Salt-pickled Sakura Ice Cream with Matcha Meringues

Washing the flowers

This post sees me returning to another love of mine, cookery. Way back in 2012 I made some salt-pickled cherry blossoms (or sakura) using this recipe from Wagashi Chronicles. I totally fell in love with the flavour. I’m going to share with you several cherry blossom recipes, starting with salt preserved cherry blossoms, then sakura syrup, which is an ingredient in the next recipe, sakura ice cream. I’m also including a matcha meringue recipe which uses up the egg whites from the meringue making process and is a good earthy and bitter accompaniment to the sweet and salty cherry blossoms.

Making salt preserved sakura takes several days, so start well in advance of when you want to serve your ice cream.

Salt Preserved Cherry Blossoms:

200g cherry blossom buds

100g salt

4 tablespoons plum vinegar or saltwater with a dash of rice wine vinegar

First, rinse the blossoms and pick the stalks off, then toss them in half the salt, cover with clingfilm and weight (I used a full mustard jar) overnight.

The next day, squeeze out the water and sprinkle with plum vinegar. Cover with clingfilm, weight and leave for 3 days.

Spread the flowers out to dry on a cloth, near a radiator or sunlight for another 3 days.

Toss with the rest of the salt and keep in a lidded jar at room temperature.

If you don’t want to make your own pickled cherry blossoms, then you can buy your own from Obubu Tea or Nihon Ichiban.

I’m taking the use of these pickled cherry blossoms a step further today by turning them into ice cream.  I combined 2 recipes, one from The Guardian ‘How to make the perfect ice cream’, and an uncooked one from Cookpad Japan  to make my own heated custard cherry blossom ice cream. It is VERY rich and very delicious. I made matcha meringues at the same time, and they provided a nice bitter foil to the sweet and salty sakura. I really wish that you could taste the sakura ice cream for yourselves because it is such a unique flavour. It is like a very floral, perfume-y marzipan. One thing I didn’t do was to add food colourings. I think the end results don’t look especially beautiful and I think that they would have conveyed more of the flavour in the photos had I added pink food colouring to the ice cream and green food colouring to the meringues.

You need to make Sakura Syrup in order to make the ice cream, so I’ll include the syrup recipe first. The recipe is from Obubu Tea and adjusted slightly.

Sakura Syrup recipe:

1 cup of sugar

1 cup of water steeped with salted cherry blossoms

1.Steep approximately 15 salt-pickled sakura in some hot water for 1 minute and discard this water (This is to draw some of the salt out. You can keep it and add a little to the next steeping if the flavour is not strong enough.)

2. Add the sugar and heat in a pan until the sugar has dissolved and it boils. Turn off the heat once it has come to the boil

3. Allow to cool and pour into a screw top jar.

Sakura Ice Cream Recipe:

600ml double cream

5 egg yolks

1 vanilla pod

1/3 of a jar of salted cherry blossoms /a small handful. You can soak them in water briefly first to draw out some of the salt, but I didn’t do that!

3 Tablespoons of pickling liquid from pickled cherry blossoms recipe (omit if you do not have this or purchase Sakura Essence)

1 cup of sakura syrup/ to taste

100g caster sugar

1. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together.

2. Scrape the contents of the vanilla pod into the cream and bring it to the boil.

3. Add the salted cherry blossoms to the cream and turn it down to a simmer for 5 mins.

4. Turn the heat off and let it infuse for 20 minutes. Add the sakura syrup.

5. Bring the cream back to a simmer and add the eggs, beating as you go. Let the mixture thicken until a line drawn in the mixture on the back of a spoon holds it’s shape.

6. Pour the custard into a cold bowl (I put my bowl into a wok filled with ice and icepacks) until it is cool enough to go in the fridge.

7. Add the pickling liquid (and food colouring if you decide to use it)

8. Refrigerate for 4 hours.

9. Stir well with a fork and put into the freezer for half an hour, then beat well with a fork. Do this 3 times.

10. Leave for at least an hour. (I left it overnight).

For my matcha meringues I followed a classic meringue recipe by Delia Smith. Because we’re making the meringues partly to use up the egg whites, my recipe is for 5 egg whites.

5 egg whites

250g caster sugar

1-2 tablespoons of matcha tea

Set oven to gas mark 2/150 degrees C

1. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks

2. Mix the matcha and sugar together

3. Gradually add the matcha and sugar, whisking as you go.

4. Add the food colouring now if you are using it.

5. Spoon onto baking sheets

6. Turn the oven down to Gas mark 1 /140 degrees C and bake for 40 minutes

7. Turn the oven off and leave it to go cold with the meringues still in the oven.

Here is the extremely delicious outcome: It does look a little disappointing colour-wise because I didn’t use food colouring, but I promise you it is more than made up for by the taste! The meringues are crunchy, and the ice cream is rich and creamy, with the almost marzipan flavour of sakura. It is quite an involved process but it was SO worth it. The taste of sakura is really something quite special.

Have you collected any cherry blossoms this year? Do you think you will try the recipe? I would love to know if you have ever made anything with cherry blossoms, and I’d love to see how your sakura ice cream turns out if you make some!

Creative Kickstarts from Designosaur and Laura Danby

designosaur's #creativeckickstart

This month I really really couldn’t decide between a couple of my favourite #creativekickstart images. I’ve decided to include them both:

The first is Laura Danby’s fox inspired photocollage. Laura says “For me last month was all about foxes… I created a new fox jewellery piece, loved spying on the neighbourhood foxes, was colouring them in and just generally a bit obsessed!” There are loads of very bold foxes round our way too, and I love seeing them especially at night!

icm_fullxfull.60232503_q2m3b0xs6ysg0gswoso8

The other image that I just HAD to include was Designosaur’s flatlay objects collage – It’s bold, bright and zingy, just like Karli, and gives a really great alternative way to photograph your creative kickstart image. It inspired me to do my last image a little bit differently and I realised that the reason I hadn’t suggested doing a styled shot in the first place was because I was a bit scared of doing them myself! This image speaks for itself, everything about it is totally visual. As Karli says, it’s about ‘Colours, Lomo, texture and pattern!’. I can’t wait to see the designs Karli and Jacques create with that textured perspex!

designosaur's #creativeckickstart

Thanks to everyone who joined in with the challenge and created images for #creativekickstart this month. Join in again this month and document the things that have been inspiring you creatively in a single image. I’ll be picking images to share around the middle of next month. If you want to nominate someone to join in then why not tag them and ask them to get involved?

Creative Kickstart – Looking back over April

Creative Kickstart - looking back over April

It’s time to do my own Creative Kickstart image for this month! Thanks to everyone whose been joining in and using the hashtag #creativekickstart across various social media channels! I am loving your images. If you want to join in, just make a photo collage, or styled objects photo of all the things that have been inspiring you creatively over the past few weeks and tag it #creativekickstart. Mid-month I’ll be looking through the images you’ve posted and choosing my favourite to feature on my blog, Instagram and other social media outlets. This time I’ve tried out a physical styled objects shot as opposed to a photo collage, because I feel this is a bit of a weakness of mine and I’m trying to push myself to try things I’m not totally comfortable with!

So here’s whats been inspiring me and feeding my creative processes over the last month:

Creative Kickstart - looking back over April
Creative Kickstart – looking back over April

Mermaid tail fabrics and mermaid leggings: This month freediving continue to be a big love of mine. I bought some mermaid scale leggings and some fabric to cover my monofin with so it looks more tail-like. Stacie from Brighton Sewing Bee helped me cut a pattern for this. Thank you Stacie!! I also did a freediving foundation course up in London with NoTanx. It was a big deal for me getting up to London after my back pain flared up, but I made it there! I did a couple of hours of freediving, an hour or so of yoga, all with lots of amazing breathing, mindfulness and relaxation exercises (as well as some theory stuff) interspersing this and my back was just about still okay by the end of the day. This is hugely reassuring to me that I can still remain active and pursue my new-found love of freediving. I had a bit of a confidence wobble when the back pain returned, but my swift recovery has made me feel like I now have the skills to manage pain flare ups when and if they resurface. It is very much helped by the focus on non-competitiveness and mindfulness within NoTanx. Their philosophy is ‘Enjoyment over performance’, which is something I am trying to feed in to the way I approach creating and working at my little Etsy shop.

Pondlife: As a child I spent a lot of time leaning over the pond in my garden, watching the creatures, catching newts and frogs and generally being fascinated with the teeming life before my eyes. I’m not sure if this little thread of interest will feed into something creative, but this backyard underwater world is definitely capturing my interest every time I step into the garden.

Wildflowers, bluebells and dandelion clocks: I’m surrounded by wildflowers in our garden and nearby countryside. My particular seasonal favourites are bluebells because of the magic of the annual bluebell woodland walk, and dandelion clocks. Partly because Etta is so captivated by them, and we have to pick many hundreds on every walk we go on and watch as she disperses the seeds. Partly because I love something about the symbolism of all these little wishes from one dandelion floating off to make their way in the world. I’ve loved experimenting with some wildflower photography this month and feel that it is helping me get to grips with the idea of styling images.

Tarot: I did a lovely tarot card reading for Emma of Harper and Finch fame this month! I’m excited about this because I have been wanting to do more readings, particularly for people I don’t know well, to see if I am still good at it even when I don’t know much about the person or their situation. I am going to do a whole blog post about the reading, and maybe even make doing readings for people a regular feature on the blog. We shall see! The card pictured are some of my favourite ones from my deck: ‘Ordinariness’, ‘Flowering’ and ‘Experiencing’. I think they are great ones for me to keep in mind at the moment as I try to grow my business in a way that supports the life I want to have.

Cherry Blossoms: (here pictured in their pickled form!) I obviously could not get through April without being inspired by the cherry blossoms. My love of cherry blossoms is what drew me to kimono, and my interest in the symbolism of different seasonal motifs in Japanese culture. Every year my parents specially invite me round at the point when the flowering cherry tree in their garden is in full bloom, because they know how much I love the blooms (and especially being showered with petals). This year I collected some more blossoms for pickling, ate some of my salted sakura from 2012 mixed into vanilla ice cream and made sakura syrup from the pickled blossoms. My idea is to make my own icecream, flavoured with the syrup, also with pickled blossoms mixed into it. I should probably have tried to put Masterchef into my collage because I am a (not-so) secret Masterchef wannabe. If I ever do get on it I will have to make a sakura ice cream. I am going to do a post on making the syrup and icecream in the next couple of weeks. I already have a post about how to pickle cherry blossoms if you are interested in doing it yourself – GO! Do it now while there are still flowers out!

So that’s it folks! What do you think of the styled shoot, rather than a photo collage last last month’s post? have you got inspired to make your own image documenting what’s feeding your creative furnace this month? I would love to hear more about what inspires you all, so tell me about your influences this month in the comment and join in with the hashtag!

Calm and Bright – Etsy Japan Team Treasury

japan team treasury game may- calm and bright

I haven’t done a treasury feature on my blog for a while, so thought I’d do one showcasing the Etsy Japan team, which I am a part of. The team ran a treasury game and we each made a treasury featuring items from the other shops who entered. There were two guest spots as part of the game, so I have given those to Brighton sellers with a Japanese influence.

The treasury is inspired by two sides of Japanese design, both of which I love. On the one had, Japan is known for simplicity and purity of design, and on the other for cutely colourful florals. I think of the two different styles as reflecting youth (colouful and crazy!) and maturity (elegant and simple). I am definitely a wearer of colourful crazy in my own wardrobe! Which style is more you?

Clicking on the image should take you through to the actual treasury where you can click on each individual item.

japan team treasury game may- calm and bright

Back Pain – things that help me

This week I’ve had a recurrence of the back pain that plagued me for around 2 years, before I became pregnant with Etta. It has knocked me for six, because I had thought I was on top of it.  I already have a lot of coping mechanisms in place for dealing with being in pain, from when I suffered with it before, but it is definitely slightly different dealing with pain while looking after a child.

I’m trying to stay positive about it, and hoping that it is just a little flare up and that it will be gone soon. In the meantime, I’m going to use it as a reason to post  about all the things that helped (and are still helping!) me to cope with living in pain on a day to day basis. I also just want to add that I don’t have any professional qualifications around managing pain, I am just sharing what has helped me, though of course I hope that in sharing this it can help others who are experiencing back pain.

My back pain is mostly sciatic pain and other nerve pain. It is caused by two bulging discs, one of which is touching my spinal cord. The feeling of nerve pain is very odd, to me the sensation is a little bit like cold water running down my legs, combined with the feeling of pins being stuck in my skin. It is extremely affected by mood, stress and anxiety. If I am relaxed enough I can convert the pain to just ‘sensations’ but as soon as something stresses me out, or distracts me from relaxing, the sensations are interpreted as pain again. For this reason, a lot of the things that have helped me are based around de-stressing!

I think the relationship between pain and state of mind is extremely interesting, but I don’t want people to misinterpret this as me saying that pain is imaginary, or that it is easy to switch it off just by thinking differently. Know that anyone manages chronic pain is likely putting in immense amounts of effort keep on top of their pain, face the world and perform many of the mundane tasks that pain-free people take for granted.

When I first hurt my back, one of the first things I did was to buy a Backfriend. This is a portable seat-adapter that makes most chairs more comfortable to sit in and supports your back correctly.  I still use it at my computer chair, though I think it has limited use as a portable adapter if you have really bad back pain, because having to carry something extra around with you can make things worse.

I also started going to a gentle yoga class. Yoga is one of those things that is often recommended if you’ve got a back problem – but if you are experiencing severe chronic pain, it can be hard to find a yoga class that is gentle enough not to trigger worse pain. If I went to a normal yoga class I’d probably just have had to lie on my back for most of the poses, feeling rubbish about myself. So for me a super gentle yoga class was great, because I could do all the movements and know my body was getting some benefit from moving, whilst also being able to seriously relax. Because of looking after Etta, I now don’t go to a regular class, but I do gentle, relaxation based yoga videos on YouTube like Yoga with Adriene.

Doing yoga lead me to look into mindfulness. Finding this article on using mindfulness to cope with pain was a moment of complete breakthrough for me. Tears streamed down my face while as I read it, and it completely changed the way I approached pain. Before reading it, I just felt complete desperation and a sense of ‘how on earth will I get through the day?’ every morning, and a similar sense before I completed any task or activity. Realising that I just had to cope with the now was a huge release. Funnily enough, it is the thing I am struggling most to do since my pain has returned!

YouTube is an amazing source of relaxation videos. I used a lot of progressive muscle relaxation and Yoga Nidra videos.

I found myself searching for ones with the most relaxing voices, and stumbled across something called ASMR. ASMR is basically people talking in a soothing voice about mundane things. It is really good if you find it hard to let yourself relax or meditate because of constant brain chatter. The person talking replaces the brain chatter for me. Some people experiences ‘brain tingles’ from listening to a soothing voice, and also from personal attention. You might have experienced it yourself without knowing what it was, maybe when someone was explaining something to you, or showing you how to something. I realised that I experienced it as a child, without knowing what it was during opticians appointments, while listening to science lectures and later, when watching QVC! I now use ASMR to keep me relaxed while I’m working (I have it playing in the background), to de-stress, and also to get to sleep. My favourite ASMRtist is Gentle Whispering, but there are tonnes of people making videos,and some of it is about finding someone whose voice triggers you, or who makes videos that contain your specific triggers. I have recently been wondering whether to make my own ASMR videos, as I use an ASMR type reading voice (I call it ‘my counting voice’) to help Etta go off to sleep! Do you think it is a good idea?

Once I was enough control of my life through yoga and mindfulness to think about tackling my back pain, I bought a CBT workbook, enrolled on a CBT and mindfulness based pain management programme at my local hospital and started doing graded exercise to build up my core strength. One of the things that I think has lead to my most recent setback, is a loss of core strength, as I neglected my exercise regime over Easter, and while Squidlet had chicken pox.

Because it is really important to me to maintain a positive outlook, I’m trying really hard not to beat myself up about causing a recurrence of my pain. I remember what a dark, dark place I was in when I first hurt my back, and I know that thanks to the many people who shared their coping experiences or made their yoga and ASMR videos available online, I am not in that place now, despite being in pain. I really hope that sharing some of the things that have helped me cope with pain will mean that my difficult experience results in healing and happiness for others. Please do share your experiences of coping with chronic pain and illness in the comments, and maybe you can help someone else out too.

A #creativekickstart from Katrien from SweetiePips

You may have seen my post recently about my #creativekickstart challenge where I’m asking you all to join in with me and post an image on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram every month, celebrating your creative achievements and documenting what has been getting you going over the past month. Here is my first post featuring someone elses #creativekickstart! Kat from Sweetiepips is a fellow Brighton Etsy teammate, whose work I only came across a few weeks ago, when making a Brighton Etsy Team Spring themed treasury. I love her eclectic jewelry and of course the #creativekickstart image she made to document what she’d done creatively or what inspired her creatively over March. I’m also really excited to meet a fellow Brighton Etsy person who is juggling making and running their business with parenting.

Kat says about her image: “The moon pendants featured in the montage are now listed having been inspired by both the Solar eclipse last month and the awakening of a very sunny spring.  Like a lot of people I feel more carefree and bohemian when the sun appears each year. It seems to enliven my creative spirit in abundance and I just want to become a complete gypsy, sleep outside, create unique bits and pieces and walk around barefoot (however, I have a son who has a lot of lego……need I say anymore!)”

I am totally with Kat on letting the natural world and all it’s subtle changes and unexpected surprises feed into what we make and do. Moving into Spring it feels like the whole world is awakening, and we’ve all emerged from being stuck indoors during the rain and cold, to living in the garden, marveling at all the plants and creatures bursting forth. The change in season is making me want to take Squidlet on a little camping trip, maybe to somewhere like Wowo campsite, where she can play in streams and forests and fields all day.

In a week or so, I’m going to be looking back over April, and I’ve already got some ideas of what I’m going to be sharing with you.  I’d love to feature another image from one of you guys mid-month, so remember to tag your image with the #creativekickstart hashtag and get involved because I am really excited to hear what you’ve been up to and how it’s fed into what you make!

Creative Kickstart – Looking back over March

So an idea I’ve had for a while now, but as yet failed to do anything about, is start a hashtag on Instagram and Twitter for people to share their creative processes.  I want #creativekickstart to be a place where you share a collage (either a photo-collage or a styled ‘collage’ of objects in a scene) of all the things you’ve been doing that have been getting your creative side all a-flutter. So roughly around the turn of the month I’m going to publish my #creativekickstart collage, and then over the next week look through at what everybody else has posted on the hashtag. Then midway through the month (-ish. Am trying not to put myself off doing this by being too deadline obsessed!) I’ll publish a post about some of my favourite posts on the #creativekickstart hashtag and maybe even do a little mini interview with someone to get a bit more background on what they’ve been working on and what inspires them.

The idea is that its a look back over the past month in all it’s creative glory. I want to throw out those guilt-inducing to-do lists and focus on the things that you HAVE done over the month, which is why we are looking back. This idea is kind of nicked from a CBT thing that I did when my back pain was super bad, and I had a book where the exercise was to list everything you’d done in the day, at the end of it, rather than getting up and making a to-do list of things, half of which you might not get done. Instead of getting a ‘gnargh, I still didn’t do everything I thought I’d do’ feeling, this exercise should generate warm glow of ‘look how awesome I am for all the stuff I DID do!’. I think also acknowledging all the things that are revving your engines at the moment is a good way to link together some of the threads of creativity you are working with.

It doesn’t have to be filled with pictures of paintbrushes either – it could be that for you, going for a run is your chance to think or rejuvenates you and that is YOUR creative space. Something I’ve realised as I start to compile my #creativekickstart collage for this month is that I don’t necessarily have a photo e.g. of myself freediving, so I am just going to experiment with ways to convey the things that are inspiring me- maybe using an object that symbolizes my creative pursuit. It can just be a round up photocollage of the creative things you’ve posted on Instagram over the last month. I want it to be a way to share where you are at creatively this month, rather than a big time consuming faff. I think I’ve just realised in the past month or so that I love hearing people’s creative stories, and that this would be a way to connect with others and share the love a little bit. :D

Here are a couple of useful online photo collage makers:

Canva

Fotor

And an app so you can download your Instagram photos for collage making:

Instaport

Here is my very first #creativekickstart looking back over the month of March!

Creative Kickstart March 2015

The things that I did that were creative, or are inspired me creatively in March:

Freediving, Anything fishy or mermaidy, Spring, especially in my garden as lots of the wildflowers start to come up, dancing, wedding season, glitter, mechanical robot flowers, Permission Party, Seigaiha/fishscales, Etta’s crazily good drawings.

So I think the mermaidy, fishy, glittery, fishscales stuff all sort of goes together – This is what is inspiring me for an upcoming collection that I’m developing. I think it will be an AW15 collection, I am hoping to release it in summer and actually get ahead of the game so that I can do some press releases etc in good time for typical press lead times! I’ve also got a summery (non glittery) fishy collection that I’ve already shared some pieces from and that I really need to get a move on with and start listing soon!

Freediving and dancing also link together in some way – I am trying to get moving! After hurting my back I really lost touch with my body and lost confidence in my ability to move freely and unselfconsciously without causing myself pain. In March I started Freediving with NoTanx Brighton and am loving learning to swim with a monofin. This also feeds into a my dream idea of starting a Body Positive Mermaid’s Playground. As part of my Mermaids Playground ‘research’ and in an effort to be comfortable dancing without drinking I went to a 5Rhythms class called ‘Love Thy Everyone’. This is a moving mediatation or ‘ecstatic dance’ class and was waaaay out of my comfort zone! I was really nervous about going, but it turned out to be a really amazing experience. Somehow being back in touch with, and friends with my body again is filling me with a confidence in who I am in many other areas of my life.

At Upcoaching’s Permission Party I did a writing exercise with Entrepeneur Enabler Ebonie Allard where I wrote a letter from the universe to myself . I found this incredibly cathartic. My letter revealed to me how my experience with hurting my back in 2010 left me feeling like really bad things could happen – to me! I think until that point I always believed that in general everything would be okay, and that even if kind of bad stuff would happen, the universe would catch me. Although of course, it has all worked out in the end in many ways, writing this letter made me realise how much this feeling that it could all easily go wrong at the drop of a ball has been dominating my thoughts and holding me back. So my letter was from The Universe to me, and it was weird, once I started writing it, it just wrote itself. Basically the universe said  ‘Don’t worry I’ve got your back again.’! I loved meeting all the coaches at the event, but I felt a real connection with Ebonie who totally bared her soul. The things she talked about also really nudged me about wanting to do more Tarot readings for other people.

What else have we got…Spring, wedding season and robotic gardens of flowers! Spring, spring spring! I had forgotten how much I love it. All the plants are starting to appear, and having a little person (Etta) who is excited by every ant, dandelion and puddle that we come across is making me appreciate it even more. Spring also marks the beginning of wedding season, and I am feeling really pleased with how many wedding orders I’ve had since starting to put more effort into promoting my work again. I love the feeling of playing a small part in somebody’s wedding day. The coming of Spring has reminded me that my love of flowers and the natural world is one of the things that got me into kanzashi making. Seeing two really exciting interactive robotic flower garden  here and here  made me wonder what it would be like to build one of my own (probably with help from Rob and my Dad who are both into programming and robotics!). I’m not sure if this is a project that will ever become realised as I seem to be fizzing with so many ideas at the moment I couldn’t possibly do all of them, but I think sometimes having these pipe dreams is important for our creativity.

 

 

Oh yes, finally, Squidlet’s awesome drawing skills – she is only 2 and (yes shameless parent brag!) I just can’t get over how great her drawings are. I love talking to her about them and discovering more about how she thinks. This one is of people reading, shouting, sliding and dancing. There is also a fence in there (one of her great interests right now!). Her fearlessness and intense concentration on them truly shows that all children are artists at heart.

I would love it SO much if you would join me and take part in the #creativekickstart hashtag! I am really excited about seeing a snapshot of everyone’s month of creativity, and I think it will really interesting to look back on as a long term project as well, as you see how what is inspiring you changes over the course of a year. Do post below if you are thinking of joining in, and I will  keep a special eye out for your posts!

Hallelujah I’ve finally stopped breastfeeding!

Looking like a cute little piglet!

This is going to be my first parenting post on my all-new-slightly-kicked-up-the-bum, posting-every-few-days/weeks blog and I’m slightly nervous about writing it because a) its about extended breastfeeding and weaning, which I feel is a little bit socially unacceptable and b) because its about parenting and this just seems to be an area where people can easily feel that someone is judging them for their parenting choices. One of the reasons I feel a bit wary of posting about extended breastfeeding is that I’m worried it will be seen as braggy – there is so much guilt and pressure around breastfeeding that I really don’t want to add to that. I had a really really horrendous time feeding Etta at around the 4-6 month mark, and although I do feel pleased that I got through that phase and carried on breastfeeding, it was such a hellish time that I don’t think any mum should feel that they HAVE to put themselves through that in order to feel like a good parent. Sometimes taking the decision to stop doing something that is stressing you out, or affecting your ability to relate to your child is a really good parenting choice. I do also think that mothers should have the right to celebrate their parenting victories. So whether that was deciding not to breastfeed because you knew that was the right choice for you, or giving yourself a pat on the back because you survived a year of being kicked in the face by a nursing toddler, then allow yourself a ‘Hell yeah! I did it!’ moment for your baby feeding journey. This is mine.

When I made the choice to breastfeed, and to try to exclusively breastfeed up until 6 months, I thought I would probably be feeding Etta  at 6 months, that there was a slim but very unlikely chance I’d still be feeding her by 1 year, and really I would have definitely have fully weaned her before she was able to ask for milk in public by yelling “I EAT MUMMY BOOBY!” on the bus. As you may be able to guess I did not manage to wean before the cringe inducing bus incident happened, just before her 2nd birthday. That incident was however a bit of a catalyst for finally making the move to stop breastfeeding. I realised that I was no longer really comfortable feeding her in public, and desperately needed more personal space.

I loosely subscribe to the ethos of Attachment Parenting, as we cosleep, babywear etc and I believe the research around how babies and young children form attachments shows that being emotionally and physically available for your child is important. However in many ways I am a slightly reluctant practitioner of it due to needing absolutely immense amounts of personal space in order to feel even moderately normal. I hugely buy into the ethos behind AP but I think that the reality of it can be quite guilt-inducing (at least for me!) because you are constantly having to balance the ideal of being available to your child with the reality of sometimes being too stressed out, grumpy or tired to do that.

When Etta was super tiny, from 0-3.5 months-ish I remember thinking how incredibly easy and hassle free breastfeeding was. In hindsight this seems so smug, but I also think I was lucky to have this lovely calm time right at the start of our breastfeeding journey, or I might never have stuck it out! I was also very lucky to have a mother who was also a breastfeeding counselor, and who was pretty much on hand 24/7 with all the support I could ask for. I often wonder if everyone had this kind of access to a breastfeeding counselor how much smoother things might go in those first few months.

When Etta was around 4 months old she went through a 2 month phase of not feeding unless we were at home, lying down in a darkened room. Because she was still needing to be fed every couple of hours, this made going out anywhere (or even having people round) immensely stressful. I also suspect that it changed her from a baby who could just drop off to sleep if I left her alone on the living room floor without toys nearby when I spotted her sleepy signs to a child that HAD to be fed to sleep – because she would always end up having her nap while we fed. Although it seems like a long way away now, I remember being obsessed with sleep, and obsessed with whether I was feeding her enough. I can even remember worrying that I had given her an eating disorder – yes I was going completely insane! I ended up doing a lot of expressing and giving bottles of expressed milk, which was also hugely stressful (respect to anyone who does this for any length of time). At this point I started seriously considering quitting breastfeeding. I actually wonder if I should just have been less hard on myself and given some formula in place of expressing. It was at this point that having a mum who was a breastfeeding counselor took on a different dimension. Although she was still an immense source of support to me, in my head was the constant pressure to continue breastfeeding because how bad would it look if I, child of a well known local breastfeeding counselor stopped breastfeeding BEFORE my child turned 6 months?

When I look back on this period of my life, I don’t think I was really thinking rationally at all because I was just SO stressed out. Luckily I confided to my mum about the guilt I was experiencing and she said “You should make the decision that is right for you, not based on the fact that I am a breastfeeding counselor. I will support your decision whether you decide to stop breastfeeding altogether, supplement with formula, or carry on breastfeeding exclusively.” She also advised me to ring the NCT breastfeeding line and speak to a breastfeeding counselor who was not her, so I would be free to talk about all the issues affecting me, without worrying about her feelings in the matter. I can’t tell you how much this changed things! I felt really released from a lot of guilt about my own choices, AND speaking to the helpline resolved many of my issues within about a week. I almost felt a bit silly for not ringing them sooner, but it felt like a huge psychological hurdle to accept that I was having enough difficulties that I actually needed help.

Although we came out the other side of this phase, I do feel like my relationship with Etta was quite affected by it. I got into a mindset of obsessively worrying about sleep and milk intake, AND even better, worrying that my worrying was having an effect on her – yay, I love my brain! I also to some extent tried to hide my worries from friends and other mothers because I perceived these thoughts as neurotic, so I think I was probably putting out a very ‘yes I am super relaxed about all these things’ image, while actually worrying about them a lot. Maybe some of it was an attempt to NOT worry about these things as much, by saying that I wasn’t really that worried about them. Anyway, whatever it was, I don’t think it was particularly healthy , and it created a bit of a disconnect between my experience and the way others perceived me. I found being a new mother a bit like starting at a new school, where I wasn’t sure if anyone liked me and I wondered if I should try to fit or just go with it and be the massive weirdo that I know I am! So basically I now realise I was probably experiencing massive anxiety alongside the whole tiny baby craziness.

Luckily when Etta was about a year old I came across a group called Mothers Uncovered which runs creative discussion groups in Brighton and decided to go along and try it. I’m not really quite sure what I thought the group would be like, but I am so glad that I went. It is described as ‘a support service to new mothers through workshops and arts projects’ but somehow to me that doesn’t quite cover it. It was really quite life changing for me! Through lots of discussions and activities mothers were able to tell their stories and share their experiences of motherhood, in a way that didn’t really happen when I went to parent and baby groups. I realised that I had really lost touch with that ability to live in the present and enjoy tiny beautiful moments with my little girl. I think this is still something that I struggle with, so I wouldn’t say that I just went to the group and then left, instantly ‘cured’ of all the strange thought patterns I’d got into. But it gave me a chance to notice what was going on with ME rather than with my baby, and to start discussions with other people in my life about how I was feeling.

I think one of the things that made me realise it was time to stop breastfeeding Etta was that I started to let my worries about how stopping would affect her get in the way of really listening to how I was feeling about continuing to nurse. I eventually burst into tears after she requested to feed and then suddenly had this realisation that I didn’t want to be feeding her anymore and that I DIDN’T HAVE TO! Sometimes I wish that my relationship with feeding my child wasn’t so fraught with emotion, but I suppose that inevitably our decisions about how we nourish our children will be difficult because they are linked to our love for them.

Of Mermaids and Monofins

Last week (or possibly slightly longer ago….time is still slightly amorphous for me while living in Toddlerville)) I posted about trying to find my creative path, and create a working life that works for me, and I kind of hinted that something had come along that really excited me… I’d really been trying to put the question out to the universe ‘what do I want to do with my life’ and written a list of things I wanted to try out doing. One of the things which featured on the list was ‘get a monofin and try out mermaiding/freediving’.

I have a slight confession to make. I nearly didn’t put it on the list at all. In fact, when I was originally writing the list I left it off , even though it had popped into my mind, because I felt kind of embarrassed about it…… I actually felt that people would laugh at me for wanting to do this (hey, maybe some people are…if so – That is really mean! Stop it!) partly because it is a little bit out there, and a whole lot because I definitely do not fit the beautiful slim mermaid body stereotype and I thought people would think the idea of me in a mermaid tail was the most ridiculous thing ever thought of. Maybe it still is, but I’m not sure if that’s a good reason not to do something.

 

I recently read a great great great article about exercise and bodily movement by Naomi Alderman, who made a   running app called ‘Run Zombies Run’. The gist of the article, if you don’t want to read it (but seriously, go read it, it is great!) is that as a fat person, she felt like she wasn’t really ‘allowed’ to make an exercise app (but luckily she got over that and did). Her other main point was that the link between exercise being a chore (and often in fact a punishment for being fat) not only alienates people who don’t fit into the beauty norm from exercise but completely detaches them from the joy of what it feels like to move your body. I SO identified with this story. I hated PE at school, and once I left school actively rejected any form of physical exercise until I hurt my back in 2010. Since then I’ve realised that I need to maintain some kind of level of physical fitness in order to enjoy life, and graded exercise was a huge part of my recovery process from chronic pain. However, I am still overweight and I still don’t really like exercising. I cannot think of anything more dull than pounding the streets in my trainers, or  splashing up and down a lane trying to burn as many calories as possible.

Reading this article reconnected me with a memory of what I DID  love doing in terms of physical movement as a child and that was duck diving under the water, and generally playing in the water, doing anything but lane swimming. I also loved seaswimming, which I still do as an adult (admittedly not much since having Etta) and I think that has always appealed over pool swimming because somehow I have always disliked the on-display, echoey, shouty, divebomb-y , lane swimming atmosphere of swimming pools, and felt much more self conscious about my lovely lumpy body in that set up. I don’t know why that is…

 

Anyway I digress slightly. The reason I brought up the body image stuff is because when I finally plucked up the courage to write mermaiding down on my list of things I wanted to do, I started thinking how cool it would be if there was a place where people who feel similarly to me about exercise and their body could try out mermaids tails, and swimming like a mermaid and also just get back in touch with that love of bodily movement. I started to dream about a Body Positive Mermaid Playground (Yes I already have a name for it!), where we’d do a bit of mindfulness, do some movements in the water that just felt really good rather than designed to be exercise of any sort, and then people would be free to splash about and just play, in a very accepting and non-competitive space. Oh and also try out swimming with a mermaids tail on of course! My idea was basically that everyone deserves to get to live out their mermaidy dreams, no matter what their body looks like.

I think I was slightly ill with a fever that weekend, because I was suddenly seized by the idea that I should post about my idea on Facebook. Against my better judgement I did so, and waited for the howls of laughter. But instead I was happily reminded what a nice bunch of people I am friends with when people were not just supportive but actually really quite excited about the idea too. In one of those strange serendipitous synchronicity things, someone put me in touch with a freediver in Brighton who already had a mermaids tail. She invited me to go to her freediving club, called No Tanx, a monofin came up on Ebay super cheap and I got some bi-fins too, and I went along to try it out.

 

Freediving was amazing, like nothing else I’d ever tried. I am going to my second session tonight and already can’t wait. The club’s ethos is very non-competitive and the whole thing seems very meditative. This video seems to capture most what a session was actually like (though there was a full hour out of the water doing yoga and breathing exercises first as well as the underwater part)

The group was quite small and because of this I got to use my monofin and could even have tried out my friend’s mermaid tail , but I held back on that for now!

So, I’m not quite sure where the freediving and monofinning will take me exactly, but I have an idea of somewhere I’d like to go with it eventually, so just going to see where this takes me, for now!

 

What do you think of my Body Positive Mermaid’s Playground idea?