Tag Archives: family

Five Little Things to reduce our environmental impact

I’ve recently returned back to work after a year’s maternity leave with my second child and it feels as though there’s been a big cultural shift. Everyone seems so much more aware than they did about reducing waste and their carbon footprints.

green waste recycling bin and brown garden waste bin
Our recycling bin and garden waste bins are currently the kids favourite toys for a game of peekaboo/tag

Not only are they are aware, but they are acting on it. Lots of my colleagues have gone full vegan, or vegetarian, and those who haven’t seem to be experimenting with flexitarianism to reduce their meat consumption. Conversations start up over tea in the kitchen about plant-based recipes people need to try, or ideas people have had for making an easy change that has made a positive environmental change without impacting on their lifestyle in any major way.

We’re still so far from being zero waste in my house, but sharing ideas and reading people’s blogs has helped me make small changes that feel though they’ve made a big difference in our household. Here are some of the things that I’ve done this year that have made me feel a bit better about how hard we’re treading on the earth.

Switching to a menstrual cup

This is one of those changes that feels like an all-around win without any compromises. I’ve found the Mooncup way more comfortable than using tampons or towels. The average woman will use 11,000 disposable sanitary items in her life time, and with a pack of sanitary towels containing the equivalent of 4 plastic bags, and the cotton etc used to produce tampons. Say you only bought one pack of tampax for your period (unlikely) across the course of a year that’s going to cost you £29.40 vs £21.99 for a Mooncup, but the cup can last for years. Wallet and planet friendly.

Buying second hand

Before #SecondHandSeptember made me so on trend, I decided at the start of the year to buy second hand clothes for myself and the girls as much as possible. I’ve got some things that I won’t buy second hand (underwear, shoes, swimwear) but on the whole, I’ve been buying all of the girls’ “new” clothes, and all of my clothes where I’ve needed them, second hand from eBay. According to Oxfam, 11 million clothing items end up in landfill every week, so it’s good to be able to give the children’s clothes that get grown out of so quickly a new lease of life. What my oldest grows out of is kept for her sister, and what she grows out of goes to her younger cousin.

Recycled Toilet Roll

Speaking of second hand, I read in July that toilet paper companies are increasingly using pulp from virgin wood in their toilet rolls and that the reduction in recyclable material is making toilet rolls less sustainable. I’d seen lots of adverts for Who Gives A Crap, a company that makes their rolls from 100% recycled materials and sustainably sourced bamboo, and donates 50% of their profits to improving sanitation in the developing world. Oh and they are plastic free. The Ethical Consumer also has recommendations for other sustainable brands.

Old School Milk

I was talking to a friend about reducing plastic waste in my kitchen, and she told me that she’d signed up for an old school milk man who delivered milk in glass bottles and took them away again to be reused and recycled. My partner pulled a long suffering face when I told him that I was signing us up for a milk delivery, and he wasn’t keen on the idea, but the children act like it’s Christmas morning when the milkman has been so he does like that. He can’t deny either that our recycling bin has been far more manageable now that it’s not full of plastic cartons or tetra packs. As a bonus, I like to add in the odd treat item every Friday, our milkman does baked goods, juices, even eco-friendly cleaning products. It is more expensive than supermarket milk, but it makes me feel better about how we’re feeding our family and affecting the environment. Making environmentally friendly choices definitely has an element of financial privilege so I do feel like it’s our responsibility as a family to make the best choices we can afford to and be mindful that some people won’t have that choice. If you want to find a milkman in your area, you can do so here

Growing our own cucumbers

I’ve been getting the garden in our new house set up to grow bits and pieces. Mostly because it’s a nice thing to do with the girls and I enjoy watching a relatively small seed turn into a giant plant with flowers which turn into pumpkins or squashes and take over the garden…. It’s real life magic. Anyway, this year I’ve grown cucumbers for the first time. I grew the variety cucino which is mini cucumbers and gave a few away to friends. The three plants I kept have thrived in a sunny spot outside and kept us in cucumbers all summer. I haven’t had to buy any, so no plastic wrapping, and they are quite small so none went to waste as they were picked as we needed them for salads, sandwiches and drinks. Money saving, reducing plastic, reducing food miles and reducing food waste at the same time. Oh and I companion planted them with marigolds and nasturtiums for aesthetics and we had sooooo many caterpillars, ladybirds and pollinators on the pot: great for biodiversity too.

What are your tips for living a more planet friendly lifestyle? I’m particularly interested in family friendly vegetarian recipes.

common garden snail on little girl's hand

Don’t step on that snail

I found myself with an unusual problem in the garden the other day…. I’d run out of snails.

In my old Victorian terrace garden with brick walls separating neighbour from neighbour and preventing freedom of movement for frogs and hedgehogs, this was never something I would have thought possible. I had quite the opposite problem. But in our new garden with hedges allowing snail predators to roam at will, and a very active thrush, numbers are low.

Which wouldn’t normally bother me too much, but my oldest daughter has taken a liking to them. She thinks of them as pets. We’ve had a few weeks together before she starts school while her baby sister is in preschool in which we go out in the garden together to work on some project or other, and it’s never long before she starts playing the same game, building a house for her “snailies”.

Is it possible for a snail to have Stockholm syndrome? I think these must. They’re so used to being picked up and put in a flower pot to be studied that the seem to be quite happy coming out of their shells and sliming away along her hands. They’re probably desperately attempting a low speed escape, but she’s very gentle with them, picking the nicest flowers she can find to make them at home. Some days she won’t come inside all day, and has her lunch as a picnic so she can sit and watch her snails in their Everton mint swirls. There’s no such thing as a common garden snail to her, each one is magical.

Snails in a flower pot

Which is why I find myself in a position where I feel like I don’t have enough snails in my garden anymore. Overnight, the snails creep out of the flower pot she tucks safely under a rose bush, saying goodnight and sometimes reading them a bedtime story. The next day when we go to see them, they’ve gone. Once or twice there have been suspiciously similar looking snail shells (I don’t dare mark them with paint) broken open and eaten by the thrush’s hammerstone in the garden, “It’s okay Mammy, that can’t be my snaily, his shell was whole.” Was.

So I find myself hunting anywhere dark and damp, in the ivy, behind pots and it’s becoming harder and harder to find them.

But I think the snail obsession is good for her. She’s learnt how to handle them gently, the foods and situations they prefer in the garden. She’s learnt that if she sits in bright sunlight they won’t come out of their shells, but if she sits outside they will browse the food she provides for them. She doesn’t seem to have learnt that they don’t share her fondness for floral aesthetics, but she will compromise and offer them a range of leaves as well as flowers.

So now I just need to learn where they prefer to breed, and make sure that I have enough likely sites in the garden to boost their populations enough to keep the thrush and the children happy.

Sustainable Living in 2019

Happy New Year! Normally a New Year feels like a reason to celebrate, but I found myself feeling unsettled on New Year’s Eve this year, a bit unready to face the unknown that is 2019.

Personally, 2018 has been a good year, as we welcomed our new baby and moved into our new home but it’s impossible to ignore the seemingly global political turbulence and news of impending climate disaster. It’s hard to hope that all of this can be solved in 2019, and I feel so powerless in the face of it all.

I read something about setting single word goals recently, and while hope would seem to be a necessary one, it still feels a little passive. So for 2019 my target is sustainability, focusing on making changes to improve our family’s impact on the planet. This is a pretty broad brush and I’ll be actively seeking out opportunities to reduce our impact on the world but at present I see it falling into three main areas:

Food

According to Friends of the Earth, a third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the USA and China. We don’t waste much food in my house but I feel that we could always do better. At present, all uncooked vegetable waste is composted ready to go back into the garden, but I want to look into setting up a wormery to allow me to recycle cooked vegetables and baby food scraps. At the moment anything that can’t be composted is put into our council food bin and I understand that this is used to generate electricity. Last year, I managed to implement meat free Mondays in our house (though I vary the day to keep my partner on his toes… he’s very much focused on meat as the heart of every meal) and I want to extend this. It’s not as good as vegetarianism or veganism, I know, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Clothes

The fashion industry is a major polluter, and while the old stat about the fashion industry being the second biggest polluter after big oil has been challenged, the whole industry from crop growth to disposal of garments is a myriad of environmental and ethical problems. This year, I’ll be focusing on reducing our impact in terms of buying clothing by making use of my older daughter’s old clothes for the baby, making sure my clothes last as long as possible and buying ethical and second-hand clothes rather than fast fashion. This hopefully won’t be too much of a hardship as I’m not particularly image conscious and have always gotten a huge buzz from an eBay bargain, but it does mean that I’ll have to plan ahead to consider what I’m willing to buy second hand vs new for my oldest, and will also have to anticipate her seasonal needs in order to source quality second hand items. I’m already experimenting with visible mending thanks to an incident with my jeans earlier this week!

Zero Waste

I’m looking at ways to cut out waste, particularly plastic waste, from our house. Again, I don’t think that we are especially wasteful as a family but at the same time there are substitutions that I know we could make to improve our environmental impact. So far I’ve made reusable beeswax fabric to replace foil and baking paper for covering food (I’ve never trusted clingfilm), buying solid shampoo and conditioner to remove the plastic waste from the bathroom, experimenting with a mooncup after a failed attempt while I was at university (rushed, I don’t think I gave it a fair chance), and replacing our plastic toothbrushes with sustainable bamboo ones.

Greening

This is something I’m very passionate about, and it’s taking what I’ve been doing with my wildlife gardening to the next level. A lot of sustainability seems to be negative in terms of being about what you’re not going to do anymore, so I wanted to take an active approach to greening our environment by planting my wildlife garden (the committee on climate change says that tree planting needs to double by 2020, and I want to be doing my part in a small way), growing our own vegetables and filling our home with plants to help tackle indoor pollutants.

It’s all a bit amorphous at the moment, but I’m hoping to feel more and more inspired as I go, and also that the changes will feel more like natural progressions than big shifts. I’m hoping that writing about this here will help me find like-minded people and will keep me accountable as well, so please let me know if you have any helpful tips you think I should keep in mind while seeking a more sustainable life.

 

 

Pruning and crafting our way into Christmas

I’m sneaking five minutes of peace and quiet while the baby sleeps and my oldest is being read a bedtime story by her father who is just back from work. Monday is my long day with both of them (I work part-time when not on maternity leave so Monday is my traditional quality day with the little people) but it’s normally very relaxed and low key. The closer we get to Christmas, the wilder it seems to be with nap refusals, manic giggles and tears a bit too close to the surface.

The baby wakes, I go for bedtime cuddles… an hour later I’m able to carry on what I was doing. I love our days together but everything does seem a bit fragmented at times, and my to do list is only ever half complete,

I’ve been trying to bring a bit of calm to the Christmas frenzy by making lots of our own decorations this year. Our new garden is a mass of ivy which I left to flower for late season pollen and much of this now is covered in the luscious looking purple berries which will be a nutritious treat for the birds in the lean months. I’d like to plant more holly as we only had enough for a few sprigs to sit on top of photo frames, but we had an abundance of fir and conifers to provide the materials for a festive garland for the stairs. I went a little over the top foraging this in the back garden with the eldest on the weekend, so I’ll need to make some kind of table centre piece to use it all at some point.

 

As well as our stair case garland from the garden, I made a scented garland while my oldest was painting. She was quite critical of how long it took and pointed out that she’d produced quite a prolific body of work while I was stringing dried orange slices onto garden twine (she insisted that the limes were dried kiwi fruit). I really enjoyed making this and might try drying my own oranges next year, they are slightly sticky but smell so Christmassy with the cinnamon sticks. It’s not the most polished creation ever, but fills a gap above the fireplace where I want to get just the right mirror but have yet to find one that’s on budget.

I’m planning to make some pomanders to decorate the Christmas dinner table on Christmas Eve Eve.

 

Four Go Wild In Suburbia, an update

I started this blog with good intentions of keeping a diary of our journey making a wildlife garden, but it’s been over six months since I posted in 2018. That’s not to say that I haven’t been productive. So productive I haven’t had a chance to blog.

The Happy Dandelion and I spent a lovely, long Monday in the garden in April making bird nests from long grass and hunting for minibeasts before I realised that I hadn’t caught the stomach bug The Groundsman had suffered on the weekend, and that Happy Dandelion’s sister was on the way. Oops. She was very overdue, and I felt a bit silly that I didn’t realise that I was in labour given that I’d done the whole childbirth thing before, but she arrived big, safe and well.

During the long, hot summer, the pieces of the house move that we’ve been talking about for the longest time finally clicked into place and we moved into our new house which has a much bigger garden. I’ve learned a lot from working as many wildlife boosting habitats as I could into my tiny wildlife garden, and I was sorry to say goodbye to it, especially as it meant saying goodbye to my apple tree, raspberry patch and flowers.

The new garden is much bigger (so I guess I’ll have to change the name of this blog, it’s not a tiny wildlife garden anymore!) and I’m looking forward to making it a friendly place for my babies and for wildlife. I’ve already started a few little things to get started on the wildlife garden (little things are about as much as I can manage most days!) and I’m looking forward to sharing these with you.

Worm’s the Word

Last weekend, the under gardener conquered her phobia of earthworms. When I’ve held them wriggling on my hand in the past, she’s tended to whimper and back away, which is funny because she’s happy enough with spiders and flies, but I’ve kept showing them to her and explaining to her that they are my friends and help me with the garden.

Last weekend, I dug over the raised bed and veg patch, which I’ve effectively been using as a giant compost heap for years by digging through garden and vegetable waste, so it’s a worms paradise. I showed one of the bigger ones to the under gardener, and she did her usual whimper and back away so I popped it back on the border and covered it with some leaf litter before going back to digging.

The next thing I knew, I heard a shout of, “Mammy, I gots worm!” and she ran over dangling it in my face. All fear gone.

Now when we do our gardening, I keep a flower-pot on hand with a layer of soil so we can pop the worms that we find so that she can watch them (she sits giggling as they wriggle) and we can return them to their home when we’ve finished planting.

Mini-beasts for the win, it’s time to start building a bug hotel.

My Tiny Wildlife Garden

I’ve always taken a fairly wildlife friendly approach to gardening. That I don’t use chemicals in the garden is a given, but my inherent laziness also means that the grass is only cut infrequently, piles of twigs grow ever higher next to the compost heap because they are easier to store than dispose of, and dandelions and cleavers are tolerated as a budget friendly source of guinea pig food.

Since falling pregnant with my daughter, I have to admit that I’ve been even more lax than usual. I had a problematic pregnancy, so other than naturalizing some crocus bulbs in my lawn when I was about eight weeks pregnant, I mostly left the garden to it. When she arrived, I was mostly too tired to bother.

Nearly two years later though, I want to make sure that the garden is an eco-friendly, wildlife friendly place for her to play. She loves being outdoors and joining in with whatever I’m doing in the garden so I want to create a toddler-safe nature haven that she can enjoy, somewhere perfect for watching bees, birds and butterflies, studying frogs, newts and beetles while learning to grow fruit and vegetables, just like I did with my father and grandparents.

We’re currently living in a two up, two down terrace, and looking to move to somewhere bigger so that a little girl can run around without coming into contact with a wall too quickly, so my current plans to rewild suburbia are on hold in as much as I’m aware that I’ll need to balance the need to create habitats and provide wildlife friendly sources of food with an aesthetic that will appeal to a wide range of buyers- so I’m thinking cottage garden lite with a decent patch of lawn.

This blog will be a place to keep track of our progress and the species that visit us.