Intentions for a Greener New Year

Happy 2016 everyone! 2015 was a good year for us – we got to watch Tom grow from a four month old baby to a 16 month old toddler; a journey that has included him starting nursery, learning to crawl and then to walk, and begin to say his first words. I went back to work and Mr Techno was promoted. And we enjoyed some wonderful adventures in the great outdoors.

Like a lot of people, I’m very wary of New Year’s Resolutions, especially those that require me to give something up, or take up something I don’t enjoy (going to the gym springs to mind…) I have more sympathy with those that involve taking up a new challenge, and thought of doing something like that for this year. However, there is already a new challenge on the horizon which is likely to change our daily lives a bit – I can’t say more now as it is not yet finalised, but should have more news for you soon!

Until I know what impact this change will have, I don’t want to commit myself to further new challenges. So instead of resolving to do something new this year, I thought I would put together a short list of things we already do, which I intend to explore more deeply.

1. Be Mindful of Food Choices
As I explained in a previous post, I try to reduce the impact that our food choices have on the amount of waste we produce. However, I definitely used to be more mindful of where our food comes from. There was a time when the only meat I ate was the pigs my parents raised, or the game shot by my father-in-law. In both cases, I knew exactly how the animal/bird had been raised and how it had been died. In the case of the pigs, I even knew their names. But my parents no longer keep pigs, and I let pregnancy cravings alter my diet to the point that meat is now on the table most days. Since that excuse was exhausted long ago, it is more than time for me to reassess the amount of meat I eat. As a result, I intend to reduce this by only eating meat if someone else is cooking for me. Admittedly, this is less admirable than it might be, as Mr Techno cooks dinner once a week. But I feel it is a commitment I can sustain, whilst anything more is likely to test my resolve too far in the long run.

2. Buy Only Second Hand Clothes
As a university student, I made a commitment to only buy clothes that were either second-hand, or produced ethically. Realistically, that meant only second-hand clothes, as new ethical fashion tended to be a bit beyond my budget. But over the years I have slipped a bit, using the excuse of my changing shape (weight loss, then pregnancy, then post-baby weight not shifting) to buy the odd item of new clothing. I intend to go back to my original commitment, buying all of my clothes and most of Tom’s second hand (some things, like vests, I struggle to find enough of, so have to buy new). The exceptions will be underwear and shoes – underwear is hopefully obvious, and I tend to wear my shoes into the ground, so need them to fit well and be in reasonably good nick, something that can be hard to find second hand (I have tiny feet).

3. Get Outdoors Every Day
Making this pledge a few months ago, and then starting this blog to help me stick to it, has really transformed my life in a way I wasn’t expecting. I feel calmer, happier, fitter and more energetic than I did before. My bond with Tom has deepened as we spend quality time together outside, away from the electronic distractions at home. Mr Techno and I talk excitedly about where we will explore next, instead of letting lethargy get the better of us and make us stay indoors. I intend to build on this good work by continuing to explore the places local to us, but also by venturing further afield. We hope to take some camping trips come spring, and, as Tom begins to need less sleep, we want to take more day-trips to places outside of London. The new challenge I mentioned earlier in this post will have an impact, but one that I think we can work around.

So bring on 2016 – a year that will hopefully be as good as the last, if not better. A year that I hope will be greener in more ways than one. I can’t wait to get started!

 

Marvellous Mondays badge by Hello Archie
Advertisements

Natural Remedies for Nappy Rash

I posted recently about the nappy rash Tom developed due to being left too long in a dirty nappy at nursery. Whilst the easiest thing to do for nappy rash is to give babies plenty of nappy free time, this was so bad that I did want to help the healing along a little.

I prefer, where possible, to reach for homemade natural remedies over shop-bought ones. They do have to work, of course – I am not about to leave my child in pain just because I’ve decided that I am vaguely uneasy about using sudocrem (or whatever).

Fortunately, there are some quite effective natural remedies for nappy rash. And best of all, they are things that many households have lying around anyway. Because Tom very rarely gets nappy rash, we are more likely to have these options to hand than nappy cream. Here are a few things that we have found especially effective:

Bicarb of soda (also known as baking soda)

I’ve heard that some people use this as a paste at every nappy change, but we have other things we use at changes. Instead, we put 2 teaspoons of bicarb into Tom’s evening bath. Because it is an alkali, it neutralises any acid from the wee or poo (if, for example, the baby has been eating lots of fruit). It also discourages yeast and bacteria, which helps to combat infections underlying the rash.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is a naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. We use it to neutralise odours from the nappy bin, so always have some in the house. For nappy rash, we mix one drop with a tablespoon of sunflower oil and rub it (gently) into the skin under the nappy area. As well as fighting off any bacteria or yeast, the oil helps to prevent moisture from the urine reaching the skin, in much the same way a barrier cream does. You could use coconut oil instead of the sunflower oil. It is another anti-fungal, anti-bacterial ingredient and very good for moisturising dry skin.

Chamomile & Honey Tea with Lavender Oil

This is something we use all the time, not just for nappy rash. We use washable wipes on Tom, rather than wet wipes. About once a week, I make up a solution of chamomile and honey tea, sunflower oil, and a couple of drops of lavender oil. This goes in a spray bottle and is sprayed on the nappy area every nappy change. Lavender has anti-inflammatory properties and is sometimes used to treat burns, so is perfect for nappy rash. Honey is anti-bacterial, and chamomile is soothing. When Tom was little, his tummy button got a little bit infected after the umbilical cord stump fell off. Whilst we were waiting for a doctor’s appointment, I used this mix to wash the area and the infection cleaned up in under 24 hours – no need to go to our GP after all.

These are the remedies we’ve used ourselves at home. With these, Tom’s recent rash was significantly improved after 24 hours and gone within 72 hours. I’ve also seen Oatmeal baths recommended but we haven’t tried them ourselves yet.

Homemade Christmas Decorations

One day, I will be the kind of mother who plans ahead at Christmas time. All the presents will be bought and wrapped weeks in advance, and we will decorate the whole house on the first of December, with the carefully stored decorations that we have used year after year.

One day. But definitely not now. Because I only decided at the last moment that we should decorate the flat this year, and then refused to actually buy decorations, it has taken us quite a while to get anything up. However, stage one of operation Christmas Decorations is now complete, so I thought I’d share a progress report.

A couple of weekends ago, Tom and I started the process when we went foraging for some decorations. A few days later, whilst I was at work, Mr Techno and Tom went to buy a Christmas tree. They were under strict instructions to get the smallest one they could find. So, of course, they came back with something that takes up a third of the living room And a wreath for good luck.

IMG-20151208-WA0000IMG-20151208-WA0001IMG-20151208-WA0002

With something to actually decorate, and paint and glitter having finally arrived, Tom and I got started on the decorations. We began with the baubles – made from sycamore fruit we had gathered in the park.

We made two colours, gold and red. The gold ones were spray painted, but, because I was put off by the non-eco-friendliness of normal spray paint, I opted for fabric spray paint instead, which claimed to be non-toxic. The sycamore fruit took quite a while to dry as a result, but they looked great.

IMG_0707

Tom wasn’t allowed to help with the spray painting (toddlers and spray paint seemed like a receipe for disaster), but got involved with painting the red ones, which we did with normal poster paint. It took a lot longer, and the effect is not quite as good, but I still think they came out looking pretty decent.

IMG_0732IMG_0742

Once all the paint had dried, I attached tied knitting yarn around the stems of the fruit and hung them off the tree.

IMG_0712

The baubles came out pretty well, but the tree looked a bit plain with just the one shape. Fortunately, I have been saving toilet roll tubes for months, knowing that they would come in handy some day for a craft project. Stars for the tree seemed like a perfect way to use some up*.

We started by painting the tubes red with the same poster paint we used on the baubles. Tom was pretty good at getting the idea that the paint needed to go on the tube, but wasn’t so clear on the idea of covering the entire thing. Still, he did a pretty good job. I did the other three whilst he worked on his one.

IMG_0722

IMG_0725
Guess which one is Tom’s…

The next stages are a bit more fiddly, so I waited until Tom was in bed for the night and the first layer of paint was dry. I gave each tube a coat of glitter paint, then left them to dry whilst I had dinner. Once they were dry, I cut each tube into rings – each about two cm wide. This gave me five rings per tube, with a tiny bit left over. I then glued the rings into a star shape, using my little craft pegs to hold them together whilst they dried (normal pegs would work just as well, but I’m a sucker for miniature things!)

I left the stars to dry overnight, then hung them on the tree the next day.

IMG_0815

To be honest, I should probably have painted the inside of the tubes too. Still they turned out pretty well. I’m going to make more over the next few days, with Tom’s help of course. Then all we will need is a big star for the top.

In a way, I’ve quite liked our gradual approach to decorating this year. It’s a little bit like having an advent calendar, except Tom gets to see what new decorations have appeared each morning instead of opening a little door. So maybe I’m not in such a hurry to become an organised mother after all…

*The idea for the toilet roll tube stars came from this site.



Foraging for Christmas Decorations

I love Christmas. But, slightly shockingly, Mr Techno and I don’t currently own any actual decorations. We always visit family over Christmas itself and when we were both working full-time we were in the flat so little over December that it didn’t ever seem worth decorating.

Last year, for Tom’s first Christmas, we were focused more on getting Tom’s inguinal hernia diagnosis confirmed and arranging a date for his surgery, so decorating was the last thing on our minds. Besides, he was far too little to notice anything was going on. But this year he is more aware, and I’ve already noticed him staring at the Christmas decorations at nursery.

The thing is though, that my inner anti-consumerist tends to kick in at this time of year (in reaction to all the adverts screaming ‘spend, spend, spend’ I suspect). So rather than buy a whole load of shiny new decorations that will only come out once a year, I decided to make some. This has involved ordering some glitter and paint online, so it isn’t spend free, but at least those will be useful for other craft projects too.

I definitely want to include some natural materials in the decorations. When Tom and I were walking to nursery last week, I picked up a few of these sycamore fruit in the park (and then accidentally went to work with them still in my pocket…)

CVXuV4cWsAEvE4F
Aren’t they perfect? Bauble shaped, but not breakable, which is important in a toddler household

Clearly, just eight were not going to do the job, so Tom and I headed out on Saturday to gather more. My original plan was to grab some of these and then head into the woods to see what else we could find. But we woke up to find that Storm Desmond was hitting the UK. While we were lucky in London to escape the extreme weather and flood warnings that affected the north and Scotland, we did have some very strong winds. It didn’t seem entirely sensible to be heading into the woods with the chance of falling branches, so we stuck to the open areas and concentrated on finding more sycamore fruit (this might sound counter-intuitive, but there is an avenue of sycamore trees in the park, with lots of open grass around them).

IMAG1811IMAG1812

Unfortunately, my assistant got rather distracted by a massive pile of mud  – there’s some improvement work going on at Leyton Jubilee Park and they’ve been digging out a new path to the meadow area.

IMAG1821IMAG1822

Despite the burning need to make mud pies, we I did gather a decent haul. Which are now hidden all around the flat as Tom really enjoys playing with them. This is about half the stash!

IMG_0692

Sadly, the downside of lazy internet shopping is that the glitter and paint haven’t arrived yet, so we are waiting to transform these into baubles for the flat. I’ll let you know how we get on!

Life Unexpected

Declaring War on Household Waste

I’ve had a pretty busy week, so have only just had a chance to sit down and watch Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest show, Hugh’s War on Waste (although I have to confess that part of the reason for the delay is that I was expecting to find it on Channel 4 with the old River Cottage episodes). After tackling battery hens and overfishing, it’s no surprise that H F-W has turned his attention to the endemic issue of waste in our consumerist society. It’s a huge topic to cover, and the first episode felt a little jumpy as a result, but is also an issue that is very close to my heart, so I’m really pleased to see it getting the attention it deserves.

While there are lots of other reasons I’m so keen that Tom grow up spending time outdoors, one of the major ones is that our wasteful society is putting the environment at risk. We have to raise our kids to value nature, so that they will have a reason to fight for it.

Outdoor play is just one way I’m hoping to raise Tom to think about his impact on the world around him. We try to model ethical choices in our day-to-day lives – recycling; buying second hand, fair trade or recycled products; buying less generally; being mindful of gas/electrical use and, most of all, trying to reduce our household waste.

Luckily, our local council, Waltham Forest, is really hot on recycling. In fact, they deserve a huge shout out for this – I’ve never lived somewhere that recycles so many different materials (and I’ve lived in quite a few places, including Bristol, which is known to be a ‘green’ minded city). We actually don’t have a big ‘black’ bin in the flat; our main bin is a recycling bin and it is where about 95% of our household waste goes. We also have a brown bin for food and garden waste, and handy biodegradable liners for our kitchen caddy arrive free through the letter box every few months. The small remaining amount that can’t go in either of these bins goes in one of the small bins in the bathroom or our bedroom. I only have to empty these once every three months, if that. Tom is in cloth nappies, which helps massively with this.

Food waste, with an occasionally fussy toddler in the house, can be a bit more of an issue. I have been known to finish up scraps that haven’t been pre-chewed, but we do still end up putting some bits in the brown bin. I have a strong stomach but even I can’t face reusing food that has been in Tom’s mouth. Instead, we have to reduce food waste by making sure we aren’t chucking out food that has gone bad before we have a chance to eat it.

Since I went back to work when Tom was 6 months old, I’ve tried to be very organised with our grocery shop, both to save us money and to make sure we aren’t wasting food. We get our veg via a veg box scheme (ours is from Riverford), which delivers fresh, organic, seasonal fruit and veg to our door once a week. For the rest, I sit down every couple of weeks and do a two-week meal plan. We get this delivered, as I would otherwise have to drive to the shop, which would be less fuel efficient than having it delivered in a van with a bunch of other people’s deliveries. It’s also a lot easier than dragging a toddler around the store for a big shop. Doing the shop every two weeks, rather than every week, also cuts down on the fuel used in getting it to us. Since the bag tax came in, I’m pleased to say the amount of plastic bags arriving each fortnight has also decreased dramatically (we reuse any that do come, or return them to the store).

IMG_0397

When the shop arrives, I put away dry goods and sort the fresh food into two piles – freezer and fridge – depending on when we plan on using it and how long it is likely to last in the fridge. I plan meals so that several dinners will be made in bulk, and the excess makes up my lunches at work, Tom’s dinner the next day (usually before seasoning is added), or goes into the freezer for later use. We generally get through most of the veg box each week (we only get a small one). Any veg that looks like it might not get used goes into a stew or soup, or to bulk up a mince dish, and fruit is stewed down and added to yoghurt for desserts.

IMG_0398
Sharp eyes will notice the cauliflower leaves sticking out of our kitchen caddy. I have no idea how to use them. Any thoughts very welcome…

Although there is a lot we do to manage our food waste, we could definitely be doing more. After watching Hugh’s War on Waste, I plan to use fruit that is past its best in smoothies as well as stewing it. We will also have a ‘eat up day’ at least once or twice in every fortnight, where I don’t plan a meal but use up store cupboard ingredients and fresh food that is on the turn (we already have ‘freezer’ days which are to eat up meals from the freezer). I’ve already stopped peeling most veg – carrots, potatoes, sweet potato and the like are now just getting a good scrub before going in the pan. I could probably be making more stock with odds and ends of veg, chicken bones and other leftovers.
What about you, have you been inspired to cut down on your household waste? Share your tips.