22 January 2014

Mamma for Victory says goodbye to the blogging world

When I started this blog almost 3 years ago, everything in the parenting world was new to me. I was nervous about many things, but especially breastfeeding, and especially in public. I didn't know anyone else who was doing it, and I kept reading all these bad and inflammatory things about it, which didn't change my resolve about breastfeeding but did lead to plenty of inner worry when I needed to do it 'in public'.

So I started Mammas for Victory, as a way of empowering myself and other mothers, through the simple act of reviewing service providers based on how well they treat new mothers, mothers with newborn babies and breastfeeding mothers. A few cafes were rated very low due to horrid experiences I had in them, but most of them did well and I gave them free reward stickers I had printed for the purpose of showing that they had the MfV sign of approval.

During it's short life this blog has received it's fair share of press and positive reader comments, and I am glad of that. But the blog has to end with my journey. Although I am still a breastfeeding mother, I no longer feel nervous about breastfeeding, or the need to defend my choice - to anybody. And I no longer have cafes to review, because I stick to the ones I know and trust. I will not be taking the blog down, as it still receives several hundred hits a month through search engines, but I won't be updating it any more. I feel that MfV has fulfilled it's purpose, and that now it is time to say goodbye.

Thank you all for reading my posts. If you want to find me elsewhere, I'm at www.zionlights.co.uk and on twitter @ziontree

Keep up the good work, Mammas.


1 May 2013

One of the best restaurants in town - Herbies, Exeter city centre

Herbies restaurant on North Street in Exeter city centre has to be one of the best independent eateries in town. The food is well priced (try the nachos, but I recommend sharing them with someone as the portion you get is HUGE), and there is a rotating specials menu if you get fed up with the usual (though I don't know how anyone could!).

In my experience, the staff are always friendly, the food doesn't take long to arrive, and for the little ones - there are two different types of high chairs, is a baby changing table downstairs, and also a kid's menu where all the items are healthy and just a few pounds each. My daughter loves sitting at the table in her high chair with a big wooden platter of food in front of her, which is just for her. This place is a veggie/vegan haven, and I can't emphasise enough how much we like it.

The cafe is nicely decorated, with local art and a leaflets section. I have fed and changed my toddler there several times now with ease - this is how a restaurant should be. Herbies already has a breastfeeding sticker in the window, as well as several others.

If you're planning on going on a Saturday, I recommend booking a table in advance, as the restaurant can get busy. I also recommend checking opening hours, as they don't open on Sundays and Mondays. I will have to go back soon to take photos for you..

5 stars from me.

19 February 2013

Utterly Disgusted by The Anti-Child, Anti-Parent Approach at The Crystal Cafe, Exeter

It's not often that you visit a cafe that claims to be mother and baby friendly, only to find that the exact opposite is true. The Crystal Cafe on Fore Street in Exeter is such a place.

First of all is the complete lack of any baby changing facilities in the cafe. When I asked where to change my daughter's nappy I was directed up a steep flight of stairs to a cold toilet cubicle with a hard floor and nowhere to even put my own changing mat. It was quite an ordeal to change my daughter's nappy while she wriggled about in discomfort and cold. When I returned downstairs my friend asked if all was okay; she must have seen the stressed look on my face. As I tried to tell her about the lack of facilities the waiter walked by, stopped what he was doing and came over to say 'you're not talking about OUR baby changing are you?' He then informed us that if they do create a changing area, it will be on the top floor of the building, which would mean carrying a toddler up an additional flight of steep steps. He clearly had no children of his own so I did not bother to pursue the topic with him, particularly since he had imposed himself into our conversation. I did ask though if in future I could use the room opposite the toilets, as it was carpeted and looked clean. He told me 'no, that's an area for healers doing reiki etc'. Erm.. Okay.

Unfortunately the waiter's intrusions into our conversations continued for the duration of our stay in the cafe. I found it difficult to give him the full attention he demanded from me while also watching my toddler, as well trying to spend time with my friend. He also insisted at intervals that I force my daughter into a high chair, even though I had explained on entering the cafe that she would not eat if put in a high chair - she likes to sit on my lap and eat - and also she really dislikes being strapped into them. She's 19 months old and learning to express her self. There's no point forcing her to do something that will make her scream and upset everyone within a mile of her. The cafe was not busy anyway so I saw no problem with letting my daughter play next to our table after we had eaten. She was happy throughout our visit.

If you have children, which this waiter clearly does not, you will know that children often fall over, and this is not a big deal. Children bump their heads or toes, get up again and they're fine. In this cafe, the waiter said he had a panicky fear of children falling over, and as a result of this he tried to force his parenting ideology on me, the customer. 

The first time I visited the cafe, I did not have a chance to view the bathroom facilities, so I decided to hold off reviewing the cafe before doing so. The second time I visited, I brought along two friends and we decided to sit outside that day. However, the same waiter told us that we couldn't go outside unless I consented to put my daughter in the cafe;s high chair. I was not even given the opportunity to view the outside area for myself to decide whether there were any dangers for my toddler. I told him, AGAIN, that the high chair is not an option, but he ignored this and said that my daughter WOULD fall off the bench outside, if I took her outside. I bluntly told the waiter that I know my own daughter and the potential risks surrounding her, since I care for her 24/7, if only I could view the outdoor area.. But he simply ignored anything I said to him on this subject, so, flummoxed, we sat down indoors. If my daughter was not hungry I would have left The Crystal Cafe there and then, but as usual I put her needs first.

I spent the rest of the meal feeling that I had to watch my daughter like a hawk lest I be blamed for poor parenting if she fell over. In fact, she was most at danger from the stairs down to the shop below us, which she kept wanting to climb down, as there is no gate to keep little ones away from it.

It gets worse. In my experience, parents want more than anything else not to be judged since they do a damn hard job, and personally I usually go to a cafe for a bit of respite. Instead, by the end of this visit to The Crystal Cafe, I was upset and flustered that my parenting had been questioned and criticized. I had asked to speak with the manager, but told that he was not there. I did not wish to write an entirely negative review about the cafe without discussing it with the manager first, and I had had such a poor experience at the cafe, that I decided to send the manager feedback via the Facebook group, as I had seen his updates on there and therefore knew that the account was checked regularly and that my message would go to him and not another staff member. I ended my message with these words - 'I hope you will take something from this feedback and improve parents' lives instead of making life harder for them, as has been my experience with your cafe. I hope you appreciate this message and me being honest with you'.

The reply I received was very unpleasant.

Instead of apologising for the experience and choosing to address it in future, or inviting me back to review the cafe after changes had been made, the manager attacked me with words. About the method of contact, he said 'I am not impressed with this method of yours of coming at me like this from a distance. If you have something to say, then have the courage to say it to my face.' I found this aggressive, confrontational rather than professional, and anyway off-topic, since I had clearly not been able to speak to him in the cafe, and needed to speak to him about another staff member's behaviour. I chose to converse via a medium that is oft-used by the cafe - Facebook - since I did not wish to return to the cafe after my horrid experience. I also chose to be honest with him instead of just writing this review, and I had the courage - and made the time - to message him about my experience instead of just telling my friends never to go to to the cafe, as other customers would do.

But then he said the thing that really proved how anti-children this cafe is. The manager of The Crystal Cafe wrote, 'I did not like the way you were allowing your child to behave today any more than [the waiter] did (for different reasons) but we went along with you.. which is more than you are prepared to do with us it seems.'

What did I let my child do? Was she injured, unhappy, lost? No. She played games. She laughed. She was a little afraid of the drinks machine, and told us so. She had her nappy changed on a cold hard floor because there was no alternative, even when her mother asked for one. She was breastfed. She did not fall down the set of stairs leading from the cafe to the shop below, which has no gate to keep little feet in, because her mother made sure she didn't. She ate, fed, even napped a little in her mother's arms. We endured the poor service, paid for our food, and when we left, the staff sent friendly goodbyes. When apparently, they had actually been discussing my poor parenting among themselves, the manager too - even though he made no introduction to me, and could not have been in the cafe with us long, since I had asked to speak to him when we arrived.

I give this cafe 1 star only because that it the lowest rating in the system, and after my awful experience there I recommend it to no one. I have never before called a cafe anti-child, or anti-parent, had to call out the staff members as judgmental of their customers who are parents. And their response to my feedback indicates that they are unlikely to change for the better. So save yourself the stress and money and choose any other cafe in Exeter instead.

I'm utterly disgusted.

14 January 2013

A place for mothermilk in Mothercare, Stratford-upon-Avon

Stratford-upon-Avon is a wonderful town that attracts tourists from around the world due to being the birthplace of Shakespeare. We decided to visit with a few family members to amble along the River Avon and look at lovely old Tudor houses, like this one:

Sightseeing and sling-wearing in Stratford-upon-Avon
We had lunch in the town and then went to pick up a few things from some lovely independent shops in the main centre. However, baby suddenly woke up in the sling where dad was carrying her and decided that she wanted feeding, and NOW. I've pretty much mastered feeding her in the sling when I'm wearing her, but when dad is.. Well, that skill seems to have escaped me.. So, I was more than a little relieved when we spotted a Mothercare in the local mall, and came across this sign:

Punctuation is not for mummys

A small glimpse of the room
I promptly forgave the lack of apostrophe and took baby inside, where there was changing room space, toilet tissue, a sink, a bottle warmer, and comfortable seats for mums to feed babies in. There was also a small 'breastfeeding-friendly' sticker to welcome our arrival. The room was not lockable, so that other mamas and their babies could share it alongside us, but no one else arrived while we used it. I fed baby happily, and she was happy, and the whole experience made me realise just how much easier it is for breastfeeding mums to have areas like this dotted around town, and I feel sure that if they were more common, more mums would be able to breastfeed their babies for longer.

So, 5 stars from us.

10 October 2012

Feed baby real good at The Real Food Cafe, Exeter

The Real Food Cafe is situated on Paris Street in Exeter town centre in Devon. The cafe is upstairs, and downstairs is The Real Food Store which sells organic produce from local farmers to the general public. The venue is ideal for keen charity shoppers like myself, as Paris Street is home to several charity shops. It is also very near to the central bus station.

A cafe with a real difference, and a local and organic menu
I found The Real Food Cafe to be clean, spacious, colourful and absolutely fantastic for parents with children. Although you have to take little one upstairs, which may be tricky if you have a buggy to take up with you, once you get there it is worth the effort. The cafe provides several boxes of good-quality toys to entertain children, colouring books and crayons, sturdy wooden high chairs to match the wooden dining tables, and an excellent variety of magazines for parents. I can't comment on the food due to a lack of vegan food on the menu, which I hope this relatively new cafe might change in future, but it apparently is as local and organic as possible, which wins it a big thumbs up from me.

Real tigers not on the menu
The toilets can be found another floor up, above the cafe. I found them to be clean, and the changing facilities adequate. The cafe doesn't tend to be busy so it is a lovely quiet retreat for anyone passing through. I fed Arwyn at a wooden table overlooking bustling Paris Street, whilst admiring the artwork and colourful decor of the cafe and enjoying a lovely fruit tea. When I approached the manager regarding a breastfeeding sticker, the response was immediate and warm. But, the cafe is pending 5 stars as it has not yet but the sticker up.

The cafe is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am-5pm. It is closed on Mondays.

9 October 2012

Musings on Mothering: A beautiful collection of art and poetry, by parents, for parents

The book is now out!

Musings on Mothering landed on my doorstep a few days ago, and I have not been able to put it down since picking it up.. Metaphorically of course! This book is a beautiful collection of artwork, poetry, missive and musings by parents, for parents. Don't be fooled by the plain front cover; inside you will find a beautifully arranged, celebratory work of art, that will leave you feeling lovely and warm inside.

Whenever I have a spare moment and am in need of some mindfulness, I dip into this book, and I return to the world feeling refreshed and smiling. You can purchase the book here using Paypal, and all royalties go to supporting the excellent breastfeeding support group La Leche League GB.

Well done to Mothers Milk Books and Teika Bellamy for all your hard work with putting this together. You've done a great job.

So go on, treat yourself. You might just find a little something from your's truly inside the book.. (On page 136..)


A Cafe Worthy of Hobbiton: The Kitchen Garden

Soup fit for supermamas
There's a cafe in Birmingham with a distinctly tranquil, yet buzzing atmosphere. After a romp around Tolkien's old stomping ground, Sarehole, a friend and I descended on The Kitchen Garden Cafe for tea and soup, and we were not disappointed. I had the spicy butternut squash soup, which was as tasty as it was colourful...

Beware: you will not want to leave
The Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath, Birmingham boasts a brimming home-made, partially home-grown menu, with plenty of options for vegans, green foodies, and a large selection of herbal teas. There is indoor and outdoor seating with plants and artwork decorating the whole place, and although the entrance is situated on a busy road in Kings Heath, the cafe itself is at the end of a short corridor, which means it is safe for children to play outside while mums natter or browse the deli next door to the Cafe. You actually can't hear the road from this haven of a cafe. Crunchy mamas, you are in for a treat; the deli next tot he cafe sells organic, fair-trade food and other goods and gifts, and is a definite one-of-a-kind in big-brand-loving Birmingham. In addition to this, there is also a garden shop selling seeds and growing materials that will make any gardener swoon with delight, and never want to leave the place. I was certainly reluctant to move to new pastures!

So that's the shop - and what about the little ones? Due to it's super-friendly nature, I had no problem breastfeeding my 15 month old daughter outside, and I'm sure indoors would have been just as welcoming. There is ample seating to hide in if you are a shy mama, and the plants make for a soothing atmosphere. The clientele is of the same variety. The Cafe has basic baby changing facilities and the food is wholesome and nourishing for little people. It even had a breastfeeding sticker in the window..

5 stars from me.

Friend and foliage - what more can any mama ask for?

16 August 2012

Order in the Phoenix - a nice space for mammas passing through Exeter

Exeter Phoenix is a Cafe Bar, live music venue and art gallery based on Gandy Street in Exeter, Devon, which is where JK Rowling got her inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books. The cafe can get very busy when a music event is on, but in the daytimes it is a great place to stop for lunch or a drink. There isn't much on offer for children specifically, but there is lots of room for little ones to run around in and to look at. There are a few comfortable sofas ideal for breastfeeding, and the staff generally seem friendly and non-intrusive.

The changing facilities in Exeter Phoenix are adequate, and they were clean when I visited the cafe in the day. It's a great cafe to let children run around in, as it doesn't tend to be too busy in the daytimes and there is lots of space without things to bang into or slip on. However, it's also easy for small children to run out of the front entrance and down the steep steps into the great outdoors, so particularly boisterous toddlers may not do well here! There is also an outside area/terrace on offer, however there tend to be a lot of smokers out there so it may not be a good choice for parents with little ones.

The cafe tries to support local and fair trade suppliers, and they can make foods vegan or gluten-free if asked. The avocado sandwich is already vegan and a very nice option, though all of the dishes may be pricey for the financially-stretched parent., It's a lovely cafe to have lunch in but that does come at a price. Tea is a friendler option on the old purse, if you just need a place to stop off and rest in town. I breastfed my little one a few times on the sofa and changed her nappy in the changing room without any problems, although due to the open-plan seating in the cafe there were lots of distractions on offer for curious little Arwyn, in the shape of people passing by to use the restrooms, which are located at the other end of the cafe. Due to this, shy breastfeeding mammas may not be at home here.

I offered a breastfeeding-friendly sticker to one of the members of staff, but she said the manager would have to be consulted, so I will have to chase this up another time. Exeter Phoenix gets 3 stars for now, pending a further review.

Comfy setting for a friendly lunchtime gathering

7 August 2012

Calm in the Centre... Epicentre Book Cafe, Paignton, Devon

Epicentre Book Cafe is an independent cafe based in the seaside town of Paignton in Devon. Epicentre is the kind of place that parents, artists, vegetarians, vegans, cake enthusiasts and coffee lovers dream of. The cafe has a distinctly friendly air to it, with cosy sofas and bookshelves brimming with popular reads and rare finds. Works by local authors are on display, and there is artwork on the walls made by local artists. The ceiling is also slowly being decorated with pieces of artwork.

Cupcakes and coffee
The owners are friendly and flexible and they bring meaning to the term 'family owned'; their children can often be seen munching falafel with quinoa salad, or scoffing rather moreish lemon cakes with strawberry cream icing. The food is tasty and filling, and my daughter enjoyed it too (she's a growing girl!). The high chairs are of good quality and the cafe is always clean and tidy. The owner, Bryce Dumont, is always there for a chat if you need it, and he is insanely knowledge about various topics, so common ground is easily found.

As well as all this, the food is often organic and the ingredients are as locally sourced as possible, and suitable for people with dairy and egg intolerance/allergies. The cafe also caters for gluten-free diets, and hosts art events such as spoken word, writer's workshops, theatre and music events. There is every kind of milk on offer and every kind of coffee, board games to pass the time with friends, and free Wifi access for the solitary. If you eat a hefty 'meat' burger and need to walk it off, or need a breath of fresh air, the sea is less than a five minute walk away.

More books than you can shake a straw at
When I fed my boisterous 13-month-old daughter in the cafe, I felt comfortable and at ease. There was already a breastfeeding-friendly sticker in the cafe window, and a changing mat in the restroom. Epicentre Book Cafe is a real vision of what cafes in the UK can be, and I wish there were more like it. I wholeheartedly recommend that you drop in if you're ever in Devon, though if you're coming from further away, it will be worth the journey. It really is one of a kind. Five stars from me.

And I won't even mention the cookies.

Breastfeeding-friendly sticker -- and sunshine friendly too!

28 March 2012

Open late and baby-great, Costa Coffee on Birmingham New Street

You may have noticed that I've been a bit slack at posting reviews lately. Well, there's a good reason for it. The area of Birmingham where I live and the city centre have hardly any independent cafes, and a small sprinkling of chain coffee shops. The European coffee culture that has swept the rest of the UK simply hasn't hit Birmingham as hard. Perhaps it's because Brummies prefer to have their tea and coffee at home. Or maybe, since the city is so driving-heavy, people go further afield for the cafe experience. Either way, I will be stepping my cafe-radar up a notch from now on, so that I can keep reviewing cafe experiences while Arwyn is still breastfeeding. She is 9 months old now and eating solids, but she still loves her mummamilk! In the absence of cafes to feed her in I have recently had to settle for parks, public benches, and shopping centre loos. Oh well!

The Costa Coffee this review is about is on New Street in the city centre, a short walk from the train station and just a few minutes away from the fountains outside the Town Hall. I frequent this Costa frequently because it is open till late on weekdays, as late as 8pm on Thursdays which fits with my late yoga routine in town perfectly, as Arwyn (who stays with my fabulous hubby during this time) usually wants feeding right afterwards.

Breastfeeding-friendly cafe near this refreshing location

This Costa has baby changing facilities which are usually fairly clean, though not always, probably because the baby room is usually engaged by people without children due to the fact that the normal toilets are further back in the cafe- I think people don't always realise that. The cafe also has high chairs, comfy sofas, soft chairs, and hard-backed chairs at tables. I have fed at them all with no problems whatsoever- except the high chairs of course, which I have not actually deigned to try out ;) The staff are consistently friendly and they usually speak to Arwyn, which she absolutely loves. As one of the few cafes that is open late in the centre,  really appreciate this Costa! But, I can only give it 4 stars for now, because twice now I have approached the friendly (and highly giggly) staff members about displaying a breastfeeding-friendly sticker and they've said that they have to ask the manager first, who never seems to be around. I will chase them up about this next time I'm in town.

4 stars from me for now, pending a sticker.