Wednesday, 13 June 2018

A Vegan Meal at Annette's Diner, Disney Village Paris

Before we went to Disneyland Paris, I did a lot of research to find out what, if any, vegan options were available at the different restaurants. I had visited Annette’s Diner when I visited Disney back when I was seven years old (so long ago it was still called ‘EuroDisney’). I can remember the novelty of seeing waitresses on roller skates. So when I found out they had a vegan option, I was keen to go back.

We actually got some takeout chips from Annette’s one night after leaving the park. We just wanted to grab something quick to eat on the way back to the hotel, so we bought a few portions of chips to share. It was early on in the evening, maybe only around 5 pm, and Laurie saw a waiter skating around on roller skates.

The day we went for dinner, however, there were no rollerskates to be found. The restaurant was crazy busy so it’s not surprising there wasn’t much room for roller skates, but I was a little disappointed because I think Ebony would have loved seeing the skaters. We ate at the restaurant on Thursday night when we were killing time before the fireworks. It was probably 8ish by the time we sat down at the table. There was a big queue at the door. You can’t book a seat in advance so you have to wait in line until a table becomes available. After around a 20-minute wait, we were seated at a booth.

Annette’s Diner is based in the Disney Village, just a few minutes walk from the park entrances. I really liked the decor in the restaurant. It is decorated like a classic 50s diner, so it’s exactly what you would expect, lots of colour pops and light-up neon signs. The restaurant has a fun feel to it, even when there aren’t waiters skating down the aisles. The menu is, obviously, filled with diner food and milkshakes. I really wish they’d had vegan milkshakes or cola floats on the menu because that would have been perfect.

The menu isn’t great for vegans, nowhere in Disneyland seems to have much to offer us fussy-eaters, but there are two vegetarian burgers and one of them can easily be made vegan by simply serving it without the mozzarella, coleslaw and pesto. Our waiter knew what vegan was and was able to advise us on what to order. The vegan option is called The Veggie Burger and appears in the classics section of the menu. In truth, it’s not much of a ‘burger’, but it was really nice. It cost €16.99 and came with a generous portion of fries. The burger itself was more of a pile of food than a burger, that doesn’t make it sound great but it honestly was really tasty. It consisted of breaded tofu, portobello mushroom, courgette, aubergine, cherry tomatoes, avocado, peppers and rocket.

We went at peak time so the service was a little sporadic. There seemed to be a big wait to order, but then the food came really quickly once our order was in. I always find eating out with a toddler to be hard work, so I was glad we weren’t waiting around for too long. We ordered two burgers and two extra portions of chips thinking they would probably be pretty stingy with the servings, but in fact, we ended up with way too much food. The kids shared a portion of chips and helped themselves to bits of our burgers, but we’d had more than enough to eat between us by the end of the meal.

If we went again, we would probably try to go at a quieter time, perhaps slightly earlier or later, because it felt pretty manic in there while we were eating. The food was nice though there weren’t many options for vegans. There were a couple of things on the menu that sounded potentially vegan (hash brown sticks and onion rings) but we were told contained dairy which seemed a shame. It would be amazing if they added a vegan dessert or milkshake to the menu and I live in hope that they will do that. But, failing that, there is a gelato stand right outside the diner that serves gelato ice-cream and has two vegan sorbet options each day (so tasty) so we still managed to get pudding after our meal.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

A Vegan Meal at Auberge de Cendrillon, Disneyland Paris

When we booked Disneyland, I knew I wanted to take Ebony to one of the character dinners. I had earmarked the money right at the start of the planning so I knew it was there for when we needed it. What I didn’t do, however, was book the meal. And this was pretty dumb. The character dinners fill up months in advance, especially during busy periods, so you need to book it in advance. When we eventually rang to book it, two weeks before the holiday, we were advised to ring back days before in the hope of getting a cancellation. Luckily, I hadn’t mentioned a character dinner to Ebony so she wasn’t disappointed.

A couple of days before we arrived at Disneyland, Laurie rang the reservations number again and this time he was successful. The woman on the phone explained that cancellations are common so it’s always worth ringing repeatedly if you have no luck the first time. The woman on the phone also happened to be vegan (what are the chances) and she wasn’t overly hopeful we’d be able to find much vegan food at Disneyland. She made a few recommendations of places to try and gave some examples of the sorts of food we might find.

We booked the Princess lunch at Auberge de Cendrillon. Located near to the castle, this is one of the fancy restaurants in the park. Laurie popped in the day before to explain we were vegan, but we were told there wasn’t much they could do. It didn’t sound great, to be honest. We could have the prawn salad without the prawns, pasta and then a fruit salad. The lunch isn’t cheap, it came to around €125 just for me and Ebony to eat there. I did some Googling and found some pretty depressing photos of the vegan meal at the restaurant and it was almost enough to put me off. But then it’s not really about the food, is it? It’s about the princesses, and I decided I’d happily eat baked beans on toast if it meant Ebony got to have a magical meal at Disneyland, so we went anyway.

I didn’t tell Ebony about the meal in advance. I told her we were sneaking off for some special time just the two of us. She had decided to wear her Belle dress to the park that day so she was perfectly dressed for the occasion. I put a little bit of glitter on her face and sprayed glitter spray in her hair and then said I’d take her for a drink. When we got to the restaurant, we were asked to take a seat in the waiting area. As we waited, the seats around us started to fill up with other little girls wearing princess dresses.

After a 10 minute wait, we were taken through to the restaurant and shown to our seat. Our waitress came over to explain what the vegan options would be and they were what we were expecting. Soon enough, Cinderella’s mice scurried past and that caught Ebony’s attention. A little while later, Ebony noticed Ariel milling about in the background. She figured Ariel must have come for her lunch break at the restaurant, so was pretty excited to be eating where the princesses ate.

The Food
We’d been told the starter would be a ‘prawn salad without the prawns’, so I was expecting a miserable plate of salad leaves. We were actually served more of a seaweed salad (similar to the ones you get from sushi restaurants) which is one of Ebony’s favourite foods so she was thrilled. It was really tasty and we both cleared our plates.

Next up, we had pasta for the main course. Ebony had a plate of plain spaghetti served with a tomato sauce. This came on a plate shaped like Mickey Mouse so she was pretty much over the moon. She really liked the pasta sauce and managed to get spaghetti all over her autograph book moments before a princess arrived to sign her book. I had the same main course (sadly no Mickey Mouse plate for me) but with the addition of sauteed mushrooms which were taken from one of the other dishes on the menu. The tomato sauce was from the kids' menu so it wasn’t the most flavoursome dish, but it was a lot better than I was expecting and the mushrooms were really nice.

Finally, there was a fruit salad for dessert. When I’d looked online before the meal, I’d seen photos that looked like that tinned fruit salad from the 90s so I wasn’t expecting much. In actual fact, the fruit salad was really nice… but it was still a fruit salad. The non-vegan desserts look way better and I think if Ebony had seen one of those next to her fruit salad she’d have been pretty disappointed, but she didn’t and so she loved her dessert. It’s not exactly an exciting vegan menu, and it’s not worth the cost of the meal, but you’re not paying for the food, are you? It’s all about the experience and that was definitely worth the money.

The Princesses
Like I said, I wasn’t expecting much from the food, but I figured it would be worth the money as long as Ebony was able to meet a few princesses. And it was definitely worth it, she had the most amazing time and managed to collect quite a few autographs for her little book. The Little Mermaid came over to our table and introduced herself to Ebony who looked more than a little starstruck. Ariel signed her autograph book, posed for some photos and chatted to Ebony about Disneyland. We were at the restaurant for about two hours and during that time Ebony met Ariel, Aurora, Suzy and Perla (Cinderella’s mice, if you must know), Belle and Cinderella. Each came over and posed for photos, signed her autograph book and chatted with her about her day.

Belle is Ebony’s absolute favourite and she was in complete awe of Belle when she came over to chat to us. She gave her the biggest hug ever and had a huge smile plastered across her face for ages afterwards. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen her that genuinely happy since her sister was born. The princesses were amazing, they all took the time to talk to Ebony and happily chatted away to her about Disneyland and the other characters. Aurora, in particular, was amazing. While we were there, I saw her speak three languages fluently meaning that it didn’t matter what language the kids spoke they were still able to interact with their favourite princess.

At the end of the meal, Ebony snuck over to my seat and cuddled up to me and said it had been the absolute best 'me and her' time ever. Ever. And it truly was. You could stumble into Disneyland Paris without any forward planning and still have the most magical day ever, but the little extras add an extra touch of something special to an already brilliant holiday.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

5 Things We Did To Secure Our Home

When we pulled up to the house yesterday after a long drive home after our holiday, I found myself thinking 'please don't have been burgled, please don't have been burgled'. I just had this horrible feeling that it could have happened - and wouldn't it be awful to find that out while you were with your kids? My family home was burgled when I was a child and I remember feeling absolutely terrified that my guinea pigs might have been stolen (they weren't... obviously, but this seemed like a logical conclusion to me at the time). 

We hadn't been burgled, I walked into a part-tidy house (so close to being tidy and then we ran out of time before we left for our holiday) and felt a rush of relief at finally being home. There's nothing quite like home, is there? Even when it's messy and covered in toys, it's still home. 

For the last couple of years, we have had friends house sit for us while we've been away. I cannot stress how wonderful this is. Your house is safe, your cat is fed, and you know that if something does happen, you'll get a text letting you know. I loved having house sitters. It made life so easy and it meant we didn't have to put the cat through the stress of a car journey (she does not like the car). 

This time, however, we didn't have a house sitter. We sent Bear off for a holiday with Laurie's parents, and we left the house empty. I felt nervous about leaving the house empty while we were away, probably because it's the first time we've done that in a while. Crimes rates are climbing and burglary seems to be a common occurrence where we live (if the local Facebook group is to be believed...). 

So, here are a few things we did to try and secure the house while we were away:

1. Got new locks
We recently updated our home insurance and, as part of that, we needed to update some of the locks at the back of the house. You could request the help of London locksmiths to update the locks on your doors, but we chose to go down the DIY route. The weekend before we left, Laurie bought and fitted a few new locks at the back of the house. It feels so much safer now, just having that extra bit of security has made a big difference to my peace of mind. 

2. Told the neighbours 
We live in a terraced house so it makes sense to warn the neighbours before we go away. At the very least, they can look forward to some lie-ins while my kids are in another country. And it means if they hear any suspicious noises or see anyone hanging around, they might keep an eye out for us. I don't think either of our neighbours would ignore signs of a break-in, so hopefully telling them when we're away makes our house a little safer. 

3. Made the house look lived on
I left lights on in the house so that it would look lived into passersby. We don't get milk deliveries (obvs), but cancelling things like that can stop your house appearing empty. It's a good idea to ask somebody to clear mail from behind the door while you're away, though we don't really get enough mail to warrant this. You can set lights to come on with a timer, but I just leave a couple of lights on permanently for ease. 

4. Hid things
This one might be a bit weird... but I hid some valuables just in case we were broken into. I'm aware that burglars empty drawers and rifle through your things, but I still hide the things that are dear to me. They would probably find them easily enough, but hiding them makes me feel a little less worried about getting burgled so I still think it's worth doing. 

5. Checked all the windows and doors
Before we left, I did one final sweep of the house and checked that all the windows were securely locked. I also checked the doors and made sure all of the locks were on. This sounds really obvious, but it's easy to forget to do this in a rush. Laurie is forever leaving windows open so I have to make a habit of checking. 

If you have any tips for other ways to secure your home against intruders, I'd love to hear them.

This is a collaborative post. 

Photo by Daniel von Appen on Unsplash

Monday, 21 May 2018

5 Things To Remember About Interior Design

If you're about to start a new home project, or perhaps you're just planning for the future (I have many Pinterest boards ready and waiting for when I win the lottery), you need to think carefully about how you want the space to look and feel before you start doing anything. You don't want to get part way through the project and then realise you've changed your mind, so make sure the project is 100 percent planned before you embark on any actual work. 

With that in mind, and to reduce the risk of you changing your mind part way through the decorating, here are a few interior design tips for you to keep in mind:

1. It's your space
It's your home and it needs to be somewhere you feel comfortable. Not just comfortable in a wow-this-home-is-beautiful way, but in a this-home-reflects-who-I-am way. Your home should represent your personal style and it should be filled with things that compliment the person you are. If you look at the stunning interiors projects by Oro Bianco Interior Design, you will see that the client's unique personality is always a part of the finished design. Your story, your experiences and your tastes are what makes you who you are and they should absolutely add a layer of personality to your home. 

2. Your Pinterest dream board might not work in your house
Pinterest is full of breathtaking properties with floor-to-ceiling sash windows, imposing staircases and original features, but that doesn't mean you can make your home look the same. There will be compromises you have to make because of the style of your home. For example, I love grey and natural coloured kitchens, but my kitchen is at the side of my house and it doesn't get much natural light so I opted for a lighter kitchen to ensure it looked its best. I didn't want the room to feel dark and gloomy, because I know the natural light in my kitchen can't compete with my Pinterest boards

3. Fashions change
Interior trends may not change quite as fast as fashion, but different styles do fall in and out of favour. If an interior trend has been around for a while, there's a chance it could fall out of favour within the next couple of years. Whether that bothers you or not will it depend upon why you want that style in the first place. If an interior trend is fashionable only for a short time, it will date your room. 

4. Be realistic about functionality
Everybody wants to have a glossy-magazine-ready stunningly beautiful house, but it might not always be a realistic dream. If you have small children, you're going to have the plastic toys, the pushchairs and the endless trail of shoes and socks associated with that. A beautiful space is still possible, but you will need to be realistic about how it will look on a day-to-day basis. 

5. Technology makes things easier
Remember back in the 90s when we all spent hours designing and redesigning our perfect homes on The Sims? Well, you can do that for real with your house now. You can use digital room planners that let you mock up changes to your interiors. You can try out hundreds of paint colours without ever having to pick up a painting. You can see how different items of furniture, work out where to hang your prints and compare different curtain fabrics all from the comfort of your iPad. 

This is a collaborative post. Photo by Jonny Caspari on Unsplash

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Some New Dresses Just For Me (Not My Kids)

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I spend way more on clothes for the girls than I do for myself (am I alone?). The girls seem to outgrow things constantly and I always see lovely dresses or bright coloured clothes that I really can’t not buy for them. When it comes to myself, I’m less willing to spend money. I buy things for specific occasions but never really go out with the intention of buying new clothes ‘just because’. And even when I do, I end up stumbling into the children's’ department and spending my money there instead (eye-roll).

When I do go clothes shopping, it’s usually for something in particular. A wedding or a hen do or the fact that my jeans have a hole in the crotch again. So, when Fashion World got in touch to offer me some dresses, I accepted. It is nice to have new clothes for no reason, it makes me feel like I am young and childfree again (but, you know, more tired and with stretch marks). There were lots of different styles to choose from. Does anybody else feel overwhelmed browsing for clothes online? There are just so many to choose from.

In the end, I settled on this Monsoon tunic which I thought would be perfect for wearing on holiday. I’ve never bought any (adult) clothes from Monsoon before and it’s lovely. I wore it last weekend when I went out in Manchester and I felt good all day (no easy feat). And, even better, it looks good with white trainers so I don’t have to stress myself out worrying about wearing heels (I hardly ever wear heels, I walk ridiculously in them and I feel too tall and they hurt)

I also chose this tea dress from Oasis which I really love. It is such a lovely colour and I really like how it fits. It doesn’t cling around the waist, not that I have one, so it is a very flattering fit. I definitely can’t wear it with trainers though so it loses points for that… but it will be perfect for next time I am forced to do something fancy.

Sorry about the awkward photos. I was not born to model clothes. Also, the final photo is not of me, just in case you were wondering. Helmets are not the latest must-have accessory so don’t rush out and buy one. Though if you do, that one is pretty awesome.

This is a collaborative post.

Friday, 11 May 2018

7 Things Toddlers Do At Meal Times

If you are having a slap-up meal, you should not invite any toddlers. Toddlers have terrible table manners, they have pretty poor conversational skills and they are unpredictable at the best of times. They do not make eating out a pleasant experience. They mostly run away from the table, drop their food and refuse to eat anything. And eating with them at home isn’t much better. Or it isn’t at my house, anyway. Here are 7 things my toddler does pretty much every meal time:

1. Strips off
I don’t know why, but my toddler is incapable of sitting down for a meal fully dressed. If you asked her what appropriate dinner attire might be, she would probably show you her bare butt because that is what she wears for dinner every day. When I put her dinner on the child-size table she shares with her sister, she immediately plonks herself on the floor and starts removing clothing. My two kids eat their dinner together on a tiny table, one fully dressed with a bewildered expression on her face and the other as naked as the day she was born.

2. Eats my food
I don’t want you to assume I give myself the best food and my poor toddler is pecking around on the floor trying to hoover up a few morsels. We have the same food. I have my plate and she has her plate. Hers is a bit more plastic and a little less Emma Bridgewater than mine, but the food on them is the same. To me, at least, but not to her. To her, my food is where it’s at and it is all she will eat. And bananas, she loves bananas. Sometimes, she will stand next to the plate of food I lovingly prepared for her and scream because it is not a banana.

3. Spills her drink
I honestly don’t know if she does this by accident or as some kind of comedy routine, because the circumstances of her spilling drinks are always highly suspect. Sometimes, she pretends she has dropped something and then bends down with her entire body, hand and cup to check, thus spilling her drink all over the floor. Once, she gesticulated so wildly that a fountain of soya milk flew across the room. Then she toddlers over to the drawer, pulls out a cloth, cleans some of the spillage and then dumps the now dirty cloth back into the drawer. Every. Day.

4. Walks off
Remember when you were little and you weren’t allowed to leave the table until your mum said so? No, me neither, but I had friends who lived in houses like that. Well, continuing the long-standing family tradition of having no table manners, my toddler just comes and goes as she pleases. Her leaving the room is no indication of whether she has finished her dinner or not. She might want to ride around on her wheely bug for a bit, or she might need to grab her doll and feed it hummus (it is hard to get hummus out of the open mouth of a dead-eyed plastic doll) or maybe she just wants to touch all of my white kitchen cupboards and walls with her pasta-sauce-encrusted hands. Who knows.

5. Dumps unwanted food on her sister’s plate
We live in a terraced house which is particularly unfortunate for the families who live next door to us. The soundtrack to our family mealtimes consists of the six-year-old yelling at the toddler for putting half-eaten food on her plate. She picks food off my plate, eats a single tiny bite of it and then dumps the right square into the middle of her sister’s dinner. This, as you can imagine, causes an uproar. Every. Damn. Day.

6. Experiments
Do you know when you go for a nice meal and you have a nice glass of wine and you pour it all over your dinner? No? Oh. Well, that’s what my toddler does every time she sits down to eat. Calm down, it’s water, not wine. I am not giving my toddler wine. Don’t ring social services. There is no underage alcohol consumption taking place in my house. Even when I do give her wine, she just pours it on her dinner anyway which she then refuses to eat because it’s wet so there’s really no need to worry. Once her cup is empty, she will start picking up bits of food from her plate and dumping them in the cup. Let me know when you want to have her around for dinner, ok?

7. She rubs the remains on my trousers
As though putting half her food in a plastic cup and throwing the rest on the floor did not send a clear enough message, my toddler will then ceremoniously rub the remaining food all over me. She is very fast, much faster than I, and the daily smear in unavoidable. I have tried yelling no, I have tried running for the day and I have tried holding her at arm’s length, nothing works. She always wipes her hands on my jeans. As a result, my jeans are always dirty even if I have only just put them on fresh from the wash. When porridge-dashed jeans come into fashion, I will be on fleek.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

My Beautiful Eyes & The Angry Little Man

I love Kat Von D. I don’t really know much about her professional or personal life, but she has revolutionised my face. Switching to a vegan diet was easy. It took me a while to learn the names of hidden animal ingredients and it took me ages to find a vegan snickers alternative, but aside from that, it was pretty easy. I thought I’d struggle to give up cheese, I thought I’d miss having milk in my tea, or that Christmas without a Terry’s chocolate orange would be miserable, but it was all fine.

The thing I did struggle with was makeup. Back in 2009, it was impossible to find good vegan makeup. You had to order things off the internet and hope they would be amazing, but they never were. The mascaras ran, the foundations were too dry and the eyeliners smudged away to nothingness. Finding good vegan food was easy, but decent makeup was proving more of a challenge. I quizzed experienced vegans on their makeup brands, I did many Googles and I tried a lot of makeup.

Then Kat Von D changed my life. Her stuff is amazing. It is the future of vegan makeup. I have an ink eyeliner from there that is like an actual tattoo it stays on so well. And last week I picked up a pencil eyeliner (I am all about the eyeliner) and it was the most amazing eyeliner I have ever used in my whole life ever and I am 32 so that’s a lot of life. All her stuff is vegan and cruelty-free, but it is also amazing and stays on and doesn’t look crap. What more could a vegan want? Blue lips? She’s got you covered.

I love Kat Von D because she made me ageing eyes look good (not an easy task). I don’t know who she is or what she stands for. I don’t really care as long as she doesn’t give me panda eyes. She is vegan though so that’s pretty good because it means she’s probably someone I agree with on a lot of issues. Although, actually, you can’t exactly take that for granted.

One thing I’ve noticed in the vegan movement is that there are a surprising number of folks who don’t share my viewpoint on many issues. Sexism is rife in the vegan movement, something which is pretty upsetting to see. And racism often rears its ugly head in the comments box in vegan groups. Not to mention there’s a lot of pro-life vegans (apparently, if you care about an actual pig, you should care about a clump of human cells that can’t feel pain, um). And, as the polar opposite of that sector the vegan movements, there are the antinatalists. These are the vegans who don’t believe in having kids - and not in an ‘I don’t want kids myself but you guys do what you like’ kind of a way, in more of a ‘having children is wrong and anyone who does it is terrible’ way.

Don’t have kids, have kids, whatever, do what makes you happy. But don’t waste time worrying about what other people are doing. And definitely, don’t go round telling parents that they’re not vegan because they have kids. Er, yeah, so apparently that’s a thing now. You see, Kat Von D is pregnant and she announced it on Instagram with a sweet photo and a blue heart and she got a shitload of abuse from angry vegans. Not all the vegans were angry, some of them were lovely and said congratulations. You know, the normal ones. But the abnormal ones stood out a little more because their comments were so misplaced on a pregnancy announcement photo.

Someone commented, "Congrats on undoing your veganism almost tenfold.” So, yeah, that was nice. Way to go, the vegan movement, for making us all look like a bunch of dicks, yet again. Oh, and, obvs it was a man who said it, because, you know, it’s necessary for a random man to have an opinion on what any woman does or doesn’t do with her reproductive organs. Being vegan and choosing not to have kids for the planet are separate things. Being child-free is not a requisite of being vegan. There is a real problem in the vegan movement at the moment with this, there are some very loud and aggressive voices constantly shouting that nobody should be having children. This atmosphere has made some vegan parents, or wannabe vegan parents, feel unwelcome in vegan spaces and that’s not exactly a good thing, is it? If we want to encourage more people to take up veganism, and if we want to make veganism as accessible as possible, and encourage this next generation of vegans to actually be vegan, then we need to welcome them into the movement and allow them to be a part of it.

It’s not up to random Instagram users what makes a person vegan or not, I’m pretty sure that’s already been decided by the Vegan Society. And, I would argue, with my amazing smokey eyes, that Kat Von D has already done more for the vegan movement than some angry little man on Instagram. Being an aggressive, hostile little twat isn’t making anybody want to be a part of the vegan movement, if anything, it’s just showing them that the vegan movement is as flawed as the rest of the society. Those angry little white men just seem to get just about everywhere, don’t they?

Photo by Alysa Bajenaru on Unsplash

Friday, 4 May 2018

32 and Feeling Older

On my birthday last year, I had the realisation that I was still just winging it. When you’re younger, you assume that all the adults around you know what they’re doing, but when you are old enough to be one of the adults, you realise they don’t. Even the most put-together people seem to be barely holding it together if you look close enough.

This time last year I was trying to juggle working with looking after a baby. I was trying to figure out the balance of life with two children, desperately trying to meet everyone’s needs without losing my mind. Oh, and I was sleep-deprived, so sleep-deprived. I felt like I was sleep-walking from one day to the next with no idea of what I was really doing. I was in the inevitable survival mode of life with a baby, just trying to make it to bedtime each day with little thought for the future.

This year feels different. I don’t think it’s the gift of growing older, rather I think it’s that my children are a year older. Ember is out of the baby stage and now a fully fledged toddler with an attitude. Ebony is that little bit older and that little bit more independent which is both wonderful and heartbreaking. Life is getting more manageable. I still don’t find as much time to work as I would like, but I know how short the years are before school starts and I intend to make the most of them with Ember.

I feel older now. Not wiser, but definitely older. The years are etched out on my face in a way they weren’t when I was in my 20s. My smile gives me away, forcing my eyes to crease at the sides, reminding me that time ticks on. I see the occasional slither of silver glitter hidden in my fringe, caught in the sunlight streaming through the glass in the front door as I check my reflection in the hallway mirror. My body is betraying me, growing old before I’m ready.

Sometimes I feel ever so grown up and other times it is like I’m just pretending. When I attend parents evening and sit on one of those tiny plastic chairs I can’t help but think how ridiculous it is that I have a child old enough to be at school. Ebony tells me I am old, she can’t believe I’m turning 32 tomorrow, it’s Just So Old. And sometimes I do feel old. I ordered a shed the other day and that felt like a really grown up and painfully dull thing to do. And my body is certainly getting older. I ache and I make weird noises when I sit down.

When I turned 30, people kept telling me how wonderful your 30s are. They said I would shed pointless friendships, stop giving so many fucks and make peace with who I am. I’m not sure whether that’s true or not for me, yet anyway. I think I have made some changes to my friendship circle since I turned 30. I don’t think it’s an age thing though, rather it’s just that I now have two children and so my spare time is pretty rare. I don’t want to waste it, I want to spend my days off with people I value and who I feel value me. I have stopped putting effort into friendships that felt one way, and, equally, I have put more effort into nurturing some friendships. Looking around at my friends, everybody seems to be doing the same.

I’ve gotten better at knowing what I need and how to make myself feel happier. Now that Ember is a little older, I’m able to find a little more time for myself. Not much, but enough to do things like read books and watch movies and go running. I’m getting better at recognising when I need a break, when I need to switch off from family life and just have some headspace so I can be the best version of myself at home. And I can tell when Laurie needs to do this, too. I think after the initial What The Actual Fuck period of life with two kids, we’re finally doing an ok job of parenting again. Life as a parent is constantly evolving and throwing new challenges in my path, and I finally feel like I can handle that a little better than I have in the last year or two.

I am a planner. I like to know exactly what’s going to happen and when. I don’t know why. I wasn’t even aware of this part of my personality until after Ember’s birth. Before then, I’d have described myself as easy going but her birth made me realise how important control is to me. I’m now learning to let go a little. I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know where we’ll be living in ten years time or what my work will look like then. There are a lot of unknowns but I’m finding that, as I grow, I’m ok with that.

So, 32. Just. So. Old.

Friday, 27 April 2018

7 Ways To Encourage Your Child's Learning At Home

Education is a pressure-point for most parents. I tend to swing between thinking they push the kids too hard and should just let them be kids, to worrying that my views on this are somehow holding my daughter back. I hate the thought of putting her under pressure or sucking the fun out of learning, but I do want to find ways to help her love learning. Kids are naturally curious and inquisitive, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get them inspired about learning new things and getting hands-on experiences.

All children can benefit from their parents getting involved in their education. It doesn’t matter whether your child goes to the local school down the road or a prestigious private school like Rossall, showing an interest will have a positive impact on your child’s learning. Here are a few ways to encourage your child’s learning at home:

1. Seek out relevant books
Firstly, a love of reading is something to encourage, so don’t feel you need to dictate what your child reads. If your child is engrossed in Captain Underpants, then, by all means, encourage that. It makes sense, however, to look out for books that may be relevant to the topics your child is studying at school. Take a trip to the library together and let your child search for any books on the topics she’s learning about in the classroom.

2. Go on day trips
A good old fashioned museum trip is the perfect way to compliment your child’s education. Most museums are curated with kids in mind, so there are plenty of hands-on learning experiences and activities throughout. Sign up to the mailing lists for local museums so you can keep up-to-date with any exhibitions that may be opening. It’s always worth checking online to see whether there are any relevant museums or tourist attractions when your child starts learning a new topic at school.

3. Get creative...
Art projects are always a big hit in this house, I think most kids love an excuse to get messy and be creative. You can turn pretty much any topic into a craft project. Science experiments can have a craft element (for example, building and painting the volcano before conducting an experiment to make it erupt). History topics can be turned into paintings or storybooks. There are plenty of ways to learn while you’re cutting, sticking and painting. If you’re stuck for ideas, take a look on Pinterest for inspiration.

4. … In the kitchen
Cooking is another activity kids enjoy. You can teach your kids about food safety and hygiene while exploring some of the topics they’re covering at school. Measuring ingredients is good maths practice so make sure you let her do it herself (even if it makes a mess). If she’s learning about the war, you could design and cook a family meal using the types of foods people had access to during rationing.

5. Go out and play
You don’t have to plan an activity or spend hours searching the internet for ideas, a simple trip to your local park will benefit your child. Your child’s physical development is just as important as her academic achievement so make sure she has plenty of opportunities to practice jumping, climbing and running. If you want, you can add in a nature trail or a scavenger hunt for some extra learning opportunities - but, honestly, time spent getting muddy in the garden isn’t wasted time.

6. Figure out the answers together
Kids ask a lot of questions, usually about things you don’t know the answer to. They never ask you about your specialist subjects, instead, they just hurl question after question about things you have no idea about. It’s always best to be honest, don’t try guessing, just say you don’t know and then work together to figure out the answer. You can research using books or the internet, or ask an expert, but make sure it’s something you do together so your child will see how rewarding it is to find out answers for herself.

7. Show an interest
Life is busy, isn’t it? Especially after school. You’re trying to prepare dinner and get the house sorted and finish off that work you didn’t quite have time to do earlier. And your child is talking at speed about an argument in the playground and something funny that happened in class and this thing she learned today. It’s easy to nod along and make the right noises without really listening, but being present and listening to your child when she tells you about her day at school is an easy way to encourage her education. Show an interest, ask questions and really listen to what she tells you. Make time each day to just sit and chat before you get distracted by your to-do list.

This is a collaborative post. Photo by on Unsplash

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