Buy Nothing New – month 1 review

So, what I have a learned so far?

It’s only been a month, and I wasn’t a huge ‘consumer’ before I made this pledge, so I haven’t found the actual not-purchasing as difficult as I might have done, were my buying habits different. That said, books and other things I ordered online before my birthday have been coming through the post in drips, which means I haven’t felt it as acutely as I might.

What I have noticed, however, is a feeling of what can only be described as ‘overwhelm’ at the quantity of things in my house. As I’ve said before – we’re not a family overburdened with stuff. I like to aim for a quantity of items which would fit easily into two transit vans, should we ever need to move again – one for me to drive, and one for Husband. We also have no storage built into the house. As a property that was originally constructed in 1901, there just wasn’t a need for built-in wardrobes…

Even so, I’ve become acutely aware that if anything breaks, I can’t just throw it out and buy a replacement. This means that I’ve been hit with a sense of responsibilty for every single object I own. I feel that I am obligated to repair anything which needs it because I am unable to replace it in the near future.

Really, though, shouldn’t this just be usual?

Shouldn’t we feel a sense of responsibility to care for the items we’re custodians of?

Anyway, in practical terms, how have I done?

I have made purchases this month – though as specified, these are not new items. I’ve bought:

  • A second-hand set of stainless steel sieves. Two days after my birthday, our 25p-just-got-married-Sainsbury’s-Basics plastic sieve snapped in half. We tried to glue it and failed. We then tried to live without it – using a collinder instead – but failed in that too. Rice just poured through the holes. I bought second-hand commercial cookware, though, so these items should – in theory – last a domestic setting a lifetime.
  • Four Woodland Trust Guide Books. These were brand new, so I think I’ve technically broken my promise in the first month, but these aren’t for me so… does that technically count? I was caught off guard when the opportunity to meet my youngest child’s nursery teachers arose. We went foraging with the class one day and I thought it would be a nice ‘Thank You’ gift to hand over something about fungi. Because I’m fickle, I’m OK with this – it supports the Woodland Trust and shares a love of the outdoors.
  • A two-minute egg timer. Bought second-hand on eBay, this is to aid in the daily battle that is brushing teeth. It’s made of wood and glass, and is pre-loved. I think it fits the bill of ‘permitted’ purchases well.
  • Books. In addition to the guide books noted above, I bought the next comic in the series Husband is reading, and a violin music book for myself. In both instances, I bought these items used, though ironically, the violin music cost more second-hand than it did to buy new. That one stung a little, I will admit.

And that’s it! A total of just under £70 including postage.

Has there been anything I specifically wish I could buy, but didn’t?

  • Cotton wadding for the middle of a patchwork quilt. I’ve done the top layer, have the fabric for the bottom layer and just need some kind of filling. I’m sure that if I wait, a solution will present itself, but I’d love to tick another finished craft off my list, so this one’s haunting me a bit. If, by November, I haven’t found a way to complete this without making a purchase, I probably will buy some wadding and use the quilt as a gift.
  • Buy a Stranger a Book via the Big Green Bookshop. Every Wednesday, Simon at the Big Green Bookshop runs the ‘Buy a Stranger a Book‘ event on Twitter. It’s exactly what it sounds like – people can offer to purchase a copy of their favourite work for a stranger. I think I’ll make this an exception to the rule and participate in this going forward, but for June/July, I haven’t done it because I felt like I was breaking my own arbitrary rules.

‘The 5 Rs’ – Recycle

A bit of a different one this time (compared to ‘reduce‘ and ‘reuse‘), because I’m not going to talk about how to recycle. I’m going to tell you not to.

Recycling is great – don’t get me wrong – but people tend to act as though it solves all of our waste problems and it really, really doesn’t. Yes, it takes less energy to melt down a plastic milk bottle and make a new one than it does to extract oil, turn it into to plastic and then make it milk-bottle-shaped, but it also takes much less energy over time to just keep reusing a glass milk bottle instead. And glass can be recycled indefinitely so is less likely to end up in landfill/the sea at the end of its useful life. And if it does, it’s less likely to cause harm throughout the food chain.

So, remembering the 5 Rs, we can see that recycle is the penultimate step. By the time we get to this stage, if we’ve been doing our job properly, there shouldn’t be an awful lot of food-related or general recycling left.

So what about the things which are?

Well, when trying to dispose of larger objects – cot mattresses, furniture, carpets etc. – I try to pass them on via Freecycle. Interestingly, if they don’t find new homes through this site, they tend to via the ‘Freebies’ section on Gumtree, or – back when I used the platform – Facebook marketplace. I don’t know whether this is simply because people don’t expect something for nothing, but for whatever reason, things which won’t move on Freecycle will go on Gumtree.

For smaller items which aren’t collected as part of kerbside pickups, it’s worth checking on Terracycle. There are various collection points for hard-to-recycle goods throughout the country so seeing if there are any near you is a good start. For those with a few more spare pennies, you could invest in an ‘All-In-One’ zero waste box but – fair warning – they are an investment. The smallest option is over £100 so this does price it out many budgets. I don’t think it’s something that I’ll be doing, but it’s always nice to see that the option is there.

For a lot of objects, however, thinking outside of the box is required. When we cleaned out the bathroom at my inlaws’ house we excavated a lifetime of spectacles, stacked in neat, sedimentary layers in the cupboard. On the off chance, I asked my optician back in the UK if they could do anything with the collection. Surprisingly, they could! There are actually lots of options for old eyeglasses, some of which are listed in a Metro article here.

Obviously, there are so many things we could talk about disposing of here – pens, scissors, cutlery… the best place to start would be to make a list of the things that you’re disposing of, either regularly or irregularly. After you’ve safely/responsibly disposed of said item, it’s worth having a look at your list and checking out the alternatives that are out there.

Using the example of our sieve, which broke the other week:
– I tried to fix it.
– I tried to look for a way to recycle it (but couldn’t find one).
– I threw it away and tried to live without one. I struggled.
– I did some research as to what alternatives there were. Whilst I could buy a sustainable, fair trade wooden sieve, I wanted something that I wouldn’t have to replace in the future so I looked up industrial cookware on eBay and found a set of 3 used sieves for £25.

Whatever you’re throwing away, take a good look at it first. If you can’t mend it, try to live without it, and if you can’t do that then buy to last. This is the theory that the website (and attached book) Buy Me Once is all about.

It’s also worth noting that some companies will accept their products back. The first example which springs to mind is the oral-hygiene supplier Brush’d. The toothbrush heads we purchased from there came with a stamped, self-addressed envelope which makes it super-easy to recycle the heads. It’s really encouraging to see more companies doing this sort of thing.

Obviously, if you can find alternative products to your usual choices which don’t need recycling then that’s even better – pencil highlighters instead of plastic ones, pens with refillable ink cartridges instead of disposable ball-points, online magazine subscriiptions via the library… there are all sorts of more sustainable solutions out there.

I really hope this was helpful – it’s a hard topic to write about! I’d love to hear what you think – either here, or on Twitter.

Playtime

I hear it time and time again when the topic of children arises – how can they have so much stuff?

And at the risk of sounding brutal, the answer is: because we buy it for them.

But do we really need to?

It’s easy to feel judged as a parent – to feel as if by not doing what others around us are doing that we’re somehow failing. But that simply isn’t the case – all our children are different and they all have different interests and passions.

But we don’t need to buy whole new sets of playthings for each of these interests if we invest in good quality, versatile items to begin with. And these might not necessarily be toys. 

The loose parts play movement aims to foster a sense of creativity and inventiveness in children by providing them with tools from which to create the things they want to play with. There is a wealth of information online with ideas all over Pinterest , but there’s also a really comprehensive guide available here, on Play Scotland’s website.

Loose parts might include things like shells, buttons, sticks, empty picture frames, feathers, building blocks, small bean bags, dried peas, cups, and old baking equiptment.

In the picture above we’ve got some corks, stone eggs, chopsticks, wooden fruit, feathers and wooden cutlery.

We also have some beautiful old Danish and German coins we found, whilst clearing out my inlaws’ house.

The dried peas have long been a favourite to play with – they form the basis of many a pretend meal, as well as rubble for diggers and landslides for trains.

Blankets are another wonderful item to add to the mix too – old cot-blankets are ideal as they’re a managable size for small people. These serve as dressing up, dance floors, doll beds, landscapes, i-spy scapes (in the case of one particularly colourful patchwork example) and den-building fodder.

With the above selection of seeminly random objects, we’ve played supermarkets and cafes, built bridges and birdnests, and done no end of collages.

This is the bird my eldest made, following a trip to the local falconry centre.

Over the lockdown period, we used the loose parts to supplement learning – shown here when we modelled parts of the butterfly/caterpillar lifecycle.

The above wooden tray is actually a bread-board I found in a charity shop – the dip where the letters are is intended for butter, whilst the chamber holding the rice originally held a grid for slicing the bread over to stop the escape of bread crumbs.

I used the grid part for threading when the children were younger…
Nowadays, it tends to be used as a musical instrument ‘scraper’. Running a chopstick along the ridges makes an excellent sound.

In the past, it’s also been used for Hama beads – the beads themselves occupying the butter cavity, whilst the plate sit in the bit where the rice currently is. In fact, this single, unobtrusive item has possibly one of the most-used play things in our house. And I can use it for its intended purpose when the kids have finished with it!

There are lots of possible games and activities you can make from loose parts – we’ve enjoyed DIY draughts/checkers, a ring-toss game, mancala, and a whole variety of transient versions of snakes and ladders. You can make counting games, where children place the correct number of buttons or pine cones or blocks onto the relevant digit (i.e. 7 coins on the number 7), or bingo grids where they roll a dice and cover the number they roll using – for example – a shell.

We’ve made matching games, which are great for early literacy – matching shapes is an essential skill for early reading. All I did here was lay keys out on the scanner bed, then press scan.

One of our recent favourites has been float vs sink. You ask the child which items they think will float, and which they think will sink and then you experiment…

The only limits, really, are your imagination… and the size of item you include for younger children.

You can make use of loose parts anywhere – they’re great fun for playing with in the garden and on walks.

Most of the things we use either came from charity shops, the kitchen drawers, or the countryside around us. Conkers and acorns were gathered on woodland walks, wooden spoons and chopsticks were purloined from the kitchen, whilst corks, bobbins and buttons have been diligently saved over the years. Keys were purchased on eBay and things like the wooden fruit and stone eggs were picked up along the way in charity shops.

Obviously we do have purpose-made toys too, but I tend to focus on truly versatile things – Lego, wooden blocks, vehicles, animal figures, dolls, stuffed toys, musical instruments, and STEM sets like Georello gears and Magformer shapes. All of these are readily available second hand (though branded things like Lego can be slightly more costly, even when used).

Loose parts are cheap, easily-accessible and versatile. A few small drawers of them can replace cupboards-worth of conventional toys. The ones I’ve showcased here tend to be made from natural materials, but that’s only because I’ve been trying to reduce the plastics in my house for many years now. Plastic bottle tops, plastic bobbins, single-use neon shot glasses, plastic straws, plastic pipes… these are all useful, valuable resources too. The point is not to elimiate synthetic materials, but to have fewer, more versatile items. This, in turn, will reduce the need for new toys, the storage to keep them, and the production of them – most of the items listed have either been used before (i.e. corks and bobbins), or can be used after they’re grown out of (i.e. the bread board).

One of the single, easiest things we can do to reduce our environmental impact is to consume less. Loose parts are a great way to do this whilst fostering a love of imaginative and educational play.

I would love to hear any ideas for how to use loose parts – I’m always on the lookout for new ideas on how we can use them! You can contact me either here or on Twitter.

Need vs Want

At the start of lockdown, my eldest’s favourite club issued the following challenge.

We were given a list of ‘things’ and had to divide them into categories – things we want and things we need.

In a group setting, this was meant to encourage the children to think about and discuss the idea of actual need – so, things like food, water, clothing etc. over cinema trips, technology, and vehicles (for example). But naturally, we didn’t have a group, so we did the best that we could on our own.

It was interesting to see which items my child though were essential.

The picture above is terrible (because I still can’t find my camera charger and I don’t want to buy a new one), but the ‘needs’ included things I’d never thought about. Education, friends, sewage, clean water, clean food, shelter, medicine,trees and plants… at nine, my child understands so much more than many of the adults I know – myself included.

– What about the car? I agrued.
– What about the car?
– How would you get to school without it? 
I said.
– I wouldn’t. Or I would, but we’d have to get up really early and walk, or bike.
– And books? Education? You don’t 
technically need them.
– But without them, I can’t learn and get better. And if we’re not getting better, what’s the point?

What indeed?

I’m not posting this to brag – to say, ‘look at how wonderful my child is.’** I’m posting this because I’ve never actually sat down, with intention, to look at the things I need. For example, I’ve always thought that living where we do, we need a car. But my child is right – that simply isn’t the case. It would take over an hour to walk to the village, and then a further 20 minutes to get the train to town, and then a further 30 minutes to walk from the station to the supermarket*. But I could do it.

This is the case with so many things – do I need the lovely skein of yarn that will sit in a box until I can think what to do with it? No. Do I need another book to rest on a shelf indefinitely, as I continue to gather more that I’ll read at some point? No.

Do I need the pretty, ‘sustainable’ version of the item I already have? No.

I will definitely try and keep this question in mind far more as I move forward.

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*Interestingly, it would only take ten minutes to walk from the station to the butcher and refillery which is where I do most of my shopping.
** Though I do have very wonderful children.

Beans, beans…

At the beginning of the pandemic, the panic-buying highlighted issues in our food supply chain. In response, there were so many posts online about self-sufficieny.

Whilst I’m sure most of these were well-intentioned, I think it’s unrealistic to expect that people who’ve never attempted gardening before could support themselves completely. That said, there are lots of awesome things you can do to supplement your food shopping with delicious home-grown vegetables, even if you just have a windowsill.

Before I start, I just want to say – I’m not a gardener. This is the first year we’ve tried harvesting more than some herbs, perennial fruit,  and what we can forage. We built the raised beds last November – prior to the pandemic – and have tried to fill them as best we can this season, using what we had on hand (as seeds and seedlings were hard to come by).

So, without further ado, here are the things we grew from the store cupboard.

Garlic

By putting a bulb of garlic in the fridge for a few weeks, and then planting the individual segments, we managed to start 2 rows of healthy garlic plants. When the plants start to wilt a little, I’ll cut the leaves, chop them and freeze them for a milder garlic taste that I can add to stir-fry etc. Then I’ll let the bulbs dry and store them somewhere dark, and cool, and dry.

Corriander

I have a large stash of herbs and spices, and basically anything called ‘seeds’ are exactly that (which took me far too long to realise!). I’ve been growing corriander seeds on the window ledge in the kitchen for months now and they’re doing really well.

Peas

The peas that I grow are from a packet of dried store-cupboard peas, gifted to us in the early 2010s by Husband’s Norwegian colleauge when she moved back to Norway. I couldn’t think of a way to use dried peas that anyone would actually eat, and my eldest was going through a phase of planting things so I let nature take its course with that one…. and got the most wonderful, prolific pea plants I’ve ever come across. I’ve been growing from them ever since, and even though they’re now (at least) ten years old, they still reliably germinate. In short, don’t overlook dried legumes – they’re a wonderful way to plant from your kitchen.

Beans

This one was actually a little mind-blowing (to me, because I’m a numbers nerd)…

A pack of beansprouts at Tesco (correct at the time of writing) costs 70p for 300g, or £2.34 per kilo.

You can buy a bag of dried beans for £2.25 a kilo (already slightly cheaper than the sprouted counterpart).

To sprout beans yourself, all you need is a jar, some cloth, an elastic band, and some water (and some beans, obviously). To be honest, the cloth and the band aren’t 100% necessary either.

Cover the bottom of your jar in beans. What you can see above is around 25-50g, or between 7-11p worth of beans.

Soak them in water for around an hour…

Fix the cloth onto the top of the jar with the elastic band, use it as a seive to remove the excess water and place on the window ledge.

After 24 hours, I could see the start of germination. I added a little more water…

After 48 hours, they looked like this.

After a week, they looked like the picture above! It’s amazing how they can go from just covering the bottom of the jar to filling it.

At this point, just as the first leaves are forming, I normally put the jar in the fridge. This slows growth and make them keep for longer.

The finished sprouts weigh around 200g, which means that per kilo – if my maths is correct – they cost around 35-55p. That’s a lower price per kilo than for 300g of pre-sprouted beans.

If you can buy the beans from a refillery – which I’m lucky to be able to – this results in zero waste sprouts. I use them as a base for winter salads, as texture in summer salads, in stir-frys, and on sandwiches. If you’re meal-planning anyway, it’s very little extra effort to put some ‘beans on to sprout’, and potentially save yourself a few pennies and a plastic carrier.

Even if you can’t buy the dried beans free from plastic, you’re still saving a lot of packaging from landfill. Let’s say – for the sake of easy numbers – that you sprout 50g of beans a time. This means that the 1kg back of beans will give you 20 sproutings. Each sprouting will give you around 250g (I’m saying 250g for easy maths, plus I’ve used the large example of 50g so the resulting sprouts will be slightly heavier). So that’s 20×250=5000g, or 5kg. The equivalent 300g packs of pre-sprouted beans would come in 16.6 plastic bags.

That’s effectively 15-16 plastic bags that you’ve saved from landfill, depending on whether you bought the dried beans loose or packaged.

Hhmmm… I got excited about beans there…

Moving on.

Brocolli & spring onions

Something to bear in mind while storing brocolli and spring onions:

Putting the stem of brocolli in water whilst in the fridge will keep it fresh for far longer. It is the flower of the plant, and needs treating as you would any cut flower.

Spring onions, meanwhile, usually have their roots which means they can effectively be used as ‘cut-and-come-again’ vegetables. All you need to do is pop them in a glass with water on your window ledge, then when you need some, cut down to the leaves, stopping as the colour begins to change to white.

I’ve heard you can do the same thing with leeks, but I’ve never tried it. They don’t last that long in my house. I’m a big lover of leeks…

Regrow?

Finally, I thought I would touch on those videos that seem to be everywhere just now, implying that you can regrow all sorts of things from food scraps. I’ve heard that lots of the ideas don’t work, so I thought I’d test them by putting a lettuce nub in the ground… I’ll let you know how that pans out…

Don’t be discouraged, though. In the past, I’ve had great success as a result of Plants from Pips – specifically with avocado stones.

And that’s all, really.

Have you tried growing anything from kitchen scraps and seeds? I’d love to hear about any successes, either here or on Twitter.

Think Pink

This is a bit of a controvertial one, so I ask that you’re gentle with me. Views are my own and are only opinion, You do You etc.

But…

Before my youngest child was born, I was faced with something of a dilema – or at least, what passed for a dilema in the pre-Covid world. My older child was one sex, whilst my impending bump would be another.

At the time, there was a lot of talk about ‘gender neutral’ parenting, but the more I read, the more frustrated I became. The whole thing seemed to hinge on one entirely illogical element – the absense of pink.

If colours truly are – as every article I read regarding the subject insisted – “for everyone”, then why was it that pink seemed to be an absolute no-go, and what message was this sending?

There seemed to me to be a hypocricy in this, as though what was actually being said was, “any child can wear any colour, as long as it’s not pink because that’s for girls.” It simultaneously undermined the ‘colours are for everyone’ rhetoric, and devalued femininity.

So I made a choice – I was going to dress my boy in pink, and pass the clothes between children when they were outgrown as I would have if I’d had babies of the same sex.

The first time I dressed my boy in pink, I felt strange. The first time it was commented on, I felt ashamed – I won’t lie. My husband had a wonderful line, though, which he toted out regularly, “I’m not daft enough that I need my kids colour-coding, thanks.”

After a while, the comments stopped – the final one being, “Aren’t you afraid he’ll get into ballet or something?” I replied that I hoped so – it seemed to have been good for Jean Claude Van Damme’s action movie career.

So why am I writing about this on a blog which deals primarily with environmental issues?

The whole concept of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ garments was devised in the early 1900s as a way to sell more clothes*. The division of colour based on the sexes renders many parents ‘in need’ of new items with the arrival of a baby, and this can as much as double the environmental impact a child has.

These days, this divide in colours based on sex extrends far beyond clothes. I remember seeing requests in Facebook groups saying things like; ‘WANTED – paddling pool, suitable for a girl. As if somehow, the paddling pool would be less fun for the child were it not purple, or pink. Other discussions included; ‘I really want to use the pink sling I had for my daughter with my new baby – do you think it’s too girly for my son?’ Invariably, comments would ping back suggesting the same weave in different colours, or saying that of course she could use a pink sling because she was the one using it, not her boy.

We need to reject this idea that pink is a gendered colour. We also need to reject the notion that in order to raise children of different sexes equally, we should delete the colour pink. As soon as we do, we can return to a world where we naturally reuse the baby clothes from our first child for our second, where we see a toy for its play value, rather than its implied affliation with one sex or the other.

I won’t lie – it’s far easier to dress a girl in ‘boy’ clothes than it is to dress a boy in pink, but that’s only because people have worked hard to normalise women in trousers over the last century or so. If we’re brave now, we can ensure that our children don’t think twice about reusing the same items between siblings and cut down on huge amounts of waste.

When I first began thinking about my environmental impact (after reading Lucy Siegel’s ‘To Die For’, some ten years ago) I didn’t honestly expect it to touch so many aspects of my life. I hadn’t realised – to my shame – how huge an influence consumerism has on what we do. In order to truly reduce the harm I cause by over-consuming, I need to look increasingly at other areas of inequality in the world – in this case, feminism and gender issues.

As ever, I can only speak for myself, but I do passionately believe that if we’re dilligent and face these inequalities head-on, we can tackle climate change in the decade we’ve been given to do so. And if we look at all the causes of social inequality as we go, we’ll build a wonderful world.

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*Cordelia Fine’s work goes into great detail on this subject, as does Peggy Orenstein’s – the later being a lighter read.

Working from home – with children – in relation to Covid 19 (and the climate crisis).

Husband has been working from home as a translator since our eldest was a year old. That was 8 years ago, and last year, I joined him as a proof-reader. We originally made the rather terrifying decision for him to go self-employed because – primarily – of the commute. When working in an office, Husband would get up before the baby woke, drive to work, do a day in the office, and arrive back after I finished the bedtime routine. Weekends were spent trying to form a connection with our child which would then feel undone in the following week of absence.

Changing the way we worked to avoid the commute gave us more time as a family, allowed us to cut back to one car, saved us a small fortune on fuel, and reduced our food spending too – an unexpected bonus of not having to worry about lunch away from home. One might also argue that our eating the previous night’s leftovers for lunch also helped reduce food waste, but I feel that would be reaching.

Of course, our decision to begin working this way is very different to those people being forced into remote working due to Covid 19, and it is important to acknowledge that.

I have, however, had multiple requests for advice regarding how we work – with children at home. And going forward, doing away with unnecessary travel is a great way to keep emissions low. If this works for you, and your employer is on board, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t continue working remotely in the aftermath of the pandemic – even if just for a few days a week.

What follows are strategies which have been successful in our family. They may not work in yours. As they’re based on experience, I can’t speak for single-parents, or homes in which earning is shared equally between partners, but if that is your situation, I hope there are at least parts of the following which you find useful. I’m also coming from a household in which there are various additional needs present – these require certain concessions such as extreme continuity, routine, black and white boundaries etc. – so you might find a more fluid, flexible approach easier than the one I detail here.

Again, our choices were made in a different time, for different reasons. Please take whatever good you can from what follows. 

  • It might be helpful, if you’re able, to sit down as a family before remote working is due to begin in order to discuss with the children what’s going to happen. In my experience, it helps to be as clear and concrete as possible. i.e. “Adult A will endeavour to work between X o’clock and Y o’clock with lunch breaks at Z. Adult B will be your immediate responder until after Y o’clock, when Adult A becomes your go-to human and Adult B starts work.”
    If your children are too young for specified times, buzzers can help. i.e. ‘Adult A is only contactable after the buzzer has gone.”
  • It might be useful to explain why you’re working, or if your children are older, to reiterate why it’s important. It seems like an obvious thing to us, but for the longest time, my children thought we just preferred working to other activities! Talk about the things you need in order to live (a home, food, heating etc.) and explain that money is required to buy these things, and that jobs pay money. If applicable, you might want to frame working as an act of love – in my experience, it changes prioritising your job from possibly invoking feelings of mild rejection to being an active act of affection.
  • It is hard, but it will help if the person working can be consistent regarding boundaries. If your children come to you while you’re busy, it can be so difficult to say, ‘No, not right now, go find Adult B’ – every single time. You love your babies, you want to meet their needs, but in our case, doing so fostered the expectation that Husband would drop everything to respond and this isn’t always possible. If you’re working, you’re working. If you’re not, then you’re not. Having these really clear blocks of time and sticking to them can mean the difference between getting interrupted every five minutes and being left to really buckle down for two hours, undisturbed and thus, potentially, finishing work early.
  • Consistency in space might be useful. We never had a dedicated room for an office, but we’ve found it incredibly helpful to carve out a corner of the dining room from which Husband can work. It’s a physical representation of what he’s doing – a very concrete boundary. If he’s in the chair by his desk, leave him be. In contrast, I sit by the fire with the dog and use my laptop on my knee. This is exactly how I sit when I’m playing video games. It’s not fair to expect the children to be able to instantly tell if I’m working or not, whereas it’s really easy for them to see if Husband is. Result: he’s left alone to get on with things and I get interrupted.
  • When you’re present, be present. I spoke above about having unambiguous blocks of time i.e. if you’re working, you’re working. But this goes both ways. You can’t expect children to just leave you alone entirely throughout the day. They still need us.
    Some might need your help with their remote schooling, or they might be frightened and looking for connection. They might be bored without their classmates. Setting aside time specifically for them, in which they get to select an activity to do with you can make all the difference. Obviously, this might not be possible – your job might not be one which allows it, or you might not be used to managing your workload yet (a real issue for freelancers – the temptation is to take whatever work there is when you can get it and worry later about how you’re going to manage to get it done in time). Just do your best. Again, I wrote about consistent workspaces above, but if all you can commit to at the moment is putting a film on and sitting beside your child as they watch it while you work, then that’s all you can manage. Don’t feel bad about it. We’re all just doing the best we can.
  • I find it helps to keep an ace or two up my sleeve when I’m the one not working… By this I mean things my children only generally get to do as a treat. In my house, this includes-but-is-not-limited-to watching the TV, playing a video game, having some sweeties, (at the moment) going for a walk, getting out a huge roll of paper and paints. When my youngest is really struggling with the fact that my eldest child is doing school work and can’t play, the hierarchy of distraction goes;
    1. Use favourite toys – build a track, or draw a picture… something I can fade out of if my child’s invested enough in the activity.
    2. Provide lunch/snack food. Sometimes the pestering is a manifestation of hunger and not boredom.
    3. Pull out one of the special activities.
  • Be kind to yourself in every free minute you have. None of us know what we’re doing. We’re just trying to keep things as usual as we can. Stick to a routine you know works as much as possible, and make sure to include lots of self-care – you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Covid specific advice.
You’re not a teacher (unless you are!), and no one expects you to be. You’re not meant to home-educate your children unless you were doing that already – you’re not duty bound to be setting a curriculum, or introducing new concepts. If your school is sending work home, it’s work they believe your child can do. Teachers are amazing, incredible humans who have managed to reinvent the education system with 48 hours’ notice whilst still working within the confines of the national curriculum. They’re setting tasks designed with your community in mind, and around resources they can either provide digitally, or which they’re relatively certain most families will have. If you are struggling, talk to your child’s teacher and explain the confines of your situation. There is every chance that they’ll be able to either alter the task, provide an alternative, or reassure you that when schools return to normal, they can support any catching up that’s necessary. The main aim of every teacher I’ve spoken to at this time is that the children they work with are as happy as the situation allows.

Additional: I hope this has been useful to you. If there’s anything in particular that you’d like to know, please feel free to comment either below or on Twitter, then if it’s helpful I can do a follow-up post addressing any queries. If you know me in the real world, I’d ask that you make any question that relates to my children as anonymous as possible – I go to great lengths to keep my language around their descriptions as neutral as I can, and I would appreciate your doing the same. They didn’t ask to be included in this, and I endeavour to only mention them in passing if at all possible.

 

Home, and a few words about what I’m doing here.

The schools are off now.

We’re staying at home.

There will be A LOT of gardening going on, a lot of reading, and using online resources. I posted on my other blog (The Inquisitive Newt), a long list of activities we plan to do over the coming weeks. I hope it might be of use to some of you.

With the exception of this post, I don’t actually blog in ‘real time’. I queue things up as they become relevant, or as I finish writing them – some posts are more in depth than others and/or may require a before/after picture, for example.

I’ve got posts lined up and ready to go until April 6th.

I’ll endeavour to continue after this point, of course, but I wanted to let you know that if any of the next handful of posts reference us going out/meeting people, that all of this occurred in the past. In particular, the post about our local market and seed library springs to mind. The market I’m referencing happened on March 7th, though the post isn’t scheduled until April 2nd. 

I ask that you keep this in mind. 

Really, being at home isn’t anything of a hardship – there is so much to do here, and so much richness in our lives. We have aeons worth of things we could be doing – boredom will not be an issue – and while we’re here, perhaps I’ll finally lower my transport emissions! 

In regards to the kids, I’d originally wanted to home-school my children though my eldest had other ideas on the matter. I’m glad things turned out this way – our school community is vibrant, supportive, and nurturing. Our staff – teachers, secretary, cook, cleaner, visiting specialists, and so many more – are all like an extended family. Whilst I might be keen to work with my babies more, I think they’ll miss the wonderful community they’re leaving behind (for the time being). I’m especially sad for my youngest – the transition from nursery to school will be interrupted, sudden, jarring.

For a much better post about staying at home, why not take a look at ‘En Casa’ on This Simple Life.

And whatever else you do, please, please, please – do stay at home. Unless you’re a key worker, the best way that you can help fight this virus is by giving those working in the hospitals time to treat patients. A close second is to stop panic buying. If you’re out of bog-roll because other people have hogged it all, consider the innocuously named ‘family cloth’. It is absolutely my plan B!

So if you’re not working from home, sewing your own loo roll (don’t flush it!!!!) or gardening, what other free things can you get up to?

Why not check out Project Gutenberg, for free reading material? Or your local library’s online catalogue?

There’s also a whole pile of free video-games on Abandonware.

I made mention earlier to child-friendly activities that I listed on my other blog, but it’s worth linking to again here. Especially worth noting are the links to classical music.

Or watch our veg being grown at the local Community Supported Agriculture initiative – I can’t wait for our first veg boxes, and the children really love watching the videos!

If that’s not enough, I totally recommend having a peruse this list of activities from Chatterpack.

Stay safe out there, friends. Be excellent to each other.

Every tree is a forest

Recently, I posted about replacing my evergreen hedge with native trees. 

I had been planning to purchase some saplings from The Woodland Trust,* but something last week stopped me, and I decided to put a post out on Freecycle instead. What I discovered was something inspiring.

My notice read something to the effect of;
WANTED: Tree weeds. Do you have saplings growing where there should be no saplings? I would be very happy to come and remove them, and give them a good home.

An amazing couple responded to my ad, and so I set off – armed with my shovel and some empty dog-food sacks in which to transport the roots.

As my sat nav brought me towards the house, I passed a plantation of young trees and wondered if this was where my saplings would be coming from – the response had said, ‘We have some trees to spare’ so I thought that perhaps the couple had bought a large quantity to fill the field and hadn’t been able to fit them all in.

When I arrived, however, the lovely people donating the plants took me round to the back of their house where they presented the biggest monkey puzzle tree I have ever seen. It looked to be around six storeys high and was apparently planted when the house was built. As the cottage looked to be around 200 years old, I could well believe it. It was absolutely magical – an enormous ladder of spiney branches, reaching into the sky.

And all around it, at waist height, were bare saplings. The homeowners explained that birds came to sit on the tree, pooped as they set off again, and spread a variety of mystery seeds all around the monkey puzzle tree. Most were obviously raspberry canes, but others looked more robust and it was these we settled on.

I mentioned the plantation as I began to dig, saying that I’d thought the saplings might be coming from there, and they explained that the entire thing had been filled with self-seeded examples from beneath the monkey puzzle tree.

I was absolutely taken aback. Here was the making of a forest, stemming from the planting of one single tree. The huge field full of saplings had been laid in the last ten years – how many generations had been in that house before this point and had pulled up all those potential trees? How many trees had been lost through being in the ‘wrong place’?

As humans, we have both the power to destroy and to protect, and never have I seen it as starkly as I did here. The residents of this cottage had the option to do as all their predecessors did – to rip out the self-seeded trees which threatened to take over their garden. But they didn’t. They chose to save literally hundreds of saplings and create native woodland instead. And now that they’ve filled their own land, they’ve chosen to help others plant trees too.

And each tree – as evidenced by that incredible, giant beanstalk-esque monkey puzzle tree – has the potential to create not just one, but a multitude of forests over the course of its life. And all those forests need in order to become are humans willing to work with the natural world, and not against it.

I took home and planted a beech, a holly bush, an-almost-certain-rowan, and three mystery trees. Whilst our slip of garden won’t ever be big enough to plant a forest in, I am now determined that I will pass on whatever saplings come form these plants. I might not be able to plant a forest here, but I can make sure that while I am custodian of these trees, that I give their forest every chance I possibly can – even if that’s dispersed throughout the region.

Have you planted any trees this year? Do you think it’s something you have space for in your garden? What would you plant if you did? As ever, I would love to hear your thoughts – here, or on Twitter.

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*I just wanted to touch on why I did things this way. Firstly – fewer transport miles. There were a total of six miles between where I am and where the trees were. This means that – secondly – I know that whatever I plant can survive here and will be hardy enough to tolerate the weather. Third, there’s no packaging – I reused the sacks my dog’s food came in, and now that my saplings are in the ground, I’ll be able to use them again. Fourth – and it’s a big one – time. According to everything I’ve read, it’s actually pretty late in the season for me to be planting trees. Apparently, they need to be moved during their winter dormant phase so as we move into spring, the window for getting them in the ground grows ever shorter. I didn’t know how long postal delivery would be, so this seemed like an instantaneous alternative.

And finally, even though I didn’t get the trees from the Woodland Trust, I put in a donation to the same value as I would have spent. The charity does absolutely amazing work, and I want to support them – it’s why I chose them to buy trees from rather than my local garden centre. I feel like this way, everybody wins.

 

More low impact hobbies.

A while ago, I did a post about low-impact hobbies such as reading, playing games, and photography, but I keep thinking of more things so thought I would do another round up of eco-friendly ways to pass time.

Puzzles

A personal favourite at the moment is jigsaws – we buy them from the chairty shop, do them once and then return them. They generally cost between £1-3 for a 1000 piece puzzle which is a LOT of entertainment for the money. Combine this with an audio book from your library, or a free podcast, and you’ve got a recipe for a fun evening in. Or at least… I think so.

Musical instruments

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This is a bit of a tricky one in terms of cost so it really depends which instrument you want to play and whether or not you already have one. I’m – honestly, don’t judge me – a massive fan of the recorder. It’s cheap, compact, available in wood, and easy to pick up. I know it has a bad a reputation given the number of school children who seem to believe that the point is to blow it as hard as possible, but when played properly it’s every bit as beautiful as a flute. I mean, check out this concerto...

If recorder really isn’t your thing, the ukulele is a great option. You can pick up a good one relatively cheaply – even new – and there are countless YouTube tutorials out there, as well as free tab music online. The size makes them easy for children to play and as all four strings are tuned to a chord, they sound fine even when strummed by small, enthusiastic hands.

Personally – because I’m a sucker for punishment – I’m learning violin. This isn’t a cheap option, but I was lucky enough to inherit one that isn’t dreadful so I thought I should probably learn to play it. So far, I still sound like I’m scratching nails down a chalkboard but I’m not getting worse so I’ll take that as a win. It’s good fun, regardless.

Most libraries have a good supply of music tutorial books and ours has a 3 month borrower limit (or rather, you get 1 month with each book and can renew 3 times) which is ample opportunity to practise the music.

After the purchase of the instrument, playing it can be incredibly cheap. Whilst I’m going to need more violin lessons – because they are such an… analogue instrument, and it’s tricky to get the right note – it’s perfectly possible to teach yourself the recorder. You either play the right note, or you don’t – get the fingering or you, or you don’t. If you have a tuner/tuning app on your phone, the same applies to the ukulele. Using library books and online tutorials makes it completely free to play, and none of the above  require any power.

A great way to resource share, or to try your hand if you don’t want to make a big financial commitment, is to rent an instrument. Some councils do this for school children, whilst some brass bands will offer the loan of something to play, sometimes in addition to lessons. It’s a fantastic way to meet new people, pick up a new skill and connect with your local community. And practising will take up time at home. If brass music isn’t your thing, then it might be an idea to try local folk groups and see if they have a similar scheme.

With instruments, it really is a case of, ‘you get what you give’. If you devote an a small amount of time to practise every day, you’ll get good quickly. Better to do ten minutes daily than an hour every fortnight, so making it part of your routine really helps. 

Volunteering

If your schedule allows, volunteering can be a really fun thing to do. Whether that’s in a charity shop, with your local library, at your kids’ school, on a village hall comittee, at your local hospital, or just taking part in a #2minbeachclean next time you walk your dog, there are literally thousands of organisations looking for people to help. It’s generally free (a lot of places pay travel expenses), it’s a great way to meet people, an excellent boost to a CV, and you’re helping to build the sort of world you want to live in.

I’ve done a lot of volunteering over the years – as an NHS breastfeeding supporter, a library lackey, at school clubs, and in a charity shop. When we first moved to our current area, it was volunteering which helped me find new friends and I’m so glad I did it.

Writing

I’ve reviewed a lot of books about the environment in the last year – and am probably due another round up of them soon! – and common to nearly all is the need to talk about why we’re taking steps to reduce our impact on the planet.

Even if you’re not ‘a writer’, you helping every time you you chronicle your experience in a blog, or Twitter feed, YouTube chanel, or local newsletter article. Figure out a way you feel comfortable communicating and then do it! Whilst you might need the use of electricity to do this, it can make an enormous difference. If yours is the post which pursuades someone to start carrying a water bottle, then you’ve just increased the impact you have on water-bottle consumption by 100%. And that’s pretty magical.

Of course, you can write other things too, just using a pen and paper. Snail Mail is one of my absolute favourite things to do in an evening – it’s slow, deliberate, and an incredibly intimate way of keeping in touch with friends. And nothing cheers the recipient up like a hand-written letter in the post box. Makes a change from bills, right?

I would absolutely love to hear any other suggestions you might have for ways to pass the time. The further down this route I go, the more willing I am to give just about anything a try, so challenge me! I’d love to hear your ideas here, or on Twitter.