Recent doings

I have a few posts I want to write, but here’s a quick one for now. I haven’t done one of these since 2019!

“Recent” is very much relative in this context. Some of these things will be from December. (How are we nearly half way through January?!)

Old photo purely to make the post more interesting…

Eating. Lots of soup because it’s one of the few things Zyma will consistently consume a decent amount of!

Drinking. Latte Macchiato so the baby can have the foam from the top. If we go to a cafe that makes “babyccinos” I have hot chocolate or chai latte.

Reading. I took the first week of January off work in case Zyma needed some help getting settled back in to nursery. She ended up doing really well though, meaning I had time to myself and actually managed to read. Right now I’m re-reading Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden. I want to re-read the first six books so I can finally read the final one and finish the series.

Watching. Jan got a whole bunch of Terry Gilliam films for Christmas a few years ago and we finally watched two of them: Time Bandits and Zero Theorem. Both a weird, Zero Theorem slightly less so. We watched Richard Osman’s Festive House of Games over Christmas/New Year but now the normal one is back on I keep forgetting about it! I also made an exception to my no TV for babies rule and let Zyma watch The Snowman at Christmas.

Making/cross stitching. I stitched a few Christmas cards (not as many as in previous years) and most recently I made New Year cards to send the blind children from Post Pals charity (those who aren’t blind got ones I had purchased, I only made the ones that needed to be tactile).

Buying. Clothes for the baby. Not that she necessarily needed more right now, but it was the winter sales… I also bought a couple of books for Erin’s book challenge since I couldn’t manage to fulfil all the categories with ones I already own (despite owning so many!).

Hoping. I can stop breastfeeding soon. I planned to go to one year, but Zyma wasn’t consistently eating enough solids at that point and hadn’t mastered drinking out of any kind of cup. She’s now doing a great job at drink cow’s milk from a beaker with a spout (but will only actually take it with her evening meal) and starting to show a slight interest in water, so if we can get her to eat full meals more consistently I might be able to think about fully weaning at some point.

Wondering. At what point I have to start referring to Z as a toddler rather than a baby? She’ll be 13 months on Monday! (16th January… fun fact: she was born exactly a month before my dad’s 60th birthday). She’s not even close to actually toddling yet, but I’m not sure we can really use that as a benchmark considering we have no guarantee she will ever walk without aids…

What have you been doing recently?

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What I read from September – December 2022

Yeah, it’s been a while since I last wrote a review post… Luckily I read so little last year that I can recap 4 four months and still have fewer books to write about than I did in a single month before becoming a mother. And right now I have time, having very cruelly (in her opinion) dropped my daughter off at nursery. I took this week off work in case she needed time to settle in again after the Christmas break, but apart from crying when I leave – a new thing – fingers crossed she’s been fine so far. She even finished all her soup yesterday. She loves soup but she’s never eaten more than 10 spoonfuls at home or in a cafe!

Anyway, if you’re reading this you probably came for books, not babies, so let’s get on with it.

September

Death in the Spotlight by Robin Stevens (Murder Most Unladylike #7). Having returned from Hong Kong, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are staying with Daisy’s Uncle Felix (and Aunt Lucy). When Uncle Felix is called away for work, the two girls end up at the beautiful Rue Theatre in London, where they will face an entirely new challenge: acting. But behind the theatre’s glittering facade, the girls soon realise that there is trouble at the Rue. Jealousy, threats and horrible pranks quickly spiral out of control – and then one of the cast is found dead. As opening night looms closer, it’s up to Hazel and Daisy to take centre stage and solve the crime… before the murderer strikes again. I really enjoyed this one. I feel like the series is back to its best after a small blip. I loved that Hazel brought some of her confidence she had in Hong Kong back with her. Daisy is getting better at acknowledging Hazel’s strengths and does seem to be genuinely proud of her friend even if she does still act annoyingly superior at times. It was interesting to see how things are changing for the girls as they grow up and can no longer get away with things because people see them as “just kids”. I can’t wait to see where the series takes us next!

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. Queenie Jenkins is a twenty-five-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures but not really fitting into either. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend (she swears they’re just on a break!), Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places— including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth. As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”- all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her. This was a difficult book to read. I alternated between wanting to shake Queenie and wanting to give her a big hug. There are some humorous parts, but mostly it’s very dark. Poor Queenie is mistreated by just about every man she encounters, and half the time she doesn’t even seem to notice. Her friends were fantastic. Everybody needs friends like Queenie’s. Apart from Clarissa. F Clarissa!

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman. The only child of a single mother, Nina Hill likes her life exactly as it is. She has her dream job in a bookshop, an amazing trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book. When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all – or almost all – excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is? It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page. This book was cute and quirky, although I don’t remember a lot of what happened now – but I do know it involved books and pub quizzes, which are two of my favourite things. I definitely remember liking Nina and her friends. I feel like it lost me a bit somewhere in the middle? (Can you tell I forgot to write a review at the time?) But overall it was a fast, fun read and I gave it 4 stars.

October

Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin. Snow and Rose didn’t know they were in a fairy tale. People never do… Once, they lived in a big house with spectacular gardens and an army of servants. Once, they had a father and mother who loved them more than the sun and moon. But that was before their father disappeared into the woods and their mother disappeared into sorrow. Before they had to move into a cottage in the very woods that took their father from them. Snow refuses to believe their father won’t return, while Rose is convinced he is dead and they need to get on with their lives as best they can. Despite their fear of the woods, eventually Rose and Snow begin to venture out to explore off the beaten paths. They find a friend – Ivo, an unusual boy who farms mushrooms – and an unusual library, but they also come across more dangerous things in the woods – bandits and wolves and a giant bear. Unknowingly, the two sisters have already started along the path that will lead them to their eventual fate. This is a charming little tale and the illustrations are gorgeous. The side characters aren’t really fleshed out which I guess is typical for a fairytale but I would have liked to know more about the librarian and I have unanswered questions about the huntsman. Overall I did like it though and think 7-8 year olds would probably love it. It is fairly true to the original stors of Snow White and Rose Red without being quite as dark. 3.5 stars.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell. Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble; it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply – but that almost seems beside the point now. Maybe that was always beside the point. Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie announces that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and she thinks she’s finally about to get her big break; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her, but she doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and actually go home without her. When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything. That night, Georgie plugs in an old landline phone at her mother’s house and discovers that she can use it to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts… Is that what she’s supposed to do? Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage had never happened at all? This was fine. It passed the time well enough. I really didn’t understand what young Georgie saw in Neal though, or why it took older Neal so long to get fed up. The best character was Georgie’s sister Heather – I loved her! 3 stars.

A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong (Rockton #2). When experienced homicide detective Casey Duncan first moved to the secret town of Rockton, she expected a safe haven for people like her, people running from their past misdeeds and past lives. She knew living in Rockton meant living off-the-grid completely: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. But she wasn’t expecting Rockton to come with its own set of secrets and dangers. Now, in A Darkness Absolute, Casey and her fellow Rockton sheriff’s deputy Will chase a cabin-fevered resident into the woods, where they are stranded in a blizzard. Taking shelter in a cave, they discover a former resident who’s been held captive for over a year. When the bodies of two other women turn up, Casey and her colleagues must find out if it’s an outsider behind the killings or if the answer is more complicated than that… before another victim goes missing. I liked book 1 in this series so much that I immediately bought the second one. I’m really enjoying the unusual setting of these books. This one was maybe a little too long but it was still compelling. The whole atmosphere and what happened to Nicole was chilling. I definitely want to read book three. 4 stars.

The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris. Whatever happens, don’t tell anyone what you did to Bee Larkham… Thirteen-year-old Jasper is not an ordinary boy. In fact, he would say he is extraordinary.. Synaesthesia paints the sounds of his world in a kaleidoscope of colours that no one else can see. But on Friday, he discovered a new colour – the colour of murder. He’s convinced that something awful has happened to his neighbour, Bee Larkham, but no-one else seems to be taking it as seriously as they should be. The knife and the screams are all mixed up in his head and he’s scared that he can’t quite remember anything clearly. It doesn’t help that he also has face blindness and relies on other clues – like clothes and voices – to figure out who people are. But if his dad is right then where is Bee? Why hasn’t she come home yet? Jasper must uncover the truth about that night – including his own role in what happened… Another book that I forgot to write a review of at the time so I’m relying on my memory. I thought I was going to love this book, but reading things from Jasper’s perspective turned out to be a really frustrating. In addition to synaesthesia and face blindness, Jasper is also autistic and doesn’t really understand the world around him. He’s an interesting character and I genuinely liked him but his various conditions meant the book was very repetitive and it seemed to take forever to move on from one scene to the next. Every time I thought there were going to be answers the story would skip to something unrelated. 3 stars.

Luster by Raven Leilani. Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. When she gets involved with Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist whose wife has semi-agreed to an open marriage, Edie doesn’t expect to end up living in his home, providing advice to the couple’s adopted black daughter, while finally having the chance to do the one thing that means most to her: to finally document her own life on canvas. This book reminded me of Queenie, but I liked Queenie better. Not that this one was terrible. Parts of it were good, but I found the writing really, really odd. For instance, Edie describes her lover’s wife as being “sexy in the way a triangle is sexy” which just makes no sense whatsoever! 3 stars.

November

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust. Sixteen-year-old Mina is motherless, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone – has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d never realised that wasn’t normal normal. How could she have guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass? When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother. At fifteen, Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do – and who to be – to either win back the only mother she’s ever known… or else defeat her once and for all. I enjoyed this book. It’s quite slow and I can see why some people might find it boring but I didn’t. I liked that the step-mother is not portrayed as simply evil. It manages to recognisably be the tale of Snow White while at the same time turning everything on its head. Mina is an intriguing character and I found the relationship between Mina and Lynet really interesting. 4 stars.

December

Frenemies by Megan Crane. Gus Curtis has been avoiding growing up for a long time. But at almost thirty, official adulthood is just around the corner. It’s okay though – with a strong career, great friends, and a wonderful boyfriend, Gus feels like her life is finally on track. That is, until she walks in on her “Mr Right”, Nate, kissing her former college room mate and so-called “friend” Helen. Determined to win back her man, Gus drinks far too much, indulges in some ad hoc karaoke and loses what’s left of her dignity in a series of public slanging matches. Before long, even her loyal friends have had enough and she’s finding consolation in the arms of the one boy she really should have stayed away from… I found this in a free bookcase and I’m not sure why I took it with me. I thought it would be a quick, easy read and I was at least right about that. It’s fairly typical “chick lit” but the writing isn’t great. I thought Gus was a complete idiot and acted younger than 30 – the way she went on you would have thought she was still *in* college! Like why was she trying to win her ex back while he was still with her supposed friend?! So much unnecessary drama. I did like Henry though. He saved the book for me and bumped it up from 1 star to 2.

The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston. Florence Day is the ghostwriter for one of the most prolific romance authors in the industry, and she has a problem – after a terrible breakup, she no longer believes in love. It’s as good as dead. And she just can’t bring herself to write another happy ending. When her new editor, a too-handsome mountain of a man, refuses to give her an extension on her book deadline, Florence prepares to kiss her career goodbye. But then she gets a phone call she never wanted to receive, and she must return home for the first time in a decade to help her family bury her beloved father. For ten years, she’s run from the town that never understood her, and even though she misses the sound of a warm Southern night and her eccentric, loving family and their funeral parlour, she can’t bring herself to stay. Even with her father gone, it feels like nothing in this town has changed. And she hates it. Then her editor turns up at the door of the funeral parlour… just as broad and infuriatingly handsome as ever, but now, apparently, a ghost. And he’s just as confused about why he’s there as she is. Romance is most certainly dead.. but so is her new editor, and his unfinished business will have her second-guessing everything she’s ever known about love stories. This was a lot of fun to read and it quotes The Princess Bride, which is definitely one way to my heart! Some things didn’t make sense – like why was Florence mercilessly teased and ostracised to the extent that she left and never came back in a town that has a golden retriever as mayor and a non-binary person running a B&B where the doors to the rooms features pictures of deadly plants? Surely Florence was the exact right kind of quirky to fit right in? Never mind. Florence’s family was awesome and her relationship with them felt so genuine, but I would have liked to see more of them grieving. Florence was the only one who really seemed to care – the others were almost too much “business as usual” (quite literally considering they owned the very funeral home that was dealing with everything). But it’s fun, quirky (almost too quirky at times) and a fast read. 3.5 stars.

Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie). Returning from a visit to her daughter in Iraq, Joan Scudamore finds herself unexpectedly alone – stranded in an isolated rest house by flooding of the railway tracks. This sudden solitude compels Joan to assess her life for the first time ever and face up to many of the truths about herself. Looking back over the years, Joan painfully re-examines her attitudes, relationships and actions and becomes increasingly uneasy about the person who is revealed to her, and she begins to question everything she has ever believed. It’s a testament to Agatha Christie’s talent that a book where so little happens makes you want to keep reading. I was fascinated by the main character. As someone who is constantly questioning what people really think of me I’m very intrigued by people who can take everything at face value and assume that everyone likes them and everything they’ve ever done has been the right thing! 4 stars.

That’s it. 12 books in four months, a mere two of which were by BAME/BIPOC writers.

Now I can draw a line under last year’s reading and finally move on to 2023. I’m hoping to have a little more time to read this year since I will have roughly an hour and a half each day between finishing work and picking Zyma up from nursery (at least until she inevitably picks up her next cold…)

Have you read any of these? Let me know whether you agree with my opinions!

The book review of 2022

Even though I barely read this year last year (I was hoping to post this before December ended but alas, Goodreads kept logging me out on the 31st so I couldn’t finish it in time), I still wanted to do this post. The original is by The Perpetual Page Turner – although i don’t know whether she still does it – but I got this version from Kezzie.

Best book you read in 2022

Not many stand out to be honest. but I did enjoy The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin so we’ll go with that.

Best children’s fiction:

I didn’t actually read many children’s books this year. We’ll go with Rise of the World Eater, book 3 in the Frostheart series. It was a worthy ending to the trilogy and I genuinely enjoyed it.

Best crime fiction:

I think this may be the least crime fiction I’ve ever read in one year! Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins was very suspenseful and enjoyable overall, although I found the ending very predictable.

Best classic:

None because I didn’t read any…

Best non-fiction:

The only non-fiction book I read in 2022 was Bonkers: My Life in Laughs by Jennifer Saunders (her autobiography). It was entertaining enough but felt like loads was missing and I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as Dawn French’s autobiography (Dear Fatty).

Best dystopian fiction:

I think City of Rust by Gemma Fowler counts as (children’s) dystopian, although Goodreads only has it tagged as Science Fiction and Adventure. In any case I didn’t read anything else that could be considered even vaguely dystopian. I felt like some of the characters could have been fleshed out better and would just generally have liked more but I gave it 3.5 stars.

Best YA:

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine. Again, I felt some of the characters could have been fleshed out more, but I really enjoyed reading this book.

Most surprising (in a good way) book read in 2021:

Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer. I picked this up from a free bookcase and had no idea what to expect from it, but I ended up really enjoying it. It’s set in South Africa and was originally written in Afrikaans, and I found all the politics and tension between the different cultures – Zulus, Xhosa, and Coloreds (mixed race and South Asian) slightly confusing at times, but overall this was a thrilling story with great characters.

Book You Read In 2021 That You Recommended Most To Others:

I don’t think I have recommended any books this year.

Best series you discovered in 2022:

The Rockton series by Kelley Armstrong (starting with City of the Lost). I’ve only read two books so far but I’m loving the unusual setting. (Plus this is the only new series I’ve read more than 1 book from so it kind of wins by default).

Favourite new to you author you discovered in 2022.

Usually I reserve this question for a new author I’ve read more than one book by, but that only leaves Kelley Armstrong again, so I’m going to say Candice Carty-Williams. I loved Queenie!

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love But Didn’t:

I was really excited about Holy Island by LJ Ross because it’s set in Northumberland (specifically Lindesfarne) but unfortunately it wasn’t great. It was part detective novel and part romance, with the result that it was neither properly one nor the author.

Best Book That Was Out Of Your Comfort Zone Or Was A New Genre To You

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross. This is an urban fantasy with a magic system that’s based on maths. The story itself was surprisingly enjoyable but the maths/computery parts went way over my head!

Book You Read In 2022 That You’re Most Likely To Read Again In The Future:

The original question was “that you’re likely to read again next year” but I changed it last year since I never re-read books that soon. However, if I was including my daughter’s books in my list I would definitely have to say one of them… I think I read Owl Babies every single day in November! As for my own books, I read Death in the Spotlight by Robin Stevens in 2022 and I will definitely read the whole of the Murder Most Unladylike series again someday!

Favourite Book You Read in 2022 by an Author You’ve Read Previously:

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh. I didn’t love it as much as Hyperbole and a Half but I did still really enjoy it.

Best Book You Read In 2022 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

I read Landline by Rainbow Rowell because Kezzie sent it to me, so that’s kind of a recommendation.

Favourite Cover of a Book You Read in 2022:

It has to be A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe. I didn’t love the book itself as much as I expected to – it was a little confusing and had too many themes for its fairly short length – but the cover is gorgeous!

Book That Had The Greatest Impact On You In 2022:

I don’t actually know. Maybe Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, although I felt like I didn’t get to know the main character enough to actually be affected by his story. It was certainly though-provoking though.

Book You Can’t BELIEVE You Waited Until 2022 To Read:

Honestly, there aren’t any.

Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

I can’t actually think of anything for this one. Wow, what a boring survey this is turning out to be…

Favourite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2021 (be it romantic, friendship, etc):

I think it was the relationship between Lynet and her step-mother Mina in Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust. I loved that the step mother wasn’t a caricature of evil and selfishness despite the fact that this book is based on Snow White.

Most Memorable Character In A Book You Read In 2022:

Leigh in The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan. Although I could have done with slightly fewer colour metaphors for everything!

Genre You Read The Most From in 2022:

Adult contemporary with 11 books, most of those being romance or so-called “chick-lit”. It’s the first time in ages that my most-read genre hasn’t been either crime/thrillers or (children’s) fantasy!

Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2022:

I remember The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman being a lot of fun to read, although I’m struggling to remember much of the plot. I know it involved pub quizzes and books though – two of my favourite things!

Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2022:

I usually I hate to repeat books, but I definitely shed a tear at the end of The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot.

Book You Read in 2022 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out:

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa. I mean, maybe it wasn’t overlooked in Japan where it was originally published but I hadn’t heard of it. It’s quirky and fun – if a little bizarre – and I think fellow book-lovers would enjoy it.

Total books finished in 2022: A mere 38 (plus a gazillion repetitions of various board books!)

The longest book I read in 2022 was Solutions and Other Problems with 528 pages, although that isn’t exactly an achievement given that those pages mostly consist of pictures. The shortest, at 192 pages, was Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott – a pseudonym Agatha Christie used for her non-crime books.

The first book I read in 2022 was Holy Island by LJ Ross – not the best start to the year – and the last book was Absent in the Spring.

One last thing before I go. In 2022 I read 7 books by BAME/BIPOC authors, which is not great and something I really do need to work on in 2023!

Happy New Year everyone. Here’s to a year of great reading!

One year of Zyma!

It’s been two whole weeks (yesterday) since my daughter turned 1 and I’m only just getting around to posting about it. Where do other people with small children find the time to do anything? I thought I would have at least a little time to myself now she’s in nursery and with Jan still being off work until January, but between work (I do 20 hours a week), appointments and preparing for Christmas I feel like I’ve had even less time than when I was in sole charge of the baby all day long.

Since I wrote my last post she stopped rolling for a while but now she’s back to it. However, she will only roll from her front to her back. She then immediately sits up – a skill she learned at the beginning of December. One day after her 12-month spina bifida check up. She had been practising for about a month and was so close but only actually managed it the following day. It would have been very convenient if she had managed to demonstrate for the specialists but that’s okay.

Her favourite thing is still being out and about. Not long after I wrote my nine month blog post she learned to wave and she’ll wave and wave at people all day long. She gets so excited when they wave back and is all beaming smiles. Everyone comments on her smile and how happy and social she is. I really hope she never loses that!

Waving at minipig piglets during a trip to the zoo with Grandma in November

The day before her birthday she learned to point, first at the string lights on the bookcase, then at ceiling lights and street lamps. She loves all the shiny Christmas decorations and lights. She also got a book about dogs for her birthday and was able to point out the dogs for us. Now she points to dogs and cats outside. Plus – more embarrassingly – people. We’re working on learning that it’s rude to point and she should stick to waving 😉

We had her one year check up at the paediatrician, and cognitively she’s right on track. She understands loads, uncovers objects, points, claps and waves, reaches out her arms when she wants to be picked up and knows the names of her two favourite stuffed toys (Oscar the octopus and Kai the okapi). Physically, however, she is behind – which is to be expected with her condition. At her last appointment in Zurich, one of her specialists told us that even those children with spina bifida who can walk perfectly without any aids take their first steps late, usually at around 2 years old. She still lacks muscle tone in her lower back and glutes, which is part of the reason she still hates being on her tummy and will immediately roll over (and then sit up). It’s hard to lift your head when your back muscles are weak! Although she kicks both legs – and will even kick on command – she doesn’t make even the slightest attempt at crawling. It does make some things easier – we’ve barely had to baby proof yet and there was no need to worry about the Christmas tree since she has no way of getting to it 😉 – it’s bitter sweet seeing babies much younger than her already crawling, pulling to stand and even cruising along furniture. Our only hope is that she doesn’t get too frustrated when she sees that the other children in the babies group are gradually becoming more mobile while she’s left behind, stuck sitting wherever she was put. She still has physiotherapy and we’re currently particularly working on transitions – now that she can sit up by herself she has finally started going from sitting down to her side to pick up a toy and will also stretch much further forward than she used to when trying to reach something. What we would really like is for her to go on her tummy on purpose to get to something, but that currently seems to be a way off. She will whine and point for half an hour rather than getting herself into the dreaded tummy position. We use dry wipes and tap water to clean her for nappy changes and the one time she is willing to go on her tummy is if I place her face down over my knees and let her play with the water in the bowl. I can’t let her do it for too long though otherwise we end up with a puddle on the living room floor! She’s started really to really enjoy splashing in the bath as well. It looks like we’ve got a little water baby on our hands!

Admiring the view of Basel

Her last spina bifida appointment was mostly good. It’s still too early to say whether she will stand and walk and we’ve been recommended a new type of therapy that may help her achieve more mobility. Coincidentally, at her next physio appointment after the day in Zurich her physiotherapist mentioned the same kind of therapy and even did the research for us to find someone in Basel that does it! We had one trial appointment before Christmas and will be setting up some more soon. It will be a lot of work though as we will have to do the exercises with her at home 3 times a day. In the end, that will mostly fall to me since Jan is back at work on Monday and will be in Zurich three days a week, which means leaving the house by 7 a.m. and not getting home until Zyma is in bed. Her MRI in October showed that the top to ventricles in her brain are fine. However, the third ventricle is very slightly enlarged. There is no sign of any pressure in her brain and the fluid seems to still be flowing normally, but they wanted her to go for an extra MRI in January just to be safe. As they said it would be negligent to just say “well, she’s obviously fine so we’ll leave it until her next regular MRI in a year’s time!”. She also has to go to an eye doctor because that third ventricle connects to the optic nerve, so we have to get the back of her eyes looked at to make sure there#s nothing going on there. The bladder medication seems to be working and they were pleased at how well things are going with catheterisation. We’re now giving three doses of her medicine instead of two so it’s split more evenly across the day and doesn’t wear off by early afternoon. When she’s at nursery, we’ve arranged for carers to go in at around 10:30 a.m. and catheterise her there and so far it’s working really well. Zyma has absolutely no problem with it.

Birthday cake!

We’re so proud of how well she’s taken to nursery! Of course, it took less than two weeks for the germs to get her and she came down with a cold the week of her birthday. Luckily we didn’t really have anything planned anyway since our families live so far away and had all been to visit in October and November. She spent the morning of her birthday mostly sleeping but perked up a bit in the afternoon to open her presents and try a little bit of cake. I used this recipe for carrot cake muffins, but made it as a small cake and adapted the recipe slightly. My version left out the raisins and I added 50g of sweet potato (steamed and mashed) plus 30g of apple/pear puree for a little sweetness. When I did a trial run (in muffin form) they tasted too savoury so I experimented with adding fruit and sweet potato until I got something a little sweeter but still healthy enough for a baby. For the topping I used cream cheese with orange zest and also squeezed in some of the juice from the orange to give it a little flavour. Zyma tried about three bits of the cake then had a large spoonful of the “frosting” – she loves cream cheese!

She is still mainly on milk for nutrition but her eating is gradually getting better. While she had a cold she ate almost no solids, and a lot of what she did manage ended up being coughed back up. We’re back on track now though and she will usually at least try something at every meal. She even ate 10 spoonfuls of soup at nursery once, which is a lot for her! She loves soup of all kinds, scrambled eggs (I put ricotta in for added nutrition and she gets really excited to eat them!), mandarins, bread and croissants. She’s also a big fan of milk foam from the top of coffee. A few cafes offer a “babyccino”, which is hot milk with foam on top, and she will happily eat all the foam off one of them and sometimes even have some of the actual milk as well.

There’s really nothing left to say except that I can’t believe I’ve been a mother for an entire year (plus two weeks). It has been a joy and a privilege to accompany Zyma on her first trip around the sun. I’m so proud of the cheerful and determined girl she’s turning into and I’m so excited to watch her continue to grow. My only wish is that she stays exactly this happy and we can help her overcome the challenges spina bifida throws her way.

Spina bifida awareness month

I ink found out recently that October is Spina Bifida Awareness Month so before it’s over completely I wanted to write a post.

Before Zyma’s diagnosis I didn’t know much about spina bifida. My brother-in-law actually has it as well but it had never come up as a topic of conversation. He walks slowly and with a bit of a strange gait but he walks. I also had a cousin with spina bifida who died at 3 weeks old (before I was born – actually while my mum was pregnant with me). Here was a more severe case and I had always been told that if she had lived she would have been in a wheelchair. So the extent of my knowledge was that part of the back is open (spina bifida actually means “split spine”) and it affects mobility.

Six-day-old Zyma waiting to go for her first post-birth MRI

When Zyma was diagnosed we had various meetings with experts who explained all the various ways she could be impacted. Spina bifida is known as a snowflake condition because no two people have the exact same combination of issues even if their lesion (opening) is in the same place. It’s a neurological condition that potentially affects all the nerves below the lesion. In Zyma’s case that’s around L4, so as well as the legs that means the bladder and bowels. Digestion can be slowed and the kidneys may be affected. Without the operation before birth Zyma’s legs would have been entirely paralysed and she would have needed a wheelchair. Her hips wouldn’t have been affected though, so she would have been able to sit independently.

The other thing I didn’t know about spina bifida is that the spinal cord can actually be stuck at the bottom, known as tethering. This causes the brain to also be pulled down towards the neck, which blocks the ventricles and stops the brain fluid from draining as it should. This is one of the main causes of hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. Babies who are born with this have to have a shunt – or drainage tube – fitted within a few days of birth. The other end generally drains into the abdomen. After Z’s diagnosis I found out my brother-in-law has a shunt and it had to be renewed at some point because it wasn’t long enough. That’s not supposed to happen – generally they put in a pretty long tube to start with. The usual reason a shunt has to be renewed is because it gets blocked. Luckily the surgeons were able to untether Zyma’s spinal cord during the foetal operation and so far she doesn’t need a shunt. We were told that if she doesn’t need one by a year old she probably won’t need one at all. By 2 years she almost definitely won’t. After the surgery the ventricles in her brain were within normal range throughout the rest of the pregnancy and still looked exactly the same when she was a newborn. They’ve since widened slightly but were stable between the 3 month and 6 month appointments so as long as they stay that way all is good. She recently had an MRI, which is technically part of her 1 year checkup so we won’t actually see the neurosurgeon and get the results until then – unless something looks seriously wrong and she needs urgent surgery. Since it’s been over two weeks and we haven’t heard anything I’m hoping it’s safe to assume that isn’t the case.

Currently the only part of Zyma we know is affected is her bladder. She has neurogenic bladder, meaning the nerves and muscles that control the bladder don’t work together well. In her case, the bladder is overactive. The muscles constantly contract when only a small amount of urine is present. Over time this could cause urine to flow back into the kidneys, so she’s now on medicine to keep her bladder calm and we catheterise her four to five times a day. later, she’ll be able to do it herself.

So far she’s taken everything in her stride with only minimal fuss/crying – all the appointments and tests, the medication and catheter, physiotherapy. She’s a smiley, friendly baby who charms everyone she meets.My little superstar was absolutely worth everything we went through to have her.

Nine months of Zyma

I say this every time, but I can’t believe I’m typing this. How has it been three months since my last Zyma update? It has flown by! I’m also very glad I decided to switch to quarterly updates because I would not have had time to post every month!

So… last time I said she had three bottom teeth and I was sure I saw signs of a third one on its way. That third bottom tooth never did manifest, but shortly before turning 7 months she started chewing her hands even more than usual and biting while feeding again (even though she had learned fairly quickly that biting means no milk). Everything I’ve read claims that teething-related fussiness for an individual tooth lasts about 8 days – 5 before the tooth erupts through the gum and then another 3. Well, it was eleven days of fussing, biting and complaining before I finally felt a top tooth poking through the gum. That tooth then turned out to be four, all at the top, so it was about a month and a half of an extremely whiny, bitey, fussy baby before the fourth one was through enough to stop bothering her. We had a break of about a week but now she’s back to biting me multiple times a day and whining whenever we’re in the flat and I’m not entertaining her, so I’m currently on watch for tooth number 7! (She also has a doctor’s appointment on Monday for her 9 month check up so I’ll find out then whether something other than teeth is bothering her.)

Despite teething woes this season is a lot of fun. While I miss newborn snuggles she’s so much more interactive now and I’m really enjoying seeing her personality emerge. Over the past few months she’s gone from the occasional giggle to full on laughs and she finds the most random things funny. For a while ripping paper was absolutely hilarious – she was so amused by me opening my birthday presents that I ended up tearing the wrapping paper into strips for her entertainment. I’m always trying to find new things to make her laugh because it’s such a joyful sound. She loves bubbles and seems to be starting to enjoy going on the baby swings at playgrounds (although I think it’s more the coming towards whoever’s pushing her and trying to grab their hair/face she likes than the swing itself). Her current favourite books are “Owl Babies” and “But Not the Hippopotamus”. Back when she was six months I wrote that she loved “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” but she doesn’t seem to find that one as amusing now.

For a while she was doing really well with eating and tried lots of different foods – purées only, we tried doing some baby led weaning but she absolutely refuses to put any “real” food in her mouth, except carrot puffs. Her favourites seem to be anything with pumpkin or sweet potato When we first offered plain yoghurt after her six month appointment she ate a little bit then she went off it completely for over a month – I had to mix it into her pumpkin. Last week, out of the blue, she started taking it again but only with puréed fruit mixed in. She will eat neither the yoghurt nor the fruit on its own! When the top four teeth started coming in she refused to eat any solids at all for about a week and currently we’re on day 5 of another food refusal. Two days ago she actually cried when I offered her pumpkin and potato, which she usually loves. I was hoping to stop breastfeeding after 1 year but unless things change quickly it’s looking like she’s still going to need breast milk for nutrition in 3 months time. Even on a good day she will only eat around 5-6 of her baby spoonfuls, and only if I time it exactly right between milk feeds in the afternoon. On a truly amazing day she will eat 1-2 spoons of breakfast but most days she refuses anything that isn’t breast milk before noon.

On 11th August, 5 days before she turned 8 months, she finally managed to roll from her back to her front – then proceeded to complain until I rescued her because she still hates tummy time and she couldn’t roll the other way. Then, on 25th August, she actually managed to roll back the other way after getting herself onto her front. Now if I lie her on her tummy she consistently manages to roll over onto her back, but going the other way she doesn’t always make it further than her side. Currently she only rolls in one direction and then back the way she came – meaning from her back she’ll roll towards her right side onto her stomach and then she’ll go to the right again to roll back – so she can’t use rolling to get to places yet, but I’m sure it will come soon enough. And every time she “rescues” herself from being on her tummy she looks so proud.

She is also sitting really well now. She still falls backwards when she gets distracted but she can play with a toy using both hands and still stay relatively stable.

Sitting – the cushion is there to provide a soft landing but it’s not supporting her in any way

She likes being out and about and watching other children – I finally managed to find a playgroup for babies her age (I actually found it ages ago but only recently realised people who aren’t members of the organisation that runs it can go and just pay a small fee per session) and we’ve been three times so far. She particularly seems to like looking at babies who are smaller than her. She really enjoys attention, but on her terms. She would love me to entertain her all day long but when people smile at her while we’re out she usually just glares at them. Recently one of the assistants at the local shop finally managed to get Zyma to smile for her and it made her day! Occasionally she will decide someone is worthy of a smile though, and her face just lights up. Usually the people she wants to smile at her are the ones who are ignoring her,s o she’ll sit there smiling away and making little noises until they notice her. When we’re indoors for too long she will eventually start whining so every afternoon I stick her in her pushchair and we go for a walk – to one of various nearby parks where I lay a picnic blanket on the ground and she usually has a play on the baby swings, into town where we stop at a café and she gets to play with the sugar packet from my coffee, or just to a supermarket (even food shopping is interesting when you’re a baby!). After a fairly hot summer it’s been mostly rainy recently and it’s cooled down a lot – autumn is definitely in the air – so I’m going to need to get her some little waterproofs so we can continue getting out and about. Obviously her pushchair has a rain cover but she doesn’t like to sit in there the whole time.

I am still tired but Zyma has started having one stretch of 5-6 consecutive hours of sleep most nights. Unfortunately it doesn’t help me much because during those hours I’m tidying up from the day, cooking and eating tea (Jan has been busy at work so on the days he’s in the office he’s mostly not home for food) and pumping so Jan can give her a bottle when she wakes for milk. After that first long stretch of sleep all bets are off – she could go straight back to sleep but be up three more times, refuse to go back to sleep for over an hour then sleep right through until morning, go back to sleep then wake up at 5 a.m. wanting to be up for the day (I refuse to get her out of bed before 6 so the end result is the two of us lying awake, me doing my best to keep her quiet for another hour so Jan can continue to sleep). Hopefully once she’s more interested in solids she’ll finally drop those middle of the night feeds and I’ll actually get an unbroken (if short) night’s sleep again!

At her last spina bifida check up she was put on medicine for her bladder, which means we now have to catheterise five times a day. She seems to be doing well on it and she does a reasonably good job of lying still (we have to administer the meds directly into the bladder via a catheter so she has to lie there for quite while). My current trick is singing either “I Went to the Animal Fair” or the chorus of “Agadoo”. I have no idea why she likes those particular songs but they always seem to calm her down!

These past three months have gone so fast and I’m just in awe of everything this tiny human can suddenly do (although I admit I was starting to wonder whether she would ever catch on with the rolling thing). Four teeth at once has not been the most fun and I can’t deny there are days that I find myself counting down the hours until bedtime, but seeing her little face light up when I walk in the room makes it all worth it and I honestly can’t imagine life without my little sidekick. She is my absolute world and I love her to bits – bitey teeth, scratchy finger nails and all!

What I read in August 2022

I almost only read two books in August because the second one took me so long to finish. But then I snuck in one more over the course of two evenings right at the end of the month.

Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena. Brecken Hill in upstate New York is an expensive place to live. You have to be rich to have a house there… and Fred and Sheila Merton are certainly rich. But even all their money can’t protect them when a killer comes to call. After a fraught Easter dinner with their family, the Mertons are brutally murdered. Their three adult children are devastated, of course. Or are there? They each stand to inherit millions. They were never a happy family, thanks to their vindictive father and neglectful mother. Could one of the siblings is more disturbed than anyone knew? Did someone snap after that dreadful evening? Or did another person appear later that night with the worst of intentions? That must be what happened. After all, if one of the family were capable of something as gruesome as this, you’d know… wouldn’t you? I’ve wanted to read this book for a while so I was very pleased to spot it in a free public bookcase! Not a single character in this book is likeable – except maybe the nanny. All the Merton family are liars, and that’s just their good side! The result is a tangled web of suspicion with all manner of twists and turns. I can’t exactly say I figured out who the murderer was because I think I suspected every character at one point or another. One downside is that it gets a little repetitive as things are rehashed from different character’s points of view. I enjoyed the very end – the last line is utterly delightful. 4 stars.

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe. Fourteen-year-old Sante isn’t sure where she comes from. She was just a baby when she was washed ashore in a sea-chest laden with treasures. Mama Rose, leader of a nomadic group of misfits and gypsies, found and raised Sante, alongside twins, knife-thrower Cat and snake-charmer Cobra. They travel around contemporary southern Europe, living off-grid and performing circus tricks for money.During a performance in Cadiz, Sante recognises two men from a recurring dream she has about the shipwreck. They’ve come for her treasure, but they also have secrets to reveal about Sante’s past. After Sante and Cat rescue a beautiful red-head named Scarlett from a gang, Mama Rose’s band are forced to flee the city, but Sante and Cobra stay behind, determined to find out more about who Sante really is. some reason I thought this was a children’s book but it’s very definitely YA featuring themes of sex trafficking among others! I really enjoyed parts of the plot. I loved Sante and her golden eagle Priss. But it felt like the author was trying to fit in too many different themes: Sante’s search for her identity, magical realism elements, refugees, sex trafficking, all the circus characters, so it unfortunately ended up being confusing and a lot of the side characters seemed flat. 3 stars.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan. When Leigh’s mother dies by suicide she leaves behind a scribbled note – I want you to remember. Remember what? Leigh has no idea. She wishes she could turn to her best friend, Axel, for advice. If only she hadn’t kissed him and messed everything up between them. The Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, discovers she has grandparents she’s never met and travels to Taiwan to meet them for the first time. There, she retreats into art and memories, ending up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and ultimately forging a new relationship with her grandparents. I really enjoyed this book. The writing is excellent, although the style is definitely not for everyone (I enjoyed it though) and I can’t believe it’s a debut! I really enjoyed the insights into Taiwanese culture and Leigh is a fantastic character. It is a fast read but there seemed to be a lot going on and it almost felt like the main grief plot was being sidelined at times with high school drama (told in flashbacks). Leigh seems to have some form of synaesthesia and while the colour metaphors were interesting at times it was too much. I didn’t need to know the colour of every single word Leigh’s best friend/love interest uttered! That makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy the book but I actually very much did. There is a magical realism element that probably won’t appeal to everyone but it didn’t bother me at all. 4 stars.

Total books read: 3. Books by BAME/BIPOC authors: 2 (hooray, finally more than zero).

So far this month I’ve mostly been cross stitching but I’ve already managed a couple of books and I’m hoping to get through at least two more.

Cross stitching – first half of 2022

I haven’t been able to cross stitch as much as usual this year, but amazingly I did manage to get a few birthday cards out. My friend’s daughter who turned two in April had to make do with a card from Moonpig but I have managed to stitch and send out a total of 6 cards so far this year! This post will feature three of them for birthdays up to July – there should have been a fourth but I apparently didn’t take a photo of it (and now I’m questioning whether I actually stitched it at all. I’m sure I sent one to my friend’s son but I have absolutely no memory of what I actually stitched…).

Card number one was for my grandma. Her birthday is in January but the image I chose feels very autumny. I just thought it was cute, okay?

Next is a friend’s daughter, who turned 2 in June. I chose a cat for her. It’s quite pink!

Finally, another friend’s son turned 1 on 1st July. I love this panda bearing a gift! I’ve previously stitched another panda from the same set – that one was holding a cake.

I have just posted my brother’s card for his 16th birthday on 1st September and am working on the next birthday card. After that it will be time to start turning my attention to Christmas. This year is going way too fast!

What I read in June & July 2022

The ending of the Show Us Your Books link up meant I completely forgot to review the books I read in June. Luckily there were only two – followed by five in July – so I can just shove two months into one post.

The Hidden Cottage by Erica James. Mia Channing seems to have the perfect life. A beautiful home, a happy marriage, a job she loves and three grown-up children to whom she’s devoted. But appearances can be deceptive. When the family gathers for her son’s 30th birthday, he brings with him his latest girlfriend who, they are surprised to learn, has a nine-year-old daughter. Then, before the birthday cake has even been cut, Mia’s youngest daughter Daisy seizes the opportunity to drop a bombshell. It’s an evening that marks a turning point in all their lives, when old resentments and regrets surface and the carefully ordered world Mia has created begins to unravel. This was fine. Kind of predictable and the writing style annoyed me at times but it was a fairly easy read for its length. I loved nine-year-old Madison but found some of the other characters a bit underdeveloped. I think there were too many of them. 2.5 stars. Also, is it just me or does The Hidden Cottage sound like the title of a Famous Five book?

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood. For Susan Green, messy emotions simply don’t fit into the equation of her perfectly ordered life. She is in complete control at all times, with a flat that is ideal for one, a job that suits her passion for logic, and an “interpersonal arrangement” that provides cultural and other, more intimate, benefits. But suddenly confronted with the loss of her mother and the news that she is about to become a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is realised. She is losing control. When she learns that her mother’s will inexplicably favours her immature and irresponsible brother, Edward, Susan is determined that she must do something about it. But as her due date draws near and her family problems become increasingly difficult to ignore, Susan finds help and self-discovery in the most unlikely of places. I actually kind of liked the story in this book and wanted to know what happened at the end, but the main character completely ruined it for me. I assume she’s supposed to be a damaged person who struggles to connect with “normal” people a la Eleanor Oliphant but actually she’s insufferable and honestly just plain mean. Unlike Eleanor it felt like she knew perfectly well she was being mean no matter how much she tried to pass it off as being direct/honest. The romance is ridiculous – it goes from barely even friends to “I’m totally in love with you and want to help you raise your baby” in about 2 pages. I actually liked Rob as a character, just the romance made no sense! 2.5 stars.

So, that was June. A slightly disappointing month… And zero out of two books were by BIPOC/BAME authors. On to July…

Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins. When the eight-year-old daughter of an Oxford College Master vanishes in the middle of the night, police turn to the Scottish nanny, Dee, for answers. As Dee looks back over her time in the Master’s Lodging – an eerie and ancient house – a picture of a high achieving but dysfunctional family emerges: Nick, the fiercely intelligent and powerful father; his beautiful Danish wife Mariah, pregnant with their child; and the lost little girl, Felicity, almost mute, seeing ghosts, still grieving her dead mother. But is Dee telling the whole story? Is her growing friendship with the eccentric house historian, Linklater, any cause for concern? And most of all, why was Felicity silent? Some things didn’t make sense and I found the ending predictable but overall I really enjoyed this book. It’s very suspenseful. I especially liked the character of Linklater and the descriptions of Oxford’s old cemeteries. 4 stars.

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh. Do I really need to write a synopsis for this one? Does anyone not know what it is? Allie Brosh’s second graphic novel in which she again tells stores from her own life including tales from her childhood, the adventures of her very bad animals and merciless dissection of her own character flaws. She also talks about the awful experiences that resulted in this book being delayed for so long. I found parts of the book hilarious – especially the stories about her childhood – while others were heart breaking. It seems so unfair that so many bad things have happened to one person while others seem to live a completely charmed life. Not all the stories resonated with me and I didn’t love it as much as Hyperbole and a Half but I still really, really liked it. 4 stars.

City of the Lost by Kelly Armstong (Rockton #1). Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret: when she was in college, she killed a man. She was never caught, but he was the grandson of a mobster and she knows that someday her crime will catch up to her. Casey’s best friend, Diana, is on the run from a violent, abusive ex-husband. When Diana’s husband finds her, and Casey herself is attacked shortly after, Casey knows it’s time for the two of them to disappear again. Diana has heard of a town especially for people like her, a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. You must apply to live in Rockton, and if you’re accepted it means walking away from your old life entirely, and living off the grid in the wilds of Canada. No cell phones, no Internet, no mail, no computers, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. As a murderer, Casey isn’t a good candidate, but she has something they want: She’s a homicide detective, and Rockton has just had its first real murder. She and Diana are in. However, soon after arriving, Casey realises that the identity of a murderer isn’t the only secret Rockton is hiding… and she starts to wonder if she and Diana might actually be in even more danger in Rockton than they were in their old lives. This is a very different kind of police procedural – the setting alone changes things and makes for a very suspenseful atmosphere. And there were at least two twists that I was not expecting. I will definitely be continuing this series. 4 stars.

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa. Rintaro Natsuki loves Natsuki Books, his grandfather’s tiny second-hand bookshop on the edge of town. It’s the perfect refuge for a teenage boy who tends to be somewhat of a recluse. When his grandfather dies suddenly, Rintaro is left devastated and alone. It seems he will have to close the shop. Then, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks Rintaro for help. The cat needs a book lover to embark on three magical adventures to save books from people have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. Finally, there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt alone… This is definitely one for book lovers! It’s very quotable and reads almost like a love letter to the power of books/reading. It’s utterly bizarre in the way only Japanese fiction can be and I feel like I didn’t understand all of it but I did enjoy it. It’s also a very quick read – I finished the entire thing in one day, during two of my daughter’s naps. 4 stars,

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross (The Laundry Files #1). Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. His world was dull and safe – but then he went and got Noticed. Now, Bob is up to his neck in spycraft, parallel universes, dimension-hopping terrorists, monstrous elder gods and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than a full system reboot to sort this mess out… This book is based on the premise that “magic” and parallel universes, demons, etc. exist in our world, but it’s not actually magic… it’s all based on maths and computing. I did actually mostly enjoy the storyk, but the unfortunately the maths parts went completely over my head, which meant it took me ages to finish and spoiled it a bit for me. I would never have bought this book (it was a gift years ago) and don’t intend to continue the series, but it’s not actually bad. Just really not right for me! 3 stars.

In July I read 5 books, one of which was by a BAME/BIPOC author.

We’re now over a week into August and I’ve yet to finish a single book, so we’ll see whether it’s even necessary for me to try and remember to post next month! In the meantime let me know if you’ve read anything good recently.

December 2021 recap

It seems almost silly to be writing this post at this point, but I’ve made it this far so for the sake of completeness we might as well do it.

So, December started with lots of early morning activity as my roommate had started bleeding again. After the previous episode she had been told one more bleed and they would be performing her C-section, so that’s exactly what happened. I think he baby was just shy of 34 weeks at that point, so not ideal but not too bad. She came to visit me 2 days later to let me know everything had gone well and her daughter was doing fine, although would be in hospital for a while.

I spent a couple of days alone – in a room meant for 3 and then got two new roommates at once. One was only there for a single night – the next day she hit 37 weeks and went off for her scheduled C-section. The other woman who was from (I think) Somalia was due to have a C-section at 37 weeks on 27th December. She had somehow misunderstood though and kept telling me she was having hers the day after me, on the 17th. She was so upset when the doctor explained that no, that would be far too early, and her baby needed to stay in until the 27th. She had two other young children and she told me they called every night crying because they wanted mama to come home.

My final two weeks leading up to the birth were relatively uneventful. Someone else came in who was also having foetal surgery for spina bifida and I was able to talk to her a bit about what to expect. I saw her again after Zyma was born and she was already up and walking around within a couple of days… and off the IV meds after a week! Of all the others I met who’d had the operation I think she bounced back the fastest.

Finally, 16th December came around. We had actually made it to precisely 37 weeks as planned! I was first on the list for the C-section that morning, so barring emergencies I would be in surgery at 7 a.m.! As it turned out there was an emergency, so Zyma was born at 8:01 a.m. on 16th December 2021. We had been warned before hand that the immediate crying after birth is just a movie cliché, but the very first thing Zyma did was let out a wail just to let me know she was there. Jan stood to watch her being taken out and told me the surgeon immediately tickled her feet to see whether she would react… which she did. Z was then taken away to a side room while I was sewn back up – it took a little longer because they discovered a weak point on the incision from the foetal surgery so they repaired that while they were in there. Unfortunately Zyma couldn’t be brought to me because she was having trouble breathing by herself so Jan went with her to the neonatology unit while I was taken back to the room on the labour and delivery ward and immediately attached to a milk pump. At some point Jan came back and I as taken to see Zyma still in my bed. It was a surreal moment. She was on oxygen so I couldn’t hold her – just put out a finger and stroke her. I couldn’t believe that tiny little human was mine! The bed and I then travelled back up to the ward I had been on previously. The post-natal ward is actually one floor higher but so many babies had been born around that time that people were being put on the pre-natal ward instead! It was nice for me because it meant I was back with the same familiar nurses/midwives who had been looking after me for the previous 5 weeks (plus my other two stays). After the numbness from the epidural wore off I was given a morphine injection for the pain which made me throw up my lunch! Thankfully by the day after the C-section I didn’t need morphine any more, just the oral painkillers they gave me. In the late afternoon Jan came and took me down to the neonatal ward in a wheelchair and I was able to spend a couple of hours with Zyma. I also tried to pump while I was down there. I was encouraged to pump every 2-3 hours during the day and 4 hours overnight. It took a few tries for my milk to come in – I remember being overjoyed when I actually produced enough to suck up into a syringe. We’re literally talking a few millilitres here… meanwhile the woman in the next bed was filling two entire bottles at a time and being told to avoid breastfeeding tea! So Zyma started life on formula that was supplemented with the breast milk I managed to get.

Overjoyed to have got more than 2 ml of milk!

I was discharged 5 days after the C-section and up until the day before it was unclear when Zyma would be moving from the women’s hospital to the children’s hospital… then I got a call on the fourth morning of her life, a place had suddenly become available and they wanted to move her that afternoon. We both went down to see her off then Jan walked over to the children’s hospital and met the transport personnel at the neonatal ward there to make sure he knew where she was and get her settled in. Meanwhile, I went back upstairs for lunch and to pump. In the evening I was given taxi vouchers to go to the children’s hospital and back – it’s only about a 15 minute walk between the two hospitals but I was not up to walking for 15 minutes yet. It was so weird leaving the hospital after being mostly confined to my ward for 5 whole weeks! After visiting with Zyma for a while, I took a taxi back to the women’s hospital while Jan walked around the corner to the family room we had booked and which I moved into the next day after being discharged (again, I was given a taxi voucher to get me there). I was surprisingly emotional leaving the hospital after so long! Probably because I wasn’t actually going home yet and didn’t know when I would be. The building with the family rooms is about a 5 minute walk from the children’s hospital and the next few days were spent going back and forth. The COVID rules at the time were that parents could be present in the neonatal ward 24 hours a day but only both at once for a total of 2 hours (they weren’t literally clock watching though, so we may have snuck in an extra half hour here and there!). I still had to pump regularly (pumps were provided) so Jan was with her then, one day he had to go to Bern to sort out a new passport, he also popped over to the women’s hospital with chocolates as a thank you for the nurses over there and so we made it through. We tended to leave relatively late at night compared to the other parents, but usually we were back in the room by 10 p.m. I was still recovering from the C-section after all (plus prior surgery and 5 weeks in hospital). The lactation consultants came by and told me we were both basically doing everything right but because Zyma was so small her sucking reflex wasn’t strong enough to get anything out yet. She finally managed to get some milk from me before we left though.

It’s hard to believe her hands used to be this small

We had been told to prepare for a stay of anywhere between 12 and 21 days, but apparently the doctors wanted to try and get through all the testing before Christmas so she actually had her last spina bifida tests on the 23rd, then she had to have a sleep study done overnight because her oxygen levels kept dropping while she slept. The result was that she needed to be out on caffeine. The hip ultrasound that was part of her spina bifida tests had revealed dysplasia, which we at the time thought would have to be treated in hospital for three weeks, but that could just as well be done in Basel. They told us Basel children’s hospital would have space for her from 27 December but if they agreed instead of her being transported from one hospital to another we could take her home and then bring her to the other hospital ourselves. Basel did agree and we were informed on Christmas Eve that she could go home the next day provided her oxygen levels stayed stable. So Jan spent the morning rushing to try and get everything we needed before the shops closed… bottles, formula in case breastfeeding didn’t work, nappies… the last minute things we had expected to still have time for. The next morning the nurses showed us how to prepare her caffeine and give it to her along with a bottle, we ate lunch in the hospital for the last time (until we returned for her first regular spin bifida check up in March), I fed Zyma… breastfeeding actually worked, although it took a while for her to get enough, Jan returned the room key and, finally, in the late afternoon, we were on our way! We didn’t actually arrive home until around 6 p.m. so we didn’t get much of Christmas Day there but at least Zyma was able to spend some of her first Christmas at home!

On the 26th, a friend came by to meet Zyma… her first visitor. I also opened most of the Christmas gifts (we hadn’t bothered the night before) and new baby gifts. Some people had actually sent her both… such a lucky/spoiled baby! Those first two nights are a bit of a blur. I didn’t sleep much, partly because she hadn’t yet learned the difference between day and night but also because I spent half the time checking she was still breathing when she went quiet and the other half wondering whether the noises she was making in her sleep were normal! But even though we’d only had her for a couple of nights it felt so wrong having to give her up again the next day… for what we thought was going to be three weeks. As it turned out, after performing their own ultrasound, the doctors in Basel didn’t think the hip dysplasia was as bad as feared and decided to send her home with a harness to try out. So on the 28th, just as I was getting ready to go to the hospital and take over from Jan, he messaged to say she was allowed home! By the time I’d joined him there, we’d had the discharge consultation with the doctors and I’d got enough milk into her for her to agree to go in the car seat it was already late afternoon, so again we didn’t have much left of the day. But she was home, and this time she would be staying.

The rest of the year was spent mostly at home getting used to being a family of three, although we did venture out for Zyma’s first little trip in the pram. And on New Year’s Eve we were in bed by 11 p.m.! I couldn’t tell you whether I was awake at midnight… I may or may not have been feeding her at that time, but the fireworks had already been going so crazy since about 9 p.m. that it was impossible to tell the difference! It didn’t really matter to us anyway. Sleeping next to the baby we’d waited so long for was the perfect way to see in the New Year!