Babies & Holidays

November 22, 2016

The holidays are upon us and for new parents it can be fraught with anxiety. Whose family do we spend the holidays with? Do we travel? If so, how: car, bus, train, airplane?

Should we just stay home and have family visit us? But how will we be able to host people? I can’t even feed myself half the time let alone a dozen guests? And my baby just got into a somewhat predictable routine! Help!

Many families are eager to show off their new baby and want to have holidays with family and friends. It is not impossible to enjoy the the festivities with some planning and a change of expectations.

First, expect that your baby who is used to somewhat of a routine may want to be in the arms of her parents more. She may also nurse more than usual – nursing is calming for a baby, she feels safe in your arms, safe at the breast.

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Depending on where and how your baby sleeps, her sleep may be different when traveling or when you have company. This is not uncommon and know that you can get back into a routine once you get back home or the guests leave.

Sometimes it works to invite people over to your place so that your baby’s routine is fairly regular. Make it a potluck to take the pressure off. Make definite times for your event:

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People want to help but often need direction.

Assign jobs: setting the table, washing dishes, vacuuming, etc.

Some new families like to keep it simple and stay home and create their own traditions.

One family has a tree trimming party in early December. They make it an open house with set hours where people do not have to stay the whole time. Their friends bring ornaments and food. This is a great way to see friends and family in a festive way without the overwhelming scene of everyone all at once.

Another family started a tradition of staying home, eating their favorite junk food and watching silly movies. They wear matching pajamas. No friends or extended family – just their little family.

This may be the first time many of your loved ones are meeting your new baby. They all want to hold her. That does not mean she wants to be held by all of them.

I recall my sister’s wedding was the the first time many of my family were meeting my oldest for the first time. She was nine months old. She was comfortable in the arms of my husband, my mom, my sister and me. But everyone wanted to hold her. I have lots of photos of her with tears or a red face. It was overwhelming for her. After a while I told everyone they could take a picture with me holding her. Those photos show a smiling baby with her cousins and aunts and uncles – and me!

Some people may be critical that your baby is “clingy.” Your baby is in survival mode. You may be met with criticism of how often your baby nurses.

Speaking of nursing your baby may nurse more than usual or she may even get distracted and nurse less. If she nurses less your body will let you know! Just take her back and nurse her if your breasts are getting full. If she is distracted go to a private room – take a nap together! This can be your escape excuse!

Some have never nursed in front of family. Practice in front of a mirror or with a group of other nursing moms and you will see that very little skin shows. If you are one who feels like you need to partially undress to nurse, a pretty scarf can help offer some privacy.

Before these gatherings discuss your plans. If Aunt Martha is always critical of your parenting and you have to see her, plan on a few replies to her comments.

    “My that baby isn’t dressed warm enough! I would never have let my babies dress like that.”

     “Aunt Martha, thank you for your suggestions, we will consider them, for now things are working for us.”

    “My, that baby sure nurses a lot, you may want to give her some cereal in her bottle!”

    “Aunt Martha, our pediatrician says we do not need to give her cereal, my milk is all she needs.”

 

Many couples have an escape plan. They have a code for when the time is up.

It could be a wink or a phrase. “Honey, I left the oven on.” “Sweetheart, I have on two different color socks!”

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Make sure you take lots of photos. These memories should be preserved.

Happy Holidays!

 

 

Tandem Nursing

August 10, 2016

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Tandem Nursing means nursing two babies at once. This can be twins or it can be siblings born at different times i.e. an toddler and an newborn.

Many people believe that you cannot get pregnant while nursing or that if you are nursing when you are pregnant you need to wean.

You can get pregnant while nursing.

Breastfeeding can be birth control under specific conditions. There is the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM).

LAM works like this:

  • No return of menses since birth
  • breastfeeding on demand, night, and day
  • baby does not take any food or other liquids regularly
  • baby’s sucking needs met primarily at the breast (no pacifier or bottles) baby is less than 6 months old.
  • baby does not go longer than four hours during the day and longer than six hours during the night between nursing

 

With LAM there is about a 1-2% chance of getting pregnant – similar to taking birth control pills.

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Many people get pregnant while nursing. Often moms are advised to wean their older baby if they become pregnant. There is no need to wean unless you are at risk for premature labor and you are advised by your health care provider to refrain from intercourse.

What can you expect while nursing while pregnant?

About halfway through pregnancy your milk changes from mature milk to colostrum. Colostrum is thicker and does not flow as easily as mature milk. Some toddlers get frustrated and wean. Others hold on for dear life!

One telltale sign of pregnancy can be sore nipples. Some moms find nursing painful or they become averse to nursing and they choose to wean their older baby.

Others will put limitations on nursing – one mom used counting as her strategy – “you can nurse for ten seconds – 10, 9, 8 . . .“ Another mom had a nursing chair where they could only nurse sitting in the chair in a quiet room.

Some advantages of tandem nursing can be:

  • nursing toddler can help relieve engorgement
  • older baby not feeling left out
  • mom doesn’t feel she is abandoning the older child
  • she still has her magic toddler wand
  • sibling bonding
  • stronger immune system of the toddler

 

Disadvantages:

  • mom may feel touched out
  • judgement from family, friends and health care team

 

When nursing twins it can be a good idea to alternate breasts for the twins. This can be every feeding or everyday – Twin A gets the left breast while Twin B gets the right breast for one feeding and then alternate the next feeding or on Monday Twin A gets left breast and Twin B gets right breast and on Tuesday Twin A gets right breast and Twin B gets left breast and so on. Many moms of twins will choose to nurse one at a time once they get older to have one on one time. In the early days it can be a time saver to nurse both at once.

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How does one manage tandem nursing babies of different ages?

Elizabeth Tandem nursing Read the rest of this entry »

The Last First Day

September 9, 2015

This morning as I dropped off my youngest child at school I was weepy. Was this Kindergarten or PreK? No, this was fifth grade. Finn is over five feet tall. He has been going to the same school since her was four years old. Why was I weepy? This marks the end of an era for me – as a mom, as a community member, as someone who is seeing time go by in my middle years.

This is my last First Day of School at the Earth School.

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My first First day of Earth School was in September of 2000. For the last fifteen years I have been trekking up and down Avenue B in the East Village of New York City

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Just north of 14th Street is Stuyvesant Town where we live. I have walked in snow, sleet, rain and in the blazing sun to get to our beloved elementary school. I have walked with babies in my belly, babies in slings and babies in strollers. I have seen teachers come and go and some come back! I have been through three principles. I have fund raised and recruited other families. I have escorted countless field trips often with a toddler in tow!

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At Earth I have found community. I have met some of my closest friends. My family has forged relationships with other families with whom we share holidays and birthdays.

I remember the first annual Earth School Auction.

I have enjoyed the art on the walls and read some inspiring poetry and memoirs by the wonderful children who populate the halls and hearts of our community.

I remember when the roof garden was an idea and then it became real.

I have seen families grow and I have seen families leave. I have seen tragedy and great joy and simply ordinary days at Earth. I was at Earth that terrifying morning on September 11, 2001.

I have watched children perform on the stage.

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I have nursed babies in the halls and in the lobby. I have sold popcorn and cookies in the lobby. I have done on-the-spot lactation consulting in the lobby.

I have grown as a human at Earth. I have watched my children grow and thrive. I have seen them learn to tie their shoes and learn conflict resolution and learn to construct a sentence and to defend an original idea.

I have learned about community building and about celebrating the seasons by marching in Tompkins Square Park to celebrate solstices and equinoxes.

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I learned about what education is. I have learned so much more. I have learned to let go and watch my babies grow into smart, confident people.

In nine months my youngest child will graduate from the Earth School. But today is the first day of fifth grade for Finn. I will embrace this day and open my heart to the Earth community.

The Lactivist

February 4, 2015

Lactivist

Chloe nursing at the World Walk for Breastfeeding NYC 2002

The word was accusatory. I felt her anger over the internet.

What had I done to her? I did not say anything about formula feeding. I did make the case against the unethical marketing of formula. That is distinctly different from condemning moms who formula feed.

There is a formula campaign going around social media under the guise of making the “Mommy Wars” go away. In actuality most of the conflict of motherhood, parenthood really, is sparked by media and advertising.

The line between marketing and entertainment is becoming more and more murky. I have learned for the most part to discern what is being sold to me as opposed to what is there to entertain me.

This is the comment I made:

This is not about breastfeeding vs formula feeding, it is about the nefarious marketing of the pharmaceutical industry that undermines all families. Formula has its place. This is about using guilt to promote their product and to make us divisive – are we really? At the heart of it on the playground I can say that most moms get along. The images in the media create fear and defensiveness. I work professionally to support all mothers, I know when formula is needed and wanted. People are not always given the opportunity to make an informed choice.

Why was she angry with me? Why did she think I was attacking her?

I started thinking about it. She was directing her anger at me because I am safe. She does not know me – I am just that breastfeeding advocate. What had happened to her? Was she really experiencing grief and anger over her baby feeding experience?

I have many friends who did not breastfeed and they are not angry at me. They made informed decisions or at least dealt with what they were handed and they have made peace with it.

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I thought about the times I get angry at people. I moved to New York for many reasons but one of the big ones was for an acting career. I am not a Broadway or TV or movie star. I could list all of the obstacles that prevented me from becoming famous but it doesn’t matter. I still get jealous and angry sometimes when I see actors my age who have made it. I also wrote and performed stand-up comedy. I loved watching the Golden Globes but I felt little jolts of envy watching Tina and Amy up there.

These feelings are far overshadowed by my happy life. I have a loving husband whom I love hanging out with – he really is my best friend and I am looking forward to growing old with him. We have three awesome children who are smart, healthy and beautiful.

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I have moved on. (Casting directors – I can still provide a resume!)

I am also a bit envious of the moms who have had babies at home. Complications prevented that from happening with my babies and me. Still, I ache a bit about some of the birth experiences my babies and I went through. In the end they are all healthy and we made it through.

I have worked out the things in my life that got in the way of some of my goals. I have accomplished many of my goals and I am a happy woman.

So, going back to the name caller, I think she is angry and sad that she is not breastfeeding. I do not know if her birth interfered with her plans. I do not know if her family gave her a hard time about breastfeeding. I do not know if she is taking a medication that is incompatible with breastfeeding. I do not know if her body never made milk. I do not know what experiences she may have had in her past that makes it uncomfortable for her to have anyone touch her breasts.

I sure as hell bet she loves her baby immensely. I hope she can find some peace. I will be the brunt of many a new mom’s anger and frustration.

That is a role I can play.

Ten years ago today my mama left this earth. I wish I could say she left in a space ship or an airplane to take a ride and come back later but, no, she left permanently.

I know she is pretty mad about not being here. She loved life.

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I learned a lot from my mom. I learned how to be a mom from my mom. I learned it was all right to make mistakes as long as you learned from them. I learned how to dress and put on make-up and to make sure my hair never looked a mess. Mama was very stylish. She had a keen eye for bargains and she also knew how to sew. One of my favorite memories is going to the fabric store. While Mama poured over the Butterick, Vogue and Simplicity pattern books I would walk the aisles with rows and rows of fabric. The colors and patterns caught my eyes and I loved stroking the silks, the textured corduroy, the soft felt. Much of it was tacky but Mama could find the right pattern and the right fabric and accessories and put together a sharp looking outfit for herself or a sweet dress for Traci and me. We were six years apart so often she would use the same fabric but make a different dress.

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I loved watching the ladies behind the counter open the bolts and the fabric would spill over the side and then came the click of the scissors scraping off a yard or a yard and a half. Then we would make our way to the accessories area and pick out buttons, zippers, snaps – I love the snap machine! It was like a hole-puncher but you punched a snap onto the fabric. One year for Easter Mama made her and me a plaid pastel pantsuit. I loved matching Mama. It was in shades of yellow and gray with a trace of pink and the jackets closed with mother-of-pearl snaps. We layered lemon tank tops under the jackets.

Mama was always terrible at good-byes. The conversations always lingered. It would drive Rob crazy every time we drove the twelve or more hours to North Carolina and the morning we were packing to leave Mama would run into the house after a week long visit and come running out with a box or shopping bag full of stuff saying “I meant to go through this with you.” It might be a bunch of photographs or letters or some trinkets from my childhood. Something sure to engage me, distract me from leaving, from the goodbye.

When I found out Mama had lung cancer my heart cracked. I knew lung cancer was bad. That summer I made a few weekend trips alone and one week long trip with Phoebe and Chloe. Through it all Mama always stayed positive. She was determined to fight that cancer. She got mad if anyone spoke negatively about her survival.

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That last visit I remember looking across the living room at her and I knew she didn’t look good. It scared me. She was in Daddy’s leather recliner, asleep, with her head cocked back, the oxygen tubes forming a nearly visible mustache, which blended with her gray skin. She looked old. I fooled myself into thinking she looked this way from the chemo – which she barely had as she could not tolerate it.

That weekend Traci and I took Mama to Cato so that she could by her sister Rita something for her birthday. She chose Cato because it was close by – the mall would never have worked. We had to push Mama in a wheelchair with her oxygen tank on her lap. Traci and I were mostly quiet, listening to Mama’s frustrated directions. She chose a colorful blouse and a pretty grass green jacket. Across the crowded discount store Mama spotted a display of hats. Dragging clothes off the racks we pushed her chair to the hats. Mama considered a fuschia fedora for herself for when the chemo kicked in and she would go bald.

Earlier that summer Phoebe, Chloe and I had shopped in a vintage clothing store and bought Mama four colorful silk scarves for when her hair fell out. I remember the owner of the store being annoyed with the girls as they helped pick out the scarves. Chloe’s little hands touching the silk – that girl loved the feel of silk more than anything. At the age of one she took a silky pajama shirt of mine and cuddled it and always held onto “shirt-shirt” while she nursed. This collection of silk scarves was nearly nirvana to her and she contained herself like a true lady yet this hag gave her the eye of death. I have never given her my business again.

That last visit Mama had me pack up a sweater she had bought from the J. Jill catalog. It was her style exactly. She said she didn’t really need it, that she didn’t really like it that much. I sent it back. That same day we organized all of her insurance papers. Mama also gave me a floppy disc with a few of her short plays that I still have not had it in me to open up.

The day before I was heading back to New York, October 1, I asked Mama about Thanksgiving and Christmas. She said “you have Thanksgiving in New York, I won’t be feeling well from the chemo and then Dad and I will come to New York for Christmas.” I was so happy to have a plan for those holidays especially because I did not know what to expect. Mama died October 19, a Tuesday.

The Sunday before Mama died, Dad called to say Mama was not doing well and the doctor gave her about 10 days to two weeks. I talked to my brother, Mike. We agreed to fly to North Carolina on the same day – he from Boston, me from New York and we would drive together from the airport.

Rob arranged for his mom to come help with the girls. She came in on Tuesday. I felt raw. Tuesday, early in the day, Dad called to say Mama wasn’t doing well. I told him to tell her I love her and I didn’t want her to be in pain and if she needed to go that was fine with fine with me. That night Dad called, I answered and his words were, “ Leigh Anne, Mama’s gone.” I screamed and threw the phone. Mary picked up the phone as I lay on the floor wailing.

I traveled alone Wednesday morning. I was grumpy, agitated. The lines at the airport were long. I had checked in and asked the ticket agent about an open-ended ticket. I had to say out loud “My mom died yesterday.” It was busy and another agent was trying to board a wedding party. She went to my agent and tried to speed her up or cut the line. My lovely agent quietly pointed at the screen – the other agent looked at me and moved on, less frantic.

As I waited to remove my boots and go through security a big, blond southern Christian lady with a loud sweater, looked at me and nearly sang, “It looks like there is goin’ to be a weddin’.” There was a group of young women all carrying white dress bags. “Yes,” I replied. “Are you in a hurry? Are you from New York?” she drawled.

I looked directly at her mascaraed blue eyes and I said “My mama died last night,” as I fell into her big colorful bossom. She hugged me just right. We got through security. She was sitting in one of the chain restaurants. “Do you want some breakfast?” she sang. I thanked her and told her I was going to sit by my gate with a cup of tea.

Many things happened on that trip: planning a funeral, buying a blouse for Mama to wear in the casket, choosing a casket, choosing flowers, buying appropriate clothes for my girls to wear, writing an obituary.

Dad, Mike, Traci and I had to choose flowers for her casket. We went with red as it is elegant and because she was a Red Hat. There were these beautiful tiny red orchids – I knew Mama would have loved them. The florist sucked in her breathe – I imagine she is used to sad people – she said she did not think she would be able to get them. We were in no position to put up a fight. We accepted her statement and chose an alternative.

Traci was with Mama when she died. Traci insisted that she do Mama’s hair and make-up – none of that over the top mortician makeup. She wanted me to help her. When I woke up the next day, knowing that I had to go help Traci decorate our dead mother I cried to Daddy, “ I can write a eulogy, I can give a eulogy but I cannot dress my dead mother.”

We got through the wake. The morning of the funeral came. I wore black slacks and a black kimono style blouse splashed with bright flowers. At the funeral home Daddy takes me by the arm and says “Come on, Leigh Anne, it’s time to say goodbye to Mama.” I couldn’t believe how strong he was through all of this and he knew exactly what to do and when to do it.

I nearly collapsed in his arms as he brought me for my final goodbye. Mama taught me how to do almost everything but she did not teach me how to say goodbye to your mama. Her mama, my grandmother is still alive.

I kneeled down at the casket and I touched her hand. I did not like the cold, lifeless feel of her hand so I pulled my hand back and looked at my beautiful mom with all of her hair. She never had much chemo in the end. She was wearing an emerald silk blouse under her black pants suit. Her nails were painted red to cover the ashen color they had become.

I told her she had done such a wonderful job with us kids that we would be ok, we would miss her terribly, but we would be ok. And I told her how jealous all of my friends were because she was my mom and not theirs and that she was the best mom in the world. I had to teach myself how to say good-bye.

Her casket had the lovely red, baby orchids.

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Love Lines and Body Love

February 9, 2014

My body is the only body I have, the only body I will ever have. It is where I live. My body is where I grew my babies, first inside then outside. I grew them with my breasts, my hugs. I lugged them around on my hips. I am happy to have these soft hips to balance a baby and my soft bosom to catch hugs. If you look closely at my hips and my breasts, if you catch the light just right you will see a light pattern, a texture, almost silvery, once purple but softly faded lines. Some people call them stretch marks I prefer love lines.

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Love created my babies. Rob’s loving hands caress my body. I love the feeling of skin on skin.

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I once held fantasies of having a perfectly toned body, a model size body but I don’t naturally have that body type and life is too much fun to work that hard for an elusive dream.

I had warts as a kid. Mama used to have me take an old silver spoon, rub it on the warts in a circular motion and toss the spoon behind me into the woods. This was supposed to disappear the warts. I was warned to never search for the spoon because if I ever found it the warts would grow back. The spoon trick never worked. Mama said I didn’t believe hard enough.

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When I was fifteen I had thirteen warts on my left knee. The doctor numbed up the middle of my leg and I lay back. I saw a miniature melon-baller in his hand and moments later I felt warm syrup dripping down my ankle. He scooped out those warts and red streaks of blood lined my leg and speckled the tile floor.

To this day I can see the silvery amoeba shape on my knee, particularly in summer when I catch a bit of color.

Speaking of tanning I have been cursed with a skin cancer gene. If you look closely at my chest and face you will see that they are marked up like old pair of jeans that have been reworked, stitches here and there, threadbare in some spots. I am a dermatologist’s dream. I don’t have bad cancer, just basel and squamous cells, moles, things that need to be removed here and there but are nothing lethal. I am a steady customer.

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I have plenty of moles. There is one on my left side, the part that curves in at the waist, just handy for a nursling’s little hand to migrate to and pull and pinch and finger. I had another one that he loved on my upper chest near my arm that was easy access when nursing. I complained to the dermatologist and he froze it off. The boy knew the one on my waist was bigger and softer anyway so he didn’t complain.

My daughters love my curves. They love to cuddle into me. My husband and son love hand-holding and spooning.

The chorus of love I hear is: “Let’s cuddle.” “Spoon me.” “I need a hug.”

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Legs tangle together on the sofa. We are a network of limbs, touching, embracing, kicking. My family is connected physically and emotionally. I feel like we sprang from my marked and curvy body.

There are many things that can make or break the transition into breastfeeding. Breastfeeding in the beginning is time consuming and that is good. It is good because it creates the opportunity for mom to rest and heal from birth. It is also a time to study your baby.  It is time to get to know each other.

With this in mind there are a few things you can plan.

Create nursing stations in your home.

While still pregnant, notice where you like to spend time in your home. Many new parents build a beautiful nursery but you do not have to stay there for every feeding.

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Your baby does not care what the room looks like. Your baby expects to be close to mom and to have her milk available.

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Your nursing station can include:

~water for you to drink

~snacks for you

~a cloth diaper for spit ups

~diapers and wipes

~phone

~book

~TV remote control

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Nursing stations can be in:

~living room

~bedroom

~nursery

~den

Accept help!

For some of us it is hard to give direction. People want to help. They appreciate the guidance. They cannot read your mind as you sit there thinking “I sure am thirsty, I wish someone would bring me a glass of water” or “I cannot stand to look at that dust bunny another minute, I wish someone would clean it up.” Tell the people what you need and what you want.

When people ask what you need for your new baby tell them you need his food source fed – that is you! Have them make a meal.

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Limit your visitors to those who will help you. This is a special time and you want to be able to be yourself and be comfortable. You have a new member of the family and this little pod needs to bond and sort out their new roles as moms, dads, siblings.

 

 Take a breastfeeding class. A good class will give you the basics on what it looks like to nurse, on how to know that your baby is or is not getting enough and when and where to look for help.

Avoid early supplementing, unless medically indicated. If you need to supplement the best food for your baby is your milk. In the first couple of days you have a thick, nutritiously dense milk called colostrum.

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This is the perfect food for your baby. You can literally express some onto a spoon in these first days and spoon feed your baby. If it is medically indicated to supplement then you need to use a rental grade pump. Many moms buy pumps but they are not all created equal.

 

Find your community.

These days there are so many resources for new parents. Be sure and find one where you can meet other parents face-to-face.

~You can attend a La Leche League Meeting

~Find your local community center with parenting groups

~Find your local on-line community

Know where to find help.

A few good resources:

http://www.llli.org/

http://kellymom.com/

http://www.breastfeedingmadesimple.com/

http://www.isisonline.org.uk/