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

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.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

A Garden Party (& why you should probably avoid me when I've had a drink)



Laurie turned 30 a couple of weeks ago. His birthdays usually pass without much fuss, as he quietly mumbles that he’s not really much of a birthday person. I have always been the exact opposite, milking my birthdays for every ounce of attention I can possibly find. Well, until motherhood. Then it’s not really the same, is it? Sometimes it feels a bit like we’ve been in hibernation since the day I found out I was pregnant. Missing parties to stay home and do bedtime, constantly too tired to go out and celebrating birthdays at home with little more than a bottle of prosecco (each, but still).

So when Laurie said he’d quite like to do something for his 30th, I decided we would Do Something. Laurie decided on a party at home, though to be honest the thought of a house full of drunk people was less than appealing. And so we decided to have a garden party, and just hoped the weather would at least be dry. As it turned out, the weather was wonderful and my months spent sorting the garden were not in vain.

When we moved into our house last year, the garden was a full on bee paradise/meadow. The grass was taller than Ebony, wildflowers crept into every corner, and a whole playground’s worth of rusting equipment was hidden beneath the weeds. This year I decided to make it my mission to get it sorted. It actually turned into a much bigger project than I’d anticipated, mostly because I kept changing my mind about what I was doing.

There was a lot of concrete to dig up, plenty of slabs to move, and a ridiculous amount of mud to find a new home for. Luckily, I managed to get most of it done in spring when the weather was nice (seriously, summer, what is going in?). I spent days in the garden lugging around stones and mud, with Ebony as my assistant with her wheelbarrow and spade. She took on the official role of worm relocation officer and must have single handedly saved the lives of hundreds of worms, snails and slugs.

We made the lawn bigger, created a space for Ebony to play in and an accompanying patio area for us to sit and drink tea (wine). We made a hopscotch and swing set to keep Ebony entertained. We (my mum) planted flowers, put up fairy lights and made the garden somewhere nice to be. I really wish I had some before shots so I could see the transformation, it’s hard to remember just how bad it was before.

There were some jobs to do inside too. We painted the conservatory, updated an old dresser, bought some more storage, and generally tried to reorder the back of the house a little. We painted the woodwork, cleaned the windows, and bought plenty of flowers to decorate the garden. And, obviously, we continued to hope the weather would be good.

After a week of depressing weather forecasts and threats of thunderstorms, it amazingly didn’t rain until after we were all tucked up in bed. Or passed out on a bed, whatever. I can’t really say much about what happened at the party, mostly because I don’t remember. But I do know I drank a lot of Pimms. And that the glass of prosecco was probably where things took a turn for me. I know that I tried to get people to tell me their secrets, that I almost certainly spent most of the night harassing various party guests (er, yeah, sorry about that), and that I paraded my friend Kim around the party so I could tell people she’s never met about how exciting her job is. I also made a fire.

I can confirm that my hangover lasted a long time, and that Laurie woke up pretty fresh faced after passing out before 11pm and managing a full eight hours of kip. And, with Ebony gone for the next day until close to bedtime, I got to enjoy an old school hangover with plenty of duvets, Black Books and the odd helping of greasy food. So much better than being woken at 6am, being forced to play Ballerinas and having to make food for someone else.

And now I’m retiring back to my hermit life, because I’ve remembered just how terrible it is to not remember what I said the night before/be properly hungover/be faced with party mess the next morning.

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