Tag Archives: Family Life

Muddy boots and signs of spring

2 Mar

Things have been a little busy in real life so I hope to catch up on my blogging soon. Thankfully, we had some nice moments this week to slow down and cut through the mania with some mud and signs of spring.

We’re lucky that our local park has some great puddles to splash about in at the moment:

Boots in puddle

Nothings beats a bit of a splash about. I think my daughter will be glad to get walking so she can join in the fun instead of watching from the sling! Happy wellies are muddy wellies:

Muddy boots

We were on the hunt for signs of spring so were delighted to find some snow drops:

Snowdrops

These delicate little beauties are truly one of my favourite flowers. It always gives me a little thrill to see their graceful heads nodding, reminding me that the days are lengthening and nature is springing back to life.

We also found a lovely bank of crocuses. Another subtle sign that the seasons are turning.

Crocuses

Today we headed off to the Maple Sugar Festival at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham, NJ. It was a tremendous amount of fun. My associations with maple syrup were all with Vermont and the like (basically places I’ve never been!) so it was wonderful to realise that our New Jersey patch also has a fine tradition of maple syrup (I guess I now understand why our town is called Maplewood!).  There were some great nature tables for my son to explore as well as crafts. Here he is sporting the rather dashing mask he made: Mask

We also saw a plant new to me:

Skunk cabbage

I thought it was beautiful, with its scarlet fronds creeping through the swampy leaf litter. My husband recognised it immediately, the striking (but stinky) skunk cabbage. It’s a good reminder that beauty comes in all shapes (and smells!).

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Happy dough

22 Feb

Happy dough

This happy face is the result of a lovely afternoon making happy dough. Aka salt dough. My boy thinks that “salt dough” sounds like “sad dough” and he, very sensibly, thinks that happy dough is a far better moniker!

The lovely Rosy Mammy over at Rosy Little Cheeks recently shared the great time she and her big boy had with salt dough. Her description of how much fun her 3 year old had with his diggers in the dough crumbs had me reaching for the flour!

The recipe is beautifully simple:

1/2 cup of salt

1/2 cup of water

1 cup of flour

Mix them altogether and knead into a dough. Then roll out, cut your shapes and zap in the microwave on high for 3 mins and voila, salt dough shapes ready to paint!

Salt dough

The painting was fun.

Painting salt dough

But if my son could type then he’d explain that it was what I did with the trimmings that was the real success here. Sure enough, Rosy Mammy was right – (nearly) 3 year olds can be absorbed for hours with some salt dough crumbs and diggers!

Diggers

The box of crumbs is still being enjoyed 24 hours later. The only downside is that I have to keep the box off the ground so his crawling sister doesn’t get her hands on it (she will attempt to eat anything and this is definitely not for little mouths). Honestly, preparing meals has been much easier as my usual little helper is absorbed in playing with diggers rather than insisting on “helping” me cook!

And here are the finished products.

Finished salt doughThe hearts are for his granddaddy, who had open heart surgery just a few weeks ago and is, happily, healing brilliantly. The happy faces are for me and my boy, momentos of this lovely activity. The rest were an attempt to make tea cups & saucers – I know, they’re not hugely “recognisable” as that but I guess that’s where imagination comes into it!

My boy is all about tea parties at the moment, so I may take this as a hint to make him a “proper” tea set for his birthday next month.

Happy Valentines

14 Feb

It’s mid-afternoon on Valentines and the sun is streaming through the window.

I’m lucky enough to be in the middle of a lovely Valentines day.

Breakfast all together, when we got to enjoy the new coffee the kids “treated” us to (see how I got around our “no gifts” Valentines rule this year?). A local Maplewood couple launched a roastery last year – This Town Coffee – so I popped over to pick up some freshly roasted, organic coffee yesterday.

And then lunch all together, rounded off with a sweet treat of specially decorated biscuits.

Valentines cookies - decorated

They were made and decorated with love by some little hands.

Valentines biscuits - little hands helping

The streaky marks on the table are because my nearly 3 year old loves to eat flour. Honestly, he’ll stand there happily eating the flour while helping bake bread or cookies. Strange tastes he has!

Valentiens cookies - little hands cutting

We couldn’t resist cutting some rocket biscuits too, since flying to the moon in a rocket is one of his favourite games to play at the moment!

Valentines cookies - baking

It was a tasty way to celebrate all together. The older I get the more I think the way to my heart is definitely through my stomach!

How green was 2012?

14 Jan

I’ve reviewed 2012 with personal highlights here but I’ve also been thinking about the green highlights (and lowlights) of the year. I’m hoping that it will provide me with inspiration for living green in 2013!

Baby

I had my second baby in 2012 (and an utterly gorgeous baby she is too!). We didn’t buy much for her – there’s something very special about seeing your second baby in clothes that your first baby has grown out of!- but we did buy a newborn insert for our Ergo. And we loved it and recommend it to anyone who’ll listen.

We also treated ourselves to a Tummy Tub for her first months – I had wanted one with my son but was given a bath & a bath seat so couldn’t justify it. This time we couldn’t resist and it was a joy to use – bath time was so special, as her 2 year old brother could really get involved and it was a lovely bonding time for us all. I’d definitely recommend it.

Diapers-wise, this time we used some Bummis prefolds & wraps to boost our washable diaper stash, as our son was still using his Bumgenius v3 and Flips. I was nervous, as I thought they seemed like a lot of hassle but we needed an inexpensive solution until our daughter could start using her brother’s diapers. And not only was I won over, but I fell for them utterly! Gorgeous soft fabric, fast and easy to use, quick drying. Very enjoyable to use and I highly recommend them.

But a green lowlight was that we used far more disposables than we should have. During our first month in the US we had no choice – our washables were being shipped over with the rest of our stuff – but then we got lazy. We got used to the convenience…and used “eco” brands to assuage our guilt. Luckily we’re back on track using washable diapers & wipes now but it was a lesson in how easy it can be to slip into bad habits.

A resolution for 2013 is to primarily use washable diapers & wipes.

Housekeeping

2012 was the year I started using white vinegar…which doesn’t sound like much but honestly, it is a revelation. I love it!

I’ve always tried to buy green cleaning products – Ecover was a favourite brand in the UK but I now use Method (which are now, conveniently, the same company!). The impact that cleaning products can have on our eco systems is something that really matters to me. But when my baby started eating her food off the table I was suddenly very bothered by even my green surface cleaner. I didn’t want any unnecessary chemicals polluting her food. So I switched to a 50% white vinegar solution and I love it – surfaces are clean & sparkling, there’s no vinegar-y smell, it’s super cheap (which is a big factor now I’m a stay-at-home parent) and I don’t have to worry about contamination of her food. I’m a convert.

A resolution for 2013 is to switch to more homemade green cleaning products.

We’ve also had our first experience of using a tumble dryer. We didn’t have one in the UK and never missed it. When we spent a month in Manhattan we had no choice but to use it – there was no other way to dry clothes in the tiny apartment – and I really didn’t like it. I shrank some clothes that I really loved and just felt guilty about it. But it became a habit that carried over into our new home.

But we have a spacious basement and my husband picked up a big sturdy clothes horse (it dwarfs our trusty clothes horse from our London life!). So we’re back to air-drying clothes with the tumble dryer for emergencies only. But it’s something to keep an eye on as I can now see how seductive the tumble dryer can be!

A resolution for 2012 is to primarily air dry our laundry.

Food

We had the joy of baby-led weaning all over again with our daughter. Like her brother, she’s never had processed baby food and it means we all eat more healthily as a result (since we watch the salt & sugar intake in everything we cook so she can handle it). I recommend baby led weaning to all parents as it is really a wonderful time in your baby’s first year – so much fun as your little one discovers the fun of food (my 9 month old daughter is going through the phrase of intentially dropping food on the floor, watching it falls…she’s like a mini physicist discovering gravity!).

We’ve also decided to eat more vegetarian food to reduce the carbon footprint of our good (read up on the environmental benefits of vegetarian eating here). So today was lentil soup & spelt bread for lunch and the Moosewood’s super tasty sweet potato quesadillas for dinner.

A resolution for 2013 is to have at least 2 vegetarian days a week.

Household Waste

I’ve already admitted to our disposable diaper addiction above, so that was a definitely green lowlight of 2012 in terms of household waste. But we’ve also had to sacrifice our home composting in our new rental home in Maplewood. We have no garden, so have no where to use any compost we create, and food waste isn’t collected by the town (oh how I miss Haringey’s food waste collection!). But we’re hoping to buy our own house this year and having an enclosed back yard we can garden is a priorty so I hope that by the time 2013 ends we’ll be back to home composting most of our food waste.

A resolution for 2013 is to start composting as soon as we can.

We’ve also just stared having milk delivered from the Green Market Dairy – and we love it! There is something so satisfying about the lovely glass bottles. And since the bottles are then reused it is also help cut down the volume of single use plastic or tetra packs we recycle.

OK, quite a rambly post but I hope that this informal green audit helps me move into 2013 more committed than ever to living green!

Time passes

31 Dec

So here we are, the last day of the year. I have mixed feelings about the passing of this year. On the one hand, it was one of the most stressful years of my life. On the other, it was also filled with happiness and health.

As 2011 turned to 2012 my thoughts were full of what the year ahead held in store for us. I was pregnant and desperately hoping to have a vbac in the birth centre of the Whittington hospital in North London. We had plans to move from London to the US and had no idea how the move would go, how we would feel about it and where we would move to. There seemed to be so much to do, so much uncertainty, which generated stress.

January was filled with appointments at the Whittington about the hoped-for vbac at the birth centre. One appointment led to another, as a scan showed a big baby which meant I had to have a glucose tolerance test. Which meant a follow up appointment. During which a scan showed a breech baby. Which led to yet more appointments. And lots of stress. So I found a found a wonderful doula to attend the birth (the incredible Mars Lord, Mammy Doula).

I spent large chunks of February stressing out about the breech baby, as I worried that my body was conspiring against me and I’d not get my chance at a vbac. I spent hours a day crawling on all fours, doing inversions off the couch, lying upside on an ironing board watching TV, burning moxa at my baby toes and listening to hypnobirthing visualisations about the baby turning. The website Spinning Babies was my guide and inspiration (and I was lucky enough to act as a demonstration model for Spinning Babies founder Gail Tully in London when I was 37 weeks – both fascinating and an honour to help!). I also spent February finishing up at work, knowing that if we moved to the States then I’d be giving up what was really my ideal job (not my dream job, but my ideal job…an important distinction).

During March I finished work and waited for my baby. My son also turned 2 and we celebrated by going to London Zoo, our last trip there as a family of 3. One of my main anxieties was whether I’d even go into labour naturally (I was induced at 42 weeks with my son so hadn’t experienced natural labour before). I relaxed by practising my hypnobirthing and trying to be patient. My patience was rewarded when I went into labour at 40+1 (having had a successful sweep at 40 weeks). My beautiful daughter was born naturally at 40+2. It was an exhilarating experience, made wonderful by my husband, my amazing doula, the caring staff at the Whittington and my own strength and inner wisdom.

April was spent getting to know my daughter, adjusting to life as a family of 4 and welcoming various family members and friends from near and far as they met our newest family member. May brought more of this, and we also took our daughter to Ireland (Dublin) for the first time.  We spent these months mostly enjoying the small moments, my daughter’s first smiles and laughs. My son’s emerging speech and their growing relationship as siblings. Small moments that live on in my memory and provided the reward for the mostly sleepless nights!

In June we went camping with friends to the gorgeous Toomer Farm Campsite on the Somerset/Dorset border. It was great, even with some terrible rain. I saw hares boxing and spent the evenings watching foxes trot through the fields. The children roamed in the fields. Happy memories of a Jubilee weekend well spent. We also went to Cork for the first time with our daughter.

July had another camping trip, this time to Ireland and with all of my siblings and nieces and nephews. It was hectic and happy. I also had my green card interview on 16 July at the US embassy. It was short and sweet, but personally significant nonetheless. July also saw the start of the London Olympics, which meant many happy hours of watching the BBC’s amazing coverage and enjoying London in her Olympic finery!

August was a busy month. We had family visit for the Olympics and even got to go to the Olympics ourselves. We then headed to Cyprus to a friend’s wedding and had a great week with friends. Such a beautiful country and the daily swims in the Med were the perfect antidote to the heat! I also travelled to Aspen in late August, just with my daughter, for another friend’s wedding. It was a stunning location and again, it was great to be amongst friends (even if I missed my son and husband a lot!).

September was extremely stressful, as we prepared for our move. We had spent months preparing – deciding what to take, what to give away, deciding what towns we may move to, closing up bank accounts and the like – but the packing up was still time consuming and stressful. I was so sad to leave London. I moved there in 2000, straight out of university. I became an adult there, built a career there, made friends for life there, met and married my husband while living there, had my children there…so many happy and sad and amazing and awful memories in one city. It was an emotional day as we boarded the plane at Heathrow to move to the US.

We spent a month in Manhattan, from late September to late October. I enjoyed it – we were on the 34th floor of a building on 34th St, with views of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, it was stunning! – but I also found it unsettling. It wasn’t a great neighbourhood for young children and I found it quite isolating. I was glad when we moved to Maplewood and our shipping container arrived. I was happy to settle into a new place and properly unpack. Our familiar possessions made an unfamiliar place more like home.

And then Sandy hit. We were a week in Maplewood when the storm hit, and it was quite a change from tame London weather! We were extremely lucky that our house was safe and we didn’t even lose power, but our town and the surrounding areas were badly hit. It was surreal – traffic lights not working due to no electricity, long lines at gas stations as rationing hit. It made me appreciate how lucky we were, but also made me hope we can do better for this planet.

November started with the aftermath of Sandy. We also headed down to Virginia to spend time with my husband’s 96 year old grandmother and other relatives. We also celebrated our first Thanksgiving by sharing a home made turducken with our extended family – a jolly feast it was too!

December started with the tragic news of the mass killings at Sandy Hook. I hope those children and adults don’t die in vain and that the gun laws in this country will change. It is ending after a lovely Christmas, the first that my son was really into. He loved Santa and the stockings and the tree and decorating the gingerbread house. He loved the presents Santa brought him and his sister (she loved the wrapping paper!). We spent Christmas morning together and then drove to the grandparents in southern NJ. I was so grateful that we could celebrate with family without boarding a plane!

Remembering this year is therapeutic. I don’t miss London as a place. I miss friends, particularly as some close friends have had babies and I miss being able to see them and meet these new people. But I don’t miss the place. I love our new town and am excited about putting down proper roots here. I am delighted that my children have so much contact with their grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. I miss being able to get to Ireland as much, but Skype will do.

And so to 2013. I look forward to small things – what birds will visit our new Christmas bird feeders? will my daughter crawl or become a bum shuffler? And to big things – will we buy a house this year and if so where? I am making resolutions – I may even blog about some of them once I’ve formulated them properly – and I’m looking forward to seeing what 2013 holds in store.

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

24 Dec

Vintage holly wreath

Bringing greenery into our home is one of my favourite aspects of Christmas. Our picture frames are decorated with sprigs of holly and small fir branches. There’s our Christmas tree, of course. And our gingerbread house has a pine cone garden. I even made a wreath for our front door. All we’re missing is a sprig of mistletoe! It brings back memories of helping my mum decorate in this way. I used to love the way she’d work her magic on the wreath. My own wreath is a much humbler affair!

Decorating with plants like holly (or ivy) and evergreen branches are also a great way to stay green (and save money!) too. Myself and my 2 year old collected the holly and pine cones from our local park. The holly sprigs were all just lying on the ground under the holly bushes. The fir branches for the wreath and decorations came from leftovers from where we bought our Christmas tree. We bought our Christmas tree from the local Rotary Club, who were selling locally grown trees in aid of local charities. The greenery, combined with the paper chains I made with the kids, makes me feel glad that we’ve decorated our new home in a seasonal and sustainable way.

Other little eco steps we’ve made this year are things like making some of our own wrapping paper (mostly involving upcycling the brown paper that arrived with some of our present purchases) and buying from local businesses where possible. We’ve tried to not go mad on the gift giving front and only buy (or make) gifts that are wanted and will be used.

My 2 year old is actually excited about Santa this year. It’s still mostly over his head, but his “ho ho ho” and love of helping me to wrap (and make the paper using his excellent Melissa & Doug stamp set!) have added an extra dimension of fun to the proceedings. My baby girl is 9 months old tomorrow and I’m looking forward to dressing her as an elf and capturing it for posterity – nothing like dressing your babies up in ridiculous outfits to add joy to festivities!

All in all, I’m excited about our first Christmas living in Maplewood. I feel this is the start of our family Christmas traditions, as myself and my husband take the best of what we grew up with, and things we’ve learned together, and weave together the memories our children will cherish. I love this time of year!

So I wish everyone reading a joyful, peaceful and green Christmas.

Words to live by

19 Nov

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
William Morris

These have been my words to live by recently. The furniture we shipped over from London was rather sparse in our new home (the joy of moving from a tiny flat to a bigger house) so we needed to get some new bits and pieces. We also couldn’t bring any of our electricals with us when we moved (we had some fun times distributing things like our toaster and vacuum cleaner among our London friends! I know that doesn’t sound like fun but it conveniently coincided with also drinking all our booze, since we couldn’t ship that either). So we’ve had to restock appliances too. But I’m trying to think like William Morris and get things that are (ideally) both useful and beautiful but one or the other will do.

The furniture has been new to us, rather than storefresh, as we try to buy secondhand or freecycle where we can. This is easier here than in London, since we have family close at hand (so we’ve inherited a two-seater sofa, or loveseat as they rather charmingly call in the US, and amazing crochet afghans and the like) but also because of the joy that is Craigslist. I’m sure any readers from North America will be like “Craigslist is so a million years ago” but it’s a revelation to me. There is so much stuff for sale! Why would we ever buy new again?!? It’s so much better than the London equivalent (Gumtree). In fact, I’m typing this post while sitting on this sofa bought from Craigslist:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s lovely and comfortable and I know it’s an hilariously impractical colour with 2 small children but hey, it cost $75 so I really don’t mind what stains it gets! They’ll all just add to the character of it (I say optimistically). Oh and the crochet afghans are some of the family ones we were recently given – my amazing grandmother-in-law crocheted them. She’s 96 and still crochets if the light is good. While telling stories and singing old songs and cracking jokes. She is an amazing lady!

I’ve also discovered the joy that is yard sales. OMFG, as the youth would say, they are brilliant! For practically no dollars I got a hall mirror, some bedside lamps and cool toys for my son. Check out this lamp:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then guess the price…$10? $5? No no no, a measly $2!

And that was with no haggling (which is good as I cannot haggle. Having to haggle practically brings me out in hives).

There have been yard sales every weekend that we’ve lived here but I’ve had to give them a bodyswerve. I could get completely addicted to them and before you know it I’d be mainlining estate sales and I’d have lost the children under some nifty vintage dinnerware. And I’ve not even sampled the delights of our local thrift store or Goodwill yet…