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UK’s top locations to raise a family in

18 December, 2014

Would you consider moving home simply to be in a place you think would be good to raise the kiddos? I have to say that it definitely informed our own decision to move here. We wanted a wilder life for our children, where they grew up knowing the difference between sheep and polar bears. When we go on walks now Juno still shoves rank stuff she has found in her mouth, but it is less South London’s famous fried chicken bones and more slightly poo-ey chicken feathers. It seems a bit better, for some reason.

I’ve collaborated with Linden Homes to bring you this post about some of the UK’s top spots to raise kids:

Choosing where to raise a family is a decision almost every parent has to make. Different parents have different priorities – some will choose the area with the best schools whilst others will decide upon an area based on the neighbourhood and standards of housing.
There are a number of family friendly locations in the UK; full of parks, museums and child friendly restaurants. Here are the top 8:
1. Cheltenham – Gloucestershire
This area is known for its low crime rate and excellent schooling. It also holds a number of children’s festivals throughout the year which the entire family can look forward to.
2. Norfolk
This area presents families with the ability to give their children a classical English childhood. There are plenty of woodland areas and the beaches are beautiful – the schools in the local area are also very good.
3. Stamford – Lincolnshire
This comprises of a beautiful market town which families love to visit on a weekly basis. Housing is also reasonably priced in this area.
4. Buckinghamshire
This area is known for its Roald Dahl museum which children of all ages love to visit. It is also easy to commute to London so is ideal for working parents.
5. Edinburgh
This was named one of the most child-friendly places in Europe due to the wealth of parks and playing spaces available for children and families. It also has a large amount of historical value to it, which is ideal for educating children.
6. Tunbridge Wells – Kent
Tunbridge Wells is ideal for parents with very young children due to the large amount of parks in the area. Also the schools – public and private – are all well regarded.
7. Hampstead
This town has the largest number of schools in the UK – the good schools at that. This is just one reason why parents flock here. There are also a number of parks and museums which are perfect for keeping children entertained during school holidays.
8. North Yorkshire
With a very low crime rate and affordable housing, it is thought to be the safest place to bring up children.
However, with the new homes in Manchester currently being built and at an affordable price, it is predicted that many families will soon be packing up their bags and flocking to the city of Manchester.
It is yet to be seen if this city will make it in the top eight family friendly locations in the UK in the future.

writing

Writing in my blood

10 December, 2014

It’s scratched out in biro, a ten year old’s retelling of the naughtiest thing she’s ever done: France July 1992. Found a packet of cigarettes with my cousin Michael. We emptied out a bit of the tobacco in each one and put a fire cracker inside, the wick hanging out just enough to be set alight. We put them all back in the packet and left them back on the bench, and hid in a bush to watch.

~

My mum and dad moved house last month, and as they packed up their old place they kept coming across all these things I had written. Journals, poems on waste paper, secret holiday stories retold in terrible, teacher-despairing handwriting.

So when I Skyped them this week with a revelation I had had, “Mum! Dad! I am a WRITER!” they were all “OBVIOUSLY!”

Until a few days ago I thought I was writing as a function. To share information about something I thought was important – like parenty things. Or to make a living.

In fact, you might be reading this going; I’ve been reading your writing for nearly 4 years. You wrote a bladdy book, you numpty.

But truly, it has only been over the last few days that some clouds have cleared in my head and I am able to say, not “I write” but “I am a writer” and it sounds like the most nuanced of differences but it has been quite life changing. I’ve been walking around in a mystical thin place, where it feels anything could happen. I swear to God the closest thing it feels like is being head over heals in love.

If it was a different vocation, at this point I’d probably have to sell everything and change my life from top to bottom, to sail my ship or enter a nunnery. But nothing really has to change for me… though I think everything will. Because now I can give space and joy and freedom to this thing that is pumping like mineral rich, life giving blood through my veins.

It looks like I’m writing a list of all my favourite verbs while I’m supposed to be cleaning the dish-bomb-stricken kitchen but you can’t judge me: IT’S MY VOCATION.

I’ve heard it said that, if, as an adult, you want to discover what it is you are CALLED to do, think about what you were doing a lot of when you were ten years old. Before the waters got muddied with expectations and talk of earning a living. Were you building? Drawing? Designing robots. Do more of that. That’s probably going to tap you into your deep down self.

And, as my mum and dad reminded me, what I was doing was writing. As soon as I could, I was piling words on top of words. I had diaries with scented pages and little locks on them. After every page I’d write a note for my sister “I KNOW YOU ARE READING THIS PUT IT DOWN AND MOVE AWAY”. I had one whole diary full of swears, the worse swears I’d ever heard of.

When I worked as a campaigner, for six years, the bit I loved the most, the days I came home high, were when I had been bashing on the keyboard, telling a story that I hoped might spark an activist into being.

Even when I’ve been painting and crafting, I’ve mostly been dealing in words.

I’ve been writing my whole life. But just this week feel able to say I am a writer.

Do you ever get the feeling that the earth has just been yanked to a stop on its axis? And that all the things that were meant to have been tipped into your lap? That is this week.

I grabbed a book from the library shelf on Monday because I liked the typeface. It then kept me up until 4am because I had to finish it, and then, I swear to God, I was buzzing out the whole next day because it was so simple and funny and GOOD. (God bless Maria Semple, and also, maybe the extra espresso I had to help me get through the day after an allnighter, yknow?) It made me go, WOW STORIES ARE SO AWESOME, STORIES STORIES STORIES… (Also, Woo COFFEEEEEE!)

And then, in another act of random grabbiness I got out Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and scoffed her book into my hungry,epiphanic week:

“We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn’t matter. . . Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp’s half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer’s task to say, “It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a café when you can eat macrobiotic at home.” Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.”

And, then, THEN, I got a parcel from the UK, from Mothers Milk Books – two books, the lovely Musings on Motherhood and the Parenting Anthology, which is the collection of parenthood poetry and prose collected during last years writing prize. They are raw, honest, moving and sort of opened my eyes to possibilities. By now the words “WRITER” are burning like neon on the underside of eyelids.

(Teika is currently collecting entries to the next Writing Prize – so if you are saying all these holy yeses to life and want to be published, this could be a step. It closes on 18th January.)

So yeah. A bit of a self indulgent post, to break an 8 day blog break. I guess perhaps a barrier to owning this writing-as-vocation thing is a fear about the indulgence of it all.

It’s been a introspective, cataclysmic week, in a nothing changes, you probably-won’t-notice kind of a way. Apart from possibly slightly less blogging – I’ve begun spending my writing energy getting back in touch with a biro and notepad. This time not so much scrawling out stories about being naughty but just weird, trippy bollocks in the middle of the night, and in worse handwriting.

What were you doing age ten? Has your vocation been a slow burner? Are you a writer? Or something else? Do you think you might enter the Mothers Milk Writing Prize?

IMG_9100.JPGRamona took this shot of Juno and I- she even chose black and white. I’m a writer, she is an artist…

DIY, Thrifty

Easy DIY Cloud Shelf (Yurt Life)

2 December, 2014

I haven’t done much DIY for a while – but when I began imagining a shelf that looks like a cloud I couldn’t hold back. (Ah, bladdy Pinterest kinda beat me to it. Remember the pre-Pinterest days, when you believed you’d invented everything?)

Anyway this cloud shelf filled my dreams. It would be like a cloud, floating on my wall. AWESOME.

“Hold me back, man…Where’s the jigsaw? WHERE’S THE JIGSAW HOLD ME BACK.”

You know I love a novelty shelf.

Exhibit A – shelf made out of a vintage suitcase.

Exhibit B – shelf made out of a book.

Shelves are expensive, and so are brackets. Even second hand ones. So why not just DIY something out of stuff you have lying around that is also just a little bit more beauty than a plank of wood, too? Why not, eh?

DIY CLoud Shelf Yurt Life

It was my first time using a jigsaw, and, my word, those things are flipping cool as. I felt like the world was my oyster, with that in my hand. I just pencilled the shape of a cloud onto a bit of MDF and then flipped the switch and buzzed it out. I started nervously and then I could see the bumps and turns forming under the saw. Ten minutes later I was holding a cloud in my hand.

*God complex*

DIY CLoud Shelf Yurt Life

Once I had the cloud shape – drawn so that the open bit fitted perfectly onto an existing box I had (an old wine crate would actually be ideal.) I then glue gunned it on. Because the cloud shape is just a facade it really doesn’t need a sturdier fixing than that. Glue gunning it also meant I avoided having nails on show. A few licks of  white paint made it the perfect canvas for my brightly coloured shelf occupants.

DIY CLoud Shelf Yurt Life

I used wire around the box to hang in on the trellis of the yurt. But you could equally just hang in on a nail.

cloud11

Then I filled it with my favourite little bits and pieces.

There is no coming back from this. Jigsawing out a shelf for every whim and fancy. A shelf representing every one of my favourite things. I could make a rainbow shelf! A shelf like a fox! A GOSH DARN FRIED EGG SHELF!

And I know I will never have a plank of wood for a shelf again.

Thrifty

Everything I know about a Thrifty, Ethical, Handmade Christmas

28 November, 2014

There they all are, popstars with that winsome, pouty, tragic look: “Do they know its Christmas time at all?”

They could be singing it about me. Or every other English expat sitting out here on the other side of the world.

(Sorry Bob. And, um, Africa, I guess. Although that song is a teency bit demeaning, though, no? Anyway, gosh. This is just a frivolous festive post, okay? Not a discussion about the White Saviour Industrial Complex…)

Because: no! It totally does not feel like Christmas while I am getting sunburnt weeding the sweetcorn patch or watching my daughter and her mates decorate a stick of bamboo stuck in the sand on the beach in lieu of a pine tree embedded in snow.

(I’m not really complaining though, really, honest…. although I do love to rock a vintage Christmas jumper… but the sun is nice and all, of course…)

The fact of the matter is though, I haven’t been thinking too much about festivities really. I do mean to step it up a notch next week.

I have, over the last few years, however, thought an awful lot about Christmas. I thought I’d share all the favourite things I’ve bashed out, in a timely way, so you can crack on with them as advent begins.

1- This advent calendar was such a pleasure to make, and such a joy to look at. I can’t wait to pull it out again on Sunday and fill it with poems and jokes and prayers and sweets and dreams and thanks. (Another blogger helping me put more thought into Adent is Sacraparental with this 76 advent ideas post.)Alternative Handmade Advent CalenderBeautiful Handmade Advent Calendar with pockets

2- A post I wrote last Christmas, with a lot of help from the whole of Facebook and Twitter, has gone kind of crazy. It is Sixty Great Gift Alternatives to Toys... and it is truly awesome. (Totally allowed to say that as only a few are my own ideas!!) It is packed full of cool as present ideas for kids, that don’t include filling up their bedrooms with more plastic crap. Share it around your family to inspire them! Find it here.

3- These homemade cinnamon Christmas birds are yummy smelling and fun and beautiful and just the very thing to make to get into the spirit of things. Must make them immediately. Homemade cinnamon Christmas birds

4- However, I have sourced some awesomely cool fair trade gifts for children in my time. Here are my favourite ethical toys, if you’d rather. (Also, any Londoners reading- the Fair Christmas Fayre is on tomorrow on Oxford Street. No jokes, this is the ONE HUNDRED PER CENT BEST PLACE to buy every single gift for everyone. More details here.)

5- My Top Tips for a thrifty yet awesome Christmas are here. Hey, look. If there is one thing I know, it is how to enjoy life and not spend any money. I reeeeeeeally believe we need a new kind of Christmas- one that doesn’t drain the earth’s resources or our pockets.everything I know about a thrifty handmade Christmas

6- Possibly my all time funnest craft. Razmataz dinosaurs. And cowboys. They look perfect as placeholders for Crimbo dinner… or even with a little cotton around them to hang on the tree.DIY Christmas Glitter Figures

So much to make and do! Think I’ve just managed to convince myself it IS Christmas by writing this. Hoorah for my fickle, easily persuaded mind!

Would love to hear about any awesome ethical Christmas posts you have read recently, or any way your family celebrates a Christmas that is easy on the earth…

 

collaborative

Putting a smile on your kids’ face this Christmas

27 November, 2014

I was lying awake in bed last night thinking about what our Christmas present strategy is going to be this year. It is something of a dance, I find, figuring out how to bring your kid a lot of joy, without making Christmas all about ripping wrapping off luxurious pressies, or how to not spend all your money without making them a bit jealous of all the children running around with their brand new awesome toys. Argh. I think we are going to go down the one cool present each route this year. Just getting one thing that we know they will fall head over heals in love with.

Anyhoo… here is a guest post from Santa* to let you know about another awesome strategy…

With the festive season just around the corner, parents up and down the country will be desperately searching for that perfect gift for their kids. While children are very good at dropping a few, rather un-subtle, hints, not all parents are able to afford the requests that are put before them.

Whether your little tike is asking for a pony or a new bicycle, it can be difficult to meet their expectations without breaking the bank. No one wants to spoil the Christmas magic by having Father Christmas fall short of his promises but it can be difficult to make everything work.

Making your money stretch

One way to put a smile on your kid’s face with the perfect Christmas is to start saving well in advance. Putting aside a little money each month can soon add up and you should only aim to buy your child one big present anyway as they may become spoilt otherwise.

Shop the sales

For an even better bargain, why not shop the sales after Christmas and get your kid something they really want for a lower price?

There is no point paying more than you have to and although you may feel bad about not giving your child their big present on the big day this feeling will surely subside once you see their happy, smiling face when you tell them they get to pick out their own present this year. Getting a present after Christmas Day is just another way to extend the celebrations and kids will love getting involved in the process of picking their own present.

Win it!

While saving money and shopping in the sales are great options, we all love getting something for nothing – so why not try and win the perfect Christmas present for your kids? Whether you’re looking for scooters, skateboards or bicycles for kids, companies such as Halfords have it all and they’re currently offering a great competition to let you win one of their top products in time for Christmas.

*Actually from Halfords, lol. See disclosure for more on that!

Parenting

Stuck in a Parenting Rut? 40 Unconventional Tips for Finding Your Mojo

25 November, 2014

We woke up grumpy yesterday. Not just on the wrong side of the bed, but the wrong side of the stratosphere. Ramona was snapping at me, I couldn’t appease her. I was getting impatient, Juno was clinging to my knees like moss on a log.

I plonked on the sofa and looked at the clock. 8.05 A.M. EIGHT OH FIVE AM?!? Give me strength.

“Shiver my timbers, children o mine. We are grumpy. Can you think of anything we can do to shake these blues away?” Without even a moment’s pause Ramona said “Have a bath, put my pyjamas on and bake chocolate biscuits.”

So, that is what we did. (Well, we tried to make biscuits but we got all maverick, slopping in some milk, and then it turned into a cake which meant we then made butter icing and shook sprinkles all over and then we sat down and ate the whole thing ourselves. It was decadent and perfect.)

And that good mood has lasted us a solid 24 hours.

It was however, the first time Ramona has been able to identify and articulate her own fug remedy. And I’m definitely crap at soothing myself out of a mood. It made me want to make a list of all the potential mood lifters for families who encounter that stuck in a rut syndrome. (A list! Yes, a list will solve everything!)

It goes without saying, that the first steps for cranky kids and cross parents is validation. Everyone needs to know it is okay to be angry, grumpy, sad or to have rubbish days. Children need to hear that their big feelings are accepted and that there is room for their bad selves. That is unconditional parenting.

But when bad moods are due to disconnection, or getting in a cycle of bad communication, or simply feeling stuck in a rut as a parent, there are some things that we can do in order to get through it, to reconnect, to laugh our socks off and feel at peace again.

So, with the help of marvellous Lulastic readers on Facebook (come and say hello), here are FORTY ways to re-connect, shake the grumps, and start having fun.

Forty ways to find your parenting mojo again

Madness
We have always relied on a little bit of the ludicrous to break a bad mood.

1 Dance. We will stick on the loudest, bassiest, most fun music we can find (actually, we have a playlist for it- Grumps Begone) and then we just GET DOWN. Reader, Lorella says these mini discos always start with this favourite song.

2 Facepaint. A new face, a new mood. I have a whole bunch of face painted faces in an album on my iPad and we chose one of those and rock our animal selves for a while. It normally ends in Ramona painting my face in her signature style- red all over.

3 Fancy Dress. We all tumble into the dress ups and become flamboyant mermaid ninjas.

4 Pots and Pans. LOUD NOISES. We bang and crash them and and chant and shout a sing and let it all out in a rhythmic way.

5 Roar. A reader explains that they let it all out with a lion roar. I very much like that sense that our bodies can perfectly capture our feelings- if we are feeling fierce we can BE FIERCE.

6 Epic den. In your lounge, as big as you can make it. The perfect spot to sit out chicken pox. See Tinker Studio for diy teepee inspo.

forty ways to reconnect with your children

7 Pulling faces. Bex and Missie Lizzie both rely on face pulling contests. It is silly and fun and will end in giggles, but perhaps more importantly it involves eye contact- one of the fundamentals for reconnecting.

The great outdoors
The outdoors, isn’t it great? It is the one stop shop for the irascible. Readers share about the almost immediate impact of soaking in Vitamin D on moods.

8 Find a spot of grass, your lawn or a patch of park, throw down a thick rug and lie on your backs and watch the clouds. Spot the dragons and alligators and candy floss. (That last one is WELL EASY.)

9 Pack a picnic and eat outside. On your balcony, at the beach. A picnic, for us, involves no caramelised onion tarte- but a can of sweet corn and a can of tuna, and crisps with which to shovel them in.

10 Find a place to run and race and leap about. After running races we can usually be found collapsed in a heap of giggles. Mary says “Sometimes you just the grumps! And kids need to understand that people have mood changes, bad days, sad days etc and that its ok to feel that way. Love support and time and then an epic round of puddle jumping and tree climbing followed by lots of hugs.”

11 Follow My Leader is also a temper shifter- and particularly ideal if a child’s anger comes as a result of feeling powerless.

12 Teddy Bear’s Picnic… All the cuddly toys shoved in an ikea basket, plus a packet of hobnobs. A tree to sit under= winner.

13 Barefoot babies. Whatever the season, shake off those shoes and socks and connect with the earth beneath your feet. Sarah says “We go outside and walk barefoot on the grass – grab some of that great earth energy!”

14 Go to your local beach, woodland or river, whatever the weather. Victoria says “We did it a couple of weekends ago in the rain and sat on a grey pebble beach having hot soup out of a thermos & eating cheese & tomato sandwiches…”

Water
A wise old sage once said “Cranky kids need to get in the water”. Find a way…

15 Bath. You have to turn the taps on, and then help your child in the water and stuff. (Hehe. It is so easy, but it is our absolute first resort.) Crank the connection up by getting in yourself and washing each other’s hair.

16 A colourful bath. Depending on the depth of the bad mood, you may need more help. We stick a few drops of food colouring in to make it extra awesome. (Um, in case you are wondering, and you don’t have food colouring on hand, sliced up beetroot also works a treat…)

17 Bath paints. They are crazily simple but combine the pleasures of being in water with being messy and creating something. Recipe here.

18 Pool. If you aren’t the irritable one than consider a swim at the pool. If you ARE the irritable one STAY AWAY. Those tangled cossies, sweaty legs, pubes stuck to your feet will be way, waaaay too much.

19 Water play. Perhaps you need five minutes to hide in a room and east your secret stash of maltesers. Get out the pots and pans again, several towels, and let your kids have a riot on the lino. Thalia says “Outside water play. ‘Go and get drenched. Sure you can take your soft toys…’

Eat

Speaking of secret stashes… Kids need to know that comfort can be found in eating. Ha, I jest. Sort of. Hey, no disorder is going to come of pulling out the pizzas at times of immovable grizzliness. (Don’t quote me on that.)

Anyway, anyway…. LOOK, PIZZA!!!

20 We have saved the day with DIY pizza. I don’t know what it is about it, but my children absolutely love the awesomeness of designing their own dinner. (Which we have sometimes eaten at 3pm.) Ramona’s speciality is with sprinkles of popcorn.

21 Get an ice cream. This is probably our second resort… It involves a famous chain that prey on the whole word with their scary clown man and addictive sugary substances with extra msg…. One I avoided for TWO DECADES. Then I had kids and realised that their ice creams cost 30p and if you go through the drive thru YOU DONT EVEN HAVE TO GET OUT OF THE CAR. OR, THEREFORE, YOUR PYJAMAS. 60p buys both my children so much happiness- I actually feel like it is US exploiting THEM.

22 Chocolate cake! Or biscuits. (Whatever.) Eating something so rich, on the best china has an opulence that feels like a snatched magic moment. (*Maggggic moooooments….*)

23 A chocolate platter. Bring it all out man. Come on…Help the kids think that they have struck gold. You will love it too, and that is partly what the list is for. Finding things that will lift the mood of everyone. It’s legit, anyway. There is Valium in chocolate… I mean endorphins…. Or oxytocin…. Or something….

Make a plan

If you are lucky you might also have time to execute it….

24 We have planned lantern works for the evening…. We made lanterns and then went for the most basic little stroll carrying our lanterns as soon as dusk settled.

25 We have planned movie nights, with tickets and bags of popcorn.

26 We have planned, and done, treasure hunts. For preschoolers, they actually enjoy the planning as much as the hunt. Ruth says “Sometimes I’ll make up a treasure hunt and leave clues around the house.”

27 We have planned camping trips… Making lists (they fix everything) of what we will do and what we will need to take.

It is about dreaming… Of thinking of another day, a different day.

Get your needs met

If you, as the parent, are not coping, do something immediately that will give you hope.

28 Phone a friend. Share your sadness but move on to happiness. Discuss your real feelings, but take a moment to remember some things you have to be thankful for.

29 Dream of sea wind. Plan a trip for your own mental health. Perhaps you all need to get away for one night in order to feel the sea wind in your hair.

30 Book it an afternoon in. Email your other half and discuss an afternoon in the next week that you are going to book in in order to go solo to the cinema.

31 Swap your kids. Call your friend and organise a child swap for the very next day… You have two kids while the other rests and then swap.

32 Start a jar of awesome. My friend was telling me about her friend (it sounds like an urban legend, but I’m sure it’s true) who has a jar of awesome. Every single day she puts something in there, either a little note of something she is thankful for or a trinket to remind her of something special. And then whenever she feels blue she raids the jar, for something to give her the warm fuzzies.

Stop

33 Cancel. Can you cancel the appointment, quit any agenda? Swap the dentist for a trip to the beach. Sometimes these decisions feel irresponsible… But they can be the key to happiness.

34 Hands Free. Adele says “Recently what’s helped is me forcing myself not to look at the phone or computer for the whole day or at least most of it. I’ve realised that my being distracted makes us ALL grumpy.” THIS. SO MUCH!

35 Quit the now, for a few moments. I love this one from Becca “Looking at baby photos with them. Remembering that innocence and vulnerability – that we are the caretakers of (hard to remember at times of extremis.)

36 Stop hanging out together. Ha. You know, as much as possible. Adrienne says “Making ‘cubbies’ out of overturned chairs, blankets, under beds or tables, wherever. Separate cubbies for each child (and even for mummy) if we’re all getting scratchy. I realised when my children were quite young that they are all introverted and time alone is really important for each of them. I tried to help them identify their feelings when they were overwhelmed by too much people – and I would ask them ‘do you need some time by yourself?’ NOT as a punishment but as an option for them to choose.”

Emergency Supplies

Sometimes, if we are on our way home and the girls and I are cranky pants I will pray that there is a package from my family awaiting us. Well… Better than God, or my family:

37 Secret Parcel. The next time you find something awesome in a charity shop, be it a box of fuzzy felts or a puzzle. Squirrel it away on top of the wardrobe for when you need a trick.

38 Unknown craft materials. A tiny packet of new modelling clay, a new stamp, some stickers. Something small and as yet destroyed turned into art will give you a breather and your children some fun.

39 Unseen fancy dress. Again, it is all about the stealth supply. The next time you see a flouncy dress in a charity shop, tuck it away and pull it out when you are down in the dumps.

40 ideas for reconnecting with your children

40 The parent’s stuff. Oh yes, I have been known to willingly hand down to my 18 month old an entire bits and bobs draw so that I can cook dinner. Some people call these “treasure baskets“… I call it “the things I don’t have a home for draw”- key rings, touristy fridge magnets (things usually sent in a parcel from my family), the camera case, a lighter… (Jokes.) You get the idea. Grown up stuff… They love it.

BONUS FEATURE!!!

The Four Healing Salves

I heard today of this ancient shamanic concept and feel it is a perfect one to remember, particularly for those of us for whom these bad days happen all too often. I hope it isn’t cultural appropriation to share it with you.

There are four activities that, if we can incorporate them into our weekly rhythm will keep us whole. I see that nearly all of them are present in the above list in some way, so they have a beautiful restorative impact too.

Singing. Be it listening to music, or belting out anthems on our way to work, singing releases all sorts of goodness for our soul.

Movement. Busting the moves, jiggling at the lights, yoga or sports.

Story. Being enthralled in the magic of a story, phoning our friends simply to share stories, catching up with people.

Silence. Sitting on the beach with the whisper of the wind, twenty minutes of meditation, stilling our minds as we cuddle our children to sleep.

How are you doing with those? I see these salves as an invitation to self care, to meet the needs of my own soul so that the next day I can get covered in facepaint whilst dancing to the Monkey song and stuffing cake in my gob at a Teddy Bear’s picnic on the beach.

I really believe that we don’t have to get stuck in a rut – that we all have the power to change things. I reckon these ideas could help break the cycle of disconnect, get you all laughing and rocking your awesome parenting mojo again.

Do any of these work a treat for your family? Do you have any other suggestions? As always,I looooove to hear from you…

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When is the right time for children to sleep solo?

25 November, 2014

It has finally happened. We are at the stage where Ramona is ready for her own children’s bed- only about 3 years after we once thought it might happen!

We fell into cosleeping, really. I just couldn’t bear to have her anywhere but by my side. And she slept so well there, could nurse so easily.

After following my instinct on this I began to read up on it – Three In A Bed provided all the research I could possibly hope for. It reassured me that cosleeping was absolutely normal- the primary way families sleep all over the non Western World.

And since then I haven’t thought twice about it. We had another baby, in she slotted. The four of us now cocooned in our massive family bed.

Now Ramona is four and, spurred on by a gift of new Micky Mouse bedsheets by her grandparents, has asked for her own bed.

Since we live in a yurt, and don’t have too much spare space, Tim is thinking of building a bunk that can sort of hang over the top of our bed. Like a double on the bottom and a single on the top. Is this a thing already? If not: DRAGON’S DEN! The perfect solution for families in tiny spaces. Hehe.

Who knows whether Ramona will sleep perfectly into this new arrangement. If she doesn’t, it hardly matters, we will be happy with family cosleeping for much longer. (Apparently in Japan no one sleeps solo until 15. I KNOW. AWESOME. I can remember being a teenager and cosleeping with my best friends at sleep overs! I found great comfort in it. Lonely times, those teenage years.)

Once the bunk gets builts, I shall put some pictures up.

A collaboration with Homebase- see disclosure for more info.

collaborative

Visit thrifty, vintage Manchester in December

19 November, 2014

Whenever I think of Manchester I say, in my head, “COME ON THEN I’LL ‘AVE YA” Gallagher brother styles. I always think of the place as being in yer face, buzzed out, hyped up, Britpop fuelled fury. But in real life, whenever I have been there, I have found it to be simply stylish and fun and crammed to the rafters with retro capers.

I used to have to go to Manchester for work meetings all the time and I always used to book a late train back to London, not just to avoid the on peak train expenses- which can be the difference between a £15 fare and. £150 far, absurdly, but in order to make the most of being in such a fun city.
I have cool memories tucked away of meandering around the city centre, enjoying the Christmas lights whilst wishing I had another jumper, spending my pennies in the excellent second hand shops (on an extra jumper), enjoying the alternative vibes and ending with some of the best cheap noodles I’ve ever tasted in their China Town.

If you have a spare weekend over the coming weeks do consider booking a thrifty hotel with Hotel Direct and relishing all the good freebies and cheapies Manchester has to offer.

Here are five reasons to visit Manchester in December:

Afflecks
This could be number one to five for me. It is awesome, retro inspiration and there is no other place in Britain like it! Vintage clothing, antique trinkets and retro games. Loooooove. I bought my first ever pair of vintage sunnies here back in the early 2000’s and haven’t looked back. You will be able to pick up all your Christmas pressies in this one spot, I reckon. (Although vintage sunnies might be a bit unseasonal.)

Christmas Market
Skip the mad, busy Southbank or the faraway markets of Germany for this perfectly compact and lovely Manchester Market. Everything you’d hope for in a Christmas Market, with the added benefit of being close to the station and much cheaper than London! Manchester do Christmas lights with aplomb too- be bedazzled and amazed with the array of bedangling kitsch.

Oxfam Manchester
T
he Oxfam Emporium in Manchester is by about 7000% the best Oxfam in the UK. It rocks. It is slightly more expensive than other Oxfams, but only just, and it is worth it as they have selected the absolute best of retro garb. There is also a record shop and book shop- all three of which make Manchester worth a visit for second hand lovers! (Lovers of second hand that it, ermmmm.) Oxfam staff have lovingly sorted through the jumble and these shops feel much more ordered than the usual charity shop. If you have a list of people you need to buy for, I’m sure they are the (second) IDEAL place to get all your Christmas pressies!

The Great Outdoors
Manchester is a gateway to some of the most lovely parks and reserves in the North. Daisy Nook (hello, cutest name evs) has a river for paddling, birds to spot, meadows to roll in and trees to climb. Take a day exploring this lovely place, and let nature therapeutize (WHAT?! Spell check hasn’t underlined that word?! I totally thought I had made it up?!) you.

Free Music
It would be remiss to begin with the Gallagher brothers and not mention the rich musical heritage of Manchester. We have that city to thank for SO MUCH musical beauty. And, the cool thing,  is that local musicians are often happy to share with the public for free! For example, Festwich, is an annual festival, open to all and it doesn’t cost a penny. There are also tons of free events, particularly festive ones, at the Manchester Cathedral.

*sung to Alanis Morisette* Thank you Manchester!

No Poo, Thrifty

No Poo: 20 Surprising Results of Giving Up Shampoo

18 November, 2014

I was lying in the bath the other night, immersing my hair in the hot water (not as relaxing as it sounds- I’m a mother, you know? I had an 18 month old sitting on my tummy face planting on to my boobs and a four year old up the other end balancing rubber ducks on my knees) when it occurred to me that my hair is taking a really long time to get soaked through.

Like water off a ducks back, it was taking almost half a minute to penetrate my hair shafts. I concluded it is because my hair is so strong and healthy now, each strand so perfectly encased with magnificent sebum, that it was protecting itself against the elements…My hair  has become the elite samurai warrior of hair.

It made me wonder about all the extra, often unexpected results of giving up shampoo. I asked on my Facebook page what people have discovered their hair doing since going No Poo, and I loved hearing all the curious side effects…Giving up shampoo - unexpected benefits

One thing people don’t expect is that No Poo will actually make their hair 10 million times better (I actually did the maths, of course) than when they were using an expensive shampoo:

Soft Hair
“Soft as butter” Megan

“My hairdresser commented on how incredibly soft it was.” Katherine

“I have soft, strong non oily hair.” Helen

Voluminous Hair
“My hair is getting thicker and voluminous without the chemical cocktail of shampoo.” Ayse

“I’m finding my hair is thicker” Katherine

“The thickness and volume is great and I find my hair not only is harder to wet but also takes longer to dry.” Kathy

“I went No Poo at the start of Sept and my hair is so much softer and has heaps more body than it had previously. It was always limp and flyaway before so… WooHoo!” Janine

“Just lately my hairdresser told me she had thinned out the sides a bit (I have short hair). NEVER happened before.” Magdelene

Manageable Hair
“Became easier to manage and stopped depositing itself all over furniture/clothes/bedding. ” Ella

Shiny Hair
“I switched from shampoo to baking soda about a month ago and my hair is healthy and shinier than ever.” Laura

“Hair is long, thick and shiny.” Heather

“I switched from shampoo to baking soda about a month ago and my hair is healthy and shinier than ever!” Laura G

Vibrant Hair
 “I also think my natural color is more vibrant.” Bree

Hair is growing like fury
“My hair is growing like fury! ” Heather

“I think I am actually growing more hair?” Molly

People are discovering their hair actually changes, in texture and shape – often times into exactly the hair they want. Personally, I have always had hair as straight an limp as an arrow. A few months after giving up shampoo it got the most lovely wave. HURRAH!

Straight Hair
“My hair is straight! It’s always been unruly and wavy but now I don’t need to use straighteners ever.” Charlotte

Curly Hair
“No need for product to emphasise curls…love it!” Megan

Tangle Free Hair
“I find my hair is incredibly easy to brush all the time, no matter what i’ve done with it!” Rebecca

I found quite quickly that giving up shampoo had enormous benefits for my skin. Spots I have had my whole life, on my face and shoulders disappeared:

Goodbye Acne
“I stopped using shampoo about 3 months ago and I also decided to stop washing my face with anything too. I’ve suffered from acne most of my life and although it’s been a lot less severe as I’ve got older, and since I’ve had children, my skin is truly the best it’s been for a very long time (people have commented on it – even my Mum, so it must be true!!)” Maddie

Goodbye Eczema
“My husband and son both had eczema but since our whole family of 5 has gone poo free they no longer have eczema!!” Bree

Goodbye Warts
“I had a wart on my finger for at least 4 years. Within two weeks of using baking soda instead of shampoo the wart completely disappeared!” Charly

Goodbye Styling Products
“I love the ‘stiffness’ and volume of my hair with no poo, it’s what I used to have to use 2 or 3 diff products for.. (Wax, mattifying powder, and hairspray..) Now it’s just my natural state.. SO stoked to discover my desire for that texture wasn’t stupid- it was exactly how my hairs meant to be.” Maryanne

Goodbye Cluttered Shelves
“My unexpected side effect has been a new obsession with the labels of beauty products, I’m running everything down and switching to coconut oil and bicarb combos. So the bathroom clutter is disappearing too!” Heather

Goodbye Itchy Scalp
“I was getting an itchy scalp with normal shampoo since going poo free my scalp is itch free and my hair feels lighter and just more healthy” Bree

Goodbye Flaky Scalp
“No more dry patches on my scalp!” Molly

“I have significantly less dandruff and my hair looks less dull.” Caitrin

(Hello, Flaky Scalp)
“Why am I getting dandruff for the first time in my life?” Sarah (A few people also mentioned getting dandruff so I did ought to mention it! It is quite common in transition, as the scalp gets used to not being assaulted by toxins! I cover this in Happy Hair - I suggest using a rosemary herb tea amongst other things.

And then there is the sense that being shampoo-free is one way we can step more lightly on the earth. I am sure the No Poo movement is part of a wider, ecological movement:

Hello Eco Warrior Credentials
“I am thrilled at minimising all the plastic packaging that store bought hair products are contained in.” Ella

Hello Festival Happiness
“I’ve been shampoo free for about 4 years now, and just love that my hair always looks great! Go to a 8 day festival – no worries, hair looks same as ever!”  Jessica

Do you have any other unexpected side effects from giving up shampoo? Would love to hear from you. 

PS If you are thinking about giving up shampoo do check out my super thrifty book – it has everything you might possibly need to know about beginning this journey!

Thrifty

20 Amazing Second Hand Gift Ideas

11 November, 2014

When I was a teenager the BIGGEST insult you could hurl at someone was to say they got their clothes from Oxfam. Seriously, I lived in fear that someone would discover it was my favourite shop. HAHAHA. I used to sneak in so furtively, glancing around to make sure no one saw me enter, coat pulled up around my face. And then I’d say I found my vintage Lee flares at Miss Selfridge.

And now, here I am… the proudest Oxfam lover on the planet. It is genuinely one of the things I miss the most about living in NZ! (Also, like, my family…) Oxfam Online especially is one of the best places to buy vintage these days. The money goes to support incredible projects in the developing world AND you get a bargainous bit of antiquity.

Sheesh, if they had Oxfam Online when I was younger there would have been absolutely no need for me to don that big nose and moustache disguise just to go shopping.

Imagine how much less strain on the earth Christmas would be if we could whole heartedly embrace second hand gifts, eh? WELL…. to help things along I have sacrificially spent the entire morning on the Oxfam shop looking at every beautiful vintage item on there…. and here are my top picks. Beautiful Secondhand Gifts from Oxfam

HOME
1- Mix and Match Crockery – like this beautiful Minton Bone China Plate… So many lovely tea cups and saucers when you hit up the excellent search function.
2- Hand Crocheted Blankets – such an array of colours.. this one is my fave
IMG_1259.JPG
3A perfect small vintage tin… I have a collection of these sitting idly on my shelf. I fondle them.
4- Antique Kitchen Ware – HEllO, these scales….
5- Retro Picnic Ware – odds and ends of yellow melamine? Yes, please! *dies of love* (It has taken me forever to build up our little collection of melamine…)

BOOKS
6- Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches - the perfect book for the crafter in your life
7- The complete book of Kites and Kite flying. They have a huge selection of hobby books for kids too.
8- They have every kind of vintage penguin edition, in good nick too, for a total bargain. Absolute classic pressie…

WEAR
9- They have a tremendous collection of vintage dresses for the more flush of you. This one is a 1950’s, hand embroidered frock. I am a bit in love with it.
10- Not all their retro gear is dear though. I spotted this INSANELY AWESOME retro jacket and it is a snip! Oxfam Vintage Jacket
11- The yellow jacket pictured is a vintage jacket from their Pop Art Pallete section. Search “Pop Art Palette” for some of the most glorious, fairly reasonably priced, colourful wears you’ve ever clapped your eyes on.
12- They also have lots of modestly price retro- style very glam evening wear…. *dreams of having an occasion to wear this*
13- And an absurd array of fun festive jumpers if you are deciding to jump on that marvellous wagon this Christmas.

(Oh rats, now I have basically just begun browsing the whole shop for things I love… Ahem. Let me get back to the gift guide for YOU.)

CHILDREN
14- The children won’t care if a toy is vintage of not- but you get the satisfaction of giving a styley, eco gift!! See this cool, colourful retro pack of Dominoes (you could take it to the next level and turn them into fridge magnets with this guide….)
15- Hi there, fun, vintage jigsaw!
16- Sweet and dreamy (and only one or two that look a bit terrifying) vintage dolls…
17- They have a crazily adorable stash of children’s vintage wear too

HARD TO BUY FOR
18 – Browse their Ephemera category for such joyous finds as a vintage train whistle, vintage binoculars and ancient postcards
19- Vintage gloves are always a winner, you know it.
20- This last one is not vintage but deserves a mention as a brilliant pressie for the person that needs nothing more – particularly for people you need to buy a gift for but don’t know very well. Oxfam Unwrapped takes your money and gives an often life saving gift for someone who needs it very much.

PHEW! What an arduous morning, browsing their website and falling in love over and over.

If you are trying to do Christmas in a more ethical way this year please check out these links:
The London Fair Christmas Fayre – happening on Saturday November 29th on Oxford Street. Millions of eco and fair trade gifts under one roof.
Sacraparental’s awesomely awesome guide to world-changing gifts. So many ideas. (Also, a kind of Christian intro…)
My guide for non-toy alternatives, crowdsourced by readers, these are the most creative ideas for not buying more stuff!

Proudly partnering with Oxfam through Affiliate Links.