Why far fewer toys mean a happier and healthier child.

Children with too many toys struggle to focus properly and fail to gain meaningful experiences through play.

Our son turns one next month and we have made a special effort to limit the number of presents he is given this year. We have requested that people do not buy him gifts, asking friends and family to join us for a small celebration instead. Many studies have shown that a child who has far fewer toys experiences more enjoyment from them and will take far better care of their belongings.

Professor Kathy Sylvya of Oxford University writes about the harmful effects on concentration in a study of 3000 three to four year olds, her research showed a link between greater development of perseverance and intellect when children had fewer, well chosen toys and parents who spent time reading, singing and playing with them. Her research shows that giving children too many toys or the ‘wrong’ toys may actually be harming their development. She suggests a ‘distractive element’ in some toys may lead to children to struggle to focus and subsequently play and learn poorly.

Family homes also benefit from far fewer toys. We have a small basket in our living room with some simple wooden blocks, board and fabric books and a puppet. These toys are brought out when we play together with our baby and tidied away in the evening when it is time for bed. The adults in the house gain a restful living space, free of visual distraction and our son learns to take care of his special things. In his bedroom he has a compact shelving unit with some special toys for now and later on as he develops, wooden toy vehicles, a few books, some gorgeous hand made toys and a small selection of music making toys. Like any other family, these toys use used throughout the house and garden during the day, but are carefully returned to their designated place at night. The result is a restful home, pleasant for the whole family.


It isn’t easy to achieve this, reminding well-meaning friends and relatives that you place more value in experiences and time spent is difficult. In our cash rich-time poor society it is so much easier to purchase a gift than to consider something that may add more meaning and value to a child’s life.

Next time you need to express your love why not consider the following ways to enjoy your time together?

A special day out -a picnic in the park,visit to a nature reserve or a trip at the beach?

An hour or two teaching a new skill-Spend some time baking scones, making pizzas or kneading bread together and treat yourselves to a cream tea at the end. Build something together such as a cardboard car or fort, defend it from invading armies and retreat for essential ’emergency’ supplies.

A special experience– a treasure hunt or scavenger hunt in the park or garden, a visit to see a seasonal display such as a bluebell wood or falling leaves in Autumn or exploring a castle or stately home.

A special journey – a trip on a steam railway, a seaside tram or funicular or a bicycle ride.

The memories of these special times will last a lifetime and are far more likely to be enjoyable and developmentally beneficial to our children.

Please share your stories and ideas, have you managed to make a birthday extra special ? We would love to hear from you.



Discovering why less is always more

Living with fewer possessions brings benefits to both our mental and physical health.

CC and our baby boy outside of the tiny lodge we stayed in ( less than 400 square feet)

I lived in North America for five years, working as a nanny for a wealthy family. The house in which we lived was several thousand square feet and required many staff to maintain and clean; a housekeeper, cleaners, handyman, deep-clean teams, teams to clean the chandeliers, plant maintenance, pool maintenance, car ‘detailer’, gardeners- a seemingly endless stream of people coming and going from the house. Living there certainly crystallised my ideas on living in large homes, it wasn’t for me.

When my husband and I moved to the UK we lived in a small apartment (furnished with the obligatory van load of Swedish flat-packed furniture). It took mere minutes to clean, a quick sweep with the hoover, a scrub of the bathroom and a light dust took a fraction of our time. It cost us little to maintain and insure and we were able to work on a self employed basis with no fear that we would struggle to meet our living costs. As we stayed longer, our landlady requested a rent rise and, after seeing her drive up in a brand new Audi, we decided that it was time to invest in a home of our own.

We learned a lot of lessons in our first year of home ownership; maintaining a hundred year old house took a lot of money, especially when its former owners had resorted to the cheapest fixtures and fittings. Our aspirations of a beautifully decorated interior were soon drowned in the reality of the expense involved in rewiring old sockets, supporting Victorian chimneys (where former owners had ripped out fireplaces) and generally keeping things in working condition. Home ownership was an expensive and time consuming business.

We learned that decorating took a lot of time and effort and rarely transformed our rooms in the way we had envisioned. As with any older house , one job would inevitably throw up other problems to resolve, plaster falling off stripped walls, floorboards butchered by 100 years worth of plumbing and wiring. Gradually we sold our modern flat-pack furniture on ebay and replaced it with much less expensive second hand furniture which seemed more suitable for our older home.

When our baby boy arrived last year we prepared a new room for him to grow into, changing the large double for a day bed and providing shelves for toys and books. Decorating the room took the form of new cushions and bunting attached to the cornice as well as a few simple toys ready for him to use and enjoy.

Nothing prepares you for life with a baby and just how much time is spent caring for them and interacting with them. Our days became very full and chores such as hoovering, dusting and laundry were tackled at speed. We began to resent chores which seemed to be unnecessarily time consuming such as dusting all of the china on our welsh dresser and moving multiple items to dust and vacuum around them. The house, which had once felt so cosy and homely, now felt like a large obstacle course, full of items which were adding an inordinate amount of time to our daily routine. Added to this, there seemed to be a constant influx of toys and equipment for baby and, despite our best efforts, these seemed to multiply daily.

Around this time I started to read and follow some simple living blogs and podcasts, convinced that there had to be a easier way of life. Gradually we de-cluttered pieces of furniture, clothes, books and ornaments, selling or donating them to charity. I sold more than half of the clothes I owned and got rid of a triple wardrobe. I sold all of the china on our Welsh dresser and gave away the top half of the dresser, leaving only the cupboard at the bottom. As each item left our home, the effect was instant, the atmosphere seemed calmer, the air fresher and my mood lighter. I found time to garden and read again, activities which I had previously had no time for.

Items which we sold or donated helped to give us more money towards our holiday in Wales and numerous trips out with our baby boy. As we carved more and more space for our family in our home we felt better and better about ourselves and our house.

As we gradually got rid of possessions which were no longer adding any value to our lives we felt better and better and found more and more items to pass on, de-cluttering becomes quite addictive. Stuff which had sat idle for years will now hopefully be used by its new owners. Resources which would have been used to produce new versions of what we sold and donated will now not need to be extracted and precious energy will not be needed in their manufacture.Most importantly, we now are firmly determined that no more items will enter our home unless they are absolutely essential.

During our recent holiday in Wales we were determined to pack very lightly, just two outfits each ( we had access to laundry ) and two books and a set of blocks for our baby boy. We loved how freeing it felt and how simple it was to pack and transport our luggage. Packing has now become a challenge which we relish, we are determined to pack only carry-on when we visit Canada this summer and, thanks to friends of ours who have generously offered to loan us baby equipment, I think we will manage it. I certainly look forward to a simpler summer.




A Little Village with a big heart sends a special Valentine

A small village in North Lancashire is preparing to send an extra special Valentine in 2016.

Christmas 2013 031

Knott End, a small village tucked away on a peninsula north of Blackpool, famed only for its brief connection to the painter L.S Lowry (he painted the Knott End ferry during his holidays there) is preparing to demonstrate how much they love their village.

For over a decade, this little place has battled with the energy giant, Halite, fighting to stop this fossil fuel Goliath storing gas in salt caverns under the River Wyre. Despite  objections from Lancashire County Council, Wyre Borough Council and Knott End council, not to mention thousands of Wyre residents that the storage scheme could pose significant risks to both people living in the area and the environment, Halite has been given consent.

The proposed scheme is within an area of a large number of homes, a significant concern since similar schemes in the US have resulted in explosions and, in the recent case case of Porter Ranch in the USA, a gas leak that affected the health of thousands of residents and took months to stem. There are also concerns about the impact on the wildlife of Morecambe Bay, (a Site of Special Scientific Interest) as many gallons of highly-concentrated brine are pumped out into the sea. It seems as though these are deemed insignificant against profit and the firm has been given the green light by the current government.

Christmas 2013 037

Sadly this scene is becoming only too familiar with families fighting to protect the areas where they live from increasing threats from energy firms, keen to make vast profits at the expense of the environment. It seems incredible that the shareholders of energy firms are deemed more important than clean water, air and land. Fracking opponents point to the millions of gallons of radioactive water produced by hydraulic fracking and the unacceptable risk posed through leaks.

At a time when 195 countries have adopted the first-ever universal, legally-binding global climate deal, the UK government appears short-sighted. As nations strive to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, a unique opportunity to pioneer and boost the renewable energy sector has presented itself. Investment now could reap dividends for many generations to come, not just in terms of the environment but also our economy.

But love will save this place , a true, fearsome love of our land, our air, our water and our love for our children.

The power of this ferocious love is what the resource companies and their advocates in government inevitably underestimate, precisely because no amount of money can extinguish it.

Naomi Klein

Our village is beloved and we will fight for the safety of its people and our land. As communities come together in their millions in unprecedented  grass-roots movements determined to defend their little corner of the globe, they will continue to fight for the land that is theirs. They will battle in the name of love and ultimately, because this is the strongest human motivator, they will win.

(Knott End will be taking its Valentine ( a large collection of postcards) to the energy minister Amber Rudd and my baby boy and I will be with them.)

The BBC is supposed to be impartial so why are they denying the Greens a chance to have their say?

BBC action petition


Growing up, the BBC was a wonderful institution providing a wide range of programmes for everyone. Sadly this organisation now seems to be riddled with corrupt practices and deliberate censorship.

The BBC ‘s coverage of environmental issues consists of the odd comment from Chris Packham, the one presenter who seems to voice concern about our nation’s dire environmental record. Countryfile, their rural affairs program, paints an idyllic picture of rural Britain which only exists inside the minds of a brainwashed middle England. Meanwhile environmental issues are simply swept under the carpet, the term Climate Change never enters into airtime vocabulary.

Now it seems that they are deliberately blocking the green vote by refusing to allow the Green Party any air time for party political coverage. Yet UKIP and the Lib Dems have both received three slots each.

In the last election well over a million people voted for The Green Party, whose voice is getting stronger with numbers growing greater every year as people become dissatisfied with a corrupt political system which serves only the very rich.

If you believe, as I do, that we should live in a democracy and the greens should be given the chance to share their ideas with the people of Britain, please sign the petition on the above link and champion democracy for everyone. Thank you !


Slowing down, re-evaluating


January always lends itself to reflection and re-evaluating  life’s priorities. CC and I had a wonderful Christmas spent with family and our new baby. We shared time with our families, including CC’s mother who came to visit from Canada. I know that the memories of this Christmas will stay with us for a long time.


Even though Christmas isn’t about excess in our family ( we give mainly homemade gifts or things that people have requested), I still felt a little overwhelmed by the steady accumulation of ‘stuff’ (for want of a better term). Our little home has begun to feel too full, primarily because our baby needs equipment, such as a high chair, cot and playpen.

During January CC and I have been having something of a purge, slowly transforming our little house into the family space we need and  selling or donating the items which we don’t. The result has been SPACE !, gorgeous, calming, necessary room for life. Out have gone the multiple wine and beverage glasses, the additional dinner set, my large wardrobe ( and half my clothes and bags!),the spare coffee table for our guest room-now our baby’s nursery.

The result? Our home has begun to transform into the relaxing family space we have dreamed of. There’s less to dust under or over, fewer items to move about when hoovering and significantly less laundry. Less stuff has equalled more time spent playing and talking as a family. Fewer clothes in our wardrobes means that getting dressed takes a fraction of the time and putting away laundry is far simpler, since I don’t need to constantly rearrange items so that they will fit. Fewer pots, pans and plates had made our little kitchen a joy to cook in, I can now open a cupboard and just get out the item I need, instead of having to navigate surplus equipment in order to get what I am after.

Best of all, it has allowed us to put our unused items back out into the world to be used by someone who needs them, meaning that precious energy and the Earth’s resources will not have to be used to make those items again.

The money raised has allowed me to make a very carefully considered purchase (second hand ) -a wonderful child carrier to take our little one on hikes to see the beautiful countryside, recycling our excess has allowed us to enjoy the most precious thing of all…time.

Simple Bread Recipes

IMGP0857.JPGMaking BreadWhen I was growing up my mum and dad used to make bread all the time and I would often find it in my packed lunch. I often bake on days when we don’t have anywhere we need to be, simple bread takes time to rise (prove), it’s the original slow food, but it’s so much tastier than anything you can buy and a thrifty choice for those on a tight budget. The first recipe makes around 16 rolls or 2 full-sized loaves.

Simple Bread ( mum’s bread)

1Kg Strong Bread Flour (any will do)

1 sachet of yeast

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1/2 tablespoon liquid honey

1 teaspoon salt

660ml water (1 pint) of lukewarm water

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of your dray ingredients and pour in the water, honey and oil. Spread the fingers on your hand to form a paddle shape and mix until well combined.

Empty the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for at least five minutes. ( push the dough with one hand, stretching it away from your body) leave your ball of dough in a warm place until it is twice as big (around 40 minutes)

Empty your ball of dough onto a floured surface again and press until  the air is expelled. Form into 2 loaves or 16 buns and leave on an oiled baking sheet to roughly double in size.

Bake in a hot oven (200C) for around 20 minutes. Tap your buns on the bottom to check that they are done, they should sound hollow.

The second recipe is for Wheaten or Soda bread, it is even easier and takes a mere 40minutes from start to finish. We have relatives in Ireland and they would regularly send us home with a suitcase full of this delicious bread! Made with white flour, it’s known as Soda bread, with wholewheat it’s known as wheaten bread

Simple Soda Bread

450g of white or wholemeal flour

1 tsp baking soda

400ml buttermilk

1 level tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 230C

Sieve the flour, salt and baking soda into a large bowl.

Make a well in the middle, pour in the buttermilk and then mix with your fingers (spread your fingers apart to form a rigid comb shape). Mix until all of the flour is combined but don’t overdo it.Gently roll the dough into a ball and place on a floured baking sheet.

Using a sharp knife, cut a cross in the top of your ball of dough and prick each quarter twice to let the fairies out.

Put into your oven for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200C and bake for a further 25 minutes. The bread will be ready when you tap on the bottom and it sounds hollow. Wrap in a tea towel immediately after you take it out of the oven.




During the last week in October CC, our little boy and I went on the boat to Northern Ireland to spend a week exploring and visiting relatives from both sides of our families. We stayed in a Georgian cottage in Hillsborough complete with peat fire ( although I couldn’t bear to burn the peat, it is traditional there), Aga and antique furniture. The cottage certainly had an atmosphere, I am convinced it was haunted !




We enjoyed lots of walks in the woodland two minutes from the front door.



And loved trips out to the Ulster Folk open air museum and the truly fantastic Titanic Museum at Belfast docks. The Ulster Folk Museum had so many buildings to explore, including a bank, blacksmiths,printers, farms and a court. Going inside old buildings in a natural setting gives you such a tangible taste of history, truly interesting.

The Titanic museum was a stunning collection of artifacts, photographs, a ride which took you on a tour of the shipyard and a stunning interactive tour of the inside of Titanic using surround screens.


Our little boy is finally asleep at a decent hour so I am taking this opportunity to catch up on my digital diaries. On the domestic front we have been busy stocking the pantry with home made and home grown. the appalling weather ( three weeks of almost constant rain and gales!) has given us an excuse to cosy up in doors and make some preserves, including Sloe Gin and pickled beetroot. We had a great harvest of beetroot this year, it seems to be the only thing that the slugs don’t like.





Autumn Treats


CC has returned to work and I am now at home enjoying time with our little boy, the days seem to fly by and CC is home before we know it on most days. It was extremely strange not going back  to work and I definitely miss my teaching, however having this special time with my son and taking care of him is such a joy. He grows so much every week and his development is noticeable on even a daily basis. He has so many smiles and enjoys everything we do together, listening carefully when we sing to him and enjoying playing with his toys.


This weekend CC and our son had a little father and son time and I began making some of the things I used to make regularly before I was pregnant and lost our kitchen for 3 months as we had our house remodelled. I began with some gorgeous homemade yoghurt using my little Severin  yoghurt maker and then progressed to making chutney. There really is nothing nicer than tasting your own homemade jams and chutneys in the wintertime when the vegetable garden is looking rather deplete and soft fruits come from far away and are virtually tasteless. I like to make Victorian Chutney when the new season Bramley apples are in the greengrocers. CC and I get out walking and looking for blackberries as often as we can and use them to make blackberry sauce for yoghurt, pancakes and ice cream. A really good haul prompts us to make blackberry and Bramley jam, a really dark, flavourful treat on warm toast or in a sponge pudding. We like to give these as special Christmas gifts for close friends and family.


image image

A Very British Coup

The election of Jeremy Corbin as leader of the opposition has raised eyebrows amongst Britain’s political classes and many members of the establishment.


Click here for 24 things Jeremy Corbin stands for

As a rank outsider, party members had seen Mr. Corbin as an additional candidate who would not gain a large share of the vote, but was necessary to ‘represent’ the left wing opinions within the party. Winning 60% of the vote in a landslide victory, Mr. Corbin took the established stalwart members by surprise.

In a move unprecedented in British politics, labour membership applications (for the mere price of £3) were used by many outsiders to have a say in the selection of the new opposition leader, ensuring that the new leader had views which were in line with environmental and social concerns shared by many.

I for one am delighted that we finally have someone in the House of Commons who is a committed environmentalist and anti-austerity campaigner.

A Greener Baby


While it could be said that having a baby is not the best thing for the environment, we have certainly tried our best to reduce our little boy’s impact on the planet and build a better future for him. From the outset we were certain that we didn’t want to overwhelm our little house with baby equipment and paraphenalia. We were also determined that we would buy second-hand wherever we could and, where we had no choice; such as a new mattress, we would buy as sustainably as possible.

Fast forward several months later and we do seem to have managed to limit the amount of equipment, although this has sometimes left us feeling ungrateful when we turn down kind offers from friends and family. Most friends and family members know us well enough to ask about what is actually needed, or have sent things which were as green as possible. The generosity of friends and family never fails to amaze us, gifts have included the most thoughtful and useful items, such as moccasins handmade in Canada, stunning hand knitted cardigans and blankets, handmade toys and a wide range of clothes.

Despite not knowing many parents of small children ourselves; being older parents, we were so very fortunate that a friend of my mother loaned us a beautiful crib, as well as passing on numerous toys, clothes and a simply wonderful mobile which plays the theme from Dr. Doolittle. The mobile and a wind up giraffe ( which also plays the same tune) were given to us several months before CC became the musical director for the stage version of Dr. Doolittle, it still makes us smile every time it plays and our little boy simply adores it. The joy that these pre-loved  toys give is immeasurable, and certainly trumps just going to a shop and buying new.

Nursery equipment has been purchased mostly second hand, his cot bed was such a bargain and the lady selling it was delighted that another little boy would enjoy the cot after hers had grown out of it. The only items we have bought new were the mattress and protectors which have to be new for the sake of safety, these we bought from The Little Green Sheep company using a generous financial gift from special friends in Canada.

We have also opted for washable nappies which are simply wonderful, really soft and colourful. Unfortunately, despite a thorough search online, I couldn’t buy these second hand, so we opted for the gorgeous designs and durability of Bambino Mio’s two piece nappies. Thanks to a great summer we have been able to line dry these the vast majority of the time and use our trusty wooden clothes horses the rest of the time. (I am not sure how lucky we will be with this during the North’s typically cold and damp winters though, we will certainly try to dry them outdoors as much as we can.)

We also use recycled bamboo fabric as baby wipes which are beautifully soft and are just thrown in the nappy dry bucket to be laundered with the nappies.

Having a new little human being in our home has certainly required some adjustment, when people talked about ‘not getting anything done’ I had assumed that I would be able to organise my way out of the chaos…..how very wrong I was! At three months we are just beginning to get the hang of balancing time with our son and time to grow our vegetables, cook and make. Today I managed to bake rock buns while our little boy was napping and plant winter vegetables such as spinach, winter salad and kale. I am determined that we will have some organic vegetables from our newly remodeled garden during the winter. Living in the north of England means that the hours of daylight considerably reduce from August on wards and this impacts on the length of the growing season, cloches and greenhouses can only retain heat and not provide extra daylight.


It really felt like Christmas yesterday as a parcel of a second hand bundle of baby boys’s clothing arrived, 25 items for £12 ! The most beautiful coat made in France, gorgeous dungarees by Osh Kosh, a fox design jumper to name but a few of the delights. Also included was a wet suit suitable for a 3-6 month old, although I’m not sure he’ll need it, you never know!