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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.

18 ways to upcycle old jars

If you are like us and eat a lot of lemon curd and peanut butter you have a spare jar, or several hundred, in your home. I keep all mine in the little alley way alongside our kitchen, accessible only by our back garden, a place we try to pretend doesn’t exist. It’s covered with a tarpaulin and houses our Projects. I also, bizarrely, buy extra jars from car boot sales, but just if they are especially pretty or vintage – yep, my huthband doth dethpair.

You see, you can NEVER have enough jars. They provide endless opportunities for giving thrifty but appealing gifts, for beautiful, craftilicious decoration and of course, simple and lovely storage. And for Christmas jars come into their own. Un fact, Christmas was MADE for jars. (Love and family and hope, they get a little look in too.) Despite there being already one million ways to up cycle a jar, I am still not sure the human race has even reached the full realms of what is possible.

But to get us started, here are 18 of the best…

Gift ideas

Use chalk board paint and sweets inside With a bit of tile grout and some ordinary acrylic paint you can whip up small, colourful batches of chalkboard paint. It slicks straight onto any surface, including jars, meaning you can fill a jar with sweets and label it with a cool message.

Put a figure on top and homemade finger paints inside Once you have glued a figure on top of a jar, and painted it, there is no turning back. It looks so wicked. In this instance I filled the jars up with matching homemade finger paints, and gave it as a gift to a toddler.
Decorate the lid and put a home made body scrub inside
Just a bit of cool paper and a decoupage technique (homemade mod podge) can transform a rubbish old jar. I filled mine with the easiest homemade body scrub ever.

Layer cake ingredients inside and give with instructions to make No, you  cynics, this isn’t a lazy way of giving some baking, it’s CUTE, all right? I like it.

Put together a tiny sewing kit and make the lid a pin cushion. A lovely friend gave me a sewing kit in a jar once and I just loved it. Such a gorgeous gift to receive.

Photo credit and How To from must-read Momtastic

Fill with reshaped old crayons Melting and reshaping old crayons makes a gorgeous gift for children. Putting them in a handy jar so you can see the shapes and colours against the side make it that bit more special.

Decoration Ideas

Use paper on the outside to create a beautiful tea light Cutting shapes into pages from a book and popping it around a jar to create a candle holder has to be the most simple decoration ever… oh wait, but look:

Decoupage leaf candle holder  Maybe that honour goes to the sticking of leaves to the outside of a jar to make a candle holder. So lush, and can be seasonal, in whatever season. A bit of nature in your home.

Photo credit and beautiful How to found at From Panka With Love

Glow in the dark jars You can get glow-in-the-dark paint from most craft shops, and it is put to stunning use here. How perfect for a child’s room.

A beautiful jar chandelier This is an upcycle that needs a bit more dedication, and possibly an electrician. But, if you are looking for a light feature THIS IS IT!

Christmas Ideas

Christmas snow globes A jar, a bit of glitter, some objects and some glue. Amazing. I am definitely going to craft up some of these with Ramona, I am going to keep my eyes peeled at car boot sales for especially kitcsh Christmas decorations I could feature in them.

Photo credit and stunning How To from Elisa McLaughlin Designs

Christmas in a jar Love this, giving someone everything they need to fill their home with the Christmas pong, I mean, SPIRIT. You could really adapt this idea, with what you can find that smells awesomely Christmassy.

Edible Ideas

A jar of DIY peppermint hot chocolate I love the idea of giving someone a little treat they can give themselves when the time arises. A ready to go drink would be something my husband would love.

Rainbow Cake in a jar All the glories of a classic 1980’s rainbow cake with the added gimmick of eating it out of a jar. Immense.

Photo credit and How to at the brilliant Run with Glitter blog

Berry crumble in a jar If someone was to serve me a pie in a jar I think I’d be their BFF.

You kind of get the idea here, I guess… bake things, but in jars.

Storage Ideas

Glue lids to underside of shelf, screw jars on to itThis is an ace idea, possible with just a glue gun, a shelf an some jars. Really ideal if you don’t have much surface space.

Photo Credit and How To from Good Housekeeping

Use a hot glue to spell out the contents of the jar and paint over  Another simple idea, but SO effective. I need this so that when I finally reach my one life’s ambition of having a cleaner they’ll know where to pop my tiny trinkets…

Tadah! They are my faves. What are the best ways you have seen to reuse a jar?

PS See beautiful pictures of all the above ideas on my Upcycle your Jars Pinterest board. (Crumbs, you know you have made it when you have a Pinterest board about Jars…)

It is all about cross stitch… (no, really!)

I had a dream this week where all my friends, old and new, were at a cross stitch party and they were all better at it than I was. Dreams are so boring to hear but it is still so impossible to refrain from sharing your own eh? I’m sorry. And I bet that dream sounds like THE MOST BORING EVER! A crossstitch party?!
But actually, while dreams are boring, cross stitch is not. Nope. It has been transformed by the ranks of subversive stitchers and now it is The Absolute Best.
It was the Craftivist Collective who first got me in to it – they cross stitch gorgeus social justice messages and leave them in prominent places such as this one I found last week at the Occupy LSX camp at St Paul’s.

However my first cross stitch was a bit of a fail as I liked it so much I kept it and put it on my wall. (Don’t tell them.) How un-world changey of me. And now I am unstoppable. (Sort of, I do a few a year.)

One thing I like about crossstitch is that it has a rep for being one thing (antiquated and quaint) but has now become something else (cool and even edgy) kinda like if Katy Price was to picket the upcoming Miss World (cool) or if Bono (justice warrior) was to become a tax dodger (ah, yes, done. And so not cool.)

I love words and sentences and my house is covered with them, like this lamp and this wall. But crossstitched words and sentences are completely Next Level. 

Another thing I love about it is that it is so thrifty; a few bits of cotton and the canvas bit you sew on to will set you back a couple of squid and last FOREVS. Giving cross stich words epitomises the goodness of thrifty gifts- it is cheap but not cheapskate- the time and effort put into crafting it up can far outweigh the flashy beauty of a bought thing.  Something like this from this epic selection would be ideal for new babies on the scene: 

And you may have picked up that I love quick craftiness- while crossstitch does need a bit of patience it can be picked up for the odd five minutes here or there, or taken with you so you can do it on the hoof. The Love one below was done on a train journey while Ramona slept. Chucked in a cute old frame it sets off this bookshelf rather deliciously.

This post is sponsored by NeedlePointer; Camberwell’s favourite needle supplier. JOKES. When I was about 11 me and my cousin and my sister spent several hours making up a melody and beautiful harmonies to a song about Needle Craft- we had seen an ad on telly and for some reason it seemed like a grand way to spend a morning. The tune has been running through my head this whole time. Bonkers. I’ll have to sing it to you one day. As a treat. Maybe I could also tell you my top ten weird dreams too.