Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Living Arrows: The Final Countdown

I can't quite believe that this is the end of this year long photo project. I didn't manage to take good photos for all of the weeks, in fact I forgot many, many times. And I was rubbish at posting every week, but I really enjoyed taking part simply because it forced me to pick out my favourite photos, and encouraged me to reach for my camera more than I usually might.








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The final photo! Laurie has taken quite a few days off over Christmas, and I've been trying to use this time to catch up on work. We've been trying to make sure we do something as a family every couple of days, so that we feel we've made the most of the Christmas break. The other day, we decided to go for a walk at Reddish Vale. For the first time in a longtime, Ebony was happy to run around in the cold, stomping on icy mud and hiding from the overly friendly geese.  


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It was supposed to snow on Boxing Day night. It did, but not where we live. We could see snow in the distance though, so decided to head out and find some. We drove for about half an hour, then stopped at a snow-covered park. Ebony had her first ever go in the sledge, built her first ever snowball, and had her first ever snow-is-cold-I-want-to-go-home sobbing fit. Perfect.


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Apologies for the crappy phone photo. Every Friday we visit my childminder friend and spend a few hours creating amazing things out of paint. At our annual Christmas party, Ebony decorated some gingerbread men, made a 2015 calendar and, whilst I was out of the room, managed to make me a secret Christmas present. Ebony loves nothing more than Friday craft days.


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As a family, we managed to spend most of December with at least one cold virus in the house. Ebony was ill for a couple of weeks, and spent most of the time cuddled up in this onesie, falling asleep on my chest while I watched really crap (awesome) romantic comedies on Netflix.
living arrows

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The (Dismal) Reality of Meeting Santa



At almost three, my daughter is finally old enough to understand, and get excited about, Santa. She is really looking forward to Santa sneaking down our chimney on Christmas Eve and leaving her a reindeer. Ok, maybe she doesn’t fully understand it all, but she’s certainly getting there.

With this in mind, when I found out there was a grotto at the forest we visit to buy our Christmas Tree, I thought Ebony might like to tell Santa about the reindeer she wants for Christmas. And, to be honest, I was hoping he might let her know that live animal gifts aren’t really in his remit.

We had planned to arrive early, but, of course, arrived in the middle of the day, and sat in a queue waiting to get into the car park. Once we’d parked up, we made our way to the grotto to discover a frighteningly long line of dead-eyed, weary parents and screaming, miserable children. At this point, I wanted to turn back. I didn’t want to become one of those parents, and I really didn’t want to stand in line with the bored, whining children.

It soon become clear that this was not my decision to make. I had promised Ebony she would meet Santa, and so she was going to bloody well do that. We begrudgingly joined the back of the very, very long line. Laurie wanted to know the time, so that we’d be able to calculate how long we would be waiting. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but to any parents about to join a Santa’s Grotto queue, I have only one piece of advice, do NOT look at your watch. It will haunt you, as every hour crawls by, you will be filled with a deep hate and resentment towards Santa, the elves and all the cheap plastic crap adorning the walls of your line. If you’re lucky that is, we didn’t have any cheap plastic crap to look at, we just had row after row of wooden barrier separating us from the other miserable families around us.

After ten minutes of waiting in line, we were able to take a step forwards. I overshot, mistakenly thinking I was making headway, and ended up crotch to bottom with the middle-aged man in front of me. I quickly stepped back again, only to end up behind my starting point. Overcompensating for the unintentional bum rub I had just provided. Fifteen minutes into the wait, another family joined the queue. Finally, we were no longer at the back. Do not be fooled though, we were by no means nearer the front.

Twenty minutes into our wait, our previously excited toddler transformed into a hungry, angry creature worthy only of exorcism. It was at this point that we realised we had left the food in the car. Of course, I could have offered to nip back to the car to grab some snacks, but there was a very good chance that I would not return to the grotto, and would instead be found hours later, shaking and sobbing as I suffered flashbacks from my time in the queue.

So as not to dishearten parents, and put people off joining the queue, the barriers forced us to zigzag our way to the grotto’s entrance. It took us twenty five minutes to reach the first zig. Thanks to Laurie’s helpful timekeeping skills, he was then able to calculate that we were a fifth of the way to the grotto. In twenty five minutes.

The family behind us had two children, one younger and one older than Ebony. The younger, I assume, had more of a victim role in the family, with her older brother taking on the position of bully. The barriers were dotted with wooden boxes that opened to reveal something crap like a mirror, or some mud-stained fluff. Each time we reached the next box, Ebony ran over to have a look only for the boy to shove her out of the way and look himself. Thanks to this little cherub, I ended up having to carry Ebony most of the way.

By the time we had queued up for 40 minutes, I had constructed an email (in my mind, of course) to the organisers with constructive criticism which I thought might be helpful for them to improve the attraction by next year. This included things like clearly displayed wait times, dealing with the overflowing rubbish bins amidst the barriers, and having some elves or other people to make the wait less soul-destroying.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like they had no elves. Every twenty minutes or so a bearded elf would emerge from the grotto, glance across to the end of the queue with a look of sheer panic on his face, glance down at his watch, grimace, and then disappear back inside. It was a joy to behold.

As we slowly zigged and zagged towards the grotto, we noticed that there was a particular section in the barriers where all the children cried. We decided to call this the Cry Zone, and really hoped that Ebony would be able to resist the urge to sob when we finally reached that part of the line. She couldn’t. Almost as soon as we passed the overflowing bin of takeaway boxes and mulled wine cups that made up the entrance of this less-than-desirable part of the queue, she started to sob. She was hungry, and cold, and bored. And she cried for the whole of that zig and the following zag. That was about twenty minutes. Of my one, precious life. There was no consoling her. She wanted to meet Santa, she did not want to wait, she did not want to leave.

Eventually, with our nerves frayed, we reached the end of the Cry Zone. By this time, we had been queueing for one hour and five minutes, twenty of which had been spent holding a crying, angry toddler. And, just to be clear, I hadn’t managed to get a mulled wine before joining the queue. The end of the Cry Zone featured a number of interactive displays and games, all of which were greatly enjoyed for twenty seconds before the boy behind shoved Ebony out of the way.

After an hour and 15 minutes of queuing in the cold, with frostbite taking hold on our toes, we made it to the grotto door. I tried really hard to contain my tears of pure joy as I turned the corner only to discover the MORE WAITING lurking just behind the door. As we waited in line behind my crotch friend from earlier in the day, an overly friendly member of staff desperately tried to make conversation with the tired, trudging, bleary eyed shadows we had become.

Eventually, a bell sounded and the family in front disappeared down an exciting looking path made of Christmas trees and fairy lights. I imparted with a perversely large amount of money for the opportunity to queue for such an extremely long time in such tortuous conditions. Five minutes of attempted awkward small talk later, and the bell sounded again, signalling our turn to enter the mystical forest inside the grotto. Ebony ran forwards, excitedly hurrying past the flashing lights and creeping branches. As she turned the corner, she ran into the bum I now knew so well. Oh yes, another queue. Three families waited ahead of us, staring forwards so as to avoid the inevitable headache caused by the insufferable flashing lights.

I tried to contain my rage, pretending to marvel at the lopsided stuffed penguins inexplicably floating on a Christmas tree, and the terrible poetry dotted around the path. Ebony started to cry again, expressing the emotions I know without doubt everyone in the grotto was feeling.

Just a few painfully long minutes later and we were at the front of the queue, standing awkwardly alongside an elf who had clearly spent all day surrounded by underwhelmed adults and hungry children. All of a sudden, the door opened, and we were able to take our first steps towards the great man himself.

As I turned the corner, I saw Santa sat in a comfy chair, between a beautifully decorated tree, and a crate of gifts. It looked wonderful, and for a split second, it seemed like it had all been worth it. The toddler saw it too, only to her it was terrifying, and she realised that it had all been a huge mistake.

Santa greeted her with a friendly smile which immediately plunged Ebony into a deep and unforgiving terror that she was simply unable to drag herself out of. Santa tried, he really did, but Ebony would not tell him what she wanted for Christmas because she was too busy recoiling from his sparkling eyes.

Eventually picking up on the strength of Ebony’s complete and utter hate for him, Santa quickly whipped out a gift, which Ebony begrudgingly accepted. Mistakenly believing this was his in, Santa suggested a quick photo. I was almost knocked to the ground by the sheer force at which my now sobbing toddler hurled herself into my arms. We quickly fled the grotto as Ebony screamed, "NO PHOTO!" in the face of Santa's incredibly apologetic elf assistant. And then we were out in the cold once again. Less than three minutes after we stepped foot into the grotto, but a whole hour and thirty minutes after we first foolishly wandered into that queue.

The only silver lining to this wasted expanse of time in my life, is that I can pretend the reason she didn't get a pet reindeer for Christmas, is because Santa didn't know she wanted one.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Living Arrows: The Past Few Weeks



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It's so close to the end of the year now, I thought I'd better catch up again before it's too late. This photograph was taken on Sunday, during a trip to The Lowry. We took Ebony to see Match, a play inspired by The Little Match Girl, a book we love. Ebony really enjoyed the play, and the huge Christmas tree in The Lowry, and the wide open space outside. We met my parents for dinner after, and whilst we were waiting for them to arrive, Ebony ran round at full speed, Mr Teddy Bear in hand



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For the past couple of weeks, we have been spending the last hour of the day together making Christmas crafts in the conservatory. This is partly because our house is beyond cold, and the conservatory has its own heater which soon warms the room. And partly because Ebony loves arts and crafts and is so pleased to finally have a room she can make mess in. We made Christmas cards, and she spent hours totally fixated on it. We're now decorating baubles, and have a few more Christmas activities lined up to keep us entertained before the big day.



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We're still pretty terrible at getting to all of our weekly activities (apart from Pub Tuesday, which we wouldn't miss for the world), but this photo was taken as we made our way to our usual Monday morning haunt. 




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Role play has well and truly taken over my life. Ebony spends most of the day in an imaginary world. Either we're playing shopkeepers, cafes or doctors, or she's chattering away to her toys. It's so lovely to see, and I love hearing the things she comes up with. This photograph was taken during our first game of cafes. I may have been slightly (ahem) overexcited about the fact she was playing vegan cafes, but all the specials were her idea. 

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On Bonfire night we toasted vegan marshmallows on a small barbecue in our back garden, before watching the fireworks. It was such a lovely night, and Ebony loved the marshmallows, obviously, because they are made of sugar. She was wrapped up warm, and spent most of the evening snuggled up on my knee. 



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For Halloween, Ebony dressed up as a witch. Her costume was amazing (thanks, Tesco), and she loved flying around on her broom. Her best friend's lovely (not very) big sister did Ebony's face paint, which Ebony really didn't ever want to have to wash off. There were tears in the bath that night. 
living arrows

Monday, 1 December 2014

Review: Snapfish Christmas Gifts

I am not good at photography, at all. But, I love nothing more than taking photos of Ebony, on the rare occasions when she will allow me to. I got a new lens this year, and it has made taking photos so much easier, I've been surprised at what a difference it makes.

I'm not one of those people who always has a camera with them, I wish I was, but it's big and I mostly can't be bothered carrying it. That said though, I love taking photos and always try to factor in an opportunity to take some photos of Ebony every few weeks. It's always easier when Laurie is around, because he can keep her happily entertained while I snap away. It's either that, or I get a lot of photos of her back while she faces away from me shouting "CHEEEEEEEEEEEEEESE!" 

I try to send my Nanny and Granny updated photos of her every few months, because we don't get to see them that much. When Snapfish offered me the chance to review some of their gift items, I was keen to try them out. I've used them for prints before, but have never ordered gift items from them.

I decided to order a wall calendar for Ebony's Nanna and Grandpa. It took a while to decide which photos to choose, but I'm really happy with the result. It's a big calendar, with plenty of room for writing appointments etc on, and the photo quality is great. I chose the biggest size which costs £19.99. You can add photos in on the date boxes too, meaning I could feature a photo of Ebony with a party hat on for Christmas Day, and her dressed as a witch on Halloween. 

For my Nanny, I ordered a desktop calendar which is much smaller, but will fit neatly on her dressing table or mantelpiece. For this calendar, I chose one big image per month, and really love how it turned out (top photo above). I chose a mix of images, some of Ebony as a baby, and more recent snaps, so it's a really lovely reminder of the past three years. 

With the left over credit, I ordered a Christmas bauble for my parents. It's the sort of thing I would worry about ordering online, because you never quite know how things are going to turn out, but it looks amazing. The decoration is made of porcelain, and just looks so gorgeous. I know it will look right at home on my parents' Christmas tree. 

Snapfish let me choose some products from their range in exchange for an honest review. 

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Homemade Christmas Cards: Toddler Craft





Homemade Christmas cards. I've been waiting for this moment ever since I found out I was pregnant. A tiny pair of glue-covered hands, newspaper stuck to the dining table, a dusting of glitter across the floor, and a pile of imperfect, totally unique Christmas cards. 

I looked for Christmas card ideas last year, but one year olds are so crap at crafts, you have to do basically the entire work yourself. You also have to accept finger-paint covered walls as your new normal, and embrace working alongside a naked artist, which, quite frankly, I wasn't willing to do. 

This year though, at nearly three, Ebony is not only old enough to be (about 87%) trusted around my very white walls, and to wear her own clothes in the presence of glue and glitter, but she also love crafts. She loves nothing more than making a total mess, er, I mean, creating a masterpiece. She would probably spend most of her time painting, if she could. So I knew she would love making her own Christmas cards. 

I already had some blank cards and envelopes, so just needed to get the extras. I ordered the red and green card online, and managed to find some gems too which I thought would be great as baubles. The (very weird) card shop down the road sold glitter glue, and then we had everything we needed.

My mum and dad still have all of the Christmas crafts me and my sister made when we were little, and these are hauled out every year and stuck up around the fireplace. The idea for the cards I made with Ebony came from one of these antique craft pieces which must date back to my nursery days long, long ago. 

We listened to Christmas songs (yeah, it's November. What?), drank hot drinks, and spent two afternoons crafting away at the dining table together. It was lots of fun, and Ebony really enjoyed it. She managed to make over 30 cards, the only problem is I'm now having to beg her to let me have them, because she wants to give each and every one to her friend George. 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Review & Giveaway: Hotel Chocolate Festive Wreath



Hotel Chocolat is probably one of my favourite shops to visit in Manchester. On the rare occasions I manage to spend the day shopping, I always make Hotel Chocolat my last port of call. I love that they have vegan options, and that they label them as such (a true rarity amongst chocolate makers these days). I love working my way round the store, trying to decide which chocolates to buy. Marzipan ones, obviously.

Last year, we went to visit some lovely friends in Brighton who very kindly introduced us to Hotel Chocolat’s Buche. If you haven’t had it, please believe me when I say you need it in your life. It is so good, so so good. If we have them in the house, Laurie has to hide them so that I don’t eat them when he’s at work. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true.

When Hotel Chocolat asked whether I would like to review one of their festive wreaths, and have another to give away to a lucky reader, I salivated. And then said yes, of course. Because, really, what sort of vegan turns down free fancy chocolate?!

The wreath arrived in a fancy bag, and was beautifully packaged inside. I think it would make an amazing Christmas present, and is the perfect offering for the host of your Christmas dinner this year.

I really love the wreath design, I think it’s festive but without the novelty value you get with a chocolate santa or reindeer. Not that there’s anything wrong with novelty, especially at Christmas. I was sent the large wreath which feeds nine, and can be bought (here) for £22. That might sound like a lot to spend on chocolate, but believe me when I say it is worth it.

The wreath is made from rich, dark chocolate, and covered in Marcona almonds, roasted Piedmont hazelnuts and South African golden raisins. And it is delicious. I was slightly heart broken to have to cut it up because it’s so pretty, but I very quickly got over this. It is rich and decadent and definitely does not disappoint.

I gave a bit to Ebony who was suspiciously hovering around my elbow, and her humble verdict was that it was “crunchy and delicious”. So, there you go.

Hotel Chocolat have very kindly offered one of their delicious festive wreaths as a prize. To be in with a chance of winning, all you need to do is fill in the Rafflecopter below. Good luck!


Hotel Chocolat sent me the wreath in exchange for an honest review.
OfferOasis.co.uk - Competitions and Freebies in the UK CompetitionsToday.co.uk Win competitions at ThePrizeFinder.com - See more at: http://www.theprizefinder.com/content/hotel-chocolat-festive-wreath#sthash.rpzaa6G0.dpuf

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Review: The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat






We are big Julia Donaldson fans, so when we were given the chance to review one of her latest releases, we jumped at the chance. The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat is Donaldson’s take on the next chapter of the classic childrens’ book The Owl and the Pussycat.

When I was a child, I had a small, hardback copy of The Owl and the Pussycat, which currently resides on Ebony’s bookshelf. To be perfectly honest, the original book isn’t one of my favourites, mostly thanks to the, erm, changes in word meanings that have occurred since it was written. I had read it a few times, but it hadn’t become a firm favourite by any means.

I was sent a copy of the original book written by Edward Lear, and of Julia Donaldson’s new tale to review. Both copies are illustrated by Charlotte Voake, and I absolutely love the style of illustration. She uses great colours, and the pictures really add to the story,

The copy of The Owl and the Pussycat has a foreword by Julia Donaldson and it is genuinely so interesting. I had no idea that the original copy was written as a gift for a friend’s daughter who was ill. Or that Edward Lear had written other, darker stories. This story obviously holds a special place in Donaldson’s heart, and is closely tied to her relationship with her grandmother. I love the personal insights into both authors, and the importance of the story.

Donaldson talks about the popularity of The Owl and the Pussycat, but mentions her fear that it is more popular with children than adults. I think she’s right, and I think her new book will go some way towards ensuring that children enjoy this poem again. I know that it has made me appreciate the beauty of the original book, and the way it is written.

The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat follows the characters on their next adventure. Following the theft of their wedding ring, the couple are forced to go on an adventure to retrieve it, meeting some of Lear’s lesser known characters along the way.The book is written in the same style as the original story, but has a more modern feel to it. In keeping with Donaldson’s other work, the book is a joy to read, fun and engaging, and really does bring Lear’s style back to life.

The new book works as a stand alone story, but of course is even better when read alongside its inspiration. We have been reading these books at bedtime for the past few weeks, and we both love them.

You can pick up a copy of The Owl and the Pussycat here, and, since they go so nicely as a set, you can also get a copy of The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat here.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Review: Koko Kids Wall Stickers



We’ve been living in our house for six months now. It’s actually quite terrifying that we’ve been here so long, especially when I glance around at all the unfinished jobs around the house. This house wasn’t a huge project when we bought it, but it was unloved and very magnolia.

It is still very magnolia, which is at least partly down to a total lack of free time. Where are you meant to fit DIY in amongst so much working and a need for family time?! Our problem is that even when we do decide to sort out a room, it takes us ages to get everything finished. Our kitchen still needs another coat of paint and some other odd bits to finish it off.

When the lovely people at Koko Kids offered me some wall stickers to review, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to sort out Ebony’s bedroom. I love the idea of wall stickers, but I’ve never really seen any that I love. They never look like quite the right fit for my home, they’re either too big or just not my style at all. When I had a glance through the selection at Koko Kids, I was very pleased to discover that this was not the case.

They had a great selection, and there were quite a few designs that caught my eye. I really loved the bunnies stickers, but in the end opted for this gorgeous cloud design. My mum came over to help paint Ebony’s bedroom, and after a couple of days of having paint on my eyelashes (does this happen to other people?), it was finished.

I finally moved everything back into her now-very-white room this afternoon, and decided to put the wall stickers up above her bed. The sticker sheet is reusable, allowing you to store the stickers again if you wish. This came in useful for me because I decided not to use all of the raindrops in the pack, so I’ve been able to store the rest in a cupboard. One of the things I love about these wall stickers is that you have artistic control over them. It’s not one huge sticker, it’s lots of little ones so you can decide how to arrange them.

The stickers are fabric, textured and easy to use. I love the different patterns on the raindrops. It took me a while to decide exactly where I wanted mine, and I found they unpeeled easily and hadn’t left any residue on the newly painted walls. I absolutely love how they turned out, I think they add a little something to Ebony’s room, and look really stylish.
Ebony thinks they are very pretty, but said she wishes she had an umbrella in bed now. So, it might be worth buying an umbrella too if you’re thinking of choosing some of these for your child’s room. You can buy the three cloud wall sticker from Koko Kids for just £19.95, they’re available in pink and blue. Or, have a browse at the other stickers in their collection.


I was sent these wall stickers to review honestly, and I did. 

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!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Competitions UK at AllUKCompetitions.com Win competitions at ThePrizeFinder.com 

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