Introvert parenting – what I’ve learned in 6 months

As I sit here enjoying the brief respite that nap time brings, along with my very large coffee and homemade breakfast biscuits (stay tuned, recipe to come!), I am reflecting on the first 6 months of my journey into parenting.  More specifically, parenting as an introvert.

I feel that being an introvert is something that’s often misunderstood, and so becomes almost a dirty word.  People think that it means that you’re anti-social, or that you don’t like people, and that isn’t true at all.  I love my friends and family, and have had some of my best times over the last few years since we started “girls’ nights”, where we can all gather over food and wine, and just enjoy each other’s company.  What introversion really means to me is all about how we recharge.  Extroverts are energized by other people, whereas introverts recharge by being alone.

Personally, I’m a really strong introvert.  I need that alone time.  And not need like “I’ll be a bit cranky if I don’t get it”, but need like crying and screaming in the corner pulling my hair out need.  For me, this has been the biggest challenge of parenting.  Simply being needed that much is exhausting and draining for me.  When the baby doesn’t need me, the cat’s meowing because she wants attention, or my husband needs something, or housework needs to be done, or I’m working where 30 other people need me.  Some days it’s hard to find time just to breathe, especially when I’m making a choice between breakfast or a shower, lunch or cleaning the kitchen so I can make dinner…

Don’t get me wrong, my husband does help.  But his upbringing was different to mine, and so we do things very differently.  I don’t feel like cooking dinner but I do it because we have food in the fridge and I want to save money.  He doesn’t feel like cooking so he orders take out.  I’m not saying either is better, it’s just different.  And when you’re running on very low reserves, different can be frustrating too.  And then of course, there’s the mommy guilt.  The little voice that tells you what you should be doing instead of sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee, that tells you that you’re a bad mother for wanting time away from the baby.

If any of this sounds familiar, I feel for you, I really do.  Parenting is hard, and parenting as an introvert brings its own list of very specific challenges that other people just may not get.  And so I wanted to share a few of the conclusions that I’ve come to over the last 6 months.

1. You’re not alone

Introverts make up 25-50% of the population, so you’re not the only person dealing with this.  Of course, you may not wish to reach out to those people, and they may prefer to be in their own bubble for a while too!  But just knowing that I’m not abnormal has helped.

2. It’s OK to need what you need

I was racked with guilt about wanting time away from my family.  Here I was with a great husband and a beautiful, healthy, happy baby boy, and I just wanted to leave them at home and go somewhere else.  Anywhere else.  What I had to accept is that while being a parent changes your priorities, it doesn’t change your fundamental personality.  If you needed a certain amount of alone time to recharge before you had kids, you’ll still need it after you have them.  That’s just a part of who you are, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  The worst thing you can do is to completely ignore what you need.  You can’t take care of anyone if you’re running on empty.

3. It doesn’t make you a bad parent

Mommy guilt is real.  Whether it’s because you use disposable diapers, feed your baby formula, put them in daycare while you’re at work, let them watch TV or eat junk food, or simply because you need a break from them for a couple of hours, there always seems to be something that someone says we should be doing better.  In fact, apparently 94% of parents struggle with guilt over their parenting choices.  The truth of the matter is that no-one is perfect, and it just isn’t possible to have and do everything.  You simply can’t work full time and be at home with the baby full time and do all of the housework and have a healthy homemade dinner on the table at 6 every day and have perfect make-up and hair and workout and and and….  At least, I don’t see how, and I certainly wouldn’t be sane if that was my life.  I feel very privileged that I don’t have to work full time and am able to be at home with my baby during the day.  But I work in the evenings, so I sacrifice time with my husband.  And there are days that I have to choose between having a shower and eating breakfast, so typically I choose to eat, because I’m nursing a baby and need the calories.  So maybe on those days, I spend a few hours with my hair smelling of baby vomit that got spat up into it at 6:30 am.  Choice and sacrifice is part of the deal of being an adult, and it doesn’t make you a bad parent or mean that you don’t love your child.  In fact, it makes you a great parent, because you’re doing what needs to be done, and that includes taking care of yourself on a level that other people can’t help with.  So if you need a night out with the girls and a couple of glasses of wine (a.k.a. Mommy juice!), that’s OK.  And if you need to leave the baby at home with Daddy for a couple of hours while you go to a yoga class, go to the gym, get your haircut, get a manicure, or just go to starbucks or the park and read a book, that’s OK too.  I can’t speak for everyone, but my husband actually likes having extra time with the baby, because he really only gets an hour a day with him otherwise, so you might actually be doing everyone a favor if you take a few hours for yourself.  Doing what’s right for you (at least sometimes) is what’s right for your family.

4. Tell your partner/support person

One of the hardest parts of this for me was to tell my husband that this was what I needed, and a lot of that comes back to the Mommy guilt and the feeling that I should be able to do everything and should be doing it better.  But once I told him we were able to make a plan so that it doesn’t get out of hand.  On Saturday mornings, I leave my husband and baby at home with a bottle of expressed milk in the fridge, and I go to a yoga class with one of my favorite instructors.  Sometimes I’ll come straight home so that I can watch the English Premier League football afterwards (I will still leave my husband to take care of the baby during this), and sometimes I’ll go to a coffee shop where I’ll buy myself a snack and a coffee and I’ll sit in the sun and read a book.  Yep – I’ll spend money on myself, and I’ll be by myself for an hour or more, doing something that outwardly achieves nothing.  And you know what?  It’s great, and I don’t feel guilty for doing it anymore, because I know that inwardly what it achieves is keeping me sane, and that’s vital for me and for my family.  My husband now knows that he needs to be at home and completely available on a Saturday morning.  And if your partner isn’t available, ask someone else to watch the baby.  Something I’ve learned from my friends is that everyone wants to play with the baby for a couple of hours.  So remind yourself that it’s OK to let them!

I hope something in there helps you if this is something you’re working through.  And if you have any other tips or advice for introvert parents, I’d love to hear them!

DIY positivity

I had so many plans for last week. Baking projects, baby projects, crochet projects, blog posts… And then it all went wrong. My father-in-law went into the hospital for a minor procedure and ended up having major heart surgery. So instead of the baking and sewing and crocheting, I worked and took care of the baby and tried to just keep everyone going. Hopefully by the end of the week I’ll have finished at least one of my projects so that I can post it. But until then, I’m just working on staying positive.

While I was pregnant I took a lot of yoga classes. I was actually in a class the day before I went into labor! My favorite instructor at my local studio likes to start the class with a short story or anecdote from her week, and a quote that helps or inspires or encourages her. In the middle of my pregnancy I also lost my dad to cancer, so I was willing to take positivity wherever I could find it. It was around that time that she read this quote in class:

This really spoke to me, and inspired me a great deal through the pregnancy. Being a mom has definitely proven that it was worth turning my life upside down! So I’d like to share this with you today, and encourage you to embrace the change, big or small, because you never know if life will be better upside down! 

Pre-baby freezer stocking list and Cornish pasty recipe

As I mentioned when writing my toad in the hole recipe, the best idea I had in my final weeks of pregnancy was to fill my freezer to the brim with pre-made food.  I will start with a disclaimer here – I have a compulsive need to organize things, and there’s almost nothing I love more than a good spreadsheet.  Seriously, it comes right after family, friends, wine and chocolate!  So, armed with my trusty laptop, I spent many, many hours searching the internet for recipes that sounded good, and arranged them all in my mind-saving spreadsheet for easy access.

Now I realize that this doesn’t sound fun to some (OK, let’s try 99% of) people.  And so, what I’d like to do with the first part of this post is to share my own for you all to use as you wish.  The only thing that I have removed from the spreadsheet is the highlighting that I used to keep track of what I’d made and what was still to be done.  It’s a small thing, but I really recommend doing that as you go.  My list was really big, and my mental capacity at the time was teeny tiny!  It’s amazing we manage to get through pregnancy at all, with all of the things our darling unborn children do us along the way!

In it’s full form, this spreadsheet also included many other sheets, including our baby registry list, contact info for various people (in all seriousness, my husband could barely remember my name by the time we got to the hospital, we needed lists!), packing lists, lists of classes we were taking, and a few other things.  If you want a more comprehensive version, let me know and I’ll send it to you.  For now, this is purely my recipe list.  I didn’t actually get everything on this list made, mainly because my apartment contains a somewhat sorry excuse for a freezer, but I have since had everything on the list, and I personally like all of the recipes.  For things that don’t need a recipe, or for recipes that I already had myself, I just listed freezing instructions.  You’ll see when you look at it.  The spreadsheet is freely available for you to download.

Freezer list.

There is something on this list that you may not be overly (or at all) familiar with if you’re not from the UK, and that is Cornish pasties.  This is something that I have been eating since I was a child, because my Mum’s side of the family are all from Cornwall, and it’s one of those things that would always put a smile on my face when my Mum made them for us.  Originally, they were something that the tin miners would have had for lunch, with a savory filling at one end a sweet filling at the other end.  The folded crust made it nice and sturdy to hold, and would be thrown away so that they didn’t have to try to scrub their hands clean in the middle of a mine.  They’re very simple in terms of ingredients, but if you want to make the pastry from scratch, they can be time consuming.  The list does include a link to a recipe from the BBC website for shortcrust pastry if this is a route that you want to take.  I have to admit that I have never been good at making pastry.  Scratch that.  I’m terrible at it.  I have almost no issues with baking cakes, breads, other baked items.  But when it comes to pastry, the only success I’ve ever had is a recipe that uses a food processor and makes a sweet shortcrust pastry for a chocolate ganache pie.  So, being heavily pregnant and easily annoyed by almost anything, I cheated and used pre-made pie crust.  Does it taste as good as when my Mum makes it?  No.  Is it good enough when you’ve barely slept and only have 5 minutes to eat?  Hell yes.  The other ingredients are potato, onion, swede (also called turnip or rutabega, depending on where you are.  Only the Cornish call it turnip though, don’t confuse it with the small white things that the rest of us know as turnips!) and chuck steak.  You don’t even need to pre-cook anything.  We always used plates as templates to cut the pastry – side plates for smaller ones, dinner plates for large ones.  And when I say large, I mean enormous.  A side plate sized one is plenty for most people.

To make the pasties, cut your pastry into circles, and fill one side with a decent heap of diced potato, swede and onion.  Add some steak, also diced, and season with salt and pepper.  Fold the other side over, and use either milk or egg wash to make sure that the edges seal together.  Fold the sealed crust inwards, similar to a calzone, and transfer to a baking sheet.  Poke a hole in the side to let the steam escape, brush with milk or egg wash, and bake at 350 F for around 30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Done.  Personally I think they’re best hot with tomato ketchup, but they work cold too.  If you’re making a batch and freezing them, cook them, let them cool, wrap each one individually in foil and then freeze them all together in a large ziploc bag.  Then you can just pull out as many as you need, unwrap them and reheat from frozen in a 350 F oven for about 30 minutes.  I hope you enjoy the recipe, and if you give them a try please let me know how they turn out!

 

Crocheted plastic bag plastic bag holder

No, that’s not a typo you see in the title.  This is my plastic bag holder that I crocheted using plastic bags.  You know, the kind that you get 800 of from a trip to the grocery store where, if your local store is anything like mine, 2 would have been sufficient.  Despite my best efforts, we too frequently grabbed a few items on the way home from work without enough forward planning to have taken reusable bags with us.  And so began the mountain of plastic bags that ended up in our pantry.  My original plan was just to make something to store them in, but while rooting through my yarn stash I remembered just how versatile crochet can be in terms of it’s starting materials.  I originally learned to crochet because I wanted to make a flower to go on a bag that I was making, and I definitely got bitten by the crochet bug.  Despite spending years watching my Mom and Grandmother knit at what can only be described as the speed of light, knitting just never worked for me.  I never really understood shaping, and while I can get a half decent square or rectangle out of it, I just couldn’t get my head around anything more complicated than that.  Crochet on the other hand was a completely different story.  There’s something about it that’s inherently easier for me to understand, whether it involves changing the shape, changing the stitch styles, or a combination of the two.

Early on in my crochet journey, a friend mentioned something to me about crocheting with old t-shirts, allowing you to mix up fabrics and colors without spending a fortune on yarn.  It had never even occurred to me that something like that would even be a possibility.  So, when I started looking into how to make a plastic bag holder, it occurred to me that maybe I could kill two birds with one stone, and upcycle some of the bags by using them to make a holder for the others.  While looking around on the internet, I discovered that this is apparently not a new concept.  It’s typically referred to as plarn – plastic yarn.  I’ll admit I had my doubts.  After all, how many times have you come home from the grocery store and found the bag barely holding together because something ripped a tiny hole in the side which rapidly grew into the size of a small crater?!  But it turns out that this stuff is actually much sturdier to crochet with than it is to make bags out of. The reason is that it’s cut into small strips which end up being used at double thickness once they’ve been attached together.  This does, however, have a downside – it’s not particularly easy to work with because it isn’t that flexible.  I remember having to put it down and take a break at times because the plarn was hurting my hands.

Making the plarn on the other hand, is really really easy.  Take your plastic bag and cut off the bottom and the handles, leaving you with a tube.  Leave the sides in tact.  Then, fold it or roll it to make it easier to work with, and cut it into strips about 1/2 – 1 inch wide.  The exact width doesn’t matter, as long as they’re more or less the same, so don’t worry about trying to measure or be exact with it.  Unfold each piece – you should now have several circles.  To make one long piece, start joining them together.  Lay one on top of another and pull one end of the bottom circle through the top one.  Pull the top loop back through the bottom one, and gently pull them until a knot forms (sorry if that’s not the best explanation, hopefully the pictures will help!).  Keep joining more and more loops onto the end, giving you one long strand of plarn.  At some point you’ll want to start rolling it into a ball to keep it all under control.  If you start turning it into a center pull ball, then you can keep adding to the outer end while rolling from the inside.  I found this particularly useful, since I had no idea how much plarn I would need, so doing this allowed me to add extra bags as I was going.  There’s a good tutorial on how to do this here.  Now you have a ball of plarn, it’s time to start crocheting!

To make this plastic bag holder, you’ll need:

Your ball of plarn

2 elastic hair ties (you can use rubber bands if you want, but I find hair ties are easier to work with)

Crochet hook – the size isn’t too important, just make sure it isn’t too small because the tighter you make this, the more difficult the plarn is to work with.  I wouldn’t go with anything smaller than 6mm, but bigger would be fine.  It depends on what size you want, how tight you crochet and how pliable you find the plarn.

Row 1: Crochet around the first hair tie with single crochet.  My hair ties were old and getting a little stretched out, so for me this ended up being 18 sc.  The numbers I’ll use from here on are based on this, but if yours are different it isn’t important, you can add or remove stitches as necessary.

Row 2: chain 2 (counts as first dc), 2 dc in each stitch around (36 dc).

Row 3: chain 2 (counts as first dc), 2 dc in next stitch, repeat around (54 dc)

Row 4-18 (ish): chain 6 (counts as 1 dc and chain 4), skip 4 dc, dc in next stitch, *chain 4, skip 4 dc, dc in next stitch* repeat around.  From here on you’ll be working in spirals.  When you get back around to where you started row 4, there will be some overlap between the first and last set of chains and dc – just keep counting in 5s and working your way around to create a mesh – you want the dcs to be staggered from one round to the next.  Keep this going until you have a tube of the size that you want.   For me, this ended up being 15 rounds.

Row 19: dc in each stitch around (54 dc)

Row 20: dc2tog in each stitch around (27 dc)

Row 21: dc2tog in first stitch, dc in next stitch, repeat around (18 dc)

Row 22: sc in each stitch, crocheting around second hair tie

Row 23: chain required length for hanging loop (for me this was 14), sc in next stitch of row 22.  Fasten off and weave in ends.

And there you have it – an upcycled plastic bag holder that’s totally customizable for your needs and preferences.  Seeing as I already had all of the materials, this project cost me absolutely nothing!

Please note: you’re welcome to use this pattern for your own use and to make items to sell, but please link any posts back here.  Thanks!

DIY Wedding flowers

I know this is a pretty drastic detour from the baby posts, but this is something I really wanted to share with you all.

When my husband and I got married, I decided to do a lot of the more decorative components myself.  Partly to save money, and partly because I can get really particular about these kind of things, and was really concerned about the idea of somebody else getting it wrong, and getting paid for it, when I then wouldn’t be able to fix it and have it exactly the way I wanted.  I know… bridezilla much?!

Anyway, our whole color scheme was determined when I found one flower that I decided I absolutely HAD to have – these stunning blue dendrobium orchids.

tie-dye-single-500_9da7ce86

I had a couple of concerns with using these for DIY flower arrangements.  How would I get them into the foam so that they can get water?  Would they end up being so fragile that I had to buy twice as many, to account for all the ones I destroyed in the process?  So let me start by laying those concerns to rest.  They are not that fragile – we broke each flower off of the main stem, and they all survived just fine.  The small flower stems separate very easily from the main stem.  The water issue we solved using water picks.  If you’ve never seen them before, they’re basically small plastic tubes with a lid to keep the water in and spike to insert into the floral foam.  One per flower – honestly, a monkey could use these with complete success!

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With the major logistics figured out, next came a test run.  I had already decided to offset the blue with white roses, so I went to my local grocery store and bought a couple of bouquets each of orchids and roses.  I soaked the floral foam in the holder I was planning to use overnight, and then set to work inserting flowers, one ring at a time.  Since I had a couple of friends offer to help assemble the real ones, I was organized enough to take photos as I was going for instructional purposes!  I started with a complete circle of roses, then filled in the spaces in between them with orchids, another circle of roses, more orchids to fill the gaps, and so on until the whole thing was full.

Surprisingly, my first run at these went pretty well.  If you’ve ever considered doing your own wedding flowers and have been too afraid of how complicated it’ll be, let me assure you that this truly couldn’t have been easier.  From my trial run I figured out that I definitely needed more roses, and that each bouquet would take me about 30 minutes to put together.  In the grand scheme of wedding assembly, 2 hours for 4 bouquets was totally manageable for me, even without help.  So when it turned into 5 bouquets and 3 of us to put them together, it really wasn’t a huge amount of work.

 

Now, I will stress at this point, that this was 90% of the work we did on flowers.  We had a beautiful venue, the majority of which was outdoors, and so we could get away with doing very little in terms of floral arrangements.  It ended up being 4 small bouquets, 1 larger bouquet, 8 boutonnieres (which were even easier than the bouquets!), and 8 centerpieces.  This amounted to a total of 159 roses (of course, the exact number will depend on how big they are), 18 orchid stems (assuming they each had 6 usable flowers on them) and 32 stems of bear grass.  And so, a few days before the wedding, large volumes of flowers arrived at my apartment, and I spent several days trying to keep the cat from destroying them!  The bouquets were assembled just like we did with the practice one, just making sure all of the gaps were filled.  You really don’t want to overdo it with the orchids here – a little goes a long way.  The holders that we used had a hole in the end of the handle, so we took the 4th of the small bouquets (I had 2 bridesmaids a maid of honor, so the 4th was spare), and hung it upside-down from the archway that we used for the ceremony.  I would suggest if you plan on doing this, to fix the flowers in with floral adhesive, as a few of them did fall out over the course of the day.  And I warn you, these are heavy, so if you plan on throwing a bouquet at the end of the night, make an additional hand tied one so that you don’t give anyone a concussion!  Please note:  all of the photos of the finished flowers were taken by our wonderful photographer Johnny Dao (http://www.jdaophotography.com) and as such I ask you not to republish them elsewhere.  Thanks!

For the boutonnieres, I started with a rose, laid the orchids on top, wrapped a stem of bear grass a few times until it formed loops, and used floral tape and color coordinated ribbon to hold all of the stems together, which itself was held in place with pins.  These I didn’t put together until the day, so that the orchids wouldn’t die, and we stored them all in water picks to keep the roses hydrated.

The centerpieces were incredibly simple but really beautiful.  We took large glass bowls and put in a couple of bags of small stones which I got at the dollar store.  We wrapped 3 stems of bear grass around the inside of the bowl and filled it around 2/3 full with water.  Then, just floated 2 rose heads and 2 orchids in each.  Seriously, they were so easy that even with all of my bridezilla-everything-must-be-perfect-or-I’ll-have-to-punch-someone things going on, I entrusted these to other people.  There’s honestly no real way to mess it up at all.

And that’s really all there was to it.  Yes, it takes some time, but it honestly doesn’t have to be the all consuming, will take you a month if you haven’t had years of training, type thing that a lot of people think it is.  So if you’re thinking of maybe doing your own wedding flowers I would love to encourage you to at least have a practice run and see what you think.  And before you start with the “oh, but I’m not artistic or creative enough” lines, let me tell you that I have the artistic skills of a 3 year old!  As long as the colors work together and you don’t try to do anything horrifically complicated, a few hours and a few friends is plenty to make it work.