Posted tagged ‘postaweek2012’

Runaway thoughts

December 28, 2012
This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is written because Aviva (the insurance/pension company) has promised to donate £2 to the charity Railway Children for any Mumsnet linked blog that focuses on run away children. You can raise even more for the charity if you comment on this post – so just scroll down. Thank you and here’s to a safe new year.  For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting click here.

Near where I live in London there are an endless shuffle of posters on lamp posts asking for passers-by to help find lost cats (please check your sheds) and lost dogs too (though they may have been stolen). Only once have I seen a poster for a lost human – and I think that was an April Fool – but it certainly disturbed my youngest daughter who hadn’t realised that humans could be lost.

Turns out that:

It’s estimated that a child runs away from home or care every five minutes in the UK

In a recent survey, one in 11 teenagers aged 14 to 16 admitted to having run away overnight at some stage in their life

It’s impossible to know the true scale of the problem: two-thirds of runaways aren’t reported as missing to the police, and many are too vulnerable or scared to seek official help

It’s estimated 2,000 children will run away over Christmas

There’s lots of info on the charity Railway Children and the work they do here

Sometimes running away must seem like the only option – but the charity’s research shows that many of the young people who do this very often end up trapped by drink and drugs. And worse, they go invisible – us lot stop noticing their age or their pain. And if we do, we walk on by, fearful of getting involved. That’s me anyway.

One of the toughest things a parent has to do is put up with difficult behaviour from the people they share their home with. Teens of 14 up aren’t so easy to negotiate with, and few are willing to back away from an argument if they feel it’s not their fault.

Blame the mum
In comedian Miranda Hart’s new book Is it just me?  she says “blame the mother” (in a tickle-your-ribs kind of way) for causing family mayhem, especially at Christmas. It got me thinking about how mothers have been the force behind so many domestic dramas – from foot binding to misogyny. From arranged marriages to negative body image. As cultural keepers some women have the expertise to make a home a hell even while smiling.

I’m not ruling dads out of the blame by the way, just thought I’d let them stay mum (silent) for this post.

Running away could be a wake up call for all the family – that things have to change, that the adults need to give more slack or change the boundaries or just tough it out for another year or so. It seems terrible that running away from one set of familial hassles can fast track a teenager into a life of drink and drugs to which it can be just about impossible to come back.

Over to you – who to love bomb?
Aviva has promised to donate another £2 for each comment and also for any tweets you send (handle is @RailwayChildren then please use #runningaway), or mention on Facebook.  Aviva will donate up to £200,000 by the end of 2013 as part of the campaign – so get writing now (please!). So my question to you is – what would or could you do to convince an at-the-end-of-her-tether mum (or family) to keep peace with their troublesome teenager? Mums of toddlers need time off, do mums of teenagers need this too?


Are you ever boastful? You should be…

December 20, 2012
What do you mean my child's been turned into a polar bear?

What do you mean my child’s been turned into a polar bear?

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is all about keeping life in perspective. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting click here.

I think we’ve all been guilty of being proud of our children. And to those of you at a different stage, say teenage rebellion, you might even have been guilty of boasting how unbelievably awful your child can be.

Over past month alone I’ve heard people tell me their child is terrific at maths, got a boyfriend at last (she’s 13, agh), able to pack away their lego, found a job, got a place at university, can throw proper two year old tantrums… These children are all different ages of course, and I’m so glad people do share stuff about their kids over the phone, in conversation, on Facebook, in Christmas Round Robin letters, any way they like. Not only do I want to know, it’s wonderful to see and hear about children as they grow up.

What’s not to like about a little boastfulness? It’s far better than…

Lost front teeth, cute as a newt!

Lost front teeth, cute as a newt!

“They’re too old now”
Rather more poignantly, I find that listening to how other kids are growing up helps us all remember our own children at the same age/stage of development. Indeed a friend with an independent older teen told me recently that she may have the photos but she finds she really misses her sweet two year old, or the little girl who wore a woolly hat, or the child who hugged up close for a bedtime story. “I’m mourning those children,” she said eyes welling up.

With two girls at secondary school it can’t be long before I’m mourning the little children household we had – forgetting how exhausting it was constantly looking after a tot.


Loving the lego stage, in retrospect. Perhaps you’ve forgotten the pain of standing on lost bits of lego, or the nightmare of clearing it all away?

So to all of you with little ones, here’s to a happy and safe holidays and the hope of a few treats where you get some time off.  My tip is share the tasks, and live in the moment, just like the kids do. Oh yes, and eat more snacks.

And to all of those of you with bigger kids, here’s to a happy reflection of those good old days, without sinking into deep regret.  My tip is collect those lovely drawings, school reports and outgrown shoes/clothes and think of clever ways to preserve them – not just photos. This could be a very satisfying 2013 project for the cold winter months.

Well, that’s what I’m telling myself.

Over to you?
What do you think – boastfulness is never acceptable, or it’s a lovely part of sharing the things you and your child have enjoyed doing together and will make the hard times easier.

Which is cleaner for our tots: 1950s smog or London air now?

December 3, 2012
Breakfast meeting to discuss air quality.

Breakfast meeting in Holborn to discuss air quality with Simon Birkett – the most amazing campaigner – addressing delegates from the back of the room.

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is about every breath we take… For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting click here.

Of course lots of you reading this post won’t live in London… but I bet you still know about the famous 1952 pea souper London smog of 6-9 December that triggered a huge clean-up for city air, world over. And so it had to, considering that cattle were keeling over at Smithfields market; more than 4,000 people met an early death and 100,000 were made ill.

See some amazing foggy pictures of a typical London afternoon back then on the blog, here.

So 60 years on, which is cleaner? The London that suffered from the Great Smog or London ruled by Boris? Well, there’s no smog out of my window, despite it being a December winter afternoon in central London… but I’m well aware that I cough and splutter like a cigarette user – despite not being a smoker. And one of my children (like many of her classmates) has asthma.

This extract is taken from the campaigning organisation Clean Air In London

“Air pollution in our biggest cities is much worse than most of us have realised.  It averages well over twice World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and legal limits near many of London’s busiest roads.  Mayor Johnson has estimated some 4,300 premature deaths in London in 2008 were attributable to long-term exposure to dangerous airborne particles alone.

Clean Air in London’s Mission is to achieve urgently and sustainably full compliance with WHO guidelines for air quality throughout London and elsewhere.  It works closely with other campaign groups and a wider network of supporters and volunteers to identify and build understanding of the most important issues and encourage decisive action on them.

Clean Air in London’s immediate priority is to see that air quality laws are enforced rigorously in London in 2012 (and thereafter).  Clean Air in London believes that if we comply fully with relevant laws Britain can show the world how to tackle successfully air quality, climate change and sustainability issues.”

Air pollution these days is invisible
So, yes your instincts are right – it was better then. The danger ingredients now are PM10s which are biggish particulates – 80% come from transport (and in particular people using diesel vehicles). The other big problem is nitrogen oxide (known as NOx) which is emitted in London in greater amounts than any other capital. Here in London, half the NOx can be blamed on transport, and the other half from domestic gas boilers.

It’s no different from the 1950s – how we get around, and how we heat our homes (and water) is still compromising our health.

Clearly driving children to school is doing no one any favours. If anyone has any ideas about how to encourage families to stop doing the school run by vehicle a lot of people would be very happy to hear them! But the lack of information – about London’s dodgy air quality is extremely worrying. At a recent meeting  (see pic above) run by London Sustainabilty Exchange (LSX) I discovered that even if London closed Heathrow Airport and banned all car transport it still would not meet the EU target for 2015. I must be a very naive campaigner, as I was the only one in the room to audibly gasp. Surely it’s a horrifying fact for any of us who live and/or work in London – or indeed any big city.

2013 is going to be the Year of Air. Not sure yet what this means, but fingers crossed it’s going to help all the people who need – or want – better air to breathe.

Want to read a similar post? See this for a video of what asthma feels like if you are a child.

Over to you

Any ideas how to stop families driving to school? There has to be a better way than a badge for the walkers each week; or a one week effort each May to go by leg… Carrot and stick ideas both very welcome.

Worrying what to get kids for Christmas?

November 28, 2012

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is all about how to buy a book even if you are lying prone in your bed with a broken hip (which luckily I’m not!). For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting click here.

Worrying about what to get kids for Christmas? Stop, stop right now. There’s nothing to worry about. Books are what you get a child for Christmas (birthdays, name days, achievements, Christenings, confirmations, etc). And one good book is far better than two.

This book is good enough to eat. So’s mine. Picture demonstrated by model bookworms, Lola and Nell.

There are several ways to find the right book:

  • Via – brilliant because Amazon can send it direct to the door, even to friends who live in Solomon Islands or Japan! OK Amazon doesn’t pay enough tax, and are killing book shops but ticks for everything else
  • Via a book shop and choose something the kids’ section staff recommends (or better still the kids in the shop).
  • Choose something made or written by a local writer/cartoonist if it’s on sale at a craft sale, Christmas sale or similar locally.
  • Buy a voucher. £10 is enough for a paperback or a book for a younger child. Recently my girls have been given £15 vouchers which gives them a lot more choice – though the amount makes me swoon. Books ought to be pocket money prices (ie, less than £1).
  • Go to a charity shop and get rummaging – or find a specialised Oxfam book shop (which now has more than 100 branches) – and pick out something you used to love when you were little.
  • Write your own – easy you know, just don’t leave it until the last minute.
  • Buy a book that you don’t mind writing on and then using permanent marker pens and or white sticky labels adapt the story so the stars acquire the name of the child you wish to gift it too. This is especially fun as a gift for a big brother/sister who might be smarting from the arrival of a sibling baby.

I hope this helps. As for me, well I know what I want for Christmas… what the kids are having.

Let them DIY, whatever their age

November 21, 2012

Discovering DIY skills at the kitchen table – Nell has a go restoring two Victorian irons.

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post goes big on DIY skills for you and the kids. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting click here.

Glue guns, tool boxes and old toothbrushes may not seem the most interesting items for under 15s but if you give kids the opportunity they often adore creating or restoring real things that have practical uses. That doesn’t mean you have to pack away the Lego or anything else they like playing with, it’s just an acknowledgment that it is sometimes less interesting spending time on something if it has to be cleared away at the end of the day (though you can always take pix of the great creations).

Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Nell, 11, was exploring our cellar last week and found two rusty Victorian irons left there by the previous owner. She wanted to know what they were – so we had to look that up. Turns out Victorians who wanted pressed clothes would heat up the iron (on a range or Aga), which takes quite a while, and then use one at a time so one iron was always piping hot. When your iron cools down then you switch to the other – irons were always used in pairs, a sweet little love story.

I suggested Nell cleaned the irons up, to either give as a Christmas present or keep for herself. It was a lovely weekend project – which started with research on YouTube and ended up with Nell donning goggles (the same ones she last used to dress up as Toad of Toad Hall at the school book day 2010) so she could safely rub the rust off the irons.

Big sister Lola, 14, was curious at our YouTube finds. “Why is it that all videos are done by slightly strange American men?” was her insightful comment. And it’s true, there seem to be far less British people posting how to videos. Anyway YouTube is a life saver when it comes to DIY, restoration and craft projects.

How to restore any old iron
We discovered that you can remove rust from iron with a scrubby daubed with a mix of linseed oil and turpentine (sounded unpleasant and it spoils the patina), or use electrolysis (which looked hard – you need a tub of water laced with baking soda and then to stick a current into it for around 12 hours). You can also scrub it with an old toothbrush and a bit of water – then put the iron into the oven at approx 200C to dry. Once the iron is obviously dry you then “season” it with a coating of vegetable oil. Nell applied this with paper kitchen towels, though we could have used washable cloths. And then we put the irons back into the oven for an hour. Because this process needs to be repeated a couple of times in order to get a decent seasoning (ie, a shiny surface that is a little bit rust proof), we ended up also cooking baked potatoes and flapjacks so the oven wasn’t just powered up for DIY.

The result is a far bigger interest in the BBC’s Antiques Road Show… plus two restored irons that make perfect bookends. Oh yes, and obviously Nell feels cock-a-hoop about her ability to mend something.

A really good book about the need for all of us to develop practical skills (even if we’re not that brilliant at first) is The Case for Working with Your Hands: or why office work is bad for us and fixing things feels good by Matthew Crawford. If you have a secret hankering for motorbikes then you’ll especially love it…

Over to you
Any suggestions for DIY projects you can do with kids? I gave Lola a den-building kit when she was about five and frankly it was a bad choice of present (lots of safety pins tacks and material in a tupperware box) as she was a bit too young. But just letting children see tools around and know their names (however unskilled you are at DIY) may give your youngsters a head start when it comes to trying out practical tasks.

Celebrating dad’s talents

November 14, 2012

Boats in the mud at Canvey Island, Essex: the girls were 9 and 12 and claimed it was the first time they’d seen a boat up close.

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post considers what to do on a dad and child day trip. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting click here.

Great excitement in our house as The Joy of Essex by Pete May is finally published (Nov 2012). This is the book Pete (dad of our two girls) has been wanting to write for years; it’s also been the reason Pete kept offering to take our two daughters on Essex day trips to Southend’s pier, or the chip shop at Leigh-on-Sea. It inspired him to go to the secret nuclear bunker (Kelvedon Hatch) and then talk about it so much that some of the other dads at school took their kids…

If you’re a Londoner then Essex is very close – we mostly use the train to get there.  During Pete’s research phase (ie, in addition to growing up in Brentwood which is where the popular TV show TOWIE seems to be based) we found so much to do, whatever your age. For starters Essex is a vast county, with a long coastline and thus long beaches. It has lots of wild, flat countryside making it good for cycling. And it’s full of surprises – I now know where the biggest mirror is in Essex (Loughton), the best bluebells (Billericay) and the oldest UK town (Colchester, depending on whose side you were on).

My only concern is that now Pete’s finished this project just what will he dream up to the lure kids off for just-as-good dad and daughter day trips?

Over to you
What do you like best about days when someone else shares their knowledge and life experience with children? For me it’s the happy texts that come during the day, and the slightly guilty expressions when recounting just what they all ate…

Why make kids save money?

November 6, 2012

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

Saving money is a big deal world over. But should you get kids to do some saving too? This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. this post considers the risks (and benefits) of making our children into superkidsavers. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting click here.

When it comes to money the number one rule is – the less you spend, the less money you need. By giving young children access to biggish sums (eg, the piggy bank) you are hot-housing consumer demand. Cash in hand they very soon go crazy for those little collectables that cost about a pound in the newsagents. And when that’s exhausted they will move on to bigger things (personal music systems, smart phones, particular brands of trainers). With that desire to spend in order to feel happy comes a serious loss of innocence.

Of course children need to learn about budgeting, saving etc. So how can families do that without pushing the green light that will turn their children into big spenders down the shops? Perhaps the answer is to make sure that when large sums of money have been collected (this could mean £5 or £50 depending on the child’s age and family circumstances) that this is spent on something that has long been wanted, and ideally something that gives your child an extra skill. A fabulous place to visit to help children reconfigure wants and needs is a place that sells unicycles, stilts, juggling balls etc. These items cost quite a bit, so are worth saving up for, but once you own them you may well need to practice long and hard in order to be able to master your new possession. There is absolutely no instant gratification – like charging up a phone or popping on a new top from Jack Wills/Honister.

Up to primary
My youngest daughter, Nell, 11, mostly makes money through her teeth falling out (a mere £1 from the tooth fairy and I understand the average London child makes between £2-£5 so she’s perhaps a little unlucky). She also occasionally gets sent cash at a birthday or for Christmas.

Watching her with her heavy purses I can see that she still judges money by weight. This is all wrong I know, but sometimes (when I’m feeling guilty about not giving her pocket money which should be £2 a week but often there’s none available on fridays) I offer to swap the heavy coppers for 10p bits – the influx of 10 pence in exchange for 5x2p or 10x1p may make her purse a bit lighter but more practical to use.

I was relieved when she did some maths homework recently and very eloquently argued that maths was a useful every day skill because you could use it to prevent shopkeepers and market stall holders from cheating you on the change front. Thankfully she didn’t add a line about parents cheating you on the change front… or indeed the pocket money front.

At secondary
My older daughter, Lola, 14, is far more sussed about money. And so she should be – a London teenager needs to have some cash in their purse for all sorts of situations. Because I never seemed to have a fiver on Friday pocket money day, she opened a current account which I fill with a monthly direct debit arrangement. The account is with the most ethical of high street banks, the Co-op, and is able to access this so long as there is money in the account. I’m quite jealous of this arrangement as I waited years to open a Co-op account because I always seemed to be overdrawn each month and for some strange reason NatWest didn’t mind this (hello interest), but the Co-op didn’t want me as a customer. I am very careful now about overdrafts. To stay in the black I have some money rules:

  1. Where it is possible to swap a skill, or make it yourself, or trawl around a secondhand shop, then that must be considered (and ideally done) before parting with (or receiving) money. The adults use a babysitting circle, the kids look in charity shops for bargains.
  2. Household jobs do not earn the doer money. Making a bed, hoovering the stairs or washing up are normal activities and thus will not earn whoever does them cash.
  3. Homemade gifts and homemade cards are encouraged. It is lovely to see young people continuing a tradition of making highly personalised cards and gifts rather than wasting money on chemically-dodgy scented bubbles or make up from the pound shop which might well have been tested on animals.

I don’t know where this story will end. Maybe both my daughters will become so crazed for cash they’ll either be, or date, bankers.

Until then, here’s to downshifting the importance of cash and savings, just so long as there are some funds available if a crisis struck, or indeed your child developed an unshakable need for a particular thing that couldn’t be found any other way than by parting with slow-collected savings. That’s because a long want, and a planned campaign on how to spend makes that spending far more valuable.

When money is the greatest gift
That said the biggest problem for children – around December anyway but also name days/Christenings – is being swamped with too many toys. I loved having one special Sindy Doll to play with rather than a squad of 28 plastic dolls. If you’re trying to encourage your children to have a special connection with the things they possess then ask grandparents or generous friends to give money for a savings account, rather than another fluffy toy.

When the moment is right make use of that saved up money for getting the exact perfect thing – a sledge to play with in the snow; a robust no-pedal bike for scooting to and from nursery or a bunk bed so friends can enjoy sleep overs…

Over to you
How do you encourage your children or relatives to save? Would you give money for something a child/young person is saving up for or do you always like to buy a specific item for them? And what about not giving kids money – is it wrong or a wise attempt at stalling the inevitable consumer frenzy? I was motivated to write this piece after a jog from Mumsnet pointing to the Money Supermarket’s SuperKid Savers Challenge competition.

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