The first three months with The Biscuit

Well. They say having a baby changes your priorities, and this is true. While he’s awake, it seems impossible to do anything but pay attention to him. And while he’s sleeping, you’re doing everything else – laundry, dishes, eating, sleeping, and any job-related stuff that absolutely can’t be put off another day. The blog falls by the wayside. I expect this trend will continue for some time.

So, he came. Contractions woke me up at around 6am on the morning of August 20th. Surprise! They were more than two weeks early, and first babies are usually late. I mistakenly thought, given that I felt strong and healthy at the end of my pregnancy, that the labor and birth would be relatively easy. Unfortunately not. After 27 hours of excruciating pain, but still not enough dilation, the midwife suggested an oxytocin drip. This meant a transfer to the labor ward, where I was also offered an epidural. I reluctantly accepted both, out of pure exhaustion. Four hours later, Russell was born. I can’t really describe the moment they put him on my chest – even though I had 9 months to get used to the idea, it was still an overwhelming surprise when suddenly there was a new person there, where there wasn’t one before. Out of the three of us, I think Russell cried the least.

The hospital stay was pretty wretched. They’d had to resort to a forceps delivery, so Russell had sad little bruises on his face, and his body temperature and blood sugar were low. I’d sustained a third-degree tear and a combination of bad drug reactions and just plain fatigue had me wrecked. But we had each other, and, during visiting hours, we had Brad, who brought him clothes and nappies, and me food and magazines, and spent every minute he could with us until the midwives would kick him out. After five long days in the ward, they released us into the wild. One positive thing about the long stay was that by the time we got out, Russell and I had more or less figured out breastfeeding*, and Brad and I had started to feel comfortable with holding, changing, cleaning, etc., after getting advice and help from the midwives. So we were nervous, but knew we had mastered the basics. He was already gaining weight when the midwives came by the day after we brought him home. All the clothes we had were still far too big for him though. Luckily our lovely neighbor had recently had a baby who was also on the small side, and she loaned us a bunch of “tiny baby” onesies. It wasn’t until he was over a month old that he fit in the “newborn” size.

I look at those tiny baby onesies now and marvel at how little and fragile he was. Back then, just leaving the house with him seemed like a scary and complicated endeavor, so I hardly left. I was slow to recover anyway, so it was actually not such a bad thing to be curled up on the couch with him most of the time. Brad was home too, and lots of people came by to visit, so I wasn’t lonely. At first he slept all the time. You might think that sounds good, but it was nerve-wracking. At night we’d set an alarm to go off every four hours to make sure he was getting enough to eat. By the time he was 4 weeks old, though, he was crying a lot, hungry all the time, and starting to spend more time awake and looking around.

They say this time is fleeting, but to me each month has felt like a year. His development is not the rapid cascade I expected — each tiny improvement in his motor control seems like a long-fought battle. He babbles and smiles now, and can hold his head up well. He seems to enjoy our funny sound effects and silly songs and cuddling. He focuses his eyes on objects. But he can’t reach for things — he doesn’t yet know his hands are his own. His digestive system is still his worst enemy, keeping him (and us) awake for long hours during the night. His eyes are bright and wise, but then his head lolls over and milk dribbles down his chin. Learning is slow and hard. I think half the time he’s crying it’s out of pure frustration.

And our lives proceed. We’ve gone on a few road-trips and walks, which we’ll try to post about someday soon — he’s quite happy in the car, and he quite likes being outside if the weather is good. But there is no question that our days are very different now than they were before, and will be for a while. I’ve been to the climbing wall four times in three months. I’ve started avoiding my email because of all the people waiting for help, answers, comments . . . I do what I can, and try not to feel guilty about the rest. Nappies and poo are dinner conversation. Being peed upon is no big deal. Burps and farts are events to be warmly applauded. Sleep is nice if you can get it, but there’s no point in getting upset when you can’t. I do laundry every single day. It all sounds a bit grim, but you know what? It’s awesome.

Below are some pictures of our first three months together, in chronological order.

*I’d been warned, repeatedly, that breastfeeding would take some time to master, and kept thinking, how hard can this be, really? Baby, breast, put them together. But it really was very hard to get the hang of it – the baby has a sucking reflex but doesn’t know what it’s for, and you have to trigger the reflex at just the right moment, and hold the baby in just the right position, for everything to line up. After a few weeks it’s easy, because you both know what to do, but until then it’s baffling, painful, and frustrating.

On climbing pregnant

I didn’t climb much during the first trimester. I was tired a lot, and the few times I did get out I felt at risk of throwing up on my belayer, which wouldn’t have been a very nice experience for either of us. By week 14 I couldn’t even do a pull-up anymore – I don’t think it was the weight, because I hadn’t put on much by then – it just felt like my core muscles had shut down. So I thought my climbing days were over for a while. But when the nausea and sleepiness of the first trimester started to dissipate, I found I really wanted to get back to climbing.  Some inspiring articles and blogs from other women who climbed through their pregnancies prompted me to start looking at full-body harnesses on line (they fit around your legs and shoulders, and have a tie in point at chest level, above the bump). At first it seemed a bit frivolous to spend £80 on a harness when I wasn’t sure for how long and how much I’d be able to climb. And the harness, a Petzl 8003, is pretty much the only option, and it’s not designed with pregnant rock climbers in mind — no padding, the gear loops are tiny and in the way, and the smaller of the two sizes is still far too large for me, so there’s lots of extra webbing hanging off it. But I definitely don’t regret buying it. The only time it’s been really uncomfortable was on a longer mountain route with hanging belays and long abseils. With lots of gear to carry and no padding, it was pinchy and awkward — not on the bump, but pretty much everywhere else. For the indoor wall and single pitches outside it does the job well enough, though.

I was a bit nervous the first time I wore the full-body harness at the climbing wall. I’d never seen anyone climbing pregnant there before and I wasn’t sure how people would react. I knew that what I was doing felt perfectly safe and healthy, but being pregnant can make you self-conscious – perhaps justifiably so, since a lot of people who previously wouldn’t have given you a second glance, upon noticing your belly, suddenly have an opinion. It’s usually a positive one though, at least in my experience, and such was the case at the climbing wall — everyone was really encouraging and I felt comfortable right away, so I needn’t have worried. I still feel conspicuous though, especially when I’m lowering off an overhanging route, which is awkward with a big belly and the high tie-in point — you feel a bit like a carcass dangling on a meat hook. But the climbing itself, that feels great. Aside from yoga and swimming (neither of which I’m crazy about),  I can’t think of any activities that are as low-impact, safe, and good for your back and pelvis muscles as straightforward toproping at an indoor climbing wall.

Thanks to Brad, I have managed to get climbing outside at least a dozen times this season as well, despite it being, so far anyway, the rainiest summer on record here. I’ve been picky about locations and conditions – I’ve avoided loose rock, sketchy approaches, awkward rappels, and any risk of getting caught out by high tides. Moreover, as soon as I got the full-body harness I stopped leading — it was too awkward to carry much gear anyway, and while falling would probably be fine, I just wouldn’t know for sure until it happened, and I didn’t want to take the risk. Because I’m just out to have fun following other people up whatever they want to climb, I haven’t been as willing to put up with uncomfortable conditions, like cold/wind/wet. Despite having a lot of criteria, I’ve had some really nice days out, both on the sea cliffs and in the hills. We haven’t been in the hills as much as I’d like, or out to the west coast at all, but all in all, it’s been a far better summer of climbing than I expected. I’m not much of a boulderer anyway, but I also did some easy circuits in Font at around 18 weeks, staying well within my comfort zone and carefully checking the top-outs and descents off each boulder before I went up.

I keep waiting for climbing to start to feel awkward. Now that I’m at 8 months, I waddle to the crag or the wall, and I can barely breathe while I’m lacing up my shoes. My core muscles are gone and I weigh almost 16kg more than I did 8 months ago. So my attitude every time I tie in and start up a route has been to just focus purely on enjoying the exercise, and if it feels hard for the grade or I can’t do it, that’s perfectly fine — just climb something else. But, actually, the climbing really hasn’t reached the point where it feels difficult or awkward. My finger strength, balance, and flexibility are better than ever, and even though I’m not climbing at the same level as I was before, it’s usually because there is some particular thing, like an obstacle near my belly, or an unavoidable high step, that makes me decide to lower off without trying it. I do have to turn my body to one side or the other more, think through the moves before I start them, and be a little more clever with my feet, and some of these techniques probably help, but I think there is also some physiological compensation going on – for example, the body releases the hormone relaxin during pregnancy which makes the hips and pelvis way more flexible than normal. And there’s a huge increase in blood volume (30-50%) and circulating cortisol during pregnancy, which means more energy getting to the muscles. Whatever the reason, the extra weight and loss of core strength hasn’t had as devastating an impact as you’d think. In fact, it feels so natural and easy to be climbing that I almost forget about being huge – it’s only when I top out a route and I’m standing on horizontal ground that I’m back to feeling heavy and off-balance.

I’ve been lucky to feel fit and healthy through the pregnancy – I know better than to take this for granted, and I’m not going to presume it means everything is going to be easier than I thought it would be. We’re both excited about this new turn our lives are about to take, but it wasn’t a decision I took lightly at all — the knowledge of all the things I may have to sacrifice, both at work and in my personal life, weighed really heavily in my mind. Climbing was one of the things I thought I might have to give up, for a while anyway, and I thought that sacrifice would come sooner than the rest. So it’s been a lovely surprise to discover I didn’t have to give it up after all – and being pregnant has even added an interesting new dimension to the climbing experience.

On the sea cliffs near Newtonhill, about 34 weeks pregnant. (Thanks to Matthew for the photo!)

Weekend in Tuscany, May 25-29

We spent the long weekend in May in Siena. We flew out of Aberdeen at 6am friday morning and by late afternoon we were on a bus from Rome to Siena. Laurie met us at the bus stop and, after dropping our bags off at the hotel, we had a lovely dinner in the big Piazza, which has a tower and lots of sparrows and is lined with restaurants.  The menu had really bad english translations of their options – I don’t remember what I had for a main, but the starter was something like “black cabbage thrown on the furnace” (and it was delicious). Afterwards we got some gelato and walked by the Duomo. Magnifico!

On Saturday, we did Siena. In the morning we visited the home of St Catherine. Her home has been decorated in gorgeous Frescoes depicting scenes from her completely fascinating life story. We also went into St Catherine’s basilica, which has a couple of rather gruesome relics — her finger and her head — mounted in cases, and is otherwise quite a plain but airy space. The basilica was an interesting contrast to the Duomo, which we visited next. The outside is amazing enough, but the inside is just crazy. The most amazing thing is probably the floor, which is an enormous marble mosaic, sectioned off with different artists contributing different scenes and images from history and the bible.  But everything else was mindblowing as well, with amazing frescoed chapels, statues by Michelangelo and Bernini, paintings by Donatello, amazing guilded walls and dazzling ceilings, and on and on. We also went into the Duomo museum and up to the tower to take in the view. In the evening we went to a piano concert (Mozart and Schubert – not very Italian, but nice anyway!) and then had dinner (again, I can’t remember what exactly, but pasta and/or pizza is a safe bet).

Sunday was an epic day. We walked a long way out of the center of Siena to get to the train station, where we caught a train to Asciano, a tiny village of which we walked from one end to the other in about 10 minutes. The plan was to visit a monastery which was about 11km away. Being Sunday, there were no buses running and no taxis in the village, and the bike shop was closed for the day. So we walked there. My 6-months-pregnant feet are about a full size bigger than they should be, so my shoes felt too small, and it was about 28C, which is about 10 degrees hotter than it ever gets in Scotland, so I had a few cranky moments, but we made it, and had a picnic lunch outside under the umbrella trees. The monastery was gorgeous – more lovely frescoes and lovely rooms, a big library and stunning chapel, and actual monks roaming around in white robes. Then we got back on the road and walked another 10.5 km to the next village, Buonconvento. Given that was a little sore and a bit whiny after the first 11km, you can imagine what pleasant company I was after the next 10km – sorry Laurie and Brad!! But they took good care of me. We caught a bus back from Buonconvento back to Siena, where I went straight to bed.

On monday we spent a bit more time in Siena, visiting a few more churches and neighborhoods, and then caught a bus to Montipulciano, a lovely hilltop town in a famous wine-producing region. The town is stunning, with amazing steep and narrow streets ending with views over the tuscan countryside. Brad tried some of the famous Montipulciano wine and declared it delicious, while I tried not to be a little jealous (it wasn’t that hard, because I was eating amazing spinach flan and other yummy things). Then we had to run to catch our respective buses – Laurie back to Siena, and us to another small town with a train station, and then a train to Rome.

We arrived in Rome and checked into our hotel, which was a few blocks from the main station, and found some dinner – I had some awesome eggplant parmesan followed by the best tiramisu ever. In the morning we did a major blitz of roman sites – we walked through the colosseum, the roman forum, and the pantheon, and we walked by the monument to Victor Emmanuel II and the Trevi fountain. Then we caught a train to the airport, and the flight home again; Sore feet, some minor sunburns, and a lot of gelato later!

June visit from my folks

We’re way behind with our posts – reports from an April trip to France and a May trip to Italy are in various states of completion, along with a few climbing adventures and tales of home renovations. But since Mom and Dad just left a few days ago after a great visit, and we have lots of pictures that I’m sure the family will want to see, I’m just going to post a gallery rather than attempt any long descriptions that might end up getting endlessly stuck in the draft folder like the posts above.

Geneva

From time to time, work takes me away for brief trips to give presentations or have meetings. Normally I don’t get much chance to see the place I’m in (or it’s not a place where there is much to see anyway) but recently I found myself with a free morning in Geneva. I’d never been there before, and really enjoyed a rambling walk through the old city and along the lake. I even managed to take a few photos.

Camping at Loch Muick

Last weekend we cycled in to Loch Muick and camped in the Glas Allt Forest, a lovely pine forest that backs the Royal family’s “bothy” on the shores of Lock Muick. It was crazy windy on Saturday during the day and all night, so the protection offered by the forest was appreciated, although the thought of deadfall squishing us flat in the middle of the night did occur to us.

By the time we got in and set up the tent it was already well into the afternoon, but we thought we’d see how close we could get to the summit of Lochnagar before it got dark. So we hiked up Glas Allt to the Lochnagar plateau.

Once we got above the snowline, the wind was fierce and the visibility nonexistent. But we continued until it seemed to be starting to get dark, and then we turned back and went back down to camp. Amazing the difference between the snowy, windy, inhospitable plateau and the comparably warm and cozy forest below.

A wild and woolly night dawned clear and warm, so we decided to stick around and walk up to and around Loch Dubh, which is a smaller loch above Loch Muick which we’d been to before. It has a lovely sandy beach where we sat and contemplated the steep frowning glories of the Dubh Loch crag.

 

After a leisurely walk around the less travelled side of the lake it was time to head back down. The temperature kept increasing as the day progressed and by the time we got back to Loch Muick it seemed a good idea to dip our hot and tired feet in the loch. The water was refreshingly icy, and the sun was nice and warm.

Then there was nothing for it but to tear down, pack up, and cycle back to the car. The thermometer on the car read 18C. Not bad for March in the hills!

Recipe Wednesday: Rice vermicelli stir fry

It’s important to rinse rice vermicelli thoroughly in cold water after cooking to keep them from getting sticky. You can let them sit after rinsing, but rinse them again right before adding them to the pan.  Rice noodles are so nasty when the noodles all stick together and get all gummy! We’ve experimented with those pre-cooked packages of noodles you add directly to the pan and haven’t been impressed – they take a long time to separate, so they don’t save you much time, and they never get that nice slippery noodle texture. In this recipe I briefly boil the green beans in the rice noodle water before draining and rinsing them together with the noodles – this cooks the beans just a little bit, and keeps them crisp and bright green.

Ingredients

  • 5-6 mushrooms, thickly sliced or quartered
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, diced
  • 1 thumb of ginger, diced
  • 1 chilli, diced
  • mirin
  • fried tofu (I cheat with a package of frozen, pre-fried tofu from Matthew’s foods)
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • soy sauce
  • Handful of green beans, ends removed, cut into thirds
  • Rice vermicelli. In the packages they are usually pressed into cuboids, and I usually use 3 of these for the 2 of us.

Directions

  • Put water on to boil for the noodles.
  • Saute the shallots and mushrooms in veggie oil for 5-6 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, ginger, chilli and a splash of mirin and soy sauce and cook for another minute or two
  • Stir in the tofu and peppers and cook for another couple of minutes.
  • When the water is boils, add the noodles and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add the green beans, continue to cook for another minute. Drain and immediately rinse well in cold water.
  • Add the noodles and beans to the pan with more soy sauce (to taste). Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Recipe Wednesday: Quickie Quinoa

It’s probably not so surprising that we do our most creative cooking when we need to throw something together quickly out of what is left in the fridge. Such was the case when we got home late from the climbing wall last friday and there wasn’t much in the house. Quinoa to the rescue! It’s quick and versatile and nutritious. This is kind of a mexican-style pilaf. You can’t really go wrong with chipotle and pumpkin seeds.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup quinoa
  • 1 bouillon cube
  • vegetable oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 2 chipotle peppers, diced
  • 1 small zucchini, chopped
  • 1 small yellow pepper, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • handful of pumpkin seeds
  • chopped fresh parsley

Directions

  • Rinse the quinoa thoroughly and put it in a pot with 1 cup of water and the bouillon cube. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the water is absorbed.
  • While the quinoa simmers, saute the onion and carrot in veggie oil with some salt and pepper.
  • When they begin to soften (5-7 minutes), add the chipotles, zucchini, and yellow peppers. Saute for another 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the the tomatoes and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  • When the quinoa is ready, stir in the veggies, pumpkin seeds, and avocado. Serve garnished with parsley and a little sharp cheddar, if you like.

Agag’s groovy

After Brad and I climbed Squareface a few months back, Johannes made me a tick list of 10 classic easy multi-pitch routes in Scotland. Soon after, the weather took a bad turn and I’ve had to (im)patiently wait for it to be good enough to get back out and start ticking. A few weeks ago, finally, we got on number 7: Agag’s groove, on the Rannoch Wall in Glen Coe (and last week we got on number 9: Cioch Direct in Applecross, but more on that at a later date). Agag’s groove is on Buchaille Etive Mor, which is a huge lump of granite that stands sentinel over the Rannoch moor at the head of the awesome Glen Coe valley.

To get to the base of the route, you climb halfway up Curved Ridge and then exit off left into a gully to the base of the wall. So you’re already pretty far up the mountain before you officially start climbing. It’s a popular route and by the time we got to the base, there was a party on the route and another waiting in line. So we settled in to wait. Luckily it was a nice sunny day, so we didn’t mind.

I led the first pitch, which was a good long pitch through pretty easy terrain to a big ledge with a boulder sitting on it – easy belay. I brought Brad up and he climbed through and did pitch 2, which was a fairly straightforward ramp and corner. Brad brought me up and we waited on that ledge for some time, because the people two parties ahead of us seemed to be held up. We never did figure out what was going on up there, but luckily the folks ahead and behind us were friendly and patient, and we passed the time in amiable conversations despite the fact that we were crowded onto tiny ledges, hanging on gear in various cracks and slung blocks. The party behind us was a group of three lovely old guys who last did the route 40 years ago. They had since all moved away, and had reunited to come back and visit some of their old haunts. They were having a blast and their enthusiasm was infectious. But really, who couldn’t have a blast on a route like this?

 

The third pitch was mine, and it’s the “juicy” one – steep and exposed, on big holds. I was having a grand time running it out until I reached the very end of the pitch – several body lengths above my last piece I stood up into a steep corner and grabbed a big hold – it looked solid but started rocking backward slowly. A readjustment of my balance and swift grab to a higher hold saved me from taking a long ride. Good thing that happened at the end of my last pitch, because I would have been leading a lot more timidly after that! Brad came up and led through to the top, and then it was all over too soon. Although not really over — I don’t know if we got off route or what, but the traverse over to the top of curved ridge was extremely sketchy! The climb down the ridge was a bit more straightforward but also required a lot of care. Then we had the long steep downward trudge back to the road, but it was such a nice evening that we didn’t mind.

 

Logie Head

Logie Head is a fin of hard sandstone that sticks northward into the moray firth off the end of a peninsula. It looks dull grey from a distance but up close and in the sunshine it’s got lots of sparkly silver and golden streaks – and sitting where it does, it catches a lot of morning sun. It’s dead vertical, and composed of lovely smooth rock with lots of incut cracks and breaks that take nice gear. The climbing is delicate and well-protected, and the grades seem a little soft. So even though I climbed my first VS on this wall a few weeks ago, and found it quite straightforward, I’m not taking it as a sign to start jumping on any old VS. (The picture below is not the VS route, but a nearby HS.) But it was encouraging! I do have a half-dozen or so HS climbs under my belt now, so perhaps more VS level climbs will be forthcoming soon. . .

We’ve been up there twice this summer, and the first time it was a little windblown and chilly so we moved to another area after doing only one route each. I did the HS pictured above. Brad’s route was a delicate E2 on tiny holds called Holy Ground. I think it might be the first E2 I’ve followed without falling (or complaining!).

The second time we went up with Ben and Sarah and Dan, and climbed some routes not only on the main face but also on the Pinnacle, which is a gorgeous west-facing wall tucked into a narrow hidden bay. It’s a nice arrangement, really, since we could climb on the main face in the sun all morning and then move to the pinnacle to continue climbing in the sun all afternoon, stretching out a long, perfect, sunny day. It’s been pretty rainy lately, so squeezing out all the sun we can, while we can, is a top priority.