes) to go with it. No bother, Burns Supper we shall have - after all, 'we hae meat, and we can eat', so wrap the haggis in foil and cook it.

I raided the freezer and produced frozen corn, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Aunt Bessie's mashed potatoes and Tesco's Finest miniature steak pies. To help Scott with his keto diet, I also got out some bacon and eggs, and in the end decorated our table with a delightfully untraditional yet tasty (and mostly keto-friendly) Burns Supper of steamed veg, microwaved mash, fried bacon, devilled eggs, mini steak pies and a beautiful, flavourful haggis.

I don't know what Rabbie himself would've said to such a mix-n-matched meal, but I imagine it would've been something along the lines of 'Sae the Lord be thankit'. It was yummy. Scott read part of the 'Address to a Haggis', we taught the children the Selkirk Grace, and Fifi and Lolly spent the entire meal making up some crazy version of 'Auld Lang Syne' which included Robert Burns' name in it ('Burns lang syne' or something like that). Fifi and Lolly both tasted the haggis (Fifi didn't like it, Lolly did), and even Jaguar had his first taste of the Scottish delicacy. It was a special little evening.

Finally, though it was nothing official and there were no bagpipes, I have partaken in a Burns Supper at last. I can finally begin to heal from that painful memory in the days of yore.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Back on the Wagon - With Goals

I'm like a junkie. When I fall off the wagon, I fall off big style.

I'm referring to my blogging, of course, not my addiction to crack cocaine. (What's wrong with that?)

(I'm kidding, I'm not addicted to crack cocaine. I can stop whenever I want.)

(I'm kidding again, I don't smoke crack cocaine, or snort it, or whatever you're meant to do with it. Seriously. I don't even know.)

So anyway, I missed one day of my January blog-daily challenge, and then the next and the next, etc., until I realise many days have passed and I have nothing exciting or noteworthy to return from my silence with, so I go to bed instead.

But I'm back, and I'm gonna stay back.

(That's what addicts always say.)

To get me back on track, I'll ease myself in with something short, sweet and simple that allows me to quickly afterwards finish up my chore schedule duties for the day and hit the sack before midnight.

LORI'S FIVE ACHIEVABLE GOALS FOR THE WEEKEND AHEAD:

1. Put more junk on ebay.
2. Get living room spick-n-span.
3. Stick to the diet and lose another pound.
4. Submit poems to that poetry competition I've been dithering over.
5. Clear out another bag of unwanted stuff and take to charity shop and/or destructor.

Simple, achievable goals. And a simple, achievable blog post to get me back on the wagon.

"Life in perfect balance," as my character in an upcoming play would say. "Focus on the core, breathe in, tilt the pelvis, and tighten. TIGHTEN." That's what Sonya would say.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Headless Horseman Rides


Quick story.

When I was 12 I went on a church mission trip to Venezuela. We slept in a dormitory, all the girls (aged 9-13). As happens when groups of girls get together, cliques formed and inevitably one girl got turned into the 'weird' one that everyone laughed at.

This girl (heaven forgive me, I can't remember her name) would wake up every morning utterly distraught, swearing up and down that the headless horseman had been in the room during the night. Of course we laughed and teased her and made fun of her about this, but every morning it was the same headless horseman story.

One night during those weeks away, I got a fever and was separated from the other girls, so I wouldn't pass anything around. I slept in a room all alone with just one of the leaders to keep an eye on me. The following morning, she said to me, "Did you know you were sleepwalking last night?"

Oddly enough this was the first night the headless horseman didn't appear to Forgot-Her-Name.

The next night, I was back in the dorm with the girls.

And guess what? The headless horseman returned.

As it turns out, I was the sleepwalking headless horesman.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Morning Peanut Butter

All right, who loves peanut butter? I do!

I love peanut butter anything - peanut butter sandwiches, peanut butter cookies and cake, peanut butter milkshakes (oh yeah), peanut butter on a spoon...

Today I learned, however, that I do not like peanut butter in hair.

I woke up this morning (slightly later than intended but bright-eyed) and set the girls down at the table with bowls of cereal. I made myself a cup of tea and sat down at the table in my bathrobe, ready to wake up to a nice hot cuppa. I didn't yet have my contacts in or my glasses on but did notice Lolly's hair was a mess. This is no surprise though, as my Bohemian Earth Child always has wild, tangled hair.

While she was eating, Lolly said to me, "I need a haircut." This was a strange thing to hear her say, but I just brushed it off (haha, no pun intended). A few minutes later, as I walked past her, I absently caressed her hair as I passed by and felt a huge tangle.

"Oh Lolly, we're going to really need to brush your hair out today."

"I need a haircut, Mummy."

And that's when I saw it - a huge wad of chewing gum matted up in her long, gorgeous hair.

As it turns out, Fifi had found (?) a single piece of chewing gum on her bedroom floor (?) during the night and had given it to Lolly to chew (?). Lolly fell asleep, and ta da! the gum ended up in hair. (I was reminded of my favourite childhood book, Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day - "I went to sleep with gum in my mouth, and now there's gum in my hair.")

Fifi asked me, "Are you going to cut it out, Mummy?"

"No," I replied. Instead, I went to the cupboard and pulled out the jar of peanut butter.

As you can imagine, the girls were incredibly intrigued. Lolly thought I was going to make her eat it. When they discovered I was going to put it in her hair, they were astounded.

To be honest, I kinda was too.

My mom used to use peanut butter to get gum out of my hair, and it worked, but I mean, who came up with the idea? Hmm... there is chewing gum in my hair. Perhaps if I put ... oh... some... I don't know, some peanut butter in it, it'll dissolve and come right out!

Well it did, but it was an unpleasant experience. The smell was very strange, coming from hair, the gum dissolving in the peanut oil was an awful texture, and long strands of hair inevitably pulled out with it as I worked my fingers through the tangle, the gum and the peanut butter. Lolly was exceptionally patient while I went through this process, but it was rather unpleasant for me.

I then bunged her in the shower and washed all the peanut butter out. Again, the smell of peanut butter in the shower just didn't work for me. And the more hair pulled I out while working through the concoction, the more my fingers got wrapped up in a peanut buttery, gummy, hairy mess.

All before 7am. This was not how I expected to spend my morning. Or my peanut butter.

Needless to say, my tea was cold by the time I went back to it, but I emerged with a sense of Mummy Pride, a sense of having won a rite of passage to motherhood, having dealt with my first (of probably many) gum-in-the-hair experience.

I'm officially MOMed now.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Chore Schedule Goes Mobile

A few years ago I discovered the Motivated Moms chore schedule* and lived by it for a good long time. I loved the easy way it planned out achievable daily and weekly chores in a checklist format. I got away from it though and just somehow couldn't get back into it again.

Then, a few months ago, they came out with a phone app, and I felt it could be just the thing I need. Then my friend Cheryl mentioned returning to it as a New Year's Resolution, so I decided I too would join her in this domestic endeavour. I downloaded the free trial version, and I love it! My kitchen counters are so excited about this.

Give the free two-week trial a try - it's available for iPhone and iPad, as well as Android. I love it!



*Check that link there for a more detailed rave on how much I loved it.

Top 3 Favourite YouTube Videos

For the Ultimate Blog Challenge today, there was a list of 50 suggested blog titles to work from. Most were much more creative (like What My Popcorn Maker Taught Me About Demand in Business), but it's early, it's Sunday, and I'm tired.

So after a lot of thought, here's what I've decided are my top 3 favourite YouTube videos. They are all very different: an amateur music video, a hilarious meme poking fun at us 'natural mamas' and an unbelievably cool costume make-up tutorial. Enjoy any or all of them!

Saskia Hamilton


Sh*t Crunchy Mamas Say



Pop Art/ Comic Book Make-Up Tutorial


*****

Ooh and just as a bonus, I forgot about this one. Just recently saw it, but it is WORTH WATCHING.

Pilobolus' Shadowland

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Review in Photos

Lolly has a pretty little birthmark on her right cheek. We've called this a few different things - a beauty spot, a fairy kiss, a Jesus kiss, a cutie mark.

Today Lolly casually told me, while clambering all over me, doing somersaults all over the sofa, that 'Jesus came out of my heart, and then Jesus kissed my cheek, and then Jesus went back into my heart.'


*****





We have a bit of a mustache obsession around here these days, since Scott grew a mustache for Movember. I love my mustache chocolate lollipop mould, but my favourite is Jaguar's mustache dummy.

*****


I spent the day today on my Simplicity mission, clearing out my bedroom. I cleared out three bags for the charity shop and one bag of rubbish. On top of that I cleared out a massive pile of things to stick on eBay, like the above baby socks. I have listed 18 23 items on eBay so far, but one thing that I just couldn't bring myself to get rid of, not yet, was this beautiful snowsuit of Lolly's. I'm just not ready yet.


*****


Tummy Tub bath followed by a baby massage... these will be some of my fondest memories of Jaguar's babyhood. Tonight we used Burt's Bees baby oil instead of the usual plain almond oil. My hands smell wonderful.

*****


I may not get much sleep when all the children climb into bed with me in the morning, but I do love those sleepy, beautiful faces.



Friday, January 11, 2013

Weekly Shatter Chatter

Get it? Shatter?
I started this blog back in '03 (whoa.....) as a sort of narcisstic public journal. I later moved to Scotland and used it as a way to keep my family back in the States up-to-date with my life. Then it became about pregnancy and motherhood and then... it stopped. I've only recently picked it back up with an aim for writing more creatively and introspectively (ding ding, narcissism strikes again!) but also feel my old folks back home might still want a bit of McFarlane-family catch-up. So this is for them. You're welcome, Maw.

This week has been a busy one for us. After the ease of the Christmas holidays, I think we felt a bit of a jolt with everything starting back full force this week.

Monday morning was the kids' first day back at school. Getting out of bed was a feat. Luckily getting the children out the door was my only goal for the day, and we succeeded. I spent the morning wandering through the town with my good friend Laura, and after nursery, she and her two youngest kids came back to our house for lunch and a play.

Tuesday we woke up bright and early to head to Edinburgh. I was imagining another nice long lie-in until Scott and I started thinking through the logistics and realised we'd have to leave super early to beat rush hour traffic in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. We had appointments booked for 11am at the US Embassy to get the children *officially* registered as US citizens.

Because they were born to at least one US citizen parent (who had established domicile in the US), the kids are all entitled to US citizenship. Here in the UK we are happy to call it 'dual citizenship', because the UK recognises it, but the US does not. So as far as it's considered here, my kids are both UK and US citizens; the US sees them as belonging only to them. Anyway, so to actually officially claim that entitlement, we had to file paperwork with the Embassy and attend an interview. This can be done anytime before they are 18, but for some reason, the website says to get a Social Security number, they have to register before the age of 5. Fifi has actually been 5 for almost a whole year, and Lolly will be 5 next year, so we decided it was time to hurry up and get this taken care of.

So we spent the morning in a cramped little waiting room with a dozen other people, registering our three children's 'Consular Report of Birth Abroad', their US passports, and their Social Security number applications. (I will at some point in the near future devote a whole post to this process, which will hopefully be useful for people searching the 'net for information on this process.) It was quite efficient, actually, and we were out of their even earlier than I expected to be.

Since we were already in the neighbourhood, we had lunch at Judith and Craig's house. Judith is an amazing cook, so we've discovered, and she treated us to Greek-style burgers, a Greek salad, fried halloumi and pitta bread, followed by butterfly fairy cakes. It was delicious, and we enjoyed having another wee visit with them. All our kids had fun together too.

The kids were back to school and nursery on Wednesday, and Jaguar and I spent the afternoon at the hospital getting yet another kidney scan. He was diagnosed with a dilated kidney pre-birth, and they have been keeping an eye on it with scans since he was born. There has been no change, as in, the kidney is still dilated, so I will be arranging a visit with his pediatrician soon to discuss the situation. Doing my best to act positively, even though inwardly I'm wringing my hands and worrying myself silly.

Thursday morning was my first TinyTalk class since going on maternity leave, and it was great. I had a great wee group of mums and babies attend, and it reminded me how much I love baby signing. Thursday afternoon we were back at the doctor's with Jaguar again, this time to check up on his cough. He had bronchiolitis, and the GP wanted to have him back in to check up on his recuperation. Thankfully, the infection has cleared from his chest, his lungs are clear, and the cold is now just in his throat. He looks absolutely miserable, and when he coughs I stop breathing with him until he sucks back in that big gasp of air, but Doc says he's on the recovery side.

This morning, Friday, was my other TinyTalk class, and it too was a success. I love my Friday mums - so many loyal, returning families with whom I've become great friends outside the class, and today there were a few new faces too.

Also today... my little boy turns a whole six months old. I can hardly believe that exactly half a year ago already I was standing outside the Inverclyde Royal Hospital with amniotic fluid trickling down my legs, waiting for Scott to hurry and park the car so we could hurry up and go back home for a homebirth that ended up a blue-light trip to Paisley hospital! Half a year ago yesterday, Jaguar was still in my belly. Half a year ago today, he was out. Incredible.

Tomorrow
we have nothing planned, except in some alternate fantasy world I think I might start tackling that whole Simplicity concept but realistically will sleep in until 11 and lounge around in pjs all day. Sunday Fifi has her first Sound of Music rehearsal, and I, if I can garner the motivation, am going to go for a jog with my friend Cheryl's jogging group.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Memoirs of a Beauty (?) Queen

I used to be in beauty pageants. There. I've said it. There's just no easy way to work in that little tidbit of information without just coming out and saying it. It's like pulling off a Band-Aid (or boob tape); you just gotta rip it off.

I consider myself a rather modern, demi-feminist who believes in raising girls outside the gender stereotypes and praising her daughters for their intellect and imagination over their outward beauty and appearances. So believe it or not, I'm not ashamed of my beauty pageant, or shall I say 'scholarship pageant', history; the pageants were about more than physical beauty. However, I can say, I'd make a far better contestant today than I did when I was seventeen.

My pageant career was, admittedly, short lived. I entered two pageants my Junior year of high school, and no more. If I could enter a pageant now, I'd probably kick serious pageant ass, but back then, my confidence was quite a bit shakier and not immune to the evil pull of the Pageant Dark Side (a.k.a., the 'beauty' part).

I have only half-memories of those two events, but I'll share what I remember of them with you anyhow.

Chari and I getting ready to leave for our Interviews
First, I remember waiting in the wings, a line of young girls in women's business suits, preparing to walk across a stage poisedly, winning-smilingly, looking out at the audience while managing not to trip up in heels we weren't used to, to answer the on-stage Impromptu Question. My stomach was churning, and I literally thought I would puke. As the girls ahead of me were asked random questions on index cards by a smiling blonde with a microphone, I mentally imagined my brilliant answers to each in an effort to assure myself I'd be able to answer my question effortlessly and charmingly. Then it was my turn. I tried to glide across the stage in my mom's heels but probably looked like a seventeen year old hair-sprayed giraffe. I introduced myself to the judges and audience and fake-smilingly awaited my question.

"If you could have dinner with any person in history, who would it be and why?"

What. The. Hell.

Suddenly I could think of literally no human being past or present who wasn't Adolph Hitler. And I certainly couldn't sit down to dinner with him in front of hundreds of people and four judges. Quickly, quickly I jogged my memory for a name, any name, any person probably dead, and said 'Audrey Hepburn.'

People, I can assure you, this was the stupidest name that could have crossed my lips. I had never even once seen a picture of Audrey Hepburn, let alone a film, and I knew absolutely nothing about her except I was reasonably sure she was related to Katharine, and she was possibly in Casablanca, which I'd also never seen. (Incidentally, I was wrong  on both accounts.)

So, why would I have dinner with Audrey Hepburn? I had no idea! But I had to say something, so shakily, determined my plastic smile would not falter, I said something about her being a confident role model and a great actress, and I wanted to be like her and thank you very much please freaking applaud so I can get the heck off this god-forsaken stage and lather my sweaty armpits in more deodorant.

That was my worst memory.

Only slightly less humiliating was the Personal Interview. I don't remember if there was a personal interview at both competitions, because I only remember this one. That may, of course, be due to post-traumatic stress. Anyway, I had written on my application under Achievements or Accomplishments or Crap That Makes You Look Interesting that I had won second place in the state for mime. One of the judges was quite intrigued by this and asked me some questions about mime, which I was happy to answer.

Then.

"Perhaps you could do a bit of mime for us now? Perhaps a mime about how you felt getting ready this morning?"

What. The. Freaking. Hell.

There was no other recourse than to oblige. I stood up, completely unsure of what to do, especially considering that I'd done nothing that morning of note, nothing that they were looking for anyway (I hardly felt watching TV until it was time to get dressed was what they wanted to see me doing in preparation for the interview). I performed some sort of get up, look nervous, eat breakfast, get dressed, contemplate nervousness and finally settle into acceptance routine and sat back down, hoping that actually the Rapture could just come right then and there and save me from having to face the rest of the interview.

The Rapture didn't come, but as it turned out, the judges loved it, and awarded me that night with the Miss Interview Award. My only pageant success and worth $500 in scholarship money.

In the Talent category, I sang 'Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm' from How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying in one pageant and 'Adelaide's Lament' from Guys and Dolls in the other. Neither of those were very memorable - I remembered my words, sang in tune, but certainly didn't blow the audience out of the water. My friend Christie though, will never be forgotten for 'ballet' tribute to The Sound of Music's 'My Favourite Things'; it's not that she wasn't very good or made any big blunders, but just the fact that she had never done a single step of ballet in her entire life and spent the whole song traipsing around the stage in a made-up-on-the-spot interpretation of something akin to psychotic ballet. It was incredible and awful all at once and really should've won the Most Awesomely Entertaining Award, even if they had to make up that award on the night and steal money out of the winner's scholarship designation to pay for it.

Despite all the humiliations, my last memory of these competitions is the main reason I could never bring myself to compete again after my two attempts at pageantry.

I wore my prom dress for the Evening Wear category - a gorgeous, unique red silky gown with a slit in the front and a flattering neckline. I was a skinny seventeen year old, looking back at photos, though like most girls of that age, I hated my body. Still, in that dress, I felt amazing and beautiful and thin and perfect. My hair wasn't that perfectly styled and my make-up wasn't expertly applied, but my dress was to die for, and I looked a million bucks in it.

I walked across the stage in that dress, forgetting all about my heels and how I was supposed to walk, because I exuded confidence in it. I didn't win the Evening Wear category, but I didn't care - I was confident that I was at least one of the runners up, I had to be, I just looked so stunning.

Then after the pageant, while speaking to people who had been judges in the past, getting critiques on what I did well and what needed improvement, I was told,

"You should've sucked in your tummy. You had a bit of a gut in that dress."

Right there, my self-image was shattered. My stupid Impromptu Question on stage hadn't shattered it, my embarrassing mime attempt hadn't shattered it, my okay but unimpressive singing hadn't shattered it, but being told I should've sucked in my teeny-tiny seventeen year old stomach had.

I am so fat, I realised.

To this day, I can't see photos of myself in that dress without seeing my bulging belly and thinking, 'I should've sucked that in.'

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

A Little Graveyard in Damascus, Arkansas

I remember distinctly my Orientation Day at the University of Arkansas. I wore my red t-shirt with the words IT'S ME printed across the front - it seemed an appropriate way to introduce myself.

Those of us interested in majoring in English were given a tour of Kimpel Hall, and spoke to the guidance counselors (or whatever they were called) about the different emphases available to English majors.

When I saw that 'English with an emphasis in Creative Writing' was an option, I knew what my major would be in. And despite everyone insisting that all freshmen change their majors at some point, I did not.

Below is a wee poem excerpted from my book, Meatloaf and a Rosary (available as an eBook and readable on your Kindle, computer, phone, etc!) It's a memory that's been spending some quality time in my head lately, and it's also the inspiration for the cover photo of the book.


A Little Graveyard in Damascus, Arkansas

A little girl in a graveyard
tiptoes around gravestones,
holding with cautious hand her mother
and holding her breath as long as she can.
Her tiny green dress billows
in the wind she fears holds ghosts.
Her skinny pink legs prickle.
She carries carnations for her mother
who shows her coffee-can concrete grave
markers and speaks out loud, unmindful
of the dead people below.
She does not hear the stories
but bites her fingers and bends her sadness
around the scratches left in a tiny stone.





Hey! Support a girl and buy the eBook - it's only $2.99! You may think poetry isn't your thing... but then you may be pleasantly surprised to find it's actually quite enjoyable!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Edinburgh Mariachi

What a day!

It's midnight, and I've only been home for but an hour throughout the day, hence the short blog post. 'Tis bedtime, not writing time.

We spent the day in Edinburgh, doing official passport stuff and unofficial friend stuff, and though there is much to say about it, I will just leave you with a photo for now.


The Watson-McFarlane Mariachi Band! Coming soon to a wedding near you!

Monday, January 07, 2013

Celebrating the Effort

In this house, we celebrate big events with cake. We celebrate everything with cake. We like cake. (Sometimes we celebrate with takeaways too.)

Tonight, we celebrated with cake, but not quite for the reason people might expect.

I've known for a couple of years now that this year Sideline Productions in Greenock would be putting on a production of The Sound of Music. I have looked forward to it for years, wanting just to be a nun and get to sing songs in soprano. I also looked forward to it, because I knew Fifi would be old enough by the time it went ahead to audition for the youngest von Trapp child, Gretl.

The Spring timing, however, wasn't exactly what I expected, and having just had a baby, I decided it was too soon for me to be hitting the stage again as full force as such a show would be. Still, I mentioned the subject to Fifi, asking her if it was something she'd be interested in. Her immediate response was a gasping 'YES YES YES'.

'You have to understand though, sweetheart, that just because you audition doesn't mean you will get a part. It may go to someone who did a bit better or who looks the part more. You may not get it.' I warned her.

Solemnly she replied, 'I still want to try.'

******

Parenthood is a constant tug-of-war between protecting and enabling in all kinds of different ways. In protecting our kids, we are ensuring that they don't get hurt, but we are limiting their life experiences. Yet with enabling, we are opening them up to very possible disappointment or even danger, depending on the circumstance. It's always hard to know which way to lean, and we often have to make judgment calls based on subtle gut feelings. Scott and I decided to let her go for it, and I braced my stomach for helping her bear the disappointment should the outcome be unsuccessful.

Fifi practiced and practiced and practiced. I heard 'Doe a Deer' for weeks on end, at first wildly out of key (and me fearing for her tiny self-esteem at each over-modulated note), but slowly, proudly, she found her voice, took instruction from her musician dad and singer mum, and grew aware of her 'keys'. She had trouble with the exact words at first - singing 'Tea - a drink of dealan-de!' which means 'butterfly' in Gaelic! - but she persisted until she got the words right too. We were so proud of her dedication.

Still, I knew the audition would bring tough competition, especially when I heard there were about 70 kids signed up! I myself have been through many an audition, and I know the nerves, the waiting, and the disappointment or excitement that follows. I still worried about inflicting this on my young child. Was I being a Stage Mom? Had I pushed her into this?

I asked her again: 'Are you sure you want to do this? You may not get the part.' Eyes rolled in her head like a fifteen year old instead of a five year old, she replied, 'I know. I still want to try!'

So I let her audition. That morning she woke up, crawled into bed with me, and through almost-tears confessed, 'I'm nervous.'

'Baby, even mummy gets nervous. In fact, even famous people get nervous! You know all the famous people on TV? Even they get nervous. But here's the secret - the people who get the parts are the people who follow only two rules. One, smile! And two, have fun. I promise you, if you don't do those two things, you won't get the part. But if you do, you'll be one of the ones they notice.'

Fifi auditioned. I wasn't able to be in the room with her, so I didn't know how she performed, but when she came back out of the room, I hugged her anyway and told her I was so, so proud of her.

'Why? Did I get a part?'

I smiled, hugged her again, and said, 'I don't know, sweetie, but that's not what I'm proud of. I'm proud of how brave you were. And we are going to celebrate.'

'What if I don't get the part?'

'We are celebrating either way. We are celebrating your effort.'

******

Fifi could hardly get to sleep last night. I told her we wouldn't know anything until way after bedtime and probably not even until late the next day. Still, even I felt the nerves taking hold as I waited for that nerve-wracking email. I had braced myself for bad news. Of so many children, her chance was slight. I prepared how I would break the news to her, and was ready to take the emotions, however they manifested.

I was feeling so torn; life lessons, maybe they don't need to be learned until kids are older. Maybe schools taking out winners and losers is the right thing after all. Maybe kids are too young to be put through disappointment. Months of work and feeling went into Fifi's little five-almost-six-year-old self-esteem, and I was allowing the danger of disappointment in. Had we done the right job, should we have protected her instead of enabled her?

But the story isn't about me and my decision as a parent. The real heroine of this story is Fifi, who knew the chances and wanted to try anyway. We may have drilled into her more the probability of her not getting a part than the possibility that she might. Still, she wanted to try, and what a brave little heroine she turned out to be!

******

She woke up this morning, ran to my room and asked if I'd heard. I said I didn't think we'd know anything yet, but we checked my email together anyway.

There was an email.

I opened it, practically trembling myself, and resisted the urge to quickly scroll down to the important part. I read the email out loud to her, and together we learned that...

'Your child has been cast in one of the following roles.'

Fifi and I squealed! Daddy woke up, guessed right away, and took her into a bear hug. Lolly heard the noise, ran to the room, and jumped on her big sister with the kind of pride and selfless enthusiasm only best friends can understand.

Lolly suggested we celebrate with cake. Wise child, very wise. This evening, Lolly and I made the cake that we would have made anyway, part or no part, because we were celebrating the effort, not the outcome. Obviously the outcome made the celebration that much more exciting, and as mum and dad and sister, we are all bursting at the seams with happiness and pride for her. But most of all, we were celebrating the confidence of a little girl prepared to try and even fail for something she was passionate about. How many adults can say the same for themselves?

So we ate cake. We broke our New Year's Diet Resolutions for a slice of pink (of course pink) cake with sprinkles (gotta have sprinkles) and a big sparkly candle.

Fifi, remember always the little song we sang in the car, you, me and Lolly, that nervous morning: "I'm a superstar and I'm coming out tonight!" You really, really are.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The Sour Apple Tree

When I was very young, my Mamaw and Papaw had an apple tree in their front yard. The apples always seemed hard, green and sour, or alternatively brown and rotten, with tiny squidgy worm holes twisting through them, but I never wondered about the nutritious quality of this tree. The apple tree wasn't about spicy apple butter or bubbling fruit cobbler to me; it was a genuine (pronounced 'jen-yew-WINE') Enemy Fortress, a hide-and-seek base, a leafy landmark in summertime where so much play was made.

My big brother Danny and my cousin Nathan and I used it as a fort from The Babies. The Babies were my little brother Matt, my little cousin Josh and sometimes my little cousin Sara. They weren't exactly Babies and really resented being called such, making the title that much more necessary and glorious. They would try to play with us, and we would run away from them and make refuge in its branches - only enough branches for the three of us, me always on the lowest one because I was a scaredy-cat climber. But there The Babies couldn't reach us, and in that tree we bathed in the sunny, sweaty pleasure of being older, wiser and freer than our smaller siblings.

We fashioned weapons from rusty parts found in Papaw's shed, stirred wheelbarrow soup with muddy water in the driveway and wild onions, and buried time capsules of precious toyland artifacts in dented Folgers tins. Playing at Mamaw and Papaw's house meant outside Arkansas heat and dust, old scraps of metal, bumblebees, Sloppy Joes, a loud air conditioner, cousins and that old apple tree. It meant helping Papaw haul hay on his automatic hay-hauler - and taking turns riding it up up up and being dumped plum down into a barn of hay - and helping Mamaw dust her china cabinet and watch Lawrence Welk on blue velvets sofas. It was Sunday family after-church potlucks, the grown-ups crowded around a big wooden table in a linoleum-floored kitchen and us cousins around a fold-up green card table eating baked beans, taters, okra and corn from the garden, and roast beef.

Then one day all of a sudden we found ourselves all grown up, and that apple tree just seemed a neglected little cluster of branches that loosed brown unedible fruit to the ground, and the mud puddles in the driveway, once a broth, now only served to ruin expensive shoes, and the loud air conditioner wasn't enough to fend off the flies and the Southern heat exhaustion. And Mamaw and Papaw were old, and Papaw didn't bail hay anymore because the cows had been sold, and Mamaw couldn't get around because the Parkinson's was so bad. We had lives to live and people to see, and stopping by on the way to the movies was a checkmark in the box.

Then there was college, and we all moved away - Danny to Terra Haute, Nathan to Dallas, me to Fayetteville. Then there were careers and families - Josh to Baghdad, me to Scotland, Danny to San Antonio. That apple tree just kept standing, never getting taller, never making any apples worth eating, but still standing, always standing, summer after summer after summer, while we moved on, and Papaw kept busy outside in the heat and Mamaw kept watching her reruns in the company of her collection of porcelain dolls, growing older and more tired.

Somewhere down that dusty gravel road of time, Papaw got too old and Mamaw got too frail, and they had to leave that old workshed and hay barn and linoleum floor and dolls behind the glass cabinet. Somewhere down that road I started to see the man and woman inside those two old bodies, but by then it was too late and I was too far away to come back and just sit with them, watching Lawrence Welk and shucking corn. All that time I was seeing that apple tree as a bearer of useless fruit, but the point of that apple tree wasn't what it could give us but what it was able to be for us- a fortress, a safe place, a foundational landmark on which to build our budding lives. All that time we played in that tree, we were playing in the haven of those two people who were offering us a home, a hide-and-seek base, a dinner table where the whole family came together and ate okra from the garden. It was me who neglected to pick the apples when I got too old to climb the tree, and now I'm too far away to be a fortress for them, to give back a little of what they gave me. It shames me that I didn't see this I was close enough to stop by, and it burdens me to dwell on it only now when I'm too far.

My cousin Josh, one of The Babies, lives in that house now. I bet that apple tree is still there, but I don't know if it means the same to him, it being the enemy fortress of his big brother and older cousins. I don't know if a tasty apple ever did fall from that tree, and I just never saw it, but now I see that fruit worthy of the sweetest baked pie did come from the 'jen-yew-WINE' tree-fortress of my grandparents' hearts, and though it may be too late to ever say it to them face-to-face now, I thank you desperately from the bottom of my very own growing older heart.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Letters to My Past Self

Dear Lori (16),

Oh there is so much I wish I could tell you. First of all, I know school is boring and easy, and you can pass tests without studying, but please, learn to study. Learn to sit down and do your homework every night. It's easy at the moment, but you've not been to college yet.

Furthermore, take AP European History. I know you don't like history now, but one day you'll be very interested in it, not to mention you'll be living in Europe and will feel stupid about what you don't know. You'll also be doing your GPA a big favour. You'll end up a few decimal points short of what you really need if you don't.

On the subject of boys, don't put all those eggs in that one basket. He's the love of your life now, but he's not the one for you. In just a few short months, he will turn into a completely different person, and you won't even recognise him anymore.

One more thing. You are beautiful. And skinny. You will never look so good in shorts as you do right now. You think you've got a big butt, but you don't, not even close. You hate your nose, but it's cute too (and one day you'll finally get that nose ring you've been wanting all these years but more on that later).

Love,
Lori (30)

*************************

Dear Lori (18),
OH. MY. GOODNESS. What are you playing at?

First, this guy is not for you either. He's rebellious and exciting, but you will compromise yourself too much with him. He'll end up telling you the truth soon about how he really feels about you, and it will tear you apart. LEAVE NOW.

And that other guy from before, stop letting him string you along. He is manipulative, and you need to stand up for yourself. Despite what you still secretly think, HE IS NOT THE ONE. (In fact, neither will be the next two guys you will get serious about.)

Second, why are you smoking pot? It's fun but please, just stop now. It's going to get you into trouble next year.

The senior play? No, you didn't get the main part but that doesn't mean the director hates you. You may feel it's unfair, but that's life. She doesn't hate you. She just didn't cast you.

Stop fighting with your friends. This is your last year together, and believe it or not, a group of friends this tightly knit does not happen to everyone. You are so lucky to have this group, so stop letting high school drama (literally) divide you. Enjoy this last year together, because some of these girls you won't see again for a very, very long time... some of them I've still not seen since graduation. You won't even make it to your 10 year high school reunion to see them there.

Please don't forget to thank your mom and dad profusely for letting you go to Boston on the Forensics trip.  To you, it's just money.  To them, it meant scrimping, saving and doing without, just for you.  You better not forget to thank them. Over and over.

Remember all that stuff about studying and taking extra AP classes? I still mean that. If you don't pull off a couple more A's instead of B's out of laziness, you will not get the GPA you wanted. Just sayin'.

Also, as it turns out, you can take the top scores in each category of all your ACTs combined to get a final ACT score. I *really* wish we'd both known that at the time.

Speaking of ACTs, you won't be going to college in Texas, so don't waste your time not applying in-state, because you will miss the scholarship deadline and end up paying back a student loan for the next twenty years.

Finally, you are still beautiful and creative and intelligent, no matter what those boys make you think of yourself. You are worthy of respect. Demand it.

Love,
Lori (still 30)

*************************

Dear Lori (20),
If I could, I would reach back through time and just hold you tightly, whispering the truth of the happy future you have ahead of yourself. It hurts so badly right now, I know. I remember.

It's not the end. It's only the beginning. I know you really, truly believed this time he was the one, and I know you were this close to what you thought would be lifetime happiness, but he wasn't meant for you. He's a wonderful guy, but he's not for you. He has someone else out there waiting for him and so do you. Yours is literally around the corner. If you were still with him, you'd have missed the real happiness that was meant for you, the guy who thinks it's cute, not embarrassing, that you like the Spice Girls.

Besides that, I've got some practical advice for you.

You've been wanting that nose ring since you were 15, I know. But your parents aren't kidding; they WILL stop paying your tuition if you get one. You may like the idea of becoming independent of them and running your own life, but do you KNOW what spending the next twenty years paying off a student loan will be like? Can you not just wait one more year? You've waited this long already.

At least you kept your tattoo hidden until graduation. Well done. You'd have lost a car if you hadn't.

Don't drop out of your Arabic classes, and go ahead and do Middle Eastern Studies as your minor.  It will be so worth the hard work.  (And the job opportunities...!)

And please keep that green jumper. You'll only regret throwing it out.

Anyway, I'm proud of the person you're becoming. You've learned (albeit the hard way) how to study, you're on your way to graduating University with Honors, and you're a hard worker at your jobs. Not to mention those poems you are writing? They will still impress you even a decade later. They are really good.

Love,
Lori (a decade later)


*************************


Dear Lori (21),
See? Didn't I tell you? Believe it or not, he gets better.

Love,
Lori (30 and happy to be with him and your three future children)





What would you say to your past self if you had the chance? Leave your comments below.

Friday, January 04, 2013

I Met A Mormon

Where do I start with this subject...

This has been on my mind for some time, but I have no idea how to start it or exactly where I want to go with it.

It's about Mormons.

........

Art by Amanda Rogers
Rather, not so much about 'Mormons' as Mormons vs Christians, or even more accurately Christians vs Mormons.

(For the record, I know that Mormons self-identify as Christians. For the sake of this post, I have separated the two, using the term "Christian" to represent mainstream Christianity to differentiate between the two.)

I became really interested in what the LDS Church believes back in college when a couple of Mormon missionaries came to our house. My best friend/roommate and I were happy to invite them in and have a good 'debate'. They had been 'sent' to us from another friend of ours they had visited who didn't know much about religion in general and suggested we might be interested in talking to them. So we did.

We spoke to them for weeks. We really liked them. They were lovely girls and really kind, but we were determined they weren't going to sway our friend. I began reading books about Mormon beliefs, reading up on the internet about them and of course, talking to the missionaries themselves about what I'd learned. At the end of the day, neither we as Christians nor they as Mormons were ever going to come to an agreement, but it was an interesting few weeks. The conversations were friendly and frank on both sides, but we still believed they were wrong and they believed we were.

Then our mutual friend decided she was going to be baptised into the LDS Church.

This is where I feel deep regret. I didn't go. She invited us, but I didn't go. I don't remember if I had other plans that day or if I simply didn't want to support her 'wrong' decision. Either way, I should have been there. Not to agree with her decision, but to support her. The Person. Our friend. Our friend who was looking for answers and found them in LDS.

This is the point I want to reflect on right now. Not the rightness or wrongness of Mormon vs Christian beliefs, not the rightness or wrongness of evangelism, but the rightness of supporting actual people.

Mormons and Christians have a joint history of antagonism. From my point of view, Christians seem to be the worse of the two (though I'm not in the inner-Mormon circles, so I don't know exactly what is said or thought of Christians by Mormons). We (and I'm using 'we' as a social group not what a true Christian ought to be), at worst, persecute and abuse Mormons for their beliefs, and at best, ridicule them for them. During the elections, I saw a Facebook photo getting shared that said 'I'll take the Mormon over the Moron'. What exactly is that saying?! That being a Mormon is only slightly better than being a moron? Is that really what we want to say to our Mormon friends, co-workers and neighbours? We as Christians are deeply offended when we are persecuted, abused or ridiculed, but we seem to think it's perfectly okay to publicly ridicule others.

As people of faith, we should be supporting each other. We are all real people behind our beliefs, real people with feelings, hearts, and things we hold sacred. That doesn't mean we have to agree with one another or that we stop having the conversations that both groups believe are essential for eternal salvation, but we need to support one another in love as fellow humans trying to find the truth. 

We live in a post-religious society where having a faith is seen as unintelligent and foolish. We have enough people in the atheist circles giving us hell; do we really need to be giving each other hell too?

I recently learned that some of the LDS Temple rituals had been secretly filmed and put on YouTube. Interested as always in Mormonism, I watched a few. Yes, I was surprised. Yes, I had my own personal opinions about what was going on. Yes, I have trouble understanding how some of these things can be believed. But what I didn't expect to feel was indignation on behalf of people who's genuine and sincere faith and sacred secrets were being broadcast to the world and ridiculed. There's the argument that if you have nothing to hide then why hide it (which is one of the intentions of the person who made the videos), and perhaps there is merit to that, but the bigger picture is this: People are being genuinely hurt by this.

Just reading the comments section shows there is no respect for people who believe differently than we do. Comments from atheists ridiculed all people who believe in any kind of God, and Christians declared all hell and fiery damnation to the Mormons. Is this the kind of image of Christianity we want to broadcast to the world? Do we want the world to think Christ is anything like mainstream Christians? I don't. It's for this reason I'm not even sure what I believe anymore. I certainly don't believe that the way most Christians behave is anything like what I want to be associated with. I certainly don't think Christ meant for us to act like that, sending people to hell via the internet.

Both Christians and Mormons believe their way is the only way. I also believe that if there is a God, then there is a Truth. Maybe the truth is that God says 'whatever' and accepts everyone, but maybe he has only one way to get to him. If it's the latter, then of course we are going to try to find that truth and spread it around. I am not anti-evangelism. But I am also pro-respect and pro-love. We must first learn to love and respect each other if we want any kind of meaningful conversations to pass between us.

If I could go back, I'd go back to my friend's baptism. I'd show her that I cared about her as a person and supported her search for answers, and regardless of her coming to a different conclusion than we hoped for her, we would still be friends.

Have something to say about this post? Leave your comments below. (Instead of on Facebook!)

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Ante-Natal Depression

Sometimes things come up to write about that you never even considered writing about, whether because you didn't think people would be interested or you didn't even think of it as something to expound upon. We have experiences every single day; some of them are significant, some are insignificant, but most things can be related to, and many things can be valuable to others.

One of my friends asked me a question about an answer I gave on my 40 Questions. I mentioned that I experienced depression while pregnant with Jaguar and also with Lolly. I never thought much about it when I mentioned it, but actually this might be something worth talking about.

People are becoming very aware of post-natal depression, and it's about time. It's a very real and debilitating condition, requiring various levels of treatment from counselling to medication to lifestyle changes. Yet there's this other condition, very similar and closely related that receives little to no attention at all: ante-natal or pre-natal depression.

According to patient.co.uk, 10% of women experience post-natal depression. 10-15% experience depression ante-natally (and it goes up to 19-25% in poorer countries). But I had never heard of it, and I'm willing to assume most of you haven't either.

My pregnancy with Fifi was great, in large part thanks to my independent midwife Allison Ewing. But hiring a midwife is expensive, so come round 2 with Lolly, I knew I'd have to use the NHS (whose midwives in my area are thankfully really great, pro-natural birth and homebirth-friendly). Still, I worried. I was attempting a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) and wanting it at home at that.

I thought my original sadness related to these concerns, but as the pregnancy progressed past seven or eight weeks, I became distraught. I didn't know what was wrong with me, except I knew the thoughts and feelings and wishes I had didn't make sense, weren't rational and most certainly weren't acceptable. I had feelings and thoughts I couldn't even share with Scott, I was so ashamed of them. Wishing for a miscarriage, envisioning doing harm to my toddler and hating myself and believing I was the wrong mother for this baby inside of me were some of the feelings that even now I'm ashamed to speak about.

I didn't know where to turn or who to talk to. I spoke to Allison on the phone but couldn't bring myself to tell her what I was really going through. I called a suicide hotline, but the woman had no idea what I was talking about and said frankly, 'It's just hormones, it'll pass.'

Incidentally, what a uninformed thing to say. 'It's just hormones.' Hormones are a (generally-speaking) uncontrollable aspect of our biology. Whether it's hormones, a virus or a deficiency, it's all serious.

After that, I couldn't speak to anyone, so I kept it all to myself. I tried positive thinking. I tried ignoring my feelings. I tried deriding myself into never thinking such awful things again. And after a few months, as I merged into my third trimester, the depression subsided. I was left thinking what an idiot I had been, how it had been 'just hormones' and what was I being so dramatic about?

I never really dealt with any of those feelings until I got pregnant again with Jaguar. Suddenly, around the same time, the same thoughts and feelings started trickling back in. But this time I was prepared. I realised this must be how my body works and this time I would work with my feelings, not condemn them.

This time, when thoughts of miscarriage came into mind, I knew I didn't really mean it and I didn't beat myself up over it. When I felt angry towards my children and worried I'd do something I regretted, I asked for help or removed myself from the situation or held them in a tight bear hug instead while I cried out all the anger. I let Scott in this time, and he helped tremendously, putting me to bed early every night, running hot baths for me every day, giving me lots of time away from the children to cope with my feelings.

This time around, my depression turned into an awful fear that I was damaging or even going to lose my child with my negative stress hormones pulsing through me. I was having a difficult time beyond the pregnancy with some things, and those things left me in tears most days. I asked for a referral by the midwives for SNIP (Special Needs In Pregnancy) but never actually got an appointment until I was almost full term. I knew I ought to chase it up, but part of depression is not wanting to burden other people, feeling like you are overreacting and need to get a grip of yourself but are unable to, and not having the energy or motivation to make yourself get better.

I worried this time it would last into the post-natal period, especially if I didn't succeed in getting my homebirth or if I ended up with an induction or section. Luckily, the depression lifted again at the end of my pregnancy, and even though my homebirth didn't work out again, I felt content that I'd birthed naturally at least without any assistance.

Even though I 'coped' better the second time around, it didn't mean those months were easy. They were stressful, upsetting, painful and isolating.

I have no miracle words of wisdom or any solutions for how to cope with depression during or after pregnancy; I only have my story, and I hope it helps someone else feel less alone in their struggles.




Wednesday, January 02, 2013

40 Questions

For the 8th year in a row, I present to you my...

40 Questions

Wait, this needs a logo...

For the 8th year in a row, I present to you my...


1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?
Gave birth completely naturally (to a son!) with no augmentation or assistance. :D

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions and will you make more for next year?
My goal last year was to blog more. I didn't manage to succeed until October for the October Dress Project, but at least I got there in the end!

This year, I just want to resolve to live simply, unmaterialistically,and give myself a break from taking on too many responsibilities.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My friends Catriona and Sharon both gave birth to little girls this year, alongside me.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Thankfully no one this year died, though my grandmother was touch and go for a while.

5. What countries did you visit?
We didn't really travel at all this year. I rang in the New Year in America, but I'd travelled there in the year before, so I don't think it counts.

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?
A simplified, uncluttered wardrobe, house and life.

7. What date from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory?
The eleventh of July - the day my perfect son was born. Though I keep getting mixed up with the 7/11 or 11/7 part. I'm not good with numbers as it is; give me a rhyming pair and I'm hopeless. I'll forever get it confused.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I already said it, but giving birth totally naturally meant the world to me. After a C-section with Fifi and an induction with Lolly, I was sort of convinced my body didn't know how to bear children. Going into labour spontaneously and birthing with no assistance or painkillers (except gas and air) meant so much to me. It was my biggest achievement for certain.

9. What was your biggest failure?
On the same topic, I didn't get my homebirth. Again. Three times I've attempted a homebirth and three times it just wasn't in the cards. I suppose it's wrong to think of it as a failure, but at the time it sure felt like it.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I went through a period of depression during my pregnancy, which also happened when I was pregnant with Lolly, so I think maybe that's just how my hormones work. But it wasn't terribly serious in hindsight, though going through it was very difficult.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Let's see... my Samsung Galaxy III, my EasiYo maker and my Booby Tubes.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
This year I'm going to give credit to my daughter Fifi. She has really grown up this year, and her maturity really shows. She is very loving, mostly obedient, and a great kid to have around. She is helpful and smart, and I'm really proud of how grown up she's become.

13. What regrets do you have about the past year?
I can't say I have any regrets. Not everything was perfect, but I wouldn't call anything a regret.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Necessities. Last year I had money to spend, because I'd been childminding. But I went on maternity leave this year in June, so we've been living on a budget again. And most of my spare money went into starting my new company IntoBento.co.uk.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Starting my new company and lunch blog!

16. What song/album will always remind you of 2012?
It's not a song/album per se, but the theme tune to How I Met Your Mother will always bring back strong feelings and memories of me hibernating in my bedroom for weeks, preparing for my intended homebirth with Jaguar and watching six seasons straight of this show.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
happier or sadder? I have been so much happier this year.
thinner or fatter? Fatter, thanks to baby weight. Need to get that sorted in the new year!
richer or poorer? Poorer, thanks to maternity leave!

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Exercise.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Eat cake.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
We spent Christmas this year at Scott's mum and dad's new house. It was a really lovely, cosy Christmas with our family of five, Kate and Faisal's family of three and Scott's parents. The kids had a great time, and it just felt really nice.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
My mom, I suppose. Having a new baby means needing lots of support from your mommy!

22. What's your best memory from 2012?
I had a few really great memories:
-My 30th birthday party, which had a 'Music Mania' theme. It was one of the best birthdays I've ever had.
-Singing Evita's "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" in the OGA Parish Players Spring Revue.
-Giving birth to Jaguar (I loved every minute of it, even if it was rather uncomfortable!)
-Going out for my friend Elaine's 40th birthday with her, Heather and Paula.
-The Enchanted Forest with Scott for our anniversary. It was incredible this year - my favourite one yet.

23. How have you seen yourself grow as a person this year?
Ohhh, for the hard questions.

This year I've come to terms with a lot of things, namely my grave uncertainty of my faith. I have spoken of this already in length here, so it's not necessary to rehash, but what I've realised is that I am okay with where I am spiritually right now. I choose to continue living a Christian life and holding on to the faith while simultaneously acknowledging that I don't know if it is true, I can't believe it completely and I will probably never be able to believe wholeheartedly again. But it's the life I'm choosing to live, and if God is truly out there, I believe he will accept me for choosing to follow despite my unbelief.

A separate thing I learned about myself is that I am far too materialistic. Through the October Dress Project (wearing the same dress for 31 days), I realised I a) don't need half the stuff I have and b) can be very creative with my clothes if I try. So I'm in the process of trying to clear out everything and getting a non-cluttered, simplistic wardrobe that allows me to experiment with creative outfits.

24. What was your favourite TV programme(s)?
I enjoyed watching How I Met Your Mother, Big Love and Misfits.

26. What was the best book(s) you read?
I did a lot of reading earlier this year before Jaguar was born but can't for the life of me remember what. A lot of re-reading old classics. I started out with Toni Morrison's Beloved, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and I can't remember what all else. I read a LOT of books though but not very many new ones. If I'm correct in thinking though that I re-read Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, then that would be the best book I read. It's one of my favourites.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Scott introduced me to a few really good new songs on a mix CD he made for our trip to Pitlochry, for instance these two by Jonathan Coulton.





28. What did you want and get?
A Soda Stream!

29. What did you want and not get?
A homebirth.

30. What were your favourite films of this year?
The Perks of Being a Wallflower was really, really good.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
This year was my 30th, and I had a big party at the Masons Lodge. It was fancy dress (Music Mania theme) and karaoke, and I had an awesome cake, a DJ and a load of great friends there. It was an awesome birthday.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
It would've been really great to have had a summer. Unfortunately, it just rained and was cold all year long. It would've been much nicer if we'd had just a few months (or even one!) of sunshine to live our spirits. No wonder Scottish people are known for being dour.


33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?
Maternity?! At least for the first half of the year! I went through a rockabilly stage with my hair and would love to still be doing it, but after Jaguar was born, there was just no longer the time to spend on my hair like that. Plus, I cut my bangs back in on a whim and that kinda kills the suicide roll thing. I've also started wearing make-up regularly. Which reminds me, I need to put some on now...

34. What kept you sane?
Having a really sweet, happy, content, easy baby who sleeps and feeds wonderfully, instead of the opposite!

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
This question is always so silly to me. Time to change it.

35b. Which holiday or special occasion meant the most to you?
Our wedding anniversary this year was really special to me. It wasn't a big year (8), but we spent it in the same place we spent last year's anniversary, and it was then and there that Jaguar became a part of our family. We went to Pitlochry to The Enchanted Forest again, had lunch in the same little bistro we'd sat in last year talking about baby names in case we were indeed to get pregnant, and stayed in a lovely hotel (not the same one) eating great food and relaxing in the pool and the spa.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
American gun control, health care and same-sex marriage. I'll keep mum about my opinions on each though! This is not a political blog. :)

37. Who did you miss?
I missed my American family and friends so much this year.

38. Who was the best new person (people) you met?
I have become friends with Lolly's best friend Eden's mum, Laura. She is a sweet, generous, honest person, and I'm so pleased to have gotten to know her and her three interesting and precious daughters this year.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.
Two things:
1) I have so much more than I need. I am materialistic, and all my 'things' end up making my life harder to manage. I can get by on so much less and would probably be happier doing so.
2) As much as I can plan and organise and see to every detail, nothing in this world is totally in my hands. Maybe it's in God's, maybe it's in no one's, but it's certainly not in mine. It is okay to plan, but at the end of the day, things will happen as they will happen and not always how I thought they would.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?
This is totally embarrassing, but the lyrics from Katy Perry's 'Firework' summed up a lot of feelings for me this year.

'Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?

...

Maybe your reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road.
Like a lightning bolt, your heart will blow
And when it's time, you'll know...'