Consumerist Tendencies

On Friday, it seemed as if the country was split into three groups. Those that shunned Black Friday with scorn, those that tentatively and quietly searched out bargains in the hope of making their Christmas a little cheaper…and those that threw themselves into the ‘biggest shopping day of the year’ which resulted in queues, chaos and arrests in shops all around the country. I am still slightly puzzled by the latter category.

I cannot comprehend being so consumed with the desire to grab a good deal that I would push someone smaller than myself out of the way or physically get involved in an altercation over buying what amounts to no more than stuff. And probably stuff that is non essential, disposable and in the long run won’t increase my levels of happiness or quality of life. But it seems that big business and our consumerist culture is slowly tightening it’s grip on our wallets, our purchases and our actions. As I pondered the events with Dan over the weekend he pointed out that advertising is all pervasive and incredibly powerful and I realised that he was right. I had seen adverts for black friday and received emails about deals from various companies for probably a fortnight before the event. I’d even paused on an amazon order in case the items were further reduced during the sales (for the record, they weren’t). So it seems that without me even realising, their advertising had worked. And I’m guessing there aren’t many steps between waiting to complete an online order and queuing at your local supermarket at midnight to save yourself £20, £50 or even more. We often want to (or think we want to) spend more than we earn and anything that facilitates that is welcomed with open arms. And big business and retailers know that and can manipulate our spending to suit their profits through adverts about how we need the new version of a product and how it much more convenient to replace a faulty item rather than repair it or make do without.

And of course, the problem isn’t just about the extent of their control over how we spend our money (though of course that is pretty scary in itself) but about the wider implications of our disposable, consumerist culture on the world itself. Everything is linked. For example, we enjoyed an absolutely gorgeous morning outside yesterday and everyone remarked how incredibly warm it was for the end of November. But whereas I would previously have enjoyed it without a second thought, my enjoyment was tinged by the thought that this is a result of global warming, a process that we are directly contributing to the acceleration of at an alarming pace.

It is easy (and I’m massively guilty of it myself) to be careless and hasty when it comes to our purchases. Not only should we be considering where it was made and how far it had to travel once made but we should be thinking about how it was made, the origin and ethical soundness of it’s component parts, the chemicals used to grow or preserve the food we buy. And it’s bloody hard. No two ways about that. Even if you remain fairly ethically rigorous on your bigger or more permanent purchases, buying our day to day groceries in an ethical but affordable manner is tough. We shop at Aldi because the price suits our budget. But I am aware that a lot of their produce isn’t organic, it is over packaged and probably has travelled a fair distant to reach us. I don’t have the answer though, we try to recycle as much as possible and now we can’t compost and don’t have the chickens to feed our scraps I want to get a wormery to reduce food waste. We can buy fruit, vegetables and eggs at a price that we can afford at local market. But everything else still comes from the supermarket. We live in an area and an age where that is the most affordable option for most families. So we are supporting this inconsiderate process without even wanting to. How can we change this?

A friend of mine is trying to reduce her families waste and avoid plastic and recommended the film Trashed which admittedly I haven’t watched yet but apparently is a great place to start in realising the implications of our waste on the planet. To be honest, part of the reason I haven’t watched it yet is because I suspect I’ll find it quite upsetting and also come away feeling pretty guilty about the role our family plays in contributing to this global waste problem. Here’s the trailer though if you’re interested.

 

But I digress; let’s get back to black friday and gift buying. Two years ago at Christmas I quoted an article by George Monbiot called The Gift of Death in which he, much more eloquently than I, explains the problem behind thoughtless gift buying and the role of the media and businesses in our spending decisions. I won’t re-quote him but I would urge you to go and have a read if you haven’t before. It says a lot for handmade gifts and for the importance of presence over presents.

So I say let’s rebel against big business and consumerism this Christmas. Let’s try and not fall prey to their clever and insidious advertising. Let’s try and give this festive season some deeper, more important meaning. We read the Grinch this evening as our box of Christmas books has come out and I’ll leave you with his closing realisations about Christmas to remember that long after the presents have been opened, the packaging chucked, the gifts played with and discarded or (often) broken, the environmental impact of the decisions we made will still linger on. And perhaps, just perhaps, they weren’t what will be remembered from Christmas 2014 anyway.

‘It came without ribbons! It came without tags!

It came without packages, boxes and bags!’

And he puzzled three hours, til his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

‘Maybe Christmas’, he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.

Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!’

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Pregnancy Diary: 28 weeks

Today I am 28 weeks and 5 days pregnant.
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Apparently baby now weighs just over 1kg and will turn it’s head if it sees a bright light shining continuously…fun with a torch and the kids to be had I think!

I was due to have my anti D injection this week but there had been an error and it wasn’t at the surgery so I’ve got the pleasure of that next week instead now(!) I did talk my midwife’s ear off though about all sorts of things birth related. She is so lovely and we get on really well, I’m so hoping she’s on call when I do go into labour.

Other than that, all is well. My acid reflux is under control as long as I avoid tomatoes and too much sugar and my SPD is okish. I’m going to self refer for physio so I’m hoping they might give me a stretchy band like they did last time! I am starting to feel heavier and more tired though. Third trimester is definitely kicking in, I do feel like a bit of a wally for getting out of breath from going upstairs though!

Anyway, enough rambling. That’s me on bump related rambling for the week. Over and out!

Christmas: Less me, more them

Usually by this point in the year I’ve got Christmas and Sophia’s birthday sorted. This year I haven’t and I’m feeling it. I’m struggling to shift a perpetual dark mood and am stressed by how much there is to buy, organise and prepare in a very short space of time. Last year I had bought everything by the end of October, worked on handmade items in November and had December to do Christmassy activities with the kids, relax and enjoy the festive build up. This year I kind of just want to fast forward to January…

Don’t get me wrong, I am very much looking forward to the Christmas week itself and spending time with family and dear friends. It’s just the getting there that I’m dreading. There are homemade gifts to be made, Christmas crafts to be done (and baked!), presents to be bought, a party to plan, a Christmas dinner that needs planning (and necessary foods ordered), a newly moved into house that still needs sorting and all this on top of the normal demands of daily life and performed at less than 100% of my maximum capacity due to a small man that has started waking at night again…

I feel like a scrooge just typing this. Sorry for killing the festive buzz guys! I think I just needed to get it out there, to use this as a dumping ground so I can get organised, get over it and not stamp out the Christmas cheer before it has even arrived in our house. It’s also good to have a ‘written’ record so I don’t make the same mistake next year! Next year I’m putting aside a little bit of money each month and starting early.

And actually, as I’ve been writing this, I’ve come to realise how my head is really in the wrong space. Christmas isn’t about the gifts we make, buy and give, it’s not about the gingerbread or the wreath, it’s not about a meal that’ll be eaten in a fraction of the time it took to make. For us, for our family, it’s about remembering the birth of a very special baby, long ago, whose arrival changed everything. As the old saying goes ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’! And if you’re not that way inclined, I’m assuming it’s still not about any of the stuff I mentioned just now. I’m guessing it’s about spending time with your family and friends, it’s about love. We probably won’t remember the calibre of the roasties or gifts given and received in ten years time, but we’ll remember what matters. We’ll remember the smiles, the comfortable ease of being with folk we love, the laughter that brought us all to tears (though probably not what sparked it), the joy of spending quality time with quality people.

And I reckon that as long as I keep that my focus for the next month, I should be able to lighten up, get everything I need to get done finished and have a bloody brilliant December and Christmas. But Christmas for many people and families around the world  this year is going to fall far short of brilliant. So this week my task is to seek out ways of practically making Christmas a little cheerier for those less  fortunate than me and with far bigger worries than me. Our Church works to help support homeless people in Exeter and are collecting small gifts for them and we helped our home ed group with five family Christmas boxes for refugees in Syria so that’s a good place to start. But there must be more I can do than that. If you know of any opportunities please comment and let me know. If not, I will endeavour to find out and update you next week with my plans.

Jesus told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter those without homes. If I truly believe he’s the reason for celebrating this festive season then I need to think much less about my own (minor) woes and how I can enjoy the next month and start thinking much more about others. If I achieve nothing else but this, I’ll be content. I’m going to think beyond myself this Christmas, I want to help make it better for those that desperately need and deserve it to be.

Pregnancy Diary: 27 weeks

Today I am 27 weeks and 5 days pregnant.
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Baby is apparently approximately 36cm long and according to Baby Centre  some experts think that at this gestation babies begin to dream! I’ve never read that before and find it simply amazing, what one earth would they dream about?! Incredible.

I’m nearing the end of my second trimester and am starting to feel the slowing down that comes with the third and final trimester. I’m getting out of breath easier and feeling more tired even after getting a decent amount of sleep at night. I’m not particularly bothered by either of these symptoms but am experiencing a third which is I’m definitely not enjoying. For the last few days I’ve had really painful ankles and tops of my feet. They’re not swollen but just feels like I’ve walked 10 miles around Dartmoor. I know it could be so much worse but I’m used to being on my feet most of the day and am struggling with the concept of having to sit down a bit more!

Other than that, we’re all fine and dandy, Isaac and Sophia are talking about the baby on an almost daily basis and definitely looking forward to the arrival of their new sibling. February seems like an age away but with both their birthday’s and Christmas before hand, I reckon it’ll be here before we know it. I don’t think I’ve much else to say this week, just wanted to mark the end of the second trimester on here to keep up with my documenting of this pregnancy.

 

 

 

Finding what works

Since September, the number of people questioning our motives and reasoning behind home education has risen. This is of course because Sophia would have been starting reception this year and obviously hasn’t. I still struggle to have a concise soundbite answer and often end up rambling whilst the other person looks confused, concerned or just loses interest!

All I can definitively say is that right now, right here, it works for us. I guess I struggle with a short answer because I’m often talking to parents of children who are in school and I don’t want my answer to appear like I’m attacking their choice or the UK schooling system. As it is, I’m not sure the current system works as well as it could. But I’m not so pig headed as to think I have the solution. I believe children start too young, that class sizes are too large, that the curriculum is so broad and inclusive that it is hard for detailed study or specialisms to be investigated more deeply when a child’s passion is caught, that it is impossible for one method of teaching to be effective for 30 odd children. But, I have no idea how this could be fixed on a large scale. Teachers are limited by time, funding, challenging behaviour and a minefield of bureaucracy. I completely admire and salute them for their continuing commitment to their students. But in light of those observations, if I am in a position to potentially do better for my children, then why not?

I know that I am very privileged in us being able to sacrifice the second wage in order to stay at home (although we are by no means well off and operate on a pretty strict budget). And I completely understand that not every parent feels like they could home educate their children, or even that they want to. But it’s the right decision for us and every so often (and increasingly so now we seem to have found that ever elusive rhythm), I have a day that totally cements that feeling of ‘rightness’.

Today was one of those days. After a not horribly early start to the day, we got on with our ‘school’ for the day. We read our allotted books and worked on the poem Sophia is memorising. She then practised reading with one of the much loved Biff, Chip and Kipper series. We moved on to violin practice before my friend and her two daughters arrived to join us in our craft activity of the week-making beeswax candles. The older girls however got distracted with the idea of making a hammock and then a house out of cardboard boxes and were kept well occupied until lunchtime doing so. After lunch, we made the candles, an activity all four kids enjoyed. Then the big two went back to building and the younger two got deeply immersed in some playdough. After they left, we read some stories and Sophia and Isaac did some colouring and puzzles together whilst I made dinner.

It was a gentle, productive and most importantly, enjoyable day. That is not to say it was perfect, Isaac and Sophia had some small squabbles (I’ve just paused now to referee one such incident that has resulted in a screaming big girl). But it was really good. And whilst we can all have such lovely days, socialising and learning together as a family, I’m loathe to change that.

We have a pretty great weekly routine sorted now which works for us as well. Mondays and Tuesdays we tend to stay close to home and focus on our ‘schoolwork’. Sophia is currently regularly practising reading and writing and working her way through various KS1 science and maths workbooks, augmented by interactive games online and discussions/practical demonstrations with me. We also do a lot of craft activities and they often join me in the kitchen for baking or to help with dinner. On these days we try to pop out to get some fresh air, either to visit the park or local library, run some errands or do a nature walk. Fortnightly on Wednesdays the Christian Home Ed group meets and we try to go as often as we can (transport permitting). On Thursdays we go to Hedge (Home Education Group Exeter) where there are themed activities and lots of people to socialise with. We rush back for Sophia to go to her dance class before a late dinner and bed. The week finishes for us with the Exeter Forest School home ed group on Friday mornings and a quiet afternoon to rest and tie up any loose ends from the week.

I love that we’ve finally found a rhythm that works for us; it’s just the right balance of structured learning vs socialising, time at home vs time out, planned activities vs spontaneous play. I’m aware that it might not stay like this forever, circumstances and needs are inevitably going to evolve and grow. But right now, right here….it works for us.

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On birthing at home

One of the first things I said to Dan after finding out that we were expecting baby number three was ‘I can finally have a homebirth’! He laughed and said he’d been just waiting for me to announce this. I am really excited by our plans to birth at home and hope that all goes smoothly to make this plan a reality. I’ve talked a little bit about my previous two births before on here so won’t repeat myself but allow me a moment of indulgence if you will…

When pregnant with Sophia, my midwife asked if I had considered having a homebirth but to be honest, I didn’t know much about them and was put off by the thought of mess and worrying about who would have to clean it up! By the time I was pregnant with Isaac I was much better informed about all things birth related and longed deeply for a homebirth (this article having helped me with my questions surrounding mess). We were living on Pinafore by then (our 31ft sailing boat) but despite this, my midwives were unfazed. They said they had supported births on boats in the marina before and were happy to do so again. I excitedly booked in and that was that.

However, at 36 weeks I started to rethink my decision. The boat was really very small…. the only place to labour was on our bed (which was a table in the saloon during the day) and there was no space really to pace or move around. Furthermore, the midwives would have been quite literally, about half a metre away from me at all times due to the cramped environment. Quite possibly, a bit of a claustrophobic atmosphere! I wasn’t even sure where we could have a hard surface for their equipment other than in the cockpit and in January, it would have been pretty chilly! So I concluded that it wasn’t a good birthing environment for me and decided to have him in the hospital (the nearest midwife led birth centre being 45 minutes drive away). I went on to have a very quick, natural, unassisted birth in the pool and it was nothing short of amazing! The only downside was the hours spent in hospital afterwards as a blood sample got lost and paperwork took an age to complete – I just wanted to be home in bed.

So this time, it was really a no brainer where I would plan to give birth.

But as I participated in a playful poll about parenting styles the other day, I was surprised to see how few people were supportive or on board with the idea of birthing at home. I went searching and found that in the UK in 2012 only 2.3% of babies were born at home. This is a startling low figure; I knew it was low but hadn’t realised quite how small it was. And I have to say, I’m still at a loss as to why so few people choose to give birth to their babies at home.

I’m guessing that a lot of people would state that they feel safer in hospital and with quick access to medical equipment and knowledge if needed. I assume some people are put off by the idea of mess (as I was) or don’t have a suitable home environment in which to have a homebirth. Possibly, it doesn’t even enter into the minds of expectant parents as an option to consider. The default place to have your baby has been the hospital for many years. But is it time for more of us to consider another option?

The Birthplace Study of 2011 concluded that ‘for women having a second or subsequent baby, planned home births are as safe for the baby as planned birth in hospital, and offer health and other benefits for the mother (emphasis added by me). However, for first-time mothers there is a small increase in risk for their baby.’ The benefits that the report refers to are listed as lower risk of induction, cesarean section, episiotomy, vaginal tears and augmentation. In my opinion, these benefits are not to be scorned at!

Dr Sarah Buckley adds to this list by highlighting what you might call the ‘soft’ benefits to having a homebirth. She talks about the ability of fathers to have a more ‘intimate involvement’ in the birth, of siblings being able to be present, of having a midwife consistently caring for you throughout the birth and of being able to offer your baby a more gentle and quiet welcome to the world. I think all of these are factors that appeal to me. Sophia has asked to be there when the baby is born and I’m more than happy for this to be the case but it wouldn’t be possible if I was to give birth in hospital.

Furthermore, I relish the idea of being able to labour in my own home, with my own things around. To be able to potter, make food and drink as needed, to distract myself. I especially love the idea that once baby has arrived all I need to do is climb into bed with our new little bundle and relax. There is no waiting for paperwork to be completed, no trying to keep small children quiet in a curtained cubicle while they excitedly meet their new sibling, no having to get dressed and in a car to get home. We’ll already be there! We can just relax in our own environment. For us it feels like the most natural choice in the world.

Hombirth Reference Site (a brilliant resource for those thinking of or planning a homebirth) is a veritable treasure trove of information and birth stories from people in a variety of different circumstances and with varying reasons for their desire to give birth at home. If you are interested and would like to read first hand, some accounts of people giving birth at home, it’s definitely worth a visit.

By writing this post, I’m most definitely not trying to browbeat every pregnant mother into having a homebirth. I am more than aware that it won’t be the right choice for every family for personal or medical reasons. But I would love it if someone benefited from reading this information and my experiences, from knowing that it could be an option where they didn’t previously. Having your baby at home can be safe and highly beneficial. But like so many things, it doesn’t get talked about enough in a considered, balanced manner. The media is biased towards sensationalist, dramatic birth stories (a la One Born Every Minute) as they make better entertainment, better reading. But birth doesn’t have to be that. It can be calm, gentle and most importantly, it can be a positive experience.

For more information, check out http://www.tellmeagoodbirthstory.com or the Positive Birth Movement, two brilliant organisations that are trying to turn the tide on the negativity that overwhelms the discourse surrounding birth.

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A concrete challenge

Our garden at the Old Apple Barn was a gardeners delight; raised beds, a greenhouse, access to as many different sized pots and seedling drainpipes as you’d encounter in a garden centre and gorgeous views to boot. Our new garden looks like this…
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But I am not downhearted. I’ve often ranted and raved about how it is possible to grow vegetables and plants in any outside space, regardless of size or situation. So now it’s time for me to live out my own advice and step up to the challenge of growing my own in a very suburban garden. I’ve been given absolute free rein in the garden and although I could get rid of the stones and membranes to fully utilise the raised beds , I’ve decided to stick with growing things in pots and big gro bags.

But first things first, it’s dormant season so I’m going to go out as soon as I glimpse some chilly autumn sunshine to severely prune (and possibly remove) the shrubs to clear some space. My lovely dad is bringing his hedge trimmer to attack the ivy and I’ll move the (currently empty) tractor tyre sandpit to it’s final resting destination.

Once I’ve done that I think it should be easier to assess the space and start planning for next year’s growing season. I know I could be planting some winter crops but to be honest, my head isn’t in the right space for that right now and with baby due in February I think it’s unlikely that I’ll achieve much without adding extra pressure and frustration to myself.

I found an article which lists 66 different plants that you can grow in various containers which was very enlightening. I think we’ll probably do tomatoes, strawberries, salad, herbs and peas as definites and I quite fancy the challenge of doing either potatoes, pumpkins or carrots in a big tub. I’ve also promised the kids a fruit tree and after Isaac spotted some kind of orange tree (currently with fruit) in a neighbours garden I’m guessing that might be the direction in which we end up going.

I’m guessing that I won’t have as much time and energy for gardening next year as I have had the last two so I think my biggest challenge will be setting achievable goals and making sure it remains a pleasure and not a chore. But I’m excited about starting with some general maintenance in the next few weeks and hopefully bringing some beauty to this little concrete space. I’ll keep you updated on our progress so watch this space…. (and bug me if two months passes and you haven’t noticed any new posts on the subject!)