Monday, 10 December 2018

Three Christian-themed Christmas Books ... With A Twist!

This year we are doing our Book Advent again, as you'll know if you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. To mix things up I'm attempting separate books for my kids which is proving a challenge! But sorting through books to decide whose pile they should go in has reminded me of how lovely these books are.

As a Christian I like to share books with my children that highlight the religious meaning of Christmas, but there are only so many retellings of the Nativity I can read! However, the three books featured in this post bring something new to the Christmas story. Even if you're not a religious family I think these books are a good way of reminding children that Christmas is about more than presents.

Babushka by Sandra Ann Horn and Sophie Fatus

This is a telling of a Russian folk tale. Babushka is so busy keeping her little house tidy that she almost completely misses the wonders around her - a bright star travelling through the sky, kings arriving from afar and so on. But when she hears about the birth of a special baby, she sets out with gifts for him. On her way she encounters people who need those gifts, until she is left without anything to offer the baby - or is she? This is a lovely story about not being too busy focussing on the details to see the bigger picture, and about the importance of giving to others in need. The retelling is lively and fun for little ones, and Fatus's illustrations are so quirky and colourful, they really capture a festive feel.

The Fox's Tale by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen

Last year I wrote about the gorgeous 'Refuge', which tells the Nativity story through the eyes of the donkey. This book, a collaboration between two giants from the world of picture books, takes the perspective of a fox. The fox has his eye on a lonely lamb in the fields outside Bethlehem when suddenly a bright light fills the sky. He sees the shepherds being told to go to Bethlehem to meet a baby king, and follows them to see what it's all about. And the lamb? Well, it turns out to have a special role in the situation. This is a really interesting retelling, especially good for animal-loving children, and encourages the reader to consider different perspectives.

The Miracle of The First Poinsettia by Joanne Oppenheim and Fabian Negrin

Departing from the Nativity, this book is based on a Mexican legend. Juanita's family have fallen on hard times meaning she has no money to buy gifts, either for her family or to place at the altar at Christmas Eve Mass as her friends and neighbours will. But her mother and an angelic encounter help her realise that the best gift to give is a kind, loving heart. This book never fails to get me choked up, the words are so beautiful and the stunning illustrations complement them perfectly. It's a really good way of learning about Christmas as celebrated by another culture, and includes Spanish words in the text, with a glossary at the end.

Do you read books about the religious meaning of Christmas with your children? Which ones do you enjoy?

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Monday, 3 December 2018

Things We've Done To Be Greener In ... November

Is it just me or did November disappear in a flash? I'm totally not ready for December, especially trying to find ways to be greener at Christmastime! If you have any tips let me know!

Last month passed in a blur for us which means I didn't really get to think hard about eco-friendly choices, but here's what we have done.

Become snack aware

I mentioned last month that I'd started making an Ecobrick. Well I'm still plodding along with that whenever I find time, but one thing it did was make me aware of just how many sugary snacks we get through as a family, and to be honest I account for about 75% of it! So this month I've worked hard to reduce my chocolate, cake and biscuit intake, not only for my health but to reduce the amount of packaging we generate. I've tried to opt for fruit or toast when feeling hungry, and not having a biscuit with every cuppa!! I've also started baking with Toddler once a week so some of our sweet treats can be packaging-free. It's something I used to do regularly with Girl Child but got out of the habit after Toddler came along, I really missed it so it would to get back into it again.

Switched to greener cleaning products

I'd already become a whizz with bicarb and white vinegar, but some cleaning products are too tricky to dispense with. But there are options on the market that avoid the nastier chemicals that are ending up in our water supply. Our trusty local zero waste shop has really helped with this, and we now use Ecoleaf laundry liquid and washing up liquid - and can reuse our old bottles and fill them up at the shop, thus reducing packaging again! The big sticking point we have at the moment is dishwasher tablets. Our options seem to be either tablets in individual disposable plastic packets, or coated with some kind of soluble plastic which obviously will end up as microplastics in our water supply. I know I could get the individual powders but with no instructions for our dishwasher I'm worried about doing the wrong thing. So if anyone can help me out here that would be great, just leave a comment below!

So, another month down. Next month you'll get to hear how we coped with the consumer-fest that is Christmas. Eek!

Friday, 23 November 2018

A Unicorn Ate My Daughter

Well, not literally, obviously. But it sometimes feels like it.

A little while ago, Facebook memories reminded me of a post I wrote three years ago. It was about the John Lewis 'Man On The Moon' advert, and I was excited about it featuring a girl who loved space, dinosaurs, the colour blue and scooting. I commented that she was Girl Child in three years' time.

Well, three years on and she still loves blue. She scoots occasionally but not enthusiastically any more. Her interest in dinosaurs waned sometime in Reception, and she seems to have abandoned her interest in space too. We were looking at new books a few days ago and I pointed out a book about space that she'd have loved a couple of years ago. She wasn't interested.

What's replaced these interests? Unicorns, Barbie and My Little Pony, mostly. And fairies, but she's always been into them.

Photo by InĂªs Pimentel on Unsplash

I know I'll get criticism for this, but this change makes me sad. Not because her current interests are more stereotypically 'girly' (although the Barbie thing really makes me cringe) but because I worry that this isn't really her.

You see, while some autistic children are happiest doing their own thing and don't much care about what their peers are into, others desperately want to conform. Girl Child is very much in the latter camp. One of the things she's struggled with about her diagnosis is that it means she's different, and she doesn't want to be different. She wants to be like her friends - and I mean almost exactly like her friends. So when she starts watching shows because her friends do, when she suddenly becomes obsessed with the unicorn craze, I worry that she's buying into what she thinks girls of her age should be like and losing who she really is. She's very conscious of how the media divides things into 'for boys' and 'for girls' and even though she knows logically that it's all nonsense, she doesn't want to rock the boat.

It's all a bit of a conundrum to me. I've always encouraged her to be her own person, to not be afraid of being different and to stand up for who she is. But at the same time, I can see how desperately she wants to belong, to be like other people. She's very aware that her brain is different, that she behaves differently and is treated differently. She still hasn't come to terms with this and will often bewail the fact she's autistic. So do I keep encouraging her to stand out from the crowd, or do I accept that she wants to follow it at the moment? If she feels she has to conform now, how will she fare when peer pressure becomes a stronger and potentially more dangerous force?

What I would really love is for all children to feel free to follow their own interests without the media and retail companies telling them what girls and boys 'should' like. But in the absence of that, I suppose all I can do is keep encouraging her to see her differences as assets, in the hope that someday soon she'll believe me.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Review: 'Cardboard Box Creations' from Lonely Planet Kids

I've mentioned a few times before that I suck at kids activities. Coming up with ideas for crafts, projects, outings etc just isn't my strong point. (Actually I've yet to find my parenting strong point but that's another story ...)

One particular thing I really suck at is junk modelling. Partly because I'm eager to get rid of stuff, so boxes, foil trays, bottles and such go in the recycling bin as soon as possible in my futile efforts to make the house tidier. Then I'm not very imaginative about reusing junk, I hate the faff of cutting things out and painting, and when it's done what do you do with your creation? As I just mentioned, I'm fighting a losing battle trying to keep the house tidy without contending with giant cardboard robots, bottle rockets and the like!

So I have to admit, when Girl Child spotted a giveaway for 'Cardboard Box Creations' on Toppsta and insisted I enter it, my heart sank a little. When we won, my heart sank some more. But when it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised.

One thing I wasn't expecting was that the box comes with cardboard sheets with some of the items needed for the projects already printed on and ready to press out. Brilliant, that's a lot of the faff done away with right there! And not all of the projects required loads of extras - in fact, one project, the camera, mostly consists of press-out pieces already provided so your little one can get modelling straight away.

The other thing I really like about this book is that all of the projects are themed around travel - so you can create a London bus, a Japanese tea house, a didgeridoo and even a space rocket! I love that the book brings in a geographical aspect so children can learn about other countries and cultures while they create their models.

The only criticism I have of the book is that some of the projects are very ambitious and require a lot of boxes - one needs four very large boxes. Unless you've just moved house or had a mass upgrade of white goods, it seems unlikely that any average family would have this much cardboard at their disposal. And you'd need plenty of space to store some of the creations afterwards too. But there are several projects requiring smaller boxes so it balances out nicely. I imagine this would be a good resource for a classroom or early years setting, where they might be able to appeal for big boxes to be brought in and may have more space to set the finished models up as play spaces.

Overall, I'm very glad Girl Child persuaded me to enter this giveaway and that we won. She's already made a couple of the smaller projects and is keen to make more so it will be a great way to keep her entertained and help her learn about other parts of the world too.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Wednesday, 7 November 2018

A Bookish Half Term

Last week was Girl Child's half term (apparently different to most of the country, but hey, Leeds likes to be odd) so it was a good chance to have some family time together. The first eight weeks of term had felt like a long slog so it was nice to have a break and to watch the kids strengthen their bond, their relationship is ever-evolving and I love seeing them enjoy the same things.

It turned out to be a rather bookish week - well, I suppose with me it's always likely to! Even a trip to a nearby town to buy new school shoes wasn't untouched by books as we took the opportunity to visit the town's book shop while we were there. The Grove is a lovely independent bookshop with a great little children's section. Girl Child chose to buy 'Utterly Me, Clarice Bean' by Lauren Child while we dissuaded Toddler from buying all manner of very exciting books that weren't quite in our budget for the day by getting a little Thomas the Tank Engine book. True to form, Girl Child started reading almost immediately. Below is a photo that Toddler took of her when we stopped for lunch.

As you can see she was already halfway through the book before we even got our food! I do love my bookworm!

So that was Monday. On Tuesday we went to RHS Harlow Carr near Harrogate for a Room On The Broom Adventure Trail. We read the book again to Toddler the day before to remind him of it and his excitement when he saw the sign by the car park was so lovely to see! Both children really enjoyed going around the trail and spotting the different characters. I wasn't sure Girl Child would be interested but the little questions or activities that accompanied each character kept her engaged, while Toddler was just thrilled that the book he'd read the day before had come to life around him! He even wanted to read it on the way home.

Sorry for the poor posing skills of my kids by the way. I'll never be one of those Instagram mums ...

Wednesday and Thursday were quieter days but on Friday I decided to venture into Leeds city centre to go to the Nick Sharratt exhibition at the Central Library there. Toddler loves Nick Sharratt's books, we regularly borrow them from the library and he loved 'Toddle Waddle' so much I had to get him his own copy. And Girl Child enjoys the Daisy series and loves to doodle so I thought this would be a winner with both of them. Unfortunately by the time we got into Leeds it didn't leave us a lot of time to look around the exhibition but I was really impressed. There was a little reading corner with copies of lots of Sharratt's work, stands with information about his life and work, a doodling wall, light boxes for tracing his drawings and an interactive 'make you own Shaarratt character' game. Toddler stayed around the reading corner mostly while Girl Child really enjoyed the light boxes, doodling wall and the stand that played a silly song about pants!!

We all enjoyed our bookish half term. While reading itself is such a fun thing to do it was interesting to see how the children responded to seeing books come alive in different ways. I'm definitely going to look out for more bookish events in future!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Love To Read hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog and The Inspiration Edit.

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Saturday, 3 November 2018

Things We've Done To Be Greener In ... October

Autumn is well and truly upon us now and with it the chilly weather. I always feel guilty at this time of year because, while lots of people are talking about not switching their heating on yet, I'm always keen to get it going at the first sign of cold! I do layer up as much as I can but I still don't feel warm. So I've been assuaging my guilt by finding other ways to be eco-friendly.

Used washable training pants

Yep, it's got that stage - Toddler has decided he wants to potty train. I was hoping to get Christmas over first but he had other ideas. (And this is part of the reason our heating has been on a lot - he's most reliable when not wearing pants so I don't want him getting a chilly bottom while he figures pants out!) We are trying our best to use regular pants, but we have a stash of washable training pants for naptimes and going out - as he still does most journeys in the carrier, I don't want to risk a soggy back. We have a slightly eclectic mix of training pants: a Bumgenius Flip, a couple of Mothercare padded pants, two Bright Bots, a Tots Bots and a random WAHM-made one. But of those only the Tots Bots and the Flip really hold any more than a trickle so I picked up a couple of pairs of Close Parent night time pants (which wouldn't actually do overnight for him yet but work well for naptime) and a pair of Motherease Big Kid pants. These were bought second hand too, but in great condition. I have to admit we have been working our way through our existing stash of disposable pull ups as well but I'm trying to go with the washables as much as possible now. It's going to be a long transition as pants still baffle him, but I have noticed that I'm doing less washing now so that's an added eco bonus.

Started Ecobricking

You might have seen the Facebook post that went viral about Ecobricks - basically the idea is that you take a plastic bottle and cram it full of non-recyclable plastic wrappers, packaging etc. If you're interested you can find out more through Google or on various Facebook pages and groups. I started very keenly with this but then realised the amount of work involved - you have to wash and thoroughly dry every piece of plastic and cut it up really small so you can cram in as much as possible to get to the right weight. I honestly don't know when I'll find the time. I'm also a little skeptical about the project as presumably these Ecobricks will eventually need disposing of and what happens then? It's made me quite frustated that consumers are going to these lengths when it should be businesses finding ways to reduce the amount of plastic they use for their products. Still, I'll persevere for at least one bottle. It has also made me realise that my main plastic generators in my household are confectionary, crisps and dishwasher tablets so I'm trying to think of ways of buying more wisely or replacing my junk food treats with something a bit better for me and the planet! So even if it's not the answer to our plastic woes, Ecobricking has made me more conscious of my habits. Have you tried making an Ecobrick? What do you think about it?

I may not have done loads this month but I think adding a couple of things to my routine each month is more manageable than trying lots all at once. What have you done to be greener this month? I'd love some inspiration!

Friday, 19 October 2018

My Adventures in 'No-Poo-Land'

I've mentioned before that I've been trying to find an alternative to shampoo. The common term for this is 'no poo' hence the title of this blog post (in case people thought it was about actual poo!)

So how did this come about? And why would I even attempt it??

I reckon most no-poo-ers would dream of washing their hair like this. Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

Well, with the increasing public consciousness around plastic waste I was looking for a plastic-free way of washing my hair. I saw a review of a shampoo bar on the Wood For The Trees blog and thought, "great, shampoo that isn't in a plastic bottle!" So I ordered a few bars.

Well, unfortunately, shampoo bars don't work for me. From my research before buying, it seemed like the main issue was transition from regular shampoo causing build up and overproduction of oils, but as I'd been using SLS-free shampoo for a few years I figured that wouldn't be an issue. So when, after a couple of weeks of trying the shampoo bar, my hair looked lank and greasy, and actually got worse after each wash, I knew something was up.

In the advice slip I got with the bars it recommended a clarifying wash with bicarbonate of soda (BS). I gave it a go and wow, my hair looked better than it had done in weeks! After a couple more attempts at getting the shampoo bar to work I gave up and switched to using BS instead. It sounds bonkers but honestly, I was amazed at how the BS solution magically transformed the oil in my hair into what felt like soap and got rid of it!

It worked great to start with but then I noticed my hair getting a waxy residue. It was then I thought I'd actually read some guidance on 'no poo' and discovered I needed to rinse my hair with something acidic after washing with BS to rebalance the pH. Cider vinegar seemed the most popular option so I went for that and soon my hair was happy again.

Well, sort of. It did leave my hair beautifully clean, soft and shiny but my scalp wasn't as happy. It started getting itchy. Also, because BS is a strong cleanser you're supposed to leave it at least four days between washes, preferably longer. As I'd previously been an every-two-days kinda gal this was a challenge. I was assured the longer I stuck with it, the longer my hair could go between washes but after many months I still looked a mess by day 4. I hated having to keep my hair tied back most of the time. I read that using a boar bristle brush before bed would help redistribute the sebum so it would soak into the hair shaft but my hair is not very porous so would just look worse after brushing.

I experimented with different solutions to the problem. One recommendation was to do an 'acid rinse' in between washes, so using the cider vinegar solution or something else acidic a couple of days after a full wash. That just made my hair even more oily. I had a go with using soap nuts but it was such a faff. I had to boil the nuts for half an hour, constantly watching the pan because boy do those things foam up, cool the liquid left overnight then pour it evenly over my hair. It stank, it was actually really hard to pour evenly so I ended up with some clean patches and some not so clean patches, and I was terrified of getting it in my eyes as apparently that is very painful!

There are other options but they were all either expensive, too faffy or still required something that came in plastic. I'd joined a couple of no poo Facebook groups and, far from encouraging me in my quest, I started to realise I'd strayed into territory I really didn't belong in. Some of the women on the groups were so hardcore I just couldn't see myself ever being that way. One person had been trying water-only washing for months but still had greasy hair - while other members encouraged her to hang in there I just wanted to tell her to give up and get some shampoo!! (I didn't.) Ultimately, my desire for regularly clean hair and comfort trumped my eco-credentials.

And then salvation came . My local zero waste shop started selling SLS-free shampoo! So I could reduce my plastic use but still use a liquid shampoo. I gave it a try and it worked great - more than that, I loved no longer having to mix up BS solution and stand around with it in my hair for 3 minutes! Shampoo is so much easier! I still use dilute cider vinegar to condition my hair though, as one positive take-home from all this is that cider vinegar is awesome for giving you soft, shiny hair. Honestly. Just try not to get it in your eyes.

So there we go. My adventures in No-Poo-Land may not have been much of a success but at least I eventually found a way of washing that didn't cost the earth, uses less plastic and actually made me feel clean and happy!

Have you managed to ditch shampoo? What did you find that was successful in keeping your hair clean and lovely?