A success and more creative thinking about food

In my last post I wrote about needing to get creative with family finances. We have had our first success in finding out about a local food growing cooperative called Glastonbury Healing Gardens Cooperative. We have already joined and done a few hours work in exchange for some organic vegetables. This is a wonderful way to access organic fruit and vegetables that are locally grown. It provides us with space to plant our own food and it fulfils our wish to do something which is community focused as a family. It is also a lovely outdoor space which our daughter will get to experience. There is a childrens area with beds for them to grow things too and they keep chickens and bees. We have already met some lovely people there and there are regular community events such as shared meals.

taking stock of our freshly picked organic vegetables. from the Healing Gardens

We have decided to apply for an allotment which we plan on using to grow the vegetables we use frequently and which we can store to cover our needs for a number of months. We envisage this including such things as potatoes, leeks and beans. Whereas, at the Healing Gardens where there is an emphasis on sharing resources, we plan on growing things like spinach, garlic and herbs. We are really excited about how this will help meet our food needs. I’ve also decided to up my game when it comes to foraging so I’m awaiting the berry harvest and am looking into foraging courses and plan on preserving food for later use. I’m also researching local pick your own fruit farms to see if this will be a way of cutting costs. We plan on converting our under stairs cupboard into a storage pantry and we will probably need to purchase a deep freezer at some point.

Hopefully these sorts of measures will help cut costs and allow us to eat a good proportion of local and organic food. I plan on budgeting by meal planning so I know what I need to buy but when it comes to this it is important not to be too rigid. Yesterday for example I managed to buy four whole cooked chickens for £1.35. I wouldn’t normally buy these but this was a bargain too good to miss. Since the chickens were cooked already I am somewhat limited in how I can stretch these out. Normally I would freeze portions and stock and these would create numerous meals. However I still managed to use these as the basis for four meals which we will eat over the next few days. 

If you are going to eat dairy then this is a key area to switch to organic if you can. I’ve been making organic butter every week for a few months now and it is delicious. We buy milk and cream from local organic farms. I’m thinking of making yoghurt but I’ve yet to convince my partner they this will be worthwhile. I bake bread a few times a week enabling me to feed my family organic bread for no more then the cost of regular supermarket bread. I’m sure there is much more that I can do to stretch our food budget but I think we were at a good starting point.

Getting real with family finances

We have never had a lot of money but my decision to stay at home with our new baby means that we have gone from a two income family to a one income family. Previously my income was the largest so the challenge we face now feels very real. This month sees the last of my Statutory Maternity Pay so now things get tough. 

I have begun planning using two online resources I have found after trying out various online services and apps. The first will help me to track our finances over the coming months. BudgetTracker is an online service that allows you to enter income, expenditure, keep track of debts such as credit cards and loans and set goals. The basic service is free although this is quite comprehensive. It does have a limit to the number of entries you can make in each category. Having spent the morning adding our income and some of our outgoings it seems like it will be really useful. The paid service is not at all expensive and I’m thinking of investing in it as I do think this will help me to be really organised about our finances. The summary page for each month is really useful and I really like the forecasting facility which predicts cash flow over a period of time. My aim is to reduce our debt and to manage our budget in a way that means we always have a positive bank balance (even if only by a few pence). Ultimately I would like to incorporate saving for unforeseen spending such as replacing household equipment, saving for Christmas and birthdays and towards an occasional family holiday (an extremely rare occurrence for us). We don’t have any credit cards but we have a personal loan I’d like to get rid of as well as various other things that could do with clearing.

The second service I found is called Out of Milk. It allows you to create shopping lists and share these across platforms, save them, print or export them. This will help me plan out and budget for our fortnightly meal plans. Although I could easily cut our food spending by buying cheap supermarket options it is really important to me that my family eats well. By this I mean that what they eat should be healthy, filling, prepared from fresh ingredients where possible and wherever possible from local and organic ingredients. I am shopping for two adults, a seventeen year old boy who is an elite athlete with specific nutritional aims, a vegetarian sixteen year old and a six month old baby on a very limited budget so this is going to present a challenge requiring some creative thinking on my part.

The next couple of weeks are going to be about examining our finances really closely. Looking at where savings could be made, setting goals and coming up with a realistic budget for the coming months. I will share our journey here on my blog beginning with detailing our meal plans and food budget. 

Beginning baby led weaning

This week we have begun introducing solid food to our baby girl who is just coming up to six months old. We are doing baby led weaning. This essentially means offering her what we are having right from the beginning and allowing her to feed herself. We started by offering her individual items – avocado, banana, courgette, sweet potato, kohlrabi, apple, pear and broccoli. In the last couple of days she has graduated to trying the meal we are having. She has tried carrot and apple pancakes, tabbouleh with chicken and a lamb casserole. I am still breastfeeding her on demand and following baby led weaning guidelines I make sure to breastfeed her before we sit down to eat so that she isn’t hungry and frustrated when she explores her first foods. So far she seems to be having great fun!

Parenting by moonlight

We are currently having a little night time adventure. I call it that to cheer myself up as in the past week our bedroom has been too hot to be able to sleep. When we couldn’t take any more we moved our mattress into the living room and that is where we intend to stay until it cools down. 

Parenting at night is perhaps for many people the hardest of all. After all we are for the most part used to going to bed at our chosen time and having a relatively undisturbed nights sleep. In my role as a midwife two of the most common parenting questions I get asked is how do you cope with a baby waking at night and how do you go about getting them to sleep at night and be wakeful in the day. My answer to the latter question is that you can’t, at least with a newborn. They are meant to feed around twelve times a day including at night and they don’t come with a clock that sets itself to an acceptable routine. Rather they come with their own internal rhythm. One baby will have their most awake time at 4pm whilst for the next it will be 4am. I’ve come across plenty of parents who in desperation have kept their baby awake in the day with disastrous consequences that night when they find themselves dealing with a screaming, inconsolable baby. Research shows that babies are meant to wake at night. The goal as a parent is to make it as comfortable and restful an experience as possible and to create a night time environment that gently encourages your baby to begin to recognise the difference between night and day. This will likely take time. I’m not going to cover the topic of sleep training in this post as I don’t personally advocate taking such an approach.

I have always felt that the transition from womb to being earthside must be terrifying. For nine months the baby is held in constant warmth with reassuring sounds of the mother’s heartbeat and cradled by her moving body. Then, all of a sudden her world changes. There is cold and heat, there is the harsh brightness of electric lights or the darkness of night. There are mechanical noises, car engines, washing machines, and then there is the night silence. No longer are you constantly cradled but you are placed on a cold, firm surface and expected somehow to sleep. If we really stop for a moment and put ourselves in the place of our newborns it becomes clear why so many of them cannot sleep in the beautiful cribs we have prepared for them.

One of the first things I did was decide where my baby would be sleeping. I decided to follow her cue but anticipated that she would either sleep in a crib at the side of the bed or in my bed. Guess which it ended up being! On night one it was clear that this was a little girl who liked to sleep cuddled up with me. To help me get some quality sleep I started go into bed earlier and my partner would take her for a few hours before he was ready to sleep. That way It was fine if she had a night where she wanted to feed constantly. She is now almost six months old and although she is still in my bed she now sleeps without constant contact, though her little hand reaches for me for reassurance from time to time. If you decide to share the bed with your baby there is safe bed sharing advice which should be followed. One of the things I did which gave me peace of mind was to put our mattress in the floor. Having it at this level has made me much more comfortable with our daughter being in bed with me. I removed any excess pillows and the duvet so we now use only sheets on the bed. I dress her carefully for bed since she will be warmed by my body heat. Therefore even in the coldest months she has only ever worn one short sleeved, short legged layer in bed. She has never been cold and we sleep every night of the year with our bedroom window open. 

Right from the beginning I have made sure that I differentiate between day and night by minimising how much I talk to my little one at night and by speaking in soft tones. The room is always darkened with closed curtains when we first go to bed. If a light is needed I use a Himalayan salt crystal lamp. She understood that night time was different very quickly and has only ever had an extended wakeful period at night a couple of times. Mostly she stirs a little and goes straight to the breast to dream feed. This arrangement has meant that I have rarely felt tired. I always make sure I have plenty to drink and something to eat at the side of the bed as breastfeeding is thirsty work. I also have the IPad and Kindle, knitting and any book I am reading too. All this adds to my comfort during night hours. If a nappy change is necessary it is done quietly. It helps to have a changing area set up right by the bed with a clean nappy ready to go.

Very early on we began an evening and bed time rhythm to help indicate when it is time for bed and this has worked really well. For us this is having the family meal time then walking our dog. When we get back it is time for a bath. By the time she comes out of the bath she is rubbing her eyes as she knows it is almost time to settle. We dry and dress her on the bed in the room which has already been prepared and then it is straight under the covers and cuddled up with mama for a breastfeed. During this feed we say a bed time prayer which we have used since birth and which she clearly recognises as she visibly relaxes and her eyes close as I say it. I used to then follow this with a gratitude practice and a short visualisation but lately she settles so quickly these have been left out. Bed time happens around 6.30 to 7pm. She gets up in the morning around 7am.

I write this at 4am and my nearly six month old daughter sleeps soundly just across the bed from me. My full breasts attest to her changing need. Not for much longer will she feed at night as she is adapting to being earthside. I feel a little sad about this as I love these dark and quiet hours with my baby. If you are in the throes of that newborn phase when day and night has no meaning I know it won’t help you to read that this won’t last forever but it really doesn’t. For now I will cherish the times my baby reaches for me in the darkness, the sweet closeness of her as she snuggles in for a feed and curls her fingers around mine. I will close my eyes and listen to her soft baby breath and make memories of these beautiful times. 

All my Summers

Welcome to the July 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Summer Fun

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have talked about how to get out and enjoy the warmer season as a family.


I have wonderful memories of summer when I was a child. School summer holidays felt like they went on forever. My earliest summer memories are of making mud pies and grinding “flour” of grass seeds. I remember sitting cross-legged weaving daisy chains whilst chattering to the fairies. When I was a little older summer heralded great freedom.  I usually left the house after breakfast and returned in the evening for dinner. Days were spent with other children who lived on my street in the woods or the park, perhaps creating a den to play in or hanging upside down from monkey bars. There was a small piece of land at the bottom of a lane that we called “The Island” which was covered with blackthorn and which would be defended from potential intruders by bombarding them with not yet ripe sloe berries. My younger brother tagged along with me just as the younger siblings of my friends did and our eight or nine year old selves were fully responsible for the wellbeing of these younger children and we ministered to any mishaps, using dock leaves to ease nettle rash and stemming the flow from cut knees. We somehow knew how to find food for ourselves and neighbours could be relied upon to supply a horde of feral children jam sandwiches before we set off for more adventures. We swam at the beach, we swung on ropes hung from trees and we covered many miles. In the long summer evenings the adults came out into the street and the road became the venue for epic games of rounders or cricket, teams of children taking on the groups of parents with games abandoned when the last light of the day seeped away.

Those summers of my childhood are long gone and I now have my own family made up of three almost grown young adults and a five month old baby. Grown up life with all of its responsibilities meant that for many years my partner and I worked long hours and our children when not in school went to childcare to make our jobs possible. Evenings were taken up by the various organised activities that our children participated in. Our day typically ended about 10pm when we would drop into bed exhausted and I would attempt to find sleep quickly as I would be up again at 5.30am and off to work a fourteen and a half hour shift in my job as a midwife in a local hospital. In recent years summer has become a time of relief for myself and my husband. An opportunity to reduce the constant ferrying our children from school and from one activity to another whilst my husband had a break from teaching that enabled some semblance of order to be created albeit temporarily in the household. This is the way it has been for more years than I care to count and something had to give but although we talked often about how things could be improved when you are stuck on such a roundabout it is so very difficult to work out how to jump off.

In the past year our lives have been overhauled. It began with our decision to have another baby sixteen years after the birth of our daughter. Discovering that I was pregnant was swiftly followed by our sixteen year old son who plays rugby league at a national level gaining a place at a prestigious academy where he would have the opportunity to further his sporting career whilst studying. Suddenly everything was changing. Our son was not ready to go his own way in the world and we knew that we wanted a simpler way of being for our new child.  A decision was made; we would move to Glastonbury, a town which we had visited regularly for years and which was close enough for our son to commute to the academy. We had talked about it often but there had always seemed to be too many reasons not to move.

My partner has left teaching (at least for now) and taken a job with a small charity which enables him to walk to his work which is just five minutes away. My eldest daughter has just completed IGCSE exams as a home educated student and has a place at a very good college for September and my eldest son and his girlfriend have also moved here and live just five minutes away. All of my children have local jobs, and me? Well, I am on maternity leave right now but have made the decision to stay at home with my new baby. I wrote my resignation letter just a few days ago. For now I will not be working outside the home but I have a seedling of an idea for a small creative business which I eventually plan on beginning from home, enabling me to give my youngest daughter a childhood free from childcare facilities and to educate her at home when the time comes for that. In the space of a year our lives have changed enormously. Where we were spending a minimum of £300 per month on fuel to just get to school, work and activities we now rarely use the car at all. Our days are simpler and we have free time for ourselves and time to spend together as a family. It is such a relief. 

Having a baby in the home again has given us the chance to really look at our priorities, to consider what sort of life we want to provide for her. My older children are wonderful people. They are intelligent, interesting and caring. I did my best for them but inevitably I am a different person from the young mother I was to them in my early twenties when I was driven by career and academic ambition. For my youngest I want a simpler life. I have been deeply inspired by Waldorf which is as much a way of life as an educational approach. Waldorf calls for simplicity, natural toys, a gentle childhood allowing children to play freely, delayed (by standards we expect now) academics and gentle rhythms – which brings me back to summer.

Rhythms are the patterns which make up your day, your week, your seasons and your years. In Waldorf you will hear about breathing in and breathing out times as part of the rhythms of the home. This means that children go through alternative periods of concentration and expansion, like taking an in-breath and out-breath. The Waldorf home life should be developed with this in mind and the rhythms which you create whether this be daily or seasonally should contain a balance of both kinds of activities. Summer time is an invitation to breath out. The days are long and are a call to play, to rest and to rejuvenate the tired spirit with plenty of sunshine. See your children’s days as they might and think about how you might bring a balance of in-breath and out-breath activitiesinto daily life. One element of rhythm is tradition. What summer traditions do you want to create for your family? How do you want your children to remember their summer days when they look back? Family traditions for the summer might include trips to the seaside, barbecues, picnics or hikes. It could be setting up a paddling pool in the garden or visiting an outdoor pool. You might like to go kayaking or canoeing. You could have a late night family trip away from the lights of town to view the night sky through a telescope or perhaps go berry picking. Create traditions for your family that reflect your interests.

Summer of 2015 heralds a new opportunity for my family. We have been blessed with the arrival of this beautiful little soul at the time when my older children take their first steps out into the world and this has inspired us to overhaul our lives. This summer we begin to create new traditions and build new memories. I don’t yet know what these will be but I look forward to finding out. What will I remember from this summer? We are sitting beneath a silver birch tree, my daughter is laying on a wool blanket on the earth and she is chattering away to something only her innocent eyes see. I close my eyes, taking in the beautiful baby chatter. I don’t disturb this moment for her. My attention expands to take in the wider sounds around me – children are playing, birds are calling and I feel the sunshine warming me. The spell that held my child’s attention is broken and she turns her smile towards me. She is the beginning of a new journey and my heart knows that anything is possible.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

Making Memories: Lessons from my baby

in the June Carnival of Natural Parenting, Code Name: Mama wrote this letter in which she offered advice to herself in the present moment. One thing she wrote caught my attention since it summed up a feeling I’ve been experiencing since the birth of my baby girl five months ago – “make a memory each day.” A few words and seemingly simple. However, five months into my relationship with my new daughter I realise how fleeting a moment is. Time marches ever onwards, oblivious to my wish to capture the big things – the first smile, the first time she rolls over, let alone the subtle day to day happenings which make my heart melt.

This little one is my fourth child. A much wished for baby born two days short of sixteen years after the birth of our next youngest child. At the beginning of pregnancy I told myself that I wanted to savour every moment rather then wish time away and for the most part I did, but from time to time I found myself counting down, wishing away the weeks that needed to pass before my daughter was ready to be born. On the 24th of January she came into this world and into my arms and every day since she has melted my heart and my soul overflows with love for this little girl who is such a blessing in my life.

She is teaching me every day. I want so much to remember how things are in these precious early months of her life, to really remember. Not just the big things but the everyday details. She is teaching me to be mindful in a way my academic and spiritually focused self has never been able to. So much of my life has been spent in my head, my thoughts wondering, making plans perhaps thinking ahead to what might be. Like all babies and small children she lives in the present. This moment and only this is what matters to her. Is she feeling hungry? Then let mama know right now. How does she reach that toy? She must put every ounce of concentration into pulling herself along the rug. There is the toy and there is her, nothing else. Mama is breastfeeding her – she will gaze into her mama’s eyes and there is only this moment. 

The other day I was distracted during a breastfeed and got caught up reading an article. My daughter made soft little noises and her hand reached up to me. I was not in the moment and she knew it. When I looked back to her, her little eyes gazed intently into mine, searching my face. She was checking in with me, was mama back with her? Was mama present for this feed? She knew I had not been. Her gaze questioned me. Did I not know there was only this moment? Satisfied that I was there with her she sighed, closed her eyes and settled in to feed.

Making memories every day is not for me about the achievements, the first times. It is about being spiritually and emotionally present. It is about being mindful. It is the sweet scent of her hair, the way she clasps her hands in such a cute way, her smile lighting up her face when her brothers or sister come into the room. It is meeting her gaze and her knowing that I am right there with her. This challenges me to look carefully at my life. It means putting away the IPad whilst she is awake. It is taking care of my own needs so that I can be mindfully present. I am not perfect and I never will be. I will fail but I will try my best and my daughter will go on teaching me. I can make memories every day, and yes sometimes it will be something big – a first step perhaps. Mostly it will be the simple sweetness of a baby who knows only what is, not what was or what shall be.

Today I made a memory. I am laying in the dark. The air moves from the fan in the corner of the room. It is hot and this gives just a little relief. My baby daughter shifts in her sleep and turns her little body towards me, her mouth seeking my breast in the darkness. I tuck her into the crook of my arm and she shifts closer, her foot coming up to rest on my belly. Her mouth finds what it seeks and she suckles, pauses, waiting for the flow. My partner sleeps on the other side of me. He shifts and reaches out for my hand. His thumb brushes the inside of my wrist. My daughter reaches her hand up, searching for mine in the darkness. I reach to her and her fingers curl around mine. She settles in for her dreamy feed. I close my eyes and listen to the little sounds she makes and the steady breath of my partner. The fan turns towards me again and there is a moment of cool air. There is only this. This simple, beautiful moment in the darkness.

July Self-care Club

I came across this blog entry by Sara Wickham about self-care and it really resonated with me. Right now the majority of my time is spent dealing with the needs of my five month old daughter and in moments when she plays happily on the floor I usually dash around the house in a whirlwind attempt to cook and clean. There is little time available at the moment for the things I would normally enjoy doing – there often seems to barely time to take a shower!

Sara Wickham presents us with three questions. What would feed your soul? What challenges are you facing? What do you need more of in your life this next month? She invites us to make a self-care pledge. I could probably write a long list for these first two questions and come up with an extensive list of things that would contribute to my self-care but this would be unrealistic. So, in this moment what do I need more of? My stiff from breastfeeding shoulders tell me that they need some attention and my headache suggests I am dehydrated today so I’m going to pledge that I tune in once a day to how my body is feeling and take a simple step such as drinking more water or doing a few minutes of yoga to address what it is that my body is telling me that day. Sounds simple, but I know the challenge will be remembering to do it at all or following through on what I find with a corresponding act of care for my own body. It is easy to make excuses not to take care of your own needs however if you don’t then who will, and if you don’t then just how are you going to be the best you can be for the people around you?