DO IT YOURSELF: BIRTHDAY PARTIES AND PRESENTS

When we were children my sister and I always had birthday parties: swimming parties, traditional ‘home’ parties, trampoline parties, McDonald’s parties, Pizza Hut parties… You name it, we did it. My friends had parties, too, most of them. It was something we took for granted, but many children nowadays don’t have them. Perhaps this is because the pressure has become too much and expectations run too high. Perhaps some parents can’t afford even a party at home, with school friends as guests, or think that they can’t because the guests will have high expectations. Who knows? Regardless, my children have usually enjoyed birthday parties, although there have been occasions where they chose a different ‘treat’ such as a visit to a theme park.

This year all three children have asked for birthday parties at home, now that we have our lovely rambling old house. We have had one child’s birthday so far this year and are planning for the next two. We made the invitations ourselves, which is a lovely way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon if you or your offspring are creative. Because my son has autism, and his school friends have special needs, for his party we printed off a simple but clear list of what would happen, so that parents would know ahead of time, and so that anyone with autism had time to prepare. We decided to host movie parties, and to reuse any movie-themed paraphernalia. This is a fairly inexpensive way of hosting a party in your own home for older children. As a family who are trying to declutter, as well as be more eco-aware, movies that exist solely in cyberspace seem like a marvellous idea.

For each movie party we intend to watch a movie from blinkbox. For the first party my son invited a few school friends and spent an evening eating takeaway food and popcorn while watching Despicable Me 2. I bought a couple of plastic table covers with a balloons pattern, as well as some plastic plates and cups, all of which were washed afterwards for reuse at future parties. I’m not sure whether this was the most environmentally friendly option, but as paper plates aren’t washable or reusable, plastic plates seemed sensible, and I did not want my crockery getting broken by boisterous children. I also bought a funky door banner which says ‘PARTY!’ which was carefully folded after use and placed in the Birthday Box, ready for next time.

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The ‘Birthday Box’.

For the next party, my sister will be joining us and she is planning on baking the cake (she is a very good cook). The party will have a joint movie and gymnastics theme. We’re planning a gymnastics film and have several options lined up, all from blinkbox. We use blinkbox because it allows films to be downloaded, so you don’t get those annoying pauses; the computer we use is rather elderly so not up to streaming films. To continue the movie theme we have some ‘Hollywood’ cupcake/bun toppers, which can be reused if washed carefully and, as an alternative to plastic party bags, I found paper popcorn bags. These will be filled with sweets and a few odds and ends that I save for such occasions, e.g. some leather friendship bands from Traidcraft. I may crochet a few butterfly hairpins or the like as well. We’ll see.

We won’t be buying takeaway for the next party. As my sister will be with us (hurrah!) we will have a go at a traditional party tea. This part won’t be as eco-friendly, to be fair, because I do intend to buy some wrapped foods such as crisps and cake… But we’ll do what we can, which is my motto when it comes to environmental issues – doing something is better than doing nothing and doing what you can is better than beating yourself up for not being Eco Warrior Super Mum. Yeah. She’s annoying, frankly.

Onto the next subject of this post: eco-friendly gifts. I try to get a few small gifts for each child. Planning is everything. I will spend months beforehand not avidly searching but keeping an eye out for anything suitable at which point it is stored in my wardrobe. For the upcoming birthday I bought a couple of second-hand pretty dresses, a summer jacket and a gymnastics leotard. Second-hand clothing has many benefits. These clothes are far cheaper than new clothes, and have often only been worn a few times before they are outgrown. When a new item of clothing is produced, it produces a chunky carbon footprint in its manufacture and distribution especially if, for example, it has travelled half way round the world to end up in our local shop. So second-hand clothes make a lovely gift if chosen with care. I was also lucky enough to find a gymnastics beam for sale at a very good price. It is an ‘ex-display’ beam, manufactured in the UK. Although not as good as a second-hand beam in terms of its environmental impact, it does not have the carbon footprint of certain goods (although I think most of the beams on the market are British made, which means that transport emissions will be less).

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What do you think? I hope she likes it!

I have also made two gifts which I know my little girl will treasure simply because Mummy made them. I cross-stitched a picture of a spring lamb and found a frame for it (new, unfortunately, although I did try to find a suitable frame second hand), and I used some of my embarrassingly large stash of yarn to crochet a gorgeous little bag with a flower decoration. I used this free pattern from Daisy Cottage Designs for the bag, making the handle longer, and this free pattern from Attic24 for the flower. Both very easy patterns but with charming results. I then sewed a button from my sewing basket in the middle of the flower to finish it off.

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Soap: Liquid or Solid?

There is an interesting article on the BBC today about the reasons some people prefer bars of soap to liquid soap or shower gel. The five reasons given in the article are:

1) It’s what people have always used.

2) Solid soap is more luxurious.

3) The feeling of scouring away the dirt in the shower (not quite sure what this means).

4) Less packaging is better for the planet.

5) Bottles are fiddly.

I would add the following as advantages to using bars of soap:

6) Bars of soap are often cheaper. I can buy a bar of pure soap for a lot less than I can buy ‘pure’ shower gel. Also, household soap can be used to make laundry liquid. Soap can even be used to wash your hair, with a bit of effort.

7) A little goes a long way! A bar of soap in the kitchen or cloakroom lasts a lot longer than liquid soap. This saves packaging, transportation and energy (because the more of a product there is, and the more quickly it is used up, the more energy is used in its manufacture and transportation).

 

8) Soap lathers up just as well as shower gel. I like to use a scrunchie in the shower – is that what they’re called? One of those things on the right -> If I wet the bar of soap, wet the scrunchie and then rub the soap on the scrunchie, it lathers up really well but uses up very little of the actual bar. I was given a pile of shower gel for Christmas which my son won at the school Christmas fair so I am steadily making my way through that, but once it’s gone I will happily return to using my bars of soap!

9) You can make your own soap very easily using ‘melt and pour‘ soap and you can customise it to whatever shape, scent and colour you prefer. This cuts down on packaging and transportation, and is probably the best option for those seeking to be more eco-friendly.

What do you think?

GARDENING FOR DUMMIES, DECLUTTERING & UPCYCLED STORAGE BOXES

I have neglected this blog lately, although I have a lot of ideas in the pipeline. My health has been up and down, which of course affects blogging as well as my ability to be as actively eco-friendly as I’d like. I don’t beat myself up over it – what’s the point? If you’re not well, you’re not well, but you do your best and that’s good enough (why is that such a hard lesson to learn?).

I have, however, begun gardening for the first time in my life (seriously – I didn’t know a weed from a rake), and gobbling up gardening books. I was dead chuffed when I planted my first potatoes earlier this week. I highly recommend Geoff Stebbings’ Growing Your Own Fruit & Veg for Dummies, along with a book about tackling and identifying weeds, which are a big problem in our neglected Victorian garden, though even in its neglected state it is gorgeous. The cat which used to poop all over the garden seems to have gone, which is a relief. I am not a cat lover and I think anyone who is serious about the environment should give consideration to the fact that domestic cats are responsible for the deaths of millions of birds and thus have a huge effect on ecosystems.

I follow FlyLady and am making good use of her decluttering system. The first thing you need before you can declutter is a home for an item. This is rule no. 1. The home can be a shelf, a box, a wardrobe, a box of items for charity, a box of items for recycling or, as a last resort, a bin bag for things that have no use for anyone and cannot be recycled. Of course, decluttering only works if you then take the donations, etc., out of the house. I spent a long time thinking that putting things in charity bags or in boxes ‘for recycling’ was good enough. They still didn’t grow legs and walk out of the house! Decluttering is, in essence, deciding where something belongs. If you declutter for 15 minutes a day, as FlyLady suggests, you will soon see significant results.

While decluttering, I realised I have many items that are useful and reusable, but only at certain times of year, e.g. children’s birthday party items. It suddenly dawned on me that it would be useful to have all ‘birthday’ things in one place. I didn’t want to go out and buy more boxes, and was inspired by Alejandra’s tips on creating storage boxes from things you already have.

I do try to get the whole family in on the eco-friendly/FlyLady act. It’s no good if Mum is busily tidying and everyone else thinks there’s an invisible cleaning fairy who picks up after them and cleans all their messes. Hey, kids! There is no invisible magical anyone. You need to learn to pick up after yourself. I began by taking a used but sturdy cardboard box and sticking strips of colourful tape to one of the sides. It was then time for the school run and my excitable, creative 9-year-old, when she came home, wanted to help. I reassured her that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful and ta daaaa!

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I plan to do a Christmas box as well, using washi tape with a reindeer design.

She finished off our very own super-duper upcycled ‘Birthday Box’ which now contains plastic birthday tablecloths, a ‘happy birthday’ door banner, some plastic cups and some cardboard plates and bowls. I admit these are not the most eco friendly items, but at least we will reuse them rather than disposing of them.What else could go in, I wonder?

NB. If you’re thinking of having a go yourself, I’d recommend gaffer tape or duct tape. I used washi tape and it’s really not very strong, although I won’t store anything heavy in this box. Gaffer tape would strengthen the box. 

Hurrah for Public Transport (and Preparations for a Homemade Christmas)

There has not been so much blogging lately as I am snowed under trying to balance studying with sorting out our lovely new old house (if you know what I mean). An aged house such as ours has its own particular set of problems for any new inhabitants inheriting all the ‘quirks’ that the previous owners never fixed. But it’s fun o_O

I am also trying to make preparations for a make-do-and-mend, pre-loved, home made, Un-paving Paradise Christmas with all the family. I have already made a shawl, wrist-warmers, napkin rings and am onto the recycled cotton crocheted flannels (which will be wrapped with home made soaps and bath bombs) and pine cone decorations. Last year I made two pairs of these lovely slippers, and will also make a couple more pairs for friends and family for this year. It’s a simple, but very effective pattern. My middle child still wears them and loves the fact that they were created especially for her, which is as much the value of a home made gift as the gift itself 🙂

It being half-term here in this Lost Corner of Middleshire, we took the children to the National Space Centre. It’s a fantastic place. The planetarium alone is an amazing experience. A particular favourite was the ‘rocket’ in the cafe, which every so often would begin to rumble and emit vast quantities of dry ice lit by red lights, to much shrieking delight on behalf of the children stood underneath. Also, if you book online in advance, you get a free annual pass. Read more here.

We travelled by train and stayed overnight as it’s a long way away, which led to some interesting questions with regard to the eco credentials of train travel: why is it more environmentally-friendly to use the train, but costs more? Shouldn’t the fact that there are 100 people travelling in just one carriage be more economical for the traveller? Why, even when you have discounts such as the Friends and Family Railcard and you book weeks in advance, is rail travel in Britain so expensive?

Tackling Mount Washmore

I’m thinking of getting one of these

Ecoballs: simple, effective, eco-friendly and inexpensive

We have been attempting to save energy recently by hanging clothes up to dry instead of using a tumble dryer. Of course, this is nothing worthy of an Archimedes’ ‘eureka!’, but I have figured out that if I hang clothes in a certain way, they dry with far fewer creases and hence require little to no ironing and irons use an awful lot of energy (as well as being boring). My method uses lots of pegs, to ensure garments are drying as ‘flat’ as possible. I also have clothes hangers which I keep by the washing line so that anything that requires a hanger now goes straight on the hanger after drying and then directly into the wardrobe. I got this idea from one of FlyLady’s emails. We have two people in our house with bladder problems so we regularly have lots of washing. I do at least one load of laundry every day to stay on top of things, and I use ecoballs instead of laundry powder. This method saves time, money and electricity, so it’s win, win win!

The Italians have it right, but I doubt this would work in rainy, cold Brittania…