Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Our Last October

It seems like a lifetime ago that I first made the decision to stay home with Ebony during the day. I gave up my much-loved day job, and instead decided that, for a few months at least, I would be home looking after Ebony. This was, at least in part, due to an inflated sense of self on my part, I just didn’t believe anyone else could look after Ebony as well as I could.

I can honestly say I haven’t regretted the decision for longer than a millisecond (which is about how long it takes to detangle my hair out from Ebony’s claws). I haven’t grown tired of my days with her, or wished away her childhood. Of course, some days were longer than others, and some bedtimes seemingly never ending,

Under my watchful eye, Ebony took her first few steps. She mastered walking, then running, and finally jumping. She learnt a few words, then managed to string together short sentences, then picked up a few choice words that were quickly discouraged, then started asking why. Her hair grew, she developed friendships, and she became an avid bookworm (who will happily spend hours looking through books, despite not being able to read).

School always seemed so far away. It was visible on the horizon, sure, but it wasn’t going to arrive anytime soon. And now, suddenly, it is. Ebony will be starting nursery in September, and I know that may seem like a long time away, but believe me, the years have flown by so far, and I’m not expecting any different over the next 11 months.

The thought of leaving Ebony at a nursery, even for just 15 hours a week, is quite terrifying. There’s a lot about nursery and school that I don’t feel comfortable with. The hierarchy, the authority figures, the obsession with three year olds being able to spell, and that fact that someone else will be eating into my Ebony time. And the fact that I won’t be there, to gently guide her past the gender stereotypes, or support her when she doesn’t want to abide by the arbitrarial class rules. The fact that all of the research I’ve done, the instincts I’ve followed, and the decisions I’ve made about parenting, will suddenly apply to only half of the week. And for the other half, mainstream child-adult relationships will win out, which I find to be a thoroughly depressing thought.

But, those are thoughts for another time. This post, today, is about these last fleeting months together before Ebony departs the nest (for five, three hour sessions a week). I seem to be asked on a weekly basis when Ebony will be starting nursery, and after months of saying ‘next September’, finally the days of saying ‘September’ are upon me. When it first dawned on me that Ebony would be starting at nursery next September, my first thought that this was our very last October together.

Melodramatic, perhaps, but it’s also true. Next year we won’t be able to go on day-long adventures, we’ll be stuck in the humdrum routine of pickups, drops offs and (the thing I most dread) trying to get uniforms washed and dried on time (why, why do three year olds need uniforms?! Gah).

Since realising that this is, in fact, our very last October, I have been trying to make the most of it. We’ve been charging about the woods, jumping through puddles, running through leaves, and playing witches. A lot. I know we’ll be able to do all of those things next year, of course, but I’m concentrating on making memories this year. I want her to be able to look back on this time together, and remember that it was magical. I want her to remember the fairy hunts in the woods (hunts is a bad word, we certainly weren’t intending to do anything violent should we encounter any fairies), the afternoons in the park, the hours spent cuddled up on the sofa reading stories, and the things we made together.
Other things can wait, because this is the last year I will have my little girl all to myself.

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Perfect Autumn Day

I can pretty much argue that any season is my absolute favourite, given the right circumstances. And I decidedly chose not to write this post last night when the rain was pelting down, and my poor bedraggled cat appeared at the back door, but, I love autumn. When it’s dry. 

I love that crisp feeling in the evening air, and the feel of leaves scrunching under my step. I love the beautiful warm colours that fill the trees, and scatter across the fields and streets. I love digging winter clothes out of from under the stairs, and desperately trying to find my thermals. I love drinking warm tea first thing on a cool morning as I sit outside in the garden with Ebony. I love the adventures that autumn promises, and that overwhelming desire to make the most of nature before the winter chill creeps in.

This weekend, we decided to immerse ourselves in autumn, and find some fallen leaves to explore. I was visiting my university friend and her adorable new baby in Liverpool, so we decided to pay a visit to Sefton Park. I love Sefton Park, I went to uni in Liverpool and lived near to Sefton Park for a while. The ground becomes a beautiful sea of yellow daffodils in the spring, and by summer the grassy lawns make the perfect spot for some sunny revision, but it’s even better in autumn. The towering trees are lit up with colour, and fallen leaves fill the park, as squirrels rush by gathering nuts for the winter. It’s perfect, and, for once, I had a full camera battery so was able to take some photographs of Ebony playing in the leaves.

After the long car journey over to Liverpool (thanks, traffic), she couldn’t wait to stretch her legs and shot off almost as soon as she reached the ground. After a few unsuccessful attempts at befriending a squirrel, she settled for a game of hide and seek with Laurie. She searched for conkers amongst the leaves, collected acorns, threw leaves in the air and climbed every tree stump she could find. Laurie gathered together a huge pile of leaves, and Ebony had great fun running and stomping through them, kicking them high into the air as she went. She climbed rocks, leapt across stepping stones, and ran as fast as she could through the park. And, much to her delight, she discovered helicopter seeds. 

Her beautiful red coat and autumnal skirt were very kindly sent to us by House of Fraser. Isn't it the most perfect coat?

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Giveaway: Raw Chocolate Treats & raw cookies Cookbooks

I was very kindly offered some cookbooks to give away on the blog, and since it’s VeganMOFO this month, I can think of no better time to give them away.

I was sent a copy of Raw Chocolate Treats by Jessica Fenton. This beautiful book is being launched today, so I feel really lucky that I got to have a sneak peek at it before it hit the shelves. Jessica Fenton is a chocolate-loving foodie, passionate about eating organic, vegan and raw food. This book is fantastic, and a great starting point for people who, like myself, are new to raw food. I’ve tried the odd bit of raw food at vegan events and at friends’ houses, but have never tried making any myself. This book explains each of the ingredients in detail, including the health benefits of each different food.

We’ve just had a new kitchen put in, so I haven’t been able to try out any of the recipes yet. Our cupboards are bare, but nice and shiny which is all one really wants from a kitchen, surely? As soon as I’ve stocked up on fancy ingredients, I’ll be giving the love macaroons, almond butter truffles, and guarana and goji nutty loaf a try. I love the idea of delicious, healthy treats I can share with Ebony. Plus, there’s the added benefit that they won’t make a mess of my nice new cooker.

The other book I am giving away is raw cookies by Julia Corbett - this one isn't even out yet. It's available for pre-order at £17.92 here. This handy-sized book contains 60 recipes for gluten-free superfood treats. This is not, however, a vegan book. Lots of the recipes are vegan, but some of the recipes contain honey, though I’m sure you could substitute for agave syrup or another natural sweetener. Again, because of my kitchen-free existence for the past couple of weeks, I haven’t had chance to try out any of the recipes yet, though I’ll be sure to blog about them when I do! I will definitely be trying out the dark chocolate cookie fudge, the cookies and cream chocolate-dipped sandwich, and the raw butter snickerdoodles.

If you can’t bear to wait for me to eventually get round to trying out some of these delicious recipes, then enter below for your chance to win a copy of each book.
Good luck!  

a Rafflecopter giveaway Win competitions at ThePrizeFinder.com - See more at: http://www.theprizefinder.com/content/2-x-raw-cookbooks#sthash.dGznrIEg.dpuf

Monday, 29 September 2014

Vegan Parenting: How to Survive a Birthday Party

Kids’ birthday parties are loud, messy and chaotic. They’re also a lot of fun - if you’re a kid (and headache-inducing if you’re not). Attending a child’s birthday party is not hassle free - there are costumes to create, presents to buy, and hours of pass the parcel prep to be done (seriously, my kid can drag out her pass like no other). If you’re the parent of a vegan child, you’ve also got the added drama of the food. I’m sure every vegan parent worries about their kid feeling different or left out, I know I’ve spent many hours thinking of ways to make sure Ebony doesn’t miss out on things. Apart from zoos, she can miss out on them, obvs.

Since it’s VEGAN MOFO this month, and I completely ran out of time to actually post any blog posts never mind come up with recipes to share, I thought I’d write about how to survive a birthday party with your vegan kid in tow.

  1. Offer to take food - sometimes this is necessary, other times it isn’t. It will totally depend upon how well you know the parents of the other child, how accommodating they are, and the type of food that will be available at the party. If the party is being catered for (by a soft play centre, not by a professional catering company, I don’t have such fancy friends), you could ring up the venue in advance to check that they can cater for a vegan diet. I’ve been to birthday parties where lots of the food has been fresh fruit, salad foods and crackers, where Ebony has had no problem eating her fill. But I’ve also been to other parties where the table has been filled with chocolate, sweets and other foods that probably aren’t vegan. Offer to take some food to help out, you could take a dish or two if you have time.

  2. Find out what’s on the menu - young children don’t seem to notice when what they have is different, but now that my daughter is two and a half she is well aware when she doesn’t have the same as everyone else. Finding out what foods will be there can help you to plan ahead. Sandwiches, sausage rolls, pizzas, pretty much anything can be veganised without much fuss. If they’re having jelly and ice-cream (is that even still a thing?), make an individual jelly portion and pick up some vegan ice-cream from your local supermarket.

  3. Warn your kid - I tend to mention to Ebony, just before we walk into the party, that a lot of the food probably won’t be vegan, so we’ll need to find out what she can eat. This just helps to avoid that awful moment when your child sees something, wants it, can’t have it and cries whilst other parents look at you in a who-the-hell-raises-their-kid-as-vegan-anyway-it's-basically-child-abuse sort of a way.

  4. Take sweets - it’s a birthday party, there will be sweets. They’ll be lurking between layers on the pass the parcel, sitting on the DJ table waiting to be distributed to the best dancer, and filling bowls on the food table. Make sure you have some vegan sweets on hand so that you can make a quick switch if your child is given some sweets. There are lots of sugar free vegan sweets available if you’d like to try and limit the amount of sugar in your child’s diet. The great thing is that many vegan companies have now caught on to the fact that marketing is important, so the sweets come in brightly coloured bags, just like everyone else’s sweets.

  5. Know your labels - lots of products are accidentally vegan - oreos, party rings and jammy dodgers are all vegan friendly. Make sure you go armed with the knowledge of which biscuits, crisps and other foods are accidentally vegan, so that your child can eat some of the food from the party table.

  6. Take cake - there is nothing worse than watching your child hungrily eyeing up the cake, only to be told she can’t eat it when the slices are dished out. I usually try to bake a batch of cupcakes before the party, and take one with me so that she can have a cake with everyone else.

  7. Be hawk-like - it’s important to keep an eye on your child. Kids are fast, there are bound to be sweets littering the floor, and there could be swarms of well-meaning adults ready to offer sweets and chocolate to your child. Keep some vegan friendly snacks to hand so that you can swoop in and make a quick exchange should your child stumble across any non-vegan goodies.

  8. Party bag shake up - make sure you have a quick look through the party bag before you drive home. You don’t want to arrive home to find your kid’s face covered in milk chocolate thanks to a hidden bar in the party bag. Have some more foods on hand to switch, just in case. By this point, as the sugar-crash is looming, I usually opt for a healthy fruit and nut bar, and pack of raisins.
  9. Have wine ready - after two hours of listening to Let It Go on repeat, and ten minutes spent trying to prise the pass the parcel out of your child’s grasp, and repeatedly explaining to strangers that your child is vegan so can’t eat whatever they were about to shove down her throat - you’ll need wine. Have it ready. For when you get home, obviously, don’t break it out at the party, unless you have awesome parent friends, in which case, go ahead.

Have I missed anything off this list? What do you do to help your vegan kids feel included at birthday parties?

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.


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