Archive for the ‘eco-friendly’ category

Ever had a fairy tale moment?

May 25, 2011

Nell wants a black rose. Lola (here) wanted an apple from gravity-guru Isaac Newton's orchard. Simple gifts can be tough to find!

I’m just about to go to the Chelsea Flower show, lucky me as the tickets are a gift. Although I garden with both my daughters I am with Nell,10, more often, so we spend quite a lot of time discussing plants growing in the front gardens we pass. Recently roses have become a big favourite – especially the heavily scented ones. So when Nell heard what Chelsea was – a vast London flower fete from 24-28 May – she put in a request for me to bring back a black rose.

“This sounds like the start of Beauty and The Beast,” I told her rather worried, “and you know what happens in that story – you’ll end up married to a great big monster!” Nell shrugged and reassured me, ” but I want to breed black roses.”

Science learning here we come
I think tonight’s Chelsea debrief at the kitchen table may include seeing if we can get cappillary action to soak up black paint  and magically turn a white rose black. That way Nell will get her request, and I reckon I save face and finances…

The incident reminded me of a Facebook message from a spin-off of Love Outdoor Play, Playing Out which listed all the bad examples we teach our children if they – and you – are a fan of fairy tales. It’s quite funny (you could even say subvervise) to think of Sleeping Beauty as a lazy stay-in-bed teenager, Cinderella impolite (she rushed home at midnight without saying thank you!), Little Red Riding Hood forgot/disobeyed instructions, Snow White lived with seven men, etc… I guess I should have realised it wouldn’t be long before my kids were demanding the impossible too.

For more writing by Nicola Baird see her latest book, Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children.

What do you do in your lunch break?

May 20, 2011

Xavier and Nell lead the water wise assembly - 300 kids now know not to run the tap when they brush their teeth!

“What did you do in Green Team today? asked the Spanish teacher as she saw an 8 year old coming up the stairs.

“Oh, we just saved the world!”

“And that was just lunch time,” said the teacher repeating the story back to me. “What would the Green Team do if they had a bit more time?” Quite.

I love the way kids can get an idea, turn it into a script, be ready to do an assembly and feel confident that they really are changing things that matter. In this case being a lot more water wise.

This post is by Nicola, inspired by the Green Team that meets weekly at Nell’s primary school. For other ideas about what to do with children, see Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children.

Where are you in the TV debate?

May 18, 2011

Let the kids watch more TV and eat more pizza – that’s the new parenting tip from Dr Bryan Caplan. He’s not an American childhood guru, he’s a marketing genius with strong libertarian tendencies – just have a look at The Myth of the Rational Voter: why democracies choose bad policies .

I can imagine generations of dads like him trying to read the paper (or watch the TV) finding ways to ensure a quiet life so they can get on with the important tasks of… well, I’m not quite sure what Caplan thinks Dad tasks are, although calming mums down sounds like a good one. His idea of cutting children a bit of slack (a lot actually) so parents don’t turn into the chauffer-cross slave driver forcing little ones to attend extra lessons like ballet, football, piano etc is a great one.

It’s my life
The exception is swimming – that’s a life saver skill – but the rest of what children do should be much more steered by them. Most kids have to go to school, and really don’t need to be pressure-educated with a host of other after-school activities. Far better to wait until they are a bit older, let’s say seven or eight years and can then choose one fun thing to do, that they love, which brings them confidence and is fun, affordable and they can get to it themselves, which will help them make and meet local friends.

Turn the TV on and find out
Caplan’s book is going to help a lot of mums who feel obliged to keep the kids busy learning. Many kids would enjoy life even more with the option of greater downtime during which they can do much more of what they like.

I’m not a fan of the TV being forever on, but sometimes I love watching it. And if I ever over-kill switching the remote to this, that and the next it soon becomes boring, even reruns of Friends.

In my book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children there’s a strong suggestion to get you and the kids children skilled up.

Perhaps the most basic of these is for a child has the skills to entertain themselves – to play, or read, or find something more active to do. When Nell was in hospital last month the nurse said she could tell she didn’t watch TV often, and that you could always tell, as the TV-deprived (sorry rather an emotive word) were the ones glued to the channels. I noticed when she left Addenbrookes it didn’t turn her into a TV junkie, she’d simply enjoyed a glut of TV when she needed it, lying a bit breathless on a hospital bed.

Kids need me time
When they are little me time is going to mean sitting on your lap, being with you, being cared hugely by you. But as they get bigger it should segue into time alone, or in their own imaginary world of clashing Titans, shopping Sylvanians or whatever rocks their Baby Gap socks. If you ignore Caplan’s ideas and do the pushy parenting where Monday’s fencing, Tuesday Kumon maths then swimming, Wednesday is soccer school, Friday is French and the weekend an exhaustive round of child-centred activities your child loses the me time. No wonder they end up un-cooperative, over-tired and possibly unhappy.

If you want to look at Caplan’s book explaining why being a great parent is less work and more fun than you think and nothing like pushy Tiger Mum, then see here or see this version, here, from The Sun.

Good luck whatever you are trying to do!

Can you clean up Daleks?

May 15, 2011

Utter junk becomes an arty dalek cage.

Lola’s out walking 10 of London’s bridges for charity – to help Ugandan students make it to secondary school, seeBridges for Africa. Pete’s up in Wigan where he will see West Ham be defeated, and relegated. So it’s just me and Nell at home with a long to do list. We’ve got to sort out the broken junk and toys in an attempt to tidy up the house for it’s new occupant next month. This post is by Nicola using ideas adapted from her book,Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children.

Art attack
We could go to the dump, but two years ago I figured out what I wanted to do with dead toys and tools if I ever had time. So today became a chance to create a chicken wire armitage then pack it with unwanted toys and turn it into an artwork of recycled toys. It’s not so easy to do this in practice with my 0.5m high, 25cm wide bit of wire from the veg garden, especially with Nell going “but that’s my tamagotchi, you can’t use that.” But it didn’t stop us creating a magnificient sculpture by knitting the house’s difficult to recycle items into chicken wire slots.

Like the Weee Man?
The Weee Man is a famous sculpture created with all the electrical items a person uses and discards in a lifetime that helped seed this idea. Look closely at my photo and you may see the stuff a 10 year old might discard, including three pairs of injured sunglasses, a broken screwdriver, a defunct bike horn, and three jewelled pens that never worked. actually this is my junk, provided by my now dead Great Aunt which meant that i just couldn’t part with them. There’s a drinking straw, broken necklaces, bracelets, textile scraps and “I am 5” badges.

Beauty in the eye of the beholder
Of course it may clutter up shelf space in its new incarnation but Nell and I are delighted with our installation. Nell says, “it was fun. We could sell it! Maybe for £20,000 and then buy Dr Who and Mooshi Monster cards, toy snakes and everything in the world…” In other words there’s not a chance of our home becoming decluttered!

With our Art Attack over we crossed the road to drink mugs of tea and try out the cakes at our neighbour Naomi’s regular Cake Sundays for the street where food and gardening are talked about until it’s time to go home and cook dinner… I had a lovely time (and Nell played with some new friends), but I’m sorry to say that I came back with yet more things to squeeze into the house – one raspberry cane, a packet of spinach seeds and a bit of compost.

What have you learnt this week?

May 10, 2011

It’s early in the week but Nell, 10, and all those other children around the world are expected to be learning. Pix above show the girls in an historic oak; Vulcan listening to the brass band; admiring sculpture from horseshoes; watching Morris Dancing plus a taste of the indoors – felting.

With SATs this week (a test the state primary children do in Year 2 and Year 6) it got me thinking about just what I’ll learn this week. Or even when I last learnt something purposely – something it’s all too easy for grown ups to forget (a) to do and (b) how difficult it can be… (post by nicola baird from ideas adapted from her book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children).

Shopping, now that’s a different thing! Not only is it the nation’s number one past time (shudder), it’s also hard not to get caught up in, or at least that’s what the stats show – an average child costs £200,000 plus by the time they are 21 and that’s not including any school fees. Even at a craft exhibition with plenty of free events there was considerable pressure to part with cash.

The show was held in an ancient parkland – filled with the most fabulous old oaks, (one of which Elizabeth I is supposed to have been sitting under when told she’d got the top job) – at a craft fair. A “living” craft fair of art, design and innovation which saw me and the kids goggling at chairs made from oars, a wheelwright at work, a display by a man who makes coracles (hide-covered boats often with the cow tail still attached) who plans to coracle 2,000 miles along the Yukon River in 2012.

The annual event at Hatfield House, Herts, attracted loads of families – plenty of free activities for kids including pot making, stone carving, jewelery, painting and weaving. For once we totally chilled (having a dog in one hand and two kids exhausted by sleepovers in the other helps this process) and spent most of the afternoon sipping half a pint of cider very slowly while watching St Albans’ brass band and a group of Morris dancers. I guess it’s a festival – lots of things going on, music and a happy vibe – just dressed up in a different way, as a craft experience. (See here in the Guardian for other child-friendly festivals where you can camp).

Too girly?
Pete felt it could have been a lot more fun for a bloke  if Living Crafts exhibitors also had some boy/bloke puchase opportunities such as hats, walking gear and real ale – then went back to study footie form determined not to believe that his team West Ham is going down.

Bit of learning
Tired though the children were it was a fascinating day – which taught us that traditional oak baskets from the Lake District are known as “swill”, people still make leather cups (as seen used by Pirates of the Caribbean) and that anything on sale for £1 is a pocket money magnet, even a pebble with stuck-on eyes. Perhaps one day we’ll be exhibiting with our homemade tent – a taught tarp kept up with hazel stakes and handcut tent pegs – in which will be baskets hand woven from yellow-flag iris leaves cut from our pond. So long as I find a way to learn just how to do this…

What do you and your family want to learn – or could do with learning this year? It’s a great way to kick start the big re-skilling most of us need.

How do you celebrate seasons?

May 1, 2011

May girls by a May tree in full blossom on May Day 2011.

Spring is turning into summer – the lilac’s out in London and the elder is flowering. Even if we are still in the midst of the hungry gap (ie, there’s not much freshly grown seasonal veg available from the UK and in particular my garden) at the moment the dryness and sunshine makes me crave salads, new potatoes (got to wait until June!) and all those fabulous greens that will soon swamp farmers’ markets, indeed any market and be put on sale alongside honesty boxes in non-urban areas everywhere.

So this post – by Nicola Baird using some ideas from her book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children – is in praise of celebrating the seasons. We have four Bramley Hedge plates (found at a car boot sale) that during the year each take a turn on the dresser. Spring’s still on show but looks mighty dated (yes, in more ways than one) with its mice amongst primroses.

Green Man looking good with an ipod, leaves and flower garlands.

Chiswick Mall during a high Thames tide.

Today Lola, Nell and I walked along a portion of the Thames path on a quasi history mission – looking for traces of Barbara Villiers, a mistress of Charles II’s whose last home was in Chiswick. It was a gorgeous walk: we saw a spring Thames tide flood part of the road, got lost shoulder-height in cow parsley in a churchyard and met a real Green Man plus Morris Dancers performing by the Rutland Arms pub. No wonder I’ve at last clicked that my significant others are named May – and if our family don’t make a song and dance about May Day then we’re missing a fine chance for celebration. These pictures are the result (and Pete’s not there because he was watching West Ham…).

“Pinch punch it’s the first day of the month – no returns…”

OR “Here’s a kiss and a kick for being so quick”

Morris dancers are a great chance "to stand and stare", often by a pub!

And that got me thinking: how do you celebrate the seasons?
Is it an event –  a party like a birthday – or is it just a general feeling of relief when the house martins/swallows come back, or the first mowing is made, or utter confidence in being able to walk to school/nursery without a fleece?  Admittedly, that last one may never be possible in the UK…

Enjoying high days and holidays
Here’s to many more opportunities to enjoy marking the good things in life, especially the days that seem to promise so much – the first of  a month and the start of a weekend. Such a different feeling to the often consumer-fuelled pressure of organising a birthday. Happy May Day!

What about sick kids?

April 24, 2011

A pen can decorate sick bowls too, or use as a hat... Jennie, 4, did this.

Nell,10, unexpectedly spent the Easter weekend in hospital. She came back with a chocolate easter egg, two craft projects (a piggy bank and a glitter-decorated egg) plus pictures and gifts other children on the ward gave her. Even little Jennie, 4, in the next bed turned one of her unused vomit collectors (these things are ridiculously adaptable) into a hat with a face on it as a goodbye gift to Nell. This post is by Nicola Baird (Nell’s mum!) using ideas adapted from her book Homemade Kids. There are Barnes & Nobles coupons available for her books.

Nell went in gasping for air – triggered perhaps by the pollen blasting from oil seed rape (that yellow plant that’s grown massively in East Anglia to fatten cattle and, increasingly, as a biofuel, grrr). Although the day her breathing took a turn for the worse was Thursday, 21 April, coincidentally the first of London’s super smogs, see “Bad Air Day for 2011 as UK breaches PM10 daily limit value in London and Government issues ‘High pollution episode warning: First “summer-smog” of 2011″, at clean air in london’s page here.

Nell came out of Addenbrookes (a big hospital in Cambridge) fired up to take on Prime Minister Cameron who seems determined to attack an NHS that doesn’t need attacking – not because I’d briefed her, but because she saw for herself the sort of care she was getting. In our two day, one night stay we met three life-saving paramedics, used one ambulance and Nell was assessed by five doctors. We also used NHS Direct (tel: 0845 4647), and Nell had a lung x-ray (and as suspected was found to have an infection). She was given a heap of medicine that I need to use (it’s every 4 hours for the next 48 hours) and another lot to help this sort of air-scare happening again

Great nurses too
The nurses were stupendous: sympathetic, fun to be around, efficient, knowledgeable and constantly going the extra mile – essential for all those families with children needing long-stay treatment. At the kids’ ward in Cambridge there is a play worker; mums like me who don’t expect to be staying overnight are found a towel for a shower, shown where the toaster and tea making facilities are and made to feel they are part of their children’s treatment/cure. This is kind because with asthma it’s often the families who manage to lose control of the management (ie, like me for Nell) and don’t have a crisis plan to follow.

Hospitals in the news
What a contrast the NHS hospitals are to the ones panned across by cameras most nights on the TV news. A hospital in chaos has become an essential part of war reporting – so often we see overcrowding, dirt, blood, awful scenes, and then worse, here that medicines have run out. Or one side has taken over the hospital to use as a sniper base. Even a hospital that’s working well in most countries of the world does not supply patients with food (your family need to bring it in). Or free medicines for children.

Money and the NHS
Lots of mums worry about vaccinations, pay an arm and a leg for alternative treatments and may even have private health insurance. My experience of the NHS is it’s big and a bit clumsy but when you need urgent help it is stunning, and I’m constantly surprised by the lack of feedback it requests (eg, you stayed in hospital what did you make of it?) and the curious absence of a place to donate if you wanted to after a successful trip.

Money and the NHS
I know when my first daughter was born I was euphoric about her successful arrival and would have been happy to give a donation to this amazing organisation. And yes, I know my taxes go towards it. This is an instinct for the purest of life insurance. Of course I’m happy to give more knowing that when things go wrong doctors and nurses can step in…

Sublime to ridiculous
The NHS feels like a free service – yet if you went health private you could be paying thousands for treatment.

At least there’s a campaign to stop the NHS being torn apart – you can help by signing this e-petition, see 38degrees, here which more than 260,000 have already signed. Not so long ago Britain’s forests secured a U-turn, here’ s something most people think is even more important.

An econote about sick kids
I routinely recycle, reuse and save water. In hospital I utterly failed to do this – although I did leave Addenbrookes by taxi for the train home. It is very hard to find the places – or the time to navigate the 10 floors to the concourse and the recycling bins (for plastic water bottles I think) – when you are on a surprise hospital stay-over and worried out of your mind about your child. I’m sure it’s possible to make hospital recycling easier, but the worries about infection (and super bugs) clearly make it harder to resolve this.

That said
The NHS has saved Nell’s life twice now. I really owe them my support.

Are you disorganised?

March 21, 2011

I reckon I’m not. This post is by Nicola Baird written inbetween organising a school film night for the PTA and dinner for my family…

My partner, Pete, reckons he’s not but when he asked our daughter Nell, 10, this question – unfortunately calling her by her big sister’s name (luckily not the dog which is what I tend to accidentally call her) – she said “yes, DEFINITELY disorganised”.

Unfair? I don’t think so. Her dad had arrived 15 minutes late to pick her up from school, then was puzzled why it wasn’t parents evening as expected. He didn’t know Nell’s session had been cancelled because the school had texted her mum (yes me,) but I couldn’t take messages on my phone as I’d dropped it down the loo at the weekend. The phone is still drying out in a box of rice that I keep ever-ready for wet phone emergencies. Oh yes and I’d made a big fuss of buying her a cheapo pack of socks and then wrongly bought the size for a 3-6 year old (I thought it said size 3-6 your honour).

But, but…
Come on, surely having a tupperware container full of rice for drying out phones counts as super-mum, not disorganised mum? But Nell is firm. Penalties are to be discussed, I’m not sure I listed ideas for such a thing in my book Homemade Kids

What do your kids think of you?

Where to go on holiday?

March 18, 2011

I’ve just been reading a copy of Conde Nast Traveller – the most aspirational travel mag on the planet. That said the April issue is full of clever ideas (and some surprisingly affordable) about how to make use of having children to entertain during the later than ever before Easter school holiday. This post is by Nicola Baird

Do you realise you could still teach the kids to ski, say at the delightfully named Yeti Club in Switzerland (reachable by train, see the man in seat 61 for journey ideas here?

Or that you could reward yourself for sitting poolside for a winter of swimming lessons by finding the warmer weather on the beaches of Cyprus and Turkey? (The feature is on p21/april 2011/Traveller).

My last published piece on travel with kids was in The Observer, see the link here if you want to know where I think the best youth hostels in the UK are. That piece was written in 2007, but I still really like the huge, family-friendly YHA at Ambleside in the Lake District – although I’m always slightly shocked by how full their car park seems to be. Taking a holiday with a car seems to me to be very similar to most people’s lives with the daily stresses of finding parking spots (and the right change), plus the heart-beating challenge of taking the third left on a busy roundabout just as your six-year-old starts asking about the facts of life.

Made your choice yet?
Of course I don’t know where you should take a holiday, but if it gives you and the family a chance to live a little differently then go for it. And by different I’m thinking downshifting choices rather than spa-chic and toddler pedicures.

My top 10 holiday pleasures
1 Getting up without rushing

2 Eating breakfast much later than normal

3 Going for slow play walks in the woods, ideally with a dog and enough companions to ensure that when the kids want to build a den the rest of us can chat… or just arrange to come back

4 Trying out cafes and local specialities (laverbread is seaweed!)

5 Taking a night walk with a torch, or a mix of star and moonlight

6 Paddling in streams – getting shoes off wherever possible

7 Learning something about a place or a thing. So why are Cox’s the only apples with seeds that can be heard to rattle?

8 Painting – with anything and everything, mud, gloop, watercolours, bits of charcoal, hen feathers dipped in oils…

9 Trying out a new language, ideally one that Facebook recognises

10 Writing “wish you were here” postcards, and not actually meaning it. That does sound mean, but it’s nice to be holidaying with the people you really want to be with…

Enjoy your Easter holiday plans
As you can guess, I’m staying put because my list of 10 can be lived out very well very close to home! For other ideas about fun things to do with small children see my book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. Or share your own ideas here.

Dealing with loss

March 14, 2011



Watching the clock (Cambridge's scary timepiece) gobbling life...



I let my girls watch the TV to see the tsunami batter Japan. I want them to understand the immense power of nature, but more importantly Sky’s camera shots seemed far away enough for it to look as if the wave rolled inland without drowning people. It is utterly terrifying to remember those TV shots of that wave as we now find out just how many hundreds of people are missing, presumed dead – quite possibly killed in front of our eyes. This blog entry is by Nicola Baird, and it’s not about Japan. It is about dealing with loss.

Death is not my favourite subject. I avoid thrillers, crime novels even. But to have any hope of being a vaguely content person I think it helps a child to know a little about death, especially when it’s not surrounded in tragedy. For example if someone they know dies who has lived a long, mostly happy life then it’s good to involve the child in the send off. They don’t have to decorate the coffin, they just need to be able to see life’s cycle of hatched, matched and dispatched and perhaps be familiar with all those rituals.

If a wedding is ever an important celebration, then a funeral ought to be more so.

A friend living in the Solomons told me of the time she found her toddler daughters arranging scented frangipani flowers in the coffin of a favourite older aunt’s body. They were happy and chatting away to their relative, pleased to be decorating her, forgetting it was a goodbye. In the Pacific (indeed many places) funerals happen within a day making it easy to miss the chance to say a personal goodbye.

My mum and her cousin, Sylvia, both brought up in Northern Ireland still talk with some bitterness of the way women and girls weren’t allowed to go to funerals. If a father, or grandfather died it felt as if they’d just gone off without saying goodbye.

I did it my way
Given the pain caused by people dying it sometimes helps to develop soothing rituals when less important members of the household pass on – I’m thinking fish, guinea pigs, even the dead pigeon you walk past on the way to school. We are lucky enough to have a bit of garden where our dearly beloved pets can be buried. It’s known as the wild flower area, and already bursting with little blue alcanet and daffodils. My daughters like to go there to chat to some of their dead pet friends, prefering to say goodbye with a drum roll on a saucepan and a speech remembering the noble qualities of whichever fowl, rodent, fish or whoever has died.

I’d rather compost our ex-menagerie members, but this is something the kids no longer allow me to do.

My late husband
Years ago I worked with a woman who would drop into conversation anecdotes about “My late husband…” until finally those around would crack, and mutter sorry or an appropriate downbeat response. Whereupon she’d start laughing, and go knowingly, “My LATE husband… and here he is.” It was as if they used comic timing, for he’d inevitably walk in as that bit of the joke was laid on thickly – clearly tardy not deceased.

If only the worst incidents of life could be brushed off as “only kidding”. But as they can’t, let’s at least  try to be honest with our children so that if the worse happens they may just have some hidden strengths that enable them to make sense of a mad, mad world.

If you only ever read one book about the practicalities of death and dying, then make it The Natural Death Handbook. It’s a place where living wills, willow coffins and non-religious burial grounds are explained in ways that will surely make you want them when the time comes. For less scary ideas about life and childcaring see my own book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children.

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