Friday, 29 June 2012

Stop Indulging Your Dark Side

There are MANY great things about the internet. Without it I couldn’t work from home. I wouldn’t be able to listen to music all day via you-tube or spotify. I couldn’t compare prices on car insurance or shop without having to leave the house. I couldn't easily reserve a copy of the fourth Harry Potter audiobook from the library or find out whether hypnotherapy can be successful in treating PMT. You wouldn’t be reading this.

Lately it’s dawned on me that the internet is both a wonderful tool for discovering things but there is absolutely no limit to what I can discover, positive and negative. This is not about stumbling across disturbing images when googling Top Cat. Neither is it a hand-wringing piece about what Prima and Secundus might happen across. Our computer is in our living room; whoever uses it is within sight of an adult, and filters are in place. This is about my own sense of curiosity and where it leads me.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

De-cluttering Tupperware: The Ultimate Challenge

Image : Sainsburys
With just half an hour of de-cluttering on my Confident Mom Weekly Household Planner, I was spoilt for choice. What to tackle first? The Cupboard Under the Stairs? (yes, this should be a horror movie). The Cupboard Under the Sink? Tempting. However, I decided to go for the task that I least wanted to do. My aversion to it seemed to be an indicator that it really did need de-cluttering.

Yes. The Tupperware cupboard.

Every time you open it, there is a sound like the percussion section of the Birmingham Philharmonic. It is the sound of cascading plastic. Cascading plastic that doesn’t have a lid.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Mumtopia supports women in business #3 : PC Harmony

I love being able to work from home. Not only does it mean we can get by with just one car, (my daily commute is just a few metres), and fit round the children’s school day, I don’t have to spend any money on office wear or child-care, and I never wear heels. All I need is coffee, my laptop, and access to the internet.

This can be incredibly liberating; I know that I could work, wherever I lived, and regardless of where my husband’s business takes him. However, it also means I am utterly dependent on my laptop.

As computers play a greater part in everyone’s lives, our reliance on them grows. Many of us are stuck in the awful position of slightly fearing and disliking our computers and yet needing to use them on a day-to-day basis, for online shopping, work, information and entertainment. Whilst we’re unlikely to come across the ubiquitous “syntax error” of the 1980s, the minute an unexpected message flashes up on the screen, or the computer fails to do what we want, panic can set in.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

When Secundus followed Daddy

Saturday morning. Already, readers, you know what that's like in our house. This time was a little different - the kids didn't wake up til 8.15, and we had croissants for breakfast. Perhaps that lulled us into a false sense of security.

I was even successful in convincing the children that we would indeed attend the Grand Re-Opening of our Community Library (recently closed down due to cut backs and now staffed by wonderful volunteers). Not only would there be cream teas, we would get to see the Mayor. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Menu planning for unenthusiastic cooks

"Menu planning? Huh. Tie me to the kitchen sink while you're at it, why don't you?" was my initial reaction when I read about the concept of menu planning. It sounded like a domestic trap, something out of the 50s. Meanwhile, I would get to 4.15pm on a regular basis and not have a clue what I was going to cook for tea. 

Meal preparation and cooking is a demanding task, because it is such a balancing act. The challenge of striking the right balance between fast food and three hours slaving over the stove, between cordon bleu and cordon bleugghgh (at least as far as the children are concerned), all the while having to stick to a budget, a time constraint, my family's general suspicion of any new dish I concoct, and the fact that there's a only a tin of pears in syrup and a box of Maltesers in the cupboard, does nothing to increase my enthusiasm for culinary duties.   

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Our Top Ten Read Aloud Books

I got this idea from Homeschool Atheist Momma who guest-blogged for me a short while back. Both of us are inspired to join in with the Ten Weeks of Top Ten Lists but will be doing it our own ways. For a start, I don't homeschool so I can hardly write a list of the following, however long you give me to do it: 

Week 1 - Top 10 favorite websites to use for homeschooling
Week 2 - Your top 10 must have Items
Week 3 – 10 reasons my kids like being homeschooled
Week 4 – Top 10 favorite read alouds
Week 5 – 10 reasons why you chose your homeschooling method
Week 6 - The top 10 questions people ask you
Week 7 – 10 pieces of advice you would give to a new homeschooler
Week 8 – 10 reasons I am excited about this new school year
Week 9 - 10 totally random things on your mind
Week 10 – 10 things about me that you should know

What I am starting with, then is our family's Top 10 favourite read alouds. I'd love to know if your favourite children's books are on this list - leave me a comment! In no particular order, here are our recommendations:

Monday, 18 June 2012

When Secundus made me a card

Our Saturday mornings are just as hectic as weekday mornings, with the kids waking up at 7.30 as usual and then being astonished that the King and I would like a lie-in. Our carefully constructed week-morning routine dissolves as we end up letting the kids watch back-to-back Shaun the Sheep in their dressing gowns whilst eating cereal and toast, in the hope of gaining a little more piece and quiet.

It never works and this Saturday morning was particularly traumatic. We'd had a busy week. The King was in a bad mood because he'd bought The Times especially because a piece of furniture he'd made was going to be featured in one of the articles, and it was nowhere to be seen (we eventually found out he'd got the day wrong, it was in on Friday's edition, not Saturday's). The weather was fifty shades of grey with rain coming down. The King suddenly decided he would take Prima and Secundus to the kids club at our local cinema, which meant that after 20 minutes more play upstairs it would be time to get dressed. 

Unlike Prima, Secundus did not want play on his own or get dressed. To show this, he opened the kitchen door, slammed it, opened it, slammed it. Telling him this was rude and dangerous (a killer combination if ever I heard one) I stated he would have to go to his room if he did it again. He stamped upstairs.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Rubbish Robots

A lot of the craft projects I've attempted with my children in the past have required strict adherence to instructions, huge amounts of craft materials or hours waiting for papier mache to dry. Several of them look fantastic in the book but our effort is demotivatingly mediocre by comparison.

Photo : Alison Bayne
Often, craft books go into too much detail, aiming for an outcome that would satisfy an artistic adult rather than the toddler they are supposedly designed for. I frequently catch myself browsing through Firefighter Things to Make and Do (not yet published but surely it should be!) and knowing I'll never get round to accumulating the resources, time or skills to create something so spectacular with my children.

So, let me show you what passes for a craft project in my household. Ideally it will involve quite a lot of cardboard since, for some reason, I have adopted my mother's habit of keeping a vast amount of flattened-out cereal boxes under our bread bin. It will require an amount of decoration but not so much that all the pleasure goes out of the project because it needs to be covered with blank paper and painted. 

Minimum mess is a bonus, as is maximum child involvement. Frustration levels will be low for all involved, as will the overall cost. Finally, the end result will be sturdy enough not to require patching up and mending by Mummy every two hours. This is the kind of thing I suggest you and your children aim for, not a two-storey cottage complete with colour-co-ordinated bunting and working wishing well.

Our robot project took less than an hour. You will need a cereal packet, two cardboard tubes (for the arms), a toothpaste box cut into two (for the legs), a piece of paper glued on for the face and buttons for the control buttons. I never have strong enough glue so I ended up using quite a lot of sellotape. You can adapt this any way you like, there is no right way of doing it, and who really cares what it looks like?

The best bit was later on when we had cleared up all the scraps of cardboard and felt-tipped pens. I was out of sight, having just taken the photograph above, when I heard Secundus whisper "I love you" to his new robot. I hope your children will love their rubbish robots too! 

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Kids and Coughs

Whether your child is at pre-school or primary school, the chances are that he or she will be picking up a lot of coughs and colds during the academic year. Children this age usually have between three and eight coughs per year, which can be a real drain on the child themselves and the family as a whole. Night-time coughing can be distressing for the child and interrupt sleep for everyone, resulting in tiredness on top of the already unpleasant cough or cold symptoms.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Washday blues : dry the rain

Image : Nigel's Eco Store
I’ve just heard that rain in the UK is forecast to carry on throughout June, and while this poses mums with all sorts of dilemmas about keeping the kids occupied and staying cheery, it also presents us with the problem of how and where to dry clothes when it is raining outside. As Nigel's Eco Store MD Nigel Berman says “Where to dry clothes when it's raining outside is a dilemma for 55% of UK households who don't own a tumble dryer, and for those that do, it's expensive to use it all the time. Finding resourceful ways to dry clothes will use less energy, save money and get your clothes dryer faster.”

Mums don’t want to put the heating on just to dry clothes: it's June, and it's expensive to heat the whole house just for clothes (some of us feel guilty about turning the heating on if we are home alone!). Although 45% of us own one, tumble dryers are one of the most energy hungry appliances in the home* , using about four times as much energy as a washing machine, so if you are watching your household budget, you’ll want a cheaper alternative. Another problem is that when the air is damp, clothes can take ages to dry on indoor clothes drying racks, or if hung over radiators and doors, and if they take too long to dry, they get that awful musty smell.

Here are eight ways to dry your clothes:
1.      Use a fan to move the air around a clothes drying rack – clothes can dry in as little as a few hours instead of a few days
2.      A dehumidifier near the clothes rack helps. A dehumidifier uses electrical power to drive its compressor but it'll use less energy than heating devices. Dehumidifers use about 750watts on average, which costs about 36p for 4 hours.
3.      An extra spin cycle on your washing machine can reduce drying time considerably by squeezing out an extra few drops of water from your washing
4.      Put your clothes drying rack outside - if it rains you just have to get that inside sharpish rather than lots of unpegging from a washing line!
5.      Thermostatic valves on radiators can isolate most of the central heating system leaving just the needed radiator on.
6.      If you need one, buy a low energy tumble dryer – and make sure it has an automatic drying sensor function so it doesn't over-dry clothes, but switches off when it senses the moisture level is low.
7.      Invest in a Sheila Maid clothes drying rack (shown above). They can carry 8kg of laundry, hoisted out of the way by the ceiling and clothes dry faster on one because they're in the warmest part of the room, even when the heating's not on (because warm air rises). They've been part of British households for over 100 years, and are a great alternative to a tumble dryer, or drying clothes on radiators or floor-level drying racks. I absolutely swear by mine; we haven’t used our tumble drier in months. 
8.      If you do use a tumble drier, use Dry Cubes – they'll save up to 30% on drying time and cost by distributing the heat better in the drier.
* Source Energy Saving Trust

Monday, 11 June 2012

Relearn sewing and recycle your clothes

When I went to school, in the late 1980s, Cookery had been transformed into Domestic Science and Sewing was known as Textiles. Unfortunately, this still didn’t make me learn very much in lessons. Our teacher in Domestic Science was absolutely terrifying and we spent the whole time rigid with fear, too busy concentrating on Not Blunting the Knives to absorb anything. Our Textiles teacher was far more approachable but I still seemed to spend most of the hour-long lesson trying to thread the sewing machine. The end result was a red cushion cover sporting the Bros logo. Yes. I was cool.

Imagine my surprise then, a couple of years ago, when I noticed a sewing machine on offer for free on my local freecycle group and found myself actually wanting it. I was going through a bit of an Earth Mother phase at the time and was determined to make my children’s clothes. I was lucky enough to get the Riccar sewing machine and, since I had invested no money in it, I was free to experiment and learn by trial and error. I soon realised that this would get me nowhere and enrolled on a year-long dressmaking class at my nearest college. 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Are you a Method lover?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about housework it’s that the “little and often” approach is most successful. Breaking it down into do-able tasks on a daily basis is far more effective than a mammoth attic to cellar clean up when the mess becomes unbearable. However, I do find it difficult to motivate myself on occasion, which is where the Confident Mom Weekly Household Planner comes into play.

Having a daily tick-list to refer to makes me more likely to attempt the household chores but something else that helps is products that actually work. I have utterly failed, for example, to spray the shower down after it’s been used, even though I know a spray a day keeps the scrubbing at bay. This is partly because I am a miser and hate spending money on cleaning products so I tend to buy the cheapest versions. Unfortunately, these do not always work that well. In addition, if I’ve just got out of the shower and am feeling refreshed and pampered (on a good day), the last thing I want to do is spray a load of chemicals into the steamy atmosphere for the whole family to breathe in. 

Being a frugalist, I have resorted to making my own shower cleaning spray, using a vinegar solution and a spray bottle, but because this results in a chip shop odour, I find I am loathe to actually use it on a day-to-day basis.

The Self Sufficient HomeAcreIt was good to discover that Method is putting the hurt on dirt with its new line of non-toxic cleaners, among them a daily shower cleaner. Even after you’ve left the shower, lactic acid and corn-starch-derived glucoside (science bit) are busy dissolving and preventing soap scum and lime deposits, and you don’t have to go back and rinse.

Method lovers include Brad Pitt, Stella McCartney, Erin O'Connor and Leonardo Di Caprio. Because it’s a plant-based product in a bottle made from 100% recycled plastic I don’t have to feel guilty when I use it. And forget the vinegar aroma, this has a ylang ylang fragrance which is far more appealing. At last, a shower spray I can actually see myself using. And if it’s good enough for Brad Pitt, it’s good enough for me.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Still got spots? (Me too!)

Blemished skin is bad enough when you’re a teenager and acne is to be expected, but a couple of decades later, many women still find they have problem skin. Whilst hormones are usually blamed for teenage acne, for adults the problem often results from what health journalist Hazel Courtney calls “internal toxity”.

Courtney cites constipation, candida, food intolerances and the menstrual cycle as possible triggers of acne. Mums can be prone to any of these and are almost certainly not helped by the stresses of looking after children, juggling housework and paid work, and a lack of time and energy for self-care. When it feels like an achievement to just get the children to school without anyone having a shouting match or even get a night’s unbroken sleep, there’s a tendency for mums to neglect their own mental and physical health, putting the children first. Drinking at least eight glasses of water daily can seem like an impossibility. Who has the time? Who wants to be accompanied to the toilet by a clingy toddler even more than usual?

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Mumtopia recommends : That Works For Me

I was so lucky to win a copy of That Works For Me at TheSaturday Evening Pot last month. I just love tips: being a self-employed SAHM, there’s always so much to learn.

You may notice that this blogpost was written pretty early; it's about 6.45 am in the UK right now and I have been awake since 5.30 when Secundus came in to tell me he has received a dinosaur egg from the House Fairy. That Doesn't Work For Me. Luckily I have managed to get him back to sleep but my mind is now whirring away too much to do the same. Hey ho! 

Anyway, this paperless tome contains 800 tips from bloggers, covering topics like time management, parenting, homeschooling, being frugal, and gifts. That Works For Me! is not your typical e-book. At only $8, it's an interactive, organised guide to help you optimise many areas in your life, all gleaned from the contributing blogs in the Works For Me Wednesday community. The best way to use the book is not to print it out but to access it when online so you can get the full information direct from the relevant blog that submitted the tip. Another great thing: a portion of the proceeds from the sale of every e-book benefits Mercy House, a non-profit ministry that empowers a maternity home in Kenya, Africa

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Giveaway : Pure Chesil CD (ended)

Ah, a British seaside holiday, who can beat it? Pack your wellies, a warm coat, waterproof, several layers of clothing, a flask and a windbreak and you too can enjoy a day of building sandcastles, running in and out of the freezing cold waves and playing French cricket badly. No matter what we do on the beach, I love to see the sea and could spend hours just watching and listening to the waves crash on to the shore.

Photo : Alison Bayne
If like me, you miss the sea but only get to visit on an annual holiday, the Pure Chesil CD is worth a listen. With no dreary whale song and not a Casio keyboard in sight, it was recorded on Chesil Beach in Dorset and can bring the calming sound of the waves into your home; wherever you live.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Gift-giving : Say it with words

It’s Jubilee, it’s wedding season, Fathers’ Day’s just around the corner and just about everyone I know is turning 40 this year. With the months of gloomy weather and the constant economic doom and gloom, it’s good to have something to celebrate, but the question is: who can afford it?

As communities unite to arrange street parties and politicians insist “We’re all in this together”, maybe it is time to take this newfound neighbourliness to the next level. Perhaps we really can share more and buy less. This has always applied to the loan of ladders and lawnmowers, but mums up and down the country could build on that idea with clothes-swap parties, car-sharing, passing on unwanted toys and games, and so on.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Giveaway : Grandma's Ways For Modern Days (ended)

Image : HowToBooks
I’m proud to announce the first giveaway on the Mumtopia blog : a copy of the British self-sufficiency classic, Grandma's Ways for Modern Days: Reviving Traditional Skills in Cooking, Gardening and Household Management by Paul and Diana Peacock.

All too often, we take our elders for granted and don't appreciate what a mine of wisdom and experience they are until they are no longer with us. Published by howtobooks, Grandma’s Ways (RRP £9.99) celebrates the knowledge of our grandparent’s generation with a few tweaks to make it relevant and applicable to busy modern life. If you’d like to learn how to preserve food, grow your own fruit and veg, keep hens or bees, make your own beauty treatments and generally live The Good Life, this is the book for you.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Why I Love Being a Homeschool Mom

Guest post by Karen Loethen of Homeschool Atheist Momma  

If I had my child to raise all over again,
I'd build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I'd finger-paint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I'd take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I'd take more hikes and fly more kites.
I'd stop playing serious, and seriously play.
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I'd do more hugging and less tugging.

- Diane Loomans, from "If I Had My Child To Raise Over Again"

Most families do not homeschool.  Most families send their children to public schools, private schools, or alternative schools.  

As a homeschooling mom, I am SO in the minority.  As a homeschool mom, I am SO stereotyped.  As a homeschool mom, I am, to someone, a representative of all other homeschool moms.  As a homeschooling mom, I am accused of being selfish, of being too sheltering to my children, of disrespecting the school system by taking my children out of it, of being infuriatingly confident that my children can learn without the school system, of being frighteningly inadequate to attempt the education of my children, of being in an unhealthy and enmeshed relationship with my children, of raising children who are insecure around others, of having children who are unable to form close and intimate relationships with friends, of losing the respect of my children and being unable to discipline them in their confusion of my role, of preventing my children of acquiring skills necessary for living in the society at large, and, most frightening of them all, of depriving them of THE PROM. 

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