Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Review: What The Ladybird Heard Live

I recently took Ebony to see her first theatre production. A few months ago, I booked tickets for us to see What The Ladybird Heard at The Lowry in the hope that she would sit through the whole production and the money would not be wasted.

We already had the book (one of my charity shop bargain finds), so as the big day approached, I simply made sure it was one of our regular fixtures for bedtime reading. We are big Julia Donaldson fans in this house, and though this book isn’t one of my favourites, it is fun to read and Ebony enjoys it.

I’m always surprised to discover just how much Ebony takes in about her bedtime stories. We went to meet Laurie for lunch before the show, and Ebony recited a lot of the book for us over a pizza. After lunch, we said goodbye to Laurie and headed for the tram.

The tram took much longer than I was expecting, who knew Salford was so far from Manchester? We arrived just in time, and sat down moments before the show started. We were sat on the front row which was amazing, and though there were some props at the front of the stage, these didn’t seem to restrict Ebony’s view at all.

The show lasted an hour, and Ebony was enthralled throughout. She tore her eyes away only to explain the plot to me, point things out and repeat things the characters had said. It was so good to see her enjoying the theatre, at one point I had to fight back tears, though this is the case at every theatre production I attend. I had a particularly traumatic theatre visit at a young age, where my parents surprised me by taking me to see Les Miserables, which is something you should really give six year olds (who really really want to see Les Mis because their two bestest friends have seen it and they feel completely and utterly left out of all Les Mis related playground games and singing sessions) advance warnings of because it was so overwhelming, amazing and unexpected that I don’t think I ever quite recovered from the shock. Each theatre visit is a trigger, even to this day, reminding me of just how immense the theatre can be.

The show followed the basic storyline of the book, but with plenty of extras to keep children entertained.

The set and props were amazing, truly. Some of the props were almost animation-like, and looked just perfect. The blooming flowers were such a lovely touch, and the whole show seemed to be filled with these clever little tricks to really bring the show to life. I also loved the animals - many of whom were fashioned with discarded props from around the farm, and I thought that was a really creative way of including each of the animals in an interesting and fun way. The ladybird, who doesn’t really have much to say in the book, was brought to live using a number of techniques, my favourite of which was a small red LED flying around the stage. At one point the lights went out, and I immediately expected to hear some crying from somewhere in the theatre, but instead all the children were mesmerised by the tiny ladybird darting about above the front row.

The show featured everything a two year old could possibly want from life - singing, dancing, musical instruments, creativity, puppetry, and cats. Ebony loved the cats. A lot. The songs are catchy and repetitive in that way that childrens’ songs are, so I still can’t get them out of my bloody head, which has been really annoying for me, but I’ve also heard Ebony singing along to herself which is sweet.

All of the actors were fantastic, and really threw themselves into the performance. Lanky Len was definitely my favourite character, and the actor was so perfect for the part. He was like a real life Beaker (from The Muppets) but without the ginger hair. His voices, facial expressions and timing added another cartoon-like element to the production.

There was a whole song about the cow producing delicious milk and yoghurt, which wasn’t particularly vegan friendly, but we were on the opposite side of the stage, and it was right at the start of the show as kids were still quieting down so I don’t think Ebony heard it at all. The book doesn’t really touch on life on the farm at all, so I hadn’t really considered that they might sing about how much the cow loved making yoghurt.

One of my worries when I bought tickets, was that Ebony wouldn’t be captivated by the show and would instead be wandering around or talking loudly over the top. There was absolutely no need to worry, she was completely fascinated with every aspect of the show. Just behind us was a baby who must have been around one, and he too sat enthralled the whole way through, his big eyes fixed on the stage the entire time.

Another worry was audience participation, at two and a half Ebony isn’t quite ready for shouting into microphones or anything yet, and I was worried that our front row tickets might see us in the danger zone. Again, there was nothing to worry about, they didn’t put any kids on the spots with glaring spotlights and fluffy mics. The only real audience participation was some shouting and standing up at the end, but it was all voluntary and Ebony actually joined in (much to my disappointment because I usually use her as my excuse for not joining in with such things).

What The Ladybird Heard Live was an enchanting and magical performance that brought a much-loved bedtime story to life, and I would definitely recommend getting tickets if it’s coming to your area. You can find out more about the show, and check the tour dates here.

I’m already on the lookout for more shows to take Ebony to, so any recommendations would be much appreciated.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The 10 Worst Things About Staying At My Parents' House

We are having a new kitchen fitted at the moment (eeeek!) which is massively exciting, hugely terrifying, scarily expensive and a bit crap all at the same time. It’s crap because it has displaced me, so I have had to seek refuge at my parents’ house in Burnley. Ebony and I have been here since Monday, and there is no end in sight. Ok, there is an end, it’s Tuesday, but I have terrible eyesight. I have to wear glasses just to type this. And anyway, Tuesday is ages away (I’m writing this on Saturday, which I’m sure you’ll agree, is quite far from Tuesday). Here are 10 rubbish things I have noticed about staying at my parents’ house:
1. I can’t see what’s happening in my kitchen
This is so annoying. I saw it moments after my old, hideous, kitchen was smashed to bits and thrown out the backdoor, but I have not seen it since. I have been relying on Laurie’s descriptions for information. His extensive vocabulary for describing himself range from ‘tired’ all the way to ‘not too tired’, so you can imagine how much harder it becomes when he is trying to describe a kitchen. I have had some photographs, all of which are excitingly empty and filled with step ladders, but I’m terrified that something will be done wrong and I’m not there to see it.
2. This house is full of terrifying noises
Perhaps it’s to do with the number of horror films I watched her in my youth, or maybe it is because of the dark and gloomy corners, but this house is really terrifying. The noises, in particular, are creepy. Floorboards creak, windows rattle and the boiler sometimes bellows into life without warning. On our first afternoon, I was lying in bed with Ebony when I heard a phone ringing. Not the phone ringing, that would be fine, I’d just go and answer it. This was the ringing tone a mobile phone makes when you place an outgoing call, and it sounded like it was coming from under the bed.
3. Ebony has access to all of my childhood toys
Firstly, I cannot tell you how many hours I have lost to the art of balancing chairs on top of each other to reach discarded board games and intriguing looking boxes in the back of very high cupboards. I love discovering old toys, but Ebony is here and she’s not being at all careful with anything. She has so far lost two dice (I think she gave these to the cat), misplaced every single envelope content from The Jolly Postman, broken my playmobil bus and scattered the contents of Usbourne Ludo around the house.
4. The Toaster
There are no words to describe my parents’ toaster. Well, ok, there is a word, it’s old. It must be older than I am. It only cooks two slices at once, two slices! And they don’t even fit in properly, they get wedged down the side. It’s like a prototype of a toaster, one that was probably rejected after it caused the mental collapse of over fifty perfect of all testers, but for some reason my parents are still completely and utterly committed to its place in the family.
5. Everything is on a timer...
… which I didn’t realise until the light in the room I was sitting in went off. By itself. At night time. Leaving me surrounded by darkness, just before the creepy security light turned on just outside the window, forcing me to conclude that this was some kind of premeditated attack by a very sophisticated and electronically-minded burglar or psychopath.
6. They Have Bathroom Scales
I can no longer trick myself into thinking I probably weigh around x amount, because I stood on the scales and now know that I weigh much, much more than that. And I can’t pretend they’re broken (my usual trick), because Ebony also stood on them so I know they are correct. And, I can’t stop thinking about it, because Ebony liked standing on them so much that she keeps making me stand on them again, and again, and again.
7. We have no daytime friends
It’s so boring being stuck in my hometown where my only remaining friends all work during the week. We’ve been stuck walking from park to park, desperately trying to find something fun to do. The other day we found some graffiti about ‘stumpy dick’ which was quite amusing, but only because I haven't spoken to another adult in about a week. On top of having no daytime friends, Laurie isn’t around in the evenings because he’s been staying at home to look after our rabbit and check on the kitchen, so I don’t even have anyone to drink wine and moan about the long days of isolation with.
8. Everything is out of date
Ok, not everything, but most of the food I have set my mind of has actually been out of date. When we first arrived I spotted some milkshakes that I set my heart on, only to discover they were four years out of date. Then later, I stumbled across some tinned beans that I thought we could have for dinner, only to discover at dinnertime that they were three years out of date, and had gone very, very weird. The next afternoon I discovered that the chocolate spread I’d found was also out of date, but I ate it anyway, because it was only going to go on a slice of bread that would be half burnt and half completely untouched by heat thanks to the toaster.
9. They left me no wine
My parents’ house usually boasts a well-stocked wine rack, but now there are just some very dusty looking bottles on display which look as though they could be old and I don’t want to accidentally drink their fancy wine. It’s almost as though they’ve made a point of not leaving any wine for me to drink. Well, ok, I drank a bit of the wine. And all of their beer, and I am now working my way through the liquor cabinet.
10. They’re not here
Surely the best thing about a trip to the homeland is that parents, aka my free childcare, are there ready and waiting to entertain Ebony so that I can look through old photos, drink their wine and make fun of their toaster. I could be exploring the best of Burnley’s nightlife while my free childcare take over night duty, getting lots of work done whilst they take her to stumpy dick’s park, and eating home cooked food that I didn’t have to cook myself. But instead I’m sat here eating partially cooked toast while Ebony runs wild around their home.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Some People Eat Animals

September is Vegan Mofo, a month of blogging related to vegan food. I signed up last year, and managed to scrape together a few posts without proper planning/adequate time/much sleep, and I enjoyed doing it. So, I decided to give it a go this year, but with proper planning, plenty of time and shit loads of sleep.

Obviously, that didn’t work out. After months of having “Think about Vegan Mofo posts” on my to do list, I have achieved nothing. I haven’t had any sleep, and I don’t have much time. But, damnit, I’m going to manage a few posts somehow.

My daughter is two and a half, and has been vegan since birth. She knows that we are vegan, and she knows that other people aren’t. She knows that we only eat vegan food, and that not all food is vegan. She knows that we only use certain soaps, baby wipes etc because these are vegan, and that not all products are vegan. But she doesn’t really know what vegan means yet.

I’m not about to sit down my two and a half year old and start explaining about rape racks, debeaking and mastitis. She just won’t get it, and I’m already short on sleep so I don’t really want to risk any nightmares.

She’s not old enough to understand death, I know this because I foolishly tried to teach her a life lesson once when I saw a dead hedgehog. She thought I was telling her a cool story and made me repeat it many, many times. I don’t want to end up talking about unwanted chicks from the egg industry repeatedly to a toddler with wide eyes and a smile on her face.

But, the other day, while we were baking fudge, I thought I would try to explain to her what veganism is.

Me: Ebony, do you know what vegan is?
Ebony: I vegan!
Me: Yes, but do you know what that means? It means that we don’t eat animals.
Ebony: Ha! Hahahaha. (she thought this was a hilarious joke)
Me: We don’t eat animals, but other people do.
Ebony: *gasp*

She stayed looking horrified for a few seconds, before turning back to her fudge and telling me that she was vegan again.

You can find out more about Vegan Mofo here.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Last Wedding We Were Invited To

One of my oldest friends was married this month, and we were invited to share in their beautiful day. I’ve known this friend since I started infant school. We used to play imagination games in the playground, watched horror films together at sleepovers, and went through our first heartbreaks at around the same time. We go way back.
Ebony loved the last wedding we went to (it was her best friend’s parents’ wedding), and spent most of the day hiding under tables with the bridesmaids, doing handstands (that didn’t look anything like handstands) and dancing with her best friend. It was lovely, and I was excited about her busting some moves on the dance floor at this wedding too.
The wedding was lovely. The bride looked perfect, the bridesmaids were beautiful, all of the guests were wearing their best smiles. The venue was beautiful, with a red carpet leading from the gardens to the towering white columns at the doorway. There were petal-filled birdcages, vintage books, and candles covering every table, The smell of sick wafted through the air.
Oh, right, yeah. So, Ebony was sick all over their vintage-inspired, handcrafted, long slaved-over, impeccable wedding.
She was one of two (I think) children at the wedding, the other was a slightly older, much less vomit-y boy who I didn’t see causing any trouble. Ebony, being two and a half, is a master of causing trouble. After shouting “GERROF!” (this roughly translates to the way a Yorkshire farmer might say get off) very loudly during the ceremony readings, and lying flat on her back in the (limited floor space of the) doorway of the reception venue, and stealing a collection of flowers from the bridesmaid’s bouquets, I thought the worst was over.
She then shouted “I AM BEING QUIET!” over the father of the bride’s speech, then cried (loudly) in the next room when Laurie took her out. When the food arrived, she ate her soup with a spoon and knife, flicking it perilously close to my beautiful People Tree dress on more than one occasion, and announced to the person sitting next to us that she needed a “big poo” during the main course.
As the desserts were being brought out, Ebony effortlessly opened her mouth like a fish, and a mountain of multi-coloured projectile vomit landed on the table. Without thinking, I grabbed her and made a dash for the toilets. A real mum would have grabbed the goody bag from under the table to use as a sick bag, but I was consumed with how mortifying the sick was and just wanted to get Ebony away from the table. The toilets, it turned out, were quite far in running-with-sickly-toddler-speed, and Ebony started throwing up again as we were passing the bar. Luckily, by this point we were out of the dining room and well away from the cake, but there was a lot of sick. I had to run whilst trying simultaneously to protect my dress (this was my number one priority, of course), stop sick pouring on the floor, and not let Ebony choke on her own vomit. This should probably be a sports day race, it’s really hard.
I eventually put her down in the toilets and told her she could be sick in the toilet now if she wanted, to which she replied that she felt “much better now, Mummy.” I then stripped her off, tried to wipe the sick from the folds in her neck, tried to get the sick off my boob (sorry, beautiful People Tree dress, I failed you) and decided to head to the car. I thought the bar would still be empty as people ate their dessert. It wasn’t.
Turns out the guests were pretty quick eaters, so there was a crowd of people gathering not far from a big splat of sick. I left Ebony, wearing only knickers and a necklace made of undigested risotto, and ran to the bar to alert them to the sick. Then, avoiding the eyes in the room, I ran Ebony to the car where I attacked her with baby wipes, covered her in blanket, and sent her home with Laurie.
Now I remember why we had a child-free wedding.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Great Adventures Gone Awry

Sometime last year I decided to start going on weekly adventures with Ebony. It was as much about forcing myself out into the cold as it was about encouraging Ebony to love the outdoors. I didn’t want her to be stuck in the offensively bright confines of a softplay centre when she could be climbing trees, searching for conkers and tumbling down grassy mounds.
I wanted to instill in her a sense of adventure, fearlessness, confidence and a love of nature. I wanted her to be one of the kids who has seen native wildlife in their natural habitat, played on greenbelt land, and made use of the wonder and enjoyment that the great outdoors has to offer. I blogged about why I wanted to go on weekly great adventures, and you can read that post here.
So, like many people with babies, we joined the National Trust, we started going for walks, and we threw ourselves into exploring our local area. Aside from the odd delayed adventure because of illness, we made it (and blogged it) to week 42 (you can read the last post here), with each post featuring photos and descriptions of our adventures. We even managed a couple of extra weeks of adventures, though I never got round to blogging about them.
Then we found out we were moving house in three weeks, so I had lots of packing to do, and had to work more to allow for a couple of weeks of easing back into it after the move so I could unpack. We moved, we unpacked, and we stopped going on adventures as I spent my weekends working. Ebony isn’t in childcare, so I work around her, writing in the evenings and when Laurie is home at weekends.
We still spent plenty of times outdoors, mostly in our new garden as we tried to tackle the rubbish left behind by the previous owners. We spent days in the paddling pool, afternoons painting in the garden, and hours pulling out weeds. We went to our local park, and plenty of other parks, but we didn’t go on any walks or adventures like we had in the past.

I didn’t have time to miss them, because I was too busy trying to fit all my work in at the weekends. Every so often, Laurie and Ebony would return home from a day out and tell me about a trip to a meadow, or a walk along the canal, and I would feel jealous, but couldn’t really see a way of making everything fit in to our already packed weekends.
Then, yesterday, we decided to spend the day as a family. This is actually quite a rare thing, unless there’s a specific thing we’re going to, because I work weekends and Laurie works weekdays. Laurie fixed the new toddler seat to his bike, and we set off up the hill to the woods. We took tubs to fill with blackberries, books to read and food to snack on.
The woods open up to reveal a private field, hidden away behind the trees. It’s not completely private, there is the odd dog walker who passes through, but mostly, it’s pretty secluded. Laurie and Ebony tried out the new bike seat, and Ebony loved it. She kept demanding to go on it again, whilst I read a bit of my book (I’m reading Submarine at the moment, it’s so good - highly recommended). Then we picked blackberries until we had enough for a crumble (we actually had way too many, so I think we’ll be eating crumble for days).

We spent a couple of hours in the field, then made our way home and spent the rest of the afternoon picking trees from the garden, baking and eating crumble. It was a lovely, wholesome day, and really made me think about how important time as a family is. So, I’m going to try and take at least half a day away from work at weekends so that we can go out as a family  and have more adventures.

How do you manage to juggle work with family life?

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