Thursday, 2 August 2018

Things We've Done To Be Greener in ... July

So Plastic Free July is over, did any of you take part? I have to admit I didn't - end of term overwhelm meant I didn't want to add any stress to my life! But my mission to live a more eco-friendly life continues.

So what have we been up to this month? As well as continuing to use paper bags and tupperwares to reduce the plastic packaging we were bringing home from the supermarket, and making about a hundred lollies to cope with the heatwave, here are a few more things we've tried ...

Working on portions

With a toddler and a six year old with sensory issues, we tend to throw away a lot of food that's been offered but not eaten. It really bugs me, but equally I know that forcing my kids to eat will only set them up for more issues down the line. So what's the solution? 

After coming to a point of despair with Eleanor's eating, I decided that actually, if she doesn't want a full meal at the end of the day, it's not the end of the world, especially when she's had a school dinner. So I started checking before I started cooking if she'd want the meal we were all eating, and if not she got sandwiches. And it did cut down on the amount of food we threw away very quickly. Actually, her passion for sandwiches was short lived and she mostly eats the same as us now, but I'm more conscious of how much I give her, making sure she doesn't get too much for her appetite. And I'm doing the same with Ezra, offering smaller portions. We're not totally food waste free, but it's made a huge difference just cooperating with Eleanor about what she eats and being more aware of what my kids can manage in a sitting.

Cooking from scratch

On a related note, in an effort to reduce the amount of packaging I throw away, I'm taking small steps towards cooking from scratch. And I mean small - I'm not a great cook and the kids just don't stay entertained while I'm cooking for long enough to do anything fancy. But even one meal a week where I don't use anything out of a packet can make a difference. For instance, we decided to have stir fry one weekend - usually I'd buy a pre-chopped stir fry mix, and maybe ready-made egg fried rice too. But this time I did it all from scratch (OK, bar the sauce - I need to find a good recipe). My egg fried rice may not have been as good as the shop bought stuff but at least it didn't come in a non-recyclable tub!

Zero waste shopping

Remember I mentioned going to a zero waste pop up shop a while back? Well they now have their own premises so we went for a visit. We didn't buy much - bicarb (hippy staple), dried fruit and nuts and a bamboo toothbrush (more on that in a minute) - but it gave us chance to scope out the other stock and think about what we can switch to next time.

Brushing with bamboo

And yes, I've now got a bamboo toothbrush! At £4 it was a bit more expensive than my usual brushes but as long as it lasts three months that won't be a huge outlay per year. It brushes really well and leaves my teeth feeling very clean, but I think it'll take a long time to get used to the feeling of a wooden toothbrush in my mouth! I'm not sure the kids would be keen so I'll stick to just the adult ones for now.

So that was July. August is going to be an interesting month in terms of trying to live green, as we're doing lots of travelling and I'll need to find ways to keep the kids busy without too much waste. Do you have any tips on staying eco-friendly during the school holidays?

Monday, 2 July 2018

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

Another month, another chance to think about the little things I've done to be more eco-friendly. I can see this monthly feature becoming harder to write as time goes on as actually, most of the green things we've done this month are a continuation of previous months. It's been a brilliant month for line drying, with the tumble dryer getting a much needed rest. My 'no poo' efforts are ongoing and I am planning to write more on the subject when I've finally cracked it - or given up entirely! We're still taking full advantage of the ability to take our own containers to the supermarket to buy meat, and use paper bags for fruit and veg.

But there have been a couple of things this month that I haven't mentioned before ...

Making our own lollies

When the weather started to heat up, we stocked up on shop-bought lollies, but I soon started to feel guilty about the wastefulness of it. We were throwing away plastic wrappers daily and I'm still unclear on what to do with wooden lolly sticks - are they compostable? Recyclable? I've got enough craft sticks without hoarding lolly sticks for all those activities we'll never do!!

So I dug out our lolly moulds and made simple fruit juice lollies. It's cheaper, less wasteful and means if we run out I can make more. (Which I'm having to do at least every other day in this heatwave!!) It does mean that we're getting through a lot of juice though. I might have to look at other recipes.

Oh and one related thing - I made blackcurrant sorbet out of a huge bag of blackcurrants we'd had in the freezer for ages! They were from our garden so zero food miles (except for the sugar), and I used a reusable container. I'm a culinary disaster zone so felt very proud that I'd managed to make it, and it was delicious!

Signed up to TerraCycle

You know that meme that was going around about the Crayola marker recycling scheme? It kept popping up on my social media feeds, shared by people in the UK, and I was getting increasingly annoyed by this as it's a North American scheme only! But in finding that out, I also found a website called TerraCycle, which does have a writing instruments recycling scheme. It's only available for schools though, so I couldn't sign up myself. But I have mentioned the scheme to a relative who works for an academy chain, so hopefully I'll be able to palm off my old felt tips to them soon!!

One scheme I could sign up for is the Cracker and Biscuit Wrapper Recycling Programme. I keep meaning to reduce my snack waste by doing more baking but realistically I don't have the time to keep the supply up - I basically live on biscuits. So this is one scheme that will assuage my guilt about my biscuit habit until I can either get it under control or start baking more regularly. So I signed up! I'm now collecting biscuit wrappers in a big padded envelope, ready to be sent off for free whenever it's full. There are a few other schemes open to individuals, and others with public collection points, so have a look at the website to see how you can recycle more stuff!

So I may not done a lot of new stuff this month but every little helps. A couple of people have mentioned Plastic Free July to me and, while I don't think I can quite commit to that, I will be doing what I can to reduce my plastic use further this coming month. Are you taking part?

Monday, 25 June 2018

The Ish Mother Reads: 'The Essex Serpent' by Sarah Perry

It's a while since I wrote about the books I've been reading myself - I have been keeping up with my New Year's Resolution to read more, but just haven't been reading books I could easily review! And if I'm honest I'm not entirely sure how to review my most recent read, but I'll give it a go.

Last year when compiling my Christmas wish list I asked for book recommendations on Twitter, and at least a couple of people recommended 'The Essex Serpent'. Sure enough I got it for Christmas, but already had a few other books I needed to finish or read first, so it took me a while to get to it.

'The Essex Serpent' is set in 1893 and tells the story of Cora Seaborne, a wealthy widow who leaves her London home in pursuit of the legendary Essex Serpent, a Nessie-type figure which she believes could be a dinosaur that somehow escaped extinction. Her pursuit leads her to meet Will Ransome, parish priest of a small coastal village, and his family. The pair form an unusual friendship, often falling out over matters of faith and science, while the village is in the grip of the fabled monster they fear is waiting for them in the nearby sea.

I found it a really interesting and enjoyable read - not gripping exactly, I didn't find myself rushing to read it, but equally I looked forward to my reading time at the end of the day in a way that I haven't done for a while. I found Cora and Will's relationship interesting but at times strangely unsettling. Without wanting to give too much away, there were times I felt frustrated by them. One thing I loved about the novel is that Will isn't portrayed as dogmatic or simple because he is a Christian - his faith, and his struggles with it, are both portrayed sympathetically, which makes a refreshing change from a lot of novels. When Cora and Will argue, you feel that it is a meeting of equal minds, and there is no sense that one viewpoint is superior to the other.

I was also fascinated by the portrayal of Cora's son, Francis. It is never explicitly stated (for obvious historical reasons) but it is pretty clear that Francis is autistic. He has fixations, he carries small objects almost like talismans, he refuses affection and is perplexed by relationships. I'd have liked to see more of him in the novel, and more about Cora's difficulties relating to her son.

The novel covers a lot of ground - as well as the issues of religion and science, there is also a subplot regarding housing in the working-class areas of London, and another intermingled one about medical advances - and at times it all felt a bit muddled. I found it hard to see how all the pieces of the story fit together (although that is possibly down to me reading it over a course of a few weeks rather than more quickly) but it was interesting seeing historical references being woven into the overall narrative.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical novels or is interested in nineteenth-century life. It takes a little bit of time to get going, and you need to have a good mind for keeping track of interweaving plots, but it's definitely worth sticking with. And the last few chapters will have your heart in your mouth!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Thursday, 14 June 2018

On Midwives, Media and Mothers

This week has seen another big story in the media about parenting, specifically infant feeding. The huge revelation? The Royal College of Midwives issued updated guidance.

What? How is that headline news? Well, the media decided to ignore the majority of the guidance and latch on (pun intended) to one specific line: that, "if, after being given appropriate information, advice and support on breastfeeding, a woman chooses not to do so, or to give formula as well as breastfeeding, her choice must be respected." This sentence, in a statement which still reiterates the importance of breastfeeding, and the need for support from both medical professionals and society as a whole, is what the Daily Mail chose to call the, "end of breastfeeding tyranny."

Photo courtesy of Pexels

My kneejerk reaction on seeing some of the responses to the news was one of frustration - once again, the media had found a way to bash breastfeeding and those who try to help mums to do it. But when I read the actual statement I was reminded of my breastfeeding peer supporter training and the key message we were given - listen to the mother and what she wants. And actually, that's all this guidance is recommending.

From what I see, midwives are charged with an impossible task. Breastfeeding rates in the UK are amongst the lowest in the world, and as the first point of contact with new mothers, midwives are under pressure to change that. They're also under pressure to deal with understaffing, too much paperwork, increasing numbers of complications in pregnancy and labour, and a culture in which breastfeeding has not been the norm for decades. They're not miracle workers, brilliant and dedicated as many of them are. And I do believe the majority of midwives were probably already following the guidance issued this week.

But in any profession there will be a few who overstep the mark. And it's important to listen to those mums who do feel their midwives did not support their choices, who felt pressured into breastfeeding and judged when they said they wanted to use formula. Equally, it's important to listen to those mums who desperately wanted to breastfeed but felt pressured to give formula. Both sets of voices are valid. (And both instances happen, although I notice there was less discussion of the latter instance in the media.)

One thing the statement said, which has changed very little since the previous guidance, is that mother who choose to give formula should be given advice on how to do it safely and responsively, and shown how to properly sterilise equipment and make up feeds. This is so vital. Several formula feeding mums I know have said that there's hardly any guidance given once a mother makes the decision to use formula. As a result there is a lot of misinformation out there about how to safely prepare formula. So there is clearly a need for this kind of support and I'm glad the RCM continue to highlight that. I hope the message gets out to those in a position to provide that guidance.

This is the crux of the issue: support. A lot of the messages I've seen on social media are from mothers who were not fully supported. Either they were made to feel guilty for choosing formula, or, as commonly if not more so, they weren't given the practical help they needed to get started with breastfeeding and overcome problems. We need to listen to these women, who feel hurt and judged and let down, and learn from them.

As for 'breastfeeding tyranny'? I hope that awful phrase doesn't tar all breastfeeding advocates with the same brush. Yes, some go too far and yes, that needs to change. But most of us just want to support the mothers who do want to breastfeed to do so for as long as they want. We're really not interested in bullying new mums into doing something they don't want to do. We just want them to have an informed choice and to be supported to feed how they want. At the end of the day, our low breastfeeding rates are not the responsibility of new mums. This is an issue that requires investment from the government and public health bodies and a change in how we view breastfeeding as a society. And the media scouring press releases to find any excuse to bash breastfeeding isn't helping with the latter.

So well done to the Royal College of Midwives for issuing a very sensible and well balanced statement. And well done to anyone who supports new mums in their feeding choices with accurate information and practical help. May you be allowed to get on with your job without being labelled a tyrant by the tabloids for doing so.

Monday, 4 June 2018

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

Last month I started a new feature on the blog, talking about the new things (big and little) I did in the previous month to be more environmentally friendly. A few days late, here's my May update!

You may have noticed a slight change in wording - I realised after publishing the last post that actually most of the green things we do are a family effort and so to recognise that I changed 'I've' to 'We've'.

So here are the things our little family have been doing in an effort to be kinder to the planet ...

Doubled down on cloth nappy use

It's no secret that I love cloth nappies, but we always have disposables in for night time and emergencies. Except recently I'd been getting a bit lazy about what constitutes an emergency. Basically any outing of more than an hour was starting to warrant a disposable in my eyes. Our bin was filling up fast and our supplies dwindling. And it wasn't great for Ezra either - we went away for the May Day weekend and used disposables all weekend, which caused dreadful nappy rash. To the point where we actually decided to give cloth another go overnight to give him chance to heal. And now he's older, it works! This, and being a bit stricter with myself about using cloth when going out, means we've massively reduced our disposable usage. 

I'm also working on reducing the number of baby wipes we use. We've never used them loads because they're another thing Ezra is sensitive to, but I've found that reminding myself to use washable wipes, cotton wool or just tissue has made our 'emergency' packs last longer.

Dodged plastic packaging

This one has been massively helped by our local branch of Morrison's who have started using compostable paper bags for fruit and veg, and allowing customers to bring in tupperwares for fresh meat.

It's a small step at the moment - I do still feel like we're drowning in plastic packaging - but it's a start toward reducing the amount that ends up in our bin.

Took an EV road trip

I mentioned last month that we now have an electric car. We kept our old one mainly for longer journeys, as the battery life of the Leaf only covers around 90 miles. But when we went to the coast for the May Day weekend we used it as an opportunity to try out a longer journey in an EV. Admittedly I was skeptical but it did work out fairly well. It meant we had to break up our trips with a stop at a rapid charger (we coincided these with lunch) and my husband had to go on a quick trip to the next town to use the charger in Lidl, but we managed it! I'm still not sure about very long journeys though, the stopping to charge did make our travel time much longer. But it's good to know we can use it for medium-length journeys.

So that's some of what we've been up to - how about you? Have you made any changes recently to be greener? Let me know and I might nick your ideas for this month!!

Monday, 14 May 2018

Review: '101 Fun Outdoor Activities For Children' by Fiona Bird

What glorious weather we're having at the moment! After a few false starts Spring has finally sprung and it feels like Summer is just waiting in the wings now. One lovely side effect of this is that the kids have been playing in the garden much more. Ezra, a typical toddler, is more than happy to potter around and get messy even in cold weather, but Eleanor is quite sensitive to the cold so needs coaxing out most of the time. It's been a joy to see her enjoying being outdoors in the past couple of weeks. She even played football in the rain this weekend!!

I used to be a really outdoorsy kid but sadly I grew out of it and I do find outdoor play hard. So I was really happy when we recently won 101 Fun Outdoor Activities For Children by Fiona Bird in a Toppsta giveaway. As the title suggests, it's got bags of inspiration!

What I love about this book is that the activities have a wide range of challenge level - some of the ideas, like mud pies and Pooh Sticks, are easily achieveable with smaller children and can give them a sense of accomplishment that they can 'tick off' some of the activities very quickly, or even before they look through the book.

But then there are also more complex activities to challenge older children, or to use up more time - craft activities using both natural and recycled materials. Eleanor is very interested in the idea of making natural dyes. I suspect that may be a bit messy but might have to swallow my hatred of mess and give it a try!

The activities also cover a range of seasons and locations, so wherever you are, whatever time of year it is, chances are you'll find a suitable activity. I'm gutted that we forgot to take it to the beach with us when we went over the May Day weekend, but that just gives us an excuse to have another day trip to the beach in the summer!!

I was dubious about some of the activities. Some crafts suggested using plastic bottles or carrier bags, and while reusing is great, I worry about leaving plastic objects outside, possibly to get blown away or cause problems for wildlife. I have to admit the plastic bottle slug catcher was tempting though! Eleanor was a bit bothered by a suggestion of making itching powder and tricking friends with it, we both agreed that didn't seem like a nice thing to do. But with so many other ideas, it's easy enough to skip over the ones we're not keen on.

If you're looking for outdoor inspiration now that the weather is picking up I thoroughly recommend this book. I'm looking forward to working our way through as many activities as possible this summer!

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

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Thursday, 10 May 2018

We Were Lucky

So, let's get caught up. Regular readers will now know that Eleanor has had her assessment. Just over a year after the first referral was made, it has been confirmed that she is autistic.

We were lucky.

We were lucky that Eleanor's reception teacher had enough knowledge to recognise that autism was a possibility, rather than deciding her problems were just behavioural.

We were lucky that school dealt with the referral, putting forward enough evidence for our referral to go straight to CAMHS rather than being passed to family services, which could have led to us having to go on a parenting course before any further progress could be made.

We were lucky that, eight months later, CAMHS decided that they had enough evidence to put her forward for an autism assessment after two sessions. We took them up on the offer of a third session to get some advice, but by then the referral was written and ready to go. It was at that point we were told it would be another year before the assessment took place.

We were lucky that by that point our local CAMHS service was so far behind it had started outsourcing the assessments, shortening our wait to four months.

We were lucky that throughout this time we had the full support of the school, who have been incredible in proactively finding ways to support Eleanor and in providing evidence for us.

We were lucky that the assessors were skilled enough to see through Eleanor's sociable nature and developing masking skills, and instead see the symptoms she's trying to hide.

We were lucky - others aren't. Others don't get the right support, are not believed, or not even aware autism is a possibility until much further down the line. Others have a much longer wait for assessment, have to jump through more hoops to even get on the waiting list. Others get as far as assessment only for their child to have learnt to mask so well in that time that they go undiagnosed.

We were lucky and it still took over a year. A year of further brain development, of Eleanor finding new challenges to overcome, of us struggling to know how best to support her.

We were lucky, and we still don't really know what to do next.

I can't help but think this isn't what 'lucky' should look like. Parents should be supported and believed, schools should be equipped to support all pupils, CAMHS should be properly funded to be able to deal with referrals promptly. Our 'luck' should be the baseline.