Thursday, 26 February 2015
I've given up on waiting for spring, it's just taking too long to come around. So despite the rain and wind, I've started trying to sort out my garden this week. My first job was to dig out a bed, and luckily I had a glamorous assistant to help me. We got her this gardening set for her birthday and I think it was a very wise investment. While I was busy lugging heavy paving slabs across the garden, Ebony was entertained with her spade and fork. I'm hoping it will provides hours of entertainment this year, because my garden needs a lot of work.
Monday, 23 February 2015
One of the only rooms that feels (almost) finished in our house, is Ebony's room. It didn't need much doing when we moved in, but we finally got around to painting it before Christmas (with a little help from my mum).
The teepee was a birthday present from Laurie's parents. I really love the look of it, and think it makes the whole room feel a little more stylish. It's usually rammed full of soft toys and books, because Ebony sometimes sneaks in there when she first wakes up to play.
A lot of Ebony's things are second hand, either bought from charity shops or stolen from my parents' loft. My parents have kept pretty much everything they have ever come into contact with, so we've been able to hijack lots of books, toys and games from them. The globe pictured above was mine when I was younger, and now Ebony has it. Our local charity shop sells all books for 10p, so we may have acquired a few too many storybooks over the years, if there's such a thing as too many books. She has a bookcase full up here, and always chooses three stories for me to read to her at bedtime.
The whole room is painted white, so it needed a little bit of colour on the walls. I get photos printed each year around Ebony's birthday, so I can look back on how she's changed over the past 12 months. Some of my favourites are now hanging on Ebony's bedroom walls. The paper elephants are from India, and were a gift from my parents when Ebony was a baby. It's actually a mobile but we didn't get round to putting it up until she was long past the mobile stage. The 'ebony' frame was made by one of my clever friends. The circular frame has Ebony's foot print in from when she was two weeks old, but I was so terrified doing it that I did it way too lightly so you can hardly see it.
The dolls house used to belong to me, but my dad redecorated it and it was given to Ebony for Christmas this year. We keep it upstairs mostly because I am terrified it will get broken if it lives in the playroom, and also because it keeps Ebony entertained so I can grab a few extra zzz's in the mornings.
I love Ebony's 'Save the planet' pillowcase, and bought it as soon as I saw it. It's a really bright and colourful design so goes great against the white walls. The room isn't quite finished yet, the curtains are just the ones from our old house, and really could do with updating. I would also love to get a blackout blind before the summer sun arrives too, because I'm already dreading those early starts. VELUX blinds have a great selection of blinds for kids bedrooms and are well worth a look. It could do with some more pictures for the walls to add a bit more colour. And a rug would go some way toward hiding the terrible carpet.
Thursday, 19 February 2015
Nothing makes me broodier than the sight of a newborn baby snuggled in a sling. It takes me right back to those early months carrying my sleeping newborn nestled into my stretchy wrap. I am a big fan of babywearing, in fact the pram we bought started gathering dust from the very first time I tried Ebony in the sling. There was just no competition. I loved having her so close to me, and being able to inhale as much of that addictive newborn smell as I could. I love chatting to her as we walked around country parks, canals and the centre of Manchester.
I loved how free of hassle baby wearing was. I didn’t get stuck in doorways, have to wait for lifts, or have strangers tut because I was in their way. I carried her for miles and miles, and in my sling she grew bigger and stronger. We spent many sunny days walking around our local area, and I loved that we spent all of that time touching, rather than with her out of my reach in a pram. As she grew older, she peered out and absorbed the world around us, reached out to touch things, and pushed herself up to shower me in tiny kisses.
I loved babywearing, I think it gave me the confidence to trust my instincts as a mother. If I was going to advise an expectant friend on the must have baby items to buy, a sling would be at the very top of the list. I loved that babywearing left my hands free to do other things. I could cook dinner without having to put Ebony down. I can imagine this benefit is all the greater with a second child, allowing you to keep your baby close while you have your hands free to play with your older child.
KangaWrap have very kindly offered one of their beautiful wraps (pictured above) as a prize to one lucky reader. KangaWraps are Fair Trade and suitable for mothers and babies of all shapes and sizes. They can be used from birth until 15kg, meaning you’ll get months of use out of this fantastic prize. They are great for even the tiniest of babies, allowing you to go skin to skin with your newborn without having to worry about sitting still under a blanket. You don’t have to worry about buckles or straps with this simple stretchy wrap, and though the instructional videos may seem slightly daunting at first, I guarantee that you won’t regret giving it a try, and will soon fall in love with babywearing.
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Wednesday, 18 February 2015
"Today I need to wear a bobble and two clips I think."
Ebony's hair is slowly, oh so slowly, growing, and she has now decided that it's time to start wearing bobbles. It isn't, as you can see from the photo, but she has demanded on wearing them anyway. Since I've waited a long time for this moment, I thought it was worth celebrating, even if her hair isn't really quite long enough for a ponytail yet.
Tuesday, 17 February 2015
Being freelance, I find that I spend quite a bit of each weekend working while Laurie and Ebony hang out. For most of last year they spent their weekends cycling around our local area, stopping off at parks and playgrounds along the way. It hasn’t really been the weather for being strapped to a toddler bike seat lately though, so Laurie and Ebony have found themselves spending more time at home.
When we were offered a Weekend Box to review, I thought it sounded like the perfect pastime for Laurie and Ebony to get stuck into on a miserable winter’s day. Weekend Box was set by Andy, who spotted a gap in the market after searching for gifts for his nieces and nephews. Andy wanted to find something engaging, fun and educational, something that would widen their horizons and teach them about the world. Despite an extensive search, he couldn’t find anything that fit these requirements, and so he created Weekend Box.
Weekend Box arrives by post, and is perfectly packaged to fit through your letterbox, and contains a number of activities to keep you and your children entertained over the weekend. Weekend Box is about replacing parent-child time, in fact it’s about enhancing it. It is filled with fun activities for you all to try, whilst also learning about the world.
I think Weekend Box is perfect for those of us who have amazingly inspired Pinterest boards full of kids activities, but never enough time to actually put those into practice. Personally I like activities that don’t take too long to set up, because there’s nothing worse than spending half an hour preparing for an activity that only provides five pathetic minutes of entertainment. The great thing about Weekend Box is that there is no preparation, all of the planning has been done for you.
Our box arrived a few weeks ago, and was focussed on The Aztecs. We had a busy few weekends, and so instead of Laurie and Ebony doing the box together as I’d planned, I ended up doing it with Ebony during the week. She’d been a bit under the weather, it was bitterly cold outside, and I had run out of ideas for things to do (and I’d already reached my limit for how many times I can watch Frozen in a week), so I dug out Weekend Box. It was focussed and contained a few fun activities for us to try out.
The box contains a number of brightly coloured paper bags, each containing all of the bits you’ll need for a particular activity. There are colour coded information cards too, so you know what to do. We set up the dining table as a craft table, and got to work. Our first task was to try Aztec printing, so we needed to use string and glue to create a pattern on a piece of card. At just three, Ebony was a little young to understand exactly what she was meant to be doing, but she still managed to make a pretty pattern. We left that to dry, and moved on to the second activity.
We were given card and foam rectangles and told to create some Aztec mosaics. The information cards contain examples so you can get some inspiration. I cut up the foam into shapes, and Ebony took charge of the sticking. Ebony loves nothing more than sticking so she really enjoyed this craft activity. The final activity was to create some parrots with some empty toilet rolls and the materials provided. Weekend Box send small bags of paint powder out so that you can mix your own paint, and Ebony found this fascinating. For this activity we were sent a selection of feathers, which we wouldn’t use because we’re vegan. I’m not really keen on things going from the slaughterhouse floor into my home, so we decided to make our own feathers from paper instead. It took a long time to make the two parrots, and Ebony really enjoyed doing it. She called them Elsa and Anna. Obviously.
By this time, our printing pattern was finished, and it was time to mix up some more paint and get printing. Ebony had lots of fun covering the string in paint before imprinting it on the cards provided. I think we’ll try this activity again sometime because it was such a hit.
Weekend Box also contained instructions and some ingredients for an Aztec hot chocolate. This would have been easy to veganise, but Ebony is as yet unaware of the alluring and wonderful world of hot chocolate and I’d like to keep it that way for a little bit longer, so we gave this activity a miss. Instead we just had a warmed almond milk ready when we sat down to start our Weekend Box.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t convinced that the activities in the box would take us very long, but was surprised to discover that two whole hours had passed by the time we’d finished. I think with an older child it would take longer because they would probably take longer on each activity, but I was impressed with two hours for a three year old!
I think it would be great to have a vegan option on the site, allowing you to opt out of any non vegan activities. I wouldn’t really want to sign up for something that was going to send feathers through my letter box every week, and would be concerned about non vegan ingredients in any potential food based activities too. Vegan issues aside, however, this is a great product. Weekend Box is pretty eco friendly too. Everything can be reused and recycled, and 95% of the box and its contents is made from recycled materials.
It usually costs £7.50 per box, but Weekend Box have been kind enough to offer readers your first Weekend Box for free. Visit their website to sign up, and enter promo code FIONA250 to receive your free box. This offer is valid for new customers only, and is limited to one box per household.
Wednesday, 11 February 2015
A perfect afternoon captured. Just me, Ebony and a table full of crafts. She has an almond milk moustache, splashes of red paint on her forehead, and brush strokes of orange paint suspiciously close to her mouth, but I still love this photo.
Tuesday, 10 February 2015
We attended a special preview of the Imperial War Museum North’s half-term schedule this weekend. We woke up bright and early, argued about leaving the house late (is this normal?) and managed to get across to Salford Quays just in time. It’s fair to say we are not really morning people.
We’d actually visited the museum relatively recently but only for about twenty minutes one evening as we were killing time between (watching, not starring in) performances at The Lowry. We were with my dad so he took Ebony round whilst me and Laurie managed to do exciting pre-parent things like walk at our own pace and read the information boards. This weekend we had no such luck.
We were given a taster of the half-term events, and I can now report that the IWMN is well worth a visit that week. We started our morning by listening to A Sailor’s Story, a storytelling session about a sailor called Wally and his adventures leading up to the second world war. It was an informative and interactive session. At three, Ebony was a little young to follow a lot of the information, but it held her attention nonetheless, and she enjoyed participating in the story.
After the story-telling session we made our way down to the Learning Studio for a Message in a Bottle craft session. Children were supposed to write a message on their bottle and then decorate it. Ebony was a little young for that and instead drew a slightly terrifying picture of a scared looking man (see above), and spent twenty minutes hacking at the bottle with a pair of scissors. The Learning Studio is a great space and not one that I’ve visited before. There are lots of crafts supplies, storybooks and toys to entertain children of any ages, and there’s even a soft play bit for younger kids.
After the craft session was over, we went to watch the day's short film. For those who don’t know, the main exhibition space doubles up as a cinema, with images flashing up on the imposing walls, and voices echoing around the room. The first time I visited the museum, I sobbed because, though I can’t remember what it was about now, the film was so moving. The films are short and are played every hour, and are definitely worth a watch. For half-term, they have joined forces with Horrible Histories and created a fantastic animated film. I used to love Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories books when I was at primary school so was pleased to find out they are still a thing. Ebony was captivated by the whole film, and didn’t try to run off once. Impressive.
After the film, we had a quick look round the main exhibition space, trying to read the odd information sign whilst Ebony dashed from display to display. There are lots of amazing things to see, and the last time we visited I was particularly taken with a toy dog made from official army uniform. This time, it was the huge twisted metal that held my attention, this is in fact a window frame from the World Trade Centre. The museum houses lots of artefacts, and I seem to notice something new each time I go.
The museum also houses a Harrier Jump Jet, and when I went to the museum with my dad last he told me that he had once had a summer job working with the prototype for that plane. In fact, the plane he worked with currently resides in the London Science Museum. Just to be clear, he didn’t work with it during the war, he’s not quite that old. He worked with a team of researchers who were trying to see if black boxes could be replaced with live transmission (or something like that). And just to be clear, he wasn’t one of the researchers, he was the 18 year old charged with climbing between the plane’s engines and removing the black box as soon as the plane landed. By all accounts, it was very hot to be between two recently used jet engines.
After getting confused and telling Laurie and Ebony all about how my dad used to fly the plane, we decided to go up the Air Shard. This was a terrible idea. The Air Shard is terrifying. And very sweaty. Perhaps if you are a normal person, the Air Shard is wonderful and the views are breathtaking. But, should you be scared of, for example, Lifts And Heights, then let me tell you, the Air Shard is not for you. On a positive note, the seventeen flights of refreshingly solid concrete stairs on the way back down (so as to avoid the lift), will leave you feeling quite glad to be alive. But, I am assured by Laurie and Ebony that the Air Shard was very good and not at all scary should you be the sort of person who feels safe in lifts.
The Imperial War Museum North is located at Salford Quays, just across the water from The Lowry.Throughout half-term there are a number of family activities on, including the ones we were lucky enough to take part in. The activities will run from 10:30am each day, and you can find out more about them by clicking here. One thing we didn’t get to do, and which sounds amazing, is A Closer Look. It’s a 20 minute tour looking at the experiences of gay service personnel in the arm, which I think sounds really interesting.
The museum is open 10am - 6pm daily, and is free to visit. If you are Really Brave, a trip up the Air Shard will cost you £1.20 (60p for concessions).
Sunday, 8 February 2015
I like to think that should I ever be lucky enough to stumble into any kind of power, I would use it for good. I truly believe that I would use my public platform, no matter how tiny, to improve the world. I can imagine that the pressure of having that power would be huge, and that every word would need to be thoughtfully considered before being allowed to pass my oh so powerful lips. After all, when all the world is listening, you need to be careful what you say.
And that’s why it’s so depressing every time someone with power, lots of power, says something stupid. Something that not only doesn’t improve the world, but in fact celebrates or validates the way things currently are.
It was reported on Friday that Pope Francis had said that it is ok to smack your kids, as long as they still have their dignity. I’m not quite sure how Pope Francis expects this dignity to be maintained, perhaps by ensuring children are always dressed in their most formal attire before taking a beating? Not only this, but Pope Francis actually commented on the beauty of a father ‘justly’ doing this, and apparently made the motion of a parent smacking their child. I fail to see the beauty in a grown adult hitting a child. It is, quite simply, bullying in each and every possible scenario. It’s a shame that Pope Francis didn’t educate himself about smacking before making a public statement in support of this hideous behaviour.
The Catholic Church arguably has some pretty bad PR as far as kids are concerned, so perhaps Pope Francis is of the opinion that there’s not really much he can do to worsen the situation. But, by speaking out against smacking, he could have made a real difference, because:
Smacking doesn’t work
Numerous studies have found smacking to be ineffective at preventing bad behaviour. There is so much evidence out there highlighting the fact that smacking doesn’t work. Well, it works if the aim is to hit your child. But if your aim is to stop bad behaviour, then smacking doesn’t work. In fact, one study found that kids can go back to the behaviour within just 10 minutes of being smacked (you can read the full study here). Corporal punishment doesn’t work as a deterrent, and in fact has been associated with long-term problems including low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and, unsurprisingly, aggression.
These parents don’t need encouragement
Do you know how many times the average four year old is smacked a year? One thousand. One thousand smacks in the average four year old’s year. That works out at an average of two smacks each and every day. These smack happy parents, hands poised waiting, really don’t need Pope Francis to talk about how great smacking is. They’re going to smack anyway, and they do, a thousand times a year.
Smacking teaches violence
Nothing is more ridiculous to me than the idea of a parent berate their child for hitting, whilst giving them a smack. When you hit a child, you are teaching that child that it is ok to hit. You’re also teaching them a pretty poor lesson in how to handle anger and other negative emotions. Children who are hit at home, are most likely to lash out at others. Children learn more by observing and copying your behaviour than they will from the lessons you teach them verbally. So if you tell them violence is wrong, you will contradict yourself when you smack them, and they will learn that violence is ok when you feel angry. And it isn’t, ever.
Children get hurt
Whatever your reasons for smacking at any particular moment, what it all boils down to is that smacking is designed to scare and hurt children. Is that really what you want? To have a relationship of fear and intimidation with your child? Children get hurt when they are smacked. And that’s why it’s wrong. It’s as simple as that.
It’s time for a change
Smacking is illegal in almost 30 countries across the world, and sadly I don’t live in one of them. Around the world, people are starting to wake up to the fact that smacking is wrong, and that it doesn’t work. Just because you were smacked as a child, does not mean you need to smack your children. The argument that ‘it never did me any harm’ falls short when you consider that you have grown into a person who believes violence against children can ever be just or deserved.
Research has found that, despite evidence that it doesn’t work, as many as ninety percent of parents use smacking and other methods of corporal punishment. For many parents, it is probably a default discipline technique, relied on simply because it’s what their parents did to them. Instead of encouraging this parenting method, Pope Francis should be encouraging parents to use more positive parenting techniques. Taking smacking out of your parenting toolbox doesn’t mean that your children will be unruly or badly behaved, it just means that you will find better ways of handling undesirable behaviour. You can set boundaries and be a firm parent without using violence, and that is what I believe we should all be doing. As parents, we should be setting the ultimate example that violence is wrong, and instead teaching our children healthy and positive ways to deal with negative emotions and frustrations.
How do you discipline your kids? Do you have any gentle parenting methods that might be of use to someone looking for a better way of parenting?
Monday, 2 February 2015
"Let's throw snowballs at each other again."
After weeks of snow falling but never sticking, and a couple of car excursions to find enough snow to sledge in, the snow finally came to Romiley. It started on Wednesday evening and didn't stop. By the time I got Ebony up (ha, yeah right, other way round of course) for preschool, the ground was covered in snow. As we skidded along in our wellies, I wondered whether a more adventurous mother might have called in sick for her and spent the morning knee deep in snow,
When I picked her up from preschool she told me all about the snowman they had all made in the preschool garden. When we got home, we immediately trod snow and ice through the ice as we made a dash to the back garden, and created the first foot steps on the carpet of snow.
She threw herself head first in the snow, excited that there was so much of it. Together we made (and remade) a snow woman, Susie, who had a very weak neck. Ebony disturbed the snow-covered bushes, letting snow fall around her feet. We made snowballs and threw them, mostly at her, because at least half of all her snowballs seem to fly backwards and hit her own shoulder.