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How to charity shop – six tips!

There was a while when I used to work in a charity shop as a volunteer on Saturdays. I would be out the back, in the sorting room. My “sorting” usually went “One for me, one for the shop. One for me, one for the shop.” I used to leave every night with two bin bags of stuff- it was a bit of a drain on my pocket as I didn’t even used to get mates rates!

I have always loved charity shops- identifying them as a young teen as a way of getting better and more bang for my paper delivery buck. (I was the WORST paper girl in the world, I would do my whole route half asleep on my bike, and then have to go back after school to retrieve and swap them all around until everyone got the right one.) But it gave me about £2.70 each week and even as a 14 year old I would delight in people’s expressions as I gloated “Oh, these Lee jeans? £1!”

I like to think of myself as a charity shop connoisseur. I have honed my art over the last 2 decades, I know the London shops like the back of my hand, and am gathering a charity shop map of the UK in my subconscious as we dabble in charity shop tourism!

Here are my top 6 pointers!Six Tips for Charity Shopping

Have a list

What are you looking for? It can be intimidating wandering into a massive room crammed with stuff. Have a list of 5 items that you always scan for, and then you can be in and out super quick. Mine include: good shoes that fit, vintage tea cups, wooden toys, cheap lace and embroidery,  dominoes, scrabble and Lexicon! With that list I can be in and out in 4 minutes flat, making charity shopping something I can do while I wait for the next bus.

Keep it regular

It does take a certain amount of commitment this charity shopping lifestlye malarkey. You can’t just waltz in twice a year and hope to strike gold. Little and often is the best way, dash around your locals on your lunch break at least once a week. Sometimes you can even get to know the volunteers and bust out the old cheeky “Anything out the back?” question!

Play the long game

Forget instant gratification -you have to be in it for the long haul. Have a list and be prepared for it to take weeks to find things on there. And have a little storage spot for things you need in the future. I have a giant suitcase of gifts that I have found and can pull out when the person’s birthday rocks up. January is THE BEST time for charity shopping new stuff, as everyone gives their unwanted pressies away. Buy them up, store them, and give them away!

Fabric tests 

I try to have a No Polyester rule. It tends to hold people’s sweat and catches on my dry fingers, so I avoid it. And if I find some 100% wool going for a song I nearly always buy it. 100% wool is always a winner both for warmth and also crafting (once felted in a hot wash) and hard to buy economically from anywhere. However, I hate to be grim but do SCOUR for signs of moths. It is possible to bring them into your home with a vintage wool purchase- but you can usually spot them. Figure out the quality fabrics  and classic items you want to fill your wardrobe with, and always scan for them.

Hokey kokey rule

If you are going to get buying from charity shops, also get giving. I kind of have a loose “one in, one out rule” when it comes to clothes. Otherwise I would be buried under a mound of 100% wool. Freely give and freely receive! (Totally mashing up  drunk wedding songs and scripture references here, this is how I roll.)

The lay of the land

The fact is, if you charity shop in posh parts of town you will have to accept higher prices- but you WILL find better labels and better quality stuff. If you like a good rummage and would rather take your chances on finding a dusty gem on a groaning shelf then head out of town and hit up those £1 rails. There is some kind of rule about charity shops paying less on certain streets, so very often if you are wondering where to start just search some of the big name charity shops and you will almost certainly find a run of loads of them. Charity shops don’t like to be lonely.

Be philosophical about your dosh

Your first few forays into charity shops COULD surprise you. You will inevitably find clothes that could be cheaper in Primarni. Sometimes it can be baffling. Don’t dwell on it. Think about the huge amount of goodness these charity shops are doing, by selling on these clothes. I kind of think they almost have a responsibility to get what they can from the things we donate. I pretty much count every penny I spend as a donation, rather then a bout of consumption. (Although, I have been known to have a proper grumble about it sometimes, so I understand, I do. I do.)

Rock Up in Red British Heart Foundation

Wearing my latest secondhand finds including my only red top in honour of Rock Up In Red. It is a bit dull, but jollied up with this awesome vintage scarf. And also a little chance to show off my 5 month bump which popped out a bit more this week- so much more actually that Tim had the audacity to Poke.My.Bellybutton. *throws up* (I’m phobic of bellybutton touching and he has known that for 7 years. Outrageous.)

One of the big hitters on the high street is the British Heart Foundation. I especially love their Hammersmith shop- nestled towards the end of a huge string of charity shops on the high street. In the last few years three precious family members have experienced serious, in one case fatal, heart conditions. Every time I buy something from their charity shops I think about the British Heart Foundation’s huge and ambitious fight against heart disease.

On 1st February 2013 they are hosting a “Rock Up in Red” day – a chance for individuals, workplaces, youth groups, schools etc to raise cash for a future filled with healthy hearts. It is a simple idea- get everyone wearing this most racy and bold of colours for one day and get small donation from each person – but is could make a massive difference in people’s lives. Hey, why not make your first delve into charity shopping a search for some lush red garments for Rock Up in Red?  You can download a fundraising pack and get loads of help with planning all their website. And blog your fancy red outfit!

Thanks, now come on, reveal all- what are your charity shopping tips?

PS If you love charity shops you will probably enjoy this round up of the UK’s BEST charity shops from some thrifty bloggers!

Cinnamon Christmas Bird Ornaments


There has been an image doing the rounds on Pinterest, of some homemade, cinnamon smelling heart shapes. I am SURE you will have seen them, possibly you are one of the millions of people who re-pinned it. Because it’s genius, no? Who doesn’t want a house smelling like Christmas, and the wondrous smuggity feeling of having created that pong yourself?

(Some people get this same feeling on the Underground. They let one go and the whole carriage is retching, and they are thinking to themselves, all proud, “I did that.”  I SO know who guffed when I look around a crowd like this, Tube Farters nearly always fit into one extreme –  either Mr I Dealt It You Smelt It with the subtly vainglorious posture, or the opposite purple-faced, Wishing They Could Squeeze Out Of The Crack in the Doors mortified soul.)

Putting together some ingredients to fill your home with the heavenly smog of cinnamonny Christmas is a winner, so I got some stuff together and made it happen.

The gorgeous, original recipe is Stateside so calls for applesauce and bulk cinnamon, of which I had access to neither so here is how I did it:

To make 6 birds and 6 hearts you need….

1 huge apple, peeled and cubed

1 35gram pot of ground mixed spice

1 35gram pot of cinnamon

  • Put the apple in a pan along with a table spoon of water, cover and simmer on low until it is totally soft. It doesn’t take long, around 20 minutes.
  • Leave to cool then blend using a whizzer/ blender until it is smooth as a babies bum.
  • Stir in your spices, bit by bit. Soon you won’t be able to stir, you’ll need to get in with your hands and knead it. You want it to be totally combined. It will be just like a dark dough. Keep adding more spice until it is super dry, like a biscuit dough.
  • I used one pot of cinnamon and one mixed spice as the pots of mixed spice are dead cheap, but still smell lush.
  • Pop your oven on to Gas Mark 2 to heat up.
  • Roll your dough out, using spice like flour so it doesn’t stick.
  • Cut out your shapes.  (Why, YES, I DID use my home made cookie cutter – of course, you could make any shape your fancied!)
  • Push a skewer through to make a hole for hanging.
  • Put on baking tray, with a light dusting of spice on the bottom.
  • Leave in oven for 1 – 1.5  hours or until completely rock hard. (Mine didn’t take long as we have a really hot fire and brimstone oven from the 50’s)
  • Once they are cool thread them up with some ribbon and hang!
  • I also did a layer of  home made mod podge and glitter, to give them an extra sparkle, the smell is still super strong.

handmade christmas cinnamon decoration birds

Happy Christmas pong creating!

Breastfeeding my Toddler – Me! Eat! Your boobies!

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Ramona is two now and our breastfeeding relationship is still going strong. There is something incredibly special about having a nursing toddler who can vocalise their feelings about it- the first time she looked up at me with those wide dewy eyes, took a pause from nursing to exclaim “YUMMY!” was a bit heart melting, and I remember thinking every mummy should nurse long enough to get some verbal feedback on the quality of their milk!

This morning I was a little more difficult to rouse for Ramona’s first nurse of the day and her usual snuggling and murmurs of “Mummy. Milk. Please” weren’t getting much response. She began pulling at my PJ’s saying “Me! Eat! Your Boobies!”

Ooh, waking up with a (slightly nervous) chuckle is a good way to wake up.

(Another benefit of cosleeping I guess- waking up with laughter happens quite often as Ramona’s early morning chats are quite hilarious, ranging from random musing about her favourite things to giggling at her own first fart of the day.)

I am 5 months pregnant now and my milk seems to be changing week by week – as early as 12 weeks it seemed I just had colostrum. And Ramona has taken her grown-up food eating to another level, putting away whole bananas, plates of spaghetti and gingerbread in a way she hasn’t done before, so she is obviously getting much less full on my milk. I am entering the fairly well documented stage of, um, finding it a bit hard. She only nurses 4-5 times a day, and most of those are completely fine, joyous for us both even. But the lengthy ones just before nap time and sleep can provide a bit of teeth grinding and cross eyed-ness for me. It is not dissimilar to those first ever new-born feeds where you just had to grin and bear it.

If we can, I am keen to plough through it, hoping that for us, like many other mammas, it is just a short stage of pregnancy. I can just see so many benefits for us still. Breastfeeding such a simple way to fill up her cup – keeping the emotional energy of a wild and rambunctious toddler steady.

Nursing toddler

We had a tricky period early on in pregnancy, when she really cut down her nursing, and I failed to recognise the debt this left, emotionally. I guess people who don’t breastfeed (like her Daddy, who tends not to) really quickly identify other ways of topping up their kid’s well being- knowing the right balance of hugs, games and other “connecting” activities.  Having been reliant on nursing – and her being completely in control of this- there were a few weeks when my milk was changing and she was nursing much less, where we had a bit of disconnect; she was volatile and fractious.

The relationship side of breastfeeding really hit home, I had kind of taken it for granted. For so long Ramona’s nursing sessions had been providing these perfect moments of connection throughout our day, moments that both of us needed. It actually restored us, healed any little snags in our relationship.

We had to find a new rhythm, fresh ways of connecting. In a way it was like beginning another lesson in parenthood. My husband Tim was much more advanced in these activities, having identified the need a year ago, once I left them together half the week as I went to work.

But we had to find our own ways – I couldn’t just steal Tim’s and think they would work for us. (Gah, exclaims my lazy old self.)

Some of the best ways I have found to connect with Ramona, as she weans off nursing a bit include:

  • Taking more hot baths together (such a cool way of spending cold winter afternoons) – we can spend an hour, blowing bubbles, painting the sides, singing
  • Two person dance parties – we put the music up loud and throw down our shapes, impressing each other
  • Kissing Game – you take it turns to kiss funny parts of each other
  • Pulling faces- we try and out do each other with our weird and wonderful facial expressions
  • Hide and Seek – together, so not so much seeking but hiding from imaginary people, usually snuggling under blankets and duvets

I think the key is in activities that involve loads of eye contact, and have the potential to end up in squeals of giggles. Laughter is a healer, no?

Ramona has somehow figured out that sleeping between 11pm and 7 am is a good plan, and doesn’t nurse anymore. (There was a while when I thought she might do this forever) – which just gives me full confidence that these kids know exactly what they need.

Breastfeeding is so much about trust. Trusting ourselves and trusting our children. I am so glad I was able to discount the voices that suggested Ramona’s night nursing would continue forever. And I am so glad I am able now, to distrust the ones that say nursing toddlers will never quit.

They do. And for now, it is still just perfect for us. With a smattering of dancing, playing and splashing, we are connecting more than ever.

What is your breastfeeding story? Have you found the same thing? How have you found ways to connect with your kids?

Feel free to check out my other posts on breastfeeding, including “Nursing a Micromachine” and the letter I had to write to my rubbish, myth-making Doctor.

Ethical Christmas Toys for Children

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GAH! WHAT IS WRONG WITH TOYS THESE DAYS!

If they are not ridiculously gender specific (pink toy laptop with half the functions of the boys one, anyone?) then they are dictating how to play with their flashing lights and music, created using a scarce resource that sends a world to war, or made by blistered hands just a little bigger than our own children’s.

I am a massive advocate of non-toys, finding that often jars of things, or baskets of odds, can stir a child’s imagination so much more than dictator toys. The toys we do have have been ferreted out from car boot sales and charity shops, we aim for things that are simple and aesthetically pleasing. Yeah, yeah, that just means vintage in my mind! (A few of our favourites, and my second hand shopping strategy can be seen right here.)

We are not massively legalistic though, in fact right now Ramona is utterly obsessed with Ginger the Talking Cat app on our smartphones. I’d go so far as to say they have a kind of friendship. She tickles him, cleans his teeth, he repeats everything she says. This means they argue quite alot. Tim overheard one argument the other day that went:

Ramona: “My daddy”

Ginger: “My daddy”

Ramona: “No, MY daddy”

Ginger: “No, MY daddy”

Ramona: “NO, my daddy!”

Ginger: “NO, my daddy!”

Ramona: “NO!! MY DADDY!!!”

Ginger…. You can probably guess what Ginger retorted, and just how long this argument lasted for. Neither were prepared to concede.

For the most part, when it comes to toys I request secondhand (both sets of Ramona’s grandparents are awesome at this) and I tend to craft things up to give. However, sometimes family members want to know what they can give your children for Christmas, and while you could say “Just write them a poem”  with a virtuous lilt, it can be nice to suggest some stuff they might feel more comfortable with.

For the last 5 years I have run an ethical Christmas Fayre. It began when we were living up in Oxford Circus and  were exasperated at the lack of Fairtrade gifts available, and it is growing each year. This year we have two venues, woot! We had our first one for 2012 this Saturday just gone. It was exhausting but not stressful – in fact the most stressful part was when I turned around to find Ramona had stripped off and was cavorting amongst the stalls almost in the nude. EEEEP.

Anyway, one awesome benefit of running the Fayres is that I get to keep up with the world of fairtrade and handmade, and see how stylish and gorgeous the products are becoming. I wandered around the Fayre on Saturday completely confident that 90% of the stuff blew stereotypes of “ethical consumerism” out of the water.

Bearing in mind all my own criteria for toys – imagination stirring, ethically made, not draining on the world’s resources, gender-neutral – I picked out my top 4 ethical gifts for kids:

Baby – a hand knitted bunny

Kinderkraft are a mother and daughter business based just down the road from me. They have the most gorgeous selection of hand cotton-knitted dolls, with a real modern feel, that are perfectly soft to the touch. They also create bespoke stuffed letter bunting so you can spell out a child’s name and can chose fabric – avoiding any nasty pink/ blue limitations.  Their Etsy shop showcases a lot of their stuff. 

hand knitted bunny

 

 Toddler – a fairtrade bus

We couldn’t resist buying this beautiful Fairtrade bus for Ramona, a cool momento of our time in London, and sure to fire her imagination. It is sold by the AMAZING Fair Share, who are based in Soho and have an incredible range of Fairtrade kids toys that you can also buy online.

fairtrade bus

 

Any age – eco wooden vehicles

These hand crafted wooden toys from Top Wooden Toys are so classic in their design I think they would suit any age, and even parents would get a lot of pleasure from them. Ramona LOVED their stall on Saturday, they had a whole load of stuff not even for sale on their website that she just kept returning to. You can also buy their products on Tinternet.Handmade Wooden Digger

Older kids – Pucket

If you haven’t played Pucket yet, you really haven’t lived. It is the most basic game  involving flinging wooden disks around a board, yet provides HOURS of fun for really anyone who has a little hand-eye coordination. Kids from 6 would love this, and Tim takes it to his Youth Club for teenagers, and they love it too, AND we get it out at Christmas for all us older ones.  A total classic. Find out more, and buy, here. 

pucket

 

All of these, and many more toys and gifts for the WHOLE family, will be available to buy at the Horniman Museum ethical Christmas Market this Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th December. But if you can’t get there, help your family to avoid the tax evaders and plastic creators by giving them a list from the above traders!

Sometimes buying ethically does cost a bit more, but so often it is because you are paying for something that will last a lifetime, and you are paying the TRUE cost of an item. I really believe we can change the world by making good shopping choices, and our children and their generation will thank us!

DIY Cookie Cutter

Just a really quick post today, I am running around like a blue arsed fly getting things ready for the Oxford Street Fairtrade Christmas market on Saturday – woooo!

I needed a cool bird (it HAD to be a bird) cookie cutter to make a Christmas decoration with, and our collection is limited to one lonely, lowly gingerbread man shape. We make gingerbread men biscuits all the time (I say we, but Tim is really the baker), they are Ramona’s faves- she calls them “The Boys”, which makes for quite cute exclamations like “YUMMMMY! ME LIKE BOYS!”

I had a rummage in our Throw-Everything-In cupboard and came up trumps with a ream of sturdy metal. Anything would have done – a strip of copper, or the bottom of one of those aluminum take away trays cut into a strip would be ideal (especially as you wouldn’t have any questions abut toxicity.)

I sketched the shape I wanted, and with a pair of pliers bent it into a bird.

I am SO excited by this new prospect of being able to twist metal into a myriad of shapes – it will be nice to have quirky biscuits, but also I am thinking about being able to cut shapes out of air-drying clay. Wheeeee!

*Forgets the Christmas Fayre and spends day with a pair of pliers*

Alternative Advent Calendar – Recycled Christmas Link -Up

My sister’s chocolate advent calendar wasn’t long on our mantelpiece before I worked out you could undo the bottom flap and slip the whole tray out. She’d open the odd window and be like “THEY FORGOT TO PUT DAY 16’s MORSEL IN!!!”

It was a few year’s before my beautiful Nana caught on to the fact that her grandchildren would rather have meaningless, Christmassy Bartman themed but delicious edible advent calendars, rather than little windows depicting the arrival of Baby Jesus.  I suspect  in her wisdom she knew exactly what kind of festive angst it could cause between greedy siblings!

For a 14 year old, I was pretty self controlled, and only ate a few of my sisters, but my whole tray was gone by Day 6. “WELL! CHECK MINE OUT! THEY HAVE FORGOTTEN EVERY SINGLE DAY! OUTRAGEOUS!!!”

I am not opposed to traditional or chocolatey advent calendars one bit but as part of my drive to instill some precious rituals in our family’s life, I have opted to make our advent a bit of a bigger deal. There are some gorgeous, crafty ideas out there, and I gathered a few, mixed it up with the thing I always do involving scrabble letters, and came up with this:


Instead of numbers, I have 25 pockets, with Joy, Love, Hope, Peace (for me these sum up the Christmas message) and Christmas spelled out on them. The pockets are held onto string with decorated pegs, and are meant to be in a bit of a Christmas Tree-ish shape. I found the pegs in a charity shop, the scrabble letters at a jumble sale, and the fabric is part of a vintage bundle that I have held onto for a while, waiting for the perfect moment to use it.

There were some lovely suggestions on the Lulastic Facebook Page, of how other people do advent, and I am totally pinching the ideas, like leaving little notes in the pockets for family members.

This week I am going to fill the pockets with things that will hopefully delight each of us – some sweets, a poem, a prayer, a task like “Make Ginger bread house” or “dance to The Boy Least Likely To‘s Christmas album”  – a brand new album I am loving by the way, like a festive, twee Pulp.

Christmas sometimes weighs on me. That we have this season, rooted in a story about a life of love, but yet it splays out in excessive consumption. It leaves the earth groaning with waste and debt.

This year, rather than getting ranty about it, I would rather celebrate how people are doing Christmas in an exemplary fashion! So here is a link up, a blog hop, for Recycled Christmas. A little spot where people can promote their blog posts on crafts they are making, gifts they have bought, decorations they are pulling out, all with a recycled theme. It will stay open until Christmas so keep adding anything you have! And then we can use it as inspiration for ever. Until the internet ends, anyway.
Link Up your posts here – click box below to see them. Please remember to visit other people’s blogs and leave a comment!


PS- As if this post isn’t jampacked enough, I have just ONE more tiny, little thing to mention. Another way to have an angelic Christmas. For five years now I have run an ethical Christmas Fayre in London – this year we have two! Over the coming weekends, the 1st December, on Oxford Street, and then the 8th & 9th December, at the Horniman Museum. There you will be able to buy fairtrade, eco, vintage, handmade and upcycled gifts for every single person on your list, all under one roof. I would LOVE to see you there! More info here. Please help me spread the word!

Six steps to a thrifty Christmas

For the first time since we were students Tim and I are REALLY having to reign it in, money wise. We don’t have a lodger for the first time since having this GIANT mortgage, both of us only work part time and we just spent every last penny on a beautiful van called Betty. Of course, we aren’t poor, we just don’t have any dosh, if you know what I mean. We could get all entrepreneurial, and take extra hours and craft things up and sell and things, but Alan Sugar we’re not. Every spare moment is bound up in Enjoying Life and Committing to the Things We Value, of which money simply isn’t one.

So, this Christmas is becoming Seriously Frugal. Fortunately we have been practicing for a few years now, and here are six ways we are doing it:

Christmas Trees
Every year for the last few years we have picked up a discarded tree from a school or college. It does mean waiting a bit longer- at least mid-December but sometimes you don’t find one until the 20th. But these trees are ENORMOUS and WONDERFUL! Big fatties, we had to push it through our giant front window last year as it wouldn’t squeeze down our hall. The schools are normally thrilled to have it taken off their hands. We gloat as we sail past other massive trees going for £70.

Presents
For the last 3 years we have only do Secret Santa in our family. We agree a price and use an internet service so it is all proper hush, and someone else is in charge. (The one year I did it I managed to know exactly who was buying for who, I well messed it up.) This way someone gets something really thoughtful and there are not piles of pressies sitting around that provoke only pseudo-thanks.

For other people, dear friends and children, I don’t tend to do much, and if I do it nearly ALWAYS involves a jar. (These 18 ways to upcycle your jars should provide some ideas.)

Tim and I have never done proper Christmas presents, we stick to a £10 budget, and I suspect we will do the same with Ramona. I feel pretty passionate about helping Ramona to understand that Things don’t Equal Happiness, and that love can be shown in millions of ways even throughout a traditional period of gift-giving.

Decorations
I haven’t bought any Christmas decorations in my life, I am the opposite of my sister who is obsessed with them. But I have crafted some up over the last couple of years using pegs, old fabric and scrabble letters (sound gorgeous, don’t they?!) and have been rather pleased with myself! This search on Pinterest will hook you up with millions of possibilities.

Food
I have only hosted one family Christmas before and we simply shared the food gathering out. I think this is becoming increasingly normal, as people struggle to find the bulk of money to lay on an exceptional festive spread at their party.  I have a friend who every year does Christmas with  her old school chums and each year each one brings a different traditional contribution. Just this weekend someone wrote in to the Guardian Money supplement, questioning this practice and the overwhelming response by readers was that guests contributing food made for a special and wonderful celebration. Don’t be shy.

Wrapping
I am officially the world’s worst wrapper  (Wrapper that is, not Rapper- in terms of Rapping I am actually rather excellent, particularly with Do the Bartman and Ice Ice Baby). Often my gifts look like I have pulled them out of the bin (I usually have) (JOKES, honest, I only get things out the bin for myself.) (Cor, now I sound bin selfish) because wrapping requires a finesse I don’t have. I always use recycled paper and my pressies always look ugly.  However, I have a dear friend who wraps everything with newspaper and her gifts look AMAZING! Just check out the possibilities of using recycled wrapping.

Christmas Frocks
Christmas time is a time to look nice, no? To feel happy with your outfit, to feel fresh. For me, a new frock is synonymous with the festivities and has been since I was a tot. If this is the same for you I have to say: Get ye to a Swap Shop now! I already have a swap organised, at a local cafe down the road. A little google could show up one in your region, and if not just organise one for your street or even just your friends. It is THE thriftiest way to clear out your wardrobe and get some new things in, and have a whale of a time whilst doing it. I could not be more of a fan!

As you can see, I only have 6 areas that I have attacked with my Wand of Frugality. I am sure there are a million more. For those of you who have been doing a thrifty Christmas for yonks, how do you do it? Would love to collect some ideas on here.

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