Discovered: The Modern Baby

I don’t usually do posts like this – interior decor being the evil shimmery Kryptonite of my nightmares, if you want to get metaphorical about it – but I’m a little bit obsessed. And it’s good to share your obsessions, I hear. It dilutes them or something.

Here’s what I discovered yesterday, thanks to some marvellous people on Twitter: themodernbaby.co.uk. Not only is it UK-based, for once, but it’s all so b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l I could cry. You can click on the link below and find the details for the individual pieces, if so inclined. (Now I’ve said ‘pieces’ when I mean ‘cushions and stuff’, I must immediately go put my head in a bucket of water. I hate that. It’s only acceptable if you’re a curator in a museum. If not, check whether you’re wearing leather leggings and three pairs of sunglasses indoors. You can admit it, it’s ok.)

Elephants and bears and slightly sad pear prints, oh my. Don’t you just want it ALL?

The Modern Baby

Of course I technically don’t have a nursery at the moment – and stuffing poor Sarah’s room with yet more baby stuff wouldn’t be very nice for her – but I do wonder how she feels about sad pears.

Believe it or not, this isn’t a sponsored post. I just love it so much it makes my heart hurt. 

Five maternity styles I’ve learned to love…and five I love to hate

A confession for you, dear reader: I hate dressing when pregnant. I wish I were one of those wonderful ‘embrace the bump’ women, who style themselves well and look fabulous all the way through. You know. The women who glow, with the hair and the heels. When I’m pregnant, I’m hot and chafey and keep banging into stuff with the goldfish bowl I’ve got smuggled under my shirt. What I want to wear is pyjamas. Yes, the ones with the little dogs on. Only those, please.

Here’s the thing, though: it’s precisely because I find it difficult to style myself when pregnant that I absolutely have to. When I make the effort, I feel better. And so I present five maternity style truths I have (reluctantly) recognised as gospel this time around…and five I wish I’d never tried.

the loves

1. maxi skirts

Maxi skirts
Unpregnant, the skirt I like best is a swishy A-line. It makes me feel a bit spesh. But A-lines work when you have a waist: without one, a tall column silhouette is more flattering. Enter the maxi skirt. The bonus is that you don’t have to make the effort to shave your legs (THERE IS SOMETHING IN THE WAY). This one from Dorothy Perkins is my new best friend.

2. tailored jackets

tailored jackets
For me, until the last few weeks my pregnancy weight sinks like lumpy custard to my bottom half. But regardless of how your body changes, looking as streamlined as possible improves any outfit. The tailored jacket is a recent discovery: you can’t button it (obviously) but it does wonders for your arms and skims nicely down your back. If it’s too hot for jackets, a fitted cardigan will do the same job. I have an old corduroy jacket in teal I’ve been wearing the heck out of, and have been ogling lovelies like this from ASOS.

3. belts and ties, ties and belts

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For my first pregnancy I wore a lot of t-shirt tops in larger sizes. It was summer, and flowing styles were in. That’s all very well at the beginning, but once you’ve got a proper bump you end up looking like a capital D, side-on. I have embraced the empire line with fervour this time (the one that nips in under the bust). If a top or dress doesn’t have one, I make one with a little belt or ribbon tie. It just gives a bit of definition where you need some. The elasticated bodice on this tunic top from H&M is making me happy. And I’ve worn this dress from Next to death.

4. belly bands

belly bands (2)
More on why you need these in the fiery-burning-hatred section. Belly bands are elasticated tubes you wear over the top of your waistband, to bridge the gap between top and trousers. I’ve never found one that was tight enough to keep the trousers up on their own, but ah, the security of knowing you can wear a pre-pregnancy top without flashing an outie at a startled bus driver. Worth its weight in gold. You can get them at any maternity shop, or very easily online.

5. leggings

leggings
I’ve been putting this one off. I HATE leggings. Hate it when people wear them with short tops and they’re sheer enough to see underwear. Hate how I feel like I’ve forgotten to put on trousers. I finally made the leap this weekend, on two conditions: they had to be thicker than winter stockings, otherwise you might’s well just wear stockings; and the top had to reach at least halfway down my leg. Oh, my dears, I’m afraid I will never go back. I’m so carried away with all the ease of movement that I keep executing lunges in inappropriate places (ahem, doctor’s office). I’m wearing these, but you know leggings. They’re everywhere.

the hates

1. ‘maternity trousers are much more comfortable’.
You know what? They’re not. I would happily consign maternity trousers to the inner circle of hell where they belong. Here’s the thing: trousers fall down, when you’re pregnant. It’s inevitable. Replacing the waistband with a scary-looking giant elastic gusset that stretches over your bump means that your only option for keeping them up is a pair of suspenders (I have seriously considered this). When I wear maternity trousers I spend every second minute clawing up the crotch from around my knees. This is especially undignified in the supermarket. BURN THEM.

I much prefer wearing my old jeans for as long as humanly possible (unbuttoned and covered with a belly band), and then looking for slim-legged trousers in the next size up (which may also need to be worn unbuttoned). Anything to escape the gusset. Anything.

2. ‘everyone needs a crisp white button-up’.
I believed this so wholeheartedly, I bought one. But shirts don’t usually cling, and they aren’t soft. They don’t fall naturally around any of your new curves. So you end up looking like a box-shaped waiter with straining buttons. Lots of websites also recommend just wearing one of your husband’s, but see the Capital D problem, above.

3. ‘show off the bits that are still skinny! Mini skirt/sleeveless dress/short shorts, anyone?’
Ladies in the Next catalogue: I am SO pleased that your pregnancy involved growing a bump and nothing else. Myself, well, we’ve covered the lumpy custard thing. I also have dimply elbows making an earlier-than-scheduled appearance. Can we just stick to knee-length stuff, for now? And maybe ditch the cap sleeves?

4. ‘cottons and linens: so cool in the summer!’
No. Anything that requires steam-ironing in the morning will look like a crinkled bin bag five minutes later. You spend a lot of time readjusting clothes, when pregnant. Stiff cotton or linen clothes (whether shirts, trousers or dresses; I’ve tried them all) will make your bump look like a canvas for interesting creases.

5. ‘you can wear your old tops the whole way through, if you layer a camisole underneath’.
Be careful. I’m not a huge fan of the skintight t-shirt look, especially when it starts riding up over the bump (with or without a camisole underneath). And I ruined a lot of my favourite clothes the last time, because I wore them longer than they could take. Bursting out of my favourite grey silk skirt was a really special way to celebrate Timothy’s graduation.

Do you hate any of my loves or love any of my hates? Found a style you can’t live without? Most importantly, do you own any maternity trousers that don’t make you want to tear off your legs and get around on a skateboard instead? Tell me! And go forth and conquer, baby-carriers. Me and my goldfish bowl are going for lunch.

The little corner that could

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We bought a chair so that we could sit and think.

It’s a lovely chair. It fits in the space our TV used to occupy, before we realised that we never switched it on once we had the projector, and in any case everyone’s face was going green around the edges. For a while we stacked coffee tables and junk in that corner instead, but I wanted to use it properly. Because every house needs a sit-and-think space, even (especially) one as crowded as ours.

I don’t think a person can function without somewhere to be still, a little corner with pretty, restful things in it. ‘Be still and know’, it says more than once in the scriptures. I find that coupling interesting. Souls are not things to be hammered with blunt objects, and busyness, noise and iPhone notifications are as blunt as they come. When we want our certainties to come back to us, we need quiet. We need open space. And we need, every once in a while, to sit and want nothing at all from ourselves but sitting.

Our corner could use some art on the wall (this this this) and maybe a snazzy cushion, if I get round to it (tiiiiny bit in love with these). But I’ve worked all week from this chair, watching flowers open and sun fall on my legs. I like sitting next to a bookcase with apples and pottery and a pair of tiny shoes. It feels like somewhere I could flower myself.

‘For it is only framed in space that beauty blooms. Only in space are events and objects and people unique and significant – and therefore beautiful. A tree has significance if one sees it against the empty face of sky. A note in music gains significance from the silences of either side. A candle flowers in the space of night.’

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, quoted here.

Good work, chair.

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The body that grows

Today I am wearing a hugely oversized Union Jack t-shirt. Under two large hoodies. And with pink fluffy bed socks.

It’s very cold. But it’s also time to buy some proper maternity clothes. Sometimes you have to know when enough is enough.

This is a tricky stage to dress for and, historically, I haven’t done it well. I was so determined to be practical, last time, that I bought a few things when I absolutely had to and rewore them over and over. And this bit in the middle is probably the hardest: no proper bump to fit under maternity clothes, just a lot of extra wobbly flab. When I wear my pre-pregnancy clothes – which is still all I have – it kind of just looks as though I’m trying really hard to reveal the Superman suit underneath.

(Note: ‘Superman suit’ here is not a euphemism. Unless you want it to be.)

My attitude to weight is not terribly well-balanced (is anyone’s?). It seems most people either wish they didn’t have it, or avoid it meticulously and obsessively, or try strenuously to get rid of it. There is a persistent voice in my head that tells me I can’t have anything fatter than no fat at all. I spend so much time during pregnancy and post-birth telling myself to LOVE THE BODY THAT GREW YOU A BABY, STUPID.

While the answer to weight anxiety is healthy perspective and body appreciation, not pretty things, I do find the healthy perspective comes easier when I’ve bothered to wear something I love. So this morning I found some pretty things, and some warm things, which means I can hopefully ditch the saggy t-shirts and grow this baby with a little more panache. And maybe at some point in the years to come, between stretching and unstretching and stretching again, I can learn to appreciate this body for the astonishing, miraculous, selfless thing of wonder it really is.

***

(You can see some of the stuff I looked at on my one and only Pinterest board, if you’re into that kind of thing. My commentary is fairly profound (‘i really like this’. Whoa, whoa. Someone call Vogue) but I think we could probably all agree just to look at the pictures. Ok? Ok.)

Picture1

hey, here’s a Pinterest board.

Fringe benefits

(That joke only works if you’re English. For the Statesiders: More Bangs for your Buck, perhaps? Leave suggestions below.)

This is a story about hair. Are you obsessed with hair too? I am.

Once there was a girl who had a perm. Because she was fifteen, and her hair was frizzy-wavy so wasn’t up to much anyway, and she didn’t realise it would make her teenage years like a tragic deleted scene from Saved By the Bell.

Everyone needs a university makeover, and this girl’s was to ditch the poodle mop, dye it blonde and straighten her hair. Unfortunately that one perm, eons ago, had awakened a dormant abominable snowman in her follicles, and it was now naturally curly. But you can do a lot with GHDs, and the just-stepped-out-of-a-rainstorm look was big just then. Over the years the blonde stayed, the GHDs died of overwork and were replaced, and the hair itself got shorter and more practical until it hung pretty much permanently at shoulder length.

This is the part where I reveal that perm girl WAS ME. Also, Soylent Green is people, it was Earth all along and the chap at the end is a ghost.

Lately I’ve been brooding on a change of hair. Ten years is long enough for a hairstyle, and I needed something fresher to counteract all my new motherhood wrinkles. What if I grew it? And changed the colour a bit? And – wait just a minute – got a fringe?! I hadn’t had a fringe since I was little, and back then it was a bit less of a fashion statement and a bit more of a pudding-basin.

I also needed a change of salon, which is terrifying. Trying a new hair salon is like stepping into a lion pit where some of the lions have thinning shears and poor colouring skills. But I chose one in the end and sallied forth for the afternoon, Cloud Atlas in hand, Henry safely ensconced with friends.

Well. It was brilliant. They had a complimentary drinks menu. The hair washing stations were massage chairs – and it is a bizarre but lovely feeling, having invisible hands pummel your back. Like having a robot servant. And while the girl who cut my hair got a bit obsessed with feathering, they did a brilliant job.

I got a side-sweeping fringe, just to ease me into it. Wish I’d gone the whole hog now. I love it.

I also wish someone had warned me what a fringe looks like the morning after. Hello, hair explosion.

From l to r: 1) there ain’t no party like a pudding basin party; 2) moon river; 3) what’s the latin root of regrowth; 4) fringe n’ wrinkles.

I finished Cloud Atlas that same day, by the way. The hairdressers were very kind and kept bringing it to me so I could read it, because my social skills are really quite advanced in that way. I felt oddly sorrowful once it was done. The interlinking stories are nested within one another, making you read forwards through time and then, gradually, backwards and backwards until you’re squeezed out of their lives forever. Until the optimism of earlier characters is weighted to oblivion by what will come later, but is unbearably touching for all that.

I want to cry a bit, just thinking about it. Damn it, Mitchell.

Librarian style: playing the Tesco roulette

Hey, look what I found in Tesco the other week:

Clothing at Tesco, here.

This season, Tesco have discovered in themselves a mania for shift dresses, which is rather convenient. Not only do shift dresses scream ‘stop talking in my library, madam’ like nothing else, but the neckline and hemline are my all-time favourites. You can downplay them with flats and a cardigan or dress them up with heels and pearls; altogether I felt like giving Mr Philip Clarke CEO a hearty embrace, if that wouldn’t be too forward.

You’re dicing with loose-thread death when you shop at Tesco, of course. This ferny purple number is cut beautifully and looks a lot better on than it does in the photo. But they didn’t bother to line it, so you need a heavy-duty slip if you want to stop it riding up towards your hips. (Also, look at the product description on the website. Holy illiteracy, Batman.) I love it, though, so it was a good purchase.

Then, a few days ago, I needed something black to help at a wedding reception that wasn’t heartbreakingly too small – oh, high-waisted skirt, you mock me – and nipped out of the check-out queue to find this:

Clothing at Tesco, here.

They’ve tried a bit harder with this one: it’s lined, linen and with a shiny belt. But the cut isn’t as flattering as the other dress, especially not for someone with a recovering waistline.

It’s a risky business, playing the Tesco roulette. You win some, you lose some. But you do end up with two dresses for £36, and that’s hardly to be sniffed at.

They’ve got loads! Go and look!

Previous wannabe librarian posts are here.

Always take advice from Will Smith, people. Always.

I have a bit of a girl crush on Will Smith. I know he’s a man, but I mean what people mean when they say ‘girl crush’ - I feel like he’s a jolly nice person and wish we could be friends – in the same way that I have girl crushes on Sandra Bullock, Wendy Cope and the late honourable Thomas Cromwell. Do you think perhaps these friendship things can be sorted out in the afterlife? I’d host a brilliant dinner party.

Anyway, one of my personal rules of thumb is to always take advice from Will Smith, and in Hitch, he says something that is relevant to my recent wardrobe clear-out fashion dilemma (three bags of tiny cast-offs, I took to the charity shop. THREE BAGS), which is:

You cannot use what you do not have. If you’re shy, be shy. If you’re outgoing, be outgoing.

And if your natural style seems to be along the lines of ‘grumpy librarian from the fifties’ then go with it and make it work. I think I might just be a ‘grumpy librarian from the fifties’ kind of person. It wouldn’t take much of a leap for me to be very strict about the no-talking rule. I tend to gravitate towards the slightly formal – I don’t own any trainers, never wear tracksuit bottoms unless I’m exercising and have approximately ten thousand button-up cardigans - so instead of berating myself for not being fashionable enough I’ve just decided to embrace it. Use what you have, right? Will Smith said so.

H&M helped me out at the weekend with this adorable polka-dot cardigan:

From H&M, here.

And then I got a pretty blouse from Monsoon:

Monsoon, here.

Both of which made me feel like a) I could get very enthusiastic wielding a date-stamper; and b) that would be ok.

If you find anything that happens to remind you of a grumpy librarian from the fifties, please direct me to it. I will investigate with interest.

(Skinny jeans are my supervillain, incidentally: they don’t do me many favours, and certainly aren’t very librarianish, but I still can’t stop buying them. I’ve decided to run with it and regret it later (always a good fashion policy).)