Review: Kid's Pizza Making Party at Pizza Express (Ramsgate)

Yesterday we celebrated Seb's sixth birthday with a group of his close friends at our local Pizza Express restaurant. I'm going to write a few different posts around Seb's birthday but I thought I'd review our party experience independently for those who're maybe stuck for ideas, or want to know more about what's included in Pizza Express's party package before booking.

I've no doubt that the party format differs subtly depending on which restaurant you book with. Our local Pizza Express overlooks the royal harbour at Ramsgate, and has a separate private dining space which can seat up to fourteen children for parties.
Having the extra dining room meant that I didn't feel quite as bad for those people who'd come into the restaurant for a quiet, mid week treat! I believe the restaurant used to hold the parties in the main dining area but this, unsurprisingly, upset other customers!
Booking Seb's party at Pizza Express was super easy - we went for the maximum number of guests, and booked over the phone. We didn't have to pay a deposit or fill anything out - the manager just took a few details (number of children and approximate age range) and that was that - it was in their diary. I then arranged with the parents of the children attending to book a separate table in the main restaurant for those who didn't want to drop off their children and leave. We ended up with about eighteen parents and younger siblings for food and drinks on our table and the restaurant were really accommodating - even when everyone needed to pay for their individual orders.
My food, as always, was lovely - being vegan, Pizza Express is one of my go-to chain restaurants because I know like the back of my hand which of their dishes are suitable for vegans (or which substitutes to make) - as yet, whilst the service at Ramsgate can be monumentally slow, I've never had a bad meal.
Unsurprisingly, service was characteristically slow on our table but I'd forgive that given that they were trying to juggle a party of fourteen 5-6 year olds, plus our table of eighteen additional diners, and other tables in the restaurant.
So back to the party. The lady who ran Seb's party was fantastic. It always amuses me how well children behave for someone who isn't their everyday care giver. At one point I stuck my head in the door of the party room whilst she was teaching them about the ingredients in pizza dough - and they were all sat, silently enthralled.
The party began with some seated party games which I guess got them in the mood and probably gave the party leader the opportunity to get to know who was who in the group.
After a short while, pizza dough was brought out from the kitchen and the children were taught how to stretch it to make pizza. It was at this point that they were taught about the ingredients that go into pizza dough and where these are sourced from.
Once the dough was ready, the children had the opportunity to tour "behind the scenes" in the restaurant, visiting the kitchens and freezers, before returning to the party room to top their pizzas with their own choices from a range of toppings. Seb, unsurprisingly, opted for ham and cheese because he is painfully predictable and totally vegetable-phobic!
The pizzas went in to the oven and the children were served a starter of dough balls with garlic butter dip and a salad.
Then, their finished pizzas arrived fresh from the oven, and they got to eat their creations. I thought this would be a complete mess, and imagined some of the pizzas being inedible but actually, the whole group had done really well and everyone had a decent looking pizza to eat. Takeaway boxes were provided for anyone to take home any pizza that they didn't manage to finish, but they all seemed to enjoy what they'd made as there wasn't a huge amount of pizza going home!
Seb has a ridiculously wobbly tooth, right at the front, at the moment so I think that kind of hindered his pizza munching abilities! He did well though.
We provided our own birthday cake (birthday cake isn't something Pizza Express offer as part of their package) which was fine as I have a friend with a cake making business who made us an incredible pizza birthday cake. I might even review the cake separately because it was the bombdidillyom. So after the children had finished eating their pizzas we lit the candles and celebrating with some traditional Happy Birthday singing, before the children were served ice cream sundaes for pudding.
The children had also had unlimited fruit squash to drink throughout the party which was included in the package.
The party cost £11.95 per child (the cost of which I split with Seb's Dad) which I don't think is bad value at all, given that they were served a three course meal, and one poor lady had to spend two hours keeping fourteen young children calm and entertained (they were bouncing off of the walls by the end!)
I'm totally satisfied that we got really good value for money for under £170; fourteen children were fed, and had a really great time - the laughter throughout and huge smiles on their faces said it all, and Seb had a wonderful birthday which is, of course, the main thing.
The restaurant were really accommodating and patient and I really can't fault them on the party that they delivered.
Other parents commented on how nice it was to be able to sit and enjoy a meal and a glass of wine whilst the children were partying too - which made a nice change from the usual cup of tea at a soft play centre (not dissing soft play parties - they're our usual go-to!)
I think Seb and his friends were probably the perfect age for the party, I don't think I'd have wanted to do it with much younger children, as it does involve them being pretty engaged and independent of their parents for a couple of hours, but 5-6 and upwards get loads from the experience and it was totally stress free for us parents too!
This is one I'm going to stamp with my approval and recommend to other parents with school age kids. Pizza making parties are available at most Pizza Express restaurants.

Why do breastfed babies need vitamin supplements?

Breast milk is awesome y'all. It's the only food tailored to the needs of a human infant's developmental and health needs - and it's 100% natural.  We are lucky to live in the UK, where we have access to up to date information, and clean water - if someone chooses to feed their baby artificially, the risks associated with formula feeding can be reduced by proper preparation. However let's remember, however we choose to feed our babies, that if you consider breast milk alongside artificial baby milk made from corn syrup and powdered cow's milk, that one is obviously nutritionally more beneficial to a baby than the other. I don't hate formula feeding parents, that's just a fact that we can shrug off, accept, and move on.

So; why is it therefore, that breastfeeding Mums are advised to give their babies daily vitamin supplements from six months, where formula feeding Mums are not?
This is one of the many nuggets of advice and one of the typical conversations surrounding breastfeeding that leaves people believing that breastfeeding stops being "beneficial" after six months. Because parents are advised not to feed their babies anything except breast milk for the first six months of life, it's therefore assumed that after six months, it's preferable to move on to an alternative. Of course this is utter rubbish. Your breast milk does not decrease in quality after six months, nor does it stop providing your baby with everything from stem cells (not found in formula) to antibodies (not found in formula), as well as vitamins and iron (added to formula).
However, after around six months, most babies will begin to include solid food in their diets (not if they're Quinn though!) and they may no longer be getting all of the vitamins and iron that they need. A formula fed baby is already taking vitamin supplements, and has been since they began consuming formula - so really, the advice is that all babies should be taking a vitamin supplement from six months, it's just that formula fed babies don't have to take this separately from their infant formula.
One thing which is worth considering, where iron is concerned, is that this information pre-dates the common practice of delayed cord clamping. More and more babies are receiving all of the blood "owed to them" from their umbilical cord at birth. When Quinn was born, her cord was not clamped and cut until it had turned white and withered, meaning that she had her full potential blood volume inside her body. Unfortunately up until recently, immediate cord clamping was common practice (Seb's was cut within seconds of birth), meaning that baby's initial blood volume, and iron stores, were seriously short. Whilst it is advised that a baby can be expected to be using up their natural iron store by six months, this doesn't take into account that many babies will have much greater iron stores than previously expected of them, thanks to optimal cord clamping.
Vitamin D is the most commonly recommended vitamin for babies. It's added to infant formula and is added to some foods, but it's really difficult for us to make enough vitamin D in the Northern Hemisphere as we spend so little time undressed in direct sunlight - and when we do, we're smothered in factor 50! We need sunlight, and preferably naked arms and legs, in order to make our own Vitamin D, and in the UK, this is less common place, meaning we're at a much higher risk of deficiency. For this reason, babies can not rely on breastfeeding alone for all of the Vitamin D that they need, and they're probably not exposed to enough sunlight either. It's not that breastfeeding is somehow letting our babies down, simply that we're not really outdoors as much as nature intends for us to be!
Everything else, a baby should be able to get from the breast milk of his/her healthy Mother and a great, balanced diet. Offering babies fresh fruit and vegetables when they begin consuming solud foods is another great way of making sure that babies are getting plenty of naturally occurring vitamins, but weaning should always be initiated by the child - Quinn's not really eating yet at 38 weeks, so for her, breast milk is still her sole source of nutrition.
Your health visitor can give you more information on vitamin supplements, but I'd suggest that for the Vitamin D alone, it's worth taking advice from the NHS and WHO on this one, even though your breast milk is wonderful. As with anything, you'll find plenty of people who didn't supplement and "their children are fine" but a Vit D deficiency is pretty horrible so whilst I aim to provide everything else through diet, this is one area I'm prepared to accept a little help on.

Can Feminism Exist without Veganism?

The content of today's post is perhaps slightly more serious and thought provoking than I'd usually write, even when I've discussed veganism in previous posts. But hey-ho, here we go. Every now and again I like to write something a little less "Mummy Blogger".

If you're already vegan then most of this post will sit comfortably with you. For non-vegan readers though, and specifically those who would self-identify as feminists, things might be about to get kind of awkward. Please accept that I never mean to offend anyone, I'm never abusive towards non-vegans collectively, though I may have aggressively negative reactions to non-vegan behaviour, like the torture of innocent animals for example, but this isn't just an opportunity to slag off the animal consuming minority!

I've long considered myself a feminist, and I surround myself with people whose values mirror and uphold my own feminist ideals. Feminism though, perhaps unlike veganism, can be a deeply personal and subjective way of understanding how we fit into the world that we live in.

When I talk about being a feminist, I speak from a point of view that believes that an individual should not be unfairly discriminated against based on their gender. This isn't about holding up women as being superior to their male peers, or exclusively celebrating female triumphs. I believe, as a feminist, that no man should be unfairly discriminated against because he is a man - but let's be open and honest, this happens less often, and on less crucial platforms, than discrimination against women.
As a feminist I believe, quite simply, that two individuals, one male and one female, who hold identical positions with the same employer, should be paid equally for their work. I believe that jobs should be awarded to the best candidate - regardless of whether they're male or female - and with that I object to the practice of employing women simply to fulfil a requirement to appear fair - when there are better qualified male applicants for the position.
I believe that a woman should be able to walk down the street alone, free from fear of being harassed, or made to feel in any way uncomfortable, because she is a woman - by being subjected to comments on her physical appearance for example, or by being asked to behave in a particular way.
I believe that my daughter should be given the same opportunities at school as my son - that she shouldn't be told that she can not play football, and that he shouldn't be told that he can not be a cheerleader, if those are interests that either possess.
I want all of my children, once they're legally old enough, to carry a condom in their pocket, regardless of their gender, and not for one to be seen a responsible as a result, and the other recklessly promiscuous.
I'm certainly not some crazy man hater who's going to bust you in the balls for holding a door open to me in a blatant demonstration of how weak and incapable I am of living independently - I shall say thank you, and I'd be just as likely to hold the door open for you too, whether you're a man or a woman. I just think women should have to work just as hard as men to get what they want, and that we should be in a position to celebrate our differences, whilst enjoying the same opportunities.
Nobody should be more likely to experience violence, exploitation, discrimination, bullying or isolation, because of their genitalia, or indeed the gender that they identify with. Nobody.
Now veganism runs a number of parallels with feminism as a social justice movement. Overwhelmingly, a majority of people have vegan values, even if they refuse to live by them. Just as many people would agree with me that it's fundamentally immoral to be violent towards somebody simply because they're female, so most would agree that it's fundamentally immoral to commit animal cruelty. 
Most people that I know are opposed to animal violence. I know a lot of non-vegans who actively campaign on social media against animal abusers for example, signing petitions for harsher sentences for those who harm innocent animals, brandishing such people "sick in the head" or "monsters", cases where dogs have been set on fire for example, or kittens murdered in microwave ovens.  
Most of those same people however turn a blind eye to the necessary violence towards the animals that they eat, or use in their every day lives, for their leather handbags or wool coats. The suffering of these animals is easily comparable to the dog set on fire, or the microwaved kitten, but is considered socially acceptable in comparison.
This is called cognitive dissonance and is characterised as:
the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.
It's the same state of psychology that sees family take their young children to feed and snuggle newborn lambs at the farm, and then encourage their children to consume the muscles, body fat and tendons of those same animals once they're tortured and murdered in considerable numbers.
Thanks to cognitive dissonance, we can keep dogs as pets, showering them in love, affection and gifts - but we gladly eat the murdered corpses of pigs, who have a greater level of intelligence than dogs, and who have shown a similar ability to bond with and display loyalty towards human caregivers.
Cognitive dissonance is also at play in the contrasting attitudes and behaviours of non vegan feminists.
The treatment of animals within the agricultural industries, and the suffering, violence, exploitation and torture which is experienced as a result of gender, is overwhelming.
 Supporting the dairy industry, for example, is innately in opposition to feminist ideals.  Lactation is a uniquely female function, and therefore, these creatures are used by the dairy industry to make money - because they are female, and thus capable of a bodily function which we can use to make money from them.
A female cow is artificially inseminated against her will, forced into pregnancies after human "care providers" force their hands inside her anus and vagina in order to penetrate her with semen that they have forcibly collected from a bull. The amount of sexual/reproductive exploitation taking place without consent in those few actions is enough for us to recognise that these animals are suffering specifically for their gender. This is the sort of practice we would never ever accept in human realms.
Once the Mother carries and gives birth to her child, again, a uniquely female experience (excusing seahorses) she is separated from her child, forced into a further pregnancy before her body is recovered, and encouraged to continue producing milk for her stolen baby by intrusive machinery.
These practices reduce the cow's life span to about a quarter of what it should be. Regardless of whether cattle are grass fed, or even loved and adored by the humans that make money from them, it's an unavoidable truth that they are required to carry out female specific bodily functions for the gain of others, the cost of which is ultimately their own lives. This as well as a life time of mental anguish brought about by the constant loss of babies which they are bonded to due to hormonal surges in their bodies, like those experienced by human Mothers towards their newborn babies.
Eggs are another uniquely gender specific industry. Only female chickens (and ducks, geese, quail etc.) lay eggs. Regardless of whether chickens are factory farmed or live harmoniously in your back garden, the simply fact is that the use of chickens to provide eggs for human consumption relies on using someone's exclusively gender specific bodily function to benefit yourself. If the chicken was not female, she would not be capable of laying eggs, and therefore would not be "used" by her human captors to provide for them through the product of her gender.
If you keep chickens, you keep them because they're female, which is inherently not a feminist act.

As to whether all chickens suffer through egg production -this is fiercely debated, but why should it matter? The fact is that we take the animal for the sole reason that she is female, and we impose a particular lifestyle upon her as a result. Naturally, a hen would lay around 12 eggs in a year - but the production of eggs by those providing for human consumption is almost always much higher.  
Let us not forget the males in these industries though, because as I discussed at the beginning of this post, feminism for me is not about simply fighting female corners - it's about ensuring that nobody is treated with discrimination, violence or exploitation as a result of their gender.

So what of the male calves born into the dairy industry? Unable to perform the uniquely female function that makes money for their captors, they are separated from their Mothers and killed at a very early age for veal. Veal calves are killed after just days or weeks of life. Kept isolated and alone, they are forced into tiny crates to prevent them from moving, which would encourage the formation of muscle fibre, that would mean their meat would be less tender (and therefore less profitable). Tortured with fear and loneliness, it's obvious that veal calves suffer between birth and death, and we can be confident that their experience is uniquely assigned to them because they were born male.

Each of these tiny crates contains a newborn calf; scared, alone and calling for his Mum.
In the egg industry, chicks are sorted upon hatching, female chicks being kept alive as the next generation of egg layers, but males, being the "wrong gender" for the job, are either thrown alive into meat grinding machines, or simply thrown in their thousands into plastic bags to crush one another and suffocate to death.

The treatment of male infants within both dairy and egg industries as a result of their gender is an obvious feminist issue.

Of course I'm not suggesting that the efforts of prominent feminists to close the gaps between the sexes and secure fairer treatment for people of any gender are not entirely invalidated without veganism. The social media campaigns to end animal welfare travesties such as the dolphin cove slaughter in Taiji, Japan are still important, despite being predominantly supported by well meaning but hypocritical non-vegans, and so the feminist campaigns run by hypocritical non-vegans are equally useful.

However, it seems to me unacceptable that the feminist movement continues to observe complete cognitive dissonance and ignores the glaring feminist issues that exist for non-human animals, animals who, like those most vulnerable in human society, have no voice of their own.


TotsBots EasyFits Stars: Review

Quinn's been wearing TotsBots nappies (as well as some other brands) since she was born. Her first nappies were adorable TotsBots TeenyFits, which come in a tiny newborn size suitable for use on babies as little as 5lbs.
We've always liked TotsBots nappies as a daytime nappy, mainly because I like the patterns, and also because I'm keen to support British companies, manufacturing here in Great Britain, as is the case with TotsBots, who hail from Glasgow.
I have found in the past that we've had to change our TotsBots all-in-one nappies after about two hours, to ensure they don't begin to leak, particularly at the top, across the tummy, I've also had a few explosive breastfed baby poo incidents that have resulted in ruined clothes, but this hasn't been a unique problem to my TotsBots nappies and I'm pretty sure we've all been there! As a rule though, my TotsBots nappies, if changed regularly, have been perfectly satisfactory.
I was really excited though when I heard that TotsBots were making a few key changes to the design of their all-in-one EasyFit design, and introducing the new and improved EasyFit Star, to replace the previous EasyFit V4.
When the lovely people at TotsBots asked whether Quinn and I would like to trial the EasyFit Stars I obliviously jumped at the chance.

We received five nappies, which would typically last us Quinn's waking daytime hours. Three of these were in block colours; Sweet Pea (green), Sugar Plum (purple) and Pumpkin (orange), and two designs from TotBot's Elementals range; Twinkle (moons and shooting stars) and Tweet (song birds).
As I'd used EasyFits in the past, I was really comparing the new Star nappies to their predecessor, and couldn't really treat them as a brand new product, as someone who was new to the brand might be able to, so let's look at what's changed.

Stitch Free Seams - The cuffs and edges of the nappy are no longer externally stitched, which means that the nappy sits snugger to the skin, and no gaps are created by stitched edges. I wasn't convinced that this would make that much of a difference, however we had no edge leaks at all from the nappies all day.
Buffer Zones - The nappies now feature leak-proof buffer zones, including a larger leak-resistant panel across the waist band (where I'd previously experienced the most leaks from my TotsBots nappies.) This has made the world of difference. Even with Quinn taking a nap, and laying partially on her front, or spending time in her carrier where her tummy is pressed against mine - we had absolutely no leaks, and no irritation to her skin either.
Bamboo Core - The EasyFit nappy now features a super absorbent bamboo core. I love bamboo as an absorbent nappy material. I've previously raved about the performance of bamboo nappies, as it's such a thirsty fabric. Quinn wears bamboo overnight as it's so absorbent, and I'm really glad to see TotsBots embracing the bamboo too! It's made an absolute difference to the performance of the TotsBots EasyFit. These are now an incredibly absorbent nappy. Gone are the days of two hour changes. I put an EasyFit Star on Quinn as a night nappy - as an experiment really, though I totally expected leaks - nothing, from a ten hour wear! I would never get away with this with an unboosted V4.

These will now probably become my most-recommended nappy. I'd previously encouraged people to opt for Little Lamb bamboo nappies with Little Lamb bombproof wraps - and I'd still stand by that system as a really reliable and high performance nappy. But the problem with the Little Lamb nappies is that they're so so bulky. I know a lot of people only use them at night for that reason. They're huge on the bum, and I'd had to pretty much give up putting Quinn in trousers because her bottom was so big! The EasyFit Star however, performs on exactly the same level, offering the same level of absorbency, and leak proof-ness, without the bulk. Quinn's still got that puffier, more rounded bottom thanks to her nappy, so I'd still opt for as much "cut for cloth" clothing as possible, but at least leggings are an option again!
 I love the designs available, and whilst I haven't seen them 'in the flesh' yet, it's great to see TotsBots releasing some new patterns with their brand new range of Story Time prints, but the block colours still look really great - and I'll always stay true to the Elementals range, because Twinkle has always been one of my favourite nappy designs!
If you'd like to see some more photos of Quinn in her EasyFit nappies and to see our day in EasyFit Stars in pictures - simply search for #EasterWithTotsBots on Instagram!
TotsBots Easyfit Stars retail for £16.99 per patterned nappy, and £15.99 for the block colours, but can also be bought in packs at better value.

What The Kids Are Reading: April 2016

OK, so Quinn's not 'reading' yet! (Breast milk is good, but it isn't that good). I love looking through books with her when we get a few quiet moments though.

The "That's Not My..." books from Usborne have always been a hit. Quinn's recently taken on Seb's collection of these tactile, touchy-feeling textured books, and we have many, from That's Not My Train (in Italian) to That's Not My Penguin (in French).
That's Not My Lamb (in good old English) was my gift to Seb on his first ever Easter, so we've been looking at that recently - in the spirit of Spring, and I bought Quinn That's Not My Bunny for her first Easter this year.
We've also been enjoying the 20th anniversary board book edition of Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney. Seb owns a lovely copy of this but I try only to look at board books with Quinn at the moment, as she grabs everything and loves to screw up and tear paper! This book was a "new baby" gift from Boyfriend's sister and her family and it's one of Seb's favourite stories - he's really loved being able to share it with his sister thanks to this version. The story is unaltered - the only change in this Special Edition is to a board book format which makes this classic more accessible to younger children.
I bought Seb a couple of new books last month to allow us to talk a bit more about Spring, and the changes that we could expect to see this month.
Tree by Britta Teckentrup, is such a beautiful rhyming book, it's an ideal length for bedtime reading and the illustations are really whimsical and pretty. The book follows a single tree (and it's resident owl) through a full year, describing, in verse, the changes in nature that the owl observes with each change of the seasons. Seb is really taken with it and has chosen it from all of his books several times lately when I've asked him to choose a book at bedtime.

Another range of Usborne books that we love in our house are the "Look Inside" books, which have lots of flaps to lift and uncover interesting facts. Seb likes these as it gives him an element of control when we're reading together. Look Inside Space is very well read here, so I decided to get Look Inside The Garden; again, to discuss seasonal changes at this time of year, and introduce topics like pollination, which are relevant now that the bees are waking up and Spring flowers are in bloom.
Seb's like me, he really enjoys non-fiction reading. Like all of the books in this series, Look Inside The Garden is colourful and fun. It's definitely aimed at children younger, but he likes lifting the flaps and we tend to go off on a tangent as he asks more complex questions that arise from the content of the book.
Super Happy Magic Forest is just amazing, if you love silly humour in children's books (as we do!). The book interchanges between a picture book and comic strip format, and there's lots of humorous dialogue between the characters - four "heroes" (a unicorn, a fawn, a toadstool and a garden gnome) who have to travel to save the Mystical Crystals of Life from goblins. It's a bit of a piss-take of adult "epic quest" type fantasy books, and on that level, it's quite amusing for grown up readers. Basically, *spoiler alert*, the goblins turn out to be really friendly and just love dunking fig rolls in their tea, and the true thief of the Crystals of Life turns out to be an oak tree, uncovered as the "root" (get it?) of all evil...

The last book that I'm sharing this month is Amazing Animal Journeys by Chris Packham. We don't look at zoo themed books at home because, as a vegan, it isn't really a social norm that I want to encourage, so I'm trying to counter that by ensuring that the children have lots of books about wild animals - actually, you know, in the wild. This book is by Chris Packham (of Springwatch and the like) and is really fascinating, even for adults. The information about animal migration is broken down into easy to follow facts, with lots of beautiful illustrations and diagrams. It's just a really thoughtfully put together non-fiction that truly supports my vegan values, so gets a big thumbs up from me!
I'm looking for book recommendations for next month. I want to get Seb a few new funny books, by which I mean books that he will find funny (think poo, underpants, farts... that kind of thing!) but that are obviously suitable for a just-turned-six-year-old. Please do get in touch with your suggestions!