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Back to school the green parenting way.

12 Jul

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The summer holidays are now so close I can almost taste that freedom from the school run! Those glorious six weeks when there is less rushing around, less packed lunches to make and less general stress and chaos in the house.

Now is the time that we generally start to think about purchasing school uniform, shoes and other supplies but is there a way to do this that is kinder to the planet?

Source second hand school clothes.

New school uniform is a costly business. Why not reuse and recyle instead? You could ask around to see if friends have any that they wish to sell. Many people will just be glad to pass them on to a good home for free. You can often find second hand school uniform in charity shops. The benefit of children growing so fast is that they normally grow out of their school clothes before it gets damaged.

Make a list of what you really need before buying more.

The shops are full of new school bags and lunch boxes at this time of year but do you really need to buy more? A quick stock take before you hit the shops could save your wallet and the planet.

Eco friendly school supplies

If you do need to invest in more folders, bags or pencils – there are eco friendly alternatives. You probably wont find these in your local supermarket but you can source them on line. We love these canvas backpacks from Mibo.

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Longer lasting and better for the environment than the alternatives which normally contain PVC. They also stock some beautiful pencil cases made from organic cotton. I have my eye on the seal one!

seal pencil case

Green Office also have a vast supply earth friendly products.

Cut down on food waste

A comprehensive study carried out by WRAP suggests that over a school year a total of 55,408 tonnes of food waste is generated by primary schools in England and 24,974 tonnes by secondary schools, giving a total food waste weight of 80,382
tonnes. Although it was difficult to differentiate between waste from cooked school meals and packed lunches, the policies within the schools suggests that the vast majority came from cooked meals. This is because the majority of food waste from packed lunches is taken home.

What can you do to help cut down on this waste? Well a packed lunch is a good place to start. You can see exactly how much your child has eaten each day. If they are bringing home uneaten food it can sometimes be reused (depending on the food item of course). It may be that you are packing too much for your child to get through during lunch time and you can therefore adjust the quantities accordingly.

Reusable lunchboxes and drinks bottles are much better for the planet than single use, disposable options.

Ditch the sandwich bags.

Check out these gorgeous alternatives to sandwich bags. They are made from non-toxic environmentally friendly materials, are machine washable and they take up far less space than a lunch box. You can use them for a variety of items, not just sandwiches. For more information, check out this great review on the Kids of The Wild Blog.

Buy second hand books

You will often see used text books in charity shops. If you need a particular one then ebay is a good place to start. Or again, you could ask around friends if they have a second hand one that they would be happy to sell or pass on.

Whatever you decide to do, I wish you all a lovely summer holiday. Fingers crossed for some sunshine!

 

 

What makes a happy childhood?

28 Jan

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If you try to envisage your happiest memories from your childhood, what comes to mind?

For me, it is the memories of family time. As children we spent a lot of time with grandparents and other family and it is something that I am determined my own children should experience. We were so lucky that our grandparents lived close by and we were able to enjoy so much quality time with them.

I remember hot, lazy summers when the time seemed to move as slowly as pond water. We spent much of our time blackberry picking and playing pooh sticks then would head back to my gran’s house where she would cook up a delicious blackberry crumble. Gran’s house would always smell of something yummy like  freshly baked saffron buns or warm fresh bread.

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Blackberry picking with my brother

It is funny how smells can instantly take you back to your childhood. I only have to get a whiff of roast beef and I am transported back to my Auntie Kath’s house. Perfectly cooked in her old Rayburn, the smell would greet you as soon you walked in the door.

The smell of Peppermint reminds me of the Peppermint creams that I would make with my mum. They were usually a very bright green thanks to my obsession with food colouring. These were just one of the many treats I would be allowed to make on my own using my little Ladybird cookbook.

The best times were of course the summer holidays which were spent mainly on our bikes or playing illegally (!) in the school playing fields. We lived just two doors away from school which had its advantages. We used to have a lot of fun making use of the sandpit and hurdles and running away from the school caretaker when he decided to turn up on his ride on lawnmower! We had numerous trees to climb there and that is where we started our first famous five den, right at the top of a huge pine tree. We had a biscuit tin to store important supplies, all we were missing was a dog!

We would have family games of cricket on this school playing field with cousins, aunts and uncles all joining in. These were the best days and looking back I think it was probably because all of the adults were laughing and having fun too. It makes me realise how important it is to have fun with my children now so that they will also have these happy times to remember. Note to self: make more time for fun!

Other memories I will cherish

Snowy winters.

Oh how I would love to experience a real blizzard again. I remember being out all day sledging with my dad and brother, screaming with delight and terror as we approached the massive hedge at the bottom of the hill.We didn’t realise until we got in the door just how frozen we were. Mum had to try and extract us from our icy clothing to warm up in front of the fire. We built a snowman that was bigger than me and it lasted for days.

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Epic snow day!

Playing cards.

Rummy, Canasta, Seven of Diamonds, we loved them all and still do. We try to fit in a game whenever we meet up with Dad. He has taken over from my Gran when it comes to being the most competitive card player.

Holidays.

Our holidays were normally kept fairly local. We didn’t go abroad and normally went to Butlins or hired a holiday cottage in Newquay. Holidays were just fantastic as a child. In Newquay we would swim in the sea for hours and in the evening we would walk the headland, go to a Punch and Judy show or play crazy golf. At night we would sink into our beds exhausted, happy and smelling of the beach. Morning would bring the sound of gulls and the excitement of a whole new day of adventure.

My Gran, who lived slightly further away from us, would take me on holidays by train which was such a treat. We spent the whole day travelling to Blackpool. I remember listening to Mel and Kim on my Walkman, eating all the lovely snacks prepared by my gran and nodding off to sleep with the gentle rocking of the carriage. We took a tram to see the Blackpool illuminations and I remember being wide-eyed with wonder at how fantastic they were. We visited the Blackpool Tower Circus which was a real eye opener for my younger self. I imagine Blackpool is very different now so I’m not tempted to go back with my children. I want to keep it in my memory just as it was.

Christmas

If I think really hard I can still remember that butterfly feeling that you get when you wake up in the night and realise Santa has been. I am sure I could smell the wrapping paper at the end of the bed. I remember how even the smallest presents would fill me with happiness. I had a beautiful Jemima Puddle Duck bottle of perfume which I treasured for years and a Victoria Plum notebook which I just loved. I love seeing this same joy in my children now when they open their presents.

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EPSON MFP imageEnjoying nature

Looking back, It feels like the majority of my childhood was spent outside. We had a nice big garden so we would play on our scooters, make obstacle courses  and in good weather play in the paddling pool. There were lots of children nearby so we were often in and out of each other’s houses. I enjoyed getting involved with the gardening and I remember one night being in the green house until it was getting dark. I was sieving the earth ready to plant tomatoes and I did not want to go to bed until I was done.

Lily and Thomas haven’t quite got this eagerness to help in the garden (where did I go wrong?) but hopefully we are now creating similar happy memories for them.

This post is dedicated to my lovely grandparents!

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Adopt a Donkey for a special Christmas gift this year.

13 Dec

 

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Are you fed up with unused toys cluttering up the house? Do discarded gifts get you down? Why not purchase an unusual gift this year that will really benefit someone?

The Donkey Sanctuary Adopt a Donkey scheme is a wonderful gift idea for people of all ages. We are lucky enough to have an adoption scheme with Eeyore who lives at the Donkey Sanctuary in Ivybridge. Our lovely Auntie Audrey adopts him for us every year and we love to read his updates and also to visit him a couple of times a year.

Many of the donkeys rescued by the Sanctuary have experienced neglect or abandonment, and the adoption scheme ensures that they will never want for warmth, care or food again.

In addition to caring for the donkeys, the Donkey Sanctuary also provide Donkey therapy to children in the UK and internationally. They support projects in 35 countries worldwide! For more information on their work, please visit their website.

It costs just £24 to adopt a donkey for a year and the adoption pack includes:

  • A framed portrait
  • Four beautiful postcards
  • A certificate and their donkey’s story
  • Regular updates about their donkey

You can also visit your donkey for free at the sanctuary.

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Beautiful Burgundy. Family cycling in France.

9 Oct

France is a great location for a cycling holiday. We are not quite ready for on-road cycle routes and travelling miles and miles each day so this year we opted for one base that was in easy reach of family friendly rides.

The canal paths and sleepy waterways are perfect for cyclists of all abilities. We set off for the day, loaded up with picnics, drinks and sun cream and just loved the relaxed and easy way of life. No one rushes anywhere in Burgundy. The colourful canal boats drift along with ease, the crew giving a wave as you ride by or perhaps lifting a glass of wine in your direction to say ‘Bon Soir’. The beautiful villages along the way are very welcoming with their boulangeries and cafes.

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Our accommodation was on the edge of Vermenton. A lovely small town with all amenities and a very good campsite by the river. Friends of ours stayed at this site for a few days and loved it.

We stayed at Le Moulinot. This is a wonderful property that provides everything a family needs for a fun-filled holiday. The property is spacious and welcoming, has all mod cons (including a DVD player with English films) and is situated next to a beautiful millpond and swimming pool.

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There is a canoe on the pond which we made use of every day. The swimming pool was cool and inviting during the scorching hot days and there were plenty of loungers for relaxing and reading.

You feel completely free here and are surrounded by fields, streams and wildlife. Other than the owners who live in an adjacent property, there are no other neighbours and it felt very safe for the children to be wild and free. It is a bird spotters paradise, with a resident Kingfisher, Dippers, Herons and Buzzards flying over-head and beautiful dragonflies flitting about on the water.

Wildlife Collage.jpgOur favourite wildlife were the Coypu who doggie-paddled across the pool at dusk and entertained the children for hours. Although they are from the rodent family they are very sweet and look like little otters or beavers. They  have been eradicated in the UK so we were quite excited to see them. There were also red squirrels and  Loir (Edible Dormouse). We had a brief glimpse of a red squirrel but sadly never spotted a Loir as they are nocturnal. We did however hear them in the roof space at night!

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Coypu spotting!

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The beautiful and tranquil, Le Moulinot

Vermenton is an excellent base for exploring Burgundy. Here are our recommendations for places to visit.

  • Noyers-sur-Serein. A beautiful medieval town with an old castle to explore. Try lunch at Rouge et Blanc where you can get a fantastic platter of cheeses and cold meats.
  • Grottes de St More – Quite an energetic hike to these and you do need to be a bit of a mountain goat at times! If you are feeling adventurous though they are definitely worth exploring. Good for spotting sleeping bats!
  • Avallon – Another medieval town with some great restaurants. Thomas had his first taste of snails here. L’horloge restaurant on 63 Grande Rue Aristide Briand was really good at accommodating my gluten free requests. The owner spoke good English and was very reassuring in talking me through their menu.
  • Chablis – The only place I have ever been where it seems normal to have wine with breakfast! Check out the wine tours here, there are plenty to choose from. The open air market is excellent too.
  • Vezelay – A trip to the Basilica is definitely worthwhile. We had lunch at Restaurant le Dent Creuse which was very reasonably priced and despite looking like a tourist trap was actually very good.
  • Grottes D’Arcy – These are excellent caves with a guided tour in French (my husband and children enjoyed a spontaneous translation from a lovely Parisian English teacher). Look out for the second oldest cave paintings in France and amazing geological formations.
  • Auxerre – We visted here on our last day and I wish we had discovered it earlier. It has the best market of any we had seen. Do not miss Cathedral St Etienne, it has stunning stained glass windows, statues, gargoyles and paintings that take your breath away.

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vezelay-collageAs well as site seeing there are plenty of other things to do in the area…

Kayaking

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There are quite a few options for Kayaking the Burgundy rivers. We decided to head to St Pere in the Morvan Valley and chose AB Loisirs. They were helpful and friendly and spoke English which was very useful for us! Our route was a five mile fairly easy paddle and was easily managed by our 7 and 10 year old who shared kayaks with us. This was a great way to explore the river Cure and get up close to the wildlife.

Two minutes from AB Loisirs is Brasserie de Vezelay where you could buy a perfect, cold, gluten free beer. They also serve bar snacks. Definitely worth a visit if you are a coeliac like me.

Markets

We love visiting French markets with their atmosphere, sights and smells and stocking up on local cheeses and pastries. You can find a list of market days here.

Ecluse Des Dames on the Canal du Nivernais

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Ecluse Des Dames – a wonderful find!

I have to mention Ecluse Des Dames which we happily discovered on a bike ride. This is a play park in the trees! For just five euros each your little ones can play tarzan for as long as they like whilst you enjoy the picnic areas and hammocks and keep a close eye on them. (Children under 6 must be accompanied by an adult). The owners also have a small bistrot here where you can enjoy a glass of Chablis and a goats cheese salad. What a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

Burgundy was a delight for all the family and we would definitely recommend Le Moulinot. We will have some very happy memories of this trip.

What is your favourite holiday destination as a family?

How to holiday better – TV company wants to hear from you!

21 Sep

Are you a family who holidays on a budget? Would you like to learn how to holiday better?

We have been asked to spread the word about a new TV show which can help you to get the most for your holiday money. To apply to take part in this programme, or for more information please email:  holidaybetter@7wonder.co.uk

 

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Cycling holidays with children

10 Aug

skim-3Cycling holidays needn’t involve weighty rucksacks and endless cries of “are we there yet?” Cycling with children can be so much fun. It takes the stress out of holiday traffic, will save you money and will guarantee that the children will sleep well at the end of the day.

There are holiday companies who will arrange a cycling holiday for you. They will provide bikes, maps and accommodation and will pick you up at the end of a day’s cycling to take you back to your hotel. There’s no need to break the bank though. If you are on a budget you can organise your own break using some of these tips.

Find a good base. Whether that is a tent, a cottage or a holiday park, ensure that you are in the right location for all the best bike routes. A good way to research this is to look up cycle routes and then find a base that is centrally placed. This Sustrans Book lists all the best routes along with an idea of the level of expertise required.  It will also point out good places to stop along the way, or detours that you can make to extend your day.

Plan your days out. Agree as a family on where you would like to visit, how many hours you will spend cycling etc. Do some research on your chosen cycle route. Are there cafes or playgrounds that you can visit along the way? Will you go via a beach where you can eat a picnic? Are there some lovely gift shops in the area where the children can spend some pocket money?

Know your limits. Stick within your capabilities as a family. You may yearn to go racing off on a 20 mile coast to coast but if your 3 year old is still plodding along on a balance bike then you just know that is going to end in tears.

Have the best gear that you can afford. Pannier bags are a great investment. It takes the strain off your back and means that you can load up with lunch, snacks, drinks, spare clothes, nappies, maps, more snacks.. you get the idea.

Use suitable bikes. Children and adults need bikes that are the right size for them. If you are not sure ask at your local bike shop. Your leg should be almost fully extended when your pedal is at the lowest point, otherwise you will start to feel the strain.

Balance bikes are a great first bike and we cannot recommend them highly enough. They teach your child from the off that cycling is all about balance. Stabilisers will just give a false sense of security and when you take them off they will have no idea how to balance.

For babies, the Weeride or a similar front-facing seat gives your child the best views and enables you to feel more connected to them during your ride. We also felt much safer with this frame-mounted seat as it does not affect your center of gravity and cause you to topple over.

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Weeride bike seat

Be prepared. Make sure that you carry with you a puncture repair kit, mobile phone and first aid kit plus enough food and drinks to fend off any child/adult meltdowns.

There are some areas which we have tried and would recommend. The Peak District is a fantastic base and my blog post from a couple of years ago has lots of information on this. I would also recommend basing yourself near The Camel Trail in Cornwall. This is a very flat, family friendly route and is great for days out to Padstow. Exeter is also a good base. This cathedral city offers everything you need for a fun day out with a huge choice of amazing restaurants. The City Museum is definitely worth a visit! From Exeter you can take the Exe Estuary Trail to Dawlish or Exmouth. A really lovely route, some of it is on quieter roads.

We’re heading to France this year and basing ourselves in Burgundy with access to many cylce routes via the Canal du Nivernais. We will let you know how we get on! Which family cycle routes would you recommend?

A moral tale: “Little Worm’s Big Question”. Book review and give away.

13 Apr

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From the depths of the ocean to the dusty moon, Little Worm travels the world and beyond to answer his big question: what makes him special? In ‘Little Worm’s Big Question’ we encounter Whale, Beetle, Polar Bear and others who reveal their special quality. Little Worm hopes that by hearing their stories, he will learn what makes him special. It’s only when he returns home and meets another worm, that he then realises the truth: everyone is special in their own way, including him.

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There is a clear moral message at the centre of this story. We all have something special about us and sometimes, even though it might not be obvious, it’s right under our nose. The illustrations are wonderfully accurate. The writing style is clear and easy to follow and it is a lovely story to share and to talk about. When we read this book it prompted a lovely conversation about what makes everyone in our family unique and different.

We have two copies of this book to give away. To be in with a chance of winning one, please email your details to tracydixon24@gmail.com. Two winners will be chosen at random on 18th April 2016.

You can purchase Little Worm’s Big Question from Ethical Shop for £7.99.