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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Day 3 - From Stay-at-Home-Mum to Work-at-Home-Mum - Diary of a transition

Day 3
Wednesdays and Thursdays (Tuesdays and Thursdays after Christmas) Bug goes to pre-school, so from 9.15 ish to 2.45 ish I have the day to myself.  I do get quite a bit of some work done in that time, but I also take the opportunity to get the grocery shopping done without having to referee two children, and to plough up and down the local swimming pool, something I really missed when I always had a couple of small armband-wearing cling-ons attached.  So here's how today went:

Mum stuff
Dropped the children off at school and pre-school and picked them up again.
Did a load of ironing, washed another load and hung it to dry.
Went to do the grocery shopping, realised that I'd left my Christmas coupons at home (by the back door, ready to take!), so just did a small shop and will go back tomorrow.
Wrapped Christmas gifts for teachers and pre-school staff.
Went for a short bike ride with the dog loping along next to me.
Made a birthday card for nephew and wrapped his present ready to post in the morning.
Started writing Christmas cards

Scout stuff
Hubby and I met with the District Explorer Scout Commissioner and Explorer Scout Administrator to tease out issues with Explorer Scouting in the District, think about a way forward and see where we could offer to help.
Work stuff
Continued to paint the next ten wooden garden decoration shapes.  They'll be ready for their first coat of varnish in the morning.
Wrote a blog post.
Posted a sold item.

Just for me!
45 minutes doing lengths of the local pool

Does your vote count?

Do you vote in elections?  Do you want to have a say in who is running the country, or are you one of the many citizens who have become disaffected and disengaged from our political system?  

What's the point in voting when it doesn't make any difference?

The problem is, that our electoral system in the UK ... the birthplace of democracy... is unfair and unrepresentative, and frankly undemocratic.  Here's why your vote doesn't count in our current First Past the Post system:

The person with the most votes wins, even if most people didn't vote for them.  Here's an example: 32% vote for Candidate A, 28% vote for Candidate B, 25% vote for Candidate C and 15% vote for Candidates D, E and F.  Candidate A wins the seat, even though 68% of the voters didn't choose him/her.

Lets say that this pattern of voting was repeated across the country, with some variation between Parties A and B.  Party C has 25% of the vote across the country, but they have no representatives in Parliament.  None at all.  So what happens?  People don't bother voting for Party C or D or E or F, even if they would like to see them in Parliament, there's no chance that they can win, so it would be a wasted vote, better instead just to vote for either Party A or B, whichever they dislike the least.

Safe seats are those where the majority of voters ALWAYS vote for a particular party.  Voters who would rather see a different Candidate win don't even bother turning up, because there vote is worthless.  The party who always wins that constituency no longer make any real effort to connect with people there because they will win anyway.

This leads to two party politics.  The Government of the country swings from one of the two major parties to the other, and then back again.  It means that investment and key policies in key services like education and health are swinging on a pendulum, from one side to another.  In the last few years, both the major parties have converged on the middle ground with many of their policies, which has allowed a third and now a fourth party (who are further to the left or right) to gain some ground, but in order to do that, these parties have to focus on a few constituencies to get their foot in the door.

Didn't we have a referendum on electoral reform?
We did.  However, the major parties in the UK are in no hurry to introduce real electoral reform, because the current system favours them.  Why would they change a system which works for them, even if it isn't fair and doesn't work for smaller parties and many voters?  The system that was proposed, the Alternative Vote, was an improvement on the current system.  The voter ranks the candidates in order of preference.  If a candidate gets more than half of the first preference votes, then they win.  If not, then second choice votes are added on.  It is more complicated than the current system, and wasn't explained very well.  Many people felt that it didn't go far enough, but it was all that was on the table.

What would be better?
The Single Transferable Vote would be a much fairer way of selecting members of Parliament, and is currently used to select Members of the European Parliament.  In this system the constituencies are larger, and would elect a group of representatives.  Each party puts forward a list of candidates for each constituency.  The voter puts all the candidates in order of preference.  The candidates are selected based on the number of votes that they have, but where a first choice candidate will definitely not be elected, then the voter's second choice gets the vote instead.  You end up with a group of representatives that actually represent your constituency.  It's a little more complicated, but surely we can assume that if its explained to them, then the voters will have enough intelligence to get the hang of it.  

I would certainly rather have a system that's more complicated, than one which isn't fair, and where my vote for the party of my choice is worthless

What electoral system would you like to see in the UK? 

For more information, check out the Electoral Reform Society website, campaigning for fairer and more democratic elections.

Day 2 - From Stay-at-Home-Mum to Work-at-Home-Mum - Diary of a Transition

Day 2
I actually feel as though I've got quite a lot done today.

Mum stuff
took C to school
washed and hung a load of laundry
tidied, hoovered and mopped throughout house
cleaned bathrooms
sorted the Lego and helped children tidy bedrooms
changed bedding (just one bed)
emptied rubbish
one dog walk and one 40 minute run with dog
made pizza from scratch
went to library
upcycled a t-shirt into a Christmas jumper for Bug (this took a couple of hours this evening, which is why it's now gone midnight and I've not yet gone to bed)
updated household finances

Work stuff
I've done some painting on my garden decoration shapes, 
updated my business finances
updated stock inventory
prepared an item (hat) for mailing in the morning
written a blog post

Household Paperwork Organisation Made Easy


It's easy to get overwhelmed by piles of paperwork.  Bills and official papers arrive through the letterbox, they get piled up on the kitchen counter or desk.  You might make an attempt at filing them with box files or a filing cabinet, but unless the filing system is easily accessible and easy to operate, the papers are more likely to stay in a heap on the dining table, to be frantically searched for when required.

This system is easy and foolproof.

Set aside a lever-arch file and a large pack of punched poly-pockets.  

Any piece of official documentation that comes into the house goes into the file.  Each new subject gets a new poly-pocket, organised alphabetically.  E.g. supermarket loyalty card paperwork, doctor surgery paperwork, pet insurance, car insurance, pension, premium bonds... literally anything. 

Some items you'll only get one piece of paper per year (your membership renewal paperwork for the Youth Hostel Association for example), others will send you stacks of paper - your bank statements, credit card statements for example.  

You might stretch to two or even three lever arch files, depending on how complicated your life is.  Hubby organises most of the insurances and the bank statements and mortgages, and he has his own filing system.  Mine takes up two lever arch files. 

Every couple of months, go through one of your files and just discard and shred anything that's out of date (more than a year for some things, more than three or five years for financial items).  If you move house it's very easy to just go through the file, one pocket at a time, and inform them of your change of address.

When mail arrives, deal with it if required, and then just file it in the appropriate poly-pocket, only one file required!  I've been using this system successfully for several years now.  It means that I can easily lay my hands on any important paperwork.

How do you organise your household paperwork?

Monday, 15 December 2014

Day 1 - From Stay-At-Home-Mum to Work-At-Home-Mum - diary of a transition


I'm in the process of trying to make the transition from being a Stay-at-Home-Mum to my two gorgeous children, to being a Work-at-home-mum.  Having spent more than five years at home, I'm yearning to work.  Not just for the money, though that would certainly come in handy and make me feel as though I'm contributing a bit more.  It's more that, while I love being a mummy, I do feel that I have a bit more to offer the world, especially now that C is at school and Bug is approaching that milestone too.  I've thought about going back to Primary School Teaching, but I've spent a few years without a boss now (don't tell Hubby!), and I think I'd prefer to keep it that way.  In addition, I've other, creative urges that I want to experiment with, writing and crafting.  I'd like to try being a WAHM, developing my own portfolio career/business with the flexibility to be at home with the children on the holidays, before and after school and if they are sick.  If it doesn't work out, then maybe I'll reconsider, and get back to the interactive whiteboard and teaching.

I've set myself some increasing targets for each month, which will hopefully lead to some increasing income too.  These include writing blog posts, in the long run I'd like to be able to do some sponsored posts and get some small income from Google adsense; writing articles for i-writer; writing and submitting magazine articles; completing and submitting a couple of my books; making more items to sell, and selling them using etsy, folksy and craft fairs. 

The trouble is, that I sometimes get to the end of the day and don't feel as though I've achieved anything.  If I'm honest though, these aren't days where nothing has been achieved, these are just the days when being a stay-at-home-mum, trumps being a work-at-home-mum.  I'm actually doing plenty, it's just that none of it is progress towards my work goals.  So I thought I'd keep this diary of my transition from one to the other, in the hope that seeing how I get on might help other mums to decide whether or not they can do it too, and also to help me maintain my sanity, by reminding me that the mum bit of WAHM is just as important as the work bit.

Today, for example, I achieved no work at all.  Absolutely none.  Here's what I did achieve: did a load of ironing; took C to school; popped to B&Q to get some varnish for Garden shapes; collected dry-cleaning; prepared stuff for Beaver Scout Christmas party while simultaneously supervising Bug as she painted stars and cut up bits of card; had lunch with Bug and made the dinner ready for reheating later; settled Bug for a nap...she refused to settle without me cuddling in with her...so that was two hours of snoozing! Collected C from school and drove 40 minutes to Fownhope to run the Beaver Scout Christmas Party (stand-in Beaver Leader!), then 40 minutes back; the kids had eaten at the party, so they got ready for bed and settled down; ate dinner with Hubby; walked the dog.  And that's the sum of my day!  Will definitely get some work done tomorrow.  I've a load of garden decoration shapes to finish painting for a start.  Watch this space to see how I get on.  Future SAHM-WAHM posts will be shorter, I just wanted to introduce it this first time.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

10 great ideas for outdoor creative play spaces

Creative play is super important in the development of young people.  It encourages problem solving and creative thinking which are of paramount importance in adult life.  Being outdoors, and able to connect with the world around them is also very important.

I was delighted with the pre-school that my children attended in Scotland.  They were in the process of redesigning their outdoor space for year-round use.  The space now included lots of creative scope, loose parts, mud and water set out in a purposeful and inviting way.  The space was just asking to be played in, and the children loved it.

Here then, are ten brilliant outdoor creative play spaces for your delectation and inspiration:
1) From letthechildrenplay.net

Mud kitchen1
2) from abcdoes.com











TeePee in Virtues Garden
3) Living teepee from embracevirtues.com 
Creating an Outdoor Learning Space (2)
4) outdoor small world play from Suzyhomeschooler.com
outdoor playhouse
5) a playhouse from handmadecharlotte.com 


6) outdoor puppet theatre from mom4real.com
Music Station Outdoors made from Recycled Materials
7) Recycled outdoor music station from mynearestanddearest.com
8) water play wall from ei-zeroseis.blogspot.co.uk

9) my own picture.  These poetry stones were at the National Trust Centre in Aberdaron
Picture
10) Outdoor art area from raisinpeanuts.com



1) From letthechildrenplay.net - just set out some natural loose parts, and let the children's imaginations do the rest.

2) From abcdoes.com.  A mud kitchen doesn't have to be complicated, and it can get messy... but it encourages imaginative and tactile creative play.

3)  This living teepee from embracevirtues.com is gorgeous with a combination of beans, sweetpeas and nasturtiums scrambling all over, some painted stepping stones and some woodchips to sit on.  What a great place to play!

4)  Small world play doesn't have to be indoors, as this picture from Suzyhomeschooler.com illustrates.  Grass, shrubs and sand provide everything you could need for dinosaurs, lions and elephants etc.  Road ways and railways can weave around the garden, concrete steps become car parks.  Okay, so you may lose the odd dinosaur or car, but that's just treasure to discover on another occasion!

5) Playhouses come in many shapes and sizes.  If you buy one off the shelf that's fine, but allowing the kids to use their creativity and customise it means it has a meaningful place in their play, and building your own, like this one from handmadecharlotte.com, is even better.

6) I adore this outdoor puppet theatre made from an old pallet at mom4real.com.

7) Recycled outdoor music station from mynearestanddearest.com.

8) I love this water play wall from ei-zeroseis.blogspot.co.uk.  There are some other ideas on their site too, to encourage exploring with water.  I also think it's important to have some standing water to play with and explore floating and sinking, as well as pouring and flow.

9) Poetry stones are a great idea.  You basically write a whole load of interesting words on pebbles, and leave them to the children to arrange as they see fit.

10) This outdoor art area from raisingpeanuts.com is a lovely idea.  Any situation where art materials are available will encourage children to use them creatively.  Whether it's a pot of chalks for drawing on paving slabs and fences; paper and pens; weaving materials; flower press or anything else.

I'm keen to include as many of these ideas as possible in the garden when we buy our next house (hopefully in the next few months!)...

What creative outdoor space ideas do you have?  Please share in the comments section.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Family Activities - Orienteering


What could be better than spending time outside with your family, building new skills and getting active?  Whatever the weather, a family activity will bring you together, give you a sense of purpose, develop skills, a sense of togetherness, trust and teamwork and increase your level of activity.  Follow up with a cake-stop at a cafe and you've got everything you could want to make a perfect weekend activity.  Today we're going to look at Orienteering as a great family activity, and in the future we'll look at Geocache, climbing, cycling, hiking, canoeing and park runs.  If you can offer any other activities that are suitable for the whole family to do together, then please add them in the comments, I'd be delighted to include them.

What is orienteering?
Orienteering is an outdoor adventure sport.  You have a map, on which are marked topographical and other features, as well as a start, finish and a numbered series of controls.  You have to walk or run around the course, navigating from one point to the next, and choosing the best route.  There are many permanent orienteering courses set up around the country in parks and woodlands, so you can do it yourself, but the best way to get involved is to attend an orienteering event.  Courses are in urban parks, woodlands and open countryside and are graded by length and difficulty.  The shorter and easier courses are ideal for a family to tackle, with navigation being mostly on linear features such as paths, walls and streams.

If you find that you enjoy orienteering you can join a local club, which offer support progressing on to more challenging routes, and training in the skills of navigation and route finding.

You don't need any specialised equipment to enjoy orienteering.  You wear comfortable clothes and sensible footwear (walking boots, or trainers for those who find they travel faster), waterproofs/warm jackets if the weather demands it, a drink and a snack.  More challenging courses will require a compass and the knowledge to use it, but beginners courses probably won't.  As you travel around the course you check into each control with an electronic card (special USB stick), which records the order you've done each control and your time.  These come in at a minimum of £30, but I believe that you can hire them at an event.

If you're also interested in other outdoor activities as the kids get older, you'll be interested to know that there are also ski or mountain bike orienteering events!

Why do orienteering?
It's fun, you'll enjoy stimulating mental challenges and develop lifelong skills such as navigation.  You'll develop your confidence and team-skills and enjoy some great physical activity.

Where to find out more?
British Orienteering is the National Governing Body in the UK.  Their website is very comprehensive and includes a list of permanent courses and a searchable calendar of events.
Orienteering USA is the National Governing Body in the USA.  They also have a comprehensive website.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Manners on public transport - who gives way to who?

I've been intrigued by the discussions about the Doug Paulley case in the UK news in the last few weeks.

In summary, Doug Paulley, in a wheelchair, wanted to board a bus with a designated wheelchair space.  A lady had parked her pram in the wheelchair space, and the baby was asleep.  The driver asked the lady to move the pram to allow the wheelchair user on to the bus, and she refused.  Mr Paulley sued the bus company for discriminating against wheelchair users, and won.  The bus company appealed, and won.  Bus companies are not legally obliged to move non-disabled people from wheelchair spaces.
Doug Paulley
Here's the story on the BBC news page
There was also hot debate about it on the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2, and on their Facebook page here.

I just wonder where common decency and manners have gone, and how this ever ended up in the court in the first place.  

Doesn't common decency dictate that in any situation you give priority to somebody with a greater need than your own.  

I'm a parent with two small children.  Wherever we are, whether on the "priority seats" on the bus, or indeed any seat at a bus stop, on a bus, on the underground or wherever, I'm teaching my children that if somebody comes along who looks as though they need the seat more than we do, we shift.  That might be somebody with a disability, an elderly person, a mum with a baby or a pregnant person.  If they need the seat - they get the seat.  Equally, the other day we were queuing for the toilets at an event.  My three year old daughter wasn't desperate, but the four year old behind us in the queue clearly was, so we let her go first.  Isn't that just good manners?  Yes, we run the risk of grunted displeasure if the person we're offering a seat to doesn't consider themselves frail enough, or feels that we are pitying them in some way, but this is far outweighed by the grateful smiles from those who really do appreciate the seat and the gesture.

In this situation, it perhaps wasn't clear who had the greater need.  I've heard many arguments that the lady should have lifted the baby out and folded the buggy.  Some buggies really aren't that easy to fold - especially single handed, with a sleeping baby in one arm and when the buggy was perhaps well loaded with shopping and a change bag!  Either the lady with the sleeping baby was going to have to get off and wait for the next bus, or the man in the wheelchair was going to have to wait for the next bus.  One of them was going to be inconvenienced, and who knows how long the wait for the next bus could have been (this was Yorkshire, not London!)?  It seems to me that both parties in this situation had a need for that space on the bus, and rather than it going to court, one of them should have just accepted that in this situation there wasn't room for both of them, and backed down... isn't that what would have happened had there already been a wheelchair user in the space?  I completely understand that wheelchair users face many barriers all the time, and that many people do abuse the facilities that have been provided for disabled access, but sometimes other groups of people also face barriers, and are very grateful for those same facilities.  

Could some simple manners and communication not have resolved this more amicably?  Mothers with babies and disabled people both have accessibility needs, and should work together to lobby for better facilities and easier access for all, rather than arguing over the facilities that have been provided.

As a side note, I would also recommend baby-wearing to any mums-on-the-go.  If you wear your baby in a sling, then you can carry your shopping just like anybody else, and you won't have any issue using any public transport.  Plus you get a sneaky cuddle while you shop!  Most mums have a choice about whether they use a pram or pushchair, and whether they get one that folds easily or not.  Wheelchair users don't have the luxury of that choice.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Are Hedgerows the real corridors of power? - Biodiversity in decline

As residents of our country and our planet I believe that we are custodians, and that we have a duty to pass on to the next generation a world in a better state than when we inherited it.  That means conserving our biodiversity, and conserving the energy fuel reserves.

I wonder then, why our politicians, who are supposed to be our leaders, spend so much time bickering about whether Ed Miliband sounds too nasal, or whether or not Nick and David are getting on.  Surely they should be focused on making our country a better place in their short term of massive influence.



Why is biodiversity important?
Biodiveristy is the full range of species, both plant and animal, living within a habitat.  Every habitat is enormously complex, with every species impacting on every single other species.  Everything is interdependent.  A loss of one species in a habitat can have unforeseen consequences for many other species.  This is important for us as humans because greater biodiversity of plant species leads to a wider variety of crops being grown.  The interdependence of life means that the greater the biodiversity, the more sustainable the system is.  A healthy, biodiverse ecosystem is better placed to recover from natural disasters and setbacks.

What's happening to biodiversity in our country?
According to a report by Natural England in 2010 over 500 species of animals and plants have become extinct in England since 1800, with a further 943 species at precariously low levels.  Biodiversity loss is patchy, in some counties one plant species is becoming extinct every two years.  The main cause seems to be intensification of agriculture, with overuse of pesticides and fertilisers, and ploughing of grasslands

Subsidies for farmers to support biodiversity... changes?
It's interesting to note that last year's reforms of the EU farm subsidy policy (the CAP - Common Agricultural Policy) watered down environmental requirements that farmers needed to meet, such as leaving land fallow, growing at least three different crops and maintaining pasture land, all of which would have an impact on biodiversity, were watered down.

What about hedges?
Hedgerows make a massive impact on biodiversity.  They act as corridors for our wildlife to travel between territories, to move safely around our countryside.  They provide food and shelter.  Where hedgerows are removed, wildlife has less shelter and less sustenance, becomes more isolated and vulnerable, and biodiversity is reduced.

Protection of hedgerows is actually enshrined in law, with many hedgerows (not garden hedges) being designated "important" (see Hedgerows Regulations 1997) if they are over 30 years old and meet certain other criteria.

It's also good to see an organisation called Hedgelink working with the government (through Defra) to help educate and support people in maintaining and growing new hedges as part of a Biodiversity Action Plan.

But there's much, much more that can and should be done to protect the valuable biodiversity of our little island.  These discussions should be front and centre of political discourse alongside the economy, after all, we're talking about the future sustainability of our countryside and our agriculture.

So why aren't these hedgerows, these corridors of power, which can have so much impact on the wildlife in our country... why aren't these discussions featuring in key debates in the run up to next year's election?

Friday, 28 November 2014

12 tips for natural cleaning


I love my natural cleaning products.  I have nagging concerns about the chemicals that we rinse into our watercourses, plus I don't know what's in a lot of cleaning products.  Since a combination of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), lemons and white vinegar do such a great job of household cleaning, why would you want to buy and use unknown chemicals?  Here are twelve great ways to use these simple ingredients:
5 Litre White Vinegar

  • Use bicarbonate of soda to clean your oven.  Make a paste of bicarbonate of soda and water, and rub it over the inside of the oven.  Leave it overnight, and then clean off with a damp cloth the next morning.  For more stubborn burnt on grease sprinkle some bicarb of soda or use the paste on the floor of the oven, turn the oven on for a while and leave to cool down before wiping clean.
  • Bicarbonate of soda to clean the bath.  For stubborn scum lines around the bath, scum marks in the shower or sink scrub with a bicarb of soda paste using an old toothbrush or nail brush.  This paste and method can be used to clean all sorts of areas, including those crevices around the base of taps.
  • White vinegar for everything!  Make a solution of half and half white vinegar and water.  This can be used to clean everything around the house.  You can put it in a spray bottle for cleaning surfaces and windows, or use as a solution in a bucket for cleaning floors, tiles etc.  The vinegar smell soon disappears once the vinegar dries.  If you really don't like the vinegar smell then you can chop some lemon skins and drop them into the solution to infuse for a week or two before using.
  • Plugholes - if your drains are getting a bit stinky, just throw some bicarb of soda down the plughole and follow it with some white vinegar.  This is the same mixture that school kids use to make their science project volcanoes.  The eruption in your plughole will clean out all the gunk and then you just rinse it down.
  • White vinegar to rinse washing machine and dishwasher.  Pop a couple of cups of white vinegar in the washing machine or dishwasher and run on the hottest setting for an occasional rinse.  It will clear out any musty smells and rinse out any hard water build up.
  • Dab white vinegar on tomato based stains and then get them in the washing machine immediately.
  • Sprinkle some bicarb of soda in the bottom of your kitchen bin to keep odours at bay.
  • Pop a cup of bicarbonate of soda down your toilet pan and leave for an hour.  Put a cup of white vinegar down and allow to react for five minutes, then flush to leave your toilet sparkling.
  • There's no denying that deep fat fryers are a nightmare to clean regardless of your method.  The most effective that I've found is to empty out the oil, put in a mix of white vinegar and water and switch on, allow to boil for at least ten minutes, then let the vinegary steam cool down before scrubbing.
  • Rubbing white vinegar or lemon wedges on taps and shower heads and then rinsing removes any smears, smudges and hard water build up.
  • One of my favourites is a mix of two parts olive oil to one of white vinegar makes a great cleaner and polish for wooden floors.  Sweep and wipe the floor first, then rub in the oil/vinegar mix, and wipe residue off with a dry cloth.
  • Finally, get rid of those smells in the microwave with a few slices of lemon in a bowl of water.  Heat on full power for a couple of minutes.
Bicarb of Soda (2kg, 3kg, 5kg & 25kg)
If you're using white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda for all your household cleaning as recommended here, then the 500ml bottles of white vinegar and pots of bicarb of soda (for baking) will soon get used up and cost quite a bit.  You can get hold of both in bulk, as well as lots of other natural cleaning ingredients and instructions how to use them on Summer Naturals.  (I'm in no way affiliated or gaining from this link to Summer Naturals, but having found their site, I will be buying my natural cleaning products from them).

What cleaning products do you use, and how do you decide?

Incidentally, I do keep some conventional cleaning products in my cupboard, because Hubby is not quite convinced by my bicarb of soda and vinegar, and when he cleans, he likes to use "proper" cleaning products.