Friday, 16 January 2009

What to do when your kids have too many toys!!!

Too many toys, can there really be such a thing? Well from a child's point of view probably not but from a parents then the answer is definitely yes!!! Christmas has been and gone and left hundreds of toys in its wake!!!! Theres a birthday in less than a month and the sheer volume of stuff is driving me insane!!

I've always struggled getting rid of toys in the past. As a single mum I've worried about not being able to buy more if we needed to and guilty about passing toys on. But on the flip side step families mean more places to get presents from (unfortunately one side uses buying stuff as showing love?) so enough is enough......

Rule One - if someone else bought the toy (nanny, auntie, great gran ..... ) and we have enough at home, ask if the toy can be kept at their house to play with there instead. Any ones sneaking through the net - my children are great at hiding things to bring home to mummy's - will be sent straight back with them next visit!

Rule two - we do not need a houseful of toys. The children can have 2 cupboards downstairs and a small toy box in their room

Rule three - the toy should at least try to be educational there is a great post on junk toys here. Working in a nursery has given me great insight here, LOTS of play things have educational value, stitching / threading promotes hand eye coordination, role play (dressing up, home area)can help us understand the world around us. Mark making (chalks, pens) can help children develop writing skills. Games such as battleships can even help children to use spreadsheets better when they are older....( B1, C3, co-ordinates). So our toys at home will fit into the following categories...

Small World / Roleplay - Cars, Horses, Dressup, Cooking

Imaginative Play - Dress up costumes

Creative - Sewing, Chalks, Fuzzyfelts, Drawing

Physical - Skipping Ropes, Bean bags

Rule four - Future Purchases must be as 'green' as possible. Are the materials natural?, Is it sustainable, does it have educational value, how long will the children enjoy this for, where will it end up - will it compost, recyle, be used again? What consumables will it use ( batteries etc). Will it prevent my children from enjoying 'the real world'?

Rule five - I will prep nannys as too what makes a good pressie and how it doesn't always have to be toys. Great examples at xmas were a sewing box, a mini tool kit (real tools not plastic) and a dinosaur apron and cookie cutters, I mean ALL children enjoy helping out in real life tasks and copying mummy /daddy, don't they!!!?

Rule Six - if it is broken toss it, if it is no longer played with or not age appropriate, donate it!!
These are my rules for my house, but hopefully there's a bit of common sense in there that you can all apply in your own house.
What tips do you have to share?

Thursday, 15 January 2009

How to start saving when you haven't any money!!

Everybody knows they should be saving but how can you if at the end of the month there's nothing left?
I've always known the importance of saving, squirreling away small piles of notes for 'the future' then raiding them when the car breaks down. This was fine when I worked for a living, I could soon restock the piles when my wage packet arrived, but how do you save when the amount coming in only covers your living expenses???

Cut your Outgoings - Nights out, takeaways and new fancy clothes can all be easily cut from your spendings, but if like me you've already cut these or didn't spend them to start with you need to look at your essentials and cut back. Check are you on the best deals for your utilities? go to a comparison site and check or ask your supplier if there is a better package they can put you on? or both offer online searches

Make A budget - Get your bills and your statements infront of you and work out where your money's going. You can then choose to cut back on non -essentials (do you really need to spend £1.90 once a week on coffee or could you take a flask?) For the essentials (gas, electric, telephone etc) you now have accurate figures of what you spend.

Deal in Cash - Once you have written down the amounts you need each month, withdraw that amount and put it into a small envelope for the month. I keep each of my spendings seperate, money for 'petrol' and 'food' are both in seperate brown envelopes. Having only cash I can't go over my set budget and am more likely to search for bargains doing so. Any money left in the envelope atthe end of the month can go straight into your savings.

Friday, 9 January 2009

How to use Soap Nuts

A while back I bought some soap nuts. I've used them in my washing machine as a laundry cleaner* but knew they were capable of so much more....

* Tie 4-6 soap nut shells in a muslin bag (provided with most soap nuts orders) and put it in the washing machine load at a desired temperature. You can use the same pouch for 4 to 6 loads of laundry. When the shells become grayish and mushy, they are ready to be replaced and added to your compost. My next step in replacing commercial products is to use them as a dishwashing liquid.
Dishwashing Liquid Recipe

To make the liquid, boil 100g of soap nuts in 12 cups of water for approximately 30 minutes. Cool the liquid, remove the shells, and your liquid soap is ready! Storing the liquid in an air tight container helps it to keep longer. Because there are no added chemicals in soap nuts liquid, it can go bad after some time, depending on the storing conditions. You can use this liquid for washing the dishes or even use 3 tbsp for a large load of laundry.
This liquid can then be used as castilles soap in other recipes such as towards sutainabilities recipe here or melissas here

Thursday, 8 January 2009

The Journey to Simplicity

P at St Fagans

Last Autumn we visited the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagans in Wales, It had an amazing impact on me. For those of you who haven't heard of it, they have a collection of houses throughout the ages from all over Wales rebuilt in the grounds ( taken apart brick by brick on location, numbered and reassembled there!) There is an amazing amount of interesting buildings there but what hit me most was how simply everyone lived, 1 room, fireplace, bed and vegetables growing in the garden. It was so peaceful. I ran home wanting to rid myself of all the 'junk' I had accumilated, rid myself of the 'things' I didn't need.

Pig Sty

We decluttered and freecycled. I gave away 2 of the TVs and watched alot less on the remaining 2!!! We did what I saw was what we could do ''whilst we lived here" and made plans for greater changes we would make "when we move" We are not moving imminently though, it will take us 2 - 5 years to save and find our next house, it will be simpler, possibly smaller but with more land.

Veg Garden St Fagans

I realised recently that although somethings are best saving till we move, solar panels, recycling grey water into toilets etc, other things we were just using 'the move' as an excuse. So from now we will live the life we can whilst we are here.

Big House, St Fagans
P has already quit working for others and started his own business, I have started to retrain to work in schools. Even though we will still have to 'go to work to pay the bills' our days will be more fulfilling and our hours more family freindly. My flock of chickens will have to wait but I am currently exploring the possibility of keeping 3 bantams here in the back garden. We have stopped buying shop bread and have learnt how to use the timer on our bread machine meaning I come downstairs to the beautiful smell of fresh bread in he morning!

Stop putting off living the life you want, waiting for the time to be right - start living it now!!

What dreams are you putting off that you might be able to start the journey on today?

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Homemade Gifts

Christmas this year was fab I can't think of ANY presents I didn't like!! Or like giving for that matter. For one reason or another there were a great deal of homemade gifts given.....

The two monsters above were given to my two little monsters!!! Another larger one was given to P made from an old fleece jumper he loved but no longer wore.

I made christmas cakes and orange vodka for friends. In return I got jars of apple chutney and home laid eggs.

P's mum gave us a homemade hamper full of goodies she had baked and knitted us wrist warmers, my mum knitted us scarves and bought me an oldfashioned mixing bowl ( ready to make lots of future home-made goodies)

My brother treated us to a visit to the zoo complete with behind the scenes tips and talk ( he volunteers in the butterfly and bug enclosures).

So lots of homemade goodies and experiences, as well as a camcorder from P to record them all on :)

Monday, 5 January 2009

Homemade washing powder

I'm going to try make my own washing powder again, last years trial recipe wasn't great so I've searched the 'net again and found a new one that seems good.

6 oz soap (flakes or whatever soap I have, but avoid synthetically perfumed ones),

2 cups borax and

2 cups of washing soda.

(All available at hardware stores, some chemists or supermarket)

Finely grate the soap (if not using flakes) and add to the other two ingredients, mix well, and store in a cool dry place. You can grate the soap by hand, or put it through the food processor, but make sure to wash it thoroughly afterwards.

I'll be trying it later this week

Friday, 2 January 2009

The Presence of Trees

"I have always felt the living presence

of trees,

the forest that calls to me as deeply

as I breathe,

as though the woods were marrow of my bone

as though

I myself were tree, a breathing, reaching

arc of the larger canopy

beside a brook bubbling to foam

like the one

deep in these woods,

that calls

that whispers home."

Michael S Glaser

I cannot say how much I love this! So beautiful, and very, very relevant.

Living without a refridgerator Challenge - day 1

Yesterday I turned off my refridgerator and today we put it into storage. Milk and cheese have been put into a coolbox with an ice block. I'm no way ready to do without my freezer ( I've moved my freezer from the garage into the fridge space in the kitchen) but living without a refridgerator seems easy to me.
My fridge was always mostly empty and alot of the food in there would be forgotten and go mouldy. I'm hoping now extra portions of food can be cooled quickly and put straight into the freezer rather than sit in the fridge waiting to be transfered - forget - and then find it gone off too late!!!
Most people so far have said I am mad or it can't be done - so begins the challenge - I wonder how it will change the way we live? At least we'll have lower electric bills finding out!!
What do you think? Mad or Genius!!

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year! Reflections on 2008 and hopes for 2009!!

2008 seems to have sped past in a bit of a blur. Although I am pleased to say it was the year when I began on my small changes to a simpler, greener life. I made small changes around the home to begin the path to greener living..... I changed light bulbs to energy efficient ones, hung a washing line in the garden and planted some vegetables in the back garden composting our kitchen waste. I home cooked most of our meals and we turned vegetarian! I also started on a path back to working life, gaining a student placement at the local primary and training to be a teaching assistant.

Next year I hope to step do more, learning how to be more self sufficient, reducing our outgoings and carbon footprint. I want to make more local friendships, join community projects and teach the children the values of green, simple living.

Some of my goals for this year are:

1. Do without a refridgerator
2. Make our own Dishwashing Liquid
3. Make our own Bread
4. Live Local (focus on local activities, holidays and events)
5. Join a local community group
6. Reduce our carbon footprint
7. Learn how to make clothes for me and children
8. Start another waterbutt
9. Cook outside
10. Harvest grey water for garden
11. Reduce our use of cars and car expenses
12. Save at least £1500
13. Look into solar power
14. Recycle more
15. Shop Locally
16. Teach Paul and children to cook
17. Reduce our Gas and Electric Use
18. Use less water
19. Get a satisfying job after I qualify
20. To make the home warm and welcoming, using more natural products

What are your goals for this year?