Walking with Spirits


(This is a very delayed post… I’ve just finished my first semester back at school since Adella was born, and it’s been a busy one. Catching up on some blogging now!)

So, I officially feel like a hippy mum. We took our 7-week-old daughter to a music festival out in the sticks.

We stayed up in Katherine visiting family for a couple of weeks, and had the Walking with Spirits festival recommended to us. We drove from Katherine to Beswick, and then took a 4WD track for about half an hour to the location of the festival. We parked the car and crossed a small creek and found ourselves on a big sandy floodplain bank along a river. The sand was soft and clean, and on the other side of the river were super tall cliff faces. The rocks were a myriad of different shades of oranges, reds and browns. Many children were splashing around in the shallows and a few people had gone for a good long swim across the waterway.

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The site is closed to the public everyday of the year, except for this festival. So, it’s pretty special to be able to access this piece of Arnhem land.Having an infant at a festival does mean for a different experience. We settled up the back so that we were far enough away from the speakers. Plus, I didn’t really want to interrupt other people’s festival experience. But, Adella was really great. She mostly slept, and when she wasn’t sleeping it was easy enough to get up and have a bouncy dance with her. The most annoying thing is the amount of stuff you need for one tiny person. I had piles of nappies, blankets (it gets really cold at night) and things like mosquito nets. Meanwhile, not really anything for me!Whilst chilling in the afternoon on the sand, I suddenly turned around to find 5 young aboriginal girls crowded around Adella’s pram. At the time, her Yeye was rocking her. The girls were so confused. They wanted to know who was Mum, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa. Then, they couldn’t work out why Grandpa was trying to calm her crying. Then, they kept telling me to give her milk to stop her crying. I guess the traditional family structure in aboriginal families would be very different, and I don’t think the men have much to do with settling and quietening babies. They were fascinated!

It was such a family-friendly festival. Once the traditional dancing started, so many children and audience members joined in. The dancers moved to the music with such a strong rhythm. With their red clothing and white body paint, they were eye-catching and stark as they kicked up a flurry of sand with their feet. We heard aboriginal stories with beautiful animation to match. There were amazing fire dancers, and even some breakdancers too! The night finished with a rock group that had everyone up on their feet. The ambiance was complete with small campfires spotted through the crowd, as well as candles drifting down the river that reminded us of the spirits present on the land.

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Lights bouncing off the cliff face and candles drifting on the river.
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13 baby must-haves

This is one for my swathe of pregnant friends. I thought I’d make a list of the things I’ve found essential in my first 8 weeks of motherhood. They are not in a particular order, just as I thought of them.

1. swaddles – Swaddling cloths are amazing. My favourite ones have been muslin. They have helped so much with calming and sleeping. Get nice big ones.

2. drink bottle – I bought myself a good quality, stainless steel, pop-top drink bottle for breast-feeding. It’s always close-by. ‘Eco-lateral’ in Adelaide have lovely ones.

3. reusable nursing pads – Mainly for environmental reasons, but they’re more comfy than the disposable ones anyway. I bought some great minke ones from ‘The Rainbow Tree’ in Adelaide.

4. good breast-feeding bras – I got fitted at David Jones at about 38 weeks, but apparently you can do it much earlier (after 20 weeks or so).

5. breast-feeding nightie – I hadn’t thought of this until I realised how much my boobs would leak at night (since I’m lucky enough to have a bubs who sleeps through the night). You need something that you can put nursing pads into. So, I sleep in a breast-feeding nightie or a basic, comfy sports bra with no hooks or clips.

6. nappies – I did a lot of research into cloth nappies and decided on the ‘itti bitti tutto’. I love them. We had disposables for the first 5 days or so, and for travelling, but they fit bubs really well from the first week. And washable wipes – to go with our enviro-friendly nappies. We bought cushie-tushie ones from ‘The Rainbow Tree’. They’re great because they are soft and minke on one side but a bit grippy on the other side for poos! They work best if you wet them a little. We also bought matching dirty nappy bags, which have a pocket for the wipes.

7. pram – We went with a bugaboo because we wanted something that did infant-toddler. We also needed something that was super-sturdy with good suspension for Beijing footpaths. The seat can also reverse, the handle bar is super-high for us tall people, it has a good shopping bag underneath, a good hood and a cover to protect bubs from the elements. There are heaps of prams out there – start early. Think carefully about all the things you’d like and make a list. If you take this list with you, you’re bound to find the perfect one out there!

8. hand sanitiser – get a pump action bottle for home and little ones for the nappy bag.

9. nappy bag – Get a good nappy bag with lots of pockets – ours has become my handbag already – who wants to go out with more than 1 bag?? Oh, and it also has a great changing mat. Even better – I bought it cheap on taobao.

10. baby carrier – We bought an ergo baby carrier, again after a lot of research. It’s super comfy and great when you want both hands free. And since we don’t have a car in Beijing, we will be using this whilst riding in taxis. We also had a bouncy chair on loan for a few weeks. This was great for bubs to have some independent time and give us a chance to do our own thing.

11. baby clothes that do up under the bum – I soon discovered that it’s hard to hold a wriggling baby when their clothes are riding up their back. It makes them all slippery. Get a range of newborn clothes that all do up at the bum. Oh, and babies are smaller than you think.

12. socks with good cuffs that don’t slip off – Little feet work hard, and socks quickly slip off. At Target, I found socks with good cuffs that folded over and held on tight. A definite advantage!

13. gender confusing outfits – This is purely personal. I hate the whole baby pink/ baby blue thing. So I often dress her in half pink and half blue. Or throw in a misleading pair of pink socks with the stripey-blue onesie.

I hope that helps in some way, shape or form. If you have any questions for this newbie mum, please ask away! I feel like I’ve been on such a steep, but wonderful, learning curve!

My birth story

Birthing is an incredibly intense and powerful experience. So intense that our bodies let us forget the pain and focus on the joy of having a child. I want to document my labour experience so that I can remember it all. I want to remember how I was strong and courageous, and did things that I never thought I could do. I have written most of this, with additions from Zac as it really is quite difficult to remember. I have been very descriptive, so please only read this if you are actually interested!

2pm

I’d been sleeping a lot. The day before I went into labour, I feel all I did was sleep. I dozed off at every opportunity. The next morning we slept very late and decided to have some exercise. My abdomen was feeling crampy, but I just figured that this was my uterus doing a bit of preparation. As Zac did sprints across the oval, I sat in the sun listening to music and giving my round, white belly a bit of sun exposure. I spent the rest of the afternoon watching TV and dozing.

7.30pm

The crampy feeling continued, but I never felt it was strong enough to mean anything. So, I just kept going – I helped Mum prepare dinner and then Sally and Kanesh came over for dinner and I distracted myself with conversation. When we sat down for dinner, I was uncomfortable and wriggling around in my chair, and getting up to pee on a regular basis, and just wanting to move around. It turns out that my contractions had already started: now I can only describe them as spurts of increasingly intense period pain that came and went.

9pm

At that stage I still hadn’t properly timed my contractions since I was just wearing a watch, but I really didn’t feel that they were coming regularly. I got through dinner and dessert, told Mum, Dad, Georgia, Kanesh and Sally that I thought tonight was the night, then Zac and I called the hospital. The lovely midwife on the phone told me to wait at home until my contractions were regular. She also recommended that I take a couple of panadol and have a lie down, and that there was probably nothing to worry about just yet. She also said, as I’d read in many of my books, that you can’t have a conversation through an intense contraction, and that because I was still talking, I probably was in my very early stages. I hung up the phone, pulled out my ipod (with a fancy ‘contraction timing’ app!!), and started up the timer. Sitting down to watch some masterchef and watching the clock, I started to feel slightly nervous – they were pretty much coming 3 minutes apart, although they still were pretty light.  I asked Zac to run me a bath and I hopped in. He sipped on a scotch and seemed to be constantly pressing the start/stop button for me, which goes to show that the contractions were definitely less than three minutes apart and lasting around one minute each. ‘Where’s the writhing pain?’ I thought. ‘If these are contractions, giving birth is gonna be a walk in the park’. (Actually, that’s not what I thought at all, but rather what Zac was desperately hoping!!). At around 10.30, things were getting a bit more intense so we decided to go to the hospital and try our luck. At the back of my mind, I was sure that we’d get turned away (they only accept patients when dilation has reached 3cm) because of what the midwife had said on the phone. But, hey, what have we got to lose? Zac finished packing the hospital bag, complete with loads of munchies for a 40 hour labour. Then, at my request, he shaved off his “striking” moustache – I wasn’t leaving the house until it was gone.

11pm

Mum drove us to the hospital, and the midwife checked me. I was at 5cm already! Woohoo! Half way! It’s gonna be a walk in the park! (Zac again). At 11.50pm we moved into birthing room 16, which luckily had a bathtub.

12-2am

The contractions slowly got more and more intense from here on. I tried a variety of positions, mostly all standing, and often needing to lean on Zac for support. Zac was apparently in ‘quite a lot of pain’ from sprinting up and down the oval earlier in the afternoon, but he was sane enough not to say anything. For once, he knew when to keep his mouth closed. I also tried sitting on the ball and leaning on the bed to ease the pain, but it was so hard to get comfortable. Also, I was lead to believe from the books that contractions came and went quite clearly, and that I was supposed to use the time in between each contraction to rest and conserve my energy. However, it reality, it pretty well seemed that 95% of my time was spent contracting, and I was only given a few seconds here and there to ‘rest’, which wasn’t entirely helpful. Stupid books.

2.20am

I then got into the bath. The warm water felt so good, and it really took the edge off the pain. My contractions were lasting 60-90 seconds, and sometimes I had 7 in 10 minutes. Just take a second to do the maths on that: I maybe had 30 seconds of respite every 10 minutes! My memory of this is feeling like a snake, writhing around and wriggling, whilst hanging onto Zac’s hand for dear life. I was doing everything I could to keep my sanity (Zac: very successfully! This woman is a trooper! Every seen a fish that’s just been caught, and then placed on the jetty, and it bounces round in pain, pretty sure that it’s gonna die in the next 30 seconds? Yeah. That’s what Sof looked like. And not one word of complaint). Lorraine (our midwife) and Ashley (our student midwife) gently palped my contractions and dopplered me as necessary. At 3.20, I firmly declared that I had to get out of the bath. I just knew that I didn’t want to be in there anymore, and that I was in some serious pain, and scrambling around a bath like a eel with a nail through its tail wasn’t helping anyone, or my pain.

3.30am

I had to get on the bed for my next examination. The contractions were pretty much constant at this stage, and I had to wait for what seemed like a lifetime (but what in reality was probably only about 10 minutes) for a break until Lorraine could finally check my dilation progress. It was only at 7cm. Bugger. Double bugger. A relatively smooth time at home at got me to 5, and in the last few hours of insanity had only managed to grow an extra 2. Anyway, Lorraine suggested that she break my waters to speed up the process and give me a little relief. I remember that I wanted to think through the decision, but it was really hard to bring my decision-making to the forefront of my mind. When I finally brought it to my consciousness, I went with yes. Lorraine was a little hesitant, because she didn’t want to feel that she’d forced me into anything. But Zac confirmed with her that, yes, it was indeed a confident decision. However, I had to painfully get through another lifetime (10 minutes) of contractions until there was actually a long enough break to put this long crochet hook inside me and rupture the membrane! They were coming thick and fast. And intensely. And then I swore for the first time (and the profanity actually came out between contractions, not during! There was a big cheer from Lorraine and Ashley). For the next half an hour, the contractions were even more intense (somehow) but a little further apart. But I soon realised that release in pressure from rupturing the water bag really made me feel a lot better, and allowed me to progress again.

4.10am

10cm dilation! That’s right, I’d done the last 3 in about half an hour. Nice. Lorraine then called the paediatrician in, just in case. A few minutes later, I really felt the need to push, but Lorraine wanted me to breathe through them and let our baby move further down. It felt a bit a like the Seinfeld soup Nazi (No push for you!) but in retrospect I can see that she had a point. My contractions moved further apart, and I actually got a small chance to rest in between! The nurses continued to doppler my belly to keep an eye on where our baby’s head was, and what was going on with the baby’s heart. At 4.20, I was finally allowed to push. After 15 minutes of pushing, I was hooked up to the CTG machine as they were a little concerned about the baby’s heartbeat. I was a little reluctant about being attached to a machine, but really I was so exhausted that I was beyond caring.

I can only describe pushing as trying to do the biggest poo ever. Pooing a watermelon in fact. That’s it. There’s no other sensation like it. It’s also an incredibly difficult thing to do because the harder one pushes, the more it hurts, and it stings as the baby’s head pushes down on your cervix. I had to drop my chin and focus my energy all on the push, because instinctively my body wanted to resist the pushing, or at least redirect my energy into another part of my body and close my legs! The paediatrician offered me a mirror, which they set up. As it turned out, I didn’t see much, as I found it completely impossible to keep my eyes open whilst pushing. I saw glimpses now and again of our baby’s head, but that’s all I really remember. Zac, however, made full use of the mirror and was fascinated by the wonderful joy of crowning. It was exhausting: I have a distinct memory of dozing off (I’m pretty sure it was only 10 seconds of sleep. Zac doesn’t remember seeing this, but I’m sure it happened).

5.10am

By this time, I was really tiring out. I was struggling to keep my legs in a wide, open position, and my pelvis wasn’t opening up enough.  Lorraine suggested putting my legs on the bed stirrups to keep them open. This was great. Until then, I had been putting too much effort through my legs into the bed, and not focussing on my pushing. With my legs elevated and back, I felt much better. Lorraine was wonderful – she was great at describing exactly how and where I had to push. Zac and Ashley were continually encouraging and cheering me on.

At 5.28, I was told that if the baby didn’t come out in the next push I would need an episiotomy because the crown had been halfway out for 15 minutes (I actually have no recollection of this, all I heard was “if the baby doesn’t come out…” – and I knew I had to do it). As I pushed this last time, my cheer squad yelled and shouted for me, including several “加油!” from Zac and I pushed the baby out. As the head came out, the whole body followed in one movement. At 5.29, our baby was born. Lorraine placed her straight onto my chest. I felt so overwhelmed and I remember looking at Zac in disbelief. Then, somebody asked ‘what we’d had’ and I lifted the sheet and discovered that we’d had a beautiful baby daughter. In the moment, we were both too overwhelmed to think about whether it was a boy or girl, it was just such an incredible feeling that we’d had a baby. Shortly after, Zac cut her umbilical cord, and 8 minutes later my placenta came out. I had requested no hormone injections to encourage the placenta out, which apparently is very rare. In 17 years of Lorraine’s work as a midwife, she’d only done 3 completely physiological births, which really surprised me.

I shook and shook after the birth. I think my legs bounced up and down on their own for a good hour after the birth. People say having a baby is like running a marathon. I’ve never run a marathon, but I can imagine the similarities. Zac didn’t faint, and I’m so glad that I’m married to a real man (guess who wrote that?!?).

Adella Luna spent over an hour on my chest, skin-to-skin. In that time she did a massive poo all over my belly and also instinctively latched onto my nipple and started feeding. She came out with a hilarious peak on the back of her head, which I remember seeing when she was crowning, but stuck in the same position for ages – but this went down over the next 24 hours. She was then weighed – a healthy 7 pounds 3 ounces/3270g – and I had some brekky and a shower. We packed up all of our things and slowly made our way up to the postnatal ward with our daughter.

Pomegranates!

My most recent Adelaide discovery is the Adelaide Showground Farmers Market. It’s held every Sunday and has an amazing array of delicious fresh produce. Everything that we’ve bought from there has been full of flavour and has stayed fresh for so much longer than the crappy fruit and veg from the supermarket.

I recently bought the April/May edition of Donna Hay magazine and got so excited by the whole section of pomegranate recipes. My eyes were continually drawn towards the most beautiful photo of a ginger, cardamon and pomegranate syrup cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (I didn’t have this, so I just made extra syrup)
  • 1/2 cup treacle
  • 100g melted butter
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger (I doubled, if not tripled this amount)
  • 1/4 tsp of ground cardamon (I doubled, if not tripled this amount and ground it myself)
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tsp. bicarbonate of (baking) soda
  • 3 pomegranates, juice and seeds removed (1 1/2 big ones is enough!)
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 160. Mix the buttermilk, eggs, sugar, molasses, treacle and butter. Add the ginger, cardamon, flour and bicarb. Bake for 1 hour in a 24cm round tin. Place the pomegranate juice and sugar in a bowl and mix. Pour over cake and cool completely in the tin. Remove cake and sprinkle with seeds to serve.

I made the cake one day earlier than eating, so I let it cool completely. I then mixed the pomegranate juice, seeds and sugar and heated it in a saucepan until the sugar was dissolved. I then tipped that over the cake before serving.

Recipe taken from Donna Hay  magazine, Issue 62, April/May 2012 (written in my own words)

I loved the cake so much that I made a second one. Again, I’ve kept the syrup separate to make the cake last longer. The cake itself is delicious – quite gingerbready, and I’ve eaten it with the syrup, with yoghurt and with chocolate sauce and they were all great!

Check out the colour!

To avoid possibly making this cake a third time (even though I’m eating for two, my cake consumption is getting scary), I found another amazing looking pomegranate recipe in the same magazine: Quail with pomegranate and pine nut stuffing. Not having quails on hand, and I doubt that I could cook them to Matt Preston perfection anyway, I adapted the recipe to use chicken thigh fillets. So the recipe below is my adapted version, but the original is still from Donna Hay  magazine, Issue 62, April/May 2012.

 Ingredients:

  • couscous (we used about 300g for 4 hungry people)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
  • 2 tblsp caramelised onion relish
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup mint leaves
  • 1 pomegranate, seeds and juice removed
  • s&p
  • 5-6 chicken fillets (for 4 people)
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • roast vegies (optional)

Put the couscous in a bowl and pour boiling water over it. Cover and stand for 10 mins.

Mix the balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and half the pomegranate seeds and juice. Put the chicken fillets in this mix. Heat a fry pan and cook the fillets, basting with the pomegranate mix.

Whilst cooking the chicken, mix the garlic, relish, seeds, mint and other half of the pomegranate. Add this to the couscous with s&p.

Serve the chicken on top of the couscous with a side of roast vegies.

Mmmm… Donna Hay – you are the best!

Hot Cross Cookies

One of the highlights of being back in Australia is being able to cook in my Mum’s wonderful kitchen. Combine that with pregnancy hunger and I’m in heaven!!

My Mum was raving about some cookies that my sis had made recently… and so we made them together! It combines the deliciousness of hot cross buns, but without the hassle of waiting for them to rise, etc. Here are the results:

So rarely do my cookies turn out so round and picture perfect!

Georgia starting the icing…

Voila!

Who said hot cross buns had to have crosses?

The recipe is a Donna Hay recipe, taken from the Sunday Mail. This recipe made us 22 big cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 125g softened butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. finely grated lemon rind
  • 2.5 cups SR flour
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. mixed spice*
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sultanas**

Icing: 1 cup icing sugar, 1 tbsp. water

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy.
  3. Gradually add the eggs and vanilla, then the lemon rind, flour, cinnamon, mixed spice, milk and sultanas.
  4. Mix until a smooth dough forms.
  5. Roll spoonfuls of dough into balls and bake for 14-15 mins (or more realistically, about 12 mins). 
  6. Cool. Then use a piping bag to pipe the icing.

*I don’t think it would hurt to use a little extra spice!

**We used a mix of sultanas, raisins, cranberries and choc-chips

When we’re back in Beijing, I will definitely be making these for Easter!

 

My comfort foods

Having just been back to Aus for a holiday, I spent approximately 3 weeks eating and drinking my way through my most-missed foods.

1. Amazing coffee.

This cafe in North Carlton, Melbourne, has the most amazing coffee. And incredible vegetarian food. You can just pick a size of plate and fill it! The best way to eat.

2. Burgers.

Man, Aussie’s make good burgers. This was an especially good one. From ‘The Galleon Cafe’ at St. Kilda. My favourite part was the flying pickle.

3. Potato on a stick.

This is not an old favourite, but a new one. We ran into these delicious snacks in a few places. This one was at the Queen Vic Markets. Mine was pepper flavour. I think it may be Korean. It’s a whole potato on a stick – so if you get a big one (like me) you are particularly lucky!

4. Chicken schnitty.

Nothing in the world could be better than a mouth full of chicken, chips, tomato and cheese all at once. This one’s from The Oriental, Adelaide.

5. Fish & Chips.

No actual picture, but my favourite place is the Grange fish & chip shop in Adelaide. Go there. Grab a seafood pack, a lemonade and a golden gaytime. Then, proceed to the beach with your beachtowel.

6. Lebanese food.

Quiet Waters on Hindley St. I recommend the banquet. Delicious.

7. Platters & Wine

An amazing food platter from Pindarie winery, Barossa Valley. Fish, olives, goat curd, dips, capers and more. It was so inspiring that I think I replicated it again at least twice before the end of the trip. Plus a chickpea pie. My favourite wine was the 2010 Savagnin, ‘La Femme’.

We also visited Willows winery – the sparkling burgandy was exceptional and the cab sav also yummy.

8. More wine.

The family drop. One of many bottles consumed.

Lamington Biscuits

I thought my inaugural blog post should introduce my first creative move for the year. Living overseas makes events such as Australia Day seem so much more important! So, for Australia Day, our international group of friends got together for snags in bread and a bring-your-own creative Australian dessert. I’ve always loved lamingtons, but I’ve never attempted to make them. I wanted to add my own little touch to these chocolatey-coconutty delights.

So, I made a big piece of shortbread. Now, this is not as simple as it sounds in my crazy oven, but after an engineering feat of balanced oven trays, glass dishes and baking trays I had a perfect piece of shortbread. After cutting the shortbread into timtam size pieces, I drowned them in chocolate and dipped them in coconut. Instead of the usual desiccated coconut, I used much fleshier coconut pieces which added to the texture of the biscuits.

I am so proud of these and plan to make them again and again in the future.