Category Archives: The Green-ish Life

Adventures in cloth nappying

National Cloth Nappy Week 2016 has just passed and so this post is coming to you a week later than might have been useful (there are a lot of associated discounts). I blame the small children in my house. Still, it reminded me that I’ve never really written a post about nappies and what we use and why, and some of you (the parents of small people) may be interested. To the rest of you, I apologise. No need to read on unless you want to improve your general baby-related knowledge.

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Also, if you’re already feeling guilty because you don’t use cloth nappies, stop right there. The logistics of parenting are completely overwhelming and we all pick our battles. I hope our experiences might encourage you to give cloth nappies a go, but they are offered without judgement! Please, be kind to yourselves.

We currently have two children in nappies. (Aaargh). And from the outset we (well, mainly me) wanted to use cloth nappies. There are lots of good reasons to do it (as I found out in a recent survey which asked me to rank my reasons 1-5) but actually most of them didn’t have any effect on me. Most of them hadn’t even occurred to me. I just hate the landfill. The stats on how many nappies lie, not decomposing, in rubbish heaps around the world…well, it upsets me.

Before we had Jesse, my brother and his wife, and another couple of close friends, had babies and cloth nappied. Which gave me a lot more confidence about the whole thing. I picked their brains at some length.

First time round, we were reckless. Friends recommended totsbots (a Scottish company) so I just went ahead and ordered a set – 12 all-in-ones for the day time, and then a set of 5 bamboozle stretches for the nights (bulkier nappies with a separate outer wrap). All-in-ones are appealing for obvious reasons, but having used a two part nappy for nights I feel a lot less intimidated by the process, and they are often more reliable for containing everything). We bought them through the website babipur because they do regular discounts. Happily, they worked and we settled into a nappy washing routine. We kept them in a bucket (with a couple of drops of tea tree oil in it) and washed them every other day, at 40 degrees, in non-bio detergent. The smell was never invasive in our flat, the nappies dried quite easily (having the option of a tumble drier for wet seasons helped), and we got into the swing of it. When we went on holiday we reverted to disposables.

From left to right - two new totsbots all-in-ones, and two bamboozle stretch nappies (which require a waterproof wrap on top)

From left to right – two new totsbots all-in-ones, and two bamboozle stretch nappies (which require a waterproof wrap on top)

We had the occasional leak, I think, partly coz Jesse had such skinny legs, but we used the nappies until he was about 18 months. When he went to nursery they insisted they were happy changing cloth nappies but the reality in nurseries is that they have times of day when they change all the nappies (aside from when dirty nappies call for more urgent intervention), and their schedule was based around disposables. It was too long to leave a toddler in a cloth nappy and so he came home a few times with nappy rash. We switched to using disposables on his two nursery days.

We stopped around 18 months, or a bit after, because of Jesse’s skin. He gets bad eczema and it was getting worse, and we had to be super cautious about anything that might aggravate it. So at that point we switched back to disposables, which was sad.

When Jubilee was born I was excited to re-use the nappies. After a month I put one of Jesse’s on her. Five minutes later she weed and soaked her baby gro. Argh. I thought maybe I needed to wait till she was a bit bigger. So I tried again a month later. Twice. Same maddening story. I may have cried in despair (it wasn’t a good day). I did some research and found out that nappies that work for one gender often don’t work so well for another, because of where they wee.

Happily the night nappies still worked a treat, nothing was getting through those bad boys.

I found a local nappy advisor who was very helpful but was messaging me from her bed where she was nursing her ten day old baby. I decided to give her a break and on her recommendation contacted the local Bedfordshire nappy library. A very nice mum came round and lent me five different cloth nappies to try as research (for a charge of £5). And I sent off for one of the new totsbots all-in-ones (released that very week!) because I heard they were less leaky. And so we did some experimenting.

Bumgenius worked really well for us, as did Close Pop-ins (if we were starting again from scratch I would be very likely to go with with Close Pop-Ins), and we had no joy with little Lambs or Bambino Mio – but, as I say, it all depends on the baby and their shape and their gender, so there’s really no predicting it.

And the new totsbots all-in-one (star) worked a dream, so we went with them as we already had the associated accessories (liners, boosters etc). Plus, they are very cute!

One of the new totsbots all-in-one stars

One of the new totsbots all-in-one stars

I waited to order in National Cloth Nappy week and ended up getting about 30% off – meaning I spent about £125 on Jubilee’s day nappies, and have reused Jesse’s night nappies. It’s a bit of an outlay upfront, but it saves a packet in the long run.

I’ll be honest that my kids have always tended to poo only once a day, and I can imagine the process being more smelly and overwhelming if you’re chucking several dirty nappies in the nappy bin each day. Which reminds me – accessories. You need a nappy bin that seals well and which your toddler can’t easily open. And a travel bag is helpful for when you have to store dirty nappies out and about. In my early days of parenting I may have had a poo related disaster in John Lewis, and nothing to store Jesse’s beautiful but smelly and dirty nappy in. Ahem. And even if you have all-in-ones you still need liners. Disposable ones you can flush away, or fleece ones you wash (but which are much better at wicking moisture away from your baby’s bottom so they don’t feel like they’re sitting in a soggy towel).

Most nappies will fit birth to potty thanks to various poppers that adjust the size of the nappy. But as your kid pees greater volumes over time you’ll need boosters. Especially if you want to use one nappy all night (we use a booster in the bamboozle stretches and they last 12 hours).

It makes a huge difference to my daily nappy experience that Andy does most of the laundry in our house, so I am not personally swamped with endless loads of washing (although I’ll often put a nappy wash on in the day time when he’s out). It only takes a couple of minutes to shove another wash on every other day.

All in all I’m really glad we have used cloth nappies and I really haven’t felt like it is a pain in the neck. But it takes commitment – and probably some early experimenting. You don’t want to shell out for nappies that won’t work or that you aren’t sure about using!

If you’re looking for advice as to where to start, The Nappy Lady has an excellent questionnaire that assesses your baby’s needs, your washing facilities and your priorities and recommends the nest nappies for your family. PLUS her Nappy Week discounts are still on!

If you have any more questions, hit me in the comments!

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Ten positive lifestyle choices we don’t make (yet)

During a fantastic and long overdue catch-up with my friend Lucy recently (she of Lulastic fame)  we started talking about how stuff you read actually changes how you live. And how so often it doesn’t. Why does some stuff inspire us but fail to make any kind of practical, lasting impact? (Or are you less flaky than me?).

My best answer, then and now, is: people who are changing with you. It’s really hard to stick at something on your own and find the energy to against the flow in any kind of sustained way without company. The pressure to default to the norm is just too great. We need company.

The stuff I (we) have changed and stuck to in our lives in the last few years – making space in our busy schedules to build relationships with our neighbours, cutting back on flights and meat consumption and wider consumerism, walking and cycling as much as pos, trying to parent in an economical, attachment-y kind of a way, even giving up shampoo – they’re things that we’ve done in community. In the company of others (some with bigger crowds, some with a tiny crew).

So that got me thinking about all the things we haven’t done. Things that I feel inspired, convicted even, to change, and yet have not managed. I’m a big fan of honest journeys, and being able to come clean about our limitations and failures. So here is my list of really worthwhile lifestyle changes to which I aspire (in relation to simplicity and green living) that we just don’t do right now. Confession time.

(let's think positive)

(let’s think positive)

1. Produce only a modest amount of household rubbish.

We produce loads of rubbish, and I completely hate that it ends up somewhere on this planet damaging the environment. I just don’t know how to get better at this. We recycle loads, and I even tried something called a rubbish diet a while back, only nothing seemed to make much of a difference. It’s nearly all food packaging…and how do you buy food without packaging, short of spending a day a week traipsing on foot around food co-ops and greengrocers??

2. Have solar panels

Living in a flat where the council are responsible for all external walls/roofs etc limits our options here right not, but I wouldn’t even know where to start. And costs??

3. Compost our food waste

We did used to have worm bins, but then the worms died. And our local recycling services don’t extend to food waste. That is a fairly rubbish excuse though, given that we have a beautiful garden farm at the end of our road and they collect compost; but I’ve never actually managed to get on top of what type of food waste (it’s quite specific what they’ll take), get a good container, and make regular trips. I really want to get going with this when we move, especially if we have any outside space (because then we could fertilise our own plants with lovely organic compost!).

4. Go completely veggie/get closer to it

We try not to eat meat in the week, but we often fail. I default to what’s already in the freezer (which my kind mother often restocks), partly because it takes more imagination to cook veggie meals. Even though I have plenty of inspiration from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

5. Cycle everywhere

We live on a cycle super-highway (!), and the cycling gets pretty intense in our neighbourhood. I’m not hugely confident about cycling with a toddler in the inner-city (let alone on a super-highway), but I don’t exactly make a beeline for the bikes when I’m out and about alone. Work is a good ten miles away and I just can’t quite bring myself to face the ordeal. I do like cycling, I’ve just never managed to make it a habit. And now being preggers is another convenient excuse.

I should point out that Andy is (literally) miles ahead of me on this, and relies almost entirely on Boris bikes to get around London.

6. Never use toxic chemicals to clean the house

There was a time when I mainly used bicarbonate of soda to clean, and the occasional Method or Ecover product (cue eye roll from my mother). But then we got a cleaner who sent me out with a shopping list of hardcore chemicals she required. And I caved. And then she quit (was our house just too dirty?). So now I have a whole hodgepodge of things and feel conflicted.

7. De-clutter a la Marie Kondo

You may have read about our adventures with de-cluttering. I kind of really really want to read the book everyone is talking about and at the same time am a little bit scared and don’t want to spend money on it. I do always want some help with simplifying our living space (and was insanely grateful for the consultation I had earlier in the year from Sarah Bickers of Free Your Space). We recently massively de-cluttered in a temporary fashion as we put our flat on the market (full story coming soon) and wanted to persuade potential buyers that we lived in a beautiful elegant and minimalist fashion. And we really liked it. It seemed to help us eliminate unnecessary things in a way that made us feel calmer and happier. But I default to something less elegant and more chaotic which probably says something about my state of mind and confused sense of purpose!

8. Grow a reasonable portion of our veggie intake.

Tomatoes are really the only success I have had on our balcony. I just never seem to make plant care an actual regular habit.

9. Never go to Tesco

It’s not just Tesco, there’s a list of supermarkets which are fairly horrendous when it comes to their ethics and supply chain. But they all seem to be nearby and I’m always dipping in. We have some good habits (deliveries from better companies) but there always seems a reason to nip in on the way home. And everyone does it (is what I say to myself). Occasionally when I manage to do some meal planning I cut down on the regular top-up trips, but it’s a dirty habit I struggle to break.

10. The flying thing

I fly a LOT less than I did, but that’s more because of our stage of life than any radical decisions I’ve made. And we have family in Northern Ireland. We could obviously drive and take the ferry to get there, but I just can’t face it with a toddler. So at least once a year without fail we jump on a plane, and I just can’t imagine what would persuade me to make the epic road trip.

So that’s all my excuses. I’m hoping to push through some of them, if I can only find some company…

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Tips from an expert declutterer

A few weeks ago I wrote about my (underwhelming) adventures in decluttering.  And then a brilliant thing happened.  A reader, who is also a PROFESSIONAL DECLUTTERER, got in touch and offered me a free consultation.  This is probably the only perk I have ever received from blogging.

So of course I need to tell you about our extremely helpful meeting and pass on her words of wisdom.

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Meet Sarah Bickers.  She runs Free Your Space which is an organising and decluttering service and, helpfully for me, is based in South London.

She came round earlier this week and began by asking me a series of questions to get to know me and my priorities. My main problems really are the main living space we have, because I spend a lot of time there with Jesse especially, and because we have lots of STUFF in the room and next to no (invisible) storage; and then everyone’s favourite creator of chaos: paperwork. It sits in piles on surfaces, occasionally graduating to the stairs, but seems to take an age to make the epic journey to the place it belongs.

I imagined Sarah might arrive at the flat, take one sweeping glance around our living quarters, and announce wryly that she could understand why I needed her services. But actually she was warm, encouraging, not at all judgmental, inquisitive and great at asking very helpful questions. Perfection, she repeated, was not the goal.

She got me to think about the things I had done that had worked in the past, and to reflect on my strengths. She asked me how I wanted our home to feel – to us and outsiders (friendly, warm, personal). And then my absolutely favourite insight was that in essence decluttering is about making decisions. I LOVE decisions. I just want to march around the house and make some more now!!

And then there were the practical tips. I don’t want to give away all her highly confidential trade secrets when maybe you need to just go ahead and hire her, but let me tell you some of the most useful:

1. She recommended going around the house and making a list of areas that need to be organised or decluttered, in manageable chunks (e.g. that one shelf over there, that oversized plate which is attracting junk like a man drawer, that kitchen cupboard).  And then when you have a little time, pick one thing, and get it done.  Don’t try to take on whole rooms at once, but bite-sized projects.

2. Reward yourself.  (And in the case of significant others – like husbands and children – bribe them to participate).  For me this might mean – declutter the sideboard and then you get to download the next Poldark novel. Or on a very special day, have a glass of wine.  Already I am incentivised.

3. Bring the filing boxes downstairs.  Given that the paperwork seriously struggles to make the final move up the stairs and into the files, we could just make everyone’s life more straightforward and bring them to live downstairs where the journey is less taxing.

4. Use the limits of your space as a limit on your stuff.  If books are piling up on top of shelves, or DVDs overflowing out of the allotted space, then work out which ones can go to the charity shop so theta what you have fits neatly.

Finally we had a really interesting conversation about kids and how to help them to make good decisions about their stuff.  Even now, she suggested, I can encourage Jesse to help us put toys back in the boxes at the end of the day.  And as he gets older we can decide together, before birthdays and Christmases, which toys we will pass on to others before new ones arrive. Jesse already loves lining up and organising bottles that he finds so I have great hopes for his potential as an organiser of his personal space!!

Do check our sarah’s website and Facebook page, and get in touch with her if you’d like more help.  And I would love to hear about your decluttering successes and tips!

 

 

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My verdict on 3 months of the capsule wardrobe

Back in January I undertook the capsule wardrobe challenge: to reduce my wardrobe to around 30 items for 3 months (excluding underwear, sportswear & pyjamas).  The idea was to simplify my choices in the morning, adjust (and probably reduce) my idea of how much I “needed”, prove to myself that there were plenty of things I could happily go without, and generally contribute to my ongoing pursuit of a simpler life that costs less and does less damage to the planet…I wrote about it here if you missed it (and also again here for Rhythms).  There were even some terrible photos.

Well those three months have flown by and we are in April.  Which is a whole new three month season.  I was extremely excited to dress in a different outfit on April the first – one that was sadly mismatched with the freezing cold weather.  And of course no-one noticed except me, but it felt quite special.  And I like special.

But how was the experiment? Did I stick to the rules? Did it drive me crazy?  Or bore me senseless? Am I adopting this approach to my wardrobe for the rest of time?

I did cheat a little.  It turns out that I don’t have anything that goes with my denim shirt so I swapped it out for another dress gathering dust in the wardrobe.  And I wore trainers one day which weren’t strictly part of  the line-up.  But otherwise I did pretty much stick to it.  There were definitely days of thinking “really? it’s one of those two jumpers AGAIN?”.  But then I remembered that there were CARDIGANS and I felt a little less confined.

There were also days when I wasn’t that well co-ordinated because of the limited number of items which were clean.  But I feel motherhood has pushed me far beyond caring whether my outfit works, so actually it didn’t bother me at all.

When I blogged about the challenge over at Rhythms, my undertaking somehow got extrapolated on twitter to a farfetched claim that I had jettisoned everything in my wardrobe apart from my chosen 28 items.  Which wasn’t true.  Firstly, I was hardly going to throw out summer clothes (which are in my wardrobe all year long because where else would I store them and how else do you deal with a freakishly hot day in April? Or a work trip to another hemisphere?).  And secondly it was an experiment.  I wanted to see if I could live life in a reduced set of clothes without missing other stuff.  It was quite possible that I would decide that the other stuff I had temporarily jettisoned was really very useful.  And it was hardly economical to put myself in the situation where I’d have to buy stuff all over again.  It was merely pushed to the back of the drawer and nominated as off-limit.

But because it basically worked, and I wore clothes I liked every day and didn’t feel any sense of loss, I will be donating more of the clothes I haven’t been wearing.  Living with a smaller wardrobe was just fine, so long as I liked the stuff in it.

So in theory I should be putting together another capsule wardrobe for April to June.  But here’s where it feels impractical.  We in the UK all know that in this next three month period there will be days where the temperature is in single digits and it is wet and windy.  But there will also probably be days of buoyant sunshine when shorts and t-shirts are the order of the day (here’s hoping).  Even in the height of summer there will be days when you reach for a cosy jumper.  I’m not sure the British climate supports a capsule wardrobe.

So I am adopting a revised approach.  I have the winter capsule and have established what I don’t need.  I’m going to build (or rather, hone) a summer capsule and weed out the unnecessary stuff.  And then in between the seasons on just on freakish weather days, I’m going to allow myself to draw from either.  Can that still be called a capsule wardrobe?  Maybe it’s just a streamlined one.

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My on-off relationship with shampoo

If you’ve read my ‘about’ page you’ll have come across my fleeting mention of abandoning shampoo: “…and while giving up shampoo is hardly going to balance the carbon books, I am trying to change.”  I figured now might be a good moment to tell some more of that story.

I was inspired, maybe about three years ago, by the blogs of my friend Lucy on the topic of giving up shampoo.  She had some compelling reasons: she hated spending money on shampoo, and she had come across a lot of evidence that shampoo was entirely unnecessary and also poured needless harmful chemicals into our water system.  What’s more, she had great hair (at that stage, before she moved to New Zealand, I got to see it in person on a fairly regular basis).  I’m pretty sure she still has great hair but I can’t vouch for having seen it recently.

So after much encouragement from her, I decided to go cold turkey and abandon the bottle, in search of a simpler, cheaper life.  (Actually I never spent that much on shampoo so I was less concerned about my budget than I was about unnecessary chemicals).  After a few weeks of fairly manky hair, it got to a good place.  My hair was clean.  And the best bit was that I only needed to wash it weekly – usually with bicarbonate of soda followed by a rinse in diluted cider vinegar, and then once a month I’d use an egg.  Andy didn’t love the smell of the bathroom afterwards but it all worked fine otherwise.

(There may have been a short stretch of time when washing my hair once a week meant that I only remembered to shower once a week.  Andy didn’t love that either).

This is my hair after 10 months without shampoo. I don't usually photograph my hair unless it's in victory rolls and a lot of hairspray but here it is - shock horror - down.

This was my hair after 10 months without shampoo. 

And then we had a baby, and for the first few weeks I basically tied my hair back in a bun for about a week at a time.  Personal grooming, which has never been a talent of mine anyway, was simply abandoned.  And the thing about not using shampoo is that you have to brush it a lot, in order to distribute the natural oils along the whole of your hair.  Otherwise they just clump near your scalp and attract dirt.  And things got pretty grim.

After 16 months free from shampoo, I reached for my crutch once again.

But then my (non-fairy, actual) godmother swept in and bought me a beautiful bottle of shampoo, made mainly from organic essential oils, from a shop called Verde.  Which I used for the rest of the year (I know – amazing – you only need a very small amount).

Secretly I had always been plotting to chop off all my hair – which by all accounts makes the shampoo free life an easier one.  So I guess I was biding my time before the big chop.  And then it finally happened in November.

And I’ll be honest, I’m kind of hovering now.  I’m trying to cut down the frequency of hair washing.  My last wash was with bicarb on Sunday, but I haven’t completely cut the hard stuff out again.  My latest hairdresser (Fabian at Haus of Hair – who I would highly recommend not least because he modelled my latest haircut on Robin Wright in House of Cards, not that I watch it, but it’s a nice haircut) insists that in the inner city hair gets too dirty to go without shampoo.  He also recommends avoiding cheapo shampoo “made of paint stripper”, which sounds logical, but let’s be honest I’m hardly going to start buying boutique shampoo.

I do realise that most normal people would think abandoning shampoo an unnecessarily step on the journey to a simpler life.  Shampoo is just easier.  But it’s also just another thing we’re convinced we have to buy because we need it, when we really don’t.

Lucy has actually now published an amazing e-book on the subject of a shampoo free life called Happy Hair! The No Poo Book! which I recommend (it covers every question you could possibly think of) and rumour has it that there might be a course coming in the future… Which might be just the thing I need!!

Have any of you experimented with a shampoo-free life? Anyone want to cheer me on?!

 

 

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It’s Meat Free week! (we are mainly eating cheese)

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Today marks the start of the UK’s first Meat Free Week.  We have given up eating the stuff until Sunday.  (It should, officially, be Monday, but my mother has a significant birthday on Sunday involving a zero, and my father would not understand meat-free celebrating).

I’ve talked before about how we try to only eat meat at weekends (like in this recent guest blog I did on rhythms about the return of special), and we’ve given up meat for lent before, so actually a week doesn’t seem like that long.  But it’s always great to join in something bigger (this is the first national meat-free week here, following its success in Australia) – to be part of something that gets some momentum and attention for the issues at stake; so we’re embracing vegetables, pulses and carbs for the week. Not to mention CHEESE.  Cheese is what makes it all possible.  And maybe chocolate.

I have always loved meat.  When I was at international school in the Netherlands (aged around 5) I was the only kid in class who didn’t eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.  I had salami. Salami sandwiches were a staple of my upbringing.

When I was 15 I started working Saturdays at a Christian cafe in town.  We got a free lunch, if we chose something vegetarian, or we had to pay if we had the meat dish.  I didn’t think I could eat a dinner without meat, so I was willing to sacrifice about a quarter of my entire salary just to avoid going veggie.

How times have changed.  Three years working in that cafe taught me to love cheesy nut roast and pasta bake.  The advent of pasta with pesto and its insane popularity in my university days probably didn’t help me to develop a varied vegetarian diet, but at least kept me steady.  My vegetarian cooking has mostly evolved because I’ve been inspired by more creative and healthy friends and cooks. And then we’ve also become more economical/frugal/stingy (depending on your standpoint) in our food budgeting.

I’m no poster girl for vegetarianism.  One year I gave up meat for lent and then went on a work trip to Uruguay towards the end of lent.  In my first meal in Uruguay I was introduced to ‘tradition Uruguayan cuisine’ – I asked for a typical local dish and was served meat, meat and meat.  I didn’t put up a fight.

But then there are the issues.  The fact that we eat more meat than ever before (twice the global average in the UK), and that meat production on these unprecedented scales is damaging the environment.  The reality that 90% of the world’s soya and over 30% of the world’s grains (including wheat and corn) are used to feed farm animals, the majority of which are factory farmed to feed our craving for cheap meat. 800 million people suffer from malnutrition at the moment, and yet one third of the world’s cereal harvest is fed to farm animals – enough to feed almost three billion people.

I could go on.  There’s a lot of evidence out there that if want to look after the planet, we just need to eat less meat.  The Guardian told us so, recently.

This week I will be cooking pasta and pesto, of course (with CHEESE).  Probably some risotto (with classy Italian CHEESE).  Jack Monroe’s bean goulash (a winner in our house and cheap as chips – and it’s great with CHEESE on top).  A tuna and sweetcorn pasta bake (I’m not above some tinned fish, if it’s sourced compassionately…and I will top this with breadcrumbs and CHEESE).  I’ll make a basic tomato sauce to have with pasta (and more CHEESE).  And then I should probably do something with potatoes.  Bake them?  Make some kind of CHEESY gratin?  All ideas welcome.

If there is an annual week of veganism, I don’t think I’m ready.

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Thrifty exercise in the city: 3 top tips

The danger of writing a post about exercise is that you could end up thinking either I’m really fit (ha!), or really focused on being thin.  You’ll have to take my word about my decidedly average level of fitness, but I have a story to illustrate the level of attention I give my body shape.

Growing up, I didn’t have much of a sense of body image.  I wasn’t very stylish, or well groomed, or as thin as some of my friends, but I was fairly relaxed about it.  I remember in my first year of uni going to a ball (that was how we rolled) and buying a long, figure hugging black dress.  And the night I wore it I caught my reflection in a window and suddenly realised: I have a pot belly.  It had never occurred to me in my life before then that I might have a round tummy that stuck out, one that perhaps wasn’t best displayed in a lycra dress.

It took me 19 years to notice that my tummy wasn’t at all similar to the flat version displayed in all women’s magazines.  And I’m kind of glad about that.

I’m on no kind of mission to make my body conform to the pictures paraded before us in the media.  But I do want to live within healthy boundaries and to feel well and energetic.  And that means doing regular exercise.  Which can be hard when the pace of (city) life is frantic, and the demands of parenthood are incessant, and everyone wants to charge you a lot of money for the privilege of raising your heartbeat.  So I thought I would share a post on finding a way through.

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Over the past year or two, the whole pregnancy/C-section/ recovery/mindless-motherly-exhaustion rigmarole reduced many of my good intentions to just that, but I’ve slowly been making my way back to a more active way of life.

Let me preface my top tips by coming clean with a few of my prejudices:  I hate gyms; I hate spending lots of money just to exercise; and I avoid team sport as much as possible.  If you don’t share those fundamentals then my approach might be completely irrelevant.  (You should just go join a really expensive gym and hope they do team sports too).

Here is the cream of my wisdom for exercising in the city for minimum cost.

1) Run, because it’s free.  (Walk and cycle for the same reasons).  

I was never that interested in running until I lived with a runner, and somehow over time it just kind of rubbed off on me.  Mainly because it’s free (did I mention that?).  When I thought about all the sports I could take up, nothing beats the lure of a free thing.

Also, in the inner-city where almost every dimension of modern life obscures our connection to the natural world, doing something that takes you out into the fresh (cold) air and probably running along rivers or in parks where there are trees and plants (because we do have those here) is definitely a big positive for our souls.

One of the reasons I hate gyms is because they are so ludicrously artificial.  You run/cycle/row on a machine that makes sure you never get anywhere.  At least get the satisfaction of having moved somewhere and travelled some physical distance!  Plus, did I mention that in the real world it’s free?

When we go to visit family and friends outside of the city I’m often amazed at how inactive life feels – mainly because of using the car to get anywhere.  In the inner-city we don’t use our car much to get around because parking and traffic are too miserable (oh, and terrible for the planet).  We walk!  With babies in slings or in pushchairs or bike seats.  And we live at the top of 3 flights of stairs (NOT a long term plan) so that’s a lot of exercise that’s a natural part of everyday.  Much of it is necessitated by logistics, but I like to reclaim it as a positive choice.

2) Use free day trials of nice pools (they usually include gym use too but of course I hate gyms) and payasugym.

The first part of this is extremely cheeky because I believe such day passes are designed for people seriously considering joining the health centres on a long-term basis.  But they make a really nice treat.  And what I’m basically saying is, take advantage of the offers out there.

I do like to swim. If you go for a free day trial, you can listen to their sales pitch, and maybe if they do it really really well you will join, or get someone else to…(or NOT).  In the last few months of maternity leave, Andy would sometimes come home and take the little man for an afternoon and send me off to a nice pool to relax.  I do like a nice swim, especially if there’s a jacuzzi to relax in afterwards.

Have you come across payasugym?  It’s basically an online system where gyms and pools let you use their facilities on a one-off basis rather than having to join for a year.  There are lots of fancy pools (and gyms) in swanky apartment blocks and the like which don’t get used that often, so it’s a great idea to create a system to make use of them.  And there are brilliant discounts.  What’s more, if you recommend it to a friend, and they join (using your referral code) then the friend gets £5 credit in their new account and you get £10.  I got two friends to join in December which meant I got £20 credit, which is still paying for my swimming trips!  My local leisure centre is one of the pools on the list, so I can even use my account to take Jesse swimming. (If you’d like to join using my referral, click here, but feel free just to spread the love around your own friends).

3) Be local and community-minded

Local classes in the school gym or church hall are usually way cheaper than the super fancy ones at the posh gym or yoga studio.  Plus you get to meet locals (mutters under breath: really need to talk to people at my zumba class).  Also, local leisure centres usually have some kind of discount system for people who live in the area, meaning you save a lot on swims and classes over the course of a year.  So you can save money whilst simultaneously supporting local facilities, meeting neighbours and not travelling much.  Maybe all that local goodwill will lead you to start a local running club?!

I should also give a shout out to my husband’s preferred method of exercising: team sport.  He heads out to Wandsworth Common most Saturday mornings to play Touch Rugby and returns inexplicably bouncy and muddy (actually the mud I understand).  All completely free and there are usually games in most London parks on most weekends. *shudder*

If you want to know what my typical exercise routine looks like, then alongside all that stair climbing, I do a local zumba class in a church hall on a Monday, I swim in one of my lunch hours at work, and then I’ll either run or take a payasugym swim later in the week.  There will be more running when it’s warmer and lighter.

I have also been known, in a burst of enthusiasm or desperation, to use exercise DVDs and online yoga or fitness stuff, but I do not have the willpower or space to sustain any of it very long.  RIP 30 day shred, Davina, Stay at Home Yoga et al.

What about you?  What ways have you found to keep fit that don’t cost loads of money, and might work in the inner-city??

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My attempt at a capsule wardrobe

I promised I would attempt to create a capsule wardrobe early in 2015, in pursuit of the trend sweeping the blogosphere, and so last night I got cracking.  A few people have written their own rules or guidelines (I read Blog333 and Un-fancy), but at the heart of the craze is a desire to simplify getting dressed.  Reduce the options.  Think about it less.  Stop hoarding clothes.  It’s all too easy to fill our wardrobes with needless clutter, cheap clothes, things we once loved but no longer fit into, things we*might* wear again but probably won’t.  I don’t think I’m a massive hoarder or shopper (I’ve basically learned that if I don’t go to the shops, I don’t think about clothes all that much) but I thought the challenge would definitely do me good.

In recent years I’ve stopped buying many new clothes – most of my clothes are either birthday/Christmas presents from our parents, or charity shop finds. But buying things in charity shops makes me much more likely to not think too seriously about whether I actually *need* something else…and similarly, when someone else is paying it can be easy to dismiss questions about the usefulness of the garment.

The capsule wardrobe bloggers I have come across each chose 35 or 37 items for a set three month period (after which you review and adapt for the next three month season), which included, for example, a lot more shoes than I would ever wear, so I thought my capsule would be a lot smaller.  But somehow I still got to 27 quite quickly.  I excluded pyjames, underwear, socks, my ten year old running kit, my swimsuit and jewellery (not that I wear much anymore, now that it usually gets ripped off by a small child).

I don’t think anyone thinks there’s any chance of this turning into a fashion blog (there will be no outfit photos appearing), but just to break up all the words, I’m going to throw in some really bad thumbnails so you can see what it looks like.  Motherhood means I blog by night, so all photos were taken in the glare of the bedroom light…

The capsule:

2 x boots – one knee length (3 yrs old), one ankle length (2yrs old),

big boots

big boots

IMG_3584

little boots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 x black ballet pumps (not for ballet)

4 x trousers (including one pair of jeans which I wear to death)

trousers

trousers

1 x denim skirt

3 x dresses

1 x stripey tunic (I could live my whole life in stripes)

4 x cosy cardigans

2 x cosy jumpers

cosy jumpers

cosy jumpers

cosy cardigans

cosy cardigans

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 x t-shirts (mainly just to wear under everything else)

2 x shirts

1 x piko top (it’s an American thing…)

2 x coats

Which makes a grand total of 27 items.  Which is all I’ll be wearing till the end of March.

Buying new clothes isn’t outlawed whilst you decide on your capsule, but once you’ve nailed it, you have to stick to it.  Given how insanely frequently I wear my one pair of jeans, I think I’m going to use a voucher someone gave me to buy another pair.  But then I’m DONE.

Right now it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be too hard – I think these are basically the clothes that I wear most already.  But it’s definitely been helpful in making me face up to the truth that there’s a whole heap of stuff in my wardrobe that I don’t need and can pass on to the charity shop.

I’ll report back after three months, but in the meantime…have any of you made a capsule wardrobe, or something similar?  How do you simplify your closet?

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Store cupboard challenge!

I swore I’d undertake a store cupboard challenge early in 2015, and I got so motivated I went and started on the 2nd of January.  We managed to demolish most of the luxury items in our cupboards on New Year’s Eve, thanks to our guests, so there seemed to be nothing stopping us. And because it was such an instantaneous decision, it was too late to stock up accidentally on purpose.

I'm sure it is obvious but this is most assuredly NOT what my store cupboard looks like.

I’m sure it is obvious but this is most assuredly NOT what my store cupboard looks like.

If you’re wondering why I would do such a strange and unnecessary thing (or perhaps you don’t even know what I mean – explanation coming), it’s because I’m a big believer in that old saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.  When we’re faced with boundaries and limits on what we can buy or do, we find creative ways through.  (WW2 rationing, for example). We make it work. But 21st century life, for many of us, offers a complete absence of limits when it comes to food.  If we have the money (or the credit) we don’t have to eat seasonally or limit our meat intake if we don’t want to.  We can buy whatever food our budget allows every day of the week, especially somewhere like London.

I think life is poorer, rather than richer, because of this overwhelming and inexhaustible set of options.  We lose a sense of something being special, or a treat. Everything becomes our entitlement; what was once indulgence and luxury becomes normality.  And we become increasingly disconnected from where it all comes from and the effect our choices have on the rest of the world.

But on to practicalities.  This was the nature of my little challenge:

Make food for all three of us for a week, using only the supplies already in our cupboard/fridge/freezer.

Then I added another rule when I realised we were almost out of potatoes and Andy had eaten the tinned ones: a maximum of one [small] emergency purchase a day.  (Meaning no steaks).  Max budget £1 per day.

Oh, and I allowed myself the option of buying more milk, seeing as Jesse gets through half a litre a day.

And here’s what we ate:

Friday 2nd Jan:

Brekkie – porridge/banana/cereal

Lunch – leftovers from new year/poached egg & mushrooms on toast

Dinner – leftover lasagne for Jesse/spinach and mushroom pasta for us (recipe from A Girl called Jack)

Saturday 3rd Jan:

Brekkie – bacon sandwiches (with homemade bread) & porridge for Jesse.

We were at friends’ houses (spontaneously!) for lunch and dinner so they fed us all!!

Sunday 4th Jan:

Brekkie: porridge/banana/cereal

Lunch: freebies from EAT (someone we know collects their end-of-day unsold stock), bacon and eggs.

Dinner: Chicken chasseur (recipe from A Girl called Jack) using the chicken thighs from the freezer, and then (in the absence of potatoes) I used up a packet of polenta that expired in September. Tasted great.

EMERGENCY PURCHASE OF THE DAY: basic porridge oats

Monday 5th Jan:

Brekkie: porridge/banana

Lunch: Homemade soup (I’d kept some gammon stock from New Year’s Day and roasted practically all our remaining fresh veggies which was about 4 carrots and 2 onions, then whizzed them up together); my friend Jess came round and entered into the spirit of the challenge by bringing some bread and salad from her own fridge. Then we shared a cheeky little panetonne that my mum must have slipped into my bag at Christmas.

Dinner: chicken chasseur with pots and beans for Jesse; pasta with tomato sauce (made from cooking a tin of tomatoes with some garlic) and cheese for us.

Tuesday 6th Jan:

Brekkie: porridge/banana/cereal

Lunch: ham sandwich, yoghurt and fruit for Jesse; leftover soup for me.

Dinner: More chicken chasseur for Jesse; Bean goulash (recipe from A Girl called Jack) with rice for us, which was BIG hit with the husband.

EMERGENCY PURCHASE: tin of kidney beans for the goulash, 80p.

Wednesday 7th Jan:

Brekkie: porridge/pear for Jesse. Our community was fasting breakfast and lunch so us grown-ups went without.

Lunch: Scrambled egg, tomatoes and yoghurt for Jesse.

Dinner: Bean goulash and pasta for Jesse, followed by tinned pears. Remaining chicken chasseur padded out with a carton of chopped tomatoes and pasta for us.

EMERGENCY PURCHASE: carton of chopped tomatoes for the bargain price of 55p.

Thursday 8th Jan:

Brekkie: porridge/banana/cereal/pear

Lunch: I had no plan! I scoured the cupboards late on Wednesday night and managed to source a tin of scotch broth, and to find a pitta bread in the freezer. This became my lunch. Jesse was being looked after by a friend who fed him.

Dinner: Quiche found in freezer, the last of the oven chips, assortment of remaining vegetables (all past their best) – beans, cabbage and salad leaves.

EMERGENCY PURCHASE: banana for Jesse, 20p

And there you have it.  We made it.  It wasn’t even that hard (it would have been harder without the freezer).  I probably ate a couple of meals that wouldn’t have been my first choice, and I missed the fresh veg when we ran out of it, but, really, but it was totally fine, and has given me loads more confidence about spending less ongoingly and eating more simply.  I am actually planning what we’ll eat and buying ahead.  (Bean goulash is making another appearance next week).  And meat has returned to its status as ‘weekend treat’.

I never did get to the lentils, so maybe that’s my next challenge: identify the food least likely to ever make it into dinner and FIND A WAY.

Have you done anything like a store cupboard challenge?  Or have you found other ways to be more economical in your eating?

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When I no longer have any goals…

Just recently I was reading a blog post about goal setting.  And I realised that for the first time that I can remember, I have no goals.  Which was disorienting. I do not know what I want to achieve in life.

I mean, obviously I want to raise a child who is loved and happy and that’s what takes most of my energy right now. And being a spectacular wife.  And I have your typical list of ordinary tasks to complete like ‘make dinner’ and ‘go to the chemist’ and ‘hoover’.  But somehow there is a hankering in me for more than that, a hankering which is currently shapeless.

During pregnancy I seemed to keep reading articles about these extraordinary women who discover a new burst of entrepreneurial energy after childbirth and begin their own businesses during maternity leave.  I think there was some kind of special series in that free magazine they give women on the tube.

I am not one of those women.

The scale of free creative energy I have is probably best communicated by the direction my musings are taking me: not new career plans, but potential hobbies.  And specifically, photography and gardening.

Let me be clear at the outset: I am shockingly terrible at both.  But recently I have been feeling like maybe I could do something about it.

The photography one is actually more intimidating because of the intense psychological battles I face.  An offhand comment in childhood – “You’re not much of a photographer, are you?” – has somehow hung over me like a weird self-fulfilling prophecy for 25 years, telling me I’m always going to be rubbish at taking photos.

In my last year or two before maternity leave, I had someone work for me at Tearfund whose job was basically to take really great photos and film on her SLR (I don’t even know what that stands for) to illustrate the stories we were trying to tell for Tearfund. (You can see some of her work here or here).  She made everything look beautiful.

I use my iPhone and instagram because it’s easy to make rubbish photos look quite cool.  But I dream of more.

And then on the gardening front.  Well, this is our balcony at the moment.

photo (1)Yep, dead as a doornail.  (The picture also illustrates my terrible photography).  I went to a vegetable-growing workshop at our excellent local garden farm a couple of years ago.  I bought some plants at the local market, inspired by my neighbours’ more beauteous doorsteps.  But everything is dead now.  I killed it all. Partly it was the frequent travel, partly my bad memory. (And partly my husband).

I would like to get better at both.  But there is a suspicious side of my brain that thinks I am maybe just a bit bored and consequently becoming overambitious.  Should I direct my energies in more useful directions?  Perhaps I need to make peace with being a bit crap at gardening and photography and move on (as I have done with other areas of life – DIY, physics, personal grooming).

It’s a bit like ski-ing.  Very fun but a bit too high maintenance to incorporate into regular life.

But then again (can you tell I haven’t worked this one out yet?), both are potentially connected to my longterm passions. Photography is a way of storytelling which is right at the heart of what I love to do.  And gardening is a way to reconnect with the natural world – another thing I care deeply about.

One thing, at least, is clear to me.  Doing these things in community is really the only way I’ll get on with it.  I don’t have the kit, the expertise, or the motivation to sustain any great learning curve on my lonesome.

So this has become a cry for help!  Have you any ideas about how I could learn how to grow things and keep them alive on my balcony?  Or to take beautiful photos that tell a story?  They’re doing a gardening workshop on my estate in a few weeks but it’s the day of one of my dearest friend’s weddings!

(I know one man who could do both in a flash but he lives in Northern Ireland, sadly).

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