Not making resolutions, just time

The last two years I made resolutions.  The last two years my world came crashing down on or around New Year’s Day. My mum was admitted to hospital on New Year’s Day in 2010 and on the 3rd January 2011.  The resolutions were soon forgotten, I realised life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.  After mum died last year, I let my subconscious wander wherever it needed in 2010, there wasn’t much structure, many goals or plans.  But it really helped me grieve.

This year I am not making resolutions.  I am making time.  I’ve been reading up on time management and taking control of my time in 2012, so that I can deal with whatever life throws at me and still achieve some goals of my own. I’ve been reading, amongst other things, Nadine of Juggle Mum’s book But I don’t have time to write.  It’s very inspiring.

When I left teaching I left behind timetables, plans and bells and embraced the freedom of having less structure in my life.  I had been in the education system from the age of 4 until I was 29, with only one year’s break. It was heaven to not have to work to a timetable. Small children and mum’s illness and death meant I succumbed more and more to chaos.  But I’m ready to reign that back in now.

The cornerstone to time management, according to Nadine, is a diary you love. This was in my stocking and I love it:

Wishing you all the best in 2012.  May time be on your side too!

Renew and refresh

I watched my electrician neighbour install solar panels on his roof this Winter and had a severe case of keeping up with the Joneses.  He’s tried to explain the maths to me several times, which I’m not qualified to re-explain, but basically once you’ve found the initial funding, it sounds great.  These kind of projects really appeal to me.  In my heart of hearts I always imagine myself on a muddy smallholding with a wind turbine, chickens and a vegetable patch.

Mr G gets to grips with water power

This summer we visited the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales. It’s a fantastic place to get to grips with the urgency of renewable energy, and the huge array of options.  It’s great for kids, really hands on with lots of craft, inventing and science activities.  The vegetarian cafe is amazing.

The Alexanders cause a tidal wave
Currently we’re toying with a move to somewhere more rural.  I know our one raised bed only got planted last summer due to my Dad, and that I actually would probably find chickens just one more thing to chase after.  But, wherever we finally lay our hats,  I like to think once we feel truly settled somewhere, that we will invest in renewable energy.

Not a dalek, no it’s the thought provoking treadmill of happiness…
But being ‘unsettled’ doesn’t mean we can’t do something now.  This time last year, a rep from one of the bigger energy companies knocked at my door, took over my kitchen for half an hour and over a very sycophantic cup of tea, convinced me changing energy supplier would save me money.

Soon enough my original, greener supplier called me up to ask where it went wrong.  I remembered my principles and changed back.  Anyway, one year on and I would say my bill is pretty much exactly the same as the rival supplier’s offer.  But my carbon footprint is much smaller.

I’m hoping 2012 is the year we set downs roots and start being part of the renewable energy solution. 47% of our energy in this country is used for heat, creating 175 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year.  There are a few ways you can reduce carbon emissions through renewable energy.

Look at renewable energy companies.  Where does your supplier get their energy from and what are they doing to harness renewable energy sources?  Switching (or returning) to a green energy supplier can reduce your home’s carbon footprint by a third.

If you are interested in the idea of generating your own renewable energy look into whether you could be eligible for green energy funding.

And if you’re looking for an electrician in and around Nottingham to install solar panels, I can put you in touch with my neighbour.
This is a sponsored post

Energy saving tips for families


I’m working with BritMums and British Gas on a campaign to help educate about energy conservation.  So I thought I would get the whole family on board with some New Year energy saving tactics.  Here’s what we came up with:

1. Getting small children to turn out the lights before going out is much more fun if it’s a competitive sport.


2.  At night turn off power switches or invest in a standby saver.  Modern living rooms can be a jungle, labelling plugs and fourways and grouping similar devices together can make it easier. 


3.  A drawer, or easily accessible shelf for chargers makes it less tempting to leave them plugged in.  Labelled zip lock freezer bags are a cheap and easy way to keep all the equipment for each appliance together.


4.  Turn the tap off.  Leaving the tap running isn’t just about wasting water, but the energy to move that water about and heat it.  


5.  I have explained to the kids that leaving the fridge door open after raiding it costs money, this means there is less money to spend on nice things to put in it.  


6. Although it did nothing for marital relations, we finally ended the feud over how the heating thermostat works.  We set it a degree lower, caught up with GMT and timed it more accurately to reflect our routine.


7.  I have stuck cheeky reminder signs on the light switch for the downstairs toilet which everyone forgets to switch off.  It is surprisingly effective.


8.  Keep doors closed to individual rooms, use draught excluders along doors and for letterboxes and draw the curtains at dusk or just keep the curtains in rooms that aren’t in use in the day shut.  


It was good to read we do some things really well at the Alexander Residence, for example on the laundry front, we don’t have a tumble dryer, we only do full loads at 30 degrees and generally use the short load function. I am polishing my halo as I type.


I was also interested to read the UK government has committed to reduce energy usage and a key part of that is installing a smart meter in all homes by 2019.


In case you’ve been in the dark, rather than the green ages, smart meters are a little display in your home which will show you the impact of switching on or off various appliances in your home. You can see what your consumption looks like with your chargers unplugged, the TV off standby.


The display shows your current and past consumption so you can see how you are improving over time.  It shows you how much your tariff is costing and even has a traffic light display, red for high, green for low.


Now that would make the whole thing lots easier, more fun and more educational for the whole family don’t you think?


How do you save energy, any tips for my list?




This is a sponsored post


I’m participating in the British Gas Smart Meter campaign. Smart meters work with an in-home display to show how much energy you’re using in pounds and pence. You can see how much you’re spending by leaving your phone charger plugged in all the time, or the heating on at night. And when you can really see how much you’re using, you can start to make small changes to become more efficient. Smart Meters automatically send British Gas readings so they represent the end of estimated bills! British Gas is committed to install 1.5 million smart meters by the end of 2012

A Christmas stocking for my mother Little Legacy 24

I was about 6, it was nearly Christmas, you were playing the piano for our carol singing rehearsal.  A group of local children and their families had gathered at our house to practice.  I was hopelessly excited.  You tried to calm me down, told me to stop showing off, but I just got sillier.  I started to make up my own nonsense words to Little Donkey.  I got giddier by the second.  I argued, you tried to plough on with the singing.

I remember the excitement of our stockings.  When we were really small we each got a pair of your woolly tights, with tiny gifts wrapped in tissue paper stuffed all the way down each long leg.

I remember your delight at our letters to Father Christmas, which you kept right from us being small children to being drunken students back for the holidays.

I remember you sent me to the primary school production in black knickers the day I had to wear a white snowflake costume.

I remember the doily and pipe cleaner angel I made at primary school which you were so proud of.  L made one this week at school.

I remember dancing round the kitchen to a Blues Brother, Soul Sister CD.

L remembers pulling crackers with you.

I remember you singing Golden Slumbers to Mr G last Christmas, and his wriggly 2 year old body suddenly stopping completely still to listen.

Most of all mum I realise how much you did behind the scenes, to make Christmas magical. I sat in L’s first school carol concert yesterday, every bit the proud mum. Later on, I cajoled two overexcited, over tired children to bed, whilst answering question after question about Christmas.  I think I caught a glimpse, just a little one, behind the scenes of my childhood.

(I didn’t realise until I previewed this post, but when you look at the photo I just took, in the top right, in the reflection in the mirror behind the angel, is my mum, amongst the people in our wedding photo).

More ideas for memory collectors
Three lovely ideas for recording family life and stories.  Check out Save Every Step to create a family timeline. Or download the Record Their Stories app, by following @recordstories on Twitter today you are entitled to a free copy, they will DM with you the details.  Look out for my life writing link up and create and publish a ‘Memory Book’ in the new year.

Little legacy is a remembrance project , a positive and creative space, to celebrate small things handed down by predecessors.  Feel free to link up a little legacy you’ve been thinking about this week, or to leave one in the comments.  Here’s the code and here’s more on Little Legacy

@AResidence

How to create a successful Christmas card

From the first time I saw a friend’s Jib Jab e Christmas card three year’s ago, I was hooked.  Now people have been asking me if we are doing one this year.

E cards will never replace homemade and personalised greeting cards of course, especially for the people who you don’t email like grandparents, teachers or those loved ones you need to make an extra special fuss over, but they do create a giggle in the run up to Christmas.

This year I might have had to recast a few times to avoid gender stereotypes.  Click to skip the ad. I chose the free card because it was my favourite, hence the ad, but I think the premium, pay for cards are ad free.

My top tips to get a good e card, choose pictures with:
– each participant looking directly at the camera, although side on can be fun, as long as you are looking at the camera.
– classic rule of stage performance, go for big facial expressions, you will look much less silly if you are really ‘going for it’, than you will with a half smile or no expression.
– cheesy grins – c’mon it’s Christmas – but with teeth together rather than parted.
– hair off the face

I’d estimate this year it took me an hour to find the pics, use the tool to edit the faces and experiment with different types of card.  Once I had the faces sorted my kids loved experimenting with the scenarios, but older children could easily select and crop the pictures themselves.

Once you have the faces they are stored in your account so you can easily create cards throughout the year.  Updating the faces each year is a bit of a tradition for us, a new take on the family Christmas photo.

Mr G and I did another one where we had a snowball fight with Grandad, and we might do few more individual ones as it’s fun playing.  There’s some good ones for groups of friends or colleagues too, and as you can take pics from facebook so I might do some for friends too.  Here’s our 70s disco frenzy from last year.

You can then email or facebook your card, or download it for a couple of dollars through paypal so you have a copy as a memento. Or upload the downloaded file from your computer to You Tube so you can easily share it, or embed the code in a blog post.

featured post

Is it the look in your eyes, or is it this dancing juice, who cares baby…

Lovely weekend.
A whole nine child free hours together at a family wedding.
A chance to drink, eat and dance to Stevie Wonder…to reflect a little on when we did this:

And, as married couples tend to do at other couples’ weddings, to reflect on the for better for worses, for richer for poorers, in sickness and in healths that every marriage faces. To perhaps exchange a cross word after one too many glasses of champagne, but to hit the dancefloor and to come out feeling stronger.

On a slightly lighter note, a chance to shop online with Zalando, who offered me a voucher with which I bought the dress I wore.   Zalando have an amazing range of shoes , clothes, accessories and beauty products. I had a great shopping experience, so much choice, lots of stuff you wouldn’t see elsewhere, plus lots of great brands you will know.  
The dress arrived so carefully packaged there was no need for ironing (bonus given I don’t).  My only complaint is I am easily bamboozled by having too many options.  However, you can use the search facility to narrow down by price, brand, colour, or special offer.  I would also like to be able to narrow by style, although saying that, this empire line dress jumped out at me really quickly.
Snow, and the wedding being on a farm, gave me big footwear dilemmas.  But the venue inside was incredibly spectacular, far removed from farm life, and the ladies shoe stakes were so high and classy. I’m so relieved I ditched my boots on arrival for my Irregular Choice Patty.
Congrats to D and S.  It is of course all about them, and not us, or my frock, although any excuses to shop, and to enjoy being a couple when parents, must be seized with relish.  It was a fabulous wedding, they are an amazing couple and they chose an awesome venue in Heaton House Farm.  By midnight I was so overcome by loveliness and champagne, all I could do was stare at the magical starlit black curtains.  And, just look at this stunning photography by Light Majestic.   

Christmas indulgence survival tips


Apparently, writing down what you eat, can help you become more mindful of what you eat.  It turns out taking photographs of what you eat for your blog makes you a saint.  Hence today’s offerings: muesli and apple, a smoothie, veggie lentil bolognaise with pasta, an apple, vegetable soup with cheese on toast and carrot and pepper crudités, some cashews.  OK, I confess, I forgot to photograph the gin and tonics and the mince pie.
Some days I am this virtuous.  But others I am rubbish. But a healthy diet really matters to me.  I tried to think what my rules of thumb are, what tricks I have up my sleeve.  I came up with: 5 a day; being vegetarian; different colour foods; breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen, tea like a pauper; a balance of food groups on each plate; slim line tonic in my gin; oatcakes in my handbag, lots of water and not allowing certain foodgroups in the house.
With the season of indulgence upon us and the festivities becoming more elaborate each year, it’s easy to let everything snowball.  I’m determined that’s not happening this year.  So, just to be sure,  I asked some other people for their rules and short cuts too. 
Vicki from HonestMum doesn’t believe in diets, ‘Eat healthily and do exercise you enjoy, be it swimming, running or sex.’ But she does ‘try and live by the 80/20 % rule.’  Eat well 80% of the time.  Sounds sensible to me.
Ruth of Minibreakmummy swears by having a bar of dark chocolate in her handbag, because it is difficult to overindulge on dark chocolate so it’s a way to see off milk chocolate temptation.  Becky from Baby Budgeting also told me she read some research that suggests dark chocolate could help to see off the winter blues.  So perhaps it’s a way to help reduce winter comfort eating too?
 @The_Last_Slayer from A Hell of a Woman knows someone who claims green tea accelerated weight loss. My friend A always has green tea about his person too.
My friend L lost a pound to prepare for the Christmas party we were both attending, great forward planning. I called it carb loading and went for a jog the next day. I will attempt to force myself to do the same on Boxing Day.
My friend E doesn’t have treats in the house, instead going out to buy them is part of the treat.
Do you have any Christmas diet plans?  What are your rules of thumb and shortcuts?  Are you being virtuous in the run up to Christmas, or do you indulge from here to the New Year?

Scooter safety and stocking fillers

They stand out right?  My kids and the Mini and Maxi Micro scooters that is.   They’ve become the must have mode of transport for little ones, as you can see from the shot of the school scooter car park.
We’re just about making it home from school before it gets very dusky. We scoot along, and across, some very busy roads.  So I kitted out their scooters with lights, and made them sport UV vests.  Be safe, be seen.
Nothing replaces vigilance, keeping them close to me and teaching road safety of course. I see parents chatting on their mobiles while their kids are scooting off alone, which worries me, kids on scooters need constant supervision.  Sadly there are motorists who think it’s okay to undertake on the pavement at 20mph, and old ladies who don’t look before reversing out of their drives.  All the more reason to make sure children are visible.
The best bit is kids this age think safety stuff is cool, as you can see from the pics, it’s like being a real life Bob the Builder on his way to work, or having a proper car.  The torches have strobe or constant light and are visible up to 6oom.
Mini and Maxi Micros
L is five and a bit so we’ve upgraded to the Maxi-micro, it’s recommended for 6-12 year olds, but she’s tall for her age and seems very at home on it.  She tried with a two wheeler but it was very slow going with some falls, so this seems like the perfect solution which she’s really confident with.  I love the fact the handlebars extend, so the scooter can be used by a child up to age 12.  It’s a big outlay initially at £92.95, but a great investment.
So newly 3yo G finally got his hands on L’s old blue Mini Micro.  She was loving blue when she was 3, which meant we dodged pink, but if you are looking to change a scooter colour or repair a broken deck you can now get a new one from £17.95.  Great too if you want to pass a hand me down as a new scooter.
There are loads of great stocking fillers on the Micro Scooter website, here’s my top picks:

Frog Light Strobe by Knog. £9.99.  Choice of 10 colours.  Steady or flashing light.  Visible up to 600 metres. Battery life 80 hours flashing.  Water resistant, flexible silicone, easy release feature.

Wow wow reflective jacket.  High visibility in pink, orange, green and yellow.  £9.95.  Medium or large.

For pulling tired scooters (and their riders) home or keeping little scooters close.  £6.99 in a range of colours.

Mini Micro Bag. £14.95.  Suitable from 3 years.  In green, blue pink and neon (above)

XLC Alloy Mini Bell.  Small bell with big attitude. £4.95
Safety helmet in four sizes and various colours and patterns.  £17.95
Disco Dot bottle holder and mount.  £9.99.  Fits all scooters.
Reflective fun stickers.  £4.99
For more details on these accessories visit the Micro-Scooter site, or see my Scoot n’ Pull post.
Safety notice: Scooting in the dark is not recommended by Micro Scooters.
This is a sponsored post, I opted to review a Be Safe Be Seen kit.

Beautiful nightlights from the little girls of the 1970s

I was asked if I would like to review the rabbit cottage night light made by White Rabbit England.  On clicking on the link to their website I let out an involuntary squeak/Coo!/Ooo!  These sounds were prompted by it’s beauty, and perhaps a dose of nostalgia, and a large pinch of magic. Then I said ‘Yes, please, and ‘Oh, isn’t it beautiful’ and ‘Aha, do you think it might just convince her to sleep without the light on?’

My daughter lives in a magical world filled with little creatures, miniature people and their little cars, houses and their miscellany of equipment. She spends her days animating them, reorganising their bits and bobs and leaving a trail of little bits in her path. This world is also her bedroom, and so at night she snuggles down, secure in the knowledge she is surrounded by this virtual world of familiar little things. She sleeps with the light on, because she doesn’t like shadows, but she is somehow out in seconds, unlike of course, the light.

And so the night light arrived, securely packaged with a spare bulb (really handy) and a beautiful picture book about the rabbits who live in the cottage.  The book is written by Charlotte, one of the sisters behind White Rabbit England, it’s a lovely touch which captured my daughter’s imagination.

Here is the rabbit cottage nightlight, by my daughter’s bed, with some little creatures who are waiting to see if the rabbits are coming out to play, although I suspect that only happens once grown ups have left the room.

My shot doesn’t show the little rabbits inside, look:

I love the story behind White Rabbit England: ‘As little girls in the Nineteen Seventies, Victoria and her sister Charlotte slept with an enchanting pottery toadstool light beside their beds. Hand painted in earthenware and decorated with dancing elves and fairies, it was the magical centre piece of their bedside table, filling their bedroom with a gentle, reassuring light.’

As well as appealing to the older child I think these night lights would make perfect presents to welcome a new baby. The sort of thing parents might not buy for the baby themselves, and something to treasure. Did I tell you I am going to be an aunty? I also love the classic white rabbit lamp, and the lamps with robots. You can also get cushions, bedding and crockery to match.

We’re working on the big light going off, but to be honest that has become secondary to the magic and beauty of this nightlight. We love the way the windows light up and that it casts heart shaped patches of light instead of shadows.

Nigella’s Christmas Biscuits Little Legacy 23

I don’t write about it much, I think because it is so engrained I don’t think about it, but there is a huge food legacy in my family.  My grandmother ran the colliery canteen, her catering was legendary. My grandfather ran a dairy and had an amazing kitchen garden, my Dad is a consultant food scientist, my brother is a foodie.  On the other side my mum gave me the legacy of vegetarianism and wholefoods.  One of my earliest memories is of waiting for her outside the healthfood shop to get a jar of peanut butter refilled. Gran brought me the legacy of post war comfort and convenience food, toasted tea takes, tinned peaches and crinkle cut oven chips. Substances sneered at by the rest of the family.
Perhaps my cooking, although perfectly good, has been somewhat overshadowed by the legacies of my predecessors.  I’m not sure what my grandmother would have made of Nigella’s approach, her frivolity offends the scientist in my Dad, who much prefers Delia’s measured approach.  But, in a nod to my maternal Gran, I love the comfort factor and indulgence in Nigella’s approach.  I love to read her cookbooks, and the way she writes so passionately about food.  
My favourite chapter in How to be a Domestic Goddess (how I love the irony) is the one about Christmas.  Nigella really encourages the reader to find their own Christmas traditions.  And so I did, with her Lebkuchen. We make them each year, wrap them up in greaseproof paper and string, and give them to relatives.  If you are really good at baking, and very patient, you can make holes in them and hang them from the tree.  Pointless exercise here, they’d be eaten in seconds.

The next chapters
I’m going to keep little legacying, it’s cheaper, and possibly more effective than therapy and I’ve made some wonderful new friends.  But, I’m building up to a new project, with a weekly prompt, where we can each build up a collection of snippets from our family history.  I’ll include some creative and life writing tips each week too. At the end we can each self publish our personal collection of posts as a memory book for ourselves and our children.  No need to contribute every week. Interested?

@AResidence

Little legacy is a remembrance project , a positive and creative space, to celebrate small things handed down by predecessors.  Feel free to link up a little legacy you’ve been thinking about this week, or to leave one in the comments.  Here’s the code and here’s more on Little Legacy

Have you tried IKEA for stocking fillers?

In the first in a couple of posts I have on stocking fillers, I bring you IKEA.

IKEA is a great place for great value stocking fillers, and although I can’t make any promises, I seem to remember the one in Nottingham being uncharacteristically quiet in the run up to Christmas last year, an oasis of calm in the storm of Christmas shopping in fact.

Ikea are selling soft toys until Dec 23rd in aid of education projects organised by UNICEF and Save the Children, for every toy you buy a euro goes to charity.  They’re great value, imaginative and great stocking fillers.  IKEA really understand how children play.  We’ve fallen for Bjorn bear and Mr Broccoli.

The play fruit and vegetable baskets are also lovely, both £6.99 and I really like the idea of the book TORVA, Heroes of the Vegetable Patch (£3.99) which features Mr Broccoli and friends. 

Mr Broccoli and Bjorn bear arrived on our doorstep in a box, we couldn’t resist posting about them