When strangers question your parenting choices

I dropped my daughter to pre-school and left the car parked opposite with my 5-year-old son inside. It took moments, less than a minute, but I popped back to tell him I was going to the bakery and not to open the doors or windows. He was happy to sit and play with his stick from forest school.

The queue was long and the service slow, but we needed fresh bread and organic eggs for the weekend and I wouldn’t get another opportunity. So I waited patiently, got the goods and returned to the car, only to find an elderly gentlemen and wide-eyed woman on her phone next to my vehicle.

She continued on her call, which I’d immediately gleaned was to the police and declared, “The mum is here now and seems surprised that I’ve phoned you. Do you want to speak to her?”

I asked what the problem was, if he [my child] had done something – and that’s when they attacked. I was interrogated, patronised, accused of putting him in danger. What if a car came around the corner and smashed into the back your vehicle? What if it caught light? Do you know what you’ve done is a criminal offence?

I thanked the kind people for their concern and explained that I understood why they felt this way. I also agreed that the hypothetical scenarios were horrendous, however the risk was very small as I’d only been gone a few minutes, five to seven, perhaps. I kept my cool.

They weren’t satisfied with that and continued: You’ve left your child in a locked vehicle, what if something happened? I’m worried that you don’t even seem concerned about this. Do you understand if anything happened you would go to prison FOR THE REST. OF. YOUR. LIFE…

Actually, the threat of my dear little son being injured or killed is far more of a deterrent than the prospect of life imprisonment. So that was a moot point.

There’s also the risk that someone could break in and attempt to snatch him, or he could escape and wander off into the road. The sun could come out and he would dehydrate and die of heat exhaustion, he could choke or suffocate. I could be run over and he would be left alone, I could lose my keys and he would be trapped forever. Though all of these things were highly unlikely to occur.

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Would you wake these guys up to pay for petrol…?

While I am comforted that there are people in the community looking out for each other, I am similarly infuriated that I was told off for something so trivial in the grand scheme of things… For those of you that know me or have read my other blog posts, you will know that all I ever want to do is the right thing.

Not necessarily the legal, recommended or commonly accepted practice, but what I deem to be morally and/or logically correct under the circumstances. I have given the last five years of my life to ensuring my children are safe, secure, healthy and loved. It has been my mission.

Given that I had weighed up the risks of leaving him for a short time, it did not feel like the wrong thing to do. It was raining and he has just been in hospital due to ongoing pain in his legs.

In most cases, it takes longer to get children out of the car, walk at a snail’s pace and then strap them back in again, than to perform the required activity. Modern life is not set up to facilitate the taking of time. We rush around trying to get things done efficiently and if we need to nip into a shop for a couple of items, particularly with the car in clear view, that should not be a crime.

Surely of bigger concern to the public should be people who regularly put their children at risk. Where are the parent police then? Smoking around them, giving fizzy drinks, drip-feeding sugar into a diet of white bread and processed meat, dosing with Calpol and antibiotics at every opportunity, dressing them inadequately for the weather…

These actions are not only risky, in most cases there is a certain negative outcome (particularly asthma, obesity, early onset diabetes, impaired immune response, and more). Yet because these lifestyles are considered mainstream, there is no uproar. As for the choices people make with babies, I won’t even start…

Children are probably more at risk on a climbing frame or in a swimming pool. But we make judgements; we take measured risks. We assess and act, we don’t plan for the worst-case scenario every time because nothing would ever get done – no driving, playing, cooking, flying, crossing of roads or bathing.

Am I alone? I’ve browsed opinion on mummy forums in the past and the majority seem to take the view that people who leave their children in cars while they pay for petrol are disgusting and don’t deserve to have kids. These are the same mums who think women who breastfeed are smug, and believe co-sleeping is more dangerous than leaving a newborn alone, so I’m not too concerned.

Yes, I get it. And if it had been much longer, then it would have been unacceptable. To me, this was a gross overreaction, but lesson learned: I can’t leave him even for a moment. Not because I have been brainwashed with paranoia, but because the biggest risk is having social services question my parenting.

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Filed under Caring, Community, Parenting, Uncategorized

Keep calm and carry on consuming

In my last blog post, I confessed to shopping in primark-pyjamaPrimark and I have not been able to stop thinking about it since. I am deeply troubled that even someone as environmentally enlightened – insert smug smiley here – and passionate about global issues as myself, would knowingly succumb to the lure of £3 tops (five of them, to be precise) and novelty pyjamas.

I am guilty of being impatient and judgemental with people who don’t make the effort to shop ethically, but now I have come full circle and can no longer point my chubby finger. I have now become them. I am buying things I know I shouldn’t and getting very angry about it. Yet this anger I feel is not changing my behaviour, because I don’t feel I have a choice. Or rather, the choice is: buy trash or buy nothing. And often I opt for the latter.

It’s disgusting that so many inadequate product options are even available to us today. How are harsh chemical cleaning agents or (non-biodegradable) disposable nappies or wetwipes even legal? How is plastic packaging on fruit and veg still allowed? If something has not been fairly traded, how can it even have a place on the shop shelf? Buying ethically should not be a quirky pastime or a passing fad, it should be the norm – the minimum acceptable standard.

I know that terrible things go on to give us the things we want at the prices we need. I know you know, too. It’s grubby, it’s despicable. So why do we do it even though we know?

  • We know that when shop in Primark, Sports Direct, or in fact any high street retail chain, we are subscribing to underpaid or child labour, exploitation and inhumane working conditions.
  • We know that supermarkets deceive us, promote unhealthy eating with their pricing, and food waste buy encouraging us to buy more than we need. That they tie farmers into impossible contracts then push for lower prices, meaning they are selling at no profit or being forced out of business as the supermarkets resort to importing produce that can be grown in the UK.
  • We know that when we buy coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate, bananas, non-European wine, if it does not bear the Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance logo, or make a similar claim, that farmers have been underpaid and workers likely exploited.
  • We know that most biscuits, breads, crackers, ice cream and make up now contain palm oil as a cheap fat alternative, and the production of it demands deforestation and many animals – such as orangutans – losing their habitats.orangutan-with-baby
  • We know that when we buy conveniently packaged fruit or vegetables, the containers, nets, bags, packets will probably end up floating somewhere in the sea, possibly choking a bird, suffocating a turtle, or eaten by a fish which we will then serve for Friday supper.
  • We know that when we buy non-organic fruit and veg out of season (strawberries or asparagus in December), special measures have been put in place to make sure they grow. They may have been genetically modified, will have been sprayed multiple times with pesticides that kill bees and cause cancer; they will have been grown on an enormous monoculture, destroying crop diversity and wildlife habitats; and then shipped thousands of miles across the world to reach you.monoculture.jpg
  • We know when we buy supermarket value meat, it is the shrink-wrapped end product of industrial farming methods, where animals have lived the majority of their short lives indoors, on concrete floors, pumped full of toxic antibiotic-hormone cocktails, stepping over dead carcasses, wading through each other’s faeces, probably thrown across the warehouse floor by an underpaid employee and then slaughtered while experiencing terror.
  • We know that seas have been over-fished and when we buy the latest ocean catch, it has either been trawled – leaving thousands of perfectly edible (but non-compliant with retail regulations) discarded dead fish – or come from a fish farm, swimming in circles its entire life, to be pumped full of… See above. TheThe bulldozer on a garbage dumpre’s an unavoidable theme here.
  • We know that when we forget our bags for life and go for a 5p one, that bag will outlive us. Even if it claims to be biodegradable, it will never truly breakdown unless it’s made from vegetable starches and fully compostable, and probably litter landfill forever.
  • We know that plastic toys are made from oil; that drilling, fracking and mining for oil destroys communities, natural habitats and is finite; that they are usually mass-produced in China in huge factories with poor working conditions and a shameful carbon footprint.
  • We know shopping on the Internet deprives local businesses and our bargain hunting means people and resources have to be exploited. We know Amazon avoids paying tax and treats its workers unfairly on zero hours contracts, grafting like robots and dismissing them if they can’t keep up.
  • We know that foreign holidays are bad. The flights create alarming levels of CO2 emissions, tourist hubs have eradicated most signs of real life and pushed out the locals, many of whom are being exploited for cheap labour in hotels or selling market tat (alongside their souls) and we should be supporting our local industries, staycationing in a damp caravan along a windy British coast.
  • We know when we buy highly perfumed non-organic cosmetics containing parabens, phthalates and SLS, they will absorb into our bloodstream, pollute the sea and infiltrate our water supplies. We know about microbeads. We know our plastic toothbrushes will go straight to landfill, along with sanitary towels and nappies. And tampons will end up in the sea with whatever else you flush down your toilet.

We know all of this, but we don’t want to talk about it. These are widely reported issues that have faced us for years. They are not secrets; the information is everywhere. We see it on Panorama, then carry on with our every day lives, apparently oblivious to the impact of our actions on the rest of the world.

The truth is, it’s inconvenient to care. It requires change and change requires effort. To make all of these changes you would have to spend every waking moment trying to search for reliable, affordable and ethical alternatives. And who has that kind of time in 2016? Getting selfies on Instagram and photos of your dinner on Facebook is commitment enough, right?

But seriously, we lead busy lives; we work, we workout, we take care of children and perhaps relatives, we read emails, and we need to sleep. I have been that person that doesn’t do any of the things I’ve listed above. It cost me a fortune in time and money. Now that I have two children and no full-time job, many are just luxuries I can’t afford.

Sometimes, though, it’s because I’m just plain lazy. I am tired; I can’t be bothered and it shouldn’t have to be down to me to pick up the pieces of an economic structure I did not create. Sadly, though, it’s this kind of apathy and sense of entitlement that has led us to this point. When I found myself justifying why I still use Amazon on a Facebook thread, I knew I wasn’t trying hard enough.

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Why I’m shopping in Primark even though I hate myself for it

 

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People rescue a garment worker who was trapped under the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building (Reuters)

For many years I have boycotted the likes of Primark for their well-reported poor ethics, unacceptable working standards and cheap labour. I also detest the fast fashion trend that has emerged over the last decade; the throwaway lifestyle that is integral to popular culture and keeping “on trend”. Because there is a darker side to this level of wastefulness beyond the dirty workhouses and slavery.

Chemicals used in the clothing industry
What many people don’t consider is that most of the fabrics used in cheap clothing are made from plastic-derived fibres – that is, oil. Synthetic textiles such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, elastane (Spandex or Lycra), are energy intensive to produce and leave a legacy of non-biodegradable rags once you’ve finished with them.

There are also the chemicals used in clothing manufacture: highly toxic dyes, flame retardants, anti-crease solutions (Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen), endocrine disrupting anti-bacterial treatments (Triclosan), and Fluoropolymers as water repellents (Teflon).

All of these have an impact on our environment as well as our health; leaching into water supplies, polluting rivers and soil, potentially causing cancer, altering our hormones and reducing fertility.

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“Picture from Bangladesh shows purple river – depending on the colours used in dyeing operations in garment factories. Or rather, depending on the colours in fashion.” Photo: http://sahanasingh.com/

For all of the above reasons I have avoided buying new clothes for many years when possible. Most of our clobber is purchased in charity shops, on eBay or collected from Freecycle (though apparently washing doesn’t reduce the side effects of chemicals used in the clothes manufacturing process).

When I had children, this extended to buying organic bed sheets, mattresses, duvets, blankets and toys as I was so worried about what would contact their skin, absorb into their bloodstream or enter their new little lungs.

Pricing out the ordinary
Buying locally-sourced organic food, toiletries, clothes and furnishings is an expensive business, and unsustainable in itself, for us as a low-income family. These lifestyle choices have become a badge of the middle classes, yummy mummies or hipsters with a disposable income. They have left us financially uncomfortable eco-warriors with little more than a guilty conscience.

Not only is organic clothing out of the price range of “normal” people (£22 per baby sleepsuit is aspirational, to say the least), the adult ranges are usually ugly or transform you into an extra from Jesus Christ Superstar.

Just because I live my life by green principles and an ethical code, does not mean I want to present myself in rainbow pyjamas and hemp sandals, like some passive-aggressive New Age vegan fresh from a yoga retreat. And even when I was that guy, I didn’t choose to dress like that every day.

When I work out, I need reliable and durable active wear with comfortable, supportive footwear. If I’m popping to town, skinny jeans do the job and if I’m attending a business meeting then I need to dress appropriately to be taken seriously.

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All of this stuff can be found secondhand – I mean, “preloved” – but hunting it down is a very time-intensive process. I have spent many hours trawling through charity shops looking for a specific item or searching, bidding and waiting for postage from eBay.

My wardrobe is full of stuff I have accumulated since I was 14 years old. Yes, I still have tops and jeans that my best friend passed down to me in high school, vintage blouses and skirts I found in my mother’s wardrobe, shoes from my first retail job in 2000 and many charity shop gems since. But a couple of times a year I’ll have a good splurge in the sales to keep things current, and as lighter items of clothing wear out they need replacing.

Sometimes you just need what you need, when you need it. This is where Primark and the supermarket clothing brands have cornered the market.

Giving in to convenience
Sometimes you just need what you need, when you need it. And this is where Primark and the supermarket clothing brands have cornered the market. They churn them out pretty and cheap. They are actually employing decent designers and the styles are up-to-date, making it difficult to turn a blind eye to an oversized soft knit jumper or sequin Christmas party dress as winter approaches (and you had only popped in for bananas and milk).

Seasonal staples such as the black cardigan, blue jeans, top and vests have a shelf life and I have reached the point again where I need some basics. I need long-sleeved tops and the man needs t-shirts. Best bet for cute styles and basement prices: Primark.

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While I’m there I shall probably buy some vests, pants, socks and gloves for the children – because they’re cheap. And the fact is, whether I pay a premium for them in M&S, Debenhams, Selfridges, Boots or Mothercare, unless they are Fair Trade and organic, they have likely gone through the same manufacturing process and been sewn in similar factories. Check out this ethical consumer guide to see how your favourite high street brands rank.

I hate myself for giving in to the bullish capitalist consumer machine. I hate the industry more for allowing these standards to continue beyond awareness of all the consequences. I hate our government for prioritising business and economic growth over health and environmental welfare. That’s a lot of hate. Time for a cup of tea.

Giving up on principle
I’ve always preached about consumer pressure; supply meets demand; buyer power; collective responsibility. However the prices of everything are rising at such speed that it is difficult for a mum to feed a family from Iceland or Tesco, let alone Infinity or Whole Foods.

In our family, food comes first and that means something else has to give. If you want quality produce with high animal welfare standards, no GMOs, sugar, artificial sweeteners, chemical additives, margarine or palm oil, it comes at a price.

And that means, as I inspect clothing and food labels, I literally have to choose what I care about more: cancer-causing foods and toiletries, animals dying in the rainforest, polluted water supplies, child labour, the list goes on. In many instances, it’s a matter of life or death.

That is a big cross to bear as an individual, especially when it sometimes feels I am the only person trying so hard. Meanwhile the world falls apart around me and I come full circle, wondering what’s the fucking point?

We’re all doomed, and now we have a climate change denier as US president, it’s hard to find hope for the future. So, although I’ve almost talked myself out of it, I’ll probably be shopping with the rest of them this Saturday and assuaging my guilt with a vegan kebab for lunch (I am not even vegan).

But don’t let me bring you down… Things are changing slowly, and the more documentaries, blogs and TED Talks there are about these issues, the more it should inspire people to petition, protest and lobby government and industry alike to demand they look at the bigger picture.

Do you feel under pressure to make the “right choice” as a consumer? Do you care what you wear or are you just happy to find a bargain?

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Filed under Consumerism, Economy, Fair Trade, Family, Green, Organic, Shopping

Fear of failure – the perfectionist’s flaw

Anxiety and a sense of doom dominate me when I begin most tasks. It could be cleaning the house or starting a new job; my fear of failure kicks in and I begin to panic that I won’t do it well enough, won’t complete it, might let someone down and quite simply, won’t be the best. I suffer these debilitating symptoms of self-sabotage because I am my harshest critic.

When I was in my teens, I was a cocky little shit. I was sassy, confident and saw myself as a bit of an undiscovered genius. I even bought myself a “best at everything” mug. Being a jack of all trades had its merits; I was able to fluke exams, excel at new hobbies and access a variety of employment industries. However, as I entered my twenties, I started to realise that I wasn’t the “best at everything” and maybe I was nothing special at all. At least by my standards.

I was rather good at a lot of stuff, but because of my poor focus, limited attention span and itchy feet, I had never managed to get best at anything. I was a giver-upper. I lacked self-discipline. If I didn’t think I could be the best at something, I didn’t want to try at all. And anything I was good at soon bored me and I moved on to the next fad.

My all-or-nothing mentality meant I would throw myself into a new venture so enthusiastically it cost me more than I couldn’t afford physically, emotionally, in time, energy and money. As soon as something felt uncomfortable or like too much hard work, I would become overwhelmed, hide away, wallow in self-pity and skulk amid a mild depression. Then I would quit.

IMG_0082.JPGNow I flounder about, still filled with dread that I am not living up to my mother’s expectations; all the work she put in to ensure I was educated, secure, had access to opportunities – lost. I have two beautiful children, a gorgeous, supportive partner of 10 years, a house, car and three cats, but cannot shake the sense of shame that I have done nothing with my life. It’s a feeling of uselessness; wasted potential.

I didn’t establish a career before I had children, but I didn’t want to have them too late either, so I made huge sacrifices to be a mother. As many of us do. But almost five years later, I find myself starting from scratch. Although brimming with knowledge and life experience, and enthusiasm to contribute my Swiss penknife of skills, I am as good as on the bottom rung of a very tall ladder.

There is so much pressure on women to be everything, but if I am a “good” mother, invest in my family’s health and wellbeing by cooking from scratch three times a day and exercising, I barely have time to check my emails and Facebook feed, let alone use Twitter and have a successful freelance career.

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There was a light at the end of the tunnel once I knew the older child was going off to school and the younger one was starting pre-school, but as usual my plans were extreme and unrealistic. I became a nervous a wreck just at the thought of getting on with life, already certain that I would fail because there is just not enough time in the day to be: politician; blogger; singer/songwriter; local activist; mother; lover; friend; home cook; perfect housewife; interior designer; social media genius; entrepreneur; fitness enthusiast; and yogi.

How do people do it? If I have a successful week creatively and work out regularly, my house is a mess and the washing up won’t get done. If I nail the housework, plough through chores and homeowner admin, I’m lucky if I get time for a cup of tea and reach the school gates on time.

Everyone tells me I take on too much, not to be hard on myself, to prioritise, but all of these things are important to me. They all need to be done. And I want them done well. Whispers of my to-do lists within to-do lists play on repeat like, “Secure publishing deal, get rich, have time to complete me…”. I have slowly given up on perfectionism as I’ve learned it’s more important that something gets done, than not done at all.

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In an attempt to justify my serial procrastination, I’ve almost accepted that sometimes it’s OK to just do nothing – stuff can wait, my sanity cannot. But my guilt dictates that I at least multitask my “nothing” with checking emails, social media, online food shopping and eBay while boxset bingeing. I have simultaneously come to the painful realisation that unless you are very rich, well connected or just plain lucky, the only route to success is hard work. The magic is in finding the perfect balance.

The world isn’t what it used to be. The Internet has changed everything for the music industry, writers and world politics. So we have to be resilient, overcome challenges by adapting to new trends; hoping we can keep up and keep our heads up. At least not stick them in the sand.

So I have to let go of fear, learn when to say “no”, but more importantly when to say “YES”! I will take risks, seize opportunities and work my wobbly backside off, because I want a better future for my children than a Trump world promises – and the only person that can make that happen is me.

Do you suffer from perfectionism? Can you relate to this? How do you deal with negative feelings of underachievement and self-loathing? How do you measure success?

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Fever in the morning, fever all through the night

Sleepless nights, as promised. Zombie-like, every hour or so, I reach for the little wriggler and stuff my boob in his mouth to ease the pain and comfort him back to slumber, avoiding the dreaded pink stuff – if possible.

20130415-182921.jpgI was given it, everyone else was given it, everyone continues to give it, and it is the brand synonymous with infant wellbeing: Calpol. They have cornered the market in baby medicine for years and most people pour it down without a thought – anything to shut the baby up. But aren’t there alternatives?

Our little boy was in agony with three teeth coming through at once, crying desperately, whimpering and clingy. It’s awful watching your child suffer, but this is part of life – part of growing up. I told myself if his fever goes much over 38°C I’ll do it, give him some Calpol, but I’ll do my best to bring his fever down naturally.

Why am I so bothered? Well, I think this blogger sums it up perfectly. I do not object to giving my baby paracetamol as a last resort (soluble Disprol is the purest approved option I’ve found, though it seems to have been discontinued), but I do object to unnecessary additives. If you want something less fussy, many pharmacy own brands provide fruit-flavoured medicines without all the Es.

Packaged food everywhere is full of processed rubbish, manmade chemicals, dangerous amounts of sugar and salt, preservatives, you name it… Oh, and guess what, most “medicines” are just the same. I wonder how much tax revenue pharmaceutical companies generate versus the cost to the NHS of repairing illnesses caused by adverse side effects. Does it pay to keep us poorly? I’d also be interested to find out which additives in processed foods are supplied by Big Pharma. Very interesting stuff, but that’s for another day.

What annoys me more than Calpol itself, is the way it has been adopted as the standard solution for any ailment – recommended by doctors, praised by parents. Ear ache: Calpol; tummy ache: Calpol; fever: Calpol; immunisations: Calpol; won’t sleep: Calpol. Really?

So what happened before Calpol? I can hear you now, “progress” brigade: “Infant mortality was much higher…” and the rest. But lots of babies also survived – that’s how we’re here. Funnily enough, people got by. They treated minor ailments themselves, usually using food or herbs and prevented a lot of illnesses before they occurred by living a life harmonious with nature.

The trouble today is that we think we know better. Do we? I’m not so sure. Sometimes, it’s best not to interfere. Our bodies are amazing, evolved with an immune system to protect us against disease. One of the reactions to infection is a fever, which shows the body is fighting it. If it’s not at a dangerous level, why suppress that?

The body also triggers messages to the brain to alert us to problems (which we feel as pain). And although paracetamol may numb that, it disguises the symptoms of illness, tricking you into thinking that everything is fine. Surely that in itself is more of a risk.

 

Disclaimer: The opinions stated in this post are my own and should not be taken as medical advice. I am not a scientist nor medical professional. If you have any concerns about medicating your child, please discuss them with your GP.

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It’s my party and I’ll spend if I want to…

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Planning any party is a stress-filled treat, but baby’s first birthday takes it to a new level. For a start, you are marking the first year of your precious offspring’s life on earth. Secondly, you feel you deserve a trophy just for surviving this first year. Third, you want to show off (just a little bit).

There’s a lot to think about:

1) How much to spend. Most of us are counting the pennies these days so setting a budget crossed my mind, but I didn’t think it would really be an issue, as we were just planning to have a few close friends and family round for a couple of hours.

Wrong. By the time I’d purchased a few decorations, cake sprinkles and “thank you” notes to suit the theme, I was already well over the £100 mark and horrified. We hadn’t even got to the food yet…

2) Who to invite. I know a mum who has distributed over 50 invitations to every baby at every baby group she attends, and hired a hall with an entertainer. I know another mum who had a quiet day at home with her husband and baby to reflect on the year.

I was pitching for somewhere in between as I want to share the occasion, but don’t want to spend a fortune. We have gone for grandparents, uncle, best friends, a couple of colleagues who have been there for us, and eventually decided to include our NCT group.

3) Party theme. It started as a small gathering and has gradually evolved into a duck-themed extravaganza! We chose ducks because our boy loves them and after “milk” it was his first baby sign. Also, as his birthday falls close to Easter and it’s [supposed to be] spring, it seemed like the right thing to do. So with a firm mind not to overspend, buy any stupid plastic and avoid anything that we can’t reuse, I clicked over to eBay.

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And the can of worms was open; my inner party-planning goddess unleashed… Well, we will need duck invitations, duck “thank you” cards, duck tablecloth, duck balloons, a duck balloon weight, duck cake decorations, duck biscuit cutters, duck-shaped ice, duck candles, duck toys and, of course, bunting.

I convinced myself that only the theme colours will do and therefore ordinary paper plates would not suffice. My attempt to control spending meant I ditched the duck plates, duck cups and duck napkins, but instead went for the still-quite-pricey plain blue and yellow ones.

I tried hard to maintain my green principles but failed miserably – even caving in to a pack of 25 latex balloons for which I then had to purchase a disposable helium canister. On the bright side, the bottle can be recycled.

4) Entertainment. There’s no way I’m spending money on a children’s entertainer this time, but I do like the idea. The babies are too young for party games and we don’t have many older children coming, so it’s a pile of toys on the living room floor and funky music on the stereo. We have created an appropriate playlist of clean, well-known songs that should keep spirits lifted and appease most musical tastes.

I couldn’t help buying a bubble machine. Bubbles are brilliant, everyone loves them (including rubber ducks) and it’s a cheap way of bringing smiles to a lot of faces. I will be making my bubble mixture using eco-friendly washing-up liquid using a recipe I found here and will probably have the gadget positioned by the front door to delight guests as they arrive.

5) Food. Who do I cater for? The babies, the adults or both? It has to be both. So now to strike the balance with healthy, safe and tasty food. I’m sticking with finger food to avoid disposable cutlery and messier foods, cooking posh nibbles from scratch to avoid any added sugar or too much salt, and catering to a variety of dietary requirements (vegetarian, vegan and nut allergies).

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I want cake but I don’t want sugar so I’m baking honey and lemon cupcakes with lemon-lavender cream cheese frosting and another lot of spiced banana with pineapple frosting, using apple juice as a sugar substitute. I took my inspiration from this blog.

I’ve ordered a silicone ice cube tray (duck shapes, no less) but I thought I might try to use it to create some sugar-free pineapple jelly as well. Accompanying “ice-cream” will be frozen banana blitzed in my Vitamix. I may add some coconut cream and lime juice to give it a piña colada feel. To keep costs down we will only be offering beer or juice and have encouraged guests to bring their own if they want to drink. However, it would be wrong not to serve Duck’s Fizz.

A lesson learned

I got carried away. The urge took over – I wanted to do things “properly” and lost my mind. The guilt started to set in as soon as I checked out through PayPal and realised what I’d done. This is money that should be saved for his education, or more immediately to pay the bills.

But then I justified it again by filling my head with clichés about remembering the day for the rest of our lives and that it will only happen once. Blah blah blah. Basically, I was stupid, I should’ve thought it out more carefully, I should have set a budget and not everything has to match the theme.

Out in town and I saw ducks everywhere because Easter is approaching. Bad news. What did I do? Buy more bloody ducks! I figured now I’ve started, why stop? Again, I lost my mind. But what I have promised is that next year we will tone it down and keep it small until the next milestones (5, 10, 13, 16, 18 and 21).

Better start saving.

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Filed under Consumerism, Family, Green, Plastic, Shopping

Disposable healthcare

For almost six months now, I have been attending my local GP practice to have a wound dressed by the nurses. It was an abscess I messed around with which exploded under the skin and had to be lanced to get all the gooey puss out.

Still reading? Well, there was a gaping hole left behind as the doctor scraped out the infected flesh, so he packed the wound with a sterile dressing leaving a little wick outside the incision to allow fluid to drain away and the cavity to heal from the inside without closing over.

Due to the nature of the procedure I was expected to return on a daily basis (even weekends) for the first two weeks. Each time, a new sterile pack was opened containing a plastic sheet, plastic self-stick bag, plastic apron and latex gloves; a fresh pair of plastic-handled scissors in a plastic sterile pack; plastic tongues in a plastic sterile pack; metal probe in a cardboard sleeve, in a plastic wrapper, in a plastic pack; 45cm length Aquacel packing (even though only 7cm was used) in a plastic pack; saline solution in a plastic bottle; a packet of gauze (even though only 1 square was used) in a plastic pack; and the dressing itself made of some type of plastic, wrapped in paper, with a plastic coating.

I was astonished. I know there is a lot of waste in the NHS, I know that minimising the threat of infection is a priority, and I know that the environment is not a concern to most. But surely there is a better way – more responsible way – of doing things.

I expressed my horror to one of the nurses on duty, who agreed that they waste an awful lot, offered me the scissors to keep and explained that the EU no longer allow us to sterilise equipment so everything has to be disposable. Wow. Everything?

Within a fortnight I had 10 pairs of scissors, several probes, packets of gauze and numerous bags.

If this is how many scissors are thrown away just because of me, I began to consider how many patients the nurses see in a day, how many pairs of scissors they throw away each week, how many GP practices there are in my town alone, how many hospitals, how many in my county and the whole country, then the whole of Europe… Oh my.

Then I started to think about all the countries around the world where healthcare is a privilege, not a right, and what they would think if they could see the amount of medical equipment we throw away, while they haven’t even got access to such things. Surely, it would make more sense to at least safely package up the used items, sterilise them offshore and distribute them among needy nations.

I dunno. I don’t have the answers, but I do know this is wrong. This is health and safety legislation “gone mad”. It’s as sickening as the amount of food thrown away by supermarkets that apparently can’t be given away to the hungry. But that’s another post…

Now, what do I do with all these scissors?

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Filed under Community, Consumerism, Green, NHS, Plastic

Will I ever be godly?

20130227-152533.jpgIf cleanliness is really next to godliness, then I worry I will burn in the eternal fires of hell. Though a messy house can feel that bad, so perhaps I am already there.

It’s hard! I wonder how other people manage. I see them, with their children and their jobs and their clean houses. How and when do people find the time? While caring for my grandmother it’s surprisingly easy. I make a mess, I tidy it up. I leave her rooms tidy and kitchen spotless every day before I leave to come home to my pigsty.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating, but sometimes my house is so far from my standard of what I feel is acceptable that it makes me want to cry. But oddly enough, not clean up. How do people stay on top of it all and have any life left to live? I feel that I have failed as a woman (sorry feminists) to not be able to manage it all.

I have been known to cancel house guests because I’ve not had time to dust the skirting and polish the towel heater. I change plans with friends because I’m so scared they’ll judge the oil spattered along the back of my range cooker or cat hair on the carpet. Even having a “leccy” round to give a quote to fit a shower sent me into blind panic about the limescale around the bath taps and mess in the fuse cupboard.

Recently I got suckered into buying a steam cleaner plus all the accessories from a shopping channel. I used it once, the pad got caked in old dirt from a tiled floor, I panicked as I didn’t know how to wash it, and it’s been sitting in the dark ever since. Why, when I fantasised so vividly about the jet nozzle giving the grout a seeing to, have I not even used it yet?

I want to host, I want to welcome people into our home, but I worry so much about what they will think of how we live that I end up stifling my social life and avoiding so much as a cup of tea at mine. Surely this is not normal behaviour and I need help of some kind. Or I need to quit a hobby, watch less TV, go on eBay less, ping on a pair of marigolds and just get on with it.

The only time this strange obsession is put into perspective is when I visit other people’s messy houses and realise that it’s normal for a home to look lived in. In the way air-brushed cover girls wreak havoc with my body image, I expect my abode to resemble a show home and must have a distorted view of reality. It’s like anorexia but without the malnutrition. A kind of household dismorphia.

So, I have OCD but don’t do anything about it – what is wrong with me…? Maybe I’m just lazy. Should I hire a cleaner or is that failing? I fear failure more than all of the above. But that’s another post.

Please help.

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Filed under Family, Self-discovery

Caring for the elderly vs caring for the planet

reduce-reuse-recycleIn many ways my triple “r” habit was inherited from my grandmother: drying and reusing pieces of kitchen towel; double-dipping teabags; eating (perfectly safe) food out-of-date; using things sparingly; and making do and mending. However, now I am in a position where I am caring for her full time and I’m struggling to sustain my “green” habits in order to prioritise hygiene, safety and my sanity.

I find myself constantly throwing away once-used tissues, using worrying amounts of harsh chemicals to clean up spills and “things”, wasting uneaten food, leaving too many lights on and burning the central heating in mild weather. This is stuff I wouldn’t imagine myself doing at home or even at work, where possible. But while juggling my Nana with my eleven-month-old son, I have found myself taking certain shortcuts in order to meet both their needs while minimising risks in her home to them both.

So I’m challenging deeply ingrained habits that took years to perfect and it’s making me question what is more important. My usual stance is to consider the “greater good” and strive to do the right thing by our environment. Here, I am faced with a choice: the planet or my Grams. And for the sake of my survival, being able to continue in this role, the planet is losing.

She is constantly cold and refuses to layer up. My options are to manhandle and force her into more clothes or keep smiling and turn up the thermostat. Incontinence has taken its toll. My options are to spend half her pension on eco-friendly products or buy cheap, spray and mop in a flash. One minute she’s hungry, so I cook up a nutritious meal. Next minute she looks at me like I’m crazy and refuses to even take a bite. My options are to big_meatsleave and reheat or just prepare something cold that will last. Of course it’s unsafe to keep reheating or leave lukewarm food lying about the place. So what have I found myself doing? Buying cheap packaged foods like quiche, cheap deli meat for sandwiches (with questionable welfare standards) and biscuits – because sometimes that’s all she’ll eat.

I’m still recycling, trying my best not to be wasteful, turning off the radiators and throwing a blanket over my nan when she’ll let me. But it’s not easy. And it’s making me think perhaps I’ve judged others too harshly in the past, without considering their personal circumstances and limitations.

As I settle into this routine, I’m sure I’ll be able to improve certain things. I’ve already taken a step in the right direction and bought some bicarbonate of soda in bulk to freshen up the carpets as the little man is on-the-move, soon to be crawling. Phew! That’s when the trouble will really start…

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Filed under Caring, Family, Green

Focus

I’m still confused. What do I blog about? Yes, I’m sort of here to blog for the sake of blogging; to exercise my writing fingers, squeeze the creative juices and express my day-to-day woes. But I’m also here to get on my high horse about things that drive me to despair, rant and rave about political dissent, share foodie experiments, artistic insights and educate where qualified. WordPress tells me I need to focus; choose a topic and target an audience. But can’t I just be myself? I am not just one thing. I don’t have one interest. I don’t want 50 blogs.

Perhaps the focus will find itself the more accustomed I get to sitting down and putting digits to keyboard. We don’t need another breastfeeding blog, knitting, recipes or exercise. Too political could be dry, too moralistic and I’ll come across preachy, too spiritual and I’ll be branded a hippy — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Hmm. Back to the drawing board.

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Filed under Self-discovery, Writing