What We’ve Been Up To In June 2020

After a gentle start to the month, molar teething, the four month sleep regression and a week-long heatwave combined to make a tough finish. Still, we made it!

We made lavender sugar and rose sugar. Pick lavender just as it’s opening and rose petals in full bloom. Look over for any insects or dirt. Place in jar with sugar. Shake ‘n’ seal. Wait. If you put them straight in, the sugar clumps, but I don’t mind.

I ordered two perennial nine star broccoli plants! And got six strawberry plants for free off trashnothing.com, which are already going mad putting out runners! We’ve been eating wong bok, raspberries, beetroot tops (ew), actual beetroot (yum), basil and tragic woody radishes. Remind me to just not grow radishes again. The slugs have rampaged and finally finished off our pea plants, and half of our beans and kale.

The alternating rains and searing heat have kept us indoors a lot. One of my new year’s resolutions was to spend more time outside. This has, uh, not been going to well. Partly due to reasons out of my control! But Mr Two Year Old and I have invented a new game: We’re Going On A Slug Hunt.

I did a lot of sewing – face masks, oilcloth laundry bags; a slimline pencil case; a coin-keys-and-card purse. We bought a length of fabric to make blind for our old house, and out of the cuttings from the side I have made handles for the laundry bags, the pencil case, the purse, a sunhat for me and a recycling bag. And I’ve still got a little bit left! It makes me happy to go round our house seeing the same fabric being used for so many different things.

We have an adorable little white sailor suit that is just perfect for baptisms…except both of our children have grown too big before we got round to getting them baptised. We’ll just gloss over our first-child disorganisation, but we thought we were so sorted this time – and then the pandemic hit. Good news, though: I’ve made a proper baptismal gown and cap out of an old cotton slip I was given yonks ago. I bound a neckhole and two armholes with bias binding, gathered the neckline with thread and gathered under the arms with a bias binding channel and some elastic, added some fastenings and hey presto! The cap is, uh, made out of the, um, cups and shoulder straps. But you’d never know! Anyway, if the pandemic goes on long enough that we can’t get her baptised in this, we’re really in trouble.

We bought 16kg of plain flour and 16kg of bread flour…and 1kg of walnuts because it got us over the free delivery threshold. And a galvanised rubbish bin to store the bags in. I have no idea if this is worth it but it feels better than just stacking them on the kitchen floor.

I’ve been on a big toddler independence kick lately. I think it’s good for children to be able to do things for themselves, and it’s pretty good for adults too! You can read about how I reorganised our toy storage here: A So-Simple-It’s-Probably-Boring Toy Storage Revamp. I listed the excess toys and some clothing on trashnothing.com and they disappeared within 24 hours.

My husband volunteered for a three hour shift at church each week to oversee social distancing when it reopened for private prayer. He wore the cloth mask I had sewn to travel there on the Tube, then was given a mask and gloves by the church when he arrived.

I somehow read a lot of books this month. I’ve started listening to an audiobook after Miss Four Month Old and I go to bed together through our library’s BorrowBox. I listed to Educated by Tara Westover* (seriously intense, not recommended for bedtime!), Raising Boys in the 21st Century* (I don’t think I’m the intended audience as I am neither a deadbeat dad nor a single mum) and started First Bite: How We Learn To Eat*.

As the physical library is closed, I also bought some books I have had on my list for a while:
Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers* (Little House on the Prairie but a boy and more death)
The Road to Nab End* (it’s grim Oop North in the mill towns of the 1920s – didn’t love it but I think I’ve just read too many like it already)
Cheaper By The Dozen* (nothing like the film – more like My Family and Other Animals)
Oh Crap! Potty Training* (really about adults’ hangups, but clearly something I needed to read – we’ve set a date and crossed our fingers!)
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee* (haven’t finished it yet)

Thankfully the library is opening again for a reserve and collect service soon so my bank balance won’t dip too low!

Book of the month: Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy

I had expected this book to have more actionable steps on how to teach your children to do various things, like take an infamous nine-year-old subway ride or cook dinner for the whole family. Instead, it was more of a pep talk. Initially I was disappointed but by the end, I did feel like a different, braver, enthused parent – so I think it did its job!

A So-Simple-It’s-Probably-Boring Toy Storage Revamp

We used to keep all our “current” toys in an old trunk in our sitting room. It was helpful to have an obviously limited space and nice to close the lid at the end of the day and get back to an adult space. (We don’t do “kindergarten chic”!)

However, every day our toddler was finished breakfast and asking to get down and play and we had to help him get something out of the trunk. Then he’d finish with it and ask for something else. Rinse and repeat. Then rinse again. And repeat again. You get the picture.

Also, when we tidied up at the end of the day, although he could put things in the (weird, mismatched, ill-fitting) boxes by himself, we had to lift things into the trunk. And sure, it’s a cool steamer trunk, but it was full of random boxes that only fit all the toys inside if you (read: me) arranged them just so.

NO LONGER.

I ordered fifteen of these Gabbig basket from Ikea.

“Fifteen?!” I can hear you asking. “Are you crazy?!”

I know! And they’re big! But the plan is that this constitutes the total capacity of toys, art materials, kid stuff, school stuff, etc in our house… forever. If it doesn’t fit in the baskets, it goes. And “fit” means “easily below the top rim, even if chucked in haphazardly by a toddler. Some of them will be basically empty for a long time, but I learned a while ago to be OK with not filling empty space. And in the meantime the ones which are actually empty could be used to store other things. Honestly, I suspect this limit will be harder to stick to for us adults than for our children.

When they arrived, Mr Two-Year-Old helped me put all the toys from the trunk into six of the baskets. Those six stay out on the floor of the sitting room. Yep, just on the plain floor. I didn’t want to buy a whole new piece of storage to store our storage. Zero adult interaction required for a toddler to make full use of them, pulling them out, pushing them back, getting things out, rearranging them…

Also, no lids. Lids get lost, toddlers can’t put them on without tears, what do you do with the lid when the box is open? What is the lid even for anyway? (Apart from hiding the primary colours from our evening eyes, but this is a sacrifice we’ll just have to make.)

They currently house:
1. Cars and the town plan mat
2. Train tracks
3. Train “other”, including the actual trains, the barn, the signs…
4. Library books and some of our own
5. Wooden blocks
6. A small selection of individual toys (stacking cups, stacking rings, magnetic letters, pop-up men) and some birthday cards he is very attached to

Two go on the shelves in his bedroom. I don’t yet know whether he can push them up onto the shelf by himself, but it’s a small thing for us to do it at bedtime.

They contain:
1. Ball run with balls and hammer
2. Dinosaurs (and I put a few dinosaur books in there too)
(His bedroom also contains all the other books, his cuddly toys in his cot, a rocking horse I sort of want to get rid of, and his cardboard church.)

The rest? In the backup cupboard.

Currently:
1. Noah’s Ark
2. Animals and fences
3. More individual toys
4 & 5 & 6 & 7: Empty!

Each box has plenty of room for more (er, except train tracks!) so we’re not in danger of running out of space any time soon. Toy rotation now ought to be a breeze – choose a basket to pull out, choose a basket to put away. Simples.

It’s so simple I’m almost embarrassed to blog about it, but Pinterest is so full of images of toy storage that look great when they’re immaculately photographed but are more complicated than assembling the Lego Hogwarts castle so I guarantee you it’ll be Mum and Dad keeping it tidy, not the kids. Try searching “awesome toy storage” and imagine your children physically using it in day-to-day life.* In our house, less is less.

Also, I love how standardised it is. Plain colour, same size, Ikea will always sell something similar. They’ll go in any room, on any shelving unit, they’re all the same size so if everything gets dumped out we don’t need to figure out what goes in which box. (Hence no cutesy labels! We can see inside the baskets instantly anyway.) They’ll never grow out of them and we’ll always have a use for a decent sized basket. (In fact, the “empty” ones are already being press-ganged for use elsewhere!)

*What is with stackable boxes for toy storage? Whose children actually stack them up again? And whose children actually sort their toys (usually Lego, those thousands of tiny bricks) by colour after their parents have photographed them? And while I’m all for vertical space, some setups look like your average child would need a ladder as tall as themselves to actually get at anything. These children must also have Hulk-like muscles to lift the colossal plastic bins down from the head-height shelves. And boxes of every conceivable size so that every kind of toy just fits inside that box… until you get a new one, or want to swap out that set for something else. Drives me nuts when people do things “for the children” that were clearly never thought about from the children’s perspective. The End.



Chores With Our Two Year Old (including a philosophical discourse on the place of dirt in God’s divinely created order)

Pretty much a whole, madcap, oh-my-goodness-where-has-that-time-gone year ago, I wrote about how we had started doing chores with our one year old. Now he’s two, I figured it was time for an update.

We had a… let’s say substantial family chore hiatus while I was busy being pregnant (so nauseous I couldn’t open my eyes, then so huge I could barely walk, with what felt like three days in between although the calendar tells me it was actually three months) and then having an actual baby. However, with all four trimesters over, it was time to get back on the wagon.

I went right back to the beginning with Dana White* and decided to just try to do the dishes and the laundry. Our toddler loves routine so if I made it a regular part of his day, there would be no way I could forget! I decided we’d empty the dishwasher and hang up or take down laundry right after breakfast, before either of us got too involved in anything else.

At two, he can:
– Pick items out of the perimeter of the dishwasher and, if they live in the lower cupboards, put them away by himself (not always in the right place, but close enough)
– Pick plates and cutlery out of the dishwasher and hand them up to me
– Close the dishwasher at the end (his special job!)
– Put dirty cutlery into the dishwasher with some help
– Pull laundry out of the machine into the laundry bag
– Pick items out of the laundry bag and hand them up to me
– Attempt to hang up socks. I appreciate the effort.
– Take clothes pegs off items on the laundry rack and put them in the peg bag
– Sometimes take small items off the laundry rack and put them in the bag, but he hasn’t quite mastered the concept of not pulling both ends at the same time
– Take cleaning cloths off the laundry rack and put them away in the drawer pretty much all by himself
– Shout “HELP MUMMY!!!” with great enthusiasm
– Provide first class moral support

I have also started trying to clean the rest of the house on a semi-regular basis, but I haven’t quite hit on a good time of day to do it that seems like a natural fit with our routine.

Monday is kitchen day (because the boys go to the shops on Tuesday, so I also need to meal plan)
Tuesday is bedroom day
Wednesday is bathroom day
Thursday is sitting room and dining room day
Friday is hall, stairs and downstairs loo day (because we’re most likely to have people over on the weekend, so they won’t have had so much time to get dirty again!)

…sometimes I do this. And sometimes I don’t.

It’s helped that I’ve given myself permission to get a gold star and a downright parade if I do any cleaning in the designated room on that day, and also to clean what’s bugging me most rather than what I feel like I ought to be cleaning. Yes, our bath is kind of gross, but I trimmed the loose threads from the bathmat which have been giving me side eye for months.

When I do this cleaning, I ask Mr Two-Year-Old if he’d like to come and help me or play by himself. It’s about 50/50 at the moment. I’m OK with that. I also offer him a cleaning cloth and a little “job” to help me with, like wiping a surface. That, too, is about 50/50. I’m OK with that too.

My goal, like the Mayan mums in this article, is just that he sees what chores are necessary to run our home and sees how I do them and thinks of them as a natural part of everyday life that he will gradually come to join in with.

His own particular jobs are:
– Carry small things to and from the dining table for meals
– Tidy up toys before dinner (with help and encouragement as needed)
– “Help” sweep the floor after dinner
– Brush the pile of dirt up into the dustpan (with help)
– Put his clothes in the laundry after his bath
– Help put his clean laundry away in his drawers

We supervise, instruct and help as necessary. This might seem like a lot of effort to go to in order to get a two year old to sometimes make more mess than we started with. You might be wondering why we bother.

Honestly?

Because I’m lazy.

Yup. I’m working on it, but I’m pretty lazy. I don’t like cleaning. I’m a naturally sedentary person. I figure that if I put in the effort up front for a few years, I can have literally years and years of my children doing housework for me.

It’s also because I believe in autonomy, self-respect, all participating in family life, etc etc. But whenever I feel like wavering, whenever I think “Ugh, it would be easier if I just did it myself!”… I picture the years and years of housework I won’t have to do if I can just make the effort now.

And it’s not even that much effort. It just takes longer. And right now, we have a lot of time on our hands! Sure, he gets less playtime if he spends time doing chores with me, but I don’t care. He gets plenty of playtime and he likes to spend time with “MUMMYYYYYY!” whatever we’re doing.

(I’m also crossing my fingers that it’ll be even easier with Miss Four-Months-Old because she’ll just slot right in to whatever routine I’m working to establish now.)

And now, a digression.

Over the past year, Mr Two-Years-Old has become aware of dirt as a concept in a way which is both totally fascinating and profoundly irritating. He will now point out dirt to me if he spots it in the house. And, as you will recall from earlier in this house, we’re not exactly spotless right now. Every little dust bunny that floats out from under the sideboard gets treated to a full-on hurricane of blowing with great fanfare because he once saw me blow a bit of dust off something.

How amazing that he can see something once and act on it days or weeks later.

But, apart from the general problem of our toddler being more bothered about how clean the house is than I am, we’ve also hit a slight bump in the road.

He doesn’t know what’s actual legitimate dirt and what’s just… life. Dirt needs to be cleaned, but some stuff that looks like dirt is actually fine where it is.

For example, soil is fine in the garden but not in the house. Water in fine if a few drops spill onto your cuff when you’re washing your hands, not so fine if an entire glassful goes flying across the table. A fly can just hang around outside doing whatever flies do – inside, it needs to be swatted or shooed out.

Unfortunately, once he’s seen us react to what we might call a Major Dirt Incident, he reacts to a Minor Life Incident which is superficially similar in the same way. “OH DEAR!!!”

Which has got me thinking about what dirt is. Everything has a place in this world. Everything has its own slot in God’s creation. Even slugs. Probably. There is nothing that is intrinsically dirty in and of itself. Just stuff that is where it doesn’t belong.

Poo in our intestines is not dirty. Poo on the walls is very very dirty indeed.

Listeria just chilling in the soil is not dirty. Listeria on our salad is double plus dirty.

Olive oil on our salad is delicious. Olive oil all over the floor is dirty. Olive oil in the soil is downright weird.

Dirt is something that is out of place, and needs to be taken away and put back in its place. (Possibly via the bin.) An appropriate reaction is determined by the quantity of the substance and how out of place it is, not by its intrinsic qualities.

I’m not going to rush out to my raised beds and start screaming, “Nooooo! It’s filthy! There’s compost everywhere!” That would be as ridiculous as bursting into tears because you had a single drop of marmalade on your trousers. Just, um, theoretically.

I think there’s probably a hierarchy of dirt too, but I haven’t yet given that much thought. Just that there are some things which are out of place in more locations than others. (Listeria, I’m looking at you.)

Perhaps I’ll have worked it out by the time he’s three.

Toddler Parenting: the less effort I put in, the better the results I get

I’ve noticed something lately. When you have a delightful, articulate, emotional two-year-old, it’s easy to get drawn into a discussion that you really don’t need to have.

Picture this…
Toddler: Mummy play cars, please!
Mummy: Of course! I need to tidy away breakfast and then I’ll play cars with you.
Toddler (face falling): Mummy play cars now.
Mummy (squatting to look toddler in the eye, the way all the parenting books tell you to): Sweetie, I need to do the dishes first. Then I’ll play cars.
Toddler (tears welling up in eyes): No dishes! Cars!
Mummy (validating his feelings, the way all the parenting books tell you to): I know you’re frustrated, but I have to do the dishes. I’ll just be a minute. Why don’t you play cars by yourself while you wait?
Toddler: Nooooooo! Play cars with Mummyyyyyy!
Mummy: Look, we’ll get your little blue car out, here you go.
(Toddler is now an inconsolable puddle on the floor.)

By the time we’ve gone through all that (and more!), I could have done all the dishes and be zooming a miniature sports car around with all the aplomb of Thelma and Louise.

The problem when I get into a discussion like that is that I lose sight of the real goal of the conversation. It’s to tell him what is going to happen, not to convince him it’s a good idea. There is nothing he can say that will make me suddenly not need to do the dishes. And what am I going to say that will make him suddenly not want to play cars RIGHT NOW?* I’m all for appreciating his right to have feelings, but when he’s finished having feelings the dishes will remain undone.

*(Sidenote: sometimes he can be convinced to “help Mummy!” but if he doesn’t go for it on the first try then we risk another derailing discussion.)

So what I ought to be doing is telling him what is going to happen and then shutting up and doing it. Usually, when he sees his crying will have no effect, he stops. If he doesn’t? Well, in that moment it’s my job to do the dishes, not to make him happy about it. He does the same amount of crying if he cries while I do the dishes or if he cries while I try to persuade him it’s a good idea and then do the dishes afterwards.

I’m not mean about it, but I decide we’re both going to follow my bright, breezy and efficient lead, rather than following his lead or even (literally or effectively) asking his permission to get necessary chores done.

By putting less effort into managing (controlling?) his response and just doing the thing, we actually get to cars quicker. Everyone wins!

What We’ve Been Up To In May 2020

A while ago I read the book “The Moneyless Manifesto” online and one of the chapters was about the POP model, or Progression of Principles. The idea is that you have the way you live now, and you have the ultimate ethical life according to you. In each category of life, you write down a series of gradations between now and ultimate, and gradually work your way up the ladder as high as you can go.

I started a note on my phone where I keep lots of ideas of things I’d like to be doing or feel I ought to be doing, and each year I pick a few more to integrate into our lifestyle. This month I reviewed that note. It’s mostly about food this year, so I reminded myself of some thing we had planned to do that I need to get on with if they’re going to happen. One of them is to can two things this year – last year I did green tomato pickles. This year I would like to do blackberries and/or apples, as we can pick blackberries in a big park and our neighbour has an apple tree and hopefully will give us some this year too. But… I will need a pressure canner and some more jars. So I did some research and concluded that maybe that’s too much for us right now, especially as I would have to buy a canner to be shipped from America, I think. I am tempted by this automatic electric canner from Nesco.

I also sewed some cloth sanitary pads out of some prefolds I finally admitted we are never going to use and some breathable waterproof fabric I bought for this purpose forever ago. This is something that has been in my POP model for years! I still need to put fastenings on but they are mostly done and, uh, I assume I won’t need them for a while yet. With the prefolds, it meant I could do daytime ones out of the edges and nighttime ones out of the thicker middle. I don’t mind wearing thick pads and it made the layering up process very simple.

I continued my coronavirus lockdown diary I am writing for Mass Observation and did a detailed diary for their annual diary day on 12th May. I really enjoy reading about the daily lives of people in history so I also enjoy contributing to future history nerds! I hope, in ten years time, to share it with our children. At two and 3 months they are too young to remember any of this but I am sure it will shape the world of their childhood. Some friends of ours were supposed to be getting married but of course it was all cancelled. I’ll send them their wedding gift anyway, as they had asked for beloved books inscribed with a personal note and now they’ll have a lot more time to read! I chose Orchids on Your Budget by Marjorie Hillis. It’s a fun, lighthearted book from the 1930s but actually has a lot of excellent advice about how to arrange your life and finances so that you can have your ‘orchids’ – things that really make you happy. On the first day of “Stay Alert” , our toddler and I walked round to our friends’ house, rang their doorbell, and had a short chat from the other end of their front garden. It was glorious, although I felt a little naughty. I went on several more walks with him, but just round the park at the end of our street until he started saying, “No walk. Play in garden. No walk!” Ah well… But then he got ill with a high temperature so we started two weeks of self-isolation. It’s been fine. Our friends dropped off some shopping. I missed going for walks but it was really no big deal for us.

From the garden, we ate: wong bok (very small, like pak choi – as much as we could rescue from the slugs!), MORE perpetual spinach (I like it flash fried in oriental dishes). I am wondering what plant I will ask for this year for my birthday and I am thinking two blueberry bushes. If we’re keeping them in pots anyway, ericaceous compost won’t be a bother, and I’d rather have a fruit that can be eaten as-is than one that needs cooking (like gooseberries) and I’d rather have a bush that will fruit soon than a tree that we’ll have to wait for. I re-sowed some courgettes and peas that had been eaten, and sowed some other vegetables that I had planned to, including tomatoes and kale indoors (a bit behind because we had originally been going to sow them outside…). I also got out ALL of our saved glass jars and am using them as cloches for seedlings overnight to give them a chance. And I requested strawberry runners on trashnothing.com and got lucky! So now we have six little plants to start our own patch.

With little sleep, we have been craving treats and I have been doing some baking – sometimes with our toddler. I made this eggless chocolate cake from The Prudent Homemaker and really liked it, although my husband found it a bit chewy like a brownie. (I think that’s a feature, not a bug!) I have also been making an effort to find recipes that use fruit, both in an effort to be a tiny bit healthier and because we hope that a lot of fruit trees are in our future and I want some ideas! I especially like this apple traybake that I did with pears instead. I have also been trying out putting half the sugar in any given recipe and have found the results just fine in normal cakes (i.e. where sugar isn’t a structural component the way it is in meringues). We ran out of plain flour halfway through the month. I had a bag of gluten free, but after that it’ll have to be a bit creative… we still have lots and lots of oats, so I can make flapjacks.

One day I want to do more baking with honey, too, as my husband would like to have beehives again when we have the space. We had them years ago in a beekeeping friend’s garden then moved them to a friend’s field (sitting next to a full beehive in the backseat of a car driving up the motorway is NOT an experience I ever want to repeat) but they got vandalised. To be honest it was quite impractical to travel to check on them, so we agreed not to have them again until we have our own space. We still have all the kit and lent the hive back to the original beekeeping friend.

We started eating the salted lemons I started last month. They were awesome! But there are a lot of them… I might give some away to some friends of ours who live a walk away. Our toddler asked to try some and, wanting to encourage a spirit of trying, we said yes – and then he asked for more! Obviously they are about 50% salt, so I think we are going to try to keep them for our dinners to avoid that happening again.

This past winter we made risotto every week (at least!) and so had a habit of saving parmesan rinds for it. Winter went but the habit stayed and we had a graveyard of them in our fridge. I put three bay leaves and some sage from the garden and ALL the parmesan rinds into a quart (1l, ish) jar and topped it up with oil (1/3 sunflower, 2/3 olive) until the rinds were covered. (Herbs on the bottom so they stay submerged.) The plan is to leave it for a few weeks, taste, and see if it needs longer. Optimally, we will then have some gorgeous cheesy oil to drizzle over things that need it. (And what doesn’t?!)

With lockdown I haven’t been spending my personal money on going out or treat foods (my nemesis!) so it’s been accumulating. I bought a couple of books but also splashed out on a new watch – £59.99 on eBay. My old one has needed new batteries more and more frequently, and the strap is also cosmetically damaged. It’s also, uh, kinda tight on my postpartum wrists… I figured I could save effort in the long run if I bought one that doesn’t need batteries (solar powered! wow! it’s the future!) and if I bought one with a easily-replaced and easily-adjustable leather strap. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the old one. It’s the only thing I have from my grandmother, but also doesn’t work properly. I’ll probably keep it for a while and then get rid of it in a few years when the desire to not have junk overrides sentimental guilt.

I added the Act of Contrition, in English and in Latin, to my Etsy printables shop, Orate Fratres. They cost £4 each for a high-quality A4 PDF and you can print as many as you like.

Book of the month: A Mother’s Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot. I had seen this book recommended several times and figured it would be a re-run of basically every home management book ever with a couple of Hail Mary’s in the middle. It isn’t! I didn’t totally love reading it, but I’m a great one for all theory and no action – and I have actually already started my own “rule” and am finding it very helpful! I can’t put my finger on just what I like, but I will say this book is proper Catholic.

How I Look So Put-Together When I’m Pregnant and Postpartum

People think I dress smart. Not that I’m Helen of Troy or anything, but I’ve had many comments on how put-together I look as I’m struggling to waddle down the street or a small baby is barfing down my back.

So here are my “big secrets” to avoiding that worn-out new mum look.

1. I never wore makeup or did my hair before having children anyway, so there’s no difference to notice.


If you wear makeup every day, it becomes your face. When you don’t put it on, you look hideous. But not because you are hideous, just because it’s such a massive shock for everyone for whom the neatly-done eyeshadow and tone-perfect lipstick had just blended into the background. My everyday look is just… how I look. I wear a pair of glasses I love all the time (used to wear contacts, can’t be bothered any more), don’t paint my nails (used to, can’t be bothered any more), have a short haircut that my husband cuts at home (used to go to a hairdressers, can’t be bothered any more) and I just need to wash and brush from time to time. Do you sense a theme here? I used to do loads of stuff but stopped gradually because I can’t be bothered, so that became my new baseline. And people just adjusted. So now, postpartum me looks the same as normal me, just with bigger bags under my eyes.

2. I don’t own slob clothes or smart clothes – only in-between clothes.

How do I manage to get out of the house with a toddler and a baby not in sweat pants? I don’t own sweatpants. I only own what I guess you would call smart-casual. Which generally means doesn’t need ironing but can’t go for a run in it. Jersey dresses, breton tops, dark jeans without holes in… They’re all comfortable and I can sit down on the floor at playgroups in all of them without flashing anyone or busting a seam. I also only own proper button-up pyjamas and nightdresses. Honestly, I find them very comfortable! And feel much better about answering the door in them at 3pm than I would in holey yoga pants and a stretched-out vest.

3. All my clothes go with each other.

“How do you have time to put together coordinated outfits?!” I don’t. It takes me no time to match my clothes because anything I pull out will go with anything else. (Not 100% true, but honestly 99% true.) I buy navy, blue, grey, red, white. Occasionally something else will creep in. I do that for my children too so our toddler can pick out his clothes without looking like a jester. (Same colours btw, just because I love them – but sometimes it does look like we all deliberately picked out a family colour scheme for the day. I’m OK with that!) Sure, sometimes I see something nice in a non-approved colour, but it’s not worth the daily hassle of having to pick out outfits.

4. Pregnant and nursing, I basically only wear dresses.

I have six maternity-and-nursing dresses that I wear in rotation. They all (except one green one!) fit my colour scheme. So all my tights and cardigans and so on go with all of them. (I just have to not wear the green dress with red unless it’s actually Christmas.) Dresses are an instant outfit. People are impressed by dresses like they are MORE effort, whereas they’re actually less! I also overheat during pregnancy and find dresses cooler, plus they aggravate my heartburn less. I don’t buy special maternity tights, I just roll my normal ones under my bump.

5. I smile when I see people.

Sometimes just because I am so delighted to see another human who can speak clearly in full sentences, but mostly just because I’m pleased to see my friends and polite to everyone else. You’re never fully dressed without a smile, as Bert Healy tells us, so no matter how grim you look and feel, a smile will instantly make you look with-it, even if it’s only through gritted teeth.

So there you have it. My “big secret”. Throw away all your slob clothes, buy some new-to-you in-between clothes that all go together and are as easy to wash and dry as your slob clothes. Spend less time and money on your “default” appearance. And smile! Hey presto!

Easy, One-Ingredient Healthy Toddler Ice Cream Substitute

It’s getting hot over here, and I wanted something cooling to give our toddler as a snack that wasn’t full of sugar (yes, honey counts in my book!) and that he could eat by himself with minimal mess. Bonus points for something that came in toddler portions – either two bites and done or twice as much as me.

So I made a granita! It’s halfway between a sorbet and a slushie, so it’s easy for me to dish up a small amount into a bowl so he can eat it by himself with a spoon. Ice lollies and cones are recipes for sticky disaster in our house! This isn’t a fancypants grown up recipe – it’s the simplest, easiest version possible with literally one ingredient. And it’s one of their five a day!

Fruit Granita

  1. Take one or two tins of fruit. We used peach. Make sure you get fruit tinned in juice, not syrup, so there’s no added sugar. If you want to, you can add a bit of additional flavouring like vanilla or cinnamon, but you don’t have to.
  2. Pour into the blender, fruit and juice and all, and blend until reasonably smooth.
  3. Pour the mixture into a tupperware and put in the freezer.
  4. Come back every 2-4 hours and stir thoroughly with a fork to break up the ice crystals. If it freezes too hard, just leave out to melt for a bit until you can stir it again.
  5. To serve, take out of the freezer 30-60 mins beforehand and scoop into a bowl.

What We’ve Been Up To In April 2020

I had postpartum deep vein thrombosis. It was pretty miserable. But the blood thinners are working and although the clot is still there (I went back for a second scan after a month or so) I am no longer in pain and able to do everything I want to do about the house. I have been on some (socially distant) walks and find I can go far enough before my leg starts to feel stiff and crampy again. I am very grateful that I have recovered this much! I still have several weeks more of blood thinners to go, and then may need another three months prescription if I’m not 100% better.

I sorted out all our seeds, which were in a raggle taggle heap of oddly-sized, half-used, sometimes-actually-empty packets. I decanted them into a set of tiny brown envelopes I had bought some years ago, writing the name, variety, year bought or saved, and when to sow on the envelope. I left plenty of space so I can cross off and rewrite the year as we use them up and save more. I gave away the oddments we won’t use on trashnothing. The slugs and butterflies started at them, so I think next year I will give starting them in seed trays inside a go. It seems like a fuss in some ways, but I think being able to plat out stronger plants will pay off.

Yeah, we’re still eating that perpetual spinach. It’s bolting, though! We put little bits of it in a lot of meals and I made spinach and cheese puff pastry tartlets with our toddler. He stirred and helped blob the mixture out. And then ate some! We also ate our first radishes of the year. They weren’t too fiery but were nice and crunchy. We’ll leave the others to get bigger before we eat more.

I listed some items on eBay and bought some baby clothes in size 3-6m. After six months, we began to keep everything from our son, so I should be able to stop buying clothes for our baby daughter soon. We have more space in this house so we can keep everything we buy for her. However, we have been given many things over the past year which were the wrong size in the wrong season or just not the kind of clothes we like to use (e.g. I don’t like all-in-ones once baby is sitting up), so I started digging through that pile and sorting them out into lots to sell. I also often buy a bigger bundle than we need on eBay if the overall price is cheaper, so have little bundles to sell too. I am able to do this during coronavirus because I can buy postage online, but am only selling things that will go into an ordinary postbox so I don’t have to go to the Post Office.

I have bought some lovely new picture books, including:
Just Plain Fancy
Daisy Comes Home
199 Bugs
The Paperbag Prince
Amanda’s Butterfly
Blueberries for Sal

I keep an Amazon wishlist of picture books. If anyone asks what they can buy as a present, I direct them there. Also, when we get bored, I pick a £ amount and ‘go shopping’ on my wishlist. I add books there when I read about them or someone recommends them. Books to read with my children are my financial kryptonite, so I am always looks for recommendations! Our son has started memorising some of them, which is both amazing and creepy.

I bought the Regenerative Agriculture book I talked about last month. What a tome! I am really enjoying it. We are especially enamoured of the tree nursery enterprise he talks about.

We had lots of video calls. Our toddler never watches TV unless he is ill, so he was a bit freaked out at first, but now he looks forward to weekly “chats” with “‘anny an’ ‘anda’!” (My parents.) It was his birthday at the end of the month so on our last call he showed them his new trainset. Two separate people sent him Brio…and I’ve already ordered an expansion pack (used on eBay) so we have more track options! I also had video calls with some friends and with my WhatsApp baby group.

What We’ve Been Up To In March 2020

Baby! We’ve been settling in to life as a family of four and trying to keep our toddler’s routine going as much as possible with all the many disruptions. He’s been very sweet and gentle with his new baby sister, although perhaps also wondering what the big deal is. I’ve been napping a LOT and trying to keep on top of all the postpartum hormonal swings. I overdid it several times, but overall my recovery has been swifter and smoother than last time, for which I am very grateful. We’ve ended up Amazon priming a couple of things, like a fancy rechargeable nightlight for night feeds. I’m trying to feel better about spending money on my own comfort this time round, rather than trying to frugalise every penny.

Seeds! After pulling the remaining kale and some bolted salad, we bought 400l of compost from Amazon for about £40 and spread it on top of our raised beds (and topped up some pots too). I sowed wong bok, radish, beetroot and carrot – in a closer spacing than we did last year, to try to make the most of the space and crowd out lurking annual weeds. Our son loves Peter Rabbit at the moment and is utterly thrilled that we’ll be growing “Peter Rabbit radishes”. I do hope he’s not disappointed when it comes to tasting them! The perpetual spinach is, perpetually, still there, but we pulled half of it up (roots the size of turnips!)

YouTube! Obviously I’ve been sat around breastfeeding a lot, and I’ve discovered a new channel: Richard Perkins at Ridgedale Permaculture. Wow, what an eye opener. He’s really challenged me to think about where we want to be on the homesteader-farmer spectrum as well as highlighting to me my lack of experience with (and therefore confidence around) animals. I’m going to save up to buy his book.

Eating! I’ve been mainlining our stockpile of cereal bars, and we’ve eaten a lot of gnocchi, pasta and burritos. But we also harvested the first of our rhubarb and had it stewed over yoghurt.

Tech! After reading a lot about low-tech living, I finally got round to doing some thing which had been on my list for a while. I deactivated my Facebook account. My last post to my profile had been in December 2017. I also went through the steps in this article to get Google to auto-delete data

Coronavirus. Obviously (apart from the baby) this has dominated the month. Thankfully neither of us had planned to be working at this time, we’d planned to be spending a lot of time at home, and we’d stocked up on food (and loo roll!) ahead of the baby coming. I’m still reeling, really, from how much everything has changed. I keep forgetting how young our baby is because it feels like more than a month’s worth of life has happened since she was born. Thank God this is happening post-internet. I have been keeping a daily diary since lockdown began in order to send it to Mass Observation (where I am a registered panellist) when this is all over. I am frustrated that I am unable to do anything to help, but also relieved that we have no reason to leave the house so can keep our family out of danger.

DVT. In a further sombre ending to what I had hoped would be a happy month full of the joys of spring, I was diagnosed with a postpartum blood clot in my thigh. Blood thinners are working well but I have spent a week in bed so far with my husband doing everything to look after our toddler and run the household. I am grateful that we have been able to weather the triple storm of baby, coronavirus and DVT so smoothly so far.

Book of the month: The Way Home by Mark Boyle. A slightly odd memoir about no-tech living – how it is possible and how it has changed the way he views the world and interacts with other people.

What We’ve Been Up To In February 2020

It has been a quiet month. My last month of pregnancy (due right at the end of February), so I have been finding it harder and harder even to stand up for long periods, and certainly to get comfortable enough to sleep. So I haven’t been going out much or cooking much or anything like that – just trying to rest, really, and to see a few people before the storm of a newborn baby! I haven’t done much freezer cooking this time, but did a big grocery order of storecupboard foods and really easy-to-prepare cupboard and frozen foods, plus about a bajillion snack bars for hungry breastfeeding me, so we’re all stocked up for a while.

My husband sowed chilli and sweet pepper seeds in module trays indoors. We’ll plant them on in the zip-up greenhouse we got for Christmas in due course. Here’s a frugal people problem, though: it’s been hard to figure out a place in our house that is consistently warm enough to germinate such heat-loving seeds! In the end we’ve gone for the south-facing windowsill in our basically-unheated kitchen, along with crossing our fingers. He sowed a dozen each of prairie fire chillies, orange habanero chillies and YOLO sweet peppers. The habaneros and peppers have come up but the prairie fires might be a bit old – or just slow.

The daffodils and crocuses we planted in our lawn last year have come up, along with daffodils and hyacinths we’ve toted around in pots for a few years. The rhubarb has also surfaced, although one plant which was a bit iffy last year is definitely dead so we only have two pots. The herbs are starting to perk up and our plum trees (one in the ground that belongs here, one in a pot that I got for my birthday in October) are starting to bud. We have a few squirrel-planted hazels in random pots from our last house and my husband dug up a squirrel-planted oak from the lawn and bunged it in another pot. If they live, great! Free trees for the future! If they die, oh well.

Ate more kale. More perpetual spinach. More rocket and mustard greens. I kind of can’t wait til we have to clear them out to make room for this year’s sowing… The kale started flowering so we started pulling up whole kale plants and eating all the leaves on them so we could get some newspaper down on that bit for a while before we want to sow seeds in it.

I ordered a whole new head-to-toe wardrobe in age 2-3 for our toddler, whose wrists and ankles were suddenly very much on view! I got ten t-shirts, ten pairs of tracksuit bottoms, two jumpers (several of his 18-24 are still OK) and six pairs of socks (on top of four he got for Christmas), all for £53.63 (including postage).

I also bought a present to, er, potentially distract him slightly from the new baby: five toy bin lorries for £5.85. Most days he asks if it’s bin day again yet, so I’m excited to see him excited! We read “Pirate Pete: I am a New Big Brother” and “Annie Rose is my Little Sister” about 5000 times and looked at pictures of him as a tiny baby. I think he’s about as prepared as a nearly-two-year-old can be…!

Storm Ciara was pretty nuts, but then we had some gorgeous weather after it so we got out on more walks. Our toddler is very good at walking holding our hand and it’s nice to go out unburdened by a buggy and loads of stuff. We also got out in the garden a few times to do “digging” in the empty bit of the raised beds. One of my goals for the year is to spend more time outside. What with winter and late pregnancy this hasn’t really happened so far, so it was nice to get started.

We found five hectares of loamy, south-facing arable land for sale in County Durham and fantasised about buying it, building a house on it, and farming it as a smallholding. I also read a lot about farming subsidies and will be interested to see what happens when we really leave the EU.

My Pinterest recipe boards are organised by season, plus one for all year round, and I browsed my Spring recipe board in anticipation of March’s imminent arrival. Turns out about half of it is recipes for rhubarb!

I read a lot of library books while I was basically just waiting around for the baby to decide to make an appearance. I especially enjoyed several River Cottage Handbooks (we are planning to finally make a smoker this summer!) and Wilding by Isabella Tree. I also got out the River Cottage Love Your Leftovers Cookbook and got a few new ideas.

My husband and I cut each other’s hair with clippers, and the next day I gave our toddler his first proper haircut with scissors and a comb. We have two practice haircuts of a few snips each, but this time I actually went over his whole head. I didn’t do a brilliant job because he did wiggle and I had to do the whole thing looking top-down from the back, but he looks decent and didn’t seem too bothered by it. I sat him at the dining table and he alternated playing with his steamroller and combing his hair.

And then I surprise had a baby at 39+2 in four and a half hours. We’re both doing great.