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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!

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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.

Breastfeeding Olympics- Toddler Heat

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Here we are in London, getting ready for one of the most highly esteemed sports here at the 2012 Games.

Taking her place in the Toddler Heat of the Breastfeeding Olympics we have Ramona of Camberwell, London, surely she will prove to be a legend in her time. At 22 months old she has been preparing for this moment in the limelight for well over a year and a half.

Ramona starts off steady, toddling towards the goal signalling her wish for milk. In a commitment to efficiency she has discarded all words (her favourite once being “BAPS”)  and has now streamlined it to something that takes much less effort- a mere greedy smacking of her lips.

Here we are able to witness the critical difference between an Olympian and a rubbish human- TOTAL DEDICATION. Nothing will steer them off course. Ramona marks out her target from the other side of the playground and makes her way over, ascending small mountains of sand, elbowing other competitors out of the way, pulling at her mother’s top with a verocity that gives her a clear advantage. With not a glance at the teenage boys huddled in the corner who may be getting ready to whip out at best a smirk, Ramona tucks in.

This is what winners are made of.

Of course, like most sports there is a team to think of here and Ramona makes sure Tiny Cat, Musical Duck, Stiff Haired Playmobil Fella, Thomas the Tank Engine all get a turn at exercising their nursing prowess.

We move on to the time-trials now as Ramona shows just how seriously she takes the Olympic motto of Faster, Higher, stronger. She hurtles in for a slurp lasting just moments before running back to the game she was previously involved in. Seconds later she is back, with yet another momentary tug and a sip and a squirt high in the air for good measure. And WHAT’S THIS?! Back for a third time in 5 minutes! This time showing true dexterity by nursing upside down whilst climbing over mummy’s shoulder.

The excitement is unbearable as we head into the all important endurance phase. Ramona steers quickly away from her triumph in the Swift Nursing round and as we head into the night time she reveals exactly how superior her talent for perseverance is. This tiny mite is but a GIANT when it comes to breastfeeding non-stop throughout the period when most mere mortals have to sleep.  It isn’t just chance that Ramona’s slogan is Sleep is for the Weak.

In the final round Ramona assures her supremacy by going all out in the multi-tasking phase. She steams ahead of the other competitors by nursing AND counting her toes AND honking mummy’s nose AND poking mummy’s tonsils AND singing Wind the Bobbin Up.

And, we get a glimpse at just how critical the apparatus are, as nipples are stretched, pulled, stamped on and knelt on in a keen display of athletic versatility and strength.

AND SHE HAS DONE IT! The Champion of the World in Toddler Breastfeeding Olympics, Ramona Lily of Camberwell. Dizzying heights for a toddler of such slight stature. If she could speak she would surely thank her team and all her fans but instead she simply stares adoringly up at her mummy and her mammory glands in a profound demonstration of team effort.

Back over to the Aquatic Centre now where our beloved Becky Adlington is stepping into the water…


It is World Breastfeeding Week! Here’s to a world free from breastfeeding  misinformation and myths, where women can nurse their children without being mocked or derided, where breastfeeding mothers can get applauded and celebrated and supported, and where walls put up between breastfeeders and bottlefeeders are pulled down because we are all mammas, all wanting the absolute best for our little legends.  Woop woop!

Ethical and thrifty festivities

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To me, thriftiness speaks of a “make do and mend” attitude, a beautiful scraping of the barrel, a sense that less is more. Sometimes I think thriftiness is confused with ‘bagging a bargain’ and we accept that low cost for us sometimes means a high cost for someone else in the chain. And sometimes holding high ethical consumer values can seem out of reach for people truly on a budget- Fairtrade can be double the didgets, an eco label comes with a hefty price tag. I think even the best of us sometimes leave our principles at the door when it comes to Christmas as the pressure to BUY is so immense. These are the four ways that I am trying to keep it ethical and thrifty:

  • Buying secondhand is THE best way to shop ethically- utilising cast offs means essentially opting out of the supply/ demand system which wreaks havoc amongst the world’s resources. Over the last few weeks we have found some fab bits and bobs to go in our pressie drawer (we all have one, eh?) that aren’t new but we know people will enjoy. Ebay is an even more predictable way of buying secondhand goods – but I find less joy in it; mining piles of sticky jumble gives me a lot of pleasure.
  • For the last few years our extended family has just done Secret Santa- where all the names go in a hat and we are given a £20 budget to buy for one person. This takes the pressure off massively and £20 can get someone a really stunning fairtrade item. This creates soooo much less waste – or more space in the pressie drawer if you are one for ‘regifting’ (Not me though, I would NEVER) (Ha.)
  • Buying in bulk is the third way that I am trying to be ethically thrifty. I buy all my shampoo/ handwash/dishwashing liquid/showergel in huge tubs from Ethical Superstore. This brings it down to a very reasonable price and saves on packaging. Decanting some lovely organic showergel and crafting up a lush label is making a trusty quick, inexpensive gift for some friends this year.
  • The last one is equally as obvious but making pressies using up stuff you have is probably the pinacle of being ethically thrifty. There are a zillion and one ideas out there – #thriftythursday tag on twitter throws up some goodies – but the main point is to do something simple that shows your love for someone, innit? For me, this year, it is all about embroidary. I have a new embroidary hoop and a shed load of fabric remnants and, Oh my, it is the dog’s bollocks.

It would be pretty ridiculous of me to not mention this as I have been pouring my heart and soul into this for the last few months, but I also realise it is a shameless plug…

This Saturday on Oxford Street is Fair Christmas Fayre. It goes from 12-7pm and there are over 30 wonderful stalls, jampacked with eco/ fairtrade gifts. We started running this fair 4 years ago as we felt buying ethically was such a challenge in central London. There are a huge variety of items starting from a few pounds so if you live close by and want to have an ethically thrifty festive season do pop in and say hello! There is also live music, a fair trade cafe, vintage badgemaking and festive facepainting so it would make a cool day out for all the family.

Would love to hear your four point plan for being ehitcally thrifty this Christmas…