Article in Juno

In non-garden-related news, I have an article on equal parenting in the current issue of natural parenting/family magazine JUNO. Which is a good read all round (the magazine, not specifically my article, though I am very pleased with that too). Available from their online shop, in some newsagents, and as a digital edition from Exact Editions.

Juno cover issue 33

Baby tipi, and another guest post

I really wanted to put a willow den in our back garden for Leon to play in.

Bamboo canes pushed into a grassy lawn and tied into a small tipi, with a sheet clipped over them, in foreground; in front of that the top of a blueberry bush, a rosemary bush to left of shot, apple tree behind, blue sky
Baby tipi between the blueberry bush and the rosemary

Unfortunately, that was scuppered by the realisation that there’s a sewage pipe running underground through the middle of the garden. You’re not supposed to plant willow within 3m of any pipes (it seeks water, and can sneak into the pipe through any cracks), and the apple tree prevented me planting further down the garden than that.

Instead, it occurred to me this week that after building the bean wigwam recently, I had lots of bamboo cane left over; and a couple of old sheets in the bottom of the airing cupboard. So now we have a baby play tipi.

Unfortunately the baby was unconvinced, because it has grass on its floor, and he is somewhat mistrustful of grass on bare feet. Hopefully as he gets steadier on his feet he may be more enthusiastic; in the meantime I might put a blanket down in there tomorrow.

Baby focussed on playing with a box of rice
Those moments of total absorption are a lesson in mindfulness.

In other news, this week I wrote about the competing pulls of parenting over at the Natural Parents Network: The Two Minds of Parenting.

Sleeper trains with a co-sleeping baby

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m expert at sleeper train travel with a 1 year old, but in the past 6 months we’ve taken 3 sleeper train journeys and 1 overnight ferry, so here’s the quick run-down on experiences so far.

Aberdeen-London, Scotrail single berth compartment: narrow berth, not really enough room for adult + baby (Leon was 9 months at the time). But the bottom bunk is flat and has no gap down the back, so I wasn’t worried about safety. The two-berth compartments are the same style.

London-Venice, Thello, six-berth compartment: this was not the intended mode of transport, but the carriage containing our intended two-berth compartment was broken. (Even more broken, we assume, than the replacement, which is impressive.) The six-berth style compartment we actually travelled in (thankfully not sharing with anyone else, for which I was especially grateful when Leon started to throw up at 3am) had very narrow berths, and the bottom berth was heavily sloped towards the wall, with a small gap between the bottom of the seat back and the bed. I was concerned that it wouldn’t be very safe to sleep with Leon between me and the wall, and it certainly wouldn’t be comfy, so wound up sleeping head-to-tail (until 3am, anyway, when the sleeping stopped). With a younger baby I think I’d have just sat up for the night. I would not recommend this with a baby not old enough to sleep on their own. The four-berth is also this style.

Venice-London, Thello, two-berth compartment. This was much nicer. Bottom bunk was flat, very wide (for a sleeper train; I think 2’6), and had no gap at the back. Lots of room for me and Leon both to lie down comfortably. Would happily do this again, other than the bit where it took him an hour to settle. The three-berth compartments are the same style.

Liverpool-Belfast, overnight ferry, two-bed cabin. Very comfy. Standard size single beds with a rail at the edge (though I still kept Leon on the wall side) and no gap by the wall. Would very happily travel like this again (and indeed I imagine we will, this summer).

If you’re not comfortable with co-sleeping, I think you might be able to fit a small travel cot on the floor in all of the above, but you might want to check with the train company. There is in my experience always room to put a regular sized wheelie suitcase flat on the floor and a couple of inches more than that, so if your travel cot fits that space you should be OK. (I know very little of travel cots so cannot speak further to this.)

I think that, other than the ferry, our sleeper train days may be over now until Leon is big enough to sleep in a bunk on his own, and to see the whole thing as an exciting adventure rather than getting too wound up to sleep…

Adventures in Parenting: food from the garden

It’s taken a looong time this year (possibly because of June’s dreadful weather), but finally I am regularly harvesting food from the garden*. Carrots (my first ever really decent carrot crop!), courgettes, little cherry tomatoes, chard, and the last of the garlic.

Simultaneously, L has started on solids, which is great fun. We’re doing baby-led weaning, so I’ve been putting slightly more effort into lunch (ie not just hummous sandwiches) then just giving L some of whatever I fancy eating. If possible, including at least a little of our back garden veg. Stir-fried chard, courgette, carrot, and a little garlic, with rice or rice noodles; a few halved cherry tomatoes or some rocket on the side; pasta with garden veggies in a tomato-y sauce; steamed veg with a baked potato.

L is a big fan of courgettes and carrots (most of it eventually ends up on the floor, and thence in the dog, but he grabs and sucks and gums with enthusiasm). The first time I gave him a cherry tomato, he pulled the most peculiar face and drummed his feet on the high chair, and I assumed he must not like it. But no; when it fell out and I put it back on the table, he grabbed with enthusiasm and shoved it straight back in, for another flapping-and-grimacing session. I guess tomatoes must be pretty intense (and home-grown fresh tomatoes even more so) after six months of breastmilk.

Seeing him starting to experiment with food has been fun; being able to share food that I grew with him has been fantastic.

It’s not that I want to be parenty-high-horse about it. L is also eating plenty of stuff I didn’t grow; and I don’t garden because I think it’s better for L, although I do want to reduce household food miles**, but because I love doing it. It’s one of the non-parent things I’ve tried to keep up while submerged in newborn parenting.

But I love growing food, and I love eating food I’ve grown, and I love being able to include L in that. Some of those plants I planted (or watered, or thinned) while carrying him in a sling over the last six months. I harvest them while he plays on the grass, and then we both eat them. It feels like the way I want my life to fit together, with the various parts of it feeding (ha!) into one another.

And then I blog about it, and the words join into the same pattern.

* There’s been salad all summer; but we haven’t eaten that much of it. I have to conclude that we just don’t eat much in the way of salad leaves, even nice ones, and intend to plant much less of that next year.
** Not that our tiny back garden meets more than a fraction of our food needs, although I’m trying to improve on that over time as I work out what’s best to grow.

Writing and time

Since I last wrote about writing and parenting, a few weeks ago, I’ve been experimenting with ways of writing fiction during my child-care days.

I’ve written a few more bits and pieces on my phone (thumb-typing is slow) using Epistle, which has worked a little but I still find it hard to do more than notes or a handful of sentences. Then the other weekend I bought myself a nice hardback notebook which opens to stay flat (I love my Moleskine, but I can’t use it it one-handed as it won’t stay flat). Since then I’ve written about half of a short story, balancing the notebook on my knee, with L asleep in my lap. The other half I’ve written partly on the phone, and partly on the laptop like a normal person (i.e. when not actively baby-wrangling). Editing still needs to be done on the laptop, although I can think about it whilst baby-wrangling.

I also did some sketching of maps on a borrowed portable easel, while Leon sat on my lap, watched, and then tried to steal the pens. Possibly I might use crayon if I do that again, although the sofa did survive unstained. That was fun, entertained L (always useful!), and was more productive than I anticipated for the story itself.

There’s something about writing by hand that allows me to sneak up on myself. I’m not really writing, I can tell myself, I’m just making notes. I’ll have to type them up later anyway so I don’t have to get it right first time. It allows me the mental freedom to scribble things down (and it is scribble; my handwriting suffers dreadfully from the angle even when using a fountain pen) without getting paralysed by the idea that I am Sitting Down To Write.

(I just hope it carries on working now I’ve talked about it here.)

Writing in multiple different places does have its drawbacks. I have to type up the handwritten notes anyway, so I’m working over that twice; but then that can be seen as an advantage. I’ve occasionally found myself writing the same bit twice, or writing scenes that need something else between them to tie them together. On the other hand, that can help me to keep it all active in my head, as I remind myself of what I’ve written where, and what’s still missing. And having two takes of a single scene isn’t such a bad thing either.

I’ll keep experimenting. And I have a short story to finish.

Babies on Bikes!

I have a post today on putting your baby on your bike, over at green parenting blog Peas and Love. Head on over there to read about how old your small passenger needs to be to get started, the advantages and disadvantages of front and rear seats, and a few general safety tips.

Off this morning (after dropping my fixie at On Your Bike for a new headset & new, higher, steerer to accomodate my growing bump) to check out cargo bikes and trailers at Velorution for the next installment in the babies+bikes series. Rumour has it you can put a car seat in one of those…