Tuesday 29 December 2015

Pregnancy Update: Week 7

I’m seven weeks now. I can’t say whether time is going fast or slow. Sometimes it seems to be crawling by, and other days I can’t believe three weeks have passed already since I found out I was pregnant.

It was Christmas this week. It is not good to be seven weeks pregnant over Christmas. Not only are you too exhausted to have much fun, you can’t drink anything and, if you’re me, you throw up your Christmas dinner. There is nothing worse than throwing up Christmas dinner, especially if you were the one who just cooked the whole bloody thing.  

I guess on the good side, I don’t need to worry about putting on extra weight over Christmas because I threw up most of the things I ate over the festive period anyway. Christmas Eve was really tiring, I spent the morning tidying and trying to get sorted while Laurie and Ebony were out. Then we all went to The Lowry to watch the Snow Child (which was wonderful).

On Christmas Day, Ebony didn’t wake up too early which meant I wasn’t quite as exhausted as I was expecting to be. We spent the morning unwrapping and playing with presents, and it was really nice to spend the morning just the three of us. Then we had a quick walk before heading home to greet my parents.

I cooked Christmas dinner and cheated with a store bought nut roast, which I think is acceptable if you’re pregnant. There’s not much point slaving away over something I’m going to throw up, is there? I ate dinner and then threw it up.

And I fell asleep putting Ebony to bed, and eventually arrived back downstairs to find everyone else had gotten a little drunk and broken out the board games. I managed to stay awake for a couple more hours before retiring to bed, where I slept for about 12 hours. Who knew pregnancy would be so tiring?!

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Pregnancy Update: Week 6

Week six has been pretty exhausting. I crave my bed pretty much all day long and usually fall asleep in Ebony’s bed at the end of the day when I’m trying to get her to sleep. It’s actually pretty nice snuggling up with her and enjoying a little nap at the end of a long day of trying to stay awake.

I’m still feeling nauseas, but haven’t had any morning sickness yet. I have to be careful about what I eat though, because if I eat the wrong thing I feel awful. I’m still feeling really nervous about the pregnancy, I don’t know why. I don’t remember feeling this worried last time, I wonder whether three years as a pregnancy writer has affected my brain.

Getting ready for Christmas feels like a mammoth task at the moment. I’ve been mostly ready for months, but all the last minute jobs just seem to be way beyond my energy levels at the moment. It’s all I can do to try and not fall asleep in the afternoon. I’m not getting much work done and am instead simply lying in bed trying to rest as often as I can when Ebony’s not about. And, to be honest, a lot of the time when she is about. Poor Ebony has been honing her independent play skills to perfection this week.

We went to Blackpool this weekend, it was really nice to spend some time just the three of us away from our to-do lists. I was fast asleep by 8:30pm both nights though, poor Laurie. I don’t think I’m much fun to be around at the moment. I’d forgotten just how tiring these first few weeks of pregnancy are.

Thursday 17 December 2015

Telling Ebony About her new Brother or Sister

Laurie has been really excited to tell Ebony about the pregnancy right from the start. I was a little more reserved, just because of the risk of miscarriage. I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it must be to have to tell your child something like that. In the end though, mostly because I was meant to be going for cocktails with my family to celebrate my sister’s birthday, we decided we would sort of have to start telling people early.

On Saturday morning, Ebony was up early, me and Laurie were still trying to catch a little bit of extra sleep. This happens every morning, we are terrible parents. She’d been downstairs drawing a picture of her family and then brought it up to show us. Laurie had a giant face, I had a lot of hair (mostly on my chin), Ebony had lots of hair (totally unrealistic) and our cat, Bear, had four legs and two arms. She brought it up to show us and explained who everyone was.

It seemed like as good a moment as any, so I told her there was a baby in my tummy. I can’t really explain the expression on her face but she looked close to crying tears of joy. She had a huge smile and kept asking, “Is there really? You’re not joking?” She just looked so happy, it was lovely. She wanted to see my tummy, and I explained that the baby was really really small at the moment but that it would grow lots before being born. Ebony said, “Yeah, and your tummy will get bigger and bigger, and then the baby will blurp out of your vagina!” I’m not sure that blurp is the scientific term, certainly it’s not one I’ve come across during my years as a pregnancy writer, but I actually quite like it.

She told me about how it could be a boy or girl depending on who it’s sat next to (the Usborne book we found in the charity shop may have confused her a little bit), and then exclaimed, “Oooh, I wonder what I’m going to call it!” Apparently, the name Ebony is high on her list, followed closely by Sarah. I’m trying to gently break it to her before August that there’s no way in hell I’m letting a four year old name my baby.

She was so excited when we told her, and she’s told a couple of her friends since then, as well as announcing it to my family at my sister’s birthday dinner. We’re trying not to talk about it too much, so are leaving it to her to bring it up. She’s been talking about it a lot though, always telling me things she’ll probably do when she’s a big sister. She will be teaching the baby lots of things, apparently, like how to do cartwheels, so that’s something she needs to learn to do before the baby arrives.

Today is her last day at nursery before Christmas, and after her bath yesterday she said, “I’m excited about the holidays because it will just be daddy, you, me and the baby all the time!”

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Pregnancy Update: Week 5

I’m five weeks pregnant now, though I really don’t feel it. I had some nausea last week, but it has passed now so I think maybe it was related to my cough. I can’t put my finger on why, but I have a really bad feeling about this pregnancy. I think I probably had this last time too, but dismissed it as nerves, whereas this time I’m worried it’s some kind of mother’s intuition.

The only symptom I’m really having is mood-swings, and boy, am I having them. I have cried so many times this week. Everything about the internet is killing me. Harrowing stories about refugees, heartwarming Christmas tales, whatever, I’m crying. In fact, I’m not even sure it counts as mood-swings if you just cry constantly.

I think last week, because of the nausea, I was feeling positive about the pregnancy and had started daydreaming about having a baby again, but this week I just don’t feel pregnant. Instead, I feel terrified that something bad has already happened, I know that probably sounds really silly but I can’t push the thought out of my mind. It’s very frustrating not really knowing what is happening inside your own body.

I had a pregnancy test left over which I tried to do this morning for a bit of reassurance, but it didn’t work. The digital screen stayed blank so it was really not reassuring at all. And now I’ve had to ask Laurie to buy more because I’m feeling even more anxious about it all. I just want the morning sickness to kick in so I have some kind of proof of the pregnancy, even though I know it won’t take me long to regret that.

I am feeling exhausted which I guess is a good sign. But then I also haven’t had much sleep lately so it’s hard to say whether I feel normal tired or growing-a-baby tired. I’ve come down with a cold this week too, so I’ve been ill twice in the past fortnight, so I guess that could be proof of a compromised immune system thanks to the pregnancy.

I should probably try to make more of an effort not to worry about these things. Because then I’ll only have to start worrying about the effect of stress on the baby, and really, where am I going to find that extra worrying time?!

Laurie really wanted to tell Ebony this weekend, but I think that’s been making me feel more anxious. I can’t imagine how horrible it would be to tell her and then have to give her bad news if something went wrong. In another week the risk of miscarriage will drop significantly and, assuming I feel pregnant by then, I’d be happy to tell her. But right now it just feels a bit risky. Although I do really want to see what she says and see the look on her face when we tell her.

This has been a bit of a depressing pregnancy update, I apologise. So far week five is full of anxiety and doubt, hopefully next week I will be feeling a little happier about it all!


I just wanted to add a slightly more positive update to the above pity party. I felt so exhausted all day yesterday that I began to feel much more positive about the pregnancy. I am just so sleepy at the moment, though I don’t think I’m getting enough rest. My boobs have started to hurt more too, and it’s all starting to feel a little familiar now which is reassuring. I took another pregnancy test this morning because I am a) crazy and b) hoping to make the owners of Clear Blue even richer, and it was positive. Not only that, I didn’t have to wait the full three minutes for the rest, it flashed up after just 70 seconds so I feel like that must be a good sign.

I’ve decided to push away the doubt in my mind and instead focus on the excitement I’m feeling. By chance, I was having a conversation with some friends (who don’t know I’m pregnant) about when to announce pregnancies yesterday. It was interesting hearing the differences between when people chose to tell their children that they’d be getting a baby brother or sister. I’m still feeling really nervous about the idea of telling Ebony just in case anything went wrong with the pregnancy. But I’m also really looking forward to telling her so I can’t decide to when to do it.

Friday 11 December 2015

9 Ways to Save Money This Christmas

According to new research from the Money Advice Trust, the average family is planning to spend over £800 on Christmas this year. At a time when money is tight, many families feel under pressure to spend money they don’t have at Christmas. With shops pushing festive cheer on you at every turn, it can be difficult to resist the temptation to buy All The Christmas Things, and you may find yourself overspending before the big day is upon us. But overspending at Christmas just means January is even worse than normal (and, let’s face it, it’s already pretty crap). Here are a few tips I use to avoid overspending at Christmas:

1. Start saving early
If the average Christmas costs £800, that’s a lot of spare money to find in a single paycheck. Especially when you consider that December is already an expensive month thanks to all the Christmas parties, nights out and family reunions. You might find yourself with less disposable income over Christmas, so it’s important to start saving early. We put a little bit of money aside each month so that by the time December arrives, I’ve got enough money to organise a Christmas to remember.

2. Make a budget, and stick to it
I have a set amount put aside for Christmas, and that makes it a lot easier to organise my finances. I am quite strict when it comes to budgeting, so I sat down a few weeks ago and worked out exactly how much we had to spend. I broke the budget down to cover presents, food, days out and the tree. I know I could save money by investing in a decent artificial tree, but a real tree is so synonymous with Christmas that I can’t imagine celebrating without one.

3. Start shopping early
I’ve been buying Christmas presents for months. This means I’ve been able to keep an eye out for sale prices and promotional offers. We’ve got Ebony a big tub of lego as her main gift, and I bought this when it was on sale which not only saved me money but allowed me to get a bigger tub. Because I save for Christmas throughout the year, I can use some of that money to buy presents in advance which makes things a little easier too.

4. Use discount codes
I do most of my shopping online, partly because I rarely have time without Ebony and partly because I’m not a fan of trudging through crowded shops. Whenever you buy something online, it’s worth doing a quick search on Google to see if there are any discount codes available for the store. There have been lots of great online sales over the past few months, and I’ve taken advantage of a few of these when choosing Christmas gifts and decorations.

5. Buy second hand
I visit my local charity shops quite regularly and am always looking out for potential Christmas presents. Over the past few months, I’ve picked up quite a few dressing up outfits for Ebony (always costing less than £1) as well as some games and toys. I’ve also purchased a few bits and pieces for Laurie. I have a favourite charity shop where everything is really cheap, but you can get some really good things in there. One Romiley charity shop currently has Dream Phone in the window, remember that game? I wanted to buy it and then immediately organise a huge sleepover, but it was £40 so instead I just walked home.

6. Do an online food shop
I am terrible at food shopping, Laurie actually won’t let me go because I overspend by a lot and come out carrying a lot of coconut ice which definitely wasn’t on the list. We have an Ocado delivery booked for the 23rd, which means I’ll know exactly what I’ve spent in advance (and we won’t end up with loads of coconut ice). Planning the shop in advance means I can be strict with my budget and shuffle things around to make sure we get everything we need. I think one of the biggest risks with Christmas is overspending on food and ending up with loads of food waste at the end of the week. I have a habit of overspending on snacks so I’m going to try and be really strict with myself this year (so just, like, eight massive bags of Doritos then).

7. Look for free activities
There’s always a risk of going over budget during the school holidays, especially when the weather is bad. It’s not so easy to happily lose a day in the park when your fingers and toes have turned blue. And Christmas can be especially expensive because there are Santa’s grottos to visit, pantomimes to see and Christmas fairs to attend. There are lots of free activities happening though, so it’s worth having a look at what’s on in your local area. We’re splurging on a family trip to see a show on Christmas Eve, but will be combining it with a trip to a free light exhibition nearby.

8. Make decorations
I know some people get really into themes and buy loads of new Christmas decorations every year, but I’m much more frugal when it comes to decorations. I like to get something new each year, usually something chosen by Ebony, but other than that we don’t spend much on decorations each year. We usually create something homemade to decorate the tree. This year we’ll be making an angel to go on top of the tree, we’ve got all the materials now we just need to find the time to actually do it. There are loads of ideas for cheap yet beautiful homemade Christmas decorations online, plus it’s a great way to spend a rainy afternoon with children.

9. Remember what’s important
One of the things that helps me stick to budget is remembering that Ebony doesn’t really care about any of it. She loves Christmas, she’s really excited about Santa and she finds it all really magical, but she doesn’t care how much it costs. She doesn’t care whether her presents are second hand or bought in the sale, as long as Santa leave them under the tree for her. She doesn’t care how expensive the paper they’re wrapped in was, how much her new Christmas Eve pyjamas cost or whether we have value carrots for Christmas Dinner. None of that really matters. Christmas is about spending time with the people you love and taking the time to let them know how important they are to you, it’s not about outspending each other or getting into debt.

How will you be saving money this Christmas?

Thursday 10 December 2015

Where to Find the Real Father Christmas

On the last Sunday in November, we were invited to attend a Eureka blogging event. Eureka is a children’s museum in Halifax and it is amazing. It opened when I was little and I visited quite a few times as a child. It’s a museum focused on play. Every display is interactive, engaging and fun. We used to go to museums every Sunday when I was a child and Eureka was always a favourite because it just didn’t feel like a museum. So, obviously when we were asked if we wanted to spend the day there, I said yeah.

Eureka has a Santa’s grotto over the festive period, which I wasn’t aware of before. Our first job was to go and check it out. As we queued up outside the grotto, Ebony got chatting to Sparkles the Elf (disclaimer: names have been changed to protect elf identities). Ebony can sometimes take a while to warm up to new people but Sparkles the Elf did not give up. She kept chatting away until she had convinced Ebony to start chatting too. Sparkles (every time I type this, a bit of my soul dies) asked Ebony what she wanted for Christmas. Ebony answered immediately, “A santa torch.” She has been talking about it for months, it’s the only thing on her Christmas list.

She had one last year and it broke, so she wants a new one. After waiting a few minutes, it was our turn to enter the grotto. The grotto was white, sparkly and a little bit magical. Santa was amazing. He was friendly and warm, chatty and engaging. Ebony was a little bit hesitant at first, and hung back with Laurie listening to Santa chat away. Slowly, she edged her way forwards, and eventually told him that what she really wanted for Christmas was a torch. Santa gave her a paper bag with a pre-Christmas present in, Ebony thanked him and then we left. When we got outside the grotto, Ebony opened her paper bag to reveal A Santa Torch. Like, really. Amazing. No future Santa will ever live up to that, ever. So, I can’t say for sure that the Father Christmas at Eureka is the real one, but I’m almost certain he is.

After the grotto, we made our way down to see the Christmas show, Night Lights. It was a short, interactive show about two brothers who went to the moon and got home in time for Christmas. All of the children watching seemed to really enjoy it, and Ebony got into the audience participation. After that, it was time for lunch. We made our way through All The Rain (seriously, Yorkshire, what’s with that?) to what I assume is the party room. There was a party table setup with food for the children. They’d organised a vegan lunch for Ebony complete with hummus wraps which were delicious. I might have eaten a few, yeah, what of it?

Then it was time to try out some party activities, the kids could choose between a science one and a fairytale one. I was really hoping that my years of feminist parenting would pay off here, and they did for a second as she sat on the front row of the science audience, before quickly changing her mind and running off to find the fairytales. The session leader was great with all the kids and quickly got them engaged in helping him to tell the story. There were fun games and activities throughout, including a short (and very glittery) craft activity at the end. I can imagine Eureka is the perfect place for a birthday party, if only it was closer!

After the party session, we were free to explore the museum. We visited Eureka for Ebony’s first and second birthdays, so it was nice to go back now she’s a bit older. It has different things for all ages and Ebony has enjoyed it each time we’ve been, but I definitely think she’s at an age to enjoy more of the displays now. She loved the shop and bank, and spent a long time trying to steal gold from the safe. The museum was quite busy but not too busy considering it was a (very) rainy Sunday afternoon.

One of her favourite bits this time was the stage upstairs. She kept opening the curtains, performing a short piece of interpretive dance, then giving us a very serious bow before closing the curtain again. She also loved the body section which was the bit I was most excited about. It’s been revamped since I was little and I think Ebony is at a better age to appreciate it now. She spent most of the time pretending to change a doll’s bottom, and said to me yesterday, “I hope we go to Eureka again so I can change more nappies.” Living the dream.

It was a really lovely day out and, even better, we won an annual family pass so now we can go back again for free. We will definitely be going back soon, there’s still so much of the museum to explore.

The Eureka Santa's Grotto is open all day every weekend until Sunday 21 December, then on Monday 22 and Tuesday 23 December. And from 2-3:30pm on weekdays until 19 December. It costs an additional £3 and, in my opinion, is well worth the money.

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Contact The Elderly This Christmas

I’ve written before about how there are expected to be around half a million people alone on Christmas. Some of them want to be alone, but for those who don’t, Christmas can be a difficult day. I think it’s really sad that people can feel so alone in a community surrounded by other people. As you get older, and friends and loved ones pass away, it must be really hard to be the one left behind.

At a time when we are reminded about the importance and friendship, it must be just that little bit harder to be alone. Lots of people these days don’t really know their neighbours and perhaps rarely see the other inhabitants of their street. Luckily, however, some much-needed community spirit still exists and there are charities and volunteers organising events across the country for elderly people to celebrate Christmas together.

Contact The Elderly are one of those charities and they’ll be hosting festive tea parties for elderly people up and down the country. In the 1960s, a man named Trevor met an elderly lady who lived near him. She was completely alone and isolated. After speaking to the Welfare Department, Trevor realised that this was not an isolated case. Together with some friends, Trevor got in touch with some other people in a similar situation and invited them to a social gathering. It soon became a monthly thing and more were set up across the country. That Christmas, Trevor received a card from one of the tea party guests simply saying, “Now I have something to live for!”

Greetings card company Inkly are raising funds for contacting the elderly. 10% of the profits from Christmas card sales will be donated to the charity. Inkly allows people to send handwritten cards to loved ones online. Instead of sending a typed out message, you can use the Inkly app to handwrite a personalised message for inside the card. It combines the convenience of sending cards online with the personal touch of your own handwriting. It’s always nicer to receive a handwritten card, isn’t it?

It’s easy to underestimate just how awful loneliness can be. For those with few living friends or family members or those who struggle to get out and about alone, life can be pretty lonely. Organisations like Contact The Elderly are providing a vital service to improve life in the community. The tea parties are free to attend and numbers are kept to a minimum to encourage attendees to form strong bonds with one another. It costs the charity just £8 per person for a Christmas get together, and this includes the price of crackers and sherry.

Inkly have very kindly offered to donate £88 to Contact The Elderly this Christmas as a thanks you for this blog post. That money will cover the cost of 11 people coming together to celebrate Christmas this year. Money well spent.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Ebony's First Parents Evening

It was Ebony’s first parents evening tonight. Preschool wasn’t quite so formal, so the most feedback I ever got from there was that Ebony once said, “My mummy just can’t stop talking to people,” once when I was running late to pick her up. Thirty seconds late, I might add.

The nursery she goes to is attached to a local school so is much more formal. They still get to enjoy plenty of free play, but they have to wear uniforms. And we have to go to parents evening. I’m not really bothered about any of the academic stuff just yet. I think three year olds should be having fun, getting lost in their imaginations and creating a mess. I tend to follow Ebony’s interest, if she expresses an interest in something then we’ll learn about it, if not, fine.

I’m much more interested in the social side of nursery. How she gets on with other children, how she responds to the teachers and how she overcomes conflict with her classmates. I want to know whether she’s happy and I know that she is because she is excited to go to nursery every single day.

Today was Ebony’s first parents evening, so we left her at home with my mum. They were running behind so we had a bit of a wait when we got there, which is fine because I like that they don’t rush the parents. We sat down on some tiny plastic chairs and waited. Laurie fell off his. Loudly. Smack onto the floor. Then it was our turn to be seen.

The teacher said Ebony is a real character, that she says funny things and would be an entertaining interviewee on television. She said Ebony is enthusiastic and always wants to get involved in whatever they’re doing. She said Ebony has a great friend, one who she gets on really well with, but who she can be a little mischievous with. I know this, of course, because I see them leaving a path of destruction in their wake on the way home from nursery. They are wild things these two girls, wild and free, just as they should be at three. She said that’s fine, that it’s ok to be a little mischievous. For now.

Monday 7 December 2015

Flower Sprouts: The New Vegetable in Town

I have always really liked vegetables. I think one of the reasons my parents were able to support my choice to become vegetarian at a young age was because they knew I would eat a variety of vegetables (cut to my sister a few years later, living off a diet of potatoes and baked beans, but, you know, it’s easier to be the second child, right?).

We always have a decent selection of veg in the house (well, ok, not always, sometimes it’s the day before pay day) and I try to make sure Ebony eats a mix of fresh vegetables each day. She’s inherited my love of veg and will happily eat it steamed, boiled or roasted. She eats vegetables in curries, pasta dishes and casseroles. In soups, pies and hot pots. Sometimes foods fall out of the favour (she hasn’t knowingly eaten a pea for quite some time now), but usually she’s pretty easy going when it comes to food.

I’m always conscious of how important leafy green vegetables are. They are high in calcium, folate, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and iron. You’re advised to eat about three or four portions of leafy green vegetables per week, but we tend to eat at least a portion a day. Ebony will happily munch on raw spinach between meals and loves steamed leafy greens with her dinner.

We tend to eat roast dinners every Sunday during the winter, in part so I can perfect what I’m doing before Christmas Day. When we were offered the chance to try about a brand new leafy green, I jumped at the chance. Really, who says no to free food?

The flower sprout was created by Tozer seeds using traditional seed breeding techniques. Simply put, it’s the love child of the traditional brussel sprout and ever-so-fashionable kale. I am a fan of both of these vegetables (seriously, big veg fan) so the idea of them getting romantically involved and creating a new generation of nutritious baby greens was pretty exciting to me.

Flower sprouts are about the same size as brussel sprouts, but look just like miniature kale. We steamed some on Saturday and enjoyed them with a roast dinner featuring some pretty amazing vegan yorkshire puddings (recipe here). They were easy to cook and took only six minutes in the steamer (compared to 15 for brussel sprouts). I wasn’t really sure what to expect at first but I can honestly say they’re amazing. They taste just like nice kale, not bitter horrid kale, but genuinely tasty kale. They’re much easier to eat than kale because they are in sprout form, and Ebony definitely consumed more thanks to the shape. I’m definitely going to get some in for Christmas Dinner, I think even my brussel sprout-phobic dad will be impressed with flower sprouts.

Disclaimer: The photo of the roast dinner looks really starch heavy, but there were other vegetables hidden out of shot. Also, some of those potato-looking objects are actually yorkshires. Don't worry, I'm not overdosing on deadly nightshades/

Flower Sprouts can be purchased November-March in M&S, Waitrose, Aldi, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Lidl. We were sent some to try in exchange for this review. The review is totally honest, flower sprouts rock, try them!

Friday 4 December 2015

Five Ways to Get Outdoors (even in winter)

I love going on adventures and getting lost in nature, but I have to admit I’m more of a nature bunny when the sun is shining. I can cope with snow, wind and a little bit of rain, but this torrential pouring we’ve had lately has really made me want to snuggle up at home. Ebony is at nursery now so half of her day is spent there. I know they spend a lot of time playing outside, but if the weather is bad then it’s not uncommon for her to spend all morning inside. That means it’s down to me to make sure she gets some outdoor fun during the day. Here are five of the ways we force ourselves outdoors in bad weather:

1. Make it routine
We’ve recently fallen into a post-nursery tradition with one of Ebony’s nursery friends. Once they get let out, they run to the park next door. They never make it as far as the playground, but instead spend ages running around in the trees and bushes, collecting twigs and leaves and generally causing mischief. By the time we leave, Ebony is usually covered in nature, with a headband of long grass and mud coated legs. After three hours of nursery dictated fun, I think it’s good for Ebony to get lost in some truly free play with her friend. I love seeing the games they come up with and seeing her burn off some excess energy. We can sometimes be there for an hour before we manage to convince them that it’s time to go home for lunch. This is something we do most days, it requires minimal effort and yet provides that oh-so-important dose of fresh air.

2. Take a friend
If I tried to take Ebony to play in the park myself each day after nursery, I don’t think she’d be that interested. This is mostly because I am rubbish at playing (sorry, but it’s true) and also because I wouldn’t be as willing to get as covered in mud as her friends. One great way to maximise time spent outdoors is to take a friend. Small children love getting lost in imagination games, and where better to do that than the great outdoors? We often meet Ebony’s friends at the park on cold afternoons and none of them seem to notice the cold because they’re so busy having fun with each other.

3. Take equipment
One of Ebony’s most prized possessions is her scooter. She was given her first scooter when she was two, after months of wide-eyed staring at each and every passing child on a scooter. When she first got the scooter, she was incredibly slow. Way slower than walking, though she’d always comment on how fast she’d been scooting. These days, she’s much better on her scooter and I have to run to keep up with her. Taking her scooter (or bike, or roller skates) is a great way to make sure we stay outside longer. She loves speeding around on wheels, and it makes journeys that little bit more interesting (terrifying. Damn roads). Halfords have created this awesome guide to scooter tricks, so you could even take your kids out to learn a few tricks to impress their friends this winter.

4. Have a purpose
Ebony has inherited my love of warmth, blankets and hot drinks, so she’s not always that tempted when I suggest a trip up to the woods. And who can blame her? It’s a steep hill. However, I’ve noticed that if I give a reason for heading up there, she’s much more keen. Ebony loves arts and crafts, so if I suggest walking up there to collect leaves, conquers or twigs to use in a craft project, she’s immediately on board. We wrap up warm to make sure we have fun, and grab a little bucket to collect any bits in. Then when we get back, we get the glue, paints and glitter out and make a mess.

5. Have a backup plan
You can never quite predict how the weather, or children, are going to be on any given day. Sometimes the wind might be stronger than you expected, leaving you all freezing cold. Other days there might be an unexpected torrential downpour when you’re on a bike ride in your summer clothes (this happened once. It was awful.) Other times, your child might be coming down with something and simply not in the mood to get cold (this also happened once. At Delamere Forest. Ebony sobbed for 20 minutes before we gave up and sought refuge at a nearby pub.). It’s just unpredictable, so make sure you have a backup plan. It could be a nearby pub, a change of clothes or a quick way home. Whatever it is, it could save your afternoon. There is nothing worse than being cold, wet and miserable, and having to carry a three year old AND her bike all the way home. Trust me.

Thursday 3 December 2015

Review: I Believe in Unicorns with Plugged In

I’ve written quite a few times about how much I love taking Ebony to the theatre. The very first production we went to see together was What The Ladybird Heard Live and it was amazing. Since then, we’ve been to see lots more shows and productions together. I always loved going to the theatre as a child and I’m enjoying sharing that experience with Ebony as she grows up.

Last month, we were invited to see I Believe In Unicorns at Colne Municipal Hall. I had read about the show and wanted to catch it when it was on at The Lowry, but alas I had to ban myself from buying theatre tickets for a couple of months (‘Fiona, where is all our money?’ ‘The Lowry have it, dear Laurie…’).

We were going to stay at my parents’ that weekend anyway so a trip to Colne Municipal worked out really well. We arrived just in time and stood on the street wolfing down very hot chips as a last minute dinner before rushing in to take our seats.

The show was amazing. Really amazing. There was just one actor in it, and she was brilliant. When I first realised it would just be her on stage, I worried for a moment that the show might fail to hold Ebony’s interest at not-yet four, but I needn’t have worried. Danyah Miller captured Ebony’s attention right at the start and didn’t let it go. She was engaging, interesting to watch and a superb story-teller. The props were magical, enchanting and beautiful. The show is about a library, and as such many of the production’s props were hidden in, made out of and cut into books. It was so beautiful. From books that opened to reveal pop up paper houses to little ladders cut from the pages of hardback books.

Props are probably one of the things I love most about the theatre, especially when it comes to children’s productions. I’m just always amazed at how inventive and purely magical the prop designers can be, and I Believe In Unicorns certainly did not disappoint. There was also just the right level of audience participation, allowing the children to really get involved with the telling of the story.

At the end of the show, there was a chance for children to 'meet' the wooden unicorn from the show. Ebony was really excited to get to stroke it, though it did, for one terrifying second, look like she might be thinking of attempting to snap the horn off.

The story itself isn’t one I’m familiar with, but it is based on a popular book. It has now been officially added to my wishlist because if the book is anything like the show, it’s worth reading. It was a nice treat to go to the theatre as a family, usually it’s just me and Ebony who go. It was also a nice treat to go in the evening rather than catching a weekday matinee.

We were offered free tickets to the performance in exchange for an honest review. The event was organised by Plugged In. Plugged In gives residents in Blackburn with Darwen and Pendle the opportunity to choose professional theatre to share with their community. You can find out more about the project and how you can get involved on their Facebook page.

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