Thursday, 20 November 2014

An Open Letter to Toddler Shopkeepers Everywhere

Dear toddlers,

No, I don’t want to play shopkeepers. Not now, not ever. I hate shopkeepers. It is the single worst part of being a mother, way worse than the time you pooed on my leg in a cafe. I don’t want this to come across as angry, so I’ve tried to turn it into constructive criticism. I hope you will be able to take the points below and improve your business.

The shop is rubbish. The stock is arranged haphazardly, with little or no thought going into the product range itself, or the way it is displayed. It is hard to find the things I want, and I am very often rudely informed that the shop doesn’t sell the everyday items I am in search of and that I ‘must buy something else instead’.

The pricing system is bizarre, every single item I have ever purchased, from a single playing card right through to the guitar, cost me no more than ‘two’. And, regardless of how many of my plastic coins I pay with, I always receive change. You might wonder why I would complain about such a stroke of luck, but this change is usually throw at my head, often along with the item I have purchased. Fortunately for me, the shopkeeper seems to have terrible aim, though I was struck by a large plastic skittle on one particularly regrettable visit to the shop.

The level of customer service is appalling. I have been shouted at and humiliated for needing to use the bathroom. I have been told I am not allowed to buy a number of the items on display, ‘just cos’. On one occasion, the shopkeeper told me my bottom was much, much too big to fit into the crappy knickers on sale in store, and proceeded to laugh about it for a very long time. Whilst pointing at said bottom.

I would say on at least half of the occasions I have visited the store, there has been a very large, and very distracting, caterpillar hanging from at least one of the nostrils of the shopkeeper. I can see that there are both tissues and handkerchiefs in the shop so this leads me to assume that the caterpillar of snot is there out of choice, and perhaps even part of the uniform.

As soon as I enter the store, the shopkeeper asks me what I would like to buy today, whilst looking around at the seemingly senseless pile of random price-tag-free items next to the till. Sometimes, I like to be given the opportunity to browse. In most shops, I can happily peruse the stock in my own time, and am given the opportunity to approach the staff myself should I have any queries. Not in this shop, oh no, as soon as the shopkeeper gets a whiff of me I am immediately rushed into finalising my purchase.

On each and every visit, I have tried to make small talk with the shopkeeper. Perhaps, I think each time I enter, perhaps today the shopkeeper and I will really hit it off. And yet each time my friendly chatter falls on deaf ears. In fact, when I enquire as to how the shopkeeper’s day has been, the retort is a raised, almost shouted, repeat enquiry as to what I would like to buy that day. Even if I take the weight of the small talk upon my own shoulders, offering information about my own day, the best I can hope for is a roll of the eyes and the shopkeeper aggressively shouting ‘WHAT YOU WANT TO BUY, TODAY?”

Even once I’ve gone to the effort of selecting a mediocre item from the dismal selection on offer, paid for it with my hard-earned two, and caught the change that has been flung at my head, I get no peace. There is no ‘thank you’, ‘goodbye’ or ‘come back soon’. Far from it, in fact, as soon I have stooped down to gather my new belonging up off the floor (yes, the floor), I am immediately asked what I want to buy now. And the whole soulless charade begins again.

I am not even allowed a break to enjoy whichever piece of crap I just purchased. I am forced to abandon it, and immediately re-enter the shop to begin another joyless transaction to avoid the disappointment of the worst shopkeeper in the world.

The only way I can escape the cycle of misery that is ‘playing shopkeepers’, is with bedtime masquerading as storytime. And even then, I can feel the disappointment deep in the pit of my stomach that tomorrow, I will be required once again to enter the toddler bazar.

Please, can’t shopkeepers be yours and daddy’s special game, that just the two of you play?

Yours sincerely etc etc

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

5 Things I Wish People Would Stop Saying to My Daughter

Moody looking sky

I was a massive Boyzone fan at primary school. We all were, right? I had one bright blue poster of Boyzone wearing A LOT of denim on my bedroom wall. If, at age nine, I had only been able to look at one thing for the rest of my life, I would have chosen that poster. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now confirm that this would have been a terrible mistake, but at the time, Boyzone were my everything.

As a fellow Boyzone fan, I’m sure you remember their song ‘Words’... right? In it, the five future husbands of my ten year old self repeatedly croon the phrase ‘It’s only words’ (I really hope it’s stuck in your head now. YouTube it, I dare you. Did you? Yeah, they’re not as dreamy as they were when you were ten, are they?) Thanks again to the gift of hindsight, and perhaps age, I can now see that there is no such thing as ‘only words’.

A few simple words can change everything, and I think this is never more true than when you are a child. Not a weird poster-of-Stephen-Gateley’s-chest-kissing ten year old child (because by this age no words in the world could get through to a girl staring at her Boyzone poster - feel free to insert a more topical pop reference here, but I have no idea who anyone is post 1999), but an actual tiny just-starting-to-learn-about-the-world child, like mine. To these kids, to my daughter, your words are everything. And here are five things I really wish YOU would stop saying to her:

  1. Be careful
There is a ramp leading to the car park at our local train station. The footpath turns back on itself, and there is a short wall between the two sections of the ramp. Ebony loves nothing more than to walk along that wall. As soon as we alight the train, she will make her way to the top of the ramp. Whilst there, as the commuters and other passengers start to walk down the path, she slips past them, under the handrail and straight onto the wall. Once there, she will look at me and grin, and then walk along the wall until she reaches the other side of the ramp, at which point she jumps down and opens the gate leading to the car park.

The wall is not high, nor is it dangerous. And yet, each time she stands on that wall, the other passengers will tell her to be careful. They will look around her, concerned, and demand that she hold on, slow down or be careful - which she does, even though she doesn’t need to. A couple of days ago, we were the only passengers to leave the train, and as soon as she climbed the wall, I heard Ebony muttering to herself that she needed to be careful. It’s disheartening to see my usually fearless child giving in to the worries of strangers.

  1. Naughty
I hate the word naughty, and I’m not going to lie and say I never do it, because sometimes - when I’m stressed and tired and I just really want things to go as planned - it slips out. And I hate it, and always take it back immediately. But I try my absolute hardest not to say it, so thankfully it is a very rare slip of the tongue. Yet I’ve noticed the rest of the world only too quick to label children, toddlers, babies even, as naughty. I really wish we wouldn’t label children (or anyone, actually) at all, least of all as something negative. I know when I have been called things in the past, the comments have stuck with me, leaving me wondering how much truth was in them. I assume children must feel this too, especially when the comments are made by an adult, and probably ten-fold when that adult is in a position of trust.

  1. Good girl
This is a pet hate of mine. If there’s one thing I don’t want Ebony to be described as when she’s an adult, it’s a good girl. I want her to be a force to be reckoned with, a strong minded woman, and someone who isn’t afraid to be herself. I don’t want her to be a do-as-you’re-told, wouldn’t-cause-trouble, vegan-butter-wouldn’t-melt, sweet-mannered woman. I want her to get shit done. And sometimes, that means speaking up, it means standing up for yourself, and it means fighting against what you’re told. So, whilst it can be annoying at times to spend my days with a two year old who will not wear a coat on even the coldest days, says no to most requests, and is positively contrary at every possible opportunity, I know we’re heading in the right direction. I for one am not going to squash that strong side of her personality, I want it to shine through. And I really wish other people would stop complimenting her on doing exactly what they say, because I love the fact she isn’t afraid to voice her (admittedly often downright nonsensical) opinions for all to hear.

  1. It’s ok
This one really drives me crazy because, you know what, sometimes it’s not ok. A good way of knowing whether it’s ok, is to listen out for crying children. Should you hear the sobs of a child, it’s pretty safe to assume that things are actually not ok. I don’t care whether she’s banged her head, is upset because someone else has a toy she wants, or just feels tired - I don’t want people to dismiss her upset. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but that’s probably because you’re not two. If you’re stuck for something to say when a child is crying, try offering reassurance by saying you are there, not by telling her that her emotions are not valid.

  1. Son
Just because, well, she isn’t actually a boy. Short hair does not necessarily signify ownership of a penis.

Which phrases drive you crazy as a parent?

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Review & Giveaway: Freedom Mallows

I was lucky enough to review some mouth-watering Freedom Mallows at the start of the year, if you want to read me wax lyrical about the taste and texture of these sweet treats, you can do so here. When the company got in touch with me a few weeks ago and offered me a few more packets to try (just before Bonfire Night), I said yes. Obviously.

Freedom Mallows are vegan, vegetarian, lactose free, nut free, Halal, Kosher and farmed in a way that is sustainable for the indigenous unicorn population. Or something. Oh, and they taste amazing. I have tried a lot (seriously, a lot) of vegan marshmallows, and these are by far the best. They are creamy, powdery (in a good way), and taste just like the marshmallows I remember toasting on the many Bonfire Nights of my youth.

The company has rebranded, bidding a kind farewell to the cute bunny packaging of days gone by. Now, a lovable sloth, affectionately known to all his friends as Cedric, takes centre stage, and the once-pastel colours have been replaced with bright packaging more in keeping with other marshmallow packaging. The new packaging is great, a definite improvement, and yet hasn’t lost any of the important information detailing who can (pretty much everyone) eat the goodies inside. Freedom Mallows have also added miniature mallows to their product range, these are perfect for baking with. They melt faster, and are perfect atop a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

The marshmallows arrived the week of Halloween, and Ebony and I decided to make some rice krispie cakes with them. I’d seen the recipe in my Sweet Vegan book (if you don’t have this, you need to add it to your collection. You can get it for just a few pounds here), but hadn’t been able to try it yet. The mallows melted quickly, and turned into the most delicious looking sludge I’ve ever seen. Ok, eaten. The rice krispie cake themselves were nothing short of AMAZING, I only wish we’d made more.

The one thing I’ve never known a vegan mallow do, is toast properly on a fire. I’ve tried it with a few brands, and most of them simply melted slightly but became nothing more than an oozing, limp disappointment. On Bonfire Night, after successfully making a bonfire single-handed (I know, I know, pretty impressive) and not killing anyone (even more impressive), we toasted some Freedom Mallows. They melted, oh they melted. And they were creamy and they tasted amazing. We ate pretty much the entire packed before Laurie got home (let’s call it a fire starting tax), and he was left with just a few to try.

Of course, there’s a whole other packet in the cupboard, but that’s just my little secret.

Freedom Mallows can be ordered here for just £2.49 a bag, or you can pick up a bag at your local Holland and Barrett. You may also be able to find them in your local health food shop or vegan fair. If you can’t be bothered going to all that effort, fear not, because I have some to giveaway.

Freedom Mallows are very kindly offering three of my readers the chance to try these delectable treats for free. Each winner will win three bags of mallows (a mixture of the regular sized mallows and minis) and a cotton shopping bag featuring none other than Cedric the sloth. All you have to do is fill in the Rafflecopter to be in with a chance of winning. Good luck!
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Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Welcome to My Igloo

As lovers of both the environment and saving money, we try not to overheat our home. Last year, we managed to get to December without putting the heat on. Our old house was well insulated, and had a working fire in the living room so we could warm up the room on particularly cold evenings. We were jumpers, snuggled under blankets, drank lots of tea and, most importantly, aclimatised.

This winter, we’re in a new house. This one is not yet insulated, it’s drafty and has a conse
rvatory that seems to let in an endless supply of cold. We haven’t used the heating yet, no doubt when we do we will discover it doesn’t work. We’re holding out, trying to go as long as we can before putting it on. Because once it’s on, that’s it, it will stay on for months simply out of habit because we’ll be used to feeling snug. Right now, I’m used to wearing thermals, and that’s ok.

As someone who is worried about climate change, I think it’s important to reduce the amount of heating we use each year, and certainly the amount of energy wasted. We will be getting the house insulated to try and ensure it is an energy efficient as possible, so that when we do eventually give in and turn on the heating, we will still be saving energy.

This house is currently not very eco friendly, and there are lots of things we can do to reduce its impact on the planet. We’ve already made some small but important changes that have boosted our green credentials. When we moved in, the dishwasher plumbing was hot water, meaning that every time we washed our clothes, we used a lot of hot water. I assume this was a throwback to the days when washing machines needed hot water, but it meant the clothes came out hot which was very weird.  It also meant we kept running out of hot water, meaning we had to heat up another tank, wasting yet more energy. We’ve now switched things around so that the washing machine has only cold water running to it.

We’ve also installed a dishwasher, which though they were once thought of as an unnecessary energy indulgence, now actually use less water than washing by hand. Saving water is another important step you can take to reduce your impact on the planet. Thanks to our teeny tiny bath, we also tend to favour showers which is another great way to save water.

I always turn the tap off whilst brushing my teeth, rather than letting it run continuously. When Ebony was younger, I was so proud the first time she stood at the sink to clean her own teeth, turning the taps off just as I do. Children definitely do learn from observing, rather than being nagged. It made me realise just how much she takes in of my daily routine, without me even noticing.

What steps do you take to minimise water and energy consumption in your home?

* This post was written in association with Happier Homes.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Review & Giveaway: The Other Ida by Amy Mason

I have always loved reading, though lately it is proving more difficult to find the time. I haven’t commuted for three years, and so don’t have that forced reading time carved into each working day. I can try reading whilst looking after Ebony, but it usually turns into a negotiation of me juggling a few pages of my book with at least two whole books of hers, as she looks up at me and patiently explains, once again, that she cannot read yet. On the rare occasions that I am not well and truly exhausted by the time my head hits the pillow, I manage the odd chapter at the end of the day.

I am certain that making time to read improves my quality of life. It lets me escape the toddler tantrums, reminds me of words I haven’t used in ages, and, most importantly, re-ignites my internal monologue. After hours spent reading the thoughts of characters from a book, I inevitably find that my own internal monologue returns to ponder about my daily life.

When I heard that someone I used to work with had won The Dundee International Book Prize award last month, I couldn't wait to read the published book. My copy of The Other Ida arrived last week, and I managed to devour every word within just a few days. It’s just amazing. I am certain that knowing Amy has not clouded my judgement, and this book is truly as amazing as I think it is. After all, how could sharing a hotel room together after a work event, and waking up with my head in the toilet bowl, in anyway make me biased towards Amy's work.

I’ve never really understood how to write a book review without accidentally spoiling the story or only half discussing things whilst being irritatingly vague. So I’m going to try really hard to review the book without doing either of those things.

This book is about fame, family, chaos and secrets. Ida, about to turn thirty, has so far lived a life of destruction, with drink and drugs taking centre stage. As she returns home for her once famous mother’s funeral, she is forced to confront her past, and try to rebuild the relationship with her sister, Alice, who she hasn’t seen for years.

The characters are complicated and real, each one of them likable and dislikable in almost equal measure. The story, set over a number of decades, twists and turns as you make your way through the chapters. The story moves in unpredictable directions, revealing more mysteries or shedding light on the story’s history. The characters, and storyline, are nothing short of intriguing, and you will find yourself desperate to get to the end of the book. The Other Ida is amazing until the very end, and you will get there sooner than you think because who needs sleep when there is a fascinating and destructive family to read about?

The Other Ida by Amy Mason is available at all good bookshops now. You can also buy it here for £8.99.

Cargo Publishing have very kindly given me a copy of The Other Ida to giveaway. All you need to do to enter is fill in the Rafflecopter below. Good luck!

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