Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A quilt to take my mind off things

Well, here she is.  All finished.  I'm amazed I actually got it done before the baby arrived.  Often I start projects with the best of intentions and then get distracted by something else that's taken my fancy.  It's been good to have something to do to keep busy while I wait for the little one to arrive.

This is the second quilt I've made.  And boy, was it a steep learning curve!  The last quilt I made, I pieced it, but palmed it off to a lady from church to do the hard work - the quilting.  It was a bed-size quilt and there was no way I was going to be able to do it on my little domestic sewing machine.  It was also a gift, so I didn't want to stuff it up.  Particularly considering it took me about three years to finish it.  No joke.

This one was much more manageable though.  It's only about 33 inches x 45, or so.  I'm really pleased with the colours.  One of the quilting books I borrowed from my local library recently talked about 'stretching' the colours, and not just sticking to one type of red or yellow or whatever the theme is.  I don't know whether I achieved this to the author's standard, but I felt I gave it a good go.

And it's entirely made from what I had in my fabric stash and scraps container.  The backing is a leaf patterned batik quilting cotton given to me by my mum or sister.  Not really my style normally, but the colours matched so it was good to be able to use it up.  Waste not, want not!

It wasn't my intention, but the colours match perfectly with some cushions I bought from Country Road recently.  Which has made me decide to make a little pile of quilts for the TV room that can be used when the weather is cool, or for baby blankets for the floor.  I'm sure there's plenty of ways they'll be useful.  Even if it's just to keep Rosie amused, unfolding them and 'repositioning' them all over the room :)

And I've always loved the idea of being able to go to my cupboards and choose from a selection of home-made quilts to give to a guest needing an extra blanket.  I do believe my love of quilting has been reignited (or perhaps lit for the first time...?).

 As I said, it was a steep learning curve, because I like to dive in the deep end before I actually know how to swim properly, if you know what I mean ;)  There was a little bit of learning on the fly, but hey, who would ever do anything if you always had to know exactly how to do it perfectly before you even started??  Where's the fun in that?  It does sound less stressful though.

I love how it's all crinkly and worn looking already.  Homely.  That's how quilts should be, I reckon.  Sometimes our lack of capacity in things can add depth and texture to what we do.  I'll just keep telling myself that anyway :)

And I already know what my next project is.  But first, I need to go and clean up my sewing room.  It seriously looks like a bomb has hit it.

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Monday, 17 December 2012

Of Grave Concern

A couple of weeks before I found out I was pregnant with our second child (yet to be born, and boy, am I counting down the days till Christmas Eve!!!) I found out that I have Graves' Disease (charming name, don't you think?).

Basically, Graves' Disease is an autoimmune (where your own body attacks itself) thyroid (an organ in your neck) disease, which causes the thyroid to become overactive.  Your thyroid produces two of the hormones that control your body's metabolism, so when you have an overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, your body is in overdrive and everything is happening a lot faster than it should.

It can impact your body in a lot of ways, but I first knew something wasn't right when I was feeding the Rosebud her breakfast one morning.  With every mouthful I was attempting to feed her I had to hold my right hand still with my left so that I could actually get it in her mouth.  I can remember holding my hand out, looking at it, you know, head on the side kind of thing, frown lines between eyebrows, wondering if it was just my imagination.  But alas, no, it was shaking.  Like crazy.

Looking back, I can see other symptoms that weren't as obvious to me at the time, but now scream, "Xanthe, what the heck are you doing??  Your body is trying to kill itself!!!" Ha!  Maybe not quite, but we were definitely on the verge of all out civil war.

In about a month, I dropped about 5kg which I just attributed to doing Weight Watchers for a few months before, even though I was eating like a horse constantly (not a bad problem to have, I thought at the time); my normally full hair was falling out ALL OVER THE HOUSE and was driving me crazy, but this I attributed to breastfeeding; and my heart was constantly racing, to the point that it felt like it was going to burst out of my chest, and it would actually stop me from falling asleep at night.  Ok, so the heart thing also started to make me think something might be wrong, but it was the shaking that actually made me go to my doctor and request her to do tests.

Now, at the risk of sounding condescending, if you've never had something serious wrong with you, consider yourself blessed first and foremost, but you can probably only imagine what it's like to get a phone call from your doctor telling you to come in immediately.  Your mind automatically goes to the worst possible outcome.  You're gonna die.  Your number's up.  It's all over, red rover.  Thankfully though, that wasn't the case; although, if left untreated Graves' Disease will kill you.  No doubt about it.  Your poor old heart can't handle running a marathon everyday.  Eventually it will stop working.  And that's not a good thing :)

(As an aside, can I just add how much I really would hate to be a doctor?  Apart from the fact that bodily fluids totally gross me out - and other people's bodily fluids, well, don't even go there - it must be really hard to be the bearer of bad tidings to people who have terminal illnesses, or even just life-affecting illnesses.  But then, I guess it must also be amazing to help people in ways that really does affect their entire life...)

So, as I was saying, I totally thought my number was up, and there was a period of further waiting to see if I had thyroid cancer which was also slightly disturbing, but thankfully that came back all clear - it was "just" Graves' Disease.  I was immediately prescribed Neomercazole, the usual treatment and was told to start using it as soon as I had weaned my daughter, which I managed to do without mastitis in under two weeks - wooo!

While going through the weaning process however, my husband and I spent some time talking together about the way ahead and we both felt to see what treatment avenues complimentary medicine held for thyroid disease.  Now, not many people may know this, but deep down inside me there's a hippy trying to escape.  I keep her well restrained, but she does like to whisper her opinions in my ear regarding health and medicine.  (I'm not so keen on her dress sense - all that flouncy, loose-fitting, no bra style just doesn't do a thing for my hourglass figure :)  I should stress though, that she "influences" my approach to health and wellbeing, rather than completely directs it, which is to say that I prefer a complimentary approach to managing my health, rather than one which is completely natural remedies or completely modern medicine focused.  My personal feeling (note: I did say personal, so please don't take my opinion personally!!!) is that we shouldn't disregard what nature can offer, just like we shouldn't completely disregard what research and modern technology has given us.  I feel that both have their place.  So, I started seeing a good doctor friend of mine who focuses on natural medicines in her treatments.  Yes, amazingly, there are REAL doctors out there who also think natural remedies have their place!!  This approach basically involved trying to help my struggling immune system to do what it should be doing, instead of turning on itself and consisted of taking lots of vitamin and mineral supplements.  And you know what, it actually started to work.  After two weeks my levels and symptoms had started to decrease, which was very encouraging, and so I was keen to continue trying the natural approach.

HOWEVER.  Yep, there's an "HOWEVER".  Then I found out I was pregnant.  It was a little bit of a shock.  Like, I had to do three home tests to actually believe that it was true, followed by one at the doctor's to make absolutely sure, followed by a dating ultrasound at approximately 7 weeks.  So, I am proof that everything has a failure rate :)  At this point, in conjunction with my obstetrician, endocrinologist and GP I made the decision to commence the mainstream approach to managing Graves' disease.  I didn't want to take any chances with my baby's health and felt that this was the best approach for me.  So, for the last 9 or so months I have been taking Propylthiouracil, which has completely brought my thyroid levels back to normal and is least likely to have a negative impact on the bubba while he's baking away ;)

At my last appointment my endocrinologist advised me that it is quite common for women to have a major relapse about 6-8 weeks post-partum.  Nobody really knows why, but for some wonderful reason having babies makes your body work the way it should.  Unfortunately, once the baby's out, all hell can break loose.  So, I have finally come to the point of my post.  Phew!  You see, at normal thyroid levels, on the lowest dose of PTU, I can currently breastfeed the little one.  However, if my thyroid levels go crazy as I have been warned, and I have to take a dose of medication that exceeds 200mg per day, I won't be able to feed the baby any longer, which is something I've been concerned about for the duration of the pregnancy.

So, once I have this baby, I am commencing a strict eating regime *sigh*; I'll be cutting out all dairy and wheat, and most other delicious things that generally fill my tummy *sob*; and Mrs Flannery's and the health food aisle will become my closest buddies *sniff*.

But, this is the sacrifice that I am prepared (ok, I'm not quite there yet, I admit) to make, if it means I can breastfeed my bubba.  I have done this before, mind you.  I mean, go on a really strict diet for an extended period of time, so I do know I can do it if I put my mind to it.  But, doing it with a toddler and a newborn, well that's another story.  So this morning I spent time writing down a shopping list of things to buy to stock up my pantry for after the baby arrives.  I figure that if I don't need to think too much about what to eat I'm more likely to stick to the 'lifestyle' (it's not a diet, it's not a diet, it's NOT A DIET!!!).

Anywho, I wanted to share this with you in case there is anyone else out there with similar experiences, or who might like to follow along while I go on this rollercoaster ride :)   I'd love to know if you have Graves' Disease and how you are treating it; or if you want to do the eating thing with me, that would be great too!  I'll aim to share any good recipes I find on the blog and keep you updated on how I'm progressing.  Don't be too hard on me though - I will have a newborn to look after, and sleep to find.

For now though, I have a week until this baby is due, and boy oh baby boy, am I going to enjoy myself until then.  And then, on Christmas day, I am going to totally smash that Christmas trifle, and all it's gluteny, dairy, sugary goodness, like it ain't been done before ;)

And then, I'll start that diet on Monday.


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas!

I really don't know if there is anything better than the smell of Christmas cake baking in the oven.

I'm not sure if it's just the utter deliciousness of the melding spices and fruit and plonk as they permeate the entire house, or how it's a reminder that Christmas is well and truly on its way.  Probably a bit of both I'd say.

And then there's how it conjures up memories from childhood.  As I boiled the dried fruit the other night I was immediately transported to Christmases past, watching mum at the stove, the smells wafting through the house, lifting the lid of the saucepan to see the fruit happily bubbling away.

Aaaaah, memories.

Over the last couple of months I've been spouting off here, there and everywhere how I'm not doing any Christmas cooking this year.  How I would already be doing my own fair share of cooking (ie. cooking up a baby) without adding standing on my already swollen feet for hours, slaving away in a hot kitchen, causing more grief for my poor lower back as I try to reach the kitchen bench over my enormous girth.

Well.  So much for that.  I just can't help myself.  What would Christmas be without the food??  And cooking is such an important part of that, that I have put up with (kind of - maybe my husband has had to put up with my complaining more :) with the aching limbs and sharp pains in order to fulfil my festive duties.  And make a couple of Christmas presents for my lovely obstetrician and midwife along the way!

So, I thought, just in case someone out there doesn't have their own yummy Christmas cake recipe, I'd share mine.  I don't know where the base recipe comes from originally.  It's probably an old Women's Weekly or CWA recipe, or something along those lines.  Tried and true.  And so very simple.

But I like to mix things up a little, so here's how I did it...

Boiled Fruit Cake

Makes 2 cakes.

375g mixed dried fruit (you know, the pre-mixed, already chopped, hard work already done stuff?)
375g whatever other dried fruit you feel like adding (I used chopped dried apricots, dried figs, prunes and raisins - just what I happened to have open already in the fridge)
2 teaspoons mixed spice
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
250g butter
2 cups water
1/2 cup port (or whatever other sweet alcohol you might have at hand, like sherry), plus a little extra for soaking after the cakes are baked
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups self-raising flour
2 cups plain flour
glace cherries and pecans, for decorating

Place all ingredients, except the eggs and flours, in a large saucepan and bring to the boil.  Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat and cool overnight with a lid on to allow the flavours to intensify (you can leave this on the stove top or bench - it doesn't need to be refrigerated).

The next day, preheat your oven to 160 (fan-forced) and line the sides and bases of two round cake tins with baking or brown paper, twice (this helps to prevent the cake from over-browning).

To the fruit mixture in the saucepan, add your eggs and flours and mix well until fully combined.   Divide the mixture evenly between the two cake tins and smooth the tops.  Use the glace cherries and pecans to decorate the top in whatever pattern you prefer.

Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 1.5 hours.  (I like to check how the cakes are going after about an hour and cover them with aluminium foil at this point to stop the tops from burning.  They may need a little longer than 1.5 hours, maybe 10 minutes or so, if the centres are still a little stodgy.  I always try to have the centres of my cakes slightly soft, and then I turn the ovens off and leave the cakes in to finish them off.  That way I know the cakes won't be too dry.  Just a little trick I've learned over my many years of cake baking!)

Remove the cakes from the oven and, while still in their tins and warm, drizzle a little extra of your chosen alcohol over the top, and allow to cool.

Finally, and most importantly, consume!!  I like to have mine with thick vanilla custard and maybe a dollop of whipped cream.  Delish!  

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