Thursday, 14 December 2017

Relaxing as a Mum: Spa Experience Baby Massage

"Enjoy sleeping/eating/showering in privacy whilst you still can!"

Before Miss P arrived already-parents would take great pleasure in reminding me to make the most of being solo. But deep in the anticipation of a new arrival you sort of shrug it off... it's not until you're in the thick of parenthood that you realise how uncharming fighting over who gets to eat your breakfast and having someone grinning at you when you pee actually is...

As a new parent it can be hard to find time for yourself. Whilst you wouldn't change your situation for the world you also find yourself longing for the days when you could go to supermarket solo and when you had enough spare hands to actually use a basket! How easy things used to be.

Some parts of your life you can roll a new baby into - you adapt - the coffee with a friend now involves a high chair and sticky fingers grabbing for your mug, the exercise regime evolves into baby-friendly classes... But there is very little that can be done to find much me-time. It's very much evolved into 'we-time' and there is definitely no time to down tools are relax. You're on the go 24/7.

So when Miss P and I were invited to Spa Experience in Kensington to experience their baby massage class I didn't need to think too hard.  Baby classes tend to be bright, colourful, sensory sessions that don't so much relax, but exhaust! Before Miss P was born we shared an amazing experience at a spa, and I wondered whether this would give us more special time bonding, whilst also hopefully giving us the chance to do something less 'glittery' and potentially relax in each other's company.

Miss P settled into the massage almost immediately - as soon as I was guided through the first few movements on her legs by our instructor Neji, she started grinning.

She happily lay on her back whilst I oiled my hands and gently rubbed her legs and feet. She was fascinated by the massage oil. She stilled. I felt myself relaxing whilst massaging her. No it wasn't my pre-baby spa experience, but there was something deeply soothing about knowing I was doing something wonderful for my little girl. She was beaming.

We sang some gentle nursery rhymes, Miss P giggled along. This was quite unlike her other classes, where she's needed a few exposures to get into the swing of things... something clearly just clicked. She was happy. Content. Relaxed.

At the end of the class, she fell asleep almost immediately - right on the yoga mat she'd been using. Sleeping baby = massive win! And with the added bonus that whilst asleep she couldn't notice my smoothie!

One very happy mummy!

I think our first mummy-daughter Spa Day was a positive experience - may it be the start of many more!

Thanks for having us Spa Experience, and for introducing us to a new way to bond.

The Kensington Spa Experience Baby Massage classes start in January 2018 - within the well appointed Kensington Leisure Centre. Parking is limited, but close to tube lines, and buggy parking is available inside.

This post has been written in collaboration with Spa Experience Kensington - however all content is true to my own thoughts, experiences and memories.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Top 5 Lactose Free Foods - How going lacto-free doesn't have to be difficult

Little Miss P spent the first few weeks of her life screaming. She was sick. A lot. You expect some milky overflow, but it seemed to really upset her.  I'd sit up at night listening to our tiny baby girl in her Moses basket gagging, spluttering, snorting, grunting... Every time I picked her up to feed her, I discovered her baby grow sodden with sour milk.

But that was normal right? Newborns don't sleep well. Babies are always sick.

Then one night she screamed all night. She was inconsolable. Everything she ate, came back up. She wasn't just upset, it was like something horrendous was happening that she couldn't explain. Mummy cuddles couldn't make it better. She was distressed, I was in tears. I woke Hubby sobbing, totally powerless to help my little girl. In the end she screamed so much that she pushed her belly button out.

At our 6 week check our GP diagnosed her new 'outie' as a small umbilical hernia and for the first time raised the suspicion  that she had a lactose intolerance. I was primarily breast feeding so an intolerance hadn't crossed my mind... I was told to exclusively breastfeed for two weeks, and to cut dairy out of my diet immediately. Having never had any need to watch my diet (aside from a highly successful spell at Slimming World) I became a fanatic label reader overnight... And slowly my little girl started sleeping more soundly, her tears dried up, and my washing machine wasn't working as hard.

Four months down the line her belly button has settled back in and I'm really in the swing of lacto-free. 

I know it can feel like a minefield when ylu suddenly have to avoid foods so I thought I would share the top 5 products that have helped me to transition to a world without lactose.

1. Arla Lactose Free Semi-skimmed milk

When I first left the doctors surgery I thought that lactofree meant I needed to essentially go vegan. I swapped out all my milk, yogurts, cheese for soya and nut alternatives. Whilst the yogurt was good, it quickly became clear to me that I hated almond milk in tea... I was desperate.  I then discovered Arla. Real milk that has somehow had the lactose removed!  My tea no longer had the tell-tale oily residue at the bottom of the mug, and my morning coffee was back to normal. That small change made a huge difference psychologically - I could do this.*

2. Arla Lactose Free Semi-skimmed UHT sachets

(Okay, so maybe this should be 1A as this is essentially the same product, but I think it deserves its own shout out.)

One of the lovely things about maternity leave is making new friends. Taking your babies for playdates and grabbing 5 minutes for Mum with a quick coffee and natter.  Whilst the big coffee shops have soya milk, there's always the time when a lacto-free isn't available, or when you're visiting another Mum and they only have 'normal' milk in the fridge. I keep these little sachets always in a dedicated pocket in my changing bag - UHT so they don't need refridgerating they are always on hand to add to one of those much needed coffees.

3. The Foodie Market Almond and Raisin/ Peanut and Chocolate Chip Cocoa Brownie Bars

The thing that I've missed out on the most since going lacto-free are puddings. I was always someone who would flip to the back of a menu in a restaurant to check out the desserts before selecting my main meal. Whilst I've found that a lot of the big chains suck at catering for dairy-free, some independent coffee shops make their own stock and often have an option available, but sadly I've found that I've had to miss out a lot.  And when you're breastfeeding you want that extra calorie hit!

So these bad boys have been a life saver. I actually make a special trip to Aldi for them. They aren't in their free from section, but they are shelved with their healthier bars... they are nice and chewy and chocolatey with a satusfying crunch from the peanut/almond. Yum yum yum.

4. CocoLoco Coconut Oil

I've always loved baking. But it took me a little while to realise that being lactose free meant I'd need rethink my usual baking habit. How do you cook without milk, butter, yogurt etc... coconut oil had worked amazingly for me. It can be really expensive, but again Aldi has come to the rescue with a large jar for just over £3. Since switching to the coconut oil I've had 3 people ask for my brownie recipe! If you're lucky, I'll write up the recipe and will share on here too.

5. Oreos and PartyRings

So technically these are two different things but what I love about these classic biscuits is that they are not specifically dairy free! They are found in the 'normal' aisle! Hey, and it's not a party without Party Rings!

* It should be noted that lacto-free and dairy free are not the same. Having lactose free products may not be sufficient if a dairy intolerance is suspected. Always work with your GP

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Baby Loss Awareness Week - Finding the words to talk about my rainbow baby

The English language is a great thing. For those of us who enjoy writing, we can mould and shape words into beautiful landscapes, capture memories, and share details of personal moments. Words bring us closer together. But what happens when there are no words? I started Learning Early four years ago when I first found out I was pregnant, and naively threw myself into baby-world, immediately deciding to blog my way through pregnancy.  Hubby and I were ecstatic, the situation wasn’t ideal, but we knew we’d make it work.  I remember it clearly – it was a Sunday morning, I’d suspected for a few days, but needed to wait until I took the test.  I sat in the bathroom, trying not to peek before the required 2 minutes had passed… but right on queue little blue line appeared.  I woke hubby up with the news, he swore a bit, grinned, and then scooped me up in his arms and laughed. We lay in bed for a while in a bubble of happy contentment, chatting about our new future as a threesome  – his hand occasionally stroking my belly.  

We excitedly told our families.

We could have only been five weeks gone when I found myself gazing through a shop window at all the baby toys and trinkets, when hubby squeezed my hand and asked if I wanted to buy something…

Miscarriage never crossed my mind.  

A couple of weeks later we lost our baby.  And with that moment the words started to dry up.

Child loss plunges you into darkness.  You grieve for the life you’ve lost, but also for the future.  There’s a moment in the scan room when the world that you’d so carefully started to build and cultivate in your mind just evaporates.

And you’re alone.

We spent days crying - I told colleagues I had back ache.

I was prescribed codine for the pain - I told the pharmacist I had whiplash.

I stuck to the taboos.  Kept the real source of my pain hidden.  Slowly, I started to paste a smile on my face that I didn’t feel and head back to the real world.  I hated every second.  I was lonely.  I wanted others to understand the pain I was feeling.  I wanted comfort.  I wanted to talk about my child. But I didn’t.

I never thought that it would take 4 years to fall pregnant again.  I started Learning Early anonymously because I was worried that potential employers would find it and become aware of my family plans, but slowly when no pregnancy appeared, my blog slowly dried up... 

Then I had a missed miscarriage in February 2016. We’d learnt from our first pregnancy and had decided not to share our pregnancy news with our families (why risk causing them the pain of a lost future too?), but told them and a few close friends about the miscarriage. We needed support.  I’d decided not to blog about the pregnancy either – I felt I’d been na├»ve previously, but now that the little one was gone, I didn’t know how to bring up that loss on a blog that I was already struggling to maintain…

I wasn’t ashamed.  But it was really really tough on me physically.  I got an infection, I needed constant check ups and scans at the hospital – and I fell back into old habits.  Twisting the truth to not make others uncomfortable about our situation, our loss, our grief,– I was seeing the doctor for “a surgery follow up” or I “needed a blood test” or whatever I could come up with on the spot.  I felt guilty.  I was reducing the loss of our son to a check up.

I've inadvertently gone by all the stereotypes that I've learnt to hate.  I despise the miscarriage taboos. We should talk.  We should support.  We should share our stories.  Miscarriage is horrible.  Miscarriage is painful.  But miscarriage is awfully common. There’s no reason it should be isolating.  

For those of us who have experienced this loss, we need stories of hope – we need to know that after all the suffering and grey skies there is the potential for happier times.  We keep on chasing those rainbows.  

Little Miss P's 12 Week Scan

It’s been a long road, but I’m currently nursing my little rainbow.  It took a while to find the words, to tell people we were expecting for a third time, and for then those words to take shape into physical action. Eventually Hubby and Father in Law started working on turning our third bedroom the nursery.  We bought a buggy. For my birthday Hubby got me a nursing chair.  

Then in May this year the little bubble of happiness that I had been growing in my belly swelled to new heights when our much waited for, and much loved daughter arrived by cesarean section.  Her warm little body curled up again mine, I have never felt such peace and joy as in that moment.  It felt like we’d crossed a finish line, and  won the biggest prize.

This week is Baby Loss Awareness Week, and it will also mark five months since Little Miss P’s arrival.

Hubby and I have lost two children – and we will never know why,  What I do know though is that no one should go through that alone, or think that loss will be the end of their story.   We hold our little girl close every day and love her fiercely and are grateful to have her in our lives.

I shouldn't have kept quiet about our earlier losses. I think I was trying to protect myself in someway, but I am ready to come out of the shadows.  To openly come clean online, shake off my anonymity and to not just tell my story, but to really share my experience.  

I firmly believe that we should all talk. Loss is nothing to be ashamed of. 

I will never forget the children that I have not been able to hold, but we are constantly making plans for  Miss P our rainbow baby, and the family that we have become.  Yes we continue to be anxious, and careful, and jumpy – but what parents aren’t? But we also enjoying bonding over our little one, from her first kicks to her first smile, wondering what her taste in music will be, and whether she will also love words as much as her Mum and Dad…

We know we’ll have lots to teach our little one, and lots to learn.

My name is Claire Dunford.  

I am Learning Early.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Midwives rock- It's never too late to say Thanks

I've been  off the radar for the last few months.

It happened. I became a mum.

And it was as wonderful and as earth shifting as I expected - if not more. My little girl has become totally all encompassing. I'm in love. I'm besotted. But I wanted to take this time to build our little family together rather than share it on this blog. To be honest, we had a bit of bumpy ride getting here, so I needed to take time to properly digest!

But I'm ready to revisit.

I'll share my birth story at another date, but when I logged in today I came across I blog left in my drafts, written on the hospital ward 5 months ago... so I thought I'd better start with that:

5th May 2017

I try not be to be a judgmental person.

I like to have a diverse range of friends, different backgrounds, genders, sexual preferences, political leanings... But having been on an antenatal ward for 5 days I have to admit that people are really starting to grate on me.

I got admitted to hospital quite suddenly last week, and since then I have been a resident of 'Ward 21' at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough.

I would like to just say that the midwives and support staff on the ward are superstars.  They see women in their rawest of moments, are supportive when the women is swearing and screaming, belligerent when the woman needs to do something different, and patient when dealing with complaints from stressed birthing partners that can't understand why their loved one isn't being prioritized.  The emotional swells that that I have seen the team react and respond to over the last 5 days would be insurmountable for the majority of people, but these ladies just take it all on the chin as part of their working day.

My view.
These ladies are part caregiver, part confidant, part customer services operative, and they deftly juggle all of these hats.

So how can it be that some people take it on to themselves to be plain rude to these hard grafting women (all the midwives on the ward are ladies, no generalizing here!)? I've seen midwives sworn at, bullied and threatened. And not at women in the throes of labour, which I could partly excuse, but by men and women who feel that they somehow deserve more, or better than what they are getting.
Of course childbirth, and becoming a parent can be a terrifying experience for a lot of couples, you're caught in an emotional swirl that you can't escape. You're on a train and you can't jump off until it reaches that inevitable station.  As a heavily pregnant woman, you are both amazingly powerful and powerless. But it is also a leveler.  And there is no reason that you should take it out on the midwifery staff.

So I just wanted to say, because I'm sure people don't say it enough: Team, you guys rock.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

What do baby's movements feel like?

Today marks the mid point of pregnancy Week 34. So for me somewhere between 4-5 weeks before we meet our little one (I'm having a planned C-Section due to Major Placenta Previa, but that story is for another day).   When I was 5 weeks pregnant I didn't even know about our little Pickett's existence... which is when I realise just how few days are separating our lives from totally transforming into something very new. Five weeks is not very long at all...

As I've been getting bigger, I've had the odd person put their hand on my bump. I know some ladies really hate it but, for me at least, it's not something that has happened regularly, or particularly intrusively - it's just one of those things. And Pickett tends to be quite contrary - if they get a sniff that someone might want them to move, they freeze.

I've also had a number of people ask me what it feels like to have a little one growing inside you, and what a good-old-baby-kick feels like.  I feel proud to be part of the club of women who have experienced this, but I'm sure that it other ladies will know what I mean when I say that it's hard to explain... particularly to someone who has no sense of comparison.  How would you explain what a cough feels like?  Or a sneeze?  It's just one of those things that as you grow up you start to associate with the action.  Baby movements are similar - as your bump grows you start to realise all those little flutters were something a whole lot more important than trapped wind...

But, where as an itch is an itch, and generally feels the same wherever on the body it appears, what I've come to realise is that 'baby kicking' does not mean just one thing.  There are a variety of different sensations that I experience, and that I have learnt to associate with the little life in my tummy:

The Drummer

- What: A good solid thwack to the middle of my abdomen. 
I was a very active teenager, with an impressive social life of clubs and activities.  Monday was Guides, Thursday was Drama, and Wednesdays was Marching Band (I've heard all the 'Band Camp' jokes... you can stop right there! ;) ).  To be honest my spell in the Marching Band wasn't my finest - I tried my hand at colourguard (that's pompoms and flags to the uninitiated), discovered I wasn't naturally a brass player eventually saving everyone's eardrums by getting braces and moving on the Glockenspiel... but the team I always secretly wanted to join were the drummers.  With their big bass drums I loved the sound that these boys (I can't recall any girls in the drumming section) made as we marched.  And now, in a strange way I feel part of that club... sometimes Pickett's movements seem to make the whole of my tummy vibrate - like when a drummer hits a kick drum, and you can almost feel the vibration across the taught skin.  I tend to experience these as solid isolated movements - so for someone wanting to feel the baby kick they need to strike it lucky and really be in the right place at the right time if you want to feel Pickett's Drumming.  Maybe they will take up my secret desire to be a drummer one day...

The Snowflake Kiss

- What: Small little movements that can be anywhere over my tummy

Some people would probably call these nudges.  These always make me smile.  They aren't necessarily shocking, and to me much more like a little greeting, a little hand reaching out for attentions: "Hi Mum, don't forget about me!"  It reminds me just how lucky I am to have been able to experience this closeness, and what a gift pregnancy is - in our case, it's long fought for, and very much wanted.  In a strange way, these little bumps remind me of the feeling of when the first snowflakes fall, and gently melt away on your cheek.  Yes, I do realise how smushy and romanticised that sounds, but there is something about that feeling that is both a reminder and a promise.

The Humpback Bridge

- What: A full on flip of the tummy

When I was a little girl I used to visit my grandparents every Sunday.  They lived in a village a few minutes drive from my parent's house, so every weekend I'd sit in the back of the car and my Mum and Dad would drive us the very familiar route to their home.  On the outskirts of that village was a little humpback bridge that I remember vividly - not only did it signify that we were close to Nanny and Grumps' House, but I learned to love the tummy-flipping feeling that cresting that bridge would cause.  My grandparents sadly passed away, and as a result I've not been on that road for years, but our little Pickett has been making me think of those Sunday journeys often... Every once in a while our little one seems to summersault, clearly practicing some form of gymnastics or synchronised swimming,  for a split second I'm transported back to the feeling I got on that bridge - like I've  somehow continued to move forward but have managed to leave my tummy behind on the other bank.

 The Too-Tight-Jeans

- What: A growing sense of pressure pushing outwards

When you're pregnant you get used to the idea that nothing really fits.  Or if you do manage to wriggle in to something it will feel very different than you expected. Leggings, and maternity jeans become your new best friend.  You look forward to warmer weather and the excuse to dig out the old maxi-dresses, because those bad boys have so much material that they cover even the biggest of swelling bumps.  With this movement I'm forced to reflect on bad wardrobe choices.  For me it only happens occasionally, but when it does it's quite uncomfortable.  Not painful, just 'bulky.'  I would presume that Pickett is probably having a good old stretch and pushes the bottom of a belly outwards.  I feel a constant regular pressure outwards (not downwards, which I'm lead to believe is much more common for labour!), just like when you're wearing your skinniest of jeans and go and eat too much lunch.  Only this time you haven't got access to the instant relief of popping open a button!

The Snake

- What: When baby wiggles past

Pickett isn't much of a mover really.  Quite happy floating around in their watery armchair.  But every-so-often they go on a bit of an explore (or at least that's how I like to imagine it).  A little adventurer  sidling off to the other side of my womb just to see what the view is like from over there... and the result is this amazing sense of sideways movement.  Sometimes my whole stomach ungulates as Pickett checks out the most comfortable position.  When you're sat their quietly with you hand on your tummy, there is something very bizarre about feeling movement sideways - I can't think of anything that naturally internally moves left to right or right to left.  If any of the baby-moves reminded me of a little alien, then it's got to be this one.

There is something magical about feeling your baby move inside you.  Whether you're at home, in the bath, delivering a presentation, at the supermarket, for that microsecond that you feel that movement your brain snaps back to your little one.  That's special - and a constant reminder that I'm truly very lucky to have had this experience. 

What are your experiences? What would you compare baby movements to?  How would you explain it to someone?

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Bath Thermae Spa: Watsu when Pregnant - Review

Things have been a bit rocky recently. For the last few months I've struggled. Not so much physically, but with this constant swell of pregnancy emotions that feel like they are battering me from all sides.
So Hubby and I decided that it would do us both good to have some time away. Away from work emails, from painting the nursery, from the need to visit Ikea, again, and away from the constant merry go round of hospital appointments...

The long Easter weekend came along at just the right time so we planned a couple of days in the beautiful city of Bath. It was just what we needed - time to disconnect, to be a couple, to recharge our batteries, a mini-babymoon... and what could be better for that than a trip to Bath Thermae Spa?

I've been lucky enough to go to the spa on a couple of occasions but never with Hubby - and he was insistent that I indulged in a treatment whilst we were there. Being 33 weeks pregnant, there aren't that many treatments to pick from, but after a long chat with the reservations team I plumped for something called 'Pregnancy Watsu.'

I gathered it had something to do with water, and being moved around... to be honest I was more than a bit sceptical. I can move myself around in water thanks very much, in fact that's what is been doing already in the spa that day, so paying an extra £65 (gulp!) to have someone move me around seemed excessive. I was definitely on the fence.

But in the end, it turned out to be possibly one of the most beautiful experiences I have had during pregnancy.

You enter a private pool along with your therapist, they add a couple of floats to your legs for added bouyancy and then you spend the next 50 minutes cradled, like a baby, in their arms in the warm mineral waters. Yes, I know how this sounds. Really bloomin' odd... But it's also truly beautiful.
With my ears under the water, and my eyes closed I spent my 50 minutes in almost a meditative state - seeing only the gentle pink light filtering through my eyelids, hearing only the sound of the water supporting my body, feeling the gentle ripples tickling my skin as the therapist slowly tugged me through the water and gently moved my relaxing limbs, I became  more aware of my body than I have been for months - the strange almost alien pregnancy body felt like something I could connect with again.

And our little bump seemed to feel the same way too. My tummy was dancing. It was like we were both floating together in our little safe watery cocoons, and Pickett wanted to show their appreciation by being incredibly active. It really was like we were sharing something together and bonding. Our first piece of family time.

The more I relaxed, the more movement I felt, and I know that should probably not surprise me. But for someone who isn't used to relaxing, who is constantly on the go and practically hard wired into work emails, this was precisely what I needed. Not 50 minutes focused on myself, but 50 minutes focused on my baby. Not what we needed to do/buy/make before their arrival, but just quality time focusing on what it must be like for that little life inside my tummy.

So would I recommend Watsu?

Most definitely. Yes, okay, so being in a private pool with your eyes closed and essentially having different 'cuddles' with a total stranger does take a while to get used to, and I've no idea what it's like if you're not pregnant... but for me it was a truly magical experience. Exactly what I needed.
I left the pool feeling very at peace, and with every pleasant emotion related to our baby absolutely jangling. I felt overwhelmingly in love with my child.
Somehow my baby and I felt really tethered together beyond our obvious physical connections... My one regret is that it's not something that Hubby could experience. I would love to share that sense of commitment, and love for our little family with him.

This post has not been written in collaboration with Bath Thermae Spa or any other third party.  No incentive has been received for writing this post and is completely based on my own experiences and thoughts.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Harry Potter - Warner Bros Studio Tour Review - is it worth a second visit?

I've always loved Harry Potter. I am from the generation that grew up with the Hogwarts adventures running almost parallel to my own life (although sadly without the magic and decidedly fewer owls). I borrowed the first book from the school library in my second year and was hooked... then when the final book drew closer to hitting bookshelves, I was of those fans that queued all day for the midnight release.

My love of HP crossed mediums - one of the first evenings out that that Hubby and I went on together was to see the Chamber of Secrets at the cinema for a mutual friends birthday... And so it continued, with the films taking us through uni and beyond.
Then back in 2013 after the last film wrapped, a friend and I decided to continue our exploration into the Wizarding World with a visit to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour. We had a great day finding out more about how the films had been brought to life... but since then our Harry Potter journey has been a bit patchy. We've been lucky enough to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the theatre and Fantastic Beasts at the cinema (in fact Hubby and I have nicknamed our bump after one of the characters...), so to scratch the HP itch was friend and I  decided to revisit the Studio Tour, and see what had changed in 4 years.

What are the differences?  And is The Warner Brothers Studio Tour worth a REvisit?

Fewer people 

The Tour has always been very clever at managing crowds, with staged entry times, and a clear clockwise momentum.  When we visited originally, everything was shiny and new and drew lots of excited PotterHeads. Directions were clear; once you left a section you could not revisit, you must continue forwards.  However our second visit was much more relaxed. Want more time in the Great Hall? No problem, just clear the staging area when requested hang around a bit, wait for the next group to enter and simply step back into the room. The story was the same throughout the Tour. Staff  were more than happy to accommodate visitors that wanted to spend a little more time on their favourite sets, as well as take photos for that all important group shot!

More interactivity 

Anyone who has visited WBST will be aware of the green screen area. Ride a broom through London, have a photo as you hover over Hogwarts - explore the magic of film. We actually skipped this on our first visit as the queues were just too long, but this time we donned our cloaks and were on a broom in under 5 minutes.  And the interactivity is not just restricted to the one area - the interactive elements have been built further into the exhibits. Want to try your hand at broomstick lessons? In the right area simply put your hand over a broom and say 'Up'. Wonder how they made Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid so big on camera? Take a seat in the perspective set. Even the Creature Effects area has become more dynamic. Stand on a square on the floor and see how Dobbie  the House Elf can be made to mimic body movements.

More security  

I don't remember security checks being quite so  extensive the first time we visited. Maybe they were, but they certainly don't spring to mind... Maybe that just says a lot more about how the world has become a bit more fearful in the last few years. Expect a thorough bag check and a body scan before you enter.

New exhibits 

The Warner Brothers team have dusted out a number of additional sets/props in the last four years. New to us were the impressive Hogwarts Express (which you can climb aboard and look at carriages dressed for 6 different films), and why join the often lengthy queues at Kings Cross for a photo at Platform 9 3/4 when the Studio Tour offers you the same opportunity (in fact three different photo call opportunities!).  The newest area that opened at the end of March is the Forbidden Forest - a place where many naughty Hogwarts student would spend detention - wander through the Hogwarts gates and see a model Hagrid lighting the way, bow to a Hippogriff under the trees, and have a guided tour through the darker areas to experience some of the Creature Effects.  To be honest, this new area was a bit disappointing... it seems as though the team have moved some of the exhibits from the 'Creature Effects' area to the new 'forest' - so really apart from a bit of window dressing very little felt 'new.'  In fact, we noticed in the Creature Effects area that the explanation video still mentions the giant model Aragog, with the recording of Warwick Davis  indicating to wear the model had previously lived, before the giant spider had be found a new home in the Forest. Maybe the team will update the video at some point...

New Butterbeer 

Only 4 places in the world sell Butterbeer so the queue is always long. Personally I wasn't a fan, and decided not to spend £3-6 on a second experience of the creamy fizzy beverage... however Butterbeer too has evolved over the last few years, with your menu choice now including Butterbeer ice cream. At nearly £5 a cone though it's not cheap

The old stuff 

To be honest, the old exhibits are still just as fascinating as they were before. We didn't spend as long gazing at the Griffindor Common Room or hanging out in Diagon Alley, but at the same time we did get the chance to experience different things. We were able this time to go into the Privet Drive set  (rather than just peek through the windows) and seeing  Alan Rickman's old Shape costumes took on a much more poignant tone after his death last year.


So really, was it worth a second visit? With a £40 ticket price, it's not a cheap day out, and the second visit was a lot of the same stuff. But actually we found that there was enough new to keep us interested. The team have clearly worked hard to evolve the Tour to make it less of a passive museum experience (with some greenscreening) to something where the guest has the opportunity to be a lot more actively involved in the exhibits.

Would I go a third time? Probably not. I think 2 times is my limit. But would I recommend a second visit to people that have been before? I think it would very much depend on when you last visited. It worked for us because there were enough changes, and new things to do. And I can't imagine what else could be added to  justify forking out another £40 for the ticket price.

This post has not been written in collaboration with Warner Bros Studio Tour London or any other third party.  No incentive has been received for writing this post and is completely based on my own experiences and thoughts.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

WEEK 31: Three Days. Three Hospital Visits

We'll  chalk this week up to experience. It's been a bit full on in one way or another...

At my 20 week scan they'd noticed my placenta was a bit on the low side, so on Tuesday I had a scan appointment to see whether there had been any change in 11 weeks.

Hubby was particularly excited to see our little (*strange bump nickname alert*) "Pickett" again.

Turned out our darling little one isn't quite so little...

The scan showed a very tall baby. Not 'big' but Pickett's legs in particular are on the lengthy side. Also baby seems to be in the totally wrong position. And has apparently  been enjoying a swimming pool of amniotic fluid (we're almost double what you should have - no wonder I'm developing a waddle!). Okay, so these things aren't ideal but I didnt care - It was magical to feel the baby somersault around, and to simultaneously see it on the screen.  Something I will never forget I'm sure.

Oh, and the placenta? We've nick named it the Great Wall. There's no way that thing is likely to budge.

The consultants were great. They explained things to us. A ceasarean is likely, they wanted to do lots more tests because of the water volume and Pickett's size, to make sure that both I and the baby are well.

So Wednesday saw me back at hospital for my tests. 7 vials of blood,  1 super sweet drink, and 2 hours of waiting later we were finally sent on our merry way with the information that someone would call us the next day to let me know whether the results showed any sign of gestational diabetes or infection, and that, regardless, they'd see me in a couple of weeks for a follow up.

But then when I was at work on Thursday I had a little bleed.

I'd only been told on Tuesday that this could happen and that if it did I should call for advice. It wasn't much, so nearly dismissed it... But I figured a quick telephone call wouldn't hurt.

I called the Maternity Assessment Clinic (MAC) from a corner office at work expecting advice along the lines of 'keep an eye on it," or "We'll make a note on the system." The line was engaged the first few times, so again I nearly gave up and went back to my desk. It was more pink discharge than blood really.

Instead what I was told was to grab some things together and to come straight in...

A colleague offered to drive me to the hospital. Hubby was reached at work, and scrambled to go back home, pack a bag (Yes, I know we probably should have already done that!) and then meet me at the hospital. 30 mins later I was sat in a tiny, but rather warm,  (and packed) waiting room.

I was seen quickly. I was clearly prioritsed over some of the others waiting there. I explained again that it was only a slight bleed. And it had pretty much died down. But they were having none of it. My placenta previa is "major" meaning that the whole placenta is blocking the cervix. I'm at risk of sudden significant  bleeds  that would be dangerous for both me and the baby. They wanted to check us thoroughly.

Blood pressure, temperature, urine test, ECG, medical history, internal exam (where they thought for a moment that my waters had gone...), swabs, scan. They threw everything they could at me to check the situation.

We had three doctors in our tiny cubicle at one point. It felt excessive. They reassured me that it was not. Calling and coming in was absolutely the right thing. They checked the blood test results from the previous day, elevated sugar levels, but still normal and nothing too concerning (I breathe a sigh of relief there when I discovered one of the infections they checked for was syphilis!).  After 4 hours they decided they were happy to let me go. I was fine, Pickett was fine. My cervix was closed. The bleeding had stopped. Probably caused by slight hormone surge.

Huge sigh of relief. Honestly I couldn't value the NHS more at this point. The care I've had has been amazing.

The challenge now is that the doctors recommended that I am not ever left by myself in case I needed to immediately come into hospital.  Not hugely practical as we don't have family in the area but I'm sure we'll cope.

I feel fine, so went back to work yesterday.  I've had a chat with my boss so he's aware of the situation and that there's a chance I might suddenly need to down tools and go.

I started this week with a simple scan appointment and ended up in the hospital 3 days in a row. Each time understanding more and more of my situation.  I can't thank the Maternity teams enough. Where as I was dismissive they were responsive and systematic.

I'm pleased to be in their care.

I have another scan in 2 weeks where I think they might make the decision on what to do next. But in the meantime Hubby is doing an excellent  job of looking after me.

Even though it seens that things have got a bit more complicated for us, strangely I  now feel more confident about the birth. I have to trust in my care team.

The other positive thing to come out of this week is that it's made us pull our finger out and get some baby bits together.... We went straight from the hospital to Sainsburys to pick up some baby grows... just in case!

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Recipe: Creme Egg Scotch Eggs

I've always loved cake.  Well, I say always, there was a month or so around December when I totally went off chocolate and sweet things... but generally, if I end up at a restaurant my eyes will immediately skitter off the starters and mains and straight on to perusing the 'Sweet' menu.

And March in our house is a month of cake.  Both Hubby and I have birthdays that fall in March - actually just six days apart, so we take that as the perfect excuse to stock up on our cake stores!

Normally we buy cake, or make and shake one... this year however we decided to push the boat out.  We had our kitchen totally redone in January, complete with new worktops, cupboards and appliances - so what better way than birthday cake to totally break in the new oven.  So we went all out: a birthday cake each.

Hubby went for a 6 layer rainbow cake for me (excellent work my man!), where as I went for a more seasonal offering for his birthday pudding: Creme Egg Scotch Eggs.

Sorry, shall I say that again?  Creme. Egg.  Scotch. Eggs.

I can not take any credit for these little beauties - I found the recipe posted on OmmNomm's site although I did doctor them a little bit.  What I would say, is that these bad boys should come with a health warning.  

Some tips for consumption:

  1. Eat with a partner - each one of these Scotch Eggs is the equivelent of a sixth of a chocolate cake, fondant, more chocolate, a creme egg and more chocolate (or if you follow my varient Oreo cookies).  Halving one with a loved one is definitely the way to go.
  2. Keep in the fridge - it's odd to me the idea of keeping cake in the fridge, but these go all 'fudgy' if they're kept refrigerated.  So clear enough space!
  3. Don't think about the calories - there will be a lot.  But hey, it's nearly Easter, so if it's just an occasional treat, I'd say settle down and enjoy. 
Here's the recipe I followed (as mentioned, a bit of a tweaked version of the OmmNomm's version - I think it really works!)


  • 6 Creme Eggs
  • 100gm dark chcoloate
  • 100gm milk chocolate
  • 1 packet of oreo cookies - crushed
Cake mix:
  • 175gm unsalted softened butter
  • 175gm caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 120g self-raising flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 120g softened unsalted butter
  • 120gm icing sugar
  • 20gm cocoa powder


  1. Firstly make the cake - simply cream together the butter and sugar, and then add all of the other ingredients together.  As simple as it comes.  Once the mix is ready pop the cake into a lined tin (doesn't really matter what shape you use as you're going to destroy the cake you make any way!) and bake for 20-30minutes at 160 degrees
  2. Once the cake is firm and a cocktail stick comes out clean, remove from oven and leave to cool.  Whilst the cake is cooling cream together the fondant ingredients.  If you find that these do not come together very well you can use a few drops of water to help this combine (literally a few drops is all you need.
  3. When the cake is completely cool break apart into breadcrumbs.  Yes. Totally.  The whole cake.  Break it into little bits. 
  4. Add the fondant mixture into the cake-breadcrumbs and knead together.  I found it easiest to use my hands for this (and meant that I got to enjoy licking my chocolately fingers clean once I was done - bonus!), until you have a shortcrust pastry-like "dough".  Separate the dough into 6 equal sized balls.
  5. Unwrap the creme eggs and carefully wrap your dough around each of the creme eggs.  I found the best method was to flatten the dough in your hand over your palm, then place a creme egg on your palm and then carefully lift the mixture around the egg.  Once your egg is well wrapped, put the chocolate balls in the fridge to chill and firm up.  This is really important.  Make sure you leave enough time for this step.
  6. Whilst the balls are chilling, melt your chocolate (I cheated and did it in the microwave, but you can do it properly over boiling water if you like) - feel free to put both chocolate types together.  I liked the combination, the bitterness of the dark chocolate prevented oversweetness.
  7. Take your firm balls (oi! mind out of the gutter please!), out of the fridge and carefully dunk each into the melted chocolate mixture so that it is totally coated.  Immediately then transfer the balls to a  bowl of crushed Oreos (the Oreo addition adds a cheesecakeyness to the Scotch Eggs, which I really loved) and coat in the crushed biscuits.  Pop back in the fridge to set.
Once they are cold and the chocolate has set enjoy - but recommend you remember the health warnings listed above.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

"Do you know what you're having?"

"When are you due?"

"How are you feeling?"

It's like these questions are hard wired into the brain ready to pop out whenever you're faced with a pregnant woman. I'm just as guilty - I find out a lady is expecting and these questions come unbidden to my tongue, and are suddenly out of my mouth without any involvement of my brain.

So now the shoe is on the other foot, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect. Do I mind when people ask? Hand on heart. Honestly. No, not one bit. It just means a lot that people care. The question itself really isn't what is important - it's just acting as to telegraph the fact that they are interested, and want to offer even the smallest amount of support.

What is funny though, is when people get an answer to one of these questions that doesn't quite conform to the 'usual' answer - something that they weren't quite expecting... an example:

Kind hearted soul: "So, do you know what you're having?"

Us: "Yes, we do. We're having a.... baby."

Hubby and I made the decision relatively early that we wanted to know our little one's gender. Not so we could colour scheme or really plan names, but it just helps us to be that little bit closer to, and to bond with that little life busily growing in my belly. 

We also came to the decision quite easily, that if we did find out, we didn't want a big gender reveal (and certainly nothing like they do in the US and have a full blown party) - in fact, we agreed that if we could, we wanted to keep this little tiny piece of our son or daughter to ourselves.  Because gender to us, really doesn't matter.

My mum was shocked by this, and originally was positive we'd let slip - but we've known for nearly 3 weeks now and we're happily swapping around pronouns, continuing to use our pre-gender nickname ("Pickett" - after a little Bowtrunkle with attachment issues in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (said once as a joke but it just sorta stuck)), and it's had the added bonus of preventing our parents going mad and buying cupboards full of pink/blue clothes. Now I'm all for a spot of pink/blue, but I'm also looking forward to dressing my little one in red, black, grey, yellow and green. 

Life is better with a splash of variety after all.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

A bit of an update: Two become three

So, here's the thing.

I've not been entirely truthful.  It's not so much a lie, but an omission.  I've been using this blog as a diary on and off for the past few years, and those of you who have followed my journey may recall the reason I was "Learning Early."

You see, back in 2012 I discovered I was pregnant.  I made the decision, practically on day one, to blog my journey, and all the lessons I would learn as a first time mum... the disposable/reusable nappy debate, selecting a push chair, whether we'd agree to skip the gender reveal and stay Team Yellow... How naive I was.  I had some other, much harder lessons to learn first.

I miscarried my first pregnancy at 7 weeks.

There was the physical and emotional pain that followed, the snubbing out of a future that had been so clear in our minds.  It evaporated like mist.

It would take us four years and surgery for endometriosis to get pregnant again, but sadly this second little life decided not to stay with us, and I was confirmed to have had a missed miscarriage at my 12 week scan in March 2016 - just days before my 30th birthday.  Part of me thought I was more prepared, I knew what to expect, I'd been there before... I was wrong.  Just as each life I carried was different, so was the process I went through to grieve them.

"It wasn't meant to be."

"Your time will come."

"There must have been something wrong"

Kind words, but they felt like razor blades - these were my children.  They would never be named, never get a nursery, but each one would stay with me.

So when hubby and I discovered last September that we were expecting again, we dared not get excited.  We held hands as we looked at the little plastic stick on the side of the wash basin and took a deep breath, already starting to build up those protective walls should the worst happen again.

Well, here we are, a few months on, and the worst hasn't happened.   I little wriggly thing that I've seen on a sonographer's screen and that has been given top marks by all the doctors so far.  We're 22 weeks along - over half way - and this morning hubby got to join in by feeling our child tap on my tummy.

So it felt that the time was right to come clean - We've braved the Mothercare Sales,  I'm wearing maternity clothes.  There's a box in our spare room that contains a buggy.

We're expecting a baby.


Saturday, 21 January 2017

A Hug Costs Nothing

You know the feeling where you're head down in your own problems, turning things over in your mind, sometimes it takes something special to snap you out of that trance... today was one of those for me.

I'd decided to take a walk into the village to do some errands (pet shop, post office, dry cleaners...) when I saw a small group of ladies huddled around an A-frame. Thinking that these ladies were collecting for charity, or wanted me to sign another parish petition, I'm afraid to say I moved to cross the road (I'm an busy person with my own problems after all).

Turned out that these ladies would absolutely make my day.

Turns out the 21St January is national Hug Day, and these three ladies of later years were standing in the bitterly cold to not collect anything from us passers by, but to give: the biggest most genuine hug I think I have ever received from a stranger.

When they asked if I'd like a hug I nearly shook my head, and scuttled away. But a millisecond later, I realised that it did. A hug was exactly what I wanted - they were more than happy to oblige. Like a strange greeting line they each gave me a really big cuddle, we had a little chat and I went on my way with the biggest smile on my face.

Their only request: that I go and share the happiness.

These three ladies, in the space of a couple of minutes managed to pop me out of my head out of my own troubles and made me look at my little village with new eyes. We might all be strangers, but that doesn't mean that we each can't give a little bit of happiness to someone else.

A smile cost nothing, a few minutes chatter could mean more than you realize.

So, Henrietta, Jean and Trudy - excellent work - Hats off to you.