You treat this house like a hotel! A bug hotel.

Posted May 24, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

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Do you ever find yourself acting like your mum, maybe even repeating the exact same phrases she used to use? I know I do, but that one about “treating the house like a hotel” I haven’t uttered yet. Inspired by a visit to Chelsea Flower Show 2015 here’s how to let the little ones make their own bug hotel. More good ideas in Homemade Kids: how to raise children in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way author Nicola Baird. Feedback welcome!

Garden sculpture made from driftwood and found wood - this lovely mother and foal had a £33,000 price tag at Chelsea RHS flower show. The use of sticks inspired me...

Garden sculpture made from driftwood and found wood – this lovely mother and foal had a £33,000 price tag at Chelsea RHS flower show. The use of sticks inspired me…

“You treat this house like a hotel!” was something my parents often said to me. And it must have felt like that for them – I was the eldest of their three children, away at boarding school from 11 years, out of the country for half a year out, and then away at university. All that time they kept a bedroom for me, with all my stuff in it, and then I’d come home for the half term or holidays and be exhausted and no doubt teenager sulky.

My own teenagers don’t treat their home like a hotel, but they do keep increasingly odd hours… The 16-year-old was back at 7am this morning and will no doubt need to sleep into the afternoon. The 14-year-old, worn out by hobby tests and a half term of increasing school pressure, was exceedingly hard to coax out of her bed before noon. As an early riser I find this particularly difficult to plan around, and so I’m trying to learn to ignore the smell of breakfast toast when I’m ready for lunch, or even tea.

Stuck this morning with no child to entertain I decided to sort out other projects to make my home a better place to be. Last week I spent a couple of hours helping out on the FSC-UK stall at Chelsea Flower Show, designed by the super-talented Kirsti Davies. This was a lovely forest garden, in a tiny space, complete with gazebo where us stall operators had the occasional restorative sit-down.

20150524_130201FSC – the Forest Stewardship Council – is an amazing organisation that helps to take care of forests and th people and wildlife who call them home.

Executive Director of FSC-UK, Rosie Teasdale, at the show. The strange foreleaf is in fact from a whitebeam tree (perspective here makes it look a bit like a banana). The bug hotel was to the left of the impressive FSC display board.

Executive Director of FSC-UK, Rosie Teasdale, at the show. The strange foreleaf is in fact from a whitebeam tree (perspective here makes it look a bit like a banana). The bug hotel was to the left of the impressive FSC display board.

FSC’s Chelsea garden won a silver medal – amazing. But it was also utterly of the moment, a very natural looking space that when you enter, immediately makes you calm, and of course it is extremely wildlife friendly and sustainable. All the wood products on display – from the plant labels to the posh triangular bug hotel – were certified as coming from FSC-certified timber. In our home the FSC logo is as well known a brand for the kids as Kit-Kat, Peppa Pig (actually my girls are the Teletubby generation) and Tesco, but that’s because if I can talk about trees, then I will.

With the girls still asleep I decided to complete the building of my bug hotel. They could have done it with me (had they been awake) but there’s lots of things we can do together. Had my children been smaller and needing entertainment then making a bug hotel would have been fun – and we could have discussed the differences between living at home, and living in a hotel…

Here’s what to do:

Let the little creatures treat your home like a hotel, in their purpose made bug hotel.

Let the little creatures treat your home like a hotel, in their purpose made bug hotel.

Make your own bug hotel

  • Bug hunting in the woods.

    Bug hunting in the woods. Now it can be done in the garden too.

  • Find a wooden or plastic window box that is past its best. Or make your own frame. Mine had been found in a skip – it is riddled with wood worm so I don’t want it inside, or anywhere near my window sills.
  • Tip it on to its side so you now have a roof.
  • Make a bug bedroom. Cut pieces of thin wood (about the size of your finger). Bundle them up into manageable piles (about the width of a small plant pot), then sling a rubber hand over them to keep the pile tight before tying securely with a piece of string or garden twine.
  • Make a bug ballroom. Vary the arrangement by adding different sized bundles of sticks.
  • Make a bug cocktail lounge. I also filled a plant pot with autumn leaves and another with very tightly rolled toilet-paper inners (all FSC-certified).
  • Now for the grand opening. Tuck your bug hotel into a dry corner in readiness for the new guests. You can expect woodlice (super cute!) but should also get all sorts of insects and their larvae/eggs over-wintering.

 Over to you
Did you parents tell you off like this? Do you have kids who treat your home like a hotel? or do you have advice how to prevent such a thing happening? And on a rather different note – if you’ve got a bug hotel what interesting insects have you discovered using it?

It’s all about emotional resilience

Posted May 7, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

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How do you teach kids that failing and making mistakes are a key part of learning? Here’s an attempt to start this debate from Homemade Kids: how to raise children in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way author Nicola Baird. Feedback welcome!

Being able to control a horse and enjoy riding tends to push away all other problems.

Happy: So many people in the UK used to be in contact with horses even one century ago. Being able to control a horse and enjoy riding tends to push away all other problems. And riding, however much you love it, doesn’t always give you a 10 out of 10 experience. This teaches you that some days are better than others (and that’s normal), especially as a good rider should never blame the horse.

Over the past two days when I haven’t been talking about politics, conversations have centred around how to build emotional resilience in our kids. There’s a lot of blame:

  • The teachers spoon feed the students…
  • Kids don’t have enough freedom…
  • Everyone uses their phones too much…
  • Parents do too much for their children (especially helicopter parenting advocates)…
  • Older teenagers aren’t tough enough…

May and June are exam seasons, so this can be a tense time. Anyone who is used to getting top marks, and doesn’t; or anyone who can no longer face the stress of trying to do their best but then getting a result that disappoints (maybe not them, but families or teachers) is under considerable strain.

A look-and-see trip to GQ magazine with my class of university students in January 2011.

A look-and-see trip to GQ magazine with my class of first year university students in January 2011 (so all graduated by now).This is a real treat part of the course and of course the attendance is invariably high. Recently I’ve noticed how some students only turn up to the treat events and simply don’t do the graft in class – is this because they are lazy or frightened of doing it wrong?

As for universities, they struggle with why their new intakes of students seem so unable to cope with independent learning. And many students struggle back: finding that “messy” learning where there are no set answers, creativity rules and research has to be found by you (not following a set list) is not for them. Many don’t like unlearning how to do “school” when they turn up at university. So for teenagers this is another high risk period of discontent culminating in a feeling of being let down, which may lead to the student dropping out.

Of course students now have to pay £9,000 for their tuition. And few get paid internships when they then try and get experience of the real world and work. It’s so hard, and the results are predictably unsettling – misery, drop outs, disengagement, even death. Even so the figures are shocking:

One in ten children between the ages of one and 15 has a mental health disorder. (The Office for National Statistics Mental health in children and young people in Great Britain, 2005)

In inner city areas, over 43% of children have considered suicide and one in six children under the age of 11 have attempted suicide. Common causes cited include bullying, abuse, poverty, homelessness, and alcohol abuse. (figures not from 2015, they are older)

Kids used to enjoy so much more freedom - out all day learning how to occupy themselves, forage and cope with boredom/weather etc. Even this delightful picnic had three adults at it. Who covets a supervised life? Not me, but that's what I gave my own kids.

Kids used to enjoy so much more freedom – out all day learning how to occupy themselves, forage and cope with boredom/weather etc. Even this delightful picnic had three adults at it. Who covets a supervised life? Not me, but that’s what I gave my own kids.

I’ve always thought teens onwards need to have an extra interest – away from school – ideally something that can totally absorb you, such as supporting a football team, bird watching (how old fashioned that sounds) or some kind of “healthy” obsession (eg, music, art) which helps teenagers survive all the emotional and neurological changes they are having to deal with.

Some teens find their interests as they find themselves, the luckiest build on the passions they  began as primary school aged children. I’m not sure that taking selfies really counts as an obsession.

For me it’s always been horses.

I grew up in the countryside and was lucky to have my own pony from the age of eight years old. I don’t have one now – they are hideously expensive and I live in London – but I do still teach riding one day a week. Even if I didn’t occasionally ride during the hacks I take out to the woods, I would be content on the ground. I love the way horses are beautiful, and happy to sniff you. I like caring for them and I adore riding them. Even when I’m not riding a horse I enjoy watching other people doing it really well (it’s Badminton Horse Trials week at the moment) and I’m even extra content if I stop to watch a police horse clopping down the street.

Modern times means there are no milkmen’s horses to run out and treat with sugar lumps (or carrots sliced length wise). You can’t feed strangers’ dogs snacks either or buy sweets for little ones, or even yourself if you have braces on your teeth. All these nice things to do help your brain forget about the serial injustices of being you with the wrong parents/teachers/fill in the gap – but you can’t do them.

For those of us bringing up teenagers (especially the challenging, difficult and miserable ones) days can be incredibly hard. A lot of it seems to be about being more adult than we adults ever want to be. Sometimes this means turning blind eyes (to rudeness say – after all teens have had to be polite all day at school/college – and ideally producing enough food.  Rudeness is never nice, but when it comes to a hungry, over-tired, exam-stressed teen it’s fine to ignore. Pick your fights and give as much space as you can.

If you have friends or a partner find out what they think works and if it’s good advice try it out. An angry teen is at least communicating. It’s far more frightening when they are so shellshocked by choices, revision and the way things are that they retreat into silence and suffering.

What do you do that helps make the teenage years (for your child, for you, for your family) peaceful rather than a battleground?

Bur more importantly how do you build in emotional resilience so that teens can cope with mistakes, an unexpected mark and are able to adapt to the different ways colleges and universities teach? Life isn’t fair – that may be why you dropped out. Unfortunately bad things arrive without even scheduling so you need to be robust enough to cope. Having the emotional strength to cope is essential. The debate is out on how to teach this. I’m pretty certain that you need to let kids learn from their mistakes so they have the courage to try again, know that hard work pays off and are willing to put a lot of effort into Plan B, even Plan C and D if that’s necessary. As Russell Brand puts it no one grows up wanting be a barrista, though they may fancy their chances as a barrister. His latest film, The Emperor’s New Clothes, might be interesting to watch, here’s the trailer.

At least there are a growing number of emotional resilience type courses. I won’t be going to the event below – but it’s an example of what’s on offer. Maybe it’s something you’d be interested in going to?

Practitioners Seminar: Relational Ways of Working with Teenagers – 18th May 13.30-16.30

Adolescence is a time of significant neurological, emotional, social and intellectual change. Join The Centre on 18th May to understand how professionals can help adolescents through this volatile and complex key developmental period.

Bert Powell will look at how the Circle of Security© Parenting approach works with teenagers. He will focus on how we can enable parents to support and nurture their teenagers in ways that strengthen both their relationship and the child’s emotional well-being 

Dr Gates and Dr Hohnen will draw from their clinical experience of teenagers and families and up to date research on brain development. They will consider how we can foster emotional resilience in adolescents. It is designed to help and inform the practice of anyone working closely with this exciting and challenging age group.

To book click here or to reserve a place email 

There's such a small difference between being on a roll or rolling out of control.

There’s such a small difference between being on a roll or rolling out of control.

Over to you
How we all wish we could pin down what’s wrong, or what’s got to change. But until then (!) please do share this post or comment. I know loads of you have experience of both being a teen and raising a teen. And it would be good to hear from anyone who teaches  or employs teens too. Wherever you are in this story, good luck.

Useful contacts

British Horse Society – to find affiliated riding schools which treat horses and riders well.

8 things I’ve learnt about raising children

Posted March 9, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

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Any ideas for more useful tips about how to raise children in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way? First eight from Homemade Kids author Nicola Baird who also blogs at (about people who live or work in Islington, UK).

I learnt all this up my Granny's apple tree. Years later my own kids reminded me.

I learnt all this up my Granny’s apple tree. Years later my own kids reminded me.

1 All crusts are evil. No child will eat them. Tweens and teens with braces can’t. What’s more it doesn’t help if you say eating crusts will make your hair curl.
Save the crusts and either eat them yourself or stick in the freezer to breadcrumb another time.

2 Are we nearly there yet? Yes, because a good walk starts when it starts: that could be just outside the door or before you leave a car park.
A good walk is never rushed and doesn’t involve a route march A-B. Split the party so the walkers walk and the explorers track ants, lift up logs, find sticks, climb trees, play hide and seek. Get out your flask and have a cup of zen tea.

3 Snacks are essential (fed often, even just before tea). Most mums carry snacks because they literally cannot afford not to. All praise to rice cakes, bread sticks and toddlers’ nectar – the banana. Babycinnos are a gift to syntax, but a purse curse.

4 Really tired toddlers can fall asleep anywhere – even if their mouth is full of spaghetti. Get them tired and then there’s no need to paste notes to your doorbell/knocker saying “please don’t use as I’m trying to get baby to sleep”.

5 Even clean bagged up outgrown clothes will start to smell. Air them on an outdoor washing line before you resort to yet more laundry chores.

6 Nits love us all. They love nursery- and primary school-aged children the best. But they don’t mind joining teenagers for their lessons, or even Mum in the office. Plaits, hats and a super-fine comb help keep embarrassment at bay.
However right-on your office colleagues, never fess up to having nits because they won’t understand. However up-tight your childs’ friends’ parents always talk nits.

7  The minutes drag but the years fly. Take photos, keep drawings – or scan and save. Date what you can. In a few years time you will struggle to know which child is even in the picture. And your child is going to mind, a LOT.

8 Treat car boot sales like expensive department stores – if your child wants something tell them “yes, next time”. If you bend on this, your home will soon be a stockpile of stuff you can’t find when your little one grows into it. And you’ll have to step over boxes and suitcases to get into your bed. Or is that only me?

Over to you?
Bet readers can think of at least two more good tips! Thanks.


Do you love your child or partner more?

Posted February 6, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

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If you’ve got to choose who you love the most, could you? Thinking about a recent terrible choice for a NZ dad who had to pick son or wife, here’s my own family tale about the time my Dad was parted from his mum. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see

This beautiful box has a collection of my grandfather's letters from the time he was stationed in Hong Kong in 1937. Some of those letters are dynamite.

This beautiful box has a collection of my grandfather’s letters from the time he was stationed in Hong Kong in 1937. Some of those letters are dynamite.

As it’s close to Valentine’s day is it OK to ask ‘who do you love the most’?

This isn’t a fairy tale asking you to decide which child you favour.

No this is the big love question – do you love your partner more than the children or vice versa?  For most of us there doesn’t have to be a choice but just recently a New Zealand man was told by his Armenian wife that if he wanted to keep their newborn Downs syndrome baby she would divorce him. He chose the baby, Leo. And she filed for divorce.

The full story is (Daily Mailified) here.

You have to think good for the Dad, making the right choice – however hideous. And how terrible for a new mum to be under such family pressure that her only choice was to set up a contest between husband and baby. Whatever the result, it would be sad for her.

Rewind to 1937
I’ve just spent a sunny winter afternoon at my kitchen table reading the letters my grandfather received when he was based in Hong Kong in 1937. The experience is amazing – though I do wish everyone’s handwriting was easier to read.  Because Grandpa was a solider there are a lot of letters from soldier friends talking about their posts in Nigeria and Somalia. There’s gossip about bad weather and poor fishing in Newbury; the make over of London’s Leicester Square – “the Alhambara and Prince of Wales Theatre have gone” and a lot about illnesses – cholera, infant death, scarlet fever and the humble cold.

At first I thought my Grandmother – writing from her father’s home in Wiltshire – was expecting twins. Gradually I realised she was trying to organise a bargain priced twin-bed cabin for a sea passage to Japan, where she hoped he would meet her and then they could go on to Hong Kong.  She is desperately missing him.

She’d already been in Hong Kong – just her and her soldier husband – but and had come home because their children, a little girl and her younger brother, my father, were being raised in Wiltshire.

I cried when I saw her write that their three-year-old son had asked the nanny where is “That lady from China we call Mummy?”

“We did laugh,” writes my Grandmother (I think bravely) “it’s good enough for Punch“.

How attitudes have changed in the UK. Few women admit to being willing to park their children for six months in another country, just so they can be with their husband. When Ayelet Waldman confessed “I love my husband more than my children” in a national newspaper back in 2009, she was pilloried.

And in 2015 Armenia it’s clear disability is shameful to some: in NZ it’s not.

Perhaps in the 21st century UK we do let our children take centre stage too much. But it feels like that’s the right way to err. My poor dad. My poor, brave Grandmother – “that lady from China we call Mummy”.

In the end the little boy did know his mother very well. It was his father he barely knew – first busy as a solider in Hong Kong and then once World War Two kicked off incarcerated in a prison camp until 1945.

What do you think?
Would you swan off to Hong Kong leaving the kids in the UK for the next six months? And how much do you think it would affect you and those motherless/fatherless babes?



How to hold a fun birthday party for a five year old

Posted January 19, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

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When it comes to organising kids’ birthday parties keep it simple, and short. And have confidence that you and your child can be the host either at home or the nearest park. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see

Blue icing on the cake.

Here the birthday girl is nine…with a homemade cake.  A wise friend suggested having one more (or one less) guest than the new age of your child, This is good advice until they get to be teens.

Have you heard about the Cornish mum who sent a £16 invoice to the parents of a reception aged child (ie, five years old) who she thought was going to her child’s birthday party (on a ski slope) and then failed to turn up – without bothering to let the host family know? Here’s the link on BBC News.

Everyone has an opinion about what the mum’s done (rude) and what the recipient child’s family have said they plan to do to her (ruder).

Imagine how awkward it would be to be at their school. And that’s the point: children’s birthday parties are not to fall out over.

With two daughters now aged 16 and 13 I’ve helped organise a lot of birthday parties (although the girls have had to do plenty too). At first it stunned me at primary school how people simply don’t respond to RSVP. This would be fine if you were just giving a little tea party for a few friends with some cake. But it becomes a nightmare of organisation if you are having to pay for a venue or plan to offer party bags. So cut this stress by not organising something too grand or expensive…

One party I painted wooden name tags for kids to put on their door or bed and ended up with a few to hand out at school the next week for the unexpected no-shows. I think the kids who’d missed the party quite liked having a little memory – and if they didn’t does it matter?

I was stunned by how generous some families are – handing over £10 gifts, or more even, just to a little child. Even recently a mum asked if her daughter and friends could club together to give my soon to be 14yo a camera (I said no, that’s just way over budget, but what a lovely, generous, thoughtful offer).

Many people who have very little money are willing to pool it to make the best possible party they can for their birthday child. This is a generous thing to do, but it just adds to the birthday party stress. If you are willing to rethink birthdays then here’s the way to do it in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way.


Get the kids outside, whatever the weather. Or just invite less if your home can’t fit a classroom of children – and not many people have that amount of space.

1 Ideally hold the party in an outside space – make sure the kids are dressed so they stay warm and dry. You can then hold a picnic, do activities, try a treasure hunt or just let them run around making as much noise as they want.

Make your own quills! Is this a suitable gift?

Make your own quills! Is this a suitable gift as a party bag offering?

2 Avoid the party bag full of breakable rubbish. You can always give a small going home gift – but just make it one, practical object (felt tip? drinking mug? homemade tote bag?) or something whimsical that you’ve made without too much sweat (eg, a fairy basket made from hazel nut shells glued together).

3 Or get the kids at the party to make their own going home gift. Bath bombs are fun and not as messy as you might imagine. Or they could hunt for an amazing pebble and then pop some eyes and a mouth on it (or just hand out a stick/log). Or decorate a horse shoe (that’s going to take some organisation finding!). A bit easier might be to plant up a bulb or robust flower, depending on the season.

Trampoline party over, next excitement is half-term...

If you’re organising a party activity – like a trampoline party – can you share the cost (and birthday) with other families?

4 If you decide to book a treat like rock climbing, theatre or some other expensive activity remind yourself that this is something you want the birthday child and the others to enjoy. It’ll be an experience for whoever turns up. If someone doesn’t turn up, just remember that life is complicated and invitations with the host child’s family contact numbers get mislaid. Move on with a smile, not a bill.

Good luck with your parties.

Book review: Stuffocation is a must read for families with kids

Posted January 12, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

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‘Stuffocation: living more with less’ by trend forecaster James Wallman (Viking Penguin, £9.99) is a book you should read. Expect to hear the phrase ‘stuffocation’ a lot more during 2015, as it exactly conjures up how stuff can overwhelm a home. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see


My 2015 resolution is to get creative (or give away) the things I am not using. This bit of cycle pimping is inspiring and I do have plenty of unloved vinyl to deal with when I start to sort my stuff out – as Stuffocation author James Wallman advises.

The review
If you like to judge a book by its cover then Stuffocation offers plenty of clues: a white-walled room empty of everything except a high backed chair. Even the book shelves are empty. It’s a miserable scene, devoid of personality! But it’s the perfect cover too for an author attacking materialism as he sells the idea that we enjoy living more when we purposefully have less.

The difficulty, and it’s a proper 21st century problem – is having less. I was sent this book during the hectic run up to Christmas. Every corridor in my home was crowded with xmas gifts waiting to be wrapped and bags of wrapping paper saved from the previous year. With so much seasonal clutter around I was tempted to pass this book along faster than it deserves.

And so I read it, and re-read it, fascinated by the idea that an increasing number of people already realise that too much makes them dissatisfied (especially middle class families it seems). This is not a prettily photographed coffee table book – there are 345 pages of dense print to work through. Once Wallman has made his point about stuff being a blood-pressure raiser his main concept is that experiencing things (being in the moment if you prefer) is a good way of enjoying what life has to offer and far better than buying yourself a new anything. Sometimes these experiences can be bought – a balloon ride at dawn, wildlife safari or front row seats at the theatre – but many more experiences are free including walking barefoot on grass, enjoying soup at an impromptu picnic or singing along with a friend or congregation.

Readers of my book Homemade Kids (or this blog) are likely to be familiar with the idea of making your own fun – even creating your own family traditions. These can be as simple as having pizza on a Friday night or hanging out the homemade bunting in anticipation of Granny’s arrival.


Stuffocation, £9.99 or have a look at the Stuffocation website.

But I find that the best experiences tend to need kit – especially if an experience is also offering you the chance to learn a new skill (ski waterproofs, jodphurs for riding horses, reflective gear and lights for cycling). As a consequence the people I know who are most on top of experientalism, as Wallman calls it, also tend to be hoarders (though maybe not so extreme that they have 16 grand pianos, just in case). And if they have growing kids they might also have far more than is needed for the family right now, much of it in the next size up. It may be bagged up and out of sight after a fortuitous sighting of something that will be useful one day -a wet suit or skating boots – at a car boot sale. Or it may be half-squeezed under the bed or in an already bulging wardrobe.

Like many families I accept that this cluttered stage until the kids grow up and I’ll either pass the final sets of outgrown walking boots, cello and waterproofs on or I’ll save them for my kids’ children. To be fair to Wallman visitors to my house with grown up children, no children or bigger homes (I was recently told it was odd to keep an axe in our downstairs bathroom) invariably comment that we need to do a bit of sorting.

Instead of tackling this problematic area of stuffocation – for instance by pointing out what a business opportunity there could be for renting rather than buying or easy ways to share not often needed kit – Wallman picks an interesting fight with Facebook. He points out that those who use it are bludgeoned by other people’s photo updates of sunset drinks, good time parties and significant life moments. It’s a way for Facebook users to show off that they are having experiences, but apparently it’s led to the rest of us who only logged on to catch up feeling that we’re missing out. FOMO – fear of missing out – is not an attractive condition. It increases people’s anxiety levels to the extent that they either spend their time glued to their mobiler to catch up with what everyone else is doing or worry themselves into such a stressy mess that they need anti-depressants, yes, even before going to a comedy gig.

Les MIserables is the world's longest running musical. If your child gets into it they may learn to sing, develop an interest in politics and even read Victor Hugo's massive classic. Or not!

Les Miserables is the world’s longest running musical. If your child gets into it they may learn to sing, develop an interest in politics and even read Victor Hugo’s massive classic. Or not!

Reading Stuffocation I felt it would be easy to fall out with the rest of the human race (the richer ones that is) yet applying the book’s fundamental message – do more, buy less – is a great plan.

Some years ago I was switched on to this idea by an American friend who suggested that sticking to a rigid gift budget didn’t always make sense, instead it might be better to buy theatre tickets for birthday and Christmas presents so that the gift giver and recipient got a shared moment of time they’d, hopefully, remember. And of course it doesn’t have to be a pricey show, a pub walk or picnic can be fun too. I don’t always go for experience gifts – as my family and godchildren know – but it helped me feel I had permission to sometimes spend cash on what might otherwise be seen as frivolities cutting into the weekly essentials. Curiously this friend has the same problem as me: a great deal of clutter around her home, although she does try and shift it on ebay from time to time.

Wallman concludes Stuffocation by claiming we need experiences more than ever. “By having less and doing more, we will be happier, healthier, richer in every sense: less clutter, less regret, less anxiety, more conversations, more connections, a healthier take on status, and a stronger sense of belonging.”

Rating the book 6/10. It’s a tough decision going to a six, as though I totally agree with the idea of rethinking what it is we value, I struggle to find clutter the problem when it can so often also be a fantastic insurance towards enabling opportunity. Then again I’m not buying an expensive new pair of high heels or queueing for xmas’s fashionable electronic toy. And I do think I’ll try and give some of Wallman’s ideas a go…

Have a look at the stuffocation website here.

Here’s the link here.

Over to you
I’m so looking forward to hearing what you think about this idea. Do leave a comment now, or go read the book and join the debate.

You can buy from amazon at this link Stuffocation: living more with less by James Wallman (paperback rrp £9.99). There’s also a kindle version.





5 tips for anyone who has to be a school Santa

Posted December 5, 2014 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

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Schools often insist on having Father Christmas in his Grotto – but if Father Christmas himself can’t make it, what do you do?  Here are some tips on how to be a brilliant school Santa, from a former PTA Santa organiser and a couple of Santas… For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see

Giant xmas cards cost so much - here's a fiver saved by making it yourself.

Giant xmas cards cost so much – here’s a fiver saved by making it yourself.

1 Check on location
School PTAs (parent teacher associations) love to have a Santa’s grotto. A quick way to make this fab is to ask the teaching assistants – maybe get them to decorate a pop up gazebo in the corner of a classroom. Or even use a big cupboard (though that may involve a painful clearing up job too). Santa’s job will be to cope with the crying children, deal with the unbelievers and do a theatrically fab job of passing over a present (glow sticks are great, but let’s hope that’s not the toy Santa gave out last year, or the year before).

2 Do your research (especially if you don’t have children)
OK, the reindeer are parked on the school roof, but what are their names? (Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder & Blitzen.)  Perhaps Rudolf with his nose so red is your favourite, but he’s not as good a sledge puller…

Facts for the super clever: at this time of the year it’s only the female reindeer that have antlers, like Vixen… (perhaps find out if the local shopping centre has arranged a reindeer visit for passing on to a wannabe David Attenborough).

“I was Santa at a friend’s kids’ school. Fantastic experience as it’s the closest you’ll ever get to being a real life super hero. One terrified little kid even gave me (Santa) a Christmas card afterwards. Make sure you are up on the latest children’s toys though. I was baffled when one girl said she wanted rats for Christmas. After asking her to repeat the request several times, it turned out she wanted Bratz. Could have been tricky if it had been within my gift to actually fulfil her request on the spot.” Christian

3 Wear the right gear – be suited and booted
The pound shop and Tesco have the whole Father Christmas kit (probably) but you also need a large pair of big black wellies. Something to borrow maybe? Don’t spoil the look with trainers. DM shoes are a give away.

Can you tell it's a reusable xmas tree?

Can you tell it’s a reusable xmas tree?

4 You have to con your own children
Firstly you have to, otherwise the rumour is going to spread around the school that it’s Amal or Emily’s dad who is doing Father Christmas. Still at least it’s not the school caretaker again.

“Don’t let them pull your beard (ideally a fake long white one) or prod your stomach (stuffed with a cushion). Just stay in your chair if they cry.” Dad who has been Santa twice (honestly, one go is enough – it’s a job the dads can share).

If you decide to go all modern and have a Mrs Santa check with the teaching assistants. If they don’t like the idea stop right there – after all you need the helpful TAs to decorate that grotto…

5 Dealing with unbelievers
There are two places where this needs to be dealt with – in the queue and in the grotto.  Queue managers need distraction: maybe arm yourself with cracker jokes, or try free face painting of a holly leaf or a Rudolf red nose. Believe that Father Christmas is in that grotto, and that will help the kids believe it too.

“There are always stroppy ones who try and catch you out. when you ask what they want for Christmas they say ‘can I have a nintendo DS271?’ You say yes. They laugh and go (evilly) ‘Ha ha I’ve caught you out, there isn’t one. You’re not Santa… ‘  My tip is to just keep saying ‘if you are good I’m sure Father Christmas will bring you the presents you want’ – jovially. And if a child comes in and shouts out (accurately) ‘Molly, Molly it’s your dad,’ you have to deny it.” Dad of a year 2 and year 5

Happy Christmas: may your fundraising be tear-free.


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