Wednesday 29 February 2012

7 x 7 My Favourite Blog Posts

I've been tagged by the delightful Claire from A Boy With Aspergers in this 7 x 7 meme. It's a lovely meme because I am asked to share 7 blog posts from the previous week. Less lovely is I am to share 7 facts that you don't know about me. This is not possible. You know everything. Everything! My life is an open book, um er, blog! But, she also tagged me in an eleven questions meme so what I'll do is post my 7 favourite blog posts, and then answer the 11 questions!

I also have to tag someone. Stay tuned. It could be you!

1) I love this post from Honest Mum No Boys Allowed  about standing up for our little boys. She also did a great follow up post about boy's fashion

2) A thought provoking post from Mother's Always Right about Why we should all remember early attempts at motherhood. This post is about breastfeeding in public, and highlights how often other women are our harshest critics.

3) As my regular readers will know I've been participating in a great blog exercise for #dosomethingyummy. There were some awesome posts last week as many of us bared our souls. One of the highlights was my good friend Lisa over at the Mummy Whisperer with her heartfelt post Surviving Mental Health.

4) This is one of my favourite blogs, The Little White Cottage - Notes From A Kitchen Table. This post about the author's grandparents and an old chair is just fascinating.

5) Pinterest has been causing quite a stir lately. I love it, and have blogged about it before, but was quite unaware that there are massive copywrite issues over its use. I am still to decide what I'm doing with it all, but this post from Liveotherwise highlights the issue.

6) Another favourite is a blog by a Tasmanian mum called Someday We'll Sleep, and I love this simple post. Her daughter Amy requested her mum take a photo, a rare occurance indeed, and you will agree, its simply perfect.

7) And finally a blog from my sister Penni, over at Eglantine's Cake. Whilst we all suffer through a cold damp February, it's midsummer in Australia and these lazy summer pictures make me green! Even the back to school photos!

Finally here are the questions asked by Claire.

1) If you had the power to make one thing better, what would it be?

I would make the NHS consistent across all regions, improving maternal, neonatal and paediatric care as I went.

2) What makes a great blog?

First and foremost, passion. Whether it be an issue, a hobby, your family whatever it is, the key to a wonderful blog is passion.

3) What was the inspiration that brought your blog to the blogosphere?

My blog was born out of trauma and joy, and wanting to share and make sense of it.

4) SHAM or Working mum?

Both! I am stay at home during the day and work evenings.

5) Favourite blog post that you have read over the last week?

Aha! Getting out of that one, see above!

6) What easily ticks you off (puts you in a bad mood quickly)?

Ignorance, people making assumptions without checking facts. 

7) How many children do you have?


8) Is there anything you have ever regretted writing on your blog?

No, I don't think so. 

9) What’s your favourite blog post you have written this year so far.

Hard task but I think its With You Not By Me for #dosomethingyummy

10) Do you ever enter other bloggers competitions, and have you ever been lucky?

Occasionally and funnilly enough have won twice on Claire's blog, a gumigem necklace and a book!

11) What was your last blog post about?

Niow Niow, our missing cat who wasn't really.

I tag MummyPinkWellies, but she only has to do the blog post bit :)

Tuesday 28 February 2012

Niow Niow - When A Cat is Not Your Cat

On Wednesday our cat, Niow Niow, went missing. She walked out the door to get some sunshine and never came back. I was bereft. I posted on Facebook and Twitter I even rang the RSPCA!

Niow Niow was a funny cat. In November 2010 we saw her eating bread off frozen snow in our back garden, and we started feeding her. Every night she would come for tea at 6pm on the dot. Her fur was missing in patches, she looked a bit lost and a lone. In October 2011 we decided enough was enough and she could move in.

Niow Niow was a very loving cat, she would lie next to me on the sofa as I read or used the computer. I am often on the lap top in the kitchen and she'd sit by my side, many a blog post was written with her input.

In late January Niow Niow was sick. She had a 24 hour period of massive vomiting and we took her to our emergency vet. I did explain she was a stray. He gave us omeprazole and sent her home. 

On Thursday my friend Simone came around to help me look. She spoke to one of our neighbours who seemed to think the cat was called Pebbles and had gone home. I thought it was a red herring. How could the cat we had been taking care of for over a year possibly have a name? And a home?

On Friday night one of the mums from preschool came over. She said "you have had my cat". Niow Niow is pebbles. She's 12. She is a cheeky cat, having at least six houses that feed her. She hates the cold, so didn't question being allowed in for winter.

Niow Niow is dairy intolerant. I don't give cats dairy but Joseph would give her cheese sometimes. That's what the vomiting was. Shockingly Niow Niow is microchipped. I am very cross that the vet didn't do this at the emergency appointment. What's the point of having your cat chipped if it isn't checked? Especially when I said she was a stray. Niow Niow also has a dermatitis problem, that's why she looked bedraggled at times. She is normally given a steroid injection for this. 

We can laugh about it now, and I am very grateful I had her for as long as we did. The look on my neighbour's face when she turned up must have been priceless. Pebbles has lived with her for well over a decade. 

As well as a lesson in the fact that cats are very independent, selfish little beings, its a lesson in talking to your neighbours. I know this woman, not well, but we have spoken in the past, but she never mentioned her cat! She's even been to my house before, but just not spotted Niow Niow/Pebbles. 

So all's well that ends well I guess. But it has made us decide that we definitely need another cat!

Monday 27 February 2012

Talk to a Midwife - Tommy's PregnancyLine

I wanted to let all of you know about a fantastic service that my favourite charity, Tommys,  provides, free of charge thanks to the generous support of the ASDA Foundation, the PregnancyLine.

The PregnancyLine is open 9-5 Monday to Fridays and the number is 0800 0147 800.

Pregnancy can be a worrying time, especially if you have had a difficult pregnancy in the past, particularly a bereavement or a premature delivery. There are three aims of the service:
  • To provide support following a bereavement - still birth, miscarriage or neonatal death.
  • Preconception advice following a difficult pregnancy
  • Lifestyle advice for pregnant women, on issues like obesity, smoking, stress and alcohol and drug misuse.
I spoke to Emma Laing - Midwifery Manager for Tommy’s Information Service to find out more. My first question was why would someone ring her and not speak to their own midwife. She explained that sometimes it's hard to talk to your own midwife. Midwifery services are really stretched and you may not have time to discuss all your concerns. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed, and sometimes speaking to a qualified midwife over the phone can help you.

I was particularly interested in how a Tommy's midwife could help if someone had issues that they didn't feel they could discuss with their care providers. Information that is shared is completely confidential and does not go on your green notes. The midwives on the phoneline will signpost you to the relevant services in your area. For issues like drug and alcohol use or smoking this is a great way to raise your concerns and get the support you need to help you have a healthy pregnancy.

Emma also explained that Tommy's midwives are specially trained to help with complex pregnancies and are up to date with all the latest research. I have seen time and time again women who have had dreadful pregnancies first time round and need support and guidance to ensure they are on the right treatment path. Speaking to a qualified midwife with a special interest in pregnancy complications is invaluable.

Tommy's midwives want to ensure women are empowered to ensure they know their plan of care, and can advocate for themselves, to ensure a good outcome, a healthy baby.

Tommy's midwives are also keen to help people before pregnancy, and give pre-conception advice to ensure the very best start for your baby, and the midwives can help in the post natal period too.

I think this is an excellent service and just to remind you the number is 0800 0147 800. 

Sunday 26 February 2012

Expecting Triplets - Ruth's Story

I met Ruth on Bliss shortly after the birth of her special little trio. We became close and are now good friends. I have asked her to guest post for me, and would love you all to support her. I am trying to persuade her to blog as she has a lot of interesting things to share.

I have wanted Ruth to explore a difficult topic. Ruth gave birth to three beautiful tiny babies, but only brought 2 home. She has since given birth to another angel girl, Eden. 

Babyloss is such a hard topic to write about, and to talk about. It is more common than we like to think. 
 Over to you Ruth. 

The moment that we were told we were expecting triplets felt so unreal, I was glad that I was lying down! We felt so blessed to be given 3 babies. Over the following weeks we were able to get our heads around the news and the massive challenge to come. We were told of the risks that are often associated with multiple pregnancies and that premature delivery would be very likely. We had started to plan the nursery, rearrange the house and shopping  for baby stuff times three! On the 29th April 2010 our triplets were born by caesarean section;  Reuben Alexander 1lb 6oz, Henry James 1lb 7oz and Isla Grace 1lb 1oz. On that day we started the very long, difficult and emotional rollercoaster that was the NICU journey. 
Our babies were very poorly for a very long time and we endured several months of making hospital visits every day, at one point the babies were in different hospitals and Greg and I had to relay between them. Then the moment came that every parent of a sick baby dreads, our smallest and sickest baby Isla was rapidly going downhill and becoming incredibly poorly, clinging onto life. She then amazed everyone by hanging on and fighting, we all thought she was turning a corner. On the 25th July 2010, after 12 weeks of fighting, Isla passed away.
19 months have now gone by since Isla passed away and there isn’t a moment of the day where I don’t think about her. Of course we are so blessed to have Henry and Reuben but at the same time they are a constant reminder of what we should have had. 3 babies, 3 car seats, 3 cots, a triple buggy, the list goes on. One of the hardest things that I have found since bringing the boys home from hospital is the reaction from the public when they see Henry and Reuben.
The most common things I hear are “oh twins, how lovely” and “you have your hands full”. Every time I hear these words is like being punched in the chest, my heart sinks and I feel sick. In my head I am screaming, but how am I supposed to turn around to a stranger and say “no they are triplets, the other one died”. There have been one or two times when I have been having such a bad day and I just say it, turn around and walk off before they get a chance to reply. On other occasions I’ve gone along with it and said “yes” but then felt truly truly awful that I have lied and pretended that I only ever had two babies. 
There have only been a couple of times in awkward situations where I have said it and I feel so guilty and upset that I have cut Isla out like that. I just dislike the fact that people are so judgemental that it feels like I have to answer them, when I know that really I shouldn’t have to explain myself to anybody, especially strangers. I have even had times where I have said no to them being twins and then the person saying “oh you didn’t hang around”. Yet more assumptions that are really quite unavoidable and at times very upsetting. In other situations where I have not been able to run away have also proved quite challenging. It took a very long time for me to take Henry and Reuben to baby groups because I knew the reaction that I would get. I can’t just say the things that I would say to random passers-by but this situation usually becomes more awkward. 
I find myself having to explain that they are not twins, they are triplets who were born very premature and very sick and that their sister lost her fight. I am then often faced with the shocked and worried look on the other persons face as they sit there struggling for words and not knowing how to reply. I have often tried to think what it must be like for a person to hear me say that, I try to put myself in their shoes and think what I would say. I have realised that there are no right words and there probably never will be, I just wish the situation was less awkward. 
What I suppose I am trying to say is that I wish people were more subtle, thoughtful and not so assuming but I guess this is something that I am always going to have to deal with and get used to. I also wish that baby group situations were not so awkward but I can understand why people may feel that way. The harsh and sad reality is that it is always going to be that way, nothing will ever bring Isla back. The only comfort is that in my heart and my mind I will always be a mummy of triplets and nobody can ever take that away from me.

Saturday 25 February 2012

Mr Bloom's Newest Tiddler

Mr Bloom and a star struck Joseph
We are very fortunate to live in Manchester, within easy reach of Media City at Salford Quays, the new home of CBeebies, the BBC television station for under 6s. We are huge CBeebies fans, so when my friend Kim sent us the link to join in with their 10th birthday celebrations I quickly put our names down for tickets.

I told Joseph a few days before that we were going to see Mr Bloom on Saturday. Joseph gave me that 2 year old going on 12 "yeah right mum" look. On Saturday morning we got up early and started our journey on the tram to Media City. Joseph loves the tram, and even if Mr Bloom didn't materialise, he would have been quite happy.

We arrived and were taken to a room with lots of comfy cushions, a stage with cut outs of the veggies, and some extremely excited tiddlers (Mr Bloom's term for children)

Joseph's suspicion started to wane a little, maybe mummy wasn't lying afterall. At 11am on the dot, out Mr Bloom came. Joseph's face was a picture, his little eyes wide, his mouth open. Mr Bloom sung some songs, and told us how plants grow from seed. He got everyone involved. I was really impressed to see Joseph join in with all the other tiddlers, and do all the actions.

At the end he signed autographs and spoke to the children individually. Mr Bloom is just as lovely in real life as on screen, and it was a very enjoyable morning! I managed to refrain from patting his bottom or having a kiss, but a granny in the queue just in front of us jumped on his knee for a big snog! Mr Bloom is the new stay at home mum's bit of crumpet! He's lovely! And certainly a bit more fanciable than Postman Pat!

Keep an eye on the BBC audiences website for tickets to events at Media City.

This is a non-sponsored post, we won our tickets in a ballot, we love CBeebies! 

Friday 24 February 2012

Boomerang Play Centre - Our Favourite Place to Play

We are huge fans of Boomerang Play Centre, which is located not far from where we live in Bury. Unusually for a soft play centre, Boomerang is a charity. The centre opened, after lots of hard work, in June 2011, to provide a place for all children from all abilities to come and play.

The centre is divided into three rooms. There is a beautiful sensory room with a waterbed, a ball pool, and lots of different lights. It is a very calming place to be unless some mother brings their two and half year old monster who insists on doing backward flips into the pool, in which case she should swiftly remove him into one of the other rooms!

This is the awesome interactive mat. It has several different scenes that come up in rotation, this is a disco dance mat. It also becomes a fish pond, a meadow with flowers, a football pitch and a frog pond, amongst other things. It truly is amazing!

The third room has a big play gym, as well as floor play. There are xylophones on the wall for music play, a huge ball pool with beautiful clear balls like bubbles and two slides.

In the corner is a little cave, a mirrored room with twinkly star lights. I love this little corner, and sometimes Joseph will sit with me and sing "twinkle twinkle".

Boomerang is a lovely place to play for all children, not just those with special needs. It's great for babies, and especially babies born prematurely, everything has been carefully thought through. There are ceiling track hoists throughout if your child needs them, and the toilet is fully accessible, with a hospital bed for change times. The seating area is seperate from the play area, so kids are always fully supervised by their parents, which I love. I'd feel very comfortable bringing a baby here, and there were lots when we visited.

The cafeteria is exceedingly reasonably priced, and there are things for the children to do whilst you have a lovely hot coffee. The kids food choices are very good as are the adult ones!

Entry is £4. At busy times there is a limit of one hour, and you are advised to ring in advance as sometimes the centre is booked for exclusive use, or some rooms are out of action with private bookings.

Boomerang Play 0161 764 4842.

Twitter @boomerangplay

This is a non-sponsored post, we just love Boomerang!

Thursday 23 February 2012

12 is the Magic Number

12 is the Magic Number - a Meme

I've been tagged by the lovely Sunniva Anne who blogs at the Kitchen Mechanic in this meme. Because I am, of course, utterly fabulous, I have also been tagged in a similar one, although its 11 questions, by Claire Sarcone at Mummy of Many Talents . Now because Sunniva Anne was first I will follow her rules and questions!.

You must post the rules Post 12 fun facts about yourself in the blog post Answer the questions the tagger has set for you in their post and then create 12 new questions for the fellow bloggers you plan to tag Tag 12 people and link to them on your blog Let them know you tagged them 

1. I've just come back from a "knitting and numeracy" course at our local children's centre.
2. I have discovered that I've been knitting incorrectly since I learnt when I was 10. Whoops.
3. I started knitting a jumper for Joseph before he was born and lost heart when he came early. I turned it into a tiny blanket!
4. I regularly write for A String of Pearls, and find it daunting at times, but lots of fun
5. I enjoy cooking soup, and that's what I'm doing whilst I type this.
6. My husband never annoys me.
7. I am not good at lying.
8. I never seriously consider moving back to Australia.
9. I'm terrified of potty training Joseph, and don't care if he's in nappies til he's 12.
10. I really miss having extended family around me.
11. I enjoy travelling all over the place to visit our far flung family.
12. It still amuses me that you can drive to Europe from England.

Here are Sunniva Anne's questions:

What is your favourite “Must Read” Blog? I try to read blogs on a regular basis, but I regularly visit Typecast and its my go to blog for blogging quandries.

Tea or Coffee? I prefer the taste of coffee to tea, but drink both.

What is your preferred form (if any) of exercise? Long walks.  

What is the last book you read, that you already want to read again? I'm not a good reader of books, but probably the Time Traveller's Wife.  

What is your favourite meal of the day and why? Our evening meal, all sat together, sharing food and ignoring the toddler.

What is the first word that pops into your head when you read “shenanigans”? Um, rumpy pumpy aka sex

What’s the most northerly place you have ever been? Glasgow I think. Scratches head. Geography not a strong point.  

Which do you prefer? Dark, White or Milk chocolate? Dark chocolate

Do you prefer hand-made or bought presents? Definitely handmade.

You can invite five people to dinner party, two real, two fictional one dead, who would they be and what would you serve to them? Clive Stafford Smith who is a humanitarian lawyer, Germaine Greer the feminist, Pollyanna as I love her, the Gruffalo and Peter Ustinov. I'd serve a seafood platter (mice for the Gruffalo) followed by zucchini slice, tomato pickle and salad, ending with a big pavlova.  

What would your dream job be? Human rights lawyer in the deep south of America  

What time zone would you rather be living in? Difficult one, this one is just fine.

Here are my 12 questions

1. If you were baking purely for enjoyment, what would you make?
2. What 3 songs would you take with you on a desert island?
3. What book do you wish you had never read?
4. What is your all time favourite item of clothing?
5. If I gave you £100 to spend today what would you buy?
6. What country would you love to visit?
7. What piece of advice would you give a child - doesn't have to be yours?
8. What is your favourite chocolate?
9. Who is your least favourite celebrity?
10. When at a restaurant what part of the menu do you look at first?
11. What is the best photo you have ever taken?
12. What's your favourite thing to do at weekend?

Now I am being naughty. If you read this and fancy doing it, your tagged!

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Ring of Roses - Mums of Premature Babies Working from Home

One of the things I want to do with Not Even A Bag of Sugar is create some resource pages. My plan is to have a page of premature baby product resources, a page of charity links, and also a page promoting the work of mums who have chosen to work from home. If you would like to have a little promotional advert on my page contact me. It is free and always will be.

My first mum that I am featuring is Laura, mum to Rose. I met Laura through Bliss, and am in awe of the beautiful things she makes and sells on her Ring of Roses Facebook page.  Here is their story.

 My pregnancy was not easy from the start, I bled from 8 weeks and was hospitalised on many occasions but they couldn’t identify any reason for it. Eventually, I was diagnosed with placenta previa. They ran through the risks with me and put me on bed rest. Unfortunately, 22 weeks saw a big bleed, and the phrase ‘not viable’ was used, I became more and more disconnected with my unborn baby, I didn’t want to love someone who wouldn’t make it.

At 29 weeks, I was scanned  and told that my placenta had moved! I was very relieved and despite losing my plug, I managed a couple of weeks of ‘life after bed rest’.  Unfortunately at  32 weeks  I thought I had wet myself in the car, on investigation, it turned out that I was bleeding, and badly. I made my way to hospital where my uterus contracted (at least I had one!) and stayed that way. Hooked up to monitors, all I could do was lie and wait as my body spontaneously gushed with blood and doctors decided how best to manage the situation. It was explained that it was a balancing act, leave baby in so I could get both steroid shots, but not leave her there too long so that both of us end up in trouble. Somehow I made it through the night, I was eerily calm, pressing the buzzer with each gush and refusing all pain relief.  About an hour after the second injection (they are 12 hours apart) there was a pop and a huge gush – and the midwife happily announced that I’d wet myself...I’m sure you’ve already guessed, it was my waters. A second gush came and a doctor confirmed that indeed my waters had gone. The room was then a buzz with medical staff, forms for me to sign and talk of ‘risks’ ‘complications’ and ‘NICU’. The c section was like an out of body experience, I remember the surgeon peering over the screen and happily saying ‘OK, let’s have a baby’ and me thinking ‘this woman’s on crack’. 

My beautiful little girl was delivered on 2nd September 2010 weighing 4lb 4oz. She breathed unaided for 8 minutes before encountering difficulties and being intubated. I was in recovery when this happened and was told that they couldn’t take me to see her at that point because she was being worked on. My response? ‘OK’!  I was eventually wheeled through to the world that is NICU; beeps, alarms, smells, feeding tubes, canulas, ventilators, CPAP... None of which I had a clue about. My little girl was snuggled up with tubes and wires, all I can clearly remember was that she had lots of hair and a hat on that I would never have chosen for her (her clothes became somewhat of a distractive focal point to me during our stay!).

As any prem parent can relate to, it takes a while to adjust to life in NICU. I was blessed with somewhere to stay for the entirety as the hospital had a patient hotel with suites specifically for NICU parents. I became more established with my little girl’s routine, expressing 3 hourly day and night, doing her cares, doctors rounds, tube feeds and weigh ins. Somehow, I managed to miss that she was losing weight, and a lot of it. When she got down to 3lb 6oz, they added fortifier to my milk, only confirming to me that I was failing her yet again, even my milk wasn’t good enough for her. I had no emotional connection with her, but I did do kangaroo cares (whilst double expressing, a prem Mummy triumph!). Her name was chosen on around day 3. Her middle name is Joan, after my Grandma, and her first name is Rose, after the flowers we had at her funeral. It’s a fitting tribute to the most wonderful woman I have ever known.

We came through the NICU experience relatively unscathed despite being treated for suspected sepsis and having her feeds stopped. She took her time coming out of the incubator into a cot as she couldn’t maintain her body temperature, and she had the odd brady and apnoea, but she tolerated (another NICU term) her feeds very well. No surprises there, as she loves her food now! After 17 days, we were discharged with our 3lb 15oz little bundle.

The next 6 months were pretty awful. She didn’t sleep. At all. She breastfed for an hour and a half at a time only to start again an hour and a half later. Then she stopped gaining weight and had to go onto prem formula. She stopped breathing on me (thank goodness for resus training) and it became apparent that I had no bond with my daughter. Her needs were met, but I didn’t love her. I received some wonderful support from the ladies at BLISS when i finally realised I’d missed my ‘rush of love’. Although I’ve accepted that I’ll never have ‘that’ moment, I am still insanely jealous of those who have experienced it. 

I am pleased to say, that I am now totally and utterly in love with Rose! She is the most wonderful 17 month old; caring, funny, cheeky, sunny natured and finally starting to learn to walk. In terms of her development, we’re getting there. She didn’t smile until she was 17 weeks, roll until she was 9 ½ months or crawl until just before her first Birthday, but I was a very lazy child and they think she’s following the familial line. She’s been referred for ongoing reflux problems, and there’s some worry over her gross motor skills and speech, but when she’s at nursery, she just looks like any of the other toddlers her age. 

At the same time as Rose decided to start crawling I got made redundant from my job in CAMHS. I was devastated as I loved my job, but the new hours which were available just wouldn’t work for me. I was then left in a difficult position: I had limited childcare (Thursday and Friday) and I was now a single Mum, so I needed a job which I could make the hours work for me, and around Rose’s needs. Thus, Ring Of Roses was born! I went to art college when I was younger and my Mum is also an artist, so it was natural for me to venture into this area of work. I had developed a technique whilst at art college, which allows me to transfer images onto different surfaces, and after some experimentation, the first of my products began to develop. The range has continued to expand and I now have a wonderful following on Facebook with steady orders flowing in. I have also been lucky enough to secure another job 2 days a week to support us whilst my business becomes more established. My ultimate aim, is to be able to donate 10% of each sale to BLISS, as a way of saying Thank you and a way to help them continue the wonderful work that they do.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

My Little Survivor - #dosomethingyummy

It's the final week of the #dosomethingyummy link up, raising awareness for the children's cancer charity CLICSargent. I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed this link up, and a huge thank you to Nickie at Typecast for all her efforts. I hope these link ups have inspired you to #dosomethingyummy. I hope to do something yummy from 10th - 18th March. If you blog, please link up this week. You don't have to write an epic. Just write from the heart, even if its just a paragraph or two. Lets make this last week a big one.

The prompts are great ones again, unfortunately vlogging is not my strong point and I am not sure Joseph is quite up to it yet anyway, so I have chosen the first prompt. Tell us your story of survival. What did you overcome? For regular readers you may know this story already, but my heart felt it needed retelling. 

My teddy bear 40 years old this year - a symbol of survival

My baby was born 5 days ago. My milk has come in. My boobs are in agony. My head is all over the place. I feel elated, depressed, excited, fearful, alone, overwhelmed, I just can't find any space to think and clear my head. I haven't been outside since I entered the hospital in the wee small hours of Thursday morning. It's now Tuesday.

I walk into the neonatal unit to take yet another pot of milk my baby can't drink. I put it in the freezer. A doctor comes. I can't really hear what he's saying, but it isn't good. Yesterday Joseph was fine, today he is critical. So fast. So unexpected. And I can't see him. Another x-ray. The NICU is in lockdown and will be for a good hour or so. I go up to my room and try to read, but its useless, the words aren't making sense. I turn on the television. It's all garbage about corrupt politicians and duck houses. Nothing is making sense.

I go back to the unit. Another doctor comes to me. I am still not understanding it all, but it definitely isn't good. I hear the words "suspected NEC". From my brief knowledge of premature baby complications I know this is really not good. I hang on to "suspected". Suspected means it might not be, doesn't it? I go and see my baby. He looks sick. He has no energy. He's not kicking. His tummy is distended. His skin around his umbilicus is black. I pray. I go back to my room. I cry. My husband comes in, finally. I find it barbaric he is restricted to visiting hours when we are in bits and could lose our baby.

We go down to the unit. Corey looks scared.  We have decided the best approach is to be positive. I am serene, like the proverbial swan paddling like mad under the surface. I sing to my baby, I talk to him. Worry will get us nowhere, I decide. I don't want Joseph to feel any anxiety. I want what little energy he has to be diverted to getting well. To living.

My husband decides we should go to the cafeteria, get some fresh air and try and eat. As I enter outside my head spins, the air hits my nostrils. I feel a little cold, even though its a warm May day. My skin has not been in contact with fresh air for 6 days and it feels very strange. We sit in the cafeteria and chat, having a drink my tea tastes like metal. It's horrible. I eat some chocolate, having been told by one of the consultants that it is good for milk production. I can't taste it, and its texture is like chalk. I feel numb. I can't seem to process anything around me properly.

In the afternoon the important consultant who has been brought in to see Joseph comes to see me. He puts his hand on mine. He tells me I am too calm, that I don't understand. He tells me my baby is dying.

He's just told me my baby is dying.

How do I process this? What do I say? I stare at him. "My baby is a survivor, he is a fighter. I have done my job, I have brought him here safely. Now you do yours and don't you dare give up on him because I haven't". I leave. They are working on him. 4 big pairs of hands around his teeny bird like body.

I feel sick. Did I just say that? Should I have said that? Should I have left? What if he's right? What if I am losing my baby? Oh God Oh God, please please please give me strength to get through this. Please give Joseph strength to get through this. I can't lose him, not now. I slowly walk up the stairs and go back into my room.

What happens next is a blur. My room has been ransacked. Joseph's teddy bear has been stolen. I lose it. Big time. I can't stop crying. I am frantic. I furtively check through my drawers. Everything is still there, money, iPod, phone, camera. God, the camera, thank God they didn't steal it. Midwives come and see me, hold me, cuddle me. They realise this isn't about a lost bear. This is about a baby. A baby I could lose. My notes are read. Everyone is worried. That I am officially, clinically losing the plot. It is decided that I need a psychiatric evaluation. I agree to this. But I am confused. I have no idea how someone in my position is supposed to act. But it appears I am getting it wrong. I want my mum. She is in Australia. I want this to stop. I just want to hold my baby. I want my baby.

At midnight the doctor comes to evaluate me. She wants to alter my blood pressure medication. I refuse, I explain to her this one was chosen as the other can aggravate asthma. I explain my mental health history and what is happening today and why I am so up and down. She smiles. She says I am not mentally ill and she doesn't know how I am meant to process all this either, and to try and sleep. She tells me she is sorry. She has tears. I put my head down and sleep, amazingly, comes.

Later, much later, I go down to the unit. As I walk down the corridor the automatic lights start coming on.  It's dark and quiet. It feels like the light is anticipating my movement, like the ward knows I am coming. I ring the bell and am let in. It's the wee small hours. The machines that were going mad earlier beep reassuringly. Regular, monitoring beeps. Not scary beeps.  Blood tests are back. Joseph is rallying. His infection markers have improved. He looks a little better. The night registrars come to me and tell me that there is a long way to go. A very long way, but things are looking better and he is stable.

Joseph is looking better. I don't give up praying. I keep singing. I keep as serene as I can.

I believe. I believe in my team, in my baby and in God.

And my faith is rewarded.

Joseph is a survivor.

And, so am I. 

Monday 20 February 2012

Life's Little Treasures App for Premature and Sick Babies

Image courtesy of Life's Little Treasures

I have recently learned about this fantastic app created by Life's Little Treasures, an Australian premature baby charity.

I have to say I am very much a newcomer to the world of smartphones, having only acquired one recently. It amazes me how much information you can have at your fingertips. I wish I had had one when Joseph was in hospital. Mine very cleverly instantly uploads all my photos and video to Google+ which saves me loads of time, this alone would have been wonderful.

One of the hardest things about NICU is the terminology, and the numbers, lots of numbers, and keeping track of information when you are under immense stress is not easy. Grams of weight gain, mils of milk intake, oxygen saturations, it is dizzying. Carrying a notebook and pen became essential for me, but how great it is to have a neat electronic way of recording the numbers and seeing your baby's progress.

Some of the many features that the Premature Baby Journal app includes are:
  • Records baby’s birth details
  • Keep journals for multiple babies
  • Converts actual age into corrected age (weeks)
  • Tracks weight, feeding, expressing and temperature in graphs
  • Tracks milestones and allows you to upload photos
  • Records number of feeds, time of feeds, amount of feeds and method of feed
  • Records total feeds given to baby per day
  • Records number of expresses and amount expressed by mother
  • Set alarm for when next express is due
  • Record your feelings of all family members in journal section
  • Set reminder for questions to ask to match the doctor’s rounds in hospital
 And of course, you have that information in the years to come as well. I often now wish I had a better record of Joseph's time in hospital, especially as people as me questions, and over the passage of time I have forgotten some of the detail.

Currently the app is available for iPhone users and plans are in progress for an Android version. The application costs a very small amount, less than £3. There is also a free app available of NICU words, which would prove invaluable I am sure, to any person thrust into the world of NICU.

This news article from Channel 7 shows the app in action.

Sunday 19 February 2012

Cubby Kits

“What a brilliant idea!”

If either a lack of inspiration or a lack of pva paint, glue and glitter prevent you from doing arts and crafts with your little ones, CubbyKit is here for you.  All boxed up and with free delivery, the hard work has been done for you, so that you can get straight on with the business of creating fun projects with your child.  CubbyKit themes have been carefully selected and our activities are tried and tested.

So how does CubbyKit work?

Join up at by selecting which age range you’d like.  CubbyKits come in two age groups: 3-4 years and 5-6 years.  Every month your CubbyKit arrives at your house addressed to your child and contains 3 separate activities with all the materials you need.  Everything is measured especially for your kit, saving you time and reducing waste.  Our themed picture guides enable you to produce creations you and your child will feel proud of and play with for hours.  We include extra crafts bits and bobs and plenty of ideas.

Drawing on memories of fun from their own childhoods the creators of CubbyKit have designed Kits with a different theme every month: it might be Outer Space, the Olympics, Kings and Queens or the Great Outdoors. All ideas are inspired by projects children will revisit when they start school.  So you’ll be giving them an introduction to those ideas whilst enjoying easy, hands-on fun together.  You can be assured that before CubbyKits are sent out, they have been reviewed by advisors and tested by children themselves.

Lisa, mum of two and CubbyKit creator says she believes that the educational aspect of CubbyKit is what makes it so exciting.  “Each CubbyKit encourages children to immerse themselves in something new which will complement what they learn in school.  Whether they are exploring the wonders of Outer Space or playing traditional (but home made) instruments from around the world, they’re using their own imaginations to get there”.

At £19.99 a month or £199 for 12 months (a saving of £39.89 or 2 months free), CubbyKit is great value.

To meet the creators of CubbyKit, see inside a sample Kit and to subscribe today, visit or email for more information.

Above post is sponsored, and I have received a Cubby Kit which I will review at a later date. 

Saturday 18 February 2012

Happy Anniversary - Two Years of Not Even A Bag of Sugar

I cannot believe it's been two years since my first tentative post here at Not Even A Bag of Sugar. When I first started blogging I had no idea what I was doing. Unbelievably I didn't even know there was any such thing as a "mummy blogger" and much less a supportive, loving, slightly mental community of mum bloggers, from all walks of life.I had not idea there were rules, and that I was breaking loads of them!

About the name: Reading back through my posts I realised I'd never explained about the name of the blog. When Joseph was first born lots of people said to me "oh he's not even a bag of sugar, is he?" It really upset me. I felt like Joseph was being dismissed just because he was small. I hated that term. I decided that as it was said so often, I may as well "own" it. So it became the title of my blog. And now, I adore it. Lots of people still say "oh he wasn't even a bag of sugar" and it's a great lead in to say "well that's my blog title, here have a card, go and read!"

Any regrets? I am really proud of where my blog is at now, and I sort of wish I had known what to do earlier in terms of improving the ability of Google to pick up my posts, and reaching out to other mum bloggers. I do sometimes wish I had reached out to charity earlier, however, I am quite pleased that I let the blog grow quietly over time, just starting with family and friends.

What has been the highlight of the last two years? In blogging terms, there have been many, but I think really the turning point for me was Cybermummy. I realised that I could do a lot more with my blog, and that I could improve my skills. I also realised I had something valid to say, and that I was on the right track with what I was doing.

What has been the low point? I think there have been two. After a couple of months I lost my way, and nearly gave up. I should have used Twitter to find more support and get help. The other was a damn steep learning curve as to how to handle negative comments which occured on a post that actually gets the most views on a weekly basis! I have left them there because it's a reminder of how green I was!

What do you think Joseph will think of it when he is older? I do hope Joseph is proud of me, and proud of himself, and can read posts with fondness. I do expect some "oh mum how could you" moments!

What advice would you give a new blogger, particularly a parent of a premature baby? For the first few months, just write. Tell your story with integrity, in your own words. Don't write for an audience per se, just write, get it out there. You can, although I haven't, remove or rewrite posts later. Don't worry about matrices, lists, stats etc, for the first 8 months I didn't even know stats existed! 

What about a blogger who has lost heart? Be honest with yourself. Do you enjoy blogging? If you don't, maybe walk away, or try something new like a picture a day, or writing fiction. Dont feel constrained. Reach out and find some mentors. There's loads of support and help out there, look for it.

Where do you see the future of Not Even A Bag of Sugar? I'm not sure, I'd like to think I'd be blogging still in one year's time, beyond that, I am not sure. I'd like to look at my skills and learn more, maybe some more HTML and improve my photography. I'd also like to support more new premmie bloggers, as I think there are some wonderful ones out there already, and some waiting in the wings. I do think blogging is so powerful, to help one to make sense of things, to get and give support, and to just share stories, and get things out there into the public domain.

What has surprised you the most about blogging? The one thing that never ceases to amaze me is that you never ever know who has been reading your blog. I was stunned to see a quote from me in the Guardian after Cybermummy, and I've had approaches from various sources which have surprised me.

What would you like to say to your readers? Thank you so much for all your support, comments, votes, hugs, words of advice, both on blogging matters an with Joseph, and most importantly my struggles over accepting that we will always be a family of three. I have been overwhelmed at the love and care I have been shown.

There are some really special people I have met through blogging, and I've made some lifelong friends.

I am so happy that I have become a "mummy blogger", and look forward to seeing where things go in the coming year.

Friday 17 February 2012

Circle of Moms - Don't Just Vote for Me!

Circle of Moms is an application that runs alongside Facebook and is something I used a lot when Joseph was small. I discovered that they have a bloggers network, which I have now joined.

Circle of Moms run regular contests, where people vote for their favourite blogs in certain categories. I have been nominated in "Moms with inspiring families".

You can vote every day, but you can also vote for as many blogs as you like. There is only an advantage in coming in the top 25, no prizes for 1st place, so I would urge you, if you are voting, to vote for the blogs that speak to you.

I have been in tears, some of the stories are just so sad, and there are blogs just as, or more, deserving than me in the top 25 and I've been voting for loads!

One of my friends, Jennie, has also been nominated for her lovely blog Edspire. Another lovely blog is Sleepless Nights, written by a Tasmanian mummy blogger.

If you blog, keep an eye out for categories on Circle of Moms that you can enter. The incentive is that the top 25 blogs are interviewed and the quotes used on the website, and may increase your readership.

I think the loveliest thing about these sort of awards is reading more blogs and meeting other bloggers. I am surprised that there aren't more premature parenting blogs on the list, so come on and join in!

Thursday 16 February 2012

Blogging for Charity - Blog it Forward

Regular readers will know that I regularly blog about charity, in particular Tommy's and Bliss . More and more, charities are finding that using bloggers is a fabulous way of getting their message across, it has become the new "word of mouth", blogging, liking, sharing and tweeting are the buzz words that help charities raise awareness and funds.

When I first started blogging, I really wanted to work with charities in my area of blogging and had absolutely no clue as to how to go about it. The turning point was last year's Cybermummy conference, when I attended a workshop about "Blogger Activism". The main focus was Save the Children, and the work they do with bloggers, which is truly inspirational. Their current campain is #nametheday, which is a fantastic way to get started with charity blogging.

I put up my hand to ask how I would go about contacting charities like Tommy's, because I really wanted to work with charities who I felt a connection with. A representative for Tommy's just so happened to be sitting there, and we had a chat, and from then on I have worked closely with Tommy's. It's been amazing, and I've had some fantastic opportunities like going on ITV's Daybreak and national BBC radio. Never in my life did I think blogging would lead to such places.

I'd really urge any blogger who is wondering how to go about blogging for charity to visit Britmums for ideas and support.

If you just want to dip your toe in, join a linky like Typecast's #dosomethingyummy for CLICSargent, where you post on a topic then link it to her blog. It's a great way of getting started, and giving something back.

Charity is more than just fundraising, although that is essential, it's about engaging people and informing them, it can also be about entertaining them too. The CLICSargent campaign has been fantastic, and some of the posts, particularly this week, have been so much fun and very heartwarming.

I would like to make another special mention about Tommy's. Vicky, the PR I work with, is just the loveliest person, and so easy to deal with, and I now consider her a friend. I have so enjoyed blogging to help Tommy's with their aims and objectives. I am so proud of the work we have done around "Having a Premature Baby", and the Healthy Pregnancy Plan. I am sure Vicky would love to hear from other bloggers too, who would like to be involved.

I would urge any blogger to get involved with charities, and if you have a favourite charity look them up on twitter or Google and just reach out. I am pretty sure they will snap off your right arm, and the beauty of it is you can get as involved as you want, even one blog post, or bake sale, or run will make a massive difference.

Blog it Forward! 

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Strength in Numbers - #dosomethingyummy Week 3

It's that time of the week again, my post for Typecast's #dosomethingyummy link up for CLICSargent. I am really pleased I have joined in, as I have learnt a lot about CLICSargent and the very practical support they provide for children and their families going through cancer. I do hope you have enjoyed these posts.

I would love to see Nickie reach 50 this week and have tagged Stacey at Nobody Said It Was Easy, Katherine at Mummy Pinkwellies and the lovely Mummy Beadzoid. 

The prompt I have chosen is why is getting together with other parents is so important to me?

When Joseph was born, he was taken away from us, and put in a plastic box, in an intensive care room. Our hospital was small and whilst the room could take 3 babies, when there was a very poorly baby in the room, they shut the ICU room to new admissions. There was a very strict rule not to look at other people's babies, and not to ask intrusive questions.

My husband and I would walk straight into Joseph's room, sit by his incubator and just look at him. We were lonely. We wanted to share our joy, to talk to other parents in the same position as us, to just talk about other stuff, the weather, cricket, music, anything to distract us from what was happening. We could see people avert their eyes when we walked passed us in the corridor. Occasionally I would see a little glimpse from another parent, and then they would turn away again.

We both felt bitter that we had missed going to antenatal classes. I was looking forward to NCT classes as well as our NHS ones, but of course, there was no point once Joseph had been born. I felt very keenly that I didn't have a pre-existing tribe of mothers, and now the hospital rules was making it hard for me to form that tribe I so desperately needed. 

In desperation Corey and I wrote a note and gave it to the nurses. I can't remember the wording now, but it was something like "please come and talk to us!!!"

Over the next 10 weeks I met many new parents, and their beautiful babies. People seemed so happy to know that they could talk to us, and could come and see the smallest baby in the unit! I wanted to show him off, not because he was tiny, but because he was ours. We made him, and we loved him. Not being able to feel and share joy was really hard.

By the time our journey in hospital was coming to an end a group of five of us had formed, Rebecca, Tash, Sharon, Lesley and myself. We met weekly for coffee and cake and still see each other regularly.

To me, sharing with other parents is so important. Parenthood, whether your baby was born early, on time, or late, is really hard, and its impossible to appreciate just how much, in an instant, your life changes. My mummy (and daddy) friends are so important to me, to share the joy and the pain, to learn from each other.

For me that circle of mummy friends is massive, and spans over the internet and real life.

I feel so grateful that I have gone from being that scared new mum of a baby in an incubator, to a happy mum, who loves to meet up for a natter, to share parenting experiences, and importantly eat cake!

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Listography - Mugs

I was struggling as to what to post for Valentine's Day, as Corey and I are probably one of Britain's most unromantic couples, and I stumbled upon this week's Listography. Perfect, thanks Kate.

This is my everyday mug of choice, we have a set of four. The blue is comforting and classic.

In a previous life we had a lovely coffee machine and had proper espresso on lazy Sunday mornings. I still have the espresso mugs, cool aren't they? Another TKMaxx find!


Slightly cheating, as I've only ever used this for dessert, but isn't it gorgeous? A charity shop find.

This is my afternoon mug of choice. It came in a giveaway bag at the Baby Show, and is from Cosatto. I love this mug! The dog curls right around the back of the mug.


This was the first present I ever bought my husband. We had just got together and I went on a weekend with some girlfriends to Amsterdam, and I saw these and fell in love! And we're still using them 6 years on.

Happy Valentine's Day husband!

Monday 13 February 2012

Rawr - Dinosaur Boots from EMU Australia

Much excitement last week when the delivery man knocked on the door with a parcel for Joseph, some lovely boots from EMU Australia, that we received following my post about their fabulous get together in Manchester.

Joseph's first proper pair of "ugg" boots. In Australia "ugg" is a term for sheepskin boots, it's only in recent years that it has become a brand. I always had them as a child and am so happy he has his first pair.

Now I must confess that generally I consider "uggs" to be inside boots, like slippers, however they are waterproof and robust, and the quality of the sheepskin makes them very supportive. Joseph is hypermobile and needs good support. And let's face it, its flipping cold at present so the nice sheepskin keeps him warm and toasty!

The children's boots retail at £80, which is somewhat of an investment, however with "ugg" style boots, I think its fine to order a size larger than the child's current size, as they are close fitting and there are no "mechanics" inside the boot to squish developing feet. I actually like plenty of room around the feet. In Australia and on the Continent its rare to find children's shoes in width fittings.

Thank you so much EMU Australia, and next winter I will definitely purchase the shark boots for Joseph!

*Disclaimer - we received a pair of children's boots from EMU Australia, all opinions are unbiased and my own.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Once Upon a Wartime - Imperial War Museum North

I have loved the Imperial War Museum since it first opened in Manchester in July 2002, coincidentally, the same year I arrived in Manchester. Now I know a war museum may not be the first place in mind when you think about a day out with young children. I have just returned from a lovely couple of hours with Joseph, and would urge you to go and visit!

The Museum is situated in Salford Quays, further coincidence, where I used to work. It's an absolutely stunning building, and inside is spacious with plenty of room for little legs to run around. The current exhibit, running from the 11th February to the 2nd September is Once Upon a Wartime.

The exhibit tells the story behind 5 powerful children's novels - Warhorse by Michael Morpugo, Carrie's War by Nina Bawden, The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall, The Silber Sword by Ian Serallier and the Little Soldier by Bernard Ashley. The exhibits are very interactive. Joseph's favourite was the Welsh kitchen recreated from Carrie's War, complete with little cakes and a tea set.

What I really loved about the exhibit is that it caters for every age group. If I had say a child Joseph's age and an 8 year old, I could have occupied them both happily for a couple of hours. There is a "trail pack" with activities to get older children thinking about what they are viewing and looking at issues like loyalty, separation and identity. I found the stories incredibly moving. I read Carrie's War over and over as a child, and am working through Michael Morpugo's books. I am looking forward to reading Little Soldier, which is more a contemporary story of war.

The museum is very careful, in all its exhibits, to tell the human story behind war. It is very much a place of education, and of peace, not war, making sure that we all grow to understand the impact of war, on everyone, from the oldest to the very youngest.

I found it interesting today, particularly viewing the Carrie's War exhibit, that when I read this story as a child, I thought very much of Carrie's perspective, being sent away from her mum, but discovering this new world in Wales, that in many ways was much nicer, and more suitable for a child than the London she left. But today, for the first time I thought of the mother's perspective, and it broke my heart. How must it have been, to know you needed to send your child away to safety, but not knowing if you might never see them again? I couldn't imagine putting Joseph on a train, sending him to people I had never met, with war raging. It's unthinkable.

During half term the museum has a children's area with craft activities, story telling and a play area open every day from 11 - 4, which is suitable for very young children upwards.

I would urge you to go and visit this great museum and admission is free.

Saturday 11 February 2012

Listography - Top 5 Phrases That Drive Me Crazy

This week's Listography from Kate Takes 5 has had some great responses and I thought I'd chime in too! I have to admit, that some of these I have probably been known to use......


The top 5 phrases that drive me crazy

1. There's an elephant in the room - Oh my word, is it going to stampede, what if it poos? Who cleans it up? What do we feed it? I had never heard of this one until my husband said they were doing an elephant in the room exercise at work. "What do you think you are?" I replied. "A zookeeper?" Unless you are, in fact, a zookeeper, do not say this phrase. It's annoying.

2. At the end of the day - I have long distinguished career as a pain in the neck. When in first year university I was concerned about changes in education in Tasmania and had a meeting with the state minister for education, Peter Patmore. The meeting went for 30 minutes. He said "at the end of the day" 27 times. A very long day.

3. Has Joseph caught up yet? - To whom? Is it a race? Are the other people standing still? I have no idea, so please don't ask me. You could ask "how is Joseph doing?" that, I can answer.

4. I'm going to have my ears lowered - Yes, my dear husband I am talking about you. No you are not having your ears lowered, they are stuck fast on to your head. You are having your haircut.

5, Is it not? Can you not? Will you not? Have you not? - and endless variations on this theme. Now I know there is a lot of internet debate about the use of these little creatures. "What creatures?" I hear you ask.

These ones. ''''''''' These little creatures, the often spotted apostrophe. Now whilst sometimes these creatures crawl about in unexpected places "potatoe's on offer" for example, there are times when they are necessary. "Isn't it? Can't you? Won't you? Haven't you" are all appropriate uses of the apostrophe.I cannot bear it. And for the toddler it is very confusing. A lady who works at pre school says every snack time "do you not want....." if the toddler at all pauses before taking a piece of banana etc. So now Joseph said "I don't want" instead of "I do want". Confused? I am, and lets face it motherhood has addled what little was left of my poor brain.

Ah that feels ever so much better. Thank you Kate

Friday 10 February 2012 really expensive - #dosomethingyummy

You will, I hope, have seen my posts about Yummy Mummy Week hosted on Nickie's blog Typecast .

I want you, my reader, to know and understand why this is just so important, why we need to support CLIC Sargent.

When Joseph was born, we were sent into a new world, of beeping machines, lines and ivs, expressing milk, of living half our lives in a hospital. It was crippling emotionally and physically and financially. We were lucky of course there is maternity pay so although my wages ended 3 months early, we still had money coming in. But our expenses were huge. However, we knew it was for a finite period of time.

Money is a tough subject, and when it comes to illness it seems almost crass to talk about it. But we do need to talk about it. Hospitals are expensive, the parking, the meals, buying special clothing and creams. I saw it with my own mum. Some things are just very very dear.

Then things like nursery fees if you have other children and can't be there all the time, the consideration of one or both parents having to stop work or reduce hours. Often additional equipment, or simply being home more often has a massive impact on utility bills. Bills require payment, they don't wait.

The practical support CLICsargent provide is essential to these families. As much as we like to think "it's only money" bills need paying.

Please support Yummy Mummy Week and help families like the one in the video, because when cancer strikes your child, money should be the last thing on your mind.

Thursday 9 February 2012

My Favourite Kitchen Gadget - My Slow Cooker

No you are not at the wrong blog! I don't normally blog about cooking, however, I'm posting this today because this week on my Facebook page I was asking people what they did for meals whilst their baby was in NICU. It came as no surprise to me that people resorted to take aways or sandwiches. It's a difficult time, and whilst some of us are lucky to have family close by who can cook for us, lots of us manage the journey with little or no support. I found I used my slow cooker often, I could quickly chuck in something in the morning, and when we got home, voila, a nice home cooked meal.  So yesterday I conducted an experiment with my slow cooker. £5 worth of ingredients, 10 minutes preparation time, and a lovely wholesome meal at the end of it.

This is my slow cooker, if you look carefully you'll see its called a "curry cooker". I think the funny branding and the colour put people off and it was a bargain price! I've had it a long time and I love it. You can see it has three settings, low, high and keep warm. I use low for most functions.

Here is my beef, which I bought at Lidl, there's a kilo here in total which is ample for 4-6 adults, you can freeze what you don't eat.

Here we have carrots, celery, some leftover celeriac, a beef stock cube, some garlic, 2 onions and a tin of chickpeas. You can vary the veggies, the meant, the stock, add herbs, spices, a tin of tomatoes etc. I also added half a cup of water.

Everything thrown in ready to go. I'll do a little list of tips at the end!

 Here it is, beef and vegetable stew with chickpeas.

My slow cooker top tips:
  • Whilst you can brown the meat first, there is no need. Browning doesn't "seal in" the juices, all it does is give a browning effect. I find it does give a slightly richer finish, but that can be compensated for with herbs and stock. I find if you brown the meat then you add unnecessary oil, waste another pan, and take more time.
  • Use less liquid that you think. Some people worry that slow cookers will dry out their food, but actually the opposite can happen. Because you are cooking at a low ambient temperature, you won't get the same reduction in liquid than you would in a conventional oven or stove top. You can always add more, but you can't take away!
  • If using prepared beans or chickpeas, add them in the last half hour and turn up the cooker to high. You can also add frozen peas, corn or other veggies this way. If you put them in too early they will turn to mush.
  • If things are looking too wet, remove the lid for the last half hour to an hour. You will find if your adding chickpeas etc they will absorb some liquid.
  • Pre-prepared curry pastes and sauces will add to your repertoire with little effort.
  • Slow cooker meals are ideal for children and babies. If cooking for small people, use a low salt stock cube or omit entirely.
  • You can of course use beer or wine in the slow cooker.
  • If your sauce is too runny and leaving the lid off hasn't done the trick, remove a cup of liquid, thicken with a teaspoon of cornflour dissolved in water, and boil on hob, then add back into the slow cooker.
  • I've found that the slow cooker is so useful, especially when Joseph was home and tiny, I could throw something together during his nap, and then I had the rest of the day to do other things! 
 I hope this has been of use. I first used a slow cooker when I lived at home, and I've always had one.

What are your favourite slow cooker meals?