Saturday, 30 July 2011

My new toy

I've got a new toy. It's small, shiny and white, quite stylish really. It has wireless even. There's a display, which has me glued. Even 4 year old and baby are taken by it - must be because it gets so much attention so they wonder what it's all about.

We've been doing silly things like switching on the hoover or the kettle to see what it does to my new toy. And switched it off again. It's an energy monitor and apparently just having it in the house will make you reduce your electricity consumption significantly (I don't get how and why, because, if you're energy aware anyhow, and try not to have anything on that isn't needed, how can the mere presence of this slinky little thing change your habits?) I've been told.

Can we get it to zero? No, I think there are switches in this house that I don't know of and I'm not mad enough to switch off freezer and fridge, though who knows, it may still happen, just to see if, once all appliances I know of are switched off, there is still some sneaky something eating our money.

Of course it's summer and even a good one at that, so we're out a lot and not using much electricity at the moment. It's quite reassuring that even after a few days, our total consumption doesn't add up to any significant amount. I'm surprised how little the hoover uses when on economy setting, and how much the kettle does. I've definitely switched off lights a tad more frequently already, and ventured into cooking in the half light (we have a very dark kitchen and dining room and the lights are usually on there).

Oh it is fascinating, my geekdom is most definitely tickled. I even managed to install it myself (it was easy, so I don't think I can really pride myself with great DIY skills, but still). I've done tests of all kinds checking what makes the numbers change. For example: the chargers plugged into the socket which are warm, surely they'll be using energy? But no, no change detected. How about the microwave, there's a display, so some energy must be going in all the time? Yes, it does. Not a lot, but enough to make me switch it off at the socket in the future. The same must apply to my oven, just that I haven't got the foggiest where to switch it off (and I do use it as a clock, so I might stick with it).

I'll have my new toy for another 2 months, I wonder if it will change our habits and save us some money. tbc.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Food Footprint

Sometimes, you need to make space. When a little course came up that was a) 5 mins by bike b) short in duration c) about a topic I want to explore and d) free, sometimes, one needs to just make it happen.

Space for putting your thinking and creative hat on and looking a bit deeper than being continuously interrupted by the needs of two children will ever allow on an every day basis.

So, we found ourselves a babysitter who can bridge those times where mummyship and daddyship don't meet to pass responsibilities over.

The course in question is about how to save the planet while saving money. Or something along those lines. Sounds good? Well it is - maybe it's because I've been so single tracked into mothering for the last year that anything other is like the bestest little treat one can ever get. Maybe it's because it comes at just the right time in my life, where my attempt to simplify my life and try and live sustainably has come to a standstill, because, truth be told, other than giving up work (which is not an option) I can't see how I can reduce my impact on our planet any further. My food growing is lovely but slightly, well, how should I put it, lacking space, time and success. The chicken won't make an appearance any time soon because while we just about have the space, it's not ideal. Getting rid of the car? Oh I've so thought it through and the answer is no.

Time to get together with like-minded people and dig deeper.
And last week, we dug into food.
My Baglady pledge was about not buying anything packaged in plastic tubs, and I've been doing reasonably well on that front; with a few exceptions (berries). Even when pledging, I found it difficult to decide whether it was better to have organic produce from South Africa or UK produce that is not organic. Now, with the help of the course, I can put labels on my conundrum.
You see, ever food has different categories to its carbon footprint, and my conundrum was between production, packaging and transport. Those three categories are complemented by the category of processing. 4 variables, 4 opportunities for putting oil into your food, yummy.

As homework, I sat down and looked through my fortnightly shopping and labelled the environmental impact of my food alongside the four categories: production, processing, packaging and transport.
It was a very useful exercise because I learned a lot.

I found out that while I try to buy local produce, that effort has so far been limited to fruit and veg. Most of other foods I buy have no label as to where it's from - so much so that I have no idea where it comes from. Cereal from Tesco's has about 10 ingredients (not good in the processing category) and there's just no way of telling where the ingredients come from or even where it's processed. The Co-op does much better on that front and their own brand Bran Flakes are from British grains, processed in the UK.

Secondly, I found out how to go further with your food in relation to reducing your environmental impact. There are some reasonably good rules of thumb:
- frozen stuff has often travelled further and has to be frozen all the way, so more energy is needed on various levels. Try to rely less on frozen foods
- If something is shipped by air, that's bad. Try to eliminate items that are flown in - fruit and veg from outside Europe will have to fly as a rule of thumb
- Food that has more than 10 ingredients is heavily processed and brings together ingredients from many different countries, thus increasing the transport energy input. Try to cook from scratch where you can or buy foods that have only a few ingredients/are not heavily processed.
- In relation to packaging - aluminium cans have a massive carbon footprint. BUT they can be recycled. So it's ok to buy them occasionally but don't dump them, do put them in the recycling bin. Plastic isn't as bad as tin and glass, and cardboard is quite ok environmentally even if you can't recycle it. Tetra packs are better than tin - which was new to me. So, given the choice: only buy aluminium/tin/glass packaging if you can and will recycle them. Try to buy loose items (though if the loose ones are flown into the country, you may be better off getting packaged items).
-east less meat, fish and dairy

Put positively:
Do buy organic
Do buy local and seasonal
Do try to buy loose or with minimal packaging (or bulk)
Do grow your own
Do cook from scratch

So, in my food diary I've realised that while I'm doing alright on the organic vegetable bag, home-grown stuff and buying local, I'm not so good on the processed food side of thing (my pet fail being ready made vegetarian dishes). I had already tried to use less of them simply because their salt content is shockingly high and that isn't good for kids, so I try to only use them once a week.

But I'm also a realist - while I'd love to cook everything from scratch, it's just not possible if you juggle kids, work and home. I used to batch cook in the evenings after the kids were in bed but now that time is me-time for blogging, reading, knitting. The balance has to be right. The exercise though has shown me how I can maintain the balance and still reduce my carbon footprint a bit further.

And, before I go, I'd like to share this film with you. It's a real gem, and touches on so many issues past, present and future, in a highly viewable way: A Farm for the Future.

Monday, 25 July 2011


There are some changes to this blog of mine. It'll all become clearer in time, but for now, I'll be moving all outdoor related posts to the new Nature Kids site. Similarly, any reviews of places to go, formerly labelled as out and about, will also now go onto the new blog.

I've spent a lot of time writing a bit of content for Nature Kids as might be expected, and with some of the themes of this blog moving across, it's more than possible that Mummy do That! will not have quite so regular posts. At the same time I hope that it'll be a bit more focussed, rather than being such a mixed bag of different themes.

There are also changes in my own interests. We are past the becoming parents stage, past the upheaval and re-orientation that this takes. It seems that my blog has come full circle: When a few years ago I changed platforms and title to make it a "mummy blog" it now moves a step away from that label. But I'm still a mummy of course - name and location will stay, and there also won't be a sudden departure or realignment. What there is, though, is a gentle move towards a more issue based blog, back to the stuff that I wrote about before the motherhood journey.

I will be writing about sustainability, child poverty, green living, making things and bilingual parenting. I'll be trying to find creativity in small things. I hope to track how my tiny urban garden develops and how to juggle children, work and home. There'll be place for things that inspire me, ideas to be explored, guest contributions, and supporting local initiatives, small businesses. Did I leave out parenting? Of course there'll be that too, just maybe a bit less or with a different angle.

I hope you're still on board (and maybe you've also joined the cruise on Nature Kids). It is a small watershed but I'm glad it's happening now, with the other watershed, the end of maternity leave and the space of focusing on the non-work world that comes with it, the opportunity to de-clutter, re-assess, and re-focus, has arrived. In two weeks, I'll be back at my desk, doing my old job with renewed motivation that stems from having had an opportunity to explore the dust tracks and scenic routes around me, rather than speeding head-on the A-roads fuelled by the juggling act of a working mum.

In the last few months, I've become a Barefoot Books Ambassador and launched a new website about which I'm still giddy with excitement. It seems bitty, but it's all perfectly related, it all makes perfect sense to me.

Which is, in fact, a rather nice feeling.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Giveaway: Raindrops All-in-One Rainsuit and Wellies for Children

I first came across Raindrops, a company that sells children's outdoor clothing made in Scandinavia, at the Scottish Baby and Toddler Show. Having had to look far and wide for good quality waterproof outdoor clothing for my children, I was very pleased to see them exhibit. I took the details for future reference, having seen and felt the outdoor clothing they have in stock, because good quality waterproofs are still a rare seed in the UK.

I'm therefore extremely pleased to be able to test some of their waterproofs and even run a giveaway for an All-in-One Rainsuit in pink or blue, together with a pair of checked wellies in either red or blue! Now, because this is the kind of thing that really and truly fits on my new site Nature Kids, the actual giveaway will be run there, so please head over and leave a comment to enter (1 extra entry for subscribing to Nature Kids and 1 extra entry for tweeting the giveaway from Nature Kids - please add @cartside so I can keep track. Sorry to be using this to plug the new site ;) )

So, what are you waiting for? Head over to Nature Kids to find out more and enter the competition!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Can you see the sweat on my forehead?

One would think that second time parents have it all sussed.
Ha. Been there, done that. I may be pretty confident about why co-sleeping, baby-wearing and breast-feeding were the way to go for us, but it all comes apart in the face of one stubborn little girl.

Then how come I have to restrain myself from frequenting forums on a number of questions because my head is spinning with them?

How come I have one child who won't eat any kind of fruit (except banana of course, which child doesn't eat banana? Oh, right, my husband) and one baby who won't eat anything but fruit? This is ridiculous.

How dangerous is that for iron levels at 10 months considering I'm a vegetarian and meat is scarce in our home anyway?

How is baby going to last a full day at nursery without her most favourite food which still is magic mama milk?

How DO I wean? (She's protesting. She can be loud. She knows what she wants. She may be easy going in general, but there are limits!)

How will she nap at nursery?

Shall I provide additional milk in a bottle or cup, considering she'll be short of 11 months? Neither of my kids seem to get that a cup is for drinking from rather than spilling and making water displays around the house, most prominently on a fabric chair, which I only noticed once both my trousers and knickers were soaked through at my rear side just minutes before a visitor arrived. Oh the joys.

Considering how fussy she is eating right now (banana great one day, spat out next and same for almost every other food except strawberries), how/what/how much/how many kinds of food should I provide for the nursery?

Should I be giving her supplements because she clearly isn't getting enough iron?

Why hasn't the nursery been in touch about settling in days yet? I have sooo many questions to ask them and I need at least some answers now to keep my head from exploding.

Argh. Can I just extend my maternity leave? No. Bugger.

3 weeks today. The deadline looms and we're still not on a 3 solid meals a day schedule (unless the meal involves berries only). Breast-feeds? Let's say too many considering she'll have to do without for full days at a time. Am I bovvered? Er, I think I might be.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Proudly presenting: Nature Kids

Yesterday, while out at the National Museum of Rural Life, when Cubling was playing with her daddy and Snowflake was asleep in her buggy, I had an idea. And I liked it very much. It's not something that happens a lot, so when it happens, oh I get soooo excited. So excited in fact that I started on it as soon as the kids were in bed and wasn't distracted by teething Cubling who woke every hour.

So, with bleary eyes from too much sitting behind a notebook screen, I'd like to introduce to you my new baby: Nature Kids (Glasgow), a blog/website that aims to be a resource for helping children connect to nature.

Every day of the week will have a theme - a nature craft activity, a storytime book, a place to visit, an organised activity for children, an event to go to, a food for thought section for ideas, experiences, initiatives and more, and potentially also a product review.

All the places and activities featured will be accessible from Glasgow and doable in one day - this means that the reach is more or less for the whole of the central belt of Scotland.

What's exciting too is that the site can be a collaborative effort, so if you would like to share anything you've visited, done, thought that relates to connecting children with nature, it can go on the site!

I hope that the site will be a useful resource, as well as connect parents who would like to spend more times outdoors and raise children who love and respect nature.

If you would like to get involved, please get in touch on cartside @, leaving out the spaces.

Saturday, 16 July 2011


Take about 15 kids between 0 and 6 years of age.

Go outside on a perfect Scottish summer's day (I know, they are rare).

Ask them to find natural items of every colour:

Spread out some paper and poster paint:

Let them have fun and let their imagination take off.

Read a story about colours (The Blue Coat from The Story Tree).

Then, go to the pond to wash off the paint. Or to go fishing. Or to splash and squelch the mud/catch tadpole/play pirates etc.

Ingredients for a perfect day.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Wake up Freak out Then get a Grip

We may not go down the route of solar energy, but that doesn't mean I don't continue to look for ideas and solutions. Sometimes it also takes a few heads to find space to think and discuss so I decided to somehow make space and time to join the "Your Planet, Your Money" course that Urban Roots are running just around the corner from here.

Oh and it was good. 2 hours without children (whom I love to bits but it's hard to follow any train of thought when there's constant interruptions of mami come here, mami where are you, mama! and the general litany of play with me I can't at all play by myself y'know). Time to switch on brain, speak to people and dig into a topic. How I've missed it. It's a luxury many people don't realise when it's taken for granted.

2 hours spent not speaking about children at all, quite astounding, and while I'm not one to ban the topic in any conversation, it was reassuring to know that I can still last 2 hours without the topic. I already can't wait until next week for the next instalment.

Here's a delightful little film that was shown. I know it's a bit bleak and all that, but considering that there's an awful lot of denial and whitewashing of this rather serious issue going on, I can see some justification in shocking people into taking some action. Because taking action is possible. Small and big, and while one is at it, you might actually enjoy the journey.

From the Matrixious Wake up call to the Douglas Adamsian "Don't Panic" side of things - there's hope that human ingenuity might come to the rescue, but for this to happen, people need to get their bum off their sofas and actually switch on their ingenuity.

Please watch, discuss and share.

Wake Up, Freak Out - then Get a Grip from Leo Murray on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Going Solar, Part 2

You may or may not remember that some time ago, we were considering going solar. Enquiries were made, quotations obtained, experiences heard. There's a whole number of opinions and a lot to consider. Even knowledgeable friends were split as to what to advise, which didn't make the murky waters any lighter. In the process though, some of our questions got answered:

1. Is there enough sunshine in Scotland to make it worthwhile? Yes, you don't need sunshine, just daytime hours. And a roughly south facing roof. The tariffs are good, and with a decent system (I now know all about kWh and what a decent system is: 2000 kWh) it should pay back the investment after 10-12 years, while it's guaranteed for 25 years (i.e. you'll be in profit after the payback time).

2. Can it go on an old, nail sick roof? Well, all the solar panel sales people said yes. Of course they would I thought. They also all seemed a bit non committal, which didn't exactly instil confidence. Solar panels ARE light, but you don't really want to have to lift them to fix a roof, because slaters may not know how to lift and reinstall them. The cost of such an undertaking may be high.

3. Remember that before you go down the route of generating electricity that the biggest positive impact on the environment and your pocket is to use less energy. Also remember that electricity can be made from a variety of sources, the scarcity will come from fossil fuels - i.e. in the future our gas heating will be the cost factor, not so much the electricity we use. The first move in reducing your carbon footprint (and hole in your wallet) is therefore insulating your home.

So we had 4 quotes, and interestingly, the first quote was for 12 panels, the second and third were for 8 panels, and sales person 4 told us that we could only fit a maximum of 5 panels, which in all honesty was not a good investment (the less panels per installation, the higher the cost per panel and the longer the time until the investment is paid back). Salesperson no. 4 was really different. The only one without a suit and equipped with a real old school measuring tape, he listened as much as he spoke and suggested clever ways of insulating a roof that has limited loft access.

The bottom line is that you need a few things and we don't have them all.
-roughly south facing roof (tick)
-unshaded roof (tick)
-decent size roof (nope)

It also only makes sense if you are sure to stay put for the next 10 years. You can't take the investment with you and there is a question mark as to how it affects the value of your house, especially if installed on a nail sick roof with questionable cost and effort to repair such a roof. Unless you're happy just to invest in a green future without wanting to get at least your investment back.

We won't be having solar panels for now then, instead, insulation is our new solar. (and I know T., you told me so!)

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Review: Wooden Toys fromn Wooden Toy Shop

There's some excitement in our house: When we got home from our exciting trip to the Northfrisian island of Föhr, a parcel with a selection of wooden toys for the Wooden Toy Shop arrived. Cubling dug right into it and hasn't stopped playing with them since.

I'm quite partial to wooden toys and natural materials in general. It's one of those cultural remnants of being German - I'm not sure why but wooden and traditional toys are big in Germany. It might be the level of toxins or child labour that come with many plastic toys, the country of origin and potential lack of regulations to make these toys safe, or it may just be an aesthetic appeal or Germany's obsession with wood and forests, whichever, German households tend to go for wood rather than plastic. I had similar plans, but life took over and I'm pragmatic more often than not.

So I was delighted when given the opportunity to test some wooden toys. We opted for a selection of smaller toys because they offered something different from what we already had. Cubling was most impressed with the Melissa and Doug Magnetic Chalkboard (with white and black board) and the sets of magnetic letters and numbers to go with it. So much so that for the past two days she hasn't stopped drawing on the white board. The fact that she can draw and erase easily has sparked her imagination. And then she also dropped it on her toe... ouch.

She's also fascinated with the Big Jigs Weaving Loom - a toy that is marked as suitable from 5 years, and sure enough, while she's keen to do weaving, she needs a bit of help with it, so I end up weaving for her, which is just fine of course. It won't be long until she'll have figured it out though, she's not far off.

Her first discovery was the Plan Toy Stacking Tree, which is suitable from 2 years. It's a beautiful design and positively the nicest stacking toy I've seen so far. Very eye-pleasing, and very clever in its construction, as the branches position themselves nicely when stacked. It combines size awareness with colour awareness, and is already popular with Snowflake as a teething toy ;) - and Cubling had great fun doing it in reverse.

Each of the toys received have already had more playtime (freely chosen by Cubling, I didn't even suggest she try them out) than most toys usually get in their first week, so it's a definite thumbs up. The range of wooden toys at the Wooden Toy Shop is excellent, with great search criteria making it easy to navigate through the catalogue.

Friday, 8 July 2011

{this moment}

Inspired by Soulemama: {this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. 

Add caption

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

All cooried in*

I have a confession to make. I co-sleep with my baby, every night. No, she's not in her cot beside my bed, she's properly in my bed, next to me, skin to skin all night long.

There have been suggestions that it's dangerous.
I've presented facts that proof that if practised safely, it's not. That it may even protect baby.
It is, like so many parenting choices, treated as an ideological battleground.

Sod it, I'm not out to fight any battles, other than getting some sleep maybe and avoiding to drop baby during a feed because of overtiredness. In fact, I set out determined not to bedshare because I'm rather precious about my own space. I don't co-sleep because you have to if you want to call yourself an attachment parent. I co-slept before I knew there was such a thing as Attachment Parenting. It just happened, it was easy, it felt right, I did my research to make sure I wasn't putting my child under any risks.

Mention it to any other parent, and the reaction is either one of horror (what???? you STILL have her in your room, no, even in your BED????) or one of quiet nod and agreement, where not many words are wasted on the topic.

So this week my little Snowflake is poorly and all she wants is to be cooried in even more. I write this with her sleeping on my lap/chest. And more than that, I want to be cooried into her too. While her temperature is raging and her whole little body is fighting an infection, I can't bear to be apart from her and maybe miss a turn for the worse. There is sense in her complaints when put down, because, close to me, touching me, I monitor her breathing, her heart rate, her temperature, her appetite. Give her security that I'll be there when she feels rotten.
While I'm full of worry, I worry less when she's cooried into me. Maybe I'm just marked by experience, but to me it feels the right place for her to be, right next to me.

I've heard of many a parent who say they can't sleep with their baby in bed. I understand this, just that for me, I can't sleep when she's not. Well, I can, but I wake more often, it takes longer to drift off to sleep, I worry more, I keep checking she's ok and all that. It's all so much more intuitive when she's next to me.

I wish there was less judging going on when I mention that we co-sleep. A bit more open mindedness amongst parents who don't practice the same sleeping arrangements. I wish the first sentence when I mention our co-sleeping wouldn't be "oh I couldn't do it for fear of rolling on top of my baby", implying, even if unintentionally, that I put my baby at risk. I won't apologise that I react to this sentence with mentioning that if it hadn't been for co-sleeping, I may not have spotted my baby's serious illness so early, I may in fact have slept on and she may no longer be with us (and by so doing, implying that not co-sleeping is putting babies at risk - the truth is of course that it's not proven that either sleep arrangements are inherently safer or riskier). It just annoys me when people criticise without having weighed up the actual risks/benefits before passing judgement. Because, as with many things in life, there's no easy answer, no perfect truth, and there are choices to be made, choices based on knowledge and intuition - and on what works for you.

So, my name is Cartside and I never left my baby to sleep in a different room or out of sight, and only rarely out of touch until she was 6 months old. From then on, she started out the night mostly in a different room and joined me in bed when I went to bed. I'm very happy with this arrangement and I've only had a handful of sleep deprived nights. Yes, I've not been sleep deprived with this baby to any serious extent. I hear people discuss how often their babies wake at night, at what times. I listen, I haven't got much to contribute to them, because, truth be told, I don't know. I have faint traces of memory that she may wake once between midnight and 8am, but when or for how long, I can't tell, it's handled so quickly that there's no time wasted on clock-watching or being awake for any length of time.

Co-sleeping as such, if done safely, doesn't put your baby at risk. If that keeps you from co-sleeping with your baby, there is plenty of literature on how to do it safely. I personally thank Muddling Along Mummy and her comprehensive blog post on how co-sleeping is safe when practised properly and the Sears for putting me on track of finding out more, feeling less guilty and much more confident about co-sleeping. It works for us.

*coorie in is a Scottish word for snuggle up, cuddle up, swaddle; used particularly for babies. It implies comfort and feeling safe. And it took me a while to find out how it is spelled ;)



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