Tuesday 27 October 2015

A Kidswear Wishlist for Colder Weather

1. Enchanted Wood Peter Pan Dress £34 from Little Green Radicals // 2. Ruby Dress Mushroom $48 from Kate Quinn // 3. F&F Hooded Coat £18 from Tesco // 4.  Cloud Cardigan Pink £20 from Little Green Radicals // 5. Vans Atwood Tapestry Canvas £26 from Jones Bootmaker // 6. Dungarees £17.99 from H&M //

As the weather grows colder and the streets are scattered with autumn leaves, I've been looking out for new clothes to buy Ebony. She keeps growing even though I beg her not to, so most of last year's winter clothes no longer fit. I'm a big fan of layers, so Ebony tends to wear a lot of clothes at once to keep warm. I've already bought the coat featured above, isn't it sweet? They've just released it in red too which is a little bit heartbreaking because I would probably have bought red if I'd realised. 

I'm not a huge fan of pink so, grandparent induced wardrobe items aside, Ebony doesn't have much pink in her collection, but I really love this embroidered cardigan. It looks like something my Grandad would have worn, minus the pink. Also, how beautiful is the peter pan dress? 

Monday 26 October 2015

Giveaway: Win an I Just Love It Personalised Christmas Gift Kids Bundle

A couple of weeks ago I headed down to London all by myself for the first time in years. I used to go to London every couple of months to see friends or for work, but I’ve only made it down a couple of times since having Ebony. It all gets a bit expensive when you have to book family hotel rooms, doesn’t it? And London can be a little hard work when you’re travel companion is terrified of escalators.

So, the prospect of a trip down to the capital with only myself for company was more than a little bit exciting. I finished reading Catch 22 on the train, something I have been trying to do for months. I went Christmas shopping, caught up with friends and drank way too much wine. It was everything a child-free trip to London should be. And, of course, there was cake.

I was invited it down by the lovely people at I Just Love It, a gift company specialising in personalised products (not personal products as I misinformed one shocked looking friend after a couple of beers). The company has been around for seven years now and has recently relaunched so they invited a few bloggers down to London to find out more about them.

The event was held at Jenius Social, a little cookery school tucked away in Islington. To promote the great range of personalised products they sell, I Just Love It decided it made sense to get us to create some personalised masterpieces of our own. Cupcake decorating, of course. There was a competition to see who could create the most beautiful cupcake of all. I didn’t have any cupcakes to decorate (woe is vegan), but I did have a little cake to decorate with dark chocolate and other treats. It was weirdly hypnotic to spend an hour decorating cakes, and it definitely made me wish I had more spare time.

There were lots of I Just Love It products on display at the event, they sell a huge range of products so there’s something for everyone. I particularly loved the personalised books, I think Ebony would love something like that now that she’s a little older. They also had personalised hammers which I loved, but am not sure I really need considering how pitiful my DIY skills are.

The generous folk over at I Just Love It have very kindly offered a prize so that one reader of this blog can be in with the chance of winning a pretty awesome personalised Christmas kids bundle. If you have a little one to buy for this Christmas, these personalised gifts will go down a treat. There is a personalised teddy bear Christmas bauble (worth £9.99), a big personalised Christmas sack (worth £19.99) to fill with presents and a gorgeous personalised Christmas story book up (worth £9.99) for grabs. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning, is fill in the Rafflecopter below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway UK competitions at ThePrizeFinder

Wednesday 21 October 2015

5 Reasons Why I Don't Want Your Parenting Advice

From the very moment you announce your pregnancy to the world, the unwanted parenting advice starts pouring in. People you don’t even know start giving you advice about how to feed, soothe and dress your baby. Perhaps they’re just offering neighbourly advice because you haven’t had a baby before? Nope. The unsolicited advice will continue long after you get your parenting credentials.

No matter what you choose to do, it will be wrong in somebody’s eyes. You’re either picking your baby up too much or not picking her up enough. You’re a terrible mother for not breastfeeding or breastfeeding too often and spoiling your baby. You’re gross for using washable nappies or you’re single handedly killing the planet for not. You’re ruining your toddler by not telling her off enough or you’re being too harsh on her. You can’t win. No matter what you do, somebody will be unimpressed.

And there’s no way of stopping the advice either, it will keep coming long after you give up using polite replies. People just love to offer their opinion, and whether that’s meant with good intentions or not, it can be pretty shitty to hear people think you’re doing a bad job of parenting.

If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to stop me on the street and offer me some unsolicited parenting wisdom, here are just five of the reasons why I didn’t listen:

1. I don’t think you’re a perfect parent
I don’t think there is such a thing as the perfect parent. I know I’m far from perfect and have my fair share of bad days. Parenting isn’t always easy, but I do the absolute best I can. I have some friends who I think are amazing parents. It could be their patience, their gentleness or the loving relationship that they have with their kids that I admire, but I still don’t think they’re perfect. And then there are plenty of people in the world who I don’t think are perfect parents, like, at all. There are parents who I think make bad choices, who say and do things I would never dream of doing or saying, and who just don’t parent the way I want to. I know I’m not perfect, but the parents I aspire to be like are the ones who I think are doing a much better job than me. If you’re not one of those parents, I’m probably not going to listen to your wisdom.

2. I didn’t ask for it
I do sometimes ask for advice, of course, parenting is a journey and I am always learning. I read a lot of books and blogs that fit with my parenting style, and always refer back to them for advice when needed. I also have friends I can turn to in times of need. Friends who understand my parenting style and what I’m trying to achieve. Those people have been an invaluable source of useful, nonjudgmental information to me over the past four years. And then there’s the other people, the ones I wouldn’t go to for advice but who give it anyway. As a general rule, if I didn’t ask for your advice, I’m probably not going to follow it. By all means, tell me what you do with your kids, but don’t tell me what I should do with mine.

3. You’re a different kind of parent
There is a very broad spectrum of parenting types, and every parent has a different style unique to them. I identify as a gentle parent, I may have bad days where I snap and don’t quite keep my cool, but most days, I am gentle and respectful. I know that parenting isn’t just about today, it’s about the whole of my daughter’s life. I am trying to give her the skills and attitude to get her through life. You might be like me, or maybe you’re not. Maybe you discipline in a different way to me, or have a different sort of relationship with your kids. We’re all different, and while you think you’re way is right, I think mine is. I don’t want to take parenting advice from somebody on the wrong end of the spectrum because it won’t fit with my parenting style.

4. I have plenty of parenting advice to be getting on with
You’re not the first person to have offered me parenting advice. I’ve been receiving advice since I opened that first pregnancy book all those years ago. I have plenty of advice swimming around in my mind, trust me. I’ve got everything in there, from how to help a toddler deal with strong emotions to how to teach your child about consent. It’s all there, all the time, rushing around in my head. I want to keep learning, of course, because information is important for personal growth and I want to keep being the best parent I can be. I want to always know the science and research to back up the choices I make, and I will continue to seek out that information. But that’s not what you’re offering.

5. I think I’m doing ok
Sometimes I have moments where I’m not sure whether I know what I’m doing as a parent. Those wobbles only last a minute, but are always quashed by either talking to a trusted friend or looking at my daughter. Even when I feel lost, she is still a happy, compassionate and strong minded girl, and that’s what I want for her. I want her to be happy, to be kind to others and to know her own mind. So I must be doing something right. And, on the whole, I think I’m doing a pretty good job. I’m not perfect, but I try my best and I think the relationship I have with my daughter is testament to that. If I ignore your unwanted advice it’s because I don’t think I need it. We’re doing just fine, thank you.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Disney on Ice & a Review of Fun Warehouse

Laurie’s parents gave Ebony some tickets to see Disney on Ice in Manchester. Though she had no idea what to expect, she’s been looking forward to going. We went with her friend Daisy and I think Ebony was excited to spend some time with her friend again. We’ve not seen much of her since they both started at different nurseries, and I know Ebony misses her.

I knew that most of the kids in the audience would be dressed up, so when Fun Warehouse said we could review a costume from their range, I knew it would have to be a Disney one. The website is easy to use and there are loads of costumes to choose from. They had a good selection of Disney costumes and, if it had been up to me, we’d definitely have chosen the Mary Poppins one (it’s awesome, yeah?).

In the end, Ebony chose a Snow White costume to wear to the show. It cost £21.39, and the site had a good mix of costumes to suit all budgets. Once we’d decided which one we wanted, the costume arrived a couple of days later. It fit perfectly and Ebony was really pleased with it. The only bit that didn’t quite fit was the crown which Ebony said felt too tight. I am not blinded by a mother’s love, however, she doesn’t exactly have a pea head so that could have been part of the issue. We decided to leave the crown at home when we went to Disney on Ice.

The dress has a gold shimmery skirt which Ebony loves because it sparkles. It’s not too long so I didn’t have to worry about her tripping up in it (unlike many of the other costumes we’ve acquired over the years). She wore the dress on the way into Manchester and kept unbottoning her coat so people could see her new dress. Daisy went as Cinderella and they looked very sweet together in their costumes.

On our way to the venue we passed quite a few Elsa and Annas, but I didn’t spot another Snow White. I did see two tiny Tinkerbells who looked pretty sweet. The show was on at the MEN Arena which definitely isn’t called that anymore but I am behind the times. Anyway, it’s huge and I was a little worried that we might be sat really far from the stage. As it turned out, we were on the 10th row from the front so the seats were pretty good.

Ebony really enjoyed the show, I did too though I felt like the Cars segment was a bit of a cheat (no ice skating there, just cars driving around on the ice). Ebony enjoyed being Snow White so much that she kept it on for most of the day, so I ended up escorting Snow White to the Northern Vegan Festival that afternoon.

Monday 19 October 2015

Giveaway: Win a First Aid Kit with the Chokeables

When Ebony first started eating solid foods, I was terrified of choking hazards. I wanted to try baby led weaning rather than purees, but needed to feel confident that I could handle an emergency situation. [In fact, baby led weaning is great because it gives babies the opportunity to try finger foods when their gagging reflex is nearer to the front of the mouth, reducing the risk of choking. As babies grow, the gagging reflex moves further to the back of the mouth.] I also wanted to know how to spot a real emergency. Babies are prone to gagging, but choking is much less common.

I signed up for a free pediatrics first aid course at my local Sure Start Centre when Ebony was just four months old. Laurie and Ebony came too, and we spent a couple of hours learning about first aid. It was interesting and by the end of the day I felt like I’d learnt a lot. I have, of course, forgotten most of it now, but I like to think the information is stored away in the shadowy recesses of my brain somewhere.

Luckily, it’s not hard to brush up on your skills. The UK’s leading first aid charity, St John Ambulance have got lots of information on their website including this great poster detailing five ways you can save your baby’s life. With the help of David Mitchell, David Walliams, Sir John Hurt and Johnny Vegas, they created a memorable video detailing what you should do if your baby is choking. In just 40 seconds, the animated short shows exactly what you should do in the event of choking.

St John Ambulance CEO, Sue Killen, said:‘Knowing what to do in an emergency can be the difference between life and death, especially with something like choking. We all know how time pressed parents are so this film makes it as easy as possible to learn first aid – in less than 40 seconds we can all know a skill that could save a life. We hope people watch and share the video with their friends and family so more people have the confidence to act in an emergency.’

St John’s Ambulance have kindly offered to giveaway a first aid kit to one lucky winner. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning is fill in the Rafflecopter below. The competition will close on Friday 13 November. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway UK competitions at ThePrizeFinder

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Christmas Things I Love

1. Christmas Stocking £23 from Love The Sign // 2. Hurry Down The Chimney Tonight Acrylic House Decoration £2.50 from Paperchase // 3. Two Gran Washed Linen Napkins £15 from Love The Sign // 4. Nativity Scene £9.99 from Tigerlilly Quinn // 5. Fairtrade Hand Painted Bauble £5.95 from Potch 

I'm sorry, I know it's early to start throwing the C word around. Now that autumn has well and truly arrived, I've been trying to get organised for Christmas. I've already bought most of Ebony's presents this year, a couple of new things and then a selection I've picked up from the charity shops over the last few months. Yesterday I went to London and managed to fit in a trip to Tiger (hoorah) and have now got all the stocking fillers sorted. I also popped into Gap and bought Ebony's Christmas dress for the year (they only had it in age 3 so let's hope she doesn't shoot up anytime soon). 

I'm already looking forward to going on our annual trip buying mission, dragging the (husband off the sofa to fetch the) Christmas decorations out of the loft and making mince pies. I know it's still months away, but time is flying past at the moment so I've decided it's best to be prepared just in case I wake up tomorrow and discover it's December, 

With that in mind, as the Christmas emails started pouring into my inbox, I've been keeping an eye out for festive inspiration, I thought I'd share some of my favourites with you. I really love the monochrome stocking, and the adorable cardboard nativity scene. 

Thursday 8 October 2015

Review: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

We have a Christmas Eve tradition that everyone gets a new book and new pyjamas. For Ebony's first Christmas, she received Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr Seuss. Last year, she was given I Want My Hat Back. A friend who used to read the children's books in Waterstones (as a job, not just a weird pastime) had recommended it , saying it was one of her favourites. 

It quickly became one of Ebony's favourites too. It was a simple story that she could join in with and had bright, pretty illustrations to keep her attention. Within just a few weeks, she was helping us to tell the story. The book was written and illustrated by Jon Klassen, and we've since built up a little collection of his books. The illustrations are just beautiful, and the stories are always fun. 

When we were offered a copy of one of Jon Klassen's latest masterpieces to review, I (of course) accepted. Sam & Dave Dig a Hole was written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen in his distinct style. The book didn't disappoint,it is a sweet story about two friends who decide to dig a hole in the garden and not stop until they find something spectacular. 

The book was awarded the Irma S and James H Black Award for Excellence in Children's Literature, and it's not hard to see why. It is simple, delightful and sweet, what more could you want from a bedtime story? It has taken pride of place on the bookshelf reserved for only our very favourite books, alongside all our other Jon Klassen stories. 

You can order a copy of the book from Amazon for just £5.99, or purchase a copy from your local book shop. And be sure to let me know what you think! 

Just to prove what huge Jon Klassen fans we are, here's a video of Ebony helping to read her own bedtime story back when she was just two:

I Want My Hat Back from Fiona Peacock on Vimeo.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Not Little for Long

One thing I’ve noticed since Ebony started attending nursery each morning, time is flying. The routine of getting up at the same time each day, dressing in the same clothes and rushing out of the house five minutes late is somehow making time pass quicker.

By the time I get home and sit in front of my laptop, I’ve already lost half an hour of my working day. I spend my mornings writing, the rush out of the door just in time to be late to pick her up. By the time we’re home, changed and fed, it feels like most of the day is gone. We spend our afternoons with friends, family or having adventures just the two of us. Before I know it, it’s bedtime and another day is over.

As I lie in her bed, her head snuggled against my arm, listening to the steady flow of her breathing, I often end up wondering whether the rest of her life will be like this. Will we get used to the time divide of nursery, and adjust to having just our afternoons? Or will the entire year speed by whilst we rush around trying to catch up with everything that needs to be done? And after this year, when she starts school, will the weeks be even more blurry?

Will I catch just a glimpse of her each day, before and after school, as I rush around making sure she is fed and clothed and happy? Will I always long for the days of old, when we had no distractions but each other? When we could read, play and lie together just as long as we wanted. When the world was our oyster, and all of the time in it was ours and ours alone. When we could get up in the morning and do whatever we liked. Before life really began.

Will her whole life fly by? Or will it slow down again, allowing me to enjoy my little girl before she grows? Because that little girl is so lovely, and spending time with her is my favourite thing to do. I love to hear her stories, play her games and breathe her in. I don’t want these days to end. I want to enjoy each day for as long as I can, because since she started nursery one thing has become very clear, my little girl won’t be little for long.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Lusting After the Finnish School System

When Ebony was still a baby, I started feeling worried about school. Our school system is pretty standardised and there are so many things I don’t like about it. The pressure, the exams, the uniforms, the long hours, the homework… the list goes on. I started researching alternative schools. I found out about Montessori schools and fell in love. I spent six months happily thinking we would send her there, and then found out it had closed down. When I first emailed to enquire about applying, I received a reply asking whether I’d like to pass some qualifications and become the teacher because she had just retired. Erm. If only I was that sort of woman. In reality, changing nappies, breastfeeding and trying to find clothes without puke on was keeping me busy enough.

We went to look round a Steiner school at one point, but it didn’t feel like a good fit. I really loved the kindergarten and the focus on free and outdoor play, but the school itself seemed to be a bit religious. There were lots of pictures of Mary and Jesus up on all the walls, and we had the following conversation with at least three different staff members:

Laurie: So, is this a religious school?
Staff member: No. Not at all.
Laurie (pointing at the religious art work): What’s that?
Staff member: That’s just a picture of a mother and a baby.
Laurie: Sort of looks like Jesus.
Staff member: Definitely not Jesus. (shifty eyes)

When we looked through the workbooks of some of the children, they seemed to be mostly filled with biblical stories. There were also a few things about the Steiner philosophy that put me off, and I know a lot of schools no longer teach the bigoted aspects of Steiner’s philosophy, but the staff were really cagey when we asked about it. We also had a weird conversation with one teacher where she implied she used to be a teacher for about ten minutes, but when we asked what age she used to teach at she admitted she’d never worked as a teacher before. Simply put, it was not the school for us, even though I loved the idea of Ebony learning to knit and make soup.

Ebony has now started at the nursery at our local school. It’s not a huge school, but isn’t the tiny village school many parents dream about. The headteacher seems nice and caring, and the parents seem to be really involved in what’s going on at the school. So far, Ebony really loves it. She hasn’t shed a single tear, not even on the first day, and is always excited about going there. She likes the teachers, she’s made friends and she enjoys the activities on offer. So far so good.

A couple of months ago, when I was researching this article about concentration in school, I found out a bit about the Finnish school system. It’s so different to our own, but is clearly working better. Their teachers are better qualified and better paid, in fact teaching is one of the most valued professions over there. You just have to look at the press coverage of the teachers strikes in the UK to know ours aren’t as appreciated as their Finnish counterparts.

Children in Finland spend more time outdoors, even though it’s colder (like, so cold it would definitely put me off living there). They have more time for free play, and lessons are only 45 minutes long. They don’t have curriculums, teachers decide what they teach. They don’t have any standardised testing except one optional exam at the end of secondary school for those who want to attend university. And yet, Finland ranks higher than the UK globally for education. Their school children are happier and their teachers are more satisfied in their roles.

The UK boasts the least happy teenagers in the world. Around half of all UK teachers are thinking of leaving the profession because of the stress, hours and working conditions. Maybe it’s time our politicians looked to Finland as an example of how to get school right.

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