Monday, 31 January 2011

Waste not want not - Wer den Pfennig nicht ehrt

I grew up to the litany of "Wer den Pfennig nicht ehrt, ist des Talers nicht wert", loosely translatable as "waste not want not". My parents grew up during the war and lived through the war and post war years of rather a lot of want. As a consequence, nothing was wasted in our home and every spend was monitored and accounted for. Things were kept until they broke, we opened presents carefully to save the wrapping for next year. No scrap of food was ever thrown away but warmed up and included in the next meal. And my dad got all the out of date food, poor soul.

While my own parents had experienced hunger as children, I didn't. We weren't rich, but we also weren't poor. Ok, we didn't keep up with my richer peers at school whose parents held industrial jobs. We had no car but we had an annual holiday from when I was 7. I had less toys than others and we lived in a flat, but I played with our landlady's grandchild and his toys, or with my school friend on her farm, and my parents had a massive allotment (shared with a Turkish family). There were no trips to swimming pools but I attended music school and later, after years of pestering, was granted my wish to go horseriding.

I was shaped by the waste not want not philosophy of my parents. I still feel very strongly that it's wrong to throw food away. Just that the reasoning behind that has slightly shifted - it's no longer the starving children in Africa (yes, that was said in my house) but the knowledge that on the big scale of things, food production does not feed our world, that food production which feeds our wasteful and gluttonous part of the world is fuelled by unsustainable resources and that it's disrespectful to our fellow human beings who do not have the resources to feed themselves. More than that, the constant reminder of the possibility of leaner years to come which my parents testified through their own experience taught me never to take what we have for granted.

I'm still convinced that wastefulness is not a good thing, particularly in our generation. The temptation is almost irresistable, what with massive supermarkets, and everything being available just around the corner. It's an illusion of plenty.

This is why Hugh's Fish Fight has really struck a chord with me, as well as the initiative to get knobbly vegetables back onto the shelves of European supermarkets. As if it wasn't bad enough that one third of all food in supermarkets is wasted by consumers overbuying or supermarkets chucking away surplus (one third! this is food straight forwardly wasted and dumped, emitting green house gases too, nevermind the cost of production), European regulations have resulted in throwing away half the fish caught and vegetables that don't comply to quotas or preset shapes. Fish caught and food grown (both of which is a hard job) is chucked. For No.Good.Reason.At.All.

This has to change. It's stupid, disrespectful and unnecessary.
So please take a minute today, or tomorrow, but please don't put it off, and support two very worthwhile campaigns.
You can sign up to Hugh's Fish fight here, and follow on Facebook. If  you want fun and tasty knobbly vegetables on your plate rather than in the bin, support the National Trust and Delicious initiative and ask your MEP to make his/her influence in Europe count. Also please consider sharing through your own networks. You could blog about it, tell your facebooky friends, tweet about it if you're a better tweeter than me, and do whatever else may get some much needed support to stop this nonsense.

Thank you!!!

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Of robbers and policewomen

Daddy: Look, there's a policewomen over there. If you ever see a robber, you can go to her and let her know.
Cubling: What's a robber?
Daddy: It's a person who comes into the house and takes something away, who steals something. But it can't really happen because they can't come into the house. (note the attempt to not cause any worries, as she suffers badly enough from nightmares)
Cubling: What about if you leave the door open?
Daddy: That's right, if you leave the door open, a robber might come in and steal your plastic dinosaur.
Cubling: But what about my dinosaur can scare the robber away?
Daddy: But it's only a plastic dinosaur, they're not real so they can't scare anyone. (note attempt to stress that dinosaurs do not exist anymore and aren't scary as she regularly has nightmares of dinosaurs)
Cubling: I know that. I'm only telling a joke.
Daddy: I see.
Cubling: A person who steals something can be lady too. And a policeman can be a lady too.

Lesson in gender equality successful. Mummy and Daddy in stitches.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Risk aversion or ban the trampoline

This week, the nursery's parents group was hijacked by the NHS.
When I say parents group, this may be a tad misleading - previously attended by me as the only parent, it has now doubled it's membership yet I still struggle to call a twosome a "group", especially considering that I'm atypical in being on maternity leave and German, and the other mum has just moved here from London and her accent indicated that she may not be British either.

In the previous meeting, because it was just me, there was no setting up of purpose of this group, so I kind of expected this now, just to know if this is actually something useful for me and worthwhile going to. It may help with getting more parents involved too if they know what the group is for.

Instead, this is how the meeting went: Two ladies from the NHS were introduced who then went on to tell us that they had become aware of the dangers of trampolines and they were designing a campaign to raise awareness of this danger and if we could help them with ideas how to best promote safe usage of trampolines. We did this and that was the end of the meeting

Bewildered? Well, I was. For three reasons:
a) this is not what I came for and I felt I wasted a good hour to do someone else's job (it's not rocket science to figure out how to raise awareness of specific risks amongst parents) and I also felt the NHS was wasting staff time on something that really didn't need parental engagement.
b) I felt cheated because there wasn't even a pro forma question if us parents wanted to discuss anything - so the NHS got their tick of the box out of it, the nursery too, but the parents didn't.
c) I pondered about the ridiculous risk aversion of our society.

I don't really want to go into a) and b) because it's too blooming obvious what I'm on about and I will raise this with the nursery.
So risk averse society. Apparently, over the summer months, 100 children were admitted to hospital due to accidents involving a trampoline. None of these accidents were more serious than broken bones. The accidents were described as "avoidable". Apparently, there are people propagating the ban of trampolines. Now, I do understand this point of view - trampolines do carry the risk of accidental injury, on occasions this may even be severe.
However, so does playing football, climbing a tree, swimming, cycling, horse riding. In fact, any physical activity carries the risk of accidental injury by the very nature of it. Does this mean a ban would be a good idea?

Or should we not accept that life is risky and usually ends in death, assess risks in a sensible manner and manage the risks instead of avoiding them altogether?
I'd rather have a child with a broken bone than one who ends up obese, with type 2 diabetes and dies of a heart attack at 60. It's also about the actual frequency of accidents - 100 doesn't sound a lot to me considering the population of Greater Glasgow, how does it compare in relation to hours spent on it with other higher risk activities?

And as to the suggested guidelines for using a trampoline safely - I don't think they are realistic. Asking for constant parental supervision is just not going to happen, or to only let one child on at a time just defeats the fun of bouncing on a trampoline. You could just as well not have one.

So, in my view, either ban trampolines or accept there will be accidents which may be much outweighed by the health benefits of trampolines.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Night wakings, bonding and being a second time mum

Being a second time mum really is a different experience.
There is a significant benefit in a) having been there before and b) having had a high need baby first. b) translates to something along the lines that nothing shocks you and you're prepared for the worst and you rejoice if it's not that.

It's partly about knowing what it means to have a baby and partly about roughly knowing yourself, your weaknesses and your parenting preferences. I'd like to stress that these are very personal preferences, it's not about thinking this is the only or better way, just it's what suits me. I'm confident explaining why I favour co-sleeping and carrying baby in a sling, while acknowledging that it may not suit other parents.

I don't really miss not going out. This time, there's no massive lifestyle change that I find difficult to accept. I enjoy being at home much more, and appreciate what I can do. There isn't a baby crying and a set of parents unable to soothe this crying baby. I know exactly what's wrong with Snowflake whenever she cries. Well, apart from car journeys when there's nothing wrong really but let's leave that aside.

When Cubling was 4 1/2 months, she woke every 30 minutes at night and I was losing the will to live. It was cruel, I was on edge, I might have shouted, cried and cursed being a mum. Oh it was ugly.

Now Snowflake is 4 1/2 months and she wakes every hour at night. I'm tired, but I'm no where near that sleep deprived state that could lead to exploding mummy any second. That doesn't mean I like being woken up every hour, or more, because Cubling is a bit poorly and wakes rather a lot too, so between the two, well, there's not much sleep to be had.

I'm not as worried about night wakings because I know that they will stop. Time passes quicker this time anyway and I don't have to go back to work as soon, all of which helps. Oh, and Cubling does occasionally sleep in giving us all a lie in. So it's manageable.

I don't obsess but I still wonder if I'm doing the right thing. I let Snowflake fall asleep on my lap in the evenings, where she will mostly settle beautifully. Whenever I try to move her to the carrycot, she wakes and cries and can't be settled. I know I could insist but it's so much easier just to feed her back to sleep, and see, I can type, knit, watch TV, surf the net and all that while she's on my lap. It's not so bad.

I know there are different reasons for such frequent night wakings. The nature of baby sleep, her sleep association (being fed to sleep), teething, developmental spurts, and some may say readiness for solids. We could consider a dummy but I simply don't feel it would improve things - after all, the dummy needs sterilised, located and plugged in. The real thing is always there and won't get lost so easily, so do I really want to introduce a dummy? I may just wait a little longer, hoping this is just a phase.

In the back of my mind I know that habits can be changed and I'm not worried about creating habits if they work. She can have better nights, and if I persisted, she would probably sleep in a bed without being right next to me, after all that's what she does during the day at least sometimes.

Truth is, I'm not too bothered by it, just a tiny bit, not enough to make a concerted effort to change anything just yet. I still feel uneasy if she sleeps in a different room from me, part of me loves having her on my lap in the evenings, knowing she's fine, and warm, and happy snuggled into me.
Before long, I'll miss those cosy evenings.

Recently, I read a blog post on bonding and it made me wonder if there is actually a difference in how I bonded with my babies,* because with Cubling, there were moments where I rejected her relentless need for touch, with Snowflake there aren't any such moments. Of course, Snowflake is not a high need baby, so I'm not comparing like with like. But maybe there is truth in my translation of this blog post that because breastfeeding went so much better this time than last, the early bond is a better one. And I worry that Cubling's continuing clinginess is a result of that slightly disturbed bond, tainted by those moments where I was at the end of my tether (and yet I know it's relative, compared to other babies she got so much more touch - I never forced the pram on her, responded to her need to be carried etc). Then again, if it's about clinginess, it's not my behaviour that caused it, it's always been there so maybe the closeness is just what Cubling needs to feel secure.

* I should stress that I did bond with Cubling and feel very close to her. The difference is just that I feel that the early bond is less complicated with Snowflake and that I'm a much happier parent than I was after Cubling was born

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Hooked up

For years I've been wanting to learn how to crochet. Not really surprising, considering I like to knit and crocheting is, after all, doing something with yarn and a needle too.
I'm not one to learn from books, I've tried, without much conviction and can't even focus my eyes to link description and image to a sensible whole. It doesn't work for me. I'm a believer in these things being taught from person to person.

When I went on maternity leave, I had the idea of hosting a crafting group where tutors would be invited one evening a month or thereabouts to teach a small group a new skill. I still like the idea but admittedly haven't done anything about it, so it was with rather a lot of delight that I discovered two places in Glasgow that put this idea into practice and even make a business out of it. Seems I'm not the only one with this idea, and how convenient that both places opened up just as I went on maternity leave. Make it Glasgow is a sewing cafe in the Merchant City, where you can drop in, hire a sewing machine and sew away, with a fresh cuppa and nice books to get your head into. They run regular crafting classes where you can brush up lots of skills, well beyond sewing.

The Lifecraft do something similar in the Westend - there's a cafe, yarn, sewing patterns, knitting and sewing accessories, toddler and pre-schooler sessions, knitting meetups. They too have craft classes on offer.

I love the concept, and what's best, most classes are only 3 hours long, perfect timing between feeds! So I learned how to crochet at Make it Glasgow (and took Snowflake along anyway because I'm daft that way and still rather have her with me). 3 hours, a great tutor, and I think I can crochet. It doesn't look great yet, but I know my chain from my stitch and my doubles from my trebles.

I'm rather pleased with it all.

Monday, 24 January 2011

One month on: my living As Sustainable As Possible Pledge

Taking the ASAP pledge was a welcome start at just about the right time. The thing about making a pledge is that you take something seriously, make a commitment, and it's a start on a journey that may take you further than you initially thought. Not always, but if it comes at the point where it fits in with stuff that you've been trying to get your head around, it can be the start of quite a lot of things.

Of course I'm not pretending that I've turned my life around in a month. Far from it. It's just that it's a welcome start which could possibly lead to a bit more than just fulfilling my pledge.

So, what have I been up to in my quest to live more sustainably (or even finding out what living as sustainably as possible might mean in my humble world):
I've not bought any veg/fruit in plastic containers. It's quite easy to do that. It's sometimes the more expensive option, but on the whole I'm actually saving money, and this is how:

I've also tried to buy as locally as possible. We already get a vegetable bag delivery from an organic Scottish producer. There's so much in it that we'll have to reduce our order because I'm running out of freezer space for soup. I'm amazed how much of a difference having this weekly bag makes to my cooking and shopping habits. I've saved money on the weekly shopping, I almost never shop at any of the big supermarkets now although we used to do all our shopping there, and I've expanded my cooking skills. It's an all win situation. I've also effectively eliminated the weekly car trip to the supermarket, a sore thumb in our family time as I can't do it on my own with two kids, it was usually a family outing - time that could have been spent in a much nicer way.

How does it all work? Well, I try to use up all the delivery and because it's so much I cook from scratch and use much less of ready made items. I never thought this would actually save money, but it does. It also translates to less packaging, less plastic, less landfill.

Next, we got this leaflet from our local dairy through the door and found out that they do milk deliveries in plastic bottles. Perfect, milk delivered to our door at 5am and no more plastic milk bottles (which up to now were collected for the nursery's project to build a milk bottle green house, but they now have collected enough).

In the supermarket (that'll be the co-op rather than Tesco/Asda now because I can do my weekly shopping in the window between nursery drop off and rhyme time start, half an hour is all it takes) I've tried to stick to products with less packaging, fair trade, UK produce and, to reduce waste, in large packages. 240 teabags instead of 80. It's tricky because we haven't got much space, but with more fresh food we don't need as many tins anymore. Magically, there's now space in the cupboard. Space that can be used for large bags of rice and pasta, tea, etc.

Going shopping on a weekly basis also makes me realise the type of packaging that accumulates. Once again, the cartons are sore in my eye because our local council doesn't recycle cardboard and there are a lot of cardboard boxes in my shopping. Cardboard is better than plastic, but still. They could be avoided and I might consider this (different cereals, no more snack bars - that alone would at least reduce my cardboard waste by two thirds).

I'm considering taking up the rubbish diet challenge to learn a bit more about types of packaging and how to reduce my rubbish, although I'm not ambitious enough to manage a zero waste week (as much as I admire people who manage this!).

One other biggie for me is the ever present child's lunch bag in cafes. Cubling insist on it. Big cardboard box with a half sandwich (white bread), crisps (more packaging and not exactly healthy), an apple (which Cubling won't eat) and a juice in a carton (more packaging) - value about £1, cost between £3 and £4. I try to take a picnic lunch but sometimes I don't, and we end up with these lunch bags more often than not. Of course I'm in control of what my daughter can have, and maybe there will be a lunch bag ban (difficult if you're with other kids who are having them). There will be protest but maybe eventually she will understand why they are not a good idea.

So a few changes that seem realistic. And as with everything, once you've changed your habits, it'll become natural. And then I can tackle another few things on the list. And bit by bit, small steps make an increasingly bigger difference.

Time and time again I've read about how it's not about totally turning your lifestyle around, but about making those little changes, one step at a time, and before you know it you're on a journey that leads you to new and exciting places. Reducing your consumption and your waste by 1% is infinitely better than not doing anything. Because even starting the thinking process turns your habits around, and you sure won't stay at the 1% level. It's like running really. When I started running, I couldn't even run for a minute. 2 years later I ran a marathon. Once you start something, it can take you further into realms that you thought were more than beyond your reach.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Baby it's cold out here

Sometimes, there's a reversal of roles. On a normal day, you will see me continuously trying to entice a reluctant 3 year old to move, put on her clothes, her jacket, jump into the car, eat her tea, move on, get places in time because we're running late.

This time however, it was a 3 year old getting rather annoyed with mummy not moving because she was taking rather a lot of photos.
Not an easy task either, while wearing a rather actively kicking baby and struggling to hold that lense still enough, or reaching just that perfect angle on the scene.

What can I say but that it was even more magical than these pictures tell.

A foggy and ice cold day in Linn Park spent with exploring kids and a camera. How lucky are we to be in walking distance of this gem of a park.

While I had my lense glued to ice crystals, the kids explored beaches, waterfalls, icicles and how to write on frost. The were fishing with sticks and putting on shows, letting their imagination run free.

I learned how the outdoors (and it doesn't have to be the "great outdoors", call it the "small outdoors" of city greenspaces) are a natural "yes" environment, a place where children can do, a place where parents for once can do without the ever present "no" of indoor spaces. Here the children can touch, can learn, can roam, can hop, can climb, can do everything without hitting constant boundaries.

It's transformational for both child and parent. We both relax, recharge and are able to reset the litany of setting and running into boundaries. A fresh start, a welcome reprieve, a space to reconnect.

And take photos of this special winter landscape of course.

And if you think you may have seen similar, if better, ice photos somewhere else, this is true and yet purely coincidental as we both live in Scotland. I'm just a bit slower uploading and editing ;) I can only recommend you hop over to Slugs on the Refrigerator if you want to see more of such winter goodness.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Evening pleasures

Evenings have become a new place. It is difficult to describe just how much I look forward to those hours after the bedtime rush, when in spite of having a baby that will not sleep in the evenings, I can relax properly.

I'm taking my pledge to make more and buy less seriously. This is the birthday season of all of Cubling's friends and it's been a bit of a mad rush, one that I enjoy nonetheless. I've been sewing and knitting, the former 5 minutes at a time, the latter, hours at a time with Snowflake on my lap, watching me, playing with the yarn, until she drops off to sleep, suckling away, sometimes woken by the yarn tickling her cheeks or tiny hands.

It's a peaceful place, these hours before she sleeps, when she drifts in and out of dreamland, smiling at me, gurgling and squeaking, her unimitable voiceless laugh, sometimes now joined by a giggle. One stitch at a time, one row at a time, one getting head around the language of sewing patterns kind of time, and bit by bit, presents are created.

This is the Grumpasaurus, which I've made a bit more cheerful, after all I know too well how easily the pre-schooler's mind is frightened. It turned out much bigger than expected and I just about managed it with one skein of the magical and colourful Anchor Style Magicline Dotty (100% Cotton).

Both the pattern and the fabric for this beauty of a tunic hails from Kitschy Coo (the fabric is Joel Dewsberry and I so so love it, if any sewers out there know how to get hold of more of it, pray tell me!!!). As a novice sewer, it took me a few backtrackings to get it right, and maybe I should just make another tunic for good measure and to get it right straight away before it's all forgotten again. I think it's an easy pattern - I just struggled a bit because sewing terminology is like a new language to me.

In between, I'm knitting squares for the Centenary of International Women's Day, they still need well over 60,000 squares, so please consider knitting one and asking your knitting friends to do so too. There's also a lovely cardigan on my needles which will be a perfect spring/summer item for my big girl. She picked the pattern and colour. I've learned how to do intarsia knitting - in spite of my years of knitting, there's still so much to learn.

It strikes me how much I minded not being able to have my own space in the evenings three/four years ago. Reminded by well meaning comments of friends who wonder if there isn't something that would make her sleep in her cot rather than on my lap. There probably is, but you know what? I'd rather have it as it is. Snuggled up, watching her come closer to good sleep, finding it, and all the while rowing on those evening waves together.

Would you consider giving cloth nappies a go?

(Updated with links and additional info)
My answer to this question, when I was pregnant with Cubling, was a resounding "no".

Look at me now, I love cloth. Used it for 3 years on Cubling and now 4 months in on Snowflake.

I started changing my mind when I saw my sister-in-law use them, and realised it wasn't as difficult, messy etc as I'd thought. I had to see it, and see someone use it, and I'd consider myself to be reasonably environmentally conscious. It means I know how the most normal reaction to the topic of cloth nappies is  - great idea, great you're doing it, but thanks, not for me - because that person was me.

So for anyone not planning to or not yet using cloth nappies, I thought I'd pull together a quick FAQ - questions that I would have asked or that I have been asked.

1. Surely it takes more time using cloth nappies?
Yes, but less than you think. If you get all in ones, it takes the same time to change. I prefer shaped nappy plus wrap, so it's like putting on 2 nappies, a few seconds extra at each change. I put on a wash every 3 days. So 2 extra washes a week - which isn't much in the scheme of the extra washes a baby brings along.

2. Do you need a tumble dryer for cloth nappies?
I never tumble dry anything, so no. Opt for cloth nappies that dry faster if you don't have a drier, such as cotton or polyester. Bamboo is lovely and soft, and environmentally friendlier in its production, but it takes longer to dry. Half of my cloth nappies are bamboo, and I dry them over the radiators which works fine. The bamboo ones don't really dry well on the rack in the Scottish winter. Cotton dries within a day even in wet weather.

3. Surely the nappy bucket stinks?
No it doesn't if you breast feed. After introducing solids, you put a liner between nappy and skin and flush it away in the toilet, so no bad smells either. I can't speak for formula poos as I don't know what they look like. You can occasionally add a few drops of tea tree oil to the bucket to freshen it up.

4. How do you wash the nappies?
I wash them at 60 degrees, but apparently you can do them at 40 too. I do a separate wash for nappies, which is not necessary but I do it anyway. I also add some Napisan to make sure all the germs are definitely gone. Again, it's not necessary. You can add some vinegar or a couple of drops of tea tree oil occasionally into the softener compartment to make them smell fresher (don't use fabric softener on cloth nappies!).

5. Do you need to soak the nappies before you wash them?
No. Simply throw them in the bucket and then transfer them (with gloves) to the washing machine.

6. My nappies have yellow stains from the poo, how do I get them out?
Hang up in sunlight. You may have to wait until the summer if you live in Scotland, but the colour isn't dangerous so don't worry.

7. How many nappies do I need?
15 nappies and 4 wraps is the minimum. I have 25 nappies and 7 wraps and never run out. You can get birth to potty nappies, i.e. one size that lasts throughout, or like me get a nappy that comes in 2 sizes.

8. How much do they cost?
A shaped nappy is about £9 and wraps are a bit more. All in ones may cost £15. That sounds a lot but have a look on forums (Bounty, Babycentre etc) for gently used or even new nappies. I bought a pack of 15 nappies for £75 and they were unused. Cloth nappies also have a resale value.

9. How much money do I save?
Cloth nappies will cost you around £200-£300 all in all, plus the cost of extra washes. They last for 3 years, and another 3 years and if you have a third child, another 3 years.
You can get them cheaper if you trail the forums. Disposables will cost you that in 6 months.

10. Do the nappies last all night?
There are special night nappies that do. I use disposables at night. You know, you can mix! I also didn't use cloth for the first weeks after having Cubling because I felt overwhelmed and not able to deal with cloth - that's fine, you can always start later!

11. Will nurseries/childminders accept them?
Most do. This is a recent and very welcome change. I make a point of asking child care providers if they accept them.

12. What about nappy wash services?
They exist in many places. Basically, they pick up the dirty bucket and deliver clean nappies, magic. The cost of such services is equivalent to using disposables. So you won't have a cash saving, but you're doing even more for the environment as these washes are done in bulk and use less energy/water per nappy (plus you don't have the hassle).

13. What's the best thing about them?
They are so soft and cuddly and I just love it that baby has something so soft against her bum, rather than plastic and absorbant chemicals. It just feels right. Even Spencer bear, Cubling's darling teddy, her baby, now wears cloth.

14. Any tips?
Find someone who uses them and have a look. Join a trial scheme (such as your local real nappy network, or Waste Aware Scotland also runs a trial scheme) to give it a go without committing. Watch someone who uses cloth change a baby, feel the nappy, ask questions. Everyone will be keen to answer!

15. What about when you're out and about?
I know many parents who used cloth who are reluctant to use it when out and about. I'm not sure why. Yes, you have to take the nappy home, but that's the only inconvenience. Just put it in your usual plastic nappy bag (degradable if possible) and Bob's your uncle. I'm often out all day and it's not a problem.

16. Do cloth nappies leak more than disposables?
Not really. I mean, if you have a poo explosion, they will leak, just like disposables. However, I don't change more often than I would with disposables. With urine, disposables hold more but with more I mean you could leave your child for 5-6 hours which is just not nice anyway. You can add cloth liners to make cloth nappies more absorbent and you'll easily get 4 hourly changes out of them. If you use wraps, make sure you have a good wrap that sits well.

17. I'm confused by all the different types and brands. How can I choose the right one?
Again, try out, ask people. Anyone who uses cloth nappies will be delighted to explain and show. Read this guide to cloth nappies. It's not that complicated - the principles are the same. Shaped nappies are easiest, no matter what brand, and then it's between all in ones (more expensive per nappy) or shaped nappy plus wrap. If you're brave you can do terry squares or prefolds which are cheaper. Personally I use Tots Bots because they're made in Glasgow and I like to support local business.

Anything I haven't covered? Just add in the comment box and I'll try and answer.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Choo Choo Twit Tweet

This week's outdoor playgroup outing took us a bit further afield, to Lochwinnoch Nature Reserve. I felt adventurous and decided to take the suggested train, because really the train station is right next to it and Cubling just loves going on the train. It was the first time I travelled into Glasgow Central and out with two kids, and it was definitely stretching my comfort zone. Due to the many steps at our end of the train station, I carried Snowflake in her sling, which meant carrying her all day. That in itself is not so bad, but add a rucksack with a day's provision in nappies, wipes, food, drink, oh, and a camera, and the pram becomes an attractive alternative. There is no way though that I would have been able to manage two kids and a pram up the stairs to our local train station.

So slinging it it was.
Scotrail didn't play game and the train was cancelled. Staff were rather unhelpful, and I called them Dummerchen (silly billies) which Cubling remembered all day and kept telling to any Scotrail employee she spotted which was a rather delightful sort of revenge. Imagine the scenario, 6 kids and 3 mums, kids running riot on a busy city train station, between waiting for train, snacks, drinks, nursing, toddling, running, chasing each other or pigeons amidst hundreds of other travellers. I was glad Cubling wore a bright pink jacket, I'm sure I'd have lost sight of her otherwise. One hour the next train, and the joy to have them finally contained in the enclosed space of the carriage was short lived as they discovered that you can climb on top of the seats and jump off. While the train was moving for added fun.

By the time we reached Lochwinnoch Nature Reserve, I was in dire need of a coffee and chocolate. Which they had, phew.

The centre has great viewing equipment to do plenty of birdwatching, and activities associated with it. Nature trail cards to take along on walks, feeding stations and so much more, a fabulous resource and great to wait out a quick shower of rain if you don't want to get wet. We were lucky though and set off for a walk.

I should maybe mention that Cubling is a bit shy with other kids, very selective about the children she plays with and generally prefers adults to children. All of this worries me a bit at times. It was a pleasure to see then how the walk and exploration with the other children led to her explaining a map to a younger child, how she engaged with pretend play suggested by an older child, how she both followed suggestions and initiated ideas, while at all times making her own choices of what she wanted to do. Throughout the day she was independent in cooperative play and individual exploration. There was such a beautiful balance that it made my eyes almost water. She discovered mushrooms and huts, the first signs of spring and little streams, explored a broken bridge, the streams underneath, and the sound of a train rumbling overhead while stood under the railway bridge.

The wet winter colours were almost magical. We were very tired at the end, smelled of the outdoors and brought home rather a lot of mud. I asked Cubling if she had a good day and her face lit up. I asked her what was better, nursery yesterday or the woods today. "Der Wald!" she exclaimed without even the hint of hesitation.

I was exhausted when we finally got home at half past five. Yet it was so worth it.

This post is part of Outdoor Challenge Monday, which is hosted at 5orangepotatoes. Outdoor Challenge Monday.

Friday, 14 January 2011

4 months and weaning onto solids

Yesterday was Snowflakes four months' birthday.

Today there's a whole debate going about when is the best time to introduce solids to a breastfed baby.

I look at her and introducing solids is the furthest from my mind, such a small baby, and I don't want to see her grow up any quicker than needs be.

Of course the research fails to mention that early cutting of the chord depletes iron stores by 33%, so if chords weren't cut so quickly, the whole debate would be nil and void, and we could simply sit back and let baby take the lead. It seems odd then that the headlines don't ask for delaying chord clamping rather than introducing solids between 4 and 6 months.

It's not that I'm an advocate of waiting at least 6 months. It's just that those headlines are confusing.

I've seen babies who were clearly ready for weaning in their 5th months, and I've seen others who only started on solids at 8 months because they were clearly not interested. Cubling was 24 weeks, and basically she watched me eat and grabbed the food off my plate. That's readiness, not shoving a spoon into a choking mouth.

Physiologically, babies are less likely to choke at 6 months. They are less at risk of SIDS. They are less at risk of an immature gut. They are thus also less at risk to develop food intolerances. On the other hand, if it's all about iron, I do wonder how you would feed red meat to a 4 month old. The link to gluten intolerance incidentally is based on a combination of late weaning and formula feeding, so it seems to me beside the point to create a link to breastfeeding and weaning after 6 months.

Above all, there is no evidence that the report is based on research that is conclusive. No new evidence, just a question mark, so what's the point of these headlines?

I've got a feeling that there is none.

I'll be back watching my girl and not worrying so much about when to introduce her to solids. We'll get there, and for now I'm enjoying the still puree free time.


- is slowly getting into a routine of naps, but still has lots of sleep vs very little sleep days. We had two evenings in a row where she slept for 2 hours, and I was rejoicing, started a sewing project and all that. Tonight we're back to square one and half awake cluster feeds all evening.
- still mostly hates car journeys, though sometimes will tolerate them (no rhyme or reason)
- quite likes her pram, though not today
- wants to be worn facing outwards when awake
- kicks her legs wildly when hungry or tired
- loves grabbing my hair, my necklace, my top
- loves chewing/sucking on fabric and eating her fists (until she makes herself sick...)
- will sometimes have a long nap in the pram now, or on the bed.
- loves to be played with and we can now even delay feeds with interesting play
- definitely laughs now, though it's a very special laugh: mostly without any sound, just a wide open mouth, occasionally accompanied by a quick dirty laughing sound. Very sweet.
- loves the bath, tummy time if not too long, and her big sister still gets the biggest smiles
- is still exclusively breastfed much to my surprise. I was determined to take things easy this time around and not fret about the odd formula feed. And look at it, the instant formula cartons and new bottles are untouched. I have no idea how often she feeds, don't watch the clock, I think feeding to sleep is the best thing since sliced bread and I'm only ever so slightly hoping that maybe the evening clusterfeeds (which are really due to overstimulated and tired baby that can't quite drop off to a good sleep) could become a thing of the past. I can see it coming though and am not too worried.
- is totally fascinated by lights

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Land of Me

Do your children play video games / computer games? Do you think they're the root of all evil or do you love the creativity behind them? It may come as a surprise to you, considering how we value outdoor play and interaction with our children, that Cubling has been playing on the computer a lot recently.

Thanks to my computer games playing and formerly games programming husband, with his years of gaming experience and seventh sense for discovering the best games there are, we came across the Land of Me. It came recommended as a game suitable for 2-6 year olds, and was said to support early learning. So we downloaded the free version. We liked it so much that I cheekily asked the people behind the Land of Me if we could get the full version in return for a review on this blog - and they agreed! We were rather happy about this as Cubling had asked Santa for the Land of Me for her Christmas, but we weren't sure if the additional chapters would be worth their £30 price tag.

The Land of Me - Trailer from Made in Me on Vimeo.

I absolutely have to start this review with the visuals and the audio. The game creates the most calming of atmospheres, with beautiful visuals that lead you into the magical Land of Me and its inhabitants. It's like a picture book come alive. The soundscape contributes by using calming and relaxing tunes. It is instantly appealing and far removed from quick and flashy games for older children. It manages to create the right pace for exploration for a pre-schooler. Cubling too loves the imagery, she tells us all about the maps and where she goes next.

The structure of the game is simple and basically gives the child choices which are then combined to create something unusual which hopefully stretches their imagination. It is all non scary, just unusual and funny. Even Cubling, who is easily scared, isn't scared by even the biggest "monster" she creates, because all is bright and colourful, non-threatening, beautiful, gentle and loveable. The options given for making the choices expand vocabulary and pre-school knowledge, such as colours, shapes, size, and many other categories. Plus there's even a Scottish dance instructor hidden somewhere, which we found rather sweet.

It works a treat that the functions are all intuitive. Compare it to CBeebies Games, where we often have to read and explain what she needs to press and in which order, where the button to be clicked is and whether something else needs moved with the mouse or double clicked, The Land of Me is intuitive. Cubling is in charge and she knows what to do, and she found it out by herself. By playing it she has now got a great handle on the mouse and clicking, giving her some early computer literacy but also independence in using the computer.

What's more, she doesn't spend hours at a time on the game. She'll play for 30 minutes max, mostly with one of us, and then change to something else. I think this is because the structure is repetitive, which is great for learning but doesn't lead to overstimulation and long hours in front of the screen. What's more is that she uses the game to verbalise what she's seen, so it is definitely an experience she likes to talk about and share.

She's (ehm, actually, we've) played a fair bit on it now and we reckon that she will get at least 30 hours of play out of this before getting bored of it, and that's just the game play. Add to this the wealth of off screen activities that come with it, which really takes the game further and makes it into a starting point rather than an end point. This to me translates to very good value for money for this game. You can also support early literacy for the older child and there are printouts for 100 printed activities away from the screen, including colouring sheets, games, and ideas for crafts. If you'd like to find out a bit more and meet the makers, why not check out Made in Me and an interview with James Huggins, who is behind the Land of Me (and also a dad to two children). I can also recommend you follow the Made in Me blog which isn't just about computer games but keeps you up to date with anything to do with early learning and recommended creative toys. There can be no doubt, the people behind Made in Me are passionate about nurturing children's creativity and learning through creativity.

I so wished that it had different language options so that Cubling could play it in German too. But with a game that has speaking voices, because it's aimed at pre-literate children or children just starting out to read, this is probably too much to ask. But if it isn't - I'm asking ;)

In summary, it's a beauty. Both my computer games loving husband and me, the book worm wife love it. Oh, and Cubling too, lest I forget. I can only recommend you download the free trial and see for yourself. By purchasing the full version, or even one chapter at a time (at £6.95) you'll be supporting some top class British games design. We wouldn't be worse off for more of such gems of games.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Confession of a yarn addict

My name is Cartside and I'm a yarn addict.

That's what a 30 minute flying visit with two under 4s to The Life Craft does. It's a great place by the way to find yarns, sewing machine, felt and learn what to do with it all.

To my defence, the yarn was on sale and still on the old VAT
Still, considering my stash looks like this:

there was really no need for this. It's not as if I get a lot of knitting in at the moment. But at least it means I'm very well stocked for all those handmade things I want to make this year.
I'd better get knitting then. Must stop staring and admiring the yarn and get out the needles. (currently on the needles: squares for 100 million stitches).

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Language leaps

The other day (ok, it's been about 3 weeks), Cubling took me by surprise.

We visited an old friend of mine and the minute she walked through the door, she spoke in complete German sentences.

I could not believe my ears. Was this my girl, who insists on speaking English to me, an English at best interspersed with some German nouns? I had never heard her speak a full sentence in German before unless it was modelled by me and painstakingly copied by her.

Interestingly, we also don't visit this particular friend very often, yet still Cubling had remembered that this was a house where German was spoken. And German she spoke.

She also still insists that daddy speaks German with Snowflake, and I wonder how the home language in general will shift in the next year. I'm also curious to see if Snowflake will be a more balanced bilingual as I'll return to work later, giving her almost exclusive German exposure for the first year, while Cubling only got 5 months and I met with a lot of baby / mummy groups where English was spoken exclusively.

At the same time I'm discovering that there are German words which Cubling always uses, her current language is thus a bit of a mix. "library" will always be "Buecherei", even in an English sentence to an English speaker. She's also picked up unusual words, as she currently delights in trying out new, long, difficult words, such as "Frostschaden" (frost damage - we're having a lot on that on our veggie bag tatties).

Her word order/syntax is often English even when she speaks German, but occasionally also vice versa. "Was hast du geweint for?" is a typical example (what did you cry for? - correctly using the German past tense, hurray, but the English prepositional phrase) or some mixup such as "nice Kleid ist besser".

Then we have the difficulty with German words that also exist in English with a different meaning. "Is it hell yet?", meaning "is it light yet?" I'm getting so used to them that I don't notice until some other parent stares at my daughter in disbelief. Cubling now really doesn't like words that are the same in both languages. She insists that if I say "Fisch", daddy has to say something other than "fish". We're also getting a bit confused about letters, she confuses R and A because the former is pronounced in English like the latter in German.

Now that she's about to learn letters and spelling - her interest is there, though she still doesn't like spending too much time on it - it's high time to put my big idea of a bilingual ABC book into practice. I had planned to produce one in a way that other parents could download it as a pdf, and if there is anyone who would like to provide illustrations for it, please do make yourself known ;). For now, I think I'll make it into an craft project for Cubling, and get her to try and draw/paint the letters, maybe 2 per week. Should keep us busy.

Above all, I'm amazed to find out that she can do more than I give her credit for. While she is worried that her German isn't good enough (she was shy playing with a 10 year old who visited from Germany, who in turn was worried he might not understand her), she has demonstrated that she can speak complete sentences in German. A sign that a bit more encouragement, a few more real needs and motivation to speak it will do the trick. She loves the Kinderclub, the German playgroup we attend, and her TV experience is very German too. Janoschs Traumstunde, Die Biene Maja and Die Maus are clear favourites.

Which reminds me that I've updated my little bookshop with new titles, DVD, audio and books. They are recommendations for good German children's books, DVDs and CDs. And if you have any recommendations that you would like to share, we'd love to hear about them for our next order. If you click on the bookshop and then buy something from in the same session, you'll support our own love for books through the Amazon Associates programme to absolutely no cost to yourself.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Lightbulb moment

When I adopted Baglady, it took me about two weeks to come up with a pledge. It's madness, I know.

But really, look at it, if we want to have our planet still in working order for our kids, we'd all have to reduce our carbon footprint by 50%. Yawn. Yes, I know, it's not funny, exciting or new. Do keep reading though, and share the lightbulb moment (pardon the pun) I had:

I read this in the New Scientist from about 2 years ago, so it must be true. Just take this percentage as real (of course it's more complex, as in, a person living in the US has a much higher carbon footprint than someone living in the UK and someone in the UK has a much higher one than your average Indian etc) - you see, switching off lights or changing to energy efficient light bulbs, or even getting your loft insulated isn't going to cut it. Somehow, I had a feeling it was a bit futile, this switching off business because my bills have reached the lowest possible denominator and we just can't get below that without being very cold (we are cold already because our heating system can't cope with sub zero temperatures - turning down the thermostat? You must be joking!), getting ill as a result (which increases carbon footprint through use of medical stuff) and tapping in the dark.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't do these things, they're all great and save you money, so surely it's a no brainer to at least attempt all of this.

The big carbon belzebub is something else. It's what's driving our very economy, it's the holy grail of economists and politicians alike: consumerism and growth. They are interlinked, our economic model is dependent on growth - without growth no jobs etc, but growth can only continue as long as we buy stuff. Stuff like a new mobile phone every year. Lots of toys, clothes, latest gadgets, everything really.

We, you, I, they won't save the planet by switching off the TV that is on standby overnight. It's not buying the TV that's going to make a difference. Cheerio retail therapy.
And yes, not buying stuff will have an adverse effect on our economy. That's because our economy is, simply put, unsustainable. Unsustainable is not just a word that goes in one ear and out the other. It means that things really and truly can't go on as they do right now. As in, things will change, and we can either take control of this change or be victims of it.

Communism didn't work, we know that already. But neither does capitalism in its consumerist form. We just haven't seen the full collapse yet.
As far as I'm concerned, I have no problem advocating not to buy stuff, because as far as I can see, it's the only way that my children will have some quality of life in 40 years time.

So, from here on, I will endeavour to remind myself at all times to (a) consider if I really need something I'm about to buy, and if the answer is yes, (b) to try and make it (plan A), to buy second hand if I can't make it (plan B), and to buy handmade if I can't get it used (plan C). I will also gladly buy services because they pay people and their skills, rather than create demand for stuff.

Something along the lines, get a massage as a treat instead of a box of chocolates.

PS sorry for lack of links, got a poorly baby sleeping on my lap as I type this and can't be bovvered...

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Have you seen this one?

Sometimes you come across blogs, websites and posts that are just fabulous. I've discovered a few amazing new blogs recently, but also posts which had me drop my jaw in awe. So it's high time I share some of my discoveries, because really, they're too good to miss!

Red Ted Art has a wonderful Recycled Get Crafty post where she features children's crafts with recycled materials. The post will give you inspiration for hours of crafting fun.

Minieco also has great crafty ideas for making stuff with the kids. We'll definitely have a go at the bird feeder, especially if the cold spell continues. Even thinking about it makes me feel all cosy and lovely, as it brings back memories of actually doing this as a child.

Make it and Mend it has fabulous tutorials for everyday items, great for handmade presents and beating the crunch.

If you read my plan for 2011, I mentioned I have an idea for a social enterprise. Well, looks like someone had it before me, just bigger and better. While I though to of some local upcycling business, Terracycle, based in the US are doing it big by having brigades collect rubbish and turning it into desirable products. Wow.

It's never too early to start preparing for next Christmas so let me be the first to remind you of this year's Thrifty Christmas initiative that Liz of Violet Posy has to offer. It's not just for Christmas though, you'll find lots of inspiration for handmade presents for the whole year.

One of my recent new discoveries as to blogs is Analytical Armadillo, which offers extremely well researched articles on breast feeding and related topics. There's a lot of information that I wasn't aware of, in spite of having breastfed Cubling for almost 2 years and now 3 months into breast feeding Snowflake. It's a must for being able to make informed choices about infant feeding, while advocating that every mother who wishes to breast feed has adequate support available to her.

The blog that makes me laugh out loud at the moment is I know I need to Stop Talking. My funny bone is seriously tickled by this blog so head over and enjoy.

And to finish off, I'll let you enjoy some seriously beautiful collage through the past year, you must must must have a look at this journey through the Garden Mama.

I've also updated my blogroll. The blogroll now includes 100 blogs I read, with 25 displayed according to most recent posts. I guess this is fairest and means every one of those blogs I love will come up at some point.

Have you come across a blog you love, or a post you thought was fab? Do leave a comment with a link!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Parklands, a Feast of Colour and the Woodcutter

Over the festive days, we took things easy, let the days flow and went with it. There was a lot of lying in, with a baby who likes to sleep in the mornings, and a preschooler who likes to join us for a long lie in. It was lovely lazy and slow. We did make it outdoors regularly, to the parklands of Glasgow, which offer nature at our doorsteps. The snow has melted, and the whiteness has been replaced by the grey of the city, which only in the woodlands turns into fuller colours. How we all needed to see the lush colours of nature even in this season, because the city grey just does my head in.

Cubling was right into it, this is her wood, her Wald. She knows the way, she knows what to do with sticks, small or, in this case, big.

The last remnant of the cold winter was the ice in the furrows of a tractor track, well explored it was, and the last icy patches on paths in the woods that retained the cold that bit longer and made for rather a lot of sliding and slipping fun.

It doesn't take much to enjoy being outdoors. While in the house, Cubling often doesn't know what to do with herself and depends on adult guidance and interaction, outside, it is she who is in charge and leads the way. Entertained by anything that crosses her way. A fairy tree, a gruffalo den, a bear pattern on a tree, a heart shaped piece of ice. She'll reinact Little Red Riding Hood and she's the wolf, you know, daddy, you be the grandmother and mummy, you be the woodcutter.
This post is part of Outdoor Challenge Monday, a day late but at least I made Tuesday right? You can join in at 5orangepotatoes if you like, head over anyway for more outdoor fun across the globe.

Monday, 3 January 2011

I've adopted Baglady! Can you give her a home too?

Well, I've already blogged about my plan for 2011, and if you've read it, I have a bit of a theme going. And right up that theme/road/close/backyard (the latter an extremely witty internal joke that only some readers will get, sorry, but don't worry, it's not really that funny anyway, I'm German after all) is the Baglady ASAP (as sustainably as possible) pledge, to which Karen who writes the inspiring blog The Rubbish Diet introduced me.

What's it all about? It's quite simple really. The pledge is all about taking the Baglady ASAP pledge by giving up one thing and taking up one thing for 2011, or better even, for good. Whatever it is you give and take up, it should help towards living a little bit more sustainably. It's a great initiative, and I particularly like that it's not just about giving something up but more positively, making a positive change by taking something up.

Did I say the pledge is easy? Well, it is and it ain't. Quite a lot of the stuff that is suggested I already do: We do switch off lights in rooms that we aren't in - even Cubling is quite switched on to this now, after initial backfiring effect of her Eddie the Eco Elephant activities that she brought home from nursery, when finding out about energy sources led to her turning ON ALL energy sources. I also don't leave items on standby, buy food as local as possible, try not to use any plastic bags. I wanted to pick something that is new and additional. Oh, and doable. I mean, I'd love to not ever use my car again but with two little ones and a public transport system that could be better... it's just not something I could seriously attempt.

Here's my pledge then:
I pledge to give up buying vegetable that is sold in plastic containers. You know, those mushrooms/pears/tomato type of things. On top of that, I'll also pledge to try and not buy any plastic toys. As of tomorrow because I think I may have bought a super cool plastic telescope today, although Cubling paid for it so maybe it doesn't count.... See, it's not easy!

I pledge to take up growing more food, composting, making presents/cards instead of buying them (not every single one, but as many as possible, and I'll buy handmade before I buy mass produced). I already do some food growing and composting but plan to do more of this in 2011. 

It would be just fab if you could adopt Baglady as well and make your own pledge. Find out more here, or on the Baglady facebook page. And if you've made a pledge, please do let me know and feel free to link to your post in the comments section below.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

happy new year

In years gone by, I loved and hated Hogmanay. Often, we didn't seem to find the right party. The evenings were disappointing. Sometimes, some important friends were missing. We never seemed to get it quite right. Some hogmanays were boring. Some hogmanays were filled with grief.

This year, I'm grateful and contented.
It was lovely having some friends around earlier in the evening. And it was lovely to sip some champagne while watching rubbish TV, knitting the odd row of Cubling's winter 2011/12 cardigan and wondering when Snowflake would finally give in to sleep and give up trying to pull over the play gym.

It was great getting through to my Dad, after trying for half an hour and bridging the 2000 or so miles between us (probably more) by modern technology.

I hope you have a new year which is kind on you.



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