A brief personal history of Walt Disney World, with pictures

No-one who knows me IRL can fail to have heard about my family’s upcoming trip to Walt Disney World. It’s going to include quite a few members of my extended family, all packing our noisy selves into a villa barely seven miles from the Epcot parking lot.

I. AM. SO. EXCITED.

Now, I could write a whole lot of actually useful stuff about using My Disney Experience (excellent customer service when something weird – not Disney’s fault – went wrong with the tickets), booking FP+, making our Advance Dining Reservations including a date night at Le Cellier… but, you know, the world is already heaving with places to find that information. I’m totally happy to answer questions and share tips, but there are people who devote their entire lives to WDW holiday planning (not least the Disney Parks Moms Panel) – more people than you can shake a stick at, frankly. And instead, I just want to share my excitement through photos.

Don’t get me wrong, I know things have changed. Obviously things have changed. I mean, my Dad labelled one of the photos below as “E.P.C.O.T. Center” (yes, with the unnecessary dots and yes, he can still tell you what it stands for). There are attractions that are never coming back (we don’t have to name The One; come to think of it, maybe we all have a different One). There are attractions that are changed beyond recognition, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. The place that I fell in love with when I was four is not the same place that my daughter, aged four, will now fall in love with. There’s a part of me that’s a little sad about that, but it’s a mistake to ever try to recreate your experience in your child; you are not the same people. It is not the same time. And, as for yourself – well, you can never really go back. I’ve made my peace with that.

But I’m also aware – and, honestly, grateful – that I will carry with me the rose-tinted specs of 1984 and see things through that lens. The new memories I create will be drawn on the top of the ones that are already inked on me, a hundred hidden Mickeys stamped all over, invisible but indelible, each layer smudged, blurred but never wiped out over time.

This week, I found these photos from my first visit. They are the set which went with this one.  They make me very, very happy. I cannot wait to have the uniquely wonderful experience of seeing it all unfold through R’s eyes; I got a hint of it at Disneyland Paris, but this is it – the Mother Ship!

And no, I will not be wearing short shorts.

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IQS: Teaching yourself to like dark chocolate (aka my favourite chocolate to nibble on)

One of the things that a lot of people talk about when you give up sugar is dark chocolate. And it’s often hugely off-putting to people who prefer milk – which is probably most people. Especially younger people with more excitable taste buds who can pick up every hint of bitterness in dark, cocoa-rich chocolate. But it is worth gently leading yourself down the path from milk to dark (if you like white chocolate I can’t help you; it’s also not really chocolate), for all sorts of reasons. These include:

  • Lower sugar content. While there are other things added to chocolate, you can get an at-a-glance idea of how much sugar is in it by how much cocoa there isn’t. 70% cocoa? Roughly 30% sugar.
  • More of all the stuff that people bang on about that’s good for you. (I don’t pay too much attention to this – I eat it cos I like it.)
  • It’s considerably harder to overdose – it’s richer, more bitter, more complex and your palate can only take so much.

I’ve embraced dark chocolate enthusiastically enough that I now have a handful of favourites in the 70%-100% category (yes, 100%). If you are starting from a very sweet-and-milky point, then there are a couple of more interesting options that could start expanding your horizons, such as Green & Black’s 37% milk which dials up the cocoa intensity a bit (compared to the Creamy Milk which is 32%). But if your main experience of dark chocolate is the odd cookie chip or nibble of Bourneville and you’d like to move further down that path, there are some far more interesting options…

70%+

Stage one: embracing the dark. Quite a lot of ‘extra dark’ chocolate bars are still only at about 65%, but things don’t really get interesting until the number starts with a seven. Here are my favourites at this level:

Tesco Finest 72% Swiss Dark Chocolate – unexpectedly creamy; this almost tastes like a darker milk chocolate. And it’s usually much cheaper than the alternatives.

Green & Blacks 70% Dark Chocolate – lovely, rich and dense but still quite creamy.

80%+

Stage two: dialling up the intensity. As a general rule, as chocolate gets darker, it gets a little harder and less creamy.

Lovechock Pure/Nibs Raw Chocolate – a really unusual one this, since the coconut blossom nectar has an oddly perfumed taste. But it’s really moreish, and the cocoa nib crunch is very satisfying. (Min. 81% cocoa solids)

Tesco Finest 85% Swiss Dark Chocolate – just a touch darker than the 72% but still very creamy, and definitely one of the most forgiving options at this level of cocoa content.

Green & Black’s 85% Dark Chocolate – quite a lot darker, more bitter and richer than its 70% counterpart. One of my favourites.

Divine 85% Dark Chocolate – a fraction more caramel sweetness than the Green & Blacks, but very similar otherwise.

90%+

Stage three: I was once accused of “ruining chocolate” by people who simply weren’t ready for it (even though my 4yo has eaten and liked both 90% and 100% chocolate, perhaps because of the novelty of mummy encouraging her to have another piece just to make sure). So be prepared for some adjustment. Hotel Chocolat even recommends taking a little nibble of 100% chocolate to ‘accustom the palate’ before eating a full piece.

Hotel Chocolat Coastal Ecuador Hacienda Iara 90% – gorgeously intense but not outrageously bitter, and still retains a touch of creaminess and a mild hint of fruit. Also comes in a 100% variety that I really like, though 100% is hard work for anyone.

Lindt Excellence Dark Supreme Noir 90% – typically creamy in the way of Lindt chocolate, with a lovely crisp bitter edge.

All of the above are particularly nice combined with a handful of nuts. My husband’s favourite snack is a couple of brazil nuts, a square of chocolate and a few raisins (I omit the last, for sugar reasons).

Am I missing a particularly delicious option? Is there a brand I should try? I’ve tried a couple of Valrhona options I wasn’t in love with (too chalky-bitter), and I was surprised and pleased by Ghirardelli’s darker options, but the above are generally top of my list (and mostly much more easily available).

Disclosure: My very sad disclosure is that NO-ONE SENDS ME CHOCOLATE and I bought and tried all these myself in the service of eating chocolate, rather than reviewing it. I’m open to being sent chocolate. I will be honest, but honest with chocolate, which is better than being honest without it.

Adventures in vintage when you’re size 12+

IMG_5152At the beginning of last year, I had no items of vintage clothing, and I didn’t think I ever would. One of my best friends in the world is a massive vintage hound, and she came over to visit over that Christmas and New Year; still I wasn’t entirely convinced vintage was for me. Wasn’t it all a bit… difficult? And only really for thin people? (Even though my friend and I are similar sizes, we’re different shapes).

I began 2015 with a small but growing pile of vintage, from a lovely 1960s fuchsia Lane Bryant suit to a trio of classic black 50s wiggle dresses. And along the way I’ve learned a fair bit about how to shop, what to look for and why most of the things I believed about vintage were nonsense. I share these now for anyone curious about buying vintage clothing, but especially for those women who, like me, sit on the periphery of clothes sizing – neither plus nor standard, neither big nor small – but for whom vintage might turn out to be the answer to their fashion dreams…

So here are some things that I thought I “knew” about vintage clothing:

  • It smells
  • Nothing is in a washable fabric
  • It’s cut on a different body shape, so all the waists are impossibly tiny
  • It looks mumsy

IMG_5168As you might imagine, it turns out I knew absolutely nothing. I suspect the first point was sheer second-hand snobbery and can thoroughly be avoided simply by shopping from trusted sellers; the last point applies just as much to modern clothing if you pick a style that doesn’t suit. The second point simply isn’t true (I now have a number of cotton items that prove otherwise, though you will likely have to do more hand washing to preserve more delicate garments) and the third point… well, the third point bears some proper examination. Because it’s both true and nonsense.

The true part is that the assumed body shape for clothing does change over time, and anything pre-1990s is largely different from what you’d find on the high street today – other than in reproduction specialists like Collectif or Vivien of Holloway. My areas of interest – broadly speaking mid-40s to mid-60s – see plenty of variation even across 30 years, but one thing that does stand out is that where dress shapes are fitted (in 50s wiggle dresses, for example) the differences between bust, waist and hip measurements tend to be bigger than you might find now. I frequently come across dresses that are around the 40-30-40 mark (my current measurements being 39-29-39) which does assume a considerable hourglass. However, assuming that means that the right shape for you doesn’t exist would be a mistake; just taking a look through some of the key styles within a single decade should indicate that it’s more a question of finding your style than assuming ‘vintage doesn’t fit’. Also, while I tend to be cautious about radically changing the size or shape of a garment and prefer to set it free for a woman who does fit it perfectly, small, sensitive alterations to let out a waist or tuck in a hip – particularly if they’re done in a way that can be reversed – are perfectly possible.

The other point to raise it that yes, people tended towards smaller sizes. These days I’m a size 12-14 in most stores, but in vintage and repro I could be anything from a 14 to an 18. On the whole, I would assume you’ll need to go up at least one dress size in numbers, because sizes were classified differently and bodies have, taking the whole population into account, got a bit bigger. But – and this is, if you’ll forgive the pun, a sizeable but – that’s largely irrelevant, because you never shop for vintage by dress size.

Here’s the thing: before you set foot in a single vintage store or browse a single online swap-and-sell group, you need to get familiar with your measurements. At minimum you need to know your bust size (over bra), your waist (literally the smallest part / natural waist) and your hips. And then when you look at individual pieces, you need to allow for breathing space, depending on the fabric. For example, a foxy 60s lurex dress could probably be bang on measurements, but a tightly tailored number in a non-stretch fabric like taffeta probably needs up to 2″ breathing space or you won’t be able to sit down or eat. But do also ask questions; one of my wool suits has a nipped in 30″ waist, but 1.5″ of fabric excess where the button is placed – so had it felt too tight, I could have given myself a better fit in ten minutes with a needle and thread. I’m no seamstress, but even I can move a button. Also, some fabrics are very forgiving, and a good seller will both go the extra mile in giving you detailed measurements and carefully describe the stretch and texture of the fabric.

Tip: Many vintage sellers give measurements by lying the item flat out and measuring across. So if you’re a 32″ waist, you want to look out for 16″ measurements, or at least 15.5″ with a bit of give.

So, going back to the world of those of us who have some scars from navigating tiny high street sizes, does that mean that as someone with a waist size of 30″ or up, you’re screwed? I thought so, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. You will often find anything with a waist of 29″ or higher referred to as ‘volup’ – so yes, plus size generally starts at around a modern size 12-14. But there is plenty of it, particularly for women in modern sizes 12-18, who will be able to find beautiful pieces with 44″ or 46″ busts, 31″-35″ waists and more. It turns out that, just as now, though the thinner women might have been the ones in photographs, there were plenty of women of all shapes and sizes who left behind some truly beautiful items for a vintage-hunter to pounce on.

So, some more tips and a bit of a summary for getting started:

  • Take your measurements.
  • Watch out for customs; many amazing vintage stores are in the US, and you will need to assume you’ll pay a customs and handling charge which is calculated based on the whole cost, including P&P, so make sure it’s worth it!
  • Seek out friends who can recommend you to private groups – my aforementioned vintage-loving pal made me a member of a couple on Facebook and they’re great places to get lower prices and friendly, direct service.
  • Ask, ask, ask. You’ve every right to ask for extra measurements and details of any flaws (and how significant they might be), stains or smells before you commit to a purchase. Many items are in perfect condition but some are sold ‘as is’ and that’s fine as long as you know what you’re getting and how you’re going to fix / treat / wear it to account for that. Note: smells will come out of many fabrics, but rayon crepe is a serious challenge, so think twice before committing to that…
  • Haunt Etsy (a couple of my faves below but I’m also now building up a purchase list of UK based sellers and a wishlist for each of ‘my’ decades).
  • Check out UK based specialists like Rokit.
  • Don’t assume this means no repro or modern fashions or that you’ll be shunned for not going “true vintage” – dabblers are welcome and mixing and matching pieces is great. However, you might be eaten alive if you radically alter pieces or use the word “upcycling”; people in vintage communities are very, very passionate about the preservation of fashion history.

Some fab Etsy stores:

Concetta’s Closet – I’ve only actually bought once from Dana because her massively high quality pieces mean they are generally out of my budget (with shipping from the US and customs factored in), though they are unquestionably fairly priced; it’s not her fault I don’t earn enough to indulge my habit! She offers really inspiring, beautiful looks, plus she’s a lovely woman who always has time to answer questions or interact on Facebook. And she does at least two big sales a year!

Fab Gabs Vintage – similarly high quality, with regular sales and some stunning pieces; I’ve not yet splurged on a piece from Julie, but hope to one day not too far away. Her specialism is the 1940s and some of the pieces she finds – and the astonishingly good condition they’re in – make me want to cry.

Dipping my toe in vintage waters has done nothing but improve my appearance, confidence and approach to dressing. It really has put a spring in my step in a way that – as someone who has a complex relationship with her body – I didn’t think I could really experience. So I highly recommend that you leave misconceptions at the door and get searching or rummaging; there’s a real rush to finding that perfect item.

Though you will now spend the rest of your life cursing the high street for not selling everything by measurement.

Details for all the clothes in the photos:

Picture 1, l-r:

Actually nothing vintage in the first pic (though the dress was second hand Wallis from a relative) but all vintage-inspired shapes and ideas mixed together | Red Polka Dot 1960s Dress (Concetta’s Closet), Jo Bluebird Cardigan Black (Collectif), Martha Plain White Belt (Collectif) | Black 1950s Cotton Dress (FB Group), Red 2″ Cinch Belt (Vivien of Holloway)

Picture 2, l-r:

1960s Gold Lurex Dress (FB Group – and yes, it needs more era-appropriate undergarments!) | Mustard Retro Wiggle Dress (Di Brooks OuterLimitz sample obtained through a group – still available but only in other colours) | Balloon Shirt (Zara), 1960s Suit Skirt (Rokit – also have the jacket), Red Leather 1970s Belt (Absolute Vintage)

No disclosure needed as this is just my stuff, paid for by me, and things I like.

IQS: What I actually eat – and how to have a sugar-free birthday

Genuinely, I never expected to write this much about sugar – or lack of it. But it seems to now be a Thing That People Know About Me that I don’t, for the most part, eat sugar; although it’ll be a year in June, there’s an on-going sense of curiosity from others and (I guess related to increasing news coverage) questions about how it all works, and why. Across my office, at least three other colleagues have started the process of ditching the stuff – though I’m pretty sure Sherri had more to do with that than I did.

In fact, Sherri and I were having a conversation about this the other day, and the question we agreed we both hear which prompted this post – and that I didn’t mention in my last – is “but what do you eat instead?”. ‘Instead’ is a curious addition, isn’t it? I think it’s probably the first thing I thought when I first started considering quitting sugar, and it’s so telling. Telling that we are so used to eating so much of it, that it’s not a case of getting rid of something unnecessary but of replacing something essential.

I think there are two elements to the ‘instead’, too. It’s ‘instead of cake etc’, yes, definitely. Fully half of each sugar-free cookbook I’ve ever so much as glanced through is packed with alternatives to classic desserts and sweet snacks. I think the people writing them mostly know you’d be better off not replacing them at all, but take the pragmatic view that in a world filled with biscuits, better to have something barely sweetened with a little rice malt syrup and coconut than nothing at all. And there’s probably something in that (though I’d still recommend keeping the habit of eating sweet things to a minimum). And the other part is ‘instead of breakfast cereal etc’.

Breakfast is, I think the hardest meal to imagine in a post-sugar world. Toast and jam. Cereal. Granola. Honey (in, near or on practically anything). Fruit, yogurt and fruit yogurt. But it’s actually one of the most delicious meals you can have after quitting. I’m pretty much obsessed with breakfast, as anyone who follows me on Instagram will know, and I regularly have brinner (frankly, if I had access to facilities that allowed me to make toast and poach eggs at work I’d probably have it for every meal). But once I started thinking about sharing what kinds of things I have for breakfast, just in case that’s helpful, I thought I might as well do a sort of menu for each day of the week, with a few suggestions for each meal. If you’re right at the beginning of a sugar quitting process, I hope it will come in useful. Then I also have some tips to share about having a sugar-free birthday.

Note: I am low-fructose and like to make stuff from scratch, but I’m not a JERF obsessive. I use some processed stuff and spend less money in the week before payday. I work long hours and enjoy a kitchen shortcut. Also, I have a four-and-a-half-year-old to get out of the front door every morning, and it’s only thanks to the fact that I have a husband who is far more of a morning person than I am that I manage to eat at all.

Breakfast

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Weekdays:

  • Quick nut butter porridge (above) – 30g Ready Brek, 150ml almond milk heated for 2mins in the microwave and 1/2 tsp chia seeds, stirred together. A dollop of peanut, almond or cashew butter on top, plus some strawberries or raspberries.
  • Avocado toast – exactly as it sounds. Half an avocado mashed onto two slices.
  • Fancy avocado toast (below)– the above, but with goats’ cheese and raspberries on top, popped under the grill for a couple of minutes.
  • Nut butter crumpets (above) – Usually with a handful of raspberries, a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds or a sliced strawberry on top.

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Weekend treats:

  • Poached eggs and veggies (above) – the above was actually a birthday breakfast from my lovely husband, including fennel, courgettes and mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and crumpets with smoked salmon and poached eggs. We use silicon poachers, hence the perfect egg-boob-shape.
  • Veggie omelette – whatever your favourites are, two eggs and a 20g block of cheese, fried gently and finished off under the grill.
  • Pancakes (above) – yes, really. I use Nigella’s recipes for American pancakes (minus the totally unnecessary spoonful of sugar) or ricotta hotcakes. I also use GF self-raising flour, because it keeps the fluffiness and prevents accidentally chewy pancakes. I top with a small squirt of rice malt syrup, a smear of nut butter and fresh berries; my husband and daughter usually add a little maple syrup too.

Lunch

  • Buying lunch – it’s generally best to try not to buy lunch, for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is expense. But if I do have to I tend to go to Pret or the Japan Centre; Pret has recently started listing the sugar content of everything, which is ace, and the Japan Centre has started doing tonkotsu ramen which is fatty and meaty and noodley joy. (You might find my Eating Out on IQS post helpful here….)
  • Stir-fry, stir-fry and a side of stir-fry – I’m a bit obsessed with throwing everything that’s about to go soggy into a wok full of coconut oil, chilli, garlic and ginger. A splash of tamari, and the basis of any meal is done. I could probably get shares in Amoy Straight-to-Wok udon noodles. I can’t really think of a better way to get your 5+-a-day in than stir frying, and it’s dead easy to pop in the microwave at work. This is also the perfect side-dish for my most common lunch which is…
  • Leftovers – well, obviously. Roast chicken, baked salmon, slow-cooker stews etc.

Dinner

  • Chicken soup – about once every other week I make a roast chicken. If they’re on offer, I make two together, in the oven with a bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice and some whole, peeled garlic cloves (plus some rosemary if we happen to have any). Afterwards the juices and the carcass go into a saucepan with a couple of kettles of boiling water and I simmer the lot for 3-4 hours before straining it. There’s always loads more stock than I can use in a couple of days, so I freeze the rest, as well as some freezer bags of shredded chicken if there’s enough left over. This is about the only domestic goddess-like thing that I do, ever, and it’s totally worth it. Because I’m obsessed with chicken soup in all its forms. A pack of ready noodles (see? I told you I could have shares) and some random bits of veg and the job is done.
  • Everything slow-cooker – a load of (usually less-sugary) root veg, some protein or other and some sort of flavouring. Could be tinned tomatoes, could be coconut milk and curry paste, could be stock. Could be chicken, fish or the cheaper cuts of red meat. Could include potatoes for bulk, could be designed to be eaten with cous cous or rice.

You’ll have noticed I tend to batch cook and make extra helpings. I look for large pieces of fish or meat that will last for several days. We also get through a prodigious quantity of eggs as a household, since they’re a quick, cheap, adaptable and easy source of fat and protein that are delicious at any time of day.

I also don’t really go in for sweet substitutes on the whole – you can go far on cheese, some very dark chocolate and, every couple of weeks, a stack of pancakes – but I do rather rate this salty, chewy, nutty bark from the IQS recipe list. Also, I had a surfeit of squishy looking pears that my daughter hadn’t finished and whipped up this pear and almond upside-down cake which was moist and moreish.

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And now… to birthdays. I recently celebrated mine, and it was very lovely indeed. One of the things that made it really wonderful was having friends and colleagues at work who were incredibly kind and thoughtful. On the day itself, instead of surprising me with a cake, I was brought three immense blocks of cheese – with candles! – and a heap of crackers. It ended up being both treat and lunch, and nearly made me cry as it was such a nice gesture.

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A few days later, my gorgeous friend Christina did make me a cake – which she was prepared to try to make with glucose only until I told her that it was her kind gesture and she should do it as she pleased.  Said cake was absolutely 100% worth the deviation from my low-sugar life. Partly because the generosity of a friend always tastes amazing (especially a friend who is well on her way to being a baking professional) but also because if you give up sugar but stop appreciating when someone makes you a delicious orange, polenta and pistachio cake, then you have given up too much.

The (additional, metaphorical) icing on that cake was that because I knew a gorgeous slice of home-made affection was coming my way, I didn’t feel the need to symbolically over-indulge on our amazing night out at Bob Bob Ricard, which I’ll write about soon.

So, I guess paradoxically, my best tip for having a sugar-free birthday is to accept that some sugar might happen. It doesn’t have to. If the snacks are on you, then a savoury treat disappears just as fast as a cake in an office (possibly faster, due to the novelty). If you don’t want it, then you don’t have to have it. But if you do, it’s not a reason to berate yourself or the opening to go off-track. It’s been almost a year, so for me it’s becoming more and more like second nature to avoid derailing myself; it might well be harder if you’re still breaking the habit. I’m not saying you should feel obliged to eat sugar just because other people expect you to – and if my amazing birthday cheeseboard is proof of anything, it’s that you can set different expectations by being honest with others about yourself – but if you want to  eat something sugary (and I did want to) then so be it. Give yourself permission, and you’ll find it actually gets easier to just have what you want: no more and no less.

I’m always open to a tip or two myself, so if you have any great low-sugar meals or birthday ideas, let’s hear ’em.

World Book Day: Cobbling together a costume on a shoestring

This year was our first year with a child at ‘big’ school, so it was our first real experience of the competitive costume gala known as World Book Day. Luckily, both our daughter’s school and the parents in it are pretty sensible; the school gave a week’s notice via a letter in which the head laid out in no uncertain terms that the buying or making of expensive and complicated costumes was really unnecessary – this was to be very much a home-made, celebratory, non-competitive and above all book-focussed World Book Day (they’re rebuilding the school library at the moment, too). Plus the other mums and dads at the school gates this morning were really great at making encouraging noises in the direction of all the kids. Yay, community!

Anyway, as usual, because we are rubbish and busy loving and devoted parents, Ash and I left it to just a couple of days before to agree with R what she wanted to be on the day; we steered her away from the standard Disney kit, because we wanted her to think outside the obvious a bit. It’s no secret from the whole of the internet that I love Disney and Marvel (yes, that IS me in the Daily Mail wearing silly leggings) with an almost embarrassing intensity, but I was determined that this year at least we wouldn’t go the ready-made route. No judgement of those who did, do or want to you understand.

Anyway, I cannot remember whose idea it was to be a crayon from The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers; it MIGHT have been mine, but anyway R chose to be Red Crayon as it’s her favourite colour – handy, since she already has a load of red clothes. We were determined to spend pennies on this, if that, so in the end the only thing we had to buy was the card, because the coloured paper we had was too small, and the elastic.  So, what we used was:

  • Red clothes (child’s own)
  • Red card
  • Black card
  • Pencil
  • Elastic
  • Stapler
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Needle and thread
  • Writing paper and markers

R's letter to Duncan from Red Crayon

R as Red Crayon

I don’t really need a step-by-step guide here, do I? A few points of note:

I sewed the ‘belt’ trim to the t-shirt because it’s a really old, short t-shirt and I don’t care if it gets holes in it. I actually thought about stapling it on, but I wanted her to easily be able to rip it off if it annoyed her during the day – she still needs to focus on what she’s doing at school after all. Ash made the hat, which was a basic semi-circle shaped into a cone held together with tape and staples; as I said, we did splash out on some elastic to keep it on (and of course cut it slightly the wrong length so it falls off every time she looks down, but let’s face it – that was never going to stay on in school anyway).

The letter to Dung Duncan was actually R’s own idea, and she copied it out herself which, given she’s only 4, I was very proud of; she wanted to do a copy for every person in her class, which is a genius thought but not when you have it at 8:00pm the night before and your bedtime is 7:30pm max. I think the cutest part was when she addressed it to her teacher but then decided to give it to her friend instead and crossed out the name on the back. Second hand letters are the most thoughtful, aren’t they?

So there you go. Less than £5 spent, and we needn’t even have done that if we’d been prepared to cobble together smaller pieces a bit more (or had a better stocked craft pile. Or thought of making a paper chin strap for the hat. Or, or, or…).

And now looking forward to spending the book token with R. Perhaps she’ll go for The Day the Crayons Came Home!

IQS: Things you will hear when you give up sugar

When you make the decision to change something that can’t be hidden – something that, eventually other people will have to know about – you do have to gird yourself for the inevitable battery of opinions you will be faced with. Many of us in parts of the world where food is fortunately in great abundance have troubled relationships with it (particularly women, in which this is all bound up with the public messages about our bodies and our ownership of said bodies). So taking any sort of food-related stance – particularly if you’re passionate about it – immediately marks you out as making a moral decision. It’s not hard to see how that happens with offensively stupid terms like ‘clean eating’ being bandied about (what if I washed my cheeseburger before I ate it?).  But it can be frustrating to keep having to explain or defend your choices because they make someone else feel uncomfortable, or like you’re sitting in judgement of theirs (and maybe you are, in which case do try to stop, because that makes you a bit of an ass).

So, what to do? Well, the first thing is to assume you’ll hear at least one of the below. And then decide how much of your time it’s really worth addressing it – and whether the comment comes from a genuine place of interest or is simply a knee-jerk reaction. Personally this is how I’ve come to react to other people’s reactions to my quitting sugar. YMMV.

1. I couldn’t live without sugar!

Well, obviously not. No-one can, since our energy comes from glucose. But clearly I am still alive… Hey. A little melodrama makes things fun. For me, this is a nod and smile, because what is to be gained from arguing? They don’t want convincing (unless you genuinely think they secretly do, in which case, have at it).

2. Are you making your family do it too? I think that’s cruel.

Genuinely, I have heard this, and there is so much that’s weird in there. From the ‘making my family do it’ (well, I do make my daughter do stuff, because she is four, but Ash is full-on a grown up and makes his own food choices) to the – admittedly joking – idea that preferring a particular diet is cruelty…. Well, I guess I know how people who raise vegan kids feel now. I think I mostly laughed.

For those interested: no, I don’t make my daughter follow my own choices in exactly the same way as I do. I do restrict the overall amount of ‘treat’ food she has at home, since I know she has desserts at school and in childcare and with her grandparents. But everything is in the context of conversations about general health, keeping our bodies fuelled and the importance of foods that we need (plants, fats etc) versus foods we want (treats). I don’t think there’s a lot to be gained at this stage from making her stand out among her peers – or crave the ‘forbidden’ – as long as there’s some reasonable moderation being practiced and good habits modelled by her parents (eating our veggies, eating when we’re hungry but not clearing plates just because).

3. When are you going to start eating sugar again?

We’re so in the habit of thinking of nonsensical detoxes, short-term fixes and inevitably failed restrictive diets that it’s almost impossible to take in the idea that this could be a permanent change (I think even sometimes for the person doing it). But if you’re not doing this just for a weight loss fix, there’s really no reason why it might not be an indefinite change. I started the process last June and have yet to see a reason to go back on the full-on fructose.

4. Do you eat natural sugars / fruit / honey / maple syrup instead?

In fairness, this isn’t actually a stupid question, since the term ‘sugar’ is pretty vague. Plus every no-sugar plan you can follow is slightly different; my friend Sherri who did Five Weeks to Sugar-Free with Davina (literally with Davina – how cool is she?!) ate some sugars I didn’t on I Quit Sugar, because they’re different approaches leading to a similar outcome. But it can take some patience to keep answering this one. So be it.

As an aside: When I talk about quitting sugar, I mean a considerable reduction in fructose consumption. Thus for me substituting with honey or maple syrup is pointless as it’s still high fructose (most of my fructose I get from 1-2 helpings of whole fruit a day). But generally I’m not a fan of the word ‘natural’ applied to food; table sugar is natural, if by that we mean ‘it comes from a plant’, but I think there’s a lot of privilege and nonsense to be unpacked around the term. And since even among the JERF crew there are plenty of foods that actually do undergo some form of process (butter and cheese, for a start), it’s a whole area I’m loathe to get too evangelical about. I also recognise the reality of busy people’s lives, and the importance of available budgets and convenience. Basically, I think if you give up sugar but take up being a jerk, it’s not good news for anyone.

5. Isn’t it just a fad?

Maybe. And?

I have delved a little into the science of this and am relatively convinced it’s a good thing to do, but I recognise my limitations in understanding all of it. I know that I feel healthier since starting out. I know I have better skin. (I’ve also lost quite a lot of weight, but I like to steer clear of that subject for the most part because there’s an unhelpful assumption that this means it must be good). I eat (even) more veggies. I cook more. I am much less likely to have binge moments. My blood pressure, always low, has gone down further. Other health measures have also improved a little. You know? It works for me. I appreciate what it has done for me. It’s okay if you don’t want to do it.

If you gave up sugar, what are the comments you heard most of? What did you respond? Did it put you off? I find the politics of eating absolutely fascinating, and would be glad to talk about it more with anyone else who also does.

More posts about sugar you might find interesting:

Thoughts at the end of the IQS process
Dealing with messing up your plan
Eating out when you’ve quit sugar

Film review: Cinderella and Frozen Fever

Ramona meets a prince and checks out a glass slipperIt feels faintly confessional to declare I bloody love Kenneth Branagh. I do. I think he’s great. I love his acting. I love his direction. I love that he brought us Thor (and, via the marvellous Wallander, Tom Hiddleston). I love that he was married to Emma Thompson. And even though I really, really wanted Toby Stephens to be cast as Gilderoy Lockhart, I love that he’s a part of the Harry Potter film universe. So I didn’t need a whole lot of convincing to watch his take on Cinderella.

And to top it all, I got to be among the very first people in the UK to get to see Frozen Fever, which has nothing to do with Kenneth Branagh, but is basically me bragging. Sorry. Ish. More on this later (or you can just scroll to the bottom).

Branagh’s Cinderella is a live action retelling of the fairytale; it doesn’t have a particular  alternative spin, a la Maleficent, and – wisely, in my opinion – it doesn’t really seek to do much more than reinvigorate a well-loved tale. Disney’s animated classic, still looking gorgeous at 65, is one of the gentlest of the whole stable, with relatively little peril and a liberal sprinkling of glitter and stardust – in fact, it’s said Walt’s favourite bit of animation was the dress transformation. Branagh restrainedly doesn’t attempt to layer too much onto that and goes instead for a very traditional family movie, marrying a sweet, intimate script peppered with British quirk to the visual sumptuousness of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Ramona gets her nails painted a glittery blueIn fact, so lavish is the imagery – particularly the mindblowingly gorgeous costume design – that only an excellent cast could avoid being swallowed up by it. While Lily James is a bit too breathless for my preference – kindness doesn’t have to mean a lack of gumption – Richard Madden is appropriately charming and Cate Blanchett, in the accurate words of my husband “becomes more beautiful and more intimidatingly talented with every role”. Her Lady Tremaine is wonderfully nuanced and even a little sympathetic, swinging smoothly from uncontrolled bursts of rage to icily arresting viciousness. In this she’s ably assisted by the secondary villain, a megalomaniac aristocrat brought to scheming life by Stellan Skarsgard (yep, love him too) and Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera in gloriously grotesque form as Anastasia and Drizella – in fact, I could have done with even more of the latter pairing.

Ramona, the Prince and me.The show is, however, stolen by the special guest star; Helena Bonham Carter opts for feather-light British eccentricity with a touch of sly humour as the Fairy Godmother; her soft voice shepherds us through the heavily narrated action and her eventual appearance involves plenty of daft physical comedy, making gleeful use of elements like her bizarre choice of vehicular vegetable. She lifts the pace of what is a surprisingly long movie and keeps it from sagging at the centre, providing the off-beat heart of the film. Injecting a little more drama into the magic also sets up a lively and welcome stroke-of-midnight set piece, which, with its ‘princess’ trapped in a shrinking pumpkin, has more than a whiff of Alice about it.

From the largely home-grown cast to the indulgent little asides (a Rob Brydon cameo that wasn’t for me, but that seemed to land well with the rest of the audience), this felt like a very British effort, and it’s that layer of deliberate quirk that brings it to life and makes it a highly watchable, sweet and very, very pretty family film.

The four-year-old’s verdict: It was good. I think it’s better than the cartoon. Cinderella was nice. It was a bit long though and I got tired. There were some funny bits [she laughed during the painter scene, and at the animal transformations].

Family note: Aside from two – very gentle – depictions of death and, of course, Lady Tremaine’s acerbic treatment of Cinders, there’s little to worry about here for even the most sensitive child. Definitely a full family friendly film (I like alliteration).

Cinderella is on general release in the UK from March 27th.

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And now, Frozen Fever. Well, it certainly has its moments! Without wishing to give too much away, the action unfolds on Anna’s birthday where Elsa’s attempts to give her a celebration to remember go a little awry (think Tangled Every After with more snow). There’s a new song to enjoy, and plenty of Olaf gags, plus cameos from practically every character you’d want to see. Ramona watched avidly and chuckled out loud a few times, as did I. And it was nice to hear Jonathan Groff sing a little about something other than reindeer…

Disclosure: The kind folks at Disney UK provided screening tickets including the funtimes shown above; thoughts about the film, however, are entirely mine.