Thursday 27 March 2014

What My Mother Taught Me

As Mother’s Day approaches, I am left to contemplate not only my experience as a mother, but also my relationship with my mother. I can honestly say that I did not fully appreciate my mother until I fell pregnant, isn’t that always the way? Until you have pushed a person out your vagina, breastfed that person on a bus, had that person be sick in your mouth, and still managed to love that person unconditionally, how can you even begin to appreciate your mother?

We told my parents we were expecting on Father’s Day. I made my Dad a card to break the news, I was far too hormonal and emotional to attempt saying it aloud. The front of the card detailed the wonderful things my dad had done for me over the years, and then said we’d like to offer him a promotion. On the inside of the card I stuck a scan picture. My dad was speechless when he read the card, and quickly handed it to my mother.

After a few minutes of trying to locate her glasses, my mum read the card. “Really?” I think was her first word, quickly followed by, “Ian, get the champagne!” I think it’s safe to say that my parents were surprised at the announcement, and I think they were still in shock when we (well, they) toasted to the pregnancy that afternoon.

A few days later, I was standing outside Manchester Piccadilly station when my mum called. “So, when are we going shopping for maternity clothes?” she said. I almost burst in tears, as can be expected from a women in the first trimester.

From that moment on, my mum had my back. She started bringing me bags full of fresh fruit and bottles of Schloer. She took me shopping for maternity clothes, and didn’t seem put off that I moaned the whole way and kept having to sit down. She convinced my dad that they should redecorate my living room before the baby came, and did it all while I was at work. She came round when I was off work poorly, cooked my lunch and tidied the house. She listened to me moan about the pregnancy, endlessly.

She didn’t ring me everyday asking if there was any news as my due date approached. She told me to always be honest, and never worry about offending her, and she meant it. She came round the day after the birth, to meet her new granddaughter, and looked really proud the whole time. She tidied my house, washed my dishes, held her granddaughter so I could shower, and offered advice when asked. But never when not.

My mum has taught me that you never stop being a mum. That even when your baby has grown, you are still invaluable to them. Since having my daughter, I cannot tell you how many times I have thought, “This is the kind of mother I want to be.” I want to be there when my daughter needs me, without needing to be asked, I want to make her life easier, just by being there.

My mum is selfless, always putting the needs of others first. When I became a mother, I noticed how much I am still mothered. My mum was here, helping and supporting, as I found my footing as a mother. She was here, complimenting and reassuring, as I stumbled in the darkness of those first few weeks.

And she is still here now, helping me to navigate life as a work from home mother. She babysits while I work, she brings us lunch, and she reminds me that I will never regret this time at home. That, no matter how tiring it can be to work in the evenings and weekends, I am lucky to spend every day with my daughter. And when she says that, I know she means it, because she did the same.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Living Arrows 12/52

We're taking Ebony abroad for the first time this year, and that means she needs a passport. Getting a passport photo of a toddler is absolutely the hardest thing in the entire world. On our first attempt, Ebony's head was tiny because the booth stool meant she was too far from the camera. The second attempt, her head was an acceptable size, but she was looking in completely the wrong direction.

After spending my life savings on these two attempts, I wasn't keen on forking out again, so decided to try taking my own. Even without the hassle of a booth, it is ridiculously difficult to get a toddler to look at the camera (because the rabbits in the garden are too enticing a sight), not smile ("Cheeeeese!") and relax her mouth (this instruction lead to either some kind of insane pout or a whistling face).
living arrows

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Blog Challenge: Great Adventure #39

Ebony spent Saturday at the park with Laurie while I caught up on some work. We decided to try and grab some quality family time on Sunday, and so headed over to Tatton Park for an adventure. Ebony insisted on wearing her now misshapen and damaged crown, as she has done for most of the week.

Before we’d even reached the gates, Ebony had collected a handful of sticks to keep. These ended up in my bag, of course. As we walked across the grass, Ebony saw a tree stump and ran over to climb it. She announced she was going to sit on it, and tried to get herself into position. In the end, she looked uncomfortable and then sadly said she would just sit on a chair at home instead. Toddlers are just wonderful.

There were some horses being taken out of a horse box, and Ebony made Laurie take her over while she exclaimed, “Wow, pretty horse.” A woman brought the biggest horse over so that Ebony could stroke her, and Ebony didn’t seem at all fazed by the size of the horse (I say this as someone who is scared of horses). Moments later a tiny dog walked over to Ebony and she looked terrified, then continued to stroke the humongous and powerful  horse.

Ebony has developed a love of balancing on fallen branches, so each branch we passed had to be tried out. There were plenty of hiding places in the words, and Laurie kept running off to hide, leaving Ebony to chase after him. At one point, he leapt out from behind a bush and Ebony looked like she had been electrocuted with fear as she jumped back.

She saw Laurie reach up to touch a branch, and wanted to do the same. Laurie lifted her up high, but Ebony sighed loudly and announced her arms couldn’t reach. Laurie tried a few more times, before I broke the news that Ebony wasn’t actually holding her arms up to even try and reach.

Laurie disappeared to look at some trees, and Ebony spent a good five minutes shouting, “DADDY, COME BACK! LAURIE, COME BAAACK!” When he reappeared, the two of them when to jump in a huge puddle of mud, before deciding to head back to the car. By this point, Ebony was carrying two “stick men” and, as we reached a tree, she held them onto the bark while saying, “back to the family tree.” It was so sweet, we love Stick Man, and read it most days.

After that she wanted to go and investigate why all the noisy cars were jumping (a cattle grid). Then, caring little about the fact we were now late for our lunch date, she sat on a tree stump and refused to move for a while. She’s gotten really into climbing recently, I love how brave she can be at times. Not when there’s tiny dogs about though, obviously.

Have you been on any great adventures this week? Don’t forget to link up by commenting below.

Monday 24 March 2014

Review & Giveaway: How to Catch a Star 10th Anniversary Edition

I’ve written about my love of Oliver Jeffers’ books before, so I was excited to be offered the chance togiveaway a copy of his book. This year marks 10 years since How to Catch a Star was released, and to celebrate, HarperCollins have released a special anniversary edition. The 10th anniversary is edition features a letter from the author and illustrator, explaining where the concept for the book first came from.

We were given a copy of How to Catch a Star shortly after the birth of my daughter. It is a beautiful book, I really love the look and colours of the illustrations, and the story itself is lovely to read. Our copy has been well loved in the two short years we have owned it. It has been stood on, folded, and, very almost, peed on.

The book is aimed at 2-7 year olds, but I have been reading it to Ebony since she was a baby. We have amassed a few other Oliver Jeffers books since, but I think this one will always be my favourite.

HarperCollins very kindly sent us a copy of the 10th anniversary edition to review, along with some other promotional materials. We were sent some glow in the dark stars, which I am keeping hidden from my daughter until we move house, because it seems unfair to the new owners to leave them with a glow in the dark ceiling in their spare room. They also sent us some drawing sheets and activities which kept Ebony happily occupied for a little while one afternoon.

The 10th anniversary edition of How to Catch a Star is due to be released on 27 March, and can be pre-ordered here for just £10.27 (RRP £12.99).
a Rafflecopter giveaway Win competitions at

Sunday 23 March 2014

Living Arrows 11/52

Ebony made a crown at playgroup on Wednesday, and hasn't taken it off since.She insisted wearing it on our adventure at Tatton Park today.
living arrows

Thursday 20 March 2014

Blog Challenge: Great Adventure #38

Spring is here! Spring is here! Ebony and I breathed out a huge collective sigh of relief when the sun appeared last week. We spent whole afternoons in the garden, we had a barbecue (a bit premature perhaps, it was cold by the time we were eating), and we stopped wearing our coats. Well, I did, Ebony has never been a big fan of outer wear.

We were hoping to go for an adventure last weekend, but alas, weddings, hangovers, drinking and work got in the way. The downside of my life is that I do spend a fair amount of each weekend hunched over my laptop, working, but it’s worth it to spend each weekday with Ebony. Or it is when she’s in a nice mood, anyway.

We went to a local playgroup yesterday. It’s not the greatest group in the world. There’s a very strong LOVE JESUS theme running throughout the session, and it’s usually quite manic. The children run riot, fights break out, and Ebony usually ends up getting run over by a crazy-eyed toddler suffering a bad case of road rage behind the wheel of a red and yellow car. It’s not my favourite group, but it’s local and cheap, so we go when we’re ready on time. By on time, I mean 45 minutes late, because there is no way in hell I could spend 90 minutes at that group.

Ebony made a crown at playgroup yesterday. A crown, I kid you not, TO SHOW YOU HOW MUCH GOD LOVES YOU. The group is run by a woman who can associate anything (crowns, boxes, row row row your boat) with God’s unrelenting love. Ebony was very proud of her crown, probably because it had stickers on, but possibly because it signified God’s devotion to her.

She wore the crown most of the way home. It was a slow journey. She walked most of the way in a side-step, and occasionally ran very fast in the wrong direction. I was carrying no fewer than four big jigsaws, so this was not a fun journey. Eventually, after three “Hehe, looks like it’ll take you a while to get home!” comments from amused strangers, we reached the fields. I decided to cut my losses, and give up using jigsaw boxes to stop Ebony running into oncoming traffic, and instead suggested we walk through the fields.

Ebony misheard and thought I said, “Let’s lean against a fence and refuse to move for five whole minutes.” But once we’d cleared up that misunderstanding, we were on our way. I saw a ladybird walking on the path in front of us, and called Ebony over to see. She immediately thrust her crotch towards it while shouting “Ladybird!” Once, I am told, a ladybird walked under her legs when she was out with Laurie, but when she does this stance, it looks like she is aggressively referring to her privates as her ladybird. I thought we should move the ladybird from the path, so we coaxed it onto a leaf and placed it on the grass.

Ebony charged on, desperately trying to find more ladybirds. We ran across the field together, stopped to look at flowers and sticks along the way. At the end of the field are some steps, Ebony climbed most of the way herself before stopping.

Ebony: Dog poo, mummy!
Me: Oh dear, yes. Let’s go round it.
Ebony: Move it, mummy!
Me: Me? Oh no, I think the council are in charge of moving dog poo.
Ebony: Ok. Wait council.
Me: Come on then.
Ebony: No, wait council. Ebony wait.
Me: But the council are really slow...and may not even know about the poo.
Ebony while rolling eyes, shaking head and tutting: Bloody council.

After that Ebony found some fallen seeds to inspect, lots of daffodils to smell, and another field to speed across. Then we had a quick stop off at the park. I say park, it’s one swing situated on a depressing expanse of concrete. There are marks where other park equipment should be. A little girl, who was politely waiting for her go on the one swing, told me that the other equipment was removed by the council because older boys stuck chewing gum on it. Bloody council.

Have you been on any adventures this week?

Find out more about our great adventures here.

Saturday 15 March 2014

Living Arrows 10/52

"Wedding? Yah. Dancing? Yah. Kissing? Yah. Cuddles? Yah!"

We attended the wedding of a very good friend yesterday. Ebony's best friend, Daisy, was a bridesmaid, and Ebony had been looking forward to the wedding all week. She was particularly excited about all the dancing. She has developed a strange habit of saying "Yah," in a German accent whenever she wants something, hence the above quotation, said in the days leading up to the wedding.

The wedding was so beautiful, and I couldn't help but cry during the ceremony. Ebony sent most of the ceremony shouting "DANCE. DANCING? DANCE NOW!!" at the top of her voice. Thank goodness we chose to sit right at the back. 

There was a sweet table at the reception, and Daisy and Ebony spent a lot of time hanging off it, desperately trying to grab fistfuls of sugary sweets. I thought taking a toddler to a wedding might be hard work, but it was lovely. She loves Daisy and Grace (Daisy's big sister) that the whole day was spent chasing them round happily. 
living arrows

Friday 14 March 2014

How to Survive a Wedding with a Baby in Tow

A good friend is getting married today, and this will be the fourth wedding I’ve taken Ebony too. The other three weddings were held when Ebony was small, and by the final one, I felt I had learnt some valuable lessons about how to survive weddings with a baby. Now, of course, Ebony is a toddler and, as any parent of a toddler will tell you, toddlers are much harder work. For a start they can talk (loudly, about poo and periods), they can run really fast (in the opposite direction) and sometimes, they turn into crazed maniacs when things don’t go their way. So, it’s safe to say I am feeling a little apprehensive of what might happen tomorrow.

So, harking back to the glory days, here are some tips for surviving a wedding with a baby in tow:

  1. Take a sling - we took a pram to two weddings, thinking it would be less hassle than the sling. We were so wrong. Prams are the height of hassle. We ended up leaving it in the car at the first wedding, and at the second it was too cumbersome to get near the dancefloor. I also think it must have been a bit terrifying for my tiny baby, being stuck out of arm’s reach in a pram during noisy times. By the third wedding, we just took the sling and it made things much easier. It meant she stayed close to me while she napped, and felt involved in what was going on. A sling is without doubt the way to go for weddings.
  2. Breastfeed in church - I mean, you don’t have to, but you probably will, because Church makes babies hungry (this is not a scientific fact, it’s just anecdotal). There’s a lot of waiting around at weddings, and by the time the bride walks in, your baby will be hungry, so just resign yourself to the fact that you will have to breastfeed in church. And hey, don’t worry, the Pope thinks it’s awesome when mothers breastfeed in church, so no need to feel nervous. Your baby’s hunger isn’t going to disappear, and the longer you leave it, the more frustrated she’ll be, and the harder it will be to get her to latch on. Believe me, I know this.
  3. Take ear protectors - we have some ear protectors for our daughter. They don’t block the noise completely, but muffle it, so she was still able to hear things but without bursting her ear drums. The music at weddings can be pretty noisy, and babies can get overstimulated, so these are a must-have. Your only problem might be convincing your baby to wear them, but luckily our daughter seemed quite happy in hers. They were great for when she was napping in the sling too.
  4. Have a plan - the meal will be long, so have a plan of how you are going to entertain your baby. If it coincides with naptime, you win. If not, you’ll need to sit the baby next to your most entertaining dinner companion, and pull out a whole host of toys. If your baby is over six months, make sure you have appropriate finger foods for her to nibble on while you all eat.
  5. Seek out quiet time - avoid letting your baby get overstimulated by going somewhere quiet for some alone time. This could be a lengthy nappy change in the disabled toilet, a walk around the grounds, or some one-on-one time in a quiet room. This will allow your baby to avoid overstimulation, and will help her feel connected to you despite the hustle and bustle of the wedding. Take turns with your partner to have quiet time with the baby, that way you’ll both still get to enjoy the wedding too.

Maybe by this evening I’ll have some tips on how to attend weddings with toddlers, or perhaps how not to. Ahem. Oh, and the last tip is, don’t get too drunk. Parental hangovers are, like, two million times worse than normal hangovers. For each unit, you gain a whole extra day of hangover. I think that’s the equation, anyway.
Do you have any tips for attending weddings with a baby?

Thursday 13 March 2014

How to Nurture Your Assertive Daughter

This morning, my toddler and I watched some Beyonce videos in bed. Ebony, the toddler, has some quite innovative dance moves, and loves nothing more than showing them off. As we were singing and shaking around to Single Ladies, Ebony was telling she liked Beyonce’s shoes. I started thinking about Beyonce, and how she is actually quite awesome. Growing up, I was always a Britney fan. I loved her. A lot.

More than that.

Over the past two years, I have been asked by a couple of old friends whether Ebony likes Britney. The truth is, I don’t know. I haven’t played her any Britney. We don’t watch the videos, because she’s too sexualised and it would be a weird thing to thrust in the face of a child. So we watch Beyonce instead.

I hadn’t realised that Beyonce was involved in the Ban Bossy campaign, but knowing this has cemented my love of her more. The Ban Bossy campaign is calling for an end to the use of the word bossy. That might sound a bit ridiculous, but read on.

I hadn’t really given much thought to the word bossy, until my friend Alys came to visit a few months ago. She mentioned that she hated the word bossy, because it was only ever used to describe women. Now, I don’t have a son, so I can’t be sure that it’s not used to describe boys, but I’ve certainly never heard it used in that way.

Ebony is strong-willed, she knows her own mind and she will not compromise. I have heard people describe her as a bossy boots. It is only ever said in a playful way, but that doesn’t make it any better. If every time my daughter tries to make clear her opinion, she is dismissed playfully as being ‘bossy’, then what message does this send?

I love that Ebony knows what she wants. I love that she pursues her own interests. And I love that she will not be easily persuaded to another way of thinking. Sure, these qualities make my job harder now. But I’m in this for the long game. I’m not worried about getting her to leave the park when I want, wear the clothes I choose, or do the activity I have planned. I’m worried about the future. I’m worried about her having the confidence to follow her dreams, say no to people, and believe in her own abilities.

Little boys are encouraged to lead, and little girls are encouraged to simply go along with things. I remember at school that the girls who took charge of situations were the ones described as bossy. I have never heard a boy described as bossy. It’s just not a word used to describe anyone with a penis.

We don’t use the word bossy in my house. I don’t want to do anything that might force my assertive toddler into compliance. Here are five things we do to try and encourage confidence and leadership in our toddler:
  1. Speak carefully - it’s hard to analyse every word that comes out of your mouth, but in many ways it’s one of the most important things you can do. I am with my daughter almost every hour of every day, so it figures that I am one of her greatest influencers. If I was constantly putting her down for asserting herself, she would soon learn that was an undesirable quality. I try instead to reinforce that speaking out is good, by explaining that stating her wants has helped to work towards a happy outcome, so it was good she made it clear she didn’t want to wear blue knickers (or whatever) today.
  2. Listen even more carefully - if children’s attempts at communications are ignored, they may think it pointless to attempt similar communications in future. I try to take the time to listen my daughter, to work out what she is trying to tell me, even when she is getting frustrated and cannot communicate very well. I think spending this time listening to her (rather than rushing her into whatever I want to do), reinforces that her opinions are valid, valued and equal to mine.
  3. Let her problem solve - since Ebony was very young, I have always prefered to let her discover things herself. From leaving toys within her vision, but allowing her to grab them herself, to leaving her to work out how new toys work. I want her to own her experiences, and this means letting her try things herself, with me present for if she needs me. At the moment, she is very into jigsaws. If we pick up a new one at the charity shop, I let her do it herself. Most of the time she will put it together with no help. I think by exploring things by herself she is learning how to problem solve, trust her abilities and is also developing confidence. I have noticed that if her grandparents try to help her with a new jigsaw, she will request their help the whole way through, and I have put this down to a lack of confidence because it was implied the initial help was needed.
  4. Seek out new experiences - climbing, running, building, jumping, tumbling, falling and exploring are an essential part of any childhood. I take Ebony out to the woods, to parks and to open spaces so she can explore at will. I think time spent in the great outdoors helps to build confidence, and exposes her to new experiences that she wouldn’t have if she was sat at home.
  5. Equality at home - as Ebony’s family, we are her first lesson in what family life should be. She is learning about relationships, disagreements, and roles within the family. Our family is not particularly modern, in that Laurie goes out to work all day and I stay home with Ebony. I work from home though, and Ebony knows this. Being home during the day means that I do most of the cleaning, simply because otherwise the house would always be messy, and this is a real bugbear for me because I do feel it a little unfair at times. Laurie’s job is cleaning the kitchen, though looking at the kitchen now, I would say he views this as an optional task, rather than a clearly defined role. Maybe that’s something we need to discuss, eh?

Do you have any tips for nurturing assertiveness and leadership in little girls?

Wednesday 12 March 2014

A Couple of my Favourite Blogs

Reading blogs is actually a pretty intensive thing to do. There are just so many blogs out there. I am useless at regularly keeping up with blogs. I have some that I read regularly (obsessively?), and others that I read when I see them by chance or randomly remember I like them. I see posts on facebook and twitter, but I’m not subscribed to any email lists.

I recently downloaded the BlogLovin app for my phone, which means I now have a scary number of unread posts piling up on my phone. It has helped me to keep up with a few more blogs though, so that’s useful. Blogging is something that takes a lot of time. Too much, sometimes, for me to handle. I find that some weeks I post a lot, and others I barely have the time to reply to comments, never mind write posts. Life is a balancing act, and I’m always busy parenting, writing, blogging or attempting a social life. It can all get a bit exhausting at times. I certainly don’t consider myself a blogger. I have a blog, but I don’t expect strangers to read it. I enjoy blogging though, and that’s what matters. I love copywriting for a living, but I also love writing for me. I like writing about my issues, my life and my opinions, and it’s nice to have a place to do that. And even nicer when people spend time reading it, and let me know what they think.

Anyway, it’s MADS season again, and this mean bloggers are fighting tooth and nail to win awards in various categories. Nominations opened weeks ago, but I’ve only just found the time to sit down and nominate. I just wanted to share with you a couple of the blogs I nominated:

Tigerlilly Quinn - this is my absolute favourite blog. With a mix of home, family, photography and fashion, it has something to offer everyone. Fritha’s little boy is a month older than my daughter, and I think our interests often overlap for that reason. She always seems to post about family things just as we’re experiencing them too.

Lulastic and the Hippyshake - this is another blog I frequent. Lucy posts about gentle parenting, a topic which I’m really interested in, and always has positive things to say about parenting. Her parenting posts are really well-researched and filled with personal anecdotes, so it’s really useful if you’re looking for parenting inspiration. I must warn you though, Lucy spent the summer campervanning around Europe, and is now living in a campervan somewhere in New Zealand, so you may find some of the content leaves you feeling cold and jealous.

A Dad Called Spen - this is one of the blogs I happen across by chance, when I see a tweet or it appears at the top of my blog reading app. I love Spencer’s writing style, I think his posts are so funny. Not all of them, obviously, some of them aren’t meant to be funny. If you follow the link it will take you to one of his recent amusing posts, well worth a read.

Well, there you go, those are just three of the blogs I nominated. There were others of course, but as usual I am short of time. I’m always looking for new blogs to add to my list of go-to-reads (not that I often have the time to actually go to and read them), so please tell me which blogs you like best so I can pay them a visit. And don't forget to vote for them in the MADS too.

MAD Blog Awards

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Low-Sugar Vegan Gingerbread Recipe

Ebony was ill the other week, and we were stuck indoors for the best part of a week. After we had exhausted all the books, jigsaws and crafts, I thought we should do some baking. I have a big collection of vegan recipe books, but not many of them contain sugar-free recipes. Lots of vegan baked goods seem to contain terrifying quantities of sugar.

Ebony had sugary baked goods for the first time at her second birthday party when she had a slice of her birthday cake (made by the talented Becky’s Cake Boutique). Since then, she’s had sugar a few more times - ice-cream at a birthday party, and a pancake on pancake day, but it’s not something I want to become a regular part of her diet.

I looked through my recipe books, and decided to try altering a recipe I have used before. The following recipe is an adjusted version of the Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies recipe from the amazing Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar (if you don’t already have it, you need to add this book to your collection).

The recipe uses molasses, which is a by-product of sugar refinement. Molasses is technically a sugar, though has a very low sugar content. It’s also rich in minerals including iron, so I decided not to substitute it from the recipe. Hence why this is a low-sugar, not sugar-free recipe.

(almost) Sugar-Free Vegan Gingerbread Recipe
⅓ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup of chopped dates
¼ cup of molasses
¼ cup soya milk
2 cups of plain flour
½ teaspoon of bicarbonate soda
½ teaspoon of baking soda
½ teaspoon of salt
¾ teaspoon of ground nutmeg
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1½  teaspoons of ground ginger

1. Mix together the oil and dates. Add the molasses and soya milk.
2. Sift in all of the dry ingredients, mixing as you go. Mix into a stiff dough. You may need to add a little extra soya milk or flour to get the consistency right.
3. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and refrigerate for one hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 180°c.
5. Line some baking sheets with greaseproof paper.
6. Roll the dough out and cut out your shapes. We used dinosaurs.
7. Bake for 10-15 minutes. You will have to keep an eye on them and make a judgement call on when they need to come out. Leave to cool for five minutes, then place on a wire rack and allow to cook completely.

The biscuits had a great crunch to them, and Ebony seemed to really enjoy them. She took one to give to her best friend (who has a lot of allergies), and I’m pleased to say the ate every last crumb. So, if you’re looking for a vegan-friendly healthy alternative to cookies, try these.

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