Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A Little Visit to London

Laurie was down in London a couple of weeks ago for some training, so me and Ebony decided we would tag along and make use of his hotel room. I really don’t know why we haven’t done this sooner, it was so lovely to make an impromptu trip down to London. Ebony will be joining the local school nursery in a couple of weeks and then we’ll be stuck with school holiday trips only, so it seems even more ridiculous that we failed to make the most of this little freedom.

Laurie left early in the morning and, not being a fan of early starts, me and Ebony decided to get the train down a little later in the day. We filled Ebony’s backpack with toys and snacks, and boarded the train. The journey takes just over two hours, the train was quiet and Ebony was an absolute dream to travel with. She played happily by herself, kept busy with a sticker book and chatted excitedly about going swimming in London. Why else do you travel 150 miles if not to swim?

Once in London, we decided to check out the British museum because it was relatively close to London Euston. It was raining heavily, and Laurie had somehow managed to take Ebony’s raincoat with him instead of leaving it for us to take. I was considering buying a new one, but there wasn’t really anywhere nearby to get a cheap one from, so in the end we just made a run for it. We had an umbrella, and it wasn’t cold, so Ebony seemed pretty happy walking the fifteen minutes to the British Museum.

Once we arrived at the museum, I realised that visiting London during the holidays was probably not my brightest idea. It was so busy, every inch of the museum was bursting with wet, miserable tourists (like us). It soon became apparent that the British Museum isn’t really aimed at three year olds. It’s full of pottery and old things, which is really interesting to me, but not so much to Ebony. There was a section on the map that claimed to be perfect for younger guests, so I asked a museum worker if it would be suitable for Ebony’s age. He explained that it was actually storage for large bags at the moment, so probably not.

I made the mistake of telling Ebony that our hotel had a swimming pool, and this meant she really didn’t give a crap how old the jugs were, she just wanted to go swimming. She was interested in the mummies, but mostly just wanted me to tell her over and over again about how there were dead bodies inside (is this worrying?). After her millionth request to go swimming, I agreed and we took the tube over to Paddington. We passed an Itsu on the way and stopped to buy some vegan sushi, miso soup and dumplings for dinner. Ebony, who definitely didn’t want any miso soup of her own, consumed most of my soup as soon as reached the hotel, and then insisted that we went swimming immediately.

It was actually quite lovely to take her swimming. Laurie usually takes her on Sunday while I work, it’s sort of their thing. I did used to accompany them, but it always seemed ridiculous for so many of us to pay to swim when in actual fact nobody got to do any swimming. I found out that she loves jumping in, and that she can sort of almost swim but quickly starts to sink if she panics. We spent about an hour in the pool and then decided it was time for dinner. By the time we got back to our room, Laurie was there having finished training for the day. Ebony shared her dinner with him and then went to bed. Laurie went out for more sushi and then we watched Humans with the volume right down so as not to wake Ebony.

The next morning, Laurie and Ebony went swimming first thing. Then me and Ebony made our way to Princess Diana’s Memorial Park. It was quite an impressive park, with plenty of different areas to move around. It was sunny and dry, and so the park was quite busy. Ebony made a few new friends and had fun exploring the park with them. After an hour or so, we got a tube across to Bethnal Green to meet a friend at the V&A Museum of Childhood. I’d never been to the museum before, and it was pretty busy thanks to the summer holidays. It looked like a really interesting museum, and I’d love to go back on a quieter day and really have a look at all the old vintage toys.

After that, we walked down the road to the Gallery Cafe for a vegan pizza with my friend. It’s nice to meet up with friends, but it;s hard to really catch up when you have a three and a half year old with you. After we’d eaten our pizza (good, but really weird vegan cheese that didn’t taste remotely cheesy but sort of glued your mouth together), we’d make a hasty exit so as to avoid rush hour on the tube. This failed, obviously, and we ended up on board a painfully busy central line tube heading across London.

We had been planning to visit Coram Fields thanks to a recommendation from the lovely Eleanor of The Bristol Parent fame. Alas, the weather was against us so we didn’t make it there this visit, though definitely hope to next time. Instead, we made the obligatory trip to Hamleys, and Ebony conquered her fear of escalators (you can read about that here). After surviving yet another rush hour tube trip, we went to a pub in Euston to meet Laurie and a friend for a quick dinner before jumping on our train home.

We were booked onto the 8:40pm train home, way past Ebony’s bedtime so was a little worried that the journey might be less than enjoyable. Laurie convinced me and the friend to share a bottle of wine at the pub, leaving me convinced that Laurie would be taking over childcare duties on the way home. As luck would have it, our train was absolutely heaving. Laurie and I had book our tickets separately and so were sitting apart, and Ebony wanted to sit with me (what can I say, I’m extra fun after half a bottle of wine…). Luckily, she played happily for an hour and a half on my knee before turning round, snuggling up to me and falling fast asleep.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Why Books Make Ideal New Baby Gifts

My university friends have a (recent) tradition that when someone has a baby shower, we each buy the new baby a book. We choose a book we loved when we were little, or, if we have children, a book we love reading to our own. I really love this tradition, and love that all of our babies have ready made mini libraries before they’re even born. Tiny baby clothes are fine and everything (so cute), but I think books made the perfect new baby gifts. I am a big book geek, and am very sentimental about books. When I was pregnant, my parents went up into their loft and retrieved all of the boxes containing childhood. Amongst this dusty pile of 1980s sentimentality, were three boxes of books. I stole most of them, and took them home to fill the bookshelf in the as yet uninhabited nursery.

That nursery got left behind when we moved (and never actually served it’s purpose as a room for sleep anyway, thanks to co-sleeping. The most action it ever saw was nappy changes, of which it saw a lot), but the books came with us. Instead of a single bookshelf, we now have, erm, a lot of bookshelves filled with brightly coloured children’s books (you can take a little tour of Ebony’s room here). I’m not exaggerating when I say we have hundreds of them. It may even be over 1000. Our local charity shop sells books very cheaply, and I seem unable to resist buying books of any description.

I can remember when Ebony was a baby, I was aware the sound of my voice was important for her brain function and the development of language skills. And yet, chattering away to somebody who doesn’t talk back is how I spend pretty much every evening when Laurie gets back from work (kidding. Sort of), and I didn’t really want to do that all day as well. Also, it was hard to think of things to say. Pointing out ducks is really very uninteresting, and the same goes for cows, trains and tractors. Just kidding, tractors are awesome, but you know what I mean.

And so, I turned to books. I spent a long time each day reading books to her, snuggled up with her on the sofa. She would pull at the pages, listen intently and look at the pictures. Sometimes she would fall asleep, which was actually quite rude. She didn’t really have a bedtime routine, and always fed to sleep so bedtime stories weren’t really a thing in our house. Instead, we would read every afternoon. As soon as she was mobile, she would bring books to me for reading. And I would often find her flicking through the pages of a book by herself. This is something she still loves to do now, I can always hear the sound of pages being turned in the morning.

Reading to infants and young children helps to get them ready for language. It also improves brain function by using different areas of the brain. Regular reading increases a child’s use of the parts of the brain responsible for visual imagery and narrative understanding, both of which are very important. Hearing voices on television doesn’t have the same effect. Regular reading also allows for that quiet time to snuggle up and bond, and has been found to foster close bonds between parent and child. I didn’t know any of that when I first opened up a book as my baby sat on my knee, I just wanted to pass some time.

I have always loved books, and was keen to pass that passion down to my daughter. Nowadays, reading is a part of our bedtime routine. She chooses three books and I read them to her in bed before we lie down to go to sleep. She chooses different books every day, though she does have a few favourites that pop up time and time again. Now that she’s three, she often has questions at the end of the story, or simply wants to comment on the story or illustrations in the book. That time, snuggled up together at the end of the day, enjoying a book, is one of my favourite times of day.

That’s why I love buying books as new baby gifts. Well, that and I can’t really handle going into Next and looking at the outrageously adorable baby clothes with my ovaries imploding. I am a big fan of anything by Dr Seuss, Julia Donaldson, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Oliver Jeffers and Jon Klassen. I’m also on the look out for more storybooks and would love to hear your suggestions for other authors and books to check out.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Giveaway with JORD Watches

JORD Watches recently offered me the chance to review one of their beautiful wooden watches. I chose the above watch, made from ebony and rosewood, as a gift from Ebony to Laurie for his 30th birthday. As you can see, it's a really lovely watch. The fact it's made from wood means it's totally unique, and Laurie really loves it. He's had it for over a month now and has only lost it once (Ebony had hidden it in her purse), which I think is testament to how much he likes it (everything else is misplaced within minutes). 

The lovely people at JORD have very kindly offered some vouchers for their online store to three lucky readers. The first prize is a $75 voucher, second prize is a $50 voucher and there's a $25 voucher available for the runner up. There are lots of different styles to choose from, so be sure to take a look around their site

To be in with a chance of winning, all you need to do is fill in the rafflecopter below. Good luck! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway ThePrizeFinder

Monday, 24 August 2015

How to Get Over a Fear of Escalators

Ebony has never been scared of escalators. She has loved them since she was old enough to toddle onto them. She always wanted to do it by herself. To not hold hands. To jump off them in a dramatic and theatrical dismount. And though it terrified me to my very core, I pretended this was ok. She would stand in front of me, perched recklessly between two steps. I waited behind her, anticipating her fall from grace as the steps parted, only for her to prove me wrong and correct her footing just moments before one step fell into the dangerous chasm beneath.

Only once before had she ever hesitated, leaving me escalating away from her at great speed as she looked on with confusion at the top of the escalator. As I saw my little girl disappearing into the horizon, I was forced to turn and attempt to run back up the descending escalator. No easy feat. And one that was made harder by the deafening laughter of my fellow shoppers. As I reached the top, sweaty and breathless, Ebony simply stepped on, and together we sank away from the belly laughs of the general public. Even after that moment of parental public humiliation and near abandonment, she continued to love escalators.

That is, until the day someone fell on her. If you’ve never seen a person fall on an escalator before, it is quite terrifying. This wasn’t an awkward stumble easily rectified by putting your hands out. This was a backwards fall on an escalator travelling out of the grotty hell that is Piccadilly tram station. I have never fallen on an escalator, but I can imagine it is quite tricky to save yourself once gravity takes hold of you. Where do you put your hands when the floor is slipping away beneath you? This fellow commuter ended up splayed on the escalator, her head landing just where Ebony was stood (when I recounted this event to my husband, he questioned my compassion at not breaking the woman’s fall which, in hindsight, does make me kind of a dick. In my defence, I saw something coming out of the corner of my eye and quickly pulled Ebony to the side. Mother first, compassionate citizen of the world second, fall stopper not so much).

Once the faller was vertical once again, we stepped off the escalator and I noticed tears rolling down Ebony’s face (‘Why did that woman hurt me, mummy?’ said very loudly, next to failed escalator stunt woman). She started to sob. Her head was hurt. She was scared. She wanted to know why I didn’t stop the woman hurting her (tired woman with delayed reaction times first, mother second, compassionate system of the world third).

And so it began, the fear of escalators. We went to Debenhams on a fruitless hunt for a black school cardigan, and Ebony would not get onto the escalator. She wanted me to pick her up. Which I did, because there is nothing more awful than people trying to force you to overcome a fear. And we had a talk about escalators, and the woman who fell on her. And then I thought no more about it.

Until we went to London. The city of escalators. Having now lived with somebody affected by escalator phobia, I can see that London is not a place that welcomes people with this condition. Underneath the city there is a seemingly endless maze of escalators, each one more terrifyingly massive than the next. These are not your average escalators, in fact they grow to about three times the size of escalators in the wild. They are long, soulless prisons transporting hordes or equally soulless, unhappy Londoners to and from their business.

There is no hope of gently encouraging a small child onto these towering metal staircases, because there are always at least 47 people clambering over your head to get on the escalator. Heaven forbid they should miss the tube and have to wait the painfully long three London minutes for the next rush of warm air to sweep into the station. And so, we tried and failed to get onto the escalator a number of times, much to the joy of all of London. She wanted me to carry her on. I could feel the sharp intake of breath around me when she suggested at, as the business people imagined The Horror of having to shove past my cumbersome child-carrying form as they race to freedom on the left hand side. I was carrying no fewer than three big bags, and was already straining under the weight, so there was no way I going to add a hefty three year old to the load.

We moved to the side of the escalator. We sat down. We talked. We visualised. We embraced the concept of escalator travel. Well, I did. Ebony just shouted “NO!” a lot. We spent fifteen minutes sat on the filthy floor of the underground, undergoing the pep talk of a lifetime. In the end, a member of staff came over to check we were ok. I explained the crippling phobia, and nodded knowingly before disappearing into the crowd of grey suits and lost dreams.

It took fifteen minutes, but I was finally able to utter the words that saved the day. The sentence that so easily turned my day of sitting on the floor of the underground to a day of going up escalators. I put my arm around Ebony, I looked deep into her eyes, and I said, “Fine. I’ll carry you.” Then I hoisted her up, splayed my overnight bags out like a proud peacock made entirely of luggage, and dragged myself onto the escalator. London was not pleased, but life is too short to worry about London.

After a 24 hour stint as a human accessory to the London underground escalator system, we went to Hamleys. No trip to London is complete without a trip to the overpriced haven that is Hamleys. The walls are stocked with amazing toys, and I am forced to say ‘Not that, it’s too expensive’ each time we pass a new display (approximately every eight seconds). There are 50,000 toys in Hamleys, spread out over the seven floors (gates of hell). About 49,999 of these toys are out of my price range. In fact, Ebon can basically just have one of the tiny plastic figurines and those are located on one of the top floors.

There are stairs in Hamleys, but they are filled with smug families skipping around with thousands of pounds worth of toys crammed into carrier bags. It gives me rage (jealous rage, obviously). I prefer to stick with people of my own kind. I don’t want to see happy shoppers on their way out of the store. I want to have my cheek pressed against the sweaty faces of other miserable parents wondering how many more floors there are in this humid hell. And so I like to stick with the other people going up. They understand me, I understand them. We’re all suicidal.

I gently took Ebony by the hand and explained that I thought the Frozen Anna figures would probably be upstairs, but that we’d have to get the escalator up. Ok, she said, walking towards and boarding the escalator by herself, before glancing back to make sure I was following (because I control the money). No tears, no pep talk, no worries.

Just greedy, self-serving capitalism. That’s how you get over your fear of escalators.

Friday, 7 August 2015

A Visit to the National Wildflower Centre

Not so long ago, we paid a visit to the National Wildflower Centre. I’d only recently stumbled across it on the internet, and it sounded like it might be worth a visit. I am a big fan of wildflowers, I love how quickly they spread and how they fill the countryside with bright colours. Knowing how good they are for bees and other wildlife helps too. When we moved into our house, the garden was like a meadow, filled with weeds and wildflowers. We cut back most of them, though have tried to keep some in the flower beds. I’ve also posted more wildflowers to encourage nature to stay in our garden.

The National Wildflower Centre is located in Knowsley, so is pretty handy for us because we often pop across to Liverpool to visit uni friends. Set in a public park, the wildflower centre has beds filled with beautiful bright flowers. It was a very pretty and tranquil place to spend a couple of hours. Ebony had fun racing around (at the moment she has two speeds; still and racing), playing chase and exploring the grounds. As you might expect, the gardens were teeming with butterflies, bees and other insects.

There is a cafe on site, we didn’t stop for food but I had a quick look at the menu and they seemed to have a lot of vegetarian options. I didn’t enquire as to vegan options but it was the sort of place that I wouldn’t be surprised if they had at least a couple of deliberately vegan dishes to choose from. There’s also a gift shop that sold all kinds of beautiful things. I bought myself a packet of wildflower seeds to plant in the garden, and Ebony decided on a pot of bubbles (of course).

We didn’t get chance to explore the whole centre as we only had a couple of hours and Ebony mostly spent this time playing. We’ll definitely be going back before it closes to have a look at the rest of the flowers.


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