Wednesday, 17 January 2018

16 Months & Counting

Before we had a second child, I thought the newborn stage was my favourite. I remembered that time as a hazy, cosy, hibernation with a new baby. I remembered long afternoons spent snuggled on the sofa with my newborn baby, the perfect scent of her skin, the nights spent watching her sleep. I remembered the long lunches with friends, laughing and talking as our babies slept soundly beside us.

Laurie always said the toddler years were his favourite part. Whenever we would see friend's toddlers, he would nudge me and say 'remember how lovely it was when Ebony was that age'. But I remembered the toddler years as being exhausting. I remembered long, long walks down the road as she stopped to marvel at every leaf, twig and dog turd we passed. I remembered never being able to sit down. I remembered trips to the park with friends where I couldn't hold a conversation because I was too busy chasing a toddler around the park to make sure she didn't fall off the big slide. I remembered the good stuff too, but it was balanced by the relentlessness of life with an independent but not yet fully capable child.



Now that Ember is 16 months, memories of Ebony at this age have come flooding back to me. I can now fully see why Laurie remembered this age as being so lovely. I guess the newborn days aren't as magical if you're working full-time and are mainly in charge of bringing drinks and food to your breastfeeding wife who insists on arguing over who has had the least sleep each morning (me, always me).

At 16 months, Ember's vocabulary has taken off. She's picking up a new word each and every day and has recently figured out how to put two words together. She has a huge grin that she flashes to everybody we pass and she is forever shouting 'hiya' and waving at strangers as we walk down the street. She has just become fiercely independent, she gets cross when I`try to help her with things and always wants to do things herself. Now, if she wakes from her nap, she doesn't wait for me to get up there, she slides out of bed and out into the hallway to find me. Yesterday, she was halfway down the stairs before I got to her.


When Ebony was this age, she would bring book after book after book to me. She would snuggle up on my knee and I would read books to her for about an hour every day. Ember doesn't do that, she grabs the books herself and yells nonsense aloud while she turns the pages. When she's hungry, she drags the stool across the kitchen floor and climbs into her highchair. When she's finished eating, she tries to climb out again. She wants to walk everywhere, she brings me her boots when she wants to go out. Long gone are the days of her holding my hand, now she walks by herself, her hand firmly pulled away from mine so that all I can do is walk next to her and try to stop her stroking the bins we pass (why do kids do this?).

She knows when it's time to go and get her sister from school. She waits by the front door and starts shouting 'Ebadee' until I'm ready to go. Ebony is always one of the last out, and Ember spends most of the time in the schoolyard just trying to get into the classroom. Then, even though she has spent the journey there making it perfectly clear that she does not want to hold my hand, she will immediately reach out for her big sister and the two of them walk home (painfully slowly) hand-in-hand. And she loves Laurie, even if she is on the brink of succumbing sleep, she will sit up excited to see Laurie when she hears his keys in the door. And then sleep will be forgotten about so she can run along the landing, squealing with delight as he chases her and her big sister

So, I might not be able to go out for lunch much right now, and it might be easier to get a takeaway than go for a meal at a restaurant. And sure, she sometimes gets really frustrated because she can't communicate whatever it is she wants to me, but 16 months is pretty amazing. She's constantly learning and changing and growing, and it's a privilege to witness.


Monday, 15 January 2018

A Family Holiday Bucket List



I think I am a long distance traveller trapped with the budget of a staycation camper. Now that Christmas is over for another year, my mind has shifted to the summer months. I am really looking forward to sunny afternoons playing in the garden with Ember, after-school trips to the park and weekend barbecues with the whole family. And, of course, my mind has strayed to holidays. Laurie said a few weeks ago that he wants to write a bucket list of things to do and places to visit. I thought he meant as a family but it turns out he has visions of cycling with a one-man tent, so I’m going to have write a separate list if I want to feature on it (sob).

Here are a few of the trips I would love for us to take:

1. Safari
I would love to go on a safari and see animals in the wild. I have always wanted to do this, but it’s something I have really had my heart set on since becoming a parent. Obviously, as vegans, we don’t go to zoos (I’ve written about that here, if you’re interested). Ebony has never seen a lion or elephant in real life, something which I think pretty much every single one of her friends has. I would love to take her to Africa to see those animals in their natural habitats. I can’t even imagine how amazing it would be to see such majestic creatures in the wild.

2. To disappear for the whole summer
I hate that the school terms and so long and the holidays so fleeting. And I really hate that it costs so much to take holidays during the school break. I was always taken out of school for holidays and I am so thankful for those experiences of spending time with my family. I want to say ‘and seeing the world’ but really I mostly read books by the pool so that might be a bit of a stretch. I would love to take advantage of the long summer break by packing up and disappearing for the duration. One of Ebony’s best friends disappears with her family for the whole of the summer and I am always so jealous of their adventures. I don’t know how we would make it work with Laurie’s job, but I would love to do it one day (luckily being freelance and working from home means it wouldn’t be a problem for me. Yeah, I said that smugly).

3. Disneyland
Oh I know, capitalism, Disneyfication, Princess culture, yadda yadda yadda. I get it, I agree, I’m on board. But I’m still psyched that we’re going to Disneyland this year. I loved going to Disneyland when I was a kid. It felt so magical and exciting and like I was finally living the dream like the smiling kids on the 25-minute advert at the end of every single Disney VHS I owned. I can’t wait to take the girls this summer. I know that Ember will be a little young for most of the rides and that we’ll probably spend the whole time chasing her around while muttering about how stupid it was to take a toddler to Disneyland, but I don’t care. Ebony is going to love it. She’s going to love the rides, and the castle and the fact that there are characters to say hi to.

4. Iceland
I really want to see the Northern Lights. I know the girls won’t be interested in a trip to Iceland when they’re teenagers, but I think they’d love an outdoor adventure holiday while they’re still young. I’ve never been to Iceland and would love to go in the next few years. I would love to take them to see the Northern Lights and the wildlife and the beautiful scenery.

5. Cycling holiday
I have so many fond memories of cycling around France with my family when I was younger. I am rubbish at cycling and I don’t have a bike, so this might be a long-term dream, but I would really love to cycle around France with the girls. Laurie took Ember out on the back of his bike for the first time today and she returned frozen into a toddler-shaped ice cube, so I feel she may prefer a warmer climate. Ebony just got a new bike for her birthday and a cycling holiday would be a great way to build her confidence.

6. Doing something useful
When I talked about this bucket list with Laurie, we both decided we would want to do something worthwhile. I would really like to find a (genuine) animal sanctuary to visit somewhere. It would be great to teach the girls about real conservation and be able to show them the ways people are helping animals around the world. Obviously, the girls wouldn’t be much use, but if we could find a place to stay that would help fund sanctuary work while also letting the girls learn more about what was being done to help animals, I think that would be ideal.

7. Explore Scotland
I love Scotland. It’s such a beautiful, wild place, if it was a little warmer, I would live there. We’ve taken Ebony to Edinburgh and Glasgow, but she hasn’t seen the rest of the country. I’d love to go on a family holiday exploring the Scottish wilderness. Also, I think it would be fun to see Ebony offend Scottish people with her terrible accent, and maybe her accent would improve which can only be a good thing.

Where are your bucket list places to visit as a family?

This is a collaborative post.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

10 Thoughts I Have When I'm Hungover




The struggle of post-night out anxiety is real and I don't think it's just me who suffers from this. I think I've always had this, to some extent. Only now it's worse because I don't get quite as drunk as I did when I was younger. If you're 18 and blackout at the end of the night, you genuinely have no idea what you said, who you offended or whether you managed to fall out with everyone. I used to have a love-hate relationship with the next morning as my friends and I would piece together the night before, laughing at the funny things that had happened and collectively suffering the shame and horror of yet another drunken night out. 

This doesn't happen when you're in your 30s. I think you're supposed to be adult-enough to remember your own night and wake up without the sense of dread that young people are plagued with. I am not so lucky, that sense of dread is following me right through to old age. And, of course, hangovers are nowhere near as fun when you have children to parent the next day. With all this in mind, I figured I would share 10 of the thoughts that have been running through my mind today (and pretty much consistently over Christmas, too):

1. Why are my kids so loud?
Even when I get a lie-in, and I often do, I'm still woken up by the thuds, shrieks and giggles of my ridiculously loud family. My usual plan is to sleep through the hangover but this is impossible when there are what sounds like 18 elephants stomping around your house playing an elaborate and noisy game of hide and seek. Really, all nights out should end in hotel rooms where you can hibernate until you feel well and truly ready to face the world again, even if that takes a week. 

2. Who did I offend last night?
It always happens, doesn't it? Or it does to me. I am a screechy, giggly, loud drunk and I sometimes forget that I'm not on Comedy Central's Roast. I think you can kind of get away with this bad behaviour when you see lifelong friends who have loved you for years, but perhaps it's not quite so acceptable with new people...

3. Why would I say that?
My memory doesn't hold up well when saturated with alcohol, but there are usually a few clear memories dotted through the night. It's usually the stupid things I said that stick in my mind and then play on repeat for the duration of the hangover. If I'm lucky, those things will only plague me the next day, though on occasion I will fret over them for weeks. Does this happen to other people or am I an overly anxious drunk? 

4. What secrets did I share last night?
I should never tell myself anything because I cannot be trusted. When I was younger, my favourite nights were the ones that ended with me and a friend sharing secrets in a filthy toilet cubicle somewhere. I think, when drunk, I try to relive those days by telling secrets to anybody unfortunate enough to sit next to me. I'm really hoping I will grow out of this but it seems unlikely. In the meantime, I will just have to avoid making eye contact at the school gates for a while. 

5. I should have drunk more water
I should, shouldn't I? If I'd had a glass of water between every drink like my mum has been telling me to since I was 16, maybe I wouldn't have a big black hole where my memory should be. It is good to have drinks but maybe they shouldn't all be prosecco, maybe half of them should be water. It would be worth the extra bathroom trips to avoid embarrassing myself. Plus, maybe I wouldn't feel like my brain was fizzing was still fizzing with prosecco at lunch the next day. 

6. How much did I eat last night?
Usually, the lack of water drinking occurs to me around the time I stumble out of the venue at the end of the night. I then usually make a decision to eat as much food as is humanly possible to try and 'soak up some alcohol' (I am aware this is not science). Last night I got chips from a takeaway and then came home and ate about three loaves of bread. I recently ate an entire vegan pizza on my way home from a night out. If there are crisps in the house, I will eat them all, even if they are pom bears. Sometimes it is better not to know much I have eaten, for this only adds to my shame. 

7. How much did I spend last night?
This is the most terrifying thing of all. Once upon a time, my bank account only let me spend what I had and that money was all to spend on nights out. So it didn't really matter. Now my bank has more money in but I'm supposed to spend it on things like food to feed my children. It is not all supposed to go on nights out. Sometimes, I count up the loose change in my bag and think I did ok only to find out a few days later that I went crazy at the bar and bought many drinks on my bank card. This is never good. I miss the days of Visa Electron. 

8. How many movies is it ok for the kids to watch in a day?
Ok, hangovers aren't what they used to be. I'm not sat on a friend's sofa binge-watching Friends and eating crap. But I can recreate that with the help of Toy Story and some crisps. It's not the same because I didn't have to keep asking my friends if they needed the potty or getting them drinks and raisins, but it's still manageable. Thanks to television, the occasional hangover is survivable and, dare I say, even enjoyable even with small children climbing all over me. 

9. Maybe I should just blanket apologise to everyone
Should I? There is about a 70 percent chance that I offended everyone on the night out. But there's also a pretty good chance nobody will remember until I text them and remind them. But if I don't text them and they do remember, they might hate me forever and never invite me out again. What's the right thing to do?! 

10. I hope everybody else was as drunk as me
Now, I know this one isn't true because I have years of experience of always being the drunkest person at the party. However, it is the only way to switch off my worries and get on with my life. So, at some point in the afternoon, I make myself feel better by telling myself that everyone else was probably just as drunk as me. They probably don't remember my weird dancing or the fact I overshared or the offensive thing I said. They probably just went home and binge-ate marmite on toast and woke up today not knowing what had happened or where all the bread had gone. 

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

And Then She Was Six



Six years. It doesn't seem possible that so much time has passed. We were in the kitchen the other day, Ebony was sat at the breakfast bar, chatting away about her day, and I was overwhelmed with the realisation that she's growing up. And then, just like that, I was taken back to the first time I held her in my arms. 25 years old, terrified and completely unprepared, in a birthing pool in a cramped living room, a sofa propped up on its side in one corner to make room for the pool. Laurie next to me, staring down at the clay-coloured newborn on my chest. A team of midwives, supportive, caring, exactly the people I needed with me to make the transition from miserable pregnant woman to brand new mum. 

Six years. It sounds like such a long time, but it hasn't felt it. It's like a fast playing montage in my mind. The long days of cuddling a newborn baby between the long nights of wondering why she wouldn't sleep. Her first words, first steps, first jump. Those glorious toddler days with the cheesy grin and the contagious excitement at everything new. More sleepless nights. The lunches spent chatting together at the breakfast bar, the afternoon trips to the park. Her first day at preschool, that overwhelming feeling of missing as a limb as I counted down the hours until I would see her again. 

Then, nursery, a too big uniform hanging baggy on her tiny frame, shiny black shoes and the world's smallest ponytail. Yet more sleepless nights. Then a new pregnancy and months spent preparing her for the task of becoming a big sister. Hours spent listening to the things she would teach the new baby, the games they would play. A final summer just the two of us, long hot days in the garden, slow waddles around the village, both counting down the days until the baby would arrive. And then she did, and time seemed to thrust us forwards, Ebony was no longer little, she seemed huge and grown up, a big sister to a new little baby. 

And then school, another too big uniform and a brand new pair of shiny black shoes. A goodbye kiss at the gate before she ran through the doors, my hand in Laurie's, watching her go. With the rhythm of school, time seemed to move even faster. All of a sudden she could read, write, spell, do sums. She could make new friends, fall out with them and make up again. Another summer of adventures, this time the three of us, filling our days with walks and days out and crafts in the playroom. Stolen moments with Ebony as her little sister slept, treasuring those rare moments of just the two of us. 

Six long years in the blink of an eye. We celebrated her birthday with an outdoor party at her request, 11 children on a field in the middle of winter, some wrapped up warmly and others not so much. All covered in mud, with pockets full of leaves and twigs, glittery war paint streaked across their faces. And Ebony couldn't have been happier, she was so pleased to have all of her friends there to celebrate with her. We went home and drank hot chocolate, then filled their tummies with plates of nutrition-free oven food before sending them home with cake-filled party bags. 

We went out on Sunday, just the two of us. A birthday trip just me and her. We went to the cinema, she held my hand with one hand while she stuffed popcorn into her mouth with the other. At the end of the film, she danced to the credit music at the front, her silhouette lit up by the screen. Then we went shopping, she spent some of her Christmas money on some new clothes. She loves dressing up, she loves glitter and sequins and anything that sparkles. As she stood in H&M, surrounded by glittery unicorns, sequined rainbows and shiny skirts, she said it felt like she had fallen asleep and woken up in pretty land. 

Six years of memories all playing in my head, exhausting me and leaving me feeling more than a little overemotional. Six years of helping that defenceless little baby grow into a strong-minded toddler and now into a fierce and loving little girl. A girl who wants nothing more than a pet turkey to cuddle (my fault for showing her those videos on YouTube), a girl who writes little notes to herself that I stumble across when I'm tidying up. A little girl who wants to grow up to be a scientist who uses her money to fund her animal sanctuary (I'm going to be in charge of the pigs). A little girl who loves dancing and creating and learning. A little girl who loves her friends fiercely, who already hates injustice and who isn't afraid to speak out against it. 

I couldn't be more proud. But I would really love it if she got better at sleeping. 

Friday, 22 December 2017

5 Ideas To Get The Playroom Ready For Christmas



We don't decorate the whole house for Christmas, mostly because I hate tidying it all away at the end of the festive season. In fact, most of the house remains largely untouched by Christmas. Most of our Christmas decorations go in the living room, that's where the tree is and it's where we spend most of our time. We eat Christmas dinner in the conservatory so that room gets a festive update, too. And, this year, the playroom has been decorated as well.

The playroom is at the front of our house, people passing by can see into the room from the street (I imagine they are usually quite horrified by the mess). With that in mind, we decided to give it a little festive update this year. Here is some inspiration to help you update your playroom for December:

1. Put a tree up
This is the easiest way to make a room feel festive. We always get a real Christmas tree for the lounge, but we also have a big artificial tree to go in the playroom. It sits in the bay window so our house looks festive from the street. Unfortunately, the tree has a manic festive theme because Ebony decorated it herself and, for some unknown reason, piled all the tinsel on the top third of the tree. 

If you don't fancy putting up a bit tree, you could go for a miniature real tree with a small string of lights to add a festive touch to the room. Pinterest has plenty of ideas for alternative, child-friendly trees, too. I love the rustic wooden pallet trees, although have never gotten around to making one myself. 

2. Add some festive furnishings
Having some Christmas-themed cushions that can be simply thrown onto the sofa in December is an easy way to add a magical touch to the playroom. Since it's pretty nippy in December, you could also add a Christmas throw to the sofa for you all to snuggle under while watching Christmas movies. You could even switch the curtains, red curtains or tartan curtains would add a subtle Christmas feel to the room, and you could keep them up all year round! You can find afforable, high-quality curtains online from Direct Blinds

3. Get creative
There is nothing Ebony loves more than being let loose on her arts and crafts box. She will stick, cut, glue and paint to her heart's content. We have made lots of Christmas decorations this year, from paper chains to baubles, Christmas cards to festive pictures. The playroom is filled with home made festive art. Ok, it's not stylish, but it takes me right back to my own childhood and the walls filled with cotton wool santas and milk bottle top garlands. 

4. Christmas lights
One of my favourite Christmas traditions is to go out walking to find the best Christmas house in the village. There are quite a few to choose from, whole houses lit up with flashing snowmen and prancing reindeer. Ebony always comes home wondering why our house doesn't look like that. I wouldn't want to go overboard with lights, I like going to look at them but I wouldn't want to pay the electricity bill, but we do have a few fairy lights hung up around the room. 

5. Make a window display
Spray snow, the stuff 90s Christmas dreams were made of! We used to have a box of stencils that we used to fill the playroom windows with Father Christmas shapes, smiling snowman and intricate snowflakes. I have a can of snow spray in the cupboard but haven't been able to use it this year because toddlers love eating fake snow from the windows, so I'll have to wait till next year to cover the windows with fake snow. 

This is a collaborative post. 

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

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