Tuesday 28 May 2013

Blog Challenge: Great Adventure

Now that Ebony is better at walking, we have been spending lots of time outdoors. She loves the park, and the swings in particular. She likes walking down the puddle-filled country path to find the horses in the field. She likes playing in the garden - eating gravel and stroking Sweep the rabbit.

When the weather is nice, it’s lovely to spend time outdoors. Ebony loves the freedom of being able to run around, and I like seeing her take an interest in her natural surroundings. But as soon as the weather turns, which it always does, I am left wishing I could emigrate to a warmer climate.

Last week, this blog post was shared on my Facebook timeline. I read it and felt completely inspired. In the post, Sophie (the author) talks about the importance of outdoor play. And not just swings and playgrounds, but real outdoor nature play. And not just in sunny weather - all year round. Sophie and her friends take their children to woodland at the same time every week. It is part of their routine, and they go no matter what the weather.

As I read the blog, I felt motivated to do something similar. I love spending time outdoors, and so does Ebony, why should we stay cramped inside just because of some bad weather? There is a whole world to explore. So what if we get a little wet?

Then I realised most of my favourite childhood memories were created in the great outdoors. I remember hearing the rain hitting the roof of the tent on one of our family camping trips, and the smell of wet grass as my sister and I snuggled up on the (no doubt punctured) airbed in our (no doubt leaking) tent. I remember days spent running wild around country parks, National Trust sites and sweeping hills. My mum would fill the car with as many children as she could cram in, and we’d set off for the day. I spent most of my childhood wearing spare clothes and waterproofs, because my original outfit for the day had gotten wet or muddied.

I want Ebony to have these memories too. I don’t want her to remember days sat on the sofa watching rain trickle down the window. I want her to remember wellies full of mud, grazed knees, muddy hands and the rain pelting hard against her face. I want her to feel a part of her surroundings, and to learn to respect them.

And so, I have decided to make this my goal. After reading the blog post, I decided that Ebony and I would do the same. We will go out and play in the open air every week. No matter what the weather. I am going to blog about our adventures, because this way I will feel that I really have to keep it up. No excuses.

We started our outdoor challenge today. We put our wellies on, zipped up our coats, and headed out into the unknown. We are lucky enough to live a five minute walk from Redbrow Woods, so that’s where we went. It rained and it was muddy, and we had fun. Ebony stomped in the mud, splashed in the puddles and collected sticks. We saw a long tailed tit up close, and Ebony shushed me so we wouldn’t scare it. We both stayed really quiet, and the bird hopped around getting closer and closer until Ebony squealed with excitement and the bird flew away. Ebony saw her first slug, which she loved. She explored moss, flowers, bark, trees and mud. She didn’t mind the weather, in fact she made us stay out longer because she found a puddle on the way home and insisted on jumping in it for a good five minutes.

The woods were quiet, and we only saw one other person the whole time we were there; an old man walking his dog. He looked at Ebony, wearing her once-white now-muddy tights and wellies, and stomping around in a puddle, and said: “Ah, the great adventure.” So that’s what I’m going to call this challenge: great adventure.

If anyone would like to join us in this blog challenge, or even join the challenge without a blog, then please do! Moral support will be most appreciated on those cold, icy mornings in winter. All you need to do to take part is head out into the great outdoors once a week - every week - and have a great adventure. This challenge is about spending time exploring nature - so no playgrounds, no toys and no balls I’m afraid. Let your children enjoy the changing seasons and explore how the plants, trees and flowers change with them.

If you write a blog, please link up your posts below. I’ll be posting once a week, but you can post less often if that works better for you. You can visit the same place every week, or explore a variety of locations, it’s up to you. To join in with the great adventure link up, all you need to do is add your links below. Use #greatadventure when sharing posts on Twitter and Instagram.

The Rules:

- You must have a great adventure once a week, every week, for as long as you can handle. No excuses! You don't have to blog every week though, you could do a monthly (or whenever you remember) round up if time is limited.
- You must leave the balls, toys and bikes at home. This is just about the kids and nature - no distractions.

Let’s hope next week is sunny!

Monday 27 May 2013

Giveaway - Ms Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town

I am very excited to announce my latest giveaway, one lucky reader will win a copy of the amazing new recipe book Ms Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan cakes in Town.

If you’ve tried Ms Cupcake’s amazing goodies before, you’ll be pleased to hear that this book doesn’t disappoint. I have tried a hefty sample of the cakes in this book (and have the hefty backside to prove it) and they have all been delicious. Easy to make and even easier to eat, this is a book worth owning.

You can read my review of this stylish book here. And if you can’t bring yourself to wait for the competition to end before you get your hands on the recipe for Ms Cupcake’s Bounty Cupcakes, you can buy the book here.

To enter, all you need to do is fill in the Rafflecopter below. The winner will be selected at random when the competition closes. This competition is open to UK residents only.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

ThePrizeFinder - UK Competitions

Monday 20 May 2013

To the Parent of the Dirty Nappy

I’m not going to beat around the bush here, I’m just going to go ahead and say it. I know you’re thinking it too. Poo smells. It really does. Dog poo smells, your poo smells and rabbit poo smells. Even the tiniest cutest newborns in the world, do smelly poos.

Not that you mind, because they’re so cute and squishy. The newborns, not the poos.

As you adjust to your new daily routine, baby poo becomes part of it. The smell, the change, the wipe, the flush. It all becomes second nature. You find yourself holding your baby in the air and sniffing their crotch - something you said you’d never do - because you need to know, is it time for the next nappy change?

In my long 16 month career as a mother, I have had many a moment of poo related hilarity. I have knelt in it, stood in it, sat in it. I have got it on my elbow, in my hair and all over my bag. I have laughed at it, wretched at it and, after one particularly sleepless night, cried at it. Once I even bathed with it. This was, of course, unintentional.

I just feel I should mention at this point, that I definitely don’t love poo. It’s just that I can cope with the poo of my child. I feel very differently about the poo of your child.

We went to our usual playgroup today. It’s a nice group in a local Church. There are lots of toys to play with, as well as craft activities to try. Ebony loves it. Today she loved sitting in the red and yellow car. She had fun playing with the playdough. She spent a good amount of time creating a pile of dolls, and then shouting “NO” at any children who dared to touch the dolls.

I usually love the group too. It’s nice to catch up with the other mums, and to see Ebony having fun. But today, the experience was somewhat dampened by the incessant smell of poo. It was as though every single inch of the church had been soaked in sewage. It wasn’t a mild poo either. It was an eye burner.

The smell seemed to be following us. Ebony doesn’t poo in her nappy, and hasn’t for a long time, but I checked a few times today to make sure it wasn’t her. I checked the soles of my shoes. Nothing, phew. No matter where we went, the smell of poo followed. It was in the toy kitchens, on the trampoline and in the dressing up box. Had I caught my reflection in a mirror and noticed a moustache made of poo atop my lip, I really would not have been surprised.

By the end of the group, the fumes had obviously gone to my head. “It smells like shit.” I announced to a mum I don’t really know, as we queued to tidy away the toys. The mum confided in me that she had spent the past fifteen minutes trying to locate the source of the smell, and had narrowed it down to one of two children. But she didn’t know who they were with.

Now, it seemed pretty obvious to me that whichever child it was must be with the adult with a gaping hole in the middle of their face. The adult without a nose. Looking around the room, I soon realised that this adult did not exist.

I can only assume that the grown up in question, is so besotted with their wonderful child, that the smell of their poo is like a gift to be enjoyed. Very well, but must you make an entire church hall endure it? Because, and I don’t mean to be rude here, but it really didn’t smell like roses.

Thursday 16 May 2013

We like to read: Foxly's Feast

Foxly's Feast by Owen Davey

I’m really excited to be taking part in the we like to read series. Ebony absolutely love books and I spend at least an hour a day reading to her. She has a bookcase filled with books in the living room, and will quite often march over carrying a book for me to read. She also has two bookshelves in her bedroom, and we spend a lot of time in there reading each day. 

Foxly’s Feast is such a lovely book. My friend Fiona bought it for Ebony when she was born. It’s an illustrated tale with no words, so it’s totally dependent on your imagination. I think this book will be fun when Ebony is older and likes to make up the story herself, but it’s great for now too. The illustrations are beautiful and captivate Ebony every time we read it. There are lots of different animals in the book, so Ebony can show off her animal noises. 

 I really love this book, it’s so fun to make up a slightly different story each time. If you want to inspire your child’s imagination and creative thinking, I would recommend Foxly's Feast as a storybook. 

You can see the rest of this week’s “we like to read” posts over on Fritha’s blog.

30 Ways to Save £1

With the rising cost of living, and the stagnant nature of today’s wages, we could all do with saving the odd penny or two. Here are thirty of my best money saving tips.

Household spending:
  1. Be Mr Banker - life is almost exactly like a game of monopoly, and someone has to be the banker.
  2. Have a budget - every penny should be accounted for exactly. Using vague figures just leads to confusion when mystery amounts start disappearing from your bank account.
  3. Keep your spends separate - allow yourselves a bit of money each money to spend on whatever you like. Family days out, meeting friends, books and clothes are all nice things to spend money on. Keeping the budget for this separate means you’re not seeing it as taking away from the weekly shop budget.
  4. There’s an app for that - keep track of your spending to avoid charges. I use an app on my phone to note down everything I spend, that way I know how much should be left.

The recipes
Food glorious food
  1. Meal plan - I find it really odd that people don’t meal plan. How do you know what to buy if you haven’t done a meal plan? I hate throwing away food, so this is a good way of preventing that unnecessary waste too. We have loads of amazing recipe books, and meal planning is a good way to make sure they actually get used. I love looking through the cookbooks and deciding what to make that week. We must have hundreds of recipes we’ve not tried yet.
  2. Plan the shop online - you could do the shop online if you prefer. I use mysupermaket to create an online shopping list. It helps me to stick to budget, and makes the trip to the shop easier.
  3. Send the husband shopping - this saves us way more than £1. We must save at least £30 a week simply by me not going shopping. The husband can walk into a supermarket, buy only the things on the list and leave. I have no such skills. There are plenty of unexpected items by the time I get to the bagging area - coconut ice, spicy cashews and amaretto.
  4. Buy in bulk - this is a bit of an obvious one. If there’s a good offer on a product you use regularly, stock up.
  5. Don’t buy snack packs - buy in bulk and make your own snack packs.
  6. Give up coke - not the white stuff. Well, you can if you want, but I’m talking about the carbonated drink. I used to drink a lot of coke. On hot days, on tired days, on headachey days, I’d pop to the shop and buy a can of coke. At my local shop, a can of coke will set you back about 80p. Ten weeks ago I decided to give up coke. I’ve lost a bit of weight, and saved approximately two bazsquillion pounds.

With one of many charity shop finds
Shopping tips
  1. Voucher codes - if you’re shopping online, always search for a voucher code before visiting the checkout.
  2. Charity shops - I love charity shopping. I buy all of Ebony’s books from the local charity shops because they’re so much cheaper.
  3. Don’t impulse buy - I’m terrible at this. I always want to buy everything in the queue to pay. I think it’s the boredom eating away at my soul.
  4. Hay ho - Buy your rabbit hay in bales from a farm, it works out so much cheaper than buying tiny bags from pet shops
  5. Whatever you need to purchase, shop around for the best deal.

Lifestyle choices
  1. Use washable nappies - this has saved us a ton of money, a load of environmental guilt and oodles of nappy rash.
  2. Use washable wipes - these are the ultimate in thrifty parenting. Baby wipes cost a fortune and are a total waste of money. The washable wipes are easy to use, softer on skin, and you are less likely to end up with the dreaded poo finger.
  3. Save on petrol - I walk everywhere. Unless it’s raining. I try to avoid using the bus, and my recently acquired driving phobia keeps me well away from the roads, so I walk everywhere. I save quite a lot of money by doing this. Not to mention the road deaths avoided.
  4. Fix things instead of replacing them - or get my dad too, he can fix anything.
  5. Organise a clothes swap - you’ll get some new clothes without spending a penny, and you’ll rehome your old garments.
  6. Sell sell sell - declutter, and sell the things you no longer want.
  7. On the cheap - check freecycle and online auction sites for items you need
  8. Plan ahead - hungry and bored kids will cost you money. Make sure you have snacks, drinks and FUN with you wherever you go.
  9. Party - invite your friends round instead of going out.

Enjoying the outdoors
Take advantage of the weather
  1. Have picnics instead of eating out - me and Ebony are ladies who lunch. On sunny days, we like to picnic instead. It’s cheaper and much more fun.
  2. Line time - if it’s not raining, line dry your clothes instead of using the tumble drier.
  3. Weather or not - take advantage of the rare beautiful weather and spend time outdoors. On sunny days, I take my daughter to the park or for a walk along the canal. It’s nice to play outside so she can run about. So much nicer - and cheaper - than a stuffy soft play centre.
  4. Spend family days in the great outdoors - going for walks and enjoying nature are great, fun things you can do as a family.
  1. Turn your thermostat down 1 degree - you’ll hardly notice it but it will save you money on your energy bills.
  2. Hello summer - turn your heating off as soon as the weather improves.

So there you go, 30 ways to save £1. This post was written as part of the 30 ways competition hosted by MoneySupermarket.

Do you have any saving tips to share?

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Why I'm Feeling Apprehensive About Baba Boogie Fitness

This is a bit of an awkward post, mostly because I actually really like Sarah Jane Honeywell. I’ve never seen any of the kids shows she does, but I know she’s vegan and I like the idea that there is a vegan on children’s tv. I like to imagine she is a role model for vegan kids. And I’m all for that.

I follow her on Twitter in fact, so I can keep updated with the campaigning work she does to promote veganism. Isn’t that great, a childhood role model who isn’t afraid to stand up and make a difference? What a lovely thing. I hope she is playing a part in inspiring a generation of youngsters willing to stand up and scream “Fuck you David Cameron!” or whatever it is people scream in the future.

But sadly, this is not a post about how totes-amazeballs Sarah Jane Honeywell is. Nor is it a post about how much I hate David Cameron. It’s a post about how apprehensive I feel about Sarah’s latest venture.

As I was trawling through my twitter feed today, I noticed a post by Sarah talking about @Bababoogiefit - the first mum and baby fitness DVD.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing offensive about a little postnatal exercise. In fact, anything that can tame that saggy, doughy, overflowing monstrosity us mums call a midriff sounds good to me. It can be hard to get motivated post-pregnancy, it’s just so lovely to stay anchored under a sleeping baby and work through a few box sets. But exercise is important. It is a proven stress reliever and mood raiser, and can help you out of any rut. So, as I say, I’m all for a bit of exercise.

And the idea of exercising with your baby? I love that even more. How great that you don’t have to ditch the baby at the creche, or abandon them with a family member, for you to work out. Life with a baby can be pretty tough. Even if you do actually manage to get up on time for an exercise class, successfully book a place at the creche, get both yourself and the baby dressed on time, and head to the front door, you’re still probably not going to make it. In that scenario, it is pretty much guaranteed that, just as you look smugly at your be-sweatbanded self in the mirror as you reach for the front door, you will hear a ear-splitting fart noise, only to discover your entire gym outfit (and the only one that fits you these days,) is covered in a thick, yellow gloop that smells suspiciously of baby poo. Or, in the unlikely event that you make it to the car, the baby will fall instantly asleep and you’ll sit outside the gym for two hours waiting for her to wake up because you are too scared to try and move her. Or, in the even less likely event that you actually make it into the gym on time with your baby, she’ll decide she’s starving and you’ll spend the entire exercise class sat on the subs bench with you breast on display.

Even just thinking about going to the gym with a baby has made me exhausted. So that’s why I can see the importance of having a DVD. No leaving the house, no lycra-clad gym bunnies ogling at your baps, and, best of all, no-one will know if you are covered in baby poo.

Back to Sarah for a second. Her tweet linked to a Twitter account set up to promote the new DVD. There isn’t much information up there at the moment. There isn’t a website link or a description of the DVD. All there is infact, is a photo.

The photo shows Sarah Jane Honeywell and two other women (in slightly terrifying one colour gym outfits) wearing babies in carriers. Normally, the sight of someone carrying a baby fills me with excitement. I often have to physically fight the desire to try and high-five them. But no, these keep fit women are not wearing the type of carriers that fill me with excitement at having found a like minded parent. No, they are wearing the WRONG type of carriers.

Now, if this has all started to sound a bit finicky, bear with me. There is a valuable lesson to be learnt here. Babywearing is great, but you have to wearing your baby in the right kind of carrier. The right type of carrier supports the baby from knee to knee. This means she is supported by her bottom in the carrier. She is supported from thigh to knee, so there is minimal pressure on the thigh joint. The right type of carrier allows the baby’s spine to stay in the natural curved position.

The wrong type of carrier, also known as a “crotch-dangler”, supports the baby by the crotch. This puts more pressure on the thigh joint and can actually lead to hip dysplasia. Crotch-danglers also force the baby’s back into an unnatural straight position, this is not good for the developing spine. If you’re interested, you can read more information here.

Some of the babies on the promotional image are even being worn outward facing. Wearing your baby facing outwards, pushes her spine an incorrect position. The baby is unable to cling to your body, and doesn’t have the muscle control or strength to hold herself in the right position. Her pelvis will tilt forward and be forced to carry her own weight, as well as absorbing the force of each step you take. This isn’t good for baby’s spine, but it also won’t be good for yours. Carrying a baby in a forward-facing position puts unnatural stress on your body due to the uneven weight distribution.

There is no website, and no further information about @bababoogiefit available online yet. This entire post spawned from the promotional photo on the Twitter account. Perhaps it will turn out that they tell you all of this information in the DVD, and wear the right type of baby carriers throughout the exercise. Maybe they only put the crotch-danglers on for “a laugh” in their lunchbreak, because the thought of anyone making an exercise DVD and using such ill-suited carriers was so hilarious.

I can hope anyway.

p.s. Sorry Sarah, please don’t take it personally. I still think you’re a great vegan role model for the kids.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Ms Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town Review

For those of you in London, Ms Cupcake’s delicious eats are probably a treat on a rainy day. For those of us in the North, they are a long anticipated taste of heaven that can only be enjoyed once in a blue moon. I had heard of Ms Cupcake, long before I was able to try her cupcakes for myself.

One windy day, on a work related visit to London, I finally got to visit her shop. I was pregnant, and upon reaching the shop I had to leave immediately. Because I needed a wee. After a brief visit to the local cinema, I was able to return to the shop. It was the end of the day, but the counter was still filled with amazing looking cupcakes in a variety of flavours. I really wanted a ferrero rocher cupcake because whispers of their totes-amazeballs-ness had reached the North. Pre-wee there were some ferrero rocher cupcakes available, but post-wee they had gone. My pregnant waddle must have slowed me down. The sight of a distraught hormonal woman obviously pulled on the buttercream covered heart strings of the gifted baker, because she sneakily took one out of hiding for me. I sat outside the shop and tried not to wet myself with excitement. Did I mention I was pregnant?

At this point I had ridiculously high expectations of how the cupcake would taste. I expected it to taste like a bejeweled rainbow flavoured unicorn angel covered with sprinkles. I was not disappointed.

Living in the North has its advantages; cheap houses, awesome accents and really good curry sauce. But there are also some pretty major disadvantages; no Ms Cupcakes. I haven’t been to London since having Ebony. I do have a very lovely friend who brings me occasional boxes of Ms Cupcakes when she visits, but it’s safe to say the wonderful cakes are a rarity in my belly.

Thankfully though, word had reached London about the total misery and general bleakness brought on by a lack of Ms Cupcake, and a solution was in the making. As of today, you can buy a recipe book filled with Ms Cupcake recipes. Ms Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town is as amazing as the cakes themselves.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pre-release copy at the Northern Vegan Festival last month. The first recipe I tried was the Bakewell Tart Cupcakes. They were amazing. Obviously they looked shit, because I can’t pipe to save my life, but they tasted so perfect. The book is filled with invaluable baking tips and advice that will completely revolutionise the way you bake. I had no idea about the way vegan baking really works until I read this book. For example, did you know you could have too much bicarbonate of soda in a vegan recipe and that’s what makes the cakes sink?

Unlike its US counterparts, Ms Cupcake’s recipe book uses metric as well as cup measurements. According to Ms Cupcake , if you’re having trouble baking with cups, it could be because you’re doing it wrong. If you’re measuring flour, you have to pour the flour into the cup - not scoop because that compacts the flour and you end up with the wrong amount. Mind blowing, right?

I’ve also made the mint chocolate cupcakes, the victoria sponge cake and the basic vanilla cupcake. Yes, in a month. Yes, I’ve put half a stone on. Let’s not talk about it.

The book itself is hardback, glossy and filled with gorgeous full-colour photos. If you’ve been to Ms Cupcake’s Brixton shop, then this book is exactly what you’d expect. It’s stylish and full of personality. Mine is already covered in smears of icing sugar and buttercream.

Speaking of buttercream... I cannot express in words how amazing the buttercream recipes are. Completely indulgent and dangerously delicious. Her methods are easy yet effective. Every cake I’ve made has turned out light, moist and spongy. Whatever problems you’re having with vegan baking, be it sunk tops, greasy bottoms or denseness, this recipe book will put an end to them.

But it will also make you dead fat.

Fuck it, buy it anyway. 

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Another Year Older

It was my birthday on Saturday. I am now 27. I feel like I should be panicking about getting older, and taking that single step closer to death. But, as I sit here while my one year old naps, I think perhaps 27 still feels young. Maybe if I did not have the one year old napping, then I might drunkenly ponder where my life was going. Perhaps I would worry about my rotting eggs, like a character on a bad US sit com. Or maybe I would be so drunk that I wouldn’t have time to worry about anything apart from how to clean vomit off a white wall.

Two years ago, pre-Ebony, I had a party to celebrate my twenty fifth birthday. Ah, so young. It was a house warming too. There were daiquiris, and amarettos, and prosecco. I think. I don’t remember. It was a very drunken night. And a very hungover next morning. Shortly after, I found out I was expecting. Cue weeks of terrifying panic that the poor fetus inside me would be swimming in alcohol, and would become the first in-utero member of the AA. Luckily, the twelve week scan showed a healthy baby, with no floating Carlsberg cans in sight.

That birthday party, was the last time I had a night of debauchery. After nine long sober months of pregnancy, it would be fair to say I drank a little too much at times during 2012, but it was nothing like my pre-Ebony life. I haven’t been on a night out for years, because I can’t bring myself to miss a bedtime. I've tucked Ebony in every night so far.

I gave up a much-loved career to stay close to Ebony, so I’m not about to ditch her for a night a drunken foolery. Although I’m sure it would be very fun, if I was able to stop worrying about Ebony for long enough. It’s always me who puts Ebony to bed, and I hate the thought of her wondering where I was. She’s not yet old enough to understand the concept of “back tomorrow” or “wandering round Manchester screeching drunkenly”. I hope that at some point within the next few months, she will be at a stage where she understands. And then I shall leave her, and go out and have fun. In an embarrassing drunk-mum way. But until them, I am happy staying home with Ebony, because I feel lucky we’ve been able to get to this stage without being separated for long.

So, instead of going out for a much-needed night of drunken fun with my friends this weekend, we celebrated with a quiet, family weekend away. It was really lovely to get away and relax. We didn’t have electricity so couldn’t charge up our phones, and didn’t have much signal or internet access anyway. It was nice to get away from my emails and stop worrying about my to do list. It was also nice that the husband couldn’t check his work emails or spend the weekend worrying about work.

We went to Hebden Bridge, a place I have fond childhood memories of. I love Hebden Bridge. It’s such a
lovely, quirky place. Everywhere I looked there were vegan options on menus, babywearers and the occasional hard drug user. Ok, so it’s a little rough around the edges, but it’s still the place I hope to grow old someday. We borrowed my parents’ motorhome and spent the weekend living in a farmer’s field. Ebony loved having space to run around in, and seemed to enjoy spending so much time outdoors.

Some photos of the weekend:

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