Sleeping soundly and feeding prolifically: Joshua’s first month

It’s usually not considered good form to sleep soundly while people visit you – except when you’re just a few weeks’ old, and the whole ‘being alive’ thing seems only slightly more comprehensible than it was on day one.

Jen and I are learning loads – such as, making sure the frills on a nappy lie outwards, or there will be another leakage and another soiled babygrow. We’ve also learned that arriving somewhere doesn’t mean we’ll actually get to see much of where we’ve arrived: we’ve twice been to National Trust properties and spent two or three hours oscillating between the cafe and baby change faciliity. Despite these little challenges, we’re finding that the whole learning experience is very enjoyablzzzzz…

We’ve had a few guests, which has also been a privilege and joy. Both Margarets have stayed twice, and agreed with each other that my mum would be Grandma and Jen’s mum would be Grandmama (which she is to George and Sophie). While they were both here we went to viist Montacute House, near Yeovil. Andrew and Rachael have also visited a few times with Sophie and George: Sophie’s a little excited about her new cousin!

With the Grandmargarets on the clothes peg at Montacute House

In Yeovil with Rachael, Sophie, Andrew and George.

We were especially grateful to two sets of guests who insisted on cooking for us: firstly Sharon and Jon Whitmarsh who came with Harrison (why we didn’t take a photo when they were here I don’t know), and Charlotte and Jeffrey Bardell, who came with Mary and Katie (Jeffrey being one of Jen’s cousins).

Charlotte, Mary and Katie with Joshua. Photo by Jeff

Jen with Joshua in a sling

We bought an Ergobaby carrier as a must-have for taking Joshua on walks through the countryside… but then discovered that, in the hot weather, he overheated very easily. So we got hold of a sling as well. The sales assistant was astonished when I willingly tried on the sling – every other bloke she’d suggested this to had shied away. I said that I’d been softened up for this by my sister-in-law (Rachael) who’d first persuaded me to carry George in hers for a while.

I’d joked to Jen that we should get a sling in camouflage colours so that I could take Joshua birdwatching, so I was amused when the assistant said she had only black or khaki in stock – even Jen thought khaki was the better option given that choice!

We’ve even had guests over from the USA, though we can’t possibly claim that they travelled over just to see Joshua! First of all Alison Teply arrived with her youger daughters Lydia and Clara: Alison went to the same school as Jen in Warwick, and they both did research in Cambridge at the same time, before Alison got married and went to live across the pond.

Lydia, Clara and Alison Teply, Jen, Joshua yawning, and grandmama.

We were delighted also to welcome Ed and Nan McCallum, who are on their first trip to the UK. Ed was my pastor for a year-and-a-half when I lived in Tucson, Arizona, in the mid-90s. I loved being part of New Covenant church because for me it was the first time that I felt part of a church family, and I greatly valued the friendships that grew there. It was great to be able to catch up with them about what’s happened in the 23 years since I left. After leaving Tucson, Ed served in Chicago at the headquarters of the Evangelical Presbyterian church (of which New Covenant Church was a part). He left recently to become part of ITEN, a mission agency dedicated to empowering and educating church leaders in the developing world.

Ed and Nan McCallum with Jen and Joshua

We were also delighted to meet with Richard and Catherine East, and their daughters Marianne and Amy, at Montacute House. They’re serving in Japan with OMF, working with students.

On the clothes peg at Montacute House with Amy, Marianne, Richard and Catherine East

We also did a barbecue for some local families who have recently had babies themselves: Lizzie came with Ewan and her older son Ollie, Rob and Rachel with Hugo, and Adam and Heather with Alice.

Rachael, Ollie, Lizzie, Adam, Rich, Jen, Heather – with Hugo (very alert), Joshua and Alice (not very alert).

Let me finish with a few other photos that we like.

Joshua with Jen

Dad time

Mum time


Joshua’s arrival

We’re delighted to announce the arrival of Joshua into our lives! It happened the following way.

Jen with Joshua, just after they arrived in the delivery suite.

Jen went into hospital on Monday morning to be induced. Over the next couple of days she underwent the full course of drugs and underwent some rather uncomfortable contractions, but the drugs didn’t have enough of an effect. On Wednesday morning we were asked what we thought about a C-section because it was felt that at this stage, it would be the safest option. I said, “I have two criteria: healthy baby, healthy wife. I want what’s going to give the best guarantee of that”. We were both in agreement, so it was arranged for that afternoon.

Family portrait, about an hour after Joshua’s arrival

We went into the operating theatre – it felt slightly surreal being able to walk in, the last time I went in one of those I was being wheeled in for an operation on a broken nose. Jen was placed on the bed and I was given a chair by her head. A screen was erected between us and the operation “just so dad’s not tempted to take part”!

Mummy time

Our baby soon annouced his arrival with some loud screams, and a few minutes later (when he was freed!) he was presented to us – when we discovered that he was a boy! He was weighed at 3.46kg or 7lb 10oz.

Aw, mate, what’s up with the excessive fluffy language?

It took a while for the surgeon to sew Jen back up again – apparently this is the longest part of the procedure. At the end, the notes were re-assuringly terse! (I wouldn’t have noticed this if the nurses hadn’t laughed about it first!)

Dad time

Since then we’ve been getting to know our little son. Jen’s also been learning how to breastfeed, and the staff here have been excellent with their support. Apparently, it’s all about the latch…

Joshua kept Jen awake most of last night – which is apparently quite normal at this stage, with Jen providing colostrum with the milk yet to come through. Eventually at 5am a midwife took pity on her, swaddled Joshua (a technique we might want to learn), put him to sleep, and told Jen to get some rest. A few hours later Jen awoke to find Joshua sleeping peacfully beside her and a nice little handwritten note placed on him…

Joshua’s writing skillls are amazing for one so young…

It was lovely also that Lizzie from Shapwick was also having a baby at the same time – they were born less than eight hours apart. Jen greatly appreciated Lizzie’s friendly face at midnight after Rich had gone back to the Vicarage to throw out some z’s.

Lizzie with Ewan, born a few hours later

It’s probably not surprising that we’ve learned a whole heap of stuff that we didn’t expect to. Take swaddling. I’d read about it in a well-known baby book by Harvey Karp and thought it was a new-fangled, old-fangled notion that we wouldn’t be using. Until a midwife quietened a fractious Joshua at 5am by swaddling him… so we decided we had to learn how to do it.

Being taught how to swaddle Joshua

Our departure from the maternity ward was a ‘welcome to parenting’ experience. Let me summarise why it took three hours: last feed before departing, big poo, nappy change, big wee (which we were really excited about because we weren’t quite sure he was doing this), another last feed before departing, fetch car, extract car seat, discover that the car seat is set up all wrong and neither of us have a clue how to fix it, faff around for an hour before realising the secret lay in lifting the cushioning, really the last feed before departing, place Joshua in car seat, then realise we don’t know how to attach the car seat, more faffing, success and departure. Jen remained calm throughout.

We arrive back home, smiling as if we haven’t just survived a three-hour trauma half an hour previously

We really feel blessed by God in all of this – even if we do have some sleepless nights!

Joshua doing what he often does…

What to do when Jen’s 40 weeks preggers?

We’ve been given lots of advice about how to usher things along – some ideas very congenial, other ideas more fun for me than for Jen…

1. Drive along lots of bumpy roads.

Lots of people have told us about this one… Our midwife, Kerry, enthusiastically told us about a bumpy road in the Quantocks… but when we got there we found it was quite smooth compared to the roads floating on peat in the Levels! So a couple of times we’ve gone from Shapwick to Burtle, then down along the Edington road to a potholed drove, which we went along as bumpily as possible, then back into Burtle, along Green Drove, before turning round and returning to Shapwick.

A drove road between Burtle and Edington – lots of nice potholes!

2. Take lots of walks

Kerry also thinks going for long walks is really good – and we don’t need much persuasion of this one! Over the last few weeks we’ve had a few trips to the south coast on days off – and have been able to enjoy the exceptional weather.

Jen on Doghouse Hill near Golden Cap a couple of weeks ago.

Jen om Cothelstone Hill on Tuesday after an appointment with the midwife

3. Eat Fry’s Chocolate Cream

At a babycare store in Bridport, the shop owner told us about one time she was pregnant and several days overdue. Her husband bought her a Fry’s chocolate cream – and two hours later she went into labour. Ever since, she’s been convinced the two events are linked and has been recommending it since then. Does Jen need any more excuse to eat chocolate?

Well if it worked for the lady in Bridport, why not try it?

4. Eat curry!

Apparently a hot curry is a great way to bring labour forward. Clearly I agree with this wholeheartedly – but we had to keep it reasonably cool for Jen to eat it at all! We had a curry from Sainsburys one night; I cooked a curry one last night, and we went to a curry house in Taunton tonight. (I think she enjoyed the bumpy drives more though!)

Can’t go wrong with a good curry – especially if it brings labour forward!

Yup, it’s a pineapple

5. Eat pineapple

There’s actually some medical evidence for this one in that one of the chemicals in pineapple really does bring labour on… except that Jen would need to eat 8 pineapples in succession to get the desired effect! But we might have a curry laced with pineapple tonight…

6. Watch England beat Colombia and Sweden

Well it was worth a try, wasn’t it? Except that I got more excited about it than Jen did. We might have to miss the semi-final though…

Let me finish this post with a few scenics…

View in Ladram Bay

Kestrel on the way up Doghouse Hill.

The colours from the beach at Branscombe were impressive…

The search for sainfoin with a long lost cousin

Jen and I recently spent the day with a long-lost cousin, Sue Whiteley… ok, she’s a second cousin… ok, she wasn’t technically ‘lost’ but in Australia… but it was really great to meet a family member whom I’d not not met before. She’s the grand-daughter of my maternal grandfather’s brother Sam (did you follow that ok?!).

Sue with the sainfoin seed and some hay that includes sainfoin.

Sue was on her first trip to the UK. One of her aims was to find some sainfoin seed, a legume that is good fodder for horses, but which is difficult to obtain in Australia. It’s not that common in the UK either but is sold by Cotswold Seeds, a grain merchant in Moreton-in-Marsh. They market sainfoin as one of the plants used for their herbal leys, which offer a much more biodiverse set of plants than the average grassy field, and much greater health benefits for livestock. Reading their page on sainfoin, it seems like it’s a ruminant’s superfood.

We then went in search of a research farm owned by Cotswold Seeds which is growing sainfoin with Timothy, a type of grass which is a companion plant.

Sainfoin growing

On our way back through Chipping Norton we came across a meadow full of buttercups, which is somehow a more natural yellow than the rather garish oilseed rape. I was sufficiently impressed with this sight to want to focus exclusively on the buttercups… so I did…

Jen and Sue in a field in Chipping Norton.

Buttercup meadow in Chipping Norton

Since then I’ve noticed large numbers of fields with similar arrays of buttercups – so I wonder whether this is an unusually good year for them – or whether this is a common sight which I’ve not noticed before?

A couple of weeks ago three of Jen’s students arrived from London – Laura and Waruj (from Thailand), who are first year PhD students, and Mengke, an MRes student from China. It was great to be able to get to know them – having heard about them from Jen! – and to be able to show them around rural Somerset. On the Saturday afternoon we went to Kilve, where we enjoyed the cream teas of the Chantry Tea Gardens, before walking along the cliff-top above the impressive rocky beach that characterises the area.

Laura, Mengke, Waruj and Jen at East Quantoxhead

Lunch at the Vicarage with Jen, Mengke, Laura and Waruj

About a month ago Jen and I went with our good friends Jack and Alison and Brandon to the Haynes Motor Museum near Yeovil. We were both much more absorbed by the exhibits than we’d expected!

Is it the speed or the yellowness?

The Motor Museum this year, Silverstone next? Maybe not…

Being expectant…

This may not be the most colourful image that I’ve posted on the blog – but Jen and I think it’s much the most exciting…

The ultrasound scan of the baby last week

Yes – we’re expecting a baby! We went for the first ultrasound scan last week, and all seems well so far.

The due date is the beginning of July. We’re both thrilled but also aware that we’re about to learn an awful lot in a short space of time! I’m led to believe – based on what we’ve heard from a variety of people – that our sleep patterns might get affected… 😀

Christmas refreshment

Jen and I have been enjoying a week of refreshment with our families over the last week.

Jay from Mum’s kitchen window in Cheltenham

After the Christmas services, we packed the car and went off to Cheltenham to spend a few days with my mum. She was keen to cook the Christmas lunch for us, which she did on Boxing Day. We had a restful time enjoying Mum’s generous hospitality!

We had a nice surprise on the Wednesday morning (the 27th) when we found it had snowed overnight. As we were keen to enjoy this weather, we went for a walk up Leckhampton Hill on the Thursday.

View from the top of Leckhampton Hill to Cleeve Hill.

Jen at the trig point on Leckhampton Hill.

Just before Christmas we had the sad news that mum’s great friend (and my godmother) Chris Baines had passed away. We went up to Willaston in Cheshire for the funeral – for which the church there was packed out. Over many years she’d made a major contribution to the area both as the head of a local secondary school and later chairman of the magistrates, as well as being a stalwart of the church. I remember her as a most generous godmother, and have many fond memories of her.

George’s cake: or maybe it’s a construction site? Rebekah, George’s cousin, watches him blowing out the candles.

After this we spent a few days in Devon with Jen’s family, in a couple of rented cottages near Moretonhampstead – partly to celebrate the New Year but also to celebrate George’s 3rd birthday the previous day. We were joined by Rachael’s family who were over from New Zealand (her mum Lesley) and from Australia (sister Sara and neice Rebekah).

Having the holiday in Devon was particularly convenient because Jen’s wider family were able to join us for George’s party and most of the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

A break during George’s present opening: Katie, Charlotte, Jeffrey, Mary, Rachael with George, Claire, Austin, Margaret (Louie in the foreground)

Pass the Parcel: Tasha (with the parcel) shares a joke with Claire (in the pink).

Most people were able to stay for the New Year’s Eve meal. As it happened it was Jen’s and my turn to cook, so after a starter with Sara’s pumpkin & apple soup, we served a beef stew followed by Jen’s apple crumble.

New Year’s Eve meal. Clockwise from left: Claire (Jen’s cousin, in the pink), Jen, Andrew (Jen’s brother), David and Christine (Jen’s uncle and aunt), Margaret (Jen’s mum), Tasha (Claire’s daughter), Lesley, Sara, Rebekah (Rachael’s mum, sister and niece) and Rachael (Andrew’s wife).

George (Jen’s and my 3 year-old nephew) quietly getting on with his own activity.

Although George was often in the thick of things, he also has an ability to get on with his own playing while others are being distracted elsewhere. In fact, he was so concentrated that he was oblivious to my photographing him.

It was one of those holidays where even the bad things worked out well. We meant to go to the Lost Gardens of Heligan on New Year’s day, but Andrew’s car developed a problem, so we abandoned the trip half way. Instead we decamped to the Liskeard tavern and had a leisurely lunch there, while waiting for the breakdown service. It was actually a most relaxed and enjoyable lunch: we couldn’t have planned it much better if we’d tried.

On our way back we stopped off at Burrow Mump, to admire the heartland of King Alfred’s Wessex – Athelney lies a short distance away. The nearby fields of the Somerset Levels were flooded, which gave a good feel for the area – and what it might have looked like in Alfred’s time, before the drainage ditches had been put in. Then we had a final lunch in the King Alfred Inn at Burrowbridge.

Looking over the flooded Levels from the top of Burrow Mump.


French adventures

Jen and I have just returned from a lovely couple of weeks in France. We spent two half weeks in Châtellerault with John and Hélène, and the intervening week based in Gramat, in the Lot district.

We chanced upon the food festival one evening in Gramat.

Neither of us had been to Lot or the Dordogne before so it was a new experience – and the area more than lived up to the expectations we’d had!

On the afternoon of our first full day there, we went for a walk from about two miles west of Gramat to Rocamadour, largely along a forested dry valley, called the Vallée de l’Alzou. This helped us to appreciate the geography of the area – precipitous limestone cliffs looming over tree-covered valleys.

Hiking along the Vallée de l’Alzou: this couple happened to be walking along the track at just the right moment!

We explored Rocamadour itself the next day. It’s a town that used to be a place of pilgrimage but is now a tourist hotspot. One of its legends is that Zaccheus had ended up there. Rather more plausibly, a hermit called Amadour lived there in the fourth century; during the Middle Ages it was discovered that his body had not decayed, and this ultimately inspired the pilgrimages. Below the main sanctuary there is a lower chapel which is palpably a place of prayer, which was frequented by some of the tour guides; later, we were impressed by our guide who was keen for us to know the gospel truth at the heart of the church.

Rocamadour. The chateau is at the top while the church is the large building halfway down the cliff-face.

Ice age art in the Rouffignac cave: mammoths and ibex. (Public domain image from Wikipedia)

We went on a couple of trips to see the astonishing Ice Age cave art: one of these was to Pech Merle, about an hour south of Gramat, and the other to Rouffignac, located an hour and a half away in the Dordogne. These are extraordinarily tantalising glimpses into another era: while the motivations of the artists were almost certainly spiritual, it’s hard to say more than that as to exactly what the artwork was there for – deep underground, visible only by flickering candlelight. I’ll probably reflect on this more at a later date.

Contemplating the walnut harvest – Jen with Sue and Jerry

On our way back to Châtellerault we were delighted to stop by Nantille in order to visit Jerry and Sue Sellick, a couple of our neighbours in Shapwick. They have a second home there, and were battling the vegetation that had sprung up since their last visit. To us, it seemed a lovely location, but they were keen to tell us that it was hard work to maintain!

With Helene, Jem and John at the Cafe Choquet in Bonneuil Matours.

Back in Châtellerault, John and Hélène were most generous hosts, in both the half weeks we were with them. We visited the Pinail nature reserve on our first day, and then ended up at their favourite café in Bonneuil Matours. On the next day, we went to a museum of prehistory, stopping by the picturesque chateau in La Guerche on the way.

The chateau in LaGuerche

John and Hélène, with Jen behind, in Amboise.

One of the highlights of the final half-week was a trip to Amboise. Situated on the banks of the Loire, the town is famous for its chateau, which was a royal hunting lodge in the 15th and 16th centuries. The other advantage was the variety of restaurants along the street opposite the chateau, where we had an excellent lunch!

Overall we had an excellent fortnight – and we returned the UK thinking that there were many places there which we would still like to see.