A Good Night’s Sleep

This week I’ve decided to feature my Low Sugar Coconut Granola. It makes for a delicious and nutritious breakfast when served with organic natural yoghurt and fruit. I wasn’t sure if I’d include it in Cakes for Conor. It isn’t a pretty cake but it does get baked in the oven and eaten more than anything else in our house. It’s very easy to make by mixing the dry ingredients with melted coconut oil and maple syrup before baking. It gives off a lovely smell from the oven. Coconut is one of my favourite foods and so this recipe was always going to be a hit.

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I made a decision in the weeks after Conor died that we would only be able to survive our loss if we stayed healthy. We eat well (hence low sugar coconut granola), make dinners from scratch and follow a healthy lifestyle. The cakes and biscuits normally featured are for visitors or given away. I’ve even stopped myself from licking the bowl! Neither of us has had even a common cold all year so we must be doing something right.

There’s one thing I can’t get right with just a healthy lifestyle and that’s sleep. I’ve eliminated caffeine, set up a bedtime routine and carefully chosen reading material. My poor mind is so busy at night. As the lights go off in the house, its like someone switches on floodlights in my brain. Just like any new parent, I long for a good night’s sleep. I was advised to write to try to improve my sleep. It has certainly helped but I am not cured. During my pregnancy my sleeps were interrupted with toilet visits. I never complained seeing it as preparation for night feeds and teething cries. The last night I slept completely through the night is the night Conor died. I know he kicked as I was heading to bed but I think he must have died soon after that. There were no kicks or wriggles during the night to wake me. It didn’t take me long in the morning to realise something was wrong. There was no “good morning Mummy” kick to start my day. I have been assured by the doctors that Conor felt no pain. We both fell into a deep sleep that fateful night but only one of us woke up.

I often remember dreams. In the dreams in my old life I was quite the hero and regularly solved crimes. Since Conor died I’ve become the victim. In those first weeks of my new life death featured heavily in dreams. Conor’s daddy was washed away by a big wave and dropped dead of a heart attack in another. I witnessed someone in my clothes throw herself off a building. On one occasion I had a horrible nightmare taking me back to bad news day. I became afraid of closing my eyes while well wishers were telling me to have a lie down. Slowly sleep and dreams have improved and bedtime is now my favourite time of the day. On one occasion I dreamt about Conor and it felt good. I can’t believe he doesn’t feature every night because he dominates my daytime thoughts. I have also had dreams about a happier future. I still wake every night in the wee small hours and sometimes it takes me a long time to get off to sleep. I write down my thoughts and fears when this happens and try to clear my head. Some of my best work happens at 5am! I am no longer afraid of sleep or afraid of waking. My gorgeous little niece told me she dreams about baby Conor. She dreams that his Daddy takes him swimming. She also believes that he dreams. When asked what he dreams about, she replied “his Mummy”. Night night and sweet dreams baby Conor.

*Top tips.

http://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/recipes/low-sugar-coconut-granola/

This is the recipe I use. I no longer add dried fruit as the fruit has a tendency to burn. I add the coconut flakes half way through so they don’t burn. Its a bit time consuming as you need to bake the granola in small batches but it’s well worth it. Cheap granola is full of sugar and the healthy stuff is super expensive.

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Music

Music and colour are slowly returning to our lives. I thought I’d mark this huge milestone with some colourful iced biscuits.  I used the biscuit recipe from the beautiful book “Saved by Cake” by the Irish writer Marian Keyes. The book and the bakes tell Marian’s story as she finds baking helps during a battle with depression. While the girlie Marian makes handbags and shoes, I of course made stars. For the first time since starting Cakes for Conor I had music playing in the background. I spent a lovely afternoon mixing and piping the colourful royal icing. It took me back to the colouring in activities I loved as a child.

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Some cultures impose periods of mourning on the bereaved.  People wear black, withdraw from social occasions and observe quiet, reserved behaviours. No one imposed any rules on us but our lives lost colour and sound for a while. Our home became a dark, silent place after Conor died. In the early days we couldn’t bear sound of any kind. The radio and TV were kept off. The silence left some visitors restless and uncomfortable but to us noise was overwhelming. The two days spent in the maternity hospital were noisy for all the wrong reasons. To drown out the sounds of new born babies crying from the other delivery suites we had a radio tuned into Lyric Fm. Conor’s Daddy has an amazing ability to recognise songs from their first notes. He could probably name most of the tunes played that weekend. Those hours spent with Lyric Fm’s easy listening playlist has damaged our ability to enjoy music. While it’s not for others to tell anyone how to grieve, I can see how periods of mourning may help to protect the bereaved and give them time to re-adjust to their new lives.

I have given a lot of thought to why music has been problematic for us. It has been about more than just seeking silence. The former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown talked about being unable to listen to music after the death of his baby girl. Some other bereaved parents I now know have described the same. Music, memory and emotion are so strongly linked and I think this is the cause. I don’t think Conor’s Daddy will ever be able to listen to Pearl Jam whose latest album was his soundtrack to our pregnancy.  It was months before Conor’s Daddy could even sit in a cafe with background music. Music caught us off guard. Without warning songs were played that could trigger painful memories. There were moments from our time in the materity hospital we never want to forget. Equally there are moments we never want to remember. Just four months after Conor died we went to a Morrissey gig. I never missed his gigs so it seemed like the right thing to do as I mistakenly thought I needed to re-build my old life. I couldn’t stop crying and left early. His songs took me back to my old life and happier times. This only highlighted how unhappy I now was.

Last weekend I went to the second gig of my new life.   I wasn’t dancing or singing along like the old me would have done. However, for the couple of hours standing in a city centre park listening to Damien Rice’s amazing vocals I actually felt happy. I was able to experience the music in the present. Only the other day I heard Conor’s Daddy singing in the shower.  I don’t think we’re ready to switch on music radio with its random playlist of memories but we can start to enjoy music of our own chosing. I’m curious to see which songs will form the soundtrack to our new life. Nearly one year into our grief I can feel a change and it feels good. Conor, we hope you’re proud of us.

*Top Tips:

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There are some great clips on YouTube to get you started on piping. I buy good quality gel colours. Don’t use the cheap liquid colours from the supermarket. I’m going to treat myself to some extra No 2 nozzles so I can have all the filled piping bags ready to go. Good luck.

Happy Birthday

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This is my wee niece’s birthday cake. She requested a dinosaur cake. My sister baked a Victoria sponge and we decorated it together. It was our first attempt at sugar craft and we spent a very calm couple of hours rolling and molding the sugar paste to create our very friendly looking dinosaur. Conor was even remembered in the star shaped balloon. My niece was one very happy customer showing her cake off to anyone who came to visit.

It’s just over a month away from the anniversary of Conor’s short life and death. I have been told that time heals. However, no bereaved parent has ever uttered these words to me. They tell me the broken heart never fully heals but you get better at living with it. I’ve also been told the first of everything is the hardest. What people do not realise is that I am faced with a lifetime of firsts. I am the mother of what should be a nearly 1 year old little boy cruising the furniture. I grieve not only for the baby I buried but the first smile, first tooth, first steps, first words, first day at school, first love, first exams, first job and a lifetime of family celebrations. I heard when a parent dies you grieve for your past and when a child dies you grieve for your future. When pregnant I planned a very different future. I know that grieving for my son is not going to be a smooth ride. There is a lifetime of milestones and firsts ahead of us.

As we approach Conor’s first anniversary I am reminded of how friends and family have talked about their children’s first birthdays. I’ve been told that they view it as a chance to celebrate surviving their first year as parents. They have spent the year with little sleep, they haven’t known if they are coming or going and they feel changed. I too am going to try to use this milestone to celebrate how Conor’s Daddy and I have survived this year which has changed us more than we ever could have imagined. All I have to do now is plan Conor’s first birthday cake. . .

I’ll huff and I’ll puff…

All bakers both amateur & professional can list their baking disasters. Having become very sensitive to words and their uses I now use the term “dodgy bakes”. This is my most recent dodgy bake.

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My attempt at two identical cheese & onion loaves was thwarted with the collapse of one of the cardboard cases. It reminded me of the fairy tale “The Three Little Pigs”. The walls of the cardboard case were not strong enough to hold up my loaf. The fan oven huffed and puffed and blew my loaf down. Both loaves tasted delicious but it was time to buy myself some stong metal tins. Any future loaves need a more stable base. (See the end of this post for the very easy recipe.)
Since Conor died I feel like I am living life wobbling on one leg. Life no longer has a stable base and it doesn’t take much for me to fall or get knocked down. Puffs of wind along with tornadoes can appear out of the blue. Sometimes they are forecast. It’s exhausting getting back up all the time but staying down is a scarier option. Grief has changed me and has taken far more from me than just my child. The old me was far better equiped to handle the stresses and strains of life. In my new life I struggle to make even the most basic decisions. I know that the worst can happen and I worry constantly. Every hospital visit to my sick parent and every wait in a waiting room takes me back to bad news day. My new life is filled with so much uncertainty and anxiety. I am thin skinned and sensitive to what is or is not said. I am easily overwhelmed. I wobble through each day trying to stay upright.

During moments of kindness from others I can find myself stable for a while. It is during these moments I am handed a crutch to steady myself and my new life seems manageable. Conor’s Daddy and I have experienced so much kindness in our new life. My amazing sister has created rituals for keeping Conor’s memory alive with her children and has raised funds in his name. Conor’s grandparents tend the grave, light candles, make weather proof stars and knit blankets for memory boxes. There’s a wonderful friend who regularly drops in with delicious dinners and another who gave up her apartment for my family last summer. We have friends and relatives who hand us a crutch every time they ask us how we are, take the time to listen to our answer and allow us to tell our story.  We’re handed a crutch every time someone acknowledges our son and uses his name. There is kindness in strangers too. I sobbed when our window cleaner asked me if I had the baby. After his initial shock he handed me a crutch when he asked our baby’s name and once again when he returned showing he wasn’t afraid of my tears. There was the woman on my baking course who asked me if I have any children. After being told I had a boy who died she went out of her way to talk to me for the week and she washed up my utensils. There are no words to fix what has happened. No one can take away our pain and there is no metal tin to hold us up. I hope that one day my second leg will touch the ground and I’ll feel more stable. Until then I will wobble on, I will pick myself up, I will keep baking and I will lean on any crutches that come my way.

Thank you all.

*Top tip:

This savoury bread is so easy to make and goes well with a salad or soup. It has a cake like consistency. I first made it while on a brilliant beginners baking course with The Baking Academy (check out http://www.bakingacademyireland.ie for courses). Here’s the recipe:
Plain flour 200g
Strong flour 200g
Salt 5g
Baking Powder 25g
Butter 30g
Grated cheese 160g
Chives/spring onions 30g
Buttermilk 300ml
1 x medium egg

There are very few stages;
1. Mix dry ingredients
2. Mix egg and buttermilk together
3. Mix egg/buttermilk with dry ingredients to make a soft dough.
4. Soft dough can be divided into 2 small loaf tins (1lb tins – use metal ones!) and bake for 35-40 mins at 210.

Enjoy.